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“Thanks for renting from Midnight Dreams,” Juliet said. With a shy grin, she handed over the pile of DVDs. The customer, a young man wearing longish hair and a black tee shirt with a skull logo emblazoned on the front, stammered a thank-you and left.
Juliet breathed a sigh of relief as the last customer left the video store. As she picked up a pile of DVD cases from the counter and pitched them onto the return cart, she caught sight of the sticker on the topmost case. SOMETIMES MIDNIGHT DREAMS COME TRUE, the slogan read.
She grinned wryly. Her dream had come true, all right: a dream of closing time. Juliet flicked the switch on the OPEN sign, extinguishing the store-spanning array of bright red neon that decorated the last video store in Donner Bay. The garish glow that soaked the store in crimson during operating hours faded to the cold blue of a cloudy, starry evening.
“Thank god that’s over,” Kendall groaned as she hastened to the front door. With quick, practiced motions, she shot the bolt and lowered the shades. As a novel holdout of a dead industry, Midnight Dreams tended to attract night owls, misfits, and people who liked to show up one minute before – or after – closing time.
“Hey, at least those dudes didn’t show up to ogle us like they usually do.” Juliet punched the key combination to open the register and began counting the evening’s cash.
Neither of them were very surprised by unwelcome male attention – Juliet was twenty and Kendall twenty-one, both of them blessed with the attractiveness of youth. Juliet, shorter than Kendall by a head, with her unruly mouse-brown hair and curvy figure, got hit on less often than willowy, blonde Kendall, who looked and acted like a manic pixie dream girl out of some adolescent’s overactive sexual imagination.
It didn’t help that the manager’s informal uniform of choice consisted of black tank tops and jeans – or shorts. On July nights when the air conditioning at Midnight Dreams couldn’t hold back the blistering heat, both of them ended up showing a lot of skin and sweating in their outfits. Judd, the manager, said it helped bring in customers, but Juliet thought Judd was probably just an old perv.
He wasn’t wrong, though – every Wednesday, a group of older guys, self-proclaimed movie buffs in their late thirties and early forties, would trek in en masse to loudly discuss whatever obscure art-house film they were into that week. Though they always stopped at friendly comments and the occasional light flirtation, Juliet could count on at least one of them staring unabashedly at her breasts during checkout.
Worse, she found she didn’t always mind. Juliet lived most of her life alone, and sometimes the attention felt good, even though she felt like it shouldn’t.
“At least they keep it interesting,” Kendall said as she started going through the returns one last time. “The one guy is cute. The one with the beard? He asked me out last weekend.”
“Are you serious? He’s like forty.”
“So? I kind of like older guys. At least they know what they’re doing in bed most of the time.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Juliet hadn’t dated since high school. She had been too shy and withdrawn to make many friends, and the dating landscape outside of school intimidated her. More than anything, it seemed more effort than it was worth.
Kendall, on the other hand, filled her life with one-off sexual encounters and brief relationships that burned hot and then were snuffed out without remark. It seemed to work for Kendall – but Juliet couldn’t imagine it. She longed for something more intimate and understanding.
The blonde girl grabbed a stack of DVDs and began breezily replacing them in the racks. “You should give it a try, girl. Date a customer. Suck his dick in the back room. Make a terrible decision. It’s a rite of youthful passage.”
“Hard pass, Kendall.” Counting the money, Juliet plucked a piece of stiff paper from the bills. “Holy shit.”
“The long-haired guy who was in here? The one wearing the Killhammer tee shirt?”
“I don’t know what that is,” Kendall declared.
“It’s a horror franchise. He left me a card. Like, a business card. But it just has his email and his Dategrind address on it.” She laughed. “This is utterly ridiculous.”
Kendall slotted the last disc in place and sauntered back to the front counter. “That guy’s in love with you, Juliet. He’s in here every day you’re in here. I see him checking out your ass in the security mirror.”
“You do not.
“Swear. And he’s into horror movies, like you are. Don’t you watch horror movies with your dad every Thursday night?”
Juliet smiled at the thought of it. She reminded herself to take the copy of obscure 70s horror masterpiece The Seventh Sacrifice out from under the safe where she’d stashed it so no one would rent it. She’d been looking forward to seeing it with her dad for months.
“Yeah. But that’s different. I’m not into that torture-and-gore Killhammer shit.”
“Oh, fuck,” Kendall groaned, rolling her eyes. “Who bursa otele gelen escort gives a shit. Juliet, lower your standards a little. Get on Dategrind, DM this guy, and go out with him. You could really hit it off.”
Juliet twisted the little card between her fingers, watching it bend. A smile crept across her face.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
Juliet lived by herself in an apartment in Sunshine Row, a dreary and optimistically named complex on the west side of Donner Bay. It was a forty-minute drive beyond the smog-choked expanse of industrial parks, and put a lot of miles on her beleaguered Dodge Neon, but Sunshine Row was the only place she could afford to live without a roommate.
On the up side, her late-night drive meant phone calls with her dad.
Juliet’s parents had divorced when she was only fifteen – a consequence, her mother said, of irreconcilable differences. That was how her Maria Goodwin talked. Mom was a lawyer, one of the most in-demand in Donner Bay. Her ex-husband, Juliet’s father, was a contractor, but had been out of work for months.
Their familial relationship had always been strained. By the time Juliet entered her teen years, her mom and dad were already mostly estranged, and the close relationship they’d once shared had disintegrated with a kind of glacial slowness. Mom moved on quickly, remarrying a fellow partner at her law firm soon after.
Dad, on the other hand, had never quite recovered. He’d struggled with depression and sometimes with drinking a little too much.
Juliet worried about him. So she called him every night on the way home from work. He claimed it gave him peace of mind to know she got home safe, but she suspected it helped soothe his loneliness a little.
So, as she waited at the stoplight, she fished the tattered earbuds from the drink holder, plugged them into her smartphone, and called her dad.
His voice always soothed her, even through the fuzzy reception. She used to joke with him that he had an announcer’s voice: smooth, calm, deep, but not intimidating.
“You should go into radio,” she would joke with him, “whatever that is.” And he’d laugh, the joke recycled five hundred times, still somehow funny to both of them.
After the long week she’d had, she was glad to hear his voice.
“How was your night? Glad to be done with work for the week?”
“I’m not done. I picked up one of Kendall’s shifts. She’s got a date, which she arranged like ten minutes ago.”
“Oh yeah?” He chuckled. “Is this the one you said likes older guys?”
“Why, Dad? You want me to set you up?”
The sound on the other end fuzzed out for a moment. The reception on this end of town was always garbage. “That sounds like a bad idea.”
“Trust me, it is. The guy she’s dating is your age, funny enough. But it won’t last.”
“It never does,” he said. That quiet sadness crept into his voice, and Juliet felt her heart dip to hear it. He was thinking about Mom again. She decided to change the subject.
“Hey, speaking of bad decisions, I got asked out on a date. Sort of. This customer gave me a card. A physical card.”
“Very retro in this new digital age,” he said, and she could see the wry grin on his face. “Are you going to go?”
“I don’t know. I might. Kendall says I should because he’s a horror fan too.”
“Oh, I see how it is,” he teased. “I’m getting replaced.”
She grinned. “No one could ever replace you, Dad,” she said tenderly.
She met only silence as her Neon chugged into Culver Park, home to Donner Bay’s factories and warehouses. A moment later, she heard the beeps that indicated the call had dropped.
“Fuck,” she muttered.
Juliet drove the last five minutes to Sunshine Row without calling him back. This had happened dozens of times, and they both knew the routine.
She parked her Neon in front of her apartment – the whole complex was a converted motel, and between the battered yellow sign that bore the building’s name and the ratty vehicles parked out front, she often felt like she was living in the beginning of a horror movie herself. If one of the neighbors turned out to be a serial killer, she wouldn’t even have drawn a breath in surprise.
Locking and bolting the door, she was immediately disappointed in the muggy heat of the apartment. The air conditioning in Sunshine Row was even more theoretical than at her workplace. She flicked on the fan and stripped out of her clothes, peeling off her tank top and then squirming out of her shorts. The air from the fan felt good on her skin.
As she undressed, she dialed her dad’s number and put him on speaker.
“Hello again, pumpkin. Lost you in Culver Park?”
“You know it.” She left the phone on the chipped second-hand dresser and moved into the bathroom.
“Glad you got home safe,” he said.
“Thank you, Dad.” She grabbed a hair tie and pulled her brown tresses bursa eve gelen eskort into a ponytail. She felt slightly naughty, talking to her dad while naked from head to toe – but she found she also enjoyed the secrecy of it, the unspoken deception. It made her feel ever so slightly mischievous. Like it was something she shouldn’t be doing – but she didn’t see any harm either.
“So did you get the movie?” he asked.
“I did! Seventh Sacrifice, 1979, directed by Douglas Pierce. That’s the one, right?”
“That’s the one. I think you’re going to love it.”
Juliet had inherited her love of horror movies from her dad, whose encyclopedic knowledge of obscure films from before she was born had inspired her. Their mutual love of haunted-house stories and ghostly tales had brought them together even as it annoyed her mother. In Juliet’s teen years, her mother’s annoyance had gone from inconvenience to asset – a way to bond with her father while quietly defying her mother. To this day, Juliet still felt a tingle of satisfaction when they settled in to watch a new horror movie together.
“I can’t wait,” she said, looking at herself briefly in the mirror as she talked. Her self-esteem had never been sky-high, but long hours standing at Midnight Dreams, combined with poverty, had melted off her high-school weight and left her stomach trim and her muscles defined. Best of all, she hadn’t lost her breasts in the weight loss. They stayed big and round.
Her job and life situation was far from ideal, but at least she liked what she saw.
“Me neither,” her dad said. “I look forward to it all week.”
She blushed to hear his voice, suddenly self-conscious about her nakedness, but – once again – enjoying it at the same time.
“I’ll be there tomorrow night, right after work,” she said, doing a little twist and hop in front of the mirror. “You make the popcorn.”
“Always. I’ll see you then. Love you, pumpkin.”
“Love you, Dad.”
Juliet walked to the phone and thumbed the hang-up icon, then flopped into her messy unmade bed and stared at the ceiling. She lay there for a long time, thinking. Thinking about the cute customer who had left her his card. Thinking about her dad’s soothing, tranquil voice. Thinking other, more dangerous thoughts she didn’t yet dare give voice or form.
She wormed her way under the covers and fell asleep that way, the comforting thought of his voice lulling her into sleep.
Her next shift at work was uneventful but lonely. She was alone in the video store on a Thursday, which always made her nervous, especially as the creep factor tended to get worse as the night went on.
But tonight, for whatever reason, the creeps were relatively few and far between. The one regular who was obsessed with kung fu movies hit on her, as he always did. She declined, as she always did. He left without remark.
The guy in the Killhammer tee shirt who’d left his business card did not return. Juliet felt relieved. She wasn’t sure how she felt about him just yet. Plus, she’d found herself running late that afternoon. She hadn’t had time to put in her contacts or do anything with her hair, so she wore her horn-rimmed glasses and had her hair up in a messy ponytail.
Mostly, she thought about how excited she was to spend the evening with her dad, watching a horror movie. Not just any horror movie, but Douglas Pierce’s _Seventh Sacrifice._ It was supposed to be a buried treasure, an underseen and transgressive classic. Her dad had talked it up on many an occasion, but she’d kept herself uninformed and spoiler-free. Neither of them had seen it before. She wanted to be as surprised as possible.
The evening passed slowly, as Thursdays often did. Midnight Dreams hadn’t done brisk business since the turn of the century, but Thursdays were the slowest nights of all. She killed time by putting some of the less intense horror classics on the store TV. One of the advantages of working for a guy like Judd: he didn’t care what employees played during their working hours. Midnight Dreams didn’t turn on being a family-friendly establishment.
With no one in the store, she took a chance and closed up fifteen minutes early. She shut off the lights, barred the front door, and let herself out the employee entrance. With a sigh of contentment, she texted her dad as she got in the car.
[on my way]
As she pulled out of the parking lot and headed out to her dad’s place, she felt an unusual thrill in her heart. She was happy to be going to see him – as happy, perhaps, as she might be at going out on a date. Maybe even a little happier.
She pondered that mystery on the dark and empty road to her dad’s place, her thoughts dancing around what she was truly feeling, but still not ready to label it: shadowy fantasies without form or name, mysterious but exciting all the same.
Juliet’s mom had gotten the house in the divorce, and her dad had fallen on tough times not long thereafter. His depression bayan escort bursa and preoccupation with putting his life back together had hurt some of his contract work, and he’d never quite recovered in the years since.
While her mother Maria thrived with a new husband in the house Juliet had grown up in, her father Ryan lived in an RV on the south end of town.
In fairness, it looked a lot better than it sounded. The RV, while not a top-end luxury model, was roomy and comfortable. He had a kitchen, a small dining table, and enough room for a modest library. He’d parked it on a remote spot just upland from Connor Beach – a small piece of real estate owned by a friend who wasn’t using it. Ryan lived rent-free while he worked at putting his career back on track.
Juliet knew her dad was ashamed of his living conditions. She didn’t mind at all. She loved the drive out to Connor Beach: the twisting road that wound between the ghostly trees, the isolated homes with their lonely lights in the distance. She especially loved driving down the last stretch to where his RV lay parked between two banks of trees. It was just close enough to the beach that you could hear the murmur of the waves, but not so close that they’d ever be bothered by passers-by.
Dim orange light shone through the drawn curtains of the RV. He was home and awake. She smiled as she parked the car. She grabbed the movie from the passenger side seat.
She knocked on the side door, marveling at how much cooler the weather was out here. Midnight Dreams had been stifling, but this was pleasantly chilly.
Ryan opened the door, light spilling out into the deep blue of the evening. “Hey, pumpkin.”
“Hi, Dad.” She hopped up the metal stairs into the RV and kissed him on the cheek.
He bent down to accept the kiss. He was just over six feet to her five and a half, his chest and shoulders broad and muscular from years of physical work. His hair, the same shade and texture as hers, was going slightly thin in the front, but in a way that made him look more distinguished. He grinned as she landed the kiss, masculine lines creasing his cheek.
He stepped back to let her in, and she closed the door behind her. With all the curtains drawn, the TV felt bright, cozy and comfortably warm. Juliet smelled popcorn – not the microwave kind, but real kernels popped in an old-school popper – and a sweet, rich whiff of chocolate.
“Are you making cocoa?” she asked excitedly.
He grinned and moved to the stovetop. “Of course. I didn’t have it last time. I felt bad.”
Popcorn and hot cocoa had been part of their movie traditions since she was young. He always insisted on buying the quality stuff, too – melted chocolate and milk, not the stuff from the packets. He stirred a tiny pot with a wooden spoon. It smelled amazing.
Juliet put down her things in the RV’s passenger side seat. She frowned as she looked at the space above the windshield.
“Where’s the TV?” One of the first modifications he’d made was to mount a big-screen TV in the space above the front seats.
Ryan cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Ah, about that. I ended up moving the TV.”
He turned and pointed to the rear of the RV. Curious, she slid past him and moved past the shower and wardrobe to the back. She spotted the TV mounted at an angle on the interior wall at the foot of the bed. An unobtrusive cord led to the Blu-Ray player on a shelf around the corner.
“Oh,” she said.
“I found it a lot easier to watch from back there,” he explained. “I hope it won’t make it awkward. I’m old and my eyesight is going.”
“Stop it, Dad.” She sat on the edge of the bed, bouncing slightly. Although they’d had the RV since she was a teenager, she’d only gone on a handful of excursions in it. She’d never gotten to sleep in the bed itself, but she’d always loved the way it filled up the space it was in, the sides flush with the walls. It seemed so comfortable and safe.
He smiled and poured cocoa into two thermal mugs. “Did you bring the movie? I timed it just right. Everything’s ready.”
“I did!” She hopped off the bed and slid past him again, putting her hands on his waist as she pivoted around him in the small space. She struggled with the plastic bag for a moment before producing the disc.
“The Seventh Sacrifice,” she read from the back cover copy, deepening her voice for dramatic effect. “Douglas Pierce’s shocking 1979 classic tells the story of a reclusive witch-cult in a small town…”
“Good stuff, angel. Put it in the player, please.”
She scoffed as she moved to the DVD player. “You don’t like my announcer voice?”
“Let’s just say that as an announcer, you’re an amazing daughter and young woman.”
“Oh my god.” She pressed the disc into the slot and grabbed the tiny TV remote from atop the player. “You are so mean.”
He handed her the cocoa. “Forgive me? And don’t get cocoa all over my bed.”
She grinned as she took the mug. “Cocoa, no. But I will be hiding popcorn under your sheets. You’ll never find them all.”
“Nefarious,” he said, deadpan.
He grabbed the bowl of popcorn as Juliet slid onto the bed, putting her back against the comfortable pile of pillows against the rear wall of the RV. She looked at him expectantly as the FBI warning faded in on the TV screen. Her dad was just standing there, bowl in hand.
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