Try to leave a light on when I’m gone
Even in the daylight, shine on
And when it’s late at night you can look inside
You won’t feel so alone
The edge of the old neighborhood stood just over there; a stone’s throw beyond his feet. If he squinted, he could just begin to highlight the irregular undulation of the old white-picket fence. He’d surprised himself by ending up here—of all places—after leaving his bike parked blocks and blocks away.
The walk had been nice. Kicking up sand along the beach, avoiding spending too much time or energy pondering his life. After all, that wasn’t his thing. He was all about the action, constantly in motion. Gus, on the other hand, he was the thinker, the philosopher. He wondered what Gus would give for his reasoning at ending up back here…of all places.
The one place he’d sworn that he would never again grace with his presence.
The place that (though vacant) still reeked of oppression and bad memories.
The place he used to call home so long ago.
Maybe he’d come looking for comfort. He scoffed to himself, huffing out a breath at the ridiculousness of that thought. Comfort, yeah right. There was no comfort to be had here. Even though not physically present, Henry still had an iron thumb on the old place. Shawn had no doubt that the old man kept tabs on the place from wherever he now fished off of the Florida coast and insisted that all lawn maintenance was performed to exact specs on schedule by whomever he hired to make the place looked lived in.
He sighed out his disappointment with the whole situation. It never used to be this hard when he fell down and had to pick himself back up. This most recent firing had proven that. Maybe because it hadn’t been his idea? Maybe it was because he hadn’t felt that he had mastered the job yet, hadn’t beaten it, hadn’t won.
That still didn’t answer why he had managed to find himself back here. He’d come here before after returning to Santa Barbara only to find that his dad had left…without word. He’d sworn off the homestead forever after that. That final memory of abandonment had been the only memory he’d carried with him of the old place. But now, looking down the street of his childhood he began to remember slightly happier times; racing against Gus on his bike, people watching with Granddad, being part of a family.
Why had he even come back to Santa Barbara? This self-reflection was exactly what he had been trying to avoid all along.
Wishing things were different wouldn’t change anything. It hadn’t so far, there was no reason to believe otherwise.
With a heaviness of heart and spirit, Shawn slid fists into jeans pockets and turned around, walked just as slowly back to his beloved bike. Just the view of it in the distance, looming closer as he drew nearer, lifted his spirits and reminded him of the rebellious sense of adventure that had pulled him away from the city and had fueled his love of life and unabashed freedom.
He straddled the leather seat, reveling in the sound of swishing fabric brushing against its grain. Grasping the clutch in his left hand, he fueled the gas and kicked the engine to life, revving it up to clear out the exhaust and ridiculous never-ending fantasies of what could have been had things been different.
Shawn eased up on the clutch and just as smoothly levered the gas, effortlessly sending the Norton into motion. For once not feeling the need for speed (after all, where did he have to go) he stayed at a cruising speed, soaking in the afternoon warmth and the clear breeze off of the ocean.
He’d sort out his troubles tomorrow – tomorrow was good for that kind of thing. For today, he had ten dollars in his pocket—courtesy of his most recent former employer—serving as his final wages, plenty enough to stop and pick up a late lunch. Rent wasn’t due for another two weeks. If worse came to worse, Shawn figured he’d bunk on Gus’ couch for a while. It certainly wasn’t the first time; it probably wouldn’t be the last.
The engine rumbled to a stop as he pulled in to the diner’s parking lot. Setting the kick stand in place, Shawn swung his leg over the seat and smoothly dismounted from his ride. Tomorrow was tomorrow; he’d figure it all out later. Right now, he had a date with pot roast, maybe a piece of pie if he could sweet talk his way into it.
He secured his helmet and patted his shirt pocket, ensuring to himself that he hadn’t lost his last ten dollars in the world. He’d gone days without eating before, but that didn’t mean he liked it.
“Smoking or non?”
He wondered if the old house was still empty or if there were renters in it now. It was a decent place to grow up, maybe not for him but for some other kid who would appreciate the fence and the beach and the tree house.
He pulled himself away from memories of sitting alone, hungry, in seedy dive motel rooms with only the roaches for company. He wouldn’t go back there. Back then, he didn’t have ten dollars to treat himself to a good meal. At least here, he had Gus if things totally went south. But that was tomorrow…
He wondered if the old man did spend every day fishing or if he had wormed his way back into police work. Yeah, like the old man really could ever retire.
“Sir!” He startled back and cursed the old man for continuing to berate him even when he wasn’t physically here.
His mind slowly drifted back to the present. The form that towered over him no longer belonged to his dad. She was blond, pretty. He was even pretty sure that if he wanted chocolate cake, she wouldn’t make him jump through hoops first.
“Oh..right…non-smoking, please…Tracy,” he filled in quickly, quirking his lip at her astonishment. So easy.
“Here by yourself today?”
Just me and the ghosts, he thought darkly.
“Hmm, that depends. Care to join me?” He smiled, unable to resist old habits. Whatever, he was good at this. He may very well get shot down, but he couldn’t get fired. Judging from the hands seductively placed on hips, he figured that she wouldn’t nit-pick him on his approach. He took it all in, the cues, the gestures – she would laugh at his jokes and slap at him playfully. He could be good enough for her.
The smile she gave back to him just confirmed it. Half-lidded eyes batted seductively. “Stick around for a few hours and I just might.”
Hmm, a little more forward than he had assumed, but he certainly wasn’t complaining. He allowed himself to be led by his elbow to the table. He held her gaze as she took his order and thanked her profusely for remembering his order the third time he’d asked. He graciously overlooked the dry pot roast and the overdone sides. Shawn marveled at the chocolate cake that, though not the cherry pie he’d ordered, was marvelously delicious despite bringing back older memories of diners and desserts and easily impressed waitresses.
He bit down the sinking pang that he’d come no further than he had five years ago. That wasn’t quite right, he supposed—he did have a comfortable apartment, after all. And this apartment didn’t have roaches or bedbugs.
Tomorrow was tomorrow, he thought as he rested his chin in his hands. Using his fork, he raked even lines into the mashed potatoes that he’d previously smoothed out with the back of his spoon. Tomorrow, he’d figure out what kind of job he wanted next. They were all starting to run together and the list of things he hadn’t done yet grew dramatically shorter by the month. What if he really had done it all, seen it all. Then what? Had he painted himself into a corner, peaking his life experiences too early in an attempt to make each and every day the most exciting it could be? The most free?
No. For now, he had a full stomach and a dollar and thirty-seven cents in his pocket. More than he’d had two months ago, so at least he was making progress…right? He threw the fork to the plate, wincing at the louder than expected rattle before it teetered and slid off the edge and onto the paper placemat. So near to closing time, there were no other diner patrons to be disturbed at the noise.
He felt a light hand on his shoulder prompting him to fully lean back, giving her the appearance of his full attention.
“I’m off the clock where do you want to go?”
Where do I want to go?
His mouth answered while his brain pondered the deeper question. “Let’s go back to my place.” Good idea, his brain agreed. His basement apartment was comfortable. It suited him. If worse came to worse, he wanted to spend as much time there as possible before…
Tomorrow. He’d think about that tomorrow. For now, he had a beautiful date and a full stomach. Life was good now that his basic needs were met. Tomorrow would bring help-wanted ads and maybe a trip to the pawn shop to arrange for some groceries.
He gallantly offered her his helmet. It looked adorable on her, of course. Making sure she was secure on the back of the seat, inhaling deeply as she wrapped her arms tightly around his chest, he brought the engine back to life and—mindful of his passenger—eased it into gear, leaving the diner behind them.
Maybe he’d already done everything that there was to do. He’d had a good ride, he supposed. He’d lived his life the way he wanted, so that was something to give him some satisfaction. He had a best friend and a bike that was the envy of everyone and the bane of his father’s existence.
Tomorrow was tomorrow. He’d figure it out then. Maybe there was a job out there to do that he hadn’t even considered doing. It could happen.
He would sort it all out tomorrow.