It was a good writing day. I added about 2300 words. The hardest challenge this time was dealing with the text messages. I’m still not thrilled with that part, but I feel like I got it to about 70% of what I wanted it to be, and I can polish it up later. Thank you for continuing to read.
Day Nine– 16091/50000 words
He limped over to the table, where his phone was still attached to the charger. He looked at the screen and saw who the caller was. His thumb hovered above the answer button for a moment, but then he went ahead and tapped the screen. He sat down at the table and aid, “Hey sis.”
“Marshmallow,” he heard his sister Anne’s voice say, “I guess you are alive after all.”
“Alive and well,” Marshall said. He smiled when he said it. It was a trick he had learned from the Internet. If you smile when you are on the phone, it makes your voice sound more upbeat.
“Why didn’t you answer my texts then?” she asked. His sister was clearly not smiling into the phone.
“Sorry,” he said, “My phone died and I had left it on vibrate, so I probably just didn’t hear them. You know how I am about phones.”
“You need to be better about that.” I worry when you don’t answer.”
Marshall clenched his hand into a fist, and then relaxed it. He repeated this several times, but he continued to smile into the phone. He thought for a second about how to divert her off of the subject, and then realized what he could do. He had to give her some hope. “Thank you for the care package,” he said, “I really appreciate it. I used one of the cards last night as a matter of fact. I had a date, so I took her to the Applebee’s.”
“You had a date?” The tension went out of his sister’s voice and for a moment she sounded like the sister he remembered from the old days. She sounded like the sister who didn’t feel like she had to watch out for him and could just have a conversation. “Who is she? What does she do? Is she nice? How did it go?”
Marshall’s smile became a little more genuine now. “Her name is Catrin,” he said, “She a caterer.” he added, mentally upgrading her from server. “She is nice, and quite pretty. I think you’d like her.” He proceeded to tell her about the date. In this version, he left out the sprained ankle, and blended in the conversations at the bar from the day before. He then went into the story of how they met, going into the whole emergency bartender story. He tried to exaggerate as little as possible, but her purposely left out any references to the headaches or the injuries. He didn’t want to feel like he had lied to her too much. It was bad enough that he was calling yesterday a date, but he figured buying a girl dinner counted as a date, even if it probably didn’t mean the same thing to her.
Eventually Marshall ran out of story. After a quiet moment, his sister said, “She sounds great. I can’t wait to meet her when we come out.”
“Come out?” Marshall said.
“Yes,” Anne said, drawing out the word. “If you had read the texts, you’d already know this. The second week of October is fall break, so we’re going to pack up the kids and come on out for the week. The kids are looking forward to a few days on the beach.”
“I’m not exactly set up for visitors,” Marshall said.
“Well of course we’re not staying with you,” Anne said. “We’ll be staying at the Hyatt Place. I’ve got points from work.” Marshall tried to think of something enthusiastic to say, but he took too long and the silence was noted. “I brought this up before you ever left Marshall. I said we’d come out after you got settled. I worry about you. You know that.”
“Just like you know I don’t like being worried about,” Marshall answered.
Anne’s voice lost its lightness. “I’ll cancel if you want,” she said.
Marshall was tempted to call her bluff, but he didn’t have the heart. “Of course not,” he said. “It will be nice to see you guys.”
“And you are coming here for Christmas. You know that right. I’ll come over there and drag you here if I have to.”
“I’m sure we’ll work something out.” He said.
“Drag you,” Anne repeated.
“Of course,” he said lightly, remembering again to smile into the phone. He resisted the urge to say, Yes, I get it. You want no illusions that I am there voluntarily.
They talked for a few more minutes, mostly about the kids, and then they said their goodbyes. As soon as he hung up Marshall closed his eyes and did his breathing exercises. He spent ten minutes just focusing on his breath. Finally, he opened his eyes. “This is my life,” he said, “I have to live it.”
Marshall unlocked his phone and pressed the messages icon. There were five texts from his sister, moving increasingly from friendly, to annoyed, to concerned. There was a text from Jonathan, a former co-worker, asking him what the account name for the backup server was. He texted back “Joshua… password pl4y464m3.”
He read the texts from Catrin about his bar cart. He hadn’t put her name in his phone yet, but it was easy to tell they were from her. He added her to his address book. That left the messages from after he took his medication”
Unknown: We should get together sometime.
Marshall: Did you ever have the feeling you forgot to do something?
Unknown: Yes. I get that feeling sometimes. What do you think you forgot?
Marshall: I’m not broke.
Unknown: I got that feeling when I met you.
Marshall: There was nothing else I could wait for.
Unknown: You could wait for me.
Marshall: Don’t turn on the light.
Unknown: Do you mean now? Are you expecting me now? Where are you?
Marshall: I could bring it out into the light.
Unknown: What are you going to bring into the light?
Marshall: I drifted off for a moment
Unknown: I understand. We’ll talk later.
Unknown (Several hours later): Is it too late?
Marshall read and reread the conversation. He tried to figure out if he was responding to the other person’s messages, or if they were just the random synapses in his subconscious firing off. He also tried to puzzle out who was responding to him. He had his suspicions. He typed out, “Who is this?” and he pressed send. After about a minute he got an error message “Not Delivered.” He checked his signal, but it was strong. He tried to send the message again and got the same result.
Marshall stared at the phone for a moment. He reread the messages again. He felt now as if he needed to do something, but he couldn’t figure out what to do. He used the search feature on his phone to try to look up the number, but nothing came up in the search. He couldn’t think of what else to do. He checked the time. It was still only nine in the morning. It was still hours before he was supposed to meet with the sheriff. On any other day he would walk down to Seaside Espress, but he knew that wasn’t a good idea. He figured if he rested it now, he might be able to walk without a limp once it was time to go to the meeting, but if he used it now and ran into trouble, Catrin would have to help him up the steps. He had an overwhelming desire to avoid that happening again. He knew his ankle couldn’t be fully better in just a few hours, but the goal was for it to be better enough. He grabbed his phone and made his way back to bed.
He spent a few minutes looking at Facebook on his phone. He hadn’t been on in several weeks. Most of his Facebook friends were people he had known in high school or college. There was a long string of people with their kids or their partners. There were inspirational quotes and some political ones memes. He tried to think of something to say. He hadn’t actually posted anything in months. His profile picture was from way back. He looked at his round fleshy face, so different from the one he stared at in the mirror this morning. The entire account seemed like it belonged to a different person. He thought about taking another picture. He was sure there would be a few dozen thumbs up, to see his new slim face. It seemed like that would ruin things though. Let the old version of him stay alive in this one place.
He wanted to write something though. He tried to come up with something profound to say, but he could find nothing. Instead he wrote. “I’m fine. Thanks.” He waited a minute more before hitting post, just in case something better came to mind. Nothing did. He felt a headache coming on. This often happened if he stared at a screen for too long. It had been in the back of his mind when he grabbed the phone. “Get your headache over with now so you’ll be operational later. He knew there were no guarantees that a headache now wouldn’t be followed by a headache later, or that he would even be rid of this one before Catrin came, but it seemed like good timing. He did his breathing exercises. He pictured his breath as blue steam. He was already lying down, so he just stayed where he was. His mask was in the freezer still, and his ice wrap had gotten warm, but he put a pillow over his eyes and did his best.
This headache was particularly nasty at first. He felt, for a while, like his head was going to crack open. He stuck to his breathing though. At some point, instead of picturing his breath, he found himself at the ocean. He was at the edge of the water, and he watched as a particularly big wave came toward him, crashing down at his feet. A sense of calm came over him and the headache lessened. He continued to watch the waves coming toward him. He could hear the water lapping at his feet. He realized he was not alone. He looked over to see Benton Noro standing next to him. She smiled a small smile and said, “There is a rip tide, but it is still worth the swim.”
“I’m not a strong swimmer he told her. She shook her head. “You don’t become a strong swimmer by staring at the waves.” She took off her clothes then, and ran into the water. He tried to follow, but his feet had sunk into the sand, and by the time he got them unstuck, she had disappeared.
Marshall heard an insistent knock at his door. He opened his eyes. “Come in” he called, “I didn’t lock it.” He sat up in the bed. Catrin came in carrying two big bags.
“I brought you some supplies,” she said. She dropped the bags on his table. I got you a couple ice wraps and some vitamin water. I got some candy bars too. I don’t know why, I just figured it might do you some good. Also, I baked you some banana muffins.”
“You baked?” Marshal asked, “Wow. That’s…” His voice trailed off. Finally he added, “Thank you.”
“It was nothing,” Catrin said. “I like to bake. It makes the house smell nice. Here, I’ll bring you one.” She walked over and handed him a muffin. He took a small bite out of it. To his surprise, it tasted good. It didn’t taste like he remembered bananas tasting. It didn’t taste like plastic though, and that was a good thing. He ate a couple more bites and Catrin brought him some vitamin water. “I hope you like fruit punch.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “The muffins are great.” The vitamin water was mostly tasteless to him, but he washed down the muffin with it anyway, and then he ate a second. He thanked her again and again she shrugged it off.
“You need to get dressed,” she said, she grabbed him some clothes out of the closet so he didn’t have to get up. He changed quickly, with a minimum of trouble.”
“My ankle is doing much better,” He said. “You don’t have to fuss.”
“We’ll see,” Catrin said. She handed him his wallet and extended a hand to help him up. He reluctantly took hold and pulled himself up. He took a tentative step and found that the pain was actually much less than even this morning. He smiled. “Let’s go see the sheriff.”
They walked out the door and out to her car. He was able to walk with only a slight limp, and felt good about that. On the car rid over, Catrin told him about her experiences with the Sheriff.
“I first met him when my brother disappeared,” Catrin said. “He came out to the house personally and sat with us. At the time I thought he was just being a good Sheriff, but I figured out later that he was trying to make up his mind about my parents, and about whether they had anything to do with him disappearing. He was always friendly and respectful, but I remember how he seemed to walk around the house. He never seemed to sit. They never got a warrant to search, but I think that was because they didn’t need to. The sheriff had already searched the place right under my parent’s noses.”