A Charmed Life
Chapter 24: Back to School

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

07 September 1991 - Main Street, Enfield, Massachusetts

Jeff unlocked Bilzarian’s front door and flipped the sign from “Closed” to “Open.” The steady rain this Saturday fit his mood. He’d simply existed over the two weeks since Jenna and Oscar’s wedding; the apartment was cold and empty without Allison, even in the late summer heat. He would have to be cautious not to dive back into a relationship just to fill the hole in the space, or in his heart.

Paul Ezekiel returned to the store; he handed Jeff a coffee and bagel from the shop down the street. Jeff made appreciative noises when he accepted the offering. Paul kept his laughter to himself while Jeff inhaled the bagel. The coffee would have disappeared as fast if not for its temperature; Jeff drank hot coffee year round.

All of the other summer help’s hours were “reduced” to one afternoon per week the week before Labor Day; none of them chose to stay. Paul, who didn’t play sports, was offered twenty hours a week with an offer of more hours implied. Since he was over fifteen, his hours-per-week work restriction during school was higher. Paul’s school year started the week Jeff returned home. Jeff was glad that Paul decided to keep working. He’d hand picked the youngster to open the store with him on Saturdays.

“How’s the EMT class so far?” Paul asked after the usual mini-rush of customers at opening.

“A little different than I expected, actually. It turns out that military medics are allowed to do things civilian EMTs here in the Commonwealth aren’t; I suppose that’s due to the potential for being isolated in military situations. Even if GVMC wasn’t around, there are four or five emergency rooms within a thirty minute drive of Enfield. Heck, there’s even helicopter evac available to civilians now.”

“Do you like it?”

“I don’t see any reason I won’t. We haven’t gotten into the medicine too much yet; we’ve only had the two classes. The first night was introductory housekeeping stuff and the second a medical-legal lecture. I liked the first-aid stuff in the Army, and I liked how it felt to help that family I told you about. Another thing the Army taught me about training was that reality doesn’t always equal training.”

“In what way?”

“Well, the Army took the time to set up scenarios for us and it was very realistic training; not everybody does that. Things the Army taught us individually started to pile up on us fast during field exercises, and sorting things out could get very interesting very quickly. Which is why they tried to set up the training scenarios in the first place, to show us how things could go sideways so fast and how to react to unexpected changes. You learn how to anticipate. I’m a big believer in ‘train like you’ll fight, and you’ll fight like you train.’”

“‘Their drills are bloodless battles, and their battles bloody drills?’ That kind of thing?”

“Right you are, Josephus. ‘The more you bleed in training, the less you’ll bleed in war.’ You could go on all day like that. Ask me how it’s going around Halloween or so. I’ll be doing some assistant coaching this fall, too.”

“Trying to fill the space?”

“I guess I am,” he replied with a look of loss on his face. “I’m not talking down to you, Paul, but it’s very true that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

“You going to serenade me with hair-band power ballads today?”

The EMT class began with actual medical training the following week. Jeff strolled into class the week after that and spotted a new friend also lacking hair; they’d been paired together for their initial CPR training. Jeff suffered from the same kind of hair issue.

“Gene the Marine! What up, Jarhead?”

“Hey, Airborne. I prefer ‘Devil Dog, ‘ you know?”

“Well, Entschuldigen Sie bitte, Herr Teufelhunden. What about ‘Leatherneck?’ ‘Gyrine?’”

“What about I kick your ass?”

“Which Marine Amphibious Unit are you gonna get to help you with that?”

“You think I’ll need a MAU? I’ll do it myself! Pay attention tonight, by the way. You might actually learn something.”

“What? Like how you manage to hang on to that wife of yours? How one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children like you manages to keep a woman like that hanging around him is beyond me.”

Gene Choamsky smiled a crooked smile. “It’s beyond me too, Jeff,” he sighed.

Jeff recognized the shift from the playful insults they’d been trading. “I’m surprised you and Jean didn’t name your little girl something that shortens to ‘Jeanine, ‘ ‘Ginny, ‘ ‘Jen, ‘ or something else along those lines. How old is Elise again?”

“She’s almost four,” the proud papa replied. “It’s weird, while I was still in Force Recon, the best part of my day was helocasting into the water or something gung-ho like that. Now, it’s coloring a Snoopy coloring book with her.”

“That sounds pretty great, Gene.”

The plates on the universal gym crashed together as Jeff finished up his military press reps. He’d prefer to use free weights for his workouts, but without someone around to spot him the universal was safer. Thompkins would have free weights, too.

He’d finished his eight-hour workday at Bilzarian’s at two before coming to his alma mater for his workout. I guess pre-workout workout would be more accurate, Jeff thought. After the upper body work, he’d lace up his skates for the on-ice leg work. Suicides on the ice. I must be nuts.

“Hey!” Jeff spun on the stool he was using. He looked up at the person who’d yelled. A man in his forties was scowling at him from the entrance to the weight room. “How did you get in here?”

“I opened the door?”

“And just what the hell do you think you’re doing in here?”

“Finishing my chest and arm workout.”

“What gives you the right to use my weight room?”

Jeff looked around. “‘Your weight room?’ Funny, I don’t see a plaque with your name anywhere, not that I care what your name is at this point. The only plaque I saw was the one outside by the door with ‘Gift of the Class of 1966’ on it.”

“Don’t get smart with me, you little punk.”

“‘Little?’ I haven’t been working out this hard for eight years to still be a ‘little’ punk. I better start working out even harder.”

“I’m calling the cops!”

“Okay, ask for Jack Dwadczik to respond when you talk to them; I haven’t seen Jack in a while. And give my compliments to Chief Brewer if you would? Thanks.”

The shade of red the man turned almost went with the school colors of black, yellow and white he wore. He took a step towards Jeff before the door opened behind him.

“I thought you’d be on the ice by now, Jeff,” John Kessler said when he entered.

“Working on it, John,” he answered without taking his eyes off the other man.

“Well, here’s your faculty ID. I’m going to grab my skates and I’ll join you out at the rink. It’ll be easier to go over the defensive plays on the ice anyway.”

“This punk is faculty?” the other man asked, incredulous.

“‘Punk, ‘ Jay? This gentleman is an alum - Jeff Knox, Class of 1987. He’s one of my former players, a U.S. Army veteran of Panama and the Gulf War and my assistant coach for this coming season. Oh, he’s also Marisa Knox’s son and very well remembered here. I suggest you tread lightly.”

The man turned red again, spun on his heel and left the room. John turned back to Jeff and raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t take you long.”

“Hey, I don’t know what his problem is. I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

“That’s Jay Wanamaker, the new soccer coach; he’s his own problem. And since when do lovers receive the Silver Star?”

“So, you’re saying I won’t be working with the soccer team then?”

“Over his dead body.”

“Don’t tempt me like that, John.”

“Hey, Jeff, you’re drawing someone’s eye.”

“What are you talking about, Marine?”

“Your seven o’clock. You’ve got someone checking you out.” Jeff and Gene were at GVMC ER doing their state-mandated observation hours for their EMT class. Gene stepped past Jeff, heading in the direction he’d indicated, then turned back to Jeff as if he’d forgotten something. “Can you see her behind me now? Brunette, maybe about five-eight or so?”

“The one with the oversized ‘Frankie says RELAX’ t-shirt?”

“That’s her. Very 1983. Gotta go!”

“Damn Jarhead,” Jeff muttered to himself while Gene stepped away toward the lobby bathroom. Gene shot him a smirk; Jeff scratched his nose with his middle finger. Gene’s laughter cut off when the bathroom door closed.

“Excuse me? Doctor?” the brunette asked.

Jeff fought not to roll his eyes. He wasn’t wearing a lab coat, which seemed to be part of a doctor’s uniform even in the ER. He was also wearing an adhesive name tag which read “JEFF - EMT OBSERVER.” Not that he had any pick-up lines, but that one was pretty lame. “I’m not a doctor, miss, but may I help you?”

“I’m Trina. Do you know how much longer the wait will be?”

“I’m sorry, miss, but I don’t work here. I’m only an observer from a local EMT class. You’d have to ask one of the staff for that information.”

“Oh. How about your phone number, then?”

“My phone number?” The woman nodded. She also flashed him a coy smile. He was trying to figure out how to not give out his number when Divine Providence smiled upon him.

“Jeff! Trauma coming in!” called Jean from behind the front desk. Jean was the nurse he was shadowing for the evening.

“Sorry, miss. I have to go,” he explained, then turned for the door to the treatment area. He emerged in the back hallway and stepped over to the PPE cart; the cart was stocked with gowns, face masks and latex gloves. He began to pull gloves from one of the boxes.

“Whoa there hero, slow down!” Jean said.

“What about the trauma?”

“The only trauma was going to be to her ego when you turned down her request; don’t ever play poker, by the way. She’s here for abdominal cramping with minor vaginal bleeding.”

Jeff processed that information. “Wait, she’s here for her period?”

“Got it in one! She’s a semi-regular. You stay back here and I’ll ask Doc Freeman to talk to her out front in one of the minor treatment rooms there. Now, there is an older gentleman with chest pain over along that wall. Go see if Dawn needs a hand; I’ve already told her I’d send you over to help out.”

Jeff woke with a snort. A glance at his alarm clock told him it was two-thirty in the morning. Why am I awake? he wondered. It was then that he heard laughter. The laughter sounded like it was coming from the back deck. He slipped out of bed. Jeff saw four people on the deck when he stuck his head around the frame of his bedroom door and looked through the kitchen window. They had what looked like beer bottles in their hands.

Jeff ducked back into the bedroom and dressed in jeans, t-shirt and his sneakers without turning on a light. Using a small penlight in a closed closet to see he spun the combination lock of the gun safe there; the safe was an unexpected find when he started cleaning the apartment. Steve Bilzarian found the combo in his father’s papers and gave that combo to Jeff after emptying the safe. Jeff bought Mr. Bilzarian’s .45 and Remington pump shotgun from Steve. He’d placed those weapons back in the safe but now extracted them again. Jeff grabbed the cordless phone before he left the bedroom.

“Enfield 9-1-1, this call is being recorded, what is the emergency?”

“There are four people drinking on my back deck. They were not invited, and I don’t know who they are. They woke me up.”

“Where are you calling from, sir?”

“There’s an apartment above Bilzarian’s Hardware, 223 Main Street; that’s where I am. They had to have come up my back stairs from the store’s loading dock; that’s the only way to access the deck without coming through the apartment.”

“Can you stay where you are while I dispatch officers to your location?”

“Yes. I’m still inside observing. I have no intention of going out there.”

“Very good, sir, hold on. Six-six-one to Thirty-four?”

Jeff heard the unit she called answer back. “Thirty-four?”

“Thirty-four, Bilzarian’s Hardware at 223 Main Street, the back deck off the second floor. We have an uninvited group disturbing. Access via the back stairs from the store’s loading dock. Thirty-six will be en route from Station E.”

“Thirty-four, received.”

“Are you still there, sir?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Jeff Knox.”

“Any relation to Joe and Marisa?”

“They’re my parents.”

“This is Mary Summersworth, Jeff. What are those people doing now?” Mary Summersworth was another long-time customer of his Dad.

“Hi, Mrs. Summersworth. They’re just standing ... wait, one of them just started smashing a table. They’re bringing the table leg to the back door. I think they’re going to break in, Mrs. Summersworth.”

“Six-six-one to Thirty-four and Thirty-six, parties about to break into the apartment.”

“Tell the officers I’m armed please, Mrs. Summersworth. We don’t need any surprises when they arrive.”

“Resident advises he is armed.”

“I’m putting the phone down,” he advised the police dispatcher. “I’m leaving the line open, though.”

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