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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| June 19, 2018 Views: 97|
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.
Meeting friends from the past can always be a surprise.
by Jake P.
Chet Stover opened his eyes but remained still, listening. He slid his hand under the pillow and grasped the Glock 22 focusing all his senses on any movement in the room.
A moment later he heard the soft knock again, and he chastised himself for his foolishness. He'd been retired for over ten years, but the old instincts remained.
Resting on his elbow,Â "Who is it?"
"It's me, Rita. I've brought you a cup of coffee. Black. Are you up?"
I am now, Rita.
He swallowed his resentment.
"How thoughtful, Rita. Just give me a minute. I'm up. Let me just find my shirt."
He heard her giggle, "You don't have to do that on my account."
Rita, like 90% of the old ladies in this retirement home, is lonely. Family and friends visit each weekend for the lucky ones. People claimed that a lifetime of affectionate companionship, suddenly gone, leaves a hole in your heart. He'd never know. He had never been marriage material.
Rita needed something from him he was unwilling and incapable of giving.
In jeans and a t-shirt he sauntered to the door shoeless and opened it wide.
Rita eyed him and smiled.Â
"I thought we might have breakfast together."
She handed him a styrofoam cup of coffee, and he nodded.
"Come in. I'll grab my socks and shoes. I'll only be a moment."
Castlecrest Estates leased high-priced apartments to individuals or couples over 55. It included a medical facility, dining hall, barber shop, nail and hair salon, and free transportation to shopping centers and theaters.
Â It was a luxuryÂ his pension alone from Consumers International would never cover. But CI had a secret branch, and the job he held within that branch had perks. He was a problem-solver, and only three people in CI were aware of his real duties.Â
When corrupt CEO's and Executives refused to acknowledge crimes they were committing at the expense of hard-working taxpayers, CI revealed their actions.Â However sometimes public exposure failed to deter them.Â
That's when Chet was dispatched. He helped them see reason, and a chat with Chet was usually all that was necessary. Unfortunately, a few chose wealth over health. The others surrendered their illegal gains to Consumers International. He collectedÂ ten percent of the billions refunded, and that left him with a good bonus to his pension. But it also left him with some wealthy enemies that would love to administer a little pay-back if they discovered his identity.
They entered the red-carpeted dining area, and Rita led him to a table for eight where some of her friends sat. Chet noticed that two ladies scowled at Rita, realizing that she and Chet were together.Â
As a young man, it hadn't been easy to find companionship. Now at seventy-seven he didn't need or want it.
After bacon, eggs, and biscuits, he excused himself and returned to his room. When he entered, his phone was ringing. He checked the caller I.D. He'd take this one.
The first words out of his friend's mouth were, "Are you coming?"
"The reunion, you jackass. Haven't you checked your email?"
With the phone in one hand he sat at his desk and opened the email on his computer.
Welcome to the 60th Year Reunion
Of Oak Grove High School
Â Join us on Friday, August 10, 7 p.m., at Cody's Dance Hall two miles east of Oak Grove on Highway 60. Â Tickets are $40.00 per person for beer (all you can drink), barbecue, and fellowship.
He hadn't been back to Oak Grove since graduation. Sixty years of missed reunions, and he had no regrets for missing them. The small city of his youth held no allure for him. Billy was his only remaining friend, and the memories from that time he didn't want or need.
"Chet, you need to come. I know you don't like to come to these things, but I need you to be here. Besides, how can beer and barbecue ever be a bad thing?"
"Billy, I don't have to drive ninety miles at night in traffic to get beer and barbecue. There's plenty within ten minutes of my place. Can't you come here, or meet me someplace half-way?"
"No. Meeting here's important. Come to my house before the reunion. You can spend the night with me and not have to drive back in the dark."
"I don't know, Billy. You're the only friend I've got that still lives there. Or the only one I still remember, anyway."
Billy laughed in his ear.
"Admit it, Chet. You were the school rebel. Most people thought you were an asshole. I was the only one who could stand you."
"Yeah. That makes me want to go back for sure. Sell it, man."
"All right, then. Do it for me. I'll tell everyone you became a beloved pastor somewhere. That'll surprise the hell out of them. They'll welcome you with open arms."
"You don't have to lie for me Billy. I'm proud of my asshole reputation, and I'll kick the ass of anyone who tells me I'm not welcome. You may wish you'd never asked me to come."
"Ass kicking might be fun. For both of us. See you in a couple of days."
Chet pulled off I-10 at the Oak Grove exit and slowed as he approached the bridge at the edge of town. He could feel his heart pumping hard as if his blood had suddenly turned to molasses. He rolled his shoulders to stretch the tight muscles in his back.Â
This is a mistake. I shouldn't have come back.
He took the access lane to the sandy waterfront below the bridge and parked out of sight of the road. He got out and leaned against the hood with his arms crossed.
The river rushed passed in a torrent so strong that a car could float for a half mile before it sank to the river bottom.
It's my fault. And God's.
He remembered hitting something in the road that slammed into the bottom of the car, scraping across the undercarriage all the way to the rear. He stopped and tried to find what he'd hit, but it was dark and whatever it was must have rolled into the ditch. He didn't tell his parents because he couldn't see any damage, and he didn't want to take the blame.
When the steering gave way the next morning right here, both his parents drowned in these muddy waters. If the car had held together another ten yards, the rails of the bridge would have prevented the car from plunging into the river below. He looked to the heavens above.
You and me. What a pair. My carelessness and your capriciousness.
He shook his head to pull his thoughts back to the present, then climbed back into the car and drove back onto the road toward town.
Billy inherited the old 19th century Queen Anne home from his parents. It's pitched roof and wrap-around porch were charming. GlancingÂ at the second-floor windows where he and Billy slept as he finished his senior year after his parents' deaths made him smile. Billy's parents had taken him in as one of their own, and he and Billy had become as close as brothers.
Billy walked out on the porch and waved. Chet got out, and they hugged.
"Thanks for coming, man. You look like you could use a beer."Â
"Not just yet. Claudia home?"
Billy nodded, but a sad frown crossed his brow.
"Chet, she doesn't have long now. I'm glad she'll have a chance to see you again. It'll cheer her up."
Claudia was diagnosed withÂ kidney cancer just six months ago, but Billy wouldn't let Chet visit until he and Claudia worked through their grief.
"Billy, screw the reunion. We can stay here with Claudia."
"No. She insists. Her sister came down to look after her while we're out, and I want to go get drunk. With you."
Claudia was in bed with her eyes closed when they entered the room. She looked pale and white as if death was just hours or even minutes away.
Billy sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand, "Claudia, Chet's here."
Her eyes opened, and she smiled.
Chet swallowed. "Well, you're as beautiful as ever." He bent and rested his cheek on hers in a hug.
"Billy, go get Nancy to make coffee for Chet."
Chet started to protest, but she shook her head as Billy stood.
She tried to sit up when Billy had gone, but the pain was too much. Chet lifted her back and slid two pillows beneath.
"Chet will you get my pain pills for me?"
He found them on the bedside table and opened them.
"I'll need four. No make it five, please."
Chet read the label.
Take one every four hours as needed.
Now he realized why Billy asked him to visit. It was Claudia that needed him. He turned, frowning.
"Billy understands. I don't want him to have to be the one."
She held the pills in her hand. "Can you push the water closer? I'll take these after you've left. I knew you'd help. You're a good man."
Good? You have no clueÂ how many times I've done things like this. But never to someone I've cared about.
They drank a lot of beer during theÂ evening as they talked with classmates Chet hadn't seen in sixty years. None were feeling any pain when Billy got the call just before ten o'clock.
He looked around the table at his friends.
"I have to go."
As Chet walked him to the car Billy said, "It's over." He paused and looked at Chet with tears in his eyes.
Hours later he drove back to Houston.
Another reason to hate Oak Grove. Another reason to detest himself. And a wider opening to the gates of hell.
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