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Karen studied the black lock on her locker. Ever since she hit high school, the unprotected lockers of junior high had been replaced by lockers with locks, and a combination. It always took Karen a solid five minutes and three attempts to spin the combination to open her locker.
On her third attempt, (lucky number three,) a beefy hand slammed on her back and then spun the black dial beyond recognition until it stopped on one of the lines between the zero and the five. Karen huffed and turned around. She narrowed her eyes into slits.
“Thanks a lot, Johnny, now I’m going to be late for class.”
Johnny walked backwards his arms outstretched, “Sorry, Kare, I just had to.” He flashed the smile that made girls sigh and turned around and walked down the hall. Karen watched him for a moment. The smart-aleck liked to think he was king of the school ever since he won basketball state last year. When she meant ‘win,’ she meant he was the lucky one to make the winning basket after the buzzer sounded. Johnny also liked to joke around with her, but messing around with her locker wasn’t funny. He did it for laughs and Karen ended up being late to class every time he did it.
Finally, she opened up her locker and grabbed her textbook for her math class and rushed down the hallway. Of course, she was the last one in the hall and when she made it to her math class all twenty seven other heads turned to face her.
“Late again Miss Lane?” the sister said as she stood in front of the chalkboard in the front of the room.
Karen kept her head down and slid quietly next to her friend, Linda. “Sorry, Sister Katherine.”
Linda shot her a look and Karen just shook her head as if to say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Karen could tell the sister why she was truly late, but that would require more attention on her and it was bad enough when all your classmates followed you to your seat. Just keep quiet. Lunch was soon anyway.
- - -
Two weeks he was going to be out here. Stationed off the coast of California, Henry James was in the United States Navy. He leaned over the side of the massive ship and looked down at the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. So far, it seemed like Henry had been everywhere. He was only nineteen and had enlisted when he was eighteen and graduated from high school.
Henry was far from home in Nebraska. He had only been home once since he was in the service. Sometimes, it was just hard to be able to go back. Henry was prepared though. His family couldn’t see him as often as they liked, so might as well show them where he had been.
He picked up the camera he bought for ridiculously cheap in town before the ship set off out here on the ocean. It didn’t have sound, but Henry had been just documenting what he was seeing.
First, he trained the camera at the ocean. There was no particular reason why they were out here. They were just patrolling the coast, making sure everything was ok. Earlier that morning, Henry had been down in the boiler room. His shift had ended and he was now hanging out on deck and killing time before chow time.
It was easy to maneuver his camera around the deck. The ship was anchored like it was every day during this time when everyone was being fed. It was hard to eat when the ship was moving.
As Henry turned, Sam came into view. Sam was one of his friends. He was from Kansas, so they always had a connection of being Midwest boys.
“See you got that camera, huh Henry?” Sam asked.
Henry nodded and stopped recording, it wasn’t like the camera could capture any conversations anyway. “Yeah. It’s just something for the family to watch. Show what we’re doing.”
Sam looked out at the vastness of the ocean. Henry knew what he was thinking. It was just quiet and they were just patrolling the coast. But hey, maybe today was the day their lives would change.
“Are you hungry or what?” Sam asked, shaking his head and looking back at him.
Henry nodded, “Yeah. Starving.”
- - -
“You know, Dad, it’s Friday and I don’t want to be stuck here for the rest of the night.”
Gary Dean, of Dean’s Diner, crossed his arms across his thick chest and grunted at his eighteen year old daughter, Sandra.
“You told me you wanted a job, Sandy. I gave you one. Now, go help your mother in the back, the lunch rush is coming in.”
“But the game is tonight,” Sandra sighed and stuck her bottom lip out like she did when she was seven. It wasn’t going to work on Gary this time. He just stuck his finger out, pointing towards the kitchen where his wife was.
For the past fifteen years, Gary was the proud owner of Dean’s Diner he had started the business with his wife. It was a typical, little diner on the outskirts of a Texan town. It had great food and he liked to think nice customer service. His daughter was looking for some extra cash so he gave her a job waitressing. It wasn’t hard work, so in Gary’s opinion, she should quit complaining.
“Gary. Where’s my food?”
Gary looked at his watch. Tom Johnson always came in everyday for lunch and ordered the same burger and fries plate. He always complained about it taking too long, always complained about it being cold in the diner, and always complained about what was on the television.
“It’s coming, Tom. Like it always does,” Gary stated, like he did every day.
“Have you got the heater fixed yet? It’s colder than s*** in here.”
“Yeah… I think he’s coming in to take a look next week.” You’d think Tom would get a hint when every week that was Gary’s response.
“And what about that TV? You only get two channels or something?”
“Stop complaining, old man.” Gary’s wife appeared from the kitchen and slid Tom’s food in front of him. “Eat your food and watch the show.”
“So, refresh me again?” Linda asked as she and Karen left the cafeteria and headed towards the bathrooms, a daily ritual of what they did before Mr. Delaney’s English class. “What color is your dress?”
“Purple,” Karen said, nodding. “Has some ruffles here…” she explained motioning across her neck, “and down at the bottom.”
“That sounds so pretty. Ah, Kare, we’re going to look so pretty at the dance tonight. Very classy.”
Lunch had been the same as it usually was. They sat at a table with their friends eating the school’s not-so-delicious lunch. The conversation was all about the dance tonight and who was going to dance with who and what everyone was wearing.
“I’m coming over to your house, right?” Karen asked as the two weaved their way between slow walkers in the hall.
“Yeah. My older sister is back in town. She said she’d do our hair. I told her I wanted my hair to look like Marilyn,” Linda said. Karen giggled. Like it would look like Marilyn. Linda had a dull brown color. Neither of their hair colors looked like the platinum dos they saw in the movies and the magazines.
They went to the bathroom closest to the classroom. Linda leaned against one of the sinks and Karen went into the stall.
“So you think Patrick will ask me to dance?” Linda asked.
Karen shrugged even though her friend couldn’t see her beyond the stall’s door. “I mean, I think he likes you. He always talks to you in Mr. Delaney’s class.”
“I just want tonight to be perfect, you know?”
Karen flushed the toilet and joined Linda by the sinks and started washing her hands. “I’m sure it will be. You’ve guys liked each other since what-- eighth grade?”
They both looked at each other in the mirror, fluffing their hair and smoothing gloss over their lips before the next class.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Everything will work out,” Karen told her and pushed the door of the bathroom open. She stopped and looked around. She could see girls crying in the hallway and boys were shaking their heads with hands deeps in their khaki pants.
“What’s going on?” Linda asked.
Karen shook her head. “I don’t know.”
- - -
Henry and Sam were waiting in the chow line. While they waited for their turn to grab some food, Henry had his camera on and did a sweep of the mess hall.
“It feels like we’ve already been out here for two weeks doesn’t it, Henry?” Sam said. The two walked a few steps forward in the line, but stopped just short of the trays.
“Yeah, but it always feels like that doesn’t it?” Henry asked back. He lingered his camera at some guys at the table eating, some people walking, and he made sure he got how big the mess hall was.
Right as he grabbed a tray, he was jerked forward. In fact, everyone was jerked. The ship was moving and it never moved during the lunch hour. He held his camera tight as the ship continued to move. Henry and Sam held on to the rack of trays for support.
“What’s going on?” Henry shouted over the noise of confusion in the hall. Had they been hit?
“I don’t know. It feels like we are turning around?”
There was a second jerk and then Henry knew what was going on. The ship was going full speed in some direction. If they were turned back around like Sam thought, then they were headed back for the mainland.
The cracking of the intercom system sprang to life and their captain’s voice was heard and everyone drew strangely silent. “We’re heading back. We just learned that President Kennedy…”
“Did anyone just see that?” Tom asked and stood up from his stool at the counter.
The diner was at the height right now of the busy lunch day. People we crammed in booths, sitting at tables, and lounging on the stool at the bar. Gary had been walking by when he heard Tom’s outburst. His wrinkly finger stuck out at the television that was suspended from the ceiling.
“What are you complaining about now?” Gary asked.
“Turn up the volume! Turn it up! President Kennedy has just been shot!”
That statement gathered a lot of attention, and people deep in conversation with their companions stopped abruptly. Slowly, people looked up at Tom and then at the TV. Sandra and Gary’s wife came out from the kitchen as Gary grabbed the remote by the cash register and cranked up the volume.
A black screen with white words that said ‘Bulletin’ was in the center and ‘CBS News’ was at the side. Anyone could recognize Walter Cronkite’s voice coming from the black screen as he said, “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade. The first reports say the President was seriously wounded, that he slumped over in Mrs. Kennedy's lap, she cried out, 'Oh, no!' and the motorcade went on . . . The wounds perhaps could be fatal . . .”
Gasps we heard throughout the diner and Gary’s wife held on to his arm, a look of shock wore thin on her tired face. Her hand was covering her mouth as she shook her head. The television went back to the soap opera that had been on and someone shouted for Gary to change to another network station. His hand shook as he changed the channel and similar bulletins were blanketing both ABC and NBC.
“Is the president dead?” someone shouted. More gasps and headshakes and one person bravely asked what everyone was thinking.
Frozen, everyone trained their ears and listened carefully to the breaking news. Reports came out that an agent of the Secret Service had shouted ‘He’s dead!’ and everyone in the diner quietly gossiped on who could have done such a thing. Mentions of last year’s Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War were whispers in the conversations.
Sandra turned and looked at Gary. “Who would do such a thing?” she asked just as the TV cut off the show that was on and Walter Cronkite appeared to everyone in the diner.
“I don’t know,” Gary said, and shook his head. “I don’t know.”
- - -
Mr. Delaney’s class was silent. The only thing you could hear was the radio their teacher had on. Karen could see it in her teacher’s eyes. He was scared.
When she entered the class with Linda, they had no idea what had happened. The students in the hallway were crying and no one was saying anything. After entered Mr. Delaney’s class he told them to sit down and revealed shocking news that she was no expecting.
“President Kennedy was shot in a parade in Dallas,” was all he said before he turned on the radio for all of us to hear events unfolding.
For what felt like an hour, no one did anything. Their principal came on the PA system and revealed what they had already known. The reports on the radio were recounting the moments up until there were three shots fired. No one knew where they came from and no one knew how badly the President was injured. Everyone in the class room was transfixed on the radio. No one moved, no one left, and everyone was just too shocked to even talk. Linda looked at her a few times and shook her head. Nothing like this had ever happened to them. Karen felt like she was too young to understand, but she was in high school and she felt grief for someone she never met. From the looks around the room, it seemed everyone was in shocked this happened. It felt like everything was changing and no one could control what was happening.
The bell rang and no one moved. Even Mr. Delaney didn’t tell anyone to leave. They just sat and listened. No other student came into Mr. Delaney’s room. It was like everyone in the high school was at a standstill, completely frozen in the moment.
A few minutes after the bell, the radio spoke clearly to them. Devastation struck a chord in everyone’s soul. “From Dallas. . . The President died at 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time . . . The President is dead. . .”
Classes were dismissed the rest of the day and the school cancelled the dance everyone had been looking forward to. Oddly, no one complained. Karen and Linda walked the downtown streets. People were on the sidewalks, too.
Glances of understanding were passed between everyone the two girls encountered.
That Saturday, Henry was driving around the California city with some of his other friends that had been stationed on the ship. There was no destination in the young men’s travels. They just drove around the empty downtown, the empty suburbs, and the empty county roads. Henry was sitting in the passenger seat and turned the dial of the radio trying to find music to listen to. None of his favorite stations were playing music; on a constant loop was the coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination.
“Just turn it off, Henry,” Sam said from the back seat. It was announced before they docked that the President had died from the gunshot wound. The rest of the day was a rollercoaster of emotions. They watched news reports, and listened to reports of Lyndon Johnson getting sworn in and some man named Lee Harvey Oswald was taken in for questioning. Because of all the emotions, they had got in the car to escape the news. Even the radio was preventing a getaway.
“Wait, I found something,” Henry told them.
The sound of Spanish music played through the speakers. The only station where they could listen to music was something they didn’t even understand, but for some reason it worked for them. For a few minutes, all they did was listen and drive.
When the song ended another song didn’t begin.
“El presidente de los Estados Unidos está muerto……”