You Know It’s Real (One Day at a Time and Other Stories)
That’s Your Job (It Might Have Been and Other Stories)
Then He Saw
In this Self-Reflection Story, two characters who experienced similar losses, discover that despite their differences, they suffer much the same.
Patrick O’Donnell—never Pat or Patty, always Patrick—dropped his journal satchel onto the passenger side of his car, revved his silver Cruise to life, and headed down the quiet lane, a road that would eventually lead to a turnoff, heading onto I-70. This same lane, a mere twenty years ago, his wife had insisted, in her quirky preternatural insight, would lead them “home-sweet-home.” She had been right. About so many things. But not everything.
Her death from advanced brain cancer, two years and fourteen days previous, had hit him and his son and daughter like an avalanche of smoldering rock. Tige, now a man of eighteen, found happy distractions among his construction co-workers and weekends with the guys. Clare, just a tad over sixteen, suffered the lot of a high school teen without a mother to understand her daily trials and tribulations.
His hand tightening on the steering wheel, Patrick corralled his thoughts back to the matter at hand: an interview with one of the most prominent members of the entertainment world, Gabe Sable. An influencer with wide appeal.
Tucked into Patrick’s bag were a month’s worth of research notes and photos depicting his subject’s turbulent family history, marriage, rise in the publicity field, hints of alcoholism, a therapeutic leave of absence, divorce, the death of his ex-wife, raising two kids alone… The similarities to his own life had been duly noted. But those happenstance occurrences wouldn’t cloud his judgment one iota. Gabe was undoubtedly another glorified man-child in the playground of life. Patrick had seen so many. Thirty years of journalism had done little to improve his opinion of humanity. This recent headline writers’ strike only proved his point in block letters.
As he swung into the highway and motored to the appointed meeting in St. Louis, Patrick once again thanked his lucky stars that he had stuck to freelance work. Though he had no unionized protection, he had steadfastly remained his own man. As far as Patrick was concerned, that’s all that really mattered.
As far as luxurious suites went, Patrick had seen better. Though not shabby in the least, it didn’t shriek opulence like some meeting spots he’d seen in the past. Humanity’s deep need to impress usually trampled right over good sense and any possibility of decorum.
What is it with people and reporters? Everyone’s got to prove they’re special.
Gabe had answered the hotel door only half-dressed, hurried through a smattering of practiced apologies, and ran off to the bathroom to finish preparing himself. He’d had the courtesy to yell over his shoulder, “Sorry, I kinda lost track of time, but I called and ordered coffee and stuff. A variety. Should arrive in a minute. Be right there.”
Patrick sighed. Whatever. He charged by the hour, so if this guy wanted to pay extra to make up for being rude, so be it.
Taking in the surroundings, the immaculate queen-sized bed, media console built into the wall, kitchenette, plush couch and chairs, coffee table, and all the other amenities, Patrick felt drawn to the large window. He drew aside the curtains and let the view take his breath away.
Once upon a time, he had been a city guy. Loved the nightlife and roamed like a tomcat. But once he met Emily, all that had changed. Somehow or another that fragile-looking woman brought out the best in him, smoothing the rough edges, and teasing him over things she couldn’t change. They laughed. A lot.
“Quite a view, eh?”
Patrick swung around and faced a handsome man in his mid-forties. However, the guy wasn’t smiling. Unexpected that. Don’t handsome guys always smile? Wasn’t that part of their charm?
“Uh, yeah. Lovely.” Patrick eyed the bag he’d dropped on the chair. He had a sudden desire to grab it and riffle through his notes, recalling everything he knew to be true about the person in front of him.
Dressed in brown loafers, casual tan pants, and a loose blue shirt, Gabe padded to the window and faced the city. “You think so? I mean, St. Louis is a great city, with incredible history and all, but…” He shook his head. “I don’t know. Saw a lot of homeless folks on the ride in. Had my driver take me through the east side—thought he’d have a coronary.” Another shake of the head and a rueful grin. “My bad. I hadn’t realized… Another world, you know? Not a good one.” Grief entered his eyes. “Pretty far from lovely.”
A ting of fear rippled over Patrick. This wasn’t going to be a routine interview. The best part of a boring job was that you knew exactly what would happen next. It was also the worst part. He suddenly saw the contrast with brilliant clarity.
A knock on the door announced the coffee and “stuff.” Once the waiter had laid out the scrumptious assortment of sweetbreads, muffins, and other breakfast fares on the table, Gabe dug in like a guy who hadn’t eaten in a week. He poured strong coffee and handed Patrick a cup, assuming—correctly—that he drank it black.
Sitting on the plush chair, his notebook on his lap and his recorder on the table, Patrick eyed his client as he scarfed down a raisin nut muffin and sipped his coffee.
Time was a-wasting, so Patrick launched in. “I know that your business has taken a hit with recent events, so what’s your opinion on the writers’ strike? Who needs to give in and how soon will it get settled?”
Gabe blanched and rose from his chair. He returned to the window, still holding the steaming cup in his hands. He stared across the cityscape but didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. “I haven’t a clue.” He turned and faced Patrick. “I looked you up online. I know about your wife’s death. Raising your kids alone. A successful man who stayed on the job even when his life fell to pieces. That’s why I asked you to meet me. Your articles reflect a thoughtful mind. Guarded but sincere. I don’t need you to clarify my reputation. I don’t care about it anymore. Reputation, like influence, comes and goes. The one thing I actually did learn from therapy.”
Naked anguish filled Gabe’s eyes, terrifying Patrick almost beyond comprehension.
“My daughter Sarah isn’t doing well. A genetic condition that’s got the doctors baffled. Seizures and she faints out of the blue. Blair, my eldest, gave up a good position after graduating from college so that she could take care of Sarah full-time, but her eyes tell me that it won’t be for long. Just like with her mother, this horror just swept in and—” Gabe’s voice broke, and he hung his head, standing still and limp, a rag doll too well propped up to fall over.
Patrick’s jaw hurt from clenching so hard. This wasn’t what he’d expected…no one deserved…
Then he saw it. With horrifying clarity, he faced himself, like a man staring at his own reflection. They had both lost their wives, but somewhere in his soul, Patrick had figured that after drinking bouts and a divorce, Gabe had deserved to suffer. Not like him, who had tried to do everything right but still lost his wife. This rich, handsome guy, a big influencer, who’d been given a second, maybe even a third or fourth chance deserved whatever hell life had to throw at him. Right?
But not his kid…
Questions and justifications swirled in Patrick’s brain. Why not his kid? What about all the people he had hurt while drinking? What about the people who suffered from his bad judgment? Wasn’t it whispered by “those in the know” that he had spurred on the writers’ strike just so he could get some fresh blood in the stream?
Gabe collapsed on the couch and dropped his head onto his hands. “You don’t know what a fool I’ve been. All my life, I have chased after the ‘good things’ in life. But the only really good thing I have ever done”—his head jerked up, and he stared, devastated, right into Patrick’s eyes—“was father my children. I love them more than my own life. And I can’t protect them. Death and destruction creep up and kick the hell out of us no matter what.”
Clare’s red-rimmed eyes from a recent altercation with a girl at her school rose like a specter before Patrick’s eyes. At least, she was able to walk away and talk about it. Imagine if she had fainting spells…what would the other kids do? Clare would die of mortification…
Beyond all the years of training in the school of tough love, hard knocks, and you-deserve-what-you-get mentality, Patrick turned off his recorder, rose from his chair, and simply stood by the man. He faced the window.
When Gabe turned around, both their reflections stared back at them.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of eight.
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