David Koelth couldn’t believe his luck. Even if it was well-earned. He deserved it, really. The award had his name on it, after all: The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being.
David tossed the green apple leftover from lunch into the air and caught it handily. He leaned back in his swivel chair before his Richman Hill Executive Desk and surveyed his dingy office. Granted, he was on the top floor of the four-story building and had a decent view of the east side of town, but still, it was only a lecturer’s office. An assistant had it before him, for Heaven’s sake.
He glanced at his calendar marked in bold colors depicting the various hats he wore each day of the week. Educational Psychology Lecturer Mondays and Thursdays, Assistant Dean of the Health Department on Wednesdays and Fridays, Published Author working on his latest masterpiece—Wholly You—on Tuesdays (his favorite day of the week), and attentive Husband and Father Saturday and Sunday.
A yawn bubbled up from his middle. It was late on Friday afternoon, but he hadn’t been able to get much done. Constant interruptions!
First, Mildred from accounting had taken issue with his taxes. Something about a form that no one told him to fill out and now “they had to take a tiny snippet”—her exact word choice—from his salary to make everything come out “even-steven” at the end of the year. What? Did the woman eat archaic expressions for breakfast? He’d give her a thesaurus for Christmas.
Then coach Max waddled in from the ballfield. How such an overweight guy managed his role as athletics director stumped David. Must have relatives in high places. Or he knows where to get the choice meats and offers discounts for the university banquets. The strange thing about Max was that he never really explained anything. He spoke in eyebrows and syllables.
Eyebrows in the up position. “Eh, you o-kay?”
David spent a half-hour of his very valuable time trying to figure out why Max had hefted his way to his office.
Turning beet red and sweeping the floor with his gaze, Max just leaned on the door frame and stared through those bulbous eyes with dreary pleading. For what… Only God and the next empty container of dairy queen’s chocolate chip ice cream would know for certain. He had tossed him his apple. Maybe the guy would get a clue.
Finally, just when he was putting the last touches on his monthly planner, his wife, Ruth, had phoned and insisted that the hot water heater was broken. Lord have mercy. He had called the plumber three times this summer, and he sure as heck wasn’t doing it again. He could shower at work while she figured out what she was doing wrong. No way in hell he’d fork out another hundred bucks for plungers, pipes, or screwed-up thermostats. Wait till the season got cold, then he’d think about it. Probably all in her head anyway.
Oh well, time to head to the club and see what was on tap. He didn’t need a drink, but it’d be good to check on the guys and gals. Gossip was a university’s lifeblood, and he had no intention of becoming anemic anytime soon.
Surprisingly, no one at the club seemed in the mood to chat. Not with him anyway. Had he forgotten to use deodorant this morning? He sniffed. Nope. Nothing wrong with him. Must be a full moon. Everyone was acting weird, like they had been having a con-fab when he arrived but wouldn’t speak again till he left. He’d shrugged it off. If they wanted to get hot and bothered about sport’s team failures, a roller-coaster economy, or the latest-greatest plan to serve the community, he was glad he’d missed it.
Apparently, there were no faculty leaks about his upcoming award. He had looked for silent congratulations or the ever-present green-eyed monster, but nothing of the sort. Just a few head shakes and shrugs.
Who cares about them?
He drove through snarly traffic in anticipation of his wife’s Friday dinner special, his son, David Jr’s weekly school report, and his daughter, Lilly’s cuteness. He’d give David the pointers every high-school kid needed to be college-ready and enjoy the last days of Lilly’s childhood since he knew perfectly well that once she became a teen, she’d become unbearable. Inevitably, he’d have to distance himself so that she wouldn’t use him as a cash box.
After arriving at his two-story colonial house with wrap around porch, he parked the car in the attached garage and sauntered into the house.
“Honey, I’m home!”
He glanced around the quiet kitchen in the dim evening light. What’s going on? Where is everyone?
He laid his leather briefcase on the counter and headed to the living room. His heart nearly stopped. Books and magazines lay scattered as if they’d left the room in a hurry.
What a mess! Is this what he’d worked all day to come home to?
David pulled out his phone, ready to give hell to his wife, then order pizza for dinner since clearly nothing would be ready in time for his growling stomach.
The doorbell rang.
Who the—? He charged forward, ready to dispatch the devil himself.
But he didn’t need to. The devil already had plans.
David sat in the emergency room where his wife had just breathed her last, and the bodies of his children were stretched out nearby. The staff had brought them in so he could offer a personal goodbye.
He didn’t have anything to offer. He couldn’t think. Or feel.
A heavy tread paced forward.
David lifted his aching head and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
Max stopped before him and laid his meaty hand on David’s shoulder. His voice shook with emotion. “So—so sorry.”
That’s all it took, and David lost all power of speech. For once he listened.
“We planned a big celebration for tonight—the guys from the department, Ruth, family, and friends from all over were coming tonight. But Mildred—from accounting—fell and broke her wrist so she called Ruth. She and the kids hurried over to get the last details in place—except they never made it. A tired truck driver crossed the line. No one survived.” His eyes welled in tears. “And this was supposed to be your glory day.”
The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being echoed in David’s head like a devil’s cackle.
—Five Years Later—
Dave closed his computer, leaned back in his office chair, and stared out the window, grateful for the view of the quiet neighborhood. Friday again. I’ve got a lot to do.
Footsteps padded closer. Max stuck his head in the doorway, tossed David a ripe red apple, and grinned. “I heard the news.”
Catching the fruit with one hand, David smiled back at his friend. “No secret this time.”
After losing sixty pounds, Max could saunter into the room. “You deserve it. I can’t think of anyone else who has dedicated so much time and energy to others’ welfare as you have these past few years.”
David rose, grabbed his threadbare coat from the back of his chair, and tucked the apple into the pocket. “What I should’ve been doing all along.” He pointed to the door. “Want to meet at the track? I have a tutoring session at the community center in a couple of minutes, but I could meet you after that.”
“Sure!” Max’s grin widened, his eyes alight with happiness. “See what I mean; you’re always helping people. You encouraged me to give up death burgers and get healthy. The department heads are finally doing the right thing—naming the department after you, a man of well-being if ever I knew one.”
David patted Max on the shoulder as he headed for the door. “Thanks, my friend, but I had to refuse the honor.”
Startled, Max blinked, his mouth dropping open.
“Don’t feel bad. Maybe someday. But in the meantime,” David opened the door and crossed over the threshold, “I went through too much hell to forget—it’s best to wait till the fruit ripens to name the tree.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~Steven McEvoy
The collection creates an evocative set of separate yet somehow psychologically interconnected life scenarios that explore good intentions, real-world situations, and acts of quiet love, desperation, and redemption. ~Diane Donovan, Editor, California Bookwatch