Jacob and Rachel: The Prequel

Here is the promised prequel to the earlier “Jacob and Rachel” post.

Rachel Thompson knew it was over.  Not that there was ever really anything to be “over,” in that way.  They knew, both of them did, that it was nothing more than friendship; nothing more than a way to spend the last few weeks of their senior year in the most enjoyable way.  They had said that from the outset.  At least that had been understood from the outset.  She knew it.  How could he not have known?

What bothered her just a little now, as she contemplated how to end this non-thing formally and definitely, is that things had changed over that brief time.  Evolved.  She had, in fact, been surprised at herself.  How easily she had fallen – let her self fall – into a kind of carefree happiness in his company.  How easy it had been to let her guard down, to forget about her guard altogether, to forget about everything, really, and just rest in the moment with him. For the first time in her life, she swam in Walhonde River.  And she had not anticipated – had not been ready for – all of that laughter.  It had been unlike anything she’d ever known since early childhood.

She’d seen it happen to other girls.  How they had let themselves fall in to constricting and limiting circumstances based on the promises and charms of some really average Joe.  She’d also seen – she was sure of it – that these average Joes had calculated to do just that.  The one thing they were really good at, really practiced at, was this art of pressing the right buttons on any girl.  It was a cheap shortcut to get them where they wanted to be.

But Jacob hadn’t done that.  There was nothing contrived in his manner; no plan in his attention to her.  He, like her, had been relaxed.  More so, she thought, than he’d ever been.  He had not forced or manufactured anything.  It had just happened.

Or, as she now thought of it, not happened.  At any rate, she had now awakened to her situation and, she thought, to the situation Jacob, likewise, was in.  He had to see it the same way.  After all, he was the loner, the independent soul, the outlier – even more so than she. How could he not see it this way?  How could he not want absolute freedom as they were released from the confines of school and adolescence and the little town?

All these considerations had been true, had been obvious, if not spoken, from the very outset.  But she had to admit to herself it was the evening with David Dunnigan that had awakened her.  Here was a man – almost a man, anyway – who had seen and known a little of the world.  That world that beckoned to her as the antidote to the life she felt herself squeezed into there in Walhonde.  Here was a man – a guy, at least – who was totally hands-off, who was looking for his own open path, who would not want to tie anyone down, least of all himself.

And so, as she prepared for the last school dance, a date they had committed to long ago, she considered how to act toward Jacob.  She wanted her message to be definite.

And when he reached for her hand on the way into the gym – something he hadn’t done before – she refused him.  And, the evening went downhill from there. He got the message alright, and his reaction surprised her.  It was not the reaction of a man who knew all along that there was no ground for expectation; who wanted nothing, finally, but freedom.  It was not even the reaction of the confident and independent loner that she knew him to be.  Instead, he was bewildered, lost in thought all evening. Downcast.  Almost mute.

She could not let herself pity him.  That was the way of the other girls.  That would lead to the same results.   It would spoil all that had gone before and would make Jacob into something other than the person that she… well, not loved, but… knew him to be.  She did not relent.  She did not offer him any comfort.

At last, when they left the gymnasium and she saw the car – Jacob’s father’s car – with its hubcaps removed and laying on the hood of the car, she was so far away by then as to be unaffected for him.

They had not spoken in the last hour, but when Jacob saw the car he gave in

“Oh, look at this,” he said.  “The lug nuts are gone.  All of them.  I can’t drive this car.”

And now, after an evening of misery – an evening of causing misery – she was standing on the asphalt lot in heels and a formal gown with no apparent means of getting home.  And now it started to rain.  She wondered how things could possibly get worse in that moment.  But then they got better.  David Dunnigan was driving by the parking lot and noticed them standing in the rain.

His car slowed to a stop and he rolled down the window.

“What happened?  What’s going on here?”

“Somebody took the lug nuts off my car.  All of them.”

Dunnigan shook his head.  “Well, bud, you want me to call you a wrecker?  No way you can drive it like that.”

“No.  Not yet.  I think I can scrounge some lug nuts and get home.  Borrow some.”

“That’s gonna take a while, man.”

“Yeah.  I know.”

“You want me to drive her home.  It’s getting cold out here.  She’s gettin’ wet.”

Jacob looked at Rachel.  She nodded.

“Yeah.  You better.”

Rachel nearly dove into the warm and dry seat of Dunnigan’s car.  He drove away.  It was raining hard now and Dunnigan shifted the wipers to high speed.

“You all have a good time tonight?  At the dance?”

“Yeah.  It was great.  Can’t believe it’s over.”

“You glad it’s over?”
“Yeah.  I think I am.”

As they made their way through town, Dunnigan made a turn faster than he should have and Rachel heard a loose, metallic rattle as the can full of the lug nuts from Jacob’s car overturned in the well of the back seat.  She looked back over the seat and saw the lug wrench and the nuts strewn on the floor.  Her reaction was immediate and physical.  She lost her breath.  She clinched.  Her jaw dropped.

“Let me out of this car,” she screamed.

“Hey. Don’t get all huffy on me.  I’m taking those back to him soon as I get you home.”

“Let me out of this car.”

“It was a joke, Rachel.  Just a joke.  You wanted to get away from him.  I didn’t make it rain, you know.”

“You let me out of this car.  Right now.  Stop the car.  Let me out.”

“Rachel, it’s pouring the rain.  We’re half a mile from your house.  I can’t let you out in this. Calm down. It was just a joke. Guy’s do this kind of stuff, all the time. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.  Sorry I ever met you.  Stop the car.”

As they approach a stop sign, Dunnigan slows the car and Rachel opens her door full wide while the car is still rolling. The car stops, Rachel gets out, carrying her shoes in one hand and Jacob’s tux jacket in the other.  The rain continues to pour.  It is loud on the roof and hood of the car and on the wet pavement.

Dunnigan yells at her through the open door.

“I’m telling you, Rachel, I’m going right back there soon as I get you home.  Now, get back in the car.”

Rachel slams the car door and starts walking.  Dunnigan rolls the car slowly up beside her and Rachel scampers off of the road and off of the sidewalk and deep into adjoining lawns to continue her walk home and be as far away from the car as possible.  She is drenched now, her hair bedraggled, and she is crying.  She walks on. He follows in the car until she eventually reaches her house and goes inside.

Back at the school parking lot, Jacob has found a way back into the school where he gets to a phone to call his father.  Looking through the window onto the parking lot, as he speaks to his father, he spies Dunnigan’s car returning to the scene and sees Dunnigan get out and take a coffee can and a lug wrench from his backseat and walk with them toward Jacob’s car.

“Dad, just s second.  I may not need you to come down.  I think I may have solved the problem.  Standby.  I’ll call back.”

Jacob walks calmly from the building to his car.  Dunnigan is squatting by the driver’s-side front tire, tightening a lug nut.  He sees Jacob.

“Hey, bud.  Just went by the junk yard and found these.  Got twenty of ‘em.  Should be enough to get you home.”

“Where’s Rachel?”

“She’s home.  Safe and sound.  Nothing to worry about.”

“Stand up.”

“Hey, man.  Get off your high horse.  Trying to help you out here.”

“Stand up.  I know what you did and I know why you did it.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“You gonna stand up or am I gonna have to come down there to give you a whipping?”

Dunnigan takes a handful of lug nuts from the can, stands up and flings them at Jacob’s face.  Jacob turns and blocks them with his arms.  Dunnigan takes a wild swing at Jacob who ducks the blow and comes back with a right cross that smacks Dunnigan’s jaw.  Dunnigan staggers and swings at Jacob again and again misses.  Jacob repeats the right cross, again landing it on Dunnigan’s jaw.  He drops onto the wet pavement and rolls onto his side, gripping his jaw.”

“Damn.  Where did you learn that?”

“My dad.”

“I thought your dad was a preacher.”

“He is.  He didn’t teach me to fight, but he taught me how to fight.”

Copyright 2022

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