Anakin looked at the clock for what must have been the 100th time that day; it was only 3:15 pm.
Today was proving to be a long one at Tosche Station. It seemed like everyone in town had something urgent to get fixed and was generally grumpy. For the first time since starting this job - over a year ago now, he was wondering if he shouldn’t actually have enrolled at the Jedi College instead of working in an electronics repair shop. Despite his foul mood, Anakin knew he loved this job. It allowed him to learn how to build all his gadgets and it was always rewarding to get broken things to work.
The working area of the shop was a large room at the back, walls laden with shelves and lights at worktops. Appliances were sorted by type in the shop, behind the counter, and then organised by sections. There were TV sets, speakers, amplifiers, radios, cassette radios, Hi-Fi, Walkman, electronic keyboards, LP players, VHS players, table top and handheld games, you name it. Even microwave ovens and compact disc players were starting to be a house staple. This was by far Anakin’s favourite part, and he was relieved when Mr Palpatine’s wife arrived to cover at the counter and send him back in to work on repairs.
At 6 pm on the dot Anakin left the shop, Walkman in tow and riding his skateboard towards the Tatooine Arcade. He stopped right by the front door and jumped out in a swift move, tucking the skateboard under his arm. ‘Take on Me’ by A-ha was blasting full volume and the place was packed with teenagers. Anakin spotted Ben playing Super Mario and headed towards him.
Padmé saw Anakin as he entered through the double doors. Blue jeans, orange vest over his denim jacket and checked shirt, white Nike Bruins, headphones over his golden curls. He was beautiful and had the most amazing blue eyes! She didn’t miss the way other girls noticed him as well; pretty girls, more popular than her, way more. She knew this stupid crush on him was becoming beyond ridiculous; it had been two years now, and he wouldn’t even acknowledge her when she came across him somewhere or she brought in her stereo or Walkman to get fixed at Tosche Station. She had already broken five appliances on purpose, and her father was starting to loose his patience.
“What’s up?” Jade bumped her shoulder.
“Why you staring at the wall then?”
“I’m not staring at the wall.” Padmé narrowed her eyes as she turned to look at Jade.
“Ben is checking you out again.” Jade teased before turning back to the screen displaying four ghost figures above the word ’Ready!’, and dozens of dots across a labyrinth, with a single yellow circle.
Padmé looked towards Anakin and Ben, to see Ben Kenobi diverting his eyes back to Super Mario. Why did it have to be Ben looking at her and never Anakin? Why? ‘No such luck’, she thought.
“Can’t wait to get to Mace’s party this Friday. Did you get your costume yet?” Jade asked without looking away from the screen.
“Yeah, need to get to senior year to finally be invited to anything. I’m not sure what to wear yet. Not a fan of Halloween.” Padmé rolled her eyes.
She wondered if Anakin would be going as well.
That Saturday, before the party, they had dinner at Jade’s with her parents and younger brother, Han. Afterwards, they went up to her room to get ready.
“No matter how many times I try to do my hair, I can never achieve the desired effect,” Jade complained, sighting while running her hands through her hair. “ I’m just going to put my hair down and wear the hat.”
‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper was playing in the background. Padmé was looking at the mirror, doing her hair while absently pondering if she would even dance tonight.
“I’m so hoping Luke is there tonight!” Jade grinned at her reflection in the mirror while applying layers of black kohl around her eyes.
They had settled for matching dead witch outfits, and Padmé was glad her perm was still in good shape, as it made it easier for her to do the hair, teasing it at the roots to give it volume and make the curls messy.
As they were exiting the room, a tennis ball just missed them. “You look worse than The Exorcist,” Han laughed, shutting his bedroom door behind him.
Padmé froze, staring at the door.
“Han’s a silly kid. We’re choice tonight. Don’t worry.” Jade straightened up her back, grabbed Padmé by an arm and headed downstairs and out of the house.
The party was just about to start as they arrived. They had passed small groups heading towards the house as they were driving up the street and the door was open. As they entered the house, they were greeted by Mace’s sister, Jenny, who was in the main room with a group of friends. Small scattered groups were forming across the entry hall and family room. They didn’t know anyone very well, so they decided to just go in the backyard where they could see more people were gathering.
On the way out, someone bumped into Padmé.
“Hey! Watch out where you’re going!” a stifled voice warned.
Padmé looked up and saw a tall dude dressed all in black, with a cape, some panel with buttons across his chest and a Darth Vader mask, behind two other dudes with identical white suits and masks, Stormtroopers or whatever they were called.
“YOU watch out, bucket heads! What do you think you are, some space cowboys?” Jade replied, squinting her eyes before turning away and carrying on walking. Padmé followed.
She spotted Anakin at the far left corner of the garden. He was disguised as a Ghostbusters along with Mace, Ben and Arthur. He looked good in any outfit, his luscious curls crowning his head perfectly. Padmé thought she was going to have a cardiac arrest right there on the spot.
“What’s wrong with you?” Jade enquired just as she followed where Padmé was looking. “Umm, sure...” she muttered as she tilted her head towards Padmé.
“Hello. May I introduce myself? I am Cedric Piot.” a cheerful voice spoke.
“Hello, Cedric. I’m Jade.”
“Hi, I’m Padmé. Where you from? You have a strange accent”
“Oh, I’m from France. I’m here in a student interchange programme. I live with Arthur.”
“Interesting… How do you like it here?” Jade started toying with her hair and looking at Cedric from head to toe.
“I’m enjoying it so much! It was such a wonderful idea to enroll in the programme and get to live in America for a year. Ladies, would care to join me for a drink?”
“Sure.” Jade replied, and they started following Cedric, heading towards Arthur and the four Ghostbusters.
“Pretend you’re cool. Don’t look. They are coming our way. The French dude is bringing them over,” Ben mumbled to Anakin.
Was it him, or was it getting hot in here? How was it possible for it to be so warm outside on an October evening?
“Calm down, calm down. You’re getting all red,” said Ben discreetly while looking in another direction.
Anakin tried to focus on another group chatting nearby.
“May I just get some drinks for my friends please?” Cedric passed right through the four of them to get to the drinks table.
Ben stifled a giggle with his drink while Anakin kept starring at the other group.
“Hello, there!” Ben greeted Padmé and Jade.
“Hello.” They both replied at the same time.
“Hello. Welcome to the Party.” Mace smiled.
“Thanks for the invitation, Mace. You guys look ‘phat’ in those suits!” Jade smiled back at him.
“Hi. You alright?” Arthur said with a slight nod.
“Hi…” Anakin finally managed, looking briefly at them, then turning slightly to face Arthur and Mace.
‘He clearly doesn’t even care about talking to me,’ Padmé thought, feeling her heart sink.
Ben was smirking and staring at them with an amused expression.
“What’s so funny?” Jade asked furrowing her eyebrows.
“Nothing. Just saying hi, right, Anakin?” He bumped his elbow, forcing Anakin to look back at him.
“What?” Anakin replied.
“Anakin, don’t you remember Padmé and Jade?” Mace raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, yeah, sure… How you doing? Long time no see…” he stuttered, looking away and then back to them.
“We’re good. Thanks. How about you? Still working at Tosche Station?” Jade asked.
Padmé was dying. She was feeling hot and could tell her cheeks were blushing right up to the tips of her ears.
“There you go, ladies.” Cedric handed them the drinks, two cherry Cokes, and Padmé gladly had a big gulp of hers. She needed to cool down, right now.
“Yes, yes, I’m working there…” Anakin managed to reply, trying his best to look casual.
“How is senior year going?” Ben asked.
“Oh, it’s going fine, I suppose. Well, it just started, so…” Padmé was playing with a strand of hair; she needed to find something to do with her free hand; she would look stupid if she held her Coke with both hands.
“We’re going back in. I need to put some music on to get it started,” said Mace as he and Arthur started walking towards the house.
Cedric didn’t move, and neither did Ben, but Anakin seemed of two minds, looking towards Mace and shifting his weight between his feet.
The sound of ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight’ by The Outfield started blasting through the open windows and everyone in the backyard started swaying as the first chords played. That seemed to relax Anakin a bit, and he cracked a smile and started singing with Ben to the first lines of the lyrics. Cedric joined in, but he didn’t quite know it by heart, and his accent made it just hilarious, so the five of them just burst into laughter. From there, it all started to warm up. Ben and Cedric were fun to be around, and they wouldn’t stop having a go at each other, and as the beers flowed, so did the goofing between the two of them.
“You’re an airhead.”
“Oh, bag your face!”
Anakin wasn’t drinking much. He kept a smile on his face and would laugh at the banter. As the night went by, they stayed in the group most of the evening, and, to Padmé surprise, even when Jade spotted Luke and decided to go talk to him, leaving her with Anakin, Ben and Cedric.
At some point, they went outside to get some fresh air, as Ben and Cedric decided that drunk chatting with some girls was a good move. Padmé was now feeling at ease talking with Anakin. They hadn’t talked much so far, as Ben and Cedric were doing most of the talking, but then again, they hadn’t been friends back at school. They were more like acquaintances that would sometimes hang out with mutual friends. And besides, Anakin never seemed to be much of a talker.
“So, how is adult life turning out to be for you?” Padmé decided to start the conversation.
Anakin smiled. “It’s ok. I don’t miss much having to do homework everyday and sit for hours listening to subjects in which I have no interest.”
“Besides, I like my job. I learned so much over there. I love to fix things and understand how they work. Then I can make my own stuff, like gadgets and stuff…”
“Oh, so you are like an inventor?”
“No, no, that’s not… well, maybe I am a bit… I suppose so, I guess.” Anakin felt very hot all of a sudden. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he form a simple straight answer anymore? “How is your Walkman by the way?”
“It’s perfectly functioning, like new!” Padme blurted out.
“You’re not very lucky with your small appliances, are you?”
“I’m a bit clumsy. They keep on falling.” She suddenly looked away towards the house. So, he did notice her at the shop and remember after all.
“Padmé, lets bounce!” Jade called her from the door.
“I guess I have to go… so, I’ll see you around?”
“Sure. It was nice to see you. I mean, to catch up…”
“Yeah, it was nice to see you too.” Padme smiled. “Bye.”
“Bye. See you around.”
Padmé stood up and turned her back to him, starting to walk towards Jade.
“Hey, I’m in a Motocross competition next Saturday. Do you want to come over?”
Padmé stopped for a few seconds, and then turned back to him with the most beautiful smile Anakin had ever seen. “I would love to.” And, as she started turning back to go, she whispered: “Later days and better days, Anakin?” Padmé was still smiling and waved bye to him as she turned and walked back towards Jade.
“Later days, better days, Padmé.” He smiled.
When he finally managed to go back in, Anakin couldn’t remember if he had said bye or if he had just stayed there, staring at her, like an idiot.
Anakin remembered well Padmé well from school. He had always thought she was beautiful and, as time went by, he had started to grow uncomfortable whenever she was around. He was always worried he would say something stupid to leave him embarrassed. She was out of his league. A brilliant student, from a wealthy family, as opposed to him, an orphan adopted by a local working class family along with Ben. Ben was older, wiser and more outgoing than him, but right now, driving him home drunk, Anakin felt like his babysitter rather than younger brother.
“Did you mash?” Ben looked at Anakin with a cocked eyebrow leaning to his right.
“So, did you get her number?”
“I don’t need her number.”
“You were so red, Ani. It was hilarious.” Ben laughed.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not 10 anymore.”
“Don’t call you what, Ani?”
Anakin rolled his eyes and focused on the road. There was no point in arguing with a drunk Ben. There was never a point to arguing with Ben in general; he would usually won.
As he parked the car in front of their house, Ben jumped out straight and headed to the front door, stumbling on the flowerpots. His struggle to open the door was completely missed by Anakin, who was still in the car, staring at the wheel and wondering if Padmé had a boyfriend or someone she fancied.
It must have been well past 2 am when Padmé finally fell asleep. By then, she had replayed the night in her head about ten times. She tried to read, but found it impossible to focus. When sleep finally found her, she fell into a restless stumble, where she was walking somewhere like a forest- a dead forest. There were none of the usual sounds of nature, and Padmé found that all the trees looked the same as she walked around, grey and without leaves.
Suddenly, she heard a noise like a crow shrieking, and then muffled steps. Padmé turned and saw Anakin walking towards her, a piercing look in his eyes, like flames. He was shirtless and wearing some weird black pants and boots. There was another noise to her left and she looked, to see Anakin again, shirtless and wearing the same bottoms. She looked back in front of her and the same Anakin was still approaching her slowly, but right behind him another two Anakins were coming towards her. She looked right and there he was again, times five, with the exact same clothes, or lack of. She turned around and there were Anakins everywhere surrounding her, multiplying by the second. They were coming from all directions. How many were there? A hundred? Two hundred? Five hundred? Padmé panicked, her heart was drumming against her ribcage, her palms were sweaty and she couldn’t breath.
Was that it? Was she going to die? A death by a thousand shirtless Anakins?