"Dont Take Her (Shes All I Got)" performed by Tracy Byrd
"I cant believe this!"
The frustration in Doug Penhalls voice was evident, and everyone in the Jump Street Chapel knew just how annoyed he was, and was giving him a wide berth accordingly. Ioki and Hoffs shared a worried look. Hanson merely rolled his eyes and went back to his paperwork. He had heard this rant from Penhall at least five times already that day, and he wasnt eager to hear it again.
That had never stopped Penhall before and it wasnt going to stop him now.
"I mean, we dont usually have to do this, do we? Do we, as police officers, have to take part in every history quiz, every English paper, every algebra test? Do we?" He looked to his fellow officers for confirmation.
None was forthcoming, except for Ioki. "I got a B-Plus the last time I did." Hanson and Hoffs tried to smother their laughter as Doug turned his glare in Iokis direction. Ioki shrugged, unconcerned.
"Youre different Iok," Penhall explained patiently, as if talking to a small child. "You didnt go to junior high in America. You didn't suffer through high school English like the rest of us - you didn't read English! You didnt experience the tortures of English papers and assignments. You probably read those books for fun." He inserted as much sarcasm as possible into the last two words, to which Ioki merely shrugged again, then nodded assent. "You see? No-one else does it!" He swung his glare around the room again, daring them to disagree. Either in truth or sympathy, they stayed silent. "You see?" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Then why do I have to do this stupid assignment?"
"Because Doug." Hanson took the same tone of voice with him as Penhall had taken with Ioki only seconds before. "If you dont do this assignment and take part in the recital, which is a class requirement for all students to graduate, it will look strange to the rest of the kids. If this looks funny to them, they might get suspicious and start asking questions. And Im not about to go back to traffic patrol just because you want to take the easy way out!" He gathered steam as he went on, ending with a slap on the table for emphasis.
"But you got off easy!" Penhall was in full whine now. "All you have to do is this drama piece!"
Hanson looked at the pages of lines with an expression somewhere between disgust and interest. "What kind of name is Ichabod Crane anyway?"
"Youll be great," Ioki reassured him.
"I already have the perfect costume for you!" Hoffs enthused, earning a roll of the eyes from Hanson.
"Hello!" Penhall looked from one to the other. "Have we forgotten that Im in crisis here? You two-" He gestured to Hoffs and Ioki. "-Just have to look at us. You-" Hanson got pointed to here. "-Just have to learn some dialogue. I- " Both hands were thrown to the ceiling. "I have to write and perform a song in front of the entire class! I think I could use some sympathy here!"
Sympathy may have been on the minds of his friends. However, hilarity was also on their minds, and was the more pressing emotion. At the conclusion of Penhalls speech, they all burst out laughing. Doug huffed out, muttering something about inspiration, and when they had calmed down, they looked at one another, guilt beginning to set in.
"Maybe we shouldnt have been so hard on him." Hoffs was the first one to voice what they had all been thinking.
"Cmon, its Doug, yknow?" Hanson sat back in his chair, trying to make them feel better. "He knows we dont mean it."
"I dunno " Hoffs voice trailed off. "Hes been so down lately ."
"Well gee, I guess thats what happens when the INS deport your wife." Hanson deadpanned, instantly regretting the remark when he saw Hoffs face.
"Thats what I mean." Restlessly, Hoffs began pacing around their desks. "When he told me what was happening, I didnt believe it. I mean, its Doug! Out of all of us, I never thought hed be the one to get married."
"I always thought he would." Iokis words surprised his two colleagues. "Its not such a shock," he continued. "Doug likes to pretend that he doesnt care what people think of him, that hes such a carefree guy ."
"Good old Doug," Hanson interrupted, receiving a nod from Ioki in response.
"But in reality, hes probably the most sensitive of all of us. Hansons the quiet brooding type. For that matter, Im not too far behind him. Judy, no matter what life throws at you, you just keep on and you handle it. Doug lets on he can do the same, but he feels things a lot deeper than we give him credit for."
"He was pretty upset when Dorothy and he broke up," Hanson remembered. "And devastated when Addabbo killed himself."
"And look at his family. His mother killed herself when he was six his dad killed himself boozing ." Ioki was continuing with his theory. "Does he even have any other family?"
"A brother. They dont get along." Hoffs chewed on a fingernail, trying to fight the guilt that was rising up within her.
"When he married Marta look, no matter how long or short a time they knew each other for, they had something. Maybe it wasnt true love, not then, but whos to say that wasnt what it would grow into?" Ioki shrugged. "But whatever it was it was special."
Hoffs shook her head. "Its like whatever he cares about is taken away from him every time."
"Thats what it must feel like." Hanson sighed. "Ive tried to talk to him. But he just wont. He keeps insisting hes fine."
"And he keeps trying to act like it too." Hoffs sighed as well. "But how can we help him if he wont let us?"
There was silence for a moment as they pondered the question. "I dont think theres anything we can do," Ioki said. "I think the only thing we can do is be there if he needs us. Be his friends."
*** *** ***
Penhall sat in the music room of the high school during lunch the next day. He knew that he should be in the cafeteria, trying to follow a lead they had, but he just couldnt seem to summon the energy somehow. Lately, everything seemed like a struggle, and it was all he could do to keep the act up in front of everyone. Listlessly, he strummed the guitar. Few people knew that he actually could play the guitar, and more than passably. It had been one of his mothers pastimes, and he could still remember he playing songs to sing himself and Joey to sleep. When his father had been dying, Dougs playing had been the only thing that had seemed to soothe him. Hed been teaching himself for years by then. His mother had begun to teach him before she died. The memory of his six-year-old self, holding a guitar that was probably bigger than he was, usually brought a smile to his face. Now however, all he could feel was emptiness.
It had been that way ever since Marta had left.
"Mr. Evans, what are you doing here? Its lunchtime!"
The use of his alias startled him out of his reverie, and he turned to see the old man who had entered the room, smiling in spite of himself. He liked the music teacher hed ended up with here, even if he was insisting on him doing this stupid assignment. "Hi Mr. Shorofsky," he said. "I just didnt feel like meatloaf."
"Wise move." A scan of the teachers drawer revealed a homemade lunch, which he held aloft triumphantly. "I come prepared. Want some?"
"No thanks. Im not hungry."
"You shouldnt skip meals, Mr. Evans. Didnt your mother ever tell you that?"
A flash of pain flitted across Dougs face, and he knew that Mr. Shorofsky wouldnt have missed it. The old man seemed to have taken a special interest in Penhall from the minute hed stepped into his class.
"Mr. Evans, do you need to talk?" Silence greeted him. "You have a talent for playing the guitar. You also have a great sadness. I can see it in your eyes. I havent seen a face that haunted since I left Germany in 1945. There was much sadness then, much pain. Very bad memories for so many people."
Penhalls head snapped up to meet his gaze. He had known that he was German from his accent, but he hadnt known any of this.
"I lost my entire family in the war," Shorofsky continued. "I know what that feels like, to lose everything. Its what I see in you."
Penhall felt tears come into his eyes, and he ruthlessly battled them down. "I recently lost someone " he finally said, "Who meant the world to me she was my world. I thought wed be together forever .that itd all work out. But it didnt."
"And theres no way that your young lady could change her mind?"
Penhall shook his head. "No. Its complicated but no."
"Mr. Evans, if theres one thing Ive learned in my life, its the time is a great healer. It may be a cliché, but its also the truth. And if you and your young lady are meant to be, then someday youll find your way back to each other."
Penhalls response, when it came, was a whisper. "But what do I do now?"
Shorofsky noticed the single tear that escaped and didnt comment on it. "You go on. Any way you can." Seeing that Penhall wasnt going to answer, he slipped out of the room. As he walked down the corridor, he could hear the sounds of strumming coming out of the room.
*** *** ***
To the chagrin of both Penhall and Hanson, their case still hadnt been solved by the time that the recital came around. Hansons role came first, and he got rousing applause for his portrayal of Ichabod Crane. Sitting in the back row, Hoffs and Ioki smothered smiles. "Who knew Tom could scream like a girl so well?" Ioki muttered. Hoffs, admiring the costume shed put together for him, stayed silent.
They sat through a seemingly interminable amount of singers, dancers and actors before Mr. Shorofsky appeared on the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, every year, I set some students the challenge of writing a song for this recital. You have heard the results of some of these already. However, it is generally the practice for me to announce the winner of the prize for the best song. This year, the honor goes to Mr. Douglas Evans." He clapped, as did the rest of the audience while Hoffs and Ioki looked at each other in shock. Backstage, Hanson did a double take.
*** *** ***
Penhall took a deep breath before walking onto the stage, hoping he didnt look as nervous as he felt. Hed tried to talk Shorofsky out of this, but the old curmudgeon wouldnt be moved. He hadnt played in front of an audience in a long time, and knowing that his three best friends were here wasnt helping either.
He sat down on the stool in front of the microphone, and taking another deep breath, began to play.
As he sang, he remembered the first time hed ever seen her hed been in love from the get-go. Ioki had teased him about the impression hed made "Ill be here?"- but he hadnt cared. He was walking on air. He never had learned what the Spanish for hot-dogs was though. But at least hed been able to tell her she had pretty eyes eventually. The time they had spent together had been perfect. And ever since shed been gone, he couldnt stop thinking about her. Missing her. Wondering of she was all right, but knowing, somewhere deep down that she probably wasnt.
Penhall had dated a lot of women in his life, but Marta had been special. Shed only agreed to marry him when she knew that he loved her, that he was sincere. He still remembered his proposal, her initial refusal. "Douglas, no, I am sorry, I cannot marry you." Hed immediately asked her why not. "Because it's not right. Because you are only doing it to help a refugee you feel sorry for." " I could be saving your life, I know you understand that." " Of course I understand that! Why do you think I must refuse?" At that point in time, he fell in love with her all over again. It was right then that he could see their future together. "I also am doing this because I think this could be a really good thing. Look at the possibilities. We get married. We get to know each other. Maybe, possibly, we fall madly in love. We have kids, and grandkids . . . a house, with a sunporch. I think we could be really happy together. I don't want to lose you." It had seemed like forever until she replied, "I don't want you to lose me, either." Sensing that she was on the yes side of maybe, he had pressed on. "You're scared. I'm scared. We can be scared together. All you gotta do is say yes. Come on, I know it's in there." The next whispered word was the sweetest sound that Penhall had ever heard. "Yes."
He promised himself right then that he wouldnt lose her.
It was a promise he hadnt been able to keep. And he was scared. Scared of spending a lifetime without her. Hed been scared ever since the day in the courthouse. Once they got in there, his hands had gone as cold as ice, and his heart had been pounding. Marta had been composed. "I've imagined this place . . .the tables, the flags, where the judge sits. And I knew I would always be here and they would be deciding about me. And every time I imagined it, you were never there. Reality is not so bad." All hed been able to do was repeat the same prayer over and over again.
He was barely aware of getting to the end of the song, of the auditorium sitting in stunned silence before erupting in applause. Shaking off his memories, the only thought on his mind was getting out of there. He pushed past Hanson, not even registering the concern and pain on his friends face.
Hoffs and Ioki, knowing what was on Penhalls mind, were already on their way out of the auditorium, the former still wiping away copious amounts of tears. Hanson met them out there. "Which way did he go?" he asked.
"We didnt see him," Ioki replied tersely, leading the way to the car park.
They stood looking at the empty space where Dougs car had been that morning. Hanson voiced their thoughts. "Damn."
*** *** ***
Penhall didnt come back to the Chapel that day, and the rest of the gang, recognizing his need to be alone, agreed to give him his space. It was Hanson who talked to him first the next morning. "Hey Doug," he said. "We were worried about you yesterday."
Penhall suddenly developed a deep interest in the tiling pattern on the floor. "Yeah .Sorry about taking off like that. I just needed .."
"I know Doug. And so do Jude and Harry. We understand."
"Im kinda surprised you all didnt come by last night."
"We agreed that you needed space. Then Harry tied Judy up just to make sure."
Penhall snorted with laughter. "I figured. Thanks man."
"Yknow Doug, weve all been through the mill here. You, me, Harry, Judy we all know what its like to be in pain. And were here for you. Any time you need us."
Before the two men could do anything overly sappy like hug, Fullers voice boomed from his office door. "Hanson! Penhall! Get over to the school. Hoffs and Ioki think theyve cracked the case!"
*** *** ***
The lead that Hoffs and Ioki had been working on did indeed lead to solving the case. Once everyone had been rounded up and all the paperwork was done, the four friends officially had an early finish. Hanson suggested going for a beer to celebrate and Hoffs and Ioki agreed. Penhall cried off, citing someplace else he had to be.
He knocked on the door before he entered. "Is it ok if I come in?"
Mr. Shorofsky looked up from grading papers. "Ah Mr. Evans ..or is that your name?"
"Its Penhall Sir .Doug Penhall." He held out an envelope. "I came to return this. It doesnt feel right to keep the prize when Im not really a student. I wanted to tell you, but I couldnt blow my cover. Im sorry that I lied to you."
Shorofsky accepted the envelope. "I understand. But your song was the best in the class. One of the best Ive heard in all the years Ive been teaching. Student or not."
"Thank you Sir. That means a lot to me. And I want you to know that I enjoyed the past couple of weeks. I learned a lot from you. And I dont just mean from the class."
"Might I ask? The song was about your young lady?"
"Her name was Marta. And she was my wife." He noticed Shorofskys eyebrows arching in surprise, but continued on. This was the first time hed talked about Marta with anyone. "She was from El Salvador. I knew her for five days .and we fell in love .and we got married but the INS sent her back. She disappeared soon after." Shorofsky still didnt say anything, but Penhall could see the sympathy and understanding in his eyes. "And ever since then, its like Ive been sleepwalking. Like they took me when they took her. Like they took my future, took my hope."
"And now?" Shorofsky could see a subtle change in the young man. He looked less haunted, less pained than he had.
"And now .it still hurts. But writing that song? I think it helped me to put my thoughts into words. And music."
"It always helps me," Shorofsky smiled.
"And I realized that although I lost a lot when they took her, that theres stuff that they cant take. I know that we love each other. And if its meant to be, then well find each other again. And until then, Ive got my job. And my friends. And thats a lot."
Shorofsky beamed and held out his hand. "Im glad Mr. Penhall. Truly. And if you feel the need to write more music, I hope youll come back and share it with me."
Penhall took the proffered hand and smiled too, the first genuine smile in a while. "Id like that. Thank you Mr. Shorofsky."
Penhall was halfway across the carpark when he realized that Hanson had been his ride that morning, and that he was already gone. He turned and was making his way to the bus stop when he heard the honking of a horn. He wasnt surprised when Hanson pulled up beside him. "I thought you were at the bar with Judy and Harry."
"I sent them on ahead. Thought you might need a ride."
Penhall considered the offer. "You buying?"
"You crazy? Its Harrys round .he even said hed spring for pretzels ." He let his voice trail off invitingly.
"Well in that case .."