A to Z Challenge – X is for: X marks the spot

X2020

I hated playing games.

I hated it when I was younger, namely because my brothers always cheated, and that had been carried through to adulthood.

Now, I just avoided them.

It left me wondering how I managed to paint myself into a corner, and agree to do the one thing I assiduously avoided.

You could chalk it up to being persuaded by a pretty girl.  Yes, I am the typical male, a sucker for a pretty face and a little flattery.

It would not have happened if I’d just gone home, instead of being asked to go and ‘just have one drink’ on the way home from work.  I used to, once upon a time, before I got sick.  But, perhaps it was a combination of cabin fever, and the monastic existence I’d adopted since that saw the one visit a chink of light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Whatever the reason, had I not gone, I would not have met Nancy.  I’d seen her before, off and on, at work, and had noted, probably with a degree of disdain that where she was, was the most noise.  You know, the one who talks loudest in the elevator, or the one who was the center of attention at a dining table.

And yet, underneath that, if or when anyone got close enough, there was something else.  Something that fascinated me.  But, having become reclusive had made me more reticent, and even though I was sitting at the same table, almost within arm’s length, I was too shy to strike up a conversation.

Until it was time to go home.  I had moved out of the way so she could get out, and as she passed me she said, “You’ve been very quiet, Brian isn’t it?”

“Yes.  And I know it’s rather lame but I don’t have as extensive knowledge of sports, which I guess I should.  Ask me about old movies, and I’m your guy.  Anyway, I pride myself on being a good listener.”

“Old movies eh.  I’ll keep that in mind.”  A smile, she went to leave, and then turned.  “Look.  I have this thing I have to go to, and I don’t want to go by myself.  It’s not a date or anything like that, I just need someone to come with me.  You might even find the people interesting.”

“I’m sure there’s someone else here more qualified than I am.”  It was lame and I was floundering.  It was not every day a girl asks you to go out with her.  Even if it was, to a certain degree, and unflattering invitation.

“They all seem to have something else to do.  Look, here’s my phone number,” she handed me a piece of paper with her cell number scrawled on it, “Call me if you change your mind.  It’s not going to be as bad as you think.”

I should not have picked up the phone.  I definitely should not have called her number.  And I knew I was going to live to regret telling her I would go to her ‘thing’.

Before I walked out the door I looked at myself in the mirror.  It seemed to be telling me, ‘you are a fool, Brian’, and I agreed.  This had disaster written all over it.  I hadn’t been out for a long time, and if anything, those few hours last evening were a sign I was not ready to face the world.  Not after being so long away from it.

A lot had changed in the fifteen months I’d been in a coma.  It was a miracle, the doctors said, that I came out of it with very little damage.  I’d lost a chunk of memories, particularly surrounding the accident, and perhaps, I’d been told, that was a good thing.  Cameron, the guy I worked with had summed up the change in a few short words, ‘you’ve gone from being the biggest dead shit in the world to something that resembles a human being’.  I didn’t remember that person, though others did.

Maybe she remembered who I was, and, if she did, that didn’t explain why she asked me.  The person Cameron described was not a person I would want to be with, so I guess the answer to my rhetorical question would soon be revealed.

Nancy was bright, talkative, and, at times, over the top.  She was the loudest in the room and the center of attention.  I wondered if the old Brian had been like that because if he was, I wouldn’t like him.  It begged the question, why did I agree to go with her?

Curiosity?  Maybe.  That I might find some people who knew the old Brian?  I certainly hoped not.

I had barely got out of the car to go and knock on her door when she came out, a small gym bag on her shoulder, dressed casually.  I had to admit, in the morning sun and surrounded by an idyllic setting, she looked almost like an angel.  She jumped in the car and all but slammed the door shut.

“You’re early.”

I looked at my watch, then the clock on the car’s dash.  Both said the same, Eight a.m. exactly.  “You did say eight a.m. and not p.m.”  I couldn’t remember what she said, not right then.

“I mean most guys who come to collect me are always late.”

“Then I guess, by inference, I not like most guys.”

She smiled, one of those impish smiles I’d come to recognize from anther woman I’d dated somewhere in a distinct past, and who was trouble.  I did, for some strange remember the night we spent in jail, though I couldn’t remember why, except the impish smile.

“I suspect you’re not.  Cam said you were different.”

“Cam did, did he?”  The mentioning of his name raised a red flag in the back of my mind.  Cameron was not above playing complex pranks and I was beginning to see indications that this might be one.  I would have to be careful.

“Not in a bad way, I mean.  He had nothing but good things to say about you, though I had the feeling there was something he wasn’t saying.  You’re not an ax murderer or anything like that?”

“Shouldn’t you have done some more research before asking me along?”  I had also heard from another source, actually, a chap named, rather aptly, Jones, who was also at the party.  He had left earlier but was still in the carpark, apparently his car parked next to mine, smoking a cigarette.  A suspicious man might say he was waiting for me.

He had some ‘sage’ advice.  “You want to be careful when you’re with Nancy.  She’s not what she seems.”

I asked him to elucidate, but, cigarette finished, he stubbed it out rather violently under his blood, and left.  He looked angry, sounded angry, and it was an angry warning.  Perhaps he was a current or, more likely, ex-boyfriend.  That ‘advice’ only added to the intrigue value.

Someone else, when he asked them about Nancy, had told him she was ‘brilliant’ with computers.  Was that in programming, or hacking, or simply data entry?  He only knew she had helped the web site programmers when the company had built its intranet.  Computers and I never got on, and I was the only one who got a weekly visit from the IT help desk, just in case.

“I did.  Do you remember anything from those fifteen months?”

“Like what?”

“They say that when you’re in a coma you can still hear people, you know, that sort of stuff.”

I thought about it for a minute.  I wasn’t one of those lucky ones, though I did have one of those out of body experiences, where I suspect I’d nearly died.  Just not my time, I’d thought, later.

“I’d like to meet the people who have that ubiquitous title of ‘they’.  They have a lot of opinions, most of which are about the unknown.”

“So would I, to be honest.  All you ever get to do is read about them.  So, are you ready?”

“For what?”

“A weekend away.  It will be fun if you want it to be.”

“Otherwise?”

“It’ll be fun.  You have my promise.”

“And where is this ‘fun’ going to be?”

“Rhode Island.  A friend of my parents, son is having a party and a few side events.  There’s about 40 of us, so there’s no shortage of interesting if sometimes eclectic people.  I’ll put the address in the GPS.”

Rhode Island, the other home of the New York rich, as well as others, and I hoped it was the others we were going to see.  The host was the son of possible millionaires, so that was an interesting description for me to mull on.  Would he be an ex?  It seemed to me that Rhode Islanders would be less likely to mingle with the paupers, and if they did it would be for their own amusement.

There was a memory on the back of his mind, that popped up, albeit briefly when she mentioned the destination.  The fact it didn’t want to come to the surface told me it was a bad memory.  One from ‘old’ Brians days.

Nancy’s beauty, manner, and the fact she was clever might just win over the son of a millionaire, an heir to a fortune, whereas it would intimidate a lesser man.  As for me, I was a means to an end, so it didn’t matter what I thought, other than it was better than staying home.

It was the house with all the cars parked out front.  Multi stories, with towers that no doubt overlooked the ocean, and extensive gardens that seemed to be shared, that blocked the sightlines from the street front to that invisible ocean.  I was will to be, once on the other side, the never-ending sound of the sea might be heard.

In winter, this would be bleak.  In summer, well, what was the saying, anyone who is anyone would be here.  Well, the sons and daughter thereof, perhaps.

I had expected the moment I parked the car she would be out, and gone, like a proverbial schoolgirl dying to get back to school after the holidays.  She was not.  She stood there, at the front of the car, and looked at the scene before us.  To me, it was just a building, with trees, shrubs, and grass around it.  To others, it was a portal into another world, one that would never be available to that 95% of the rest of the world.  It was a phrase that popped into my mind, again, randomly, that said, the top 5% of any country held as much if not more of the wealth belongs to the other 95%.

I came up beside her and looked in the same direction, at one of the towers.

“Having a Rapunzel moment?”  I hoped she had some memory of fairytales or it would seem an odd comment.

“I used to have long hair once.  But, the last time I was here, I can’t remember.  My mother’s hair was always long, some sort of hangover from hippy days, you know, the 1970s.  She was here once.  The stories she used to tell me about the houses, and the people she used to know.  I’m ready.  Are you?”

It was like a walk through the park, getting to the front door.  There was a driveway, but there must have been a rule, no cars on the property.  Or perhaps the front gate was locked and the owner had thrown away the key.

Or, more than likely, the butler, standing at the front door, welcoming guests, had it in his pocket.  He was a tall, severe-looking man, with a military bearing.  I somehow knew he was more than just the average butler.

Nancy gave him our names, and in return, he gave us a sheet of paper.  The rules and the room number where we would be staying the night.  I had thought that we would be given separate rooms, but that wasn’t the case, and it didn’t seem to worry Nancy that I would be staying with her.  The only other words he said were, “The rotunda, 11 a.m.”

The room overlooked the ocean, today more or less a millpond, and a number of yachts were out making the most of the weather.  There was a pier at the end of the property, and, yes, a reasonably large boat attached to it.   There was also a view of a croquet lawn, the rotunda beside the rose garden.  On the other side was a large pond, and seats where, no doubt on days when people like us were impinging on their solitude, they sat and contemplated how to make more money.

I didn’t realize I was that cynical.

The room had two beds, and it’s own bathroom.  She had thrown her bag on one, checked out the bathroom, then dashed past saying, “I’ll see you at the rotunda.”

I followed her down about a half-hour later, descending the stairs at a more leisurely pace, looking at the paintings on the wall as I did.  Forbears, and landscapes that were from around here.  The one with the lighthouse was of particular interest.  It brought another memory to the surface.  I’d been there before, sometime in the distant past, and it was significant.

The Butler was standing at the bottom of the stairs, having stopped there when he saw me descending.

“It’s nice to see you again, Master Brian.”

“Not Master Brian, anymore, Jeffery.  Sadly, I had to grow up.”

“We all do, sooner or later.  Pity we can’t say the same for Chester.”

“Where is he?”

“You need to ask.  I hope you’re up for a little X marks the spot.”

I groaned.  Chester and his treasure hunts.

My last memory of that he had hidden a fluffy bunny stuffed with money.  It was the weekend I had the crash the result I was told of too much booze, too much alcohol, too much of everything.  I was just glad the girl I had brought up with me had left with another chap, a decision, I told her when she visited me in hospital, was probably the wisest thing she would ever do.

I just shook my head.

“Even if you don’t think so Brian, we have missed you.”

Another look around, I sighed, then went outside.  My doctor had been right.  Coming back had stirred up the mush in my brain, those thoughts, feelings, and memories of who I was, and what I was.  And who I would never be again.

Nancy was waiting by the rotunda, talking to a more youthful version of myself, Chester.  It was an awful name, one that our mother must have come up with in one of her drug-fuelled dreams, and he had taken a ribbing at school, and a willing participant in many a fight.

Chester looked surprised to see me, no, that wasn’t surprise, but shock.

“I thought you said you would never come back.”

Nancy looked from him, then to me, then back again.

“I’m not here, Chester.  It’s just Nancy and Brian, here for the treasure hunt.  And this time there better be more than a hundred dollars in that stuffed animal.”

Chester looked confused for a moment, then smiled he brand of childish smile, that of a child that would probably never grow up, the result of what I did to him, and would spend the rest of my life trying to earn forgiveness for.

“OK.”

“What was that about?” she asked.

“Long story.  Remind me to tell you one day, if you stick around that long.”

In the background, I could hear Jeffery calling the treasure hunt participants together.

Like it had ten years ago when I came home…

 

© Charles Heath 2020

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