Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Retro Teens

Sharon knelt down and put her backpack in front of her.  She took her calculus text that she had been holding to her chest and started to shove itIMG_0043 to the bottom of the pack.  She had to pull out the overalls and got grease on her hand.

“Yuck!” She zipped the backpack and waved her hand in disgust, looking around for something, anything.  She ran to the overflowing trash bin. On top was an empty McDonald’s bag. With it she rubbed off  as much grease as she could.

When she returned for her pack, Sean was  holding it by one strap and grinning.  Still wearing his overalls covered in grease, he said, “It’s what you get for changing clothes here  Sharon.  Come on! I thought you were one of us.When I get home I strip down in the laundry room and throw the gear straight into the washer.”

She shoved the thought of Sean stripping out of her head and reached for her bag, “Thanks, Sean.  But it’s hard enough being the only girl in Auto Shop.”

“Hard? Why? Somebody giving you guff?”

“No nothing like that.  You guys are great, and  I appreciate it.  I really do.” She smiled, shifted the pack to her shoulder, tried to think of a reason to draw out the time. Finally,  “Hey you know what? Mom’ll have a cow if I don’t get to the store to do the books. See you tomorrow. ”

She turned and began to walk down McClellan, when Sean shouted.

“I just remembered. Randy’s throwing a party Saturday at 7.  His house.  Bummer that his folks will be there, but if you tell your Mom and Dad that it’s ‘chaperoned,’ they might let you go.”

“I will,” she said, knowing it wouldn’t matter unless it was chaperoned by the Pope himself.  “Thanks Sean, I’ll let you know.”  She walked faster, mortified. How could even Sean know the way her parents were?

In her other classes: Calculus, English, Mechanical Drawing, Physics, and Spanish IV, the kids were all college bound and the same little uptight brown-nosers their parents had been.

Auto Shop was different. And a natural choice, since Sharon had always had a secret passion for cars. Her parents had accepted the designs of futuristic autos she’d sketch in meticulous detail until she began talking about wanting to get an engineering degree and working for a big automaker.

They even talked about sending her to “see” someone, until Sharon showed them the pay scale for design engineers. Suddenly their daughter became eccentric, yes, but oh so smart. “She plans on designing automobiles, you know. I guess you’d call her an artist.”

Auto Shop was the closest she could get in high school to a hands-on experience of what it was going to be like to work in Detroit, or when she let the dreams spin out maybe even for Ferrari in Maranello or Mercedes in Stuttgart.

She stayed to herself in Auto Shop, but to her surprise the guys accepted her.  There was none of the macho junk she heard from her Dad.  The guys were eager to help,  and as eager to listen to her suggestions. Her shop classmates took pride, and the grade was whatever they got.  Unlike in her other classes, there was no grade grubbing or GPA nervous breakdowns.

There was a freedom, a good feeling, when she was around Sean and the others, especially when around Sean.

If only she could go to that party . . .

The bell above the door rang when she entered her mother’s bridal shop. And of course, there was her mother, arms folded, staring at the white and gold faux antique clock with it’s peeling roman numerals. “It’s about time, young lady.”

“Mother, it’s three after . . “

“Punctual is punctual.  How long do you think you’ll be able to keep this place open after I’m gone with that attitude?”

“After you’re gone? Please.”

“Young lady!”

“Whatever? Just give me the books. I need to get through them.  I have to write a Spanish paper tonight.”

Her mother started to say something, but Sharon’s stare stopped her. Instead, she drew the curtains and disappeared.

In her mind, Sharon could see her Mom’s shoulders hunched blocking the view of the safe’s combination, as if Sharon hadn’t figured out the combination years ago. As if Sharon hadn’t learned that nothing was in the safe except those damn ledgers, ledgers whose figures made her wonder why her Mom bothered with the shop at all.

Her mother handed her the two leather bound books. When Sharon tried to take them, her Mom saw the grease on her hand and held tight. “Really Sharon. That damn class.  It’s just not ladylike.”

Sharon yanked the books from her grip and headed for the side table and chair.  She sat, pulled the yellow pad and pencil from the drawer, but before checking her Mom’s weekly figures, said. “By the way, there’s a party Saturday night at Randy Fagin’s house.  His Mom and Dad will be there.  I’m going.”

She opened the ledger and began to work.

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