Atalanta's Story Continued: Reaching Home Chapter 20

This is the first chapter of Spring Fling the second part of Reaching Home. This and the last chapter are transitioning from winter to spring. Atalanta spends her spring break in Washington DC. Trouble finds her in isolated places. What can possibly go wrong in a city of several million people?

Again I want to thank Ashleigh for her editing.

I do hope you enjoy this chapter.

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Chapter 20

Closing the truck door I clicked the seatbelt and turned to Manny who had just fired up the engine, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Turning he grinned, “What’s the matter kiddo; I thought you liked it here. Besides,” he added, “Sam’s coming with us.”

“Sam, yeah she wants to connect with a couple of old war buddies.”

“You reckon they’ll know who she is?”

“They’ll know,” Sam responded opening the rear door and tossing her duffel bag in beside me.

“Well,” I replied as she settled in beside Manny, “I can knock a few heads if you like.”

Two heads turned as one and shouted, “No,” with Sam adding, “That’s all I need.”

“Hey,” I shouted back, “I resemble that remark.”

“You sure do,” Manny called back putting the truck in gear driving away from and between the sentinel gargoyles guarding the front entrance. I smiled sweetly at the cameras I knew were mounted by the front entrance but resisted the impulse to display a single digit wave.

Sam must have read my thoughts, “What’s with it between you and Mrs. Carson?”

Manny’s eyes found mine in the rearview mirror. “I believe it started at the train station and then later when I was escorted to the school by some of your mates. She just doesn’t appreciate my awesomeness,” I quipped pulling my duster tighter swinging my booted feet up to rest on Sam’s duffel bag and resting my head on the back seat. “Yeah that’s it,” I smiled beneath from beneath my upturned hat, “I’m underappreciated.”

“Yeah, right,” they returned dryly.

“That’s enough chatter from the peanut gallery. Miss Awesome doesn’t need comments from the peasants,” I replied sighing noisily.

“Miss Awes-o-m-e,” Sam jeered. Her emphasis at the ending served to distort the sound but my ears picked up an anomaly hiding in the syllables. Air currents brushed against my skin and tickling the membranes of inner ear alerted me. My left arm moved several inches catching a water bottle several inches from my face and in the same motion returned it on almost an exact trajectory.

“No thanks,” I replied dryly, “I’m not thirsty.”

“You owe me dinner,” Manny laughed at Sam.

Burrowing deeper in the seat I re-imagined the last meeting when Mrs. Carson called me into her office.

“Atalanta sit down.”

“There’s been a last-minute change of plans,” she explained.

Cocking an eyebrow, I waited, wary of Mrs. Carson’s plans.

“Fish and Game and the Secret Service require your presence in Arlington for Spring break.”

“Oh,” I replied laconically, then quipping, “They’re taking me to South Beach instead for Spring break.”

“Don’t be absurd Miss. Reed. They want to debrief, qualify, and process your ID.”

“Sounds clinical,” I grinned.

“Manny’s going with you and Sam’s going too,” she replied refusing to bite.

“Ah, the three Musketeers, and we are doing the town right,”I prodded.

“No, you’ll be busy instead. You leave Friday and return on Monday the week after.”

That was pretty much the extent of the conversation though I’m sure both Manny and Sam had had several. Of course, Team Kimba had to tease me about burning down the capitol and other such nonsense.

Manny and Sam’s constant chatter, the warmth of the sun’s rays, and the flexibility of youth that could fall asleep on a tree root combined for me to drift into slumber.

The sudden sway and jerk of the truck jolted me wide awake every sense alert.

“…you sure this is the right street,” Manny asked.

“Yeah I’m sure but it sure looks like the neighborhood has changed some.”

Swinging my feet to the floor I looked between the seats out the front windshield to what looked like a bombed out shell. Abandoned store buildings some burned out, others boarded up with others staring sightlessly out of empty eye sockets. Sunlight reflecting off broken glass shards shimmered like tears in the afternoon sun. Stray dogs darted between abandoned cars that stood willy-nilly.

“Sam you sure this is the right neighborhood?”

“I think so but we can ask at that diner up ahead,” Sam pointed to a silvery metallic cube roughly 20’ square a single window looking out and narrow set of steps leading inside. Manny shut the engine off in front of the dive and turned to me, “Sam and I will go inside and you stay out here; we don’t want any trouble. Two of you might set off something. Want something to eat?”

Folding my arms under my breasts I pouted, “I wanna go too.”

Laughing Manny returned, “Hell I may have to fight to get Sam out—who knows and we may need you as backup.”

I understood, but I was still pissed about it, “Coffee and whatever looks good—if anything.”

“Sit tight,” Sam called getting out on her side and following Manny’s lead, walked to the diner and disappeared inside.

The diner was situated at a corner in an old strip mall long ago abandoned and I was about to settle into my seat when movement caught my eye. Peering from a corner of the eatery two children about 10or 11 years old fidgeted with exaggerated actions, their eyes wide and wild.

Opening the rear half door I leaned out, “You kids need any help?”

They immediately quieted looking warily at me. Sensing their distrust I removed my hat and shook out my hair, “That’s better,” I smiled brightly adding, “are you kids lost?”

They exchanged looks leaning in whispering and then looked back at me. Throwing caution to the wind I left the truck completely crouching down to their level. “What’s your name?” I asked the girl.

“Carly,” she answered timidly.

“A pretty name for a pretty girl,” I beamed back to her causing her to giggle behind her hand. “And what’s yours?” I asked the boy.

“Shawn,” he answered with a little more force.

“And such a handsome name,” I answered in an Irish brogue, “’tis a handsome lad you are too.” He laughed and they both took tentative steps closer. Both were of mixed heritage dark ruddy complexion of Middle East, Southern Europe lineage with brown hair and eyes. They were dressed in clean but worn clothing.

“My name is Atalanta.”

“Atlanta.”

They heard the name of the city in Georgia.“No, it is Ata-lan-ta, not a name you hear often. I’m named after a Greek goddess. But it is close enough among friends and we are friends aren’t we?”

“I guess so.”

“Where do you kids live?”

They pointed to a narrow street running perpendicular to the business lined with scraggly bushes and oak trees their skeletal branches hovered menacingly.

“Looks scary,” I noted.

“There’s two big old mean boys on that side,” Carly pointed, “and over there,” Shawn gestured to a house across the street, “they have a great big mean dog that’ll they’ll sic on you.”

“Atalanta who are your friends?” Manny and Sam had walked up.

“Guys this is Carly and Shawn. Carly, Shawn, meet Manny and Sam. Did you find your friend Sam?” I added.

“They said he lives 6 houses down that street,” she pointed out the same street the children lived on.

“Hey,” I said, “that’s the street my new friends live on. Why don’t we give them a ride?”

Manny shot me a sideways look.

“We’re not supposed to get in a car with strangers.”

“That’s good advice,” Sam agreed.

“Come on Atalanta let’s get in,” Manny advised.

“It’s not far, I believe I’ll walk and get to know my new friends.”

“Atalanta—,” Manny began blowing out air from puffed up cheeks.

“—Maybe we can call your mammas,” Sam interjected, “to see if it is all right—you riding with us—since we’re going to the same neighborhood. What are your last names and phone numbers.”

“My mamma is Margaret Butt—and mine is Martha Cheeks,” Shawn finished. I mentally slapped my forehead at the puns and jokes that Butt and Cheeks solicited: Or the bullying. They looked to be the same age and probably seated alphabetically too.

“Hey, I have an idea why don’t I call,” I exclaimed retrieving my phone, “what’s your number?”

I punched the numbers in as Carly gave them to me despite the dirty looks thrown my way. “Mrs. Butts,” I asked when the phone was answered. “My name is Atalanta Reed and we’re down here at the corner store. I’m here with my daddy and cousin—daddy is looking for a guy he served with. I made friends with your daughter Carly and her friend Shawn…oh cousin.”

We talked for another minute or two before I handed the phone over to Carly as she wanted to speak with her daughter.

Once the formalities were done the kids piled into the back with me, Sam handed me my coffee and a burger as Manny backed out and turning, idled down the street counting the houses.

“There—that’s our house,” Carly squealed pointing at a brick house with attached carport. Surrounding the property a 5-foot steel link fence stood guard over the property. The lawn was raked of leaves, trees pruned, dead branches removed, and thorny rose bushes placed at precise markers. Manny pulled into the drive stopping at the gate; a gate set in concrete supported by double posts on a rolling track. A similar setup at the far end of the property marked the basement entrance.

“C. Ralph,” Manny read the name off the mailbox.

“Would that be Clancy Ralph?”

“That’s our grandpa,” the two children beside me shouted.

A woman appeared in the carport as the gate began to slide open admitting us inside the perimeter. Manny stopped the truck a respectable distance inside the gate, put the vehicle in park and killed the engine.

Carly and Shawn opened the driver’s side rear door and scampered out. Carly reached inside and pulled on my arm, “Atalanta come on out.”

“Just a minute,” I replied shrugging out of duster while watching a man walk from the far side of the house towards us. He appeared to be in his middle to late 50s’ heavyset and walking with a slight limp. I guessed he was Sam’s buddy that she immediately confirmed, “That’s him,” Sam whispered to Manny.

Carly was still excitedly pulling on my arm, her mom was calling for her and the older man was advancing warily.

“Your mom’s calling you. You better scoot, I’ll be right behind you,” I smiled at the girl making a move as to follow her but instead fidgeted in the backseat.

Samantha called out when the man was still some distance off, “Are you, Clancy Ralph?”

“Who wants to know?” he replied bluntly.

“I’m Samantha Everhart, Sam for short—“

“I served with a Sam Everhart are you his daughter?”

Sam momentarily tensed replying dryly in a slightly pinched tone, “That’d be me.”

“Who have you got with you?”

“Manny Black; he’s in the same line of work as we—that is my father—and in the backseat is his goddaughter Atalanta Reed who’s going into the business too.”

“Hmm,” he replied stroking his chin, “I thought I remembered something about his daughter being killed.”

Sam’s face remained stoic, “You heard wrong.”

“Dad wanted me to stop by if I was in the neighborhood.”

“Get out and we’ll talk campfire tales.”

I followed Manny around to the front of the vehicle stopping five paces from Manny who was an equal distance from Sam.

Clancy took note of the formation, “How long you been hanging with these two?” he asked me.

I bit back a sharp retort that jumped to my lips, “All my life it seems,” I smiled instead.

“I was in the basement we can talk down there.”

“Atalanta?”

“I’ll be along in a minute,” I answered gesturing at Carly and Shawn who were darting between vehicles on the carport.

I introduced myself to Margaret, Carly’s mom exchanging small talk before she invited me inside. Margaret was around mid 30s’, with character lines just beginning to show, the beginning of a slight paunch, and tinges of washed out color.

“I’m sorry I’d like to but we have a ways to go yet. I wanted to give Carly and Shawn my email address if that’s all right with you.”

“Sure that will be good to have friends outside the area.”

I exchanged email addresses with them and their mom shooed them inside while I walked around the front of the house to the basement entrance.

“…Kids are too soft today,” I stopped short of the door, eavesdropping on their conversation. After listening for a minute I turned on my heel striding diagonally across the lawn and placing my hands on the fence swung effortlessly over its height. After landing lightly on the other side I crossed the street walking freely down the sidewalk. The off-tune whistling of the good, the bad, and the ugly echoed along the tree lined border.

Mrs. Butt preparing dinner and hearing conversation looked out her kitchen window seeing her father, the man Manny, and Samantha crossing the lawn. Atalanta wasn’t with them. Drying her hands she turned to the door as her dad opened the door sticking his head inside, “Tell Atalanta her friends are ready to go.”

She met him at the door, “Isn’t she with you?”

Again I do hope you enjoyed this chapter. Leave comments and kudos.

Thank you.



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