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Heart of Truth

by Thomas Willits

part 1

Water pattering on the roof and racing through the downspouts harmoniously declared the arrival of spring. Trees once shed of their glorious summer attire were finally sprouting their yearly buds as if to say they were on their way to some fantastic dance hall.

The crisp air filling the night sky as winter held its bitter breath no longer lingered into the late morning and was replaced by the comfort of relaxing on the porch swing hours after the sun had set.

Children left the comfort of the couch and television and found their way onto the streets and yards once more to ride bikes and play the usual games that echoed through the streets as a yearly sign it was time to get out and clean the garage and wash the cars and maybe... paint the house this year.

The hilltop where Todd and Amy resided was in the Fairviews, what you would call a nice middle-class neighborhood where everyone mowed the lawn on Saturday mornings and got the sports car out of the garage on Sundays to drive to the theater and Sonic drive-in.

It wasn’t a life of luxury, but it was at the very least a comfortable one.

A wife, three kids and a mortgage; everything a man of thirty-four needed these days. Plus the “his” and “her” cars newly paid for sitting in the driveway and the twenty-year-old Ferrari in the garage that was nearly paid for — Todd’s obsession, nonetheless. It made the long days at the office somehow understandable in the fast-paced game of the American Dream.

What was that anyway? “The American Dream?” Did it even exist? And does anyone still call it that any more? Or is it really: “The American Scream?”

The oldest child, Charles, was now not so much a child any more but nearing puberty and taking showers every day — sometimes twice if he had gym class that afternoon. The younger children, Lexi and Lucy, were both in school, and life was echoing those words that most Americans longed to hear: life is good.

Yeah, life was good.

Sure, Todd felt the pressures — from his friends and their petty differences, from the fifteen-minute drive to work in the express lane, from trying to get the best parking space, from trying to be the first one to leave and beat the rush-hour traffic home.

Yes, there were pressures: keeping up on the mortgage, bills, kids’ college fund, the ever-growing collection of hard to throw away items in the basement and garage that encroached on the Ferrari’s sleeping grounds. Pressures that everyone on the block and neighborhood felt at one time or another. But still, life was good.

It’s not like he’d lost his job during the recession or had been dismembered by an IED in Iraq; life had dealt him a respectable hand and he couldn’t complain. He had kids whom he loved more than the world itself and a wife that loved him very much. They had been together for fifteen years, which said a lot these days with the divorce rate. Todd knew Amy would never leave him in a million years, and of course they were the best of friends.

A small part, not the part that you comb your hair when you’re trying to cover your bald spot, but a small part of Todd felt some misplaced love. Maybe even a longing from the past that had never been fulfilled. At first he believed it was some mid-life thing that people always talked about, and he genuinely thought the Ferrari would fill it.

For a time it had.

He genuinely loved Amy. They had married young, because of something unexpected that occurs when Barbie and Ken forget to bring along the plastic pants, so Todd was faced with adulthood sooner than most. The period of time when kids his age were out every Friday and Saturday night, he was in the living room watching Teletubbies and changing diapers while Amy went to night school to finish up her degree that had been on hold since they had become the newly wed — or in the back of Todd’s mind during those tumultuous years — The Newly Dead.

It wasn’t the guys’ night out he missed. He’d been out on a few when Amy didn’t have school in the summer months and when he didn’t have to work long hours to make enough for the day care and mortgage, which seemed to grow bigger and bigger like the diapers and clothes they kept buying week to week. It wasn’t like he missed those days entirely and even if he had, he didn’t believe they’d be something worth reliving if given the opportunity.

No, it was something else entirely.

It all began at some fly-by-night job he’d taken because he was struggling to find work, a job he wouldn’t give a second thought when filling out résumés at this late stage. But it was there he’d met her and it was the year he had to choose between the two women with the same name. Maybe he had made the wrong choice; maybe if he had chosen her he wouldn’t still wake up every morning and wonder if he’d love her more.

She really was like a dream now. A lost memory.

She was in and out of his life nearly as quickly, and to make matters worse she had the same name: Amy.

What is love, huh?

“Pain and suffering,” Todd mumbled as he read the sports section of the Daily Tribune.

Amy closed the refrigerator after putting away the milk. She didn’t make out Todd’s remarks so she cocked one eyebrow upward in her usual gesture for Todd to repeat what he had just said under his breath.

“Oh,” he replied and folded the paper over to continue on the next page. “Knicks lost another one. That’s the fifth game in a row.”

His mind wondered back to his dream about her.

He hadn’t thought about her in at least six months, and it was a bit odd now that they were finally back to a normal life after Amy’s close call with ovarian cancer. Luckily they had caught it early and were finally back to a routine bedroom life that had been on hiatus since last summer. They were doing well now. He had been there for her through the worst of times, so why now did he have to think about her?

He could barely even remember her face now. After all, it had been fifteen years ago. But she still popped into his mind as if to say “I’ll always be here for you, just to make you wonder what would have been... Do you?

Do you remember?

“They’re pretty bad this year,” she said. “I hope they get something going soon or they’re not going to have much of a post-season.”

Todd grunted, agreeingly.

Amy nestled close to Todd waiting for him to wrap his arms around her. There was a pause. A definite pause and Todd noticed it.

Oh, no, he thought to himself. She noticed the pause too.

He quickly wrapped her up in his arms and felt her embrace. It felt good. The pause might have been a bit odd, but maybe she didn’t notice it after all.

Amy closed her eyes and relaxed in his arms. “I love you,” she said.

“I love you too.”

She smiled. “Do you like this dress?” she asked. “Or does it make my butt look big?”

He didn’t look. He knew this one well. You never look. If you look it’s all over and you’ll be testing out the cushions on the couch for the next week.

“It’s stunning,” he said in a snap. Their eyes met and they kissed gently. She really did look good in it and he honestly didn’t believe it made her butt look big, but women were sensitive about that and he knew how to handle himself in a situation like this one, the pause, hell if you could even call it that was merely a hurdle, nothing more. He’d stumbled, but he wasn’t out of the race.

She sighed. “Really?”

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. Sexy stunning.” His grin was unusually extravagant.

She laughed and hugged him tight adding another kiss to his lips. “Well, that earns a couple extra points for you tonight.”

He blushed superficially. “Golly, June! Wolly and the Beav might hear.”

She swatted him lightly, “Okay... Ward!” And just like that she was off to work.

Todd had taken the next two days off to watch the first round of the men’s basketball tournament and had just turned on the television and laid out the vegetable tray and dip on the coffee table when the doorbell rang.

“Uh,” he grunted. “Never fails.”

He got up to see who it was.

Before he opened the door he glanced to see if there was a car in the drive or on the street. He didn’t see one, which meant it was probably a salesperson making his rounds.

Todd angled his view to try and see the person. He was dressed in a trench coat and suit, looking a little like Colombo without the cigar. He was an older gentleman, probably as old as his father, as far as he could see.

Normally he wouldn’t even answer the door and just secretly watch the caller walk away in defeat, but something held his gaze. The man outside his door had turned slightly and had noticed him peering out the window.

For a moment, Todd thought the man couldn’t see him through it. Perhaps there was a glare from the sun reflecting off the glass obscuring his face; but when the man raised a hand and waved, the confirmation he needed was right outside his door.

He noticed the man was indeed older now that he had turned, and he actually did look a little like his father. As Todd turned the door handle, the man smiled. He was holding a black briefcase and sporting a striped red tie. The overcoat appeared worn. Perhaps it had been bought at some thrift store decades ago.

“Afternoon!” the man said.

“Hello,” Todd replied. “’Help you?”

“Perhaps I can help you,” the man said grinning widely exposing his tobacco-stained teeth — at least the ones that were still there.

Well at least he isn’t selling toothbrushes, Todd thought.

The man stood before Todd as if he were something of a solution to life’s problems and the answer to everything. He lowered the briefcase to the porch and placed one hand on his hip and the other he pointed as if beginning a lecture.

“If I get the next two questions right, would you do me the honor of listening to me for five minutes? I guarantee it won’t be a waste of your time.”

Todd lowered his head a bit dismayed. “Well...” he began not wanting to get caught in the salesman’s trap, “I—”

“Is your anniversary this month?”

Todd’s mouth froze and he could only nod. “Yes.”

He wasn’t a good liar. He knew some people that were, but he just didn’t have their finesse. It took a lot of practice to get it down right and appear genuine. Usually when he tried making up a story it ended up worse than something George Costanza from Seinfeld had done.

“I see. And would I be correct you haven’t settled on a purchase yet for the lovely lady?”

Todd nodded again. Trapped now, like a rat in a sinking ship.

“Well, I’ve got your solution,” he continued. “Oh, I’m sorry. My name’s Frank. Frank Rosier. I deal in jewelry. I get the best items for a fraction of the price, and everything I carry is guaranteed to be authentic.”

He raised his hand and Todd shook it. There were creases on nearly every square inch of that hand but just the same it was warm and firm, just like a true gentleman’s.

Surprisingly Todd noticed, as they parted from the handshake, that the man’s breath didn’t reek of smoke . It was already afternoon and the opportunity for at least one smoke break for the salesman would have surely come by now. Perhaps he had recently quit.

He did smell heavily of after-shave. Old Spice, Todd thought. It was almost obscene. He had this stereotype in his mind that all old men used Old Spice and it actually felt comforting knowing that it might be true.

“Well,” Todd admitted, “I guess five minutes won’t hurt. But I planned on getting something this weekend. In fact, I was thinking about going down to Kay’s here in a couple of hours. But I guess I could take a look at what you have.”

He motioned for Frank to come inside.

They sat on opposite sofas in the living room, the TV was still on and Frank gave it a glance, seeing Todd was watching the NCAA tournament.

“Going to be a fantastic day for games. Oh, yeah, you betcha! Upsets today, for sure. Big day for the little guys. Twelve and thirteen seeds today and tomorrow a fourteen and a fifteen.”

Todd smiled almost sarcastically. “Oh, really?”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Willits

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