Author's Note: I'm posting my other works to FF that never quite made it here. This was posted at B4A and on my website, way back when it was written. That was... October '06.
It's eleven o'clock on a Sunday night when I notice it. His office is dark, the only light is coming from his computer monitor and a lamp off to his left. His sleeves are rolled up his forearms, his tie slightly loosened. His hair has that unruly look it begins to take on after eleven a.m. – which we are so far beyond at this point. Dave Matthew's Band plays on his computer quietly, I can't hear it out here at my desk, but I do hear it every time I deliver a new page of research.
But this thing I notice has nothing to do with the lighting, his clothing, his hair or the music. This thing I notice is a deep and aching sadness that lodges itself deep in my chest whenever I turn to leave his office. This thing I notice is that he has that deep and aching sadness in his eyes every time he looks up at me. This thing I notice is that it's been this way since Friday morning and it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.
I get up from my desk and take him a new page of research. He looks up at me. The deep and aching sadness in his eyes does nothing to assuage the same heavy feeling in my chest. I feel my eyes well up with tears and start to turn away, he starts to reach out for me, then falters. I do turn away and go back to my desk to resume my work.
It's two o'clock on a Wednesday morning when I notice it. His eyes are dark and heavy. He's reading something by only the glow of the computer monitor. His lamp bulb blew out nearly thirty hours ago. Neither of us has bothered to change it. I don't know what he's reading because I haven't handed him any research in at least six hours.
We've both managed to change our clothes since Sunday night. But, little else has changed. This thing I notice, I decide, must be tied to whatever it is he is reading. He looks up at me when I bring in a cup of coffee and set it down on his desk. He doesn't have to tell me that I don't bring him coffee. We both know I don't bring him coffee unless it's bad, and this is all very bad. This thing I notice is in his eyes. This thing I notice sparks something similar deep in my belly.
As he sips the coffee he sets the paper down on his desk. I catch my name a dozen or more times. Our eyes meet over the coffee cup. His eyes are dark, heavy and hooded. The look in them is age old and primitive. This thing I notice is something he's not trying to hide.
It's four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon when I notice it. He's trying to pretend it's not there. He's trying to pretend that if he doesn't mention it I won't notice it. Most of all he's trying to pretend that I didn't notice the plane tickets on the corner of his desk this morning when I was organizing at four a.m. – which we are so far beyond at this point.
This thing I notice is a duffel bag, unzipped halfway. This thing I notice has t-shirts and jeans inside. The soft scent of his aftershave lingers in the air and I can't decide if it's coming from him or the bag. This thing I notice is monopolizing my attention, because until this moment it hasn't been real.
Dave Matthew's Band is still playing on his computer. The lamp light is still burned out. This thing I notice, though, doesn't need to be any better lit than by the light of the computer monitor. And this thing I notice couldn't possibly have a better soundtrack than Dave Matthew's Band. I feel myself tear up for the hundredth time in the last week and I flee the room before he can notice.
It's nine o'clock on a Monday morning when I notice it. My desk in the bull pen is well lit and I've never wished for darkness more than I do at this very minute. I pick it up and carry it into Josh's very empty, very dark office. The lamp light is still burned out and the computer monitor is off. I close his door behind me. The only light comes from beneath the door and the window across the room. The blinds are drawn. I can barely see it in my hands. Now, that's better.
This thing I noticed was an envelope, my name carefully printed on the outside. I open it carefully, and unfold a single sheet of paper. I catch my name a dozen or more times in between declarations of apology and something else that's very dangerous. Also on this thing I notice is a flight number and arrival time, scrawled at the bottom, almost as an after thought.
I sink down into his chair. His aftershave still lingers in the air. I feel my eyes well up with tears again and this time I let them fall. I sink my head into my hands and rest my elbows on his desk. That's how Sam finds me.
It's eleven o'clock on a Sunday night when I notice it. It's obvious to me, but I'm not sure anyone else would notice. He looks the same. He's wearing jeans and a Henley pullover which is probably why it's so obvious. His eyes are still dark, heavy and hooded, and they still have the deep and aching sadness. But underneath it all is something else.
This thing I notice is hope, probably brought on by the fact that I'm here, not holding a cup of coffee. He's lost weight, which I guess is only to be expected. A month is a long time to not see someone so critical to your existence. The smell of his aftershave gets to me before he does. Somewhere deep inside my deep and aching sadness turns over and grows a little.
Then he's in front of me and we're not saying anything. My eyes well up with tears and he reaches for me again. This time he lays his warm palm on my cheek. "It's going to be okay," he whispers before he lays his lips over my other cheek.
It's five hours later when I notice it. Another envelope, this one with the rehab facility's logo emblazoned on the upper left hand corner. I reach over and pick it up. Discharge information. Included is a list of ten helpful do's and do not's. Item 8, highlighted in green – the color he carries in his backpack – "Do ask for help when you need it. The people who love you, love you for who you are. The drugs are not who you are."
It's twenty minutes later when I notice it. A small piece of paper in the rehab envelope. In the center he's carefully printed, "Help".