Song inspiration: There’s a song about a payphone that I heard constantly on the radio (thanks to a 3 hour round trip to and from school) and the imagery for this chapter got stuck in my head instead of the lyrics. Seems kind of like a weird choice considering I haven’t seen a payphone since…2018?
The wee hours of the morning were cool, but he could still feel the heat from the previous day lingering around him and in the concrete sidewalk he stood on. He brushed back his shaggy dirty blond hair from his blue eyes, his mother’s eyes. His beard was getting a little long and the hairs scratched at his face and neck. He admitted to himself he looked a bit scruffy as he examined his reflection in the closed store’s glass window. His clothes were rumpled and hadn’t been washed for a couple of days. Nor had his body for that matter. He was a little dirty, a little scruffy, and more than a little sweaty.
For the past two years, Cooper had been living about three hundred miles away from his family. At twenty-one, he had been away from home for the past two or so years. The summer before he was to have gone back to college, he had abruptly dropped out, deciding school wasn’t for him. It was great for Abigail, but he couldn’t do it. He remembered the disappointment in his parents’ faces when he had said he had dropped out of school.
“But what will you do?” Callie had practically wailed, her blue eyes wide as she had stared at her only son across the dining room table, her hands twisting a tissue to shreds. “There’s nothing out there for people who haven’t graduated from college. At least stay for another year and get your Associate’s Degree.”
His father, always grave, had been leaning back in his chair beside his wife. His arms had been tightly folded across his chest. His dark eyes were unreadable, but Cooper could tell his father hadn’t been pleased by this sudden turn.
“Your mother’s right,” Evan had said, his voice deep and steady. That was Evan: calm and steady, voice and eyes revealing little. Oh, Cooper was sure his father revealed everything to his mother, his defenses dropping once the kids were out of sight and hearing range, but Cooper hadn’t ever seen that. The man had always been as stoic as a mountain and it had always irritated him, always gotten under his skin, and, after a time, made him explode. “There isn’t anything for non-college grads.”
Cooper had crossed his own arms across his chest. He sat back and slouched down, a poor imitation of his father. He glared across the table at the both of them, silently cursing Abigail. Abby had been the star child, the one who was always going somewhere. Callie and Evan had fawned over her, given her everything, made sure she was a success. Jenna was kind of like their older sister, but with slightly less focus. She did everything and nothing in particular. Cooper had been the rebel of the family. He never did anything his parents wanted him to. Callie and Evan had never understood him.
“I’ll manage,” Cooper muttered.
Evan only raised an eyebrow. “Don’t expect us to support you for the rest of your life.”
Cooper sneered at him, but didn’t say anything. Of course he didn’t expect his parents to support him for the rest of his life. Were they crazy or something? He didn’t want to have to owe them anything anymore. So, why would he take anything else from them?
Callie rested a hand on her husband’s arm. “Oh, Evan, how could you say that? This is our little boy.”
“Dearest, he’s being irresponsible. He needs to learn a few life lessons.”
“I’m outta here,” Cooper had muttered, sick of watching his mother stare up at his father, her eyes wide and hopeful. It was almost as bad as watching his father’s unwavering, piercing gaze.
Cooper had pushed the chair back, toppling it over. Instead of picking it up, he had marched up the stairs, packed a couple of bags, and then slid right out of his bedroom window. He had quietly clambered down the trellis running between his and Abigail’s windows, having had a few years of practice. He snickered to himself as he quietly climbed down. His parents had no idea just how many times he’d done this back in high school.
Jumping down the last couple of feet, he didn’t bother turning back to look at his home. He had just walked off the property, down the street to the bus stop, and had hopped onto the first bus that came along.
That had been just days before the astronomers had informed them there was no way of stopping that giant hunk of rock from heading their way and barreling right through the middle of their planet. Not that it would have mattered. Not that he would have changed his mind.