Richard Tyler knew his own mind. After dashing from his job at the gym to his mom’s house, he breezed through the kitchen door with all the confidence of an Academy Award winner.
His mom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought you were having lunch with Kimberly.”
Despite the August heat, Richard shivered. “She decided she needs to ‘reevaluate her priorities.’” He shrugged off his discomfort. “Guess that includes lunch.”
His mom’s gaze swiveled from her baloney and cheese sandwich set neatly on a plate with a modest mound of chips on the side—to Richard. She slid the plate across the table. “Here. Sit and eat before your class.” She crossed to the stove and stirred a pot of tomato soup.
Richard plunked down in the chair, grabbed the sandwich, and chewed with a faraway look in his eyes.
After pouring the soup into a ceramic mug, his mom slid into a chair across from Richard. “You know, she’s only nineteen, in journalism, and you’re a bit older, wanting to be an actor—”
Richard stiffened; a frown burrowed across his forehead. “What? Like I’m not really an actor, and she’s looking for honest work?”
Mom stirred her soup as she stared into its swirling, red depths. “You might try to see things from her point of view. I mean, she’s—”
Richard shot to his feet scattering breadcrumb across the table. “Totally selfish and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Journalism? Ha! Not an ounce of life experience, and she thinks she’ll wake up the world’s conscience. Yeah, right.”
Mom stared at the cup, searching for wisdom. She responded with a shrug.
With a fretful glance at his watch, Richard started for the door. “I gotta go. We ‘re having a guest director today—said to be brilliant. Might make a good connection.”
The screen door slammed as it closed behind him. Mom wiped up the crumbs.
As Richard leaned back in his theater chair, he had to stifle a yawn. The room was stuffy, and the new director had been introducing himself for almost an hour. Suddenly, he felt a jolt charge through his body.
“Hey, you, kid with the big chin and blue eyes.”
Richard sprang to his feet.
The director waved him onto the stage. “Come here. I want to demonstrate a point.”
Without hesitation, Richard sprang forward and landed lightly before the rotund, thin-lipped director. “Okay. Listen carefully. You’ve just climbed out of a car wreck, people milling about—horror everywhere. You got a broken rib or something.” He pointed to the stage. “Show me.”
Dropping to his knees, Richard writhed in pain, moaning. He scrambled forward on one arm, the other clutching his middle. His eyes squeezed shut, he rocked and—”
“Stop! Enough. You’ve made my point.”
Panting from his exertion, Richard climbed to his feet, his eyes darting over the other students who studied him with uncertain expectation, waiting to be told whether he deserved approval or scorn.
The director flung a disenchanted arm in Richard’s direction. “I see the same thing all the time—day after bloody day. Actors who forget they aren’t alone. People! It’s not all about you. Remember your audience! They pay for the tickets.”
As Richard stepped into the strong afternoon light, he blinked in near blindness after the hours in the theater’s semi-darkness. He felt lightheaded and needed a drink. Starting across the street toward a fast-food stand, he heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Richard, wait up.”
With a groan, Richard turned and faced his girlfriend. “Hey, Kimberly.”
Kimberly shifted a stack of books onto her left arm. “Sorry about this morning. I was…I needed some air. Got some bad news.” She glanced up and intercepted Richard’s glazed stare. “My dad’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, stage four. Not much time left.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to focus on him awhile.” She nodded to her shoes to see if they agreed.
Richard’s gaze fell on the top of her bowed head. “Dang waste.” He clenched his jaw as his mind went completely blank.
Kimberly shook her head. “At least, we have a chance to say goodbye.” She leaned forward and kissed Richard’s cheek. “Good luck—in everything.” Her books stacked in her arms, she turned and trotted across the street.
Later that evening, Richard jogged around the campus track listening to music through his earbuds. Nausea and malaise seeped throughout his body and soul, burying him deep in gloom. Running as fast as he could, he scowled at the realization that the sensation grew in proportion to his desperation.
Skidding to a halt, he sucked in deep lung-fulls of air. Words, images, impressions kept intruding even as he stared across the dimming horizon. He imagined himself driving along the coast, the windows down and the music loud, accompanied by a gorgeous sunset dispelling the evils of the day. He trotted across the street from his parked car and halted.
A teen, plump with rumpled hair and sagging shoulders, was standing between his beautiful, red car and a battered, old truck. A ragged scratch scarred his car’s shiny exterior. Richard closed his eyes, lifted his head back, and smothered a scream. Finally, he squared his shoulders and marched forward.
The kid glanced over and caught sight of Richard. He wavered between evasion and a complete meltdown.
Taking long strides, Richard’s gaze flashed from the truck to his damaged car.
The kid, now nearly in tears, lifted his hands. “Sorry, mister. It’s all my fault. I’m new at parallel parking—always been a nightmare in driver’s ed.” He scanned Richard’s car wistfully and shoved his glasses further up his nose. “My mom’s got insurance, and I’ll pay with my own money too. So stupid. I should’ve gone to the lot up the street.”
Though the light was failing, Richard’s vision cleared. He swallowed back a rising ache and blinked in hesitation. “Listen, it’s no big deal. I got a friend who works in a body shop, and he owes me. He’ll fix this up in a couple minutes, and it’ll be as good as new. Don’t worry about it.”
The eye-popping relief on the kid’s face tightened Richard’s throat to a searing ache. He sniffed, regaining a semblance of cool composure—the best acting he’d done all year.
It was nearly midnight when Richard slipped into his mom’s dark kitchen. He plunked down on a chair and laid his head on his arms. A warm hand clasped his shoulder. He didn’t need to look up.
Richard shook his head and groaned. He sat back and stared through the darkness at his mom’s rumpled figure in her long, shapeless bathrobe. “The director made me look like a fool, Kimberly showed me I was a fool, and some kid I don’t even know gave me a shot at redemption.”
His mom chuckled and sat down, her hand sliding over his. “You know, one good deed deserves another.”
Richard pressed his other hand on top of hers and grinned with the first joy he had felt all day. “It does.”
Novels by A. K. Frailey
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN
Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm
Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg
Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00