The Lost and the Found
“What am I doing here?” He said, blindsided by his own question. What indeed? He had had a good run, he supposed. He had lived the life he had always dreamed of, hadn’t he? Sure, he tried not to think of how he had gotten there, the look in the old man’s eyes when… But that’s not important right now. He leaned back, for the moment lost. Man, I could throw one hell of a party, he mused, thinking of his condo, with it’s view of the city, lit up like someone tripped, spilling a bucket of stars across the landscape. Who else in this fucking city threw a party with ice sculptures? No one. He wished he could remember more of these parties, to tell the truth. Judging by the messes he had paid to clean up, though, they must have been epic.
He rubbed his eyes, blinking to ease the grit.
“No matter how many columns I add, there is always another,” He complained. Running the family business was no joke. He had had to scramble after that old fool nearly beggared them when that ungrateful prick left. At least he was there to hold the pieces together, he thought, ruefully. And how those pieces had grown! Sure, it was mostly the old man’s ideas that had turned things around, but he had implemented them. Without his ability to handle the nuts and bolts, they would have been sunk, he determined, swelling. Instead, they had made up for lost time, and even pulled ahead. He took another sip of his coffee, steaming and black, and started in on the next column.
Nothing. He sighed, flipping his MacBook closed, and glancing at the cell phone sitting silently on the table next to his latte. All this time, and not a call, not an email, not even a text message. He glanced out of the window of the Beanery, where he set up vigil each morning.
“Would you like your second latte now, Mr. Loggins?”
He gave himself a shake, pushing back from the table.
“No, thank you, Stacey.” He said, wincing at the twinge in his knees as he rose. His joints had formed a conspiracy against him, he was sure of it. He stood beside his usual seat at his usual table, considering the two other chairs, empty. As usual, he thought taking a deep breath. He looked across the street at the front of Loggins and Sons, the small town accounting firm that he had run for 40 years. The shade was drawn in the upstairs window, although he knew the office would be occupied. The firm’s front door didn’t open. He shifted his gaze down Main Street, in the direction of the interstate. The motorcycle didn’t come. He sat back down.
“On second thought, Stacey, I think I will have that latte.”
“Coming right up, Mr. Loggins.”
Nothing, he thought again. But no obituary either. That means there is always tomorrow.
The girls, oh, the girls, he thought. Who could forget them? There had certainly been plenty. Most were friends of friends, a few he had only seen once. Some he had bought with jewelry, some with alcohol. Some he had even bought with cash. But that had dried up. Like a puddle on a sidewalk, his world had shrunk with the dwindling balance in his bank account. After his credit cards started being declined when he offered to pay for lunch, soon there wasn’t anyone to go to lunch with anyway. He didn’t really start to worry until having lunch itself was questionable. That was when Phil had given him the job in that shit hole he liked to call a bar. With how much cash he had spent on drinking beer, you’d think that there would be more for the guy pouring it, he wondered, grimacing at the bowl of ramen in front of him. It was the same thing he had eaten for weeks. He couldn’t even afford one of the beers he slung for the pigs down at Phil’s. It was bad when one of the ‘patrons’ drank too much and puked all over one of the stalls in the bathroom, and he had to clean it up. It was worse when the girls who frequented the bar flirted so aggressively, yet their only intention was fishing for free drinks. The worst was when his old so-called friends came into the bar, and looked at him with a mixture of disdain and relief that it was him behind the bar and not them. What am I doing here? He asked again. Back home, even the guys in his dad’s mailroom made twice what Phil paid, and they got free lunch on Fridays. In that instant he made a choice. He walked over to where Phil was leering at a pretty girl who made the mistake of wandering into the bar and getting drunk.
“Get back to the bar, jackass.” Phil growled. “And while your at it bring us a round of tequila shots. I don’t pay you to wander your lazy ass all over the fucking bar.”
The girl laughed, too loudly.
“Do it yourself.” He said, tossing his apron and rag onto the table. “I quit.”
He took a sip of his latte, sighing with pleasure.
“Perfect, Stacey, as usual.” He dropped a dollar into the tip jar.
“Aw, thanks, Mr. Loggins! As usual.” Stacey replied.
Another day, he thought as he settled into his chair and opened his MacBook. As he picked up his latte for another sip, he glanced down Main Street. There, in the distance, was a man pushing a motorcycle. Toward town. With a strangled cry and a violent jerk, he dropped the latte, spilling it’s contents all over the MacBook’s keyboard. He leapt to his feet, knocking his chair backwards, and flew out the door, oblivious to the wreckage behind him.
“Mr. Loggins!” Stacey cried. “Are you ok? What happened? Mr. Loggins!”
The only answer she received was the soft jangle of the bell above the door.
He had run out of gas on the off ramp. The last of his meager cash had been spent on that gas. His head was an endless loop of the last conversation he had had his father. He explained that he had his own life to live, and how he wanted nothing to do with accounting. What’s more, he needed his portion of the business to finance his way. The pain in his father’s eyes at those words was a lance that pierced his heart with every plodding step, a lash that tore at his soul.
“I’ll just see if he has an opening in the mailroom,” he said aloud, if only to silence the litany inside his head. “He always found a way to give a job to all who asked.”
As he neared the outskirts of town his step slowed. An elderly man was running toward him with the speed of a man twenty years his junior. The man was weeping as he ran, reckless, with his arms thrown wide, his tweed blazer flapping behind him. The younger man dropped the bike and stood stock still, overwhelmed with the compulsion to run as well. His uncertainty as to which direction rooted him in his spot.
“Jonathan! Jonathan!” he heard the old man cry as he ran, over and over and over.
He broke. His legs gave way, spilling him to his knees. He wept, great wracking heaves, nearly unable to breathe. His father reached him and, in one smooth motion, dropped to his knees and wrapped his son in his embrace, heedless to the tears in his trousers caused by the rough gravel. They knelt there, rocking back and forth, a man comforting his child who had been lost. No different than if the boy had been six. After a time, Jonathan’s sobs began to subside. Still pressed to his father’s heart, he spoke.
“I was wondering if you might have an opening in the mailroom. I know I don’t deserve…”
“Jonathan.” his father cut him off. “Are you joking? You come home to me and the first thing you mention is work? I don’t care about that! You are home! Your place is already here for you. You owe me nothing. You are home. We are going to throw the biggest party this town has ever seen.”
He was partway through reading the annual earnings report for Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s hardware store. Yes, tax season was in full swing. All of a sudden he heard music emanating from that coffee shop across the street, his father’s favorite ‘office’.
“Cynthia,” he called. “What the hell is going on across the street? Don’t they know that some people are trying to get some real work done?”
“You are never going to believe this, Mr. Loggins!” Cynthia exclaimed, unable to hide the excitement in her voice. She burst into the office, her round, good-natured face flushed. “Jonathan has come home! Your dad is calling everyone in town to come to Main Street for a barbecue! The Chief of Police has even shut down the road, if you can believe it. It’s a regular festival! The party has already started over at the Beanery. Come on, we’re missing it!”
“I don’t fucking believe it.” He muttered under his breath. A pause hung uneasily in the air between them. “Thank you, Cynthia, you may go. Please shut my door behind you. It’s tax season, as you know, and I’m quite busy.”
He was standing at the window, shade up for the first time since he had taken over the office. He didn’t turn around when his father spoke.
“Timothy, please come join us.”
“Why should I?” he spat, whirling around. “That prick of yours nearly ruined this firm so he could ‘invest in life’ as he called it! And what had he gotten as a return for that investment? Several rather nasty STDs, no doubt.” He paused, breathing heavily. “I, on the other hand, have been practically chained to this desk, working tirelessly to put even your most hair-brained of business ideas into practice. And I have made it a success. We have recovered all that that moron squandered, and more. How do you thank me? Have you thrown me even a small party? Never.” He bit off the last word, choking on the bitterness.
He let out a long breath.
“Oh, Timothy.” He said quietly. “When I am gone, everything that we have worked for these many years will be yours. All of it! But your brother. But Jonathan. He’s alive, Timothy! We both know the dangerous behavior he has been indulging, yet he still lives. And what’s more, he’s home! He is my son, Timothy. You are my son. I love you both, wherever you are and whatever you have become. Come home too, Timothy.”
The torrent of anger that was fueling his rage abandoned him so quickly that it left him weak and light-headed. The press of his father’s love for him surged against his weakened defenses and they crumbled. He hung his head. A tear slid down his nose and fell to the rug.
In one sure step, the old man was there. He wiped the tears from his son’s eyes with a gentle thumb and pulled him into his arms.
Jonathan and Timothy stood side by side on the sidewalk in front of Loggins and Sons. They surveyed in stunned silence what a small town can do in the span of a few hours when the words ‘barbecue’ and ‘Main Street’ and ‘party’ are all used in the same sentence. Everyone they had ever known from their childhood was before them. Six grills of differing size filled the air with sweet incense. An impromptu band had formed in front of the Beanery. An impromptu dance floor in front of the band. They looked at the scene, at the sidewalk, at each other.
“What are we doing here?” they said, in unison. Timothy reached out and took Jonathan’s hand, who smiled at his older brother. Together the stepped off the curb, joining the celebration.
They began to laugh.