I’m working on a new contest submission, and this just didn’t make the cut…so much has changed over the numerous drafts!
Jeff, a stickler that his employees punch the time card at the right moment, leaves the office at 5pm, sharp, everyday. This Friday is no different, except everything is different. He closes and locks the door to his corner office — the one he’s worked towards for 25 years. The one everyone envies, with its meticulous filing system and view of the New England coastal waterway.
On his way to the elevator, he stops, turns around and asks the two managers talking with one another in the hallway if they’d like to join him for Happy Hour; a couple of rounds to wind down the week. “There’s this great new Irish Pub just down the street,” he says. “What do you say, guys; want to join me?”
“Sorry, man, I can’t. My wife is waiting in the lobby. We have dinner plans tonight.”
“Yeah, I can’t either, Jeff. Next time, though. Definitely next time.”
Jeff pats his hand on the long, curved receptionist desk with a deflated spirit and says, “Alright, then. Well, have a good weekend you two.”
In unison, they nod their heads and say, “You too,” and return to their conversation. Jeff steps into the elevator, turns around and gives the men a salute. The doors close, taking him down the 12 floors to the main lobby. He passes his colleague’s wife with nothing more than a nod.
Jeff steps out of the bank building and heads towards the parking lot. He approaches his car and hesitates a moment before retrieving the keys from his coat. He takes a deep breath and embraces the sun shining above his head, celebrating the first spring evening. He loves this time of year, not only for the renewing factor, but because the days are finally getting longer. He hates cold winters, the time of year spent arriving to and leaving from work in the dark. Besides, how can he not love today, of all days? It’s his birthday! He realizes he kept it a secret from his co-workers all day, and briefly wonders if he had mentioned it this morning, would they have changed their plans, or maybe treated him to lunch?
He takes the keys from his right pocket, unlocks the car with the press of a button, throws his briefcase in the floorboard of the passenger’s side, and slides into the driver’s seat of his Mercedes E-Class sedan. Jeff decides to skip drinks and just go home. There’s something sad about a man drinking alone on his 45th birthday. He starts the car and pulls out of the parking lot, taking a left instead of the usual right turn. He’s going the long way and makes sure to stop at every yellow light, extending his time alone to think.
At the stop light about a mile from his house, he checks his phone for any new messages. Still nothing. He tries to brush it off but is a little depressed that even his wife and kids seem to forget today is the day he officially becomes an old man. The gray hairs, the hair loss, his pudgy stomach — things that seemed more pronounced this morning when he looked at himself in the mirror. All the years of thinking he was invincible is starting to show, reminding him he’s reached middle age.
As the light turns green, and he steps on the gas pedal, he thinks of how he wants to spend the second half of his life. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, he thinks. His den doesn’t get used nearly enough, now becoming an expensive symbol of wasted dreams. All the time, money and resources spent to decorate — desperate to create a place to escape and express his thoughts; only to be used on those rare occasions he gets inspired.
He has notebooks and journals full of ideas and scribbles; piles of unfinished work. Between career and family obligations, he rationalizes the lack of effort is due to the fact he’s never had the opportunity to focus more than a couple hours at a time. When the kids get older and he reaches retirement age, he knows things will be different. The books aren’t going anywhere; they are just resting for the moment.
He can hear his wife’s voice in his head, repeating the same words he’s heard her say every time he mentions wanting to find more time to write. “You should start a blog, honey. This is great stuff. Get it out there!” She continues, “Let people see what you’re made of. You’ll never get anywhere if I’m the only one reading it.”
He knows it’s true, but the thought terrifies him. He’s not the most tech savvy man, and many would describe him as a luddite. For appearances sake, he carries an iPhone in his pocket, but has no idea of its capabilities. There are five apps installed on it, and he uses one — Email. Besides, he prefers using a typewriter and doesn’t mind living in the shadows of Ernest Hemingway or Joseph Conrad. As long as he stays hidden there is no rejection. He’s as amazing a writer as he wishes to believe.
He pulls into the driveway and slowly opens his door, dragging his feet to the porch. His trench coat is draped over his right shoulder, briefcase in his left hand. When he reaches the front door, he remains still, staring for just a moment. “This is the door of possibilities,” he says under his breath, in case a neighbor is nearby. “When I walk through this door, my life is going to change. I will embrace a new beginning.”
He meditates on his idea, relishing in the silence of a usually busy street. He listens for signs of life on the other side, but notices another moment of quiet awaits him. Perfect, he thinks, I can start right away. He turns the knob, listens to the creak of the door and takes a step across the threshold. He feels a sudden gust of wind brush against his back as it envelops and pushes him forward. The powerful force seeps into his skin and he knows life will never be the same.
He turns slightly to shut the door as a crowd of close family members, friends and colleagues jump from the living room and yell, “Surprise!”
After the last guest leaves, Jeff plops down on his suede leather couch and lets out a grand sigh. His gracefully-aging wife, Sara, comes near and sits on the armrest, next to him. They look at each other, smile and take a drink from their glasses. They remain silent for a few moments before he gets a sullen look on his face. Sensing the mood shift, she hands Jeff an envelope. “Here you go, honey, a little something from me and the kids. Happy Birthday!” She stands up, rubs her hand across his back, and leans over to kiss the top of his balding head.
He leans forward, shaking the envelope in his left hand, elbow resting on his knee. “More?” he asks. “I thought the party was my gift. What is this?”
“You have to open it and see.” She refills the champagne flute in his right hand, clinks her glass to his, and leaves him to open the gift while she cleans the rest of the house. With her back to him, he exclaims, “Thank you! This was a great party; I was completely surprised!”
Jeff opens the envelope, expecting a card with a cheesy joke about getting older, and probably a gift card he will never use. He thinks of the junk drawer off the kitchen that is full of them. He’s received several from the kids, his parents and his brother over the years. He has very discriminating taste, but at the same time, he abhors the whole thing and wants to avoid shopping at all costs. He doesn’t even do it for clothes anymore. Instead, he uses the personal assistant at Nordstrom.
Inside the white envelope is an ornate, official invitation to a retreat in an old Colonial Farmhouse that was remodeled as a Bed & Breakfast, residing off an old highway, just outside the city. The date shows the reservation is good for the following weekend. He gets two nights away from the house, room and board included, to focus solely on his writing.
He scratches his head. Can he do this? Can he call himself a writer? Does he deserve something like this?