Moments to change a life

Conor turned to the man, “My name is Conor.”

The man cautiously looked Conor’s smile as if he had not had human enteraction in a while, “Parker. Parker Townson. I dont want to cause trouble for you two. If there is just a leftover pizza I am happy to eat that. If you have any work I can do, I will gladly help clean things in exchange.”

“Well, Parker Townson, if you are serious about that, I do have some pans that need a deep clean in the back.”

“Yes, yes of course!”

“Cara, are you good to watch the front?”

She nodded and watched Conor lead Parker to the washbasin in the back.

Conor helped him take off layers of coat, hanging them on the staff coat rack. “After you wash up, I’ll get you a slice. Then I’ll show you the pans. I think we have a pizza or two that were never picked up that you can take with you when you’re done. Deal?”

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Parker went to hug Conor but Conor smiled and pointed at the washbasin.

“Perhaps after you wash up a bit more,” he chuckled and saw Parker crack a grin as well. Conor washed his own hands and returned to Cara.

“This is nice and all, Conor, but if Pops finds out…”

“Then I’ll take the heat. Pops already dislikes me, what is one more small infraction against my dazzling reputation with him. The money’s locked away, there are no customers, and it’s a weeknight. Besides, we could use the help with the dishes. That lady earlier never took those two pizzas with her, so they are already paid for in the system and we would just toss them anyway. I’ll keep an eye on him if you can watch the front.”

Cara frowned at him but waited near the register while Conor and Parker scrubbed pans and pizza racks for an hour. When they finished, Conor put a fresh pizza through the oven and brought it out to the sitting area with Parker and Cara.

“Thank you, both. You have no idea how much it means for people to give me a chance.” Parker said, chowing down on the pizza.

“We are going to turn the ovens off for the night, but care to tell us your story while you eat?” Conor asked.

Parker nodded, “Not much to tell. I fought for the kingdom for a time. Then was a foreman in the mines for the Benedict family,” Parker began as he started on a slice of pizza.

“It was good-paying work digging coal out of the mountains. Hard, but honest labor. A lot of the vets worked there. At least till management struck a deal with the courts. Once they got the contract for prison labor, they didn’t want to keep us around. Even foremen like myself got canned in favor of guards for the new slave labor. Kinda been on the street for the last three or four years since. I kinda lost track of time honestly,” Parker explained.

As Parker finished his tale the front door’s jingling bell rang as several rough-looking older teens walked in. Cara tried to block them, insisting that the shop was closed for the night.

“Well fire the ovens back up then, woman!” slurred one brawler, the reek of alcohol evident.

Conor rushed over. He wasn’t a fighter, but he hoped his height would give him some advantage. 

“Hey, the lady told you we’re closed! The ovens are already cool. Try again tomorrow!” Conor bellowed, doing his best to appear imposing.

The jock-looking teen stood a solid six feet tall but was just shy of Conor’s 6’3”. However, his broad shoulders and sports build made up for any height difference.

“Is that so?” The jock grinned and slugged Conor hard in the stomach, knocking the wind completely out of his lungs.

Conor wheezed out the last of his breath. Nearly collapsing on the ground, his lungs begged for air, and his eyes wide.

Cara rushed over to him, but one of the jocks backhanded her. Cara let out a whimper and she held her cheek, where an angry red hand print was already showing.  

“Next time, you should be prepared.”

“THAT’S ENOUGH” boomed a voice from the side. Parker loomed over the four.

“What are you going to do, old man?”

Parker moved, arm flashing in a punch, and an instant later, the thug’s nose was broken and bloody.

“He broke Taylor’s nose!”

“Dude, the tattoo on his arm! He’s a DRAGOON! Shit! We are fucked!” The teen panicked and darted for the door, slamming into the inward swinging door.

“Pull, you idiot,” Parker barked after the punk as he struggled with the door, he finally tugged it open and ran out into the night.

The other two tried to help the one named Taylor back to his feet as Parker loomed over them.

 “Shit man, we dont want any trouble. Not with a dragoon, just let us go!” one begged as they backed for the door.

“Then get gone! Piss off on out of here and dont let me catch you giving good people a hard time. If you want to pull that crap, try your luck down at the docks. I am sure you will find you are quite low on society’s idea of strong, hard men.” Parker said in a booming tone.

“Sure, right, whatever man.” the other said as he tugged the door open and pulled Taylor out behind him. 

The three piled out the door as Conor gasped, finally able to suck in a breath. “lock… door!” he wheezed. Cara’s eyes were wide as she rushed to the door and spun the deadbolt.

“Damn bastards! What did they expect?” she fumed.

Conor finally got enough breath to drop into a chair, “Are you ok?”

She looked at him with sympathy in her eyes as she patted her slightly swollen cheek. “I’ll be fine. You?”

“Just winded.”

They both then looked at Parker, who was staring at his hand as if in shock. “I… I’m sorry I didn’t act sooner. It’s been a long time. I didn’t want to go down that path again.”

“At least they didn’t try for the cash box. Someone will have to take that till to the bank tomorrow, cause I am sure there are several thousand copper dragons in there after the weekend,” said Conor.

Cara went white, possibly realizing just how bad it could have been if the jocks had been intent on something more than just picking on staff. And most importantly, what if Parker wasn’t here with them?! 

“Thank you, Parker. That could have ended a lot worse if not for you.” Conor and Cara said genuinely almost simultaneously.

“Erh, Parker, they say you’re a Dragoon? What …”

Parker was still staring at his hands but looked up at the startled-looking Cara and Conor. “Sorry, I need to go. Thank you for the pizza.” He grabbed the box and made his way out the door quickly, pointedly ignoring Conor’s question. 

Cara blinked and relocked the door without realizing what she was doing. Conor was taken aback as well.

“I hope Parker will be ok. He seemed shaken,” Cara said quietly, looking out the window.

“Me too. I wonder what … sigh, never mind, he’s gone.” Conor muttered and, after shaking his head, turned his attention to Cara. “Are you sure you are ok? Your cheek is awful red.”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry. He said … the boy called Parker a Dragoon, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, you’re right.  But what exactly is a Dragoon?” Conor frowned. “You know I feel like … I know that term but I can’t remember.”

Cara gazed out the window at the dark street before continuing, “Well, my uncle said he was one during the Surret war. In his journal, the Dragoons aren’t just Kingdom elite soldiers. They’re soldiers trained at the temple of Abrasax in some of the most advanced martial arts and weapons training! ”

“No wonder they ran off! I wish we knew more about him.” Conor said, following Cara’s gaze where Parker had disappeared.   

Cara sighed, “Let’s get out of here. Maybe we can start fresh tomorrow.”

Conor helped Cara finish closing up and stumbled his way home. Honestly, that punch had hurt far more than he cared to admit.

When he got home and made his way up to the top floor of the apartment complex, the lights were already out. 

Jessica had likely been in bed for several hours now. 

Sigh … Looks like she has forgotten what day it is today.

He quietly made it to his room and collapsed onto the small bed. As he lay back onto his pillow, glancing at the bedside clock showing three in the morning, he whispered to himself, “Well, happy birthday Conor.”

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