Gray rinsed his face and looked into the mirror. Downstairs the party was picking up steam. It was 11p, which meant the alcohol was doing its work and things were getting louder and, he was sure, more risqué. He shook his head in disgust as he dried his face and hands on Julie’s perfectly monogrammed hand towel. Somewhere in the back of his mind a small, but well-taught voice, reminded him that he should not be using the monogrammed towels.
In Julie’s defense, she had offered to cancel the party. Gray had refused. There had been too much disappointment for one day, hadn’t there? he’d asked her. She had reluctantly agreed. But she was the ever watchful hostess, so she was down there in the thick of it. Truth be told, if Gray had known he would feel like he did right now, he would have taken her up on her offer. He usually enjoyed the parties they threw, but he was most definitely not in the mood for it tonight.
He walked to the window of the pristine bedroom. If anyone had been watching, they may have thought he was taking in the amazing view with the satisfaction of a man who had “made it.” There was really no way for even Gray not to acknowledge that he had done that. “But at what cost?” was the question that he could not escape now. With a deep sigh he took a sip of his drink and turned from the window.
Gray had every intention of going back downstairs and joining the revelers. He loved Julie and did not want to either disappoint or embarrass her but, he found himself continuing down the stairs passed the first level where the party was hopping to the basement level – and the garage.
Twenty minutes later he was speeding down B—— Street in his Porsche. Julie had remarked more than once that she could read his mood by which vehicle he drove out of the garage. The Porsche was for happy or troubled times. This was one of the troubled times.
Gray knew what a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer meant. He was no doctor, but he knew enough to know that this was not the kind of cancer you wanted to have. Not that there was a kind you wanted, but he knew he would rather have ball cancer or prostate cancer or just about any other cancer than stage four pancreatic cancer. Ironically, Gray felt fine – certainly not like a dying man, which was exactly what he was according to Dr. Emmanuel.
If he had been going any faster or had been any more distracted, Gray would not have even noticed the man he almost hit. But the fact of the matter was that he had come as close to killing a man as he ever had in his life – and while contemplating his own impending demise, no less. The man was not one he would normally have noticed. He probably lived under the overpass Gray had just driven his Porsche under and was heading back to bed down for the night. Had it not been for the extraordinary circumstances – the outcome of the tests that he’d learned about today and the near miss of running the man down – Gray never would have stopped. But the near miss had almost given him a heart attack and so he felt compelled to check on the man who he’d come so close to running down. Besides, Gray told himself, in that man’s condition Gray may very well have sent him into cardiac arrest.
The road was dark and empty and the man was surprised to see the brake lights of the Porsche, much less the reverse lights as it backed up towards him. Tom’s life had taught him to be suspicious of others – for good reason. He was even more surprised when the window to the Porsche slid down and the man inside called to him in a voice that sounded tinged with concern.
“Hey, man! Are you alright?” Gray called.
“Yeah.” Tom replied.
“I didn’t see you until the very last second. Just about scared me to death! You, too, I’d bet.”
“Yeah.” Tom replied.
“Look, I feel bad. I was caught up in my own thoughts, speeding along oblivious and just about ran you down. Is there something I can do for you to kinda make it up to you?”
Uh-uh. Tom thought. Just another rich bastard wanting to ease his conscience. But, then no one had ever offered to help him out for nothing before. Those who had wronged him damn sure hadn’t offered a helping hand. His stomach grumbled – damn thing was already two steps ahead of his brain. That’s what happens when you live on the edge of starvation.
“Well,” said Tom cautiously, “it would be nice to bunk down with a full belly, if you are offering, mister.”
“Sure. I can handle that. Tell you what, I could use a bite myself. If I remember correctly, there is a diner a mile or so down. You want to join me?”
Neither man had ever gotten in the car with a stranger before. Both of them knew the risk. Gray, a rich man driving a Porsche in a bad part of town offering a ride to a homeless man who may very well be armed, crazy or both. He obviously had money and men had been killed for less than the cash Gray had on him – no to mention the credit cards and the Porsche itself. Tom, a homeless man who had heard the stories of men picked up and taken never to be seen or heard from again. It had not been too long ago since he’d had a TV and could watch the Sunday afternoon crime specials about serial killers who preyed on the homeless. Not all those killers had just taken women. For some reason, though, these thoughts did not rise to consciousness in either man.
They must have looked like quite a pair when they walked into the diner, but no one seemed to take notice. Each ordered coffee from a waitress who seemed to have her best days behind her and had resigned herself to that fact. They ordered some food and ate mostly in silence. They exchanged pleasantries and basic information. Gray was from ———–, had moved to L.A. in ——– and had made his way slowly but surely along a steady path. Tom was not local, either, although he’d moved to L.A. more than 10 years before Gray. Tom did not ask what business Gray was in and Gray did not ask Tom how he had come to reside under the overpass.
When the meal was over, both men sat with their own thoughts and sipped their coffee. Gray paid and they left in silence.
Tom did not react when Gray pulled out of the diner parking lot and went in the opposite direction from where he’d picked Tom up, although his stomach dropped and he felt a bit sick. Tom remained silent when Gray pulled into the parking lot of a seedy motel two miles away. Without a word, Gray got out and went inside. Tom began to think about all the ways this could end and the options he had for getting out of whatever situation he now found himself in, but for some inexplicable reason Tom did not get out of the car. When he came back, Gray handed Tom a hotel key and some cash.
“Look, man, I don’t know how you got to where you are and it is really none of my business. But I have had a rough day and, although I doubt I will sleep anyway, I know I won’t if I leave you out in the L.A. summer heat tonight when I don’t have to. I paid for a couple of nights. At the very least you can have a shower and sleep in a bed. I only have $300 on me, but it is yours. What you do with it is your business, but I would ask you a favor. I found out how short life really is today. Make the most of it for me, because you have more of it ahead of you than I do. Have a good night.”
Tom was taken aback. He’d opened his hands and accepted the gifts of cash and a cool place to sleep (not to mention a shower!) without really knowing he was doing it. Tom stammered his thanks and got out of the car.
Before he closed the door, Tom leaned down and asked for the name of the man to whom he owed his appreciation. Gray smiled and gave it to him.
Tom stood in the parking lot and watched the Porsche until the tail lights were out of view.
Gray came home and the party was pretty much over. Julie had been one of the few to notice his absence, but she did not say much about it. On another day she would have mildly scolded him, but this was not just another day. Later that night, although he would have bet against it, Gray slept soundly with his arms wrapped snugly around Julie.
The church was packed on a sunny and hot August day. Julie looked lovely as always, even though she did not feel it. She had known this day was coming, but was still surprised that a part of her felt prepared. Gray had been very specific about what he wanted. Julie was determined he would have it.
After the service Julie approached a man she only recognized from the papers and magazines. She introduced herself and politely thanked him for coming. Her curiosity must have been obvious.
“I did not know your husband,” the man offered. “Not really. Although we met once.”
“There really wasn’t much Gray could do these last few months, but he did enjoy reading the write ups about you lately. He was impressed by your talent and would have loved to have seen your work first hand. I’d hoped we could get to a gallery opening, but he just was not strong enough. He never mentioned that he’d met you, though” Julie said.
“I would have been honored to have him, but I understand.” Tom replied. “I doubt he would remember me, but the one time I met him your husband made quite an impression on me.”
“Thank you.” Julie replied, although she was puzzled as to when and how Gray had managed to meet the rising star and most sought after new L.A. artist in years – maybe even a decade.
As she turned to walk away, the artist called her name and she turned back to him. What he said puzzled her even more.
“I am making the most of life. I hope your husband would think so.”