The first chapter. I think maybe my chapters are too short — but they just seem to end “nice and neat” and isn’t that important? I dunno… anyhoo – for your reading ……. pleasure:
Chapter 1 ~ Full Reset ~
They say that life goes on, whether we’re ready for it or not. As spring moved to summer then summer slid into autumn, I started to look at the world through much duller eyes. My children saw it; the world saw it. Even I noticed, the few times I bothered to shave. Lifeless eyes in a face painted with sorrow. In his inimitable fashion, Jared came to my rescue.
“You have to get out.”
I looked across the table at him and idly scratched the stubble on my face. “Huh?”
“You need to get out of the house. You’re beyond sedentary my friend.”
I smirked. “I am out.”
It was true, technically – we were outside. We were on sitting the balcony outside of the dining room so we could smoke. Annie hated the smell; I had quit smoking indoors when she was pregnant with Diedre.
“You know what I mean. You’ve practically entombed yourself in this mausoleum.”
“’Mausoleum’ is rather harsh.”
“I’m sorry. I know people who suffer a loss like you have will often turn their place into a shrine, and you haven’t – but the effect is not that different. You never leave. The rooms are dark. Do you even open your drapes?”
“Not much reason.”
“You are still alive, Paul. You need to stop pretending your life ended when Annie died.”
“My life did end.”
“No, Paul. No more than mine did when Sherry left me.”
“You didn’t do much different then.”
Jared looked at me with sadness radiating from his normally bright blue eyes. “No, I didn’t. But a friend, a good friend made me look at what I was doing to myself – at how I was slowly killing myself with remorse.” He ground his cigarette into the ashtray. “You didn’t let up on me, Paul. And I won’t with you.”
I fought the sudden onrush of tears. “Maybe I was wrong.”
I jumped as he slammed a fist against the table. “Get off the pity train. Yes, it was a tragic loss. I can’t begin to know your grief, but I do understand it. And I can see what it is doing to you. It is time, Paul. You need to start living again.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know how, Jer. And I’m not sure I even want to try. Everywhere I look I see emptiness. My heart … I don’t know why it even keeps beating anymore.”
He placed his hand over mine. “Annie would not want this for you.”
I stared at the table, studying the lines of the wood grain as if my sanity depended on it. “I know.”
He withdrew his hand and lit a fresh smoke. “I’m not asking you to celebrate or to start partying. Just … don’t give up on the life you have left.”
I slowly raised my gaze to meet his. “I don’t know what to do…” My voice was barely a whisper.
“Come to the club with me on Saturday. We’ll do a little lifting, swim some laps, like we used to do. Just spend a couple of hours on those things you used to enjoy.”
“I don’t know. Saturday I usually …” I realized then he had a point, I had no set schedule. My usual “routine” was gone. “I really have let go, haven’t I?”
“Yes, my friend. And I understand. Please, say you’ll come. If you get there and decide it’s too early or whatever I’ll bring you home. Just try.”
I nodded slowly. “Alright. Saturday.”
Jared smiled. “Good. I’ll pick you up at nine.”
“Ok. I’ll be ready. And thanks, Jared.”
“Any time, Paul.”
~ – – – ~
Saturday arrived far too quickly for my tastes. I was finishing my second cup of coffee when his car purred its way up the drive. I had to smile. Jared had gotten that beater the year before we graduated. It had died many deaths, but he kept bringing it back. After Sherry split that car had been his salvation. I downed the dregs as I stood, then rinsed out the cup, leaving it in the sink. I opened the kitchen door, grabbed my gym bag and headed down the steps.
“Hello there, sunshine” Jared quipped as I swung open the passenger door.
I tossed my bag into the back seat and slid in, giving my friend a sour look. “You always were an over-zealous morning type.”
“That I was, that I was. Still am, too – in case you hadn’t noticed.”
I had to laugh. “Oh, I’ve noticed.”
We rode to the gym silently, listening to the soft, light jazz playing on the radio. I must have zoned out because the next thing I knew, Jared had parked the car and was sitting with his door open, staring at me.
“I said, are you coming?”
“Sorry,” I replied. “My mind was elsewhere.” I got out and grabbed my gear before closing the door. The car chirped as he locked it and we walked up the stairs into the club. I looked around the main foyer and took in the relaxed atmosphere. Even though it had opened its doors to women in the late sixty’s, it still had the look and feel of the original ‘gentlemen’s club’. I followed Jared to the counter and smiled at the attendant as he greeted us.
“Mr. Stockwell, good to see you again.” He turned to me as I leaned down to sign in. “Is this your first visit to Oakview, sir?”
Jared answered for me. “It’s not. This is Paul Veroll. he’s been a member almost as long as I have; he’s just been lazy the last couple of years.”
“Hey,” I complained. I smiled at the guy behind the counter as I showed him my membership id. “I’ve just been busy with other things. So, now you know who I am …” I raised a brow at him.
He extended a hand. “Tommy. Tommy Sanders. I started here a couple of months ago. It’s good to meet you, Mr. Veroll, sir.”
I shook his hand, “’Mr. Veroll’ is fine, Tommy, no ‘sir’ required. For that matter, you could call me ‘Paul’, but I imagine club rules still don’t permit first name use by staff.”
He flashed me a smile that was almost outshone by his eyes. “No sir, they don’t.” He glanced at the door as another person entered then returned his gaze to me. “You gentlemen have a good time.”
I nodded and turned to walk with Jared to the locker room. “Seems like a nice enough kid.”
“He is. Cute too.”
I shot Jared a look. “Cute?”
“Come on, Paul. You can’t tell me that you don’t notice things like that. You’ve always had an eye for good looking young men.”
We walked into the locker room and moved to the far corner where our lockers stood. Membership at Oakview was a little steep, but having my own locker with my name riveted on the door was a nice touch.
“I haven’t … been on that side of the fence in a long time, Jer. You know that.”
“I know you haven’t touched, but you can’t tell me you haven’t looked.
I just shook my head and sat to remove my shoes. “Whatever. That’s all ancient history.”
Jared’s grin widened. “History tends to repeat itself.”