19 May 2016

Falling Out

Disclaimer: This is an original work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to anyone, living or dead, is purely coincidental.   Copyright 19 May 2016 by K.S. Wood.  Should you wish to reprint this, please ask for permission.

Joe and Glenn had been the best of friends.  Growing up in their lakeside homes together, the two were inseparable as kids and did everything together. Both were only children, so interacting together they became as close as brothers.  As teenagers, they went through the same rites of passage.  As adults, they maintained their close friendship, even after Joe had married his high school sweetheart and Glenn went away to college and a career in the city, returning to the lake several years later with a wife himself.  
    The two consoled each other through loss, as they both lost spouses. Glenn’s wife left him after a few years, preferring to return to her life in the city, and a year later Joe and his sweetheart parted ways as well.  Joe’s ex-wife decided she needed a change, eventually taking their two children with her as she went to live with a cousin on the other side of the country to find her way.  Joe got to see his children on holidays and for a month during the summer, and relished every bit of communication he had with them.
When Joe met and married a new woman two years after his divorce, Glenn happily stood as his best man.  The two men hoped that one day Glenn would find love a second time, and maybe even experience the joy of fatherhood.  In the meantime, he happily was the uncle to his best friend’s daughter and son when they were in town.
    When Joe’s former sweetheart Ellen returned a year and a half later with kids in tow, four years after their divorce, she and Joe amicably shared custody.  Joe’s new wife, Abby, was happy to play stepmother to the children, but there was still some adjustments to be made.  Glenn stood in the sidelines during this time, happy to offer advice and lend support.  He noticed Ellen in a way he didn’t notice her in high school, when she was Joe’s girl.  He tried to shrug off his feelings for her, out of respect for his best friend, but just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something to be had by pursuing Ellen.
    Very soon, however, it became apparent that Ellen shared the same feelings, and the two decided to quietly date, wondering if what they had was just a fling or something more.  They kept the relationship a secret out of respect for Joe and for the children, Mallory and Kyle.  Both drove to the nearest town, or even into the city to see each other.  
After a few months of dating quietly, with long talks on the phone and longer emails, they realized what they had was something more, and decided to make their relationship known to their friends and family, but not before first eloping at the county courthouse.  It had been five years since Joe and Ellen divorced, so the newly married couple hoped that whatever anger Joe had would be quick and eventually laughed off.
    Joe blew a gasket, as expected.  What was not expected was the way he wrote off an entire three decade friendship over the marriage.  He accused Glenn of trying to take his family away, which now included his son with Abby, and accused him of plotting the entire friendship to do so.  Glenn tried to explain his side, but Joe refused to listen.  Abby and Ellen tried their best to intervene, but Joe was not willing to budge in his stubbornness.  He refused to even be in the same general vicinity as Glenn, and would try to prompt him into an argument whenever possible.
    During one very public shouting match between the two of them, something tragic happened.  Joe’s youngest child, the son with Abby, a toddler by the name of Dylan, wandered away from his father in that moment of inattention and headed for the lake.  The fact that Joe chose to pick a fight with Glenn instead of watch his child that close to the water cost the boy his life, and caused Joe to blame Glenn even more.  
It put a strain on the new marriage between Ellen and Glenn, but the couple turned inward and became stronger.  The couple also decided it was best to place distance between Glenn and Joe by arranging matters so that Glenn had no reason to come into contact with his former best friend.  Life continued for them as they hoped, given the situation.
    Joe’s life was not going as smoothly.  He moved out of the home he had made with Abby, moving into the shed he used for his boat rental business.  Abby refused to divorce him, for she saw the good within him and wanted her husband back in her life, and Joe as stubborn as he was, refused to file against her as well.  
A year went by, and then two, and Joe continued to operate on the fringe of society, unhappy in his life, but refusing to let go of the anger he harbored towards Glenn.  It cost him a great deal, for while he lived in the boat house, he could not have his children with him, so ultimately Ellen resumed full custody, giving Joe visitation rights as much as he wanted.  Glenn took over in the paternal role, albeit unwillingly, for he hated to see his former friend give up so much over a grudge.
    It would take a traumatic event to release Joe from that anger, one that made him realize how selfish, juvenile, and wrong he had been for years.  
    It started out as any other ordinary day.  Joe had decided to take Mallory, now a young teenager, for a row on the lake one morning in spring.  The water was still frigid, but he insisted she bundle up and he packed provisions for a day on the lake.  She protested in usual teenager fashion, but went with her dad, as she had not spent a whole day with him in some time and secretly was happy he had decided to take her out.  
    They rowed to one of the islands in the middle of the lake, one that had always been his favorite, and spent time exploring.  While out on the island, the weather began to change for the worse, but Joe decided that they could spend a little more time out there, despite the agitation of his daughter.
    “Mom and Glenn are going to worry,” she said.
    “They’ll get over it!”  he said stubbornly, ignoring the advance of the darkened clouds.  “I haven’t spent a whole day with you in a good long while.  Besides, that man gets to see you enough as it is!”
    The onslaught of the storm caught them off guard.  Experienced as Joe was as a waterman, he hadn’t counted on the ferocity of the storm.  As winds howled around them, Joe rowed with all of his might, but the waves became choppier and his daughter began to yell at him about how irresponsible he had become.  
    “You care more about yourself than you do anyone else!”  she screamed over the howling wind.  “If you weren’t still so mad at Glenn over such stupid stuff, we’d be home by now! Can’t you get over stuff and see Glenn wants to be your friend!”
    Joe wanted to tell her off about disrespecting her old man, but in that moment, a wave blindsided him and the rowboat overturned, dumping both of them into the water. He heard Mallory scream right before the frigidity engulfed him.
    He surfaced in the rough waters, looking this way and that for his daughter.
“Mallory!”  he shouted, panic bubbling within him as he frantically looked for his eldest child.  “Mallory!”  
    Time was passing, and he thrashed about in the water, trying to find his boat, his daughter, his oar, anything to grab on to.
    “Help!”  he screamed.  “Mallory!”
    He saw a light coming towards him in the storm.  “Joe!”  a voice called out.  He didn’t recognize it over the waves.
    “Mallory’s in the water!” he screamed, his energy fading as he fought to keep himself moving. Despite the life jacket he wore, the waves were pushing him under the water.
    He made out the figure in the boat coming towards him.  It was Glenn, wearing a life jacket and a headlamp.  He was rowing for Joe as fast as he could despite the choppiness of the water.  “I have her, Joe,” Glenn shouted.  “I got her in my boat already.”
    “Daddy!”  Mallory called out.
    “Are you hurt?”
    “My arm hurts, but I’m okay!”  Her voice was uncertain, and Joe knew she was spooked.  He hoped shock hadn’t set in.
    Glenn reached out a hand to his old friend, and Joe hesitated, mistrust written clearly on his face.  The cold water and the danger of the storm caused him to think twice though, and he reached for the offered hand and was pulled into the boat.
    Both men lay in the boat with the injured girl, panting from the effort it took to get there.
    “Why did you come for me?”  Joe asked.
    “Ellen and Abby both were fraught with worry when the storm came and you didn’t return”  Glenn said, his breathing still rapid.  He clutched at his chest and grimaced as he stammered, “I.. I told them I would come find you, since…. since I knew where you would probably go.”  He was fighting with his vest.  “I wanted to… to make sure both of you were… were all right.”
    Joe watched as the color began to drain from Glenn’s face and knew something was horribly wrong.  “Glenn, are you okay?”
    He shook his head.  “Damn chest hurts.  I have to get this off.  It’s….. It’s…. too tight…… I’m sorry, Joe….. I’m… it’s too tight”  He was straining to breathe now and he fumbled with the clasps.
    Joe immediately went into flight or fight mode as adrenaline surged through his veins.  He grabbed the oars and began to row in the direction of shore, using his instinct to guide him.  Glenn looked like he was having a heart attack and if he didn’t get them to shore now, there would be trouble.
    As he rowed, he shouted instructions to Mallory.  Glenn’s color was fading fast, and he was losing consciousness.  With her injured arm, she couldn’t do much, but she kept Glenn’s face clear of any water from the rough waves, holding him tight in her lap as he fought to breathe and fought with her to take his life jacket off.  She tried to keep him awake by asking him questions, but she was soon anxious with panic when he didn’t respond.  
    “Daddy!  I don’t think he’s going to make it!” she cried frantically.
    Joe made out the dock through the haze of rain.  The lanterns were alight, meaning someone was watching and waiting for their return.  He pushed his aching arms to keep rowing, shouting for help.
    He spotted his wife and Ellen amongst the onlookers, huddled together in their rain slickers. Kyle hovered behind them, his face a mix of fear and excitement over the events at hand.
“Glenn’s in trouble!”  he shouted over the storm.  “I think he’s having a heart attack!”
The dockmaster ran to call for help.
    Joe pulled up to the dock and helped his daughter out of the boat, tossing the rope to Kyle, who tied it off with the experience he was taught by his father.  Joe then hoisted the limp and unconscious body of his friend up and out of the water, laying him gently on the dock as best as he could.  Deftly he pulled himself up and fell to his friend’s side.  Pulling at the clasps that attached the life vest to Glenn’s body, he undid them and pulled the vest off, then checked his friend’s pulse.
    There wasn’t a heartbeat.
    “Damn it!” he shouted.  He pounded on Glenn’s chest, beginning chest compressions. “You’re not going to die on me, you son of a bitch!”
    Abby knelt beside him, giving rescue breaths as Joe worked the compressions.  
    “Stay with me, Glenn!”  he shouted between counts.  “You have to stay here for Ellen’s sake!”  His arms ached as he continued to work to save his friend’s life.  “Damn it, Glenn, breathe!”
In the distance, sirens could be heard, and soon paramedics took over, leaving Joe to slump exhaustedly against his wife as tears streamed down his face.
Guilt and shame ate away at him.  His best friend was going to die before he knew how sorry Joe was for the whole situation.  Joe wondered how long the chest pains had plagued Glenn out on the water and why Glenn didn’t turn back to shore instead of seeking them out.  Why did Glenn risk his life to help a man who hated him? He wondered that all the way to the hospital as he rode in the passenger seat of his wife’s car.
Abby, sensing he was in turmoil, kept silent, letting only the soft murmur of the radio play in the  background of Joe’s thoughts.
    Ellen had gone to the hospital with Mallory, as she had dislocated her shoulder when the boat overturned, and was waiting for news on Glenn, who was being worked on in surgery.  She met the couple, her face full of worry and her eyes brimming with tears for her daughter and her husband.  Joe embraced her, whispering his apologies for putting them in harm’s way.
After much prodding and pleading from both his wife and his ex, Joe agreed to be checked out by a doctor and was proclaimed to be in fair health.  He was told to go home and rest, as exhaustion and mild shock were his only ailments.
He fought to stay at the hospital, since he wanted to be there for Glenn and Mallory’s sake, but Ellen had assured him she would call as soon as she knew anything about her husband.  Mallory was admitted overnight for shock and would be fine, so Ellen said she’d stay and keep the vigil.  Ellen’s mother had shown up as well, and was going to remain the night at her daughter and granddaughter’s sides.  
So Joe meekly submitted to being driven home by Abby to the house that he had once shared with her, Kyle sleeping in the backseat.  Once inside, he showered wearily, and despite protesting that he would stay up and wait for news, he passed out on what was once his bed, his cell phone clutched in his hand on his chest.  Abby moved it to the table as she climbed into bed later that night, after learning that Glenn had survived the surgery.  She whispered the news to her husband as she snuggled into him to console him in his sleep.
    Glenn had to have emergency open heart surgery to repair a previously unknown congenital problem that caused the heart attack.  His condition was very grave for several days, but he improved slowly.  
Joe kept his distance for the first full month of recovery, not wanting to give Glenn any undue stress that would cause a setback.  He spent his time wisely, making amends with his wife and moving back into their home.  He even spent some time in deep discussion with Ellen, Kyle and Mallory, working to mend the fences that had been broken since Dylan’s death.  He felt like a changed man, but he still had one more thing to do.
    Glenn had been home from the hospital for over a week before Joe finally had the courage to visit him.  He was relieved to see there was color in his friend’s face, and while therapy was slow going, Glenn was looking healthier.  The atmosphere was strained the first few minutes of the visit, but both were cordial and polite, almost as if they were complete strangers.  
    Finally Joe had enough.  He put down his glass on the coaster on the end table, leaned forward in his seat on the couch and stared at Glenn intently.
    “Why the hell did you risk your life to save me after all of the grief I gave you?”
    Glenn stared at him for the briefest of moments, a look of thought on his face.  He then slowly pushed himself out of his recliner and walked towards the man who once called him friend.  He stood so he was towering over Joe and looked down at him, staring into his eyes.  
“Why did I save you?  I saved you because I didn’t want Mallory and Kyle to be fatherless.  I saved you because despite everything, Abby and Ellen both still love you in their own way.  Most importantly, I saved you because you are my oldest friend, Joe, because despite all that happened, I have always loved you as a brother and I am so very sorry for Dylan’s death.”  His voice cracked as he spoke the last words.  His eyes were red with tears.
Joe was up out of his seat in a flash.  He had his arms wrapped around Glenn in a great big brotherly bear hug as tears poured down his face.  Neither knew their wives were watching as they both apologized to each other and forgave each other.
They never had another falling out.

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