In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

Julia checked her watch, then said, “Thirty minutes, Crank.”

 

“Hope the food gets here soon,” he replied.

 

I looked at him and said, “I gotta admit, in my craziest dreams I never pictured myself sitting here having dinner with Crank Wilson.”

 

Crank leaned forward and said, “I’m just a guy from Southie. And if Carrie approves of you, you’re family. That’s the bottom line with me.”

 

“On the other hand,” Julia said, with a sweet looking, friendly smile. “If you ever hurt my sister, I’ll personally hunt you down and kill you.”

 

Carrie gasped. “Julia!”

 

Julia’s eyes flicked to Carrie, then she reached out and took her hand. “Relax, sis. I know it’s not likely. I know we don’t get to see each other often enough, any more. But you need to know… you mean everything to me. So I’m protective. I’d even kick Crank in the nuts if he did anything to make you sad.”

 

Crank winked at me, then shifted his seat several inches away from his wife. That caused the rest of us to break into raucous laughter, which caused a mildly offended Julia to turn toward Crank. Crank just gave her an innocent smile.

 

“All right, Dougal,” Julia said to him. Crank winced.

 

Through her laughter, Carrie asked, “How’s Sean doing anyway?”

 

“He’s all right,” Crank said. “Married now, he lives in Quincy.”

 

Carrie gasped. I listened, not having a clue who Sean was, but apparently he was someone important to her. They started to chat about Sean and Crank’s family, and I said, “Excuse me a moment, I’ll be right back.” I gave Carrie a kiss on the cheek and went to look for the back door.

 

Once I found it, I slipped out into the alley and quickly lit a cigarette. It’s not that I didn’t want to be in there. I did. But I was a little overwhelmed. Okay, cancel that. I was a lot overwhelmed. I used to be a social person, very social. But somewhere along the line between Long Island and Dega Payan, I’d become a little agoraphobic, and much more closed with people. I just needed space for a minute or two.

 

A moment after I lit my cigarette, the back door opened again, and Dylan appeared. He leaned against the wall and lit a smoke, then said, “You all right?”

 

“Yeah,” I said. “I like them. It’s just a bit much.”

 

Dylan nodded. “Me too. Even Crank. He’s a big shot, but he’s not so different from us really.”

 

“Except we don’t have paparazzi chasing us.”

 

“There is that,” he replied.

 

I looked at Dylan and grinned. “I haven’t said it yet, but thanks for introducing me to Carrie.”

 

He nodded. “You look like you two are getting serious.”

 

I snorted. Then I looked at him and said, “You remember all those times we razzed you about how much you talked about Alex? All the names we called you?”

 

“What,” he said. “You mean, like… pussy-whipped? Pudmaster? What else? Nothing else is coming to mind.”

 

I chuckled. “I take it all back. I get it now.”

 

“Oh shit, you guys are serious.”

 

I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve got it bad.”

 

Dylan got a grin on his face. “Well, don’t mess it up. Life’s too short.”

 

I tossed my cigarette to the ground and stamped it out under my shoe, then clapped my hand on his shoulder. “You’re right about that. Let’s head back in.”

 

And that’s when my phone rang. I looked down at it and muttered a curse. The caller ID said US ARMY. My heart started thumping wildly, and I answered it with a rude, “What?”

 

Major Smalls’s voice, calm, came over the phone. “The appropriate way for a Sergeant to answer the phone is not what, Sergeant Sherman.”

 

“Well, write me up then, Major. It’s New Years Eve and I’m out with my girl and her family. What do you want?”

 

Dylan stopped, giving me a concerned look. I waved him off.

 

“Just wanted to make sure we knew your whereabouts. I made it clear you were to keep in touch.”

 

I lit another cigarette, fiercely took a drag from it, then said, “You know, Carrie was right about that the other day. I don’t know where you get off treating me this way. I reported it, damn it!”

 

Major small sighed on the other end of the line. “Believe me, Sergeant. I do understand. You’re right, it’s New Years Eve, and I’d really like to get back to my family. So if you’ll just let me know where you’re going to be tonight, then I will leave you alone. Fair enough?”

 

“Fine,” I said, spitting out the word. “I’m going to be at Madison Square Garden for the Morbid Obesity concert. From there, I’m going to be with my girlfriend. At the Hilton next door. All right? Do you need the fucking room number, Major?”

 

Dylan stared as I spoke, his face drawn, unhappy.

 

“No thank you, Sergeant. We’ll be in touch. Happy New Year.”