Why write two challenge stories when one will do?
The Pendrell Challenge:
- A pack of Morley Ultra Lights, a fish bowl with one goldfish inside, a caller ID box, a bean bag plush cow that moos when you squeeze it, a pair of blue tinted sunglasses
The Spender Challenge:
- Place: street
- Words: devil lonely years
- Phrase: "trying to forget"
The Rating: PG13
The Disclaimer: Don't own them.
The Date: June 1999
PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY, AND THYME
by Halrloprillalar firstname.lastname@example.org
The alarm clock rang. Spender fumbled for the snooze button and clamped a pillow over his ears. It rang again. Squinting at the luminous dial, he finally clued in that it was the phone, not the clock, that had woken him. He also saw the time: 8:13. On Saturday morning. He didn't have to look at his call display to know who was on the line.
"Good morning, Dan." He covered the receiver during a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Jeff, were you still asleep? You were supposed to meet me--"
"At eight." But Pendrell didn't sound too sure.
"Nine. Are you at the coffee shop now?"
"Yeah. I thought it was eight..."
"I'll be there as soon as I can, OK?"
"I'm really sorry."
Spender smiled to himself. "That's OK -- I'll see you there." He put the receiver down. His alarm clock rang. He fell back onto the bed and pulled the pillow back over his head.
It was just ten to the hour when Spender joined Pendrell at a corner table, where the red-head was toying with an empty paper cup. As Spender approached, he jumped up. "Jeff, I'm so sorry for waking you up."
"It's OK, Dan. That was when I'd planned to get up anyway." Spender smiled. "Let's get the coffee to go and drink it at the bus stop. It's too nice to stay indoors."
They got lattes and muffins and sat outside on the wooden bench, blinking in the sun. "Oh, hey," Pendrell said, putting down his breakfast. "I thought it might be bright so I brought you these." He handed Spender a pair of sunglasses. Balancing his muffin and coffee on his knees, Jeff slid them on. They lenses were rectangular and tinted a strange blue.
"How do I look?"
"Like a drug dealer." Pendrell grinned and donned his own pair. They were probably also some odd colour, but everything was a hazy shade of blue to Spender. He grinned back and they finished their snack just as the bus pulled up.
The fair was crowded, even at 10 AM. Little kids dragged grouchy fathers and balloons between the concessions and the switchback. Teenagers sloped towards the roller coaster. Young men shot at clay pigeons to win stuffed animals for young women.
"Where should we begin?" Spender asked, but Pendrell was no longer at his elbow. Spender spotted him at a vendor's stall and went over, only to be handed a huge cone of cotton candy. It looked mauve, but that meant it was probably pink. It looked fluffy. It looked sticky and revolting. He took a bite. It was delicious, so sweet.
"Come on," Pendrell said over his shoulder and took off for the next booth. Mouth full, Spender followed.
Hours later, they relaxed in the beer tent, their swag spread out on the table in front of them. Dan's swag, mostly, Spender had to admit.
"How do you do it, Dan? Those games are rigged and you still won all that junk."
Pendrell shrugged. "I don't know. Just lucky. I always win stuff." He pulled on a tacky red ball cap topped with devil horns. "What do you think?"
"It clashes with your hair." Spender poked at the other junk -- assorted stuffed animals, a radio so obsolete you probably couldn't buy one new anymore, candy, two t-shirts, and a glass bowl in which a small goldfish swam disconsolately. "And what are we going to do with this fish? I wanted to go on some rides."
Frowning, Pendrell pulled off the cap. "I was going to take him home. And name him after you."
"That fish is on its last legs. I don't think I want something named after me that's bound to die within the week."
Pendrell made a show of sighing. "OK, but if I give him away to some little kid, that will be signing his death warrant for sure."
"Take him back to the stall then."
Nodding, Pendrell pushed one of the stuffed animals across the table to Spender. "This one's for you."
"Thanks, I think." Spender picked up the the beanbag cow and jumped when it let out a loud moo. "I'll name it after you, of course."
Pendrell raised his glass in a toast to nothing in particular and they both drank.
Twilight was gathering when they got off the bus, grimy, footsore, and happy. They stood there, beside the bench, juggling armloads of stuff, trying to sort out what belonged to who.
"Remember the cap, Dan." Spender pulled it out from under his arm and jammed it onto Pendrell's head.
"I was trying to forget. Are you sure you don't want it?"
"No, I'm satisfied with Holstein Dan here."
Neither spoke for a few moments, and Spender found his thoughts drifting back through the years to other nights on other streets, nights of scuffing his shoe while he tried to think of what to say to Lori, nights of sitting on the curb glancing at Troy's profile while he smoked -- what was his brand? -- Morley Ultra Lights. He remembered the time he took Cheryl home and held her hand on the way. She asked him to come if for a while, but he had to go home. To be sure his mother was all right. He remembered the lonely walk back.
He looked at Pendrell and before he could tell himself not to, Jeff bent, ducking under the bill of the cap, and kissed him. Dan tasted like cotton candy and mustard and beer. Stuffed animals thudded softly onto the pavement. Before Spender could pull away, he felt a hand on his shoulder and knew that he wasn't going to get a fist in his face this time. When he drew back, the hand stayed a moment longer.
"Did you...want to do something tomorrow, Dan?"
"Yes," Pendrell said. "Breakfast. I'll cook." He picked up the cow and held it to Spender. "Come on."
Spender let his memories slip away, took the cow, and walked home with Pendrell.
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