Adam Sanders sat slumped behind his cluttered desk. His eyes were bloodshot; his breath stank like a sewer. His clothes were wrinkled and soiled. If he hadn't routinely cut his hair in a buzz cut it would be long and stringy. As it was he was in need of a trim and a wash. He had also not shaved in three weeks which added to his severely unkempt appearance. The stench of his unwashed body was noticeable as far away as the guest chair in front of his desk. Occasionally one of his employees would walk past his open office door and glance into the office. Their feelings were noticeable as they did so. You could tell from the looks on their faces they hurt almost as much as did their boss. None of them knew what to do or say to him however so they just looked into the room and moved on doing the best job they could for him. His presence in the office cast a pall over the entire building. Adam's despair had even transmitted itself to his work crews who rarely came into contact with him. Business was suffering. It would have probably declined even more than it had except the entire town knew about Adam's problem and was sympathetic.
About noon an older woman with graying hair stepped into the office. She surveyed the mess on Adam's desk then moved up beside it. She grimaced when she smelled his stench. Her look was one of sadness. Up until a couple of months ago Adam would not be caught in public without clean pressed clothes even if they were just blue jeans and a T-shirt or summer button front shirt. He was always neatly groomed and had a ready smile for everyone he met. Now he didn't even acknowledge the woman standing beside his desk. The woman reached out and picked up the half eaten breakfast biscuit and the four partly drank cups of now cold coffee. She started to say something then just dejectedly left the room carrying the refuse. Adam never even acknowledged her presence. He just stared at the corner of his desk containing a picture of a beautiful young woman smiling out from the frame.
Just shortly after one p.m. an older man walked through the door into the office complex. He looked at the older woman that had cleaned off Adam's desk earlier and said, "I have his lunch. Is he doing any better, Amy?"
Amy sighed and shook her head no. She then said, "No. If anything he's worse. He only ate a couple of small bites of his breakfast biscuit. I don't think he drank more than a swallow or two from any of the four cups of coffee Janice took him. As far as I know he hasn't said a word all day. If I try to give him a phone call he just looks at me without saying anything. Sometimes he waves me away, others he doesn't make any response at all."
"FUCK! I don't know what to do here. He's the heart and soul of this business. I don't know how much longer we'll be able to hold it together if he doesn't get his head out of his ass. I'll try to talk to him again when I give him his lunch."
The man turned and walked into Adam's office with the deli bag of food. He looked at the dejected man sitting in the chair. His color was pale and his breathing erratic. Marvin walked into the room and up to the desk. He sat the white bag containing Adam's favorite deli sandwich on the desk. Marvin opened the bag, unwrapped the sandwich then placed it on the desk in front of Adam. He opened the chips and poured them onto the wrapping. Lastly he set a fountain Coke beside the top of the paper holding the food.
Marvin sat in the chair across from Adam and stared at him for a moment. He started to rise when Adam ignored him but stopped as he felt a surge of anger. He leaned back in the chair and said, "Adam, you have to snap out of it. You're going to end up in the hospital if you don't eat and take care of yourself. You can't keep sitting here staring into space then going home and drinking yourself to sleep at night. You know Jill would have a fit if she could see how you're behaving. You have to take care of yourself.
"I know you hurt, Adam, but you have to get over it. Keep the good memories and begin living your life again. You have friends that need you. You have customers that depend on you. I don't know how long we can hold the business together without your help here."
Something Marvin said got through to Adam. He stirred and glared at Marvin. There was a deep burning something—maybe anger—in his pain filled eyes. He stared at Marvin. If looks could kill Marvin would be dead. Adam began furiously yelling at Marvin. At the first sentence Amy and Janice rushed to the door into the office and stood with shocked looks of sorrow and horror on their faces while Adam vented.
Adam spoke so rapidly and vehemently that spittle flew from his mouth. He said, "Just shut your damn mouth, Marv. I'm here aren't I? I'm doing what I can here. You have Amy and Janice. You still have someone to go home to at night, someone who loves you and who you love. You can touch them and kiss them any time you want. What do I have, huh? NOTHING, that's what. Not one damn thing.
"Do you know what it feels like to spend every waking minute praying for a miracle, praying for some medicine to work and make your wife better? You've had almost your whole life with your wife and daughter. I had three years—four if you count when we dated. Four damn years! One day she was fine then she said she needed to see the doctor because of vaginal bleeding and pain. A week later she began treatments for the cancer. For three months I watched her pain get worse and I COULDN'T DO A DAMN THING ABOUT IT. All I could do is hurt with her and hold her while she whimpered from the pain.
"Damn you, do you know what it feels like to hold your wife, someone you love more than your own life itself while she whimpers and looks into your face knowing all you can do is hold her? Knowing you can't do another damn thing to make her feel better? Knowing you can't make the pain go away. Do you know what it feels like to hold your wife in your arms and hear her whisper "Love You" as she gazes into your eyes then to feel her whole body just slump and relax? Do you know what it feels like to see her chest stop rising and to know she finally stopped fighting for just one more breath?
"Have you ever been forced to stand and watch some assholes put your wife on a cold gurney and wheel her away from you or to see her lying in a coffin? No, you damn well don't. She was my reason for living. She was my reason for getting up and coming to work every day and my reason for going home every night. Hell, she was even my reason for eating and breathing because I knew I had to do those things so I could take care of her and give her the love and things she needed and deserved. Now I have nothing. I have no reason for going on, no reason to work or eat or go home. All I have is the damn pain and the knowledge I will never see her or hold her or make love with her ever again. So don't you tell me I need to take care of myself and run this damn business. I HAVE NO GOD DAMNED REASON TO DO THAT ANYMORE.
Adam stood and staggered around his desk. He glared at Marvin for a moment then looked at the door into his office. In addition to Amy and Janice he could see several of his employees looking at him in shock and sorrow. He pushed through the crowd. Just before he passed out of sight he said, "I'm leaving. You all take care of the damn business. At least you still have a reason for working and living." Adam pushed the heavy entry door open and stormed through it.
Everyone stood in shock and sorrow for a moment. As the outside door slammed Janice's head came up. A surge of fear rushed through her. She thought 'Oh, my God. He's going to kill himself.' She whimpered and wildly pushed first her mother then a couple of the men behind her out of the way. She ran toward the outside door yelling, "Adam. Wait. Please."
As Janice ran outside she saw Adam's 2010 Ford Ranger fishtailing as it left the gravel parking lot. She stood, shoulders slumped in dejection. A small tear ran down her cheek. She took a shuddering breath and returned to the building.
Marvin was holding a crying Amy. When he saw Janice he held his arm out for her. She snuggled into his embrace and felt her shoulders shake as her tears fell, also. Soon Marvin gently pushed the women away and sat in a chair beside Amy's desk. He looked around and said, "Well, that didn't go so well did it? I guess I'd better try to find him and see if I can calm him down."
When Marvin stood to leave Janice stood also. She grabbed her purse and said, "I'm coming with you, Daddy. We have to hurry. I'm scared he's going to hurt himself."
The two got into Marvin's company truck and made a tour of the bars in town. They did not find Adam. Finally they went to his house. They could tell he had been there. The back door was standing open and there were fresh ruts in the yard from where he spun his tires leaving. The kitchen was a mess as was his bedroom. It was obvious not all of the mess had been made that day either.
Janice turned and surveyed the mess, then said, "Why don't you keep looking, Dad. I think I will stay here and clean up this mess for him. Maybe I'll still be here if he comes back. Oh, Daddy, I'm so scared. I have my cell. Please call if you find him. Come get me after work."
"Ok, Honey. Call me or your Mom if he comes back."
Adam just disappeared. No one heard from him the rest of that day or the next. Janice and the rest of his employees became very worried at his absence. Finally, in desperation, Marvin contacted the police for help finding him. They put him on the missing persons list and put out an APB (All Points Bulletin) on his truck. Another week went by and still no word. The only good thing about Adam being gone was company morale. His employees worried about him but his disruptive presence was gone so more work got done and there was less tension in the company. Marvin and Amy ran the company as best they could. They were used to making day to day decisions and scheduling jobs for the crews. What they weren't used to and what they could not do was make large purchases or commit the business to major contracts. Of course, there were very few large contracts possible since the business was a handyman and lawn service.
After three weeks everyone began to be scared something really bad had happened to Adam. No one had heard from him. Not one peep was heard. Wednesday of the fourth week Adam was gone Marvin called the state Highway Patrol to see if they had any information on Adam. The person he spoke with said, "No, Sir, we don't have anything concrete. We have reason to believe he may be in the neighborhood of Steelville though. Twice a small silver Ranger extended cab 4X4 matching the description was seen around there. We got a match on the plates but the sighting officer could not turn around and follow him in time to stop him and verify the driver's identity. We are still looking however."
About the time Marvin was getting the information from the Patrol, Adam was bouncing down a poorly maintained dirt road. Dust was billowing behind his truck as he drove down the narrow road well in excess of the safe speed. He came to a poorly defined turn off into a field and made the turn. His small truck bounced across the field and entered some trees. There was really no trail or road where Adam drove. He had to twist and turn to work his way through the trees. He over rode brush and briars but stayed more or less in the trail he had made through the foliage the two times before when he drove to his campsite.
After about a quarter mile of driving he came to a small grass covered clearing beside Elk River. There was a spring bubbling from the hillside and a tent pitched beside it. The spring was ice cold. Adam kept his liquid refreshment in it along with the small amount of food that needed refrigeration. He was living on junk food and beer mostly, however he did occasionally fry some potatoes and onions or a fish he caught from the stream. This trip to town had been to replace his bread, eggs and other perishable food. As usual he spoke to no one during his trip. Of course, he also replenished his beer supply.
After Marvin ended his phone call with the Patrol he told Amy and Janice what he learned. Amy just said, "Well, I just don't understand why they can't find him if they know where he is. That just doesn't make sense."
Saturday morning rolled around with no further news about Adam. Marvin and Amy were in the kitchen drinking coffee when Janice came into the room. She was dressed in tight denim shorts and a pull over T. Marvin clenched his teeth when he saw his 24 year old daughter. He mightily disapproved of her bouncing around like she was with no bra on. It was almost indecent. He could see her hard nipples tenting out the shirt. He had been reminded several times he now had no say in her attire but it still bothered him. Amy, on the other hand, accepted it. In fact, she told him several times he was a hypocrite for complaining about Janice. After all, he wanted Amy to dress like that.
Marvin had said, "Well, yeah, but that's my daughter there. I don't want some damn man getting the wrong idea about her and trying something. All the young men think about is getting into some girls pants."
"Oh, and it's alright if some man gets the wrong idea about me and tries something? Its OK if they try to get into my pants?"
"NO. That's not what I meant and you know it. I'm there to take care of you and I'm not for Janice a lot of the time."
"Well, honey, I don't need to be taken care of and neither does Janice. We both have our concealed carry permits and know how to use the pistols you bought for us."
Marvin knew he couldn't win that one so dropped it. He knew he was being unreasonable but he couldn't help getting upset when he saw Janice dressed that way. Today, though, he was upset by her attire and puzzled by what she was carrying. Janice came into the kitchen carrying a small overnight case. She set it on the end of the counter and poured herself a cup of coffee then sat at her place at the table. Without a word other than a good morning to her parents she began to eat.
Contrary to normal Saturday mornings Janice didn't tarry at the table after her breakfast. She stood and put her eating utensils and dishes in the dishwasher. She walked up to her mother, gave her a hug and turned to pick up her bag. Marvin was just about to ask what she was doing when Janice said, "I'm tired of waiting on the Patrol. I'm going to Steelville and see if I can find Adam. I don't know when I'll be back."
Marvin said, "You can't," but stopped when Amy spoke over his voice.
Amy said, "You be careful, honey, and phone every night please. Let us know if we can help. Good luck, honey."
After Janice left Marvin turned to Amy and said, "What did you let her take off for? She can't do anything the Patrol can't do."
Amy glared at Marvin and said, "You idiot. She's 24 years old and has a full time job. She can support herself and take care of herself. She is perfectly capable of doing whatever she wants. I didn't let her do anything. She didn't ask us permission to go. She told us she was going and, frankly, I think it's time she did."
Amy just looked at Marvin in disgust. She sighed and shook her head the said, "You really don't get it do you? Marvin, your daughter is head over heels in love with Adam. She worries about him now like a wife would. This is tearing her up inside. She HAS to do something even if it might not succeed. If anyone can find him and get through to him it is Janice."
While all this discussion was occurring Adam was sitting on the riverbank sipping on his coffee. He was still unshaven and his hair was growing longer but he now had the beginnings of a healthy tan. He was not so pale as before and he moved as if he felt better. His eyes were still black and scary looking and he stared into the distance for hours on end but there was something...
This morning Adam sat beside the stream and listened to the peaceful chuckle as the brook and river meandered their way past his small patch of ground. He was trying to catch a fish or two before the canoes came through and scared them. As he sat fishing he looked around at the scenery and listened to the peaceful early morning sounds.
This little 40 acre piece of ground had been in the family since the early 1800's. The house and barns were long fallen down but the family kept the land. From time to time they discussed selling, but for one reason or another they did not follow through on the thought. Now Adam was grateful they never sold the place. He inherited the small farm when his parents passed away. He and Jill had spent many a happy weekend camped in this same spot. He could feel her presence here with him yet it didn't have the same sadness he felt in the house they shared when she died. He couldn't even go into their bedroom without the memories of the last time he saw her filling his brain. He sobbed when he remembered how he held her as she died in their marital bed. He still could not force himself to enter that room. That was why he did not have many clean clothes and did not shave or brush his teeth. He couldn't face the room so he could get his clothes and hygiene items. The thought of purchasing more never entered his mind. Frankly, he still didn't care much about his appearance or hygiene.
Janice was almost to Steelville when she got a phone call from her mother. Without waiting for much more than a greeting Amy said, "Janice, I went to the post office to get the mail for the office today. Adam's credit card bill was in the mail. I opened it and guess what? He has made several purchases in Steelville. He buys gas and food items from Steelville Grocery and beer at the package store. He usually is in town about three times a week. It's pretty obvious he is staying somewhere around there. You might stop at those stores and ask if they can tell you where he is staying. In a small town like that people notice strangers and usually know where they're staying and what's going on."
"Ok, Mom, thanks. I'm almost at Steelville now. I'll see what I can find. Love you. Bye."
Adam sighed and leaned back against his favorite tree. He could hear a hay bailer in the background and somewhere closer the clunk of paddles and voices as the first canoe of the day approached.
Adam sat quietly and watched as three canoes with three young couples came into view. He ignored them as they quietly floated past. He never responded to the "good morning" one of the women caroled to him. He envied the carefree young couples out to enjoy the warm summer day with their significant others. He sobbed when a memory of him and Jill doing the same thing forced itself into his head.
Adam wanted a beer but there was none left. He needed to go to town and buy more. He supposed he really should buy more than two cases at a time but for some reason that is all he purchased. He poured his old coffee on the campfire and stood to go.
He made sure his fire was out then walked to his truck and drove back out the tight little trail he beat through the woods. Brush was scraping along the sides of his truck and he knew it was damaging the paint but he really didn't care. Before Jill died he would have been frantic thinking about the damage. Now it never entered his mind to think about it.
Adam made good time into town. He stopped at the liquor store first for his beer then drove to the small grocery for the little amount of food he intended to purchase. He was in and out of the store in less than fifteen minutes. He threw his purchases into the cab and got into the truck.
Adam slammed his door as he usually did and started his engine. Without thinking or looking at his surroundings he put the truck into gear and began driving toward the exit from the parking lot. After stopping at the street Adam turned away from the feed store heading back to his little hide away. He never noticed the dirty red Jeep Wrangler tearing out of the parking lot of Steelville Farm and Seed. Janice had been ready to enter the office when she heard a car door slam down the street from her. Like most of us she turned and looked for the noise.
When Janice saw Adam she screamed "Adam" and ran for her car. She fumbled her keys getting them into the ignition. Adam was almost out of sight when she tore down the street following him. They drove for about six miles going down dirty dusty country roads. Janice was coughing and her eyes were running from the dust before Adam got more than a mile from the paved road he left town on.
Janice almost hit Adam's truck when he abruptly slowed and turned into his nearly hidden lane. She flew past his turn off but Adam never noticed. It is doubtful he even knew there was a vehicle behind him that almost hit him when he slowed abruptly. Janice skidded to a stop and backed up. She carefully turned into the lane and bumped along behind Adam as he disappeared into the trees.
Janice had an easier time getting her vehicle through the trees and brush than Adam did his. The Jeep sat slightly higher from the ground and had a shorter wheel base so just slid through the tight spots.
When Janice got almost to the clearing she saw Adam's camp. He was already out of the truck and drinking a beer as he carried his purchases to the spring where he put them into the water to stay cool. He put his meat into a plastic container and also put it in the cold water.
Janice started to drive into the clearing and confront Adam. She remembered her promise to her mother and decided to call her first. When she tried to dial her phone she had one bar service intermittently. "Shit," she muttered. She looked at Adam. He was settled down beside the stream munching on a sandwich and drinking. Janice put her Wrangler in reverse and backed out of the trail. Adam heard her but when he turned his head to see what was making the noise she was out of sight.
After he looked around a moment Adam shrugged his shoulders and settled back down. Janice was almost to Steelville before she had three bars of service and could make her phone call. When Amy answered the phone Janice excitedly said, "I found him, Mom. He's camped beside a stream about six or seven miles outside of Steelville. I was in town asking about him when I saw his truck leaving a small grocery store so I followed him."
"That's wonderful, Honey. How is he?"
"I don't know Mom. I haven't talked to him yet. There's no service by the stream. He was sitting drinking beer and eating so I decided to call you before we talked. I had to drive most of the way back to Steelville before I got reliable cell coverage. From what I can see his color is better and he looks healthier but he's still dirty and unkempt. I'll call you tomorrow when I know more. Bye now."
Janice quickly turned her Jeep around and returned to Adam's camp. This time she drove straight into the clearing and parked behind Adam's truck. When Adam heard the vehicle coming he turned to watch. His first thought was deep anger at being disturbed. His land was posted against trespassing according to state law. He stood to run the interloper off then stopped in shock when he saw Janice jump from her vehicle and run toward him.
Janice didn't think before she acted. When she was a step away from Adam she launched herself at him. She hit him hard enough to knock him back a step to keep from falling. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. She was crying and beating on his chest with her fists as she said, "Damn you, Adam. How could you do this to us? How could you just disappear and leave us to worry about you. We didn't know if you were dead or hurt or what. I've been so scared Adam."
Adam just stood listening while Janice beat on and stormed at him. Her words made no sense to him at first. Why was she so angry and hurt? He didn't do anything to her. He just had to get away. Finally, without conscious thought, his instincts took over. Here was a friend crying and in emotional pain. He needed to console her. He slowly placed his arms around the still crying Janice and gently pulled her to his chest. He laid his head on hers and gently ran his hands up and down her back and sides as she slowly stopped crying.
Finally, still sniffling Janice pushed away from Adam. She gave him a tentative smile and wiped the tears from her face with her fingers. She looked around the primitive campsite and said, "It's beautiful here. How did you find this place Adam?"
"It's mine. It's been in the family since 1842. When Dad and Mom died I inherited it. Jill and I used..." Adam stopped talking and got his haunted look once again. He turned from Janice and walked toward the spring. He picked up a beer, opened it and took a deep draught. Without further words he walked to the river and sat leaning against his favorite tree.
Janice whispered a quiet "FUCK" under her breath. She watched Adam move off. Her heart died when she saw him sit beside the tree and stare into space over the river once again. She walked to the spring and got herself a beer then walked toward Adam.
Janice didn't say anything when she got to Adam. She sat almost touching him and leaned back against the tree. They sat quietly drinking their beer and watching the river. When Adam finished his beer he got up and got another then resumed his seat. Janice did the same thing when hers was gone.
The next time Adam finished his beer he returned with two. He handed Janice one. Still they sat in silence watching the river and an occasional canoe. After her fourth beer Janice decided she needed to get rid of some water. She said, "Uh, Adam, I need to pee. Do you have an outhouse or something?"
Adam barked a laugh and swept his arm in a semi circle. He said, "You choose, Sweetheart."
Janice felt her heart lurch when he said that even though she knew he was just being facetious. She thought 'oh, if only.'