Fly By Night: Chapter 3 – Benchwarmer

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Now, if you’re feeling kinda low ’bout the dues you’ve been paying;
Futures coming much too slow,
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on staying,
Can’t decide on which way to go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I understand about indecision,
But I don’t care if I get behind.
People living in competition;
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Now you’re climbing to the top of the company ladder,
Hope it doesn’t take too long.
Can’t you see there’ll come a day when it won’t matter,
Come a day when you’ll be gone.

Take a look ahead.
Take a look ahead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Now everybody’s got advice they just keep on giving.
Doesn’t mean too much to me.
Lots of people have to make-believe they’re living,
Can’t decide who they should be.

Take a look ahead.
Take a look ahead.

Look ahead.

Boston, “Take a Look Ahead”

“What that?”

“It’s a breeeeifcaaaase,” teased Daniel, “they do have those in your country, don’t they?”

“Shut up. Why you bring that?” Khan peered suspiciously at Daniel’s briefcase.

Daniel carefully set down his brown leather attaché with it’s six-digit brass combination lock. Although he rarely had need for it, it was one of his prized possessions. A college graduation gift from his parents, it symbolized for him his vision for success. He felt important when he carried it.

“Oh I just had some papers to carry in today. It’s supposed to rain. Keeps them dry.” Daniel began to boot up his machine thinking the same thing he thought every morning coming to work since he was benched What’s the point? He gently patted the case and said, “What, you think I’m keeping firearms in here or something?” Daniel chuckled.

“Seems like, ” remarked Kahn as a wide grin spread over his flawless, white teeth.

Khan had just come off a successful project with a Texas-based insurance company where he built the web piece of a new billing system. He was lean and muscular with short, jet-black hair and smooth brown skin, medium build, and an easy way about him. Khan came to the U.S. ten years before for college from a village in Bangladesh. In addition to being a successful consultant he had become a martial arts expert, earning his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, winning two Dallas metro tournaments, and placing third in a state tournament.

Daniel hated being on the bench. He was accustomed to going directly from one project to another. He was known for two things: being able to do anything a client asked and getting it done ahead of schedule. Daniel unflinchingly guaranteed a successful solution to any request a client had no matter how outlandish. Although this had made him popular among his company’s clients, it had not made him many friends among his fellow consultants who Daniel thought of as slow, unskilled, and unambitious. It had never occurred to Daniel that his attitude toward many of his coworkers might have something to do with their subtle disdain for him. But Daniel would not be leaving the bench anytime soon. His last project had been cut short due to “client/consultant incompatibility” as Daniel’s project manager had put it. In private, though, Charlie had urged Daniel to “take some time to get your head straight”. And so, Daniel had completed his 5th week on the bench and his 5th week in therapy.

Daniel settled back into his cubicle and inhaled the steam rising off of his morning coffee.

“Why you drink your coffee black? Taste too bitter to me, ” said Khan with a sour look on his face.

If Daniel was honest with himself, he actually preferred his coffee with cream and sugar, but he was worried what other men would think so he took it black.

“I like the strong flavor, it wakes me up better, ” said Daniel, not even realizing he was lying.

As Daniel sipped his black coffee he began to think back to the day before. Things were actually going well until we hit the bedroom. He considered this fact for a while. He was looking for a clue, something he missed. It went fine…it went great in fact until I started trying to do what Dr. Collins told me to do. What was I supposed to do? Rip her clothes off and throw her down on the bed? This was an inconceivable scenario for Daniel. He thought back to his unanswered question. How do they know what to do? And then, a thought began to form. Lovers know what to do because…

And then, there it was. The sight that Daniel had been hoping to avoid. Long legs. Tight dress. Curves here. Curves there. That hair. Long dark hair, Daniel thought, that he could get lost in.  Before he knew what he was doing, he was pulling up a web browser and logging into his email account, and deleting a dozen spam items. No new mail. He clicked the “Check Mail” link again. Nothing. Again. Again. Again. Again. The moisture in his mouth evaporated as his jaw slackened and mouth began to hang open. Again. Again. Again. Again. Nothing. He counted down from ten. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, check. Again. Nothing. He moved on to his favorite news site and began checking for updates. He would spend most of the morning moving between his mail and the news site, never fully aware of what triggered it or what he was even doing.

When the IT manager for his last client site was first handed the report for Daniel’s web habits, he was convinced that it had to be a mistake or maybe a virus. In the course of a single day, Daniel’s mail and news sites had received over 12,000 clicks from Daniel’s computer.

Daniel felt helpless. He believed that his behavior was out of his control. He was hopeful that medication would solve his problems. Dr. Collins had talked to Daniel about sending him to see the psychiatrist after working together for a while.

The phone rang. It sounded far away to Daniel. He felt a sharp pain in his wrist as he eased it away from the computer mouse to pick up the phone. “Maxtech Incorporated, Daniel speaking.” These words didn’t even sound like words to him anymore, just random utterances with no actually meaning.

“Hi Lucky, ” said Ashley.

“Hey. What’s up?” He could tell something  was wrong. Her voice was flat in tone, but pregnant with sadness.

“We need to talk. Can you come home?” Her voice was becoming shaky.

“Is everyone ok?” Something began to stir in Daniel’s chest.

“The kids are fine. I’m not doing so hot, though. Can you just come home?”

“I’ll be there in forty-five minutes.”

“Thanks.” Click and she was gone.

A single thought entered Daniel’s mind as he grabbed his coat to leave.

This is it.

Daniel would be lucky to get from downtown Dallas to Richardson in 45 minutes on a weekday, but an hour didn’t sound fast enough to give as an answer.

When he arrived an hour later, his stomach was sick and his mind was numb. Ashley was waiting for him in the living room. He expected her to be upset, but her face was calm. She embraced him lovingly. She stroked his back as she held him.

She released him from the embrace and motioned for him to sit down on the couch with her. The room was rich with color and reflected her impeccable taste. She closed her eyes and took a slow breath. “Lucky, I’m going to give you something that you need.” Her lyrical voice was warm and soothing to Daniel. “I know you’re going to find your way. I’m so proud of you for seeing Dr. Collins.” Daniel could feel his chest filling with something, something living, growing. “I’m giving you a chance to work things out without the children, without your responsibilities here.”

“Without you,” guessed Daniel. His mouth was getting wet and salty. His throat was swelling and sore. He looked down at his shoes, still gleaming from the morning’s polishing.

Ashley nodded, her eyes beginning to flow with tears. “Yes, Lucky, without me.” Her face flushed and broke. She looked down for a moment, trying to calm herself again. “A friend from my meditation class has a place that you can stay. He’s expecting you tonight. Here’s the address.” She handed him the slip of paper.

“If you think it is best, Ash. What about the kids? How will they…”

“They’ll be home soon. I’ve packed your clothes and some of your things. I will explain that you will be living somewhere else for a little while and that they can see you every Saturday. Just give them hugs and tell them that you love them before you leave.”

Daniel nodded. He felt ashamed because he was relieved not to have to deal with Laura and Jacob for a while. He always felt like they needed something from him that he didn’t have. He couldn’t explain exactly what it was that was missing, but he felt tremendous guilt over it.

“I don’t want you to feel bad,” consoled Ashley. “I want you to feel better. I think this is what you need to get back on track. You know, when I met you, you were somehow…I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. It’s like sometimes you were glowing.” She was looking for his eyes. They were dim and staring at the floor. “And I knew that you were special. I knew that you were filled with a million different possibilities, and…” She broke off and took Daniel’s face into her cool hands and engaged his eyes with her own. “And I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be with you, Daniel. I still want to be with you, but I don’t know where you are. I don’t…”

The front door swung open and in walked a nine-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. The boy was carrying a Star Wars backpack and wore earphones. He looked just like Daniel except for his wavy hair. The girl followed him. She was daintily picking grass and dirt off of a sticky, red lollipop.

“Mommy, will you wash this off!” she called. “What’s dad doing home? Is it a holiday?”

“No, baby, Daddy’s getting ready for a little trip,” answered Daniel.

Jacob pulled off his earphones, music blaring, and said, “Cool! Are you going to bring us something like when you went to Las Vegas?”

Daniel shook his head. “It’s not that kind of a trip, son.” He motioned for them both to come close. “Kids, I have some work to do that I have to go away to do. I won’t be leaving town. In fact, I’ll be right here in Richardson.”

Jacob shrugged his shoulders and began to walk down the hall to his room.

“Hold on, hold on. Wait, you need to understand.” Daniel struggled to find the right words. He pooched out his lips, then spoke. “This work isn’t for my job. It’s more personal. Your dad…” He stroked his face and chin for a moment. “Your dad’s brain is a little sick right now.” Laura looked alarmed.

“No, no, no honey, ” began Ashley. “Your daddy doesn’t need to go to the hospital or anything; he just needs some time by himself to learn how to get better, happier. He’ll be back before you know it, and he’ll come to visit you every Saturday.”

Laura began to cry and sniff, “I don’t want you to leave, Daddy. Who’s going to read to me?”

“Mommy knows how to read too, you know?” He tried to smile. He felt like she needed something, but he didn’t know what to do. “Jacob, why don’t you help me carry out my bags?” But, Jacob was already in his room.

“I will, Daddy!” shouted Laura, tears gone, always excited to help.

Before he could answer, Laura was already running toward the master bedroom.

As Daniel stood by the car, bags loaded, Ashley brushed her fingers across his receding bangs. “Are you going to be ok?” she asked.

“Sure.” He was uncertain.

She embraced him one more time. Her body was warm. This is my home, he thought.

“Just take this time, Lucky. Look at your life. Think about who you are, where you’re going.” She would cry most of the night, but in the moment she stood strong.

As he drove off, he couldn’t help to chuckle a tiny bit as he shook his head and said out loud to himself, “Benched.”

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