Lakewood High School’s “Ranger” marching band performed at the Cleveland Brown’s first home game in the fall of 1987. Abel, first chair trombonist, proudly made his way onto the field, following closely behind his fellow band members. After the move last year from Memphis, Abel needed a hobby to help him erase the memory of Casey. All he could think of was the way she smelled, the way her lips turned up at the corners, the look of her hair with those tiny flecks of gold shimmering in the sun, and the way she walked and the way she talked. Everything about her. He needed to forget. Making friends was fairly easy for Abel, he just didn’t want to get attached to people and have his heart ripped apart, again. Any day now, dad could lose his job, and the suitcases would be pulled down from the closet. He could not handle another move. The last one still hurt.
That first year, Walter accepted a job hauling trash for the City of Lakewood. It wasn’t his dream job, who would want to pick up refuse for a living, but his sole purpose in life was to take care of his family. He was a good husband, and a good dad, though he left most of the child-rearing to Ann. Tonight, at the Cleveland game, he was quite proud of his son marching across the football field. He had practiced hard and received his acceptance letter not that many months ago. Walter and Ann sat next to each other in the stands, watching Abel and his classmates play their hearts out for the fans. This was one of those nights that will live forever in their memories. They were all, Walter especially, settled and content with where life had placed them.
After the band finished their performance, the Carlson’s headed to the car. Abel, happier than he had been in some time, asked if they could go to their favorite diner for chocolate cake. This had become a years-long family tradition for the Carlson’s, in every single place they had lived. Walter looked over at Ann, who nodded her head in agreement. What a perfect ending to a perfect day. They drove over to Two Dad’s Diner where they ordered two large pieces of chocolate cake and a large glass of milk. Ann could never finish her piece, so they all shared the two between the three of them. Time stood still this night, as they laughed and talked about school, the band, and topics other than moving or leaving friends behind.
Another year came and went, Abel now a junior at Lakewood High, enjoying the life of a teenager. He had finally learned to quit cringing as he walked in the front door, listening for the sounds of packing. He had a group of friends he hung out with on the weekends who kept him entertained and out of trouble. His dad had given him the approval to find a part-time job at the local grocery store. He loved working and making his own cash. He was saving for a car; a black 1965 Ford Mustang. He planned on working on the engine, making it the fastest car in town. His dreams were always on the forefront of his thoughts. One day he was going to get out and see the world. He was going to drive that Mustang as far as it would take him; never looking back. One day.
Every now and then, Abel thought about Casey. He didn’t want to, but his heart held a special place for her. He knew he would never see her again, but he would never forget those Memphis nights, holding her hand and kissing her lips. He would never forget those kisses. Sometimes he would imagine a cabin in Colorado, snow surrounding the scene, fire crackling in the old wood burning stove, and Casey in his arms. He knew he shouldn’t think like that, but his heart would remember her always. Abel stopped daydreaming and got back to sacking groceries. He was making money and saving for that car. Nothing else really mattered. He was going to buy that car very soon, that much was certain. At five o’clock on Friday, his shift ended and Abel was headed to the movies with his friends. Driving his mom’s 1984 Ford Taurus, Abel raced over to his friend’s home. Parking the car and feeling excited about the evening, he ran up to the front door where he rang the doorbell and patiently waited for Gary to answer the door.
Abel, becoming more impatient as he stood there, pushed the bell several more times, but no response came from inside. Gary knew what time he would be there, they had this planned out, so why didn’t he answer the door? Seconds, minutes passed without a sound from within the home. Abel, more than a little anxious, ran around to the back door, yelling out Gary’s name. He knocked on the door, screaming for Gary to answer. Nothing, not a sound. He made the decision to go inside. Abel had stayed here enough and he was part of the family, so going in was not that big of a deal. He opened the door, made his way through the kitchen into the living room. This would be another one of those defining moments in Abel’s life. Casey, chocolate cake, and now. As he ran into the living room, he stopped dead in his tracks. There, he found Gary, lying on the floor, covered in blood. Abel rushed over to him and fell next to his friend, tears streaming down his face. This could not be happening. They were kids, no stresses, no worries. Abel collapsed onto the body of his best friend, sobbing uncontrollably.