IN LINE • by T.C. Powell

Steve watched Ron kiss Anni goodbye. He acknowledged Steve with a nod, pulled his white jacket tight, then navigated through the throng swarming Hollywood Boulevard. It was cool in the Southland for a day so near summer, even in the midst of the crowd, though Ron could have helped himself by buttoning his shirt. He had a man’s chest and wanted the world to know it.

Pointless peacocking. Already had the girl, after all.

“Hey, Steve,” Anni said. She flashed a smile as radiant as Farrah’s in her poster. “Guess we should’ve gotten tickets ahead of time?”

Steve grimaced. “I had no idea it would be this popular.” The Star Wars line stretched down the street until it turned into the Chinese Theater complex; Steve had arrived an hour early and still was barely past the towering Ionic columns of the Masonic Temple. Steve continued: “Someone came out ten minutes ago — said we’d make the next show. What do you think? Stay here? Or see what’s playing at the Paramount?”

“No,” she said. “This is fine. This is what we planned on, after all.” She looked down at the black sidewalk, covered in glittering red stars and flattened chewing gum. Steve knew what she felt — today was goodbye, and soon she and Ron would move upstate to Salinas. Five hundred miles gulfing wide between the long-time friends.

“Don’t be that way,” Steve said. “I’ll visit, all the time.”

Anni laughed. “How? You sold your van, boy genius, and anyways gas might be getting cheaper but it’s still out of your price range.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking… maybe I’ll move up there myself. Set up shop around San Jose. That wouldn’t be so far.”

“Right. The business.” Anni didn’t believe much in Steve’s entrepreneurial dreams. She thought him too flighty, too unstable. Not that he could blame her; they’d dropped acid together a few years back, and she’d seen him at his most… far out. And yes, he dropped out of college. And given up his first stable work to seek enlightenment in the mountains of India. All that was true, yet, he was convinced that he was really onto something this time. This time things would work out.

“They really liked us at the convention, Anni — you should’ve seen it. Lots of smart people think we’re onto something.”

The line ambled forward, Anni not saying a word. A Charlie Chaplin look-alike came by, cane in one hand, red roses in the other. He held the flowers out, intimating Steve should buy them for the lady.

Steve dug into his jeans pocket, scrounging for cash, and came up with a lint-covered single. Chaplin dropped his head exaggeratedly, swapped the bill for a solitary rose, then shuffled away.

Steve offered the rose to Anni.

“Oh Steve,” she said. “I’m with Ron.”

“You’re not married.”

“But I might be someday. And when I am, I’ll need someone stable. Ron’s an engineer with a job lined up in defense. I’ll be provided for.”

“He’s too old for you,” Steve said. And he’d also bailed on their business, taking a measly $800 buyout from their other partner. He didn’t want to be “saddled with debt.” Now he was leaving. Taking Anni away. Of all possible virtues, why would Anni pick “stability” over passion, loyalty or courage?

“You’re just jealous,” she said, teasing.

“Damn right, I am.”

Anni pulled away slightly and looked forward to the head of the queue. “We’re getting closer.”

They stood in silence for a long while, periodically moving forward. Finally they entered the main courtyard of the Mann theater, walking across cement blocks cast with foot and handprints from Tinseltown’s past.

“Look,” Steve said, “my feet are as the same size as Jack Nicholson’s.”

“Nicholson. I liked his early stuff, but what’s he done since Cuckoo’s Nest? I think the Manson thing really messed with him. It’s silly, isn’t it, putting someone’s feet in cement, pretending like there’s something that’s going to last forever. Nothing lasts. Especially here.”

“I don’t know. Some things last.” He stared meaningfully at Anni. “You know, if things don’t work out… in Salinas — ”

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” Anni said. “I should get going.”

“No, you can’t — ”

“Why not?”

Steve grinned. “Because I spent my last buck on the rose. I was counting on you to get me in.”

Anni laughed and slugged Steve in the shoulder.

“Seriously though,” he continued, “I just want you to understand that…” That what? That he dreamed of her soft blonde hair every night? “…that I’m here for you. As a friend, to talk, to stand in line — whatever you need. I’m here.”

“I know that, Steve,” she said. “I’ve always known.” Anni tiptoed up and placed a small kiss on Steve’s cheek. “But look, I’m going to take off. I don’t want to make anybody jealous… I’ve got your rose. I’ve got your phone number. I’ll keep them both.”

“You’ll miss the movie,” he said. It’s supposed to be pretty good.”

“That’s okay. You might be right about Nicholson, but I’ve heard this movie’s a bunch of people in robot costumes, so…”

Anni held up a five dollar bill and Steve took it, trying to avoid her eyes.

“Goodbye, Steve. Good luck with your computer things. Just think about what I said about the name, okay? The fruit thing is strange.”

Steve smiled, knowing that a smile was appropriate, then he watched as Anni struggled through the crowd, not looking back.

There was pain in watching her go, but somehow Steve knew it was okay. He knew that, in love as in business as in waiting for a film, there was no hurry — that if you held your place long enough, eventually you would move to the head of the line.

His own line moved another step forward.

T.C. Powell starves full-time and is a freelance writer on the side. He has been published by Flash Fiction Online, New Myths, Big Pulp, and others. Additionally, he has twice been selected as a Writers of the Future Semi-Finalist.

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  • Got it! Nicely done.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Steve Jobs makes my bottom-five-on-earth list of men who ought to be romanticized.

  • I’m with Sarah. I’m declining to leave stars as my repugnance of the subject would overshadow what was otherwise a fine story.

  • I liked the story and the twist. The story stands proud on its own and not as a tribute to Jobs. Well done.

  • JenM

    Wow! I had no idea this was Steve Jobs until the end. Wgile I may not like some of the things Jobs did, I think the story stands on it’s own and the moral about the little guy winning out in the end is a good one.

  • This story stand up fine on its own. I think it is cheapened by having it turn out to be mr Crapple computers…

  • Paul Friesen

    @ Jen – did he win out in the end? He got the money, not the girl. Unless she came back later in life? I don’t know enough about jobs to say.

  • Joanne

    Is this, umm, fan fiction about Steve Jobs? I have no idea if any of this is real or if this is just…as weird as this seems…someone’s romantic fantasy about Steve Jobs. Which is not a phrase I’d ever thought I’d have a reason to use.

    Agree with Dirk…I was enjoying the story until the twist…it’s cheapened by that.

    Sent from my iPad.

  • SarahT

    Seems as though a lot of people knew Steve. I never met the man…

    So saying, Gotto love a story about a nerd-who-doesn’t-get-the-girl-but-may-someday-be-more-than-she-imagined….

  • joannab.

    well, i liked it. from “pointless peacocking” to “his own line moved a step forward.” nicely done

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This story would have worked very well if it hadn’t been an alternative-reality version of Jobs, who might be more accurately called a shark rather than a nerd. Since Ron had come out as a gay man to Steve while both were still at Atari–showing a great deal of personal courage and trust–portraying him as this story does seems pointlessly mean, as well as implausible in the extreme. And Ron, who’d lost a great deal of money in a previous business venture, wasn’t a visionless coward–he just couldn’t afford the liability at that time. And Jobs made sure that he’d have no chance of profiting later. So hard to swallow this as a sweet in-the-beginning story.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    What movie were they going to see?

  • Joanne

    Star Wars.

  • Fun story. Historical fiction with modern-day characters is a lot of fun. Great job, T.C.!

  • I like that this wasn’t melodramatic, and how Steve, despite how he was painted, (as a dropout, etc) handled the situation.

    Time takes time.