by Michael Christopher Cole
I walk into ‘The Golden Derby’ and look around before the hostess has a chance to greet me. Alec stands from his chair and waves to me. I walk over to him. He has a sport coat and tie on, which is fairly ‘decked out’ from what I’ve seen of him.
I walk slow, I may as well make him sweat a little. He’s a good kid, but how many opportunities like this am I going to get? At this point, I don’t even carry that much weight, because he has known me for too long. Not like the night Laura brought him home. That was a fun night.
“Hi, Mr. Bradley.”
“Hi, Alec. This is a nice place you picked out.” I’m not mocking him, ‘The Golden Derby’ is one of the nicest places in the city, he’s gonna end up spending a lot for us to get a couple of club sandwiches.
We sit down, and look over the menus. I toy with the idea of getting a steak, but I think that it might be too far, and then it might be insulting if I tell him I was just joking.
“So, what is the special occasion?” I ask, knowing full well.
“Um… Well… Um… Sir…” He takes a long breath to gather some courage. “Um… I have been dating Laura for almost three years now. Um… And I’d like… I’d like to get your blessing to ask her to marry me.”
‘Blessing’ huh? That’s different. When I went cowering to my father-in-law twenty-seven years ago, it wasn’t a blessing I was looking for, it was permission.
“Alec, you’re a nice guy. You have my ‘blessing.’” He lets out an audible sigh, and I smile to let him know it’s gonna be ok. “But keep in mind that being good with me is a bit of a rolling basis. You have to keep treating her as well as I am under the impression that you have the last two years.”
“Oh, yes sir!” He’s beaming like a kid on Christmas now.
“So… have you already picked out a ring?” I ask, honestly not knowing what I’m supposed to say for the rest of this awkward lunch.
“Yes sir.” He says fumbling in his jacket pocket.
“Um… That’s fine, why don’t I wait to see it. I’m sure it’ll look better with Laura’s smile reflecting in it.”
We order, and both try to fill the gaps in the conversation with talk about his job, and plans. He’s a junior copywriter at an ad agency, but he’s working on his MBA. Thank God for that, when Laura told me he was in advertising, my first question was “Because of Mad Men?” And her cheeks turned red, and I knew I had hit the nail on the head. So when she said he had started working on his MBA I was relieved that he was heading toward something a little more stable.
“Well, thank you very much for lunch.” I say to him, after I had offered three times to pay. “I suppose next time I see you, you’ll be engaged.” I smile at him and shake his hand. I take a mint off of the hostess stand and walk out a few feet behind him.
* * *
I sat at my desk, staring at a pile of annual reviews that I had to go over, and my phone rang. I blankly picked it up, not feeling like working.
“Surbig Industries, Damon Bradley speaking?” There was a momentary pause before my wife spoke.
“Damon… You need to come home.” Her voice is grave, but she doesn’t sound as if she was crying.
“What’s wrong, Beth?” I can hear Laura talking hysterically but I can’t understand her through the sobs.
“Laura’s saying you should meet us at the hospital. Alec got in a car accident, and Laura is a mess. Please, Damon.”
I agree and hang up. I stare at my desk, my eyes don’t seem to focus on anything, in fact I’m unaware at first by I’m starting to see black at the edge of my vision. After a moment trying to muster up my composer I grab my things and head out, explaining to someone—I’m not sure who now— that there has been an accident.
* * *
We sit nearly silent, except for Laura’s sobs, for more than an hour. Alec’s parents sit in the uncomfortable chairs across from the three of us, looking like corpses, pale and gaunt.
“Can I get anyone a drink or anything?” I ask, trying to be helpful, but feeling powerless.
“Um… What?” Alec’s father, Jim asks. I must have caught him off guard.
“Can I get you a drink or anything?”
He shakes his head. “Thank you.”
I start to get up, I’ll get a couple bottles of water, we’ll need them eventually, I think. Before I can get beyond the rows of chairs, a doctor comes through the door to the ER, and I stop walking.
“Mr. Campo?” the doctor asks looking at me.
I shake my head, and Jim and Emma, Alec’s mother, stand up and approach him. Emma waves for Laura to come over too. Despite the doctor’s attempt at having a private moment, Beth and I can hear everything.
“I’m really sorry to—”
“No, please no,” Emma cries out somewhere between an exasperated release and an emphatic scream. There is some combination of heartbreak, and anger in her voice that I hope I never get to understand.
“He experienced a significant amount of head trauma due to the way the other car hit the driver side of his car, and then he hemorrhaged quickly. When he arrived we began attempting to deal with the hemorrhaging and getting him blood, but it was too late.”
The doctor’s voice is more measured than I think it should be, I don’t think that Laura or Alec’s parents can hear it. It’s not that there is a lack of compassion, but it seems too routine, too rehearsed. I walk to the back of waiting room hoping to not hear more, to not get myself worked up.
The doctor walks away, having done all of the consoling in his training. I walk back over, and hug Laura as Jim and Emma hold each other. I can feel Laura’s entire body shaking, and her legs buckling underneath her. I can feel the wetness from Laura’s eyes and nose soaking through my shirt into my chest.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper to her, feeling how inadequate my words are.
The five of us stand in the room, saying almost nothing, but hugging each other. I can’t tell if Beth feels as utterly useless as I do, but she seems to be doing all of the same things I am.
* * *
Laura and Beth ride home in my car with me, I’ll take a cab back in the morning to get Beth’s car. Beth sits in the back seat, stroking Laura’s hair as she cries. My chest feels vacant, as if my heart and lungs have been removed, nothing seems to make the feeling go away.
“I loved him…” she sobbed into her Beth’s shoulder.
“I know sweetie, he was a good man.” Beth rubs her shoulder.
“Was?” Her tears are gone for a second, given way to confusion and realization. “He’s a ‘was’ now…”
“Do you still love him?” Beth asks softly. Laura nods and Beth continues, “You still love him, in that way he’s still an ‘is.’ It’s not easy, and you get to be devastated but he still is your love.”
Laura has always been my little girl, we’ve always had the stronger bond, but it has always been Beth who knew how to help. She never gets the credit she deserves. Laura nods, and for a moment looks relieved.
“You know I thought he was going to break up with me?”
“Why would you think that?” I am harsher than I intend.
“He was just acting weird the last couple of weeks.”
An image of lunch with him earlier flashes in my mind, I haven’t thought about it since hearing about the accident. Will telling her upset her more, or help? I can feel sweat starting to form at my hairline.
“I’m sure everything was fine.” I don’t mean to say it as it slips out.
“I don’t know.” Her voice trails off.
A couple minutes later we’re pulling into the drive way. Within an hour she’s in bed.
* * *
Beth is sitting on the end of the bed, getting her phone out, I know she’s going to call the church and get a Mass Card for Alec, and probably send out an email to the family.
“Beth…” I gulp down a dry sadness. “Um… Alec was coming from lunch at the Golden Derby when he got in the accident.”
“How do you know?” The suspicion in her voice is aimed at me and not Alec. I’m okay with that.
“He took me to lunch… To ask for my blessing.”
Her face contorts, and I can tell that she is going through the same process I have been for the last hour.
“Are you going to tell her?”
“Well, he probably told his parents. Plus if they find the engagement ring, she’s gonna know.” Beth is always the thinker, the problem solver. I hadn’t even thought about that.
“Should I tell her tonight?”
Beth closes her eyes, I know she’s running through her head all the different options. Finally she nods. “She’s not going to sleep tonight anyway, let’s get it all out.”
I nod. The two of us walk down the hall and knock on her door. Her voice meekly tells us to enter. She’s sitting up in bed, her phone in her hand, she flashes it towards us showing us that she’s on Alec’s Instagram page.
“Honey… Umm… I need to tell you something.” My voice doesn’t feel as if it is coming from my mouth and sounds foreign.
“Tonight, Dad? Can it wait?” Her eyes are longing for me to wait, not knowing if she can take anything else.
“Alec and I had lunch today.” I let her take it in for a moment. “He was going to ask you to marry him.”
Her eyes well up and she slides back into a laying position. These tears are different than before. Her eyes don’t look bloodshot, angry, and destroyed the way they did at the hospital. These are the tears of sadness, at the realization of what might have been.
Beth and I sit beside her on each side, holding her hands for a long time. Finally she asks Beth to sleep with her, and me to go back to my bedroom.
I kiss her on the forehead and offer anything I can, and leave. In addition to my chest feeling empty, my bones now feel brittle, each hair on my body feels stiff in it’s follicle, and my eyes feel as if my brain is pressing on them trying to escape through their sockets.
I lay in bed feeling cold and alone. Even worse, I feel useless.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student