Although I made my word count for yesterday, I skipped yesterday’s post because I decided that what I had written needed to come after another scene, which is what I worked on today.I didn’t want to post the story out of order, so I am saving that part for later. That work may be part of tomorrow’s post.

 

Marshall Cooper

Day 22/23 – 38,597/50,000 words

Chapter 8

Marshall woke up late the next morning. A headache had come in the middle of the night. It hasn’t been a particularly severe one, be he had been unable to get to sleep for several hours. It was past ten in the morning when he finally did get out of bed, and he still felt somewhat groggy. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he decided to lie back down and listen to the radio. He turned the crank for about a half a minute, and then turned the radio on. Rather than music, he heard two people talking. The first was asking questions about locations and times, and the second, for the most part, was declining to answer, citing the fact that it was an ongoing investigation. Marshall had trouble following it. Eventually though, the interview ended and the first person said, “Thank you. That was Pedro Cortes, the under-sheriff. To review what we know now. At just after midnight last night, Sheriff Dwight Weatherly was found unresponsive in his car, parked outside of the Wayfarer hotel. He was brought to the Santa Creda Medical Center, where efforts to revive him proved unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at 1:13 this morning. At this time cause of death is undetermined and the Sheriff’s department has not ruled out foul play. Sheriff Dwight Weatherly is dead at the age of 68.”

Marshall sank into his bed. A feeling of overwhelming darkness came over him. The radio switched to music for a bit. Every song was a tribute: Knocking on Heaven’s DoorKeep Me In Your HeartFire and Rain. The DJ returned to the air and repeated the same basic information, and then he took calls. People talked about encounters with the Sheriff. They talked about his time in the community. Marshall listened, feeling a deep sense of loss. He had only known the sheriff a short time, but he had felt like he was one of the good guys.

Marshall stayed in bed listening to the songs and the calls. There were some callers who talked about not feeling safe in their community, and some who blamed immigrants and a host of other things. The DJ would gently remind people that the police had not made a determination about his death. There was no shootout or gun battle. Whatever happened to the sheriff happened quietly. No one was quite sure what to make of it. The sheriff’s department wasn’t providing many details, so it was hard to be sure what had happened.

Marshall was due to meet his Anne and the family for lunch at noon. He considered texting her that we wasn’t going to come, but he decided that would just lead to problems, so he got up, did his stretches, and shaved quickly before heading out. He headed down to Seaside Espress and ordered his coffee to go. While he was waiting, he bumped into Jacob. They shook hands. Jacob seemed to be in a good mood. Marshall asked him if he’d heard about the Sheriff and Jacob nodded. “It’s sad,” Jacob said flatly. He then immediately changed the subject to the college.

“That was a really good idea you had. I’ve been looking at it, and it turns out there are about a half dozen colleges around the country that specialize in the same basic thing, and they’re all doing quite well. You don’t hear about most of them because, like you said, they really aren’t trying to bring in the natives. Benton has already lined up some additional investors. We’ll run the thing as a non-profit of course, and it will be a nice way to make a tax-free investment in the city. Meanwhile, we build dorms, stores and restaurants for the students. We make our money off of that. They’ve all got to live somewhere, right?”

Marshall nodded. He was a little amazed that based on an offhand conversation over burgers; a multi-million dollar operation was being put into place. He was also disconcerted at how little Jacob seemed to care about the Sheriff. He realized, of course, that Jacob may not have ever met that man. As far as Marshall could tell, Jacob had come to town only a month or so before Marshall, and from all appearances, he considered Sheriff Dwight to be a rival. There was no real reason for Jacob to care in the least. Nonetheless, Marshall felt a sense of disappointment in Jacob, who he basically liked. He got his coffee and said goodbye.

Marshall walked down to the beach and walked along the water’s edge to get to the hotel. The beach was less busy than the day before, but there were still quite a few people enjoying the warm day. Adults and teenagers were spread out on the sand, getting some sun. Children were playing in the water or making sand castles. Marshall thought then of the sheriff’s daughter. Just a couple weeks ago she had celebrated her 11th birthday, and today she lost her father. The thought stopped Marshall in his tracks. He stood there for some time staring out at the water, thinking of his own parents. A pit grew in his stomach. Marshall took a few steps away from where the waves were lapping in, and sat on the sand. He stared out at the ocean, trying to convince himself to get back up, but he couldn’t manage it.

Marshall couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his parents. That day had been wiped from his memory. That made it hard to pinpoint the exact last time he did remember being with them. He was probably with them a couple weeks earlier, on another Sunday afternoon. Whatever that day was though, it was unremarkable. His parents had been getting up in age somewhat, but they were still fairly healthy. His father had been taking high blood pressure pills, but other than that, had been doing fine for a man nearing seventy. His mother had gotten knee surgery at one point, but that was a problem with mobility, not longevity, and she had recovered reasonably well. There had been nothing to make him thing that the end was anywhere near.

Sheriff Dwight was the same age his father had been when he died. Scenarios went through Marshall’s head. None of them were particularly well thought out, because he had so little information. He pictured the sheriff discovering his wife at the hotel, and being overwhelmed by sudden grief, his heart giving out. It was a ridiculous thought though. It was possible, of course, that it was the sheriff meeting someone at the hotel that night, but that seemed even less likely. Just that fact that he was still in his car made the possibility of his infidelity feel remote. The most logical thought was that he was there watching someone, or perhaps looking for someone. He may have been doing it officially or unofficially. If he was watching someone, chances are that person was still at the hotel. He was sure the officers would be looking into that.

Marshall’s brain continued to sort through the possibilities, but he knew that in the end they would make very little difference to his little girl. Marshall thought about Shelby. Marshall thought back to the texts he had received the night he met her. It seemed likely to him, that she was the one who had sent them. He had ruled out just about everyone else. He felt like there had been a spark when he met her. It was not something Marshall would have ever acted on, but he still could acknowledge it. He wondered how Shelby had taken the news. He assumed she had taken it badly.

His thoughts returned to his own parents, and to his sister. He recognized how hard the situation had been for his sister. She had not only lost both of her parents, but she had been faced with what remained of Marshall, and trying to put him back together. Marshall imagined how much grief and pressure that must have been for her. He couldn’t imagine that the situation had left her much time for grieving. Marshall was lucky that she was the sort of person who could, at least outwardly, handle all of that. For his part, he did not think he would have done so well if the tables had been turned. That would have been a difference situation though. Anne had her own family, who would have been there to look after her. Marshall only had Anne, and her family.

Marshall looked at his iPhone and confirmed that he could not possibly get to the hotel on time. He texted his sister. “Running a little behind, but I’m on my way now.” He did his breathing exercises, and tried to center himself. He listened to the ocean, and the waves coming in at him. Even in the time he had been sitting there, they had crept closer, one wave making it as far as a couple steps from his feet. When he felt like he was able, he got back up and started walking. He felt like he was walking very slowly. Eventually though, he made it to the hotel.

Marshall decided not to bring up the sheriff to Anne and the family. He couldn’t picture them understanding the connection he felt to the aging lawman. He wasn’t sure he understood it himself. It turned out that only Anne was in the room. “Charlie decided he wanted to watch the ballgame,” Anne said. He’s down at the hotel bar. I thought it would be nice if just the two of us had lunch.”

“Great,” Marshall said, trying to push some enthusiasm in his voice. The two of them rode the elevator down and walked out to her mini-van. The van was a bit of a mess, having endured long miles with a full family inside. It smelled a bit sand and sweat. Anne drove, asking him where they should go. Marshall had no idea where to eat, and suggested that they head over to the mall. Anne said she would prefer some local flavor, and Marshall remembered that Catrin had suggested the Salt Grotto. Marshall had never eaten there, but he remembered walking past it and gave her directions until they arrived.

The restaurant was a bit more formal than Marshall expected. They used white table clothes and had wine suggestions that Anne seemed to understand while he did not. Marshall stuck with iced tea anyway. Anne ordered the halibut, while Marshall got the Chef’s Choice Nigiri plate.

Marshall tried to come up with a conversation topic, but the best he could come up with was “How are the kid’s doing in school.” This was enough to at least get Anne started, as she detailed Cassandra’s success in her AP classes, to Caleb’s success at wrestling, to Corrine’s struggles with math. It filled five minutes, before Anne took a turn with a question of her own.

“Do you think this relationship with Catrin is going to get serious?”

Marshall thought about it for a moment. Then he said, “Catrin is nice, and I like being with her. I haven’t been in a relationship in a long time, so I don’t know what serious really even is right now. If you’re asking if I’m in love with her, I couldn’t say. I’ve never been in love with anybody really, at least, not in a way that I see in the movies. That has just never happened for me. It’s a new relationship, and it’s nice that way. I’m well aware that I’m much older than she is. In the back of my mind, I wonder when she is going to figure out that she has better options. But I do think I bring something to the table for her, and I think I know why she likes being with me. It would be hard to explain to you though. You’ve been married for almost twenty years now. The reasons I think this works would probably sound stupid to you.”

“You can at least try me,” Anne said. “I think I know you pretty well.”

“You do know me,” Marshall said. “But you don’t really trust me anymore.” Anne shook her head. Marshall continued. “I understand. You had to sit there with me in the hospital, even with two parents gone. You came every day. It’s hard to let go of that feeling of being a caretaker. But before all of that, I was just your big brother. We had a different relationship. You may not remember it, but I do because it is the relationship I wish we still had. There was a time when you would actually come to me for advice. You may not have taken it, but you wanted my opinion because I was your big brother.”

“I’m sorry if I seem overbearing to you. I only wanted to see how you were doing.” Anne said.

Marshall held his hands out in front of him. “The thing is,” Marshall said, “I want to tell you how I’m doing. I want to be able to share my problems with you and talk about my future plans. Because, I may be the older brother, but I’ve always cared about your opinion too. But I have to know that if I talk about how I’m doing, especially if I talk about my problems, that you aren’t going to take that as a sign that I’m failing. Because I do have problems, but none of them are insurmountable. They are just the things I have to deal with. Yes, I have headaches. Yes, I have trouble eating.”

Marshall pointed to the sushi on his plate. “I’m sure this is quite good, but to me it might as well be plain yogurt. A fine restaurant is completely wasted on me. But I do eat. I make myself eat. I’m not going to starve to death, but on the other side, I’m not going to make myself eat more than I have to because there is simply no point. It gives me no pleasure.”

Anne nodded. “I’ll try to stop giving you grief over your eating. I have a hard time because I know how much you used to love food.”

Marshall laughed. “You think you know. Food was one of the great pleasures in my life. You don’t get to over 300 pounds without loving food. Food was the one thing that could make me happy when everything else was going wrong. Now it’s gone, probably forever. That is why I had to find other things to make me happy. I came here, because being by the ocean makes me happy. Instead of eating an entire pizza, I go and sit by the ocean and drink coffee.”

“I get that,” Anne said. “This is a nice place.”

“The thing is, you’ve spent a lot of time helping me, and I am grateful. I’m annoyed, but I am grateful. The problem is that I completely lost out on the opportunity to take care of you.”

“I didn’t need taking care of,” Anne said.

“How can that be?” Marshall asked. “You went through a horrific event. How did you cope with it? How are you coping with it now? Our parents are gone, and we never talk about it. Do you talk to Charlie? Do you see a therapist? What do you do to cope?”

Anne looked down at her plate. “I coped by taking care of you.” She said, “You and my kids, and Charlie, I take care of all of you. I work as hard as I can at my job. I exercise as often as I can. That’s how I cope.”

“You fill your life with the things you care about.” Marshall’s voice trailed off.

“That’s exactly how I cope.”

“Everybody has their own way I guess,” Marshall said.

Anne said, “I have problems too,” Anne said, “I have trouble sleeping. I lay down in bed and my thoughts race. I’m constantly making lists. To do lists, lists of things I want to remember… lists of your problems. I have a list for everything.”

Marshall thought about that for a second. “I made a list of things to do before you came here. Things that would make you worry less about me.”

Anne smiled. “Mom kept a lot of lists too. I found all sorts of them when I was cleaning out their house. I guess it’s a family trait.”

The two of them set back to eating there food for a few minutes. Marshall managed to finish about half of his sushi before giving up. Anne finished her halibut. “Catrin was right. They really do know their fish.” After lunch they talked about their lives some more. When they left the restaurant, Marshall and Anne drove through the town, and Marshall pointed out the places he had been so far, and well as a few of the places he was planning to visit at some point.

When they got back to the hotel, they met Charlie at the bar and sat around talking some more. Charlie filled Marshall in on his new venture. He was starting to add juices and fruit smoothies to his yogurt shops, trying it out first at his flagship location in Scottsdale. Marshall discussed his idea for a college that Jacob seemed bent on making a reality. At about nine o’clock, Marshall walked back to his apartment. He walked along the edge of the ocean again. There were a few people still out on the beach, but not many. One group of about ten people was gathered around one of the fire pits, drinking beers and roasting s’mores. They waved at him as he walked by, and he waved back.

He was still thinking about the sheriff. He remembered his first meeting with him at the station, and the way he talked about how he had decided to lead his live. Marshall wondered how he felt about it in his final moments. He wondered if he had had time to reflect at all. When he got past the fishing pier, he stopped and sat on the sand again. He closed his eyes and just listened to the ocean, with the sound surrounding him. He reclined on the sand and stated up at the stars. He remembered a conversation he had had with one of his therapists, the one who had taught him the breathing lessons. He had said, “If you learn to be still enough, and quest enough, you can feel the world turning.”

Marshall tried then, to feel the earth turning. He breathed slowly and deliberately. His eyes picked out a particular star, straight above his head, and he concentrated on it, trying to be patient enough to note its progress across the sky above him. He told himself it was like watching the minute hand of a clock. Unless you truly let yourself relax and observe, you can never see the hands of a clock moving. Marshall wanted to see it. He stayed on the ground, looking up, for the better part of an hour, watching the one particular star, watching it trace a very slow path across the ski. For a moment, he felt it. He felt the earth spinning its way across the time and space. In that moment, he felt alive.

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