The hour of lunch was upon him once again. Jim Longworth sat at his desk having already given up on the file spread out before him. With his elbows resting on the neatly typed pages he rested his chin on one hand gazing out the glass windows of his office into the rest of the precinct. Any moment now he expected to see his best friend Carlos Sanchez walking toward him, perhaps deep in conversation with their mutual friend Callie Cargill. Usually he enjoyed the company of the oddly upbeat coroner and the spitfire of a woman that had stolen his heart.
Today, however, he wanted to find a way to avoid them. His eyes strayed toward the little clock displayed in the corner of his computer monitor. Any minute now they could appear, burst through the office door in moods far too chipper demanding he grace them with his presence. But the simple idea of going out to eat made him feel nauseous, sick to his stomach. Running his hands over his face, through his hair he held his head, eyes staring at the desk but not making out any specific detail. He had turned down their lunch invitations every day this week. They were bound to get suspicious if he did it again.
But what convincing lie could it make up this time?
He could always try telling them he had a mountain of paperwork to do, important cases needing his attention. As soon as the thought crossed his mind he shrugged it off. And which one of them would be stupid enough to fall for such a lame excuse? Neither. He sighed in an attempt to suppress the yawn he felt coming his way. To say he was tired would have been an understatement. He was weary, tired to the very bone and no amount of sleep seemed to be helping.
The idea of going home for an hour of shut eye sounded far better than hanging out with people who cared about him. Another glance at the clock. Two more minutes had passed and he was still sitting at his desk. If he kept stalling he was going to get caught, they would have him cornered. He had to act now or risk being dragged along. Standing, Jim reached out placing a hand on his desk as the world did a little spinning dance around him. He steadied himself until the dizzying moment passed. Boy, what he would not give for them to be over, gone forever. Trying to cover them up in the field with a hawkeye like Carlos at his side was always difficult.
Come to think of it, how did he manage to continue fooling his friends? Did they not see the subtle signs? The fact he seemed less upbeat with each passing day? How come nobody caught him taking a few moments to rest his tired body in the safety of his office? He had stopped drinking coffee left and right while at the precinct, content to have one cup, finding it hard on some days to even keep that down. And what about the days he had been missing as of late?
The only one with the truth was his boss and she had been sworn to secrecy. In fact, she turned out to be a great source of comfort even when they avoided the topic altogether. Just having her support, her understanding in the matter was of a great relief. So why did he keep the issue close to his chest, why not open up and tell his two closest friends about the most important change in his life? Because, the answer bounced around in his head as he started walking toward the door, he wanted to avoid all the questions that would ensue. He did not want to see their looks of pity, the worry and fear in their eyes. He did not want them treating him like some kind of highly fragile object teetering on the edge of a shelf.
Jim paused outside his office door glancing left and right to make sure the coast was clear before he proceeded toward the backdoor and the parking lot. He kept his hands in his pockets, he head held high, the perfect picture of a man without any worries. The officers and detectives around him were completely oblivious. In a weird way it gave him a sense of pride to know he could keep the secret hidden so deep around people who dug up the dirtiest of truths on people for a living. It said a lot about his character if he could keep the hurt and the weariness under an expertly crafted mask.
Escaping out into the warm sunshine of the afternoon he took a moment to pause, leaning against one of the walls. With his eyes closed he took a few minutes to enjoy the warmth of the day, the sounds of the city as life moved on around him. He heard a familiar laugh somewhere off to his left and it stirred a funny feeling in his chest. Opening his eyes he searched the surrounding area until he noticed Callie walking toward the side entrance of the precinct. He had a clear shot of her and Carlos as they talked, her face lit up with a smile, her eyes twinkling. Even from this distance he found himself drawn to her, to the very air she managed to surround herself with. Despite the game of cat and mouse they got caught up in he still wanted her in the worst way.
And it was something he regretfully refused to act on.
One day. One moment of weakness and they wound up in a very intimate embrace. They took a step he had been dying to take since first crossing her path. It should have been the start of something beautiful, the foundation on which to further build their budding relationship. But things went south for a variety of reasons. For one thing there was her son Jeff. The two of them may have gotten along like the best of old friends, but when it came to his father he was steadfast loyal. A quality Jim found himself admiring. And that was the other problem, Callie's husband. She kept meaning to divorce him, actually took a trip up to the jail to tell him her plans, but it never quite took place. Something about the timing being all wrong. He said he understood. Maybe because on some level he did. He loved her. He figured she loved him, however she had to think of Jeff. His wellbeing was important, this was not a matter of two parties, two lost souls making a connection.
He waited until he was sure they had entered the precinct before heading toward his car, retrieving his keys from his jean's pocket. He felt like a jerk for skipping out on them yet again, but there were other matters to be dealt with, circumstances they knew nothing about. And he wasn't all that hungry anyway. Why should he put himself through the torture of watching them laughing, eating, having an all around good time while he tried to keep on the perfectly crafted mask? Even he got tired at times, tired of pretending like all was right with his world. Slipping behind the steer wheeling, shoving the key into the ignition he imagined the two of them arriving at his office to find it vacant. Carlos would go in search of him, perhaps stop and ask Daniel- his intern- if he knew anything. He imagined Callie getting a bit peeved at yet another lunch date broken. Carlos might make up an excuse or he could be just as agreeable unhappy. Sometimes one could never tell with Carlos.
Before he pulled out into traffic he glanced in the rearview mirror at the building. Just in time to see Carlos exit the door he had used moments ago. His friend searched the parking lot for his car, probably seeing it turn as Jim pulled into the flow of traffic. He was going to have to face the music when he got back. But that was something he could worry about later. Right now he just wanted to get away, make a break from the world in the search of peace and quiet. He knew the perfect place to head too, following the GPS in his car until he finally left the steady flow of Florida traffic for a less traveled road. The buildings quickly faded away to wilderness scarcely touched by human hands. The dirt road turned out to be fairly bumpy forcing him to drive a bit slower than he would have normally cared, but on this day he took each moment for what it was worth.
Sometimes life threw a curve ball and changed one's way of thinking.
When he felt far enough away he killed the engine. Jim slipped out of the car into the Florida heat. All around him the music of nature sounded- from the various birds with their colorful plumage to the trickling of water and whispering of tall reeds brushing against each other. He closed the door quietly so as not to disrupt the beauty of it all. Back in Chicago he might have bad a decent time trying to find a place so far removed from the rest of the world and yet so close at the same time. leaning back against the car, the sun beating down on him and the never ending stretch of everglades, he reached into his pocket for his cell phone. Having silenced it before leaving his office he stared now at the screen to see that he received ten calls in the last half hour. Four of them Carlos, two very irate messages from Callie along with one rather worried request to call, and the last four from Daniel and his boss.
Like any sane person he tossed the phone through the open car window onto the passenger seat. He could deal with them later, right now he wanted the solace of silence, the time to contemplate what he was going to do with the time left in his life. When he ended up in Florida thanks to the transfer he expected to while away the years doing his job, playing round after round of golf, and chasing a few of the beautiful locals. And for the most part it worked out great for him, his plans falling into place. Though instead of chasing beautiful locals he fixated on Callie. Now he wanted to get as far away from her as possible, distance himself so when it all came crashing down she would not be as hurt.
Had he done any good in his life, he wondered, sunglass-covered eyes gazing out over the stretch of greenery and water. Surely he must have with the amount of bad guys he helped put behind bars. Not to mention, there was the whole incident with Daniel. The boy was now on his way to a very promising career, a rewarding life should he manage not to screw up the opportunities presented to him, though Jim figured something like that would never. Daniel was too good at what he did. He lived for the science, the thrill.
A sigh passed through his lips as yet another wave of nausea swept over him. he closed his eyes, hanging his head waiting for it to pass. A subtle shooting pain began in his chest prompting him to gingerly touch the area knowing what lay beneath the cloth of his shirt. A sterile white bandage and beneath it a piece of medical equipment meant to make things runner a bit smoother, make it all a little less harsh on the rest of his body. poison one way or the other, what did it matter how they put it in his body? He never expected to be struck down in what some might call the prime of his life. He still felt he had a lot left to offer should he be given the chance to stick around a few more years.
But the doctors, well, they weren't being cautious and at some point gave up being optimistic. Suppose he had himself to blame for that what with his attitude and his demands. They gave him the straight scoop without playing around, no soft punches before delivering the hardcore strikes. Every time he paid them a damned visit he would sit in that stupid waiting room with other people either as sick as him or fairing decently, it did not matter. What did matter is that no matter their age, the state of their health, they all brought someone with them, a loved one or a trusted friend sitting in the chair beside them. And him? He sat there all alone. Who did he have to blame? There hadn't been much of a life for him up in Chicago, the job taking up most of his time. The one woman he was accused of sleeping with hadn't even given him the time of day, not that he cared.
He had a shot with Callie. But it got complicated, the waters murky. And what about her friend, the one who sold drugs to doctors? Rick, no doubt, good looking, too, but he passed on her because he wanted to spend all his time and efforts on Callie. Now he was alone. All alone. Out in the cold. So, as he stared at the ocean of swaying green, the buzz of bug not far off, he had to ask himself, what the hell was he going to leave behind when he died? Would his friends miss him? Would they manage to go on without him almost like he had never been there in the first place? How about a month after he passed, would he still run across their minds, a random thought? Would his memory bring a tear to Callie's eyes? And what would become of Jeff, would he follow a decent path in life or end up like his no good father?
Nobody feared dying, he thought, deciding he should probably at least call his boss to let her know he was okay. No, it was the fear of being forgotten once they were gone that frightened people, nobody wanted to admit it, though, for fear of sound vain. He stared death in the face everyday. He could deal with dying. He just wanted to know someone would remember him some time down the road, a found memory that would bring a smile instead of anger, a tear of happiness instead of sorrow.
As a cloud passed over the sun he gave the untouched wilderness one last glance figuring it would be here long after his memory faded, then climbed back into the stifling hot car. He reached for his cell phone. Time to get on with life. Time to make good with the days, months left to him.