A LONG TIME AGO
Summary: Response to the challenge to fill in a bit of John's past.
Detroit. July 23, 1977. 12:39 p.m.
The young boy shifted his weight from one foot to another, crossed and uncrossed his arms, and checked his watch for the tenth time. He'd only been standing for fifteen minutes, but it felt so much longer than that. There was nothing to do. The brick wall he stood next to had no posters or graffiti. The sidewalk had no interesting cracks to study. Even the clouds weren't fluffy enough to form images. Again, he shuffled his feet, grinding his overly large off-brand tennis shoes against the grit on the ground.
A hand whacked him upside the head. "Cut it out, stupid."
Johnny scowled and rubbed the spot where Freddie hit him. He wanted to punch his older cousin back, but he didn't. Freddie and his friends were being nice and taking him on their trek to the suburbs, even though they didn't really want him along. Johnny knew the older boys could have ditched him at the downtown bus station when he went to take a leak.
Johnny attributed Freddie's unusual behavior to the fact that Aunt Saundra promised her son an extra five dollars if he took his little cousin with him, with the stipulation that Johnny not be left anywhere. Aunt Saundra knew how Freddie worked: money talked. Fortunately for Johnny, Freddie also knew how Aunt Saundra worked. If he slipped up, he'd get himself a beating.
At seventeen years old, Freddie was six feet tall. Six feet, six inches if his 'fro was included, he'd always tell people. But he was as skinny as a toothpick and just as strong as one. Aunt Saundra, however, was wide as a refrigerator and burly as the Hulk. Johnny had been on the receiving end of exactly one of her beatings since he came to live with her and Freddie six years prior. That was one too many.
It was best not to incur anybody's wrath today, Johnny knew. This was a one-time chance. A birthday present, actually. He'd just turned ten and Aunt Saundra gave him ten dollars -- one dollar for every year -- to do with as he pleased. Johnny stuffed his hands deep in his front jeans pockets and clutched a five-dollar bill in each fist.
When the people in front of him started to shuffle forward, Johnny's eyebrows shot up over the top of his glasses and a broad smile brightened his dark features. "We're moving!" he announced to his cousin, who was too busy smoking a cigarette stolen from a friend's old man to care.
Five minutes later, Johnny was three dollars poorer, but he held a movie ticket in his sweaty fingers. The paper was blue and thick and shiny and it announced the movie title in bold letters. Johnny stared at the tiny piece of paper, trying to imagine what magic lay in store for him when the curtain opened in a half hour.
The lanky teen in an ill-fitting maroon usher's uniform snatched the ticket from Johnny's hand and ripped it in two, shoving a stub back into the boy's palm. "Theater One. To your left," he droned, never looking up.
Johnny's breath caught in his throat at the sight of his mangled treasure. His prized souvenir now only said "ARS. 1:30 Matinee. Theater One." He opened his mouth to complain, but Freddie and his friends shoved him further into the lobby.
The ticket disaster was immediately forgotten when the heavy scent of buttered popcorn filled his nostrils. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had popcorn with real fake butter on it. Swallowing his sudden hunger, Johnny stepped willingly into another line.
With a large Coke in one hand, a medium popcorn in the other, a box of Goobers clamped between his teeth and a pile of napkins stuffed into his pocket, Johnny moved toward Theater One. The huge room was dimly lit and it took a few seconds for his brown eyes to adjust to the different light level. When he could see again, the massive white screen in the front dwarfed any he'd seen before in the tiny theaters near where he lived. It must have been a mile across, he estimated, and practically that tall.
His feet carried him, almost without his knowledge, halfway down the right-hand aisle. The row he picked was nearly empty, plenty of room for him and Freddie and Freddie's four friends. Johnny slid down as close to the center as he could. He wanted a good seat...no, a perfect seat for this movie.
When Freddie passed right by him to sit in the front row, Johnny decided it was probably a good thing. He didn't want anybody ruining the film for him. Even though he felt like the last person on Earth to be seeing the movie, he knew it would be something monumental, something that would stick with him for the rest of his life. He just knew it. All his friends at school talked about it, the people on the news talked about it, all the magazines in the library talked about it. This movie was important!
Johnny was surprised when the lights dimmed so soon. He hadn't even gotten his Goobers opened yet. Previews filled the next few minutes, giving him time to shovel popcorn in and suck down half his Coke to satisfy his growling stomach.
A moment of complete blackness signaled the break from previews to the actual movie.
The film started.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
Johnny jumped, dropping a handful of popcorn, when a huge orchestra struck a loud chord. Giant yellow-outlined letters filled the screen.
A crawl of text set the back-story for the movie. Johnny read quickly, his greasy fingers still hanging partway between his lips and the popcorn tub. His mouth opened as he saw a large space ship come over the top, firing at something behind it. His jaw dropped as an even larger space ship filled the screen. It felt as though the giant gray ship was going right over his head.
Johnny didn't eat another bite of food for the next two hours, and he was never completely sure he ever remembered to close his mouth.
Detroit. May 18, 2005. 11:58 p.m.
"Popcorn?" Wally asked in a whisper, trying not to talk over the preview for the latest Adam Sandler movie.
"I have some, thanks," John said, his eyes riveted to the screen.
"No. Can I have your popcorn?"
John blinked and turned his attention to his companion. It shouldn't have surprised him, but it did, because it always surprised him just how fast and how much Flash could put away. Both jumbo tubs of corn were gone, as were the Twizzlers, M&Ms and Sour Patch Kids. Shaking his head, John passed his tub of popcorn with fake butter to his friend. He wouldn't be eating anymore in a minute anyway.
A familiar moment of complete blackness overtook the theater. The crowd cheered, as did John.
The now-familiar logo for Lucasfilm, Ltd., garnered more hoots of approval.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
The crowd erupted in applause.
John's grin grew wider as he awaited the loud chord that he knew was coming, but would nonetheless startle him. A moment passed, dragging for longer than he always thought it should.
The orchestra blared. John flinched. Giant yellow-outlined letters filled the screen one more time.
Twenty eight years, he thought as he read the brand new crawl. He was a kid again.
Author's Note: Being a member of the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers (it's a SW costuming club...check it out on the web at www.501st.com) and given the fact that Episode 3 opens next month, and we have been/will be doing all kinds of activities in costume to promote the movie's release, I have nothing but Star Wars on the brain. Thanks goes to MerlinMissy for the beta and for putting my JL mind together with my SW mind.