Bryan’s head hurt but he was fairly certain that it wasn’t from his crash earlier that day, I mean from yesterday, he thought as he looked at his watch. “We have made it to another Monday, boys,” he announced to the cats as he went about changing the litter boxes in their deluxe suites. “The weekend was exciting, but I’m really hoping things slow down just a little bit, if that’s okay with you, fellows.”
As Bryan went about his menial tasks at Cedar Walk Pets he thought about how much his life had changed in the last two days. He had met Sandy less than forty eight hours earlier and he’d already spent more time talking to her than he had anyone else in the last twenty six months. “At least talking to anybody alive that is; no offense Mom and Dad,” he said with a half-smile as his eyes looked up toward the ceiling and the fingers of his right hand did a little circle dance as a wave to the heavens.
Under his breath he chanted out The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, The Act of Contrition, Glory Be and threw in an Angel of God for good measure before adding, “Rest in peace, folks. I love you,” and then stifled a little sob as he went about his tasks. “Sorry, guys,” he said to the cats as he petted the ones that approached him, “kind of an emotional day for me. Don’t take it personally,” he threw back to them over his shoulder as he exited the kennel’s cat accommodations.
His head was mostly hurting from conflicting thoughts and emotions but his body was bruised from his bike crash the previous afternoon. He’d fallen heavily on his left side and now had a bruise on his forehead that grew more visible with each passing hour. Additionally, his left elbow, knee and hip protested with each move he made but at least they were relatively road rash free. The cool April day had called for wearing long sleeves and pants and that plus the pedestrian pace he’d been traveling at when he got caught up with the dog walker and his leash kept abrasions to a minimum. His inner right thigh was bothering him as well and he couldn’t figure out why so he slipped into the employee restroom, ostensibly to relieve the pressure from his bladder but also so he could do a quick examination of his sore and aching self.
With his pants down he looked at his right leg where he found a long, narrow, greenish yellow contusion where it had hit his bike’s top tube. “Boy, I can’t seem to catch a break,” he said as he gently examined the long, narrow, unexpected injury. He pulled his pants back up, washed his hands and looked at his pupils in the mirror, confirming that they were, as Sandy had said four hours earlier, round and equal sized. Examining the bruise his helmet had left on his forehead he grimaced as he gently touched it. “Well, at least my bruises are color coordinated. Could have been a lot worse,” he told the Bryan in the mirror.
Bryan exited the bathroom thinking about what was troubling him. What was troubling him far more than the minor inconvenience of his body being sore, the money he’d need to spend to replace his helmet and warped bicycle wheel, or even the fact that the idiots who had caused his crash earlier that day had fled the scene, leaving him unconscious on the bike trail’s asphalt, were the multiple revelations that had occurred when he and Sandy had told one another about the deaths of the most important people in their lives. For the last two years he’d kept his pain bottled up as he retreated further and further from the rest of the world but what was bothering him the most at that moment was a tiny something Sandy had inadvertently revealed to him.
When her son George died Sandy knew she had lost the most important person in her life while Bryan had been blissfully unaware of just how much his parents meant to him. The epiphany of how much he loved and was loved by his parents had only occurred with their loss. His relationship with his folks had been good. He had enjoyed their company and they’d done the best they could to guide him down a path that was meaningful and fulfilling but because they’d always been there he’d always taken their love for granted, like gravity and air. Now that they were gone and he no longer had their advice, love and guidance he felt as though he’d spent the intervening time since their deaths floating in space without adequate oxygen and he discovered that he treasured and revered them more now that they were dead than he ever had when they’d been alive. “Stupid. Stupid is what you are,” he berated himself for the umpteenth time.
The similarities of how both he and Sandy had responded to the loss of family was disconcerting enough but the thought that refused to be silenced was a silly, trivial, inconsequential thing she had said; she had referred to him as a kid. He was not a kid. He had lived on his own for five years, okay, he admitted, mostly on his own, but for the last two he had been independent, completely responsible for his own actions and he had behaved like the adult that he was and had accepted the consequences of his actions. At 24 years of age he had lived a lot, seen a lot, and now was doing the best he knew how to take care of himself. Sandy calling him a kid, not once but twice, had really hit a raw nerve and this least important of the night’s revelations was what most occupied his mind.
Earlier that day neither had suspected that they had a sixteen year age difference. Four hours ago she hadn’t thought of him as a kid. Four hours ago she thought he was in his thirties, which apparently she was fine with, but now she was weirded out because he was 24 and she was 40? Who cared? Not him. Bryan was much more interested in the fact that in Sandy’s presence he felt alive again for the first time since his parents had been killed and that Sandy seemed to be heaven sent. The last thing he wanted was something as trivial, something as meaningless as a stupid number to get in their way. He had enough things getting in his way to last a lifetime and was feeling apprehensive that even before their relationship got up to speed that something as silly as an age difference could derail the only good thing that happened to him since being orphaned.
Because this seemed like a good chance to retake his life, to create a life that was worth living rather than bare-bones, meaningless survival. It seemed odd that there were so many little things connecting him to Sandy; that she’d lived within a couple of miles of his old house, that his mom had worked for the same company as she, the similarity of violent death of their loved ones, the Venture Crew connection, the silly game with Target’s doors and on and on. But through all the powerfully moving details that he’d learned that night the one fact that struck him most was Sandy’s reaction to her son’s death.
He felt no guilt over his parents’ death and while he missed them terribly, while he knew that he’d allowed circumstances to make his life tailspin precipitously, his grief must surely be easier than hers because it wasn’t clouded with guilt. Bryan was angry and depressed but he didn’t have to carry the extra burden of guilt Sandy felt nor the extra loss of the dissolution of a marriage. In a lot of ways Sandy was far more burdened than he was yet she still seemed to be dealing with her pain far better than he. It wasn’t her fault that George had died in the car crash and she had no real reason to feel guilty about her first raw, visceral reaction wishing that the State Trooper was there to tell her of her husband’s death rather than her son’s but logic only goes so far in assuaging guilt. He didn’t just want his life to get better he wanted to see if they could help one another regain sanity, balance and who knows? maybe even love.
For the millionth time since his parents’ death he thought now was the time for him to move on with his life, but for the first time in over two dark, dreary years he thought he actually might do just that, and if things went the way he was hoping then he and Sandy together they might be able to bring some light into both their lives.