It was another extraordinarily busy day for Noah. He rose early, promptly showered and shaved, pulled on a pair of comfortable black cargo shorts and a white and black plaid shirt, and slid his feet into a pair of sandals. Then he rushed to the kitchen where he quickly prepared his breakfast of an omelet and two slices of toast, orange juice and coffee. He jotted down notes on a notepad while he scarfed down his meal.
Keeping his pace, he was loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher before he had swallowed his last sip of coffee. Without pause he grabbed his video camera and laptop. Then shoved his cell phone and keys into his pocket and hurried out of his apartment. He hopped into his Jeep Grand Cherokee and was off to the beach.
The day before, he had solidified most of his plans for his next project; an independent short film entitled Beachcomber. Today his first task was to scout locations on the beach and capture them. Then meet with his production crew later that day to discuss the scenes and the latest re-write of the screenplay. Then later on that evening he had a dinner meeting planned with a very interested producer.
It was a beautiful summer’s day in Chicago; perfect for a day at the beach. Luke drove down Lake Shore Drive – top down on his Mustang convertible with his excited four year old son Jaden safely strapped in his car seat in the back, guarding their picnic basket. As Luke took a peek at him in the rear view mirror he realized how fast he was growing and surmised he should be purchasing a minivan very soon.
The two of them loved coming to the beach early so Jaden could have the run of the place. They always had a wonderful time swimming in the warm Lake Michigan waters, collecting rocks and seashells, building sandcastles and best of all just spending time with each other.
Sometimes they would just sit and enjoy whatever they packed in their picnic basket, listen to music, and have long conversations. This is exactly what they had planned for today since swimming was out of the question because Jaden was just getting over a nasty summer cold.
When Luke stopped at a stop light he turned around and asked, “How are you doing back there kiddo?”
“I’m good. Are we there yet?”
Luke chuckled, “Just a few more minutes ok?”
Noah turned on his car radio to the local news station so he could hear the weather report. Instead he heard a news bulletin that shocked him to his very core. “Winston Mayer was killed today by a fellow inmate at Statesville Prison. He was stabbed to death during an altercation in the prison cafeteria.”
Noah’s heart seized and his breath caught in his throat. He had to pull over into the nearest parking lot in order to regain his bearings. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He searched up and down the dial for another station so he could hear the news report again needing to confirm in his mind that it was true. He listened to another account of the story.
“Winston Mayer was serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-wife Charlene Wilson and the attempted murder of Dustin Donovan. He was stabbed with a makeshift weapon by another prisoner Daniel Wells during a fight. He was taken to the prison hospital where he later died.”
So it was true, his father was dead. His mother’s murderer had himself been murdered. Noah took out his cell phone dialed 411 and asked to be connected to the warden’s office at Statesville Prison.
The warden spoke with him personally and informed him that they had tried to reach him, but did not have a working phone number. He conveyed his condolences and asked Noah what should be done with his father’s remains. Noah wasn’t prepared for that question. Why the hell did he think he would give a shit what they did with them?
He blurted out, “Do whatever’s customary I don’t really care,” and he ended the call.
He sat in his car for a few minutes squeezing his cell phone in his hand. That evil son of a bitch who had caused him so much pain was finally gone. Noah’s fear of him somehow getting out of prison was now put to rest. The haunting nightmare was completely over. But why didn’t Noah feel relieved or satisfied? If this is what closure felt like then why was it so empty? He had nothing to smile about or rejoice about – he only felt shock and pain and heartache.
My God am I grieving for my mother’s killer? Suddenly a massive wave of anger overtook him, attempting to choke off his very breath. Tears threatened to escape from his eyes. “I’m not gonna fucking cry damn it! I hated that evil bastard! He doesn’t deserve my tears or anybody else’s! Shit, I’ve got things to do!”
Noah stuck his phone back in his pocket, started up his car and headed for the beach. He turned on the radio to find some music to distract him. Even one of his favorite songs Safe and Sound by the group Capital Cities couldn’t divert him from the emotions he was feeling – all that he was feeling.
A few minutes later he had arrived at the beach. He parked in the lot a half block away from the pier and sat in his car peering out at the tranquil lake waters. So many times the enticing scene had been a comfort to him, but today it only made him sadder. He got out of his car and looked around. What started out as a vibrant summer day now seemed dreary. All of the bright seasonal colors, in his eyes were now muted and gray.
His intense barrage of emotions had drained him of his energy. He could no longer even think about his plans for that day let alone carry them out. He gazed at the few people gathered there; the early arrivals who wanted to claim their favorite spot before the hoards began their invasion.
He wanted to go back home, get drunk, and sleep it off safely in bed underneath the covers, but he was strangely drawn down to where the people were gathering to enjoy themselves.
Perhaps the sound of music and laughter would ease his overwhelming emotional pain. He left his video camera and all thoughts of his movie behind, removed his sandals, and carried them as he slowly walked down to the beach. He relished the sensation of warmth as soon as his bare feet touched the sand.
A familiar feeling that somewhat comforted him, however he needed more. He needed to feel a part of things yet remain aloof so he chose a shady spot underneath the pier where he was close enough to observe the sights and sounds, yet remain unnoticed.
Among the few gathered there, were couples young and old, and families, young girls in bikinis showing off their assets and young men there for the sole purpose of ogling them. There were children splashing around in the water wearing brightly colored water wings with their attentive parents close by. Tan, muscular life guards high atop their perches were keeping an eye on it all.
As he took it all in his mind was still racing until his attention was abruptly drawn to an extremely attractive, blond haired man who looked to be in his mid twenties and a small biracial boy holding hands, while walking in his direction. They were talking and laughing, aglow with love for each other as they happily strolled along. Noah couldn’t help but stare at them, noticing even from a distance their exquisite beauty.
He concluded they must be father and son because they shared a striking resemblance. Noah continued watching as the man spread out a beach towel for his son and one for himself. Then he set down a picnic basket and another container filled with toys. He pulled out a radio from the container and turned it on.
He then tossed his head back and roared with laughter when his little boy started dancing. After the song had ended the little boy giggled wildly, collapsing onto his towel. His father tickled his feet and he squealed with delight then jumped up and started to tickle his father. The man trapped him in a bear hug and the little boy sweetly kissed his forehead then adorably laid his head on his dad’s shoulder.
Seeing a heartwarming sight such as this would have normally brought a smile to Noah’s lips, but today after what he had experienced earlier, the tears he was determined to hold back at all costs, came pouring like torrents from his eyes.
He slumped against a post underneath the pier to keep himself upright. His whole body shook as he covered his face with his hands and heaved great sobs. He was not grieving his father’s death or even his mother’s murder. He grieved for what could have been. He wished he could have had a loving relationship with a kind and caring father, but that wasn’t the case.
He would have deeply appreciated a father who took an interest in him and enjoyed spending time with him, but that wasn’t what he wound up with. Noah thought he had gotten over all of the emotional damage his neglectful and heartless father had caused him, but today because of Winston Mayer’s death it was painfully resurrected.
Noah stood there and cried his heart out until he felt the lake water washing over his bare feet. This caused him to ease up a bit. Still quietly sobbing, he began to wipe away his tears with the heels of his hands. Certain that no one could see him in this most vulnerable state; he was shocked when he heard a tiny voice asking.
“Why are you crying?”
He whipped his head around and looked down to see the little boy he had been watching earlier. He cleared his throat and answered with a scratchy voice, “Because I’m very sad today.”
Noah thought it was best to keep the truth from him, so he quickly changed the subject. Pointing towards the child’s feet he replied, “Those are really cool shoes. You don’t want to get them wet. Are they new?”
The child backed away from the water and replied, “Yeah, my daddy just bought them for me. We’re gonna have lunch pretty soon. We have cookies. Do you like cookies?”
Noah smiled and replied, “Yeah I love cookies.”
“You want one?”
Then Luke came rushing over to his son in a near panicked state shouting, “Oh my God Jaden you scared me half to death. Why did you wander away like that? I’ve told you a million times not to talk to…”
“Daddy he was crying. He’s very sad. Can he have a cookie?”
Luke picked him up and started to nervously babble, “I’m really sorry sir if my son was bothering you. I’m really not a bad father…my phone rang and it was about work and it was really important, but not so important that I’d let my son wander away like that...I just turned my back for a split second and he was gone and I…”
“No need to apologize your son is very kind and I’m sure you’re a great dad. For what it’s worth I’m not some psycho child killer.” He smiled and extended his hand to Luke, “My name’s Noah.”
His precocious little four-year old shook Noah’s hand instead, loudly proclaiming with a huge grin, “Hi, I’m Jaden!”
“Well, I’m Luke and like he said, he’s Jaden,” Luke chuckled. “Noah whatever it is that’s upsetting you I hope things get better for you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that Luke.” His smile was halfhearted and somber.
Noah watched the gorgeous man and his equally beautiful young son walk away and his heart was again filled with sadness. That’s what a father and son should be; the very picture of caring and love. Not the tragic nightmare I had with my father. A lump formed in his throat and tears welled up in his eyes again. There was such sweetness about this man and boy’s interaction that he wanted desperately to share in it. God is that too much to ask?
Luke placed his son back down on his towel and said, “Mmm, time for lunch are you hungry?”
“Uh huh. Daddy do you think Noah is hungry? I know he wants a cookie. He said he loves cookies.” He looked up at his father with pleading eyes.
Luke crouched down to his level, “Jaden I don’t think we should bother Noah anymore. I think he wants to be alone.”
“But daddy he’s really sad. A cookie will make him feel better.”
“Umm, Jaden, umm…” Luke stood up and shielded his eyes from the sun. Noah hadn’t budged from where he’d left him, underneath the pier, sadly slumping against the post. Luke’s heart ached for him. He prayed silently, God I know you want us to help those in need and right now that man really needs a friend. I’m stepping out on faith that offering my friendship to him is the right thing to do.
He looked down at his son’s angelic face and replied, “You’re right sweetie. We should go back and invite Noah to have lunch with us.”
Jaden’s enormous brown eyes twinkled as he shouted, “Yaaay!” His exuberant smile lit up his entire face.
Luke tousled his shiny black curls and teased, “Well what are you waiting for kiddo?”
Jaden took off like a rocket in Noah’s direction with Luke running closely behind his excited little boy. Noah’s heart soared when he heard a noise and looked up and saw them sprinting towards him. His heartfelt prayer had been answered. A broad grin took over his dour face.
“Hey Noah, daddy said you can have lunch with us!” Jaden yelled, out of breath.
Luke added, “Noah we have a few sandwiches and some fruit with lemonade…”
“And cookies!” Jaden shouted. The two men laughed.
Luke corrected himself, “And sugar cookies. Would you like to join us for lunch?”
Noah looked down at Jaden and smiled, “Yes, I’d like that a lot.”