The Garden, Chapter XVII

“This is an amazing story” D’Andra said as Charlie finished telling of his visit home, the call from the Prentisses, and his status with Carolyn’s business.  Charlie smiled around a large bite of a soft, warm brownie.  He had already put in several hours at his remodel project this morning and was now engaged with D’Andra on his weekly session.  After that he would turn to address Carolyn’s situation. He had passed up breakfast because he knew that something good would be coming out of D’Andra’s oven as soon as he got there.  Salome, who had gotten used to Charlie by now, lay curled up in his lap, purring while he scratched her behind the ears.

“So your father was not at all the absent, inconsequential figure that you thought he was.  Perhaps he had a part in making you afraid to make connections with others, but it could be that your mother’s trust issues as a result of her disappointment heightened the effect of that inability.  You said that you got along with your mother well while you were in San Diego.  Was that the result of effort on your part?”

“Maybe a little in some places, but mostly the answer is no.  It just seemed to flow for the most part.  She is a little bit angry at Maureen for keeping her grandson from her, and that bothered me, but we were more like two broken people leaning on each other for support.”

“Hmm.  It doesn’t usually work that way, but could be.  I’ll just be blunt about this. Charlie, you’re doing better than a lot of people do when they’ve been in session for only as long as you have.  Heck, some people never do as well as you are doing.  I have a theory, for what it’s worth.  You were just ready for a change, and the time was right.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that your sister in law advised you to get out of your apartment, or that Rachael and, what was his name?”

“Walt” Charlie answered.

“Oh yes, Walt.  It was extremely fortuitous that they were there to give you your first support.  But most of this just falls on you, and I can hardly express how glad I am for you.  So, what are you going to do about Carolyn’s problem?

First thing will be to hire another crew while I pressure her general to improve his work without running him off.  Once I get a crew ready, I’ll send him packing and take over those responsibilities myself.  I called an old friend who’s doing well in his own business and he put me onto a young guy who sounds promising.  I trust my friend’s opinion, and the new guy will be available in two weeks.  By then I should have reconnected with some plumbing and electrical and other tradesmen that I used to know, and then I will accompany Carolyn when she gives her guy the bum’s rush.”

“Are you expecting confrontation?” D’andre asked.

“No, not really.  She won’t be vicious; it’s not her nature, as far as I can tell.  It’s just that she hired him, and she thinks it’s her duty to let him go.  She’s a pretty gutsy and remarkable person.”

“She sounds like she is.  OK.  Let’s move on to the main event.  You are going to respond to your ex-wife’s phone message, I presume?”

“Oh, yes.  No doubt.  I’m going to reply by email.  It just seems like speaking person to person, even on the phone, is just too personal after all that we’ve been through.  Besides, I can think and express myself better if I have the time to do it.  I’ve been turning over in my mind what I’m going to say, but I still don’t know exactly what that will be.  I do know one thing however.  Whatever I say, it will be the absolute truth.”

“That is a very good idea Charlie.  No matter the outcome, your best chance of making the most of this opportunity will be by being as honest as you can.  Any other strategy will usually backfire on you.”

Charlie chuckled at that.  “Yeah, that’s what my friend LuAnn told me yesterday morning, only she said that any lie would come around and bite me in the backside.  She didn’t use the word ‘backside,’ but you get the picture.”

“Yes, I do” D’Andra said with a chuckle of her own.

“And that’s not all that she said.  She also said that if I fall flat on my face, at least I won’t land with a lie in my mouth.”

“I have simply got to meet this woman!” D’andre exclaimed.  “Except that doing so would violate just about every principle of my profession.  Anyway, perhaps we can talk a little bit about what you want to say to Maureen.”

The two then entered a discussion that lasted for most of the rest of the hour.  Charlie decided that, whatever message he sent, it had to go out this evening.  Billy had a laptop which he could borrow, which would make it much easier to compose his message than doing so on his phone would be.  He called Billy and learned that he would be home all afternoon and evening.  “Good” he said.  “I should be home about five.”

After leaving D’Andra’s he drove to Carolyn’s house.  She was busy in her office when he arrived and they had a brief meeting in the kitchen.

“I’m going to stay home today” she said.  “I’m angry, and that’s not a good way to do business.  What can you tell me about finding a replacement?”

“Well, basically, I propose that I be your replacement.  I can do more for you with a hammer in my hand than I can by walking around with a clipboard and a title of consultant.”

“You must know that I wanted to hear exactly that.  So, go on.”

“I called a guy I know from before the accident; a good man, somebody I trust.  He’s swamped with work now but he knows somebody who’s new.  My friend; Manny Baca of Gomez, Baca and Sons.  Do you know of them?

“Yes, I’ve seen their signs around town.”

“Well, Manny Baca is as good as they come, but like I said, he’s busy.  He has referred me to a guy named Pavel Kolochek.  He says that this guy will give you an honest day’s work.  If Manny says so, it’s probably true.”

“I’m all good with that.  When can he start?”

“Not for a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I’m rounding up some other subcontractors; plumbing, electrical, tile, and so forth.  It won’t take long.  I still have connections.  So I’m going to go back to the jobs.  If the general’s there, uh, what’s his name?  I think you said it was Jackson or something like that?”

“Yes.  Gerald Jackson, and he likes to make sure that you call him Gerald, too.  I don’t know if you’ll find him there.  I usually have to call him and set up an appointment.”

“It doesn’t matter too much if I see him or not” Charlie said with a smile.  “I think he’ll be making an appointment with me pretty soon if I don’t.”

Carolyn cracked a devilish smile and said “I’d like to be a fly on the wall when that meeting happens.”

“You can if you want.  You’re the boss.”

“No, I think I’ll lay low for now.  I think that would be for the better.  Well, I believe that I should put my nose to the grindstone and drum up some business for after these three jobs are done.  I’ve got some plans based on a timeline for when these jobs should be finished.  I’d like for you to look them over and tell me if they are realistic.”

“I’ll go over them tonight, after I – – -.”

“After what, Charlie?”

“Uh, well, I hate to mix personal stuff with business.  It’s a good duty that I have to do tonight though.  It won’t affect my work.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Do you need some time to take care of your business?  This can wait for a little bit.”

“No, that’s OK.  I’ll have time for both.”

Charlie sat and thought for a moment, and then spoke again.  “What it is, is that I’m composing an email to send to my ex wife.  As you know, I want to become involved with my son’s life again.  She has agreed to communicate with me, and I’m trying to decide what to say in what may be my one chance to set her mind at ease that I’m not trying to enter into her life or begin making legal claims or anything like that.  I just want to do the right thing by my son, even if I don’t fully know what the right thing is.”

Carolyn’s expression softened as she felt the impact of his words.  “Charlie, you take as much time as your need.  I never had a son.  I never had any child, so I never had a chance like you have now.  I won’t say any more about this.  I have no right to poke my nose into your business.  I think what you’re doing is the right thing to do and a brave thing at that.  You go and get to it.”

“Thank you” Charlie said after a moment.  “I appreciate that.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and cause a little trouble.”

“Go sir, and with my blessing!”

Charlie arose from his chair and said goodbye, and the  walked through the door and out to his truck.  His mind had shifted from thoughts of Jack back to thoughts of a contractor named Jackson, and how he would handle this character  he started the truck and looked back at the house, and saw that Carolyn was still standing in the door.  He waved to her and she waved back, and then he drove off toward the first house that they had visited the day before.

When he arrived at the job site he was pleasantly surprised to find a big, shiny Ford F350 with a short bed, one that couldn’t carry much that was needed for construction and obviously had never been intended to do so.  “That’ll be Mr. Jackson’s truck” Charlie thought.

Sure enough, Gerald Jackson was there.  He looked pleasant enough, and Charlie could see how a person could be put at ease by his air of confidence and competence.  Charlie knew better though.

“Hello” he said as he walked into the open garage where Jackson and two workers were standing.

“Hello” Jackson replied.  “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yes, there is.  My name’s Charlie Hamer.  I’m a consultant for construction affairs for Carolyn Preston.  She’s hired me to act as liaison between her and the construction end of her business.  Are you Jerry Jackson?”

The man stiffened visibly and said “Gerald.  That’s Gerald Jackson.”

“Oh, pardon me.  My mistake.  Anyway, I wonder if you could show me around; get me up to speed on the progress here.”

“Carolyn didn’t say anything to me about any consultant.  What are you trying to pull here?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  She didn’t let you know?  Well, she’s a pretty busy lady, you know.  We could get her on the phone and let her explain my position and duties here, but the short version of that is that I inspect the work and keep her informed of it’s quality and progress.  It’s sort of like being a building inspector, you know.  Would you like to call her?”

“Yes, I would.  I’ll be back.”

Gerald Jackson stalked back to his truck and soon Charlie could see him on the phone.  He didn’t look all that happy.  “Crap” Charlie thought, “I hope she doesn’t run this shitbird off just yet. I guess I might find some subs on short notice, but I’d hate to have to worry about that at this point in time.”

Finally Jackson left his truck and returned to where Charlie was standing.  He didn’t look happy, but he didn’t look like he was pulling out, either.

“OK, you check out” he said.  “So what do you want to consult on first?”

“Charlie responded to the dig with a faint smile.  “Maybe you could show me around?  It would probably be best if I started by taking a look underneath the house.  I should also like to take a look in the attic.”  Charlie knew that Gerald Jackson was not going to crawl under any houses in his nice clothes and shiny shoes.

“I’ll have my foreman walk through the place with you” he said.  “Lester!”

He waved at an older man with a wiry build, a two day stubble on his face and a yellowish cast to his skin.  “Lester, this here’s Mr. Charlie Hamer.  He’s Mrs. Preston’s consultant for construction and he would like to be shown around.”  Disdain was thick in Jackson’s voice.

“Hamer?” Lester said.  “Charlie Hamer?”

“That’s right” Charlie replied.  “Charlie Hamer.  I’m here to observe construction activities for Mrs. Preston.”

“You the Charlie Hamer what used to build half of everything that got build in Clark County?”

“I stayed busy” Charlie answered with a grin.  “You’ve been working here in Vancouver for a while, I take it?”

“Yes sir” Lester responded.  “Word got around among the tradesmen ‘bout – – -, well, what I mean to say is that I just want to offer my condolences.  Us worker bees knew you as a fair man to work for.”

“Well thank you, Lester.  I appreciate that.  I really do.”  Charlie extended his hand and shook Lester’s gnarled paw.  Meanwhile, Gerald Jackson stood by with his jaw hanging open, completely ignored by both men.

“Would you be so good as to show me the plumbing and subfloor from underneath this unit?”

“It’d be a pleasure Mr. Hamer.”

Charlie thanked Jackson for his ‘help’ and walked away with Lester, leaving  the crestfallen contractor alone and ignored in the middle of an unpoured driveway.

Charlie spent another two hours with Lester, visiting all three properties in the process.  He really didn’t need to crawl under the houses again; that had been mostly a part of his plan for twisting Gerald Jackson’s tail and getting his attention.  He did compare notes with Lester however, and at the end of those two hours he had a set of lists divided into three parts that would need to be addressed before these projects could be called finished, and they were 1) that which was unacceptable and must be fixed, 2) that which with a few adjustments would be barely acceptable, and 3) that which remained to be completed, and done so properly.

“Lester” Charlie said at the end of his inspection tour.  “I would like for you to put your crew on these projects first.”  Charlie pointed to category number one.  “I’m guessing you know the difference between crap and industry standard?”

“Yes sir, that I do” Lester replied.  “And I do industry standard work when I’m allowed to.”

“Well, you’re allowed to now.  How many men do you have?”

“There’s four of us.  One’s an apprentice, but he’s pretty good.”

“OK.  I estimate this work should take two, maybe three days to finish.  A day and a half for most of it, and the rest just sanding and texturing some drywall.  When’s the driveway going to be poured?”

“I don’t know.  Mr. Jackson has not mentioned it to me.”

“Well, it’s been scheduled, hasn’t it?”

“If it has, I don’t know about it.

“Holy shit!”

“Mr. Jackson doesn’t tell us much more than we need to know, sir.  Speaking of Mr. Jackson, he told us to do other stuff besides what you’re saying.  Does a consultant trump a contractor?  And what the hell is the difference between a consultant and a contractor anyway?”

“The difference is that a consultant gets his hands dirty.  This one does anyway.  You and your men can get busy on the work that I’ve given you to do, and I’ll take care of Mr. Jackson.  I’ll be here some time after lunch tomorrow and you’ll have five men.  Maybe six, if I can get in touch with a guy who’s interested in the trades.

“I look forward to that.  It’ll be a pleasure to work with you, Mr. Hamer.”

“I feel the same, Lester.  See you tomorrow.”

Charlie parted company with Lester and drove to Carolyn’s house.  She would be busy, but he knew that she would want to hear the outcome of his trip to the job site.  He called her on the way to let her know he was coming.

“Charlie Hamer, you tell me everything that happened!” Carolyn said as she placed a cup of coffee on the table where he was seated.  Charlie recounted the entire scene, causing her laugh out loud at the part where he had called Mr. Jackson ‘Jerry,’ but her brow was knitted with concern by the time he had finished.

“What if Jackson pulls out his crew and my properties are left idle until you can get a new team?  I’ve got some real money invested in this and I could lose a lot of it if I have to wait for too long before it’s fit to sell.”

“I don’t think he’ll do that.  It’ll take him the rest of the week to realize that he’s no longer in charge, and the foreman of his crew remembers me and is comfortable working for me.  If necessary, we could take out a loan to make wages until the job’s done and sold.  The savings on what you’re paying Jackson might cover most of that anyway.”

Then Charlie remembered that it was Carolyn’s job and Carolyn’s money that he was talking about.  “I’m sorry” he said.  “I said ‘we.’  I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m afraid.  If you like that plan, and I think it is a good one – in fact, it’s what I would have done back in the day – then you could take a loan and blah, blah, blah.  Old habits die hard, and there was a time when I ran the show.  Please let me know if I step over any lines and start playing Big Shot Contractor again.”

“It’s OK Charlie.  I think it’s a good plan too.  You’re seeing things that I couldn’t possibly see for myself; not at this stage anyway, and I love it.  We’ll do what you suggest on the construction end of things and we can talk about any other aspects of the business whenever you’d like.  So, when should the work be completed?”

Well, the driveway on unit number one is an X factor.  I have no idea who Jackson’s using or even if he’s lined anybody up yet.  What sort of timeline did he give you?”

“He said by the end of September.”

Charlie nearly choked on a sip of his coffee.  “Two and a half months?  Uh-uh.  This’ll be done by the beginning of September if I have to pour the driveway myself.  Would you allow me to make a couple of calls while I’m here?”

“Sure Charlie.  Help yourself.  I have to get back to work, so you can let yourself out.  Beginning of September!  That changes things.”

Carolyn was smiling as she rose from the table.  Charlie watched her until she disappeared into her office at the end of the hall.  “That’s one very decent person” he thought, “and nobody should be taking advantage of her lack of knowledge about construction.  I’d like to fire the bastard right now, but I can still use him, so I won’t.”

He punched in the number to Jackson General Contracting and, predictably got a recorded message.  Charlie left a message of his own, telling Jackson that he had set the men to some new duties and that he would be on site tomorrow afternoon.  “You are still the general” Charlie said.  “I’m only there to assist and further the wishes of the owner.  I look forward to working with you.”  That was only partially a lie.  Charlie did look forward to working with him, especially the part where Carolyn tells him to hit the road and never look back.

After hanging up he dialed the number to Jason’s phone.  As with Jackson’s, he only got to leave a message.  “Hi Jason.  This is Charlie Hamer.  I’m beginning to work on a job tomorrow and you are welcome to come out if you wish.  It’s a hurry up job and I won’t be able to have you do much more than lift and carry for starters, but you have to start somewhere.  If you’re interested, that is.  Let me know one way or the other.  Hope you’re doing well.  Talk to you later.”

His business there finished, Charlie placed his coffee cup in Carolyn’s nice, new sink and left the house.  It had been a good, full day and he was going to the garden to finish pulling the weeds that had stormed back while he was in San Diego, and maybe even pick some vegetables while he was at it.  He was pleasantly surprised to see Rachael’s car parked in front of the garden and he rolled to a stop right behind it.

“Hi!” he called out when Rachael heard him open the gate.  “Long time, no see.”

“Hi back” she replied.  “How’ve you been?”

“If you’ll take time to take a break I’ll tell you.”

“Sure.  I have time for that.”

They sat in the chairs under the canopy and Charlie related the whole story of his trip, his job status, and lastly of his contact with the Prentisses and the email that he would soon be sending.

“That’s terribly exciting!” Rachael told him.  “I’m so happy about how this is working out for you.  If it’s OK to ask, what are you going to say to her?”

“Sure, it’s OK, but  I still haven’t decided.  The main point of this is to reconnect with Jack.  I don’t want Maureen to think that I want to pester her about restarting something that is over, but I don’t want her to feel like I think she’s nothing, either.  I mean, we were married for twenty two years, for crying out loud.  That should mean something, shouldn’t it?”

“I think so Charlie.  Twenty two years is a long time, and it wasn’t like you parted as enemies, if I remember correctly.”

“No, we didn’t.  But I don’t know what state her mind is in.  A couple of months ago I wouldn’t have been able to even talk to her or Jack.  What if she’s in that place now?  The wrong sentence; heck, the wrong word, and it could be over forever.  That’s a lot to think about.”

“Yes, it certainly is.  Hmmm.  You know what I think?”

Charlie shook his head that he didn’t know.

“I think you should tell her straight up that you are getting help and you are getting your life under control, and that you wish to engage in the responsibility that you have to be a father to Jack, to whatever degree that responsibility can be allowed.  You can also tell her that it is more than a responsibility; that it would be a privilege, and that you now feel capable of fulfilling those duties.  I don’t know, something like that.”

“Hmmm, that sounds good” Charlie said.  “OK, that’s it.  I’m not going to talk about this any more.  I’ve spoken with my friend LuAnn, with D’Andra and Carolyn, who’s my boss, about it, and now I’ve spoken with you.  I can’t analyze this thing to perfection; more like I might analyze it to extinction.  Time to pull the trigger.

Oh, and another thing.  I still want to visit your church sometime.  It’s just that right now I’ve got a dozen irons in the fire and I don’t really know if I can keep it all straight.  I wasn’t putting you on about that thought.  Really, I wasn’t.”

“Don’t worry about it Charlie” Rachael responded.  If you choose to come, make it on your own time and your own terms.  I pray for you all the time, but like I think I told you once before, I don’t need to put any notches on my spiritual belt.  You come whenever you want.”

Charlie thanked her for her understanding and then rose from his chair to tackle his garden, and for the next hour and a half he was buried in his work there.  At the end of it he threw a large pile of grass and weeds onto the compost heap and had picked a grocery bag full of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, peppers and onions.

Rachael had long since left, and he loaded his tools and vegetables into his truck and drove across town to Billy’s cottage.  Billy was home when Charlie arrived, and was astonished by the bounty that flowed out of Charlie’s shopping bag.

“You think your parents would like some of these?” Charlie asked.  “I would just like to keep a few to take to a couple of friends tomorrow.”

“You bet they’d like ‘em” Billy said.  “They love this stuff.  I do too, for that matter.  And Charlie, they are very happy about the stuff you are doing to fix this place up.”

“Oh, that really isn’t very much.  I have hardly had time to get started yet.”

“Doesn’t matter.  They’ve watched the place slip, little by little, since Dad blew out his knee a couple of years ago and caught pneumonia or something like that while he was in the hospital.  He was in there for two months, and when he got out he just didn’t have as much gas in the tank.  Dad used to keep this place and the main house in ship shape, and it bothers him a lot that he can’t do it any more.”

“Well, he ain’t seen nothing yet” Charlie replied.  “As soon as things settle down, which should be about when we get back from our trip, I’m going to put a little extra into this place, and I’ll take a look at the main house too, if some plans work out.”

“Oh, man.  Mom and Dad would love that!  OK, I’m going to run this stuff up to the house and then I’ll show you how to use my computer.  You haven’t used Apple, have you?”

“Nope.  It’s a complete mystery to me.”

“OK.  You chill here and I’ll give this stuff to my folks.”

Billy grabbed about half of the bag’s contents and limped up the driveway, towards the main house.  “He’s not walking so well today” Charlie thought.  “I hope he just overworked it.  We’re so close to going hunting and I know that he’s looking forward to that.  I am too.  I don’t know about Walt.  Three days in the forest with guns?  Well, Billy knows him better than I do, so I’ll take his word for it.”

Billy finally returned and led Charlie into his bedroom.  A big Apple desktop with a large screen rested on a scarred desk that sat under one of the bedroom windows.  Billy pushed down on the mouse and soon the screen lit up.  Billy navigated it to the email function and quickly had it ready for Charlie to go to work.

“There you go.  Just call up ‘gmail’, sign on to your account, and you’re up and running.  If you find any features that blow your mind, call me.  I won’t read your message.  I promise.”

Charlie nodded and said “I thought you had a laptop.  This thing’s a Cadillac!”

“Yeah” Billy said.  “It’s my baby.  OK, you’re on your own.  I’ll give you some privacy.”

Billy stood up and walked through the bedroom door, closing it behind him. Charlie heard the ‘click’ of the door latch engaging and then he knew that the time had come.  He turned to the screen and typed Maureen’s email address into the correct slot.

“Hamer.  Hmmm, she still used my name in her email address.”  He thought of several good and bad reasons why she would do that, and finally forced himself to move on.

“Dear Maureen.”  Now he thought about the salutation.  He hadn’t called Maureen ‘Dear’ more than a couple of times during their entire marriage.  Did he have the right to call her ‘Dear’ now?”  What would she think about seeing him call her ‘Dear’ now, when he couldn’t when it counted?”

“Shit, Charlie” he growled to himself.  “You wanna get this thing done by Christmas?  Come on, don’t analyze ‘till you paralyze.”  Then, with a deep sigh, he dropped all of his emotional filters and began to write.

“Dear Maureen; Thank you for letting me communicate with you.  I know that this was not a part of our separation agreement, and it is by your kindness that I am allowed to write to you at all.  I truly appreciate that.

I will keep this message as brief as I can, because I do not want to take advantage of your generosity.  But before I get to the heart of my reason for writing, I would like to explain some things so that you know where I’m coming from.  After two years I finally began to see a counselor to get some help.  No, I can’t start there.  The way it really went is that by an amazing string of coincidences I became influenced by an odd but wonderful cast of people who, while mostly not knowing each other, guided me to see a counselor.  So, that’s what I did, and it has been one of the best things that I have ever done.

Maureen, with their help I can finally say that I am sorry that I was unable to deal with the horror of Stephanie’s loss.  I know that it’s too late for that to matter, but I want to say it anyway.  From the bottom of my heart I am sorry that i was not able to be a husband to you or a father to Jack when you both needed it the most.  I have paid for that flaw in my character, and paid big.  And I deserved it.  Now, all I can do is say that I’m sorry, so I am saying it.

The heart of my message however is that I believe that I should be involved in Jack’s life if that is possible.  I have learned things about my own father that I didn’t know, and I am sure that I was better off without him.  Still, I suffered in some ways from the lack of a father. I guess you and Jack have had to pay some for that one.  It is my thought that, if it is possible, I would like to offer my earnest desire to save Jack from a repeat of my experiences.  I would like for that legacy of pain to stop with me.

In this, I will be entirely in subjection to your will.  If you say no, then the door is closed.  If you say yes, I will accept your conditions.  I do not intend to declare some sort of parental right, or compete in any way in some sort of tug-of-war for Jack’s loyalty.  Even if I did want to do any of that, I know that I forfeited all of my claims two years ago and I will stand by our agreement.

I love Jack, Maureen, and I want to be a father in any way that I may be allowed to be.  As I have already said, I will accept any conditions.  I will be open to any oversight.  I will fall off of the map and never be heard from by you again, if that is your will.  But my wish, plainly stated, is to be a father to Jack in whatever capacity that I may be.  Once again, I recognize and affirm your 100% authority in all of my dealings with our son.

Well, that’s it, I guess.  The only other thing that I should say is that I am working steadily again, doing well and not living in that crummy apartment any more.  If Jack should ever spend time with me, it will be in a clean and semi-rural environment.

Maureen, I want you to know that I wish the best for you also.  I hope that you are doing well and I hope that even better will come along.  A couple of my friends say that they have been praying for me.  I don’t know much about that sort of thing, but if I find out that it’s real and it works, I will pray for you.

Thank you for reading this, if you have gotten this far and are still reading it.  If you find anything in this letter that you can agree with please let me know.  My phone number has not changed and you have my email address on this letter.  Oh, and my address is 10815 NE Burris Rd, if you want to drive by and make sure that I’m living in a place where you would let Jack visit.  I still drive the same Ford pickup, which you might see parked in front of the cottage in back.

Thank you for reading this message.  I hope, and I pray too, I guess, for the best for you.

Charlie.

Charlie read and re-read his letter, tweaked it here and changed it there, but at the end of things, that was what he decided to send.  Except that he couldn’t send it.  He got up and walked around the room.  He sat back down and re-read it again, and once again arose and this time walked out of the room.  Billy was slicing some cucumbers and making a salad when Charlie walked into the kitchen.

“You done, man?”

“Yeah, I’m done.  Thing is, I can’t decide whether to send it or not.”

“What, you forget your grammar or something?”

“No, man.  It’s fine.  Shit!  I just don’t know how she’ll receive it.  I mean what if she reads the first paragraph and deletes the whole damn thing?”

“So what if she does?  How much contact you got with her or your boy now, hmm??  You gonna lose any of that?  Hell no your not, ‘cause you ain’t got none anyway!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.  But this is my one chance to get some contact with him.  What if I’ve written a fucking masterpiece of futility and she flushes the whole thing down the toilet?”

“Uh-huh.  And what if I could shit gold and build my parents a mansion?  Look man.  I’m not dissing on your struggle.  I know it’s hard.  But you are not a flake, dude.  I know flakes and I know flaky, and you’re none of the above.”

“Ahhhh, shit!”  Charlie cried and beat on his head as he walked around the kitchen.  “I know you’re right.  I know all of that stuff.  I just can’t pull the trigger.”

“You want me to do it? Billy asked.

“Would you?” Charlie replied.

“Sure” Billy said.  “Here, let me pour you a shot of whiskey.”

Billy poured more than a shot into a drinking glass and handed it to Charlie.  “Now, you nurse this while Uncle Billy takes care of your weak ass.”

“Yeah, yeah.  You’re my hero.  Shut the fuck up and go send my email.”

Charlie took a sip of the cheap whiskey, shuddered, and decided that it was just what he needed.  Billy disappeared into his bedroom for only a moment and then reappeared.

“You done?” Charlie asked.

“Yep” Billy replied.

“You read it?”

“Nope.  That’s your business, not mine.

“Well then how the hell do you know if it’s any good?”

“That’s not my problem.  I’m sharing a small house with a wuss that won’t even send his own email.  That’s my problem.”

“Screw you” Charlie said.

Billy poured a glass of whiskey for himself, raised it to Charlie, and said “Screw you back.”

Charlie raised his glass and they drank to that.

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