'Hi cutie, guess who. Uh, I'm calling because I want to talk about, you know, us.'
Perplexed, Andrea stood still, her hot chocolate forgotten in an instant.
'I mean, not really us so much as, well, me. I, um, I've been thinking- about going to college . . . I know I'm too old and everything, but I still want to try. And I was thinking-you know, maybe you could come with me? Because, I mean, let's think about this. We've been together almost four years, and, well, what have we accomplished? I work at grounds' maintenance and you're a waitress.'
There was a pause, then a burst of words.
'Andrea babe, don't take this the wrong way . . . but do you really want to clean tables and put in orders for the rest of your life? I sure as hell don't want to deal with a fucking zamboni for another ten years. And if we, you know, take the big step-like, just go for it . . . what's the worst that could happen, right?'
'Ohmigod,' Andrea shrieked, 'You want me to marry you?!'
'I mean, I'm scared and all but I think we can do it,' the message continued, 'Let me know what you think. Just call me, okay? I want to hear your thoughts. I love you.'
As the recording winded down, Andrea started jumping around. 'Oh-my-God,' she chanted, 'Kevin just asked me to marry him-get married-marriage! Of course I will, Kevin!'
- - - -
The next afternoon, Andrea arranged a surprise engagement party for her and Kevin. 'Of course, I haven't said yes yet,' she explained to her mother, 'but I will. I'll accept his proposal, and then you guys will jump out and say BOO! Or something.' The soon-to-be bride giggled nervously. 'Or you can just come out and congratulate us. Whatever you want to do.'
At the appointed time-three o'clock in the afternoon-Andrea shooed everyone into the kitchen, and arranged herself on the couch. Suddenly, she noticed the messenger bag still lying on the floor. She jumped up and rushed it into her bedroom before reappearing. At five minutes past three, Kevin strolled through the door. 'Hey,' he said, coming to a halt in front of her and going down on bent knee. He leaned in to kiss her, but Andrea pulled away. She giggled nervously and he started to get up. 'No-stay,' she cried, pushing him back into his kneeling position. He cocked an eyebrow at her and started to smirk, but she frowned at him slightly.
'I want you to be serious,' she said. 'I want to remember this moment forever.'
'Yeah . . .' Kevin said uncertainly. 'So, you got my message?'
Andrea nodded her head eagerly.
'So?' he prompted her gently. When she remained silent, he said, 'You thought about what I said? How this is the best thing that could happen to us?'
'Yes,' she breathed. 'Oh, Kevin! I'm so excited I can hardly bear it!'
He stared at her oddly. 'So, you will-'
'Of course I'll marry you, Kevin Horner!'
Kevin's mouth dropped and he stared at her in amazement. 'But . . .But I thought-'
'Think no more of it, my darling!' Andrea declared gaily. 'You guys can come out now!' she yelled in the direction of the kitchen. Turning to Kevin, she whispered, 'Just a few friends to celebrate our engagement, dearest.'
Suddenly her friends-no, their friends, their friends now, for she would share everything with him-gathered around the two, chattering and offering congratulations. Andrea's searching hand found Kevin's, and she clasped it eagerly, turning to gaze into his eyes. But what she found there threw her off, and she cried,
'Why are you looking at me like that, Kevin?'
Their friends grew silent, and looked at the two of them apprehensively.
'Like what?' asked Julianna, Andrea's not-so-swift friend.
'Like a man with his wife!' cried Ruben.
'The look of love,' Andrea's mom cooed.
Kevin yanked Andrea's hand, and tugged her along to her bedroom, ignoring the catcalls of her friends. 'Now will you please tell me,' he panted in her face, 'what in the fuck is going on?'
Andrea stared at him blankly before a look of comprehension dawned on her face. 'Sit,' she said, tugging him down onto the bed next to her. 'Kevin,' Andrea said slowly, 'you just proposed to me-and I accepted. We're going to be married.' She rose from the bed, and turned on the radio. This was a conversation that she didn't want her friends hearing.
Kevin looked at her, a line appearing between his eyes. 'I don't what that shit's all about,' he said bluntly, 'but I don't want to play your games. I came to show you this.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled piece of paper. He unfolded it and pushed it into her hand.
'It's an . . . application,' Andrea said slowly. She looked into Kevin's eyes and something dark and cold began to grow in her heart.
Kevin nodded eagerly, suddenly willing to forgive what he perceived as some kind of bizarre prank. 'To SUNY Purchase. That's what I called about-I guess,' he said slowly, 'you thought I was talking about marriage?' He turned away from her, then glanced back, his features contorted by the awkwardness. 'I'm sorry, if that's what you thought-but when I said making the big step, I meant-'
'You meant going to college,' Andrea said icily. 'You meant leaving me for some cunts in prep school sweaters. You are disgusting. I wouldn't marry you ever. I just didn't want to hurt your feelings by refusing your crumby proposal.'
Kevin drew away from her. As he did, he knocked the pink messenger back off the bed. The loud clunk made Andrea almost remember something, but her fury preoccupied her.
'You stupid asshole! I thought we were going to get married! All of my friends saw-this is too embarrassing. I hate you! I am never going to forgive this, do you hear me?'
Kevin turned to her, his face red with rage. 'Shut up! Just shut up! You little bitch, this is all your fault. I wanted to take you to college-it would have changed everything, do you hear me? But no, you're content whacking off whoever comes into your diner-'
'And look at you, you fuck!' Andrea screamed so loudly that her voice cracked. 'Look at you, riding your little zamboni! And do you want to know where you'll be in ten years? Exactly where you are now. Nowhere! Do you see now? Nowhere!'
There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh, and suddenly Andrea's face was buried in something soft and pink. The messenger bag . . .
'Stupid twat,' Kevin muttered from far, far away . . .
'Darling I'm killed . . . I'm in a puddle on the floor . . .' the radio sang . . .
Andrea fumbled her hands into the bag, groping for the cold hard barrel of her gun . . .
'Forgot to put on your lipstick?' a voice sneered . . .
She stood up shakily and turned to him and suddenly his eyes went wide . . .
'I see it in your eyes . . .'
Then he was on the floor.
'Tomorrow never dies. . .'
- - - -
'Hi,' the heavyset man said, 'I'm here about the job?'
The secretary cracked her gum. 'Yeah? Well you're gonna have to wait. Mr. Valini is busy at the moment.'
'Oh. Okay then. Mind if I just take a look around?'
Crack. Crack. 'Whatever.'
The man wandered around the office, glancing at pictures and trophies until he reached the glass wall. Looking down, he saw a lone figure riding a zamboni around the ice. He leaned forward to see better-
'Mr. Valini will see you now,' the secretary announced. The man walked by her casually, then knocked on the door to the inner office.
'Ah, Ruben Jeffers-please come in,' a deep voice boomed. 'You're here to apply for the janitorial position, I take it?'
'Y-yes, I am,' Ruben stuttered.
The man behind the desk looked at him appraisingly. 'Alright,' he said, 'it's yours. Go down to Mr. Gambella to learn the ropes. He'll tell you what your wages are and all of that. Send Tara in on your way out, won't you?'
'That-that's it?' Ruben said, agog.
'Yep, pretty much. Remember-Tara?'
Ruben quickly let himself out of the office. 'He wants you,' he said to the secretary, who immediately spat out her gum and fluffed her hair before entering the inner office.
He spent a harried twenty minutes looking for Mr. Gambella, before finding the wizened old man. 'Rick,' he said, pumping Ruben's hand. 'Pleased to meet ya. Right this way.'
An hour later, Rick wound down the tour. 'That's just about everything, bub,' he said. 'Oh, I forgot the ice rink. Come on.'
A minute or two later, the two men stood shivering inside the rink. 'That's Kevin,' Rick said, waving at the figure on the zamboni.
Ruben turned to him in horror. 'Not-Kevin Horner?' he said dazedly.
Rick looked at him sadly, then pointed at a figure near the bleachers that Ruben hadn't noticed. 'Nope. That is Kevin Horner. Horner don't ride the zamboni no more, not since his accident-he can't hardly get out of that chair there. Misses the zamboni, though, he does; ain't much good to us, but Mr. Valini is mighty kind and keeps him around. He likes to be near the ice, you know,' Rick said confidentially. 'Reminds him of how things were ten years ago-before the bad business.
'Yes, before the bad business,' Ruben murmured, barely able to take his eyes off the slumped figure. 'How-how did it happen?'
Rick puffed himself up, proud to confide in his new employee. 'Well,' he said, 'Just about as I can make out, Horner was getting ready to leave the zamboni and Mr. Valini behind-go get a degree or something fancy like that. Turns out, his girlfriend, right, finds out that he's going to leave her high and dry-so she just up and shoots him, just like that.'
'Yes,' Ruben said. 'I remember now.'
Rick stared at him. 'You what?'
Ruben turned to him. 'I remember. I was there the night she shot him.'
Rick kept staring. 'Well,' he said finally. 'That's as may be. Just steer clear of him, alright? Now, about your wages . . .'