Save Me Chapter 7

After the party ended and the crowd left, Veronica puts Aiden to bed and then comes to help me clean up.  She attacks the dishes (should’ve bought paper plates) and I take care of putting all the furniture back up.

Over the sound of running water, she asks me a question, “So did Carl finally find someone to date, or was that just another one of his ‘friends.’”

“No, he’s not seeing her,” I say as I drag one of the chairs back to the kitchen table.  I notice she closes her eyes and inhales when I say this.  Shit.  I should’ve lied, should’ve said she was with her.  She’s not just questioning me because she’s curious about Carl.

She turns the water off, dries her hands with a towel, and puts them on the counter.  “Who is she?”

I’ve stopped moving furniture.  “She’s just a coworker.”

“Do you think she’s cute?”  She’s not wasting any time.

Now I lie.  “No, of course not.  Why would you ask that?”

“I noticed her looking at you a few times tonight.”

“Oh.  I didn’t notice.”  I knew it.  I knew it was a bad idea for her to be here.

“Maybe I’m just being paranoid.”

I don’t know if I should let the conversation end right there, but I don’t.  “Well, if it makes you feel better, I’ll stay away from her.”  As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I know I probably should have just kept quiet.  I hope what I said doesn’t make me sound too guilty.  I go back to the living room to bring another chair back into the kitchen.  Veronica turns the water back on.  I notice there aren’t any dishes.  She’s just staring at the sink.

We clean with the only sound heard being the water.

Until Emma comes home.

The two of us haven’t talked much since the night she came home late.  She spends most of her time with her boyfriend or studying, and when she is home, she’s in her room.  She’s on her phone now as she comes in the door, and without saying a word to us, she goes straight to her room.

When the door to her room clicks, Veronica comes out of the kitchen and stands next to me.  “Matt, I’m worried about her.  Something’s been bothering her for a while, and she won’t talk about it.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to talk to your daughter.”

“She won’t talk to me.”

Veronica stares down the hallway toward Emma’s room.  “Maybe if we both go she’ll talk.”  She walks to the hallway and then turns to look at me.  “You coming?”

We both stand at her door and before we knock, we listen.  Sounds of crying come from the other side.  After a few seconds, Veronica taps on the door.  “Emma, can we talk to you?”  I hear shuffling around inside her room, but then the doorknob turns and she appears in front of us.  She looks terrible.  Her eyes are red and her face is swollen.  She wipes her nose with a tissue.  “Honey, talk to us,” Veronica tells her.  “I know something is bothering you.”  She pulls Emma in for a hug, and then the three of us walk to the living room and have a seat on the couch.

Emma curls her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them.  She doesn’t talk for a few minutes, just buries her head into her legs and cries.

Veronica sits between us, and I can tell she’s worried.  She puts her hand on Emma’s and holds it.  “Sweetie, just tell us.”

Emma looks up and tears fall down her cheeks.  “Mom…Daddy…I’m…I’m pregnant.”  She puts her head back down and sobs.  Veronica pulls her into her arms.  She tries to console her.

But I take a different approach.  “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Matt!”  Veronica still holds Emma in her arms but looks at me.  “How can you talk to her that way?  She’s your daughter!”

“I don’t care if she’s my daughter!  I can’t believe she went out and fucking got pregnant.”  I put my head in my hands for a second to think, but it doesn’t take me long to figure out what I want to do.  I get up and grab my keys off the counter.  “Where does he live?”

“Daddy, no!  What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to kill that son of a bitch!”

“Matt, sit down!” Veronica yells.  “You’re not going anywhere!”

“The hell I’m not.  Did he rape you?”

“No, dad, he didn’t rape me.”

“So you’re a whore.”

The room goes silent for just a second while both girls look at me.  I regret saying it the second I said it.  The silence doesn’t last long as Emma gets up crying and runs to her room.

“Get out of the house.”  She doesn’t yell it, but there is intensity behind Veronica’s words.  “Get.  The fuck.  Out.  OF THE HOUSE!”  She definitely yells this time.

I open the door and leave before she says another word.  I don’t know where I’m going, but I get in my car and start it.  I put the car into reverse, but I don’t make it out of the driveway before I put it back into park.  I lay my head on the steering wheel and cry.  I haven’t cried in years.

***

The next day I came back into the house and apologized to Emma for calling her a whore.  I didn’t mean that.  But I was still mad at her.  I told Emma that I wanted her out of the house, and even though Veronica argued with me and called me a hypocrite, I wasn’t going to back down from this.  I offered to help her find a place to live, but she didn’t want my help and moved in with Austin.  I guess as soon as he found out she was pregnant he got a better paying job and moved out of his parents’ house.  It’s been two weeks now since she moved out, and Veronica still cries at night when Emma doesn’t come home.  She’s seen Emma multiple times since then to help her decorate the apartment, take her to the doctor, or just bring her food.  I haven’t seen Emma once.  Right now I don’t want anything to do with her.

Most of my nights are spent with Joshua and the guys.  He’s a fascinating man.  Most of our time spent together involves him healing someone or hanging out with people I never would have imagined I’d be spending time with.  Strippers regularly join our group, but never in a perverted, dirty way.  They just come to hang out.  They say that most people judge them for what they do and therefore treat them differently, but with Joshua and the rest of us, they feel welcome and loved.

My boss Mr. Thompson and his homo friends regularly join us as well.  They say it’s the same reason the strippers do.

The past two weeks lunch with Jenny has become a regular thing.  We still haven’t gone to Napoli’s together, and after the third time I told her no, I explained why.  She agreed we shouldn’t go there.

Today the two of us ate at the Mexican restaurant again, but this time I didn’t play with my ring anymore.  After going to lunch with Jenny for a few days, I felt uncomfortable wearing it around her.  It’s in my pocket now.

Jenny sits across from me eating.  I smile at her and she smiles back.  Her foot touches my leg under the table.  She stares at me through her windblown hair that hangs down in front of her eyes.  She tries to push it away, but her hair just falls back down her face.  She tries again to push her hair out of the way, and when it falls back down again, she pulls something out of her purse and puts her hair into a ponytail, revealing her earrings, and then one curly strand falls back down over her ear and her neck.  We continue to eat with few words said between us.  I don’t know what’s on her mind, but there is one thought stuck on mine.

After we pay the waiter, we push our chairs in and walk back to the office.  I can’t help but look at Jenny as she walks next to me.  Every single part of her is sexy, from her red pants, black blazer, and gray and white striped shirt that comes down a little below her neck, showing off just enough of her peach skin.

We get in the elevator, and as I hoped it would be, it’s empty.  Jenny pushes the button for our floor, and I notice the white polish on her fingers.  After the elevator ascends, I reach over and push stop.

“What are you doing?” Jenny asks.

I don’t answer.  I grab her hand, pull her close to me, and press my lips against hers.

***

That night, I spend my time like most nights now, with Joshua and the rest of his followers.  A few of us have been selected as his disciples, which I guess is kind of like his closest followers.  There are twelve disciples, and they include my buddies John, Peter and his brother Andy, James, Phil who used to work with the guys on the boat, and then the guys I used to work with, Bart, Thomas, Jimmy, Judah, Simon, and Jude.  And I’m the twelfth one. I’m a little surprised he’s picked me as one of them.  Joshua seems so perfect, and I’m nothing close.  I’m far from it.

I’ve felt guilty since I kissed Jenny today in the elevator.  It was in that moment that I went from flirting and spending time together, which at the time I thought was harmless, to now I’ve officially cheated on Veronica.  There’s no going back.  It’s done.

Since then everything I see reminds me of my wife, and now the restaurant the guys have picked for dinner happens to be where I took Veronica on the night of our first kiss.  What are the odds?

Veronica and I had gone out a few more times since our first date, and with each time I was growing more and more courageous.  I took her to a movie one night, a scary movie, which turned out to be a great choice.  As soon as she jumped the first time, she grabbed my hand.  I really don’t think that part of the movie was too scary; I think it was just a reason to take my hand.  It was a good move on her part.

A few nights later, on the night I kissed her, I showed up at her door with a bouquet of daisies to give her.  They were her favorite.  I took her out to dinner, and just like today, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the girl who sat across from me.  Everything about her was beautiful.

After dinner, I took her to the park across the street, even though it was cool outside.  The sky was clear and walking underneath the stars made me feel closer to her.  As we walked I took her hand in mine, but not before I gave her my jacket.  Her fingers interlaced with mine kept me warm enough.  We found a swing set at the end of our walk, so she looked at me and told me she would race me to the swings.  She of course beat me (I let her), and then we both sat in a swing and acted like little kids as we kicked our feet in the air.  When we were tired from swinging, I challenged her to jump out to see who could jump the farthest, and just like on the ski slopes, I fell once my feet touched the ground.  And just like before, Veronica laughed.

When I walked her down the sidewalk to her door that night, we took hold of each others’ hands.  Even though it was only a few feet from my car to her door, I took advantage of every chance to feel her skin.  I knew I was going to kiss her when we reached the door, but before I did, I pulled a folded piece of paper out of my pocket.  It was a poem I had written for her.  She had asked to read some of my writing when I told her it was a passion of mine, but instead of showing her something old, I decided to write something just for her.  She took it and after she read it, she put her arms around my neck and kissed me.

It was one of the best moments of my life, and now I’m afraid that memory is damaged and stained by my actions today.

Tonight, the disciples and I eat our dinner and discuss life.  The conversations when we’re all together ends up being much deeper and meaningful than our usual conversations about sports.

When we leave the restaurant, down the street a homeless man screams at passersby.  He sees us come out onto the sidewalk and runs up to Joshua and falls to his knees.  This man looks terrible.  He is someone that if I was by myself, I would pass him by without even a glance in his direction.  His hair is filthy, and the clothes he wears are just rags and full of stains.  What parts of his skin that show are covered in scars and cuts, some look to be fresh.  Judging from the cuts on his arms, I’d say this man has tried to kill himself a few times.  He isn’t calm and gentle like the others who have come to see Joshua.  When he falls to his knees, he shouts loud enough that others walking on the street stop to watch.

Joshua responds to his shouting, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Just then something comes out of the man.  The only way I can think to describe it is a ghost, but more than one, each more evil looking than the next.  “What do you want from me, Joshua, Son of the Most High God?” he shouts.  “In God’s name, please don’t torture me!”

Joshua asks him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion, for we are many.”  He begs Joshua not to send them away.

Joshua looks around and sees a pack of stray dogs come out of an alley.  “Send us into the dogs; allow us to go into them.”  Joshua gives them permission, and as the spirits leave the man and enter the dogs, the dogs go mad and run out into the street, just as a bus crosses their path.  I shield my eyes from the gruesome scene as people from the shops around us come out to see what had happened.  Many of them see the homeless man sitting and sane.  They see the dogs in the street and then beg Joshua to leave the area.

As we get into our vehicles, the homeless man begs Joshua if he can come with us.  He doesn’t let him, but instead tells him, “Go home and tell your family how much the Lord has done for you today, and how he has had mercy on you.”

John reaches into his pocket and gives the man some money for a cab.  He leaves us, and I watch as he gets into a taxi and drives off.

After the guys drop me off at my house, I go in, hoping to see Veronica.  With everything that has happened today, I want to see her.  The guilt is weighing me down.  I can’t bear to tell her what I did, but maybe if I see her and hold her and see her smile again, maybe I can just forget this all happened and move on.

But as I come in, darkness is my only greeter.

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Save Me Chapter 6

“So how do you like your new job?” Mr. Richards asks me as I ride the elevator up to my office.  Since I was promoted two weeks ago, I haven’t seen Mr. Richards as much.  He’s no longer my immediate supervisor.  Not long ago that would have made me happy, but I’ve grown to appreciate the man once I took the time to get to know him.

The elevator opens and I tell Mr. Richards to have a good day and then I walk past the cubicles.  My head turns to look down the aisle where Danny’s cubicle sits, but like it has been most days recently, it’s empty.  I pass Jenny’s old cubicle, but I know she isn’t there.  Turns out the trip to the conference wasn’t just good for me, but for her as well.  As soon as my position became available, they moved her into it.  At first I was a little annoyed she was promoted after only working here for a few months when it took me years, but I guess all that really matters to me now is I’m making more money.

Although more money didn’t get me out of my old office.  They said I could handle my new responsibilities from where I was.  I smile at Jenny as I unlock the door to my office and she unlocks her office next door to mine.  Maybe keeping this one wasn’t too bad.

I put my headphones on and click “online” on my computer, but I don’t wait for a call to come to me.  Most of the calls I take I dial myself now.  Not too many people call us to say they owe us money, that’s my job, which makes me a hated man.

Let’s see…who’s the poor son of a bitch I’m calling first…

Found one.  “Hi, can I speak to Adam Rogers please?”

“This is him.”

It sounds like I woke him up.  I’m sure this will be a pleasant conversation.  “This is Matt with Anderson Credit Services, I’m showing here that you haven’t made a payment on your credit card in about six months.”

“I fucking hate you assholes calling me this early in the fucking morning!”

“Sir, there’s no need to use that kind of language.  I am just calling to see if we can work out some sort of payment plan.”

“Shit, I ain’t got any money right now.  And if I did I wouldn’t be paying you assholes.”

I wish I didn’t have to be so…professional, on these calls.  I’d really like to tell this guy to shut the fuck up.  But I am about to piss him off.  “Well sir, since you can’t pay your account, I’m going to have to put a hold on it.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you won’t be able to use it until you pay off the debt.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  How am I supposed to pay for shit?  I’ve gotta pay for food and clothes for my kids…”  This is typical.  As soon as I tell someone I’m cutting them off, they give me a long list of reasons why they need their card.  I doubt anyone of them is honest either.  No one ever tells me they need the card to buy stuff for themselves, they try to make me feel bad about what I do.  It never works.  I really don’t care.  The conversation continues in this fashion as I listen to his sob story, but by the end he hangs up the phone and I put a hold on his account.  Time for the next one.

My new boss, Mr. Thompson, peaks his head into my office to check on me.  He does this often.  It usually means he was listening to my call.  “You ok?  Sounded like that guy wasn’t the friendliest of people,” he says.  I wish he would stop coming to my office with shit like this.  I can handle my job.  These assholes on the other line don’t bother me a bit.  Plus, I just don’t like this guy coming into my office.  He’s a fucking faggot and he makes me uncomfortable.  Every time he comes in here I tell him whatever he needs to hear so he will leave my office.

Once he does leave, I continue doing my job, and by lunchtime I am in definite need of a break.  Not all of my customers are bad, but it seems every call today has been like the first.  I’m about to go to Carl’s office to grab him for lunch, but when I open the door, I’m greeted by someone else.

“Hey, I didn’t bring my lunch today, so, would you like to join me?” Jenny asks me.

“Yeah, sure, let me just go grab Carl and we can go.”

She looks over at Carl’s office.   “I was kinda hoping it could just be the two of us.”

I hesitate for a moment.  “If you don’t want to, that’s ok,” she says.  “In fact, let’s go get Carl.”

“No, it’s ok.  It can just be the two of us.”  She smiles at me, that smile that makes the worst of days better, and I smile back at her.

We ride the elevator together, and Jenny stands closer to me than usual.  Her shoulder is almost touching mine.  “Where would you like to go?” I ask her.

“I was thinking Napoli’s.  It’s close, and since it looks like it’s nice outside today, I was hoping maybe we could sit on the patio.  Have you ever been there?”

Napoli’s.  She could have chosen any other place but there.  It’s not that I don’t like Italian food, I love it, but that’s where I took Veronica on our first date.

While Veronica and I rode the ski lift, I figured out exactly where she was each day so I could make it a point to find her easier.  I didn’t want to have to rely on finding her in the cafeteria anymore.  As soon as we got back to school on Monday, I didn’t wait around for another chance.  That morning I went straight to the first place she told me she would be, and I asked her out on a date.  She put her books away in her locker, closed it, and then looked at me and smiled.  “I’d love to,” she said.  She then opened up her book bag and took out a piece of paper and pencil and then wrote her number on it.  “Call me tonight,” she said.

My heart didn’t slow down for hours.  I didn’t pay attention during any class the rest of the day, although it looked like I was taking great notes.  What I really was doing was writing a script of exactly what I was going to say to Veronica that night when I called her.  I knew if I didn’t have anything prepared, I would forget what I wanted to say and stumble on my words.

We agreed to go to Napoli’s on Friday of that week.  I didn’t sleep well for days as my mind kept playing out what would happen on the date.  I knew I would do something to screw it up, so by the time Friday night came, I was a mess, at least on the inside.  On the outside I made myself look as best as possible to impress her.

I rang her doorbell to pick her up, and from the moment she opened the door, all my worries disappeared.  I don’t know what it was about seeing her that night, but I just knew I wouldn’t screw it up.  She told me later that night while we ate that she hadn’t slept much either and that she thought she might do something to screw up the date.  I just laughed and told her she had nothing to worry about.  I was lucky to be out with someone so beautiful.  She smiled and the rest of the evening felt like a dream.

I made sure to have her home by the time I told her father I would, and we stood at the doorway for a minute telling each other how we both had a great time.  I wanted to kiss her, and she leaned in towards me like she wanted the same, but even though I felt so comfortable around her, I was still scared, so I leaned in and gave her an awkward hug.  When she pulled away she tucked her hair behind her ear and told me to call her.

Going to Napoli’s now would make me uncomfortable, so I tell Jenny I was hoping for some Mexican food.  She doesn’t question me but agrees instead.  I take a deep breath.

The place we end up is right next to Napoli’s, but it doesn’t have a patio.  So we take a table inside and then order our food.  I wish she hadn’t mentioned Napoli’s though, because even though we aren’t there, the thought of my first date with Veronica is still in my mind.  I can’t keep my hands still while we wait, which eventually turns into me fidgeting with my wedding ring.

“Are you okay?” Jenny asks.

She’s looking at my ring.  I stop fidgeting and put it back on.  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.  Listen, if this makes you uncomfortable, I can get my food to go and eat in my office.  It’s ok.”

Part of me thinks this would be best, but part of me wants her to stay.  Shit…well…we’re just eating lunch, surely no harm can come from that.  I mean, it seems unreasonable to make her go back to the office to eat alone.

“That’s silly,” I tell her.  “I don’t want you to eat alone.”

“Okay.”  We sit in silence for a minute, but I’ve managed to keep my hands still.  I find I’m looking around the restaurant for people I know instead.  “What are you doing for the Super Bowl?” Jenny asks, bringing my attention back to her.

“I’m having a party at my house.”  I’ve wanted to invite her, but I’m not stupid.  That’s a bad idea.  “What about you?”

“No plans yet.  Kinda sucks, I love football and usually have a party to go to, but not this year…”

I know what she’s hinting at, but I can’t do it.  “Yeah, that does suck.”

“Hopefully something comes up.”

She has to know I can’t invite her to my house.  I just can’t do it.  I switch the conversation to work and ask her how she’s enjoying her new job.  Before long our food is on our table, and between bites we keep to talking about work.  Even though it’s not the most exciting topic, I enjoy just talking to a woman without even the hint of an argument.

When we get back to the office, we take the elevator, which has become one of my favorite parts of the day.  On the ride up Jenny stands close to me again, and even though it was probably an accident, I feel her hand brush up against mine.  Just that slight touch is nice and leaves me curious for more.

***

After work, I decide to go visit Danny.  I found out earlier today that he’s been in the hospital undergoing chemo.  When I arrive, I see I’m not the only one who is here to visit.  He’s become a familiar sight around sick people.  News has spread around town about his ability to heal.  Joshua sees me and greets me with a smile as we both walk into Danny’s room.  Danny lays in bed with tubes hooked up to him.  He’s lost weight, and the remaining hair he had is now gone.

I give Danny a wave but his attention is on Joshua.  “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me.”  His voice sounds weak as he holds his hand out to Joshua.  I’m amazed at how much faith he seems to have in this guy’s ability to heal.

“I am willing,” Joshua says.  “Be clean!”

The doctor who happened to be in the room with us laughs.  “I’m sorry sir, but I hate to tell you it takes a little more than that to heal someone of cancer.”  He picks up his clipboard to write down some of the readings off the machines in the room, but then stops.  “That can’t be right,” he says.

“What is it, doctor?” Danny says.

“Well, we’re going to have to run a few more tests, but everything we’re showing here says the cancer is gone.”

I smile and shake my head.  He did it again.  I watch as Joshua says a few more things to Danny, and then he takes me into the hallway.

A woman pushes a girl in a wheelchair down the hall.  A couple of priests are with them.  The woman sees Joshua and brings the girl to him.  Joshua leans down to look the girl in her eyes.  “Take heart, my daughter, your sins are forgiven.”

One of the priests throws his hands in the air and laughs.  He looks at the other and says, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Joshua looks up at them.  “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier to say, “You’re sins are forgiven,” or “Get up and walk?”  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins.”  He looks back at the paralyzed girl.  “Get up, take your things, and go home.”  The girl is hesitant at first, but she puts her hands on the armrests and pushes up.  The priests are behind her laughing, but she continues to push until she is on her feet.  She looks at the priests, and walks away.

I’ve asked it before, and I’m still wondering.  Who is this guy?

Joshua looks at me and asks if he can come to my party.  I wasn’t expecting this, but I’m so in awe of him right now that I tell him yes.

***

“You didn’t tell me all these people would be here,” Veronica says to me.  The party ended up being a huge success, but there are more people here than I expected.  “I’m not sure if I feel comfortable with some of these people in our house.”

Joshua came to the party, along with the guys, and even the people who quit working at Anderson.  I’m okay with them all being here; I would have invited most of them anyway.  But he’s also invited a couple of the strippers from the night club I go to with Carl.  I make sure not to tell Veronica where I know them from.  I invited others from the office, and some of them invited friends.  Someone invited Mr. Thompson, my gay boss.    He’s also invited a couple of his friends, and this whole place is out of hand.

The worst part though, is that Carl came, which he was supposed to, but he brought Jenny with him.  She’s hasn’t said much to me yet, but she keeps glancing over at me.  I hope Veronica doesn’t notice.

Joshua comes and sits next to me on the couch.  “Follow me,” is all he says to me.  Nothing more.  I open my mouth to ask him questions, but the doorbell rings.

I answer it and am not surprised it’s my neighbor, and he’s mad.  The house is full and the volume is loud.  People are in the driveway and front yard talking.  My neighbor and I aren’t friends; I’ve been on his bad side for years now.  He knows I work for Anderson, and I know he has a major debt with us.  I’ve always avoided his name when I make my calls, but I know someone has talked to him.  From what I’ve read in his notes, he is just as friendly as the rest of them.

He asks me if we can keep the volume down, and I assure him I’ll try, but then he makes another comment that I didn’t expect.

“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bring these type of people into my neighborhood.”  He gestures into my living room.

“What type of people are you referring to?”  I cross my arms and lose the smile I tried to keep with him.

“Just look around Matt.  You have strippers here, those guys over there are a bunch of faggots, and since I’m already talking, Matt, I think you and the people you work with are scum as well.”

I shake my head and clinch my fists.  If he says anything else like this I’ll punch him.

“With people like this around, it wouldn’t surprise me if your daughter ended up being a whore…and your son…”  I don’t let him finish his statement before I knock the asshole to the ground.

Carl and few of the guys grab my arms and hold me back before I beat the shit out of the guy.  He stands up with blood dripping from his nose.  Joshua is standing between us all.  “Why does this guy hang out with you debt collectors and sinners?” my neighbor says.

Joshua replies, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means:  I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Save Me Chapter 5

“It would have been nice if you would have run this by me first, Matt,” Veronica tells me as she grabs the keys to the car.  I asked her if she would pick me up a few things while she was out at the grocery store.  She asked why I needed shampoo and deodorant and that’s when I told her about the trip.

“Sorry, Veronica, I guess I just didn’t think I needed to.”

She laughs.  “Didn’t need to?  I mean, it’s not like I’m your wife or anything.”

“I just figured you’d be happy about it.  This is a big opportunity for me.  For us.”

“Listen, I want you to go on this trip. The trip itself is not the problem.  I just wish you would have talked to me about it first.  And what do you mean this is a big opportunity ‘for us’?”  She puts the keys back on the counter but clutches her purse.

“I mean I work my ass off so you and the kids can have nice things.  And right now it would be nice if we made just a little bit more.  This trip could provide that.”

“What more do you want, Matt?  If you’re not happy with the things we have now, what makes you think you’ll be happy with more?  And what have I done to make you think I would be happy with more?”  Now she puts her purse on the barstool and joins me on the couch.

I sit up straighter to try and argue my point better.  “Wouldn’t you be happy with more?  I mean, who wouldn’t?  Wouldn’t you like to have a new car?  A bigger house?”  I try to think of something she would like.  “New shoes?”  I don’t know.  It sounds like something she might like.

“New shoes?” she replies.  I assume by her questioning it I didn’t guess correctly.  “It’s like you don’t even know me anymore, Matt.”  Her eyes begin to water.  “You have no idea what I really want.”

She’s right.  I don’t know what she really wants.  I have no idea.  “Well then why don’t you tell me what the fuck you want.”  Wow.  I can’t believe I said that.  I don’t feel bad about it though.  Feels good.

The tears welling up in her eyes break and come down her cheek.  She wipes them off with her hand.  “You, Matt.  I want you.  I don’t want a new car.  I don’t want a new house.  All I fucking want is you.”  She gets up from the couch and takes her keys off the counter.  She walks to the door and opens it.  “I can’t believe you haven’t figured that out by now.” And she shuts the door without saying another word.

I’ve never heard her speak like that.  Maybe I went too far.  But she doesn’t think I understand her, well, she doesn’t understand me either.  I need this trip.  I want a promotion.  She acts like money won’t make her happier, but I’m sure she won’t be complaining when it comes in.  I do feel bad about not saying something to her about the trip soon, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  I was going no matter what she said.

***

Veronica and I didn’t talk much for the next few days.  I avoided her, and she avoided me.  The only interaction we really had was when she came back home from the grocery store and threw my shampoo and deodorant on the couch next to me.  I didn’t mind the lack of communication until this morning when my flight left.  I expected her to forget everything happened and give me a kiss goodbye or something.  But she wasn’t even at the house when I left.  I have no idea where she was.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on an airplane.  It’s been a while since I’ve been out of town for anything besides sports.  Since Emma was in middle school, most of our trips have revolved around her volleyball games, and then Aiden’s baseball games.  During the summer when the kids were off from school, we couldn’t find time around their sports’ schedules and my work schedule to go on a vacation.  So this trip is a nice change.  I need this.  When I arrived at the airport this morning, I realized I didn’t know many of the people going to this conference.  There are ten of us, and the ones I do know I don’t care to be around for a long period of time.  Other than Carl, Cynthia, and now Jenny, I guess the people I work with are strictly acquaintances.  It’s one reason I’ve wondered if this job is right for me.  John and the guys have always told me I should have joined them on the boat, but there’s never been much money fishing.  Not unless it’s on one of the big commercial boats that goes far out on the water and spends months without seeing land.  That’s not what they do.  And that’s why they don’t make much money.  I guess it doesn’t matter now that they’ve left their jobs.

Without anyone here I’d rather talk to, Jenny sits next to me on the flight, but she fell asleep as soon as we took off.  She said she gets motion sickness so she took something before the flight to knock her out.  And knock her out it did.  I think I can hear a little snoring next to me.

As I look out the window I can see mountains passing us underneath.  Their white tops make me wish I could be out on them.  Veronica and I used to go skiing any chance we could.  Those chances didn’t come up much since we had Emma.  Our parents would watch her for us on the weekends so we could get away, but soon money became an issue and even though we had a free babysitter, we couldn’t afford to be gone.

Skiing was our thing though.  That first trip we took together was something special.  Neither of us knew how to ski, so that first day on the mountain we were the only ones from our group not on the slopes, but in a class instead.  It was perfect for me since I had trouble talking to her.  Being in that class together and having no one else I knew, I was forced to talk to her or be miserable the whole day.  I probably would have chosen the latter, but she wasn’t as shy as me and started the conversation.  Once we started talking, my nerves calmed, and talking to her was easy.  It was easier to talk to her than anyone else I’d ever met.

She was funny.  She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her, which meant she was herself the entire time.  When a song she liked came on the speakers, she would sing and dance along with it, even though she couldn’t dance.  But she didn’t care.  Her singing made up for it.  When we graduated from our beginner’s class that afternoon, we ventured out to our first ski lift.  I was never a graceful person, and when it came time to get off the lift, I put one ski on the ground and tried for the other, but I couldn’t do it and found myself on the ground.  A few people came to me asking if I was okay, but not Veronica.  She stood off at the side and laughed.  I knew then that this was the girl for me.  I picked up some snow and threw it at her.  She just continued to laugh and took off down the mountain leaving me to catch up.

The rest of the trip we were inseparable.  My favorite part of the trip was the ski lift.  I hated getting off them and fell every time, but it was the time spent with Veronica as we ascended the mountain that I enjoyed.  It was just me and her with the snow falling on our faces.  She told me everything she could about herself during these short rides.  She told me about how she loved music, which I knew already, but she was a big fan of Boyz II Men, and I thought I was the only person my age who listened to them.  They were the first cd I ever bought.  She told me about her favorite movie, Jurassic Park, and when she wasn’t busy with school work, she was playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo.  I never met a girl like her.  She was a nerd.  Everything she said made me want to know more.

I fell in love with her on the ski lift.

The mountains are in the past now.  The plane is on its final descent, which means I should probably wake up Jenny.

***

When we arrive at the hotel, I go to my room and talk to my roommate for a few minutes.  Anderson didn’t want to spend the money on us getting our own rooms, so we have to share.  I get a text from Veronica saying to call her when I land, so since it’s already been an hour since we arrived, I decide to call her.

I ask her where she was this morning when I left, and she tells me she was just out running errands.  It was 8:00 in the morning when I left.  I don’t know what kind of errands she could have been running, but I don’t ask.  Our conversation is brief.  She just wanted to make sure I made it safely.  I hang up the phone as I walk out the door of my room.  Jenny is in the hallway headed to the elevator, so I ride with her.

“This seems familiar,” I say to her.

She smiles at me.  “First place I met you.”

We go down to the lobby where we sign in for the conference.  We get our name badges, and a bag of items we get for free.  Inside the bag I see pencils, highlighters, a couple notepads, and various other office supplies with advertising on them.  After we sign in, we’re told to meet in conference room one for the Welcoming speaker.

The day goes on much like this, as we go from one meeting to another.  We don’t have time for many breaks, but at 6:00, our day is over, and our group from Anderson decides to go down the street for dinner.  We all go to our rooms to change out of our business clothes and into something a little more casual.  Jenny tells me she’ll meet me at the elevator so we can go to the restaurant together.

She comes around the corner wearing a white tank top with a black and white blazer over it. She has on black leggings (I think I’ve heard Veronica call them that), and red high heels.  Her hair is down and the curls hang over her shoulders.  Everything about her looks good.  She sees me from down the hallway and smiles.

The ride down the elevator is quiet.  I want to say something to her about how incredible she looks, but I feel like that would be inappropriate.  So instead my mind goes blank of things to say.  When the door opens to the lobby, she breaks the silence.

“So, how long have you worked at Anderson?” she says.

I have to think about this one.  It feels like it’s been a long time, but it really hasn’t.  “Three years,” I tell her.

“What did you do before that?”

“Oh, I bounced around from place to place.  I worked in the mall for a few years as a manager of the video game store.  Before that I was a manager at the grocery store.  But none of that made me really happy, so…here I am.”  Not that working for a credit center makes me happy.

We step out onto the sidewalk as the streetlights come on.  I’m ready for spring to get here when the time changes.  I hate being in the dark for so long.  Feels like everything I do is in darkness.

“What makes you happy?”

“Huh?”

“You said you weren’t happy, so what does make you happy?”

That’s a good question.  It’s been a while since I really thought about it.  “I guess at one point I wanted to be a writer.  Writing used to make me happy.”

“Do you still write?”

“No.”

“Why not?  If that’s something you love, why don’t you do it?  I’m not one to waste my time.  If there’s something I enjoy doing, I do it.  If there’s something I want, I go after it.”

I get the feeling there’s more to her statement than what she’s saying.  “Life got in the way.  Family.  Kids.  You probably wouldn’t understand.”

“You’re right.  I don’t.  I just think if you truly love doing something, you’ll find time to do it.  Excuses are for the weak.”

She hit me hard with that one.  She’s right.  But I don’t want to talk about myself anymore.  “So what makes you happy?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I’m still trying to figure that one out.”  She smiles at me as I open the door to the restaurant.  The rest of the group already has a table so we sit down to join them.

After we all eat and have a few drinks, Jenny notices there’s a karaoke bar just around the corner.  Half the group decides to go back to the hotel to rest, but I go with Jenny and the other half to the bar.  We get ourselves a drink and before too long, Jenny is up on stage picking out a song.  She puts her hair into a ponytail after she selects her song, grabs the mic, and starts singing.  I can’t help but laugh during the whole performance.

Amongst the applause from the crowded bar, she sits down in the seat next to me when her song is over.  “It’s hot up there!” she says and then takes a drink of water.  Her face glistens from sweat.  No one else jumps up to take the microphone, so she nudges me in the arm.  “Matt, it’s your turn now!”

“I don’t think so.  I can’t follow up a performance like that.  Plus, I’m not much of a singer.”

“Shit, did you hear me?  I can’t sing at all, but who cares?  I don’t know these people, besides ya’ll, and I don’t care what ya’ll think either.”  She winks at me as she says this.

She doesn’t talk me into going up on stage, but a few others get up there, and they make it an interesting night.  Although Jenny’s already done that for me.

***

When I get back home, Jenny offers to give me a ride back home.  After we get our bags from the baggage claim, we roll our things out into the familiar dry air of home.

“Dad!”  I hear from down the passenger pickup lane.  I turn to look and see Aiden running up to hug me.  Veronica isn’t far behind.  Aiden jumps up to embrace me, almost knocking me down.  I look at Jenny who just smiles and waves goodbye as she walks away.

“Surprise!” Veronica says without much enthusiasm behind it.  “Aiden couldn’t wait until you got back to the house, so he wanted to surprise you at the airport.  How was your trip?”

I put my bags in the trunk and tell her about how the meetings were boring and make it sound like the entire trip was the same, but I neglect to tell her about the evenings spent with my coworkers and Jenny, which were far from boring.

“Where’s Emma?” I ask as we drive away from the airport.

Veronica keeps her gaze looking straight.  “She’s out with Austin.”

“She didn’t want to see her dad after being gone so long?”

She turns and looks at me.  “Do you blame her?  The only conversations you’ve had with her recently were arguments.”

“It’s not my fault if all she wants to do is fight.”  Veronica sighs but doesn’t say anymore.  My phone buzzes in my pocket.  It’s Peter.

“You back in town yet?” he asks.

“Yeah, why?  What’s up?”

“It’s my mother in law.  She doesn’t have much time left.  I figured you’d want to know.”

“We’ll be right over,” I tell him.  Peter’s mother in law is one of the nicest women I’ve ever known.  In high school, Peter started dating Audrey, his wife, when they were freshmen.  He and Audrey spent every minute they could together.  She was around so much that she became almost like one of the guys.  We all loved her and she loved us.  She often invited us over on Sunday nights for dinner.  Her mom was an amazing cook back then, and has always loved cooking until she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.  It’s hit her hard, so much that she hasn’t had the energy to do much, including cooking.  Veronica and Audrey became friends back then, and since we found out about her illness, we’ve spent countless hours at the hospital with her.

I set the phone down in silence.  “What’s wrong?” Veronica asks.  I tell her what has happened, and she makes a quick turn to take us to Peter’s house.  Her fingers turn white as she grips the wheel tightly and speeds down the highway.

When we get to their house, there are already quite a few cars parked in the street.  We aren’t the only ones who have come to be with them.  Peter and Audrey greet us as we walk in.  Veronica holds Audrey tight in her arms while I shake Peter’s hand and pat him on the back.

They take us to the bedroom where she lays.  “Why isn’t she at a hospital?” I ask Peter.

“We didn’t want her last minutes to be there.  We wanted her home.”

She’s asleep when I see her.  It’s warm in the house, but she’s covered in blankets, and her face looks white.  The past few years have aged her.  She barely looks like the woman I grew up knowing.  I go to her bed and take her hand in mine.  Veronica leans her head on my shoulder as I hear her sniffle.

We stand like that for a few minutes until someone else joins us in the room.  He takes her hand from me.  I look to see who it is, and it’s Joshua.  He smiles at me.  “It’s good to see you, Matt,” he says, and then he kneels down next to the bed.  He doesn’t say another word, he just holds her hand.

The color returns to her face as she opens her eyes.  She looks Joshua in the eyes, and then he tells her to get up.  I can’t believe he’s telling her this, she’s a dying woman.  She needs to be in bed resting.  But she does as he says.  She uncovers herself and gets up like nothing is wrong.  Audrey runs to her and wraps her arms around her as tears stream down her face.  Peter goes and gives Joshua a hug, and then his mother in law looks at us all.  “You must all be starving.  Let me go and fix you something.”  And just like nothing was ever wrong with her, she goes to the kitchen and does what she loves.

This is the first time I saw Joshua heal someone.  It’s not the last.

Save Me Chapter 4

For days I blew off my friends and ate lunch in the cafeteria, just so I could see Veronica.  It was the only place I could see that smile.  That smile did so much to the butterflies in my stomach that I think I lost weight in just a few days.  I would sit in the same spot every day, and she would sit in her same spot with her friends.  She must have thought I was a loser since I ate by myself most days, but if she did, she didn’t care.  Whenever I looked in her direction, her eyes were already on me.

John, Peter, or James would sometimes feel sorry for me and join me at the table, but they wouldn’t shut up about me needing to go talk to Veronica.  At the time, I didn’t even know her name.  I knew nothing about her.  The guys kept calling me names and questioned my manhood, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to do it.  I couldn’t walk over to that table and say “hi.”  I never was a ladies’ man.  Talking to girls was not something I was good at doing.

I remember one day I had enough of John’s persistent name calling, so I grabbed my tray of food and walked in her direction.  I had no idea what I was going to say to her.  I didn’t have an opening line or some witty pick up to say to her.  To this day I have no idea what I would have said, because I never made it to her table.  As I was about ten feet away, a guy from my history class walked up and started talking to her.  At the time that was enough to scare me away.  For all I knew, he was her boyfriend, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot when she had to turn me down.  I know now he wasn’t her boyfriend, she was single, and he was trying to hit on her.  Apparently he was a jerk to her and she blew him off.

I decided as I walked back to my table that she was out of my league, and it was better this way.  I didn’t go back to the cafeteria after that day.  She was out of my life, only because I was afraid to talk to her.

And then my chance came.  My mom sent me to the grocery store one night to get milk for the mashed potatoes she was cooking for dinner.  I needed a few things like toothpaste and deodorant to take with me on a ski trip I was leaving for the next day, so before I picked the milk up I went down the aisle with the toothpaste.  I saw my good friend Alex already looking for toothpaste.  We got to talking and I found out he was going on the same trip.  We talked for a few minutes about the trip and how excited we were, and then around the corner came Veronica.  I stopped midsentence and stared at her.  She walked up to us and smiled and put some shampoo in Alex’s basket.

“Matt, have you met my cousin, Veronica?” he asked.  “She’s going with us tomorrow.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe the girl of my dreams was right in front of me smiling.  I couldn’t believe she was going with us.  She reached out her hand to shake mine and I did the same.  I tried to tell her my name, but I don’t think the words actually came out.  She just continued to smile at me, and then Alex said they needed to get going and then she was gone.

I stood there in the aisle for a minute, frozen.  I just couldn’t believe this was happening.  My phone began to ring in my pocket as I remained in the aisle, but when I reached into my pocket to answer it, I couldn’t.  It just kept ringing…and ringing…and wait, I didn’t have a cell phone back then…

I wake up.  Shit.  I fell asleep at my desk.  The clock on my computer says it’s just past 12:30, which means I still have a little bit of time left on my lunch.  My phone is on my desk next to a puddle of drool.  I just missed a call from John.  My phone vibrates with a text from him asking me to call him back when I get a chance.

“What’s up, man?” I say when he answers his phone.  I can hear the sounds of seagulls flying around him and an engine roaring.  He must be out on the boat.

“Hey I’d appreciate it if you’d answer the phone when I call.”

“Sorry man, fell asleep at the desk.”

“Ah…late night, huh?  You and Veronica, you know…”

“I wish.”  I think the last time that happened was Aiden’s birthday, and that was weeks ago.

“Well that’s too bad.  The reason I called was to see if you wanted to get together with the guys for dinner tonight.  It’s been a while since the four of us got together for something other than a game, and we want to talk to you about something.”

“Shit, what did I do?  Is somebody dying?”

He laughs.  “No, man, everything’s good.  Just meet us tonight.  I’ll text you the details.”

I agree and hang up the phone.  John’s right, we never go out, unless it’s to someone’s house to watch a game.  But when that happens we rarely talk about anything real.  Most of the words that come out of our mouths are not nice and are directed at the TV.  There is a game on I want to watch tonight, so I hope they get a table near some TVs.

There’s a knock on my door.  I tell whoever it is to come in, expecting it to be Carl, but it’s Mr. Richards.  He can’t get mad at me for falling asleep at my desk.  I’m on my lunch break.  In fact, I don’t think he should be bothering me at all right now.  Surely that’s breaking some sort of rule.

“Matt, sorry to bother you on your lunch break, but I need to meet with you when you’re done.  What time is your lunch over?”

“1:00.”

“Great.  See me in my office at 1:00.”

Fuck.  This can’t be good.  Maybe it’s just a meeting with the customer service managers.  I go next door to ask Carl if Richards wants him too, and he tells me he hasn’t heard from him all day.  I begin to think about what I could have done.  I haven’t been late in a while.  My customer relations scores have been high.  Ever since I heard about the job opening in upper management I’ve kissed as much ass as I possibly could.  Maybe that’s what this is about.  Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.  It could be about a promotion.

Before my lunch is over, I make my way to Danny’s cubicle to check on how he’s doing.  When I get there, he’s not there.  I ask his neighbor if she’s seen him, and she tells me he hasn’t come in at all today.  That’s not like him.  In the time I worked next to him, he never took a sick day.  This can’t be good.  I hope his cancer isn’t getting worse.

I go back to my office to check emails and see one from Mr. Richards.  I open it thinking maybe it has something to do with our meeting, but it’s a reminder about the New Year’s Eve party at his house later this week.  This is the first year the company has done a party like this.  In the past we’ve had parties at the office, but no one was allowed to drink and it felt too much like work.  This year they said we could do a party at someone’s house if they offered, and Mr. Richards said his place was big enough for everyone and their families to come.  That didn’t surprise me.  With as much money as he probably makes his house should be plenty big.  I imagine all these extra rooms with no one occupying them, and junk just everywhere that he feels he needs to spend his excess money on.

Once I’ve deleted all the spam from my inbox, it’s 12:58, so I push my chair back and head towards my meeting.

“Matt, have a seat,” Mr. Richards says as I walk in.  I do as he says.  “I’m sure you’re wondering why I brought you in today.  To ease your mind a bit, this isn’t a disciplinary meeting.  You’ve been an exceptional employee these past couple of months.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“No, the reason I brought you in here was to tell you about an opportunity coming up, one that you might be interested in taking.”  I can’t believe it.  This really is about the job opening.  “After the new year, we are sending a few of our best employees to a conference out of town to receive some additional training on customer relations.  Matt, we would like you to be one of those in attendance.”

Damn.  I shouldn’t have got my hopes up.  It’s not what I was hoping for, but it does sound like a good opportunity.  I mean, anything the company wants to send me to can’t be bad, especially when he says it’s for the best employees.  It may not be a promotion, but I think it may be a step in the right direction.

“Thank you, sir, I’d be happy to attend,” I tell him.

“Great.  I’ll email you the details of the trip, and I’m sure you’ll need to talk it over with your wife.  Let me know by the end of the week what your final decision is.”

I want to tell him my final decision is that I will go, that I don’t need to run it by my wife, but I guess that may not sound too customer friendly so I just shake his hand.  I’ve never spent much time in his office before, so I never noticed any of the pictures on his desk.  Most of them are of two people.  One I would guess is his wife as she looks to be about the same age as him and often has her arm around him.  The other is of a young boy.  I never knew he had children.  “Is that your son?” I say as I point to one of the pictures of the boy in a wheelchair.

“Yes.  My son Jackson.”

“He looks like a great kid.”  More ass kissing.  Since the two of us seem to be on good terms right now, I get the courage to ask him one more question.  “Sir, what happened to that position that came open in upper management?  Are they going to be interviewing for that anytime soon?”

“Oh, that position’s been filled already.  You’ll get a chance to meet him at the party.”

I can’t fucking believe it.  All this time I thought the position was still open.  I never heard a word about interviews.  This is bullshit.  With a fake smile I thank Mr. Richards before I walk out and walk back to my office.  I greet a few people as I walk by, pretending nothing is wrong.  But as soon as I am in my office I lock the door.

“Fuck!” I say as I slam my hands on my desk.  I grab my headphones and put them on as I click “online.”  These customers better not say anything to piss me off anymore than I already am.  I’m afraid I might lose my job by the end of the day if they do.

My hands hurt.

***

“Matt!” The guys all stand up to greet me as I walk up to the table.  I thought it was just going to be the four of us, but Peter’s brother, Andrew, is here as well.  He’s younger than Peter, and even though he was never officially part of our little gang, he used to tag along with us at times.  It used to get on our nerves when he was little, but he’s grown up now and actually a pretty decent guy to hang out with.

The menu looks good, but it doesn’t take me long to decide what I want.  I tell the waitress I’ll take a t-bone, medium-well.  James tells me that’s a waste of meat, and then he orders his ribeye rare.  I can’t look at his steaks without wanting to throw up.

“So, John, what’s going on?” I don’t waste any time after the waitress leaves our table.  It’s been bugging me all day what this was about.  Before he can answer, I notice someone out of the corner of my eye.  “Shit.  I can’t believe he’s here right now.”

“Who?” John asks.

“My boss.”  He’s sitting a booth just a few tables down from us.  No one is with him, although there are three empty beer glasses in front of him.  He keeps his head down the entire time I watch him.  Figures.  It seems like something he would do, sitting alone getting drunk.

“So that’s the guy you’ve told us about?” Peter asks.

“Yep.  I fucking hate that guy.”  The waitress comes back and puts a basket of bread on our table.  I don’t want to talk about my boss so I grab a roll and take a bite.

“Matt, the reason we asked you to dinner was because we wanted to tell you about something,” John begins.  “You know you’re one of our best friends, and we don’t want to keep you out of the loop.  So, today, the four of us…well…we quit our jobs.”

I nearly choke on my bread.  This is huge.  All four of them have been fishermen for as long as we were old enough to work.  They’ve never known anything different.  “What do you mean you’ve quit your jobs?  What are you going to do?”

James speaks up.  “We kept the boat, and we still plan to fish every now and then.  But something has come up.  Something bigger.”

“Bigger?  What are you going to do?”

James answers, “You should have seen it, Matt.  We’ve never made a catch like we did that day.  It was a miracle.  And that’s why we left.  He told us he wanted us to…how do I say it…”

Andrew finishes James’s thought, “We’ve become fishers of men.  I don’t know how else to say it.  It’s what he told us.”

I want to ask them more, ask them who “he” is, and what a “fisher of men” is, but there seems to be something going on outside.  People are getting up from their seats and stream out the front door.  The five of us all get up and join them to see what’s happening.

A crowd has built in the parking lot.  From the looks of it there might be a fight about to break out.  We push our way to the front of the crowd ready to break up whatever this is, but instead of a fight, we see Joshua.  People are crowding him.

And then Mr. Richards comes through the crowd and falls to his knees in front of Joshua.  “Please, sir, I’ve heard you can perform miracles.  My son is close to dying.  Please heal him!”  Mr. Richards begs.

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Joshua tells him, “you will never believe.”

Mr. Richards is in tears.  “Sir, come to my house before my son dies.”

“Go,” Joshua replies.  “Your son will live.”

Mr. Richards doesn’t say anymore and walks away.  The crowd continues to press Joshua, but it doesn’t seem to affect him.  He continues walking down the road.

“Well, that was weird,” I say to the guys.  I check my watch and see it’s 8:00.  The game’s starting, so I’m ready to get inside.

They all look at each other.  “Matt, that’s the guy we started following.”

***

“I really think they just asked me to have another girl around,” Jenny says as we lean on the counter at the New Year’s Eve party.  She told me she had a similar meeting with Mr. Richards and he asked her to go on the trip as well.

“Come on, there’s more to it than that.  I’ve seen your customer scores.  You have some of the highest in the company right now.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  I guess it just feels weird being asked over so many other people who have been working for Anderson longer than I have.”

She’s right.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who are mad that she’s going.  Probably quite a few of them are saying the same things, saying she’s going because she’s attractive.  “Well, regardless of how long you’ve been there, you’ve done a good job.”

“Thanks,” she replies as she looks down at the ground and blushes.  “Where’s your wife tonight?”

“She’s not feeling well, so she stayed home.”

“That’s too bad,” she says.  “I’ll be right back.  Need to go to the ladies room.”  She grabs her purse and walks away.

After she leaves, Carl comes up to me with two beers in his hands and offers me one.  We both lean back for a minute not saying a word.  Since the other night though, something has been on my mind and I’m hoping he has answers.  “What do you know about Jackson, Mr. Richards’s son?”

He takes a sip of his beer.  “Not much.  I honestly didn’t know he had a son until tonight actually.”

Mr. Richards hasn’t been back at work since that night at the restaurant.  I assumed something happened to his son and figured tonight’s party would be canceled.  We don’t say anymore about the subject since neither of us knows anything, until Jenny comes back and joins us.  She was gone for quite a while.

“Hey guys.”  She looks different, like she changed her hair or put more makeup on.  “Crazy what happened, right?”

“What are you talking about?” Carl replies.

“Haven’t you heard about Mr. Richards’s son?  I can’t believe you haven’t.  Everyone’s been talking about it.”

She continues to tell us about how his son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as an infant.  She says for years Mr. Richards has been taking care of him and often has to get up early to tend to him.  This makes me feel like an asshole.  All my complaining about being late to work and how Mr. Richards has no idea what I have to go through in the mornings, when all along it was me who had no idea.  Mr. Richards has never said a word about his problems.  I’ve never heard him complain once.  I had no idea.  I guess if I’d have taken the time to get to know the guy, I would have understood.

Jenny then tells us his son caught a fever and the doctors said that because of his preexisting condition, if the fever didn’t break he could die.  When Mr. Richards found this out he had an emotional breakdown, and that’s why he was out drinking that night at the restaurant.  He couldn’t stand to see his son dying.

“Mr. Richards came home that night and the doctors said his son was only minutes from dying, but then suddenly everything changed.  They said his son was healed.  And not just from the fever.  Everything.  He’s up and walking and looks like nothing was ever wrong.  On my way back from the bathroom I even got a chance to talk to Jackson in the living room.”

I remember the conversation Mr. Richards had with Joshua that night.  “Do you know what time all this happened?  What time he was healed?”

“Yeah.  They said it happened at 8:00 that night.”

Save Me Chapter 3

My finger hit the screen last night, but instead of send I pressed the delete button.  I couldn’t do it, and I’m glad I didn’t.  Typing out the message was a moment of weakness, put there by Carl and his damn comments.  He put thoughts into my head of a life without Veronica.  Our marriage hasn’t been at its best recently, and I’ll admit there have been times when I have wondered what life would be like if I wasn’t married, but it had never crossed my mind to cheat on Veronica until last night.  Fucking Carl.  Thankfully I came to my senses.  Thankfully I didn’t hit send.

I’ve tried to push thoughts of Jenny out of my head, but she isn’t helping at all.  I walk by her cubicle like I do every morning on my way to my office, and like yesterday, Jenny’s already there working.  Unlike yesterday, she sees me pass.  She looks up at me and makes eye contact as she pushes a strand of red hair behind her ear.  This is the first time I’ve really seen her eyes.  They’re dark blue, made darker by the eyeliner around them.  She smiles at me for the first time, her lips a glistening pink.  Damn, she’s sexy.

I shake my head to get that thought out and continue walking to my office.  Before I put my headset on, I pause for a moment and put my head into my hand and rub my temples.  I notice my heart is beating faster than normal.  I need to focus today.  Calls need to come in nonstop to take my mind off life.

And they do.  The day is busier than normal.  Even though I wanted to avoid human contact for a while, I need a smoke break halfway through my shift.  I planned to take my break when I didn’t think anyone else would be outside, but like always, Cynthia is out here talking away.  I swear that woman doesn’t ever work.  I find out they’ve hired someone for the accounting position.  They promoted one of the girls from the call floor.  I don’t mind, it’s not a job I wanted.  The upper management job hasn’t been filled yet.  Rumors are that they are going to take longer to fill that spot so they can find the right person.  I’ll have to make sure the right person is me.

I also find out that one of the guys I worked next to out on the call floor has been diagnosed with cancer.  I need to go by his cubicle during lunch to talk to him.

My cell phone rings as soon as I sit back down from break.  It’s Veronica.  I didn’t talk to her all day yesterday.  “Hey, babe,” I say as I try to sound happy and glad to hear from her, anything to avoid fighting about being out so late last night.

“Matt, I just wanted to make sure you remember we made plans to go to dinner tonight for Aiden’s birthday.  Don’t make plans to go out with any of the guys.”

“Of course I remember.”  I didn’t.  “Has he decided where we’re going?”  Even if he hasn’t said it yet, I know the answer.  Aiden picks the same place every year for his birthday dinner.

Veronica laughs a little before answering, a sound I haven’t heard in a while.  “Yes, he told me last night he wanted to go to Olive Garden.”

I’m surprised.  This isn’t the answer I expected.  “Seriously?  Olive Garden?  I mean, I love the place, just didn’t think we’d ever go somewhere different.”

“Actually, no, I’m not serious.  He picked Chili’s, as usual.  So can I count on you to be there at six?”

“Yes.  I’ll be there.  I promise.”   I hang up the phone with a smile on my face.  Not only did Veronica laugh, but she joked around with me.  Both are a pleasant change to our usual interactions.  This wasn’t always the case.  We used to joke around all the time.  It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with her.  I would do anything to see her smile.

Carl taps on my door as I’m deep in thought.  “Hey, I’m going down to the gas station for some cigarettes, you need anything?”

I check my desk drawer for my cigarettes and see two packs.  “No.  I’m good.  Thanks.”  I look at the clock and see it’s time for lunch.  Before I eat, I want to talk to Danny.  In the entire time I’ve been here, he’s had the same schedule, so I know he’s here right now, sitting in his cubicle and about to eat his lunch.

Just as I expected, he’s at his desk, with his soup.  “Chicken noodle?” I ask him as I lean on his wall.

“Yep.  Wife made it last night.”  His wife, June, is a great cook.  When I was on the floor with Danny he’d sometimes bring me leftovers.  Best meals I ever ate while up here.

“How are you holding up?” I don’t waste any time and get right to the reason I came over here.

“I guess you heard?  Well, I could say I’ve been better before, but I’m not too worried about it.  These things come and go.  June’s worried though.”

“These things come and go?  Danny, this isn’t just some cold that you’ll get over in a couple of days, this is cancer.”

“I’m just not worried.  At least not for my life.  If it’s my time to go, I’ll go.  I do worry about what will happen to June once I’m gone.”

We continue to talk, and I’m amazed about how calm he is about the situation, and how much he loves his wife.  I came over to give him some comfort, but in the end he raised my spirits.  Danny always had this impact on me.  It’s a shame I haven’t come to talk to him more.

***

 

I arrive at Chili’s at six, not a minute later.  Showing up late for my son’s birthday party is not something I intend to do.  He turns 12 today.  One more year before he becomes a teenager.  I’m not ready for that.

I walk into the restaurant and see Veronica waiting near the hostess stand.  She tells me a big group came in right before us and that it will be about thirty minutes before we get a table.  Aiden and Emma sit by the window talking.  “Happy birthday, son,” I tell Aiden.  I say hi to Emma as well, but she doesn’t respond to me.  She’s still mad about me grounding her the other night.  She pulls out her phone instead in an obvious attempt to make me mad.  I should go grab it out of her hands right now, but I don’t want to start something on Aiden’s birthday.

After waiting for about five minutes, I notice the baseball game on TV, so I go sit at the bar to watch.  There are only two seats available, I take one, leaving an empty seat next to me.

“Sir, we’re pretty busy tonight, so if you want to sit here, you’re going to have to order something,” the bartender tells me.  Even though I don’t think Veronica will like me ordering a drink tonight, I want to stay and watch so I order a beer.  It’s the playoffs.

Within minutes she’s back and sets the glass down on a napkin in front of me and smiles.  I take a drink and continue to watch the game.

I hear the seat next to me move as someone takes the last spot at the bar.  “What can I get for you?” the bartender asks.

“Will you give me a glass of water?” the man replies.  The voice sounds familiar, but I don’t turn around.  My attention is stuck on the game.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re pretty full tonight.  You’ll have to order a drink if you want to sit here.”

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Well that’s a weird response.  The guy sounds crazy.  I mean, who comes to a bar and tells the bartender she should be the one asking for something to drink?  Maybe he’s drunk.  I turn to look at him, and then I realize why his voice sounds so familiar.  It’s the man I met at the wedding, Joshua.  He doesn’t look at me but continues his conversation with the woman at the bar.

“Sir, you’ve come to this bar with nothing in your hands.  Where can you get this living water?”  I expected her to say something completely different, but she seems to be taking him seriously.  She sets down a glass of water in front of him.

He gestures towards it.  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Now I know he must be drunk.  Who talks like this when they’re sober?  He tells her she can have eternal life if she drinks the water he can give her.  Honestly it sounds a little creepy.

The smile on her face is gone.  She looks deeply into Joshua’s eyes.  “Please, give me this water, so I won’t go thirsty anymore.”

“Take out your phone.  Call your husband for me.”  I take another drink from my beer as I hear people around me cheering.  Someone must have scored, but I don’t pay attention to that.  I’m going to continue to eavesdrop until they notice.

The woman looks down at the ground.  “I don’t have a husband.”

Joshua replies to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is you have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband.  What you said is quite true.”

The woman looks up at him with red eyes.  A tear falls down her cheek.  “Sir, I’ve heard that someone is coming called the Messiah.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us, and save me from this life I’ve created.”

“I, who speak to you, am he.”

Wow.  I don’t know who the Messiah is supposed to be, but he sounds important, and for this guy to claim he’s him, it must be a big deal.  A few men come up to the bar as I’m thinking over this conversation.  I recognize them as the three men who left Anderson.  They tell him they have a table and ask him to come eat.  As he walks off, I hear him say something about already eating.

“I wonder if he has food similar to his life giving water,” I say, mocking him to the bartender.  But when I turn to look at her, she’s gone.

At this point, my wife finds me and tells me our table is ready.  I follow her to the table where Emma and Aiden are already sitting.

The night ends up being one of the more pleasant evenings I’ve spent with my family in a long time.  When the kids are around, conversations with my wife seem easy.  Neither of us wants to fight in front of the kids, so we usually end up talking about the kids.

After dinner, Emma drives Veronica’s car home and takes Aiden, while Veronica rides with me.  I’m worried the conversation could turn on me, but it doesn’t.  Veronica continues to talk about the kids.

“Matt, have you noticed anything strange about Emma recently?” she asks.

I stare at the road ahead of me.  “She was quiet tonight, which is unlike her.  But I’m sure she’s just mad at me and doesn’t want to talk while I’m around.”

“Yeah, I guess that could be it.  She just seems upset about something, and I’m not so sure being grounded is all there is to it.”

“She’s still a teenager, Veronica.  That’s how they act.  Remember when we were teenagers?  One minute we’re happy, the next we’re depressed.  It was miserable.  I’m sure if something is bothering her, she will tell us.  Well, she’ll probably tell you.  She’ll probably be mad at me for a while.”

“You’re right,” she says.  I haven’t heard those words come out of her mouth in a while.  “I’m probably just being paranoid.”

She smiles at me.  I haven’t seen her smile in a long time.  We don’t talk for the rest of the ride home.  Veronica turns the radio on to top 40, and since I’m not a big fan, I am left with my thoughts as I drive.

After weeks of looking for her in the hallways back in high school, I finally found her sitting in the cafeteria during lunch one day.  I usually went off campus with my buddies for lunch, but that day it was raining outside.  The four of us did everything together, so when Peter told us he didn’t want to drive out in the rain, James and John agreed.  I didn’t have a car, so I didn’t have an option.  This was the first time we had eaten in the cafeteria all year.  We sat at a table with our food and made our usual jokes and talked about girls.  James was talking about the girl he was dating at the time when I looked across the cafeteria to a table with a group of girls I recognized from the musical.  I could feel my heart beat faster hoping this would be the day I’d see her again.  And there she was, right in the middle of them.  I don’t remember anything about her from that day.  I don’t know what she was wearing, what she was eating, or who her friends were.  All I know is that she looked up and her eyes saw mine staring at her.  She looked away for a second, but when I didn’t take my gaze off her, she locked her eyes with mine and smiled.  It was the first time she ever noticed me, the first time I saw her smile.  I didn’t hear another word the guys said that day at lunch.  I don’t even think I took another bite of food.  I just looked into those eyes across the room and they looked back into mine.

The memory of that night makes me forget for a moment all the problems Veronica and I have had.  I pull up into the driveway, and the two of us walk to the house.  Veronica reaches into her purse to pull out her keys, but I grab her hand and pull her close to me.  She smiles.  It’s the same smile from that day in the cafeteria.  I pull her closer, feeling her body against mine and kiss her.

Save Me Chapter 2

Last night I went home, confused by the events of the wedding.  Never before had I been to a wedding in which I wanted more.  The couple (who I don’t even remember their names, they are friends of Veronica’s) left after the new wine had been passed out.  They were not the reason I wanted to stay.  My curiosity centered on one of the guests, a man named Joshua, who, by some sort of magic is my guess, made jars of water turn into wine.  Best trick I’ve ever seen.  It would be a nice talent to have.

I woke up this morning not sure if what I saw had actually happened.  I definitely had plenty to drink by that point in the night, so I could have imagined it all.  I honestly don’t remember how I got home, but I assume Veronica took the keys from me and drove us both.  Apparently I didn’t make it to bed since I woke up a few minutes ago by the scream of my daughter.  I guess she wasn’t pleased to see her dad asleep half naked on the couch.  Thankfully she woke me.  Football will be on in ten minutes, just enough time for me to take a piss and put on some clothes.

As I’m searching the closet for something to wear, Veronica comes into the bedroom.  “Have you seen my Cowboys’ jersey?” I ask her.

“Which one?”  Which one?  Seriously?  Like she doesn’t know my Jason Witten jersey is my lucky one.  “Have you checked the hamper?  I haven’t done a load of laundry since last time you watched football, which was yesterday.”

I sense a tone in her voice, but I decide to not start off the day with an argument.  I need to at least wait until I have some food in me.  And probably a smoke, if I can sneak away.  I look in the hamper and sure enough, my jersey is in there.  I give it a sniff, not bad, so I put it on for another day.  I don’t want to take a chance on the Cowboys losing on account of me not wearing it.

“What are you doing today?” I ask my wife, pretending to be interested in her daily activities.

She gives me a confused, yet annoyed look.  I’m guessing I should already know the answer, but I don’t.  “Your daughter has a volleyball game, so you know, going to that.”

Well, looks like I won’t have to wait long for an argument.  I wait for a second to hear the inevitable discussion we will have about how I don’t ever go to anything and all I do is watch sports.  Basically a replay of yesterday.

And I wait…

Still waiting.

Veronica stares at me as if she expects me to say something, but I stare right back expecting her to do the same.  She finally sighs and gives up.  “Have a good day watching football, Matt,” she says and then walks out of the bedroom.

As I use the bathroom, I hear the front door close and then the sound of my wife’s car door shutting.  Looks like I got away easy this morning.

***

The entire day I spend alone at the house and watch football.  The Cowboys lost thanks to a late 4th quarter interception.  This would normally piss me off, but I was by myself for the first time in who knows how long, and I didn’t let that ruin my day.

At around 6:00, Veronica texts me to see if I want to meet them for dinner.  I tell her no and that I would find something on my own.  As it turns out, we have nothing edible at the house, so I order pizza.

As I’m watching the highlights from the day’s games, I hear the doorbell ring.  The delivery boy tells me I owe him $10 plus tip.  I grab my wallet out of my pocket and pull out $11 to give him.  As I do, something falls out and lands on the floor.  The boy calls me an ass as he takes the money and counts it. I ignore him and shut the door.

I sit down on the couch with my pizza and begin watching the pregame show for the Sunday night game, but they’re just talking about stuff I’ve heard all day which leaves my mind to wander.  I wonder where Veronica and the kids ended up.  Although this night has been nice, I kind of miss my family right now.  Some company would be nice.

I remember there used to be a time when I would do anything to be with Veronica.  Anything she asked me to do with her I would do in a heartbeat.  Anything just to be with her.  After that day in high school when I first saw her, I couldn’t get her out of my mind.  I tried everything I could to get a chance to meet her, but we didn’t have any classes together, I never saw her in the hallways, it was almost as if I made her up.  But that didn’t stop me from trying to find her.  Even though I had only seen her on stage that day, her image was burned into my mind and I couldn’t get it out.  I couldn’t sleep for days as I laid awake thinking about her.

It’s funny how things turn out.  I have her now, and I am happy to be away from her any chance I can get.  It would be nice to have that again, to have the desire to be with her no matter when, but I feel like those days with Veronica are gone.  I notice something on the ground and remember something fell out of my pocket when I paid the delivery boy.  I pick it up off the ground.  It’s the card Jenny gave me with her number.  I’m not sure why I kept this thing.  I should probably throw it away before Veronica sees it and questions why I have some girl’s phone number.  I take it to the trash and am about to rip it apart, but I stop.  Maybe this girl just wants to talk and hang out.  It would be nice to have the attention of a girl who isn’t yelling at me or complaining about what I do with my time.  Maybe I’ll just keep it.  I’ll just put it in my wallet.

An hour after the pizza arrived, Veronica and Aiden come back home.  “Where’s Emma?” I ask.

“She’s out with Austin,” Veronica replies.

“Who?”

“Her boyfriend, Matt.  I thought we went over this already.”

“Wait, I thought you said his parents were out of town?  Plus, it’s a school night.”  The idea of Emma being out with a guy doesn’t sit well with me.  Never has.  I still remember her first date when she was fifteen.  I remember it well because I thought she was too young to date, and we had a big fight about it.  But after we came up with some dating rules, I finally let in.  I’ve always had trouble putting my foot down when it comes to my little girl.  All she ever had to do back then was smile at me and call me “daddy” like she did when she learned to talk.  I would usually give in eventually.  But she’s my only daughter, and I’d do anything to protect her.  The boy who took her out that night turned out to be a nice kid, although at the time all I saw was some horny teenager with only one thing on his mind.  I threatened him with his life that he treat Emma with respect and have her home by 9:00 that night.  That one thing on his mind he wasn’t going to get from my daughter.

“His parents are back in town,” Veronica continued.  “And they are just going to the movies.  She promised to be back home by 10:00.”

Veronica then turns the conversation to me and asks how the game went.  I tell her not to ask.  She talks to me about some other things, but I don’t hear a word of it.  My mind is on Emma being out.  After a few minutes, she tells me she’s going to the bedroom to watch TV.  Aiden plops down on the couch next to me.

“Who’s playing, Dad?”

“Broncos and Ravens,” I tell him.

“Cool.  Mind if I watch?”  Aiden asks as he leaves the couch to go to the fridge.  He comes back with a plate full of cold pizza and a coke.

I don’t answer him since I can tell he assumes the answer is yes.  After he takes a bite, he gets back up to grab a napkin, and then hops over the back of the couch to his seat.  “What’s the score?”

“It’s right there on the screen.”

“Oh.  Is this a big game?”

“Yes son.”

“Why?”  I can tell this is going to be a never ending conversation with him.  We never had him tested, but I swear this kid has ADD.

“Aiden, if you’re going to sit here and watch the game with me, you’re going to have to be still and quiet.”

Those two words don’t exist in his mind, and after a few minutes he gets bored and leaves to go to his bedroom.  I get peace again to watch the game.

The game goes into overtime, and by the time it’s over, I look at my watch and see it’s almost midnight.  Emma’s still not home.

I get up and walk to my bedroom.  “Have you heard from Emma?  I ask Veronica, but my words go unheard as I see her asleep and the lights off already.  Did I miss her coming in and saying “goodnight” to me?  I must have.  She never goes to sleep without telling me goodnight.

I pull my phone out to call Emma, but before I can click her name, I hear the front door unlock.  Very quietly, the door opens and closes.  If I was asleep, I wouldn’t have heard it, and I’m sure that’s what she was counting on.  I don’t hesitate to ruin her plan.

“Where the hell have you been?” I ask as I turn the corner from the hallway, catching Emma by surprise.  She looks up at me wide eyed with her makeup smeared and blonde hair a mess.

“Dad!  I didn’t think you’d still be up.”

“Well I am.  Now tell me why you’re two hours past when you said you’d be home.”

She takes a few seconds to think.  Evidently she hadn’t come up with a story to tell me yet.  “The movie was longer than I thought, and then we had some car trouble after.”

Bullshit.  I don’t buy her story one bit.  “Even if that story was true, you could have texted me or your mother.”

Without hesitating, she says, “I tried, but my phone died.”

“Well you won’t have to worry about your phone dying on you anymore.  I’m taking it from you.  You’re grounded.”

“Grounded?  You can’t do that!  I’m in college now and you’re still treating me like a little girl!”

“As long as you live in this house I can do whatever the hell I want!”

Emma begins to cry, which would normally make me give in, but I don’t this time.  She rushes off to her room.  I hold out my hand for her to give me her phone, but she just walks on by without giving it to me and slams the door.  This has become a common sound in my house.

The next morning, I don’t see Emma before she leaves for school.  She left before I woke up.  This actually helps things out since I won’t have to deal with my kids fighting, and I can get to work on time.  I don’t see her phone anywhere which means she probably kept it.

When I arrive at work, Mr. Richards is there to greet me as I walk in the door, five minutes before I’m supposed to clock in.  “Good to see you here on time, Mr. Smith,” he says as I walk by.

“Fuck you,” is what I want to say to him, but instead I smile and say, “Happy to be here, sir.”

On my way to my office, I pass by Jenny’s cubicle.  She must have had the early shift today.  She has her headphones on over her wavy red hair, with a strand of curls hanging over her left eye.  She doesn’t notice me as I walk by.

Carl catches me before I unlock my door.  “Crazy weekend, man.  Saturday night I hooked up with this hot piece of ass I met out at the bar.  She just came from a wedding and was pretty much ready to jump into bed with the first guy she met.  Thankfully that was me.”

He continues to tell me his story about this girl, but from the moment he said Saturday night, my mind goes elsewhere.  His statement reminds me of what I saw at the wedding.  I never did ask anyone if I made that up or if it was real.

After my conversation with Carl, my day goes on like normal.  By lunch time though, rumors begin spreading around the floor about possible job openings.  On my first smoke break, Cynthia told us one of the guys from accounting quit.  He’d been here for twenty years.  Apparently he came in today and handed in his resignation.  No one saw it coming.

By the time I took my second smoke break, three positions had supposedly become available, one of them being in upper management.  This one caught everyone by surprise.  He was the CEO’s son.  I have mixed emotions about him leaving.  Bart was a nice guy and one of the few guys in upper management that I got along with, but him leaving leaves open a position I could go after.  It has to be at least twice what I’m making now.  I’m sure the hours would be longer, but I’m ok with that.  Looks like I will have to step up my ass kissing.

The rest of the afternoon drags and lacks excitement, although I did hear the rumors were true.  Three people came in to quit today.  Bart was one, Jude from accounting, and Thomas from out on the call floor.

I finish my last call of the day when Carl pokes his head into my office.  “Hey buddy, I need a bear.  Fucking Richards has been up my ass all day.”

“I don’t know, Carl, I was out Friday with you guys.  I should probably just head to the house.  Veronica’s been mad at me for basically breathing recently.”

“Come on man, just one beer.  Just the two of us.  We can go up to the titty bar, take your mind off things.”

It would be nice to see a woman naked for a change.  I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.

I decide to go with him.  When we arrive at the bar, we are shown to a table that is referred to as Carl’s regular spot.  Apparently this isn’t his first time here.  It’s probably been ten years since I came to a place like this.  I think the last time was for a bachelor’s party for one of the guys I worked with at the time.  Veronica’s never really liked the idea of me going to strip clubs, so I’ve just stayed away.

Just as I promised Carl, I order a beer.  Carl orders a bourbon and coke.  The two of us sit for a while, drinking our beverages, without either of us saying a word.  We just enjoy the scenery.  When I finish my beer, I tell Carl I should probably go home, but then the waitress tells me they are running a special on pints.  One more beer couldn’t hurt.

One more beer becomes two more, and then three, and eventually I forget about everything outside this room and decide to stay.

Carl has been back and forth between the stage and the table.  This time when he comes back, he opens up a conversation.  “So…Jenny’s pretty hot?”

“What are you talking about?”  He catches me off guard.

“That new girl, Jenny.  She’s fucking hot, man.  You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

Of course I’ve noticed.

“I saw her talking to you on the way out Friday night.  You should hit that.”

I nearly choke on my beer when he says that.  “Fuck, Carl.  I’m married.”

“Man, I don’t know how you can do that marriage shit.  I can’t imagine having sex with just one woman for the rest of my life.  I can’t even imagine having sex with just one woman over the course of week!  But since you brought it up, how is ol’ Veronica?”

“Could be better.  Like I said earlier, she’s been bitching to me about almost everything.  She says I watch too much TV and I don’t spend enough time with her and the kids.  I’m sure right now she’s pissed I’m not home.  To be honest, I’m getting tired of the constant fighting.  Shit’s getting old.”

“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.  I don’t get too involved with any girl.  Keeps me from having to deal with that shit.”  Carl gets up as one of his favorite girls comes to the stage. He tells me he’ll be right back.

Left with no one to talk to, I think about Carl’s words.   Maybe it’s time for me to think about something beyond Veronica.  I reach into my wallet and take out the card with Jenny’s number on it.  I stare at the number and flip the card between my fingers.

“What’s that?” Carl says as he walks back to the table.

I put the card away before he can see what’s on it.  “Nothing,” I tell him.

“Listen, man, I know at one point you were in love with Veronica, but maybe those days are gone.  Maybe it’s time to move on to something else.  I don’t know.  I do know this though, right now there are some fine ass women in this club, and you’re sitting here at this table moping.  Why don’t you go to the ATM, get some ones, and then you and I go back up to the stage and take your mind off all other women.”

“Did you run out of money?”  I laugh.

“Yep.  So you better hurry up.”

After a couple more hours at the club, I look at my watch and realize it’s almost 10:00, four hours later than I originally planned to stay.  I decide to tell Carl goodbye, but I thank him for bringing me here.  On my way out, I try to think of an excuse to tell Veronica when I get home.  I could tell her I had to stay longer than expected to sober up.  It’s not the best excuse, but she’ll be glad I didn’t drive home drunk.  It’s not a complete lie either.  A couple hours ago I don’t think I could have driven home safely.

As I open the door the light from outside burns my eyes.  The sun has already set, but the club was so dark inside that the orange glow from the street lights seems almost blinding.  I walk down the sidewalk towards my car and pass a police officer sitting on his motorcycle on the corner.  I don’t make eye contact.

I get to my car and pull out my keys.  Before I can get my door open, I fumble the keys and drop them to the ground.  I bend over and hear footsteps behind me.

“Excuse me sir, I’m going to need to see your license.”

Shit.  It’s the cop.  I turn around to face him, but I’m surprised to see a smile on his face.  “Nick!  You bastard, you scared the shit out of me!”

He laughs and reaches out to shake my hand.  Nick is an old buddy of mine from when I worked out at the mall.  At the time he was just mall security, which meant he spent most his time walking around.  During slow times, he would come into the store where I worked and we’d talk for hours.

“So you finally got out of the mall and became a real cop, huh?”  It was always his dream to get onto the streets, where he felt he could make a bigger difference.

“Got the badge two years ago.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“Oh there was a fight here a couple nights ago, so they’ve asked for some extra patrol for a few nights, in case something else happens.”  He pauses as someone on his radio communicates a message.  “So tell me about yourself, Matt.  It’s been a while.”

I tell him about my job, my kids, the usual.  I don’t mention Veronica, but he notices.

“I’m guessing since you’re out at a strip club this late on a Monday night, things with your wife aren’t going too well?  Are you still with her?”

“Yes, we’re still together.  But things have been a bit rocky recently.”

“Hey, that’s ok brother.  I’ve been having a tough time myself recently.  Things in my life had been falling apart.  But I’ve got hope that things are going to get better.  Something big is about to happen in this city, I can feel it.  I met this guy here last night, and he told me things that I’ve never heard anyone else say.  Things that fill me with hope…I don’t know…I can’t really explain it.  His words just seemed to reach deep into my soul.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  It’s as if he’s known me forever, even though we just met last night.”

“Who was it?”

He pauses again while he listens to his radio.  “Joshua.  His name is Joshua.”

Could that be the man I met at the wedding the other night?  Surely not.  He didn’t seem like the type of person would hang out around a strip club, amongst whores and perverts.  I hope it’s just a coincidence, because if not, I’m not sure I would like the guy as much as I did Saturday night.  I don’t question Nick about him anymore; I want to keep my original perception of the man, the man who changed water into wine.

Nick and I end our conversation as we hear yelling coming from the other side of the building.  We shake hands again, then he takes off running toward the noise, and I drive home.

It’s almost 11:00 when I unlock the door to the house. I expect the kids to be in bed already, or at least in their rooms.  Emma better be.  I did expect Veronica to be waiting for me as soon as I opened the door, but the living room is empty, only one light left on.  I set down my keys on the kitchen bar and see a note.  I pick it up and read.

“Not sure where you’ve been all evening.  I tried calling you a few times.  Dinner is in the fridge.  I’ll be in bed when you read this.

Veronica”

I don’t know what she’s talking about.  She didn’t try to call me.  I pull out my phone to prove to myself she didn’t call, but there it is, three missed calls.  I turn my phone to the side and see I left it on silent after work.  Shit.  This will only make her angrier with me. I should probably stay away from her for a while.

After I warm up the leftover spaghetti, I sit on the couch and watch some ESPN.  As I eat, I look at my phone lying next to me.  A thought crosses my mind.  I put down my plate, wipe the sauce off my hands with a napkin, and pick up the phone.

I’ve seen it so many times now that I know the number.  I type it into a new text message.  Once it’s in, I type out a message to Jenny.  My thumb hovers over the screen for a few seconds as I decide whether or not to hit send.

Save Me Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

This new office sucks.  I mean, I’m glad to finally have been promoted, but I was hoping for one of the offices with a window.  Instead, I’m sitting in this dark room not much larger than the cubicle I moved from this morning.  That was my biggest complaint about being on the call floor.  I hated not having windows.  The room always felt dark and cold, even though fluorescent lighting was all around.

The transition to my new office is an easy one.  The only things I have to carry from the cubicle to here were a few books I sometimes read when I’m on break, a picture of my wife and two kids, and a pack of smokes I left in the drawer.

I wonder if my boss, Mr. Richards, gave me this office on purpose.  We haven’t been on good terms recently, and this morning only made it worse.  I’ve been late a few times in the past couple of weeks, and this morning I was two minutes late.  I wouldn’t have been late if I didn’t have to deal with my kids this morning.  Emma, my eighteen year old daughter wouldn’t stop fighting with her brother over the bathroom.  I had to deal with that while my wife, Veronica, got ready for her day.  I don’t know what she does in the mornings, but I do know she wasn’t helping with the kids today.  After I finally got the situation under control, I was already ten minutes behind schedule, which meant I had to speed to get to work on time.  I passed a few motorcycle cops on the way, so I slowed down just enough to not get a ticket.  That’s the last thing I need right now.  Two weeks ago I was given a ticket for going 75 in a 60, and my wife hasn’t stopped bitching about it since.

When I walked in the door this morning, Mr. Richards was waiting for me.  He gave me a warning and said he may have made a mistake giving me this promotion, which really pisses me off.  I’ve worked my ass off the last few months as soon as word got out that this position would become available.  So I’ve been late a few times.  Who cares?  In my opinion the work I’ve done while on the clock should make up for it.  It’s no use explaining my situation to my boss though.  He wouldn’t understand.  I’m sure he lives in a nice house with just his wife, no kids to get in the way, and more than enough bathrooms for the two of them.

After I put my books on a shelf along with the picture of my family, I sit down at my desk ready to start my work day.  I put on my headset and set the phone to online on my computer and await my first call. Within a couple of minutes a call is pushed to me.  The operator from the floor tells me a customer is angry about her high credit card bill and won’t listen to her.  The customer asked for a manager, so the procedure when that happens is to push the call to one of the customer service managers first, I’m now one of them, and I’m getting this call.

“Thank you for calling Anderson Credit Services, my name is Matt Smith.  How may I assist you today?”  I’ve said that line so many times that I’ve even answered my own phone with that greeting.  Sometimes I hear phones ringing constantly in my dreams.

The woman on the other line begins speaking.  “Are you a robot?” she asks.

I pause for a moment not knowing whether to laugh or get annoyed.  Most of the customers I’ve dealt with in my few years at Anderson are idiots.  “No ma’am, I’m not a robot.  I’m a real live person.”  If I wasn’t afraid of my boss listening in on my calls, I might make my voice sound robotic just to mess with the lady.  But I resist.

“Are you sure?  Because I hate talking to those phone machines.”

“Yes ma’am, I’m sure I’m not a robot.  Now how can I help you?”  She begins to tell me about her credit bill being too high and that there was no way she spent that much, and I explain to her the procedures we can go through to fix the situation.  I know I am only repeating what the person before told her, but for some reason since I have the title of manager, she seems to feel comforted.  After I hang up her call, another is pushed through to me.

I go through about ten calls when I feel a headache coming.  Staring at a computer screen for this long and the lack of natural light tends to do that.  When I don’t have another call, I push offline for a second and place my headset on my desk.  I rub my temples to try to relieve some of the aching, and that’s when Carl Thomas, another manager at Anderson, walks into my office.

“Well look at you, Mr. Bigshot and his new office!  You ready for a smoke break yet, or you too busy kissing ass to join me?”  I quit smoking years ago, but since I started working here I picked the habit up again.  I think it was just a chance for me to go outside.

The first time I decided I had to get away from my cubicle for fresh air, I stepped outside through the side entrance on the first floor.  My lungs desperately needed clean oxygen, but instead they breathed in the familiar toxins of smoke.  I turned the corner to find a few of my coworkers standing around gossiping and smoking.  It wasn’t long after that I found myself bumming a cigarette, and then soon after every other morning on my way to work I would stop at the gas station to buy my own.  My wife hasn’t figured out I started smoking again.  Either that or she just hasn’t said anything, which I doubt she’s capable of.

I tell Carl I’ll meet him outside, and when I do, there’s already a group congregated on the sidewalk.  One of them is Cynthia Rogers, who’s always good for some gossip.  She knows everything that’s going on in the building.  I personally don’t trust her and wouldn’t tell her a thing about my life, but I do enjoy hearing about everyone else.

As she talks about who slept with who over the weekend, I grab that pack of cigarettes I took from my cubicle this morning and light the first cigarette I’ve had all day.  I can already feel the headache subsiding as I draw in the smoke to my lungs.  Carl joins the conversation by bragging about the chick from human resources he banged Friday night.  His words.  Not mine.  I’m honestly a little surprised by his announcement.  For one, I didn’t think he had a chance with her.  Second, Carl doesn’t usually wait this long to tell me about his latest “conquest.”

Everyone looks at me as the conversation switches to my life.  I’m hesitant to tell them anything.  These people are like vultures, waiting for the right moment to swoop down and tear apart someone’s life.  But they simply ask about my weekend; I see no harm in their question.  I’m about to tell them how boring my weekend was when my phone vibrates.  I take it out of my pocket to see a picture of wife.  I excuse myself from the group.

“Matt,” Veronica begins, “I’m just calling to tell you we’ve been invited to a wedding tomorrow, so don’t make any plans.”

Shit.  She always springs things like this on me.  I take a deep breath and try not to yell.  “I’ve already made plans tomorrow,” I tell her.

“Let me guess, some game is on TV and you plan to watch it with your buddies, am I right?”

I pull the phone away from my ear for a second and squeeze it tight, letting out some of my frustration.  “It’s not just some game.  It’s Alabama and Texas A&M.  Both teams…”

“You stayed home last weekend and watched football, Matt!”  she interrupts me.  I want to interject as she pauses but I notice something different.  The tone of her voice sounds mad, but not as mad as she usually is when we get into an argument.  She continues, “Listen, I’m not going to fight with you about this right now over the phone.  We will talk about this when you get home.”  Before I can respond, she hangs up.  I want to throw my phone against the brick wall behind me, but I can’t afford to buy another.  I lean against the wall and shut my eyes.

Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.  I once had dreams of greatness.  Coming out of high school I wanted to go off to college and pursue a writing career.  My teachers told me I had potential, and I believed them.  I was going to publish books and be famous, write something important.  I’ve always felt deep within me that there was an important story I had to tell.  I’ve never figured out what that story is, and those dreams are gone now.  Those plans were interrupted by life, by family.  Going to college became an unreachable goal, and time for writing was replaced by a wife and child.

I can’t say I regret the way things turned out, but maybe if given the chance I would have done things differently.  Carl taps my shoulder as I’m deep in thought.  I open my eyes as he tells me we should probably get back inside.  When I reach my desk, I open a drawer to pull out a bottle of cologne.  I use it to cover the smell of the cigarettes.  It’s no secret here that I smoke, but it’s a habit after trying to hide the smell from Veronica for so long.

The day continues like normal.  My promotion doesn’t change the fact that I answer phone calls for eight hours a day, and eight hours of listening to complaints has me ready to leave.  At 5:00, Carl comes into my office again.  “Happy hour?”

That’s exactly what I need.  Maybe if I have a few beers in me before I get home I’ll be able to handle the inevitable fight with Veronica.

I tell Carl I’ll meet him at the bar.  After he leaves my office, I shut down my computer, grab my keys and jacket, and head to the elevator.  The door is about to close but the girl inside stops it.  I recognize her from the call floor.  She’s new though; I don’t know her name.

She has her head down almost the entire ride down to the first floor.  Finally, just as the elevator dings and is about to open, she turns to me.  “We haven’t met yet.  I’m Jennifer.  Jennifer Flowers.”

I turn to shake her hand.  “Matt Smith.  Nice to meet you, Jennifer.  Are you new here?”

The door opens.  “Yeah.  Started last week.”

“How do you like it?” I hate small talk.

“It’s not bad.  I mean, it’s a job, I guess.  The people seem nice.”

“Yeah, they are.  Most of them.”  We stand inside the elevator for a minute with the door open.  I never know how to end these conversations.  “Well, hey, some of us are going to happy hour if you want to join.  It’ll give you a chance to get to know some of the people around here.”

“Ok.  Thanks.  Sounds good.”

“Ok then.  See you there, Jennifer.”

“Jenny.  You can call me Jenny.”

We finally leave the elevator and head to our cars.  We both arrive at the bar at the same time and Jenny walks in with me.  I find Carl and a few other people at a table with two seats open.  I take the one next to Carl, and Jenny takes the other next to it.

“Hey buddy, I got you a beer,” Carl says as I put my jacket on the back of the chair.  I sit down and he puts his arm on the back of my chair.  “You’re going to have to catch up though.  I’m already on my second!”

Cynthia is here with us, and before I can get a word in, she starts telling us about one of the upper management guys who is having an affair with one of the girls from accounting.

“That guy’s a fucking prick,” Jenny says next to me.  She catches me off guard.  To hear a woman use language like that isn’t something I’m used to.  Veronica doesn’t ever swear, and she doesn’t like it when I do.  Jenny continues, “He hit on me the moment I walked in the door my first day at Anderson.  I didn’t flirt back, and ever since then he’s had it in for me.”

“What an ass,” I say to her.  “I always knew there was something that bothered me about him.”

The rest of the conversation continues in the same way.  Cynthia brings up more drama going on at work, someone else has something to add to what she says, and so on.  I even find myself bad mouthing some of my fellow workers.  Of course, no one says anything bad about the people at the table, but as soon as one leaves to go home, their name ends up being part of the discussion.

After a few beers, I look at my watch to see it’s 6:30.  I probably shouldn’t stay out much longer.  Veronica will have dinner on the table around 7:00.  If I’m any later she’ll add that to the argument.  I drink the rest of my beer and tell everyone I need to head home.  After shaking a few hands and sharing a few more laughs, I leave the table and head to the door.

Jenny comes up from behind me before I leave.  “Hey, thanks for inviting me along.  This was good.  You guys all seem nice.”

“Yeah, no problem.  Glad you could come.”

I turn to go out the door but she puts her hand on my shoulder.  “Here, I want you to have this,” she says as she digs in her purse.  She pulls out a business card and writes on the back of it.  “It’s my number.  Call me sometime.  We should hang out.”

“Oh, yeah…well…I uhhh…thanks, but I’m married.”  I hold up my hand to make my wedding ring visible.

“Oh…sorry, I should have noticed.  Well, nice meeting you anyway.”  She doesn’t wait for me to respond as she turns back to the table.

I go out the doors of the bar and get into my car.  I sit for a minute after I start the car to let the heater warm up.  Jenny’s card is in my hand.  I roll down the window to throw it out, but decide against it.  For some reason I put it in my pocket instead.

On the drive back I don’t notice the radio playing or even the drive itself.  I make the usual stops and turns without thinking about them.  Instead, my mind is on Jenny.  It’s nice to get attention from someone.  It’s been so long since I’ve had attention from a girl besides Veronica.

It reminds me of the first time I ever saw Veronica.  We were both seniors in high school, and she was in the lead in the school musical.  I sat in the audience but I didn’t care to watch.  Instead, I sat with my usual gang as we laughed and joked around.  None of us wanted to watch some nerds sing on stage, but we were glad to be out of class.  The lights in the auditorium shut off as the crowd grew silent, but we still whispered to each other, making fun of what we were about to see.  As the spotlight brightened the center of the stage, I turned my head to see who was there.  I saw a girl, lit up before my eyes and more beautiful than anything I had ever seen.  I fell in love with her at that moment.  My friends made some comment, but I didn’t hear them.  Everything else in the room went away, and my life changed forever.  The entire musical I didn’t say another word.  I just stared at her, letting her beauty sink into my mind.  For days I couldn’t get the image of her out of my head.

I can’t remember anymore what she looked like that day in the musical.  It’s been so long.  Those memories seem distant to me now, replaced by recent memories of us fighting.  Now as I try to think of what she looked like, an image of Jenny comes to mind.  I picture her standing in the elevator, looking at the ground, her curls of red hair hanging down and covering her face.  I have to admit she’s cute.  She’s got a young body that…

“What the fuck am I thinking?” I say out loud to no one as I continue to drive.  I need to push those thoughts away.  I have a wife and two kids.  Those thoughts don’t belong in my head.

When I pull up to the house, Veronica already has her car in the garage so I park in the driveway.  My fourteen year old son, Aiden, is out in the front yard throwing a baseball to himself.  He sees me pull up and stops throwing.  “Hey dad!  Want to play catch with me?”

“It’s forty degrees out here.  You should be inside right now.”  I open the front door and am immediately greeted by Emma.

“Finally you’re home, dad.  Mom’s not letting me go over to Austin’s house tonight.   Can you please talk some sense into her?”

Here we go.  The joys of having a teenage daughter.  It would be nice if I could come home without someone fighting, but that would be too much to ask.  “Who’s Austin?”

“Uh…my boyfriend?  We’ve been dating for three months now.”

I hear the sound of the microwave being turned on, and then Veronica joins us in the living room.  “Did you know about this boyfriend?” I ask her.

“Yes, Matt, I knew my daughter was dating someone.  I even met him at one of her volleyball games.  But then I guess you’d have to be there for that to happen.” I want to say something in response to this, but I decide against it for the moment.  “She’s not going over to his house tonight because his parents are out of town.”

“Mom, I’m eighteen and in college.  If I want to go over to my boyfriend’s house I think I should be able to.”

“Not as long as you’re living here with us, Emma.  Sorry, but you still have to follow our rules.”

For once, I agree with my wife.  “She’s right, Emma.  You can’t go.”  I say this with my most stern, fatherly voice.

“I don’t know why I even asked you, dad.  I should’ve known you wouldn’t have the guts to disagree with her.”   Emma walks down the hallway and slams her door as she says these words, which sting a little, but I’m too tired to mess with it.

“Are you going to let your daughter talk to you like that?” Veronica asks.

I plop down on the couch and turn on the baseball game.  “Can’t I just rest for a few minutes?  I mean, shit, Veronica, I just walked in the door.”   I know I shouldn’t be talking to her like this, but the words just come out.  It’s not her fault I was ambushed by Emma.

Veronica’s eyes get wide and her mouth opens as if she wants to say something, but she apparently changes her mind and walks back into the kitchen.  She’s pissed.  I set the remote down on the armrest and follow her.

“I’m sorry,” I say.  “It’s been a long day, and I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that.  Can I make it up to you?”

“Actually, yes, you can.  Cancel your plans tomorrow and go with me to the wedding.”

Crap.  I forgot about the wedding.  I should have kept my mouth shut.  “Veronica, you know I’d love to go to the wedding,” I lie, “but I’ve been planning this for weeks.  The guys are coming over tomorrow and I can’t just cancel on them at the last minute like this.”

“Damn it, Matt, you watch sports all the time!  Can’t you just skip one for me?”  I can’t remember the last time I heard her use a word like that.  I liked it when Jenny did it.  I don’t like it now.

“This is Alabama and A&M, Veronica.  If it was any other game I would be glad to go with you.”

“I don’t believe you Matt.  It’s always something.  If it isn’t the big football game, it’s March Madness or the playoffs.  And then it’s baseball.  You miss everything during the summer so you can watch baseball.  Do they play every day during the summer?  Because it feels like it.”  She stops and sighs.  “I’m just asking you to miss one game so your wife won’t have to show up alone to a wedding.”

I’m really not in the mood to argue with her anymore, so I give in.  “Fine.  Whatever.  Have it your way.”  I grab my keys and phone and walk to the door.

“Where are you going?  I almost have dinner ready.”

“For a drive,” I say as I slam the door behind me.

***

The next day, we arrive at the wedding and an usher escorts us to a row next to my friend John and his wife.  John looks just as annoyed as I am.  It was easy to call and cancel plans with him since he was going to the same wedding.  He’s an Alabama fan and I know he was ready to watch the game with us.  “If you know anything about the game, don’t tell me.  I’m recording it,” he tells me.

“Don’t worry.  I’m doing the same.  But you know A&M is going to win again, so you shouldn’t have wasted your time setting up the DVR.”

“Ha!  Have you seen how your quarterback’s been acting recently?  We’re going to knock him on his ass!”

“John!” his wife whispers.

“Well it’s true.”  He reaches over to grab his wife’s hand and then smiles at me.  “It won’t be the same as last year, buddy.”

“Well we will just have to see.  So how’s work going?”

“Oh you know, it’s fishing.  Some days we catch a good haul, other days we barely find enough to make a living.”

We continue to talk for a few minutes before the service starts, and then I notice someone walk in that I haven’t seen in about thirty years.  John sees her too.  “Hey, isn’t that the girl who got pregnant her freshman year?” he says.

“Yeah, I think it is.  You think that’s her son?” When both of us were younger, one of the girls from town got pregnant at a young age.  Nothing like that ever happened around her, so it was a big deal.  People called her names and picked on her the whole time she was pregnant, but she just ignored the insults.  I remember being in awe of how well she handled herself during all that.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to take the ridicule.  She was stronger than anyone I ever heard of.  It wasn’t long after she got pregnant that she married her boyfriend at the time.  They moved away from the school, but I heard everywhere they went they found trouble.  I think they moved a few times before finding a place to settle.  I haven’t heard or seen her since, but here she is today.  It’s been so long I can’t even remember her name.

***

The wedding doesn’t last long, and I’m ready to go home, but of course we have to go to the reception.  My wife and I walk in together, but to my surprise she doesn’t reach out for my hand.  She always does after a wedding.  Something about them makes her feel all romantic, which is usually a good thing for me later that night.  But tonight she seems distant.  I don’t know why.  I agreed to come to this with her.  I gave up my game.  What more does she want?

We sit at a table and John and his wife join us.  The woman and her son ask if they can join us.  We agree.  This could be awkward.

“I’m Annemarie.  This is my son Joshua.”  Her son pulls out her chair for her to sit, and then reaches out to shake each of our hands before sitting down.  I can’t help but look at his appearance.  His dark brown hair comes to his shoulders, and his beard makes him look like he hasn’t shaved in months.  Judging from his suit, I’m guessing his family doesn’t have much money.  I can relate.  Having a child that early in life is tough, and I’m sure it was tougher for them, although he has to be at least thirty years old by now.  He should be out on his own making his own money.

The waiter comes to our table and offers us all glasses of wine.  Free wine.  I didn’t realize there would be free alcohol at this thing.  My night suddenly just got better.

As the night goes on, we all drink and eat.  I probably drink more than I eat.  After about four glasses of wine, I’m feeling good, but more wine will make me feel better.  I get the waiter’s attention and ask for another glass.

“I’m sorry sir, but we have run out for the night.”  Well that sucks.

Annemarie turns to her son and whispers something to him.  I’ve been intrigued by them all night so I lean forward to hear what she says.

“They have no more wine,” she tells Joshua.

“Mother, why do you involve me?  You know my time has not come.”  That seems a little odd.  What is he talking about?

Annemarie calls for the waiter to come over, and she tells him to do whatever her son asks.  Joshua then says something to the waiter about putting water in jars.  He’s lost my interest.  Why would I want water after having wine all night?

The waiter leaves the table and takes other waiters into the back with him.  They come out a few minutes later with what appears to be gallons of water in jars.  They take them to the father of the bride and pour him a glass.  I don’t know why I’m watching all of this happen, but it fascinates me.

The father of the bride takes a drink and he smiles.  He leans over to the groom and says something about this being the best wine he’s ever tasted.  I turn my head to get a better look at the jars.  They don’t hold water anymore.  Instead each one is filled with a dark red liquid.

Our waiter comes back to the table and pours us each another glass.  I quickly grab my glass to quench my curiosity.  I expect the taste of water, but instead I taste wine.  The father was right – it’s the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

I set my glass down and look over at Joshua talking to the waiter.  Who is this guy?

The Letter

“Ethan, have you finished packing yet?”

My mom yelled this familiar phrase down the hallway towards my bedroom.  I think I’ve heard her say these words at least six times today already, and it’s only 10am.

At noon today, I’m moving out of the house I grew up in and away to college.  Packing hasn’t been easy.  I keep finding old items from when I was younger.  Things like the toys I played with to keep me company since I don’t have any siblings, or the birthday cards my mom always gave me no matter how old I was.  I think I kept all 18 of them.  I even found the book my dad read to me every night when I had a nightmare.  My mom wasn’t too pleased when she found me reading it instead of putting my clothes away.

All these memories come from a place I’m leaving today.  Although I’m ready to be on my own, I guess part of me is having trouble saying goodbye.

I pull out the last box remaining from my closet, when I notice something leaning against the dark wall inside.  I can’t tell what it is exactly, probably just some trash.  My mom won’t be too happy if I leave it there.  I reach inside to pull it out, and I notice it’s a yellowed, damaged envelope.  It looks as though it’s been in my closet for years.  The seal is broken, probably worn out from time.  I turn it over in my hands and see my name clearly written.  I open it and find a letter addressed to me.

The date at the top is December 4th, 1995, my birthday.

I read on.

“Dear Ethan,

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be gone.  As much as I wish I could, I can’t stop what’s coming for me, what could be coming for you.  I held you in my arms this morning and for a brief second I thought about holding on to you, taking you with me.  But that would be selfish.  You don’t have a future with me.  I know that.  I know that you’ll be safer without me.  You’ll be happier.  I found a good family for you to live with.  I know in my heart you’ll grow to make me proud.  You’re special, Ethan.  Take care of your sister for me.  I love you.”

The letter ends there.  No name at the bottom, just a couple stains where tears had fallen on the paper.

The Drifter

There are those moments in life when you are faced with a decision.  This decision will change the course of your life forever.  We face decisions every day such as what shirt to wear to work, but nothing about that decision has much importance.  My life wouldn’t be different whether I wear a blue polo or white button up.

A few years ago, I faced a different kind of decision, one that had real importance.  I had recently lost my job working at the bank.  Due to my lack of a college education, my options were limited.  No one was hiring at the time.  Soon, letters arrived at my house saying they were about to turn off my electricity, or my gas, or my water.  I barely had enough money to feed my family, but even that was becoming difficult.

I didn’t know what to do.  I needed money, and it seemed as though I had no other options.

Early one morning, I arrived at the gas station.  I didn’t need gas.  My car was full.  I sat in the parking lot running through my plan, occasionally glancing over at the bag sitting in the passenger seat.

The car continued to run while I remained in thought.  Fear filled my mind as I began to imagine what would happen if I wasn’t successful, if I was caught.  My children would be without a father, my wife without a husband.  My trembling hands reached down to put the car in reverse.  Maybe I could back out of this.

But I left it in park.  This was my only hope of providing for my family.

The moment had come.  I reached into the bag to prepare myself for what I was about to do, but before I pulled the gun out, I paused for one last moment.  Is this what I had become?  A thief?  A tear began to fall down my cheek when I heard a tap on my window.

I saw a silhouette of an old man, his features darkened by the morning sun shining around him.  I shifted in my seat to see him better.  Judging by his appearance and the sign he held in his hand, the man was a drifter.  He wore ragged clothes, dull and dirty from overuse.  His yellow fingernails looked as though they hadn’t been trimmed in years.

He tapped on the window again and spoke, but I couldn’t understand his muffled voice.  I rolled down the window to hear him better, only to catch my first real glimpse of the drifter’s face.  He had a thick beard, colored from what seemed to be leftovers of past meals.  The hair on his head was dirty and matted.  I could tell it had been a scarlet color at one time but now was worn out from time.  As I looked at him my eyes moved to meet his.  He smiled a radiant smile, bright and pure unlike the rest of him.

“Young man, would you happen to have any spare change?”  he asked me.

I simply shook my head.  Money was the last thing I could afford to provide him.  I began to roll up the window when he put out his hand to stop it.  My already racing heart began to beat even faster.  What was this man about to do?  I could protect myself if needed, but then he spoke again.

“I know why you’re here,” he uttered.

How could he know?  More tears fell down my face.  With fragmented words I tried to tell him my story.  I can’t explain why I needed to explain myself to him, I didn’t know the man.  There was just something about him that made me feel a sense of peace for the first time in weeks.

Before I could finish my first sentence, he stopped me and said, “I know, son.”  He then looked at me the way a father looks at his child, smiled his beautiful smile, and reached into his pocket.  The old man pulled out an envelope and held it out for me.

“Take it,” he said.  “This should help.”

I took it from his hands and opened pulled open the seal.  Inside the envelope was full of money.

I couldn’t take it.  I might have needed the money, but I would feel terrible taking money from a homeless man.  Before I could refuse his help, I looked up to see he was gone.  I stepped out of my car to search for him, but he was nowhere near.  It was as if he was a ghost, here one second and gone the next.  Overwhelmed from everything that just occurred, I fell to my knees and began sobbing.

The money was enough to cover me for two months, and during that time I found another job.  I haven’t seen the old man since that day, and I doubt I ever will.  But I’ll never forget him.  He saved my life.

One Year Ago Today I Won the Lottery

After reading Start by Jon Acuff, I decided I needed to do something more to pursue my dream of being a writer.  I thought it might be fun to take a creative writing class, so after I finished reading one night I did a Google search for creative writing in Amarillo.  I was surprised to see Amarillo College had one starting within two weeks.  By the way, if you feel like you are missing out on a dream of yours, check his book out.

My first night of class was this last Monday.  The professor gave us a writing prompt, something I usually hate.  I don’t like to write stories about myself.  But then I thought, why not write this from the perspective of a fictional character?  The prompt he gave us is the same as the title of this post.  This was a timed exercise, and we didn’t have time to revise.  The following is what I wrote:
One year ago today I won $30 million in the Texas Lottery.  One year ago today you may think my life changed for the better.  I wish I could say that.  I wish I could say $30 million made all my dreams come true.  They did come true for a moment, but in the end I realized the dreams I wished for were not the dreams I wanted.  I wish I could say that one year ago today I never would have walked into that convenient store, and then I would have never bought that damn lottery ticket.
The news of me winning sent me on a torrential down-spin, one of which I’ll never recover.  Money was never something I had any control over, which is why I frequented the counter at that Toot ‘n’ Totum.  I always thought that if I just had a little more, then I would be happy.  I see now that if I wasn’t happy with my little teaching salary, no amount of money would change that.
I spent that money quicker than I ever thought I could.  Everything I ever wanted was now at my fingertips.  A new house, new car, new lifestyle.  The problem here wasn’t my new house; it’s that my neighbor had a bigger one.  My fancy new car suddenly seemed just as cheap as the one I owned in my previous life.  I soon found myself trying to find ways to increase my money, many of which were morally questionable.  I spent my most valuable asset in my life, time, with the pursuit of gaining more of what I thought was valuable.
It wasn’t long that I began to lose everything.  My wife left me.  My kids didn’t know their father anymore.  Those questionable ways I found to get more soon took everything I had.
One year ago today I didn’t win the lottery, I lost my life.