One More Ride

One More Ride: Chapter 7: Home

Norville took the long way home. It gave him time to think and to reflect, he told himself. It gave him time to avoid responsibility, he knew.

Norville was tired of being responsible. Not that he was tired of being held responsible for things, but simply tired of being reliable. Why couldn’t he have just stayed in perpetual adolescence like Fred? Sure he’d be living hand to mouth, but Fred seemed to do all right. He would just have to find someone more responsible than him to mooch off of.

“Responsibility sucks,” he thought.

The rain seemed to feel that its attempts to drown the entire county were inadequate, so it redoubled its efforts, buffeting Norville’s car with great sheets of angry water. The wipers tried and miserably failed to improve the situation, and visibility vanished. Norville’s pulled over to the side of the road and waited.

“I don’t know if I even have Daph’s number anymore,” he rationalized to himself. He checked his phone–her number was still in his Favorites, below Velma and above Fred.

“It’s not like I’ll get a signal in this rain anyway,” he tried. Then he tried the call.

One ring.

“She won’t pick up.”

Two rings.

“She probably–”

“Shaggy, is that you?”

Crap

“Crap.”

“What was that, Shag?”

“Sorry–had food in my mouth.”

“I figured as much. Why don’t you come down to the office? Maybe you’ll be ready for some lunch by the time you get here.”

Crap.

But he was hungry again.

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One More Ride: Chapter 6: Keys

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Velma drove Norville back to his car parked at the cemetery. The rain had largely abated and was nothing more than a heavy mist. Norville prepared to retrieve his spare key from beneath the car.

“Can you hold this a minute,” Velma asked, practically shoving the pizza box full of leftover pizza into his hands and reaching into the back of the Jeep.

Before he could figure out what to say she had already slim-jimmed his door open and replaced the tool back in the Jeep.

Norville stood there, dumbfounded.

“If you could do that, why didn’t you do it earlier?”

“It was raining earlier, and besides, you looked like you could use a bit to eat,” she said, smiling as she wiped the mist from her glasses.

“I guess I owe you one,” said Norville, smiling.

“I guess you do,” Velma smiled back as she got into the Jeep “so go talk to Daphne!”

Velma put the Jeep in gear and pulled away, waving goodbye.

Norville wasn’t smiling anymore.

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One More Ride: Chapter 5: Food

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Norville tore into his pizza not quite savagely. People always told him growing up that eventually his metabolism would slow, that his freakish ability to consume and process copious amounts of food without weight gain would ebb, that his days of eating whatever he wanted without consequence would be over. So far he was in his late 30s and every single one of those people were still wrong–and living with the consequences they promised he would one day endure. He could rub it in their faces, but why bother? They were already miserable and envious–you could see it every time they appraised his lanky frame. And besides, it wouldn’t bring him any joy anyway–he had food for that.

“Do you think he’s OK?”

Norville snapped out of his pizza euphoria. He was so hungry he had completely forgotten Velma was there with him.

Awkward swallow. What had she asked?

“I said, do you think he’s OK?” Velma repeated, clearly reading his mind.

Euphoria gone. Norville put on his best smile, but he could tell by her eyes that it wasn’t working.

“I don’t know. I want to say that he loves himself too much to do anything drastic, but I suppose we all have our limits. I mean, a guy could deal with rejection from Norville, but from Velma? That’s entirely different. I couldn’t take it.”

Velma’s brow first furrowed at Norville’s mention of her part in Fred’s story. Then she cocked her head in amused curiosity–had Shaggy said what she thought he said?

Norville flushed so fast his face burned. Yet again he had said something–not that he didn’t mean–but that he didn’t mean to say out loud.

“He–he’ll be fine,” he said, hiding behind another slice of pizza.

“You know we have to talk to her,” Velma said quietly.

Norville loved to hear Velma’s voice–he just didn’t care for the words being formed at the moment. He didn’t want to have to do what she was suggesting. He wanted to say, “Yeah, you should do that,” because, you know, they were both girls. But they weren’t really that close anymore.

Besides, Norville knew that when women said, “we should do this,” what they meant was, “you should do this. And with some sense of immediacy.”

Chapter 6

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One More Ride: Chapter 4: Heat

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Warm air gushed from the vents with the power of one of those annoying hand dryers they put in truckstop bathrooms. Norville had ridden in several Jeeps before; rattly angular things full of crevices for wind to blow through, designed by men who either did not know or did not like each other. The ones that had had heat were the ones in the sun. But with the heat coursing out of Velma’s Jeep’s vents, she could have brought home a pizza or a bucket of chicken without them getting cold. He could really go for some chicken right now. He leaned over the vents letting them shoot the warm air up his sleeves and across his back. His eyelids drooped. He wondered if some weird part of the body secreted some kind of happy hormone when you had greasy noodles, or good coffee, or the rush of hot air across your cold, soaked back.

“Freddy told me what happened.”

Carp, thought Norville. He tried to think quickly, what excuse could be come up with for having been such a jerk to their longtime friend?

“I told him he had it coming.”

“What?”

“He came to me looking for sympathy and I told him he had it coming, you telling him off like that. He was a selfish jerk who didn’t have a problem bumming food from you and yet him still expecting you to treat him like he was a huge celebrity. Then I told him if he was looking for someone to blame for all his problems he could go home and look in the mirror.”

Norville was incredulous.

“You really said all that?”

Velma was silent for a moment.

“No…I didn’t. That was what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t. After he told me I just stood there silently, wanting to, but I didn’t have the heart.”

Norville gave a weak wan smile as Velma continued.

“It didn’t matter…while I was standing there not saying anything I guess he read me well enough to know what I was thinking.”

“Was he mad?”

“I thought he’d explode. But he just kind of…shrunk, like a balloon that’s gone wrinkly. Then he left.”

Norville just sat there, not sure what to think. He was elated to find that Vel wasn’t mad or worse–disappointed. He felt vindicated that she backed him up–or was at least willing to. But surprisingly, he mostly felt sorry for Freddy. Vel was always the one everyone turned to when they didn’t feel like they had a friend on the entire planet–because she never gave up one you. Yeah, Fred had turned into a big, alcoholic, womanizing jerk that took advantage of his friends, but….

Velma put her hand on Norville’s.

“Why don’t we get something to eat?”

Chapter 5

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One More Ride: Chapter 3: Anniversary

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Norville drove down Mystery Lane and out onto state highway 10, past the orchards and further out of town, then hung the right on the recently paved Little Texas Road. It wasn’t named after the state, or the cheesy country band, but after one of Theodore Roosevelt’s horses. Fitting.

He pulled off the road alongside the cemetery fence behind a shiny, green Wrangler. He took a deep breath, blew it out, got out, locked and shut the door. Then unlocked the door, retrieved the package from the dash, locked the door again and shut it.

As he made his way among the tombstones he wondered who owned the Jeep, as there appeared to be no-one else in the cemetery. Caretaker? Someone out for a run in the country? He glanced around, trying to solve the mystery when a hooded person jumped out from behind a six foot granite monument.

“OOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” the attacker yelled.

But instead of dropping into a fighting stance, Norville dropped his package, clutched his heart, and stood there swaying. Looking ridiculous. His attacker doubled over giggling. He recognized the voice.

“What’d ya do that for?” he yelled, his voice cracking comically.

“Oh come on, Shaggy. It was funny!” said his attacker, sliding her hood back over her chocolate brown hair.

“I uh, I kinda I go by Norville now, Velma,” he replied, gently.

“Well I kinda go by Professor Dinkley now, Norville, but you’ll always be Shaggy to me. Come on. Let’s walk together.”

Norville couldn’t think of a time in his life since he had met Velma Dinkley 18 years ago that she didn’t make him flustered, at least a little bit. They had been so close to each other, and so close to a real relationship—twice, in fact—but it just never worked out. He walked in kind of a haze, mesmerized by her hair as it bounced with each step, listening to her chatter about… something. What was she talking about? It seemed like no matter much time had passed between them seeing one another that she was able to simply pick up right where they left off. And each time he wasn’t able to speak clearly, just like he was seeing her for the first time. Seeing her freckles, her trademark glasses that veiled her big, brown eyes.

“Shaggy?”

Norville snapped back to reality and realized they were at the grave, and had been for several seconds.He smiled weakly. He set the wrapped packaged of Scooby Snacks down on the ground in front of the stone. Velma slung off her backpack and produced a wrapped package as well and set it beside his. Her gift might have even been a little bigger than his. It was no surprise, really.

It had been 10 years since Scoob had passed away. The vets said he shouldn’t have lived as long as he had—17 years was a ridiculously long lifespan for a dog of that size. Chihuahuas, yes; living 20 years was no big deal for the annoying little Mexican rats. For Great Danes, seven years was considered a good long life. Norville still couldn’t see the justice in that. Scoob had lived as long as he did largely due to Norville’s willingness to spend any amount of money to take care of the closest friend he ever had—and probably ever would have. Besides, he had the money. Replacement hips? Done. Experimental radiation treatment? Done. When Scoob lost all of his fur, Norville shaved his own head. Scoob’s hair eventually came back in, thick as it was before; Norville’s came back in wavy, almost tangly. That was one of the reasons he kept it short now.

When Velma took his hand, Norville was jostled back to reality for the second time. He hoped she didn’t start reminiscing about Scoob. Every time anyone brought up fond memories of him it was like a kick in the heart, and the loss stained every good memory with anguish.

But she just stood there with him in silence. They stood for 20 minutes, each alone together. It began to mist, then to drizzle, but Norville was oblivious to it. Then the rain began in earnest, the cold rain of late October. Norville, his shirt now nearly soaked through, remembered his jacket on the back of the kitchen chair. He shivered visibly, almost the way they had drawn him on the old cartoon.

“Come on, Shaggy. Let’s get you warmed up.”

They headed back to the cars in silence, save for the chattering of Norville’s teeth.

He reached in his pocket to get his keys to unlock the car but found nothing. He looked through the window to see them sitting on the edge of his seat. He must have dropped them when he went back for the Scooby Snacks. Stupid keys.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, I just locked my keys in he car. I’ll just get my spare from under the back fender.”

“The ground is soaked, Shaggy, and so are you. Hop in the Jeep at least until he rain dies down.”

He looked first at her, then at the small lake that appeared to be isolated to the ground under his car. He trudged to the shiny, green Wrangler and climbed inside.

Chapter 4

 

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