Book 25 – Joy in the Journey will be published next Monday, March 25th! It’s almost here. Be sure you’ve signed up for the newsletter and you’ll get the next vignette delivered to your email along with the link to Amazon for the book.
But since that seems like such a long time from now – here’s a little snippet from the lives of a couple of my favorite characters. They are all growing up. It’s killing me.
Book 25 – 03 – Electric Angst
Doug stood and put his hand out with a grin when Billy came up to the table. They were meeting at the Alehouse for dinner tonight.
“Hey, bud, how are you?” Billy asked, shaking his friend’s hand.
“Okay. It’s good to see you.”
As soon as they sat down, a waitress stood over them. “Hi, guys,” she said. “Your usual?”
Doug grinned at Emmy Mathers. “Have we ever ordered anything different?”
She glanced at Billy. “You’re sure?”
He nodded and she left.
“It’s like they know us or something,” Doug said.
For the last six months, the two rarely worked at the some locations, so they’d taken to meeting here on Fridays. Rachel, Billy’s wife, was always busy in the kitchen at Sycamore House, and Anita, Doug’s girlfriend, was fine with whatever he wanted to do. She was so easygoing about things.
“I’m going to school,” Billy blurted out.
“I’m going to finish this whole thing. Get my certificate, get it all. Get out on my own. I can make more money that way. I talked to Jerry and he said I should go for it.”
Doug sat back. The two of them worked for Jerry Allen, a local electrical contractor. He’d taught them and they had worked hard for him.
A year ago, the two would have discussed this type of decision for weeks before Billy followed through. Doug would probably have ended up following his friend off to get the same degree. It was just what they did. Things had changed.
He opened his mouth and then closed it as Emmy returned to the table with two ice cold glasses of beer.
“Anything before I come back with your rings?” she asked.
He shook his head, still dazed at Billy’s announcement. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Billy let out a big sigh. “I’m telling you now. You don’t want to do this, Doug. You know that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to be with Anita. The two of you will do different things than me and Rachel. You were never going to be in this job for the rest of your life.”
Doug wasn’t so sure about that. He’d never given it much thought, though. He was just doing what he did. “What else do you think I’ll be doing?”
“Anything, dude,” Billy grinned. Rachel had tried to cure him of using that word since the day they became a couple. It drove her crazy. She told both of them that it made them sound like little kids. “You can do anything. You’re smart enough. You just never believed in yourself.”
“You’re telling me that you aren’t smart enough to do anything else?” Doug asked in challenge.
Billy leaned forward. “No, Doug. I’m telling you I like this work and I’m smart enough to go after the big bucks. I want to be my own man. I want to be the one Henry Sturtz contacts when he needs a bid on electrical for one of his buildings. And by the way, the right response to me telling you my plan should be ‘congratulations, I’m proud of you.'”
“Congratulations, I’m proud of you,” Doug responded automatically. Then he thought about it. “No, really. I’m proud of you. That’s cool if it’s what you want to do.”
“It is. We okay?”
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t we be okay?”
“It’s just that we always do stuff together.”
“You married Rachel without me,” Doug said, smiling at his friend. “Then you moved out into your own apartment. Talk about leaving a guy behind.”
“Never thought I had it in me, did you?”
Doug frowned at that as he thought. The thing was, he always considered himself the leader on this team. Billy was the follower. Or was he? Here Billy was, doing things because he wanted to, not because he needed Doug to do it first.
In fact, what had he done lately? Anita wanted him to ask her to marry him. She even hinted that she’d buy the rings and propose to him if he didn’t figure it out. There had been some big fight with her mother after Christmas last year and Doug had steered way clear of that. If he’d asked about it, he would have had to get involved and that was a lot of work. It was easier not knowing.
“Your face is kinda mad-looking,” Billy said. “What?”
“I don’t know,” Doug replied with a quick shake of his head. “Just thinking about things.”
“What kind of things?”
Doug shrugged. “Just things. This is good for you. Are you and Rachel talking about having rugrats soon or something? Is that why you’re doing this?”
“Not soon. We kinda want to be in a house before we do that.”
“You’re going to buy a house? Dude, that’ll make you part of the establishment.”
It was Billy’s turn to frown. “The establishment?”
“Yeah. Watching old movies with Anita. But seriously, that’s some grown-up stuff. Out on your own, babies, house. I don’t even know.”
“It has to happen someday. I don’t want to wait forever. We could probably afford a little house right now with what Rachel and I are making, but if we wait one more year, we’ll be in really good shape.”
Doug didn’t even know how much money he had in his bank account. And Billy was doing financial planning for a house? Who was this guy?
“You’re going to be old before your time,” he said.
Billy smiled at him. “And you’re going to be a kid forever. Somebody has to be prepared to take care of you. If you don’t get married and turn into an old bachelor, Rachel says we’ll buy a big house and put an apartment in the basement for you. That way she can make sure you eat well and take care of yourself.”
“You’re kidding. You have not talked about me that way,” Doug said.
“Yeah. We have,” Billy replied. “She’s more worried about you than I am. Especially since Anita is practically throwing herself at you and you just keep diving out of the way. That girl isn’t going to wait for you forever. Someday she’ll realize that you’ll never change and she’ll move on.”
“So what if she does?” Doug asked. Now he was just annoyed. He hated being backed into a wall. Anita had never said anything, even though he knew she was disappointed that he wasn’t ready to commit to marriage.
“You’re kind of an idiot,” Billy said low enough so Emmy wouldn’t hear him as she approached their table with a basket of onion rings.
“Burgers are on the grill, guys,” she said. “I’ll bring them over in a few. Do you need anything else?”
Doug didn’t even look up. His mind reeled with feelings of inadequacy. He heard Billy say something to her as he closed his eyes while taking a drink.
“Hey,” Billy said. “I was supposed to come in and give you my good news and we’d maybe celebrate. What’s going on?”
“I’m a loser.” Doug pulled a hunk of hot onions onto his plate and reached for the ketchup. Anita liked ranch dressing with hers. He was all about the ketchup. Dang, he thought about her all the time. She was everywhere in his life.
“I’ve always said that about you.”
“That you’re a loser. You know I don’t believe it, right? You just need to figure out what you want to do.”
“I don’t know what I want to do. I thought we’d be working together forever. Heck, I figured we’d live together forever. You already screwed that up.” Doug shot his friend a forced smile.
“Do you really want to be running wire for the rest of your life?” Billy asked. “Do you want to be working for someone like me forever? And live by yourself? Scratching and sniffing in your old recliner because you can’t bring yourself to buy new stuff?”
“I bought everything in that apartment,” Doug protested.
“Four years ago. You haven’t updated your computer or your television. Nothing. You just keep holding on to the same things. You haven’t done anything with my old bedroom. The room is empty, like it was the day I moved out.” Billy pushed the basket across the table to Doug. “What happened tonight, anyway? I didn’t want to come in here and get down on you. Stop making me.”
“I’m not making you do anything.”
“You called yourself a loser.”
“You weren’t supposed to agree.”
“I don’t agree. You just need to think about moving on.”
Doug stabbed at the onions in the basket again. Probably with more force than necessary, but he was frustrated. “I never thought about it. But thirty is only a few years away, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Rachel and I want to have a baby before we turn thirty.” Billy grinned. “Maybe twins or something.”
“Twins don’t show up because you want them. How are you planning to do that?”
“Hope,” Billy said. “Wouldn’t it be great if you and Anita had babies, too? Then our kids could be buddies.”
Doug shot him a panicked look. “Let’s not be hasty. What do you think I should do?”
“That’s up to you, moron,” Billy Doug looksaid. “What do you want to do?”
Doug looked around the bar. “It would be fun to own a place like this.”
“You want to run a bar? What do you know about running a business?”
“What did I know about being an electrician until I started? Just think. You could come in after work and get a free beer whenever you wanted. What if I put a bunch of video games in and had tournaments and stuff. Like we used to do.”
“Some of us work during the day and have families at night. When are we going to make extra time for gaming? If I’m lucky I can talk Rachel into playing with me sometimes. When we have kids, it wouldn’t be fair for me to leave the house to come play at your bar every night. They’re mine, too, you know.”
“So you come out one evening and Rachel comes to play another evening,” Doug said, his eyes lighting up. “You know how Sweet Beans has that old-style wood floor and brick wall thing going on? What if I put it into one of the old empty buildings downtown. We could put up a ton of neon signs. It would be so way cool.”
“Like that old song,” Billy said. “Electric Avenue or something. Mom loved that thing. She played it all the time when she was dancing around the house cleaning.”
“Your mom?” Doug asked, surprised.
“Yeah. She used to be cool,” Billy said and gestured around the room. “Do you really want to run a bar?”
“I don’t know.” Doug sat back after having moved forward in his excitement. “I probably can’t. It’s a stupid idea.”
“There has to be something in there that you can make work. Would your parents help you?”
“I don’t know. It’s my life. They shouldn’t have to be responsible for me anymore. They’re kinda enjoying their retirement. And if it fails, I don’t want them to have spent their money on me.”
“What about Anita? She’s loaded.”
“Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” Doug huffed a laugh. “Hey Anita, wanna get married? I need big bucks to open some stupid gaming bar downtown. If I fail, sorry about that.”
“You need to talk to someone like Polly and Henry,” Billy said. “They’re doing a lot of investing in Bellingwood.”
“I’m not borrowing money from them,” Doug protested.
“No, just talk to them. Get their input. See if they think your idea would work. They know what the buildings downtown are going for. Those two have a ton of information on what’s going on in Bellingwood. If you don’t talk to them, you’d be an idiot.”
“Second time you’ve called me that tonight,” Doug said, holding up his first two fingers. “Stop it.”
Emmy arrived with their plates. “Did you need something?” she asked.
“Yeah, like fifty thousand dollars,” Doug said. He brought his fingers back down, realizing she thought he was waving at her.
“I have that in my locker in back,” she said. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I could come up with something cool, though.”
“I’ll bet you could. You were always really adventurous,” she said. “I’ll check on you after a while.”
After she left, Doug peered at Billy. “She thinks I’m adventurous?”
“You always were.”
“Wow. I really lost that.”
“Maybe it’s time to find it again.”