Welcome back to part 3 of The Tree. I hope you are liking the story so far. You may have noticed that there are some errors and misspellings around but that’s only because this is as raw a manuscript as it gets. All the editing, formatting etc. will all come later on. But I do hope you are enjoying the story thus far. So, without further ado – The Tree – Part 3 .
The house was relatively quiet at two fifty-two in the morning. The large hallways of the colonial house sat dark, save for the green light from the microwave and the tick tock of an old clock above the entry way to the kitchen. Moon glow filtered in through the windows. The only noise that could be heard was Mr. Rhodes deep snoring that echoed through the entire first floor. Upstairs, one bare leg out of the covers, one arm tossed over his head, snoring just like his father- just not as loud- was Erik. In his room, decorated with pictures of him as he grew up, his pennants in sports, his high school diploma, and school banners. His mother hadn’t had the heart to come in and redo the room. Every time she’d made up her mind, she made it into the room hell bent on making it a sewing room , ended up waxing nostalgic, turning back, and shutting the door. Before his father had gone to bed, he poked his head out on the back porch to tell Erik that Grandpa’s old radio was in his room in case he had a hard time going to sleep.
“I haven’t slept with a radio on in a couple of year’s dad. But thank you.” He said grinning from ear to ear and blushing a bit given Jason and Erin were still there.
After kissing his sister goodbye and hugging Jason, he wandered upstairs, stripped down to his skivvies and fell into a liquor induced deep sleep. A warm wind blew into the bedroom from an unseen place ruffling the bed clothes briefly. It lingered over his sleeping form before darting right, fluttering the pennants on the walls, before settling in front of his grandfather’s old radio. The dial clicked on lighting the front of machine with a pale-yellow light. Immediately music poured out broken by static. However, the dial slowly began to turn to the left. The orange bar in the center moving over to the lower end of the radio frequency until it reached the bottom. The room was now filled with static, white noise before a voice whispered out. It was male.
“Erik?” It said piercing out into the dark room.
In the bed, across from it, bathed in yellow light, Erik mumbled in his sleep and turned his head his brow furrowing.
“What grandpa?” he asked in his sleep.
“Be strong, son. Stay by your tree. Use your gift. Don’t be afraid of it,” the voice said.
“Use it by the tree. ‘Kay.”
“I love you. Your grandma says hello.”
“mhmmm, ‘kay. I love you. ‘llo G’ma.” he said and began to snore. The radio cackled for a second longer before the dial turned and it went off. The warm wind backed away from the unplugged machine, back to the sleeping form and lingered for a moment before leaving the room and down into the house. The entire event took seven minutes to play out. Downstairs the kitchen clock read, three a.m. The only sound in the house now was the deep snoring of his father.
The next morning dawned bright and early. As Erik surfaced from a fitful sleep after having dreams that were splintered like a broken mirror, with images that were disjointed, he felt a little disoriented. There were images of the woman he’d defended in court, the sound of music playing, a black woman with gold coins in her hair, his grandfather, and several other things he couldn’t quite remember as he opened his eyes. Doing so, didn’t help the disjointed feeling either, instead of staring at the white walls of his apartment in Houston, he was staring at a window and the little dust particles that rained down like fairies dancing in the morning sun. He could hear birds singing and the distant buzz of a weed eater beyond as the smell of bacon frying.
I don’t live with anyone he thought to himself and immediately sat up his heart racing in his chest. He looked around the room quickly and the events of the day before came racing back. And although it looked to be a glorious morning, his heart sank a little in his chest. He was back in his room, back in his parents’ house, jobless, over the age of thirty, and a woman was going to die because of his ineptitude. Erik slumped a little as his shoulders drooped as he began to make a mental list of the things he’d have to take care of today.
A knock on the door sounded twice before the handle was turned and opened. Erik, before he could speak, was able to pull the covers over himself as his mom poked her head in.
“Good morning sunshine.” She said with a grin. Susan Rhode’s hair, perfectly cut and brushed out in public was standing straight up on her head in spots and flat in others. It must have been early.
“Hey, good morning. What time is it?” He asked.
“Seven a.m. I figured you’d still be asleep.” she said stepping in. She was still in her bathrobe.
“No, I’ve got some things I need to get done today. Some phone calls and stuff.” he said running a hand through his hair. His mom came in and sat down on the edge of his bed with a smile on her face.
“Oh, nothin’ just that your father said you’d told him that you didn’t sleep with a radio on anymore. I guess grandpa’s old radio came in handy.”
“I didn’t have a radio on last night, mom. And by the way, how can you hear anything with the symphonic range that is dad’s snoring?”
“Honey, I’m a mother. Your father’s snoring has been going on like that since we’ve been married. But when you kids were little, I could hear you or Erin calling my name when you’d had a nightmare or when you were up and about when you shouldn’t have been. Your momma ain’t lost her touch.” she said and Erik couldn’t help but grin.
“Your breakfasts still amazing?”
“Your damn right. But next time don’t play the radio so loud you’ll wake the dead.” she said as she stood up. Erik was still confused and after she left, he tossed the blankets aside and stood up. He walked over to where his father had placed the radio and picked it up. It was an old thing, barely held together with duct tape. It also had a tightly bound piece of Reynolds Wrap tin foil shoved into a hole where the antenna had been years ago. The dial was turned off, and the frequency was turned all the way to the right. He reached down absently for the chord and picked up the other end of it.
“The damn thing wasn’t even plugged in mom.” He said to her absent form. Shrugging his shoulders, he set the antique back down on his desk and looked out of the window. He first caught sight of his tree and the river that gently made its way beneath it and felt his heart stir a little. He thought of the things he had to do, again, and felt his heart kick start.
“They may be shitty, but they won’t be so bad in the shade.” he said quoting his grandfather and then, biting his lower lip he felt a giggle escape as he turned to his dresser for summer clothes he’d left behind when he visited. You know, just in case.
Ten minutes later and clad in a pair of swim trunks and an old t-shirt, he made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen where his mom and dad were eating breakfast. He greeted them with a smile as he made his way over to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. His cell phone beeped at him and he barely gave it a glance when his father told him it’d been ringing off the hook all morning.
“I’m sorry, I should have turned it off last night.” he said making his way to the table where they sat.
“What are your plans for this morning?” his mother asked handing him a bowl of fried potatoes. He took it happily.
“Honestly? I am going to be on that damn thing most of the morning, I suppose. I have to get a lot taken care of.” he said as he placed the bowl down and reached for the scrambled eggs and sausage that was on a platter.
“Can’t it wait for another day?” his mom asked.
“I guess it could. But I guess it’s probably better to rip it quick. I have to call the apartment complex and tell them I am breaking the lease and will have to authorize a payment for that. Call a moving company and set up a time for them to come and get my stuff and pay to have it shipped here along with my car. I need to call the office and let them know I’m alive and maybe deal with some last minute things for them. So, it’s going to be a busy morning.” he said as he diced up the meal in front of him and heaped it all together. He took a mouthful of food and almost moaned in pleasure it was so good. His impulse was to eat fast. To shovel it down like he did when he was working. But he mentally forced himself to stop, to chew, and to appreciate where he was.
“Do you have enough money?” David asked leaning over the table.
Startled by the question, Erik stared at him for a moment. He had quite a bit of money, actually. The years had been good to him. A natural, his bosses called him as they’d worked on several cases. He’d lived cheap, especially in the last several months with the murder case. Texas lawyers all signed up for defense attorney work if they wanted it, it was a way to get their name out there in larger circles. But after this last case, he’d be damned if he went back to represent some high dollar divorcee who wanted to keep their millions safe or the other party who wanted half of what the other person had. It all seemed so laughably insane.
His mother and father stared at him as he stared back. He shook his head. “I’m good, dad. Thanks.”
“Okay, let me know if you need a little help.” he responded and it made his heart melt. His father had retired a couple of years ago and mom followed a couple of years later from her banking job. They’d done well, even managed to skirt the 08 collapse mostly intact and what they’d lost was made up again with good investments and a rebounding economy. But there was no way Erik would ask them for money.
“Okay.” he replied. He didn’t need their money. time and home and company…. well, he’d take as much of that as he could get.
A couple hours later, out under the shade of his tree, he went through the text messages that were left since his departure from Houston as he sat under the shade of his favorite tree. There were messages from his former co-workers from the majority of the people he liked. There There were even a couple from people who’d just started at the firm and were hoping to be kept in the loop of what had happened. He didn’t respond to any of those. The one he did respond to was from Erin who flat out told him he’d be attending a barbecue over at her boyfriend’s house tonight and to wear something cute, Noah was going to be there.
Erik rolled his eyes and typed back a message: I’ll go, but I’m not looking to hook up. What time?
Erin: Five thirty. I’ll come get you.
Erik: Ok. I’ll be ready.
With a grin on his face, and the sweet summer morning breeze around him, he settled in and started the unpleasant task of unwinding the ball of razor wire that had become his life. As he sat there, with his back to the trunk of his old tree, he hung one foot over the little cliff above the river and felt an attachment to the earth he’d not felt in a long time.
Minutes turned to hours. Brief phone calls turned into extended ones filled with pleasantries and platitudes, a couple of times he had to fish out his wallet to authorize payments, and give detailed instructions how he wanted his things shipped. He took time in between calls to relax, to remember to breathe, and not to get worked up. After confirming with his former employer- who at one point raised his voice- that he wasn’t coming back, they relented and asked if he wanted to be kept abreast of the case he’d been handling. And to also warn him that it was likely to garner national attention.
“Well, if I am going to see it on Joe Scarborough in the morning, I think I’ll be alright.” Erik said.
“Man, but you were our star. Two more years and you would have made partner. You had a GIFT!” Roger said, his Texas twang making the word sound like gfyt.
Use your gift.
A chill cascaded down Erik’s back. He turned his head to look up at the solid oak he lay back on and something rattled around in his head. What? A memory?
“By the tree.” He muttered.
“What was that?” Roger asked.
“I said working for you all been the gift, a real blessing. I just, I know I shouldn’t have walked out, not like that. But, I had to. Sometimes you just know when it’s time to go.” He said, partially placating his boss’s feelings and partially trying not to sound like the weirdo he suddenly felt like. A few minutes later, after telling his former boss where to send his final check, he hung up and set the phone down by his side. Leaning back on the trunk of the tree, he stared out over the creek. It was high and the water was quickly moving. There had been stories about people drowning in the undertow. Some Kayakers who tipped over when they paddled the creek after heavy rains. But right now, it’s clear water looked so inviting that Erik stripped off his shirt and stood up on the bank of the river.
It was deep in some parts, shallow in others, and just to be careful he slid down on his butt until the drop wouldn’t hurt him and he launched himself with a triumphant whoop into the water. It was cool, so cool in fact that it sort of took his breath away. But as he surfaced, he exhaled happily and swam a couple of times between the shores. HE felt the water ripple pass him, wanting to take him further downstream, and it sluiced over his body like a gentle lover welcoming his beloved back home.
Erik found a shallow spot and stood up, wiping his face. He could taste the mineral of the water on his lips. It tasted the same as it always had. And the water felt as it always did even though more years had passed since he’d been there than he’d like to count. In his mind, he could still hear the laughter of he and his friends, or see his grandfather and grandmother as they talked to his parents on the bank of the river as he and Erin swam safety in their eyeshot on fourth of July picnics and Memorial Day. Dad would barbeque and by the end of the day their faces would be sticky with butter from corn on the cob and sauce from ribs, their bellies would be full, and the walk from the bank to the house would feel like miles. He remembered being swooped up in his parent’s arms or his grandfather’s before being carried into the house and the next thing he knew; it would be morning.
Erin and he spent almost every single day together. They were unalike a lot of their friends and their siblings. There seemed to be no competition between the two. They didn’t vie for their parent’s affections or attention; she’d been Erik’s body guard and he’d been hers all through their lives. When one got in trouble, the other usually got into trouble for getting mouthy with their parents. When their friends came over, it was the two of them, or neither of them. All through grade school, middle, and high school they were together. Only when they became adults did she go on her way to be an engineer and he a lawyer. They only thing they didn’t share was his love for that old tree.
He waded through the water to where a portion of the root system had burst through the sloping wall and he pressed a hand on it. “It’s okay. Not everyone has to understand.”
When he was a boy, he’d had his friend Jeremy over while Erin had the flu and the two boys were playing on the ice. They’d spent the day sliding on their shoes and falling, building forts of snow, and played generals as they lobbed snowballs over at each other. He remembers Jeremy’s mom stopped by to pick him up and after the boy had walked up the embankment and had been long gone, Erik had decided he was too cold to be out here alone. He’d crossed the ice one final time to pick up an errant hockey stick that served as the flag post for his snow fort and on his way back, he’d stepped into the center of river when he heard a deafening crack.
As he passed from the surface into the water, it felt like his whole body was being stabbed by a thousand needles. In pain and in shock, he accidentally exhaled his breath as he was pushed by the quick undercurrent. He tried to surface but all his fists found was the sheet of ice on top of him. In sheer terror, he inhaled a lungful of water as he pounded away at the barrier between him and the much-needed oxygen just a few inches above his submersed head. As black dots began to form in his vision and he began to drift asleep, he felt a whoosh and a massive displacement of water as the ice next to him exploded. With what little strength eh had left he pushed himself over and surfaced gasping for breath. He expected a hand to haul him out but once his vision swum back into focus there was no one there. He dragged himself to the short and saw that a massive tear width wise had been placed in the ice.
Erik remembered looking up and seeing the tree above his head that had been covered in snow and ice, was now barren. And as he ran up the embankment into his house to warm up, he could have sworn he saw water running down the trunk when he ran passed. Shivering almost uncontrollably, he was forced to stop his inspection and book it back into the house. When his mother saw him she screamed out in horror, and swept him into the house, and toward the bathroom screaming at her husband that he wasn’t to go back out on to the ice ever again. Of course, he did. But he never went nor stayed out there alone again.
“Why did I forget that?” He murmured as he stood waist deep in the water. A way off in the distance, he heard cheerful voices making their way closer. He knew that revelers often traversed the length of the river getting in at one point and drinking all day before being picked up further downriver. To avoid having to speak to them and to avoid getting too much sun on his pale skin, he slugged up the side of the embankment using the tree as a banister as he made his way up. He patted his friend on it’s flank before bending over and grabbing his cell phone and deposited shirt before making his way back into the house. He glanced back over one more time before he went inside to see the tree standing as it always had, leaning gently out over the river and toward the sun.