I spent way too much time on this section. I don't like it, but I think it is important. Sam's growth is finally actually challenged with something bigger than just not checking out a pretty girl. Here he is shown Frontier magazine, and his pride is at stake. But, instead of setting everything straight (see what I did there?), he passes on it to let the good story come to its conclusion.
All in all, I really like the concept of this piece, but the execution is weak. It is long and didactic; it explains why Heather was working at the Olive Garden had a rich "estate." It weaves in little things like that that you may have forgotten. Even the punchline is a call back to Sam's interview with Susan (which I hoped to prime in your mind by directly quoting from it earlier in the section.)
For example, do you remember this is the second time someone referenced lying to Hitler as an example of how lies can be good? In fact, have you noticed some of the odd parallels in Lucy and Sam's thinking (and did you initially think that those were accidental Matt-isms as opposed to a deliberate attempt to show that they could get along if they tried?) Bonus points for each other one you find. Points are redeemable for nothing, except possibly a blogging stuffed cat.
The last hidden piece is that Annette comes off sympathetically here. She went out of her way to go to bat for Sam, she just thought she'd failed. Oh well. Table of contents here; fiction below
* * *
Coming out of the lanes it was a darker night than I was used to. Kenny always had me go out first so that he could be the last one out to turn off the lights. I was a little shocked to see some older gentleman still sitting at the bench in front of the lanes. I let my mind drift off to what Kenny had been saying.
“Everything OK sir?”
“Yes, I was just hoping to talk to you and the other guy who works here,” He said. “My name’s Luke.”
“Nice to meet you, how can I help you?”
“I wanted to thank you,” He said. He was holding a magazine in his hand, rolling it up and then flattening it. His hands were a bit rough from work and wrinkled. “What you say in here, it makes a lot of sense. ‘Just because some kid is a bit awkward and different doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have the same chance,’ right?”
I shrugged. It sounded like something I’d say.
“Did you mean it?”
“Listen,” I said. “A lot of people never gave me a chance. Hell, the only guy who ever really saw anything in me is that guy in there. He may not be perfect, but I’m glad to know him.”
“My son told me something like that too,” Luke said. He sounded a bit distant there, then he looked back at me, waiting for some answer.
“A best friend like that’s valuable; if you get one, don’t let him go. You have a pal like that?”
“My wife. She told me to talk with my son more, but I just couldn’t do it, because I was stubborn. Now she’s gone, and well, she sent me this magazine. I don’t know why, but she had marked this article,” He said. I was getting a bit concerned at what was taking Kenny so long. I didn’t like being left alone with old rambling men.
“Well, I’m glad we could meet.”
“You don’t know what this means to me,” He said. “When I was in school, I couldn’t hack it in the Boy Scouts. I was picked last for everything. I always wanted them to give me a chance.”
“Well, I’m glad I could speak to you through that little article,” I said.
“Did you ever tell your parents about him?” Here he motioned inside the bowling alley.
“Yeah; they didn’t approve at first, but they came around. I’ve been a good influence on him; he’s been, well, an influence on me,” I said. It was true; I’d helped pull Kenny up. He’d kept me from falling down. It’s sort of a symbiotic relationship.
“Before Heather died, she wanted me to reconcile with our son. She’d been working into retirement because I’d cut him out of our will,” Luke said. I finally decided to take a seat on the bench next to him. It just seemed proper.
“It’s not too late to change that.”
“I know; I came here because I wanted to see you. To let you know that, I don’t know how she sent this to me, but I’m glad she did,” Luke said. He handed me the magazine, still folded up with a pen. I saw a note stickied to the front of Frontier magazine—which, I realized, was not an outdoorsman magazine. The note read:
‘This is Sam, who Heather probably told you about. I wanted to give you a more complete picture of him,” I recognized Annette’s handwriting, and then Heather’s name clicked.
“Your wife, was she a waitress?”
“Yeah; she was saving into a second account to help Ray and Fred buy a house.” I looked at the magazine.
“I’m going to call Ray tonight, thanks to you Sam,” He said. “Your story helped me realize I’ve been an ass to my son, and now I realize what Heather was trying to tell me about you. I’ve left a letter for your boss dropping the suit.”
I stared a bit numb, taking this in. This man thought I was someone I wasn’t. He asked me to sign the magazine for him. Kenny came out of the alley and saw us on the bench.
“Yo, we’re running late. Come on.”
Luke stood up and held out his hand. “This must be Kenny. I was just bending your husband’s ear here.”
“Hold on there,” Kenny said, turning to look at me. “He’s not—”
Honesty was a funny thing like that; you always think it is the best policy, right? Then, someone asks you about lying to Hitler about hiding Jews in your basement and your whole life becomes a messy, gray morality. Then, some sort of light trips in your head and you realize that you’ve been seeing things the wrong way. Then you realize there is more to life than action and reaction; it’s not very scientific, but it makes you feel important.
So that’s why I cut Kenny off. “I’m not Sam. Slight misunderstanding; he’s Sam. I’m Kenny. Sam, sign that. Photographer got the names backwards in the caption.”
“I don’t want to sign anything Kenny.”
“You’ll like it when I tell you why you’re signing it Sam.”
“Excuse us, sir—”
“Sign the damn magazine so we can go home.”
Kenny took the Frontier magazine like it was radioactive and dutifully signed my name to it. I think he now realized it wasn’t an outdoorsman magazine. Then he handed it to the kid, who thanked us again before walking to the only other car in the parking lot and getting in. I heard him laughing under his breath.
“What do you know? They do fight like an old married couple.”