“Ouch” Charlie said as he entered through the back window falling to the floor of Sam’s apartment. “Sam you here? You haven’t been answering my text or phone calls lately.” Charlie said getting to his feet. “My sister is pretty ticked off you skipped out on your date.” Charlie soon drew quiet as he walked through the empty bedroom and noticed a chaotic looking apartment. The dishes weren’t done and some plates were even smashed against the wall. Charlie stepped over the broken shards of glass and headed back towards Sam’s other rooms. He peaked in his bedroom and noticed his mattress was standing up against the wall and all the papers he had tapped to his wall were now on the floor. He looked into his office area. His printer was broken and smashed apart against one of the walls. His laptop was nowhere to be seen. All the books he had collected were scattered acrossed the room and his coffee table had been broken into two pieces. Only his small couch remained untouched. Charlie assumed this was probably where Sam fell asleep after he let all his rage out or in a worse situation this was where Sam was sleeping when somebody broke into his apartment and came after him. Charlie went back to his bedroom to re-examine the chaos. There was a tie and dress shoes sitting next to Sam’s dresser that he had never noticed before. Charlie opened up his cell phone and tried to call Sam again but it went straight to voicemail.
Charlie decided he was going to go down to the garage and hoped that the guys there knew something. They were probably the next closest things that Sam had to friends other than the few older ladies he was having affairs with. After he went down there he realized they weren’t much help. All they could tell Charlie was that Marcus would never do any jobs around this time of year. He told them he went on his vacations and it was usually with his family or with one of the ladies he was currently having sex with. One of the guys gave him a number to one of the ladies. Charlie decided he was going to call her and see if she knew anything.
“Hi, I’m Charlie. I’m one of Marcus’ friends. I was wondering if he was with you or if you knew where he was?”
“I’m sorry who is this and who are you looking for?” a younger lady sounded on the phone.
“My name is Charlie. I’m one of his friends from school. I’m sorry maybe I have the wrong number.”
“Do you mean Sam?”
“Uh… yes I do. He didn’t tell you his name was Marcus?”
“No I know who he is. He’s told me a lot of things.”
“Are you, are you Sam’s new girlfriend?”
“Oh God no. I’ve known Sam for a while now.”
“And how do you know each other? I was told you’re one of his new flames but I guess it’s not a real reliable source.”
“I’m Sam’s former counselor.”
“Former? I didn’t know he had a counselor.”
“Well he hasn’t had any sessions with me for a while now. It’s been at least two years.”
“What was he seeing you for?”
“You know I can’t discuss that. It’s all confidential.”
“Ok yeah. Well I’m trying to find him and can’t reach him. He’s not answering his phone and he’s not at his place and it’s completely trashed. Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“He trashed his place? Hold on a second let me look at something.” Charlie could hear the lady flipping through some paperwork. “Oh no.”
“What? What is it?”
“Do you know where Sam’s hometown is?”
“Try looking for him there. If he’s not at the cemetery he’s at a bar nearby.”
“There was a death in the family or something?”
“Not in the family but someone closed to him.”
“I really have already said too much. If you find him though tell him I’d like to start up our session again. He’s a really smart guy and I’d hate to see him waste all his potential.”
“Alright I will let him know when I see him.” Charlie hung up the phone and headed back inside the garage. “Do you think I could borrow one of your cars for a few hours?” The guy looked a little leery about it. “I’ll give you my sister’s number.” The guy smiled and tossed Charlie a set of keys.
Charlie used a navigator on his phone to find his way to Sam’s hometown. The cemetery was not something that could be looked up. He stopped by a gas station and was directed towards the location. As Charlie drove by slowly he saw Sam standing in a suit. He noticed that Sam’s beard had grown back as he walked up towards him. Sam didn’t move as Charlie approached. He was in a phase where he was locked onto something and it was staring at a grave. Charlie just stood there for a few minutes waiting for something to happen. He was sure eventually Sam would realize he was there and say something. Charlie knew it was someone important because Sam never dressed up for anything but he didn’t want to say some insensitive.
“You doing okay Sam?” Charlie asked. Sam didn’t answer. Charlie looked around to take in his surroundings and gave Sam a few minutes to reply but he didn’t. He looked at the grave Sam was staring at. “Who is Amie Fahl?” Again Sam didn’t answer. He took a deep breath. Charlie could tell he was fighting back tears. Sam reached out holding a folder for Charlie to grab. Charlie grabbed it and opened the folder reading through the files. The first pieces he went through looked like medical files. Amie Fahl would have been 26 years old, brown hair, brown eyes, and had no major surgeries before in her life. He skipped through a few MRI photos that weren’t in great quality until he got to a police report with photos of her. She had bruises to her face, arms, and all over her body. There were a few photos of a wrecked car. Sam closed the folder. It was obvious she didn’t survive. Charlie didn’t know what to say to him. He just placed his hand on Sam’s shoulder. The two of them stood like that for what seemed like forever before Sam turned and started to walk away on the road. Charlie followed Sam about three paces behind him. Sam whipped away a tear from his face and didn’t’ say anything. The two of them probably were halfway between Amie’s grave and the road where their cars were parked when Sam stopped. Charlie almost ran into him. Sam turned around and looked at Charlie.
“Why are you following me?” Charlie seemed surprised by the question and wasn’t sure what to say.
“I don’t think you should be alone right now.”
“But I want to be. Leave me alone.” Sam said calmly and then walked away. Charlie continued to follow him.
“Just tell me what happened. Tell me who she is and I’ll leave you alone.”
“You read the file. Now leave me alone.” Charlie ran ahead and cut Sam off from his path.
“Who is she though? Was she your girlfriend?” Sam pushed Charlie to the side but Charlie cut him off again and stopped him. When Charlie did this Sam punched him, out of natural instincts, in the face causing Charlie to fall back on the ground. Sam stopped and paced a little.
“I’m sorry for punching you. But you have no right for being here! Why are you even here?” Sam said upset.
“I went by your place. My sister was calling me freaking out because you stood her up and I snuck into your place to see if you were there. I saw your place was trashed and didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t sure if you were robbed or raided or if you just through an anger fit or something.” Charlie felt the area around his eye where he had been punched. “I went down to the garage and they gave me a chick’s number to call so I called her. She told me you’d be here or you’d be at a nearby bar.”
“Who was the lady?”
“She didn’t give me a name.”
“How’d she know I was here then?” Charlie sighed as he got himself to his feet.
“She said she was your old counselor you used to talk to.” Sam punched Charlie in the face again and then backed away shaking his hand. Charlie stumbled backwards but didn’t fall this time.
“What the hell man! I’m just telling you the truth. Something you’ve failed to do to me for almost a year now. Why didn’t you ever tell me about her? I’m your friend. I deserve to know!” Charlie said angrily
“You deserve to know? You deserve to know? You’re just a kid! I don’t have to tell you anything! This is my life! It’s none of your business if I don’t make your business!”
“Fine. Whatever. So you had a girlfriend that died a few years ago. I’m sorry that happened to you man but you have to move on. You can’t just stay angry about it and hide from everyone.” Sam went to punch Charlie in the face again but Charlie avoided it and then tackled Sam to the ground. “Stop! Just stop!” Charlie screamed and backed away from Sam. Sam just laid there on the ground. He had tears running down his cheeks.
“She wasn’t my girlfriend Charlie.” Sam took a deep breath. “She was my fiancée. I was in love with her. And she didn’t deserve to die.” Charlie walked over and offered a hand to pull Sam up. Sam grabbed his hand and Charlie pulled him to his feet.
“I’m sorry. For anything that might have upset you. If you don’t want to talk about it now you don’t have to. But I still want to know. And I think talking about it will help you.” Charlie said.
“Are you trying to be my shrink now?” Sam said sarcastically.
“Well I’m sure I’m not as good looking as the lady I called. She had a sexy voice.” Charlie said causing Sam to smile.
“Let’s get out of here. You hungry? Let’s go grab a bite.” Sam said.
“Sounds good.” Charlie said. The two of them walked to a restaurant and sat outside by themselves. It was Charlie who initiated the conversation after they ordered. “How’d you meet Amie?” Sam paused and looked at the table and cracked a smile. Charlie could tell he was visualizing it. Then he looked up.
“She went to my high school. She was a year above me. I had never seen her before until I got to high school. She was so pretty back then. Girls at that age are so self-conscious about how they look that they do whatever they can to look pretty but she was already gorgeous. She had this brown hair that went down to her shoulder blades. You know there’s always that one girl it seems in every class or every high school that just seems untouchable; a good athlete but also captain of the cheerleading squad. All the older guys want to hook up with her thinking that she’s just naive enough to fall for their lines but she wasn’t.”
“And you were the one who got her didn’t you?”
“Not at all. By the time I was a sophomore and she was a junior we had some mutual friends. Some of my friends at the time tried to date her and get her to notice them. I think she dated one of my friends, and he was a good guy, but it didn’t last longer than maybe two months. I have no idea how long a normal relationship lasts in high school anymore. Maybe that’s impressive at that age. I saw her around at sporting events and dances but we were in separate crowds.”
“You never even talked to her in high school?”
“The most that was ever said was your typical meet and greet banter of hi, hello, how are you doing, how was so and so’s test. That was it.”
“That’s weird. So why didn’t you talk to her other than that?”
“I told you. She felt like she was one of those untouchable girls. So by the time I was a sophomore and all my friends were talking about her I just did the math. With all these guys wanting to catch her eye and have her attention the odds was against me. I just agreed to not go after it and go after all the other pretty girls I knew I had a chance with.”
“Oh yeah and how’d that go?”
“Oh it went pretty well actually.” Sam said with a smile. “I was kind of a heartbreaker for a while. Probably up until mid junior year.”
“What happened then?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I just got bored. The older girls were gone or I’d already hooked up with and the younger girls just weren’t enough for me. I guess I just started to grow up a little bit.”
“And what about Amie?”
“I think she was dating some guy her senior year and even freshman year of college. College is where I really met her and got to know her. By junior year school had gotten boring for me. My classes weren’t hard they just took up time. Girl’s kind of became an annoyance and sports I had given up on after I torn something in my knee my freshman year. So in my spare time I just started reading books and articles and eventually started writing my own ideas down. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that you let fester for a while until finally they polish themselves in your mind and pop up and you can use them. But sometimes we forget about the littlest idea. That’s why I write everything down on my walls. You’ve seen my one room.” Charlie nodded his head. “Anyways it was my freshman year in college. I was interested in writing for the school’s paper and seeing if it was something I might be interested in and low and behold Amie was one of the editors for it. I remember realizing it when they had an event in their building. There was probably twenty or so freshman in there and Amie was there with the guy that was ahead of the paper and she was giving us this speech about how this was serious stuff and how everyone that worked for the paper was either an english major or a journalist major, or even a sports writer. And she’s standing up there giving us this speech and she goes:“’We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.’ Thomas Edison said that.”
And by now I had already developed my outspokenness and without two seconds going by after she said that I said. “No he didn’t.” And the place gets real quiet and they all turn and look at me. I of course am stunned because I didn’t really realize the magnitude of what I just said. I was just used to mouthing back to teachers when they were wrong about things. So I looked around at the people and then I look back at her and I tell her “Artistole said that. Edison said ‘The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.” And she just gives me that puzzled look that tells me you might be right but I don’t want people to know that I’m wrong. So she says “perhaps” and hands out these papers and tells us to fill them out and turn them in by the end of the week and tells us we can go. Everyone just grabs one and leaves after this thirty or so minute meeting. I at the time wanted to be a teacher and only liked writing as a hobby so I’m glancing through this small packet of papers to see if it’s worth filling out and I’m walking towards the door about to walk out of it and Amie puts her hand on my shoulder. I turned around and look at her and she asks me if I’ve ever written before. I told her I like to write but I’ve never done it for a newspaper before. I was just curious about how running a newspaper was. She goes on to tell me all her credentials about how she dominated her freshman year and was promoted and how she worked on her high school paper while also being an athlete and a cheerleader and the whole time I’m just smiling in the back of my head.”
“She didn’t realize you guys went to school together?”
“I guess not. So after she’s done naming off all the things she’s done and her credentials about why she is where she is. I just smile at her and say if you want to be quoting Thomas Edison you should be reading The Wizard of Menlo Park and not be worried about me taking your job and I left.” Charlie and Sam both laughed at that.
“You had to go and make her feel stupid didn’t you?”
“It did feel pretty good.”
“So what happened next?” Charlie asked. The waitress had come and placed their food on the tables.
A few weeks went by and I’m in one of those big lecture halls for some general education class and I’m sitting in the back somewhere taking notes and she comes in and sits right next to me and places the Edison book on my notebook and says she read it. I’m in class so I just said “okay” and I ignore her. So she goes ahead and asks me why I haven’t come by the printing building or submitted any articles or stopped by any of the writing labs where her work study job is. I’m feeling really good about myself that this beautiful chick is all worried about me so I have a little fun with it. I ask her if she’s stalking me and she gets all defensive. I tell her I don’t need to write in the paper to feel good about my work. I write for myself. She of course tells me I’m dumb. She says how will you know if you’re any good if nobody reads your material? I tell her she’s too ambitious and she must be over compensating for something. She of course is offended and gets up to leave but then she sits back down and challenges me to write a paper about some guy I hadn’t heard of before. She tells me if I can turn it in to the writing lab in three days there will be a reward there waiting. I tell her I’m not interested and she leaves.
“Really? That doesn’t sound like you at all. Someone challenged you and you didn’t rub it back in their face?”
“I wrote the paper. And I turned it into her three days later when she was working in the writing lab.”
“She liked it didn’t she?”
“Oh she loved it. She loved that I wrote her English paper that was due in two weeks in two days all to prove myself.”
“She tricked me.”
“Yeah she tricked me and actually started my career of writing for other kids. I saw her a month later and she had to rub it in my face that she got an A with my paper. I was so mad. I ended up sitting in on one of her classes and got the roster of the kids in her class. Through some parties and other kids I knew I ended up writing some papers for the kids in her class. They of course had to change bits and pieces to make it fit their tone of voice. I did them pretty cheap too.”
“I couldn’t stand that she pulled a fast one on me. So I made sure that she wasn’t going to get the best grade in the class anymore. So when the end of the semester came around and I found out I got a 99% on a paper I wrote for the class she was in I went and found her in the girls dorms. I asked her how she did on her class final paper. She told me she got a 91% on it and asked why it mattered. I of course smiled and told her I got a 99% on it. When she didn’t believe me I went on to explain what my paper was about and what the grading criteria were.
“How’d she take it?
“She wasn’t even mad. It was like she was impressed. She told me she had an actual project for the paper for me. Now that she knew I had the skills to write she wanted to see if I could get an interview that none of her editors could. It was about the dorms and basically trying to find dirt that it was the maintenance people’s fault for something. It was that moment when I realized I was falling in love with her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t want to do the interview. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to help the newspaper but I realized if I didn’t I had no other reason to continue communicating with her. The funny thing is I got the interview that they couldn’t. Instead of getting dirt on the maintenance people I wrote an article defending them and saying all the things they do that go unnoticed and unappreciated and blamed the administration for not providing them with enough people or enough funding. The other interesting thing about that was that article and that interview are what led me to meeting Andy. He hired me to work for him that second semester and soon after he started opening my eyes to other things.”
“That’s amazing. And what happened with you and Amie?”
“How about you do some talking so I can do some eating” Sam said.
“Sorry. Yeah go ahead and eat.” After the two of them finished eating they got into Sam’s car and they took a drive over to Sam’s old house. Sam knew it was safe now since his brother have previously told him his Dad had moved away. There was a park bench across the street that the two of them sat on.
“So did you ask her out after your article got published?
“I was dating some crazy chick at the time. As interested as I was in Amie I was invested in this other girl.”
“Invested? Girl’s aren’t stocks.”
“It’s a long complicated story, which happens to be the story I told your sister. It wouldn’t be all that interesting to you. Basically hot crazy girl but I stayed with her because the sex was good until she eventually broke it off with me for being an ass. That’s the summary of it.”
“What about after you guys broke up then?”
“She was with some dude for about another month after I broke up with my girl. She had a more mature relationship with him though than I did with her so I had to give her time to get over him. We were friends by this time. We’d meet in the library and work on homework, or the newspaper, or she’d pick my brain about stuff. It wasn’t until that summer that we finally got together.”
“What happened then?”
“A lot happened then man. All type of stuff that happens in a real relationship. We would get in fights and then someone would apologize. Go on small trips away from here and school, spend holidays at each other families and got to know them pretty well. She was even there for me when I got kicked out of school.”
“So how long were you guys together then?”
“34 months, 1 week.” Sam said without having to think about it. “She was fortunate enough to graduate college in her lifetime. She was proud of it so I was happy for her. After she had finished school, and I was living with Andy at the time, I saved up enough to buy a ring. I took her out on a boat ride and in the sunset I proposed to her and she accepted.”
“That sounds amazing man.”
“It was. How’d you get here?”
“I drove a car that one of the guys let me borrow at the garage.”
“Ok we need to go drop that off then.”
“Right now?” Charlie questioned
“Yes right now.”
“But I want to hear more about her.”
“No. I want to think about the good times.” Sam said heading towards his car. Charlie realized that the story must be coming to an abrupt end and decided not to push it. Sam drove Charlie back to the other car and the two of them drove back to the garage. Sam drove back to his usual back alley parking lot spot and the two of them parted ways. It was evening by now and the sun was almost down. Sam was in a phase that he entered his apartment through the front door instead of the back window. Sam also didn’t realize that there was an undercover cop car parked up the street that happened to be surveilling the bookstore.