A Thousand Miles From Home - Part 08


first | previous | next


Don tried not to worry about how Ollie might handle the truck as he sat in Java Joe’s with Karen Walters. He tried, but failed. His worry must have shown on his face because Karen took one look at him and asked him what was wrong.

“Nothing,” he told her. “Not really.”

“Not really?” she said.

“Well, I’m just worried about Ollie. I don’t know that he’s ever driven anything like that truck before. Heck, I’ve never even seen him drive.”

“Never?”

“Well, I know he drives. He drives to work every day. But I’ve never ridden with him. I’m the one that does all the driving. Besides, he drives a little Prius or something.”

“You want to give him a call?”

“Should I?”

“If it will make you feel better.”

“I don’t know.”

“Go on, give him a call.”

“Naw, it feels … I don’t know, odd.”

“Odd?”

“Yeah, like I’m worried about him or something.”

“But you are worried about him.”

“Well, yeah. But I can’t let him know that.”

“What? That makes absolutely no sense at all.”

“That’s because you’re a woman.”

“So, it’s a guy thing then?”

“That’s right.”

“Something I wouldn’t understand?”

“Exactly.”

“Give me your phone.”

“What?” Don laughed.

“Give me your phone. I can’t call Ollie on my phone. He may not pick up if he doesn’t remember my name.”

“I can’t let you call Ollie for me,” Don was smiling now.

“Sure you can,” Karen smiled right back at him. “Give me your phone.”

In the end, Don gave her his phone. She tapped away at the screen, looking for Don’s contact list. She found it, then found Ollie’s cell phone number, and then dialed him up.

Don couldn’t hear Ollie’s end of the conversation, but he imagined that Ollie had answered because Karen started talking.

“Hi, Ollie. This is Karen. Karen Walters.” She paused. “Yep, I’m having coffee with him right now. See, Don just wanted to know if you got back to the hotel okay or not?”

Karen looked at Don and smiled as Ollie was speaking.

“Well, I guess he was worried about you.” Another pause. “He said that guys don’t do that.” She paused once more, smiling even bigger. Then she laughed and said, “Okay, I’ll tell him. Bye.”

Karen pushed the end option on the phone and handed it back to Don.

Don took the phone, put it in his pocket, then waited expectantly as Karen sipped gingerly at her hot espresso.

“Well?” he asked finally. “What did he say?”

“He said that it sounds like the only person he knows that needs to let out his inner cowboy is you.”

“Nice.”

“You two really care about each other, huh,” she said, putting her coffee down, leaning forward and directing all of her attention across the table to Don.

“Well, sure. Of course we do,” Don said.

“You ever tell him?”

“Are you drunk?”

Karen laughed. “No, I just think that if you care about someone, you tell them.”

“Ollie knows how I feel.”

“Does he?” she asked.

“Of course he does. Just like I know that he cares about me. We’ve been friends for a long time. Since we were kids.”

“Kinda like marrying your high school sweetheart,” she smiled.

“What about you?” Don asked, turning the tables on her.

“What about me?” She picked her coffee back up, leaned back in the chair and took a sip.

“Well, where are you from?”

“I grew up here in Winston-Salem.”

“Your parent’s still here?”

“No.”

“They retire and move to Florida?”

“No,” she gave off the impression that she didn’t really want to talk about her parents.

“Okay, you ever been married?”

“Nope,” she smiled.

“Even been close?”

“Not even close. You?”

“Nope. I’ve had girlfriends, but nothing serious.”

“That’s how it’s always been with me too.”

“Oh yeah,” Don laughed. “More girlfriends than you can count?”

“Ha, ha, and ha,” she said.

“Sorry,” he smiled. They sat for a while and sipped their coffee, an uncomfortable silence stretching out between them, threatening to engulf them. “So,” he said finally, “you like to learn something new every day?”

“I try. I never really gave it my all in school. I was too busy being popular and going to parties. I feel like I missed out. So I try to learn what I can. I’m not obsessed about it or anything. I don’t go and sit in the library for hours and hours poring over book after book after book, never showering or eating or sleeping.” She paused while she took another drink of her espresso. “But I watch a lot of PBS, rent documentaries, and read the odd book on American History now and again.”

“Did Mike put you up to this?”

“What? Why would you ask that?”

“Because listening to you, well … it sounds like I’m listening to myself. And just this afternoon I told Mike about my goal.”

“Your goal?”

“Yeah, you aren’t going to believe this, but I try to learn something new every day too.”

“Really? This isn’t just some line?”

“Seriously. I was like you. I didn’t care about all the learning in high school. I was the star quarter back. I was popular beyond belief. I felt that being cool and having people love me were all I needed. Who cared about the Civil War, you know?”

“So what happened?”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story.”

“It’s only six o’clock, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Okay, well, I told you that Ollie and have been the best of friends since we were kids, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true. See, we met in the third grade. I moved to town, Littleton, Kansas, the summer before. We moved in to a house right next to Ollie’s. We spent the summer hanging out, playing with each other’s toys, bonding over a man in our lives who had a direct influence over both of us.”

“A teacher?”

“No, Superman.”

“Ah, you may continue,” she smiled.

“So, all throughout grade school we were the best of friends. But as we grew older, we drifted apart. I started to discover sports and girls. Ollie never cared for sports. He got into comic books and D&D.”

“D&D?”

“You learn something new every day and you don’t know what D&D is?”

“No,” she laughed. “Is that bad?”

“D&D is Dungeons and Dragons.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. “And what’s that?”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“It’s a game. A role playing game.”

“Role playing? Interesting.” As she said that last word, she held her coffee cup in both hands just below her mouth, pausing to take a sip, and arched an eyebrow.

“Not that kind of role playing,” he sighed. “Anyway, it’s got a real nerd stigma, but I’m willing bet most people who are anything today played it at least once in their life.”

“I never did,” she said, smiling.

“Then that means you ain’t anything,” he laughed.

“Ouch, is human emotional cruelty standard first date procedure back in Kansas?”

“Is this a date?”

“I think it is.”

“In that case, no. Human emotional cruelty is usually a third date kind of thing.”

She laughed. “You’re funny. I like that. Continue with your story.”

“Well, as I said, Ollie and I drifted apart. By high school I was the king of all that was popular and desirable. Ollie was king of all that was nerdy and weird. He didn’t care about being popular, and for people who strive to be accepted, really work hard at getting in that position where they have ‘made it’, people like Oliver Jordan just plain confuse them. They don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to be like them. They see that someone like Ollie is the furthest from the cool crowd as anyone could be, and yet they can still be happy. And frankly, it scares them. So, for some people, like the jocks, show their confusion and fear by bullying kids like Ollie.”

“Were you a bully?”

“No, not me. I wasn’t a bully. I was worse than a bully.”

“Worse than a bully? What’s worse than a bully?”

“I was the guy who stood by and let evil be done.”

“Edmund Burke.”

“What?” Don laughed. “Did this conversation just change lanes while I wasn’t looking?”

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” Karen said. “Edmund Burke. He said that.”

“Oh, okay.” Don took a sip of his coffee. “Who’s Edmund Burke?”

“He was a politician in England in the seventeen hundreds.”

“I can’t remember what we were talking about.”

“I think you were about to tell me that you stood aside and watched Ollie get beaten up by bullies in high school,” she said, a little disappointment creeping into her voice.

“No, see, that was the thing. I made sure that Ollie wasn’t picked on, wasn’t bullied, wasn’t hurt. But the rest of them, well, I just let it happen. I let the bullying go on throughout high school and never did a damn thing. I think back sometimes to that kid that used to look up to Superman. I think back and I wonder what third grade Don would think of high school Don. Superman never would have just stood by and let evil be done. Never. Third grade Don would have been disappointed in high school Don.”

Don paused and seemed to look into himself, not liking what he saw. He grew silent until Karen reached out across the table and put her hand on his.

“Go on,” she said, smiling at him.

“The last week of school, out Senior year, I was driving by the school and saw the two biggest guys on the football team beating on some poor guy in the parking lot. I think that’s when third grade Don stepped up. So I pulled into the lot, got out of my car, and tried to stop them. When I got there I saw that the poor guy they were beating on, the poor guy with the blood streaming from an obviously broken nose, the poor guy on the ground being kicked in the ribs was Ollie.”

Don paused again, taking a big gulp of his coffee, finishing what was in his mug. He made a motion to their waiter, a skinny Asian kid named Adam whom Karen knew. Adam grabbed a steaming carafe of coffee and filled Don’s mug to the top.

“Anyway,” Don continued once Adam left. “I managed to stop the two guys and took Ollie to the Doc’s just down the road. Ollie had a broken nose and two cracked ribs. Ollie later told me that he’s always felt that I saved his life that day. He’s told me a time or two that he could see it in their eyes, the guys who were beating on him, Ollie said he could see in their eyes that they wouldn’t have stopped beating him until he was dead. He was right too. They are both serving time in Federal prison for crossing over into Missouri and beating some guy to death outside of a bar. They were drunk and angry and he was in their way. So yeah, looking back, I think they would have killed him that day.”

“And you two have been best friends ever since?”

“No. See, here’s the thing. I dropped him at the Doc’s but then I left. I couldn’t face him. Seeing Ollie like that made me realize what I’d been doing for the past four years. Just standing by while all the other unpopular kids were tormented, tortured, and beaten. I felt guilty. So I dropped him off and ran.”

“I spent that last week of high school as an outcast. The nerds loved me. But I ignored them. The cool crown hated me. But after what I did to those two guys, they were afraid of me.”

“What did you do to them?” Karen asked.

“I just gave them a taste of what they were giving Ollie. Anyway, I went off to college, Kansas University, and Ollie went off to college. I dropped out in my first year after I inverted my right knee playing my first game. I couldn’t play again, my life was over, so I left. I kicked around for a bit, working odd job after odd job, then I got hired on at Global Customer Services. Five years later, we get this new head of IT. Oliver Jordan.”

“Cool,” Karen said. “Someone was bringing you two back together.

“Yeah, I like to think so. But the thing was, at first, I avoided Ollie. I didn’t have much reason to be around him, so I just led my life. But one day I was out smoking by myself and he came out. He sat down next to me and stayed there, not saying a word for a long time. Finally, he just turned and said ‘Thank you’,” Don took a quick swipe at his eyes, feeling the tears beginning to form.

“He just said ‘Thank you’,” Don continued after a moment. “So, of course, I ask him why he’s thanking me. That’s when he tells me that he’s always felt that I saved his life that day. Anyway, it got us to talking. He tells me about his girlfriend, Susan. He tells me what he’s been up to since high school. And, well, we just fell back into being friends. Two months later he asks Susan to marry him and asks me to be his best man,” Don smiled.

“That’s a great story. You should write a frickin book or something,” Karen said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

“Yeah, maybe,” said Don, embarrassment showing on his face. “You know, I’ve never told anyone that story before. I mean, it’s not like it’s something I’ve never been able to talk about, I’ve just never had anyone that I could tell the story to.”

Karen smiled.

“Anyway, so that’s what’s changed,” Don said. “I looked at where I was now, and I looked at how I wasted my time away in high school, and I decided it was time to just try and learn a little about the world around me.”

“That’s very similar to my story as well. But In mine, of course, that main character had breasts,” Karen laughed. “Oh, and I never saved anyone’s life or anything. I just realized that I had such a great opportunity with school, an opportunity to better myself, and I let it slip through my fingers just so that I could be invited to all the great parties. Which really, when you think back on it, weren’t really all that great.”

“True, very true.”

Don noticed that Karen suddenly looked sad and distant. Now it was his turn to reach across the table and take her hand in his.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“I’m okay,” she said, swiping at her eyes with a finger, catching the tears before the fell to far. “I’m just thinking of the past.” She paused. “The past and my parents.”

She laughed aloud in the way that people do when they are embarrassed by their tears.

“I’m sorry,” Karen said. “I don’t know why I’m doing this.”

“Hey, it’s okay. You don’t have to be sorry.”

“It’s just that,” she sniffed and pulled another tissue from her purse and dabbed again at her eyes. “It’s just that, it was my parents that made me realize how much I wasted my life. I never fully understood it myself until they died.”

“I’m sorry,” Don said.

“I was an only child. My mother’s pride and joy and my daddy’s little princess. I could do no wrong, and they spoiled me rotten. Well … when they could. We didn’t have a lot of money. Anyway, once I got into high school I turned into an A-Number One Bitch. At least towards my parents. They were just trying to look out for me, you know? But I didn’t care. I was mean to them, so mean.”

Karen paused and dabbed once more at her eyes.

“And after high school, I refused to go to college. I just didn’t want to go, no matter how much my parents insisted. I just lived with them. Sponged off of them. And they just allowed it, regardless of how disappointed in me they may have been. And then, three years ago, they both died in a car crash. They left me here all alone. I didn’t really have much of an idea how to do anything. They left me a little money, enough to get by, and from there I’ve just had to make it on my own.”

“Well,” Don said after much silence. “Aren’t we just the saddest pair of, well … just really sad people that has ever been seen in like, a really, really long damn time.”

Karen laughed and Don laughed with her.

“You wouldn't know it, what with all the crying and stuff, but I’m having a really good time with you, Don,” Karen said. “I’m glad you agreed to come out with me.”

“I’m glad too.”

And the two smiled at each other, losing themselves in the each other’s eyes, and drank their coffee.

To be continued . . .

first | previous | next

No comments:

Post a Comment