Chapter 1

They say 'Luck' is a fickle lady. No offense (Offence for you East ponders) meant to the girls.

By most score keeping methods I should be a happy, no make that a very happy man. Only me and Grandma knew the truth though. I was not a 'Happy Camper)

They say money is the root of all evil. That was probably understated some. Sixteen, college and a future to look forward to all were gone in an instant. From a normal family of 2 adults, 2 children and one on the way we had fit the definition of your average American family; that is until the drunken, doped up, asleep, 'friggin' truck driver plowed into our car.

Broken legs, a broken arm in three places, half a face and glass shards they say will work themselves out, in time. I was 'lucky' they said. My family was gone. The truck driver woke up on the way to jail. It was his 5th DUI accident.

At 16 the judge was not quite sure what to do with me. Grandma did however. I spent more than 3 months learning to get up and 3 more to walk some with crutches. Plastic surgery would wait, a few new grafts though, which hurt like Hell, let me tell you and I was ready. For what I was not sure. The car pieces were still in impound. The driver was being held, a check showed he had a dozen skips in four other States. The oil company was not about to bail him out again, family or not. Too much bad press this time.

Insurance paid for a new car, less wear and tear of $3,500 on a current model year car only 37 days old. Life insurances on Mom and Dad, plus Sis were doubled. I had Grandma sell the house and moved in with her for a while. The one thing I wanted was justice, justice I found out meant a lot of different things to a lot of people. My definition was simple. 'An eye for an eye' would bring nobody back but ... it seemed the right thing as far as I was concerned.

It took nearly 18 months, with all the delays, for the criminal suit to reach court. Any pretense of a fair and impartial criminal trial evaporated when the driver asked to be tried by a judge. He got 60 days, adjusted for time served and a $1,000 fine. Those other States would have to extradite him themselves. Remember OJ. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. The judge later retired to his new ranch in Australia. Imagine that.

I refused any real reconstructive surgery for the trial. I wanted to walk, (Wheeled in really) and let the bastard see how he had left me. Not real smart on my part maybe, like he cared; but ... you know, something I had set in my mind a long time ago; just like getting Justice. It was not revenge, it was to be Justice. It was a shame he could not die three times.

The Civil suit was more to my liking, $8.5 Million each for Mom and Dad's murder, $5 Million for Sis's and $17 Million for me plus a pain and suffering award of $25 Million, about 1.5 hours of profit for that oil giant ... I was 18 now, and at least walking. I had made that Justice my life's goal. I would find that now was a flawed objective.

Not certain when it happened but the people I had hired to keep track of the driver who killed my family, informed me he was dead, his truck careening off a mountain road into the hillside. I guess the other saying about 'Vengeance' was true after all.

That now left me free to... ? To what? I pretty much had placed all my eggs in one basket. I still had someplace to go, right? No it was not a cemetery or a mausoleum, it was the ocean. One place where no one could dispute other than man ruled. I sat down in the sand and watched the rolling waves crash against the rocks or wash in towards the beach. There must have been some dust in the air cause my eyes were tearing up some.

Not sure how long I sat there. I know it was not long enough though. I got up and had several choices which way to go. Straight ahead into the water held the greater appeal. The sound of my heart beating was all I could hear. That dust must have been really, really thick now. Men don't cry I told myself. Shit, I wiped my eyes. "Damn dust!" I mumbled. I started to walk, which way I really don't remember.

It was like 9:10 am, on a cloudy day, more like smog around here already coming down from LA. Ocean beach was dab smack in the middle of the San Diego River and Point Loma Beach. Oh, there was that wet spot to the west too, called the Pacific Pond or something like that. The beach was a popular place but not usually this early on a weekday, unless you were a serious surfer and the waves were up.

I saw the shape ahead. I knew it was a she because I saw her dress billowing. Remembering this was California I tempered that thought though. As I got closer I saw she was holding something. I got closer still and that something moved. She was holding a child. It was the perfect scene. I wish I had a camera, 'Mother and Daughter, on the Beach', what a picture or painting that would make.

She suddenly sat down, or fell down, I was not close enough to tell. I ran to them, and saw both sort of just lying there. I took out a cell, called 911 while still running and actually got hold of an operator that really seemed to care. Not sure why, but I asked her to call me back when she got off. It just came out. I initially wanted to thank her, there were so many horror stories about 911 calls. All the time I was talking I was running to where they were both lying.

Beach rescue was already there when I reached them. Running on beach sand in wingtips was a might slow. I guess 911 calls went to more than the police and fire. It turned out to be a little bloody as the medicos made a slice to their throats, inserted a tube down and started an IV into both of them. While they were lying there, I had some kind of feeling that I could be looking at myself there someday.

A Med-Evac helicopter landed nearby and two men raced out, one stretcher, both limp forms hoisted up and they were off. I walked over to the beach team. "Will they be Okay?" I asked.

The guy shrugged, the girl said, "You the guy that called 911?"

"Yes! I saw them falling down? How are they?"

"Don't know! They both took something. We helped them breath and tried to use an IV, the kid was pretty small, so it, it may be too late for her. God, I hate when this happens to a kid."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"My guess and I never said this, is she wanted to kill herself and the kid!"

I just nodded my head. I could relate to that wish. I felt that I too had nothing left to live for.

My cell rang.

"Yes!"

"You called 911?"

"Yes!"

"I'm Sheila, I was the 911 operator!"

"Hi! I'm Mike, Mike Manzo and I'm still here on the beach. Thank you for whatever you did. There were people here in a few minutes. A helicopter took them both away."

"We were lucky, the hospital had sent a med team to the beach to teach the life guards, I knew about it because my brother was one of them. I called his cell, he and his partner were close by he said. I hope they will be all right."

"Not sure, they said both had taken something. She might have been trying to kill both of them!"

"Wait. Let me check?"

She came back a few minutes later. "They flew them to Sharps Hospital, the ICU in ER."

"What can we do?"

"Pick me up, (she was close) we can go see. My brother works there so they may cut us some slack?"

When I picked her up I did not realize how I looked with wet slacks, sand and water squishing from my wingtips and still wearing a suit. Her hand to stifle a laugh made me more aware of how I looked.

"Sheila Johnson." She extended her hand.

"Mike Manzo and we have to stop meeting like this Sheila!"

It got her to laugh.

"God, I've never done anything like this. We're not supposed to ... to..."

"What, to try to save lives? No way, you are doing anything wrong, and if anyone says you are, screw em!"

I think she was going to say something but thought better about it and stopped. I had to look at her closer, she was a typical California girl, but then again maybe looks were deceiving in her case. Not many would care so much about a stranger. Then again, maybe she was not the only unusual acting one in the car.

We got to Sharps. Parked in the no parking and went inside. (A $500 ticket in California.) I was holding her hand. It just felt right to do so.

"The Med evac brought a woman and child in. Will they be Okay?"

A man hurriedly came out. "Are you their family?"

"No, I was the 911 operator, Mike called in to me from the beach. My brother works here he was the guy to call for the rescue fight."

"Well, I can't say anything. We're trying to reach any family. All we have based on her name is a guy at the Naval Base in Coronado Island. We can't reach him or anyone else."

"Look, if it's a question of money or who to bill, I'll pay for everything. If..."

"No. It's nothing to do with money, It's..."

He just shook his head and walked away.

I looked at Sheila, the 'deer in the headlight' look on her face. She started to cry. I wanted to cry. I hugged her close as we found a place to sit.

"It's not fair!" she said.

"Nope, life's not fair either."

We both sat there for a while.

The Doc, I guessed that was what he was, came back out and knelt down in front of us. "His CO called back, he was killed last night, she was informed early this morning. You saw the result. I don't think either felt any physical pain. It's a damn shame but who can say what would have happened. She had no one else as far as we can find."

"Doc, I'll pay for anything they owe and can we bury them, I don't know what kind of service they would want, but here? It's a check for $20,000. Whatever is left use it for others that are in need. This is only between us. Okay?"

When he left, I felt a head across my chest and her hug this time.

"Are you married? Where do you live Sheila?"

"I live with my brother and his wife in Chula Vista. No, not ready to get married. Actually never been asked, Mr. Do-Good."

"I want you to meet someone, trust me!"

"You know what that means, right?"

"Yeah, sadly I do. I guess a girl like you has heard every line there is. I'm sorry, I don't mean to do or say anything that would hurt you."

"Like I would be here with you, risk my job and sit here crying on your shoulder if I thought you would!"

"You never have to worry about any of that Sheila. I sort of was a lost man when I heard you on the phone. I asked you to call back, never expecting that you would. I think your call was the high point of my life these past few years."

On the way to destiny, of sorts, he asked Sheila what, if anything could be hers, would she wish for. For yourself he stressed. She told him.

"I'll make you a deal! Live here, go to school, become that doctor that you always have wanted and I will pay for everything, as many years as it takes and add $1,000 a month plus all household expenses here. Deal?"

She nodded her head.

Later.

"Grandmother, this is Sheila. She needs a place to stay while she goes to school. She is going to be a doctor, a great doctor someday.

Author note: Gang, just so you get a better idea of the path Sheila longed for, remember it takes 8-10 years(She needed College) before you get to be a doctor on your own, assuming you are not a surgeon like heart or brain. If Sheila had not had the grades for Med School, her dream would have been just that, a dream. In her case she only lacked the money for college and beyond, not much else.

A small gesture can go a long way.

Each Saturday night, a small delivery of pizza, fried chicken, beer, chips and dips arrived at Gate 3 at Coronado Island. $300-400 worth of snacks do not last too long. There was one rule, 1st come first served. It seemed there was never enough, especially the beer. The Seals had a contest to try to find out who was responsible. Only the CO and the anonymous benefactor knew for sure who that was.

With Sheila now in a routine, we had people in to do any heavy or specialized work around the house and yard. Sheila never complained but the load at school was a lot more important for her to do than yard work. We all agreed with that as a priority for her.

In about 11 months, things were stable enough for me to announce that I was going away soon. High school was over, Going to college did not seem that important to me right then.

As it turned out it would become an issue later, at least in my mind, but Hell, life means different things to different people.

I wish I could have seen myself through someone else's eyes; that might have helped me understand a few more things earlier than it took me. I went to Cancun, drank until I knew not when then flew off again. This time Hawaii. The angel, all of 12 or 13 years old was obviously with her Grandmother. The Monarch Room on the beach was a bit too pricey for most tourists. Getting back to the girl. Did I tell you she was an angel. Looking at her, and the jewels she and her Grandmother were wearing brought tears to my eyes. I still did not get much surgery to fix my face and body, just enough to walk better.

Seeing the girl made me realize just maybe I was keeping more about life away than I wanted to realize I was. It made me think, that and a few days walking the beach caused me to decide no one gave a shit about my self-inflicted penance. My Quasimodo imitation was never going to bring anyone back, maybe it would be Okay to look and act more human.

I don't want you to think I needed to hide behind a mask but even with a few weeks of torture and months of healing I was not going to grace the cover of GQ. It was step forward though. I went back home, for a while. Sheila was like not only doing great in school, she became a replacement for me with Grandmother. That was fine, they both needed each other. When she would talk about school, classes, her wants, likes and dislikes; I found that I just could not relate to what she was talking about. It became obvious something was missing, that or I was just too damn stupid to understand the things she said.

I did the man thing. I went away again; this time to France, the beaches there might prove interesting. What I found there was not what I expected. If you were not a member at a Club or Village as it was called there, a Frenchman or had a house there you pretty much were relegated to the public beach areas or the hotels.

Just walking along one day I found her more saw her, all of her, laying half in the shade and half in the sun and not a stitch on. I casually made the comment that 'half baked' would never apply to someone who looked as good as she did.

Her reply that reaching all that exposed skin to apply sun screen was just to difficult. My offer to assist her in such a strenuous task got me a smile that brought to mind the story about Helen and her smile causing a thousand ships to launch. I'm certain all you reading this have heard about or even experienced love at first sight, well this was even more than that.

Her bronze body, streaked golden hair and that face, I mentioned reminded me of some statue, now became all those things that had been missing in my life. My application of sunscreen on her body did not stop with only those areas in the sun. I had finally found her, now she was mine and from the sounds she was making whatever attention I showed her was not unwelcomed. I was in those few minutes to become her faithful puppy, at least for a while.

Like all good things, nothing is forever. She taught me a lot and I learned a lot. Still, I needed to change a lot more if I hoped to return to the 'Land of the Living'. This was a good start though, so much so I flew back home for a bit.

Once home, there was a face with Grandmother I did not recognize and it certainly wasn't Sheila.

"Hi. May I help you?" came from her lips.

"If I thought Grandmother would not hit me, I think you certainly could. I'm Mike, her Grandson, and you are Whom and where is Sheila?"

It was probably too many questions or too soon or both.

I found out Sheila had left school; left the house and Grandmother after finding another to care for her. 'Why? What happened? Those questions only resulted in me getting strange looks. I was to learn more later, much later though.

Grandmother spoke. "Mike, this is Brandi. Sheila brought her here to help me in case I became a doddering old lady before you got back. From the looks of you, I guess this time you must have had a good time. You look almost human."

"Yep! This time Grandmother I actually feel almost human. You can thank a woman by the name of Yvette for that; she made me want to try living for a change. There were a few things that made staying around awkward, her husband for one thing, but they have a saying for that in France, I am sure. Nevertheless, she was my salvation, she taught me that it was Okay to live again and for that, I will always be thankful to her. Now what about, Brandi, is it?"

"Yep! That's me, just another dumb blonde who thought California was the place to be. Man, not what I thought though. When Sheila told me about this, a place to live and a super roommate I thought I had died and went to heaven."

"Grandmother has not said anything else to you?" Grandmother shook her head no and Brandi just looked at her.

"Okay then, I'll make you the same offer I made Sheila. If you had one wish, for yourself, what would it be?"

That question should not have been that difficult to answer I thought. Brandi just sat down and cried. She kept crying.

"I don't wish for anything more. Just having a place to live is enough for me. I'll do anything you want for me to stay here. Your Grandmother is more taking care of me than anything else. I can get a job and help out with the bills soon too."

Now I wanted to cry. Grandmother was smiling and just shaking her head.

"Well, that is something to think about Brandi, but I think things will be fine. Tell you what!"

"What?"

"Damn, I don't know! It just sounded good to say. Did Sheila tell you anything?"

"Only that I should care for your Grandmother and the house. And that you were a good guy. Not everyone was like that, she said."

I had some thinking to do.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Fiction / Tear Jerker / Slow /