“500 channels, and nothing but Christmas specials on...”
Ken Dix flipped through the TV guide at a moderate pace, finding nothing but disappointment at every turn. As it was Christmas Eve, every show was a mushy feel-good romp spouting lines about family and goodwill to others. None of that spoke to Ken in the slightest.
“Ken?” a voice came from the kitchen.
“What’s up, Mom?”
“I’ve got my hands full with making everything for dinner tonight, but I’m going to run short on a couple of ingredients,” Helen Dix said, poking her head into the living room. “Can you run to the store real quick for me please?”
“Sure thing,” Ken replied, seeing as he had nothing better to do.
“Great, thank you. I made a list on the counter for you. The store should be open for another hour or two. The main things would be the eggs; I don’t have enough to finish my famous chess pie. If they have tea by the gallon, grab one sweet and one unsweet. The rest are great if you find them, but not essential.”
“Got it,” Ken said as he took the list from the counter.
Heading out to his car, Ken cranked up his Honda Civic and pulled out of the driveway. As he made his way into town, Ken reflected on his current situation. Though he loved his mom, being home for the holidays was always nerve-wracking for him. His hometown of Alpharetta, Georgia was crawling with former high school classmates of his, people he’d just as soon never see again. But up at MIT, he was actually among peers that he could relate to on an intellectual level. Not that he’d made that many friends up there. As a nineteen-year-old freshman, he was still stuck in the same boring math and science classes as everyone else. He couldn’t wait until he could start his health sciences training. Maybe then he could meet some decent people, perhaps of the female variety.
Ken soon arrived in the parking lot of the local Kroger. It was soon obvious that the place was packed with last-minute shoppers, all trying to find that one final ingredient they were missing. Locking his car, Ken sauntered into the store, grabbing a shopping basket along the way. He found the shelves of the store well picked over, striking out on the nonessential items on his mom’s list. Making his way to the drinks aisle, he was pleased to see that the store was keeping the gallon jugs of tea well stocked for the holidays, and picked up a pair.
Ken soon arrived in the refrigerated section of the store. Almost every shelf was empty, but he did manage to find one last carton of six eggs, just what his mom needed. Depositing the carton in his shopping basket, Ken made his way back to the front of the store, checking out in the express lane. He gripped the shopping bags tightly, being careful that the eggs weren’t harmed from the swinging of the bags. Arriving back in the parking lot, he was pleasantly surprised to see one of his former classmates, Jacqueline Brown. As he approached, she saw him coming.
“Ken? Kenneth Dix?”
She was extremely pretty, as was befitting one of the most popular girls in school, and kept her sandy-brown hair cut just below her jawline. Her soft, warm facial features and bubbly personality belied the sharp intellect hiding underneath. She and Ken had been partners a few times in various subjects, and he had helped craft her entrance essay to the University of Washington. This earned her a full ride scholarship. In spite of her popularity, they had worked well together, and Ken even dared to call her a friend, at least in his own mind. They had never hung out on a social basis; her circle of friends would never have let her live that down. Still, times had changed. They were both out of high school, after all. What could it hurt to ask?
“Jacqueline? Wow, I never thought I’d see you back here. Thought you escaped to cooler climates?”
“Yeah, Seattle is nice, but nothing beats Christmas at home,” she replied, adjusting her UW sweatshirt. “You back for the same reason?”
“Uh huh. Mom pretty much insisted. She won’t settle for anything less than a full family gathering on Christmas Eve. I’m just grabbing a few last things for her. But yeah, it’s great seeing you again. You, uh, you look good.”
“Um ... thanks,” she replied with hesitation.
“I’m, uh, gonna be home for a couple of weeks. Would you want to, I don’t know, hang out sometime? Maybe grab a bite to eat? My treat.”
“Well, Ken, that’s sweet of you to ask...” she said almost to herself. As she paused, her eyes suddenly lit up as if she had gotten an idea. “Alright! Here, let me give you my number.” She scribbled a series of digits down on a scrap piece of paper, writing her name next to them. “I’ll, um, talk to you later, I guess?”
Ken couldn’t believe it; he had actually done it! He had asked out the prettiest girl he had ever known! Moreover, she had given him her number! Things were definitely looking up.
“Dick!” a voice behind them yelled.
Ken turned, immediately recognizing Jason Brown, Jacqueline’s fraternal twin brother, along with his two flunkies, Brian and Barrett Sullivan. Jason had been the star quarterback at his high school, and the Sullivan boys were his best offensive linemen. They often served as his muscle off the football field, as well. Ken was intimately familiar with these three, as they had made it their mission in high school to make his life a living hell. Being stuffed in lockers, having his wallet stolen, all were commonplace with them. The three approached, attempting to appear imposing, which they were from the perspective of the ever-scrawny Ken.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you guys,” Ken muttered as they approached.
“Well I’ve got something to say to you, Mr. Kenny Dick,” Jason growled.
“Just shut up and leave me alone,” Ken replied, his blood boiling at the use of Jason’s longtime nickname for him.
“No! YOU shut the fuck up and listen!” Jason said, grabbing Ken by the collar of his t-shirt and flinging him against his car. In the process, Ken dropped his shopping bags, the jugs of tea landing directly on the egg carton.
“Jason! Stop it!” Jacqueline protested.
Undeterred, Jason threatened. “Listen fuckwad, you stay the hell away from my sister!”
“She’s an adult, dickhead! She can have anyone she wants as a friend!” Ken protested.
“YOU don’t belong on the same PLANET as her! You’re nothin’! A pathetic sack of guts your dumbass mother decided to give a name to! Know what? Just do us all a favor and drop dead!”
Enraged at the insult to his mom, Ken swung a wild haymaker at his assailant, but Jason was more than ready, pinning Ken’s arm back against his car. Jason then delivered a crushing punch to Ken’s gut, dropping him down to his knees. Before leaving, Jason knelt down next to his gasping victim.
“Next time, I won’t be so nice. Next time ... I might just kill you myself. See ya around. Dick.” Turning to his sister, Jason said, “Come on, time to go home.”
Jacqueline looked down at the pitiful form of Ken before muttering, “Sorry, Ken.”
The trio of boys sauntered off across the parking lot, laughing and high-fiving at their antics. Jacqueline followed right behind them. Ken picked himself up and inspected his groceries, discovering the crushed eggs in his bag. Swearing and cursing, he grabbed the misshapen carton and went to throw it in a nearby trash can.
“No chess pie tonight...”
As Ken returned to his car and began his drive home, Jason and his flunkies watched on from his car, still pleased with their efforts.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Jacqueline said in a lecturing tone.
Jason turned to face his sister. “I do what I gotta do, Jacqueline. That fuckwad has no business gettin’ friendly with you. He needs to learn his place.”
“Be that as it may, I can take care of myself,” she replied firmly.
“Take care of yourself? Wait ... you didn’t?”
“I did. Jason, someday you’ll learn that there are more subtle and effective ways to ward off undesirables. Trust me, Ken won’t bother me ever again.”
Upon arriving back home, Ken couldn’t bring himself to tell his mom about the incident with the eggs. He instead told her that the store had run out altogether. She had spent many sleepless nights in the past worrying about the constant bullying her son was subjected to in school. Ken didn’t want to give her anything else to worry about. By this time, has uncles had started arriving, and the living room was soon filled with the sounds of football games. In Ken’s mind, these were no more thought provoking that the mindless Christmas specials he had found earlier. Ken went up to his room to take a hot shower, as well as get some alone time in the process. As he stripped down, he saw a bruise beginning to form on his stomach from Jason’s punch. He winced in pain as he touched the tender skin.
Shit ... that’s not going away for a while.
Ken took some Tylenol for the pain before stepping into the shower. The hot water helped relax his body, and the steam gradually built up, clearing his mind a bit. He finished after a while and, after making sure his door was shut, flopped facedown onto his bed. After laying there for around an hour or so, his mom finally called him down to rejoin the family for dinner.
.... There is more of this story ...