There she stood. How many thoughts crossed Kyle’s mind, in that moment?
Daphne. He loved her.
Everyone knew it.
Their off and on friendship, over years, never kindled as he hoped. He gave up. Had it been a year since?
Her complicated life wouldn’t accommodate him.
He couldn’t bear her indecision.
Not a stalker, he never expected to see her in the big box electronics store named Fries. They sold neither make-up, nor clothing. Why would Daphne go there?
Kyle went in, grabbed the needed computer part, and meant to get on with his life. Go in. Get it. Get out.
But then, he looked down that aisle and saw her.
Did anyone entering Fries, however rushed, ever exit quickly? The briefest detour could transform minutes into eons in a flash. Sky high racks jammed with a limitless variety of stuff stupefied the weak willed. Had anyone escaped this labyrinthine acreage with their bank account unscathed? Hardly.
The store offered a mind boggling variety of computer supplies and components, large and small appliances, music, sound systems, books, repair services, photographic equipment, DVDs… and more. All of it yours at a discount, and within anyone’s budget. Payment plans available.
In the rear, a malt shop waited, designed in the style of a classic drive-in theater. Each booth looked like a classic ‘50s convertible with the top down. For your dining comfort, a clean white table stood between the front and back seats. Hot dogs, popcorn, malts, and other delicacies for the asking.
Nerds of every stripe, found paradise at Fries.
Why would Daphne come to a place so unlike herself? So outside her element?
Looking lost, she gazed down an aisle towering with electronics. Kyle would know her anywhere. That hair and figure belonged to no one else. Whoever designed her really knew what he was doing. Kyle would gladly pick her out of any crowd.
He approached. He didn’t want to shout or startle. ‘Is that her perfume?’
He whispered, “Daphne?”
Her incredible smile flashed. “Kyle? What are you doing here?”
“I was going to ask you. You hate this place.”
She laughed. “Right… I seem to have gotten turned around. Can you direct me to the make-up department?” They laughed together so easily.
She looked about and lowered her voice. “You might guess, I’m not here for me.”
‘The Minotaur…’ Kyle’s name for Anthony, Daphne’s chronic, persistent, and recurring boyfriend. She’d been escaping him since before Kyle met her. Every time she and Kyle teetered on the brink of a relationship, Anthony somehow lured her back.
Kyle’s father had called it the ‘followed me home, can I keep it?’ syndrome. In Anthony’s case, hearing the cute little puppy’s snarl, who waits for the bite?
The last time Anthony reeled Daphne back, Kyle decided it was ‘the last time.’ He couldn’t stay sane, never knowing if she was in his life. Or he in hers.
Yet here she stood. And with the Minotaur lurking in the shadows, who knew how this would turn? Kyle had never met the chap. He knew of Anthony strictly through Daphne’s tales of trial and terror. Her attempts to escape his emotional abuse, somehow circled her back for more. What subtle power did he wield? Kyle could not imagine. Never physically abusive, his vicious words made violence unnecessary.
“Can I entice you to join me for a milk shake?”
“I’d love to, but… better not… You know…” She kept glancing about.
He knew. Very well. Kyle nodded. “Then I’ll leave you to it… That’s what you want?” He moved stealthily backward, in an exaggerated pantomime of a film being rewound.
She shrugged an apology and scanned the specs on a computer box.
Kyle needed to clear his head. So much happened in that brief encounter. Most of it imagined.
She obviously wasn’t happy. That would be typical when lost in the maze of a cavernous electronics outlet. But Kyle knew the Minotaur caused her distress.
‘So what? She knew how to walk away. And to find me. She continues with a man who devalues her. Why make it my problem? You can’t force happiness on someone.’
But these questions did not address the core issue.
Kyle still loved Daphne.
He’d never met anyone like her. Perfect for each other, Kyle always described theirs as one of history’s great love stories.
Smart, beautiful, wise, sensitive. What’s not to like? She made him laugh like no one ever had. She got him. And she felt seen by him.
Yes, he had issues that had kept them apart. Regardless of Daphne’s presence, his divorce took too long. Don’t they always?
And PTSD is no ingredient for building a healthy relationship. With Daphne, he felt grounded, like never before. He didn’t float away, like when alone.
Not wanting to cross paths at the checkout, Kyle stalled. He got a milk shake. He meandered through the vast store. ‘So much to buy!’
Fries had an amazing selection and wide variety. But the DVD and CD departments were legendary. Both popular hits and obscure collector’s titles lined aisle after aisle.
Looking for nothing in particular, Kyle scanned the endless variety. One title caught his eye. He knew what to do.
In stark red, ‘70s ‘hippie’ style lettering, the title, ‘Billy Jack’ called out. He pulled the single copy. The cover depicted a dramatically lit Billy Jack, in close-up. He wore a stiff brimmed, black hat, Native American style.
The blurb on the back cover stated, ‘Just a person who protects children and other living things.’
Though critically panned, the iconic hit from the early seventies had been a ‘must see.’ And everyone saw it.
Kyle and Daphne had a hilarious debate about it on their first dinner date.
She insisted ‘Billy Jack’ was her favorite movie. Kyle considered it unwatchable hokum.
A huge hit, the movie tapped into the zeitgeist of the hippie era. A lone martial arts hero defended powerless Native Americans from local bigots.
Kyle had no problem with the theme. But his being a ‘student of the cinema,’ the stilted dialogue and clumsy action scenes made him wince.
Daphne said, “I sat in the theater, copying down quotes from the dialogue.”
“Like, 'I just go berserk!'” Kyle did a fine impression of Billy Jack’s emoting. Other diners gave him startled looks.
“Not that one, so much. But I liked, ‘We destroy in others, what we most hate in ourselves.'”
“I remember that, right before he kicks the bad guy in the head...”
Not serious, they enjoyed the riff. It became the first of countless riffs improvised as their friendship deepened.
For reasons never understood, Daphne returned to Anthony. She said, ‘unfinished business.’ After too many rounds on that carousel, Kyle gave up.
‘What now? Who expects to meet at Fries? Of all the gyp joints and big box stores, in all the world, she walks into Fries…’
Her birthday would dawn in two days.
Kyle bought the DVD, and a mailer. Including a friendly note, he addressed the package and dropped it at the post office, to go out first thing. A long shot, he hoped she’d get it in time.
Regardless, she’d always know he thought of her.
Two days later, Kyle’s phone rang.
Daphne said, “Hi, I want to thank you for that wonderful gift. My favorite movie! How did you know?”
They laughed, easily as ever.
“Wanted you to know I remembered your birthday. Enjoyed running into you. At Fries, no less.”
“Yeah, Can’t make that a habit. But you think I can cash that rain check?”
“You want to? I thought…”
“I’ll take you to the opera about it, someday. But here’s the Reader’s Digest version. We had a big blow out on my birthday. I came home and found your beautiful gift. Click! The light went on. I mean, W. T. F?”
Kyle could only say, “Oh… When should we meet?”
They met. And continued to meet. And finally got together, for good.
In his wedding vows, Kyle included, “As Bogart says at the end of ‘Casablanca,’ ‘We’ll always have Billy Jack.’”