Jim Tyler continues his weekend adventure. I appreciate any feedback on this content.
|A few minutes of easy exercise settled his stomach, and he began to feel the hunger of the morning. Up ahead, Jim spied the pink and black frame outline of The Flamingo. Shading his eyes from the sun, he could make out the small, white-clad figure of Ray Valdez on the back deck, opening the multi-colored umbrellas to shade the tables for the anticipated breakfast crowd. Suddenly hungry, Jim decided to be one of the crowd.
"Morning Ray!" Jim called out in as cheerful a voice as he could muster after a fitful night on the beach.
"Mawnin, Jim." Ray smiled and nodded, battling the final umbrella into place. "Nice day for a walk, eh?"
"It sure is, Ray. How about a couple of eggs and half a pound of corned beef hash for an old friend?"
"Comin' right up, Jim. And crispy, just like you like it." replied the old Cuban. His bright eyes contrasted sharply with the deep tan of his aged face. The brown skin and thin cover of shining, kinky hair had seen many days in the sun before his tenure at the Flamingo.
"I know it’s early, but you look like you had a rough night. Can I get you anythin' from the bar today?"
"You can tell, huh? What's good to shake up a guy, Ray?"
Jim flopped tiredly into a chair facing the surf. He kicked off his deck shoes and slapped them gently against the pink enameled deck. Tiny granules of white sand bounced on the brightly colored wood, some disappearing between the planking to the beach below.
"Well, Jim, I think either a nice, cold tomato beer or a margarita would do the trick. I think I'd prefer the margarita, myself. Sugar will get your blood pumpin' and it sticks with you a little longer."
"Sticks it is, then. Got a paper yet today, Ray?"
"You bet, buddy. Here it is right here.” Ray grabbed the paper from a nearby table and flipped it up over his back. Jim caught it on the fly.
“Good catch as always. I usually read it out here in the fresh air, first thing. But I just never got around to it today, slept in a little. Let me fix you that popsicle and I'll start in on your breakfast."
Jim rolled the blue rubber band off the paper and smoothed it out on the table. He picked up the front section and placed the sugar box on the rest to keep it from blowing away. The morning was beginning to blow like a lover’s breath, gently pushing the fresh salt air into his nostrils. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, feeling better and enjoying the morning for the first time. The comfortable surroundings and his friend's cheerful disposition had improved his mood.
He thumbed through the pages and scanned the headlines until the slap of the screen door startled him.
"Here's your appetizer," Ray said cheerfully, placing the large glass in front of Jim Tyler. "Mixed strong and cold, lot of salt and a fistful of limes squeezed in, jus' the way you like it. Enjoy that and I’ll have your breakfast whipped up damn quick."
"Thanks, Ray," Jim replied to the vanishing cook. He propped his feet on a nearby chair and took a long draw of the thick mixture. It felt good rolling down his throat, sweet and salty. Ray didn’t just salt the rim, he dumped a little in on top for good measure.
He took a few more sips, swallowing quickly until he was stopped by the sudden sharp pain in his forehead. He pressed his tongue hard against the roof of his mouth until the brain freeze began to fade. It hurt, but he never took his time when it came to margaritas. The satisfying taste was worth the pain.
"Pretty good stuff, Ray. As usual!" he yelled toward the kitchen window. Eggs and bacon sizzled just above the sound of Ray's humming to the small radio he always kept over the stove. Good smells had begun to drive away the stiffness of a fitful sleep, but it had brought with it an intense hunger.
"Thanks Jim," Ray shot back above the noise of the juicer. "Let me know if you want another one to chase them cobwebs away. And that paper won’t read itself!"
Jim settled further into the chair, rubbing his itching back along the rough wooden slats. The headlines made him feel as if he were lost in a time warp. Nothing except the date ever seemed to change on the front page. Unrest in the Middle East, a rising deficit and lowering employment. Same problems, different news year. He was halfway through a local story on a young Marine’s death in Afghanistan when Ray sang his breakfast through the door.
"Got some good breakfast today, tasty breakfast today. Got some good breakfast today, made for you by top chef Ray!”
He slipped the heaping plate gingerly down in front of Jim.
“How's that for a jump starter, Jim old buddy?"
"Looks great, Ray," said Jim, peering over the top of his paper at the steaming plate before him. Ray was not making any profit on this one. Folding the paper so he could continue reading the article, Jim grabbed his fork and speared a clump of scrambled egg. He smiled his approval at the eager cook.
"Anything else I can get you, Jim?"
"I think I'll have another, Ray," he replied happily. "A little weaker this time, okay?"
"Okay. Choke down that food and I'll have your drink ready in just a few minutes. Got to feed them damn cats before they pick my kitchen clean."
As Ray went singing through the doorway, Jim attacked his breakfast in earnest. Nothing could get him going in the morning like Ray's cooking and a stiff drink. The Flamingo had been one of the few bright spots in his life lately.
And the Highway Diner. Jim’s thoughts drifted to Kris Johnson. She was the reason he had ended up on the beach last night. She and her daughter had been a blessing, trying their best to fill the huge hole inside him.
But it had not been going well and it had gone worse last night. He decided it was best not to think about it. But he couldn't stop thinking about it...
Kris Johnson had been a positive force for him. She wanted to be more, but he was still damaged goods. And he had damaged her. It had not ended we'll the night before...
A cool breeze teased his skin in the darkness. Standing on the front porch, whitewashed just a few weeks before to cover the advancing rot, Jim Tyler looked skyward and considered what had just happened. He was very confused, perhaps more now than at any time during the past several months.
His mind was numb. He was drifting again. If he could just think a little about what had just occurred...
It was quiet now. The halogen lamp cast a cold glow through the living room windows to the street before him. He closed his eyes and pictured the large room. Sparsely furnished but homey. The cracks in the plaster walls seemed to him as varicose veins, reflecting the true age of the house. Kris Johnson was in there, somewhere. Mad as hell.
They say that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and she had been all of that. So mad that Jim had hunched, almost cowered, head in hands, in the worn brown wingback chair. Her words washed over him.
He listened quietly, recoiling from her anger. Eyes shut tightly, hoping the tirade would soon end. He hated conflict, especially when it involved himself. If he couldn't see her, he hoped he would be able to shut her out. He was wrong.
"How can you do this to me?" she had spit at him. "How can you just come in here and just throw me away? I love you!”
Kris was electric with rage, blinded by anger. Hot tears streamed from her large, hazel eyes. Rivulets of mascara trickled down her cheek to her slender jaw, where they dripped silently to the robe. Dark, wet blotches formed on the bright material. The tears had started before the screaming, as the recognition of what he was saying hit her.
In the blackness of his mind he wondered why she had to make so much noise. Why couldn't she act like an adult and make this easy? The act itself was simple, but it would never be easy. Ever.
"I didn't want this to happen," he replied calmly, in as composed a manner as he could muster. His stomach hurt. It was very late. He didn't want to wake the child sleeping in the other room, although he was sure that her mother had already taken care of that. “You have to know that, don’t you?”
Her eyes flared.
He shook his head slowly, searching for words.
"It's been a rough time for me. I needed someone desperately and you were there. You wanted me, too. Remember? You were moving as fast as I was. We got caught up in each other, that's all."
"That's all! That's all?" she cried hysterically. "That's all I was to you, huh? Somebody to get caught up with? Somebody to help you through a rough patch in your life? Well, what about my life?"
Jim Tyler looked at her, trying to wade through the waves of anger and pity washing over the love in his heart. It was close to over now. He knew that. Maybe she did too.
"I'm sorry, Kris," quietly ignoring the knot in his stomach. "I know how hard this is... It's hard for me, too. This whole thing with us just kind of took off. I don't know what to think."
“I know what to think,” she said quietly. “Get the hell out," she almost spit in a whisper, thrusting a sharp red fingernail toward the door. "Get out of my damned house if I'm not good enough for you anymore! Get the hell out of my life before I make a mistake you won't soon forget!"
Feeling he would never be there again, Jim rose and absently looked about the faded blue room, taking mental notes. They would be filed away for later use, when and if the time was ever right.
The lamp glared harshly against the cracked plaster. The windows were old and had seen many days. The layered paint was proof of that, as were the few original panes of glass. At the end of this day, the rippled panes distorted his view of the quiet, darkened neighborhood. A quiet neighborhood he longed for right now.
Distracted, he reached for the door and, hearing the familiar creak of the floor beneath him, turned to face Kris again. She glared at him in all her furious auburn-haired glory, fists jabbing defiantly at her hips. The robe stopped midway down her shapely thighs. She was a beautiful woman, no doubt about it.
His face was hot. He was numb. He wanted the words forming on his lips not to be a lie. Maybe.
"Look, Kris, I'm really sorry," he muttered, his voice tripping and nearly falling as it rose from his throat. Tears blurred his vision. He released the doorknob and turned away, struggling for a moment, gathering his thoughts, and avoiding her gaze. The street lamp caught him again.
Damn it, he told himself, be a man for once in your life.
"This is stupid," he told her finally, his voice breaking. "I need some space. But I can't just leave you. You're a special part of my life. You cared about me when I had no one. You understood how I felt and what I needed. Can we just get some space for a bit and see if there's any way we can make this work?"
Caught off guard, Kris looked at him with suspicious surprise. She had heard this from others, but somehow Jim Tyler was different. During the months of lecturing him, feeding him, mothering him and listening to him whine, she had cared deeply for him. Until a few moments ago, she was sure she had loved him. But now?
Studying him, she was unsure of who she saw. She too needed time to think. To sit down in a quiet place and figure out what this man meant in her life. She needed to be alone right now as much as he. Away from him, at least.
"You’re not the only one confused here. I need some time, too.” The words came hard, nervous energy locking every muscle. She felt dizzy.
"I should just tell you to get the hell out and never come back. But I can't do it. Give me a few days. Don’t call me. I’ll call you when I’m ready. And don't stop by work."
"Fine," Jim Tyler replied through a faint smile. "Take all the time you need. I'll talk when you're ready. I don’t want to end it this way, either.”
He smiled at her, barely in control of himself again and hoping. It had been a strange hour.
“Call me, Kris. Please."
Strangely at ease, he grabbed at the door and thrust himself out into the cool, moist July night.
And now he was here...
A thousand stars and a brilliant, near-full moon lit the black sky, flooding the sleeping neighborhood in a blue-white glow. A cat jumped through a bush below him and to his right, each startling the other. Unsure where to run as Jim descended the creaking steps, it raced across the street beneath an old blue Chevy. It peered at him, glowing green eyes in the darkness. Waiting.
It was well after midnight. Except for the cat, Jim Tyler was alone on Berwick Road. In no mood for the lonely ride home, he left his car in the care of the cat and began walking, hands thrust in his denim jacket. He needed to clear his mind. The cool evening air refreshed him.
He picked his way along the darkened street, heading south towards The main road. There wasn’t much sidewalk, but what little there existed was cracked and broken. He stumbled around the occasional humps of asphalt built to help drainage, gazing numbly at the old summer homes which stood as silent wooden testaments of what Berwick Road and Kirkland had been before the tourists.
Many years before the town had been a summer depository for Boston’s bored elite, and Kirkland had been one of its nicest neighborhoods. The small front and side yards had hidden the larger expanses of grass beyond the hulking architecture. In a time not so far removed, when the old ways were still the proper ways, back gardens flourished.
Although not directly on the ocean, Kirkland was still gently licked by the breezes that blew in over the sand dunes that stretch for several miles up towards Wells Beach. Often, a family would entertain their less fortunate relatives, from a neighboring inland town or up on the train from Mobile, or further. And young ladies in white skirts flirted with their admirers over iced tea, flushed and moistened from a gentile round of badminton.
As the old money died out or moved away in search of fewer neighbors and quieter beaches, the roomy, crumbling residences had been sold for far less than their worth. Many, such as the one occupied by Kris Johnson and her daughter Julia, were now broken up into smaller apartments.
Crushed shells now covered those once grassy back yards, creating marinas for a host of older, boat-like cars and low-riders that navigated behind the fading homes, gliding along rough canals cut through the once-stately trees and shrubs.
Jim Tyler walked toward the center of town, able to make out the few tall buildings reached upward into the cool, dark night. His thoughts centered on the incredible turn his life had taken over the past year. At times, the change had been more than he thought possible to bear. The months since had been a daily struggle to reassemble his life. A life that, until shattered on a rainy May night, had been idyllic.
He stopped. Shore Road lay before him. He looked up and down the road, more in wonder than for safety. Usually clogged with traffic well after dusk at this time of year, he saw not a single pair of headlights in either direction. It was quiet, except for the buzz of a street light overhead and the rhythmic pounding of the surf in the darkness.
Crossing Shore, he hopped the iron rail atop the sea wall and dropped lightly to the sand, padding quietly toward the ocean. Enveloped by the soothing sound of the sea, he began walking up the beach, thinking again of Monica...