Not What You Thought Inside

Not What You Thought Inside

A Story by inconsistentsea

770 words


Passing the park a few blocks away was always the most difficult part of getting to the corner store. Stuart was one reason. The other was Homeless Hobo Hank. In Ralph's twelve-year-old mind, a class bully was less scary than what the other kids speculated might be hiding under the blankets covering Hank's shopping cart. But not by much. Besides, he could never let on that he was scared by Hank, no matter how allegedly murderous he was. He didn't need more grief from Stuart if he found out. This afternoon he saw neither. He turned the corner and went into the store.

He was relieved to see Max behind the counter, head down in a textbook, hair covering his eyes. He felt he could use a last minute pep talk. Max looked up and grinned at Ralph as the bell on the door announced his entrance. He was in his last year of high school and Ralph would miss him in the fall when he went away to university. Max asked if today was the day in an older brotherly way and got a shrug in response. It had been for almost two weeks that Ralph had talked about getting the courage to ask Helen if she liked him and Max gave what advice and encouragement he could. He was popular at school, especially with the girls.

Ralph needed something to eat so that his nervous stomach would stop hurting. He plopped a cream soda and Doritos on the counter and felt the piece of paper in his pocket with Helen's number on it as Max rang him through. If today was the day, Max told him to remember all they had talked about. Ralph nodded a thanks and headed out the door to the park.

The sun was still warm and so was the swing seat. Ralph thought about Helen and once again weighed the pros and cons of asking her if she liked him. As he placed his first Dorito in his mouth and waited for the simulated tang to hit his taste buds he looked over past the sandbox, towards the benches and froze.

There stood Stuart. There stood Homeless Hobo Hank. There stood Helen.

He was crunching and kind of far away so he could not hear what they were saying, but the body language was pretty clear. Stuart and Helen seemed to be in a standoff, with Hank hovering over his shopping cart. Her arms were raised and Stuart seemed to be getting awfully close. This would be a cue if Ralph were going to attempt to do something. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he got up headed over to the commotion.

They ignored Ralph as he approached and he pieced together that Stuart had been giving Hank a hard time and almost tipped over his covered shopping cart. Helen had stepped in just in time and now Stuart was yelling angrily at her. He asked why she was so concerned about Hank and his stupid cart. He asked if she was helping him get kids to dismember so that Hank could add to his collection. Ralph watched Helen look pleadingly at Hank, who looked hesitant. She lifted the blankets.

As mean as Stuart was to people, everyone knew he had a soft spot " animals. Stuart's mother worked for an animal shelter and he was pretty sure he wanted to be a vet. Ralph could see his anger turn to shock as Stuart looked at two mewing kittens revealed, sitting on an old pillow nested in an overcoat Stuart looked up and threw an ashamed apologetic look at Hank and offered some cat food he had in the kitchen. Hank graciously accepted and as Stuart turned to leave Hank thanked Helen, who told him to let her know if Stuart harassed him any more.

She looked over and saw Ralph, who had a mixed look of relief that it was over and frustration that he remained action-less. Heroism could have made a good impression on Helen, after all. She smiled at him and they went to the swings. As they finished off his Doritos and cream soda Helen told him about how she discovered Hank had the kittens and would sometimes bring all three food and warm things. They talked and swung until the sun was starting to set and they had to return to dinner and homework.

As they parted, Helen told Ralph she had something to ask him. But she would do it tomorrow, when they met on the swings again for cream soda and Doritos.

© 2012 inconsistentsea

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Added on February 29, 2012
Last Updated on February 29, 2012