Darkness falls on Clarksville like a solitary rose pedal descending in silence.
A golden glow faded across the horizon as daylight surrendered its final breath.
Street lamps cast amber halos on avenues lined with Tudor homes and sprawling elms. Storefronts along Main Street hid their wares in blackened windows. Shopkeepers had called it a day. The pizzeria was one exception. The movie theater, malt shop and Bud’s 24/7 Laundromat were the others.
It was a cowbell, Danny supposed, that clanged as he pushed open the heavy glass door. A liberal whiff of bleach and laundry detergent fills his senses. There was a kaleidoscope of somebody’s laundry churning in a dryer. His spectacles fogged. Slightly.
Two quarters slid in the soda machine. Danny chose Sunkist orange soda. He always did. One punch of the big, plastic button sent a can of pop clunking its way down the chute to Danny’s hand. Four more quarters and a tug on a chrome knob bought him a Snickers bar.
“Hey!” Danny’s attention was arrested by the familiar feminine voice coming from across the room. He turned.
She was leaning forward in her chair to peek around the counter. Her generous smile and brunette hair were unmistakable. Danny hadn’t seen her in years.
“Annie!” He raised his Sunkist as if offering a toast.
Her raised eyebrows said, “surprise!” Her smile broadened.
“How you doin’?!” he added.
“I’m home!” she shrugged.
Danny strutted the few steps toward his old classmate. She stood, offered a friendly hug — a bit awkward for a guy with a soda in one hand and a Snickers in the other — and he eagerly conceded.
“So,” she self-consciously slapped her hands to her hips, “how’s life. Been a while, eh?”
Danny squirmed. Inside. “Yeah. Too long. Would you like a bite?”
Her eyes laughed. “No, you can have your, uh, candy bar.”
“Ready for them?” Danny pointed his soda to the front window. Across the street was a noisy brood of teenagers in a souped-up pink Cadillac convertible.
“Ready,” she answered. “School starts Monday. Back to school.”
“English teacher,” Danny observed. He rocked nervously on his heals.
“So, uh, when’d you get back in town?”
“Moved in yesterday. Just around the block; up on Elm and Third.”
Danny wadded his wrapper, took aim and shot a two pointer into the trashcan across the Laundromat.
Humming fluorescent lights and the thumping of the drier filled an uneasy silence.
“Well,” he interrupted the silence, “lets get together sometime. Get caught up on …”
“Okay.” Her whisper was so soft Danny could only read the word on her lips. There was a trace of gray in her hair; lines in her eyes that were so unfamiliar to the schoolgirl he had known. Somehow he found them attractive.
Danny snuck a peak at her left hand. No ring. He had heard she’d never married. Strange, he thought, she was so striking.
“So, you need a lift home?” he offered.
“No, I walked. It’s not that far. One girl. Two big heavy loads of laundry. But, hey, I can handle it alone.”
He turned to leave.
“Bye!” she offered that cutesy finger-wiggling wave that women do so well. Danny acknowledged with a jutted lower lip and thumbs up.
He clanged his way through the glass door and had gone as far the mail box by the Malt Shop where he slam dunked his soda can in a trash container on the corner.
“Duh!” he said aloud. One girl. Two loads of — two heavy load of laundry. He turned to go back, then stopped to think. “Oh!” he whispered.
Danny jammed his arm in the trash container and retrieved his Sunkist can, then abruptly turned to head back to Bud’s 24/7. He didn’t see Officer Reed coming until the last moment, but had the presence of mind to stop dead in his tracks. The policeman ran square into him.
“Offensive foul,” Danny smiled. “My feet were planted?”
The cop gave Danny a peculiar look. “Well, I know you don’t drink. You in love?”
Danny frowned and continued to walk.
Clang. The door opened. Annie turned her head.
“Forgot to toss my can,” he made another three pointer.
“Later,” he said, faking a play for the door. He then turned to look at Annie.
“Say, Do you need some help? Uh, carrying one of your laundry baskets?”
Her sheepish grin, sparkling eyes and nodding head provided the answer.