The Garden, Chapter V

That afternoon Charlie was very close to being happy.  The conversation with LuAnn over breakfast, the gratitude shown to him by the homeowner at the bathroom project, and his time so far at the garden with Walt and Rachael was more human contact than Charlie had been indulged in for a very long time.  More important was the fact that this contact had caused pleasure instead of the pain that he was more familiar with.

Charlie and Rachael didn’t speak much as they removed the weeds from Charlie’s plot.  Charlie had already spoken more on this day than he had in the last week, and the exercise had left his mind fatigued.  He assumed that Rachael was decompressing from her day, which could have included children in situations as bad or worse than his own, and so he left her to her own thoughts.   In what seemed like no time at all they did meet in the middle, and Charlie wasn’t ready to end this pleasant moment so quickly.

“Well” Charlie said as they both reached laughingly for the last unlucky weed that poked its head above the ground next to a cucumber bed.  “We made short work of that project.”  Charlie wanted very much to remain with Rachael, even in silence, and so he asked “Would you like some help with your plot?”

Rachael smiled but declined Charlie’s offer.  “No, I think I’m done for the day.  My boyfriend has texted that he’s going to be in town early and would like to have dinner at his place.  I’ll have to do some shopping and get cleaned up before I go over there and help cook.”

Charlie received this news with mixed feelings.  He experienced satisfaction that his guess about Rachael’s life was so nearly accurate.  Tea, a cat, a book, a boyfriend; the picture was of a normal, healthy and thoroughly likable person.  Charlie felt what LuAnn would probably have called a blessing, in that Rachael was a person dealing with the hard things of life but who remained positive and even cheerful.  Charlie needed this in his life.

On the other hand, Charlie had to admit that a romantic chord had been minutely struck by the warm femininity of Rachael.  Charlie had noted what walt had been predictably quick to point out, and with little delicacy at that; Rachael was a beautiful person.  There was no thought in Charlie’s head that any sort of liaison could ever be established with Rachael.  Rather, he felt a loss of his youth and the time when such a relationship would have been possible.

“Oh,” Charlie replied.  “He has been traveling?”

“He’s a pilot” Rachael said.  “He’s in the Air Force but he will be resigning soon.  He’ll try to get on with an airline that flies out of Portland.  It’s hard to know exactly when he’ll be around, so it goes like this a lot.  I’ll see you around here though, and I’ll take you up on your offer some other time.”

“Make sure that you do” Charlie said, and waved good bye.

Standing alone in his garden, Charlie felt his old emptiness clawing back up from the sewer into which it had been flushed by the return to the living that Charlie had experienced over the last day.  Rachael was young and had a boyfriend who, as an Air Force pilot, was obviously a guy with a good head on his shoulders and an eye to his future.  Charlie could never again be in the place where this young couple were now.

But he had been there once.  Charlie thought about the Maureen he had known when they were in high school.  Maureen was a senior and Charlie a junior when they met, and such distinctions were hugely important at that time of life.  Maureen was a very pretty girl; not a striking beauty but certainly attractive enough to catch the eye of more than a few boys at school.  She was aware of it too, as most attractive girls are.  A gaggle of goofy, awkward boys trying to show off and attract her attention was a regular part of Maureen’s daily existence.

Charlie was different however.  On the first day of school Maureen found him sitting next to  her in French class.  This was unusual, since most boys found French too effeminate to want to learn it, and if they had to take a language class it was usually Spanish or German.  Charlie explained later that he wanted to travel to France some day and had heard that French people responded more positively to tourists, and especially American ones, if they could speak some of the national language.

They talked together before class, then studied together in the library, and after Charlie’s drive to succeed in life had sufficiently impressed Maureen’s vigilant father, she was finally permitted to date Charlie.  The romance bloomed and was conducted in good order.  When Charlie asked Maureen’s father for permission to marry his daughter, he was more than happy to approve.  Charlie now thought about that tenderness that he had shared with Maureen as he watched Rachael strap her safety belt and drive away from the garden.  “I hope that he deserves her” Charlie thought, “and I hope that they’re both careful.”

Today, unlike the so-recent past, Charlie didn’t feel like giving into his demons.  He wanted companionship and he did not feel like going home to wrestle with those demons in silence and despair.  Unfortunately, his list of relational opportunities was short.  Charlie looked over at the plot where Walt was building a trellis for his green beans.  “Well” he thought.  “Beggars can’t be choosers.”  With a sigh and a deep breath Charlie walked over to Walt’s plot.

“Need any help?” he asked.

“Nope” Walt replied.  “But I wouldn’t mind if you gave me a little anyway.”

Vintage Walt” Charlie thought, and then he walked over to Walt’s plot.

“That’s a pretty little girlfriend you’ve got there” Walt said as they cut and nailed together the pieces of a trellis that would reach seven feet into the air.

“You must be seeing somebody that I’m not” replied Charlie.  “Rachael has a boyfriend already, and I suspect that he’s a lot younger and a whole lot prettier than either one of us.  She’s a good kid though, and I am glad that I can call her a friend.”  And then Charlie thought “She’s my only friend, as far as that goes.”

“Ah, that’s the way it goes” Walt answered.  “Nobody gives maturity and wisdom the respect they deserve anymore.”  Then Walt laughed and continued.  “They don’t give me any respect either.”

Charlie allowed himself a chuckle at that and busied himself tying strings first horizontally across the frame they had just built and then hanging strings vertically from the cross piece, making six inch squares of string that would allow the bean plants to climb and spread to their hearts’ content.  Walt was not accustomed to much company when he worked his garden and took full advantage of the opportunity.

“You know, Tom doesn’t like the idea of seven foot trellises at this garden.”  Tom was the chairman of the garden committee.  “He says that the shade will affect the plot to the east of mine.  That, of course, is a major crock of shit.  Stephanie – that’s who rents that plot – doesn’t care, so Tom an sit on it and swivel.”

“I know” Charlie responded.  “I’ve read the regulations.  They allow for five feet.  Is the extra two feet worth it?”

“You bet your ass it is.  That two feet will produce bags of beans and besides, I don’t like people telling me that I can’t do something just because they don’t like it.  If he asked me nicely I might – might – lop off a couple of feet, but throwing a rule book in my face isn’t going to get him anywhere with me.  He can screw himself.”

In an hour’s time the trellis was built and strung, and a big chunk of the plot was weeded too.  Charlie didn’t enjoy Walt’s company nearly as much as he did Rachael’s, but he found it vastly preferable to returning to the silence of his own apartment.  Walt, on the other hand, had accomplished all that he wished to for the day and was ready to leave the garden.

“That’s enough for me” he said, and perhaps he noticed the look of disappointment on Charlie’s face.  “Say, I’m getting together with a couple of guys tonight at the Smelly Socks.  You feel like coming along and hoisting some suds?”

“The Smelly Socks?” Charlie asked.

“Oh.  Sorry.  I mean the Key and Lock.  It’s a pub on the east side of Vancouver.  We sort of gave it our own name.  Anyway, on Thursday nights a couple of guys and I get together and have a few drinks.  You’re welcome to come if you’d like.”

“Charlie thought about that for a moment.  “We sort of gave it our own name” Walt had said.  “More likely Walt gave it that name” Charlie thought.  Charlie remembered the pub that he had sat in almost a week ago.  He had wondered on that evening if it was possible that Walt was in there, and he couldn’t avoid the memory that he had wanted Walt to be there.  Now he had a chance to make that wish a reality.

“Yeah.  I think I can do that.”  he said.  “What time?”

“We get there around six thirty.  You really going to come?”

“Maybe” Charlie said, backtracking just a little bit.  “If I don’t have anything else to do.”  Charlie laughed silently to himself as he pondered the departure from reality that his statement represented.  Charlie then gathered his tools and stashed them in the bed of his truck.  The gloves and goggles once again reminded him of the safety belt, and he imagined that Rachael was looking as he buckled himself into his seat.  “Oh great” he thought.  “Now I have a mother again.”

Charlie returned his tools to the shed and then drove to his apartment.  A crowd of people were on the lawn in front of the building which included the mother and kids whom he had seen several days earlier.  He nodded in her direction and gave a little wave.  She waved back, looking embarrassed in front of the others who noticed this exchange, and Charlie plunged into the building and down the hallway to his apartment.

Inside it was the same as always; silent and dark.  Today however it was stuffy, since Charlie had lowered the window.  He opened it again and then turned his attention to getting ready for the evening.  The refrigerator was empty, he remembered, and his entire wardrobe needed washing.  “Shoot” he thought, and looked at the clock in the kitchen.  “Five thirty.  I can eat or I can go dirty; one or the other.”

Charlie opted to go clean.  Taking a chance on the apartment laundry room being functional and available, he removed his clothes and stuffed everything he had into two trash bags and, wearing a bathrobe, went to the laundry room.  To his surprise and relief the room was empty and the machines all seemed to be working.  He stuffed his clothes into the washer and then returned to his apartment.  Charlie knew that he had forty minutes to wait for the wash cycle to complete, and then about fifteen minutes to wait for the dryer (if it wasn’t busy by then).  He would be late, no matter what, but that was OK.  He expected that the party would start without him just fine.

And it did.  Walt was at the Key and Lock early so that he could secure a table, and also in order that he could get going on his first beer.  He ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon, reasoning that the price was right and that he didn’t need any froo-froo craft stuff.  “A beer’s a beer” he said, and none dared contradict his statement.  In short order four other men showed up and ordered their drinks, and the night was on.

Charlie arrived at nearly seven o’clock, hungry but cleanly dressed in clothes still warm from the dryer.  He could hear his party before he could see them.  The unmistakable voice of Walt rang out above the rock music coming out of speakers hung from the ceiling and the white noise of the crowd.

“I don’t give a damn how much of an asshole Saddam Hussein was.  He kept those other crazy bastards under control, and after thousands of good men died we’re in deeper shit over there than we ever were before!”

“Yeah” Charlie thought.  “That has to be Walt.

It was indeed Walt.  Charlie walked in the direction of the voice and soon spotted Walt and his companions.  Upon seeing Charlie, Walt pointed at him and laughed out loud.  “Well I’ll be damned.  Made a liar out of me twice in one day.  Gentlemen,” he looked at his companions and said, “this is the loser I said might be joining us tonight.  I see it and so I have to believe it.”

“I must be getting used to Walt” Charlie thought.  He took no offense at this rough greeting and actually smiled.   “Yeah Walt.  I told you today that I just do it to piss you off.”  Walt laughed at that and made introductions.  The server took Charlie’s order and returned with a cold mug of pale ale and a plate of nachos.  Walt returned to his debate.

“Ted here thinks the Iraq War was justified and I think he’s wrong as hell.  what do you think?” Walt asked Charlie.

“Uh, I don’t know” Charlie responded.  I didn’t follow it much.  I was busy 24/7 with my business and didn’t pay a lot of attention.  I’ll let you guys solve this problem.”

“Look” Ted began.  “We were locking horns with Saddam Hussein already.  He gassed the Kurds and then he shot at our planes.  Then the 9/11 attacks happened and right after that people in high places started receiving letters filled with anthrax.”

“Yeah” Walt interjected.  “So what?  That anthrax came from somebody over here.”

“But we didn’t know that”  Ted responded.  “Saddam was developing anthrax.  We knew that.  He had already used chemical weapons on the Iranians and the Kurds, so there was no reason to believe that he wouldn’t use them on us.  And every western intelligence agency said that he was working on building a nuke.  Hell, even the Russians said that.  If Bush hadn’t gone into Iraq and another attack had occurred the country would have been yelling for his scalp, and you would be too.”

“Bullshit” Walt thundered.  “Bush wanted Saddam’s hide because he tried to kill Daddy Bush.  That was just using American soldiers for his own personal revenge.”

“Maybe so” Ted allowed.  “All the same, it’s not smart to try to assassinate the father of the American Commander in Chief, wouldn’t you say?”

And so it went.  As the evening passed and more beer went down the hatch, Charlie got to know the others at the table.  Ted was thirty two years old and a veteran of the war in Iraq.  Joe was in his forties and was not a veteran.  Billy, also thirty two, was a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and Dom, who was of indeterminate age, was a veteran who didn’t talk about where he had served or what he had done there.  Nobody asked, either.

Charlie sat quietly between Billy and Dom, mostly listening to the conversation.  He learned that Ted, Billy and Dom were members of a counseling group for post traumatic stress disorder with Charlie that was operated by the local VA hospital.  Each of them carried scars from their war experiences and had suffered from the raw experience of returning to ‘normal’ life.  They sought to unload as much of that weight in counseling as they could.  Joe availed himself of counseling in the private market for some unspecified issue which had troubled his life.  He was a friend of Ted’s and fit in well with these guys who had trouble fitting in at all.

These men said nothing that night about their counseling experience.  Walt later explained that those sessions were something almost sacred.  What was said there stayed there, and therefore anything and everything could be said there freely.  They could sit at that table for hours, putting away more and more of their favorite adult beverages, and never speak of what was said in their counseling sessions.  Everything else though was fair game.  It was Joe who opened up the next argument.

“It’s hard to win a war against people who are so sure that they have god on their side that they’ll blow themselves up to make that god happy.”

Walt groaned out loud.  “God!  Why did humanity ever curse itself with this god fantasy?  How many people have to die before we throw religion into the trash where it belongs?”

“I thought there were no atheists in foxholes” Ted said.  “Were you an atheist when you were in Vietnam?”

“I didn’t think about it much one way or the other to begin with, but after seeing Dickey Baldwin’s brains and guts splattered against a sandbagged wall I decided that no god would allow that to happen, or if there was one, he must be one miserable son of a bitch.

“But it wasn’t God who dropped a rocket on Dickey” said Dom.  “It was the Viet Cong.”

“Yeah, but any god worth believing in would have stopped the Cong from shooting that rocket” Walt said.

“LBJ could have stopped the Cong from firing that rocket by not putting our soldiers over there”  Ted chimed in.  “I would be a lot more pissed at LBJ than I would be at God.  Any God that I would believe in – and I do believe in Him – would have to be one who lets me make my own choices.  Sometimes though, I make bad choices.  Then I or somebody else has to pay for them.  LBJ made choices.  That Cong made choices.  You made choices.  Hell, Dickey made choices.  Sometimes those choices get us into trouble.  God’s trying to get us out of trouble.  Paid a pretty high price too.  But He’s not going to do it by removing our freedom to make choices.”

“Oh, so god comes down and tells you all of this bullshit over coffee in the morning I suppose” Walt said.

“As a matter of fact He does” Dom replied.  “He makes one heck of a pour-over too.  A lot better than that seal piss that you brew up when we go fishing.”

The table erupted into laughter and high fives were given.  When the laughter died down Billy picked up the conversation once again.  “I don’t really know if I believe in god or not.  I probably don’t.  I was raised Catholic but I’ve seen so much death and pain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hell, you can see it here, or in South Chicago, or any emergency room in any city.  I have trouble believing that god would allow this much pain.  At some point he should just say ‘Enough, children.  Play nicely.’  I would be fine with the pain if it was only the assholes of the world who took it in the shorts, but a lot of the time it isn’t them who suffer.  I’ve seen dead kids.  Kids with their legs blown off.  Who the hell did they piss off and why?  No, I don’t think any god that I would want to believe in would let stuff like that happen.  I’m not saying that I know.  That’s just what I think at this time.

Well, now, let’s think some more about it” Dom interjected.  “How are you going to know there’s something wrong if it doesn’t hurt?  My uncle Louie has diabetes and he can’t feel his feet.  If he gets a cut or a blister on his foot it doesn’t hurt.  If he doesn’t check his feet every day, he could have a problem that could cost him a foot or even a leg.  Pain would be a good thing for him.”

Ted picked up that thread.  “Yeah.  My wife’s aunt had some sort of female cancer, I don’t know what kind really.  Anyway, it didn’t hurt and so she didn’t know that it was there.  By the time that they found it on a routine checkup it had spread all over and killed her within six months.  That is, unless it was the drugs that they gave her that killed her.  So you’re saying that the pain that is caused by people who make bad choices, even when it falls on people who had no part in making that choice or even people who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, is allowed by God in order to remind us that we screwed things up and he’s trying to fix it but it isn’t put back together yet.”

“Yeah” Dom replied.  “That’s pretty much it.  We have a problem and we don’t have a way to fix it by ourselves, so even if I don’t personally feel the pain, and instead I see a starving child, that reminds me that something’s rotten.  Then I have the option to feed that child and make the world a little better, or shine it on and make the world a little worse.  God uses our choices in a lot of ways, and  pain in the world serves to keep me from getting too comfortable with things the way they are.”

“Well, that’s just horse shit” Walt declared.  I can see well enough that things are wrong without a bunch of psalm-singing Bible thumpers having to tell me.  I see people who don’t have good food to eat and so I grow it for them.  No god calls me up while I’m eating breakfast and tells me that I ought to do that.  I have free will and I make my own choice, and I chose to feed people.  The ones who don’t piss me off anyway.  And I don’t need no god to make me do it.

Dom, in his slow and thoughtful speech, stepped in again.  “But Walt, why do you feel that it’s wrong that people don’t have enough to eat in the first place?  If the universe is ruled by the laws of physics – and we won’t even start talking about where those laws came from – then what makes it wrong that somebody you don’t know, or somebody that you DO know for that matter, eats his fill or dies of starvation?  Is it wrong that a rock rolls down a hill and breaks in two at the bottom?  Is it wrong that a tree is shattered by lightening?  Is it wrong that a lion cub is killed by a male lion who takes over the pride from that cub’s vanquished father?  Something makes even your unbelieving old ass know that a starving child is wrong.  I believe that something is God.”

“So you’re saying that I’m obeying a god that I don’t even believe in” Walt asked.

“Yep.  That pretty much says it.” Dom replied.

“Horse shit” Walt declared again, and then he looked at Charlie.  “I haven’t heard a peep out of you tonight.  What do you think about all of this?”

Charlie gulped at suddenly being on the spot in such an intense conversation.  His mouth went dry, and he took a long pull on his mug of beer to wet his tongue.  He finally put down his mug and replied.

“I don’t know much about religion, and I don’t care about it much either.  It wasn’t big in my house when I grew up.  After my Dad left, Mom began to go to church but I didn’t have any time for it.  I always thought that it was OK for people who needed a crutch or something, but I always intended to make it on my own two feet.  And I always hated it when people would try to scare me with hell and the devil and all of that.  I thought that a guy in a red suit with a tail and a pitchfork was a pretty sorry attempt to scare me anyway.  Sitting on a cloud and playing the harp forever doesn’t sound like eternal good times either.  It all sounded pretty childish to me; like a fairy tale or something.  So I guess I just don’t know enough about it or care enough about it to give you much of an answer.  Besides, I got Socrates over here – Charlie pointed across his chest towards Billy – and Plato next to me over here – and he pointed across his chest the other way towards Dom – so why would I want to say anything at all?”

The table was silent for a moment and then Walt burst out laughing.  “A fine answer, young man!”  he declared, and Billy and Dom pounded Charlie on the back while they too laughed and then ordered another round of beers, paying for Charlie’s.  From that point the conversation turned more into a one-on-one scenario, with the men talking to their neighbors or across the table.  Charlie found Dom to be a very thoughtful and likable person, but it was Billy that he was most comfortable with and with whom he talked the most, when he talked at all.  About sports or politics or the news of the day, Charlie knew little.  He had tuned out of life some time ago and those topics were not on his radar of late.  Billy was a hunter though, and that was something that Charlie had once enjoyed.

Charlie also learned that Billy lived on a disability payment after having his right leg and foot badly injured in Afghanistan.  He could get around well enough but he was usually experiencing pain in that extremity.  Billy tried to go back to school and learn a trade, but the trauma that he had suffered in his military service made it hard to concentrate.  He planned to try again now that he was on medication and was being helped by the counseling that he and these other guys were receiving.  Charlie also learned that Billy lived in a small cottage at the back of his parents’ property, and that it was in need of repairs that neither Billy nor his parents could afford to make.

Charlie thought about Walt, hard-bitten and crusty as anyone he had ever known, and carrying his own load of whatever emotional garbage weighed him down, and yet still pouring himself into growing food so that poor people could eat.  If Walt could do that, why couldn’t Charlie do something like it?  At length he decided that he could, in fact, do just that.

“Would you like for me to take a look at your place?” Charlie asked Billy.  “I’m pretty good with that sort of thing and I would be happy to at least see what your problems are and what it would take to fix them.”  Billy was reluctant to accept what he called ‘charity’, but Charlie was persuasive, somewhat to his own surprise, and at length Billy agreed and let Charlie write his phone number on a napkin.  Charlie didn’t carry his phone with him much of the time and didn’t know that one of this group’s rules was that they leave their phones home when they come together at the Smelly Socks.  Charlie felt a closeness to Billy that surprised him, and as the evening progressed he found that simple conversation on a variety of topics became more and more easy to maintain.

It was almost 9:30 when Charlie looked up at the clock behind the bar.  He had never been one for late night activities and excused himself from the circle of men.  Charlie didn’t want to leave, and envied the others who expressed warm good-bye’s to him and then continued with their evening.

Charlie made his way to his truck and then drove the few miles to his apartment in silence.  He had never thought about his apartment much since he had moved into it.  It was simply a place to exist while he trudged through what passed for a life.  Tonight, after enjoying the closest thing to camaraderie that he had since the death of his daughter, the specter of spending the night in what amounted to a tomb for the living produced a vague sense of dread in him.

  “Come on, Charlie” he thought as he drove through the city streets, preferring that route to the freeway because it would take him longer to get home.  “You’ve got to sleep somewhere, and one place is as good as another.  Just do what you have always done; walk through the door, remove your clothes, lay down, and be still until dawn, sleeping as much as you can along the way.”

Upon arriving at his apartment Charlie remembered that he still had nothing to eat in his kitchen.  He had eaten breakfast at Leroy’s that morning, had beer and nachos at the Key and Lock, and could not justify another restaurant breakfast the next morning.  There was a new grocery store not far from his apartment; one of the organic hippty dippty places that rich people, health food nuts and Portland hipsters shopped at.  Charlie decided that he should purchase a few things to get him over until the next afternoon, and drove the five blocks to the store.

The Western State L&S wasn’t really a cooperative store, but it looked like one.  Organic this and non-GMO that was everywhere.  Tie-dyed shawls and incense in infinite variety were sold next to aisles which carried pills, powders and potions of every conceivable variety of vitamin, mineral, and whatever other substance was needed to address every possible bodily and spiritual need.  Charlie looked with awe at this array of what he thought of as fluff as he walked to the meat cooler, where he was surprised to find, between the turkey bacon and vegetarian bacon a package of bacon that really came from a pig.  From the produce section he selected potatoes, apples and oranges, and, just for a change of pace, Charlie picked up a head of broccoli.  “I guess somebody eats this stuff, and maybe I should try a little of it too” he thought.  Some cheese and deli meat rounded out Charlie’s food needs for the next day.

As Charlie began to cross the store to go through the check-out he saw, tucked into a corner, several shelves with flowers on them.  The color was what caught Charlie’s eye and he stopped in his tracks.  “Flowers” he thought.  “When was the last time that I bought flowers?”  And then he remembered that it was when they put flowers on Stevie’s casket.  “Fuck a bunch of flowers” he growled and walked towards the check-out.

But as Charlie stood in line and waited for his turn to pay, the flowers stayed in the corner of his vision.  “It wasn’t the flowers’ fault that Stevie died” he thought.  “The flowers we bought then could have just as easily been for a wedding, or an anniversary.  They’re pretty, and I like the color.  Ah, to hell with it!”  

Charlie surrendered to the growing urge to buy some flowers and take them into the sepulcher that was his apartment.  In the past any thought of flowers would only fuel his despair, as he remembered the pile of flowers that had rested on Stevie’s casket.  Tonight the flowers were not fingers that pointed back to the worst time in Charlie’s life.  Tonight they were just flowers.  Bits of color arranged to give a little pleasure to the eye and, maybe even a bit of a scent, and nothing more.  Charlie wheeled and walked back to the racks of flowers.

He picked out an inexpensive bunch that had a little white, a little pink, and a little red in it.  It didn’t come in a vase, but Charlie already knew what he was going to do about that.  He then walked back to the check-out area, paid for his purchases and drove home.  This time he parked his truck and walked straight to his apartment, stepping over a puddle of liquid on the front porch that he was pretty certain that he didn’t want to walk through.  He entered his apartment, put his bacon and broccoli in the refrigerator, cut the stems of his flowers a little bit shorter and then put the flowers in his coffee pot.

    “It’s a better flower pot than it is a coffee pot” Charlie thought.  He turned on the television, like he usually did, and turned off the lights before undressing and stretching out on the sofa.  Tonight however he had a pot of flowers on the small table at the side of the T V set.  In the darkness he couldn’t see the colors, but he knew that they were there and it made a difference.

As he lay in the dark, feeling the cool air come in through the open window, he thought about his day.  LuAnn at Leroy’s had shown him kindness and spoken to him of blessings.  The homeowner where he was working showed him gratitude, and repaid him for simply being ethical and alerting her to a design flaw.  Rachael had trusted him and shared her time and self with him, and Walt had introduced him to an evening of being normal, hanging out with other guys dealing with pain just as real and deep as was his own.

Tonight Charlie sensed a well-being that was new to him.  He was striving for nothing and hiding from nothing.  He would get a good night’s sleep and finish his job tomorrow or maybe the next day.  He would see what he could do to help Billy and he had a coffee pot full of flowers sitting on his little table, and he loved knowing that they were there.  Tonight, Charlie went to sleep a happy man for the first time in longer than he could remember.

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