Clint pulled the half dozen blankets on his bed over himself even tighter in the hopes it would stop his shivering at least until the next round of sweating hit him. He’d had the flu before but never this bad. He probably should have stayed in bed all day, but there was no way he was missing his only daughter’s graduation from college. Even in the heated auditorium, he sat there with a blanket wrapped around him as he tried to keep his teeth from chattering so loudly that no one else could hear the graduates speak. He endured for Kara’s sake. Four and a half long, hard years of pre-med undergrad work at The University of Washington in Seattle had paid off as today she was graduating with highest honors and on her way to the UW’s school of medicine in the Fall. Having her stay home with them at least for now gave him the feeling he could hold on to his baby girl a little while longer and that thought was a great comfort to a dad who’d just turned 56.
He’d wanted to go out and celebrate with Kara and his wife of 28 years, Cecily or just “Cec” to her friends, but he was just so damn sick there was no way he could do it. Besides, it was the middle of Winter and it cold as hell outside and raining like a banshee. He glanced over at the nightstand and in between the bottle of Nyquil and the box of TheraFlu he saw the digital readout from the clock. Much to his chagrin it was only a few minutes past nine. He needed to sleep but sleep just wouldn’t come.
Moments later, he thought he heard the doorbell ring. He wasn’t sure if he was hearing things or not, but he was in no mood for company no matter who it was. He pulled one of the spare pillows over his ears to drown out the noise. As the bell rang a second time, he noticed what looked like a flashing strobe light through the curtains in his otherwise pitch black room. “Jesus! Who in the hell is that at this hour on a night like this?” he mused out loud.
When the doorbell rang a third time, Clint knew whoever was there wasn’t going away. He forced himself to sit up, wrapped as many blankets as he could hold onto around himself, and staggered toward the front door. As he approached, the bell kept ringing which was followed by knocking and muffled voices. Shivering, he arrived at the door and peeked through the tiny hole to see what in God’s name was going on. He saw two young police officers at the door and a patrol car in his driveway. He was wondering if the neighbors called the cops again because his dog, Misty, was barking. He hadn’t her but then again he was pretty much out of it. He let go of the blankets enough to unlatch the lock and open the door. As he did, the dark-haired male officer said, “Mr. Pierce?”
“Yes. Come inside. It’s cold as hell out there. Please, come in. Sorry for the blankets but I’ve got the flu and I feel like shit.”
The male officer waited for his female partner to step through the door before entering himself. He shut the door behind them both, removed his hat, and said, “Mr. Pierce. Are you the husband of Cecily Pierce and the father of Kara Pierce?”
Clint’s head was foggy and he already felt nauseous. This question itself caused an immediate, involuntary reaction. He let it fly into a nearby bowl in the foyer. The blonde female officer moved to steady him and put her hand on his back. “Mr. Pierce. I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said, “but there’s been a terrible accident.”
That was just over two years ago. The police called his bother-in-law, Jeff, at his request to go identify the bodies. He’d never shirked responsibility in his adult life but he izmit rus escort was so ill he couldn’t leave the house and the thought of seeing them like that was more than he could bear. When Jeff and his sister Allie arrived at the house around midnight, Allie was crying. Her tears confirmed what he already knew. Both of the women he loved the most in life were gone. Both Cecily and Kara had died instantly, their lives taken in a the blink of an eye by a drunk driver who was later sentenced to five years in prison but recently released after serving just 18 months.
He’d been unable to go back to work after that and with the help of his attorney, he sold all three of the printing shops he owned in the Seattle metropolitan area. With the money he made from the sale plus the half million from the life insurance policy he’d taken out on Cec 25 years ago, he had more than enough money to live on comfortably for the rest of his life. “The rest of my life,” he mused out loud to himself. “What life?”
The only thing that kept Clint from going crazy was his training regimen. He’d served five years in the Marine Corps as a commissioned officer after graduating from The Naval Academy and he’d never stopped working out. He alternated between lifting and running every other day while taking Sundays off altogether. It was something he’d done since he was in high school. Okay, he didn’t always take Sundays off. During the short summers, he’d mow their substantial-sized yard each week but that wasn’t an actual workout in his mind. Now 58, Clint could still easily bench over 350lbs and although his three-mile run time had fallen off from his sub-18 minute days on active duty, he could still turn in a very respectable 20:00 minutes flat if he put his mind to it. Only the grey hairs which had turned his thick, dark hair to mostly salt in the “salt and pepper” look he sported in a close-cropped style gave away any hint of his true age. Even then, most people took him for around 45 and were shocked when they learned they were off by more than a decade. That gave him precious little consolation as he powered through one of the hardest chest workouts he’d done in years as though he could push away the grief by pushing up a heavy barbell.
When he left the gym, he decided to have breakfast for dinner, something he and the girls used to do every now and then. “The girls.” He’d only let himself cry twice since that night and as he blinked back a tear he vowed not to let there be third. As he pulled into the Denny’s where they all used to go, he felt that now-familiar lump in his throat that appeared when he thought about them. He was determined not to let memories keep him from living his life even as he thought again to himself, “What life? This kind of life isn’t life. It’s just…existing.” But like any good Marine, he soldiered on because giving up wasn’t an option. It wasn’t in his DNA.
He’d been sitting there staring at his food for what was probably ten minutes even though he had no idea how long it actually was before the voice registered. “Are you okay? Mister? Are you all right?”
He flinched slightly as her voice startled him back to reality. He turned to see a young, disheveled woman about Kara’s age in the booth across from his. She had large, beautiful “doe” eyes and smooth skin. Her eyes reminded him of the actress who played Debra Morgan on the hit TV show Dexter. Beyond that however, she presented a rough exterior. Her nose was swollen and too large for her thin face, her hair was greasy and matted down, and she was wearing a pair of mismatched izmit escort sweats with a huge hole in the right leg. He’d caught a brief glimpse of her teeth and his heart went out to her as he realized she was probably too poor to afford orthodontic care let alone something like a rhinoplasty. Still, she seemed genuinely concerned and that, plus the warmth she exuded, somehow made him feel good for the first time in two years.
“I’m okay. Yes. Thank you. I was just thinking. That’s all.”
“I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that well, you sat there for like ten minutes and never moved. I only saw you blink a few times. It’s really none of my business but I guess you kind of remind me of my dad a little bit. I mean the way he looked when my mom was still alive. Before he started drinking…” She stopped mid-sentence then added, “I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“No. That’s okay. I appreciate your concern. I tend to find myself doing that more often than I’d care to admit the last couple of years. But I’m fine. Really.”
“When someone says it like that it makes it sound like something happened that changed things in their life. I know because…I just lost my dad a couple of weeks ago and now I catch myself saying stuff like that, too. Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
Clint sat there in silence for a few moments. Her comments put his own loss in perspective and he was genuinely moved. He faced her and said, “My wife and daughter were killed in a car accident.” It sounded hollow and his voice was so low it was hard to hear.
The young woman got up, slid in across from him and said, “I’m sorry. My mom died when I was about six and my dad was all I had. He started drinking after she passed away and it finally caught up with him.” She fought back tears of her own as she bowed her head then wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.
Clint was shocked out of his grief for the first time since he’d learned the news. For the first time in over two years, he actually felt something for someone else. Feelings of empathy and concern washed over him and tears ran slowly down his face. “I’m so sorry for you, too. I can only imagine how you feel and if it’s anything like the way I’ve felt then… You must feel so—so—lost.”
She was now crying openly, too. He handed her some napkins which she used to dry her eyes then blow her nose. “Sorry. My dad would have lit into me for doing that in public,” she said. “Well, at least back when he still cared about more than his next drink.” As she finished, a smile broke out over her face exposing the crowded teeth that spoiled an otherwise beautiful face. Clint couldn’t help but smile along with her. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. He realized he was alive and that he was feeling something else he hadn’t felt in a very long time—hope. He felt hopeful again.
As her smile widened, he saw her wince. “You okay?” Clint asked.
“Yeah, I’m all right. I have a chipped tooth and when the air hits it, it really sends me, you know. When I smile, well, you can see what happens.”
“Have you seen your dentist?”
She sat quietly for a moment before saying matter-of-factly, “I can’t afford to do that—at least not right now. I mean, I just got evicted from my dad’s home today. They’ve been threatening to kick us out for months but after Dad died, the social security checks stopped and I couldn’t pay the rent. So I’ve got bigger problems that a chipped tooth. I need a job and I’ve got to find a place to stay first. Maybe then, you know.”
Clint hurt for her and as kocaeli escort bad as that hurt felt he was aware that he wasn’t hurting any more. He was hurting for her. “May I ask your name?”
“Oh, sure. It’s Lauren. Lauren Green.”
“I’m Clint. Clint Pierce. It’s nice to meet you, Lauren.”
“You, too, Mr. Pierce. You’re a really nice man. I like talking to you.”
“Lauren. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Ask me anything. I mean, I have like plenty of time, you know.”
“I don’t want this to sound weird. Please don’t misunderstand. I was just wondering if you might…well, I mean I have a very large house and several extra rooms. You’d be more than welcome to stay a few days until you figure things out.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that. I mean, I don’t even know you. I can’t intrude on your life. It’s really nice of you, but I just can’t. Thank you, though. It’s like really sweet and everything.”
Clint’s face softened as did his voice. “Lauren. You wouldn’t be intruding. At all. I promise. In fact, it would be really nice to have some company for a change. You’d have your own room you can lock and you’d also have a private bathroom. My dog Misty is the only other ‘person’ at home and I know she’d love to have a visitor, too. And honestly, you’re the first person who’s made me feel good in two years. I just want to return the favor. So please, at least think about saying yes, okay?”
Lauren perked up at the mention of Misty. “What kind of a dog do you have, Mr. Pierce?”
“She’s a yellow Labrador retriever and my best friend of late. I have to warn you, though. She’s gonna lick you and try and sleep in your bed.”
Lauren wanted to smile again but forced herself not to. “I love dogs so okay. But just for a couple of days. That’s it.”
“Great!” Clint said smiling himself. “On one condition.”
“Conditions? Already? Sheesh. You really are a dad. Okay, what condition?”
“You have to let me take you to see a dentist and get that tooth fixed.”
Lauren turned her head playfully and said, “I dunno. The pain from the chipped tooth helps me forget about my broken nose. If I get it fixed, then…”
“Whoa! Stop right there. Your nose is broken, too? Seriously, Lauren?”
“It was an accident. I swear. My dad didn’t mean to do it. He just…”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me, Lauren. I understand.” Clint caught his server’s attention. “Could I get the checks for both tables here, please?”
“Oh, no! You’re not paying for my meal. I have money of my own,” Lauren said with righteous indignation.
“Save it for now, Lauren. We can settle up later. Grab you bag and come with me. We’re going to the ER right now.”
She started to protest when Clint held up his hand and said, “No arguing young lady. I’m not having any guest stay at my house who’s in pain. We’re taking care of this tonight. End of discussion. And tomorrow we’re getting that tooth taken care of, too. Now grab your bag and let’s go.”
Everything Lauren valued in the world was in that bag or in the backpack she was wearing. Grateful for this stranger’s compassion she feigned indignation at being “ordered” around and said, “Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” Her faux mocking made them both laugh and caused Lauren to wince in pain again.
Within 24 hours, she had a temporary crown on her tooth and a splint on her nose. That second night in Clint’s home she slept soundly for the first time in as long as could remember. As she fell asleep, she felt something she hadn’t felt in just as long. She felt—loved. And although she didn’t want to admit, she realized she was also feeling love itself. She was too tired to analyze what kind of love it might be. All she knew is she felt safe again in this man’s home and for now that was all that mattered.