Jerome walked the grounds of the circus - one hand in his pocket, kicking dirt. He was bored as usual. There really wasn't much to do that he hadn't done a hundred times already.
Haly's circus was in Gotham, and he didn't know the city too well. Whenever they rolled through small towns, Jerome would venture out more, but Gotham was a big and dangerous city, and the boy was a little unsure about exploring it. Maybe tomorrow, he'd peek his head in, but today, he'll just walk the grounds, and people watch, maybe something cool would happen or he'd meet a friend.
Jerome was a lonely kid. He had no siblings and no real friends. There really weren't a lot of other kids his age traveling with the circus, and the ones that were around weren't very nice to him. The poor kid, had it pretty bad.
He lived in a tiny trailer with his mother Lila. She was a snake dancer, a drunk, and a bit of a whore. The woman had no business procreating. She was a selfish and cold woman, and unfortunately she was all Jerome had.
The ginger teen, usually tried to make himself scarce. He'd walk around the grounds, or visit local swimming holes in the summer, go to the library, and sometimes he'd venture out into whatever city they were passing through.
Today seemed like an ordinary, typical boring day. Jerome took a seat at a bench by one of the food trucks, with a book in his hand. He gave the crowd of people a once over. Looked like the usual crowd. He liked to watch the families there with their kids, and imagine what it was like to have a real family - two parents that loved you equally and took you to fun places like the circus.
He was just about to open up his book, and binge read for a few hours, when he saw her. A beautiful brunette woman with big dark eyes. She was wearing a pretty, white, spaghetti strap sundress and sandals. She had curly hair below her shoulders. Big soft curls like she did it with a curling iron, and some kind of big white flower behind her right ear.
Jerome's mouth fell open, as he watched the dark haired beauty walking through the crowd. She really stood out, but not just because she was beautiful, but because she appeared to be wandering around alone.
Now, a teen girl walking around alone wouldn't really seem strange, but this woman must have been in her late thirties - possibly even forty. Usually women that age were there with children or a husband. She also appeared to be very sad and somber like. Jerome couldn't help but wonder how such a lovely lady could be so terribly sad.
As she walked by one of the clowns, he reached out and handed the pretty lady a red balloon. He must have noticed her sadness as well. Just when the boy thought she couldn't be anymore attractive, she smiled as she grabbed it from his hand.
She had the warmest and most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She looked like she would be a lovely person - inside and out, and Jerome knew in that moment, that he had to meet her. However he had no idea how. He was shy and not very good with girls. He had absolutely no excuse to talk to her. It would be painfully obvious, he was flirting. How awkward.
He didn't have much time to think about what he was going to say, or even if he was in fact going to approach her. It was a big crowd, and if he waited much longer, she'd disappear into it. She did look very warm and approachable though - like she'd be really nice and polite, even if she wasn't interested. He knew she wouldn't look at him like he was crazy, or be dismissive.
He stood up from the bench with his book in hand and walked toward the carousel, that she was standing by. He took a deep breath as he started to approach her. She looked up and the two made eye contact. Now it was too late. He couldn't turn around now.
The boy stopped in front of the stunning older woman and opened his mouth to speak. "Hi…." He started, as he put his hand out for her to shake. "I'm Jerome."
The woman smiled nervously and, shook his hand. "Hello, Jerome. I'm Francie. It's a pleasure to meet you."
She was just as warm and friendly as she looked and she spoke with a bit of an accent. Sort of southern, maybe Midwestern. If he had to guess, he'd say she was an Okie.
"The pleasure's all mine, miss." The boy said as their hands broke apart. "You have a bit of an accent. You're not from here are you?"
"I've lived here since I was in my early twenties, but I'm originally…"
Jerome interrupted. "Wait, don't tell me…." He placed his finger to the side of his mouth like he was thinking real hard. "I'm thinking Oklahoma."
Francie's eyes grew wide with surprise and she chuckled. "Oh my gosh…" She placed her hand on her chest. "I'm from Muskogee. Good guess."
"Well, my mom's a snake dancer, so I've been traveling with the circus since I was a tot. You start to pick up on stuff like that."
"Oh, you're part of the circus? Well, that must be exciting."
Jerome rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Not really. It's actually pretty lonely." He said, as he kicked some dirt and looked down at his feet.
"I guess there's not a whole lot of people your age to hang out with, huh?"
"There's a few, but I don't really like them very much. So, what's a lovely lady like yourself, doing all alone at the circus?"
Francie smiled at the compliment and cleared her throat. It was obvious, she knew she was being flirted with, and she blushed just a bit. "Um..I was…just reminiscing." She made kind of a sad face, and seemed like she wasn't comfortable talking about it. Jerome decided not to press the matter any farther.
The lovely brunette looked down at the book in Jerome's hand and smiled. "The Outsiders. That's a great book. How far into it are you?"
"I'm on chapter five so far. I'm really enjoying it. I really like S.E. Hinton's simple writing style."
"Yeah, me too. It's easy to read, and yet it's very interesting and not boring at all. That's hard to pull off."
"I couldn't have said it better myself." Jerome smiled at the older woman, and looked down at his feet. "Um, are you hungry? I know where all the best food trucks are." He said jokingly.
"Actually, I'm gonna have to get goin soon. I've been here all day and my feet are killin me. But I work at Rizzo's Diner in the city. It's a local diner. Ya know, one of those places that the locals send the out of towners to. You can stop by if you come into the city."
"I would like that."
"I work the dayshift. We have the best pie in town. There's a lot of regulars and everybody seems to know each other. It's real homie. Reminds me, of home, anyways."
"I'll make sure to swing by soon, then."
"Well, I look forward to it. It was a pleasure to meet you, Jerome." Francie extended her hand to the younger man.
"Great to meet you too, Francie. I'll see you soon."
"Indeed. Bye bye." The pretty lady waved and walked off into the crowd.
Jerome bit his bottom lip and smiled. He was so glad he had worked up the nerve to talk to the older woman. She was just as pleasant as he had hoped she would be, and just as lovely as can be. He just might have to venture into the city after all….
Chapter 2: Don't You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Jerome just has to see his dark haired beauty again, so he hops on the bus and heads into the city, despite his reservations about it prior. He finds the diner Francie works at with no problem, and ends up meeting some nice locals, as well as getting to chat up the object of his affection.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jerome was nervous about going into the city all by himself, but the circus wasn't going to be in Gotham for very long, and he just had to see the dark haired beauty again. So be hopped on the bus, and made his way into the city.
He'd gone into Gotham a few times in the past, when the circus had passed through, but never by himself, and he hadn't been in the city enough to know his way around, but he figured since it was a local diner, it would be easy to find someone to point him in the right direction.
Bernie, the guy that runs one of the food trucks, told Jerome, the diner was on the same block as the Gotham police department. Luckily the bus he got on, passes right by there.
Jerome had gotten off right in front of the GCPD. All he had to do was take a few glances around, and he could see the sign, almost directly across from the police station. Piece of cake. Well, getting there was a piece of cake, but working up the nerve to go inside, was another story.
He was a bit worried he'd come off as stalkerish , even though Francie had invited him. If he actually lived in Gotham, he'd probably wait a few days before paying the waitress a visit, to not seem overly eager, but time was a factor, so the shy boy would have no choice but to act quickly.
As he approached the building, he could see inside from the big glass window in the front. The diner had a very retro/1950's feel to it. Checkered floors, red glittery booth seats, a counter with silver and red bar stools that spin, and paintings of James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis.
Jerome pulled the big glass door open, and was instantly hit with Get A Job by The Silhouettes blaring from the jukebox, and the sound of roaring voices. The place was packed and Francie was right. Everyone did seem to know each other. Customers were turned around in their seats talking to the table next to them or behind them. A smile crossed the boy's face. He already felt warm and fuzzy and at home.
"Hello sir." He heard a voice say. He turned around to see a real young blonde girl standing there holding a bunch of menus. "You could take a seat wherever you like. There's a couple booths open, or you can help yourself to the counter."
Jerome took a minute to glance around the room, trying to find his dark haired beauty, but no sign of her. He was just about to ask the pretty, young blonde where Francie's section was, when he spotted the older woman, come out of the kitchen and refill a man at the counters coffee cup.
"I'll just take a seat at the counter, thank you." Jerome smiled and took a seat next to an older heavyset man with grey hair drinking coffee. The man nodded and smiled at the boy, and Jerome did the same back.
Francie, had her back turned and she was filling a glass up with ice.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite Okie from Muskogee."
The brunette turned around, with a surprised grin on her face, which quickly turned into that warm, pleasant smile, that Jerome loved. "Well, hello there. Isn't this a pleasant surprise. Nice to see you, Jerome."
"Likewise ma'am." Jerome smiled shyly.
"Hey, Hank…this here is Jerome. He's here with Haly's circus. His mama is a snake dancer." Francie said before walking off to fill the glass with soda for another customer.
The man next to Jerome turned to the side to look at him. "No way. That's pretty neat." He extended his hand to the boy. "I'm Hank, the regular counter crumb in this joint."
Jerome smiled politely and shook the man's hand. "Hello, sir. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise, kid? So how are you liking Gotham so far?"
"Well sir, I actually just got off the bus. The circus is right on the outskirts, and I've only been into the city a few times briefly with my mother in the past. I haven't really had a chance to take the official tour."
"You should when you get time. It's a pretty exciting city." The old man said before taking a swig of his coffee.
"Well, maybe if I had a lovely local to show me around, I would. Know of any?" Jerome asked as his eyes moved to Francie. He was getting better at this flirting thing.
The older woman immediately turned red and exchanged grins with Hank. "Well…" she started before clearing her throat. "I get off in about an hour, and I could show you around a bit, if you'd like."
"I would very much. Thank you." The red haired boy smiled up at the older woman.
Francie looked up at someone who had just walked through the door, and had a confused look on her face. "Well here comes Jim." She cocked her head to the side with her hand on her hip. "What is he doin in his blues?"
Hank and Jerome both turned around to look up at the front. A very handsome blonde man in a cop uniform was walking up in their direction. He removed his hat and placed it down on the counter next to Jerome.
"Francie." The cop said as he tipped his head to her. "Hank, how ya doin?" He patted the older man on the back before taking a seat next to Jerome. "Hello there." He smiled politely at the kid.
"Oh, Jim, this is Jerome. We met at the circus yesterday. Jerome this is detective Jim Gordon, one of GCPD'S finest."
"Pleased to meet you, sir." Jerome smiled. This place really was great. He loved everything about it. The music, the nostalgia, and the customers, and especially the delightful brunette waitress in particular.
"Speakin of…." the waitress started as she poured a cup of coffee for Jim. "Why on earth are you in your blues? You didn't just come from a funeral did you?" Francie asked looking concerned.
"Oh, no ma'am. Long story short, I got in trouble and I've been demoted to a beat cop." Jim gave a quick look to Hank and put his hands up. "Not that there's anything wrong with being a beat cop."
Jerome turned around to face the grey haired man to his right. "Hank were you a cop?"
"Actually I'm a retired Navy veteran, but my old man was a cop. He walked the beat here, in Gotham for thirty years. He loved it." The old man took another big swig of his coffee.
"From what I hear, at the precinct, your father was a real good man and a fantastic cop." Jim raised his coffee cup up towards Hank, and tipped his head. "To Hank senior."
Hank raised his cup as well, and smiled. "To dear, old dad." Both men smiled before taking a sip.
"Silly me. Where are my manners? Jerome, what can I get for you to dink, love?"
"It's no problem, really. How about an orange cream soda."
"Good choice, Kiddo. Comin right up." Jerome watched the waitress, walk back into the kitchen, and couldn't help but notice the beat cop looking in his direction from the corner of his eye. He turned and gave the smiling blonde man that "can I help you" look.
"Nothin." Jim chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm just remembering what it was like to be your age and have a crush on an older woman."
"I don't have a crush on her. She's just real nice to me that's all."
The older cop laughed into his coffee cup before taking another swig. "Did you hear that, Hank? The kid doesn't have a crush on Francie."
The old man snorted and smiled wide. "Yeah, and neither do I." Hank chuckled. He reached over and patted the kid on the back. "Stand in line kid. Stand in line."
Jerome felt his cheeks go red. Was he that obvious? How embarrassing. He was certain these two gentleman were convinced that he didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell, with the older woman, and they were probably right, but nonetheless, the kid had to try.
For some reason the kid got brave, and felt the need to defend himself to the two older men. "Well, she's leaving with me." Jerome shrugged.
"You wish, kid." The cop shook his head.
"Actually, it's true. She volunteered to show him around Gotham after her shift. I was sitting right here and heard the whole thing." Hank tilted his head and shrugged.
Before Jim could respond, Francie came out of the kitchen with a jacket on, holding a styrofoam cup. "My relief is here. You about ready to go, kid?" She handed the cup, with a straw already in it to Jerome.
Jim cocked his head over to the boy with his tongue in his cheek, and shook it. The kid could see that the older man wasn't mad, but more impressed than anything, and Jerome couldn't help but smirk just a bit.
Francie fiddled with the collar of her jacket before placing her elbows on the counter and leaning in to talk to the kid. "Ya know, Jerome….if you don't mind me sayin, I really like your style. You dress so different than most boys your age. You look real nice." She said with that warm smile that made the boy want to melt into the floor.
He smiled and looked down at the counter shyly before regaining eye contact with Francie. Well, thank you kindly, ma'am."
"You're welcome. Let's blow this joint." She threw her purse over her shoulder and dug her car keys out.
Jerome got up to follow the older woman out the door - every employees eyes on them, but as he went to take his first step, he felt a hand squeeze his forearm tightly.
"Not so fast, Junior. The cop motioned the boy with his finger and Jerome leaned down to listen. "Way to go, kid." He smiled and gave the red head a wink, before patting him on the back. Jerome smiled and gave both men the thumbs up, before chasing the brunette out the door…..
I hope I managed to keep your attention with this one. This chapter had a lot of dialogue, but I've been told dialogue is my stong suit. Stay tuned. In the next chapter Jerome and Francie spend some time alone and get to know each other better.