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The Pale Blue Sky

by Jack Lynch

Part 2 - Connor, Chapter 9

13 Years Old. Pinball.

The summer flew by. Pick up baseball games, swimming, hanging out, going to the fair, hot fudge sundaes, a trip to see his grandparents. Before he knew it, the dog days of summer led to the anticipation of the coming school year. In just a couple of weeks Connor would be entering his last year of middle school. Eighth grade.

A week of hockey camp lay ahead. A great time to catch up with friends he hadn't seen all summer. The cool damp air of the arena mixed with a mild smell of motor oil and gas from the Zamboni was familiar and comforting. The echo of pucks hitting the boards and kids shouting was music to his ears. Connor was happy to put his head down, play hard, and get his hockey legs back in shape.

After practice one day, Max was bragging up his pinball playing skills with the other boys. He told them about the new pinball arcade he'd discovered just down the block from the rink. Several of them, Connor included, agreed to meet at the pinball arcade before practice the next day.

Throwing their hockey bags and sticks into a pile in the middle of the floor, the boys went right to work as they attacked the ancient pinball machines. The best machines were quickly occupied while the rest of the boys gathered around to watch and wait their turns.

As Connor leaned his elbows on the glass of the Raiders of the Lost Ark machine Jordy was playing, his eyes wandered from the game. A guy sitting on a stool behind a counter on the far end of the arcade caught his attention. There was something about him. But, what? He wasn't even looking up. He appeared to be reading a paperback book, completely oblivious to what was going on.

He reminded Connor of a pencil drawing in some of the cartoons he'd seen in one of his mom's magazines. Fine features. Mostly straight, neatly cut and combed light brown hair. A little over the top of his ears, and short bangs. Thin eyebrows, sharp jaw line with a narrow square jaw, light skin, a nose that was kind of flat but not big, and thin lips. Sensitive brown eyes from what he could see. Slender, pale complexion.

For a change, Connor actually hoped this guy might look up and decide to check him out. Nothing doing. He seemed to be engrossed in what he was reading.

Connor turned his attention back to pinball. Eventually, he got a chance to play The Addams Family game. It was a blast! Scoring bonus points and earning more balls, his tally climbed to record numbers. His friends cheered him on until one of the other kids signaled that they had to split for hockey practice. They all peeled out of there, Connor being the last. Without even a glance at the guy behind the counter, he grabbed his bag and ran.

Several days later, Friday of the last week of hockey camp, Connor stopped at Donaldson Drug to pick up a couple of packs of Smarties just after lunch. Hockey practice didn't start until 3:00 so he had some time to just hang out. As he walked up the street past the arcade, he looked in the window and saw that guy again. Just like the other day, he was sitting on the stool behind the counter. The rest of the place was deserted.

Feeling in his pocket, he found two quarters left over from his candy purchase. As he fingered them in his pocket, he thought about going in to talk to him. He had no clue what he would even say. Well, he thought, two quarters would get him a couple of plays on one of the machines. Bending over and giving his hair a shrake, he pushed the door open and went in.

Rather than going to the change machine, he walked up to the counter as he dug the coins out of his pocket. He put his closed fist up on the counter surface, opened it, and dropped the two quarters. Afraid to look up, he watched the guy's fingers slide the coins off to a pile of change on one side. In the next motion, his fingers went to the other side of the counter as he grabbed two tokens and slid them in front of Connor. Without warning, he grabbed two more tokens and added them to the first two.

Connor looked down at the four tokens with surprise. He raised his head and looked at the guy. Their eyes met. His heart skipped a beat.

He broke into a wide smile. "Thanks!"

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