Manhattan

Sunday, April 22, 1990

"Hello?" Brian answered.

Honey peered around, trying to determine from where the voice had come.

"Hi, there, youngsters." A tall man wearing flannel, checkered pajama pants under a long, dark rain coat seemed to appear out of nowhere, startling Honey anew.

"Hi." Brian approached the man. "My name's Brian."

"Flynn." Flynn stuck out a hand. The skin on his face was red and weather-beaten, making it hard to tell his age, but he appeared to be roughly thirty years old, give or take a few years.

"I'm Maddie." Honey decided she did not want this guy calling her "Honey". It would seem too creepy.

Flynn nodded in her direction and then turned to look at Di.

"H-hi." Apparently Di didn't want to give her name either. At least hers wasn't a term of endearment.

Flynn glanced over the two girls and then turned back to Brian. "What are you doing around these parts?"

Brian answered, and Honey was glad to let him do so. "Just driving through."

"Don't see your car." Flynn looked up and down the road.

Honey turned around and the old dark green Ford was out of sight. She remembered parking it just off the road, so it must be behind one of the buildings on her right.

"Thought we'd get out and stretch a bit." Brian smiled guardedly at the stranger.

"I see. Well." Flynn frowned. "Be careful."

Honey raised an eyebrow. "Careful of what?"

"Well, now, darlin'." Flynn leered at her. "This place here is haunted. Things stop workin' and people disappear. Wouldn't want a pretty thing like yourself or your friend there to be one of 'em." He nodded in Di's direction.

Honey frowned and placed her hands on her hips. She was tired, cranky, and really not in the mood to deal with some sleazy ... sleaze-ball. "Is that a threat?"

"No, miss. No threat." Flynn smiled at her, revealing a few missing teeth. "Just don't dally long."

Brian frowned at the stranger. "Maybe you should be careful yourself, then."

Flynn laughed and turned away.

Honey watched him as he walked into a building covered in all sorts of signs. A large billboard atop proclaimed it to be an "Emporium" with a smaller sign stating "Wet Goods" on one side of the billboard and "For Dry People" on the other. The sign on the front of the awning was simple and to the point: "Welcome to the Manhattan Bar". On the side of the building was another placard stating "Manhattan Bar" and a large Coors poster. The porch of the bar had a table with two chairs snuggled in between garbage cans and old wagon wheels. The dingy window held a modern blinking Coors Light sign and two small cardboard signs: "ICE" and "We"re OPEN".

Honey took a couple of steps toward the building. "Do you think that place is actually open for business?"

Brian shrugged. "Who knows? Di?"

Di frowned. "I suppose we could check it out, right?"

Brian grinned at both girls. "Let's go, then."

He held an arm out to each of them and led them up the steps and through the door.

The place was empty.

"Hello? Flynn?" Brian called out to the vacant room. The bar had a few stools in front of it, but no one stood behind the wooden counter to provide drinks. The three small tables inside were also empty and grey with dust. Cobwebs were everywhere. A door led off to the side and Honey and Di followed Brian through it. There was still no one to be seen.

Di's violet eyes were wide with wonder. "Where did he go?"

"Let's get out of here." Honey tugged on Brian's sleeve.

"There is the small problem of the car." The corners of Brian's mouth turned down.

"The car's still there. Just because Flynn couldn't see itó"

Brian cut her off. "I know it's still where you parked it. It's just not very drivable, especially not in this weather."

"What weather?" Just then, a large, crackling noise was heard, followed immediately by a rumble that made the noisy car sound like the soft purr of a kitten.

Brian peered out the dusty window. "That weather."

Di held on to Honey's arm as another loud rumble of thunder roared above them. "I guess we should stay in here for a bit then."

 

There are times when she really thought she was stupid. Not academically; her grades were fine, and she had already been accepted to three different colleges. No, it was relationships that made her feel stupid. She went from getting tongue-tied around Mart, to doting on him, to getting mad at him for no reason at all. Okay, maybe not no reason, but certainly not for anything that was his fault. Her current predicament was both their faults. And, yet, she knew that whatever problems she had with her love life, it couldn't be that much harder than what Honey was likely going through.

She vowed, out here in the middle of nowhere, to tell Honey what she suspected. And then she thought better of it. What if she was wrong? What if she was just imagining it? Would Honey get insulted? Mad at her? No, Honey was the understanding and tactful one, at least most of the time. If she was wrong, she and Honey would be laughing about it soon enough.

But she was pretty sure she wasn't imagining it at all. She'd seen the way Honey gazed at Denny Gardner. She'd seen the way Den smiled back at her. And Honey had never been into any boys. Sure, she'd dated a few of them, gone to a handful of dances with them, but she had never looked at them or talked about them the way Trixie mooned over Jim or the way she was sure she probably did over Mart. But when Honey talked about her lab partner, her eyes dilated and her voice became breathless and even if she said the simplest thing, like "I ran into Denny at the bakery today", it was in that same dreamy tone of voice as Trixie saying "Jim got an A on his mid-term." No, she wasn't imagining it.

"Have you kissed her?" she whispered.

"Maria? Yes, of course." Brian looked at her quizzically.

The three of them were sitting at one of the small round tables inside the bar. Outside, the sky had darkened, and Mother Nature was tossing ice pellets at the little shack with a fury. The flashes of lightning seemed to occur with an alarming frequency, and the rumbles of thunder followed almost instantaneously.

"Oh, yes, of course. You've slept with her, after all." She hadn't meant the question for him. She looked over at Honey. "How about you?"

"What?" Honey appeared ... scared? Terrified.

"Never mind. It's okay." Di smiled at her friend. "Really. Either way."

"I haven't slept with her." Brian shook his head ruefully. "Ok, I've slept over at her place, and in her bed, with her in the bed, too. But I haven't slept with her."

"No sex?" Di raised an eyebrow.

Brian grimaced. "No. It's just not ... there're complications. No."

"I have." Honey whispered the words, and Di couldn't be sure she'd actually heard her correctly.

Brian's eyes darted from Honey, to Di, and then back to Honey. "What?"

But Di was too astonished to try to explain. "Kissed ... or ... slept with?"

Honey turned beet red. "Kissed. Touched. Everything." She sounded like she was about to cry.

"Who?" Brian turned to their friend.

"Denny. I kissed Denny." Honey's eyes started to brim with tears.

"I thought you said you weren't seeing anyone. Who's Denny?" Brian cocked an eyebrow at Di. "And what's so upsetting about kissing him?"

"Never mind." Di leaned over the small table and tried to hug Honey. "I'm happy for you. Really. I mean, I would be, but if it makes you feel this sad, I don't know if I should be."

Honey hiccupped. "I don't know either."

"What's going on? Honey?" Brian sounded very concerned, and Di felt momentarily guilty bringing up this topic in front of him. "Honey?" he repeated. "Is the guy you're seeing making you feel bad? That's not good for you. It's not healthy."

Di shook her head, trying to discourage Brian. "Honey, I'm sorry. I should have waited until we were alone. But I know Brian will understand." She turned to the dark-haired boy she'd known practically her entire life. "You will, right? Because this is a good thing, and she shouldn't feel bad."

Brian nodded, but his eyes showed his uncertainty.

"Den Gardner is really nice. And she's pretty. I've been mesmerized by her eyes, too. Not in the same way you have, mind you, but I'm just saying ... she's hot." Di grinned. "And, more important, she's very friendly and nice to everyone."

Honey hiccupped again. "How did you know?" She reached for a yellowing napkin out of the rusty-looking dispenser on the table. Di was surprised it didn't fall apart at her touch, and she was thankful that her friend hadn't actually dabbed her eyes with it. She just wrung it in her hands nervously.

"She? She's hot?" Brian's eyes grew wide. "Oh. Oh ...." And then he smiled. "And you kissed her. And ... and ...." Brian started to blush.

Honey nodded. "I'm sorry. Really. I know it's wrong. But when I'm with her ...." She let out a big sob and then sat there, hunched her shoulders, and just kept crying.

Di couldn't have felt worse. She slid her chair around the table next to her friend's and hugged her as tight as she could. "Oh, Honey. I'm sorry. I thought you were finally happy."

"I ...." She hiccupped through the tears. "I am."

"Honey, that's great, right?" Di rubbed her friend's back. "I've seen you around her, heard you talk about her. Maybe you both tried to hide it, but it always seemed to me she likes, no, loves you, just as much as you love her. You should be happy."

Honey shook her head. "No. It's wrong of us. We shouldn't be happy."

Brian's arm reached around Honey's other side as he hugged her, too. "Well, you don't really sound happy right now. But why?"

Di smiled gratefully at him.

"What do ...?" Honey sniffed and tried to sit up straight, which Di realized was probably hard for her to do while being hugged from two different directions. "What do you mean by 'why'?"

Brian stroked Honey's hair. "Why do you think it's wrong? Why don't you think you should be happy? It sounds to me like you found someone great that you enjoy being with."

"But she's ... she's a girl. And I'm a girl. We're supposed to like boys. I can't ever really be happy if I feel like this about her." Honey shook her head, but Di saw the smile on Honey's face through the tears.

"Are you saying you need a boy to make you happy?" Di's mouth turned down on one side. "Why would you need a boy for that?"

"Think about it, Di." Honey hiccupped again as she wiped some of the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I can't go on a date with her. I can't go to prom with her." Honey's smile widened and she got that dreamy look in her eyes. But then she frowned again. "I can't ever marry her. I mean, we're too young right now anyway, and I don't know if she'd want to, probably not, but even if we were older and I wanted to marry her, and she would be willing to marry me, well, we can't do that. Ever." Honey sighed. "And I sure can't tell my parents how I feel about her."

Di looked at Brian, hoping, imploring him to say something smart and wise and, well, Brian-like.

"Oh." He frowned. That was all he seemed to have to offer.

"Well, I think it's ridiculous you can't do those things." Di grew indignant. "Why can't you go on a date with her? No one else needs to know it's a date. And you can certainly go to the prom with her. Girls go together all the time."

"When they can't get dates." Honey frowned, and then smiled, and then frowned again. "Even if we do go on dates, the fact that we have to hide it, that we can't hold hands or steal kisses or just hold each other close ...." Honey's voice trailed off into a dreamy sigh as she smiled once more.

"Maybe you're right." Di grew sad realizing she had had no idea just how hard it was for the two of them. Maybe Honey's troubles were actually worse than her own. "But there is one thing you can do now that you couldn't before today."

Honey looked at Di, her hazel eyes wide. "What's that?"

"You can stop trying to hide your feelings from each other around me. I won't mind if you hold hands or hold each other or even kiss." Di grinned and winked at her friend. "Just no big make out sessions please. That might be a bit awkward."

"Right." Honey actually laughed. "We already have that rule in place for you and Mart, so I suppose it's only fair Den and I follow the same rule."

"And maybe, one person, or two," Di glanced at Brian, "at a time, you'll be able to be with her openly, not having to hide how you feel."

 

Brian sniffed, shining his flashlight at the abandoned cars. "I hope the Ford didn't get as rusted as the rest of these clunkers in that deluge."

Honey knew he was kidding, but she started to have the same fear. There was something strange about Manhattan. Trixie would say it was spine-tingling strange. Her best friend would be thoroughly enjoying this adventure. And Honey had to admit that she was, too. Or she would be if her own deluge of tears hadn't worn her out emotionally. "Let's worry about getting the car in good enough shape to get us home tomorrow. Right now, it's dark, it's getting very cold, and we need to find a place to sleep."

Brian nodded. "She might actually get us home now, but it will be noisy and smelly, and we could end up poisoning ourselves with the exhaust fumes." He winked to show he wasn't quite serious.

She left Brian to go figure out the car and started walking up the road. She was kind of relieved her secret was out with these two friends of hers, but that meant she would have to tell the rest of the Bob-Whites soon, especially Trixie. Although she had a sneaky feeling Trixie probably already knew, too.

"Wait for me!" Di was calling after her.

Honey stopped walking and turned around, waiting for her friend to catch up with her.

"You shouldn't be wandering off on your own!" Di admonished. "Especially when it's dark like this."

Honey shrugged. She'd started walking to keep from feeling the cold. "There's no one out here. Nothing's going to happen to me."

Di shook her head. "This place is spooky. Crazy spooky." She started walking along with Honey. "Where are you going anyway?"

"To see what's over the hill there." Honey pointed ahead of them.

"The other side of the hill." Di grinned. "That's all the bear found." She clutched Honey's arm and peered around at the darkness. "There aren't bears out here, are there?"

"I don't think so." Honey chuckled. "I think bears like forests. With rivers or lakes. Not barren wasteland."

The two girls passed another abandoned car on the road. Honey shivered.

"Why are there so many broken down cars here?" Di quickened her pace. "Is there something in the air that kills cars?"

"I thought we weren't supposed to talk about death." Honey frowned. "But it sure is weird, isn't it?"

"Well, hello, darlings." Flynn was suddenly standing in front of them.

"How ... howdy." Honey tried to cover up her astonishment. But how did he get there? And where had he gone before.

"Kind of late to be looking around some more." The brown-haired man leered at them.

"It's not that late." Honey refused to let him intimidate her.

"Maybe I can help you find something?" He raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "A hotel perhaps?"

Honey kept walking right past him, pulling Di along with her. They were almost at the top of the hill, and she wanted to see if there was anything to see before she said another word to the creepy man.

Flynn turned around and followed them. "You are heading in the right direction. Look for the blue house on the corner. Maureen Bellmont will take you in ... for a price."

"That sounds ominous," Di whispered. "What kind of a price?"

Honey looked down at the town she could now see: a splattering of windows highlighted some more run-down buildings, and something well-lit that looked like it might be a general store. One that was actually operational, she hoped. "Come on, Di. Let's check that out."

Di nodded and the two of them quickened their pace. Behind them, Honey heard Flynn cackle. But he didn't seem to be following them anymore. She hoped he left Brian alone.

 

A small bell over the door tinkled as Honey pulled it open and entered. The place reminded her immediately of Lytell's. It had a similar smell, sort of musky and always a hint of bleach. Long fluorescent lights hung above aluminum shelves that held an assortment of canned and boxed foods, but only a little of everything. She made her way to the cash register on the other side of the door where a man in a blue shirt and a brown cowboy hat was sitting in a chair. The hat covered most of his face, and he looked like he was asleep. She reached over the counter and touched his arm gently.

The man snorted as he startled himself awake. Then he stood up. She could see the gray hair under the hat, and his eyes were rather pale in color. "Who are you?" He sounded defensive; he seemed worried.

Honey thought it would be good to introduce herself and not cause any more concern for this man. What did he think anyway? That two young girls were going to wake him up to rob him? "My name is Maddie. We're from out of town."

"I know that much. This town only has 37 people, and I know them all." He made a harumphy kind of noise and sat back down. "Why are you in this town?"

"Our car broke down." No point in mentioning that this was their intended destination to begin with, was there?

Di put her hand on Honey's shoulder. "You know everyone in town? What do you know about Flynn?"

The man raised an eyebrow and then squinted. "Flynn who?"

"Um, I just know the one name. He wears checkered pajama pants and a long, dark rain coat?" Di looked back toward the door nervously.

Honey hoped he hadn't wandered in behind them. He seemed to have a way of moving around without being noticed until he wanted to be.

"Nobody in this town like that." The old man dismissed her. He turned back to Honey. "Car broke down, you say?" He snorted. "Good luck with that, then."

"Is there a mechanic in town?" Not that she thought they needed one, but she didn't much care for his attitude, and it was a good excuse to find out more about the people in this town.

"Sure. Joe Flynn." The man leaned his elbows on the counter and pointed toward the door. "Just keep going farther down the road. You can't miss the place. But I doubt he's still there at this hour; you should try him in the morning."

"I thought you said there were no Flynns in this town?" Di glared at him.

"Never said that at all. Said there was no one who wanders around in pajamas and a raincoat." The man chuckled. "Flynns we got a plenty."

"Is your name Flynn, by any chance?" Honey smiled at him.

"Nope. Name's Bellmont. Roger Bellmont." He sighed. "And I suppose you'll be needing a place to stay tonight until you can get your car looked at?"

"As a matter of fact, we would like a place to stay. Is there a motel in town?" She hoped she sounded polite.

"No. But you can go ask my sister, Maureen. She'll let you stay in her house." He pointed out the door again. "Just make a left on Gold Street. Big blue house on the right. Porch light should be on."

"Thank you, Mr. Bellmont." Honey took hold of Di and steered her out of the store.

Di protested, holding up a bag of chips and a package of Hostess cupcakes. "Let me pay for these first."

"You're getting as bad as Mart about food." Honey sighed. She had noticed Di was gaining weight, as well, but she had to find a way to tactfully tell her she might want to watch what she was eating. "Isn't there any place with more healthy food? Fresh produce, yogurt?"

Mr. Bellmont glared at her, seemingly taking offense that his food offerings weren't good enough for the out-of-towners, but he rang up Di's purchase. He pasted a fake smile on his face as he handed her the change. "Have a nice night."

Once they were safely outside and heading back down the street, she shook her head slightly and glanced at her dark-haired friend. "So how are you liking Manhattan so far?"

"I think I prefer New York's version." Di grinned widely and then laughed. "But I'm still glad we came."



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