Comeback Kid (and characters you’ll see when I publish ‘Once’ in a year or two)

Sophomore Slump

Brock was on the bus and headed for the first day of his sophomore year of high school but before I get into what happened to Brock over the year, I want to summarize what his last two years had looked like up to this point. For starters, Brock had been picked on, tortured, and bullied by his peers ever since the fifth grade. These episodes of torment only grew worse as the years progressed. By the time Brock’s freshman year hit, many knew of his little episode with Mr. James towards the end of eighth grade and made a joke about it, making him even more of a so-called loser heading into his freshman year. Freshman year didn’t get any better and as Brock wasn’t on the football team and he was still regarded as the kid who did nothing with his life and who was most likely destined by the parents of the kids who knew him to be a future slacker. Not a fun life to live by any means.

As sophomore year began, Brock found that his tormentors weren’t just the Class of 2009, but he had to deal with some incoming freshmen as well. This was due to Roberto Randle looking to further his own influence as the leader in the school so Randle hand picked about five freshmen to accompany him and his little gang around Thomas High. Of course, Randle was not going to be the Class President or any officer for that matter as those elections were rigged by the faculty so only those who played multiple sports, possessed high academic honors and recognition, as well as being born into families who were well off throughout the surrounding community would be chosen to be class officers.  Randle instead got on good with most cliques in the school as well as many teachers, so he had the ability to get what he wanted by wielding power from behind the scenes. In other words, the student leaders of the school confided in Randle in any and all subjects and issues with Randle having either solid input or at times, the final say in many matters. If a high school version of the new world order existed, Roberto Randle was their leader.

Randle’s boys were not ones to mess with. They liked to threaten, harass, and bully others as means to enforce their policies. They frequently targeted Brock in between classes and after school for merely existing, according to many of them. Keep in mind that they were not some violent gang or anything of that matter, just a group of hardcore country boys who loved to drink beer (even in the school parking lot), smoke cigarettes, and chew tobacco all the while not taking very kindly to anyone who opposed them or even looked at them the wrong way. They were that typical group of rednecks who remained very loyal to one another and any outsider would be watched closely and probably beaten up by day’s end.

It didn’t’ take Brock very long to really feel the true wrath of Randle’s boys. It was the second week of school and Brock had already been victimized by Randle and his small army of henchmen twice this year. One was during class where Randle once again asked if Brock was on the football team this year and when Brock tried to ignore him, Randle and another kid, Cole Matte, tipped Brock’s desk over onto the floor. Brock was sitting in the desk at the time and landed on his shoulder with a dull, sickening thud, his books and papers flying everywhere. This was met with massive amounts of laughter and a few punches and kicks from the students that resulted in a few bumps and bruises for Brock, as well as a case of injured pride.

The second time was in the lunch line where Brock came face to face with Randle. Randle decided to make an example out of Brock and as he barked insults at Brock loud enough so the entire line could hear and take an interest in the sadistic verbal abuse. Meanwhile, a friend of Randle bent down on all fours right behind Brock and when the timing was right, Randle pushed Brock hard onto the ground, forcing Brock to fly briefly into the air as he tripped over the kid. He landed hard on the marble floor and worse yet, when a teacher ran over, Brock was blamed for the incident by several bystanders. After five minutes of stories that were slanted in Randle’s favor, the teacher ended up concluding that it was Brock, not Randle or his friend, as the guilty party and that Brock had intentionally flipped over the kid so he could draw attention to himself in the line. This resulted in three days of after school detention for Brock and Jay was beyond furious. So Brock was once again forced to work well into the night that weekend as well as receive an early morning wakeup call well before the sun had risen every single day of the week.

Now to the largest incident yet. Brock descended the cement steps in front of the school and started making his way to the bus when he was grabbed from behind by two pairs of hands. It was Randle and Cole Matte, who was driving Randle home until he passed his driver’s test. They forcibly walked Brock into the teacher’s parking lot, which was devoid of teachers at the moment since school had only just let out, and past the annex building which overlooked the practice football field.

“What do you guys want?” asked Brock, deciding on attempting to bargain his way of of this.

“We just need to talk, that’s all,” said Randle, slapping him hard in the face a couple times when they were finally out of sight of those boarding the buses.

“Roberto, come on, man,” pleaded Brock, as he backed away and tried to protect his face. “If I don’t catch the bus I’m stuck here.”

“So, what are you getting at?” inquired Randle. “If you miss the bus you can just walk home. You need that exercise, son! Get in shape for that football team for once in your worthless little life!”

“It’s like an eight mile walk,” replied Brock, taking a glance in the direction of the road in front of the school. “Seriously, you two can have your way with me tomorrow, I promise.”

Talk about being one pathetic loser, thought Brock. Having to negotiate your way out of this by delaying a beating, which in all honesty would probably be worse if the two did wait to humiliate Brock tomorrow.

“Hmmm,” thought Randle in a mock tone. “Why should we do that?”

“You can make me look foolish in front of everyone,” said Brock, trying to keep calm but keeping his eyes on the road, making sure the buses were still in front of the school rather than taking to the street. “Come on, guys, you know you’d rather do this to me tomorrow morning in front of the entire school, right?”

“In the gym tomorrow morning when the whole school is in there before homeroom?” thought Matte, looking over his shoulder. “What do you think, Roberto?”

Randle pushed Brock to the ground and kicked him hard in the shoulder area, causing Brock to groan with pain.

“You wait here while we discuss this and no trying to escape or you will get your punishment now,” said Randle, leading Matte to the teacher’s lot again and glancing towards the buses which for the time being were still parked.

Brock sat there for a good two minutes while Randle and Matte had their discussion and now he was getting anxious. The bus would leave in about a minute and he had to be out of there now. Suddenly, Brock realized something and he snuck over to the lot to see if they were finished with their conversation yet and it confirmed a vibe Brock had. They were nowhere to be seen and worse yet, the buses were now leaving, slowly making their exit from the front of the school to the main road.

The buses began to move and Brock sprinted towards them, yelling and waving his arms frantically. He hoped with all he had that his bus would stop and realize that he was running after it. The buses were moving faster and Brock knew it was no use. He was now going to be stranded here for who knew how long. As Brock stood there hopelessly he realized that merely missing his ride wasn’t even close to the worst part of the deal.

“Hey, I thought I said don’t move!” barked a voice from behind him.

Brock closed his eyes and prayed that Randle and Matte were just going to play a trick on him but he knew he was going to get it from them now. Let there be a teacher somewhere, he thought, keeping his eyes closed and feeling their hands on his shoulders again. He knew there weren’t any around. None of them were ever at their vehicles ten minutes after the school day ended. They were all inside, finishing up lesson plans for the next day and grading papers. This was a hopeless situation.

The duo dragged Brock into the weight room for some strange reason. What were they going to do, make him lift weights or something? This wouldn’t be too bad then, he thought, although his lift stats were without a doubt dreadful. Brock barely touched a weight in the last three years. He’d be lucky to bench press one hundred pounds and then his max would be compared to the others in sophomore year by these Randle and Matte, who would undoubtedly relay Brock’s pitiful results to the entire school. And what if they compared him to Lenny? Lenny was now up to a two-hundred and fifty pound bench press for a few solid repetitions the last time Brock checked. He didn’t need to worry about this, however, as they dragged him through the weight room and into the hallway.

“Keep watch for teachers and coaches,” Randle instructed Matte and he nodded, remaining in the hallway.

Brock struggled against Randle but even his very lanky frame was too strong for Brock. This was yet another pathetic example of how physically weak Brock was. Randle was about five feet, five inches tall, no heavier than one hundred and twenty-five pounds and Brock was unable to pry himself free.

“Stop it,” commanded Randle in a loud voice, dragging Brock to a murmur of laughter in the upstairs freshman and junior varsity locker room.

“Where are you taking me?” asked Brock wildly, now starting to panic, flailing his arms as he desperately tried to break free of Randle..

“I’m taking you to football practice, son,” replied Randle, who was now joining in the hysterical laughter of what were the freshmen and sophomore football players in the upstairs locker room. “This is what you wanted for over a year now, right?”

“I-” began Brock but he was cut off by other voices.

“Hey, he finally made it to the big time!” yelled one of the star freshman players when Randle popped into sight, dragging Brock by the neck.

“So is he our new water boy?” asked one of the sophomores, Garrett Murray.

“Or our new tackle buddy?” pondered  another, walking up and studying Brock, hands on hips.

“So about two years ago this little loser here claimed he could join the football team,” Randle announced, shaking Brock while the crowd of players were now advancing on him. “And he got in trouble for wandering around the lobby rather than signing up for the sport, that’s how much of a joke he is to the teachers. They took him for skipping class while he tried to admit he was on his way to a football meeting! Well, boy, here you are, at football practice. Why don’t you stay a while?”

The team proceeded to forcibly place a pair of shoulder pads, a helmet, and a practice jersey on Brock. Randle then shoved a football into his hand and Brock was now being thrown around like a pinball to the other players and finally was thrown to the ground.

“Oklahoma drill!” shouted Richie while Clend and Marcos stood Brock up and threw him over to Richie.

Brock ran into Richie with a sickening thud while Richie screamed like a maniac and lifted Brock off of his feet. Richie didn’t stop until he slammed Brock as hard as he could into the back wall of the shower area.

“Hit the showers, loser,” yelled Marcos, laughing behind Richie who stood over Brock and slammed his head into the floor a few times, screaming insults in his face the whole time.

Dazed, and seeing stars, Brock was forced to stay put as a few of the players walked in, turned the showers on and oversaw him. He could not even stand up until the rest of the team finished putting their gear on and set out for the practice field, followed by one of the coaches who was a short, stocky guy. He stopped briefly when he spotted Brock in the showers. Brock’s heart leaped. He finally had a savior….or so it seemed. After a brief second where the surprised coach looked right into Brock’s eyes, he burst out laughing like a deranged hyena.

“Wow, now I didn’t see that coming my way!” he roared, laughing like a maniac and walking downstairs to the varsity locker room.

Okay, so Brock was now officially more humiliated than ever before. This was more than humiliating, it was devastating. The worst of it was that not a single soul was going to believe him because the football team would simply deny that anything took place, as would Randle and Matte. Worse yet, not a single teacher, bus driver, or student seemed to have even cared to come to his aid. Either Brock was that much of an outcast or he simply wasn’t important enough to be of anyone’s concern.

He stood up, turned the showers off, and stumbled into the bathroom next to the locker room where he would air dry and ask one of his neighbors, a teacher in the history department, to give him a ride home, claiming he misplaced an item as his excuse for missing the bus.


No End in Sight

It was summertime, and Brock actually succeeded in something, which was keeping away from his bullies at least half the time. He actually came up with quite a clever solution to avoiding guys like Gene, Randle, Matte, and now a nice chunk of the football team. He tracked Randle and the others when the school day ended and would follow them out of the building each day. He was careful not to follow too close to them and remained a few students or so behind them who had nothing to do with neither Brock nor his sadistic tormentors.

Now that it was summer, Brock could kick back and relax since it was still a good twelve weeks before the next school year. Brock planned on rewarding himself by simply resting and eating a lot of junk food on a daily basis which consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, potato chips, anything and everything microwavable, and fast food whenever it was offered. Oh, it was the good life and Brock was now welcome in it for the first time since 2004, although he really had no reason whatsoever to reward himself. But Brock didn’t care. At least for a very brief time anyway.

About three days after school had ended, Jay came home with a stack of papers and handed them to Brock who was in the middle of watching the fifth season of a 1990’s comedy called Vandelay’s Chronicles on DVD in the basement.

“What’s this?” asked Brock, tearing his eyes away from the TV for a second or two. “Report card?”

“Job applications,” said Jay.  “Every single place here needs help. There are also a few places I spoke with that require online applications.”

Brock didn’t say anything and instead he turned back to the TV, figuring he could fill these out tomorrow, or the next day, or never. To Brock, he felt he didn’t need to start at what he considered a bottom of the barrel job.

“Are you going to fill them out or what?” Jay asked in a testy tone.

“Yeah, tomorrow,” said Brock without looking at his father.

“No, not tomorrow, but right now,” said Jay. “You realize Lenny just got a job at FoodLife and is working there on days he’s not playing baseball, right?”

“Yeah, I was at that overachiever’s house yesterday on his day off with Jed,” said Brock. “Until he had more important things to do such as play baseball. Do you realize he never misses a chance to share with us his four-hundred batting average?”

“Don’t you think you should get something too?” Jay inquired, ignoring Brock’s blurb about Lenny. “So you can overachieve and have more important things to do?”

“Overachieving is for preps and those who think they’re better than everyone, such as Lenny,” said Brock simply with his eyes closed. “I’m quite above that.”

“No, overachievers are the hard workers in life who go after what they want,” corrected Jay.

Can’t I just work for you?” asked Brock.

“No,” said Jay firmly.

“Why not?” groaned Brock. “You’re afraid I’ll outwork you, aren’t you?”

“You don’t know anything about sales and you haven’t shown me enough of a work ethic for me to hand you a job,” said Jay loudly. “Honestly, Brock, you couldn’t outwork me if I gave you a three month head start on the job while I took the time off.”

“My grades were better this year,” said Brock, looking to somehow gain an upper hand.

“Best grades yet,” said Jay sarcastically. “Nothing beats averaging three Cs a D and two B’s. What did Lenny and David get?”

Brock rolled his eyes. Of course what he had done wasn’t good enough for his dad. Lenny and David were both in college prep classes and were honor students every quarter as well as become recently inducted into the honor society.

“I don’t know,” lied Brock.

“Your Uncle James told me at the Memorial Day picnic Lenny received five A’s and two B’s,” said Jay. “Wonder how he did that?” he added with even more sarcasm.

“I don’t know,” lied Brock again, shrugging his shoulders.

“Maybe because he works hard and actually cares about what’s in store for him later on in life,” said Jay.

“Maybe I do too,” said Brock. “I just know I’m predetermined to be higher up than they are in life, so when you are born with this kind of knowledge it’s really pointless to put in an effort at a small high school in West Virginia.”

Brock knew this would put his father on a tirade and at this, Jay took two of the applications from Brock and ripped them up, throwing the shredded pieces of paper in Brock’s face.

“What was that about?” asked Brock, confused.

“You have a Quick Burger, Lee’s, Pizza Haven, and Ares application left,” said Jay. “I ripped up the two places you may have liked, which were Game World and Dark Outlet. Oh, and you’re filling those out, to be handed in tomorrow.”

“I don’t have a car,” said Brock. “I don’t’ even have a license so how am I going to do this?”

“I’m going to pick you up at noon tomorrow,” said Jay, pointing at himself. “I already told my staff I’ll be taking a two hour lunch break and why I’m taking it.”

“Can you stop telling your co-workers about why you do things?” pleaded Brock. “And so much for your employees, doesn’t your boss care about you dipping out of work for two hours?”

“Not if it’s a key motivator to get you to do something for me,” said Jay, smiling.

“Did they agree with you on this one?” asked Brock lazily.

“They did,” replied Jay proudly, drawing himself to full height as usual and towering over Brock as Brock sat there. Jay loved exerting his power in these kinds of situations. At least as far as Brock was concerned. “And you better be on time when I come back here and pick you up.”

So the next morning Brock grudgingly filled out the four applications, not knowing what to put on them half of the time.

“Let’s see, work experience,” he muttered, looking at the application. “I guess nothing.”

Brock continued to fill the applications out, leaving them blank when he didn’t know what to do. Eventually, he completed each application and got ready to hand them in.

As Brock was getting ready the front door opened and Jay came up the stairs, dressed in khaki pants and a bright orange polo with matching shoes.

“Let me see how you wrote them,” he demanded, snatching them out of Brock’s hands the very second he saw him.

“Well?” asked Brock impatiently.

“Well you need to put something on each line, even if it’s a ‘no answer,'” said Jay in a voice that mocked Brock’s impatient tone. “Do that now.”

Meanwhile, Jed was in the living room watching TV while waiting for Lenny to come up to the house to go into town and hang out at the mall before Lenny had to go to work at five. Brock could have sworn Jed was attempting to take in all of what was going on from the kitchen since he kept glancing back at Brock and Jay. This was starting to make Brock a little angry. Perfect Jed and perfect Lenny, he was thinking, as he had for much of the past seven years since they started middle school in the fifth grade. They get to do what they want, when they want and here’s small, skinny, unfortunate Brock having to do other things and not doing what he wants. Just like Lenny, Jed is good at school, sports, video games, and just about everything else while little Brock here felt he has to fight like crazy just to be halfway decent at anything. And even then his performance on everything seemed unsatisfactory.

This was Brock’s thought process anyway. In true actuality, Brock was one of those people who would put minimal effort into something if he did not get it the first time or if something seemed to be too tough for him when he was learning it. Brock was never one to actually take the time to learn something or practice at something until he never got it wrong. Instead, he would admit defeat early on in just about everything he found to be difficult on the first try.

Brock’s parents loved to use Jed and Lenny as prime examples of successful individuals who did good things with their school lives and probably would when they reached adulthood. Brock always felt as if he were looked down on by others due to his lower success rate at life in general. When it came time for family gatherings, who was usually at the center of attention? Lenny, of course. Lenny was always the one who was asked the questions such as ‘How’s school going?’ ‘How’s your girlfriend?’ ‘How was the sports season?’ ‘Ready for college yet, Lenny?’ and ‘Did you decide on a school after graduation, Lenny?’ This was typically followed by Lenny proudly announcing the schools he had narrowed down to, which by now was down to two.

In addition, eight year old Lonnie and Riley just loved Lenny and practically followed the adults in their praises of Lenny while they looked at Brock as if he were some piece of poisonous meat. Even little Lonnie and Riley appeared to take a page out of Roberto Randle’s book by throwing insults and debilitating remarks at Brock every single time they found an opportunity to do so. And these two were eight years old! What was worse for Brock? These two acted like angels in front of everyone else, receiving just as much undivided attention as Lenny and Jed. This left Brock on the outside but not looking in.

When everyone was receiving their praises Brock generally sulked beside his mother, sometimes verbally in an undertone, which in turn caused both she and Jay to noisily discipline him in front of everyone, turning disapproving heads in their direction. He was to keep his mouth shut, show respect and be happy for the achievements of everyone else.


When Brock finally finished handing in all of the applications that day, his father gave him another surprise, one in which any sixteen year old who wished to work for

“I know two of the employees here and they are going to get you a job,” said Jay with satisfaction and a smile as Brock came back into one of his dad’s cars from the dealership after he turned his final application into Quick Burger, a fast food joint in Summersville.

“Uh, here?” gulped Brock, trying not to sound downcast about this. Brock knew it was a job but also expected something better than this. Way better. Especially for Brock since in his mind he knew he was better than those he deemed as the losers who made a living flipping burgers.

“Yep, and you should be getting a phone call for an interview any day now,” said Jay, now with excitement. “They are hiring.”

“Yeah, I see that on the sign,” said Brock, pointing to the sign in the shape of a large arch with a ‘Q’ inside it.

The sign here, just like anywhere, had tiles under it that held messages. The one currently posted read ‘Now accepting job applications.’

Despite his recently newfound arrogance, Brock could not help but think that he was the mediocre student who currently ranked one hundred and seventy-second out of two hundred and ten students in his graduating class and he was one of the least recognizable people there. He was also one of the least recognizable in his extended family as even at get togethers, such as his Uncle Ben’s Christmas party. It was always Lenny, Lenny, and Lenny with Jed, Lonnie, and Riley now in the running as well. No one really paid Brock any attention. Now, he was going to get a job at Quick Burger of all places. Brock believed this had all been a set up. Brock knew his father had planned this the entire time and now Brock was going to join in the ranks of the oppressed. Jay wanted it and got it. Brock just knew it. At this, he felt disdain and resentment toward his father. Fabulous, just fabulous, thought Brock with sarcasm attached. Brock wondered just what his and Lenny’s futures were going to look like ten years from now. Twenty years from now?

Brock was called in for an interview the next week and it became more of a “when can you work” type of interview instead of something formal. Since it was summer and knowing that Jay was going to be breathing down his neck, Brock had no choice but to have unlimited work availability for the remainder of the summer, which he despised. Since there were still two solid months left of summer, Brock was going to be in for yet another work filled regime during what was once his favorite time of the year. Brock now realized that unless he was able to retire one day, he wouldn’t see another completely free summer. And that to him was not fair, using Lenny and Jed’s easy life as an example, completely forgetting or just failing to acknowledge the fact that Jed played baseball and was starting football in August while Lenny had a summer long Legion schedule to deal with in addition to his job at Food Life. In actuality, Brock’s new twenty-five hour work week was minute to the fact Jed was putting in at least ten to fifteen hours per week at football practice while Lenny worked at least thirty hours per week with another ten to fifteen hours devoted to baseball on top of that. Between Jed and Lenny, they trumped the always complaining Brock.

Brock started the job two days later and went through a really unorganized orientation. Brock knew that nothing here was going to be organized due to his preconceived beliefs about the fast food industry. Brock’s projection was very accurate. For starters, there were literally a million things they wanted Brock to do and remember.

There wasn’t any real position at the store, it was you either worked the front or you worked the back. If you worked up front, you had to remember everything up front. And if you didn’t happen to possess a pretty face like Brock who was a skinny kid with very unruly hair, wore large glasses and had raging acne, you worked in the back, so you would be out of public view. With this, you had to remember how to do everything in the back. Those working the front of the store had to take care of the orders and sorting out which order went to which customer. Those who worked the back were responsible for fulfilling the orders and keeping everything prepared, from the burgers to the grilled chicken to the buns. But if you were in the back you had to remember how to get everything ready quickly, as in less than twenty seconds. You couldn’t move slow and a manager would call you out if you did move slow. Also, working in the back meant keeping the entire place clean, the dishes had to be done, the floor swept and mopped, the greaser emptied, boxes brought in from the outside freezer, and keeping the parking lot clean. The back workers had a much more extensive work list than the front workers, but at least those working in the back did not have to deal with irate customers.

Brock soon realized that he was not a very fast worker, not that it mattered to him. In retrospect, he was a very slow worker, not that he cared. He took longer than usual to get the burgers off of the grill and he took even longer to get a full meal prepared. That’s right, it didn’t matter to him either. Brock had no idea how he was supposed to move faster because it seemed impossible to move faster, so he moved at his own chosen pace. After two months Brock still refused pick up his speed and the managers really began questioning his effort. He was warned at the end of his second month that he would be terminated in thirty days if his performance did not improve.

Help! I’m A Victim of Life!

Brock’s third month at Quick Burger bid him some more time and after his first official evaluation, he was granted an additional thirty days to fill his unsatisfactory marks. According to the supervisors, his knowledge of the food prep and how to prepare everything was up to par, as were his cleaning habits. He was also good in ensuring every single item was well stocked. Not that these tasks were hard of course, he thought.

Brock’s speed was still slower than normal and that had to come up if he had any hope in keeping his job, yet he still remained unfazed; Brock felt he was above these people. Well, he thought were losers anyway.

Also, Brock had a bad habit of violating dress code. Either he was unshaven at times or his hair was too long at others. Yet Brock had already concluded it in his choice to dress and express himself as he pleased. This was how Brock thought, and that meant he was going to do what he wanted and wear what he deemed appropriate and if they didn’t like it then too bad.

As of right now Brock’s chances at staying employed were roughly fifty percent but his performance did increase though not drastically by any means.  More or less because Brock just naturally sped up as he became more accustomed to the job. Management did notice this and he was given one more month to prove that he could handle the job, although he still was not off the hook just yet.

Brock was an ambitious kid, even in this first timeline where his social status was slowly dropping due to refusal to be responsible for his actions and the way he felt about others. He still had that dream of being more successful than his high school peers and doing more than anyone from Thomas High had ever done. But Brock lacked one major characteristic and that was a serious work ethic that kept him buried in both school and in this case, the real world. While he wanted it all and had a thirst for success, he lacked the drive, willpower, and dedication required to make an impact anywhere. It was almost like he wanted it to be handed right to him or at least that things would come together. No, Brock felt it was all supposed to be handed right to him. And he also thought he would find a way to force this onto people. He would make them hand to him what he believed was rightfully his.

This was proven at the conclusion of the second thirty days notice when Brock’s performance dipped once more (due to his carefree attitude) and he was let go from the position. Over Brock’s final month at Quick Burger, he decided he was going to force them to abide by his rules and his style of work. In reality, they weren’t about to play by Brock’s rules and when Brock looked at who was calling his phone the day he was released, he didn’t even pick up or even listen to the message. He knew what the subject of the call was going to be about and he figured to just turn in one of his smocks and hat. So it appeared they weren’t going to play the game his way. For that, he was no longer interested in working for Quick Burger so he was going to quit despite the fact they had already terminated his employment. It just couldn’t be made official until he was given a record of it.

Brock drove over to Quick Burger later that day and told one of the swing managers that he had quit working for them on the spot and he was there to return his uniform. Following his so-called resignation, he then told this manager why he was quitting and it was because he felt he was far above the position. He did this despite his inability to hold down the simplicity of working in the back of a fast food restaurant. Giving Brock a very strange look, the manager simply took them without saying a word and bid Brock good luck.

Brock figured he couldn’t go home without at least trying to obtain work somewhere else so he drove around Summersville that day and talked to everyone, claiming that he had no work experience since he knew he couldn’t quite rely on Quick Burger for a reference and was looking to break into the workforce. He spent the day filling out job applications in his small truck as he had gotten his driver’s license in late September, passing on his third and final try which was good because he would have to retake all of the Driver’s Ed courses again and once had been more than enough of a hassle for him.

Brock went everywhere that day, from grocery stores such as Lucks and FoodLife to other outlets such as Mare’s and Queens in both Summersville and Muralville. He also went to the Muralville Mall and asked just about every store in the place if they needed help. Brock figured that once he was hired at one of these joints, he would evaluate the job and then figure out whether or not the job was up to his outrageously high standards, which it wouldn’t be.

One week passed and Brock did not receive a single phone call. It was October and Brock had been out of work for nearly two weeks yet he told no one, not that anyone at school cared, but his parents were still under the impression that he had a job. As long as they did not physically enter Quick Burger while he was supposed to be there, which was highly unlikely, he was safe. Well, there was always the prospect his dad could be talking to the two he knew worked there, but Brock felt he’d take his chances since they worked during the late night and early morning hours. Brock had two smocks but only returned the one just so he could wear this smock out of the house and act like he was going to work when someone was home. He even pretended to keep a work schedule posted to make things look even better. And best yet, when he was “scheduled” to go to work straight from school, he would actually take his truck over to Quick Burger and sit in it for a few hours before taking a nice walk around Summersville. Again, as long as no one he knew actually saw him out, he was good to go. Or if he was seen, he could at least pretend he was on break or something.

Brock had to admit that he had to have looked strange, walking around Summersville for hours in a Quick Burger uniform every other day. Those who took Main Street regularly while they went about their business had to wonder why some kid in a Quick Burger uniform would be walking the streets of Summersville for hours and hours on end.

One problem that faced Brock were weekends so he came up with a clever ruse stating to his parents that Quick Burger preferred their younger workers to work evenings in smaller shifts while the older and more experienced workers would take daytime shifts on the weekends. Brock explained that because weekends tended to be much busier, it was in the best interest of the restaurant to act in this manner. So Brock would be “scheduled” to work every other Saturday evening where he would often just go to the mall and walk around instead of work. If he knew his parents would be in a nearby vicinity he would have no other choice but either sit in the Quick Burger parking lot or the Lucks parking lot and listen to music.

He was wise enough to know he could not keep up the ruse for entirely too long, so in the meantime at school he once again purposely allowed his grades to sink beginning in the second quarter of the school year. It was a scheme he came up with when he found out a new school policy stated that those who were carrying a D or lower in any class were required to stay after school so Brock could let both his now fake Quick Burger job and new job search go for a bit.

Although Jay insisted Brock keep working, Brock “resigned” from his job and just decided to take whatever punishment his father would give him, which resulted in sixteen hour workdays on the weekends with his day beginning at six in the morning and ending at ten at night. Since it was colder out and a nice, long winter on it’s way, the availability of outdoor work presentable to Brock was almost nothing but Jay came up with a very nice way to keep him busy. Brock would still do all of the indoor chores and clean out the garage and various other places in the house. If Brock finished this, he would handwrite lines for his dad until his work day was over. Usually these lines would state something like “I must find a will to work in this world” to be written anywhere between one and five-thousand times.

The irony was that his grades actually weren’t too bad heading into the second quarter but he once again started to purposely tank his them so he would have to remain at school until six in the evening. The grades were bad and he was zero for one on the work front. Brock thought staying after school was much, much easier than struggling to find a job or struggling at a job he didn’t care about.

Although Jay was keeping up Brock’s punishment, he didn’t have to do any kind of work during the week since he left for school at six-thirty and didn’t return home from school until six-thirty in the evening but weekends remained terrible. And again there were yet even more people who knew why Brock was being “forced” to do this work while Lenny and Jed were busy passing the football in the side yard.

Brock now felt immense anger towards the neighbors in addition to his father, Lenny, and Jed. He felt everyone was going against him. Although the neighborhood knew Jay’s intentions for Brock were good and agreed with the harsh consequences Brock was facing, Brock unsurprisingly did not think so. In fact, Brock felt the neighborhood was also against him and wanted to see him suffer immense consequences for which Brock thought he had no responsibility.

For the rest of the year Brock did not bother to pursue another job. He literally kept it up until the final day of school. It was statistically the worst year ever for Brock. The only good news was that his bullies finally appeared to be finished with him, as Randle and company weren’t anywhere near as aggressive as they were in year’s past. Instead they were allowing their own fledgling work lives get in the way of their reign of terror. Brock actually found this amusing and told himself he would have the last laugh as a bully who would be making their normal and conforming lives to society very, very miserable after high school, when he felt it mattered most. As Randle and his boys were working normal hours at normal jobs and making normal money all the while conforming to the demands of society, Brock envisioned he would be in control of all their finances and tell them how they were going to spend their money. Brock was ready to one day tax them to smithereens and carry out his own policies to inconvenience this working class of people, as he liked to call them. Yep, in Brock’s mind he was going to be calling their shots and spending their money the way he saw fit for himself and at their expense.

Once more Jay was putting more and more pressure for Brock to get a real job. It was summer once again and Brock was in the same position he was in this time last year. The only thing that seemed to be changing was his age. At seventeen, Brock’s current life resume was beyond bad. He had one job his entire life and he was unable to hold onto it any longer than four months. At school, his class ranking at the time was now terrible, especially after intentionally tanking his junior year but things had gotten even worse when he received a letter one day in mid-June telling him that he did not attain the correct amount of credits for a promotion to senior year. Even Brock didn’t intend for this to happen. He didn’t even consider this to be a possibility. How was this a possibility at Thomas High of all places? In all honesty, once upon a time Brock was a very smart kid and back when he did care about school he did very well but beginning in the fifth grade back in 2001 he started to get lazy. Despite his laziness he still figured he could just barely pass and move onto the next grade. Brock could not go to senior year because he had only sixteen credits and needed eighteen. Twenty-four credits were needed to graduate and he could only take seven credits per year. So far, he had failed five classes in high school and most in his class had twenty-one credits. Worse yet, at a Memorial Day picnic Lenny’s mom and dad were very busy bragging about how Lenny had recently been accepted to Golden University before his senior year of high school even began and was committed to a collegiate baseball career. Lenny would arguably be in the running for at least Salutatorian of the graduating class which Brock now may or may not be part of.

Brock had only two options: either he retake his entire junior year over again or take summer school classes so he could take two months out of his summer by going to school and earning a credit so he could enter the 2008-09 school year as a senior. He chose the latter and although he had this unfortunate event lingering on his shoulders, it was still not good enough for Jay. Worse yet, it was massive lecture time.

“First off, you failed junior year,” said Jay, this time with the letter in hand instead of a report card which was beyond atrocious, featuring three D’s, one C and two F’s. “There’s no other way about it. You failed and you’re lucky I’m letting you take the classes so you can graduate when you’re supposed to. Second off, do you realize that you are doing worse in school than anyone I have ever met? Even from my own high school days, I have never seen anything like this. You averaged a zero point seven grade point average and your class rank, according to this letter, is one ninety-seven of one ninety-nine! As for Lenny? He’s fifth! FIFTH! Like I’ve asked you so many times before, what do you want to do with your life?”

“Well,” said Brock slowly, looking down at the table where he sat and trying dearly not to get smart here but finding it hard to hold it all in.

“Do you know what’s going to happen, Brock?” asked Ana, now walking into the kitchen and joining in on Jay’s criticism of Brock.

“What?” asked Brock.

“You’re going to be making eight dollars an hour for the rest of your life,” said his mother. “If you don’t turn things around quickly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. You have to realize you have more potential than that!”

At this point Brock was a skinny seventeen year old whose hair was getting more and more unruly by the year and it now stuck up in the oddest of spots and he could do nothing to tame it. His skin was a pasty white. His limbs were very wiry despite being only a few inches over five feet tall. And to top it all off, his face was covered with acne.

“I’m not going to work behind a counter, I’ve already tried that and hated it,” said Brock, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms, still trying to hold in the wise-guy attitude, which he had developed later on during his sophomore year. It kept the bullies away, so Brock felt it was more than worth it.. “I won’t. I’m much better than that! I know for a fact I’m better than that.”

“According to these grades you’re not,” said Jay as Ana nodded in agreement. “Don’t you think you need to prove it in school first?”

“I’m better than my grades, what are grades?” retorted Brock with a smug smile, unable to contain himself any longer. “And besides, my talents lay somewhere beyond a classroom. Further than that, a place where neither Lenny nor Jed could ever achieve. Soon, those so-called overachievers will be very jealous of me and wish they took my route. When I’m ruling them they’ll see. They will be envious, mark me right here, right now, on June 15th, 2008”

His parents exchanged confused looks as if Brock had lost his mind before looking right back at him.

“What are these talents you’re talking about?” asked Jay flatly.

Brock thought for a second before replying.

“Intuition,” he said slowly with a smirk and a glare to Jay. “I’m very intuitive, cunning, and ready to seize control of an opportunity that may come my way and look great leading. Just wait. Mark me on that one too.”

“You have to make the opportunities come your way,” said Jay, eyebrows narrowing. “Something you have failed to figure out. Your grades. You need to work in order to make them right. Right now you’re still a junior while your classmates are seniors and you’re also unemployed and I can guarantee you that a job isn’t going to come to you unless you actually go out and look for one. So at this point, it means you’re a bum. So I suggest you start making opportunities rather than just sitting here and talking about them, somehow looking for a way to make them pop out of thin air. Because that’s not going to happen.”

“I got plenty of time,” said Brock in a light tone. “The second someone wants me on their team for some huge, innovative project at your expense, I am ready and willing to just take over and lead them to greatness without you or anyone else I have ever had the unfortunate opportunities to come into contact with. Which is why I’ve stayed out of the workforce. See how I think ahead and how my mind acts in ways the masses do not have the brain capacity to muster? That will make me available to them while everyone else plays by the everyday rules set by society and does what the normal people do. All of these idiots out there today are all losers. They know nothing because they’re told how this should be or how that should be. All they need is a little bit of patience and half a brain and everything will be fine! I mean, why would I work some loser job if I have the talent to really steal a show? How many people can say that? That’s right, zero! I am the real winner in this life, and I’m no longer the loser. Oh, you will see. Because all of the help you all have given to Lenny, Jed, and these days Lonnie and Riley, as well as the help others have been given by their parents, it’s going to backfire. Only those who haven’t gotten the help, such as myself, will be the ones taking over. Mark me, mark me, mark me. Why don’t I talk to anyone about things? Because I am so much better than they are it’s sad. Actually no, it’s kind of awesome to be honest.”

Jay looked aghast and ashen faced, as if he hadn’t heard something so outrageous in his life. Again, he and Ana exchanged looks, dark looks. Brock smiled, nodded his head and kept his arms crossed.

“Uh, Brock,” sputtered Jay. “I am not following anything you are saying. It makes no sense whatsoever. That big…speech, or whatever it was, doesn’t make any sense.”

“I got you there, didn’t I?” Brock said with satisfaction. “See, I will be king! You will be in shock and awe then, mark me, just mark me. Again, mark me.”

“Brock, I’m going to tell you this and I’m going to be very, very clear about this,” said Jay very slowly. “You have absolutely no work ethic, that’s why you can’t even get decent grades despite your ability to do so. Of course, you’re a capable person but you’re very lazy. I have given you help, a ton of help, or at least I have tried to. And what is this about us giving Jed all of the attention and everyone giving attention to Lenny? Sure, they had help and will continue to but so have you. You choose not to take it. And don’t even talk about the limited pool of jobs, people like you end up living off the government.”

“Hey, man they make more than those at Quick Burger,” said Brock. “So why not just sit down and do nothing all day? They’re making the money and bringing in the cash.”

“And they shouldn’t,” said Jay. “This is why people refuse to work a job and tend to sit down and get paid.”

“Yeah, it sounds genius if you ask me,” said Brock. “Then I can use that free money that’s so rightfully owed to me because of my misfortunes in school, work, and sports and life. So instead I can put it toward something worthwhile. See, I’ll be able to sit and think of something huge….while getting paid for it! So you may as well give me my fair share of the loot, father. Come on, hand it over because one of these days you’ll be forced to! And feel free to mark me yet again!”

“Brock, first off, he’s not about to be forced to give someone like you anything and second off, you don’t even have a single shred of work experience except Quick Burger, which you had to quit because you had to stay after school due to your grades!” exclaimed his mother. “No one will even care what you have to offer because you’ve never had anything to offer. You need work experience.”

Brock still didn’t listen and after a few more moments, with a very joyous look on his face as if he thought he had won this argument, left the conversation. Sadly in my judgement of this conversation, Brock didn’t get it and he never would get it. It was 2008 and he had already as good as confirmed his parents to be right about him. His drive was terrible, his dedication was even worse, and his outlook on life was nothing more than just weak fantasy. All in all, everything was just bad. And what was even worse here is that Brock came from a very good family. The only issue is that Brock didn’t see it that way. He thought that if he just bid his time, great things would happen. And to put the icing on the cake, he thought people who actually worked to better themselves owed him this. He blamed society and that is never the right thing to do.

In 2008, Brock managed to pick up a job at another local fast food chain, Lee’s. This was more out of an agreement he felt had been forced upon him by the unfair hierarchy that was Jay. It was either work or get thrown out of the house. He saw many similarities between this job and Quick Burger. He desperately wanted out and after ninety days of employment, he got out and never went back. Again, he was facing termination both by calling off numerous times and again refusing to put any effort into his work. Brock then applied for and received a job as a bagger at Lucks, again under the threat that he would be thrown out of the house. He felt the job was just as low as working fast food and he thought he was above these people he described as nitwits and low lifes. Meanwhile, he also attended summer school where he received the credits he needed to advance to his senior year, earning a low C in Basic Math III and Basic Chemistry.

During Brock’s senior year he maintained an average grade point average of two point zero and planned on attending community college, again under the force of his parents. Thomas Community College was the only institute that would open their doors to him. So with his classes already scheduled for the following year he decided to really put high school up in the rafters. For the rest of his senior year, he kept his grades afloat just enough before graduating in May. Now he was being forced to attend college and work what he called a low status job simultaneously. This really put a damper on any plans he had and he knew he wasn’t about to do this for long. He wouldn’t have that.

While Brock was in school he also worked his job at Lucks, working weekends for eight hours a day while working two to three weekdays for four hours. In all, he worked between twenty-four and twenty-eight hours per week, making a wage of seven dollars and twenty cents per hour. Just like during his stint at Quick Burger, his performance was almost average at best and he was routinely passed up by the department managers when they needed help in the meat, produce, grocery, or dairy. Management usually scanned the front line, and unfortunately for Brock they selected more willing workers than he to help them out with grocery stocking or rearranging in the store’s departments.

While Brock was busy struggling at Thomas Community College his cousin Lenny, whom he still was always compared to by his parents, went to Golden University. Brock ended up leaving college after his freshman year because he felt his studies were not conducive towards his goals. Again, he refused to tell his parents this and pretended to still be in school. This was also ironic since Brock’s pay at Lucks was now only forty cents above minimum wage at the time, which wasn’t much of an increase if one looked at the overall picture, but Brock still figured his talents laid elsewhere as he had done in the past and he envisioned a great leap forward within the next few years.

Lenny was setting even more family milestones for everyone to brag about at Golden University. He had completed his first year at the school in the spring of 2010 and was well on his way to a degree in marketing. In addition, Lenny was also working a job that consisted of at least thirty hours per week on top of his studies as a sales associate at Victory Electronics. In essence, Lenny was probably putting in sixty to seventy hours a week in both school and work with no complaint while Brock thought his twenty to thirty hour work week without a school schedule was too much.

As if he hadn’t done so already, Brock now really started to envy Lenny, Jed and these days Lonnie and Riley were also getting under Brock’s skin. Brock was angry because he felt they all appeared to have everything served to them on a silver platter while he believed he was stuck at the bottom having to fight for everything. Of course before exiting Thomas Community College his grades were terrible, as in his self righteous mind he received no help from anyone while everyone else was served success.

Brock was an also an outcast at work in the eyes of management since he was still stuck up front, being passed over again and again in favor of his co-workers. How would they know he would better serve them up front than in the back if he never received a chance to go back there?  Brock then came to the conclusion that he was way better than those chosen to work in the back. Brock’s warped mind figured if you moved up in this company then you must be destined to bow down to annoying grocery store customers your entire life. If not, you were destined for bigger and better things. So Brock went with this new outlook of himself. He guessed he was better than these people. He would just have to continue to wait and he figured one day he’d be laughing in the faces of these losers as well and only simply needed to bide his time. By now, Brock had become such a pompous individual despite his many shortcomings it was disgusting. He had absolutely nothing to brag about. But in his mind, he was just holding back, biding his time, and waiting for the big one. He even found himself to be impressive since he thought he was going to do this all on his own without any kind of help whatsoever, which was false. As Jay had already stated, he tried to help Brock and Brock wouldn’t take it. Now that was true.

Of course Brock was just inherently jealous that these people had a desire and drive to get to their goals while he did not possess this trait. Brock was also becoming a self-proclaimed victim of life, a very hard pit to climb out of. So Brock’s logic was simple: I’m better than everyone on this Earth and if for some reason I don’t receive my shot it was them holding me back the entire time. My question to Brock would have been this: what do you mean by ‘them?’ And this view right here would mold an entirely new, but by no means an improved Brock.

And as time went on, Brock’s views actually started changing from ‘I’m better than everyone in this life’ to ‘I’m a victim of life’ and everyone at Lucks who appeared to be over the age of twenty-three thought and felt the same way and now it was really beginning to rub off on Brock. Although he was only nineteen and very recently thought of these people as the scum of the planet, Brock had to admit he was able to find common ground with them. For the first time in a long time, he had a group of people who he could relate to. They were all self-proclaimed victims. They were all victims of all of others telling them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And in the end, they all believed they received a paycheck so painfully low for the amount of work they did that one of these days they would find a way to force management to be fair to them. The job required so much work and some of these people actually had families to feed and provide for. The pay now wouldn’t justify that. Brock agreed something had to be done. Although he was still met with very peculiar looks from his parents, it didn’t stop Brock from lecturing them that the people who felt this way were not in the wrong here, management and authorities were and one day a class war was going to start and then Brock claimed he would finally be on top by leading the charge. Brock failed to realize something: those he wanted to take money from actually did something to earn it.

So, this was when Brock developed his new outlook. He started to think differently on his view of life. There was something else. As Brock talked to some of these people, he believed he started to figure it out. Those who have money, or have been “given” the money, or the opportunity, or the promotions, were really the ones who ran the show. That’s what it had to be. So, in Brock’s mind, society had their winners picked and their losers picked and Brock claimed this was the case before any of them were even born. It was pre-destiny chosen by the few in control that he so desired to become at the expense of the masses. And for one reason or another, Brock and those who thought the way he did were chosen to be the losers.  Brock didn’t know about the others but he knew that if he was going to be a loser, he was going to despise all winners in life and be a leader in fighting for what he believed to be the greater good. He was going to lead the charge and get his share of the cash and expose these so-called winners for what they were: corrupt leaders and politicians. Brock wasn’t necessarily off his rocker, he was just angry, envious, devious, and now his next goal was to become a leech.

But of course that was all talk as 2010 went on. All of these so-called victimized employees did their jobs yet did not always follow their job descriptions and as a consequence, received a ten to twenty cent raise only when their job performance was on form for three months straight. Many of them continued the “same stuff, different day” mentality with little pay while their superiors really brought in the loot, as Brock put it. Brock suspected that the store manager, Lance, brought in a good eighty thousand dollars per year. As for Brock’s earnings for the last two years, he barely brought home twenty thousand, which averaged out to just over ten thousand dollars per year. Outrageous, he thought. Just outrageous.

Let’s stop right here for a second and really analyze the differences between the job of Brock’s as compared to the job of Lance. Brock was only required to work under thirty-two hours per week and perform job tasks any able bodied individual was capable of performing. Of course much of the labor was somewhat physical but in actuality, other than bagging groceries, carrying them out, and helping maintain the cleanliness of the front portion of the store, there wasn’t really too much to ask other than keep busy to earn money and if the individual worked hard enough, they would earn a promotion yet that was not in the thought process of Brock’s. On the other hand, Lance had to work at least fifty hours per week and that was if he was lucky. Lance’s eighty-thousand dollar salary was only good for a forty hour work week and Lance was working way more than forty hours per week. Again, fifty hours if he lucked out but his week was closer to sixty hours if not more. In fact, he was borderline working one and a half the amount of hours he was being paid to work. Also, Lance had an entire store to oversee including a general, produce, meat, grocery, dairy, frozen, and accessory department. Lance also had to work nights once a month due to inventory and he had to figure out ways to maximize a store’s profit by carrying out orders from those he had to answer to. In other words, Lance’s job was very, very demanding compared to Brock’s. Of course Lance was deserving of his paycheck! Yet Brock and company just threw that aside and merely pretended to know nothing about the demands of Lance’s job.

In late 2010 Lenny went back to Golden University and came home the following summer with high marks and high regards from his professors at the school. During a Fourth of July party Brock sat isolated on the corner of a porch and insolently watched Lenny receive the attention and congratulatory remarks from everyone. Brock hated this happening year after year after year and now he officially hated Lenny with a passion, though Lenny had done nothing wrong but choose not to play the game Brock’s way.

Brock just knew Lenny would probably go in the same route as Brock’s supervisors in making the rules, calling the shots, and doing all he can to better himself and the way Brock saw it, make the lives of Brock and all of those on Brock’s level miserable. Sometimes, especially during the summer months, Lenny was right in league with Jay, Ana, Uncle Sev, Uncle James, Aunt Maya, Riley’s mother Aunt Marie, and their grandparents. Lenny was graciously invited to sit and stay in the conversations of the ‘winners’ while Brock looked on in jealousy and resentment, sitting alone and allowing his demons to overtake his already negative thoughts.

Brock usually sat on one of the corners of the porch and looked on, nothing but pure anger coursing wildly through his mind. These people are all stupid, arrogant, selfish, and self-righteous, who think they own everyone below them, he would think. Brock did not regard them as good people, but as greedy, entitled, and deserving of nothing they had while they felt they needed to stomp on others just to feel good about themselves. Brock so wanted to just jump up and shout the truth to them, what he thought of as the truth anyway.

As Brock angrily eyed Lenny, silently accusing him as being and had always been, the center of attention, the one who would win an entire room over no matter where he went. And to make matters worse, Brock would think Lenny wouldn’t even look like he’s trying to do any of this. That was because Lenny wasn’t trying to do anything but give himself a bright future where he could be financially secure.

Yet if an outsider asked Brock, he would say Lenny would just put on that fake humble face he always wore. No matter what, even if there were only a few people gathered, Lenny was the star of the moment and according to Brock although Lenny didn’t look it, he relished it. Lenny knew he was the star and he capitalized on it. And he had everyone fooled.

Brock would tell himself that he was the kid shunted to one side or another, ignored by everyone after only a few painful seconds of greeting and just start talking to Lenny as if Lenny were some kind of deity. It has always been the same and it now occurred to Brock it would never, ever change. Brock still wanted power and control over others but his dream was fading quickly.

It was during the summer of 2011 that Brock took up smoking in order to better fit in with those like him who blamed the superiors for their low quality of life. Those who felt they had been chopped up, eaten, and spit out by the system run by the elite few. It also gave him something to do and gave him something to spend his paycheck on other than his cell phone and car payments. Brock was going to spend a fortune on his new habit since his target was to smoke one pack per day. He tried a Pall Mall cigarette from a co-worker and decided to make it his preferred brand. Wow, what a relief it was to engage in this satisfying art! He should have tried this during the days of being the prime target of humiliation from Roberto Randle and his little crew. Maybe he even would have put a cigarette out on Roberto’s face? Sick thought, but that was what would run through Brock’s head on a regular basis.

Over the years Brock’s appearance deteriorated and by the time 2014 rolled around his teeth were quickly yellowing over the effects of his habitual smoking. He was also physically slowing down due to the smoking and he now had to take a solid regiment of medications to regulate his blood pressure and cholesterol among other budding health issues thanks to his consistent smoking and daily fast food outings that sometimes occurred twice a day. Yet Brock did not care how much or what he had to take. It was his life and besides, now that healthcare was universal, someone else had to pay it and he could just sit back and receive, receive, receive. Just as he planned, thanks to the policies of President Barry Ramos. Finally some, but not enough progress, thought Brock.

Brock was short and skinny in high school and now Brock was still short with skinny limbs slowly expanding stomach. He looked terrible, with his face and stomach now starting to expand. His hair was already starting to go gray on the sides and a second chin was developing under his first. As for his ever expanding stomach, this was now making him look like a crudely shaped diamond. Did Brock care about how he looked? Of course! Did he blame himself? Of course not! Did he blame society for this? You would probably be very sure that he did. One thing Brock would never do is blame himself for any of his personal mishaps.

Course Correcting of the Universe

Brock was now twenty-three and for the past five years and by some miracle from God he managed to hold his job at Lucks but had never moved up in the company. Management felt Brock did not want to move up and was content where he was but he was progressively slowing down and getting more withdrawn. This was potentially due to his constant smoking and deteriorating sense of purpose as his former dreams were vanishing right before his eyes. Brock simply did not care about the job and felt that he was no longer subject to his managers, a few of whom these days happened to be younger than him.

One day Brock was called into the office of the new store manager, Jeff. Jeff was a perfectionist who was usually never satisfied with anything unless it was done his way and his way only. Brock and his co-workers thought Lance was bad for his massive amount of workload he put on his low paid employees. This was nothing like Jeff. Jeff still wanted a huge workload but he also wanted everything to be done his way and no other way would be acceptable. So, Brock sat there and faced Jeff, who closed the door behind Brock’s chair.

“Management from your department have been telling me your performance has been dropping over the past nine months,” began Jeff. This means you have seen three evaluations that contained unsatisfactory remarks. Explain your reasoning.”

“Uh, I….I feel that I disagree with their perspective, Jeff,” sputtered Brock, immediately beginning to feel sweat moisten his blemished forehead.

“The question wasn’t whether or not you agree or disagree with your supervisors,” said Jeff, peering over at Brock through folded fingers. “I told you to explain your reasoning behind the unsatisfactory remarks. Explain them!”

“I believe it’s in my duty to see these evaluations,” said Brock, folding his arms.

“You have seen all three of them,” replied Jeff. “You know that your immediate supervisor goes over these with you and you have had unsatisfactory marks for the past nine months. So once again, explain yourself.”

“I really don’t know what you want me to say,” said Brock.

“So if you don’t explain yourself, I’m going to explain for you,” said Jeff.

“Go ahead,” said Brock.

“You are not talkative with any of our customers and we have actually received complaints about that. You don’t help when there is downtime and you’ve been here longer than any other employee up front. There is no sense of urgency from you, and you have been repulsive to many customers and that has also come up in complaints that your superiors have had to deal with,” said Jeff. “We’ve had enough of you. You’re finished.”

“Really?” asked Brock. “So how do I tell this to my parents that I lost a job?”

“That’s your problem,” said Jeff. “Get out.”

At this Brock stood up, removed his vest and set it down on the chair from which he had gotten up. With a glare and slight jam of the chair he turned his back and walked out of the office. As he passed the aisles he removed his tie and when he reached the front of the store, he threw it onto the ground in front of the customers.

“These people are your problem now,” he told one of the girls bagging for an older couple well within earshot of the entire store.

Lenny, meanwhile, had graduated from school with his degree and was now managing a department at the local Victory Electronics store in Muralville but was making plans to move to Forest City that summer. Before doing so he received a call from Ana and promised her a now unemployed Brock a job as a cashier. Jay had been beyond livid when Brock told him he no longer had a job at Lucks and was even further annoyed when Brock said all he wanted to do was collect unemployment benefits for a few months instead of looking for another low paying job. Of course, this wasn’t acceptable in Jay’s eyes so the first thing he did was tell Ana to give Lenny a call and ask him about giving Brock a job at Victory, where Brock would have to work harder than he had done so at Lucks since it would say a lot about Lenny’s reputation.

“And if you hurt Lenny in any way, shape, or form, I will throw you out onto the streets,” Jay warned Brock at the kitchen table (now a rectangular one) that night. “Lenny worked very hard to get in the position he was in while you just keep on keeping on the same road you’ve driven the past thirteen years.”

“Maybe living on the streets would be totally worth it if I can bring Lenny down,” Brock shot back, getting up from the table to smoke a few cigarettes.

“Brock if I throw you out you wouldn’t survive a week,” said Jay. “Think about having no more money to buy your food. You would have no more video game outings until six in the morning, and no more mom and dad to mooch off of. Nope, you probably wouldn’t survive a day. Maybe I should throw you out for the night and see how you do. It’d be an honor to see you prove me right yet again.”

“No!” yelled Brock. “And when have I ever proven you right?”

“Oh, come on, not even one night?” taunted Jay. “When I was in basic we had to fend for ourselves for three months! When have you proven me right? Maybe when you told me you’d rule the world a few years ago? How did that turn out? You said you would be seizing power from behind the scenes and force politicians to make laws. Sound familiar, tough guy? What is your situation right now? What is it?”

“Don’t insult me,” growled Brock.

“What are you going to do, take a swing at me?” sang Jay, standing up.

Brock stood up and swept out of the kitchen.

“Where are you going?” called Jay. “What? You’re walking away? I thought you were a tougher guy than that or did you just now prove me right?”

“No, I’m going somewhere I can’t hear your voice,” said Brock, turning around briefly to tell Jay his thoughts.

Brock started at Victory the next week. There would be some benefits to the job, such as the service desk would take care of disgruntled customers for him. He would have to begin at a minimum wage of eight dollars an hour and work his way up but he was doing this strictly to keep him under his father’s roof. Before getting hired, Brock had been out of work for two months and was down to his last dollars due to his reckless spending of his remaining money, so he was forced to accept the job while Lenny moved to Forest City to begin his career. This made Brock go through the roof with jealousy and Ana continued to tell him to seek gratitude since if it wasn’t for Lenny, who in reality did care about Brock’s well being, Brock would probably be thrown out onto the streets by his father at this point. Also, his mother once again told him to be happy for Lenny and his recent achievements but Brock again felt nothing but anger towards his cousin.

So Brock was now the short cashier who wore large glasses and had a very gangly appearance other than his wide stomach. For the next few years he made his routine known. He would work part-time and on days he worked he would head up to either the pizza place in the mall or the Sub City inside Club-Market with two new companions who also possessed a similar mindset to Brock. It was a dude from the Club-Market produce department and his sister who was a shift manager at the cinemas. There he would eat his lunch and return to work the rest of his shift.

On his days off he would play his video games all night long and even if he worked the morning shift, he would only sleep for a couple hours before heading off to work, sometimes without even showering. Doing this would usually be a mistake, as his still raging acne would pop up all over his body, mainly on his forehead. He didn’t even eat breakfast so he just got up, paused his game, took his growing regimen of medications, and went off to work.

As for Lenny, he worked his way up to the corporate office in Annapolis, Pennsylvania, married a girl named Belinda and with her he had a son named Stanley and bought a nice sized house that Brock was forced to visit once every blue moon with his parents and Jed. Lenny moved over to Sun Township in Annapolis where he would be much closer to his work and one day he paid a visit to the Muralville location. This location had received a new General Manager not too long ago and Lenny came to see how everything was.

It was now 2020 and Brock had been helping out a couple who had come from Fort City, South Carolina for Labor Day Weekend. The guy looked all too familiar. After a few seconds of backtracking, Brock recognized one of his least favorite people from high school. It was Dale Detmer, a former prep at Thomas High who like Lenny, excelled in basketball and baseball. Dale was also the sole reason Brock dropped out of basketball about sixteen years ago. The coach saw Dale’s relentless talent on the court and gave Dale control over who should be on the team and who should not be, forcing Brock to bail.

Then came the game during the lunch hour that featured five members from the basketball team who wanted to face Brock and those who didn’t make the cut. The team was led by Dale. Brian Oiler, a very tall kid who was almost as good as Dale joined in, along with Marcos and Richie. Lenny was dragged into the game as well to be the fifth man on this team. They walked over to Brock’s table at lunch and challenged Brock and the four others who either did not make the team or dropped out the week prior to a game for the remaining twenty minutes of the lunch period. They spoke in very loud voices and soon the entire eighth grade had their eyes on them. Miss Lund came over to see what the commotion was and when Dale framed Brock and the others for calling him and the four other star basketball players out, Miss Lund decided to put this to the ultimate test and play the game on the spot since there were no more intramurals to be played until March.

So with Miss Lund somehow believing Dale’s side of the story as well as this game to be a good idea, she acted as the official in the game. In front of many of the eighth grade students who had migrated from the cafeteria to the gym to watch, Brock and his team of rejects was down and out after ten minutes, with the halftime score being twenty-one to zero and a final score of thirty-nine to zero. Brock and the others were beyond embarrassed in front of all of those who came in to watch the contest and towards the end of the game, Marcos delivered a cheap shot on a player who was on Brock’s team right in front of Miss Lund, who refused to even acknowledge a flagrant foul even took place. The taunts and jeers that followed Brock and the others the following few days from both the eighth grade and seventh grade, since word spread quickly to them, were some of the worst Brock ever had to endure. Brock hated people like Dale and Marcos ever since that incident.

After that painful flashback and a few other quick and not as important ones, Brock was praying Dale would not recognize him so he kept his attention to the very attractive girl beside him, who was petite and pale, with hazel eyes, long jet black hair and black fingernails. Her style was sort of dark, yet extremely elegant and for some reason Brock was immediately attracted to this girl, but he knew she’d think of him as some creepy guy cashier so he tried to make conversation in order to counter his relentless staring.

“South Carolina likes to keep that warm weather all year round, doesn’t it?” said Brock awkwardly to her, reading her shirt that read Fort City. He was trying to say something interesting and refusing to look Dale dead in the eyes.

“It does,” she said with a slight foreign accent. “Better than my home country.”

“Do you mind if I ask where the accent’s from?” asked Brock, faking a deep voice so Dale would not figure out it’s him.

“Bern, Switzerland,” she answered kindly. “I moved here about two years ago from there to bring my fitness training career to a warm climate and much of Europe is agnostic and I’m the odd girl, Young Earth Creationist.”

“Which has worked out quite well,” smiled Dale, injecting himself into the conversation. “We’re both trainers and fitness voyagers down in Fort City, South Carolina. The demand for fitness is so very high. The money is just relentless and we are bringing it in so well we could retire by the time we hit forty. But we won’t because I personally love that money. It’s all about that cash flow baby.”

“It’s worked out very well,” she agreed, smiling. “But you know me, Dale. The thrill we get from changing lives beats the money. It’s just nice to know I’ll be able to stay here in the United States, doing what I love and helping others reach their God-given potential.”

“With your awesome looks and my better brains we’ll be that power couple and looking phenomenal doing it,” said Dale, nodding his head slowly and with satisfaction while giving his arms a flex. “Well, Brock, I’ll see you later. And take something for that cold. Your voice sounds awful. Oh, and you might want to put some cover up over that awful psoriasis breakout on your head, it’ll make you look a little bit more presentable than you currently are and fix your crooked glasses! You do know Lenny will not appreciate your appearance and he is the big boss, you know.”

Brock smiled and nodded but once they were out of sight he scowled to himself. Dale had recognized him anyway and not only that, still took an opportunity to put him down. The charade did not work, which embarrassed Brock even more.  Shortly after Dale left Lenny walked into the store with the manager, a rather short individual with muscular arms and a compact frame. He looked like he was at least half Italian, if not more. They walked straight to Brock.

“So he’s your cousin then eh, Brock?” asked the new manager brightly.

“Yep,” said Brock, trying to be polite.

“Hahahaha, hard to believe two cousins at the same place and you’re down here and he’s up there!” the manager said tactlessly, using his hands to indicate Brock’s low position and Lenny’s high position.

Brock glanced at Lenny but he was too busy smiling that all too familiar guilty smile at Brock and nodding. In Brock’s words, Lenny was ‘so fake.’

“Crazy how things work out, huh?” said Lenny, taking a halfway glance at Brock.

“Yeah,” smiled Brock painfully. “Crazy.”

“Did you see Dale in here, Brock?” asked Lenny in an important tone. “I just got done talking to the guy. He is making a fortune working with Rich Mayes of New Age Training Systems. Did you know that the fitness center in our headquarters just bought New Age? Dale sold it to us and trained the wellness staff at headquarters how to implement it within the company. It’s a fantastic program. I tell you, Dale and his girlfriend, Skye, I think her name is, are just geniuses.”

“Really?” asked the manager with interest.

“Yeah, and I hear the 24/7 Fitness Centers in the area market the product as a household brand name,” said Lenny. “The owner of the fitness center in the area named Barry Orions, myself, and Dale are now making plans to host a dinner party up at Fort Steel Square in Steel city to further sell the program to other corporations. With any luck, Victory Electronics will have the program in every single headquartered building throughout America. We won’t just be the best electronics company, we will be the fittest electronics company! Changing the lives of Americans starts at Victory Electronics! That’s going to be the new slogan! We are going to cross promote with these fitness centers in order to get you all in awesome shape. We are pioneering the health and fitness industry!”

“Did they give you a cut of the cash?” asked the manager with excitement.

“We all do,” said Lenny proudly. “Me for introducing the product to our great company and Dale for selling. Heck, Dale probably makes a good ten-thousand dollars per sale. He’s over at least seven figures! Brock, you really need to try the program and get that groove on. I’m making it a requirement for Victory Electronics employees to do so in due time so best get moving now, huh? Get that head start and ahead of the curve, you know? You’ll be great!”

“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind,” said Brock uneasily, looking desperately towards the store and praying someone needed to be checked out. There was no one.

“There’s also that Class Reunion coming up too!” said Lenny with excitement while the General Manager nodded with enthusiasm.

“Are you presenting New Age to them?” asked the General Manager in a joking fashion but Lenny didn’t budge.

“That will be a topic some of us businessmen will be covering,” said Lenny in a business like tone. “We have a mass amount of prominent graduates in the Classes of 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. All of which will be represented at the Class Reunion. Brock, I invite you to be there as well to be the prime example of this great program. Anyway, I must run. Good day to you, Brock. Good seeing you and you do well for your new boss, because I’ll be checking up! Your father’s orders. Uncle Jay’s always laying the hammer down on you, man, you know?”

Brock’s problems even worsened as the news brought by Lenny unfolded the very next day. Victory Electronics employees were now subject to go through mandatory health screenings. This meant they now had to reach a specific health standard or see their job go into the hands of someone else since they’d raise the already higher health premiums. Brock knew many of his co-workers would either quit or be forced from their positions from who Brock deemed ‘the winners in life.’ And now, it looked as if the winners in life were also going to look better and be stronger than Brock and his losers. The rich just get richer, thought Brock.

Brock now sat in the Luck’s parking lot, wondering how he was going to convince any management team to allow him back into a store that once let him go though it had been a few good years since this incident occurred. Maybe he would be given a fair shot?

Worse yet, later today before Brock left the building a Victory Electronics spokesperson stated that the entire chain of Victory Electronics is firmly supportive and behind this decision for employees to get in shape through New Age Training Systems. Brock figured his was code for ‘the few who rule the many are firmly supportive and behind the decision for employees to get in shape through New Age Training Systems’ but of course, they would leave out the phrase ‘few who rule the many.’ So is the norm of the grunts of society that make the lives for those in the ruling elite class. The elite class speaks for them.

Brock was angry, frustrated, and in pure disbelief at the entire chain of Victory Electronics. He sat in his car smoking what would be his fifteenth cigarette today and gazing into the dying sun as it sank behind the beautiful Summersville water tower. All he could think is ‘why me?’ Why am I such a loser while every single individual I know or have known has it so easy. Why are they so successful and making an awesome paycheck while I sit here and work for pennies? My younger cousin is my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss and I’m at the bottom of the food chain. I am twenty-nine years old and I am still at the bottom! Why is it that….. ugh, there’s Dale and that beyond awesome looking girl again! Why can’t I attract a girl like that?

Just as Brock was exiting his vehicle he saw Dale and his Swiss girlfriend pull right next to his old Cavalier and get out of their rental car, a red Chevy Cruze, which was a small compact like Brock’s only it was way more recent with all kinds of different upgrades. What, was Dale following him around town during his return home from South Carolina or something?

“And here’s where the best meat and produce are sold in town,” Dale informed her. “All locally grown at this store, which is a regional chain. No other store like it except for our top notch stores that sell nothing but whole food that us few are allowed to eat while the many must go for the processed stuff that shortens life spans.”

“Dale, it’s all about opportunity costs,” replied the girl. “Maybe they just place higher value on other things? What’s wrong with that?”

“They are blinded, in a manner of speaking,” said Dale. “They do not know any better because they are backward people, you know? They need our brains and our brawn but they just aren’t capable of it. We’re so much better off being separated from these people.”

“It’s all about value,” said his girlfriend. “I’ve always been one to believe beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”

Brock tried to keep his distance as he walked ahead of them, throwing his cigarette in front of him as he finished it. However, this was the worst thing he could have done as the quick thinking Dale busted the rather slow witted Brock the second the remainder of the cigarette left his hand.

“You realize how bad smoking is for you, Brock,” said Dale from behind him.

Brock now had no choice but to stop and allow them to catch up.

“It’s been a habit since I graduated high school,” said Brock, now walking side by side with them for the time being.

Inside he was seething. The last people he wanted to see were anyone who knew him personally and if he went through these doors and saw anyone else he knew, he was out of here. He would try again in the morning when hopefully no one was around.

“It’s great to see you again, Brock,” said Dale’s girlfriend brightly in her foreign accent. “Are you doing a little bit of late night shopping like we are?”

“Yep,” lied Brock, impressed a girl like this was actually talking to him in a friendly tone. She may have been  the first to do so. “I have to buy a few things.”

“For you and your woman?” asked Dale.

Brock knew Dale was only setting him up. He was very close to Lenny and he was sure Lenny told Dale somewhere along the line that Brock never left his parents basement. Those two were friends with half of Thomas High School’s Classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010.

“Nah, I’m single right now,” replied Brock lightly, trying to remain calm. “Just getting a few things for myself.”

“Single?” asked the girl, eyes wide. “I’m sure you can find-”

“No cigarettes, I hope,” said Dale, cutting the girl off as the doors slid open to let them in. “They are terrible for you and they impact everyone around you in a very poor way. Rather selfish habit, I must admit. Can’t stand those that use them. They’ve no right to be in public places beside me while I try tooth and nail to breathe in fresh air.”

“I’ll probably need a pack or two,” said Brock with full honesty this time. “It’s a tough habit to break. I’ll probably supplement that with a twelve pack of beer and just chill for the night.”

“So, Brock, where do you-” started Dale’s girlfriend.

“What kind do you drink?” asked Dale cutting his girlfriend off once again and shunting her behind both himself and Brock as they passed the service desk as if he didn’t want her to talk to Brock.

Brock truly thought that he could shake off Dale once they entered the store but Dale seemed to be interested in a game of twenty questions with Brock and continued to go in any direction Brock went.

“You know, all kinds,” said Brock, pacing faster and faster towards the beer cooler in the second aisle. “Depends what I’m in the mood for.”

“Right,” said Dale, eyeing the off brands, still following Brock, hand in hand with his girlfriend who he was literally dragging along behind him.

“Uh, Dale, why don’t I grab some stuff for us?” she suggested. “Just a few things for our hotel that’ll hold us over for the next few days?”

Now Brock was getting frustrated, looking over the many different types of beer the store offered. He looked to his right and saw what looked like a manager. He was a tall, older man who was clean shaven and possessed graying hair. He wore white dress shirt and no blue vest. He also sported a gold name badge. Yep, definitely a manager.

“So what kind are you buying?” asked Dale smartly, studying Brock and ignoring his girlfriend completely as if he didn’t even hear her question.

“Are you buying some too?” asked Brock in a slightly defensive tone, trying to turn the tables on Dale.

Dale shrugged and turned to his girlfriend. “What do you think, kid?” he asked.

“First off, Dale you know I’m two years older than you, so cut the kid stuff” she sighed, playfully giving Dale a push. “And you know I don’t drink so if you buy some it’s for you only. We should really let Brock do his-”

“I won’t buy any,” he assured her, pulling her into a one armed hug. “You know how I feel about drinkers. But Brock here is one of those backwards-”

Brock had seen and now heard enough. It was now or never.

“Okay, Dale, you and your little girlfriend go have your fun trying to be better than someone other than myself,” he said rudely and made a beeline for the manager who was putting up some advertising signs.

“Brock, wait!” called the girl after Brock but Brock kept on his path while Dale laughed with satisfaction as if he had accomplished his little mission in humiliating Brock. Who was he trying to impress?

Brock didn’t even look back to see Dale’s reaction. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on the manager until he was about an arm’s length away from him.

“Can I talk to you?” he asked the manager urgently.

The manager looked up with a look of surprise on his face.

“Is there an issue with the store?” asked the manager, whose nametag read ‘Brad.’

“I need to talk to you in your office and I can assure you that there is no issue with this fine store at all,” said Brock. “I need to ask you something.”

“Can you do it out here?” asked the manager. “I’m very busy at the moment and it really doesn’t make sense to go all the way into the office for a customer inquiry.”

“Yes, sir, I see that and I deeply apologize for the inconvenience in time,” said Brock, eyeing up Dale who was again dragging his now very reluctant girlfriend along and had now moved within a few feet of Brock and Brad. Brock knew he was trying to eavesdrop in on the conversation. Didn’t this guy have anything better to do while spending his brief time in this area?

“Dale, seriously, we should be-” Brock heard Dale’s girlfriend say but Dale cut him off once again.

“I’m looking at something,” he replied curtly but Brock felt Dale’s eyes on his back.

“My name is Brock Patrick and I used to be an employee here,” he said. “I worked up front and bagged groceries, kept the front area clean, and put the carts in the parking lot back where they belonged. I switched jobs to become a cashier at Victory Electronics a few years ago but I would really like to come back here and restart my work here again.”

“You’ll have to reapply for the position,” said Brad. “That’s company policy. You will also be subject to a background check and your previous review after your employment had been terminated. So go ahead and apply and we will go from there. You can apply online at our website.”

“Thanks,” said Brock hurriedly, shaking Brad’s hand praying they wouldn’t judge him too much on his past work history, since he just stood there and lied about being a rather hard worker and the way he switched jobs.

After this he walked over to the service desk where the very angry and ancient service lady, Lanna looked at him sternly. She had to be approaching seventy-five by now but she still must have had one reason or another to keep working the service desk. Manager status, perhaps?

“Your usual, Brock?” she asked with a dull and boring voice.

“Yeah, a carton of Pall Mall Green,” said Brock. “I might smoke the entire carton tonight so don’t be surprised if I’m back here tomorrow.”

She glared at him and said nothing, ringing up the order.

“Fifteen fifty-nine,” she said and Brock handed her the cash.

“Thanks,” he said and looking over his shoulder he ran out of the store hoping Dale wasn’t about to follow him out.

“Both Dale and Lenny are trying to embarrass me in front of everyone,” Brock told his mother on their back porch that night while they smoked their nighttime cigarettes.

“Oh, Brock, I’m sure they’re not trying to embarrass you. They’re trying to better you,” replied his mother. “Maye called me earlier and she told me Lenny wants you to become an integral part of this and he wants you to change so he can show others that it can be done. He says you’re the perfect example of someone who can transform their look!”

“So he’s using me for profitability,” concluded Brock, extinguishing his cigarette and lighting up another one. “I really have to relieve this stress. I’m doubling my usual amount of nicotine tonight.”

“Maybe you should just try it?” suggested his mother.

“Jed is the only one in this house who can truly attest to that,” said Brock with jealousy. “No, all Lenny wants to do is make an example out of me in one way, shape, or form. Heck, he even has his exercise buddies following me around. That idiot Dale, remember him? Graduated with me a few years ago. He and his Swiss girlfriend or wherever she’s from literally followed me into Lucks when I went in to ask for my job back! Man, am I the least successful twenty-nine year old guy out there today or what?”

Incident In Mill City

Brock lost interest in this party once he turned twenty-five and realized he was going nowhere in life. In fact, it was the last family event in which he looked forward to these days. It was weird, because once upon a time, there was no other party Brock looked more forward to. There was just something about Mill City he liked. However, just like all the gatherings and parties he’d grown to hate in the past, Brock grew more and more embarrassed as he was surpassed by his cousins and brother as they went off into their intended careers and started their own families while he was firmly planted in his parent’s basement and working as a cashier at the same company Lenny happened to run. Well, until he talked Brad into giving him a second chance at Lucks, anyway. As for the others, his aunts, uncles, second and third tier relatives he became almost invisible as he got older other than the occasional “Hey, Brock, Merry Christmas” to nominally recognize his presence. He knew he was a loser and deep down, he knew these people felt the same way. It was a sad and pitiful existence for Brock Patrick.

It was December, 2020, the year Brock’s brother, Jed, left the area. Earlier in the evening, Brock and Jay started arguing in the car on the way to Uncle Ben’s, once again about Brock’s impulsive decision to go back to Lucks which happened three months prior. They were still bickering insults to each other on their way inside but once they were in the house, everything appeared calm for the next hour. Then Jay joked about the incident to Uncle James, Jed, and Uncle Liam, the seventy-four year old brother of Brock’s grandmother. Brock was taking a beer out of a cooler getting ready to smoke a cigarette or two in the basement when he overheard Jay laughing about the argument from earlier.

“He’ll really hate me when I kick him out of the house,” said Jay, starting to laugh. “Oh, I guarantee you it’ll make him cry like a little two year old. He’s so incapable of taking care of himself. Grab me another beer, Jed.”

Jed walked over to the cooler as Brock stood frozen for a second or so with his hand inside, glaring directly at Jay.

“Brock, get me a beer for dad,” said Jed, standing over Brock and reaching out his hand.

“What was he just talking about?” demanded Brock in an ominous tone.

“Oh, nothing,” replied Jed, immediately looking to Brock’s right at the counter full of food. Brock saw right through his brother’s lie.

“That’s what I thought,” he whispered, brushing by Jed and confronting his dad.

“All I did was try to use Jed as a way to get him to wake up some-” started Jay.

“What are you talking about?” demanded Brock loudly, completely forgetting where he was and getting right in his dad’s face, causing a few to turn in mild surprise over their general direction. “Come on, big man, what is it? Are you going to tell me or just stand there like some kind of idiot?”

“Brock, don’t start with me,” warned Jay as Uncle James and Uncle Liam looked on, looking rather surprised at Brock’s attitude.

“Everything okay, Brock?” asked Uncle Liam, trying to sound joyful but he had a hint of concern in his voice.

“Were you talking about me behind my back? Yes or no?” Brock continued. “Answer me….now!”

“You going to stop trying to look hard?” asked Jay. Although he was smiling he sounded as if he were trying to keep his temper in check. “Or am I going to have to show you what hard really is?”

“Don’t talk about our issues to other people! You got that?” said Brock fiercely, taking another step closer to his father. Uncle James now attempted to step in between them and put an end to this as Uncle Sev, Aunt Marie, and Riley now entered the house with happy greeting which was ignored by those involved in this little incident as heads were now turning in the direction of Brock and his dad.

“Merry Christmas, guys,” said Uncle Sev in a very flat tone, dropping his voice as well as the gifts he was holding almost immediately as he caught wind of the scene playing out before him.

“Brock, go downstairs and smoke a couple cigarettes, this isn’t worth arguing over,” said Uncle James, attempting to push Brock away gently with one arm which Brock threw off. “We were just making conversation, there’s nothing against you at all.”

“No, I’m not playing that game!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, as now everyone in the kitchen to turn around and take interest as Uncle Sev, Aunt Marie and Riley still stood frozen in the doorway, a shocked look running across their faces at the now escalating scene in the kitchen. “You’re the most self-righteous, arrogant human being I’ve ever come across!”

“Oh yeah?” pondered Jay smartly, voice rising. “I just keep a roof over your head and give you a place to live because you’re the only one here over the age of twenty-eight incapable of doing so yourself!”

“Don’t you bring it in here, don’t you bring it in!” warned Brock wildly, throwing his pack of cigarettes to the ground  while still others ventured to the kitchen entrance behind Uncle Sev, Aunt Marie, and Riley to see what was up.

Meanwhile, everyone at the kitchen table including Ana, Brock’s grandparents, Lenny, Belinda (holding a baby Stanley), Lonnie, and  Savannah now had their full attention on Brock and Jay while Uncle James continued his bleak attempt to force the two apart. Their mouths were now open in shock and the look on Belinda’s face was beyond horror. She already had a very low opinion of Brock and this would certainly reinforce her beliefs regarding him.

“Brock, get a hold of yourself!” yelled Uncle James, rounding on Brock but Brock grabbed him by his sweater and pushed his sixty-one year old uncle to the ground, causing a stir in the kitchen as a few people gasped and screamed.

This prompted Jay to take action and he grabbed Brock by his flimsy t-shirt and bull rushed him to the counter, knocking some food to the floor.

“DON’T EVEN THINK FOR ONE SECOND I’M GOING TO STAND BY AND LET YOU ACT OUT IN PUBLIC!” shouted Jay and now the basement door swung open and yet others looked dumbstruck at the scene taking place before them.

Brock grabbed Jay’s shirt and attempted to drive him back but Jay was too quick threw Brock onto the ground and drove his face right into the carpet while Brock could hear his mother’s voice screaming at Jay in the background telling him to let Brock up amidst the commotion. Brock could have sworn that while he was being force fed a face full of carpet that someone (possibly Belinda, who openly thought Brock belonged in some prison cell) loudly insisted on calling the police.

“No, no, no,” came Lenny’s voice, suddenly close on top of Brock.

That confirmed it was Belinda who repeated the suggestion over the shouts and screams of the other family members while Uncle Liam was also somewhere close in proximity, trying to talk reason to the father-son duo but his words were immediately drawn out by Jay.


It took Uncle Sev, Lenny, and Jed, and Uncle James to hoist Jay and Brock off the ground and over to the front door. With a beyond furious Jay and Uncle Ben holding the front door open, Brock was literally tossed by the four from the party into the cold December night.

So there he sat in the snowy yard, gazing at the outlines of others now enjoying the party. Brock stood up and shivered. He didn’t even have his jacket. All he had on was a t-shirt and a very loose pair of blue jeans. He ended up spending the next few hours sitting there, freezing, and watching others enter and exit the house, all of them throwing looks in Brock’s way but saying nothing to him rather than give him a testy facial expression. Brock knew his father and possibly others were now telling the epic tale of their little scuffle to anyone who would listen, probably in a humorous tone.




Jed’s Advances *Final Chapter of the Old Life!

“Wow, this Brock kid is, or was, a freaking loser,” crooned Cain as he and Lira made their way to Kettlewell Stadium to face Robinson Complex for their next shotball game.

“I thought it would give you some stress relief,” said Lira. “But just wait until you get to the good part.”

“Really?” asked Cain.

“Oh, there’s a lot more book to be read, Cain,” said Lira as they entered the gates of Kettlewell Stadium that was slowly crowding up. “Just wait until you see what Brock manages to make of himself.”

Fourth of July, 2021: The Patricks had been hosting the annual Fourth of July party for the past fifteen years. There was a large, in ground pool in the backyard, two large side yards for numerous yard games, and a large back porch that could hold about thirty people. Everyone was here for this family get together and Jay served as the host.

Situated on the back porch were about two dozen people. There was Jay, donning his light blue golf shirt and khaki shorts, looking rather snobbish according to Brock. Beside him was Ana, her best friend Christy and her husband of over a decade, Rene Spinell. Standing across from these two couples were Jay’s favorite cousin Ken and his wife, Leia. Ana’s parents made the trip as well despite their increasing age and dislike for all things hot, so they were seated under a large umbrella that sat above the glass table. Lenny got the day off and made the trip with Belinda and one year old Stanley as well. Aunt Maya and Uncle James (who was still very resentful towards Brock after the Mill City incident) were seated a few feet to Brock’s left. Riley was there with his parents, Sev and Marie. Lonnie and Savannah made the trip much to Brock’s ever increasing jealousy over Lonnie dating this almost perfect girl. Lonnie’s parents, Brian and Kyra (Ana’s youngest sister) also arrived with Lonnie. Brock’s Uncle Ricardo (Ana’s older brother) and his wife, Aunt Wendy made the trip from South Carolina along with their two kids, Maria and K.J. who also relocated to South Carolina and are now in the clothing industry.

Brock, as usual, chose a seat to himself on the corner of the porch a good few feet away from the nearest friend or relative. He sat in silence with a deep scowl on his face, observing the conversation taking place at hand. In fact, as he sat there in his overlarge shirt and shorts, he wished he were actually at work today, away from all of these people. Sure, most of his co-workers were not his friends (there was a much different group in there now), but at least it wouldn’t be as bad seeing them instead of sitting here and getting needless updates on everyone else who was here! Brock watched as everyone else engaged themselves joyfully in conversation while he sat and sulked in misery yet again about his life in the corner. The usual thoughts ran through his head: his conclusions on why these people shouldn’t be as successful as they are; that each and every one of them, especially Lenny, had help getting to where they currently are, and that one day he will witness their downfall and then rub it in their faces when they were all down to his level. When that happened, they would not hear the end of it from them and he would finally tell them all how he truly felt.

It appeared the more Brock aged the more worse his attitude grew towards his family. He hated the lot of them. Perhaps he was just ‘that guy’ in the family who was destined to live that insignificant loser’s life on the bottom of the food pyramid. Every extended family has that ‘one guy’ or that ‘one family’ they would probably do better without. However, due to pure sympathy these kind of people in Brock’s league were tolerated among their rather successful and perfect family. Perhaps many of these blank faces did not mind their position at the bottom, but it burned Brock so badly he would do anything to bring them down to this level so they can experience it themselves. He knew their day of reckoning would come and when it came he vowed he would never allow them to hear the end of it, especially Lenny. If his cousin really cared for him so much he would have done more than give him a low end cashier job at a corporation he ran back to front! So if that was how it was going to be, he was going to create and maintain a grudge against everyone. For this reason, he found himself glaring at them all, hoping pure hatred was etched in his aging face and that every single family member saw it and caught the vibe without explanation.

As for the success of his seemingly perfect family, Brock would tell an outsider they all had help. Every single one of them. They didn’t deserve their status. They inherited it, and what’s worse is that they took it for granted. Riley and Lonnie, both starting post-graduate education at their respective schools. Lonnie had already started during the summer semester at the prestigious Buckeye University at Scarlet City and Riley would be on his way to the University of Silver City in two months time. Lenny had already graduated years ago and had Brock beaten by a landslide in terms of life. Brock felt Maria and K.J. had a multitude of help from Uncle Ricardo, who was an M.D in South Carolina. Jed finished up a few years ago and recently moved to the Carolinas. In fact, it was Jed who was just now getting to the party accompanied by a very pretty girl Brock had never seen until this very second. His scowl deepened to loathing Jed as he pulled out his phone and started going through internet rounds, refusing to look at Jed or anyone else who had just looked to see who had entered the crowded porch.

“This is Andrea,” Jed announced, introducing the girl.

Andrea had long, dark hair, like Savannah but was much more petite in contrast to Savannah’s shorter yet athletic build. She was about Brock’s height, maybe a shade taller. She had smooth, olive colored skin and blue eyes. Judging from the silver bearcat on her shirt, Brock speculated she and Jed knew each other a long while before this since the mascot for what used to be Thomas High was the bearcat.

“Hi!” she said enthusiastically, giving the entire group a friendly wave.

Jed proceeded to introduce the entire party, one by one to Andrea. Everyone gave her an extra warm welcome. Everyone well, except for Brock, who wasn’t about to be fake like he considered the rest of his family to be.

“This is my older brother, Brock,” he said carelessly, gesturing at Brock as if he knew Brock wasn’t going to say anything back.

Brock, who was now busy playing a game on his phone and doing his very best to black out the pro Jed conversation, merely gaped at her for a split second, not saying a word and displaying a mean and annoyed look on his face. He looked back down at his phone and continued to play. Wrong move on his part, as his mother was watching the entire meeting unfold beneath her eyes. How could someone be so interfering in Brock’s little one second haven of peace?

“Brock, your brother just introduced someone to you,” said his mother in a testy voice loud enough for the entire party to hear.

Okay, here we go again, thought Brock who was being treated like a child in front of twenty-four people. Brock looked past his mother, around at the rest of the party and saw that no one seemed to be paying very much attention to them except Jed and Andrea, although Jay had noticed the commotion and was glaring in Brock’s direction behind his mother’s back as he attempted to listen to Ken talk to him about some unimportant subject.

“Hi,” said Brock in a dull and unwelcoming tone, looking up again. “I’m Brock.”

He looked down again, continuing his bout of misery and frustration. He would do anything to be at work instead of sitting here and waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape into his own online gaming world. He half wished his phone rang, calling him into work. He looked back up to his mother who shook her head impatiently while Jed and Andrea walked over to the crowded table.

“Drop the poor attitude,” she snapped. “Right now! There are people over. You know better than to act like this.”

Lenny looked over his way in a pause in what looked like an entertaining conversation between himself, Uncle James, and Uncle Sev. Jay entered the conversation a second later. Brock and Lenny locked eyes for a second and Brock shook his head and stood up. Lenny’s eyes narrowed a bit and it looked like he was gesturing for something but a second later he was answering a question about the state of Victory that Uncle Sev just asked.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said, raising his arms wildly.

“Be sociable, I don’t know why you’re always like this when we have people over!” she went on, actually keeping her voice low for once which he appreciated.

He shook his head. “Look at everyone else, talking, laughing, joking, and just having a good time,” he said in a low voice. “They’re taking a nice long break from work, meaningful work. Me, I’m still stuck behind a cash register and doing a job a sixteen year old should be doing. These idiots don’t have a clue how lucky they are making good money while I have to fight for my pennies in life! It’s not fair and they don’t know that!”

“If that’s what’s bothering you, I suggest you drop it right now,” she retorted simply. “You should be happy for everyone, not jealous. Only a negative person would feel that way. Maybe if you would apply yourself you would be right there with them and doing what you want to be doing.”

“It’s too late for that, I’ve blown my shot,” he said, walking past her. “My ideas never worked because not a single soul ever gave me a chance to prove them. I guess I was meant to be useless all this time. It just took me thirty years to figure it out. On behalf of Jed, thanks for your help and support.”

“Where are you going?” she asked, as heads started to turn in Brock’s direction.

“Six Trac,” he replied. “I need some cigs and beer.”

“Brock, we have beer,” said Jay, sticking his hand into a cooler.

Brock shot his dad a look and then a look to the rest of the party, a few who now had their eyes on Brock since he was heading in the direction of the back door.

“I’ll be back,” he said, slamming the back door behind him.

Brock took his car keys and slipped into his small car, still a fair looking vehicle but rusting out more by the year. Around him were Jed’s silver Chevy Malibu and Lenny’s Lexus, both newer and much more attractive looking than Brock’s old beat up Cavalier, which was rusting out top to bottom and now missing a fuel door. Brock sighed at his unfortunate hand given to him once again and started his car up.

As Brock reached the end of the neighborhood he decided to take a left turn in favor of the right turn that would lead to Six Trac. Brock wanted to clear his mind and go for a drive, alone in his thoughts. He drove by a few houses that lined the back roads that eventually led to the Club-Market Distribution Center. He sped his Cavalier up and was now on a country road with vast fields flanking either side. He stopped at the red light beside the distribution center and made a left hand turn, heading for Summersville. This road contained an abandoned strip mine office on the left while the water department was visible on the right.

As he drove he couldn’t help but think in the back of his mind how he and Jed have the same set of parents yet Jed for reasons unknown was the chosen one of the family while Brock was left out to pick up the food scraps and clean up after being walked on like some janitor after a wedding reception. Jed had everything! He had a college degree, a nice, full time job, a nice car for a guy his age and now a very good looking girlfriend? How could this happen?

In actuality, Jed was very similar to Brock. Jed didn’t look like he was in great physical condition although he did workout pretty hard most days of the week and looked very good. Jed didn’t smoke like Brock did but he still drank alcohol at times. How could this be? This shouldn’t be happening, this is crazy, and this just isn’t right! I’m thirty years old and have been forced to work for a low amount of cash since I was in high school! This isn’t fair. This needs to be fair. Why am I the victim here? If only those greedy capitalists didn’t overturn everything President Ramos passed ten years ago the world would be a much better place. The fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage would have been awesome right about now. Brock’s thoughts were running extra wild today.

Brock reached Summersville and drove into town, past the exit that led to the highway, past the small restaurants, car dealerships, and gas station, all the way up a hill that led to the FoodLife. He made a left turn at a traffic light and was now on Main Street. He was driving to Lucks, figuring he would just tell everyone at the party going on at home Six Trac was out of Pall Mall cigarettes so he had to go to Lucks instead. He wasn’t sure if they would believe him but right now he was so furious he had to just get out of there for a time.

Jed was honestly sinking as low as Lenny in Brock’s rankings. There was Lenny, perfect Lenny, with his perfect wife and very recently a perfect little kid. Lenny being the CEO of an international corporation, being able to afford anything and everything! And Jed was on that same path, a path that led to nothing but mere greed, arrogance, and self-righteousness. And for Brock, the one thing that harbored at him the most was that they weren’t about to give him a penny for sympathy and that, he thought, made them everything he claimed them to be.

And in all honesty this is all Jed probably was this entire time. All Jed has done is win at things his whole life. He was a well known middle school and high school football player and although he was slightly undersized for his position, he was still a good player who was liked by everyone. More than that, like Lenny, he was also in the National Honor Society, and his grades were just as good if not better than Lenny’s. Jed also received numerous academic awards at graduation and was free to attend any school he wanted. In the end, Jed decided to go the cost effective route and just enroll in nearby Island Christian University where he received several academic scholarships and graduated almost debt free.

Brock pulled into the Lucks parking lot and sat, gazing into the distance that revealed the very amazing Summersville skyline. Above everything else was the water tower, shimmering in the warm afternoon sun. Also visible was the funeral home, the large grade school, the steeple of a church, and other buildings that lined the windy Main Street. Brock liked to sit here and ponder things over, such as why he couldn’t have what everyone else had. Why was he not successful? Why did he have to watch the lives of everyone else pass him by while he was stuck with a pedestrian life and living with mom and dad. Oh, and speaking of which, Jay was now taking every opportunity possible to remind Brock of this almost on a daily basis, which didn’t improve anything.

A car pulled up beside Brock and it was the last person Brock wanted to see at the moment. Her name was Mindy and she started work at Lucks just a few short months ago in the deli department. She was about five feet tall, weighed roughly two hundred and sixty pounds, and possessed very short limbs. She had thick, frizzled brown hair that fell almost to her shoulders. She wore thick glasses that magnified her dark eyes and the middle of her faced looked a little smashed in.

She seemed to be enamored by Brock ever since the two had by chance a very knowledgeable conversation about the latest online gaming features and what they liked and didn’t like about them a week or so after she started at Lucks. Since then, she has been a thorn in Brock’s side, routinely timing her breaks whenever Brock was told by the front desk ladies to take his so she could talk to him. In order to stop her constant insistence Brock gave her his phone number when she asked for it but he did assure her he wasn’t interested in going out with her. In truth, this was mainly because her looks didn’t match up to Belinda and Savannah but now that he had met Andrea, Mindy did not even come close. She was a very, very distant fourth and Brock would never bring a girl like her around anyone in the family unless he wanted to be taunted at about her as well, even if the two did share a similar social status. She exited her car with excitement and walked right over to Brock’s driver side window with a waddle.

“I didn’t know you had work today, Brock!” she said brightly in her rather booming voice that seemed to carry a quite a distance.

“I don’t,” he replied grudgingly. “My house has been invaded by relatives and I really didn’t want to go back there so now I’m here.”

“Why don’t you come out and talk to me for a bit?” she asked. “I’m a good fifteen minutes early and you do know I have some really vital stuff to talk about. You do know that, right? You know I’m full of vital knowledge?”

“Did you reach a new milestone on Open World or something?” asked Brock.

“No,” she replied. “Just come over to the picnic tables and enlighten me on your going ons and I shall provide you with vital information on how you may want to cope with them. You do know it’s vital if I say so, you do know that? And everyone needs vital information one time or another! You do know that? Please tell me you know? You should know that by now. You should!”

Brock knew he was cornered so he slowly exited his car and walked with Mindy down to the picnic tables located outside of the store to the left of the entrance. She sat down on one end and he sat on the other side.

“You’re not going to sit next to me?” she asked, sounding slightly appalled. “What did I do? Why won’t you sit by me? Please be honest! If I did something to offend you I promise I will never do it again while in your worthy presence!”

“Well I’d rather face you if we’re going to talk!” Brock replied rather impatiently.

“Okay, fine,” she said, eyes downcast. “But what if it were vital to my overall well being? Would you sit next to me then? Would you? If I told you that you had to hold my hand for my own sanity would you do it?”

“Um, I don’t know what I would do,” said Brock in an undertone. “So what’s on your mind?”

Brock spent the next fifteen minutes talking with Mindy about everything that was not important about life. She went on how she couldn’t stand her two siblings coming in and out of the house as if they still lived there and her mother’s insistence she follow their footsteps and go to college and make something of herself. Mindy was just like Brock in many ways. The only difference was that Mindy wanted to live this way and actually liked her life a lot.

“Owning a house and making a steady income is not for everyone, you know?” boomed Mindy as if she believed this to be matter of fact. “I mean, I’m perfectly happy where I’m at and what I’m doing and honestly, Brock, you should be too. It’s vital! It’s very, very vital! Maybe you were put on this Earth to bag groceries for people. Some people are just meant to get down and dirty all day, everyday for the sake and vital benefits of others. Aren’t I right? Tell me I’m right! Because you know it’s the truth. You know you’re meant to do this? Meant to be with me one day living in my mother’s basement, right? It’s very vital you realize that because you’re just so vital to my sake and well being. You would make me whole and that’s very, very vital! So vital I cannot even begin to express how vital this is that you understand my flawless thought process!”

Brock, whose mind was in another dimension involving an athlete walking on what appeared to be Summersville’s Main Street with a girl that resembled Dale Detmer’s girlfriend. was immediately brought back at her constant prodding.

“Uh, yeah, you’re absolutely right,” he said without knowing what he was agreeing to.

“Ugh, I have five minutes to scan in,” sighed Mindy. “Why does life have to move at such a rapid rate? It’s so vital we use every waking moment we can in order to look around our world and take in the vital beauty of it all.”

“Best get there then,” said Brock. “I should probably get home, my parents are probably wondering where I’ve gotten to. They’ll be furious if I completely skip out on this party.”

“It’s vital you help me up and give me a hug before I go,” said Mindy. “It’s very vital to my overall well being and sanity. You know, like I was telling you a few minutes ago!”

Brock helped Mindy up and hugged her very briefly as she seemingly held onto him for dear life.

“One of these days, Brock Patrick,” she whispered when she finally let him go. “It’ll be a kiss because one day the hug will no longer help and it will be vital, Brock Patrick, very, very vital, that you kiss me.”

“Uh, yeah, one of these days,” lied Brock, looking over her shoulder and seeing Dale Detmer and the Swiss girl once again as he watched Mindy go inside. What a coincidence, though Brock.

“Brock, I see you never cared to get into New Age,” said Dale as Brock had no choice but to cross paths with them as he went back to his dingy car.

“Hi, Brock, it’s great to see you! I hope-” started Dale’s girlfriend brightly but she was cut off by Dale.

“Tell your girlfriend to seek services from me, at least I’ll be able to get something out of someone unlike yourself not set in their miserable ways” said Dale sharply, almost physically shoulder blocking his girlfriend out of the way as Dale hastily handed Brock some business cards, which he was forced to take. “Honestly, lazy people such as yourselves need this kind of harsh treatment under harsh conditions. It should be made into a law! People like you should start somewhere so take these cards and give them to the low lifers I know you associate with.”

Dale said most of this in an undertone and after he turned to enter the store his girlfriend once again tried to make conversation with Brock.

“So what have you been-” she started but Dale once again interrupted her.

“Skye!” he yelled, turning around and seeing her talking to Brock. “We don’t have time today!”

“Oh, alright then,” she stammered. “Anyway, Brock, it was really nice to see you again. Take care!”

“Uh, yeah you too, Skye,” said Brock uneasily as she ran to Dale. What a jerk, thought Brock, who was now kicking himself due to the fact that he initially believed Skye to be like Dale when in fact she was quite the opposite. And once again, it was strange that Brock had Skye on his mind literally moments before.

Brock arrived home and the party was still going strong, if not stronger. Now a few relatives were playing cornhole in the side yard and a few more retreated to the pool. Saying nothing to any of them, he walked the side yard and entered through the back gate and climbed the stairs.

About half of the party was still on the back porch, including Lenny, who approached Brock the second he returned as if he had been waiting for him.

“Where were you?” asked Lenny out of curiosity.

“I had to take a drive,” said Brock, looking beyond Lenny. “Smoked a few cigs on the way and just wanted to chill for a bit.”

“Heck, man I would have went with you if you wanted me to,” said Lenny. “I gave Stanley to my mother and Belinda is having a blast in that pool with Riley, Lonnie and Savannah. I’m bored, man. One of those days I’d rather be in the office, you know?”

Lenny gazed over to the pool where Ana sat, legs in the water. Maya was holding Stanley, and Belinda was hanging out by the pool while Lonnie, Riley and Savannah had already gotten in, calling for Belinda. Belinda gave Lenny a swift smile which he returned before she jumped into the pool.

“So do you have a girlfriend yet?” asked Lenny.

“Nope, still single,” said Brock, shaking his head and thinking of Mindy, unsure whether or not he should be grateful of her or not of the constant attention she paid him. “Always single.”

“So, I uh, heard you’re content in going back to your old job at Lucks,” said Lenny. “Needed a change of scenery?”

Brock shrugged. “Things get boring from time to time. It was familiar, you know?””

“Want to take a walk?” asked Lenny, pointing to the front of the house.

“Sure,” said Brock, turning to lead the way down the stairs and over to the street.

Why Brock was agreeing to this little stroll with Lenny he did not know, but it had to have been better to do this and take his mind off of his current misery that was at hand.

They took a left with the now late afternoon sun now shining off of the Summersville water tower that was still visible even at this distance despite the miles of trees and hills in the path. The beauty of the water tower was even greater when the sun shined off of the pearly white paint and illuminated it in such a powerful way one would have thought God himself was the primary power source. They continued down the street and took a right that led to a large circle of houses, the first of which once owned by Lenny’s parents before they built their own place in Hallsdale, a small town located a good thirty minutes from them in neighboring Ohio, but Lenny continued to attend Thomas High for the remainder of his high school days.

“Been awhile since we’ve been down this way, huh,” said Lenny as they passed the old house, which had been abandoned for quite some time since they sold it to a man who owned it simply for tax purposes. Yet the once grand building was still intact and upright, despite the outer vinyl siding losing the battle to the outside elements and the windows being smeared with dirt and dust. One could definitely still buy this house and return it to it’s glory days.

“Lots of memories, huh?” asked Brock, as they entered the property and walked through the overgrown grassy yard to the porch.

“Too many,” said Lenny when they walked onto the old front porch and sat, staring to the houses lined across the street to the forested scenery that sat behind them and finally to the late afternoon horizon above the trees. The view was always breathtaking. Despite the fact that River Valley was rather depressed economically, the view and the scenery could never, ever be matched anywhere on the planet.

The two cousins sat there and gazed into the forget-me-not blue sky as the sun continued it’s path into the early evening. They reminisced about a lot of events that took place here over the years. Lenny and his family officially moved out back in 2005, during their freshman year of high school.

Lenny and Brock sat on the front porch for a while and talked about the bonfires that were held here, all of the pool parties and family gatherings that occurred way before Brock was in this current state of pure self and societal loathing. There was a time when Brock Patrick did enjoy seeing everyone he so despised these days. And for those couple hours at the old house, Brock and Lenny were best of friends once more. Temporarily best friends today just like in the old days and Brock would go back to the loathing of his younger, brighter, and richer cousin once again come tomorrow while Lenny went back to commanding the largest electronics chain in the world. But today, they were reliving the years 1996 through 2002, before Brock started his deterioration into his current self. Back to a time when Brock was happy, full of life, and just unable to wait what the next day held in store for him.

As they walked over into the backyard that once held a pool complete with a deck, Brock could almost smell hamburgers and hotdogs burning on the grill, which to their surprise was still there, rusted out due to it’s time battling the elements for the last sixteen years.

Brock could see the ghost of his younger self jumping into the pool with the warm and smiling faces of all of his relatives enjoying themselves just as much as Brock was having the time of his life, never wanting days like these to end. He loved these family gatherings back then and at the time if he had it his way, they would happen every single weekend, right here at Lenny’s. Brock saw the memories of Fourth of July parties of the past that he loved unfolding right in front of him, so vivid he felt he could just reach out, touch them, and relish in his awesome past. He could see the sky being lit up with fireworks. He could see he and Lenny (as well as a baby Jed) playing in the pool, which in present day was long gone and Brock could see the reflection of his current, miserable self in a large mud puddle located right where the pool used to be.

As he and Lenny climbed the old porch, which was now nothing more than weathered wood and chipped paint, though it was still very sturdy, Brock could see even more memories flooding back into him. During the evening hours when it was too dark to remain out in the pool any longer, he, Lenny, Maria, and a few others would play some of the old video games at the time, the VES, and the AVES along with all of the latest games. Then, Uncle James would cook seconds of everything on the grill and everyone would all get a second helping of whatever they desired. Yes, there was a time Brock Patrick was once a very family oriented individual and he loved every single second of it. In fact, he could have had it that way forever. If he could go back and fix his past, he would do it, but he knew (or thought) such an opportunity wasn’t possible and this is where I was called in to intervene on a new individual. It would take me four and a half years to find Brock Patrick. God says intervene and by using faith of believing in the unseen, I will find my destination.

But today, as he and Lenny headed back to the now dying party, was a different time. There was nothing else for Brock to look forward to as he turned into a geekish middle school kid who so wanted to fit in with Lenny’s crowd, but failed every single time he tried to do so. Brock became the target of many tormentors because he was a stereotypical “nice guy” in school and was unable to stand up or fight for himself. This type of behavior went all the way through high school while Brock evolved into a person who vowed he would one day get back at everyone who had misfortuned him. But that day never came, and Brock became nothing more than a cashier or a bagger at retail and grocery store outlets. He stopped caring about his own well being and he eventually accepted his self-proclaimed “loser” status while becoming more and more envious of those he deemed as “winners.” And that mindset led Brock to what he was today.

Brock began to further deteriorate and by the time he was thirty-five and at that Labor Day party, he looked as if he were forty-five or even fifty. His teeth were stained yellow with brown spots and the glasses he wore were square with a bridge over the top as Brock was off of his father’s health insurance and could only afford the cheapest pair of glasses his eye doctor offered. His stomach stuck out pretty far now and his shorter limbs looked bare of any muscle. He was already very oddly shaped and now oddly proportioned. His hair was graying at the sides and his skin looked red and very splotchy in some places. Even his fingernails looked awful. They were long and yellowing at the ends. He obviously stopped taking care of himself a while ago. In all honesty, he stopped caring about his appearance a good while back, despite the fact that Lucks took appearance very, very seriously.

Brock really stopped caring about life. He was probably clinically depressed, but never even went in to find out if that was the case. He was taking enough medications as it was and not a single one of his past ambitions never even came close to working out. He was just….there. It didn’t matter where he was, he was just a faceless man who was probably the prime example to a parent who told their young kid that they definitely didn’t want to be Brock when they were in their thirties and if they were, something was seriously wrong.

Meanwhile, Lenny and Jed were having kids and making their fortunes while Maria and K.J. were going international with their clothing line. Lonnie and Riley would soon be joining their successful cousins as well once they graduated with doctorate degrees in very secure fields.

Many of those Brock knew from high school had seen him over the years either at Lucks or at Victory Electronics. Some would ask him how life was and others would look at him in surprise and even in despair at his state. There were also a few like Dale who would ask him question after rhetorical question just to humiliate him.

Roberto Randle did this on a few occasions while Brock was bagging groceries for either him or his wife. Roberto still liked making Brock’s life miserable even as seemingly mature adults, such as the time Brock tripped over Randle’s outstretched leg while carrying groceries out for a customer and causing everything to tumble off of the cart. That took a while to clean up as well as a lengthy explanation to the irate store manager who threatened to fire Brock in front of the entire store (and Randle) if such an incident occurred again.

If Brock could go back and do it again he knew he would, and now he had that opportunity to do it right. To make everything the way it was supposed to be. What was he supposed to do? He didn’t know, but he knew one thing. He wouldn’t have this. He lived it once and that was tough and depressing enough and he knew he wouldn’t do it again. He was going to be given a second chance, and he knew God had a plan for him. Mindy was wrong, he wasn’t meant to bag groceries all his life. He was meant to be something else. Someone else.

And that’s where I came in. God told me to give this poor soul one more shot at life. Only God can break the laws of the universe and offer exceptions every now and then and Brock Patrick was a definite exception. Why? God never really told me why. He merely told me to trust Him and I have seen more than my fair share of miracles to believe God when He tells me to trust Him. So Brock was given and opportunity and oh my, did he become a different person! In fact, there’s no need to feel sorry for the man you just read about because he ceased to exist the second Brock walked into that auditorium to do what God planned for him to do. And now, it’s time to see exactly what Brock would become and how he did it.

“I’ve been getting really into this Comeback Kid book,” said Cain, as he and Marcos walked to their next class during a rather warm morning in the fall.

“Yeah, I think I’ve heard of it,” said Marcos. “Lira gave you a copy then?

“She gave me her entire passcode,” said Cain, shaking his head.

“You are a reader,” said Marcos. “And so am I.”

“Read this book, it’s very motivating,” said Cain. “Lira told me it would come in handy. A good deal of it has to do with health and fitness. Perhaps that’s why she wanted me to read it. Oh well, I’m paying it forward.”

“Gives me something to do in my spare time in favor of chasing women,” said Marcos.

“Yeah, dude, that would be good for you,” replied Cain, laughing.

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