Inspire and Be Inspired

Head on over to the new davecenker.com, sign up to be a member of my author community, receive a free award-winning short story and continue the conversation! See you there!

DaveJen-BannerOne thousand days ago (hey, it just sounds better than 2 years, 8 months, and 26 days) I remember sitting down with a guitar resting on my knee.

Those malformed chords I was strumming were messy sounding, but the chord it struck inside me was perfectly in tune. I remember thinking … I should start a blog. It came out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure why I vocalized that thought. I had written less than a total of 500 creative words up to that point in my life.

If someone would have told me way back then that I would be composing this post today, I would have surely let out an involuntary chuckle beneath my breath. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be here, but I have this way of starting different things (lots of them) only to have them collect metaphorical dust as the initial excitement fizzles out along with my passion for it.

And yet, a thousand days and just a few more than five hundred words later, I compose this post with an anxious yet excited heartbeat. This will be my last post at this blog site. That’s the sad part, for me at least. This little corner of the blogosphere has been a sort of virtual private sanctuary for me to discover and share insights, thoughts, and stories with each and every one of you.

The exciting news – again, for me at least, and hopefully for you too – is that my writing will continue forward with as much, if not more passion than I have had up until this point. Today, I am launching my new author-centric website at www.davecenker.com.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey over the past three years, you will know my tagline by heart – inspire and be inspired.

Second ChanceI’ve written personal essays, flash fiction, short stories, and even a novella up until this point. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November, I set an ambitious goal to write my first novel, uncertain where that lofty ambition would land me. 50,000+ words and several personal revisions later, I have a draft of my first novel, Second Chance, that I am now ready to pass over to my editor. My plan is to have it published sometime later this year.

In an effort to build an author platform, I have migrated my online presence to www.davecenker.com. Along with promotion and news on the release of my first novel, I will be offering flash fiction, short stories, book reviews, and the occasional dip into non-fiction.

I have a feeling that pressing the publish button on this post is going to be more difficult than any I have pressed up until this point in my writing life. But, if you’re reading this, I suppose that I’ve been successful in overcoming that small hurdle.

I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for all the reads, the likes, and most importantly, the comments that have helped me to embrace this role as an author. I know it sounds so cliché, but truer words could not be spoken – I simply couldn’t have done it without you.

HomecomingI invite each one of you to visit my new site and continue onward with me on this journey we have started together. As a small token of my appreciation, when you sign up to be a member of my author community, I will send you a copy of a previously unreleased short story titled Homecoming. I would be honored to share this story with you that has received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

You can join my author community by visiting my new site at www.davecenker.com and clicking the Free Story! link in the top right corner of the home page. I’ll still be checking this site for the next couple of weeks, so if you have any problems or questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~Meister Eckhart

Let the magic of new beginnings be with each and every one of you. Inspire and be inspired.

 

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Mailbox

mailboxThe rumble of the mail truck rolling away from the curb sent the two of them in motion. Josh raced out his front door. The large ornate knocker cracked against the wood as he slammed the door shut to prevent his Dachshund puppy from following him. He ran across his family’s perfectly manicured lawn, and past the bed of thorny roses. He arrived at his silver mailbox a nanosecond before Billy next door. The chill in the air had nothing to do with the reading on a thermometer.

Billy’s mailbox used to be silver, but it was more rust colored now with the paint peeling off and accumulating on the ground beneath it. While Josh’s jaunt across his yard was effortless and quiet, Billy’s was characterized by the crunchy sound of dying grass. It took him a split second longer to reach his own mailbox – not because he was slower – but, rather because he had to pull the door shut tightly and double check it. The latch had never worked quite right since they had moved in.

Josh and Billy lived next door to each other. And yet, they lived worlds apart. They were friends, you could say. They were both fourteen years old – the only two teenage boys in a three mile radius of this small rural town. How they became friends was not much of a mystery – it was a relationship of convenience, maybe of necessity. The reason why they remained friends – now, that was more mystifying.

The two boys did not have anything in common save for one thing – the spirit of competition. Josh was the star pitcher on the high school baseball team in the next town over. Billy was nicknamed motor-mouth at the same school. This may have sounded derogatory to most teenage boys, but to Billy it was a compliment. He had earned this moniker due to his uncanny ability to solve math problems in his head and rattle off the answer before any of his classmates could even announce their name.

It’s was the glue that kept this friendship together – the rivalry of one boy outdueling the other in their own convincing way. They began to tire of the arguments of how a ten strikeout performance could compare to the swift and accurate process of successfully solving an advanced trigonometry problem – without pencil or paper. That was how this little competition that they mutually designed came to fruition. It was something on the minds of all teenage boys – teenage girls.

The moonlight ball was three weeks away. It was a school dance planned annually to take place on the last full moon of the semester before winter break. It was held outside in the school courtyard by the light of the full moon. The twinkle lights adorning the trees added atmosphere to the already enchanting mood. There was a twist to this engagement, however. You must arrive as a couple. And in order to be granted access into the school courtyard, the couple was required to provide two letters – one invitation letter and one acceptance letter. It was Ms. Hutton’s way of slipping the art of letter writing into her tenth grade English class. And it worked – hook, line, and sinker.

They had agreed that each would compose a letter to their invitee and drop it in the mailbox on the corner – on the same day at the same time. In that way, neither Josh nor Billy would have an advantage. The person who received a letter back first would be the victor. It was silly. It was misguided. It was unsuitable grounds for a competition. But, these were teenage boys, and to them – it was perfect. Almost.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a two part short story. The second installment will be published next week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – best wishes for an inspired day!

Hot dog

wall-street-nycSitting across from the executive on the fiftieth floor of the high rise in New York City, Derek’s hands were sweaty with anticipation. This was the final stop on his whirlwind day of interviews with one of the most prestigious investment firms in the Wall Street district. Everything had gone as well as he could have hoped. But, he knew that the ultimate decision concerning his prospective employment lay in the hands of the person sitting across from him.

Peering over his half-moon spectacles while carefully considering his notes, pondering the myriad of responses provided by Derek over the course of the day, the CEO reached across the mahogany desk separating the two and extended his right hand. “Derek, I think you are exactly the type of ambitious individual that this company needs. Welcome to our team.” Involuntarily, a genuine smile of satisfaction spread across Derek’s face, “Thank you sir. I really appreciate this opportunity,” replied Derek with a firm handshake to accompany his confident words.

Derek had been working towards this very moment for the past six years – perhaps much longer. Living in a small suburban town just outside of Chicago, Derek completed his MBA just three weeks prior – the last step in preparation for a life on Wall Street and all the perks associated with it. From his earliest childhood memories, Derek was consumed with numbers, trends, data, and the detailed analysis of it all. Most kids opened the newspaper and flipped straight to the comics. Derek, however, stopped at the business section, perusing the trends on his favorite stocks, always on the lookout for the next ticker symbol equipped to surpass street expectations.

As the floor number displayed inside the elevator approached the lobby level, Derek’s thoughts were already shifting towards his next ambition. He always dreamed of owning a penthouse overlooking Central Park with the finest art hanging on its walls. Numbers and fine art, they were the two things in Derek’s life that stimulated him more than anything else. As diametrically opposed as they were – art and math – his natural ability in one allowed him to enjoy the other.

To anyone who witnessed Derek strolling through the lobby, they would have thought him to be a seasoned veteran at the firm. The fine Italian suit, the wavy yet slicked back hair, the black wing-tipped shoes, and most importantly the confident gait was proof positive that Derek belonged in this atmosphere – on the surface, at least. Looks can be so deceiving.

Walking out of the quiet lobby and on to the sidewalk, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple burst into action. The constant motion, honking horns, and murmur of shuffling footsteps was intoxicating to Derek. He felt at home around the busyness of big city life. The knowledge that this was now his new home brought upon a wave of euphoria. The scent of fresh hot dogs from the sidewalk vendor added to his feeling of exhilaration. In a seemingly underwhelming celebration, Derek had promised himself a genuine New York hot dog to christen his official acceptance into the city that never sleeps.

hot-dogStepping up to the gentleman situated under the faded umbrella, Derek barked out his order as if already a weathered New Yorker, “One dog – onions, relish, mustard, and ketchup.” Exchanging a few dollar bills for his celebratory meal, Derek ambled towards the bench beside the bus stop. Seated at the end of the bench was an older gentleman with unkempt facial hair and a hoodie pulled over his thinning gray hair. The old bike leaning precariously next to him had a basket on the front – in it were a bushel of apples and a few ears of corn still in their husks. He held in his one hand a tattered notepad, in the other a partially sharpened pencil.

Setting the hot dog beside him on the bench, Derek pulled out the ringing cell phone from his pocket. The incoming call was from his girlfriend, Missy, back in Illinois. The first words he heard were characteristic of his longtime partner, “So, are there Broadway shows in our future?” She was both witty and confident. Their relationship was proof that sometimes it was likes, not opposites that attract each other. The next several minutes involved congratulatory remarks, shared dreams and aspirations for a new lifestyle supported by a six figure income north of a half million dollars per year. By the sound of the conversation occurring between the two, it appeared that their first years’ worth of income – and then some – had already been spent.

“Miss you lots, love you more, see you soon.” It was their signature communication that was unique to them. As he pressed the button to end the call, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Sinking his teeth into the hot dog, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh of contentedness through his nose while he closed his eyes and absorbed everything he had been dreaming of for so long. It was now becoming reality. He was the new dog on the block, and he was poised to establish himself as the next alpha male in the financial district.

journey-secret-destinationWhat Derek failed to notice was the furious scribbling that the elderly gentlemen had been penning on his notepad throughout his conversation with Missy. What also eluded his attention was the wallet that had come out of the pocket with his cell phone, resting beneath the bench he was seated on. The hustle and bustle of New York City seems to accelerate everything. There was no exception in this situation. The wallet sitting beneath him was there no more. Derek was completely unaware of its disappearance. As it turned out, Derek was unaware of so much more.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. Please stay tuned for the next chapter to be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Rejuvenate

holding-a-cup-of-coffee

Author’s Note: This is the continuation of a previously published story. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Submission.

The scenery of Jess’ life changed on an otherwise ordinary day. Of course, that’s how it always seems to work. Change arrives on our doorstep when we least expect it. Seated at her customary kitchen table position, Jess’ attention shifted from the space inside her head to the rumbling diesel engine applying its air brakes outside.

Pulling the kitchen drapes aside, just enough to catch a glimpse of the activity outside, the moving truck came to rest in front of the abandoned house next door. Arriving behind the truck a few seconds later was a small blue sedan. A young girl, about six or seven years old, bounced out of the back seat with the energy of a firecracker. She ran towards the front door, peeking behind every few steps to make sure that her mom was following. “C’mon mom, hurry up! I wanna see my new room,” exclaimed the exuberant child. Mom was indeed following behind with almost as much excitement as her daughter.

Jess let the drapes fall back to their closed position. She sat back down at the table to resume her daily session of contemplation, but her flow had been disrupted. There was no going back to her past today, maybe tomorrow. She may as well move forward with the list of chores needing to be completed before the evening schedule commenced. It was a crisp, fall day, zero humidity. The smell of autumn was in the air. It was a perfect opportunity to hang the laundry outside – more like a perfect excuse to get outdoors where Jess knew she belonged.

Clipping shirts on to the clothesline, one sleeve at a time, Jess was greeted by the young voice she already recognized. “Hi,” came the voice from the little girl’s head just peeking over the fence. Jess smiled, but before she could respond, a taller figure emerged behind the child. “I’m sorry,” she offered apologetically, “My daughter is quite the little socialite. We didn’t mean to bother you.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. I’m Jess. I guess I’ll be your new neighbor. Welcome to the neighborhood,” replied Jess.

“Thank you, I’m Claire and this is my daughter, Ella,” she replied placing a hand on her daughter’s head as she bounced up and down to get a better view.

Jess was never one to do what she did next, but something inside nudged her towards the words that came out of her mouth. “I know you’re new to the area and I’m really a complete stranger at this point, but would you and Ella like to come over for lunch later? I can make some sandwiches and we can have a little picnic on the back porch.”

“That is so very kind of you, but we wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” said Claire. “Can we mommy, can we, can we, please?” exclaimed Ella.

“It’s really no inconvenience at all. I’d love it if you two could come over. I know how difficult and stressful it can be to move into a new place,” replied Jess.

“Well,” smiled Claire as she looked down at her human pogo stick, “let us get a few things in place and we would be delighted to accept your invitation. You are very kind, Jess. Thank you very much.” And with that simple decision, a new relationship was born – one that would prove to be rejuvenating for Jess, both personally and professionally.

Jess came to learn that Claire was a single mom. She and Ella had moved here looking for a fresh start. Running a home business online, Claire could choose to live anywhere. The schools were supposed to be top notch in this area. All thoughts were on Ella and her future as she was preparing to enter first grade.

Jess was an only child. Perhaps that is why she was so prone to solitary confinement. There was always a part of her, however – despite her genetic predisposition – that longed for the companionship of a sibling. Over the course of the weeks that followed, she felt as though she had discovered, in Claire, the long lost sister that she never had beside her.

Jess came to welcome the warm, compassionate, and honest connection that had been sown between these two sisters living in parallel universes. It became part of her daily routine to have a cup of coffee with Claire after both their houses emptied in the morning. Sometimes at Claire’s place, other times at Jess’ home, her coffee never got cold anymore. She conversed with ease about anything and everything – from the best crepe recipes to the dreams buried deep inside. It was ironic that the two individuals living next door to Jess felt more like her family than the three other people living under her own roof.

chocolate-coconut-crepes“You know,” said Claire one morning over a cup of coffee and her latest baking endeavor, chocolate coconut crepes, “I have an idea.” Smiling, she continued on, “You need to find a way to rekindle your professional pursuits. Not like it’s necessarily my cup of tea, but I can tell you are tormented by the lack of dirt under your fingernails.”

Jess gave a lazy, knowing smile. Of course Claire could sense this, but why didn’t her own husband? Claire continued, “Ella’s class is doing a unit on dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in science class. I know it’s not the prestigious and high profile research that you are used to, but I bet they would love to hear about what it’s like to be a real-life paleontologist.”

When two like-minded individuals put their heads together, the ideas that emerge become greater than the sum of their thoughts. That is how it came to be that Ella’s first grade class would be visiting her own backyard on a field trip. Transformed into a prehistoric dig site, twenty young seven year old boys and girls would learn just what it was like to be a paleontologist firsthand.

Jess was going to let her husband know about her plans, but it never came to pass. The robotic sequence of events once he returned home didn’t leave a single spare cycle to hold a meaningful conversation. It was dinner, homework with the boys, television, late night sync-up call with his customers in Asia, a glass of scotch, and snoring from the bedroom that soon followed.

That was alright. Jess had a much more willing and engaged companion to assist her. On the morning before the “Big Dig” as they were coining it, Jess met Claire at her back door. Work gloves on, shovel in hand, Jess felt like a kid in a candy store. She felt more energized than she thought she would. She hadn’t realized just how big the void created by her lack of a professional life had become.

shovel-with-dirtEager to get started, Claire began taping off the dig area while Jess put shovel to dirt. The assortment of turkey and chicken bones would constitute a majority of the planned finds beneath the surface. Jess had pulled out a few of her own special specimens collected over the years as special treats for the young paleontologists. She remembered the day she cracked open that rock along the riverbed to reveal a three hundred million year old fossil. She would do everything in her power to recreate a similar feeling in the malleable minds of these young children.

One after another, holes were dug. Would be dinosaur bones were planted and covered back up. Near the end of the morning, as Jess was digging one of the final holes, the shovel pierced the earth and hit something solid.

“Oh, no,” grimaced Jess as she turned towards Claire, “Do you have an irrigation system installed in your yard?”

“I’m not really sure,” replied Claire, “but I don’t think so.”

“Well, if you do,” said Jess, “I think I just severed one of your pipes.”

As she got down on her hands and knees, she grabbed a trowel and carefully navigated around the point of interest. She was surprised how easily it all came back to her, delicately working around an object to unearth it while still preserving its integrity. Removing the gloves from her hand, she began to use her fingers to clear out the space around the object taking shape. It wasn’t an irrigation pipe after all. It looked like it was a box, almost like an old style ammunition container.

With her curiosity winning out over a desire to preserve its integrity, she began to move the dirt more quickly, less carefully, in an effort to bring this curious exhibit above ground. “What is that?” inquired Claire.

Running her hands over the metal top, brushing the dirt away, Jess replied, “I don’t know.”

old-journalJess was hesitant to take the next step. This wasn’t her property after all, finding it in Claire’s back yard. “Well, why don’t you open it?” suggested Claire. Having been given permission to learn more about an artifact excavated from the ground, natural or man-made – Jess didn’t need to be asked twice.

She unlatched the metal clasp on the front and lifted the lid. As the metal hinges creaked upon opening, the words on the leather journal piqued her interest as much as any specimen she had recovered in her past – Mes secrets – Chapitre cinq.

Superpower

superhero-superman

Perched on the ledge of indecision

My cape is absent

Watching other creatures of our species rise to the challenge

Herculean strength exerted against the throngs of evil

I take a step back from the precipice

I am not worthy of this inflated status

Reserved for the exceptional ones

I am but a mere mortal

With no extraordinary powers to differentiate me from the masses

But then a thought strikes

Like a lightning bolt filled with electricity

Energy coursing through my veins

My subconscious unveils a secret force

The courage, the tenacity, the unequivocal resolve

To leap into the chasm of darkness unknown

That is what sets me apart

And validates my worthiness

To enter into this otherworldly universe of possibility

Whether I fall into the abyss or learn to fly

It is in making this choice and accepting my fate

That a seed of superpower capability is born

Transforming far-fetched dreams

Into an undeniable reality

No cape required

 

 

 

Revelation

door-closing

Author’s Note: This is the finale of a three part story. If you would like to read the previous two pieces, please visit Discovery – Part 1 and Temptation – Part 2.

If the mental preoccupation with every possibility caused hysteria inside Gavin’s world, the physical manifestation of it propelled him into pure delirium. As the door to his apartment closed, he found himself slouched against the wall staring at the ceiling with a grin on his face. Characterized by zealous emotion, the last time Gavin remembered experiencing this relative intensity was on that day from his childhood when a pack of baseball cards hidden in his pocket accompanied him out his uncle’s store unpaid.

That was twenty years ago. It was as if the passage of time had intensified the corresponding emotions associated with choices that went against socially acceptable principles. Like that day from his childhood many years ago, Gavin knew that the justification of his choices was delusional. And yet, the decision to carry through with them prevailed. The fuse had been lit and there was no extinguishing it now. In order to consummate this pact with his psyche, Gavin strode towards the kitchen with firm resolve. He poured the remainder of that sealed vial into his orange juice and drank until the glass was empty. By consuming a larger relative dose of the elixir than Alessa in his not so little experiment, Gavin was assured that he would hold the upper hand on the eventual proceedings. He would be in control.

The suspense and anxiety of his decision rendered Gavin completely incapacitated. His subconscious mind was consumed with the seed he had planted. He watered that seed and cultivated its growth at the expense of every other plant in his metaphorical garden. His repeated unexcused absences from research tasks at the lab were beginning to foster the onset of dire consequences. Gavin was unaware that his professor was on the brink of denying him an extension to the grant that would allow him to continue his studies. With the adrenaline coursing through his veins, it simply didn’t matter to Gavin. It was more important to be at home, listening for the click of the apartment door across the hall that he had become so accustomed to noticing.

Whether he was watching television, cooking dinner, even while he was on the brink of sleep, Gavin felt compelled to play the role of peeping Tom whenever he heard a door open or close. It had become so habitual over the course of the two previous days that one would think he had a collar and leash attached, responding as Pavlov’s dog would to the stimuli. He was an experiment unto himself.

For all the energy that Gavin had exerted to control the outcome of this situation, it was not he who ultimately carried it to the next phase. Lying on the couch, overcome by sleep deprivation, Gavin didn’t hear the click of the apartment next door. Neither did he hear the knock on his own apartment door. When the knock occurred a second time, a little louder as a way to insure that Gavin would be able to hear, he sat up straight in a moment’s notice. His hair disheveled and his eyelids sagging in protest, Gavin took a moment to fully arrive in the present before hurriedly approaching the door. He didn’t even check the peephole. As he swung the door open, Alessa stood before him in jean shorts and a t-shirt.

brain-wavesGavin straightaway entered radar mode, attempting to pick up on any brain wave or signal that may be directed his way. It required all his concentration to appear normal, whatever that meant these days, while remaining receptive to the effects of his newfound addiction. Obsessed by his focused efforts, Gavin failed to greet the visitor at his door. The awkward silence that ensued was finally broken by Alessa. “Hey Gavin, how are you? Did I wake you up,” she asked hesitantly. “No, no,” replied Gavin, “I think I just started to doze off while I was reviewing some of my research.”

“Oh, well I just wanted to say thanks again for the cup of milk the other day,” said Alessa. “I’m making some spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight and was wondering if you might like to join me as a thank you.” When Gavin didn’t immediately respond, Alessa continued, “It’s nothing special. I just never eat the whole box of pasta anyway and I figured you had to eat dinner too, right?”

“Sure,” Gavin replied with a grin as he allowed the tension to release from his system, his focus becoming more on what Alessa was saying instead of what she might be thinking. “What time are you thinking,” asked Gavin. “Let’s say around seven,” offered Alessa.

“Sounds good,” said Gavin. And in that moment, he started to sense something formulating in his mind, the semblance of a thought, perhaps a brain wave headed in his direction. “Okay, see you then,” replied Alessa as she turned around to return to her apartment across the hall. And as quickly as that mental thought materialized, it was gone once again. No matter, he thought, he would have the opportunity to continue this experiment later in the evening.

Now it was Gavin who was the one knocking on a door and awaiting a response. As the door to Alessa’s apartment opened, the aromatic scents of garlic, stewing tomatoes, oregano, and basil filled the air. He had never been inside her apartment. As scientifically exact as his bachelor pad was decorated, Alessa’s was cozy and inviting, like a comfy chair in the back corner of a quaint bookstore. “Come on in,” said Alessa with a smile, “I’m just finishing up the sauce and everything will be ready.” The orange tabby cat prancing across the room to greet their latest visitor rubbed up against Gavin’s leg, a mannerism that he presumed meant hello.

orange-tabby-catGavin felt guilty, but not for what one might think. The only spaghetti sauce he ever made was poured out of a bottle. Here was Alessa formulating from scratch what smelled like a culinary masterpiece. “Have a seat if you like,” offered Alessa, “and don’t mind Francesca,” leaning down to rub the head of her feline friend, “she’s the epitome of the curiosity and cat thing.”

Taking a seat on the edge of her leather couch, Gavin could see the plates and silverware on the dining room table, precisely arranged with a pair of white wine glasses accompanying the setting. This was his opportunity. Without a specific need to focus on anything in particular, Gavin began to listen with intent, not with his ears, but with his mind. The occasional polite comment originating from Alessa in the kitchen was distracting, but he managed to hold his concentration. He was beginning to sense something. It started out small like ripples of water on the surface of a small pond. But, it was building in magnitude towards a cresting wave breaking on the shore. Yes, there it is, he thought, it’s working. The first mental thought that arrived in his consciousness was one of warmth. This was good, Gavin thought, it’s a start. As the tabby cat snuggled against his side, he instinctively reached to scratch behind her ears.

Remaining hyper-focused now on the wave of thoughts rolling in like the tide, several more apparitions washed up on the sandy shores of Gavin’s mental senses – an intoxicating scent of herbs, a sense of companionship beyond friendship, and …

Just as he was about to discover the next cognitive revelation, Alessa emerged from the kitchen with two bowls of pasta and set them on the table. “Just let me open the wine and we’ll be all set,” she smiled. As Gavin made his way to the table, he felt encouraged by the divinations presented to him thus far. Filling each glass halfway with the Chianti, Alessa was about to sit down when she remembered something, “Oh, I almost forgot. Hold on a second.”

Disappearing into the kitchen again, he heard the refrigerator door open and close. When she reappeared in the dining room, she was carrying a bowl filled with milk. “Here Francesca,” she cooed. As she set the bowl down on the floor beside the table, the tabby meowed with delight at the offering. “I hope you don’t mind,” said Alessa apologetically, “I didn’t have the nerve to tell you that the milk I needed the other day was for my cat. She becomes quite temperamental if she doesn’t get her daily rations.”

bowl-of-milkIt was in this very moment that Gavin was thankful he drank that entire glass of orange juice earlier in his apartment. He couldn’t face the embarrassment of a cat reading his thoughts right now, regardless of whether she had the ability to respond or not. The conclusions were running rampant through Gavin’s brain now – the feeling of warmth: Francesca snuggling against him on the couch, the intoxicating scent of herbs: Francesca’s fascination with catnip while getting scratched in just the right location behind her ears, that feeling of companionship: well, the feline species had always taken a liking to Gavin for whatever reason.

The reality of these revelations was akin to smelling salts being wafted beneath Gavin’s nose. With his newly aroused conscience, Gavin felt deceitful and duplicitous. This feeling would only be exacerbated as the meal neared its completion.

Battling the feelings of shame that washed over him, Gavin managed to carry on a civil conversation with Alessa. Perhaps the wine helped his cause in this regard. Alessa, however, could sense his distant and faraway demeanor. In a desperate attempt to salvage her own plan, she tilted back her head to finish the glass of wine. Setting it back down on the table, she summoned the necessary courage through her vocal chords, “Hey, would you like to go see a movie this weekend?” She kept her eyes on the empty glass in front of her to avert an answer that she didn’t want to hear.

Gavin didn’t respond. He couldn’t respond. All the energy, all the effort that he had invested in uncovering any potential feelings Alessa felt for him was instead discovered through a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine, and honest communication. Honesty, thought Gavin. Now that was something that was certainly lacking in his life as of late. Taking longer than was psychologically acceptable for Alessa, he finally managed to recover and pull himself together. “Sure, I would love to, go to a movie that is” he offered with a genuine smile.

Later that evening, after Gavin took what seemed like a walk across the Sahara, he crossed the hall of the apartment complex and arrived at his own door. He headed straight for the spice rack, retrieved the now empty vial, and deposited it directly into the trash. He couldn’t even manage the sight of a now harmless container. The glass vial was a reminder of the guilt and disgrace that occupied every corner of his being.

tangled-web-quoteHe should have felt elation, instead he felt distress. The woman that he had such intense feelings for was actually interested in him. And he went behind her back in a surreptitious manner to deceive her. Gavin already felt as though he had cheated on Alessa and they hadn’t yet gone on their first date together. How was he going to tell her? Was he going to tell her? Once again, he arrived at a moment in his life where he knew what he needed to do. This was a peculiar temptation, to tell or not to tell, that would need to be broached some other day, somewhere in the future. Gavin needed time to think and he reassured himself that he had plenty of it.

Temptation

magic-potionI can’t do without it. Those were the words echoing through Gavin’s mind. Whether those mental words referred to the potion itself or the opportunities it presented was uncertain. Nonetheless, the sealed vial accompanied Gavin to his apartment that afternoon after the startling results of his latest experiment revealed an unanticipated discovery. The manner in which he was able to understand and read the thoughts of his test subject captivated his consciousness. From a scientific perspective, it was fascinating. From a psychological perspective it was enticing, tempting, and potentially very dangerous.

Like a strong painkiller, the effects were not addictive until you began to consume it steadily, the increasing doses building your dependency on its effects. To that end, Gavin rationalized the decision to save this mixture. He would simply place it on the spice shelf in his kitchen, right next to the oregano, thyme, and basil. It was harmless so long as it remained there untouched and unused, available to him in his back pocket if needed.

Although it did remain behind a closed cabinet door, physically invisible, Gavin continued to see it in his mind. Consumed by its power, it was as if the addiction had already taken hold despite its absence from his physical system. It had already permeated Gavin’s mental intellect which was perhaps more perilous than its physical effects. It had begun to affect the quality of his daily life, both personally and professionally. His research practices had become sloppy. His personal life had become distracted. Nothing he did could be taken at face value. It had to be analyzed as it really was as well as how it could be given the use of his mind-reading concoction.

It was on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday evening that the fulcrum shifted, tipping Gavin’s psychological scales toward physical action. It began with a knock on Gavin’s apartment door. Looking through the peephole, the fisheye lens depiction of the person on the other side was familiar. It was Alessandra, the attractive brunette from next door. Unlocking the deadbolt, Gavin turned the knob and greeted his smiling neighbor. “Hi Alessa, what’s up?”

The smile on her face was an imploring one. With the incessant ruminations running through his consciousness lately, Gavin couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking, and he knew exactly how to find out. Alessa had both hands behind her back. While being greeted, she pulled them from behind her to reveal a plastic cup in her grasp. “I didn’t make it to the grocery store today, and I really need some milk. Do you happen to have a cup I can borrow,” pleaded Alessa.

Captivated by her beauty and charm, Alessa could have asked for the keys to his car and Gavin would have obliged. “Sure, he said, come on in, I’ll get you some from the kitchen.” Alessa stepped through the doorway and waited politely just inside the apartment entrance. As Gavin strolled into the kitchen with the plastic cup, he continued a conversation with her across the span of the two rooms, “So, what have you been up to lately?” From across the space, Alessa replied, “Not much, just a lot of extra hours at work getting ready for our new release.” She was a fashion designer working on one of the most anticipated and highly sought after clothing lines of the fall season. It had demanded a tremendous amount of her time over the past several weeks.

As Gavin pulled open the refrigerator door and retrieved the half gallon of milk, he echoed back across to Alessa, “Is 2% okay?”

“Sure,” she replied, “that would be perfect.” As he began to fill the plastic cup to the halfway point, his eyes instinctively rose to the cabinet at eye level. Behind those doors lay the forbidden fruit, one bite and he may not be able to turn back. The temptation was too much for Gavin to resist. The mental addiction had commandeered his physical being as he opened the cabinet door, grabbed the vial, unplugged it, and deposited half the contents into the cup of milk. Looking over his shoulder to insure he was not being watched, he swirled the cup so as to dissolve the mixture into its carrier. There was no physical evidence that the cup of milk was anything but a cup of milk.

Carrying the elixir, innocently concealed, he handed it back to Alessa with a smile. “Here you go. If you need any more, just let me know.”

“Thanks Gavin, I appreciate it. It’s been such a crazy day. I really didn’t want to have to head back out this evening,” replied Alessa with a gracious smile. “No problem,” offered Gavin as he opened the front door of his apartment once again, “Have a good evening,” he said. “You too,” smiled Alessa.

epinephrineAs he shut the door, Gavin felt as though he had just ingested a high dose of amphetamines. His heartbeat was racing. He was dizzy with some unfamiliar feeling. Was it adrenaline? Was it guilt? Was it anticipation? Whatever it was, it left him wanting more. Gavin had transmuted his mental addiction into the physical world. There was no turning back now.

Author’s Note: This post is the sequel to a story previously posted. To read the original installment, please take a look at Discovery. The conclusion of this story will be posted next week. Thanks for reading!

Sunrise

legal-tableSince his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.

He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.

“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.

“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.

Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.

“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.

As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?

“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.

wake-up-alarm-clock“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.

The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”

The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.

As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.

atlantic-ocean-beachOne of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.

He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.

turtle trekThis Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.

It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.

His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.

Uncharted

sara-bareillesThere are points in our life that we find ourselves on a precipice, teetering back and forth. A battle ensues between the rational mind and the impassioned heart. Step back toward solid ground, implores the sensible intellect. Take the leap, begs the courageous soul. Back and forth the maelstrom intensifies, leaving our physical presence stagnant. Disarray, chaos, and confusion suffocate what seems like the last breath of fresh air waiting to be exhaled from our lungs. Until the tiniest of nudges sends us over the edge, tumbling into uncharted territory. And suddenly it feels beautiful.

I pen these words in a moment of faith and hope. It has been less than forty-eight hours since I was coaxed into the dark abyss of the unknown. I want to give these emotions time to evolve, to come of age in my soul. I feel them intensifying. I don’t want to bring them into this world before their time. And yet, neither do I want to lose the rawness of those same emotions. I have decided that now is the time, the perfect time.

Traveling north on the interstate, my destination is St. Augustine Amphitheater for the second time in as many months. I have a peculiar habit of listening to the music I am going to hear live while driving, a concert before the concert, if you will. Streaming from the speakers in shuffle mode is a combination of perfectly produced studio recordings alongside the imperfections and subtle nuances that can only be captured in a live recording. The anticipation of a concert experience I had been looking forward to for months had me wanting to press down on the accelerator of my Mustang with a little more enthusiasm. This was one of those times where I am pleased that my rational mind prevailed.

As the ambient lights faded, an energy surged through the crowd as evidenced by the deafening pleas for the featured artist, Sara Bareilles, to appear. The electric blue lights illuminating the stage lit a fire inside that began what turned out to be a magical and breathtaking evening. The two hours from my seat in section 202 passed in the blink of an eye, the infusion of inspiration closely guarded and carried with me as I take a leap of my own.

There are singers. There are performers. And there are artists. Sara Bareilles is an artist. She takes the words, lyrics, and melodies of a song, one that you have heard a hundred times before, and transforms them into something new, like a song that you are hearing for the very first time. It’s a brush with genius that words cannot convey. It must be experienced to fully appreciate the significance of its impression. I heard many of my favorite offerings by Sara: Gravity, Chasing The Sun, Brave, King Of Anything. There were two songs, however, that moved me into an unexpected state of enchantment.

she-used-to-be-mineFor the past eighteen months, Sara has been working on the musical score for a Broadway show set to premiere next year, Waitress. As the opening notes of her song She Used To Be Mine carried towards the ears of her audience, they bypassed the physical senses and headed straight for the soul. A heart-wrenching, introspective, and incredibly powerful love ballad brought tears to my eyes. I don’t even know why it is that those tears materialized. I don’t know that I was either happy or sad. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just moved. We don’t always need to understand why it is that we feel a particular way. We just need to decide to feel. That is enough. A true artist has the power to kindle that emotional reverberation. With the final note of this spellbinding performance, I came to the realization that I was not alone in my sentiments. In unison, three thousand other fans, connected by a riveting rendition of emotional portrayal, found themselves standing in awe and appreciation. It was a moment, maybe the moment.

Compare where you are to where you want to be, and you’ll get nowhere. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

I have listened to this song time after time: on the radio, on my copy of Kaleidoscope Heart, on my Sara Bareilles Pandora station. It wasn’t until I experienced it live, however, that it finally hit home. Maybe it was the surge of emotion washing over me at this point in the concert. Maybe it was a connection to the fear, doubt, and uncertainty conveyed through the vocal chords of this gifted musician. Whatever it was, I found myself ready to enter uncharted territory of my own.

I won’t go as a passenger, waiting for the road to be laid. Though I may be going down, I’m taking flame over burning out. I’m already out of foolproof ideas, so don’t ask me how to get started. It’s all uncharted. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

little-black-dressInspire and be inspired. It is my mental anthem, my guiding principle. I have been inspired in a very unique and compelling fashion. I may never grasp the breadth of influence that was provided to me on this special evening. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t aspire to inspire the world, one person at a time. It’s all uncharted after all. And that’s what it makes it so incredibly beautiful and wonderful.

 

Just keep swimming

courage-is-not-the-absence-of-fearSitting cross-legged on the floor of my son’s room, I stare at the pile of cards nestled in the palm of my hand. My pile is but a sliver compared to his, but that does not concern me. I always have a firm grasp on hope. The next card from our individual decks reveal a stalemate, a two of hearts versus a two of spades. As if flipping cards rapidly will conjure up the winning one expeditiously, three cards from each of our hands go face down. Snap, snap, snap. Revealing my final card face up, the mischievous grin across the battlefield seals my fate. Another game of War is in the books and I have been conquered yet again. It seems that my son always has the upper hand when we play this game, quite literally. I understand what it means to have the cards seemingly stacked against you. As it turns out, I would discover a lot more on this particular subject.

Life has a mysterious way of drawing parallels between an entertaining game and real life situations. Like that card game, battles rage around and within us. In a somewhat callous fashion, the world delivers a stage where these conflicts become the focus of our attention. The unfolding drama of these productions tug at the emotions of our heart like a puppet string, pulling one moment on the strand of melancholy, and the next instant on the thread of joy. I felt like Gepetto’s creation this past weekend, experiencing the pull on each of these strings within a twenty four hour period.

sunset-cocoa-beachWith our son out of town on a scouting campout, the weekend ours alone to define, my wife and I seized the opportunity to do something off the cuff. Fat Kahuna’s is a restaurant on Cocoa Beach, tiny in size, but reputedly big in flavor and atmosphere. With a half hour wait on this Saturday evening, we strolled out to the beach, admiring the breathtaking performance being choreographed between the sun, sea, and clouds. It was a carefree and relaxed atmosphere that we carried into the restaurant. The entire experience, including the meal comprised of calamari, seared ahi tuna, and coconut shrimp, was simply delightful. Sitting across the table from my wife, I had a view of carved tikis along with pictures of the South Pacific islands. Her line of sight faced the window, looking out to the street. We were less than four feet apart, but looking into two completely different worlds.

As we departed the establishment, our focus swiftly changed course. Away from the charming experience we had just savored, and towards the homeless man who had humbly entered the restaurant, offering to clean dishes in exchange for a meal. My wife shares “No one deserves to be hungry, let’s go offer to buy him something to eat.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Let’s go.” With a purposeful gait, we trimmed the distance between us. “Excuse me”, I called out to get his attention. He turned around, somewhat confused. Upon offering to buy him a sandwich, he just nodded, with a questioning look on his face, as if to uncover our ulterior motive. Once we entered the adjacent Subway restaurant, he opened up, sharing his name and story, always interleaving words of sincere appreciation for our thoughtfulness. I remember being called upon as two little angels, for providing a hot meal on an evening that wasn’t even his birthday. When a foot long steak and cheese sandwich from Subway looks like a gourmet meal, when you learn that the same sand between your toes will serve as both a bed and a pillow for another human being on this evening, you gain an entirely new perspective on the term compassion.

Perseverance, secret of all triumphs. ~Victor Hugo

On the following afternoon, my son finds himself slipping into the aquatic pool at the local YMCA. I take for granted that I know how to swim. Learning to do so at such a young age, the ability to swim was always present, like the ability to breathe. My son was not afforded that same luxury. Beset with numerous ear infections and surgeries throughout his younger years, he was refused admission to enter the world below the water’s surface.

Now, as an eleven year old, he is undertaking a Herculean task. Coordinate movement of arms and legs. Take periodic breaths. Swim in a straight line. And forget all about the fact that you are in water that stands taller than you ever will. If there ever was an accurate depiction of jumping into the deep end, this would be it. In so many different ways. Less than a month ago, he was anxious if his head was underwater. Today, he is in a pool next to his Scoutmaster, bravely preparing to attempt the swim test required for advancement to the rank of second class scout.

Rolling over onto his back, he tentatively begins the backstroke. Although his goggles obscure his eyes, I can sense the battle raging inside. With one stroke, he exudes fear and uncertainty. In the next stroke, sheer determination to triumph. I never completely understood why my parents were more anxious than me throughout the pursuit of my personal endeavors. I know now. I could have cared less whether my son earned second class rank on that day. What I cared about was his desire to overcome fear, to vanquish those internal demons, leaving them in his wake as he determinedly took one stroke, one kick, then another, over and over again.

Within a few short strokes of the finish, my wife exclaims in a trembling voice, “Dave, he’s going to make it!” In that moment, my heartbeat fluttered. As his hand reached back to touch the wall, he stood on his feet and looked around, almost surprised at where he found himself. The far side of fear, the near side of personal pride. The beaming smile on his face etched an indelible mark on my heart.

Just-Keep-SwimmingAs I think back to these two experiences over that twenty four hour period, I could scarcely fathom just how different they were from each other. One person fighting to survive, another one wrestling with personal achievement. And as disparate as these struggles are in principle, a common thread emerges. The desire to prevail. We all find ourselves, at times, adrift in the sea of adversity, metaphorical waves crashing around us. This past weekend awakened within me the notion that the best we can do is to take a deep breath, swim one stroke, and then another, and then one more. Just keep swimming.