This story first appeared in the October 2011 issue of The Front Porch Review.

 

Eight should not be an age to have a defining moment, but that’s what happened to Bart Wells. Bart, now twenty-eight, works with computers writing programs to control how they operate. A loner by choice, he likes interacting with computers, they don’t talk back and when they give him problems he deals with them with a few lines of programming. He can work alone, which is what he prefers, and does not have to have much contact with co-workers or supervisors.

From an apartment complex on the outskirts of town, Bart takes the bus to and from work every day, always getting the same bus at the same time each way. Such regularity gives him comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable world. He knew, or suspected, others pitied his lonely existence, but he has no self pity, he’s okay with himself and how he lives. Or so he thought.

One morning on the bus ride to work Bart noticed a “Grand Opening” sign on a previously empty store front. Underneath that sign was another that said “Bailey’s Boutique.” He saw a young woman opening the shop’s door and couldn’t help staring at her as the bus made its way down the street. The Bailey name, and the girl’s face, it couldn’t be a coincidence. Something in him stirred, he wanted to think it was curiosity, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He almost unconsciously decided he would need to check further.

On the ride home from work Bart did something he had never done, he got off the bus before his normal stop, hesitating as he watched the bus leave without him fidgeting as it did so, nervously looking around before longingly looking at the exhaust coming from the bus, resisting the temptation to run after it. He walked a half a block up the street to the new shop stopping to stare at the sign. He overcame his reluctance and opened the door to the shop flinching at the attention getting bell that jingled with the door’s movement.

“Good afternoon,” said the girl he saw that morning who turned her attention away from the clothes she was loading on a shelf. It was like looking at Sean himself, there could be no doubt there was a relation.

“Uh…good afternoon,” Bart stammered.

“Can I help you with anything?” she offered.

“No, just looking,” Bart replied, staring at her.

“Um, okay then,” she said warily. “Feel free to look around; we have lots of nice things for any ladies in your life. Just let me know if you need any help.”

“Are you related to the Bailey’s on Phillip Street?” Bart blurted out almost too loudly.

“Why yes,” she replied smiling, “do you know them?”

“I used to live on Elm Street,” he said.

“Really?” She said, her face brightening. “It’s nice to see someone from the old neighborhood. What’s your name?”

“Bart.”

She hesitated a little when he said his name. “Bart? Bart Wells?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my God,” she said as she dropped what she was doing.

“I should go,” Bart said as he turned to leave.

“No wait, I’m sorry, that was so rude, please don’t go, I need to ask you something.”

Bart had reached the door and had his hand on the doorknob. He stopped and slowly dropping his hand. Hesitantly he turned toward her and saw sincerity on this female version of Sean’s face. “What?” he finally said.

“Tell me about that day, I was so young, only five. Sorry, where are my manners, my name is Bridget.”

“I remember you Bridget,” Bart said averting eye contact with her.

“Sorry for my reaction before Bart,” she said reassuringly, “but you’re name was not spoken kindly in my house since that day, and I was a little taken aback.”

“That’s okay, I understand.” Bart hesitated, still leaning toward the door. Finally he faced her fully and said, “What do you want to know?”

“What was his last day like, was he happy? Did he suffer?” Bridget’s face pleaded for information.

“Sean was always happy,” Bart said wistfully, “but I suspect you know that.” She nodded. “We were sledding that day, a cold winter’s day that kids don’t mind when they’re having fun. We had been out all day going down Devil’s Hill in the park, know it?”

“Sure, everyone in the neighborhood knows about Devil’s Hill,” she said.

“We took turns on my Flexible Flyer sled,” Bart continued, “but toward the end of the day we decided to do some tandem runs after all the other kids left. One of us would start with the sled from the top of the hill while the other waited part way down. We would run with the sled, throw it down and jump on just before reaching the other who would then jump on top.”

“Yeah, I remember sledding down that hill,” she said looking at him intently.

“We must have done about ten runs when it started to get dark,” Bart went on, “we decided on one more run before going home for supper, and it was my turn to start the run. I wanted to make it the best of the day, so I ran as fast as I could before throwing the sled down just before reaching Sean. He jumped on top and we were really flying. But we sacrificed control for speed, and I could see we were headed for the tree line. At first we were laughing at the thrill of the speed we reached.”

“I’ll always remember Sean’s laugh,” Bridget said smiling at the memory.

Bart ignored her comment, and went on as if he was talking to himself. “I tried to pull on the handle, but they were pretty useless on that sled, so I began to shift my weight. It was too late to change our direction and it only resulted in us falling off the sled. I tumbled safely away, but Sean…” Bart’s voice trailed off.

“I know,” she said her eyes watering, “his head must have hit the tree directly.”

“I shook him to wake up, but he wouldn’t. I grabbed the sled and ran home. I didn’t know what else to do. I was scared, but I thought he’d wake up and go home and everything would be all right. When I got home I was going to tell my folks about what happened, but there was pizza on the table, and before I knew it I was sitting there eating a slice and sipping on a Coke.”

“Do you think he was still alive?” she asked this gently, touching his arm as she did so.

“I don’t know,” Bart said giving her a brief glance before continuing quickly as though he needed to get it all out. “Our phone rang and it was your Mom asking if Sean was at our house, my Dad told her no, then asked me if I knew where he was. That’s when I told them what happened. My Dad dropped the phone and said ‘You left him there?’ and the look on his face was devastating to me.”

“I think I know the rest,” Bridget said. “My folks never forgave you.”

“I know. They didn’t even want me at the wake, they asked us to leave.”

“But you were just a child,” she said, her face pulled to a frown and taking a step closer to him, “how could they treat you like that?”

“I made a choice that day, maybe not a premeditated one, but still I didn’t say anything right away.” Bart said, “I’ve lived with that ever since. I don’t blame them.”

“I’m sorry to bring all this up again Bart, but I have one more question.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

She paused for a second waiting for him to look at her, then locking eyes with him. “What were Sean’s last words?”

“Good run.”

“Huh?”

“When he jumped on my back that last time he said ‘Good run’ as we sped down the hill.”

“And that was the last sound he made?” she said sadly.

“No, actually the last sound that came from him was laughter,” Bart said smiling at the memory.

“Thanks for that Bart,” Bridget said warmly, again reaching out to touch his arm, “you don’t know how happy I am to know that.”

“Sure,” he said shifting his feet, head lowered. After an awkward pause he finally started toward the door again saying, “I really have to be going.”

“Bart,” she said, “thanks for talking about it with me, I really appreciate it. I imagine it must have been hard for you.”

“I…I really should be leaving, good luck with the shop,” he said hurrying out the door.

“Stop in again some time,” he heard her say as the door was closing behind him. He waved his hand toward her without looking back.

Bart decided to walk the rest of the way home to give himself time to clear his mind of the memories this encounter dredged up. He hadn’t thought of that day in years, pushing the events deep into his memory bank. As he walked he turned around once and saw Bridget through the shop window watching him. He was surprised to see her smile and wave to him and he lifted his hand halfway up to wave back, giving her a nod. Maybe she meant what she said about coming back, he thought. Maybe, unlike her parents, she had room for forgiveness. He smiled at that thought and stole another look back at Bridget who had resumed her work. He turned back around and continued his walk, a bounce in his step as he considered taking her up on her invitation soon. He wondered if he acted differently that day, made a different decision, if he’d become the same person he was today. He didn’t know, but he did know that for the first time in a long time, he felt something.

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