New Era, New Life

I know my posting has been almost predominantly about my four-hundred and seventy page manuscript, Once, but today’s post is right back where it belongs, and that means it is all fitness related. Today I want to get right to the point and talk about why I haven’t been posting as much as I would have liked to over the past several months. To be honest, I actually was in the process of completing my final semester of school (BS, Wellness and Fitness, Magna Cum Laude), and during this time I was searching for new opportunity in the Land of Opportunity! Well, I was already a citizen of the United States to begin with, but I was located in the Ohio Valley where opportunity simply did not exist. For those of you who were reading Comeback Kid, the second half of the book posted just before this post, River Valley is actually based off of the Ohio Valley. For those of you who are not familiar with Comeback Kid, let me feel you in on the Ohio Valley. For those of you familiar with the area or have read my previous posts on my wordpress site, please feel free o skip the next paragraph in its entirety.

So, I hail from Steubenville, Ohio, and had spent a lot of my time in Weirton, West Virginia, as I was employed at a local fitness center in the area, which rocked, mind you. Steubenville was once a major port town, as it is located on the Ohio River and was relatively close to Pittsburgh. Later on, Steubenville, along with the entire viewing area including but not limited to, Mingo Junction, Toronto, Wellsville, East Liverpool, Weirton, Yorkville, Wheeling, Rayland, and several other small places dotted along the Ohio River became mill towns. Other towns, such as Smithfield, Hopedale, Irondale, Bloomingdale, and others, contained coal mines. Last, but certainly not least, were the farm towns of Richmond, East Springfield, many of the other towns mentioned above, as well as others, were predominantly farm towns, where fortunately to this day one can still walk in and buy local meats! To make this description somewhat shorter, the area itself was once booming with manufacturing and farming. There were many more manufacturing sectors dotted along this historic area, but steel, coal, and farming were the frontrunners. To make this description even shorter, everyone had a job. Sure, we were talking about something far from fitness, but everyone took their father’s place in the steel mill, coal mines, or farms after he retired. Or, in all honesty, father and son would work side by side with one another for years before dad retired. One woke up, worked their shift, unwound at the local bar, went home, went to sleep, and did it again. Life was good and everyone was set with a living.

Soon, however, multiple causes forced companies out. Due to the amount of political differences in America today, I’m not going to elaborate the causes, because every single reader will have their own opinion and approach on the subject. I, however, am just mentioning this very briefly in passing. Anyway, the steel industry collapsed and Weirton Steel, the primary employer for the entire region, was way beyond it’s prime. Today, much of the steel mill is abandoned, sitting on the land, rotting, crumbling, and rusting, while the ghosts of its rich past remain trapped within the decaying walls. The entire viewing area was hit hard, especially once many of the coal mines closed. I believe one still exists in Hopedale, but I’m unsure of the state it is currently in. There are a few more mills and mines left in the area, but for the most part, they’re finished. Downtown Steubenville, once a fine area for entertainment with a vibrant nightlife, now sits in ruins. Housing projects that are falling apart fill the run-down streets. Poverty runs amok downtown. The Fort Steuben Mall, a longtime employer for the city, lost K-Mart and Sears in 2016, and today Macy’s is also on its way out. Over half of the once proud location located in between Steubenville and nearby Wintersville is now empty, cages leading into the darkness of what used to be a multitude of stores. One wing of the Fort Steuben Mall is now completely empty, save for a U.S. Armed Forces recruiting office. The state of the Fort Steuben Mall is now in foreclosure, with a very bleak future. So bleak that a betting man would be more likely to bank on the Cleveland Browns winning Super Bowl LII than the Fort Steuben Mall ever regaining its once great prominence within the region.

The economically affluent have migrated to nearby Wintersville, Ohio, the last great town in the Ohio Valley, almost the Monte Walsh of the Old West. Yet Wintersville is small, with a population of fewer than 5,000. In Comeback Kid, I call this location Summersville. Businesses continue to thrive in Wintersville, and very few buildings sit abandoned within the city streets. The roads are clean, the residents are satisfied, and the small town looks forward to the future. In fact, I only know of one bad area in the entire town.

So here I am, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city that also took quite a blow when the steel industry shrunk. However, Pittsburgh has since rebounded into a tech town, attracting everyone, including its former population, back within the city limits. I’m finally taking that plunge with the money I had taken four years to save and am now in process of doing several things up here. Of course, I want to publish Once locally, and hope and pray it becomes a budding success. Comeback Kid has already been completed and is free to read on this site. It might take some searching for the episodes, but a simple google search should bring them all up. I’m also looking very forward to beginning my own show when it comes to fitness and personal training, and I have a lot of ideas that I can finally use some of the money I saved up to implement. Things will be happening quickly and once I get rolling (uh, today lol) the future looks very bright. I chose to move to Pittsburgh because many of my clients who still live in the Ohio Valley (yet work in Pittsburgh) are my primary networks, a few of which are still willing to work with me in the great Steel City! And I can now call a large metro area home, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was twelve. I’m now twenty-five, and my dreams are becoming a reality. The hardest part was the move, which took months of research, planning, hypothetical role playing, a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ saving money, finishing school, gaining as many credentials as possible, obtaining information which will include necessities for my businesses (insurance, legal documents, accountants, marketing teams, websites, etc).

If I have any advice for anyone else currently living in a viewing area of little opportunity, I’m going to give it now.

  • Save every single penny you earn: I know it’s tempting to order out. I know you want to go out with your dream girl (I did something smart and plastered one of my favorite female singers on my phone and computer background), perhaps buy that house, and start making full time money so you can spend on extravagance, but you were chosen by the goal. Wait, what was that? Is that a typo? Not at all! The goal chose you. You didn’t choose the goal. The goal chose you. The goal saw something in you that it wanted you to pursue. The goal is written in black and white in a very sacred book we Christians call the Bible. That goal that chose you is Jeremiah 23:11. If you aren’t familiar with it, read it. If you are secular, agnostic, or anything else, simply use this verse as motivation! So save every penny you earn and work towards you dream and not the dream today, but the dream you had since you were still in middle school!
  • Learn to be a loner: Yep, this is a tough one, but it’s very necessary. I know hanging out with your best friends is a cool thing and you want to fit in, but hear me out, what do you really want? If you have nothing in common with these other people who think your dream is laughable, then they aren’t your friends. They like you simply because you’re with them, following them, and mimicking what they do! You need to stop this right now. Remember the goal that chose you? You will be lead to the people the goal that chose you has already strategically placed in your path. Just trust the goal! Trust the goal, and all will be okay. You will be put at ease! This goal chose you for a reason! So you will often be alone and left to your own thoughts, but it’s okay! Like minded people, those with identical goals as you possess, will be coming for you! These are your true best friends because twenty years down the road you won’t be left to wonder what could have been had I pursued this goal, you will only wonder what would have happened had you not pursued! Remember that!
  • Expect late nights and early mornings: You are going to be up late working towards the goal that chose you and you will be up early in the morning working towards the goal that chose you. No other way about it. You had this goal that is calling upon you for a reason and for good reason. You may refuse the call initially but so did the hero in every single epic work ever created! Yet eventually you crossed that first threshold, did you not? Let’s use my own life for example: You have the Call, which is step one! You have refusal to the call as step two. So for me, step two was my fear of stepping out of my comfort zone when I had already built a perfectly fine comfort zone in Weirton. But eventually I grew dissatisfied with myself. I knew I could do better, but I had that first threshold blocking my path like a wall and standing there laughing at me! So what did I do? I proceeded to step three after months of planning! And I crossed that first threshold, which in my case, crossing that first threshold was the move to Pittsburgh. Now I’m at step four, which if I remember correctly is a trip into the unknown. For Harry Potter, this unknown was not knowing who he was or where he was going! Harry Potter didn’t know what lay ahead of him, but he knew that it was eventually going to be better than what he was leaving behind. The common denominator between Harry Potter, yourself, and I, is that we are dedicating ourselves to our plan of action on a nearly twenty-four hour, seven day a week basis in order to make things better for ourselves. Harry Potter went through this! Luke Skywalker went through this! You can name a thousand heroes who went through this! Are you getting it now?
  • Never look back: Sure, I go back home once a week, but that’s so I can save 50 cents per gallon in gasoline (thank you, Ohio), do my laundry for free, not have to go to coffee shops in order to use Wi-Fi (because I’m too cheap to buy it myself for the time being), and save money on electric, water, and sewage. However, once I find my Freedom Number, I will likely cut out going back home entirely. I know one thing, when I went back this weekend I couldn’t wait to get back up to Pittsburgh! So it’s a good start. But in time, I’m never looking back at anything save for the memories that were created between September, 2012, and January, 2017. I loved working in Weirton, but I knew better things were out there, and they are. Sure, I’m not where I want to be as of right now, but I’m where I need to be, making a small income while I build a dynasty I had dreamed of since I was in middle school. All I can say is, thank-you, God, for developing a goal that chose me. I won’t fail because I know what is in my path and although difficult, it’s going to be totally worth it in one day, and one day is very, very close.

 

Thank you all for your time and since I’ll have ample amounts of free time in order to embark on my own journey (which means I have virtually no free time at all), things can finally move at a rapid pace. I can only succeed. I will not fail. Thank you all, and my God guide you on your journey.

Comeback Kid: The Whole Version

85,000 words. Once is way longer.

My New Mission

Found among the papers of the destroyed home of Dr. Anton Slayman, a very prominent Professor of Elemental Science at Columbiana University, South Columbia, during the Second Columbian Revolution.

My name is Obie and I have a very important job that many would not particularly enjoy. For starters, I work for free and even in these modern times, I live in isolation from society. Secondly, I am bound to this Earth for eternity until I am called back to where I came from. Third, I have to continually follow certain individuals around and give them advice on life so they won’t repeat their own mistakes. Again, I don’t get paid to do this. I am merely volunteering and that’s it.

My job is to help people, but to help them in a different way. I am not a part of any charity organizations or churches. I also cannot help any more than one person at a time, as it would create way too much confusion among myself and others. See, I have to take this job one individual at a time and this takes a good part of ten to twenty years to complete. I am writing this entry because I am embarking on what looks to be a twenty-five year journey through a life of a man I have been called upon to help him fix his past and improve his future. Wish me luck.

My story starts in a city near the Atlantic Coast known as Fort City, South Carolina. The place has grown substantially in the past several decades and it is one of my favorite spots to unwind after taking on a long job. Today, I am anxious because I finished my job with one individual and I know my name will be called in due time to take on another challenge in a journey in the life of yet another individual.

I happened to be people watching in a public park when I noticed a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties walking towards the park bench at which I occupied. He appeared to be walking from the site of what looked to be a family gathering under a large shelter. The family must have rented the shelter out for the day for a family reunion because that’s the only time it’s ever that full. There had to be close to sixty people under it today.

The man looked somewhat agitated when he took a seat and with me being the curious individual that I am, I decided to spark up a conversation.

“What’s wrong, stranger?” I ask brightly.

“Just got a phone call from my boss,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Lost my second job this year and it’s only July.”

“Two in one year?” I ask, appalled. “What’s the big idea?”

“It’s one thing or another,” he said, staring off into the distance.

I stared off as well and nodded my head. I guess this is my new project then, I thought. I know it is because they always come to me and I never go to them. That’s how I know they’re sent to me. It makes my job easier but sometimes the selling point is not the easiest, so I decided to cut straight to the chase.

“How long has this been going on?” I asked.

“Well this is a new personal record,” he replied. “But I’ve probably been through ten jobs since high school! It’s outrageous. It’s like I can’t get anything right.”

This man was in luck today because I just very recently finished up with one of my toughest challenges yet. This one was a bad case and he had his ups but he certainly had his downs. Some people sent my way are easy and others are not. Some succeed and some fail. See, it’s my job to attempt to ensure these people avoid their pitfalls before they fall into them. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s very long, hard work.

“Let me tell you about someone who was in the same exact position that you were in,” I said. “Some of this story is very unbelievable but I can guarantee you it happened, because the individual I’m talking about likes to do a park workout here towards the evening hours. Will you still be here?”

“I have all day and half of the night,” he replied. “I may as well have some entertainment.”

“Good, because you are in for some awesome entertainment,” I assured. “Because I am going to talk about someone who went from worst to first. And it took a good twenty years to do just that.”

 

September 4th, 2026: Brock Patrick isn’t your average, ordinary individual. He is actually far from it. Brock is a thirty-five year old high school graduate who has barely held onto the lowest level jobs for the last nineteen years. He shifted between positions such as grocery store clerk at a store called Lucks in Summersville, West Virginia and a cashier at Victory Electronics in neighboring Muralville, West Virginia. Brock has worked these past fifteen years as a part-time employee. In addition, he received zero job benefits in this time and he still makes just above the new minimum wage of nine dollars and twenty-five cents per hour.

In essence, Brock has been miserable at life and and his typical daily cycle proves this. In any given day, Brock goes to work, returns home, and spends the rest of the day playing the latest popular video games, goes to sleep, and repeats. If he isn’t scheduled to work that day, he’s either surfing the internet, playing video games, or simply lazing around the house, making zero contribution. To put the icing on the cake, he still lives at home with his parents, Jay and Ana.

Brock loves to place the blame of his situation on his parents and various others. He likes to say they helped his younger brother, Jed Patrick, with school, sports, and work. As for all of the other people on the planet who have what they want, Brock will say they all had help getting to their destination while he had zero help whatsoever and that not a single soul believed in Brock since he started middle school all the way back in 2001. As a result, Brock has become one to hate and despise those satisfied with their life and anyone associated with success and happiness.

Being the family slacker, Brock is  constantly confronted by Jay for this lifestyle habits. Deep down, Brock knows his father has a point, yet as mentioned earlier Brock considers himself to be a victim in life who was never given an opportunity by anyone or anything. So, about ten years ago, at age twenty-five, Brock decided to throw in the towel and accepted this pitiful life and ultra low social status. He came to the harsh realization that he would never, ever be anything but an insignificant loser dwelling in mom and dad’s basement. Brock thought if being a nobody is what people wanted him to become, then he was going to become one and blame all of society for it. Brock claimed to take no responsibility for his life and if it weren’t for the actions of others, he would be living a much different life today.

Since Brock has zero ambition these days, his favorite hobby is playing video games on his days off at noon, when he usually wakes up. He will mob his father’s television set (to Jay’s very vocal dismay) in the basement well into the early morning hours, sometimes until six o’clock the next morning. Brock will go to sleep for an hour and a half before dragging himself out of bed thirty minutes before he starts work at eight in the morning and remains there sometime between noon and four, or whatever his work schedule dictates. Often, he just makes it there just in time to dash into the store and clock in right before the clock on the wall reads eight zero one. Other times, he’s a minute or so late which often results in a visit to the store manager’s office after this happens a few consecutive times, and it’s usually bound to happen at least once per week.

As previously mentioned, Brock knows he’s the bottom dweller in the entire family and by family, I mean both his immediate and extended family with whom Brock has a self-imposed serious problem. While Jay has been a successful car salesman who annually earned six figures after his forty-fifth birthday and Ana supplemented that income with an additional forty grand as a department store supervisor. Yet Brock’s anger and bitterness really stems towards his extended family, especially his brother and relatives who are around his own age, give or take a few years. Each and every one is living in an area other than River Valley, the name of the area Brock and his family currently live where major opportunity has been scarce since the decline of the steel industry decades ago. Every single one of them are either bringing in some serious cash or on their way to doing so while Brock dwells in the basement, watching the game from the sidelines.

Brock’s thirty year old brother, Jed, works as an exercise physiologist in South Carolina where he makes a very nice annual income judging from the pictures of his larger than life house complete with a double garage. Jed routinely sends pictures to Jay, who proceeds to proudly show them off to anyone who will take the time to listen. Oh, they’re all so proud of Jed, sulks Brock in his miserable thoughts. If one asked Brock about Jed, Brock would answer with “It wasn’t even him! Unlike me he had help from mom and dad at any given turn!” All it does is make Brock feel even more anger and hate. Jed also has a family who live quite comfortably consisting two very young kids, aged one and three and a very beautiful wife named Andrea. Jed is currently finishing his master’s degree in Kinesiology and aspires to become a boss one day in his position and at that level he will consistently pull in well over one-hundred thousand, a lot like Jay but about a decade earlier in his life.

Brock’s once favorite cousin is Lenny. Lenny is four months younger than Brock so of course they grew up together and as kids, constantly competing against one another from one on one basketball to academics to anything and everything under the sun. Even in their younger days, Lenny was the successful one, soundly beating Brock at everything. Lenny was the better athlete, the better student, the more popular student, the role model to others, and he was either at the top or near the top of everything he did. Surprisingly, and much to Brock’s annoyance, Lenny didn’t even look as if he were trying to accomplish anything. Things simply worked out for him. In everything Lenny attempted he was good at. Hypothetically, it didn’t matter if the person across from Lenny had twenty more years of experience than he did in a game like chess, baseball, or poker. Lenny was going to beat them. Some way, some how, Lenny was just going to win. Everything just came naturally to the guy. Lenny is now the CEO of Victory Electronics, working at their headquarters in Annapolis, Pennsylvania, where he and his family are living very large. Lenny has two kids, aged six and eight. Like their father, each appear to get a quick grasp on anything they do. They are both at the top of their classes, much like Lenny. They also excel at every single sport they participate. These two kids are far and away the crown jewel in the eyes of everyone, much like Lenny back in the day. Lenny is married to girl named Belinda, who routinely thinks of Brock as some heinous criminal who should be locked up behind bars somewhere. She never enjoys the fact her kids have to be around someone of his nature and only tolerates Brock because Brock is a relative of Lenny’s.

As for the rest, Brock’s older cousins Maria and K.J. are living in Fort City, South Carolina, heading up a very successful alternative clothing line. Both are multi-millionaires and are currently looking into expanding their line overseas, going international. As for Brock’s two younger cousins, Riley is living in New Mexico and working on getting an advanced degree while Lonnie is living in North Carolina, also working on his postgraduate studies. In all, Brock is the only one in the generation of his family who failed to earn a college degree.

Once upon a time in his disgruntled life, Brock actually wanted to succeed badly and he constantly dreamed of doing so but he was continually discouraged by a multitude of obstacles that he usually brought on himself. For starters, he was never exceptionally good at anything. His overall grades were never at honor roll level or even close for that matter, and he was never accepted into any college or university except Thomas Community College, mainly because embraced an open door policy. He dropped out after only one semester because he could did not find the work to be conducive to his unseen ambitions. As of what these ambitions were, no one ever knew. It’s safe to say Brock was very self entitled at a young age and if he thought work needed to be put in so he would gain recognition, it wasn’t the field for him.

So Brock bounced around from job to job in his late teens, and early twenties strictly to remain under Jay’s roof. First, he worked at the local Quick Burger, where he worked grill, filled up the various milkshake and pop (those on the north panhandle of West Virginia refer to soda as ‘pop’) dispensers, prepared the fries, breaded chicken, and washed the dishes among other activities. Brock hated the place so he walked out after a few months, narcissistically thinking of himself to be way above that of a low paid Quick Burger employee. Someone should have told him then that he was too brash to believe he had any right to think in such a way. Months later, Brock landed at Lucks Foods in Summersville. While at Lucks he was a bagger. He started out making seven dollars and sixty-five cents per hour, working twenty hours per week on average. Again, a job he felt was way under him.

Despite believing his was above his job positions, Brock wasn’t a great worker. In fact, he was one of the least productive employees in the entire store. He bagged groceries at his own chosen pace and carried them out to the customer’s vehicle, again at a speed he deemed appropriate, which was much slower than what management preferred. He very rarely spoke to the customer because most of the time there was nothing to talk to them about or if he opened his mouth he figured he would accuse the customer of thinking they felt he or she were above him for being a bagger. On the contrary, Brock actually felt he was far above this customer, and he would make a leap far above them in terms of social status soon enough. Brock figured at that point he would be the one laughing.

Much like he is to his own family, Brock preferred being rather anti-social to most. Brock kept his head down as he went about his work, rarely speaking to or looking at anyone and he became known to many as the “weird guy who didn’t say much.” His mind was always at home on his video games and he looked forward to spending quality time with himself and his online colleagues in their online gaming world. Brock also felt he was better than all of these people he worked with, although the sad truth is he was constantly outperformed at even the simplest job task, such as sweeping the front area by the registers. Sometimes, he would be called out to work in the grocery, dairy, or frozen sections if there was a call-off, but he mainly allowed his phone to ring since he was busy with what he believed were more important issues than going into work in the place of someone else. He routinely believed he shouldn’t be subject to management on his day off. They weren’t his boss unless he was in that store and in uniform, so he wasn’t about to go in and be subject to the rule of someone else for a few short hours.

On most days Brock was always stuck at the front, making his low wage and would receive a raise about once a year during his three month evaluations and that wasn’t a good thing. Usually, management found something wrong in Brock’s work so many times he did not receive a raise. In fact, he had to make improvements in his unsatisfactory areas or he would face termination of employment. During these times, Brock would do just  good enough of a job in his needs improvement areas to avoid being terminated. This would force management to keep him, or so he thought because at age twenty-four there came a time where Brock went three consecutive ninety day evaluations where he was unable to improve his weak areas despite the slightly more effort he claimed to put in. This time, there was a new management team in place. They were in the process of cleaning house and Brock, along with a few others who had been at the store for a few years were suddenly out of work. Brock blamed capitalistic greed, just like the others who had been, in their minds, wrongfully terminated.

After revealing the news to his parents and receiving an earful from Jay that evening once again about his lack of ambition in life and of how well his cousin Lenny was doing in Forest City at the moment managing an entire store at Victory Electronics. Ana had an idea and she called Lenny. Brock was convinced Ana was trying to embarrass him further but a few moments later she revealed Lenny would be able to secure Brock a job interview at the local Victory Electronics in Muralville. Now Brock really believed Lenny was going to do his best to embarrass him. Nevertheless, Brock started work there, still feeling the job was beneath him and his true calling in life was to stomp on those he felt stomped on him and consistently put him over in favor of others. But soon after he started to realize just how wrong he was and proceeded to accept his fate as a bottom of the barrel citizen.

A few years had gone by and Brock, now twenty-nine and still working the front at Victory Electronics saw on the news board that none other than Lenny himself was returning close to the area to take over as CEO at Victory Electronics headquarters in Annapolis, Pennsylvania. With that, Lenny decided to visit the store with another former classmate of theirs named Dale Detmer and his fitness loving European girlfriend. With this, both Dale and Lenny proudly announced a deal with a workout distributor Dale worked for. Under Lenny’s leadership and at the constant urging of Dale, the well known electronics chain was now issuing a mandate that all employees of Victory Electronics pass health fitness screenings. At this, Brock decided it was time to plea at Lucks for his old job. For the first time in his life, he actually succeeded at something, convincing Lucks management to hire him back although he did have to start all the way back at the bottom again, which wasn’t any lower than Brock’s position during his first whirl at Lucks.

Brock was re-hired at Lucks and he was almost as poor of a worker now that he was during his previous run, simply going through the motions once again with no desire to move up in the company because he now thought it didn’t matter whether he tried or not and that he was destined to do this forever while watching others succeed around him. His wage was also at rock bottom once again at the new minimum. These days, a new kid almost thirteen years Brock’s junior would surpass him in everything from recognition, to earnings, to opportunities. Everytime this happened, it would burn Brock up. Oftentimes, he attempted to come up with reasons why these people are successful while he wasn’t. Brock’s reasons were far out, as if the parents of these kids were good friends with Lucks management or had connections he didn’t have. Other reasons according to Brock were because these people happened to be more vocal than the often introverted Brock and yet another bizarre reason was because they mooched off of the work Brock did and took credit for it, all of which were false claims.

So there he was, still at the bottom of the rung, getting passed up by nearly every single individual he crossed paths with. The saddest part of the story is that most of these kids were starting grade school when he got the job the first time around at age nineteen. Yep, Brock was destined for the sidelines, watching others step in front and walk all over him while he played the role of grunt since it was supposedly what he was meant to do and was expected to do this with pride.

 

Today was Labor Day in the year 2026, and it felt like that typical early September one would fell a small chill in the air and pristine optimism about the upcoming football season. Fall was going to come early this year. The sun was out, but the days were noticeably shorter and the cooler air was making its trip back to River Valley once more while the leaves were just beginning to change to their fall colors of red, yellow, and brown.

Brock managed to get to work two minutes before he had to clock in, as his twenty-seven year old Cavalier had a very tough time getting started this morning. Brock was to work from nine in the morning to two in the afternoon. Not a bad shift, and then it was to Uncle Ben’s for the annual Labor Day cookout and get together. Brock always traveled with his parents to the party, each year being a repeat of the previous.

Now thirty-five, Brock had not looked forward to this party or any family function over the past ten years. Like at work, it appeared that everyone else was continually getting ahead of him in life. To make matters worse, he was about as important as a coat rack to most of his family these days. Brock’s living situation was now common knowledge to everyone in 2026. He was in the same line of work, driving the same car, and making almost the same amount of money. Only the year was different.

As a party ritual, Brock, his aunts, uncles, brother, cousins, and aging grandparents would take their turns in Uncle Ben’s kitchen or back porch eating anything and everything he and his wife Aunt Tia had to offer. During these times the entire family would catch up and discuss all of the new accomplishments they achieved thus far during the year. These days, not only was it Brock’s brother and close relatives getting the attention, but in 2026, the new additions to the family received a lot of love as well as if the entire world had to know how much more advanced they were than the rest of the children in America’s society. Or at least that would be how Brock described these types of conversations in which he typically sat and had to listen in on.

So there sat Brock, a look on his face that told anyone in the vicinity that he did not want to be there. In fact, the second he walked in he tried to look as angry as he possibly could. His face looked rather aged mainly due to his unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle. His face still contained blemishes while his teeth were yellowing at an alarmingly fast rate. On his face he wore a large set of glasses, complete with a bridge over the top of the frames. He was also very thin in the chest, arms, and legs although his stomach stuck out to a large extent. He stood no taller than five feet, four inches and his weight had to be roughly one hundred and forty pounds. He also possessed a very poor posture, usually hunching over rather than standing upright while he slouched in his chair rather than sit properly. To his right sat Lenny and Belinda. It was safe to say that Brock was not very happy with the seating arrangements.

Lenny and Belinda were usually the center of attention, being boasted on by Lenny’s parents who always took the opportunity at every little family gathering to provide updates about this “overachieving dream couple” as Brock liked to call them. It was one hundred times worse when the two were actually in attendance. Brock thought they may as well be offered thrones since they were such a high priority to just about everyone. It evolved over the years from what Lenny and Belinda had done to what their children were now doing. It appeared each of them had won some type of award at least twice during the year, and it was only September! Lenny, being the CEO of Victory Electronics, received a huge bonus for making several deals with other large and well known companies and he also made one with pro football’s Steel City United. He went on and on how he was “in” with several of the players and player’s families these days and how his kids had become very good friends with the children of former United running back Glenn Bell and linebacker Ryan Slayes. Brock was informed by his father that Lenny’s oldest kid, Stanley, played quarterback on the same pop warner football team as Bell’s son, who happened to be the running back. The two were supposedly the best one-two combo in the league and this year they looked to win the championship.

Brock felt Lenny was a bully who would just whine about how he wanted things done at work and forced his inferiors to do much more than what they were hired to do. Negotiating with others, making deals, and making sound business decisions to Brock meant that Lenny was just abusing his power as CEO of Victory Electronics and inflating his own six figure salary and prestige at the expense of others.

Jed and his upstart family walked in about fifteen minutes after Brock and his parents walked in with his two young kids and wife of three years, Andrea. A few minutes later, Brock was now seated at the round kitchen table in between Jed, Andrea, Lenny, and Belinda while the four of them spoke over Brock in a little clique while he did his best to zone them out of his already more than annoyed mind. A conversation such as this would certainly boil his temper in this environment. Sadly, their aunts and uncles could not resist but keep up with Jed and Andrea’s grand life in South Carolina.

“So, how has life treated you, Jed?” asked Lenny’s mother, Maya, taking  seat next to Lenny.

“Oh, you know, working hard and taking care of these two,” answered Jed, bouncing his three year old daughter, Leah, on his knee while Andrea held their one year old son, Trey. “It’s been a blast. I’m in consideration for that big promotion and if I get that, we can afford that beach house I have been talking to dad about for the past five years. That will be a milestone. I’ll have to have you and Uncle James come down to see it. I’ll get the entire family to come down and we’ll all spend a weekend together on the coast.”

“That would be great!” said Lenny’s father, James, with loud such excitement from behind Aunt Maya that the entire kitchen turned their attention to him. “I tell you, Jed, you are going to go far in that field. You know I mean it when I’m telling you the work you and Lenny have put into your crafts have exceeded our wildest expectations. You guys stuck with it and are doing very, very well. Jed, allow me to let you in on something. Lenny has gone very far and you’re going to do the same. I can see it now. Your path will lead you further than you will ever imagine. That was a reality for Lenny and, Jed, it’s going to be a reality for you.”

At that moment Brock’s two youngest cousins walked in. There was Lonnie standing there with his girlfriend of five years, Savannah. Both Lonnie and Savannah were going to graduate school for Computer Engineering. Brock always boiled with fury whenever Lonnie would bring Savannah around. Brock never had a girlfriend in his thirty-five years of existence but if he had to build a girl from scratch, Savannah would be the result. She had perhaps the greatest look of any young girl he had seen. She possessed pale skin, a very athletic physique, and straight black hair. She was also a former Division I college track athlete who Lonnie had met a few years ago while attending Zip University and participating in track. The two started dating and would probably marry in due time, presumably when they were first finished with school.

Then there was Riley, who was on his way to a graduate degree in Physics. Riley hailed from Utah and was also a former Division I athlete himself. While Savannah found her niche in track, Riley played soccer and was one of the best players in the nation a few years back, leading Steven Joseph University to a playoff berth and a run all the way to the semi-finals.

“How’s school, you two?” asked Brock’s eighty-four year old grandmother.

“Been great,” said Lonnie, playfully bumping Savannah with a rather muscular arm while Brock shook with fury, shooting a glare under his large glasses at Lonnie who took no notice of him. “I’m currently working with a team on a research project that we will present to the head of our department as part of a final due at the end of the spring semester in which I will graduate and receive multiple letters of recommendations to a diverse selection of jobs.”

“My response would echo Lonnie’s,” said Riley importantly. “I’m currently looking to get into S.P.A.W.N. It’s one of the newer companies out there but there’s potential. I like my chances a lot.”

Brock was gazing in on the scene in a view far outside himself. He looked around the room while Riley was talking and noticed his grandmother leaning heavily on the counter, looking rather frail in her old age. Seemingly from a distance he saw Riley, Savannah, and Lonnie standing in front of the cabinets while Brock’s mother came inside from a portion of the party conversing on the back porch.

“Brock, let your grandmother sit down,” snapped her stern voice from behind him. “Why on Earth would you keep yourself in that seat when she obviously looks very tired?”

Typically Ana was the more caring and sympathetic one to Brock’s life of misery and living situation but her demeanor tended to change when there were people around. At these times her strict side would flare up like an inferno. One of the main reasons why Brock hated seeing the whole family was because he never managed to do anything right in front of Ana and she nearly always found a reason to be hard on him such as right now when he was merely sitting in the middle seat at the long kitchen table, doing nothing wrong except for picturing himself throwing the table aside and throwing a vicious punch in Lonnie’s face.

Brock turned and looked directly his mother, who was frozen in the doorway, glaring right at him.

“What?” asked Brock, taken aback at her remark.

“Get out of that chair and let your grandmother sit down,” said his mother, a little more harshly, the room’s attention now dawning on the situation at hand. His mother was an overly dramatic person and this trait was showing now as she seemingly escalated such a minor situation. To be honest, it wasn’t horribly long ago when a rather serious incident involving Brock at a Christmas party unfolded and it may be in the best interest of everyone in the room that a situation like that not happen again.

“She’s eighty-four and you know she can’t be on her feet for too long. You let her sit down. Now. Right now!” she snapped, her voice starting to rise.

Brock looked around, face reddening in embarrassment as had been the norm at parties for the past twenty plus years. Literally everyone went quiet and had their eyes on him now. Jed, Andrea, Belinda, Lenny, Riley, Lonnie, Savannah, and everyone else in the kitchen were now studying him with deep observance as if he were some freak sideshow. Silently, and keeping his mother in his direct line of sight, Brock slowly got up out of his chair and walked solemnly over to the counter, leaning up against it carelessly and folded his arms, pouting. He didn’t take his eyes off of his mother this entire time as he continued to glare at her from his new base.

“Cut the attitude,” said his mother sharply in front of the entire kitchen, taking a few steps toward Brock as everyone else continued to look on the scene unfolding in front of them.

Brock turned away, facing the refrigerator, where no one was standing. “Do you really need to act like this in front of everyone?” he whispered, doing his best to keep this conversation private. He felt the eyes of everyone on him. Even his younger cousin Stanley looked on with curiosity with a little bit of a smirk on his face as if he knew his dork of a cousin was in big trouble.

“You know better than to make your grandparents stand for too long,” she said, her voice unfortunately carrying to the others who were seated, where they maintained their interest on the scene unfolding in front of them. “They are both in their eighties and yet you think you’re the one entitled to a seat? Well you better think again!”

“What did he do now?” came the drawling voice of his dad.

Brock looked and saw Jay striding up behind Ana as if he had known something was going on in the kitchen that involved his son. Brock was now doing his best to wake up from this horrible nightmare. Unfortunately for Brock, it was no nightmare.

“He thinks he needs to hog chairs when his eighty-four year old grandmother has nowhere to sit,” his mother relayed to his dad, her voice very well within earshot of the still silent kitchen. Now others squeezed their way into the vicinity out of curiosity to find the source of commotion. Apparently his mother’s voice carried beyond the kitchen and into the living room and the back porch.

“Mom, it’s only one seat and-” Brock attempted to explain a little loudly as if he were trying to justify his position with the entire kitchen, but his father interjected.

“Don’t talk back to your mother,” he said loudly, pointing a threatening finger right in the center Brock’s face. “You want another showdown right here? Because I’ll hand one to you right now and show you how tough you are in front of everyone and don’t think I won’t! Maybe you ought to remember what happened last time, kiddo, because I can guarantee you I will not be so easy on you this time around, tough guy.”

“So, what time is the dessert coming out?” asked Riley’s dad, tall, thick, and balding Uncle Sev, who was seated at the end of the table. Uncle Sev looked as if he were attempting to ease up the tension but it didn’t do much good for Brock. “Anyone know? I’m ready when everyone else is. It should be about that time, shouldn’t it, Grandma Sadie?”

“Guys, I’m thirty-five,” Brock pleaded, still trying to keep his voice low.

“Then act like it,” said Jay even more loudly, drowning out his grandmother’s reply to Uncle Sev.

Brock drew a breath. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” he said. “Can we please just let this pass?”

“Start acting your age,” said Jay, walking over to the other side of the kitchen and grabbing a beer from one of the coolers before making his way back into the living room as his mother swept back outside to gossip. “And learn how to show respect to other people. If you’re a mature thirty-five year old you should have figured out how to treat others by now.”

Brock looked around. All eyes were still on him, except for Uncle Sev who was still talking about the desserts, now doing so in a very loud and obnoxious tone.

“Yep, I hope we have some awesome stuff,” he yelled, looking wildly at everyone else who were still gazing at Brock and his parents. “What do you think, Lenny? More good stuff, right? Yep! Yes sir, yes sir!”

No matter how badly Uncle Sev tried to lighten the tense mood it wasn’t working. Brock took one more look around at the faces in the kitchen and then impulsively decided to tear through the party. He bolted in a beeline from the kitchen to the porch, accidentally stepping on someone or something but not stopping to see who it was as they groaned in pain while his dad yelled from behind him to apologize to whomever he just tripped over. This just catapulted him to run faster. He made his way to the door and tore off into the the cool, clear evening of the dying summer.

 

 

The Meeting

Uncle Ben always had the best decorated house in all of Milltown. In the winter, it was lit with a Christmas scene unlike any other, with Santa and his reindeer, a large, inflatable snowman and Christmas tree and many different ornaments. It sure was a sight to see. Brock would usually take time to look at the current fall decorations depicting many Halloween characters with orange lighting, but right now he just wanted time to himself, so he ran all the way to the street corner.

He pulled out a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes and lit one of them up with his lighter. He walked down the brightly lit block as he smoked and once he was finished with one, he started on another. Other than his mother, Brock was also the only one out of all of his family, that being his immediate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who happened to smoke. He smoked at least one half pack of cigarettes per day. He liked Pall Mall, but could also go for Malboro. His two favorite pastimes were smoking and video games, both of which he was rather good at and smoking was the one thing at which he could top Lenny, who would never touch a cigarette.

Yep, Brock’s lifestyle as well as his personal style of dress were probably better off being compared to the so-called everyman of another time period. He liked to smoke, eat foods that were very unhealthy, such as fast food, boxed food, ice cream, pastries, cakes, and whatever else he could afford that week without breaking his meager budget. It was cheap and Brock was always on a very small budget. As for his clothes, they were nothing more than faded straight legged jeans usually with some kind of overlarge t-shirt or sweatshirt, depending on the time of year.

Contrast Brock’s lifestyle from Jed who took rather good care of himself, as did Andrea. When Jed was twenty, he started getting more and more health conscious and broke into a rather serious fitness regimen. Jed wasn’t crazy into it, but he went at it enough to at least look like he hit the gym five to six days per week while he ate somewhat healthy and boasted a rather defined, muscular body. Andrea was the same way, except she and Jed could not have had different frames. Whereas Jed had a naturally larger build, Andrea was short and petite, a good six inches shorter than Jed and eighty pounds lighter. Much like Belinda, she had a disdain for Brock from day one, also possessing a very low opinion of him and would probably not want her kids to be around Brock too often since she too would be scared that they would follow his ways. At least they would be in South Carolina on a beach somewhere while Brock was stuck up in River Valley pushing carts.

Brock thought back to the day Jed first brought Andrea around. It was the Fourth of July, 2021. Brock was twenty-nine and Jed was twenty-five. She was Jed’s first known girlfriend and he revealed that day they had been seeing each other since March. She took kindly to everyone else in attendance, but she barely even took notice of Brock. Jed mentioned Brock’s name in passing and Brock merely glanced up and back down, saying nothing until his mother forced some kind of interaction against Brock’s will. Perhaps it was Brock’s less than warm welcome that turned her off. Or maybe Jed had told her about his brother’s lack of ambition, very dull personality, and outright laziness along with his victim of life mentality. Despite her disgusted attitude toward her brother-in-law, either no one in the family paid attention to this or they simply acted as if it were not a problem. And Brock’s parents surely took no notice of it whatsoever and that meant Brock would have to fend for himself in this avenue as well.

The grudge that Belinda held against Brock really created a strain on the ever so declining relationship between Brock and Lenny, who had once been Brock’s best friend despite their differences throughout the years in cliques, styles, and success. However, when Lenny really making a name for himself at Victory, he and Brock began to grow very, very distant. Brock felt Lenny left him in the dust and Jed soon followed. It was sad, really, how Lenny and Jed became their own dynamic duo in a sense while Brock was shunted somewhere behind them.

Brock strode over to the mill row, a line of old apartments the steel mill workers of the past once lived and also the neighborhoods Milltown was named after. It was getting even cooler out, and as Brock checked the time on his phone, he noted that the current temperature read sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit. Cool, even for this time of the year. That was when Brock first spotted me, standing right there, enjoying the beautiful scene of the reddening trees on the foothills that surrounded Milltown. It looked like a classic fall scene that I always felt God wasn’t too fond of due to the old pagan rhetoric it implied yet I always found to be amazing and breathtaking. It just goes to show only God has the ability to master the art of perfection, and he does so very well. If I could only be half the individual He is, then I will be okay with that.

Brock stopped dead in his tracks as if he thought I was some kind of criminal getting ready to make Brock my next victim but due to my Sherlock Holme’s kind of attire, I couldn’t have been too threatening at the moment. I beckoned him forward with a vigorous wave of my hand. Brock looked around and hesitated for a few seconds before very cautiously approaching me.

“Hello, son,” I said, greeting him enthusiastically.

“Hello,” he said in an uncertain voice, still looking around wildly as if mapping out a possible escape route.

“What’s your name?” I asked him, already knowing the answer to this question.

“Brock Patrick,” he replied.

“You don’t say much, do you, Brock Patrick,” I said lightly, trying to break the awkwardness in him.

“Uh,” said Brock, looking at me uneasily.

“Don’t worry, boy, I’m not a mugger!” I said kindly. “Tell me about yourself.”

Brock spent the next fifteen minutes telling me about who he was, why he was walking the streets at this time of night, and what was going on inside his Uncle Ben’s house.

“I just had to, you know, get out of there for a bit,” he said, checking his phone again. “But it’s getting late, I should really get going.”

He turned to walk away but I called him back.

“Brock, wait!” I yelled, catching up to him, realizing it was he God wished for me to work with. Why God likes to do things by vaguely hinting me without telling me is something I’ll never know but as creator of billions of galaxies and seventeen dimensions, I can see why He doesn’t have much time to talk since His favorite hobby after saving souls is continually expanding His ninety billion light year creation.

Brock turned around quickly. “What?” he called back.

“Brock, what if I told you I have something to give you?” I asked.

“What’s that, an early Christmas present?” he asked, crossing his arms and looking tentative.

“In a manner of speaking. What do you want more than anything?” I asked. “Trust me, I can make the unthinkable happen for you.”

“What do I want more than anything?” he asked, astounded. “What are you, some kind of magician?

“No,” I assured him, laughing a little at that accusation. “Just tell me and I will make sure you get it.”

“Oh I don’t know, what about a second chance at life,” he said sarcastically. “I obviously blew this life out of the water. Why can’t I just start over? I must’ve messed up somewhere between middle school and tonight. But hey, what are the odds of that ever happening?”

“What if I told you that you could start over?” I asked, putting him on the spot.

“Start over?” he inquired, shaking his head quickly. “What are you talking about? I wasn’t being serious, you know?”

“Why not start over?” I asked. “Where do you think you went wrong with life?”

“Where do I think I went wrong?” he retorted, his voice rising dramatically as he lit another cigarette. “Wow, I don’t know, maybe at every little turn in my worthless life! Anything I’ve ever done must have been wrong. I was never anything. Always a nobody. I was always that guy who finished last or close to last in everything. I never stood out or impressed anyone. I’m thirty-five and I’ve never even had a single girlfriend. My brother is married and very successful as is my favorite cousin. Well, not so favorite now, but you get my gist.”

“Why do you think you’re worthless?” I asked in a calm voice.

“Let me see, I make less money than anyone I know, I have a car that’s almost as old as I am, I live in my parent’s basement, I don’t do anything but lay around and play games all day and night, and I have no friends to hang out with! Do you need to know more?” he ranted, throwing his arms up.

“That’s sad,” I said, nodding. “Because if you allow yourself to do it all over, you might be able to change your past a bit.”

“You’re crazy, that’s impossible,” said Brock, turning away a second time.

“Nothing’s impossible,” I replied. “Just sleep on it, we all deserve a mind blowing gift. Of course, it may never be guaranteed money or personal material will make you happy. Even if you have those, you will need something else that will.”

“A good looking girlfriend or wife?” he inquired. “Or a real career?”

I shook my head.

“You, Brock, actually have a very bright mind that will understand exactly what I am talking about,” I replied. “Just do something for me tonight and believe you can move mountains.”

Brock gave me a look and started walking back to where he came from, finishing his third cigarette in a span of twenty minutes. It was nearing ten by now and in about an hour or so he and his parents to go home, sleep, and celebrate Labor Day in a few hours. Well, they would be celebrating, Brock would be punching the timeclock at 8:00 in the morning. It was another year, one with events, one with a few different people, but the same sorry Brock still lingered.

As Brock strode back he thought harder and harder about how miserable he really was. He was thirty-five years old and still lived at home, but that was the least of the problems. His parents still treated him like a pesky child every time he was forced to go to these stupid parties with them. It was actually worse when they had people at the house, where he had no escape unless he happened to be working. It was during these times he tried like none other to get work hours so he didn’t have to deal with his grandparents and other family. Since all of his immediate cousins were elsewhere, he was very often the only one his age in attendance. To make matters worse, aunts and uncles were giving his parents frequent updates on what the others were doing these days and how each and every one of them were doing so very well in their chosen line of work. Brock’s parents would then boast on how well Jed was doing in South Carolina and how proud they were of him. Usually Brock did his best to isolate himself from these conversations, because they only upset him, especially when he was asked how his shameful occupation was going. Yet his mother, overly strict as usual in these settings insisted that he’d be social and stay around people so he had no choice but to stick it out and be miserable for three to six long hours.

He had no one else, which was even more depressing. Jed and Lenny were his two companions during his childhood but they were both grown up and doing their own thing these days and it was only Brock who lived in the past. He never had a girlfriend in his life, and was sure he had set a world record to be single for thirty-five years. What did he have to offer? Nothing but pain and misery, just like everyone he worked with, complaining about being a victim of life and that they would never, ever move up at Lucks as long as the place was in operation. Okay, so maybe a girl in his league would be one of the deli girls who had been there for a substantial time, such as Mindy.

Mindy was a short, squat thirty-one year old who had taken a liking to Brock since she started at Lucks a few years ago. She was much like him. She still lived at home with mom and dad, made about nine dollars an hour working twenty-five to thirty hour weeks, was an avid gamer and loved every second of it. Brock did talk to her during breaks quite frequently and the two would exchange texts to update each other on their online journeys. Despite this, Brock could not bear to bring a girl like this home, especially if Jed or Lenny were in town with their families. Mindy did not come even close to Andrea or Belinda in anything and all Mindy would do is reinforce Brock’s embarrassment in front of everyone. And worse yet, she would probably reinforce this in a proud manner. Speaking of comparisons, comparing Mindy to Savannah was no different than comparing a Yugo to a Porsche, at least in the eyes of society.

He did own a car, but he bought it about thirteen years ago and today the car had over two hundred thousand miles on it. It routinely broke down and there were more than a few instances where Brock either forgot to change the oil or had simply blown it off, which resulted in a long lecture from Jay every time it happened. Not just that, repairs would often cost Brock a solid paycheck.

Brock finally made it back to Uncle Ben’s, somehow even angrier now than he was when he started this little walk to relieve his stress. If someone said the wrong thing to him, he’d wreck this party just like he did the Christmas party few years back and spoil this year’s upcoming Christmas spirit for everyone. At least he would have succeeded in something.

“Did you cool off, Brock?” asked his grandmother, now sitting down with a few distant relatives on the porch’s couch as he re-entered.

“Mmm-hmm,” he replied dully without looking at anyone, trying to weave his way through the thirty plus relatives that were now outside. He felt their stares on his back and he just wanted to get back to the kitchen, which appeared to be rather empty.

It looked as if the entire party was now outside, including his parents. But he had little time to dwell on this issue as Ana started on him once again.

“Where did you go?” she demanded loudly in front of the party. “Got angry at me in front of everyone again, didn’t you?” she added in a smart tone.

It was so ironic how she usually played the role of sympathizer unless people happened to be around. Whatever happened to her in these situations was anyone’s guess. Perhaps it was the sheer embarrassment of having a loser for a son in front of a family of happy people. All of whom had made a name for themselves in their chosen field?

“Well, I-I, just went for a walk,” he stammered, head down, trying not to look at anyone else.

“Brock, you’ve been smoking, haven’t you,” interrupted Riley loudly, seated in a chair on the left side of his mother. “I smell smoke on you. I can’t believe you engage in such a habit. Didn’t my reports wake you up?”

“Yeah, you will only see your health worsen, Brett,” said Savannah knowledgeably beside Lonnie, who nodded feverishly at Brock.

“Yeah, Brock, it’s terrible for you,” agreed Lonnie, without telling Savannah she once again called Brock by the wrong name, which she always did. “Nothing good comes out of it.” For a second Brock just wanted to kick Lonnie both because he had confronted Brock in front of Savannah and Brock had the displeasure of seeing Lonnie claim her to be his. What an arrogant piece of work, thought Brock.

As Brock shot a very nasty glare at Lonnie, there was a murmur and Belinda leaned over and said something to Jed and Lenny, her eyes on Brock, as if she wanted him to see her criticizing him to others. She then pulled Stanley close to her and whispered something in his ear, probably something derogatory about people like Brock. Brock further confirmed this the way Stanley nodded and then stared at Brock with a smirk and a flash in his eye that so resembled Lenny when he was that age for a few seconds before turning back to his mother, whispering something to her, still smirking and nodding at Brock in a taunting manner.

Talk about making a bad situation worse, thought Brock. It’s one thing when they confronted him in front of only the immediate relatives but now the entire party was staring at him, wondering what their slacking nephew, son, grandson, cousin, or in-law was going to do next.

Brock drew a breath and turned not to the kitchen, but instead stepped front and center into the back porch as every single eye was now on him.

“You all know what, I’m going now,” he said in a high pitch, with his voice loud enough so he was clearly heard by everyone in the room. “You all want to treat me like some seven year old, then please, I hope you’re all taking pleasure into doing so. Just what I expect from a group of arrogant, self important, self righteous people such as yourselves.”

“Brock-” started his mother but his voice drowned hers out after a second or two.

“I think every single one of you are the most self-righteous, barbaric, snobbish group of people I have ever laid eyes on-” raged Brock before being interrupted by his father.

“Brock, shut up!” shouted Jay, leaping to his feet off of his chair near the railing.

“No!” Brock yelled back, glaring into his father’s eyes while the stunned eyes of every single individual were now gazing on the pair of them, probably expecting to witness once again what had happened here once before as Jed, Lenny, and a few other men in the vicinity stood up, eyeing Brock, an ominous look flashing in their eyes.

“Brock, don’t do it, don’t do it,” warned Jed, giving Brock a very intimidating and piercing look. “You’re going to get manhandled if you do anything. Stop right now.”

“Not another word Brock,” said Lenny, trying to keep his voice calm as the whole living room now sat in silence. “We don’t want to force you out of here. Just sit and chill.”

Yet, Brock decided to continue yelling his thoughts at the top of his lungs. “I honestly can’t stand any of you people! All I’m wishing for right now-”

“Shut up and show respect to your relatives,” screamed Jay, his voice even louder as he rushed past Jed and charged towards his son, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt before Brock even had a chance to react. Even at fifty-nine, his father was still way too quick for the too short, too slow, too weak Brock. Those who stood up stepped forward a moment ago followed closely, ready to retaliate if the struggle turned to Brock’s favor.

Brock struggled as his father dragged him down the steps while Jed and Lenny kept close. Brock heard a few screams from the girls while Uncle Ben was now shouting Brock was no longer welcome at the house ever again. Finally, with the help of Lenny and Jed, Jay reached the bottom, still grabbing the collar of Brock’s t-shirt. They were now a few paces outside while Ana closely, as did Jed.

Now Brock was going to get it. A thirty-five year old man who still can’t figure out which age he should act was now in huge trouble. He was done and to add to the humiliation, the man having his way with Brock was a senior citizen despite being flanked by two men in their prime.

“We’re leaving,” said Jay, voice shaking and continuing to drag Brock to the car while he still struggled but Jed and Lenny now grabbed under Brock’s arms and helped Jay handle a kicking and profanity screaming Brock. “You’ve pulled this once before and now you’re doing it again. JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

Jay shook his son as he asked the question over and over again while he, Jed, and Lenny threw brock into the backseat of their relatively new Ford Escalade.

“You’re the most arrogant, ungrateful, inconsiderate self-entitled person I have ever met,” he lectured to Brock as he and Ana got in the front seat while Jed and Lenny now started walking back to the house.

“I am not, it’s all of those idiots in that house who keep talking about themselves,” retorted Brock angrily. “That’s arrogance!”

His father started up the car, turned, and eyed Brock dangerously.

“You need to watch that attitude of yours,” said Jay through gritted teeth. “You are an embarrassment, an absolute embarrassment to your mother and I. You’re thirty-five years old and you live downstairs on our couch and you’re not even thankful for that. You don’t help out around the house, you don’t do anything but work part time and play video games, you-

Brock was now turning his attention towards something else instead of his father’s insults. He was thinking of me, and what I told him just a few short moments ago. He was drowning his father’s words out completely. Okay, if I could do it all over again, I would. I would do anything to do this all over again. This is my lowest of low points. I have lived a loser’s life up to this point in my mom and dad’s basement. What is it? Where did I go wrong? When did I go wrong? Let me do it one more time and make it right, Lord! Please!

Brock and his family got home as the sky darkened and Brock went straight to his room, shut the door, and sat with his back against the door for what had to have been hours. It was nearing four in the morning when he finally crawled into bed and went to sleep, hoping that the his work over the next few days wouldn’t be as bad as tonight’s was.

 

 

Back to School

When Brock woke up and put his glasses on he freaked out, believing his once again misplaced his very unfashionable frames as he looked at the pair in his hands, which were much smaller, wire rimmed, and much more fashionable. Eyebrows narrowing, he slowly put them on. He could see out of them perfectly. Uh, okay, weird, he thought, as he climbed out of his bed and began his search for his large glasses. He could not find them anywhere.

Sunlight was pouring into the room and Brock was now panicking that he was going to be late for work once again as he knew he already had two strikes against him in the last two weeks. One more and he may face yet another termination from Lucks.

Brock looked down at what he was wearing and it wasn’t the clothes from last night as he had fallen asleep in them. Instead it was a pair of shorts and a tee. Believing he had simply changed his clothes without knowing overnight and shaking his head, he heard someone walking to the door. Great, he thought, knowing it was Jay striding over, ready to bombard Brock for last night’s events and potentially on how late he was going to be for his seven to three workshift. Hadn’t he been humiliated enough?

But instead it was a much lighter rasp. Ana was tapping on his bedroom door, calling for him to wake up so he could catch the bus.

“What is she talking about?” Brock wondered out loud. “What bus?”

“Let’s go, Brock!” she yelled. “Come on, you only have a week left in the eighth grade! Let’s get moving! And bring your grades up these last two weeks!”

What was she talking about? It’s Labor Day, 2026, not eighth grade! Was his mother being delusional from last night? Brock peered through the blinds and looked out the window, expecting to see an old Cavalier, an Escalade, a Dodge Ram, and one of Jay’s dealership cars. When he did this, he gasped, looked away, and looked back over again.

“What?” he asked, not believing what he was seeing.

First off, the leaves were on the trees, which were as healthy as could be as if it were the middle of spring and not late summer. And in the driveway was a silver Ford Taurus, a black Chevy Monte Carlo, and a white Ford Ranger. All of these vehicles were from when Brock was in Edwin Middle School.

Brock took off his glasses and really studied them, thinking there was no way, but he was wrong. They were the same ones he wore from 2003 to 2005. He had not the slightest idea of what was going on. Then he heard the doorknob turn, with his mother entering.

“Oh good, you’re finally getting up,” she said. “I was going to pull you out of bed if I had to.”

She looked at least twenty years younger. Brock was praying she didn’t notice the dumbfounded look on his face, but he was wrong.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, gaping at her. “Insomnia last night, that’s all. I’m coming out.”

When he looked down at the carpet in his room, he saw it was white, just as it once was before it had been changed to an elegant shade of brown. He walked down the hallway and he felt as if he had stepped back in time. Everything looked just like it did about twenty years ago. Brock knew one thing; he was in the past. He was back in 2005. May, 2005.

“I’ve never seen you sit down and watch the news before,” said Ana.

“Yeah, just something different, I guess,” he shrugged. He knew he would worry her if he started asking weird questions, so he had to figure this one out on his own.

As he watched, he found out that it was May thirteenth, 2005. Brock was in the eighth grade…..again. It was then that he remembered last night, and then he remembered the conversation he had with me.

“Who was that guy?” he whispered to himself. “Or…what was he?”

Brock now knew how honest I really was and that it was now up to me to help him avoid the mistake he made on this day during his original timeline. Well, now he was being offered the chance of a lifetime and that was to experience his life all over again.

Brock dressed and went outside just as the sun was starting to show itself in the east and waited for the bus to take him to Thomas High School, where he would then transfer to Edwin Middle School where he and his classmates had just days to go until they moved on to Thomas High. Brock couldn’t believe he was back here, in 2005. It was at this moment he knew he was going to repeat the last twenty-one years of his life.

“Okay, Brock, that random guy you met last night wasn’t playing around,” he muttered to himself. “Let’s do this right this time. But how do I do it right?”

He boarded the bus and set off for the high school, stopping at various neighborhoods way out in the country. The bus route was just as Brock remembered it. First, it was Luther Drive and after that they took off past the baseball fields where Brock and many others played their little league baseball to an isolated hollow on a back road. Then, they went into a valley on a dirt road that was surrounded by woods and out onto a township road that was situated far out in the country. They went back into more isolated country roads until they finally reached the main road, a State Route and set off for the high school.

Wow, this is weird, he kept thinking. But why May thirteenth? He kept wondering why I not only took him back to the tail end of his middle school days, but what was significant about starting this journey at this date? Brock racked his brains and couldn’t figure it out, although he would remember why very, very soon, towards the end of the day.

He went about his day and I kept a close watch on him the entire time disguised as a janitor but I only needed to appear to him once, when the announcement came for those interested in playing football for the 2005 season.

“May I have your attention please,” began the secretary, Mrs. Wood. “Anyone in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade interested in signing up for football for both Edwin Middle School and Thomas High School please report to the auditorium.”

Brock, who was sitting in Language Arts class at the time looked up and saw about six boys, all athletes, get up and make their way down to the auditorium. Brock looked over at his English teacher, Mr. James, who looked on at the boys in the class as they exited through the door. Without saying anything and pretending he was not going to be seen, Brock stood up and turned to leave the classroom.

“Brock, don’t go down there and embarrass yourself,” said David, who sat next to Brock in the class. Brock referred to as a frenemy. Sometimes a friend, and other times not so much.

With a mere glance at David, Brock nodded and left the room, though he wasn’t really sure what he was doing. He had the strangest feeling that he had done this once before, but it didn’t turn out too well.

Brock wanted to get into that auditorium and sign up just like all the other athletes. The only problem was, Brock was no athlete, and much of the school had known it at this point. Sure, Brock loved watching sports, but playing them in an organized manner was something else. For one, he was terrible at anything he ever played. Furthermore, any sport he had gone out for at Edwin Middle School he either never played in the game or couldn’t manage to make it past a single practice. Worse yet, many of those same people heading down to the auditorium went out of their way to make him remember it, as if they wished nothing more for wannabe Brock other than to keep him at the bottom of the food chain in the Edwin Middle School jockocracy.

So Brock walked out of the seventh and eighth grade wing, made a right, and took off down the main hallway that led to the cafeteria, gym, and auditorium. He still didn’t know whether or not he wanted to show his face in there and when he reached the back of the line he knew he had made a mistake as he felt as if every single soul down here had their eyes glued on him.

Coach Hawthorne, the middle school football coach was the one handing out the forms to the prospective players. Hawthorne’s crazy tough practices were the reason Brock never made it into a game. He was so deconditioned it was laughable and even in the seventh grade reserve games, Brock only made it in for a play or two at best. This was honestly why he did not go out for football in the eighth grade despite Lenny’s insistence to Brock that he at least try again. Brock turned and started edging away as if he planned on bailing on this little outing when I appeared again, dressed as a janitor.

“What’s up, Brock?” I asked brightly.

“What are you doing here?” he hissed, clearly unsure whether or not he was happy to see me.

“I’m making sure you do what you’re supposed to this time,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Which is?” he asked, glancing back to the line of students as if he thought they were eavesdropping on our conversation.

“What did you come down here for?” I shot back, immediately putting him on the spot.

“I, uh, thought about going out for football, but now I’m having second thoughts,” he admitted.

“Yeah, you are,” I said. “What was your first instinct when coming down here?”

“To sign up to play football,” he said.

“Then go sign up,” I said. “Go on, you have to do this. Do not repeat what you did in the past. You remember what happened, right?”

Brock sighed and looked at the line, which was starting to thin out.

“Go, now, quickly,” I urged. “Before Mr. James makes his way down here.”

Brock had a look of realization on his face as if he now had the flashback fully in his mind and instead of walking away, he drew himself to full height. “Okay then,” he said, turning and walking up to Mr. Hawthorne.

“Here you are, Brock,” said Hawthorne, handing him his forms. “Great to see you down here.”

Brock had a confused look on his face as he took his seat by himself somewhere near the back of the auditorium. As Brock took his seat one of the self-proclaimed preps and star wide receiver of the Edwin Middle School team, Andy, turned to look at who sat a few rows behind them.

“Brock, you’re here?” he asked, but his voice didn’t have any sarcasm in it. On the contrary, he sounded shocked, yet impressed. “I like it!”

Brock said nothing but nodded in an uncertain manner but before he could look away Andy spoke up again.

“Come on up here with us, we have a few more seats that need filled up,” he said, using his head to direct Brock. “You’re an eighth grader too. We’re kicking the sixth and seventh graders out of our seats.”

Brock stood up and strode over, sitting between Andy and the star running back and linebacker for the middle school team, Mike Marcos.

“What up, Brock?” greeted Michaels, giving Brock a fistbump.

Brock could hardly believe what was going on and when he turned to look at me, I gave him a brief thumbs up and walked out of the auditorium. My work was done for today.

The Thomas High School Football Coach, Greg Lawrence, went over the policies and procedures about being part of the football team and what it meant to be a Thomas High Bearcat. He said that he expected effort, drive, and a positive attitude each and every day. He couldn’t guarantee that each of them would have a perfect season, but he could guarantee that they would be better players by season’s end if they gave full effort all season long.

What Brock just did was not part of the original timeline of events. What he did today, however, just set the stage for the rest of my entry. He did not know it, but going out for football in the year 2005 was the single most important decision he had ever made. Now he was on the right path to live the rest of his life as a winner and not what he was in the original timeline. Do not think for a single second, however, that Brock did not experience pitfalls in this new life. No, he was still human and still prone to error, and even the most successful people have that one chapter in their life they will never read aloud. He will still experience setbacks, some major, some minor, just like any mortal human being would. But, he was at least onto something where he would finish far above than where he started.

Before I go any further and reveal what happens to Brock in his new life, I want to revert back to Brock’s original timeline because in order to understand and appreciate his new life, it’s important to explore what made Brock who he is in present day and to avoid some of the pitfalls he fell into during his old life. Be prepared, as the next few chapters are going to be very painful to read but a lot can be learned.

 

The Stage Is Set

Original Timeline: Brock left class and went down to the auditorium, just like he did in the new frame of events. However, when he saw Coach Hawthorne, whom Brock thought of as the stuck up head coach of the Edwin Middle School team handing out the sign-up sheets, he became scared and discouraged, thinking Hawthorne of all people would just laugh him off and send him back to class since Brock mightily struggled through the three hour practices during hot summer of 2003 during Hawthorne’s first year as coach. Brock was so pitiful he didn’t even play in a single game and played in about eight total plays the entire year during the five reserve games. Instead of facing this fear head on, Brock turned and bolted for the restrooms. While there, he gave himself one long, hard look in the mirror.

“Okay what are we going to do?” he asked himself through his reflection. “Are we going in there or what?”

Brock continued to stare at himself for a few more minutes before he decided to take one last crack at it and finally seize an opportunity to prove himself. As Brock exited and turned right in the direction of the auditorium, Mr. James, an assistant coach for the high school, was headed down the stairs to the very same meeting just as Brock became visible in the lobby. Keep in mind that Brock had left Mr. James’s class to go to this football meeting. By this time, the meeting had already begun and Brock looked as if he were skipping out on class since he technically was not present in the meeting. To make matters worse, Mr. James is not one of those individuals who is very understanding of the youth of America. In fact, he’s far from it. So far from it that Brock probably would have had a better chance of staying out of trouble had he just told Mr. James he was skipping the rest of class, meaning he was going to be in big trouble whether he told the truth or not.

“What are you doing?” thundered the gigantic Mr. James so loudly his voice echoed off the walls, causing the aging gym teacher, Miss Lund, to come running out of the gym where she was overseeing the sixth grade gym class.

Not only did Mr. James have a nasty temper, he had a very short one indeed. He was also a big man, standing at roughly six feet, four inches in height and weighing a good two-hundred and eighty pounds. He was also very, very well built and he was known to hit the high school weight room at least six days per week twice a day, as he lived near the place. In summary, Mr. James was big, muscular, and scary.

Wow, this is going to be bad, thought Brock, staring up at the large, hulking figure of Mr. James, who looked enraged and breathing like a rhino chasing down it’s prey.

“What’s going on out here, Mr. James?” asked Miss Lund in a falsely sweet yet sinister tone, glancing at Brock and then back at Mr. James.

“I caught one of my students down here trying to skip class,” reported Mr. James, his loud voice still echoing off the walls. “He’s supposed to be in the eighth grade wing but he’s down here in the lobby, probably walking around the building and not giving a care in the world over his dropping English grade, which is a D minus! What are you playing at, Patrick? What is your excuse?”

“I was in your class a few minutes ago-,” started Brock with a hint of desperation, but Mr. James cut him off, not giving in a single inch to allow Brock to explain his side of events.

“Then what are you doing in the lobby?” yelled Mr. James, whose voice carried so far Mr. Hawthorne poked his head out of the auditorium to see the commotion. He and Mr. James caught each other’s eye.

“I caught this house cat red handed skipping class, Mr. Hawthorne!” exclaimed Mr. James across the lobby and sounding as if he had just unearthed buried treasure. “Does he look familiar to you? Does he need to be skipping anyone’s class at this point? What does he have in your class? An F?”

Mr. Hawthorne looked at Brock, laughed, and then shook his head at the scene and went back into the meeting.

“You’re grades in my class are poor enough and now you’re wandering around the school?” Mr. James raged on while Miss Lund walked up.”No wonder you’re almost failing in my class and failing Mr. Hawthorne’s math class! Oh yes, you didn’t think we teachers communicated about all of you, did you, kid! And don’t even get me started on Mrs. Triton’s class, I heard it’s a C minus and that’s because she was generous enough to curve them! Haven’t you learned anything at all this year?”

After that rant, Mr. James was now under Brock’s skin. Brock was feeling so much anger he did not care what was going to happen to him. So this was how it was going to be, so be it. Brock decided to push the envelope.

“Yeah, I learned how you ignore your students and gamble online during class,” smarted Brock with a half smile. “How much money are you winning these days all the while stealing from the school since you’re playing cards, fantasy sports, and who knows what else while on the clock?”

“Oh, you think you’re a comedian, do you, Brock Patrick? Miss Lund, take him to the office,” shouted Mr. James in a very dangerous voice, giving Brock and evil eye. “I’m late for a meeting and this worthless failure is not going to hold me any longer. I’ll see you in detention and if not I’ll know they shipped your worthless soul to the alternative school, son!”

“So you’re calling me-“, said Brock but this time it was Miss Lund who cut him off.

“You have no respect for teachers, boy,” she said through gritted teeth, towering over him. She wasn’t much taller than Brock, but she did outweigh him by more than a few pounds. Worse yet, she had an extremely vicious side to her which was ominous at this point. And despite her age, she is also in phenomenal physical condition, so much that she was able to wear sleeveless tops and look respectable in them.

“Honestly, half of you kids have no respect these days for any kind of authority,” she growled in a low, dangerous voice. You think you’re so tough, don’t you? You were a human pinball in while playing football in seventh grade, according to a few of your rather righteous classmates. You’re not tough, there’s not a single ounce of toughness or commitment in that little, tiny, wannabe tough guy frame of yours. Let’s go, boy, and if Mr. Douglas decides to put you in alternative school let me tell you, if you can barely survive football you will in no way, shape, or form survive a day in alternative school. I would like to see you try.”

And she grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and dragged him up the steps and away towards the direction of the office. He tried to pull away, but her grip was too strong for him. He had done it. He had one moment, just one moment of hesitation and what did it lead to? A trip to Mr. Douglas’s office.

“In!” said Miss Lund fiercely, pointing to a seat in the office as she opened the door.

“Miss Lund, who’s watching your class if you don’t mind me asking?” inquired Brock, taking a seat and reclining back in it, now thinking a little bit more offensiveness couldn’t hurt since he was in enough trouble as it was. “It appears to me that you are breaking the duty of your job. And you think of yourself as a good teacher? I beg to differ.”

“I have a student teacher in there!” yelled Miss Lund, putting her face inches from Brock’s, so close he could smell her hot breath. “We’re going to sit and wait for Mr. Douglas in silence and then he can sort your smart, wannabe tough guy attitude out. And if you say another word I’m going to write you up. Because let me tell you, Patrick, Mr. James is already going to see to that and Mr. Douglas does not take kindly to two write-ups in one day. Oh no, he doesn’t! You’re going to be a criminal in his eyes if you don’t shut up.”

She sat down in the seat next to his, across from a large desk that contained a single chair in the middle. They sat and waited a good ten minutes before the tall, yet stocky Mr. Douglas came into the office.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, addressing Miss Lund as he strode over to his desk.

“He was skipping a class and he became a smart mouth to both myself and his teacher, Mr. James, who happened to spot him down in the lobby while he was on his way to the high school football meeting,” she said, glaring at Brock the entire time. “I left my class in the hands of my student teacher, Mrs. Croft, and went to see if Mr. James needed any help. Lo and behold, this no name specimen thinks he’s Mr. Bigshot.”

“Okay then,” he said with a flat tone. He then turned to Brock. “Name?”

Brock was now so angry he wasn’t necessarily worried about what would come next, so he merely sat there in silence, staring at Mr. Douglas as if he didn’t understand the question.

“I said, name,” repeated Mr. Douglas, leaning in closer to Brock. “We can do this the easy way or I can call in Mr. Barr.”

Mr. Barr was the alternative school officer who had been called into the school more than a few times before. Typically he would arrest a troubled student and take them to the alternative school, where they would spend at least a few weeks. Alternative school housed student juveniles and the officers who led the school treated it as if it were jail. Partially because it was located within the confines of the Thomas County Jail.

“Brock Patrick,” muttered Brock, looking past Mr. Douglas.

“Brock Patrick,” he said in an undertone, as he typed into a computer set up on his left side. “I believe this is the first time I’ve had you in here. It seems like you’ve been involved in some minor incidents in the past but nothing too serious. But the way you’ve been talking today, it appears there’s more than meets the eye. What seems to be your problem? Talking back to teachers and wandering the halls, it appears. What’s the story?”

“I was just headed to the football meeting but had to go to the bathroom so I was running a few minutes behind,” said Brock. “Mr. James was coming down and just happened to catch me-”

“Mr. James must have waited until class was over, and that was fifteen minutes after Mrs. Wood called the football team down,” said Douglas, glaring at Brock. “That’s enough time to smoke a cigarette and down a beer in my opinion, which is becoming more and more of a problem at this school because of students such as yourself. I have a very hard time believing your story.”

“You weren’t headed to the football meeting anyhow,” grinned Miss Lund shaking her head, her eyes narrowing. “His football career in the seventh grade was beyond pathetic. He was a human pinball who was run over in practice by tiny Johnnie Gras. So supposedly this little wannabe thought about playing again two years later. Yeah right. What’s easier, Brock? A summer of waking up at the crack of dawn to running and conditioning in the heat or a summer of hanging out in an air conditioned room with junk food and videogames? I know you too well. We all know you too well. I know who you sit with at lunch and it isn’t the football team. You’re with those bottom of the barrel losers who will never go anywhere in life other than a halfway house!”

“That may be so that I was terrible at football then, but-” started Brock.

“What were you doing in there for fifteen minutes?” demanded Mr. Douglas, standing up, face getting very close to Brock’s. “You, sir, have concocted some sort of story that just doesn’t add up. There is far too much evidence against you at this point and you’re very lucky I’m not calling up Mr. Barr right now!”

“What else would you be doing other than lighting a cigarette up?” asked Miss Lund sarcastically, eyes still narrowed. “And that’s all it better have been!’

“If I investigate the matter and find anything recreational, you will be escorted out of this school in handcuffs in front of everyone,” threatened Mr. Douglas. “And if you think I’m lying, just try me. Try me!”

“I was just, I don’t know,” sighed Brock, looking down at his shoes.

“You were skipping class, Patrick,” said Miss Lund. “Stop your lying and just admit to skipping class and not caring one bit about your pathetic little life!”

“Because I wasn’t,” said Brock defensively. “Seriously, I-”

“Mr. James also said that Brock was doing rather poorly in his class, as well as the classes of Mr. Hawthorne and Mrs. Triton,” said Miss Lund cutting him off. “This probably isn’t the first time he’s skipped the class. It’s just the first time he was caught.”

“Wow, a D minus in the class with a one point eight overall GPA,” said Mr. Douglas, eyes wide as he looked up Brock’s grades on the computer. “Okay, son, so you don’t have a single care in the world about your grades then. You also aren’t scheduled in low level classes. Just another one of those cases where the kid just doesn’t care. I see that a lot and it’s just sad. When kids like you grow into adults they are either jobless, on drugs, living in their parent’s basement, or in a prison cell. Don’t you realize your entire future depends on academic performance?”

“Like it matters twenty years from now,” said Brock, rolling his eyes.  “It’s middle school!”

“Once again, do  you realize I can call Mr. Barr right now and he can personally shuttle you to alternative school in front of the entire building?” glared Mr. Douglas, with his hand now on a phone next to the computer. “And if you give one more remark I’m going to do just that. In fact, if you miss one more day of school these next two weeks, I will not hesitate to give Mr. Barr a phone call about you because I see you’ve missed a good two weeks of school this year. And that is not a good sign because it typically means you are up to something detrimental not only yourself but to others around you.”

“Okay,” said Brock, deciding it was best to concede.

“You’re going to serve two days of internal suspension,” said Mr. Douglas, drawing himself up to full height in his seat and pressing his fingertips together. “You will be in here with me, doing your school work without the luxurious assistance of your teachers. You will sit in silence for the entire day and focus on your work for eight hours of the next two school days. If you run out of things to keep you busy, I will find something for you to do and believe me, it will involve manual labor, something you’re obviously unaccustomed to. You’ll be scrubbing those steps you walked down today with a toothbrush in front of the entire school.  I will also be making a nice little phone call home to your parents and they will sign all fourteen demerits that you will receive by mail. Then we’ll see just how hard you really are. Because let me tell you something, you are not hard. None of you are. You got that?”

He sent Brock to his final period, which was art. There was only fifteen minutes left in the day and Brock handed the art teacher, Mrs. Horn, a slip explaining in great detail on why he was late.

“Where were you?” asked Lenny as Brock sat down next to him.

“Getting in trouble,” said Brock, head down.

“What did you do?” pressed Lenny.

“I really have no idea,” replied Brock heavily.

Brock was still kicking himself as he sat in Mr. Douglas’s office the next two days. Had he simply walked into the auditorium two days ago without hesitation the situation would have been much, much different. Sadly, this one event set the stage for the next twenty-one years of Brock’s original timeline.

 

A Long Summer

Predictably, Brock’s parents were beyond unhappy with him despite his insistence of innocence. He didn’t know how to explain himself except speak the truth but they didn’t believe him due to his more than poor work ethic the first time he played in the seventh grade. Brock, as angry as he was, didn’t blame them. Why would anyone believe that he would have put in his all this time around? His teachers provided no support to his side of the story and his parents were already having their doubts, despite the fact most parents would defend their kid in these situations.

So for this summer Brock had a nice long worklist to look forward to while his parents were at work and Jed slept in, doing whatever he pleased. Brock was really beginning to grow more and more jealous of both Jed and Lenny. Here they were, honor roll students who did all that was asked of them and did it well. Both were solid athletes as Jed played baseball and was already set to play football when his friends began play in a few years time. Lenny played and did very well in basketball and baseball, especially baseball, where he was the Home Run King in little league and one of the best Legion players in River Valley. Lenny was also first team All Mountain Athletic Conference in basketball and already gearing up for the 2005-06 season where he would probably make the varsity squad as a freshman. And then there was Brock, who held a one point eight grade point average, meaning was going to be put in lower to middle level classes next year while Lenny was graciously accepted at the college preparatory level. Also, not only was Brock unathletic, he had very recently come to terms that no one wanted him to be that athlete. No one was going to give him a shot in middle school and they definitely weren’t about to do it in high school. So if no one was willing to give Brock a shot, Brock wasn’t going to waste his time on them.

Brock’s little worklist was more than just cleaning around the house and doing yard and maintenance work outside the house. Jay had notified Brock’s grandparents if they needed any help on any home improvement projects since Brock’s entire summer was going to be dedicated to work. Oh, Jay let them know exactly why this was, and he filled them in on the little “stunt” Brock attempted to pull with his teachers two weeks ago. In fact, Jay told anyone who stopped by the house why Brock was the one doing all the work while everyone else sat and watched in the shade.

“I don’t get it, mom,” Brock overheard Jay one night as he talked on the phone with Brock’s grandmother, Leanne Patrick. “He’s doesn’t like anyone of us, he doesn’t like to put any effort into schoolwork, he won’t work at anything. And all he does every night he comes home from school is play video games. This has to change.”

Brock could not hear his grandmother’s reply to this statement but it was safe to assume that she was insisting Jay and Ana get extra strict with Brock and take these privileges away. This appeared to be accurate, as Jay came home from work the night after Brock’s charade with the teachers and laid out the policies that were in place this summer.

“You won’t be playing any video games at all this summer,” Jay started.

“What?” blurted Brock, gazing at his father from the other end of the round kitchen table with a horrorstruck look on his face.

“Don’t cut me off,” Jay said sternly. “Or I’ll take more than just video games away. Here is what’s going to happen. You’re to get up at seven, eat breakfast, and clean the house. You’re running the sweeper, doing the dishes, dusting the end tables, washing the clothes, drying the clothes, and folding them once they’re dried. You are not to go see Lenny at all this summer and if he asks you to come down you are going to tell him exactly why this is and if you don’t, I’m going to. Are we clear?”

“Like I wanted to see Lenny anyway,” sneered Brock, thinking of how he no longer appeared to be in Lenny’s plans since Lenny had sports and scholarly aspirations that did not include Brock, so as far as Brock knew, he was going to put Lenny in his back seat. “So what if I slack?”

Jay gave Brock a very dangerous look and stood up quickly, but Brock didn’t flinch. He pointed a finger in Brock’s face and Brock shifted his head back but remained seated.

“Your grandmother will be here to oversee all of this at eight in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” ranted Jay through gritted teeth. “And then your mother will be here and make sure this is done on Tuesday and her parents will be here on Thursday to make sure your work is taken care of! And don’t even get me started on weekends, because you’ll be dealing with me. I already received permission to take every Saturday off and I told my boss why I am doing so. Guess what? He was one hundred percent behind me!

“Not only are you costing yourself a summer but you’re making your grandmother, your sixty-seven year old grandmother, drive here three times a week because your mother and I can’t trust you,” Jay continued loudly, banging his fist off the table. “You’re costing a sixty-seven year old woman with little income weekly and on top of that you’re costing your mother her day off from work and you’re taking a day away from her parents. But I’m not finished yet.”

Jay’s clean cut and clean shaven face was now directly in Brock’s, a mere inch from his. Brock tried to look away, now fighting to keep his face straight, but it only made Jay angrier. Jay’s gray eyes looked without mercy.

“Look at me and stop that smirking!” he demanded, his voice rising even louder.

Brock didn’t intend to laugh when under stress. This was just a reaction. Could he help it? Maybe. But most of the time he was yelled at, it just happened. Luckily, it didn’t happen when he was being disciplined in school.

“Sorry,” said Brock, trying his hardest not to laugh.

“I have more for you, so laugh at this! Guess what? When your grandparents need help with their housework, you are going to go work for them as well,” said Jay, now mocking Brock’s sneering face. “One of the reasons my mother is coming three days a week is because you’re going to cut her grass, her neighbor’s grass, as well as her sister-in-law’s, your Aunt Rae. With a push mower! And your day isn’t over until the job is done, understand?”

“Yes,” said Brock. “Do I get any breaks?”

“You get a one hour lunch break and a one hour dinner break,” Jay replied, now pacing in front of Brock.

“What if I get all my work done?” asked Brock. “Seriously, I can’t just be working the entire time, can I?”

“Your day will start at seven-thirty and it doesn’t end until seven-thirty in the evening,” said Jay. “And if you run out of things to do, someone is going to find something for you to do. Also, when you’re working, there’s going to be a no T.V rule, got it?”

“What about evenings?” droned Brock.

“You’re watching what your mom and I are watching,” said Jay. “And that’s it. You’re going to be working seven days a week, with no days off. So when we have our Fourth of July party, guess who’s working the entire time?”

“Okay, I get it,” said Brock, annoyed.

“You better get it,” said Jay. “Maybe then it will teach you how to act right.”

 

Brock spent the entire summer doing exactly what Jay said he was going to do. Brock worked long days and Jay wasn’t exaggerating in the slightest when he told Brock his days were going to be twelve hours long. And they were a long twelve hours. First, Brock cleaned the house under the annoyingly close supervision of a grandparent or his mother, neither of whom were backing down to Brock’s constant whining and outspokenness as he cleaned.

It usually took Brock a good five hours to clean, and he was forced as his “supervisors” lectured to him that it typically took them two hours tops to clean their houses. This meant these old people were taking less than half the time it took fourteen year old Brock to complete a day’s worth of cleaning. But Brock didn’t care. He figured since it was their livelihood they may as well be experts in what Brock called their low status field.

Brock was washing clothes, towels, and dishes. He had to do a minimum of three loads per day unless there weren’t three loads to wash. When his indoor work was over he had an extensive outdoor list to do on three of the five weekdays at the house. This included mowing grass, trimming weeds painting the back porch, power washing the house, and various other outdoor activities. It didn’t end at the house either. If he wasn’t doing the outdoor work at his house then he was at a grandparent’s house or the church, all the way out in a tiny town called Richfield and doing outdoor work in ninety degree heat all day after his morning chores were completed. He thought this should qualify as child abuse, but everyone around him insisted this was to build character which was the truth. Brock’s character was nothing but self entitlement and laziness.

Meanwhile, Lenny came up to the house literally every other day, and sometimes even Lenny’s best friend David, who lived just up the road, came along. Brock still had to do his work during these times while Jed, Lenny, and David lazed around, ate what they wanted, played video games, played outside, and did anything and everything Brock did not have the privilege to do that summer.

One would believe Brock would have learned his lesson and become a harder worker who cared more about his grades and himself. Brock was one of those people who wanted big things, huge things and huge accomplishments. Yet he lacked the drive to go out and get them. He dreamed of making large amounts of money one day, being in the top one percentile of the American income bracket, and being in one of those super-pacs who controlled what his chosen elected officials said and did. Brock’s unsung dream was to join America’s Power Elite and force the laws that would control the entire nation. Then Brock figured everyone would see him as the boss over all, the ruler.

Brock was very power hungry, yet in a reality far distant from his sadistic fantasy, very lazy. He was motivated, but only until the going got tough. When things became too tough for him, usually fairly early in any endeavor, he had the bad habit of giving in instead of working harder to find solutions. Worse yet, he absolutely loathed those who did find success at his age, such as the students who were routinely on the honors list and made strides athletic-wise that deserved recognition. In essence, Brock wanted success yet hated others who had success. Being that Brock’s school schedule was full of  basic and mid-level classes, he already came to the conclusion that college was simply not for him even at this age and he decided that he just wanted to graduate high school in four years and then make his big moves, proving to everyone just how much better he was than the rest of them without a college education.

High School Horrors

It was the first day of high school and the only different thing about the bus route this year was that they didn’t have to transfer to another bus at the high school. Brock was actually relieved school was starting since his summer had been a very miserable, seven day work week. It was a long, tough, and worthless summer. Brock was so exhausted from his lack of summer break that his plan these days was to go into school and sleep all day. So what if his grades were terrible? For one, they were never any good in the first place and for another, his mission this year was to teach mom and dad a lesson. He wanted them to feel responsible for taking his summer away and he wanted to exert revenge by keeping his grades just barely afloat. He would use this as leverage to ensure their little escapade never happened again. The tables would soon be turned, and it would be he, Brock Patrick, they all would respect on a bended knee. Again, Brock had grown to be a very self-entitled teenager.

So there he went to first period, which was physical science with a teacher named Mr. Barnes, a very erratic looking man with light blonde hair. One of Brock’s worst middle school tormentors, Roberto Randle, was in this class as well. Randle spent the last two weeks of middle school taking every chance he had at humiliating Brock in front of everyone after he found out Brock was serving internal suspension for claiming to be on the way to the football meeting the previous school year.

“Look, boys and girls, it’s the wannabe football player!” he would yell to the crowd during lunch and in the hallways in between classes. Each announcement followed with immense laughter. Worse yet, Randle would typically wait until a teacher on lunch duty wasn’t looking and either put food down Brock’s shirt or trip him with the help of a friend as he entered the cafeteria.

Unfortunately for Brock, the only seat available to him when he entered the classroom today was the one right next to Randle. Brock had no choice now but to sit next to this pet peeve.

“Football practice tonight, Patrick?” asked Randle a little loudly after he turned and saw who it was sitting next to him. A head or two turned and looked at the pair of them.

“You know I’m not on the team,” said Brock, looking right ahead, trying to phase out Randle the best he could.

“What about basketball season?” continued Randle, his voice getting louder so people would start to take notice. “You’re not going to try to be a basketball player again, are you?”

“Probably not,” said Brock, now studying the empty blackboard, now having to relive a painful flashback in which he went to only one basketball practice last year when trying out for the eighth grade team. That sport too, didn’t work out since he was so bad he didn’t even bother going back to another practice.

“Because you do know that you won’t go back after poorly attempting lay-ups, right?” teased Randle while more eyes in the classroom now fixed on Brock.

“I’ll probably just do my own thing, I guess,” said Brock to the blackboard, turning a bright shade of red and praying Mr. Barnes would enter the room and start class already. “You know, something innovative.”

“Why were you working so much this summer?” asked Randle, pounding Brock’s shoulder hard, causing him to wince. “It seemed like every time I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s you were outside cutting grass or doing something. You missed a few spots, you know? If I were your dad I would have made you stay out there until it was done right. But of course he probably knows you aren’t capable of doing so and he obviously spent an hour or two fixing your mistakes.”

“Something to do,” Brock muttered quietly. “Keeping busy, you know.”

“You’re neither an outdoor type nor an outdoor worker, you were grounded. Come on, tell the truth, Brock” sang Randle loudly as others around them began laughing silently. “Not from what I’ve seen anyway. Are you good for anything? Come on, Brock, tell me how you can possibly contribute to American society.”

“I’m sure there’s something,” said Brock nonchalantly, trying his hardest to block out the buzzing laughter of the others.

“Well, I-”

“Welcome to physical science,” interrupted the voice of Mr. Barnes, who was walking swiftly to the front of the classroom where a podium stood and taking a seat on a stool behind it, briefly losing his balance before catching himself and throwing on a pair of readers that looked very crooked on his face.

Brock grinned at Randle and turned to face Mr. Barnes. Maybe he’d sleep a little bit later. This man just saved Brock from some serious embarrassment.

“You are taking this class because you did not have the grade sufficient enough to take the class at the college preparatory level,” explained Barnes. “With that said, the workload is going to be considerably less and the class is going to move at a much slower pace than your academically gifted college preparatory classmates across the hall in Mrs. O’Connell’s room.”

Mr. Barnes went on and on about what the basic level of physical science consisted of while Randle was telling anyone who would listen under his breath that Mr. Barnes was once convicted of stealing bricks from Edwin Middle School about ten years ago and went to jail for it. He muttered in such a low tone that Barnes didn’t catch him describing how his older brother and his friend once played a prank on Barnes by placing a stack of bricks on his desk a few years back.

Brock soon found out that the sad thing about starting high school was that there were a lot more people to deal with and either Mr. James or someone spread the story about Brock claimed to have wanted to sign up for football when he was real intention was indeed skipping class.

He had to endure this a few times today and it was even worse when he was continually inquired by his peers on why he quit football after one week in the seventh grade, which went on for a whole month. Ditto for his failure to make it past one day of practice on the eighth grade basketball team. During these miserable middle school days, his classmates often made the excuses for Brock, such as being unable to take the hitting in football and when it came to basketball, the harsh conditioning in that first day of practice.

“Skip any class today yet, Brock?” yelled Dale Detmer in front of a small crowd of students. Dale was another freshman who Brock went to Edwin Middle with. Dale was very gifted in football, basketball, and baseball.. “Why don’t you take a cigarette break in the bathroom? I heard you had a bad habit of doing that.”

Another period went by before Brock had to face another inquiry, this one from Andy, the tall, muscular go-to wide receiver who excelled in every sport he played, much like Lenny except with even more talent. Within a few years he would easily be at the very least, Division II college talent if not the top level.

“Coming to practice today, Brock, or are you going to go to the bathroom during class to think about it?” he taunted while Marcos looked on and laughed before shoving Brock hard into a locker.

And yet another identical question occurred not long after this, coming from a large football player named Derek Clend.

“You know they love taking the high school kids to the alternative school!” yelled Derek when he saw Brock at his locker on the top floor. “I hear the teachers gamble on who’s next, and you’re at three to one odds! But only after you gas out at track practice this spring. Wasn’t that the next sport you planned on failing at?”

Derek proceeded to take Brock’s head and actually put it as far as he could inside Brock’s locker before slamming the door, causing Brock to yell in pain that had now erupted on the backside of his skull. Clend did this one more time before taking off with Roberto and Dale.

If Brock had to rank the worst first day of school ever, he was ranking this one at number one, especially after he was intentionally tripped by Randle and David when he was making his way out of the building to the school bus. Brock fell right down the stone stairs and judging from the searing pain inside his pant leg, had scraped a knee. Even worse, Randle took a hold of his bookbag and dumped the contents right on Brock before slapping high fives with David. They boarded the school bus, laughing. No bus driver or teacher had seen the incident and there were no Samaritans among the laughing students looking on to help Brock. He struggled to his feet and put his books back in his bag before limping up the steps and onto the school bus and taking a seat near the back. Randle and David were only getting started and they berated him, both verbally and physically, all the way home . Okay, it was the worst first day of school ever. There was absolutely no question about it now.

Brock used to be a fan of going to the high school football games, but that was now a distant memory. If he had to guess, the last time he was well liked by everyone else had been during the grade school years. But at this point, the fourth grade was long gone. Jay and Jed were going to the game tonight against Steel High, which was the home opener. Brock opted not to go. Why would he? After Randle and David double-teamed him on the bus earlier that evening he was now almost certain Lenny was his only real friend, and Brock was even suspicious about Lenny. If Lenny were indeed a true friend, then why was he leaving Brock in the dust at both school and sports while providing him zero support when Randle, David, and others had their way with him?

So Brock decided to stay home watched television (his punishment was finally over) from six in the evening until ten at night, when Jay and Jed came back from the game after dropping Lenny off, which ended with Thomas High losing in a twenty-eight to nothing blowout.

School was just as bad these days as it had been in the past. Things were getting tougher and tougher for Brock and his classmates academic-wise, and Brock continued on his intentional downward spiral. By the time the middle of the quarter arrived, Brock’s progress report was not good. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good. It was just a shade below average. Had the quarter ended today, he would have a grade point average of one point nine. This meant he had some work to do, which wasn’t going to happen. He was going to tank even further.

“What grades did you get, Brock?” asked Lenny after they sat down in the gym before class began.

Unfortunately, a kid named Richie Griesen was sitting right next to Brock on his right side while Roberto was seated in front. The game started a mere five seconds after Lenny asked this harmless question.

“Hey! Your cousin asked you a question, boy!” yelled Richie, slapping Brock hard in the leg, causing him to wince in pain.

Richie was a good five to six inches taller than Brock and about thirty pounds heavier. He was both gym strong and country strong, and his hits hurt a good deal. Needless to say if Brock were to physically retaliate he would be in for some trouble but he was now getting to be double teamed as Roberto Randle turned around the second he heard Richie begin this onslaught.

“You answer to us!” said Randle. Randle pushed Brock square in the chest and stole Brock’s book bag from beside him, opening the contents. He dumped them right into crevasse between the bleacher Brock, Lenny, and Richie were seated and his own.

Brock tried to reach for it, but a friend of Randle’s named Gene Max, saw what Brock was doing and easily countered Brock’s efforts by taking his arms and holding his wrists firmly, keeping him down on the bleacher.

Mrs. Saxon, one of the teachers on duty, should have been paying more attention to this but she was busy talking with several of those in the band and was paying not the slightest bit of attention to what was going on in the bleachers.

Richie hit Brock again, this time in the stomach, causing him to double over in pain and fall into the seat, coughing. Lenny looked on but did and said nothing. He never did anything when Brock was in trouble like this, which occurred quite often over the last few years, starting in the fifth grade. David, seated on Randle’s left side, turned to see what was happening but this time he looked away. David loved to partake in these little beatings Brock received but he did have enough sense to draw a line that separated what he thought of as harmless fun versus total humiliation. Sure, he would trip Brock outside and throw rather harmless insults at him, but this was too much for David. Gene, Richie, and Randle, on the other hand were just relentless, especially when all three of them were together as they were on the Friday evening. By now, Brock knew well enough that when these three were together, it was always going to be a three on one assault, as it had been for years now.

“Let’s see how old Brock’s doing in the middle of his first quarter of high school,” Randle announced to Lenny, Gene, and Richie.

Lenny caught Brock’s eye and gave him a guilty half-smile before looking down at his iPod and began shuffling through songs, pretending to block everything out, as did David who had now pulled out a book and began reading.

Lenny actually didn’t intend for this to happen as his question about Brock’s grades were sincere. The problem was that Richie overheard Lenny and hopped into humiliation mode, prompting Randle and Gene to follow suit. Another problem was that Lenny happened to be a bit of a coward even when he was the cause for Brock’s misfortunes. He would just stand by and do nothing about it, which was yet another reason Brock was getting more and more distant from Lenny.

Randle cleared his throat importantly and began announcing the grades to the ever increasing attention seekers made up of several ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders who were seated in the vicinity. Obviously not a single teacher was watching Brock get tortured in the bleachers.

“Physical Science, C minus, we’re off to a good start” he rambled. “Physical Education, D plus. Brock, how do you get a D in gym class? Wow, even I have an A in gym. No wonder you couldn’t stick out any sports if you’re so bad at them you can only etch out a D in gym.”

“Because he can’t take anything physical!” shouted Richie, thumping Brock painfully in the back of the skull. “You proved that two years ago, kiddo! And you’re proving it again!”

Seeing stars and eyes starting to tear up, Brock held the back of his head with both hands in a faint attempt to prevent another hit but Gene, who was on his knees looking over the seat took notice and Brock received a second blow to the stomach. He let out a dull moan and doubled over onto the seat.

“Yeah!” yelled Gene, throwing his arms up and slapping fives with Randle. “Knock-out punch! You like that, Brock?”

The only thing running through Brock’s head now was a plea that Mrs. Saxon or someone would notice what was going on back here but nope, she was still being entertained by her band students. Brock also knew he couldn’t yell for her, as he would have only gotten a punishment from Richie, Randle, and Gene during school hours when he would be seen either in between classes, definitely on the morning bus, or in the hallways. These people do not forget things.

“Attention please!” said Randle loudly, clearing his throat a little bit louder this time. “I have more! Technical Math, D minus. That’s disgusting, Brock, you have to do better there! Integrated English, B. That’s as close to an A as you’re going to get. At least you know how to write.”

Brock was now almost completely doubled over, one hand over his stomach and the other one over his throbbing head. He wanted to fight back but he knew he couldn’t. If he got one more suspension he would be working weekends from now until Christmas doing who knows what. Nevertheless, he was in checkmate. If he tried to retaliate to anyone, this gang would blame him for starting the fight. He was cornered and the others knew it. Brock wanted to look over at Lenny for help but he knew it was just worthless. As far as Brock’s concern was growing, Lenny was worthless. Not only that, if they saw him asking for help, this beating would be ten times worse.

“He won’t answer you,” said Randle, now grabbing Brock by the back of the shirt and pulling him back up.

Brock could only look up at Randle and gape at him while Randle stretched the back of Brock’s shirt, his grip tightening. This was only going to get worse and Brock knew it wouldn’t be over until these three were finished having their way with him.

“No, he won’t!” confirmed Gene, checking the clock on the wall and seeing if any teacher was headed in their direction.  “But hurry up, Roberto, the bells’ going to ring any minute now.”

“World History, C,” continued Randle, shouting to everyone who was paying attention to him, which was almost half the crowd seated here. “Intro to technology, C minus, and Spanish, C minus. Wow, Brock, that’s a B, three C’s and a two D’s. It can’t get much worse.”

Richie made a quick maneuver and grabbed Brock firmly, locking his hands behind his back. Randle crumpled up Brock’s progress report and returned it to him halfway down his throat, causing Brock to choke for the next few moments while everyone looking on erupted in a burst of laughter.

“Need help, boy?” asked Richie in mock concern, slapping him as hard as he could on Brock’s back, causing Brock to spit the report onto the the crevasse below him and Richie pulled Brock back into the seat, holding him down and letting Gene and Randle throw in some last second punches to his face, stomach, and kidney.

The bell finally rang and Gene got off while Brock was now taking refuge inside the crevasse, laying on his side and clutching his stomach. The got up and rushed into the lobby while Brock climbed back up into his seat and fortunately most of the kids had now left the gym.

Still, Brock sat there in agony, wild thoughts running through his mind on how he would never, ever get out of the situation he was in on being at the very bottom of the totem pole of life. Not only was he terrible at just about everything so many others took any and all opportunities to remind him of his place in this life. Sure, David had his line that he refused to cross and at the very least Richie and Randle didn’t attempt to beat Brock beyond repair. They were just out to damage his psyche to the breaking point of where Brock would be forced to remember where he stood in this lifetime.

By the end of the first quarter of the school year, Brock’s already worsening grades had slipped a little. He had a one point nine grade point average when the progress reports came out. On report card day, he found out that he finished the first quarter with a one point seven, with his grades in World History and Spanish slipping one letter grade. However, the going got easy for Brock during monotonous lectures from Mr. Morris and Brock found himself falling further and further behind on note taking days. Brock actually felt like a winner for a change since he did accomplish something in his own mind.

Brock had nothing to do after school when he got off of the bus at quarter after four so he played video games the rest of the evening, not even thinking of giving his school work a look.  So this usually meant that he would rush his school work five minutes before he was to turn it in as he had done so often in the past. He quickly found out that this did not work as well for some teachers in high school like it did in middle school. It didn’t take Brock long to realize some of the high school teachers actually cared about their student’s well being. Too bad Brock didn’t care about his own well being in any of their classes.

So as the ninth grade wore on Brock’s grades did not improve in the slightest and he often found himself in a hole early in the following quarters. But, he kept to his plan of making his parents guilty over what happened last summer, so he continued to allow his grades to decline in order to show them last summer didn’t teach him a thing.

While Brock was winning in that avenue, he was still losing in the friend making and popularity game. He was often ganged up on by Gene and Randle. David sometimes joined in and sometimes he didn’t. Lenny would no longer be on the bus ride home the rest of the school year for the most part as he was on the basketball and baseball teams, so Brock had no near ally on the bus or before class, even if Lenny offered nothing more than a guilty smile.

It was safe to assume that the worst beating he had sustained at the hands of his tormentors so far this year was the progress report incident. They usually enjoyed making a mockery out of Brock due to the speech impediment that had haunted him since first grade and it still had not been fixed. He no longer took a speech class being in high school but it had not fixed his eight year long problem in the first place, so Brock didn’t really see a legitimate use for it anyway.

When it wasn’t Randle, Gene, or David making his life as miserable as they could possibly make it, it didn’t stop others he had went to school with, such as Andy, Marcos, and Dale. Often, Brock was picked on because of his smallish, skinny physique that lacked a muscle tone. The freshman athletes loved pointing this out and no matter what Brock did he just would not commit himself to the weight training regimen many of these kids were now on, being high school athletes. For one, it was too much work for Brock and for another, since Brock found it useless, he gave up on it. Instead he kept telling himself he would prove himself to everyone at a class reunion one day. As for these claims, if he told even someone who was even close to being a friend, it was often met with laughter and disbelief. No one at this school had a high opinion of Brock Patrick. As far as they were concerned, Brock was going nowhere in this life and at this point he had done nothing to prove these people wrong.

 

Another Long Summer

Brock’s summer in 2006 to a small extent was light years better than the previous summer. At least this year he didn’t get in trouble in school and become enslaved by his father for a crime he didn’t commit. But that didn’t mean Jay had more plans for his son who never did anything but play video games all day and binge eat on junk food during his endless hours of free time.

“It’s time to get a job, Brock,” he said during the second week of summer, interrupting Brock’s game of Jim Madison’s APFL 2007 which was the official game of America’s Pro Football League.

“What?” asked Brock, trying to stand and look past Jay, as he controlled the Forest City Cursebreakers, but Jay was now standing right in front of the TV.

“Work,” his dad said, standing tall and crossing his arms. “Not sit and do nothing all day.”

“I am doing something,” Brock shot back, indicating his controller and pointing to the TV. “Can’t you see that?”

Jay smartly walked over to the video game console and turned it off along with the TV.

“Hey! I said I was doing something!” Brock pouted, now brandishing the controller violently.

“Yeah, sitting and manipulating controls,” his dad taunted, now grabbing the controller from Brock’s hand.

Brock glared but Jay wasn’t fazed.

“Just like last year, you’re going to be working for me and your grandparents,” Jay announced so loudly Brock wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole neighborhood heard. Jay drew himself up to full height in front of Brock.

Brock did not like it when his dad’s posture was beyond it’s fullest. Jay was already five feet, eleven inches tall when standing tall, he towered over the short and slim Brock. Jay also had a broader build than Brock, further dwarfing him. This definitely had to have been something Jay learned during his military days from 1984 to 1992 in order to attempt to get his kids to listen to him. With Jed, it worked quite well. With Brock, he still faced some resistance.

“Why?” asked Brock, throwing his arms up.

“Because this isn’t all you’re going to do this summer, that’s why,” countered Jay. “And since you’re still in my house you are to play by my rules. End of discussion.”

And amidst Brock’s protests Jay turned around without a word, unplugged the video game console, and took the cords upstairs with him.

“What about Jed?” asked Brock, following Jay up the thick carpeted stairs and into the narrow hallway on the main floor.

“When he wants them he can have them,” said Jay calmly, stowing them in a shoebox on the top shelf of the closet of the master bedroom. “Now for this summer’s worklist. Get in the kitchen.”

He followed his dad down the hall and to the kitchen table.

“Why are you picking on me and not Jed anyway?” asked Brock, crossing his arms as he took a seat, slouching low in his chair like he always did.

“Maybe if you worked a little harder throughout the school year I wouldn’t have to be so hard on you, Brock,” replied Jay. “Did you happen to see your final report card yet?”

“You read it without my permission!” said Brock aggressively.

“I don’t need permission to read your mail,” said Jay, walking over the microwave stand and retrieving a piece of paper. “Especially when you live under my roof, under my watch, under my rules. If you don’t like it, then get out.”

Brock knew this was only going to lead to more humiliation, despite the fact it was only Brock and his father in this discussion with no witnesses. Hadn’t he had enough of that from Randle, Gene, and sometimes others during the school year? Now he had to do even more work for his family due to his poor grades while Jed, Lenny, and sometimes David got to watch from afar as they swam, biked, played video games, and walked the neighborhood nightly. As for Brock, he was going to be treated like a worthless grunt for a second straight summer. If one asked Brock, he would say everyone treated him like this to begin with so he figured he could have some peace and quiet at home, away from being taken advantage of by others. But nope, even at home Brock was still at the mercy of anyone and everyone.

“You better get used to this, Brock,” said Jay, taking a seat across from him with Brock’s report card in his hand. “Because this will be your future if your grades don’t pick up. Nothing but odd jobs and part time jobs will be in your future unless you decide to turn things around pronto. What do you want to do after high school anyway?”

“Get rich, famous, and powerful,” replied Brock. “I’ll be the one making the policies to run the lives of people such as yourself so you can see how it feels to have someone tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.”

“How?” asked Jay, glaring over the report card, throwing a very intimidating glare in Brock’s direction.

“I don’t know,” answered Brock stupidly, drawing a blank as his dad put him on the spot before he tried to redeem his lame answer. “I’m sure there’s a way. Just get with the right people, push a few buttons. I’ll figure it out, I will assure you that, and you of all people will be in absolute awe.”

“You better find a way,” said Jay, looking to the report card. “So without further ado, your average grade for each class.

“Technical Math, D,” Jay continued. “Integrated English, C minus. Physical Education, C minus. Health, C  minus (they took Health with Physical Education during the second half of the school year). Introduction to Technology, D plus.  Spanish I, D plus. World History I, B minus. Physical Science, C minus….. Brock, this is terrible. A one point eight? Really? Did you happen to see how Jed did? It was straight A’s up and down the board. In fact, after weighing everything down, he finished with a four point two on a scale of four point zero!”

Brock sat there and looked ashen faced and looked on as his father glared at him, looking dangerous.

“You didn’t do so well in school either,” shot Brock, raising his eyebrows. “And look at you, you’re a successful car salesman. But I can outdo even you because I’m pretty sure I know things that you don’t.”

“This isn’t about me!” yelled Jay, throwing the report card at Brock. “And I was never this lazy around the house when I was your age! Ever! Who cares about my grades? At least I knew how to work, especially when I joined the service after high school. Also, when I was fourteen years old I started working for pay! My work life was way more rough than yours is and the military is by no means a joke.”

“You conformed to the system,” said Brock lowly as he looked down at the report card that was now right in front of him.

“Look at me and look at you!” raged Jay, veins bulging in his arms that were visible under his orange polo shirt. “This little fantasy world you’re living in is going to lead you straight to the poor house if you keep it up. You have three more years to prove yourself! I suggest you do it.”

“Okay, well I’ll just go to Thomas Community College for two years,” said Brock. “And it’ll count then.”

“It counts now,” snapped Jay, pounding the table hard with his fist. “How are you supposed to do well in college if you’re just going to develop a habit of sitting there and doing nothing?”

“Okay, well I’ll just do better next year, that’s all,” said Brock, yet in actuality thinking he was going to tank his grades again. Not so much that he would have to repeat a year, but just barely enough to pass by. Brock figured he knew what he was doing.

The summer came and went and although it wasn’t as bad as it was in 2005, it wasn’t good by any means either. Brock only had to work five days per week and only eight hour days, which was much better than the twelve hour days he was doing last summer. Better yet, he did get to play video games, watch TV when he wanted, and do what he wanted after his work day ended at three in the afternoon. That was a positive change. It was clear Brock failed at making his parents, or at least his father, feel guilty about his wrongdoings. Well, it looks like I’m going to have to get even worse, thought Brock. He was going to prove that he didn’t need the grades to succeed. Again, he didn’t plan on failing as he would just have to stay in school another year. But he did plan on tanking big time once again.

On the other hand, Jay was hoping this would instill a sense of work ethic in Brock and that Brock would begin taking life seriously now rather than later, because Brock really had to get the dice rolling quickly before it really was too late.

 

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.

“NOT THIS TIME!” roared Jay from on top of Brock, now slamming Brock’s face in the ground several times. “I’VE HAD IT WITH YOU, YOUR ANTICS, AND YOUR LAZINESS, KID. EVERYONE ELSE HERE HAS DONE SOMETHING FOR THEMSELVES AND YOU STILL VEGETATE ON MY COUCH. YOU’RE THE ARROGANT AND SELF RIGHTEOUS ONE, YOU GOT THAT? YOU GOT THAT!”

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.

 

Part II: A New Beginning, A New Outlook

“I have a Master’s Degree, Obie!” said Brock with excitement. “I can’t believe I actually went from worst to first over a span of two lifetimes. Kind of.”

“That’s great, Brock, but you have to have more than just a degree in order to be successful,” I said.

We were at Lucks, which was Brock’s old employer in both timelines which you will soon read in detail of how Brock got to this very spot we are in at this moment in time. We were sitting at the picnic tables just outside the store eating lunch. Well, Brock was eating. Being supernatural in nature, I really gave up on eating hundreds of millions of centuries ago. No, the Earth is NOT billions of years old (human error and fallacy at its finest) however God is ageless and although the Earth and universe are young, around six-thousand years old. Yet we supernatural beings are all old. Older than old.

Brock was now twenty-seven years old and he could not have looked any more different than the old Brock. Sure, he was still very short and his hair was very wild, but he usually had it gelled into some crazy awesome style. The luxury of being fifty percent Spanish. He also opted to wear contact lenses and he was relentless when it came to his teeth. They were pearly white and straight. He was also rather muscular. Not bodybuilder like but the epitome look of a healthy physique. He had a very athletic build and his limbs were very evenly proportioned. Oh, and instead of that expanding stomach as he had in his old life, he annually held onto a six pack of abs and in the warm months, the eight pack showed. And instead of being an addict of video games and cigarettes, his drugs of choice were plant protein powder and caffeine, but only before an intense workout. Sound like Jed? Don’t worry, Brock’s younger brother is doing just fine working towards his Exercise Physiology Degree. Brock though, beat Jed to the punch this time around and was looking good doing it.

“What should I do now?” asked Brock, reclining back and gazing over at the Lee’s and Quick Burger, whose buildings sat side by side.

“Well, you gave up your old fitness job to get this degree so I suggest you do something related to it,” I said. “You know, you can’t go back to 24/. You have to get out of your comfort zone, just like you did when you had to go back for a Master’s. Should be second nature to you now.”

It was true, and although Brock made pretty decent money the last few years, he actually quit his job to focus entirely on school, so that made Brock a professional college student who just graduated with a Master’s degree. Well sort of, since he became a graduate assistant and received free tuition so technically Brock made a good move and still had money galore saved up due to his independant training business which he did on weekends, bringing in a good two-hundred dollars a week. Not much money by any means but when one doesn’t have to pay an additional forty grand back to the government, it got him by.

“I know,” said Brock. “And I want to make a living where I’m always happy and 24/7 gave that to me. But I also want to be financially secure forever. If I’m not, then this entire second chance thing was pointless, despite all of my accomplishments.”

“Where did you always see yourself?” I asked.

“I’ve always fantasized about a warm climate,” said Brock dreamily.

“What are you thinking?” I asked him.

“Fort City?” suggested Brock.

“I’ll check up on you in intervals,” I replied, getting up. “Right now God wants me to give someone else a second chance and you know the one at a time thing.”

“Right,” said Brock. “Well, you said you would check up.”

“As I do all of you but just so you know, it’s going to be mainly you from here on out,” I said.

“That’s okay,” said Brock. “Thanks for this opportunity.”

 

Brock made an impulsive decision to move to Fort City, South Carolina. His goal was to market himself as a personal trainer where the demand was high. The now muscular Brock walked into a 24/7 Fitness Centers in nearby Coral Town. He was wearing his trademark 24/7 Fitness tank top and a pair of black mesh pants. He planned on working chest this Tuesday night and looked to see the free weight area mobbed as they usually were in this part of the country. One of the best things about Steel Town (where he worked as a trainer at the local 24/7 Fitness) was the low demand for free weights and higher demand for cardio equipment and machines. Down here, one had to fight for a bench. Well, one had to fight just to use the right pair of dumbbells and Brock was going to be by no means the biggest guy in this gym. He’s still the same short Brock, he’s just in much better physical condition.

This was Brock’s first time visiting Coral City’s 24/7. He had to find out which one was the least crowded but it made no difference where he went down here in South Carolina. They were all equally crowded. The difference between the value put on fitness in the Fort-Cape County region and the Muralville-Steel Town region were night and day.

Brock observed the free weight area as he started his warm-up. There were a good ten people back there and for the free weight area at this gym, that was packed. There was a class going on in the room to his left and it sounded as if the entire room was mobbed. The cardio section to his right was about half full. Brock continued to focus on the free weight area and decided that he would look like he was just warming up for his workout and grabbed a light plate and began doing rotator cuff movements for both arms.

Looking in the back he spotted two bodybuilders, a few average looking guys and a couple of guys his age who were built along his lines. He caught the eye of one of the few females that was in the back and he looked away from her almost immediately, instead he focused his attention on the TV that was plastered on the wall replaying a Buzz City Swarm game from Monday Night Football. It was weird seeing the Swarm as a local team instead of the Steel City United, Forest City Cursebreakers, Dark City Nightfall or River City Monsters.

Brock turned and walked back to the free weight area when he noticed that the same dark haired girl continued to study him with interest as he found an incline bench and began doing a couple of warm-up sets of presses with dumbbells. She was a cute girl who sported a petite yet fit build, long black hair and pale skin. She had hazel eyes and a darker style to her. Her clothes were all black just like his, as were her fingernails, eyeliner, and the cross of St. Peter (most mistaken symbol in Christianity today) she wore around her neck. On her left middle finger she wore a ring that looked as if it were a snake’s head with an emerald jewel for an eye. She looked very oddly familiar, but Brock could not put a finger on where he had seen her, though he did have to admit he felt a very strange bond with the girl.

Brock decided to give her a nervous smile which she returned. He didn’t want to talk to a girl just yet, especially since the odds were high that she belonged to one of the guys back here in the free weight area and being the new kid on the block, he really didn’t have the time to start up any kind of bad blood, especially with a group of muscle heads. He wasn’t in Steeltown anymore where there was only one or two really serious guys for every three to four hundred members.

After his first working set of incline dumbbell presses with one hundred pound dumbbells he stood up and put the weights away. A couple of the guys gave him glances as he passed by. Brock was used to this as any 24/7 gym he had ever gone to that was not located in Steeltown this happened. He would walk into a gym and the very minute the “regulars” saw a new individual in the free weight area, their eyes would flock right to them. Worse yet, it was almost like these members would take mental notes on how much weight Brock was lifting and look at him with satisfaction if he did not lift as much as them or with disdain and hate if he were stronger. Although Brock only weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds, he was usually stronger and in better endurance shape than most, at least pound for pound although in reality he couldn’t have cared less how much he lifted in comparison to others. Brock was no powerlifter. He was no bigger than average but his definition and conditioning were spot on almost year round due to his flexible dieting nature but I’m not about to write a nutrition book here.

Brock decided to lay it out on the line and went for the one hundred and ten pound dumbbells. He swore he saw one of the bodybuilding guys shake his head at this and say something to his buddy. Then another guy looked at Brock with unmistakeable loathing but Brock decided to simply shake off the uncomfortable welcome by this crowd and throw his earbuds in, rocking out to a symphony metal band called Nightwish.

“Do you need any help with those weights?” asked a female voice from behind. “Oh, you like Nightwish too?” she added, glancing at Brock’s playlist on his phone and pointing to her shirt which now that Brock saw it in plain sight had the same artwork on it as their Greatest Hits album.

Brock turned and saw that it was the girl staring at him a few moments ago. Brock tried to keep his composure together and not sound angry or annoyed at the girl, especially when she appeared to be a regular. The last thing Brock needed was to give off some bad blood with anyone so he just kept it casual.

“They’re my favorite band, but no thanks to the help, I got this,” he said politely but the girl looked rather downcast. “It’s cool, this weight really isn’t too difficult for me and that is an awesome shirt by the way.”

Brock glanced to his right and left and noticed that the bodybuilders returned to their workout but a couple of the other guys in the back got together in a little clique and were muttering to each other, staring at Brock with angry eyes. Then Brock had a revelation: this girl was the only one who seemed to want him here. Brock was still trying to figure out where he saw this girl before.

“Just thought I’d ask,” she said what appeared to be a slight foreign accent and turned away.

“Wait,” said Brock quickly. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Azula,” she said. “Azula von Bek, but everyone usually just calls me Skye, that’s my nickname for some strange reason or another. Always had been since I was little. What’s yours?”

“Brock Patrick,” he replied. “But I’m no fan of my last name, I like my Spanish heritage way better. I actually just moved here from West Virginia. I started a new job a couple weeks ago but I thought I’d check out the 24/7’s in the area. I used to work at one back home.”

“You’re new here?” she asked, sitting down on the bench beside him as another guy threw Brock a piercing look. Clearly every single one of these men crushed on Skye or they were just jealous of Brock attracting her attention.

“For the most part,” said Brock. “I have a few relatives nearby and my brother is visiting my new place. What about you?”

“I actually came here from Switzerland,” she said. “Just as much opportunity but the weather here is way warmer and I love beaches. Since it’s a landlocked country, I very rarely got to see it, you now?”

Her voice was slow but her accent didn’t appear to be too thick. So she was a Swiss girl. But why she decided to move to America was anyone’s guess. Brock wasn’t un-American by any means, but as a pro-free market libertarian he really felt Switzerland was where it was at. So he actually felt it to be the best country on the planet, next to Israel, of course, which was God’s country that no one could top.

“Tell you what, Skye. I changed my mind. I’ll take a your help, but on one condition,” said Brock.

“What’s that?” she asked, eyeing him with a sideways glance.

“You have to tell me your story and I’ll tell you my story,” said Brock, only referring to his current timeline as logistically one would probably find him quite insane if he started talking about two different lives.

Skye smiled and thought for a few seconds before nodding.

“Well, Brock, I think I can do that,” she said. “But I have to add one more condition to that.”

“I’m down for it,” said Brock. “What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve never really worked chest before and I think it’s time I’ve started,” she said, walking over to the dumbbell rack and grabbing a pair of thirties. She parked herself on the bench and started repping the weight out rather easily. This girl never worked chest? Brock had his suspicions but didn’t say anything.

“I think we can work that out,” said Brock, smiling as Skye knocked out her final rep.

He walked over to the rack and grabbed the one hundred and fifteens. She stood behind him and spotted him as he knocked out eight reps, struggling on that last one.

“So when should we tell our stories?” she asked eagerly as she finished up another set, this time with forties.

“Do you know any good places to eat around here?” he asked, ignoring the haters who were still staring at them and muttering under their breath. “I’ll buy you dinner and we can exchange them there. All you have to do is tell me where to go.”

“I skipped a meal earlier but I’m what one calls a flexible dieter,” she said. “There’s a place called St. John’s Bistro over in Fort City. We should go there.”

“It’s a deal,” said Brock, getting ready to do another set. “And way to go, it beats carrying food everywhere.”

“I know, right?” replied Skye.

“So you like Nightwish,” said Brock after he finished his second set and Skye finished hers. “Who else do you have?”

“Oh pretty much anyone as long as they’re fast, melodic, and bombastic,” she said brightly. “People say I kind of resemble a metal band’s female lead. I guess I can kind of see it.”

“Yeah, a leaner, meaner version of the girls,” said Brock. “I can definitely see that. Why don’t you try the forties?”

“The forties?” breathed Skye. “Are you sure?”

“Oh, I know you got this,” said Brock. “You game?”

“I’m game,” she replied, grabbing them. “Let’s try eight reps.”

After being in Fort City for two weeks, Brock finally had a friend who he could hang out with and better yet, be himself with. The two went to the Bistro that night and exchanged their stories and phone numbers. They planned to meet up at the gym again tomorrow evening and even planned to catch a movie together that weekend.

That evening Brock engaged in one of his favorite hobbies and decided to pull out a yearbook and look back on his senior year at Thomas High. Brock loved his senior yearbook more than the others and as he looked through the pages, something of interest caught his eye.

“Skye from my past life!” exclaimed Brock. “She was with…..wait, am I? Am I taking Dales spot?”

Brock immediately put the book down and fired up his laptop and hit up Facebook and crept on Dale’s profile page. Dale was currently running his own personal training business at a competitor that happened to be across the street from the Cape Town 24/7 Fitness. By the looks of his page and his website, Dale looked to be doing rather well. At least now Brock knew how he managed to pick up Skye. Well, Brock was new in town and just got on with a gym while Dale was a grizzled veteran and looked way ahead of Brock at this moment.

“Well Dale, you have yet to face off with this cardiac kid,” whispered Brock. “Comeback kid. Cardiac…..comeback…….comeback.”

Dale named his business Beach Kid Fitness. Brock too had a nice little facebook fanpage and website with just over three-thousand followers, and he called it Brock ‘Workout Warrior’ Patrick.

“Let’s change it,” said Brock, editing the name of the page. “Brock ‘Comeback Kid’ Patrick. Because I’m looking for people who have tried and failed in the past as my target market. We’re all going to be comeback kids.”

Even in his new life, Brock was never one who had a lot of relationships. In fact, he really only worked out with girls and was attracted to about half of them, if that. His standards were ridiculous. If there was one thing that connected new Brock with old Brock it was their inability to attract women, yet for two entirely different reasons. Whereas the old Brock was just dull, uninteresting, and lacking of the even slightest ambition unless he was talking about ruling the world with an iron fist, the new Brock was so into his future career and lifestyle that most girls just did not figure they could keep up with him. In other words, they possessed lower standards and he was way out of their league, or above their league. They were so right…….and so was Brock.

 

Fort City, South Carolina

The following is dedicated to anyone and everyone who had a hand in allowing a boy once thought to have few talents and little ambition find his place in a world where it’s easy to struggle. All characters in this story are based off of someone from my own life, including Brock himself, who thus far have helped me succeed to a certain point. As I write this work, some of it is entirely fictional while much is entirely factual while the futuristic aspect of the work is entirely goal oriented, minus the soulmate in this particular story. This work reflects my own past and what I would love to see in my future. I see a lot of myself in Brock and hopefully any reader can see a lot of themselves in Brock too, as well as the many trials, tribulations, and revelations Brock faced in his past that morphed him into the person that he is in the year 2020 and hopefully one day, I can relate to Brock on the meaning of success, happiness, and life itself.

Once again, any individual mentioned in this work is based off of an actual person, with the exception of Zula, who personifies many awesome individuals I have come across. Any other individual mentioned have impacted my life far more than they could ever realize and made me who I am today and made Brock who he is in the (hopefully) not so distant future. I’m greatly appreciative of that.

Brock visited St. John’s Bistro once a week. Ever since he moved to the Fort City area he had found this restaurant to be a great place to enjoy a high calorie meal. He had chosen this place not only because his awesome girlfriend loved it, but also due to their great calzones. The Bistro had a reputation for the greatest Italian food in the area but Brock just wanted the breadsticks, the pizza, and on days like today, the calzones.

Twenty-nine year old Brock Patrick moved to the Atlantic Coast two years prior after a six year stint working as a fitness trainer in western Pennsylvania, just across the border from the northern panhandle of West Virginia. West Virginia was Brock’s home state. He lived in Muralville, West Virginia his entire life but he always desired to live in South Carolina, particularly within the Fort City area due to both the warm climate and the history surrounding the place. So two years ago he packed up his belongings and set on his own.

Brock was a fitness trainer in South Carolina as well. In a way, he was still on the “bottom rung” of the fitness industry, but at least he was marketable enough to run his own show. The only difference between training in South Carolina than training in Pennsylvania was that he made about three times more money in South Carolina. Quite a difference. And when one adds in the perks and benefits, so moving here was an easy choice in his chosen field.

He was very independent at his old job, which he held until he completed graduate school two years ago. He worked for a man named Barry Orions who owned five 24/7 Fitness Centers in the surrounding area. Orions was one of those owners who let his team do the work and for good reason: his teams were spot on with what they did. Well at least they were in Muralville. In fact, Orions tended to stay in the club no longer than an hour because Brock and the others were the strongest of his teams and Brock was the strongest and most dedicated of his trainers.

Today was a great day. It was one day before he was to go back home to River Valley for a few days and he was at this Bistro for one last cheat meal, fitness jargon for junk food.

“Your order, sir,” said the waiter, approaching Brock and setting a plate of a large calzone in front of him.

“Thanks, man” said Brock, nodding to the waiter as the waiter placed another calzone, a loaded one, in front of the attractive female sitting across from Brock. “And you don’t need to be so scripted, be yourself.”

“Finally a down to Earth customer,” breathed the waiter. “Enjoy, the food you two.”

“Thats more like it!” said Skye in an excited voice.

Brock first met Skye, about a year ago at a 24/7 Fitness he worked out at. He was very grateful, as they never made them this way in River Valley, be it Thomas County, West Virginia or Liberty County, Pennsylvania. It was for this reason Brock had dreadful luck with girls despite his lean, muscular physique and occupation that he enjoyed instead of hated. Even in this timeline of events, Brock’s game on the dating scene was non-existent for the most part. Many would call this a double-edged sword and that Brock would need to lighten up on the fit life to find a girlfriend but in Brock’s book, those missed opportunities were a plus. Especially due to the fact that God had someone he would love waiting for him the entire time, half a world away. So Brock very patiently bid his time, held out, and simply did what he wanted to do while waiting in the wings. What exactly was Brock’s standpoint? He saved a lot of money and a lot of heartache by simply not worrying about it and focusing on himself. Faith pays it’s dividends quite well.

How was Skye the ringer then? She took to Brock almost instantly, as seen in the first revealed event of Brock’s new life. Yet she had to pass the initial test: consistently coming into the gym and being able to hang with him during a workout a few times a week, which she passed literally within ten minutes of the two meeting, also recently revealed. While Skye was passing the fit test with flying colors they started talking about sports and they find another common interest, a love for pro football despite Skye being from Europe where professional football was not in the interests of many despite the many attempts of the league to expand the game overseas. The fitness lifestyle and the football were awesome but there was one more thing Brock needed to know before he really decided that Skye was the only one for him. He had to know whether or not she put his God first, or at least made a valiant effort to do so. Without this ever important trait any relationship would be destined to fail. What was even better about Skye is that she had a dark, rockstar style about her as well despite her conservative viewpoints, something Brock possessed as well although the two usually just wore gym clothes since they were hardcore gym rats. So she was a tomboy who loved metal music and dressed in accordance. Yep, Skye was awesome. Beyond awesome. As awesome as one could get.

Unlike most guys his age, Brock always looked at appearances second. Sure, he had his ideal look for a girl but as long as the personality and interests were intact, anything would suffice. Although they had to be lean because that was a sign of the fit life, especially here in South Carolina. Skye came as close as a girl could to being a bulls-eye for Brock. She had straight black hair, large hazel eyes with eye-liner surrounding their perimeter. Her skin was as pale as his, and when she spoke she had a light accent, as she came from Bern, Switzerland. Being foreign, especially Switzerland born, was about as big of a bonus as one could have. Needless to say Brock had some strict but rather strange standards.

“How is it today, Brock?” asked Skye.

“Best one yet,” said Brock. “Reminds me of this pizza place from home. Best pizza ever. Like ever.”

“Can you take me there?” she inquired. “I’m always down to try new things.”

“Oh yes, I’m taking you there. This is priority number one!” clambered Brock, aghast.

Skye laughed. “I love it when you’re eccentric,” she said.

“It happens,” he muttered in a comical tone that brought him back to his old fitness training days in Steeltown, Pennsylvania. “But I can’t wait to tour you through this place. It’s going to be a blast.”

“I’ve never been to the northern states, I’m very excited,” said an excited Skye, the pitch in her voice growing higher and higher. This meant that she was indeed ecstatic about this. In fact, she had been talking about it for over a month.

“God makes no mistakes, girl,” grinned Brock. “He made me go through a lot and I mean a lot but I always knew the Atlantic Coast was calling my name.”

“Mine too,” she said, smiling back at him. “Or a coast, anyway. Switzerland is an awesome country but it has one major weakness.”

“Universal healthcare?” guessed Brock in a joking tone. Brock was a liberty first guy who did not believe in people being forced to buy into anything, especially if it was required by government.

“Okay, two then,” conceded Skye. “Universal healthcare and the fact that Switzerland is inland!”

“Yeah, but look at all of the positives,” said Brock. “Low taxes, safe bank accounts, lack of armed conflict for over two hundred years, yet at the same time, a military so well trained they may be the strongest in the world.”

“I thought you Americans boasted about possessing the strongest forces on the planet?” asked Skye, eyebrows raised.

“Only those who are biased and claim our military protects freedom,” said Brock brightly. “What freedom, might I ask? The Patriot Act? The coup of 1953 that made the Middle East hate us? I could go on and on.”

“You’re a wise man, Brock,” said Skye. “That’s what I’ve always liked about you. The one downside about the U.S is the fact it thinks it has to intervene in anything and everything.”

“Ah, it doesn’t take a genius to realize our military acts as a global police force,” replied Brock. “Much like the British once upon a time. Kind of ironic our forces mirror the same forces we broke away from back in the eighteenth century! I’m just waiting for our economy to collapse like the British, Napoleon’s France, and the Ottoman Empire.”

“You love your history,” said Skye, smiling.

They finished their dinner and set off for his condo that he bought a few months ago. They were to take off at seven in the morning, so it made more sense to stay at Brock’s place, sleeping in separate rooms of course.

They spent the evening watching two movies from the fantasy genre. One was an animated Disney film from the 1990s. After the second movie, a dark fantasy which involved a dying musician making amends with his once estranged daughter, Skye fell asleep on the recliner in Brock’s arms towards the end of the final movie and he gently pried himself off of her and carefully walked her over and laid her on his couch.

“What time is it, Brock?” she asked in a sleepy voice, her eyes still shut.

Brock checked his phone, where he saw that he had about five hours of solid sleep before he and Skye had to get up for tomorrow’s flight home.

“Nice, you have about five more hours before you have to wake up,” said Brock kindly.

“That’s nice,” she replied, her voice starting to drift off.

“I’ll see you in a few,” he said, turning to go up the stairs.

They were going to see Brock’s family on Thursday and then a high school football game on Friday, although Brock had not let Skye in on this quite yet. Saturday and Sunday were Labor Day picnics so they had quite the itinerary. Brock also wanted to introduce Skye to those places that helped him get to South Carolina. There were a big list of places and it probably couldn’t all be covered in one trip. He did hope Orions was still running the show in Steeltown. The best thing Orions did for him other than show him the benefits of New Age, a group training program that was rather effective, was to give him a free lifetime membership to 24/7 Fitness. If it wasn’t for all of this he never would have met Skye in the first place…..in this kind of situation anyway, since he now remembered her from his first crack at life. That was definitely a flashback he did not like to think of but on the bright side, Skye had no memory of anyone named Dale Detmer when Brock slipped his name in conversation once. Perhaps Brock had taken over Dale’s role in this life? Maybe Brock was meant to do just that, as Brock remembered the adult Dale as a very money loving man who would do anything to make a few bucks. One thing is for certain, Dale was not meant to be a trainer or a salesperson of a training program because Dale never cared about the well being of other clients. He was in it strictly for the money and nothing else. And from what Brock saw in his old life, he even treated Skye horribly.

The next morning they awoke and ate a breakfast of plant powered cereal with almond milk, readied themselves, and then took to the skies on a plane that would take Brock home where he technically had fifty years worth of memories if the thirty-five years of his original life were to be counted. Brock thought back to the first time he had ever been on a plane. It had been three years ago, in April, when he came down to visit the only relatives he had in these parts with his parents, which were his Uncle Ricardo and Aunt Wendy. Since then, he had gotten more than used to flying. Apart from this annual trip, he came home every Thanksgiving and Christmas. There had been a few other random times he had come home as well, but these three were the bi-annual fixtures.

“You’re going to think it’s nice up here you know, Skye,” said Brock, looking down to the wide open land that resembled a quilt at this altitude.

Skye gave Brock a half glance and half smile. “Why’s that?”

“Well, it’s about as warm up there as it is down here,” said Brock. “If you want to come up with me in November or December, it’s going to be a little cold.”

Skye sighed, sticking her tongue out at him briefly. “That was my motive to come to South Carolina, to get away from the cold and to be near a coast in a town that loves God,” she said longingly. “And Fort City is definitely that place! It’s Heaven on Earth. Especially with the beautiful church steeples flooding the skyline.”

“You and me both,” said Brock. “I remember back when I was twenty-six and had a semester to go in grad school I was counting down the final winter I would spend up there. But yeah, the church steeples are my added bonus too.”

Skye laughed at this. “Yeah, you’ve told me plenty of horror stories about River Valley’s winters!”

“Brutal!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “Most of the time, but for a couple of winters the temperature never rose above ten degrees. It was so cold I would sit in the gym’s office for an hour trying to convince myself to go outside and warm my car up.”

They landed at one in the afternoon at the Steel City airport. They had a rental car waiting for them, a bright red Chevy Malibu.

“Same color as Taj, my awesome Camaro,” grinned Brock. “Sorry, Skye, but she was there first!”

“I know, Taj was your first and sometimes only love,” said Skye in a fake sobbing voice.

“Yep she was,” he said brightly. “Taj has been the best looking car I’ve ever owned. I love having her down in Fort City!”

Skye shook her head and laughed at this. “Did I mention you’re an idiot sometimes, Brock?”

“I’m probably an idiot all the time,” laughed Brock.

They drove first to Brock’s parent’s house, where a small get together was going on with the works: the grandparents, Lonnie, Riley, Aunt Marie, Uncle Sev, Jay, Ana, Jed Aunt Maya, and Uncle James. Lenny and his small family were currently on vacation. It was the usual crowd from the old life, except that Brock was successful and had Skye with him, so in this moment in a second timeline Brock had no hard feelings towards any of them. In fact, now that he looked back on it he felt almost stupid to have been so angry and hateful in his past life. They were family after all, and now that he was wise, they were the only ones who could always be counted on. They all took to Skye just as Brock had hoped, to the point to Skye accomanying Brock’s mother, grandmothers, and aunts to a trip to the Pike Town Mall the next day.

Brock, meanwhile, had this ritual of driving around the town of Summerville, Muralville, and Steeltown, stopping at various landmarks that he held in high regard. These places all had their part in making Brock what he was today. There was Brock’s old gym known as Olympia, Lucks, which was Brock’s first real employer, the Summerville track, where he spent one summer with an awesome girl every day of the week until she went to college. There were a lot of awesome locations Brock had to visit and soak in the memories. The good times were long gone but the memories lived on for eternity.

 

The Lucks Years

The next day Brock was driving on the back road of the hill he had lived on years before. It was one of the largest, if not the largest hill in Thomas County. As he drove, he looked to his right. He had always loved this view. The view of Thomas County from this hill was amazing. To one side was the small city of Muralville while the other part was the busy and vibrant village of Summersville and if one were to look even further over the city would turn into a vast country that was littered with warehouses, oil rigs, and small water towers. During the day the view was great but it was even better in the early hours of the day, just after daybreak while the sun ws rising or during the evening hours and into the night. Brock always referred to these parts as the Horizons, the song that was always stuck in his head when he was in Summersville, especially when he hit Main Street.

As he now turned onto the main road, he passed several more landmarks. First, on the highest peak of the hill was Brock’s old grade school. Still standing and in good condition, the school had closed down back when Jed graduated high school seven years prior. Now he passed by the old corner store called Six Trac, which always seemed to change owners each decade, this past decade being no exception. He didn’t know exactly who owned it now but he was very happy that he wasn’t spending needless dollars on pack after pack of Pall Mall cigarettes in this life. Further down the road he passed the old storage unit, a place where cops liked to stop speeding drivers in which Brock had been a guilty party on at least one occasion though he did gain the cop’s respect with his muscle tone so it wasn’t a terrible experience. Now he was at the part of the hill where the road split two farms on either side but Brock looked to his right again with yet another awesome view of the Horizons, this view even better than the one near his place. Over here, one could see Muralville even better while looking further to the right the awesome Summersville water tower stood in the far distance with the mid-afternoon sun shimmering off of the head of the tower. Just past the beautiful tower, the church steeple of the Summersville skyline was also seen if one knew where to look. It looked like a very thin black line brushing the bright blue sky at this distance. Just a little bit past these structures sat the home of Brock’s grandparents.

It was safe to assume Brock had more than his fair share of awesome memories over two different lives he could write a book on the subject. After all of Brock’s trials, tribulations, achievements, and obstacles, a bestseller could definitley be in the making one day. Brock thought he may do this after retirement, when he would have over sixty years of memories to share with the public yet Brock was rather ambitious in this lifetime so he had short stories written of his two timelines saved on his laptop back home in South Carolina.

At the bottom of the hill he took a right onto St. James Highway and drove another mile or so before reaching an exit to his right which would take him up to Summersville. His first stop was Becks. There were lots of memories there. As he made his way up the hill he saw the old gas station that his eighty-two year old grandfather had worked back in the 1950’s. This gas station marked the intersection that would take him to Summersville. It had been a long time coming. He never thought he would miss this little town so much.

He took a right and headed off, an excited burst of adrenaline starting to pump through his veins now as they always had doing this routine when he returned home.

“Becks, how could I go anywhere else to get my food when I’m here?” he asked himself, half laughing, thinking of a similar remark made by Dale in his old life during that fateful evening when Brock asked for his old job back.

Brock usually went back to that memory many times and even moreso after he met Skye. It was strange, because now that he really thought about it, Skye was one of only a girls in his old life who actually treated him in a friendly manner and like a human being. Although he only saw the girl a handful of times, anytime Dale was around Brock and would say or imply something rude to Brock or anyone in the setting, Skye looked to be the one to find value in them despite the fact that Dale would continuously cut her off and treat her like an object. After reliving these instances several times, Brock came to a realization that perhaps he was chosen to relive his life for more than only to improve his own life. God only chooses those who will change several lives and Brock may have been the only one in that position to do just that. That was Brock’s theory, anyway, and it is fun seeing him attempt to figure this puzzle out but in actuality if God doesn’t want people to figure something out He will not reveal it to them.

Brock made a left at another traffic light on Main Street and then parked in the upper part of the parking lot, directly in the view of the water tower that sat a good mile off behind a rake thin treeline. As he exited the rental he saw an employee in his early twenties clamber out of a pewter Chevy Colarado. Wow, now that was something, thought Brock. Brock had a similar vehicle when he was that exact same age, except it was an older model and a different make. Brock’s was a black Ford Ranger with an extended cab and tinted windows. Brock loved that truck. It was a shame when Jay decided to sell it when the transmission ran out. It had been bought by a man at one of the local sportsman’s clubs out in Bloomfield and the truck, at twenty years of age, still runs to this day. In fact, it runs like a beast. Brock saw it with his own two eyes a few years ago.

Brock made his way down the parking lot and looked around, mainly staring at that water tower but also looking around to see a couple of the courtesy clerks carrying the customer’s bags to their vehicles while others entered and exited the store. Brock turned and saw Mindy nearly walk into him as he was inches away from entering. He moved out of the way at the last possible second.

“Oh, excuse me, sir, I didn’t see you there at all!” exclaimed Mindy in an over dramatic tone, taking a step back to allow Brock through.

“Nah, you’re good, go ahead in front of me,” said Brock kindly, stopping and giving her room to walk in front of him.

Brock followed Mindy into the store and saw that apart from most of the faces, Becks hadn’t really changed in his time away. To his left was the produce department, further on was the bakery and the deli was right in front of him. Brock stopped eating baked goods for the most part years back, but he did crave doughnuts every now and then, particularly if they came from Becks! He decided to pass on them today, however, and grabbed some of the essentials he and Skye would need.

As usual, Brock didn’t use a shopping cart as during his days at Becks there were times when every single cart was in use during the sales. Since then he had always carried his food as he shopped. Maybe it was his fitness lifestyle that had him abandon every little piece of the modern American lifestyle other than essentials such as phones and vehicles. Isn’t that why he’d became a trainer in the first place and stuck to it despite his college credentials? Well, it was a more lucerative job down in Florida than it was in the River Valley so the choice was easy. And not only that, the financial security was even better and both Brock and Skye could easily scratch six figures if the bonus money coming in was right.

Brock strode down the third aisle to grab some tuna, which had been in the same spot since he had worked there back in 2011. He saw a man dressed in a white dress shirt and black dress pants with a tie with short, silver hair and glasses taking wide steps down the aisle with a painted smile on his face.

“Hey, how are you?” he asked Brock in a falsely bright tone as he walked by.

“Good,” replied Brock before the man took a left and disappeared into the deli.

Wow, looks like Lance is back here again, he thought to himself, surprised for a moment before remembering that Lance did indeed make a comeback in the year 2019 when Brock was still bagging in his past life. The Brock who faced Lance then looked quite different than the one facing Lance today. Then Brock saw a couple pass by who looked to be the in the same age group as he and Skye. Brock was immediately thrown into flashback mode. Flashback mode of this life, that is.

What, you thought this was going to be some kind of love story in which Brock finds the girl of his dreams and lives happily ever after? Now how can I teach success to others these days if Brock wakes up back in the eighth grade one spring morning, has a nasty tale to tell of his old life and then just happens to win a girl named Skye over by just reliving fifteen years of his life? It isn’t that easy, people. In fact, even in this life Brock did not have a yellow brick road so let’s cut to the chase, shall we….

Very angry, disappointed, and in an “I can’t” mindset, Brock was literally going from place to place in the village of Summersville. He was a twenty year old, university drop out, unemployed loser looking for a chance from someone. Right now, anyone, anything, would be better than what he had now. Brock was making seventy dollars a week working two hours a week, cutting grass for a living, which he would only be able to do for a couple more months.

So what was the difference between the Brock of now and the old Brock if he were in a similar situation at a similar age in a second chance timeline? Doesn’t this story sound oddly familiar? Look before you leap because there is an ample difference. Brock had a few things going for him, actually, he just needed to realize it. For starters, despite being a university dropout he was going back to school at Thomas Community College so he wasn’t quitting school. He just needed some direction. Secondly, Brock had been a workout fanatic since 2005, his freshman year of high school. This discipline actually translated into a work ethic the old Brock never possessed. And third, Brock now saw the importance of starting at the bottom of an organization and working to get noticed and then build up and succeed. In other words, Brock had to be a bottom dweller before he was allowed to win.

And his parents were insisting that he get a job somewhere and start providing for and supporting himself. He tried everywhere, literally everywhere to find work but either no one was hiring at the moment or no one was hiring him at the moment. Worse yet, he was turned down by The Dollar Store. Who gets turned down by a dollar store? Brock didn’t think he was the cream of the crop who deserved handouts in this life. Instead, Brock was wise enough to know that he needed something on a resume and he was trying drastically to find something. Anything!

So he was an unemployed college dropout who had never held a job longer than three months in his twenty years of life. When Brock was in high school, he thought he would have achieved something by now, big or small. Or heck, at least he thought he’d be working in his passion by now, which was fitness. Even if he had to start out as a janitor or a receptionist. But around here in Thomas County, the only place was the local YMCA, and they interviewed him for a good ten minutes and that ten minutes covered several jobs. That meant they probably weren’t going to get back to him. Terrific, just terrific.

Brock did spend many nights wondering if he was only being played by me. He spent day and night cursing me, openly asking (sometimes shouting) what the point of all of this was. Well, God told me specifically not to tell Brock anything as he had to figure things out for himself. So, new Brock got to be old Brock for a time once again except for the fact that this new and improved Brock worked relentlessly toward his goals, was in way better health, and actually held a sense of purpose and faith.

As Brock sat there in his old truck he did acknowledge the good news was that he was finally ready to buckle down when it came to school, so he re-enrolled in the local community college, Thomas Community College. He even told the advisor to load up his schedule as it looked as if no one really wanted to hire him at the moment, so he thought he might as well make himself useful some way. Loading up to the maximum credit hours was a great way to start. At least it would feel like a time consuming job.

He had eleven dollars on him and when he says he has eleven dollars on him, he only had eleven dollars on him. His bank account was empty, so the only things he could afford right now were the very bare essentials. Since his parents didn’t take orders in terms of food he was stuck buying his own. When I say stuck buying his own food, I mean actual healthy food that Brock now loved rather than the junk his old counterpart liked to indulge in. Brock still loved junk food, but he only allowed himself to eat some one to two times per week, depending on how well he was in reaching his fitness goals.

Brock drove into the Becks lot and entered the store. There he saw the familiar faces at the cash registers. There was a short, squat lady with short black hair and glasses at one, a petite man who looked middle aged at the second, and further on a short, older lady with glasses and blonde hair. Another middle aged lady with jet black hair was making her way to her register. As for who they were, Brock had to look at their nametags since he wasn’t very good with remembering the names of people he only saw a few times per week.

Brock walked past the produce and bakery departments and right into the meat department, where he would buy his week’s worth of off brand chicken, tuna, and frozen broccoli that was in the frozen section towards the back of the store. Since he could only afford an off brand at the moment, the food tasted rather terrible but it would suffice.

Brock was about to check out before he remembered that he also needed to by a notebook to record some workouts that he would do for the next week. When he walked down that aisle, right in front of the cash registers, he noticed a man dressed like he was a manager, with salt and pepper hair, white dress shirt, black tie and black dress pants. His nametag read Lance.

“Hi, how are you doing?” asked Lance as he saw Brock before diving back into his work to price items.

“I’m good,” replied Brock, who finally had a thought. “Hey, are you guys hiring as of right now? I actually handed one of the ladies at the front desk an application about a week ago but I haven’t heard anything.”

Now Lance looked up at Brock and stood up. “Well, we are always collecting applications and we are short staffed,” he said. “What was your name?”

“Brock Patrick,” he said, shaking hands with the manager.

“Good to meet you, Brock, I will certainly look for yor name,” he replied.

“Thank you!” said Brock, before turning and heading for the registers.

This happened to be the start of something, as not even a few days passed before Lance was calling Brock, asking to schedule an interview. Better yet, he had a very successful interview with the District Manger, Patty. He would then be called back in for a second interview, which was more like a computer personality test. Brock guessed that he passed it, because the very next day they offered to put him on the store’s front line as a courtesy clerk, a fancy name for bagger. Well, now he was in a familiar position. This time around, Brock was going to make the most of his work and make a vow to himself not to get so lazy and slow up front.

Back to present day, the twenty-nine year old Brock was heading in the same direction as this couple, so he decided to follow them, praying to God that he would not be recognized by them. The couple in question was Elana and Billy Flowers. Brock assumed they were married by now, as they had to have been together for over eight years now. He wondered if they had forgiven him by now for a careless mistake he made regarding them years ago. As he followed them into the frozen foods section they went over to the ice cream and he passed them so he could get to the vegetables.

“Excuse me, guys,” he said politely as Billy took a look at him and nodded.

Brock wondered whether or not Billy had recognized him so as he dug his hand into the freezer he stole a glance at them and sure enough they were both looking at him and muttering to each other. Yep he was busted. Brock didn’t change too much in appearance, and he probably looked rather youthful despite his ever increasing age so he was probably easily recognizable. But he was okay with being spotted by this particular couple because for years he had desired to tie up some loose ends.

Back in early September of 2011 the summer looked as if it had been dying, which was a shame because weather wise, it turned out to be one of the better, more balanced summers Brock had in recent memory despite the constant headache of never finding a gig until August. This time, though, Brock was going to show both Lance and the entire company of Becks that he was a hard worker, a very hard worker and not the self-righteous, self-proclaimed victim he had been in another life.

And so he began his new job almost exactly when the school year started. Keep in mind so when Brock started the job in this scenario, he was two years older than his old self and much, much more mature. As promised, Brock did everything right this time, bagging groceries as fast as possible, helping the other baggers bag their groceries, engage in coversation with the customers he waited on, and did anything and everything his supervisors expected of him. Sure, even in this life he felt it was still a low status job, but unlike his old self, it was stepping stone to greater things. His new outlook told him that if he performed well on the low level, he would get chances at a higher one.

Brock had been at Becks for a little over a month now and he had met almost all of the people that he had once merely seen in blurs when he shopped for food. He was pretty sure that by now he had bagged for all of the cashiers and that he had met a most of the people working in the departments. Ah, how lucky they all were, working in their own departments, doing their own thing and not having to look at a wall clock that unfortunately sat right behind the registers, because other than that little annoyance the job really wasn’t that bad. Maybe if Brock worked up front hard enough, he would be lucky enough to join this hallowed few and do something other than being subject to the rule of the ladies who ran the service desk and supervised the cashiers and courtesy clerks.

Brock had been trying to attain as many hours as he could so he could make as much as he could. He was bringing home roughly three hundred to four hundred dollar paychecks every two weeks. That was before taxes of course but since the IRS considered him to be of low social status, he kept most of his earnings. Okay, so being on the bottom of the totem pole did have its perks, but only for a short time. Brock noticed that most of the baggers he worked with were either doing this as a retirement job, or for the other baggers, they were doing this because their parents made them work. In other words, they were lazy kids around his age. Keep in mind, in Brock’s first whirl at life he was being passed over by these couch potatoes. This just gives one an idea on how slow and careless Brock really was when it came to this job in his first go-around.

In this life, Brock realized he was much brighter and much more manipulative than one would think at the time. So he used their laziness, ignorance, and love for the partying lifestyle to his advantage. First, he would do most of the cleaning at night, so the people at the front desk who supervised them saw that he was going to outwork anyone on that front line. Next, he offered to trade his four and five hour evening shifts for eight hour closing shifts. In other words, his four to nine and two to seven shifts were becoming three to eleven. That was awesome, as almost everyone his age was willing to make that trade-off. Best yet, he told the front desk ladies that he was willing to work any shift as long as he was free, so he gave them the liberty to call him before calling the other baggers as long as that was okay.

So Brock had all of these kids at his disposal and on those Friday and Saturday nights they wanted nothing more than to be out and partying with their friends instead of working. That was just okay with Brock.

So there he stood on the front line in that late October afternoon. It was a slower day, as yesterday was the last of a two day meat and produce sale, so Brock and two of his co-workers were keeping busy by cleaning the register belts, sweeping between registers, and re-bagging their work areas when Patty came from the back office accompanied by four people who were carrying vests and smocks. One kid was a stocky one who Brock had recognized from Thomas Community. Later on, just as Brock became a successful trainer to the general public, this guy would become a cross-fit legend competing on a global level. The second one was a large girl who looked like her last stop was at a fast food joint. Yikes! Brock prayed she wouldn’t pursue a relationship with him, because he would have to give her a hard no! The third one was a middle aged man but the fourth one made Brock do a double take.

This girl was the same girl, the very same girl, he had been eyeing up for the past four weeks in the Thomas Community hallways. She caught his eye on the first day of classes and since then he had been just looking for an excuse to talk to her. Now it looked like he had to. Wow, isn’t that something. She had literally all of the features that Brock liked, shorter, petite build, long, dark hair and large dark eyes. Could anyone have asked for a better situation?

So of course the second the next schedule was posted Brock had to look at the courtesy clerk list to find if this girl was up front with him and with another stroke of luck he did see a random name on there: Elana. Okay, awesome, so he ran his finger across the schedule on his name to see exactly when they would be working together and he found the day. It looked like she was working from nine to five and he was working from eleven to seven. Well, it looked like they had something to talk about, both of their Saturdays were going to be taken up by work. That was the one time when Brock looked forward to nothing but going to work. It was going to be a great Saturday.

Saturday rolled around and Elana was even better than advertised. The dark skin and dark hair looked even better at a close range and she had the sweetest personality of anyone he had ever met. She did have a bit of a downside, however, as any human being would until he met Skye a few years later. First off, she was only sixteen, still a kid to most twenty year old guys, such as Brock. Unfortunately, the girl wasn’t single either, also a bummer. Not the greatest news, but not the worst.

Anyway, Becks itself was Brock’s way of making a living for the time being. He worked the job all the way through the fall and into the cooler months. The front did get boring and although Brock continued to work hard at the job he so badly wanted to get into a department, in which he could do his own thing without staring at the clock all day.

Lance was one of those store managers that always needed his employees to be doing something at any given time, no matter the situation. If things were going slow up front, he had a few of his harder workers work in the grocery, dairy, and even meat departments. Brock was one of the lucky few that had these privileges to the extent that he would see a ‘g/d’ beside his name more than a few times.

G/d meant that he was to work in grocery and dairy for the day. These were Brock’s favorite departments at the store. He could stock grocery for a while and then switch over to dairy for a while before going back to grocery. He was also allowed to take his own breaks. During one Saturday shift he was working eight in the morning to four in the afternoon and he saved all three breaks for the second part of his shift. The afternoon only consisted of three hours of work instead of four, which made for a smooth afternoon portion of his shift.

Not only was dairy a nice place to unwind and get lost in thought while stocking product, Brock’s favorite part about the dairy department was the view of the vast countryside that laid beyond the outskirts of Summersville. This would occur when Brock would open the door to stack the milk crates when the pallets were full of them. This was especially awesome in the fall months because of the changing leaves and the hint of orange and pink were visible in the sky as the sun set in the west over the Summersville water tower on the opposite side of the building. Brock could look into either view forever and he always had a hard time deciding on which was his preferred view.

Another awesome thing about dairy were the wild looks the customers would give him when he was stocking the dairy products from behind inside the cooler. There were a few times when he would be singing to himself and a customer would literally walk up to the stock of milk and cheese and attempt to peer behind into the cooler. Brock would usually show himself if they persisted and the look of shock on their faces were priceless.

Meanwhile, while working grocery, stocking the beer and wine were his favorites. The wine took a while and at times it could be comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. The good part about this was that he could make an excuse to kill one half hours by merely looking for the right place to stock a few bottles of wine and since it was a tough puzzle to solve at times, the managers really didn’t mind if one did spend a while doing this. The beer was even better because it involved a lot of moving around in order to fit into the coolers. That could also take up an hour and Lance would still take it as quick and efficient work. Grocery, at times was challenging, but that was nothing for what lay ahead.

Back to the present, Brock could not help but continue to look directly at Billy and Elana as they attempted to pass by but today was a different day, a different era. So Brock threw caution to the wind and decided to step up right in front of them and attempt this long awaited conversation.

“Been a long while,” he said, stepping right in front of their cart.

“It has,” said Billy flatly, taking a small step back while looking unsure if he should just walk right past Brock or stand his ground.

Obviously Billy still had an awkwardness about talking to Brock, but Brock was ready to forgive the guy. After all, Billy was technically a relative. A third cousin to be exact, so it was the right thing to do. It’s strange the way God works. There are times when He lets one down to the point they just want to scream but when the faith is kept, even in the darkest of times will they eventually be thankful for where they are in present day. Brock was no exception to that rule and Skye stood as prime evidence of the epitome of being a workout warrior who loved God and the rather dark, heavy metal style of dress.

“I’ve actually been out of the area for a while,” said Brock, trying not to sound arrogant or brash, but honest and humble. “It’s kind of good to be back for a bit.”

Billy nodded as Elana looked as if she was trying to signal to Billy that it was time to go. The look in her eyes still flashed a small shred of tension whenever she stole a glance at Brock. Obviously she was not ready to leave the past behind and probably still looked at Brock as a fake person. But no, God gave Brock an opportunity to relive a portion of his life and Brock wasn’t about to let a small mistake define him as unkind for the likes of anyone. Again, even in second chance mode Brock was still by all means human and that meant he still made minor mistakes every now and again, including present day.

“Where are you at now?” asked Billy.

“Fort City, Florida,” said Brock. “I moved down there two years ago. I’ve always wanted to be there but to tell you the truth it took me a little longer than I anticipated.”

“That’s great,” said Billy, doing his best to sound friendly. “Yeah, I’m currently in between jobs and Laney here has been my primary income. She’s an awesome girl.”

Brock smiled. “Seems like it,” he said. “What are you up to these days, Laney?”

Elana looked shocked for a second, sort of what Skye looks like in a normal expression half of the time. Well, at least Elana reminded him of his own girlfriend these days and not a model he liked back when he was in his early twenties. Brock had definitely grown up and this was one of those tests that proved just that.

“Nurse at St. James,” she replied in a low voice.

“Ah, you’ll def always have work in that field,” said Brock. “Definitley worthwhile too.”

“Yeah,” said Elana in a rushed voice. “Well, anyway, Brock, it was good seeing you but Billy and I really have to get home, so we’ll see you around….maybe.”

She trotted off at a rather fast pace and Billy looked taken aback for a second and then went to follow but not before Brock called him back for a brief second.

“Yo, Billy,” Brock called as Billy walked a few steps forward with the cart. He turned around and Elana rolled her eyes and sighed loudly and and impatiently, stopping a few steps in front of him.

“Come on, Billy,” she urged, throwing her arms up.

Ignoring Elana’s protests, Brock stuck out his hand and Billy shook it without hesitation. “Good seeing you, man, and best of luck to you both” said Brock.

“You too,” nodded Billy before he turned around and caught up with Elana.

Brock smiled as he watched them walk the perimeter of the store toward the meat department. Those two belonged together, thought Brock, shaking his head before heading back the other way to the registers.

Victory, as in a win and not Victory Sports, was the only thing in his head right now as he clambered into Jimmy’s checkout line, another old face. It was victory because Brock was able to at least make peace with Billy and at least offer it to Elana. Now, Brock could catch up with one of the ones who was hired here the same time he was.

Jimmy looked older than his age, which was only one to two years older than Brock. His light blonde hair was thinning faster than ever before, leaving a horsehoe shape at the top of his head. He was hunching over more than the average thirty year old and his stomach stuck out further than ever before although his limbs looked an average length. He really resembled Brock’s old characteristics other than the hair.

“Brock Patrick?” inquired Jimmy in his low, raspy voice which was deteriorating quickly due to his penchant for smoking.

“That’s me,” smiled Brock. “I just ran into Billy and Laney a few minutes ago so they’ll be coming around. It’s great to be back in Summersville.”

“Where have you been?” he asked, ringing Brock out slowly.

“Florida,” replied Brock. “Lived with my uncle for a bit before setting off on my own as a trainer down there. I love it.”

“That’s awesome, man,” nodded Jimmy. “Ten thirty-five, by the way.”

Brock paid and bid good luck to Jimmy as he set off for his rental. He planned on sitting there for a bit while he could take in the beauty of the Summersville skyline. It was only a village so a few buildings on Main Street, the water tower, the grade school, and the steeple of a church were the only real structures to see. Brock didn’t care. He loved the skyline and looking to that water tower more than anything. To him, not a single worry in the world could bother him as he looked. This was one of the best views in the Horizons.

He put his groceries into the trunk and leaned against the car just staring into the distance, thinking. Then, while staring into this grand view, the rest of the Billy-Laney flashback came to him. Brock was going to be sitting here for a while.

It was January, and it was your typical one in Summersville. It was cold, snowy, and gray. There was no sign that spring would make it and during this time of year, an outsider would believe they were somewhere in the tundra. The reality was that winter only lasted between six to eight weeks in River Valley, beginning in late December and ending in late February and the latest.

It was a meat and produce sale, and Lance told Brock that instead of working as a courtesy clerk today he would start a short stint in the produce department. This meant that they were going to train him to work produce during a sale, which was hard to do since product would be in very high demand today. A lot of workers in the break room constantly complained about Lance’s inability to properly manage a store and this was one of those examples, thrusting young Brock into a fray of rude, old, and cheap customers during a sale.

Brock didn’t mind, since he wouldn’t be staring at a clock during his downtime in produce. So when he clocked in that day, he saw one of the produce workers clocking in at the same time bright and early at eight in the morning. It was a short, stocky girl named Val who Brock routinely passed in the store. Brock guessed that she was supposed to be the one to teach him how to work in the department.

“Uh, I think I’m supposed to be with you guys today,” was his way of greeting her.

“Ugh, I forgot that you were coming today,” she sighed in a very boring tone. “Well I guess that’s not your fault. Come with me then. It won’t be a blast, just thought I’d forewarn you.”

Brock had to admit that for his first time working produce, he wasn’t that bad at it. All he had to do were stock the goods that were on sale, especially on a day like today. Brock learned early on that the key to working produce was to make every little bit of the department look like it were constantly full. This made the department look good. Another important aspect to produce was that everything had to look fresh, as if they were picking fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden in the back of the store near that wonderful treeline that looked so peaceful during sunset.

“If it looks like you won’t buy it, pitch it,” said Michael, the man from Cato, who distributed the produce to Becks. “You’ll be great at this job if you remember that.”

The days in produce were fun in the beginning yet Brock was ready to go back up front after a few short weeks once the job became repetitive. However, due to the constant reminding of Lance that the position was open, he applied and interviewed for the open produce position and unfortunately, got the job. He would be so upset at his unsuccessful self in his old life and now in the new life, he was not happy at his success stories. Ironic would be an appropriate term here. Brock took the job because he would have considered it a promotion when he first started but he now realized that he would not get a raise. This was no promotion, just a relocation. If that’s the case, then why even interview someone for the job? Why not just put them back there and wing it?

Produce was really routine, depending on the work shift. The first shift started at six in the morning, and it was Brock’s least favorite. First, he had to drag himself out of bed at four in the morning and on a weekday and on top of that it meant that he could not go to the gym at his preferred time of five. Secondly, once six o’clock hit he had to take a cart and check every last item in produce. There were literally thousands of items and this was only expected to take thirty minutes but it ended up taking one hour, sometimes more. The reason why it was expected to take thirty minutes was because Lance wanted the new order to be unloaded and the inventory to be checked off by seven o’clock, when the store officially opened it’s doors for the day. Lance also preferred the sale items to be stocked at this point as well. Now Brock could see why those at the store saw Lance as delusional. How was it possible to get everything done in a one hour timeframe? It wasn’t. Brock was a very hard worker and he tried hard to get everything finished in the timeframe of an hour but it was just impossible.

It was around this time that Brock really began to question just exactly what kind of path he was heading down. In school, he was gearing up to transfer to Zip University from Thomas Community to major in International Relations but Brock still wanted to give a fitness career a try no matter how unsuccessful he had been to this point, although he was only twenty and very few twenty year olds hold jobs in the industry. He did know this: he wasn’t offering much as a produce service clerk making a hair under eight dollars an hour while working an average of twenty hours per week. That paycheck paid a little bit over three hundred and sixty dollars before taxes. It was enough to buy food, put fuel into the Ford Fusion that he was now driving around and if he had anything left over, buy supplements.

Not too many people understood exactly what Brock was going after in his life except possibly his department manager, Gaff, who was only a year older than he was and the man with a montage of pro football’s Bay City Universe tattoos who brought in the Pepsi products a couple times a week. Other than that, Brock was left to daydream of this little fantasy world as he stocked the apples, oranges, salads, and bananas.

Of course, dating Elana while doing all of this constantly interrupted his mind and at times, his job performance as thoughts about her would sidetrack him. Luckily, no managers really took notice to this. Elana was still up front and in crazy love with her boyfriend who Brock suspected was younger than she was when she told him back in December that the kid was only a sophomore in high school. Well at least if she were ever to prefer them a few years older she would know where to turn. Better yet, Elana was actually in one of Brock’s classes at school. Despite her young age, she was homeschooled, so she actually took college classes at Thomas Community three days per week for a total of six credit hours. This was good for Brock because he would be able to engage her in conversation most of the time as they walked from class. Brock figured this to be progress simply because it was a simple upgrade from his old life. Back in the old life, Elana would often get uncomfortable around Brock because all he would usually do is stare and try to talk to her in a very boring voice about some kind of online gaming technique which she often found childish.

Finally, spring had sprung and Brock was looking forward to leaning down to his lowest body fat percentage ever. Gone were the days of heavy eating and the occasional weekly cheat meal or two and these days Brock’s diet consisted of nothing but eggs, tuna, chicken, greens, and sweet potatoes. Brock still allowed himself to cheat once per week in order to maintain his psychological well being in which only health and fitness freaks can relate to, but nothing tastes as great as doing a cardio workout shirtless in his neighborhood at night and staring out into the City of Blinding Lights, which he called the skyline before changing the name to the Horizons.

Brock had been losing roughly one pound per week and was feeling really good. Sure, he and his department manager, Gaff tended to talk more than they worked when they were on the clock together but Brock still had everything finished when his work shift ended at seven o’clock in the evening which he still worked most of the time so it kept Lance off of his back.

Things in produce this time of year were better because now Brock got to go outside and water the plants that had been sent in, so he could gaze into the Horizons for a solid half hour and daydream of being an ultimate winner one day. The only problem is that in River Valley, March and April are roller coaster months so although the temperatures this spring were above average there was still a wintery chill in the air a few times during these months. In that case Brock was to cover the plants with tarps and the person there the next morning would pull off the tarps. Brock could stay outside for a half hour watering these plants on most days and covering them on the freak days and the service ladies did not blink unless old Lana was working behind the service desk. That woman had been working the service desk since this building was known as Start-up back in the early 1970’s and Bare Essentials from 1971 to 2003.

Today had been a Lana free day and it was now late May. Store Manager Lance brought a guy named Billy into the produce department from the front but Gaff didn’t seem happy about this arrangement at all.

Billy was hired about two months prior to this. He looked to be somewhere around Brock’s age. Billy was about as tall as Gaff, with curly, auburn colored hair and at all times a very tired look on his face.

Gaff would say early on he had never seen Billy ever contribute in the slightest when he saw him up front. Brock had to agree on one front, but he had met Billy when he first started up front in March because he needed someone to help him with covering the plants up during an evening where the temperature dropped below forty degrees. It took them about forty-five minutes to successfully cover up these plants that day and Brock was really the one holding down the fort because Billy would sit, watch, and complain about this not working while Brock struggled to get everything in place.

Anyway, Billy was to start in produce the first week of June so Brock decided to give him a run through on how to close the place up one day in late May. First, you had to make sure the sale items were stocked to the max. Second, the wall items and the bananas also had to be stocked to the max. Third, the produce prep area had to be cleaned up. Fourth, all of the cardboard boxes had to be taken to the compacter in the back. And lastly, the trash had to be taken out and the prep area had to be swept and mopped up. Billy acted as if this were second nature and knew everything about how to runt he department. Brock seemed impressed by Billy’s supposedly immediate knowledge of the job.

“Yeah, I already know how this is done,” he said, looking longingly in the direction of the registers where Elana and Jimmy were standing while Brock took a cart to the prep area. They used carts to carry the garbage.

“Awesome,” said Brock, trying to beat the clock to seven as Elana would also get done at that time as well.

Billy would then be stuck with Jimmy until nine and then Jimmy would clock out leaving Billy to close. Brock had to admit that he was jealous of Jimmy and Billy. They could gossip all they wanted up front while those in the departments had nothing but their own thoughts to turn to and at times, it could be one’s worst enemy. Especially if these thoughts kept telling you that it would almost impossible to get out of this kind of job and that Elana was growing more and more attached to her boyfriend despite her young age. People tell you to block this voice out, but it’s a hard voice to block out at times and when it’s only you and the voice as your only co-pilot, it is almost impossible. So much for at one time desiring to get into a department, thought Brock.

When June hit a week later Brock was awarded a few days off in a row while Gaff trained Billy how to work the produce department (Billy would give Gaff responses that he already knew how to work produce much like he did with Brock). Here is where things would get interesting: Brock worked with Elana on a Monday and they both started work at the same time that day, at two o’clock. Elana would get finished at six while Brock would get finished at seven. Then for the next three days, Elana would be working while Brock was off work, so Brock made it a priority to stop in and buy some food (as he did daily anyway) during times that she worked just to earn himself some more brownie points in conversation. That never hurt.

But this Monday was different. Elana had come into the break room a good fifteen minutes before two o’clock hit that day which was odd because she was usually only five minutes early. Brock had shown up forty-five minutes before the shift so he could eat his fourth meal of the day and still have a few minutes to kick back and relax before he had to endure five hours of hard labor in his own personal self-made misery that was the Becks produce department. Okay, it was better than the first whirl here, so Brock couldn’t complain too much.

“What up?” asked Brock as she entered, her eyes glued to her phone.

“Just asking my now ex-boyfriend to stop badgering me to tell you the truth,” she replied in a bit of a growl.

“Ex-boyfriend?” asked Brock, eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” she said in a rather harsh tone.

Brock then came up with a great idea, or so it seemed so at the time. He decided it was best to give Elana an offer on the spot without even thinking to give her a few days to collect her own thoughts about being newly single. Talk about a rebound! However, Elana did what many people usually do in these situation, pretty much telling Brock to give her a few days before she made any decision. Understandable, as the girl had probably only been single a grand total of twenty-four hours at most.

But Brock was excited and it was now a definite priority to shop in the store after his workouts, which today he was able to hit the gym at nine in the morning with a few hours of recuperation following. He would head back to the produce department where Gaff was showing Billy everything there was about being a produce service clerk. The only thing was Gaff hated his position just as much as Brock hated it, so Gaff was being sarcastic when he mentioned just how “fun” the job was while Billy usually wasn’t paying much attention anyway, as he opted to zone out and study the shoppers going about their business in the store.

As mentioned earlier Billy was working the next three days while Brock was off. This was a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Friday, Billy and Elana were off and Brock worked with Gaff until Gaff clocked out at three and then on Saturday Gaff joined Brock for a workout at the gym, Rockies.

“You know Billy took your girl out,” said Gaff as they finished an arm workout.

“Billy took Laney out?” laughed Brock, believing nothing Gaff just claimed. “Seriously, man, you think I’m really going to fall for that?”

“No, man, I mean I saw them leave together and then Meg saw them at the Chinese place in the mall,” said Gaff.

Meg was the one who trained Brock during his first day in produce. She was a very negative individual who lived in the only bad area Summersville had to offer, the Twinwood apartment complex where the cops in the town were always busy with something. Meg also loved to gossip and spread rumors about others. For instance, whoever wasn’t working in the department on any given day she was going to be talking about. Brock always longed to hear what she had to say about him but then again, it wasn’t like Meg was a very reliable source for any kind of information so it wouldn’t eat Brock up. So today, Brock merely figured she was trying to start friction in the department between Billy and Brock.

“Dude, there is no way I’m believing that,” smirked Brock, shaking his head.

Gaff pulled out his phone and handed it to Brock.

“Here are the texts she sent me,” said Gaff, unlocking his phone while Brock scrolled down the texts.

Now Brock had physical evidence. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the phone. Perhaps Meg had told Billy to take Elana out. Brock would have a good idea as of why, and that was probably because she would have loved to have seen friction between Billy and Brock in the department for her own amusement.

“Okay,” he said, trying to keep calm. Elana was technically free to decide on anyone she wanted anyway but only a few weeks after she told Brock at school he would have been her guy had she not been dating someone else? Not only is that misleading, it really makes Brock question her honesty and credibility.

“Why would she even go anywhere with him?” questioned an exacberated Brock.

Keep in mind that the twenty-one year old Brock from this life still had a nice little ego inside him much like his former self, except he was much more realistic. However, the harder working, dedicated Brock who relentlessly pursued what he wants only pads that ego from time to time. Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword and even in this life, Brock still has to learn to control his emotions and humble up. Sure, he no longer had that sense of entitlement he possessed in his old life but he still thought he was a cut above the crowd at times, especially due to his looks, which are much better these days than the Brock of a former time.

“Yeah I know, he’s such a loser,” said Gaff. “I mean, he’s useless in the department. I even told Lance that but he just gives me weird looks and said to keep training him and that he’ll eventually come around.”

“Dude, this is just crazy,” said Brock in a low voice, still struggling not to just shout to a gym that was overly packed with testosterone at ten in the morning. “Like how, or why, would she even consider this dude. You’ve been telling me all week how lazy he was and how you had to do everything while he just stood there and gawked at people passing by while muttering criticisms about them under his breath. That’s like bad enough. And she likes him? She has an interest in him?”

“Seems like it,” said Gaff.

“Honestly, that’s just a lowball,” said Brock. “She’s not even right. This is just crazy. It’s unbelievable.”

“It probably won’t last, man,” said Gaff, trying to sound assuring but doing a very bad job at it. “He’s a rebound, that’s it.”

Brock did have to completely see for himself, so he decided to message Laney that night to see if she was over her ex and if she wanted to hangout with him. And she predictably told him that he was out of the running and that she was not interested in him, but again the problem was that a mere two months prior to this Brock did let Laney know that he was interested in her despite her still being with someone else at the time. Brock just couldn’t keep it from her any longer after trying to keep it to himself for six months. Her response there was really different. At the time, she told him that she would date him right then and there if she wasn’t already taken. Now that was understandable. But how one changes their mind in a span of eight weeks, especially when Brock didn’t do anything to change his approach during the final stages of her relationship with her ex was beyond him.

She did say when she first became single that she was ultimately leaving this decision to God. Well, it looked as if God wasn’t very friendly with Brock at the time according to Brock. Of course, I knew better that God was just protecting Brock from himself and so did Brock. He just didn’t realize it at the time. Brock also failed to realize he only had to wait a few short years longer to meet the girl of his dreams than Elana had to meet the guy of her dreams. And in the end, both would be equally happy.

Before I get into the aftermath of this entire situation, I must be clear as to why Brock, who had been so successful the last ten months, had his first mishap in a long time. In fact, as far as the year 2012 was concerned, it was his first real loss. In the longterm, Elana and Brock just weren’t going to click. Brock was destined for a career in fitness. He wasn’t going to hang around River Valley forever, and his life plans involved a girl who needed to have that drive, work ethic, and willpower to live a fitness lifestyle day in and day out despite any given circumstance. If Brock worked a sixteen hour day, he was going to find a way to get a one and a half hour workout in. If Brock worked an eighteen hour day, he was going to find a way to get a workout in. Brock needed a girl to mirror that. And he also needed one who realized the passion Brock had for his lifestyle and would do nothing to deter him from that, as is seen in a lot of relationships.

Elana did have a lot of upside that Brock saw. She had a vision for herself and a final destination of where she wanted to end up in life. She was a runner and for Brock that meant she had fitness potential. She put God first in her life despite her imperfection as did Brock. Elana had a lot of upside. Fast forward eight years to Skye and it’s very clear that Skye and Elana have a lot in common. The only exceptions are that Elana did not desire a fitness career like Skye did. Elana didn’t want to leave River Valley as Brock saw himself in a warmer climate where people would flock to him for his fitness expertise. And lastly, Elana wasn’t going to workout everyday. In fact, she wasn’t going to do more than a thirty to forty-five minute run. Ever. She was set in her ways. Brock failed to realize all of this and acted on Elana’s upside only.

Know what would have happened had Brock ended up with Elana? He’d be lucky to see two abdominal muscles right now with the lifestyle change he would have been forced to endure. Elana didn’t care about a boyfriend loving fitness and looking his best. In fact, to her it was a turnoff because she knew Brock would have expected her to live a similar lifestyle. It was a high standard Brock had every right to set but it also meant he was going to have to “settle” for someone just like him. And most of all, Brock liked girls who, despite their faith in God, dressed in a dark manner, almost gothic but elegant. Of course he liked the tomboyish girl, but he liked a hardcore style if casual clothing was necessary. Skye’s fingernails were either black or unpainted. Most of her clothes were black despite the warm Florida climate. Elana wasn’t about to dress in that manner. In fact, she looked down on others who did look like that because she would have seen it as satanic or ungodly.

Brock now knew things were going to be awkward when Brock worked with Billy and even while he took his breaks Elana would almost expect Brock to let Billy take his breaks whenever she was on break, which he wasn’t about to do. Gaff had also confirmed Brock later that day what he already suspected. Meg indeed told Billy that Brock liked Elana and had liked her for some time and that’s when Billy swooped in and stole her, as he felt the same way about Elana and due to Brock’s superior looks, drive, work ethic, and desire to be bigger than his current work position one day, Meg took resentment on Brock for wanting more and wanted to see him brought down to her level for at least a time. Sounds eerily similar to the old Brock, right? It’s safe to assume despite Brock’s lack of true friends during his first Becks run in a different life, he and Meg got on pretty well. They were smoking partners during breaks at times to be honest.

At least the department was on his side (Meg really had no sympathy towards Billy either and remained rather neutral) and Billy was now department enemy number one in the eyes of Brock, Gaff, and Justin, who was yet another produce employee who started work at Becks a month or so before Brock. But in all honesty, what was really awful at the time was Brock having to watch Billy hang out with Elana on their breaks because of course Billy was going to take his when Elana took hers if Brock couldn’t help it. Talk about adding insult to injury. Watching Billy and Elana walking around the store during their breaks together, seeing them sit out on the picnic tables in front of the store while he came into and left work. Seeing them hanging out in the breakroom together during breaks and before the shift started. And worst yet, seeing Elana leave the store after her shift in street clothes with Brock knowing it was Billy she was going to see and hangout with.

Brock eventually left Lucks and took the job at 24/7 Fitness. He did this despite having no clients at the time and would make significantly less than he would have made at Lucks during the time. However, Brock eventually won over many personal training clients of all different ages and fitness levels.

Here is where things get interesting: Brock still returned to Lucks in order to shop for food since he was very familiar with the store and knew by heart where everything was. One thing was different, however. Brock would only talk to Gaff when he and Billy were working the department that day. Brock would not say a word to Billy, silently acknowledge him, or even note Billy’s presence in the slightest. Therefore, Brock totally ignored Billy and despite Billy’s pleas to get Brock to say something to him, Brock didn’t say a word to him or even do as much as glance at him. Brock was bitter, a little bit of baggage he carried over from Timeline One to Timeline Two.

Of course, as a consequence Billy obviously told Elana of this and Elana started to develop a grudge towards Brock. In the beginning, one would have thought the two to still be on good terms since Brock did remain friendly to both of them during the remaining amount of time he had at Lucks. When Brock left, however, he let his grudge be known, but only to Billy. Elana was still in Brock’s friend zone as far as Brock was concerned. Sadly, Brock was very, very wrong about this because once Elana took the message from Billy of the way Brock now treated him, Elana’s grudge began. Brock started to notice this one day in October when she was working the front and he was buying some food to take to work with him later that day. After Brock delivered a cheerful greeting, she simply replied with a dull “hi.” Another week or so had passed and the two crossed paths once more and Brock tried to force conversation with her. She didn’t buy it one bit.

Sadly, Brock was only being manipulative  and was trying to force something out of nothing. Brock wanted to remain on friendly terms with Elana but failed miserably. Why? Brock had failed to make peace with the situation and let it go in the way it was supposed to go, dictated by God. Remember what was said earlier had Brock ended up with Elana? Brock wouldn’t be the happy guy he is today.

Back in 2020, Brock was now satisfied with himself that a giant weight was now off of his shoulder. He had wanted to run into Billy for years now and just make good with the entire situation and put the two back on good terms. Brock was now walking back to his car but thought he could take in the vibrant Summersville scene for a little bit longer, looking up to the cars flowing into the Quick Burger, Lee’s, and other outlets just above him. Brock sat on the picnic table and stared off into the distance for who knew how long. Brock just loved it here and wanted to sit here as long as he could. He would never tire.

Brock really had a tough time comprehending just how many times he had sat here and smoked cigarettes in disgust at the world when he was this age in his past life. Brock shook his head and laughed out loud at the thought that not a single other individual (including his own family and Skye) would ever understand. This was between God, Brock, and myself and no one else.

“Hey,” said a voice from behind him after about ten minutes.

Brock turned around and it was Elana, looking just as beautiful as ever yet his attraction to her had faded a long time ago and today was no different. Skye was his now and only Skye.

“Where’s Billy?” asked Brock.

“At the pharmacy,” replied Elana, taking a seat next to him on top of the picnic table. “You know, buying all of his medications. It’s been a really tough few years.”

Billy had several health conditions when he and Brock worked together and it was now evident those conditions had worsened. Brock was feeling bad, thinking about all of his health conditions in his past life.

“How’s he been doing?” asked Brock.

“So-so,” shrugged Elana. “But we’re staying optimistic.”

“Always,” said Brock. “So, what brought you out here?”

“I knew you always loved these views and since you’re now in Fort City I knew you’d be out here and I just wanted to say thank you for talking to us today even if I was a little off,” said Elana.

“It was time to tie up some loose ends,” said Brock. “This is why I still come up here. To see family and rebuild some of the bridges I have burned.”

“But I lied to you,” said Elana. “Eight years ago. Well, I didn’t exactly lie, but I should have given you a fair chance.”

“You did, and I blew it,” said Brock, now looking over at two overweight female deli employees heading their direction. One of them was Mindy.

“And I have a lot of vital assistance to give you on your marriage problems, Amy,” Brock overheard Mindy say in her loud, booming voice. “My knowledge on the subject is pristine and it will be very vital for you to hear me out.”

Brock sighed as Elana responded. “Still, you really did like me a lot from the get-go. I could tell.”

“I did,” admitted Brock. “But here’s the kicker. Everything happens for a reason and for a good reason. And in all honesty we were never meant for each other. Here.”

Brock looked at his phone and the time was now approaching three in the afternoon. There were still plenty of places to visit so Brock thought he should hurry this up with Elana, who took his phone.

“Go through the pictures,” said Brock with excitement.

“Who is she?” asked Elana.

“Her name is Skye and she and I were meant for each other,” said Brock. “Trust me, I knew she was it after talking to her for about five minutes. Everyone only has one person that is meant for them and she was it. You, Elana, made the right choice.”

Elana looked over at the entrance. Billy was exiting, pushing the cart and carrying his numerous medications in the front basket.

“I better get going,” she said. “Nice seeing you again, Brock.”

“You too,” said Brock, giving Billy a nod and a smile, which he returned.

Peace at last, thought Brock who started to head back up towards his rental car. More places to see and two of them were in very close proximity of each other so he took one last look at the view since he wouldn’t be back until late November when Thanksgiving rolled around and hopefully the Lake City Cursebreakers would be leading the American North Division in football.

 

The Man of Wisdom

Brock took a left turn and set off to the parking lot of an abandoned building. Why such a building meant anything at all to Brock would have been anyone’s guess but for Brock Patrick, the building held a very dear meaning to him. Inside this very building used to be a gym.

So Brock took a left turn at the intersection on Main Street and drove down past the school and the church, past the water tower and past the Summersville High School where he would visit later and soak in some more memories but first he wanted to drive a little bit further down Main Street. As he drove he saw a couple running up the sidewalk much like he and Skye did on a daily basis when on the beach that led to clear blue waters just off the snow white sandy shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

Brock took a left and pulled onto a back road and then took a sharp right. The Rocked Gym, as it was known at the time closed it’s doors permanently a year ago and the building now sat there, crumbling. It was one of those old school gyms and the only windows in the place were the black doors marked with all kinds of grafetti. Sitting here in the rental car and just staring at the old building that just seemed to hang it’s head, Brock could almost hear the loud music pouring out of the stereo system. The sound of weights clanging and dropping were coming back too and the ghosts of the members of his past soared in and out of his mind.

As he pulled into the lot he had the urge to see if the door was unlocked so he could go inside and look the place over potentially for the last time ever, as the building could be demolished the next time he made a trip up here for all he knew. He figured now was probably a good time to do so. He typically would have preferred to sit in the lot and absorb some of the better memories of the place, wanting to go in and open the door, seeing the welcoming  faces of his very first gym crew welcoming him into the club for a hard, two hour workout, which would not be present. He just had to enter the place one more time and now, he built up that courage so he was going to do it.

Brock exited the rental and walked up to the aging building, studying it from top to bottom, neither knowing nor caring whether or not it was safe to go inside. Brock then looked down at the door and grasped the knob. It had been broken, so Brock knew he could go inside but he still hoped whoever the landlord was these days wasn’t lurking nearby. On his way down here, he saw no one. He also wished the teens of the surrounding neighborhoods wouldn’t try to rain on is parade, as someone had busted this doorknob. Brock was going to take his chances. Sure, he was only twenty-nine but he had forty-four years of life experience if one really thought about it. He was going to take his chances. Brock walked inside and looked around in a room in which it’s only light source was coming from the outside, the sunlight trying to pour in through the small windows. It was lit well enough that Brock could walk around and explore.

The room was almost empty. There was a small hall to his right which led to what used to be the women’s locker room. The men’s room was up past the counter which was still intact but empty. At one time it held supplements and protein bars in the vast window situated at the front. Today, as Brock peered inside the counter, it was completely barren. He looked to his left and saw nothing but emptiness. Even the beaten, battered, and scratched up mirrors were gone. He could just make out the red and white walls in the dim light where the mirros used to be. The only thing that remained was the entire room was the counter. Now that he was inside the building another flashback lit up in his mind, entering just as quickly as the previous one containing Elana and Billy.

It was six in the morning and Brock had very recently left Olympia to come back to where he started, Rocked. Rocked wasn’t as large as Olympia but it sure had it’s fair share of equipment dating all the way back to 2007 when Brock and a few high school buddies decided to make this gym their new stomping grounds as opposed to the high school weight room, which was too small, cramped, and crowded.

So from age sixteen to twenty, Brock would work out here with various workout partners. Sometimes it was even his own brother or cousin who would join him throughout the years. Other times it was Matt, the man who worked the counter a few days out of the week. And towards the Elana-Billy situation it was Gaff, who had also made the switch from Olympia to Rocked way back when.

Over the years Brock would switch over to Olympia at various times just to change things up. Olympia resembled Rocked, except that it focused heavily on the color blue while Rocked was predominantly red. The first time he went over to Olympia was from November, 2007 to August, 2008 before heading back to Rocked for nearly two more years. When the fall of 2010 arrived, he went back to Olympia where he would remain until 2012 before switching back to Rocked one final time before he was hired by 24/7 Fitness.

It was leg day and Brock had gotten re-certified as a fitness trainer and was now looking to work as a trainer in the area. Of course he could not get a real clientele here that would allow him to sustain a living on his own but he did know that in the neighboring city of Steeltown across the border in Pennsylvania, there was a new fitness center, 24/7 Fitness. This place was in need of new trainers and Brock recently put his resume in and enter the occupation of fitness professional, a fancy phrase for personal trainer.

This would be great for Brock if he could break into the place. Gone would be the days of seeing Elana and Billy looking lovingly into the other’s eyes every single moment the three of them were working together. Brock’s stress level would go drastically down if he could pull this off. Of course this was still only a pipe dream for Brock since he had yet to receive a phone call.

Back in present day Brock sat on the floor which was still carpeted with a thin, maroon clored carpet, yet dusty. He leaned his back against the desk and pulling his phone out to check if Skye or anyone had contacted him yet. It was going on four so they weren’t due back for another hour. Brock put his phone away and stared into the empty space and sighed to himself, just wanting time to fall back once again for a moment. I couldn’t grant that wish to Brock although I could feel his desire for me to do so. Nope, this time around Brock actually got it right, or at least got it right after a wild and crazy path even this second timeline had granted him. Yep, God wanted him to be right here. At this very moment, Brock was exactly where he needed to be.

Brock pictured how the place looked all of those years ago. He pictured the people who used to come into Rocked and how he had learned so much from so many of them. This was his first gym and where had gotten his very first taste of what it felt like to be part of the gym environment. If it wasn’t for this empty building then Brock would still be selling produce at Lucks or even something more dreadful. This place really meant a lot to him and even to this day, when the gym equipment had gone, the lights were no longer in operation, and the entire building itself sat there on the back roads of Summersville, waiting for potential demolition, not for a single moment did the significance of this building dwindle in his eyes.

He looked into a dark corner at the far end of the place and he could still see it in it’s prime. He could see himself deadlifting nearly four hundred pounds while being surrounded by the old crowd. Matt would have been there but there was also Ron, who was an older delivery driver. Lucas also would have been there, a gym regular who always hung around them and knew a lot about core training. Andre, the big, burly man who later bought a membership at the 24/7 in Muralville. And sometimes a man named Dan Tortoni would join them. Dan was a short yet very compact power lifter who had everything at home in his basement but still liked the gym atmosphere at times.

They were indeed quite a crowd, crushing back workouts on a weekly basis. They typically began with pull-ups and then moved to deadlifts before hitting t-bar rows and wide grip pulldowns. Sometimes they would end with seated cable rows super-set with close grip pulldowns. It was your basic back workout, but nonetheless intense.

There were times Brock would come into Rocked twice in one day. He would go in once for a lift and then again for some evening cardio or even another lift. Brock fell in love with the place quickly and when Jed started playing football during his freshman year of high school Brock would take him to practice and then hit the gym. Rocked didn’t open until eight on Tuesday and Thursday so Brock would wait forty-five minutes in the parking lot for the place to open before pouring inside to get a one hour lift in. And then when Matt came in the evening Brock would shoot back over and get in yet another solid workout. The summer of 2009 still remains one of Brock’s favorite summers ever, even today when Brock is literally millions of dollars richer with a girl of his wildest of wild dreams at his side, a house that is prime beachfront property, and an army of friends and clients surrounding him in multiple areas across America.

Something creaked but Brock ignored it. This was an old building that hadn’t been used in at least a year and it was starting to see some wear and tear due to lack of maintenence and dealing with the elements. Brock still stared into the empty space and his eyes darted from where his back workouts once took place to where the leg workouts had dominated, on the far left hand side of the gym.

There used to be an old leg press and an old hack squat. Brock would walk in and hit squats and then superset leg press with hack squat before moving onto leg extensions and leg curls. This was back when Brock made legs his highest priority before his right knee started giving him major problems a few years back. Leg day was always his favorite day at the time and there were many weeks where Brock would hit legs up twice in one week.

There was another creak and this one was longer and then the unmistakeable sound of footsteps followed. Immediately Brock stood up, looking into the doorway where a rather tall figure now stood.

“Who’s there?” said a voice.

“Oh, uh, I was just…..uh, hanging out,” replied Brock nervously. It had to have been either the landlord or a cop. That voice sounded rather threatening in nature. “Sorry, I wasn’t really invading your place I just used to workout here back when there was a gym and-”

“You have to sit in front of an old desk,” said the man in an accusing tone. “What are you doing here?”

“Reminiscing,” answered Brock with complete honesty and sincerity. “Seriously, that’s all I’m doing. I moved out of the area a few years ago and was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by only to find out that no one is here these days and the door was open so I just went in. Again, I’m sorry, I wasn’t hurting anything and I definitely did not plan on doing anything but visit the visions of my past.”

“Come on, let’s go,” commanded the man, turning and waving his arm to Brock.

It had to have been a cop and now Brock was in trouble. He thought it was best to just follow and take whatever kind of punishment would be handed to him. Hopefully nothing too harsh. He took one last sweeping look at the place before turning towards the door.

When Brock was finally outside and to his surprise he saw that there was a white Ford Ranger parked beside Brock’s rental. That truck looked oddly familiar but there was no way it was still running. It had to have been twenty-three years old by now. He then caught a good look at the man staring at him and he couldn’t believe who it was. Tall, wider build, handlebar mustache and piercing blue eyes; this was Matt.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Matt when he too realized who it was. “Thought your voice sounded familiar. Why were you just sitting there?”

“Dude, I’m telling you the truth, I was just having some flashbacks,” replied Brock, leaning against his rental and folding his arms.

Matt shook his head and laughed, looking up at the old building. “You seriously miss the place?”

“Yeah, you could say that,” said Brock, looking up towards the sun, which was at it’s highest point on this early September afternoon.

“Why?” asked Matt, leaning against his Ranger. “Brock, be honest, the place was a hole in the wall then and now it’s about to collapse any second. It was never a great place. It was only a small gym full of wannabe bodybuilders in the middle of a village.”

“Sometimes you just have to go back and think to yourself where you would be if certain things didn’t happen in your life,” said Brock. “And this place had a lot to do with my life. Think of how much different things would have been without this place being open when it was.”

So many in the past decade and a half thought Brock to be half insane when he would bring this point up to others. The truth is since they didn’t have the experience Brock was lucky enough to have, they would be much harder to convince. Brock was right and knew better since he actually went through it starting in 2005, the true turning point of his life.

“You would have went to Rockies,” said Matt simply.

“And I did for spurts if you remember,” countered Brock. “But I always had to come back here. No matther what, I always found my way back to my home gym. And it’ll always be just that.”

“For what reason?” demanded Matt. “Brock, this place was lucky to have lasted nineteen years.”

“The people,” said Brock. “I mean, to this day I had never been surrounded by a better crowd of people at one place. Ever. At any of my stops along the road. Not a single crowd ever meant more to me”

“Not even when you had your nice stint in Steeltown?” inquired Matt, his eyes narrowing. “You were there six years and you became friends with half of the city.”

“Not even,” smiled Brock. “Of course the place was a higher step on the ladder in terms of making a living, but Olympia laid the foundation for all of it. Without Olympia, I’m no trainer. I have no name and I have no good life that I have today. Trust me on this one.”

“So you had to call up a few memories of us?” asked Matt sarcastically. “Seriously if you were light years below where you are today, then what’s the point?”

“Yep,” said Brock brightly, trying to convince a still suspicious Matt how much Olympia really meant and why it’s important to remember your past endeavors.

“So this is what I was put on this Earth for,” pondered a still sarcastic Matt. “To put young people like you in situations to succeed in your life while I always lived paycheck to paycheck in my own life.”

“Sure, it seems like it,” said Brock. “But, Matt, you’re missing something crucial.”

“What’s that?” asked Matt, voice still holding sarcasm. “That you’re fulfilling what you actually set out to do since you were a teenager while what I’m doing is nowhere near what I wanted to do when I was as young as you were?”

“We all fall short,” said Brock. “I mean, look at my forgetable career in men’s physique. It wasn’t bad by any means but I’m not an IFBB pro or anything. I’m not sponsored by any companies and I haven’t done a fitness shoot in years. Didn’t I want all of that? In all fairness, I don’t think I did. What I wanted was a living where I would be financially secure, a home down south, and a name that was attached to all things positive. I want to serve others and by serving them could I find true gratitude.”

“So what are you getting at?” asked Matt. He seemed to be full of inquiries today.

“What I’m getting at is that I think we are all put in our best position to help others,” said Brock. “That’s what we are really on this Earth for. To help other people better themselves. Look at my career, it’s full of helping people. My girlfriend, Skye, is in the same realm. We’re both trainers. You, on the otherhand have seen how many people come and go on to do very well in their lives?”

“A lot of you,” said Matt. “To be completely honest, it was you, Andre, Dino, many in my own family, and countless others. It seemed as if I was there when all of your futures were all talk and now I’m the sole survivor.”

“There you go,” said Brock. “Somewhere along the line you helped all of us.”

“By what, just going with the flow but really never believing that any of you would accomplish even a fraction of what you wanted?” he asked. “Tell me how I’m helping there.”

“To prevent us from giving up,” said Brock. “Did you give up on what you wanted?”

“Yeah about twenty years ago,” said Matt. “Look, I’m forty-four years old now and I’ve been stuck doing the same thing since I was in my twenties, working in odd careers at times but always going back into carpeting for just enough pay to live. You know that.”

“You kept us from giving up,” said Brock in a bold tone. “It’s because I can read people well and could tell that you thought it was just talk a decade ago. I know that but it always, always kept me highly motivated. It made me never stop going after what I wanted and you helped prevent me from stopping..”

“So you’re still training people then,” said Matt. “But what about the other things you wanted? Where’s that red carpet, Brock? What about California? You ended up in Florida, not Cali.”

“I’m still working towards it,” said Brock. “I’m twenty-nine years old so I have a long way to go but maybe I’ll get there one day, maybe I won’t. I do know this though, I’m a trainer making a great living and living in Florida, which I’d take over So Cal anyday. I can workout every single day. I love doing it.  I’m satisfied with that.”

They talked for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways. Matt pulled out and a few minutes later, Brock left. He passed the Summersville High School again and although it was stop number three, Brock had a better idea in mind the second he read a text from Skye.

 

“A track workout?” sighed Skye as he picked her up from his parent’s house a half hour later.

“Sure,” said Brock brightly. It was going on five-thirty and the sun would be setting in a couple of hours. “And besides, I know you want to workout.”

“How do you know that?” asked Skye. “What are you, psychic or something?”

“Because you just spent the entire afternoon with my fifty-four year old mother and my seventy-eight year old grandmother two states away, that’s how,” answered Brock, smiling.  “It’s no easy task, especially when they’re so much alike they’re always fighting. It gets old after an hour or so, and that’s if you’re lucky.”

Skye smiled and shook her head. “Okay, they do like to bicker some,” she conceded.

“Some?” asked Brock, eyebrows raised as they drove to their hotel in Muralville. “Uh, how about any given second? And besides, don’t you want to just crush a good workout? I know you too well.”

“Okay, you got me,” said Skye, rolling her eyes and smiling. “You know my weakness.”

“A weakness in that you can’t go a single day without doing something, yeah I get it,” said Brock. “Zula Skye, you are th most predictable person I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.”

“Nah, I’ve had a better fortune,” she countered. “For once you’re a guy who isn’t all about looks and status. You have a heart and even if you were a thirty year old who lived in your parent’s basement, smoked, drank, played nothing but video games in your spare time and worked a minimum wage job you still would have been my first choice because of who you are.”

Oh, if only she knew, thought Brock. He never told her the story of his two different lives. He then took a second to silently thank God and I for his sheer luck. It’s not really luck, when one has the faith things just tend to fall perfectly into place even if things aren’t always perfect at the present time.

Twenty minutes later they were heading out to the Summersville High School track and it had been a few years since Brock had been here.

“Okay, so it’s been a while,” said Brock as he and Skye exited the rental and headed through the gates and onto the track. “And now I finally feel like I’m home. I never did tell you about my summer six years ago, did I?”

“What did this place have something to do with that summer or something?” asked Skye as they started jogging around the track.

“Something?” laughed Brock. “Have you ever met a girl named Asia Reno?”

“The same Asia Reno who just started training at my gym and you consider a little sister?” asked Skye. “Uh, yeah, she’s only my best trainer and one of our best friends.”

“Yeah, the very same,” said Brock. “It’s funny because I just ran into an old gym buddy a couple of hours ago. I told him how we’re put in places to help others. Well, I have story for you about Asia.”

“I’m listening,” said Skye eagerly.

“This one’s going to take me a while,” said Brock as they neared the gate that led to the track in front of the home stands. “Why don’t we just run a few miles and go from there?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Skye excitedly.

Brock then proceeded to takeoff without warning and ran straight to the track.

“Hey! Wait up!” laughed Skye, sprinting behind him.

 

It was summertime, just over six years prior to Brock’s awesome run with Skye on this late summer evening, Brock was running with an unlikely someone who had recently been whipping him into the greatest shape of his life. Asia Reno was more than just your average nineteen year old, she was a workout warrior and Brock’s best friend in the gym and on the track. These two got together for a workout seven days a week, sometimes twice a day and at times would workout for hours on end, especially if it happened to be at the track. And best yet, the duo had gotten results.

Brock and Asia weren’t your typical workout team. For starters, their relationship was always misjudged as boyfriend-girlfriend. This actually wasn’t the case, and although Brock would have loved to have a girl like Asia at his side, the differences in their lifestyles outside of the fitness realm could not have been further apart. The two friends literally went their separate ways after every single workout and didn’t often talk much outside of working out together. They were strictly a workout team. In other words, Brock used his lessons learned in the Laney fiasco to note that Asia would not be a good fit unless one combined her fitness lifestyle with Laney’s personality and opposite for Laney, who had the personality but not the desire in the lifestyle ring. It’s funny how you can take qualities of two people and morph them into together to create someone awesome, but when they are in their original mold, they are beyond flawed for most people.

Brock was twenty-three years old at the time and he acted about ten years more mature than the typcial twenty-three year old. For starters, he lived within his means, so he didn’t often spend his money on useless stuff that others did. He didn’t drink, smoke, party, or even go out all that often. His life was work and workout, although school would once again become an integral part of his life starting in the fall. Yes, he was the old Brock in a few ways and yet a new Brock who loved to set goals for himself and work relentlessly to meet them.

Brock even had to credit Asia for him starting school back up again and bettering himself, as she was headed to Steel City in just a few short months. Brock knew deep down that Asia was going to resort to her hard partying ways the second she stepped on the University of Steel City campus and although he could tell the girl what he would and wouldn’t do in the situation, he knew it wouldn’t sink in. There is just too much peer pressure going on in schools these days and Asia was an extreme follower and had not yet uncovered those leadership qualities that she possessed. She did have them but as of right now had chosen to follow the status quo which for the typical young individual in 2014, was not a good thing.

Asia was nineteen years old and full of energy, life, and unfortunately bad habits. During the day she was a hardworking workout warrior who held a steady job and did very well in school. But she liked to live a double standard and that was where she consistently went wrong. She partied, drank, did basic recreational drugs and she often only joined Brock for his second workout of the day since she was usually unable to wakeup before noon. This meant that for the most part, they only did get to workout together once per day.

But Brock knew that Asia had potential like none other and if she ever matured she would make a great trainer to others. But she had to practice what she preached and at times she was very, very bad at doing that. She did eat the right kind of foods and she was way more consistent with her workouts and fitness portion of her lifestyle than most people her age, minus the red flags, and for that Brock had to give her massive amounts of credit. She would have been up there with Skye in terms of potential had she not had them.

As the summer waned on, Brock saw himself looking better, better, and better while Asia had learned to work through pain and never stop working towards goals. It was at this point that she texted Brock one night in June and told him something that he knew wouldn’t work, but he was so desparate to keep up this level of consistency he thought it was a great idea at the time. Brock was a very routine person.

“We need to keep working out together, even when I’m in Steel City,” she texted. “We’ll find a way to make it work.”

Now, Steel City was at least a forty-five minute drive from Summersville but that was without traffic. The problem was that Steel City was about an hour to an hour and a half away with traffic. Big difference, but there were times one would be moving at a speed of ten miles per hour for thirty minutes on the Steel City parkway. The stress rate when traveling there was beyond high.

“Yeah, that would be awesome,” was Brock’s reply.

Brock’s excuse in these situations were that although he was more mature than the average twenty-three year old he was still twenty-three and there were times when he would just do some very stupid things. This was one of those situations.

Brock had a men’s physique show coming up in August so that entire summer was dedicated to him getting in the best stage ready shape possible. Asia would show Brock workouts that he had never seen before. What was amazing was that these were cardio workouts but not your typical types of cardio. They would do stair runs, box jumps, burpees, jump ropes, push-ups, push-up to mountain climber, mountain climber, and many, many more movements. They used every inch of that track as a gym that summer.

The summer of 2014 became one of the greatest summers ever for Brock, because after years of searching, he felt he finally had some consistency in terms of workout buddies, jobs, and a life he had always desired in both timelines. Of course he had workout partners, a routine, and a job in the past, but they never stayed long.

“So Asia is good at everything workout-wise that you werent’ good at,” interjected Skye as they reached the State Patrol barracks that led to an intersection. “No wonder you love hopping into our workouts all the time!”

They decided to veer off the track after one mile. It got a little bit boring running around in circles so they decided to run to the front of the high school, make a right, and run through town. They ran past a restaurant, a fast food outlet, a place where salt trucks were parked in the summer and a few other places and ended up at the barracks that led to Twin Ridge.

“We’ll turn around here and head up towards the Food Life and my water tower,” said Brock as they turned and started running back from where they came from. “And yep, that’s exactly why. But I’m not even halfway through this story yet.”

“I’m excited to hear more!” said Skye with excitement. “And you and that water tower…..”

As the fall weather started taking effect Brock took fifth place at his show in a class of twelve. He was okay with that and he really thought he should have finished higher but there was one more show he wanted to do that year and with Asia’s help he knew it would be a great showing.

Asia was now going back and forth to Steel City, getting her apartment ready with her best friend, Kay, who was to be her roomate that year. So these days they were working out late, at around eight in the evening. Asia told Brock he could go ahead and get his second workout in if he wanted but Brock always said he would wait unless she was due back really late, as as midnight or later. He knew he wouldn’t go at it as hard if it were only him and in Brock’s mind it would be one waste of a workout. For the entire month of August they still crushed workouts and saw even better results.

Asia moved into her apartment the third week of August and soon enough Brock was making trips to Steel City literally every other day, doing all he could to modify his schedule to continue their workouts together and so he could really look his best for this show. Asia was also doing the same, and the two were now texting their schedules back and forth to each other in order to find time to meet up and workout. Although Brock knew working out every day would now be out of the question, four to five times a week looked to be realistic.

Recall earlier that Brock knew deep down that this just was not going to work and eventually, it did not. They attempted their gym workouts in a 24/7 up in Pike Township and for a week, things were great. However by the beginning of the semester things turned rocky.

Both Brock and Asia forgot to account for the one thing that has cursed Steel City since the highway system was completed decades ago: traffic. Asia was stuck in traffic for nearly an hour on a constant basis and to make matters even worse, there was a Hollywood Fitness right around the corner from her apartment complex in Steel City. She could have walked there it was so close and it only made sense to just buy a membership there.

Although Brock knew in his heart that this was only going to last for so long it was even worse when reality sunk in. He didn’t know what it was like to lose a friend but this was as close as it came to a best friend, almost a sister, exiting his life not even a year after she had entered it. It was so bad that Brock had refused to workout at the Summerville track for years. He just could not do it, not without his best friend sweating out an intense workout under the summer sun right next to him. There were too many good memories and it wasn’t until now, six years later, would he workout there once again.

He also wouldn’t do the same workouts he and Asia did every day. He had to make up his own script and he wouldn’t even do his core workouts in the same spot the two trained core, which was right next to the mirror that separated the main room from the group exercise room. When Orris decided to tear the wall down in December of that year, Brock was grateful; it was one lesser thing to remind him of his best friend. A nice gym remodeling, or change of scenery, was exactly what Brock had needed.

Brock did go after others who he thought had Asia’s strengths. It didn’t matter. First he tried his own clients. That didn’t matter. The then assistant manager’s younger sister Leanne stepped in at times and did a good job, but she was only a spot partner due to her hectic schedule. Next, he tried a girl he actually had his eye on since November, 2013. Even a girl he liked as something more than a workout partner couldn’t solve the situation and she turned out to not only be a trainer junkie (girl who likes trainers just because they’re trainers) but a rock would have a better personality. Then he found a girl named Lyra who looked to have a cardio-esque mentality and was up for anything. Better yet, her schedule fit into his perfectly. That’s right, it didn’t matter either and although she shared Asia’s strengths she still wasn’t Asia and being that she was new to the fit lifestyle, every workout idea had to come from Brock, which limited him because no one was going to make him do things he could go without doing. Brock turned to a girl named Savannah who he had crushed on during his previous life but not so much in this one yet due to her athletic abilities, she was a great partner. However, she was a temporary fix as she would only be around during the Holidays but the Leanne-Lyra-Savannah cycle of workout partners did work like a charm because at least one would be readily available.

“So why all the females?” asked Skye with her eyes narrowed as the passed the high school once again.

“You aren’t jealous, are you?” teased Brock.

“No, no, no,” laughed Skye. “You never tried just working out with another dude?”

“Well, Zula Skye, at one time it was male and male only,” said Brock wisely. “Then after I had that stint with Asia I saw the pride differences between guys and girls. Most girls just don’t have that ego or that sense of pride about them when they’re in the gym, so they don’t have to lift the heavy weight or talk endlessly about life like two guys would. They like to get in and work hard. Guys on the other hand, well not only do they have to satisfy their egos they always have to have a twenty minute conversation about everything from football to who’s dating who in between each and every set of movements. After a while it gets old.”

“Like we are?” joked Skye.

“Yep,” said Brock. “But we are still moving while we’re talking. Huge difference.”

“Tell me more!” she pleaded.

“Okay, okay!”

 

Asia and Brock did talk on occasion. They took a couple months from interacting and then one day Asia hit him up with a long text message explaining everything. But the two didn’t meet again until April, 2015. Although they planned on getting together just like they did the summer before, things didn’t materialize at all.

Asia had gained a sense of arrogance and self-righteousness that Brock saw in many during their late teens in order to attempt to justify their dual lifestyles of working hard yet partying hard and as a result, he knew that things would not be the same if they continued their workouts. When he brought this up to Asia, she was in denial and the two had a severe falling out. The two former best friends would go their separate ways for good, seemingly never to speak to each other again.

Brock knew that no one would match Asia and although he competed in a couple shows in 2015 he didn’t have the same success as he did the previous year. She was that valuable. And as for 2016, he decided to take the year off of competition completely and as of 2020, had yet to make his return to the stage. He decided to get involved more with his clients and focus on them, so he started doing warrior dashes, tough mudders, mud runs, and races. Brock came to the realization that he wasn’t meant to be a physique cometitor because he didn’t have the mentality of being a body sculpter. As 2015 rolled along Brock came to realize one thing: he was a workout warrior and wanted to workout everyday of his life and never take breaks or do any type of light work physique competitors and bodybuilders would do during the final week before a show.

He decided to make his move in 2018 at age twenty-seven, two years after he had intended to make his move but he wanted to save up as much money as he could in order to be financially set for his relocation. His aunt and uncle had moved to Fort City, Florida in 2014 and he knew that he could make the area both his home and his training outlet. So he moved out, found a job, and started his quest to a six figure salary so he would be sure he could be financially secure. As of 2020, Brock was getting closer to his goal and even topping it at times if the bonus money was there.

After being in Fort City for a year, he met Skye and she became both a workout partner and a potential life partner. The two had been together for quite a while now and Brock was one of the first friends she had ever made since she came to the United States from Switzerland because she wanted to make her life close to a warm beach on an annual basis. The two had very similar goals at very similar times, similar interests, and similar backgrounds. They were a perfect match both on paper and in reality. It was at this time that Brock truly found Asia’s replacement. Skye was Asia but she was truly everything Brock desired. No, Skye was the sum of Laney plus Asia. Brock finally found the match.

“Did you like Asia to be more than just a friend at one time?” asked Skye as they reached Food Life, which was adjacent to the Summersville water tower. “You can be honest!”

“Yes and no,” replied Brock. “Yes in a sense that she was every bit of what I wanted to an extent. No because she just had serious maturity issues at the time. And definitely not now, because I found you and you’re the best thing ever.”

“Aww, that means so much, Brock,” said Skye affectionately.

“Hey, you’re not just half or even three quarters of what I want, you’re everything I want,” he said, giving her a one armed hug before they started their quest back to the school.

“You’re way too awesome, you know that right?” she said with the same affection.

It was Friday, day two of their vacation to River Valley. Brock now referred to this area as their vacation resort. In a way, it felt good to think of it as such because he always had the goal of calling the beach his home and River Valley his vacation.

Today they were going back to 24/7 Fitness in Steeltown, where Brock had visited a few times over the past two years when he was back in town but this time, Skye was coming with him. In a sad sense, many of his friends and clients from the days of year’s past had moved on to bigger and better things, much like he had. Brock barely kept in contact with most of them these days. Rick had been gone since Brock left and now owned his own fitness center up in Lagoon Rock, Pennsylvania. Barry Orris still owned the place, but Brock had no idea of what state the gym was in these days. Although itt was a safe bet to believe that it was doing better than Olympia had been.

Upon entering, Brock went into the manager’s office with ten dollars.

“Two of us, just for the day,” said Brock, flashing the money to the manager. “And you are?”

“Name’s Tony Reyes,” said the young manager.

“Brock Patrick,” said Brock, handing him the money while Skye waited outside the office.

“The Brock Patrick the people here rave about?” asked Tony.

“I’m the only Brock Patrick I know,” said Brock, motioning for Skye to come in. He sensed that he’d be in here for more than a few minutes. “Why who’s been talking?”

“Well you two sit down and I’ll tell you,” said Tony, grabbing a couple of sample packets. “Core’s new pre-workout, thought you two would like some now that I know who you are.”

“Cheers,” said Brock, handing a packet to Skye, who poured the entire contents into her shaker bottle with excitment. While Brock was rather conservative on supplementation, Skye was the pre-workout junkie he had once been. These days, Brock used supplements rather sparingly.

This place had it all and when Brock was hired in 2012, he thought he had the greatest job on the planet. Recall that Brock had sent a resume in during the middle of the summer with his main motivation to get away from Billy and Elana.

His new boss, Joel, gave him a few clients to start out with. Brock immediately quit Becks without fulfilling a two week notice, a risk he was willing to take. As the first few weeks of the job passed he regretted this decision because he was only working ten hours a week for three days and for a month or so he could have easily held onto both jobs if he just worked at Becks on the weekends and take advantage of the cash. But Brock was desperate, and he wanted to get away as quickly as possible. He did just that.

For the first couple of months his income steadily rose and then when Joel started strictly consulting new members and selling training Brock’s paychecks doubled and soon he was making much more than he ever would have made at Becks, so the gamble paid off in the end. Soon, he was making enough to where he could buy things and establish some credit, so he bought a small Pontiac Sunfire (the same Sunfire the former Brock drove for fourteen years) and paid it off in two years.

The employee turnover was revealed to be relentless and after fifteen months on the job, Joel had been let go for consistent no-shows among other mishaps and the management turned to a girl named Bella but she was finished after only ten months after favoring soccer over training. Succeeding Bella was Derek, who had managed the Muralsville club’s training department but Derek was abysmal at establishing relationships with both his staff, the members, and the clients. After numerous complains about his constant rudeness and laziness, Derek was replaced by Alexa, the daughter of Barry. However, Alexa had other ambitions and was gone within six months, so that’s when Rick, originally the general manager, came over to the training department and remained there until he went off on his own. By the fall of 2015, Brock had seen five different training managers. So why was Brock never given a shot at the job? He simply did not want it and refused to put himself into a position to take it after all he had seen. Why would anyone even think of taking that post? Only Rick could take that job and make a decent paycheck, but only if Orions allowed him to do what he did best and stay out of Rick’s way the entire time which Brock believed Orions did just that only because his Muralville and Stark clubs were doing very, very poorly and his focus had to be on them.

The membership side didn’t fare any better, if not worse. After Brock’s second week on the job, the first manager, Larry, was ousted and Rick soon took over. Rick was the manager until early 2014 when he went and helped the Orris open a club in Tusk, Ohio when a lady named Kris got the job but only lasted until August when she and her husband went elsewhere. Wilson then took over for a few months before Tessa came along but she and her husband eventually moved to River City. Then a member named Justin got the job but only lasted a month before going back to his old job at a local bar. Rick came back and filled in before moving over to the training side permanently which led to a man named Chris taking over. Evidently Chris had left the post too (Chris only needed a few years experience to get to his chosen field) as today Tony sat across from Brock and Skye.

“This place nearly collapsed after you left,” said Tony. “That’s what Orris said anyway. There was such an uproar from the client base that even Rick had a tough time keeping everyone on board. In fact, he nearly walked out himself he was having such as hard time. You must’ve meant a lot to this place.”

“I tried my best,” said Brock. “It wasn’t always easy but it was always fun, even the stressful parts. But during that final year I did all I could to get people familiar with our new trainers at the time. Their names were Gray and Sandy. Rick knew I was going to head out soon so we tried to acclimate them. People in the area just get attached to one person no matter what it seems.”

The members and the clients from 2012 to 2018 became Brock’s best friends during these times. Up until then Brock was a loner and a self-described loner, much like the old Brock, except with an actual purpose. This explained why he thought Elana was the only girl he could ever get when he was offered the job in September, 2012. Sure, he had friends at both Olympia and Rockies, but they were way older than he was and he was too conservative of an individual to be wasting time and money by going to various clubs any given night. As for those around his age, they were very few and far in between. Gaff became his best friend for a time until Brock left Becks for good.

When he first arrived at 24/7there was Brian Scott, a kid his age who became his first real friend in Steeltown. A guy named Park soon followed and then Bob, a kid he went to school with, joined the club as well. If it wasn’t for Bob, he never would have met Asia, which led to even more openings for friends. And before Brock knew it he had an entire friend network, a complete contrast from the old Brock.

And it wasn’t just guys, for the first time in his life he was actually comfortable with talking to the female population. Of course he didn’t ask any of them out on dates but that was because he was too focused on his goals at hand. Besides, he came to the realization that they all carried some kind of baggage, which he wasn’t too fond of.

This continued all the way to 2016, where he would be so focused on his goals that he wouldn’t date anyone out of fear of getting attatched to them and potentially abandoning his plans completely. He hated standing on the sidelines like that but now with Skye at his side he was more than grateful for it. It was just God’s way of keeping him on the mission He planned for Brock, even if it took two distinct timelines.

I guess I had a lot of influence as well, steering girls away from Brock when I suggested it’d be a good idea to plaster a girl on the background of his cell phone to keep girls away. When he asked why this would e a good idea I told him he’d understand in time. Oddly, the girl he had chosen looked a lot like Skye, only three years older, about six inches taller, as well as German born. A foreshadow? I’d like to think so to an extent anyway.

Brock was the only trainer who lasted five years. All of the other ones came, went, and did other things. Not Brock, he was dead set on strengthening both his strengths and weaknesses. He wanted to become the best trainer he could become before making his move. He realized that he could use 24/7Fitness as a way of learning on the job, and then really figure it out the next place he goes.

During these times, he often thought of Coach Bill Carroll and quarterback Drew Brady of the Freedom City Continentals. Carroll learned on the job and made his mistakes in Forest City (much to Brock’s dismay as he was a fan of the Cursebreakers) but when he got to Freedom City he really figured everything out. It also took Brock longer than usual to get a solid job and then get a Bachelor’s Degree in the field but he had ample experience. Problem was, many of the higher income areas demanded that their trainer’s possess degrees in the field. That was when the Drew Brady mentality came in. Brady may not have had the most ability coming out of “That School Up North” but he knew what he wanted out of his professional football career and became arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. That said a lot about Brady. In other words, Brock really didn’t possess anymore talent in this life than he did in his former life. In fact, his cousin Lenny still had most if not all of the God given talent. The only difference was that Brock made sure he wouldn’t be outworked or outprepared. And after a good while hard work and preparation trumps talent.

“I did all I could for the club while I was here,” said Brock.

“What made you want to move?” asked Tony.

“Fate,” said Brock. “I knew that Steeltown, West Virginia wasn’t my last stop and that I wanted more out of life. It’s that inner voice that tells you that you can’t stay inside that comfort zone forever. Sooner rather than later, you have to go to where you are meant to go, not just where you want to stay.”

“So there were times you wanted to stay here?” asked Tony.

“Absolutely,” said Brock. “Well, until the winter came anyway, so that kept my drive high. But yeah, I wanted to stay and there were times that I questioned whether or not I would be able to handle relocating even though I wanted to for the longest time.

“I had a lot of concerns,” he continued. “I didn’t know if I could sell to clients. I didn’t know how well I would be able to keep clients. I didn’t know how things were run outside of this area and when I went down there, I knew no one. It’s a lot to handle, even for a twenty-seven year old.”

Brock knew that he needed to ask advice from someone who knew, so in late 2015 he sought out advice from various sources. First, he badgered Rick like crazy when it came to stressful situations among clients wanting to either cancel or downgrade. Rick lectured him almost daily during their downtime. Next, he went to Leanne, who was an occasional workout buddy. Leanne had been to several different areas where she knew little to no people. And even better, the two had identical hectic lifestyles, so they related rather well. When it came to running his own show, he had clients who owned businesses. So he constantly narked on them to show him how to handle things. He did everything he could during that last year in River Valley to set the stage for the near future.

“So after I learned how to do things and implement them, I knew I was ready,” said Brock. “The concerns slowly left me and the only concern now was the unknown. But I knew I did everything in my power to prepare to leap into the unknown and I knew I’d be fine.”

“Seems like you are,” said Tony.

“Oh, I am,” nodded Brock, smiling at Skye, who smiled back.

So they worked out for an hour and a half and then headed to their hotel about one hundred yards from the gym and ate some lunch.

“Skye, how about we go for a drive around my old school district?” suggested Brock. “I’ll show yo usome stuff.”

“That’ll kill a bit of time until your parents get home from work,” said Skye.

“Yeah it will,” said Brock. “And besides, all I have to do is fill this car up, not make payments on it, so let’s do this!”

“You are so pumped up for this!” laughed Skye.

“Heck yeah I am,” replied Brock, taking her hands before they went into the rental. “I’m excited to show you where I came from. But you know what that means, right?”

“Next summer, Brock, and I promise you, we will go to Bern,” assured Skye. “And you can meet my family, my friends, and my home.”

“Now that sounds like a real vacation,” said Brock happily, and they drove off.

Now Brock was regretting something as he drove towards Summersville. Yesterday he went into Becks but he let Skye go with his mother and grandmother up to Robinson so she could get to know them. But Brock wanted Skye, who he knew had to be the one, to take this life’s adventure with him, so he had to do a couple things first.

“You know, I want to show you a couple things first before we go out to Richtown and Landsville,” said Brock.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Brock made a left turn at the intersection instead of a right one.

“We’ll get to Richtown in a bit, but first I want to show you where I usually go before we go out there,” he said. “This was where I went before we did our little town run yesterday.”

So Brock stopped at the abandoned building that once held Olympia Gym and then he stopped at Becks one more time and they bought a couple snacks to eat. Healthy snacks, such as propel water, cashews, and fruit. They didn’t want to get the rental car dirty so they ate at the picnic tables in front of the store that had been there since Brock’s time as an employee.

“You know I used to clean these things off nightly and take that trash out all the time,” he told Skye as they ate, pointing to the garbage can sitting to their right. “And let me tell you, those bags got heavy.”

Skye laughed. “You didn’t make much then for all the work you did,” she said.

“Ah, I had little to offer back then,” said Brock. “Bagging, cleaning, and what not, it wasn’t much.”

“What about getting those carts in the summer?” asked Skye, pointing to the shopping cart racks. “I love my warm weather and all but in dress clothes, that had to be scorching!”

“That got tough,” he said. “You know one time I tried getting like ten carts at once and they got away from me and they were about to crash into a black truck but I threw my body in front just in time before they hit. Left me with a few bruises but at least no one’s vehicle was damaged. At least as far as I know.”

Skye laughed again and Brock was grateful to see that she was having such a good time. He suspected that not many girls would find a date like this exciting, although he would have found it entertaining even years ago. It was his idea kind of date and Skye acted as if it was hers too. If it wasn’t then she was a really good actor.

“Having a good time?” he asked, looking over at her as she was looking over the Lee’s, Quick Burger, and Sub Pro buildings.

“This is fun,” she said. “I’ve always liked traveling and just learning about others and Brock, you are one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.”

“You are the first girl to tell me that,” said Brock. “Usually I was only the boring guy!”

“How did you manage to stay single for so long?” she asked, looking directly at him. “With the charm and sweet personality you possess, how did you manage it?”

Brock pointed to the sky, acknowledging God. “I didn’t always like it, but God kept me pretty well grounded,” he said. “There was once a girl who worked in this very place right beside me once. I was head over heels for her and guess what? Another guy leapfrogged me for her, and that just killed my confidence for years. I had a lot of things going for me, a lot of things that I was really good at, but trying to win people over almost became my downfall in both the dating game and in life because of that one incident. But when the time was right for a rebound, I hit it head on.”

“It stuck with you for that long,” said Skye, looking at her feet, which she now swung back and forth. “Wow, that’s crazy, but it left when the timing was right.”

Brock smiled and nodded. “Yes it it did,” he said. “You heard what I told Tony, right?”

“That you started confiding in others and realizing you could go out and get what you wanted,” said Skye. “Yeah, and that led you right to where you needed to go.”

“Yep,” said Brock. “It led me to my career, that big leap forward. It led me to where I wanted to be all my life, and it led me straight to you. And that, Skye, was the best thing ever.”

“It’s faith based,” said Skye in a matter of fact tone. “And the more I think about it, the more I believe it. Where I come from, God is omitted almost completely from the public atmosphere and for the longest time I blindly followed it. In the end I realized I was so wrong. It’s crazy to think that I once thought that way.”

“I flip flopped like crazy on it too,” said Brock, thinking of his first life, where he was anything but faithful. “Until I saw it. Until I saw how everything fit just perfectly and I knew that these things didn’t just happen by chance or by accident. They happen for a reason, and that reason is God’s plan for everyone. People may see success in different ways, but the easiest way to success is happiness. And I am one very happy guy.”

“And I’m one very happy girl,” she said. “I never knew my best friend ever was halfway across the globe.”

“Neither did I, but sometimes we have to search the unlikeliest of places,” said Brock, standing up and offering her his hand which she took. He helped her up. “Ready to see my old school?”

“I’m ready,” she said with excitment.

They packed up and got back in the car. Brock made a left and they rode through Summersville again. They took  right this time at the intersection across from the water tower and rode a very windy road that led to a few more small businesses and out towards the vast countryside.

“I’ve driven this way so many times I lost count about twenty years ago,” Brock joked.

“Wait, so you were nine years old when you started driving?” she asked playfully.

“Oh man, you got me there!” he conceded. “No but even at age nine I probably could have handled it it was so familiar!”

They were now both laughing while Brock continued to drive the familiar route which led past the distribution center that was still in operation after all these years and down yet another windy road to Richtown.

It was about four-thirty in the afternoon so Brock had a good bit of time to clear before he would reveal to Skye the real reason why they were traveling around this dying school district, and it was dying, with the financial state it was in. The last time the Thomas Local School District operated at a profit Brock was probably still in the fourth grade. No, it had to have been before that. The third grade? Wow, it’s been so long ago that the last time Thomas Local did operate in the black God was still a centerpiece in many public schools.

Brock had actually driven by his old high school, Thomas High, without telling Skye this. They would come back to this later on during the return trip. But for now, he wanted to take her to Landsville, where he had gone to middle school. She would be in for a nice surprise later on tonight.

Thinking of this, Brock had to make an inquiry to Skye just to be completely sure. “Skye, have you ever seen a football game live? And not the football they watch in Switzerland!”

“Not American Football,” she answered glumly. “But I’ve always wanted to. It’s such a fun sport to watch, better than the football I watched growing up. It’s so boring when the final score is typcially one to nothing, and that’s if we’re lucky.”

“Right on,” said Brock. “So I think I’ll take you to see a game one day. You know ths area is football crazed?”

“Now that would be more than awesome,” she replied as they drove deeper and deeper into the country.

They pulled up next to the old Carry Out gas station which also looked like it was under a new ownership and made a left. Brock still remembered the old route, though it had been years since he was down this way. Down the hill around an old farm, back up a hill, and then a straight stretch.

And from viewing this scenery once again for the first time in at least a decade, yet another flashback hit Brock, this one from both his old and new life, as he started, or restarted his life in May, 2005. This flashback, took Brock back to March, 2005, a couple of months before his crossroads moment in that Edwin Middle School lobby.

Brock was sitting next to a small group of kids riding the very same route he and Skye would be riding fifteen years later. But right now Brock was that very scrawny thirteen year old kid who lived the life of the very average eighth grader with very mediocre grades. In fact, he ranked in every class at the middle of the pack and that was if he was lucky. He even ranked in the middle of the class in the subject of history, which was his specialty. It wasn’t easy being the kid God was asking Brock to be at this moment in time, but I’ve already covered this about twenty times in Part One.

Brock had been actually been a great student at one time but that was back during his grade school days. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case today as he barely averaged a ‘B’ average at Edwin Middle School, where he had been a student for the last three years. This was his final year here and he was barely noticed by anyone, including his own family. Or least that was the case in his eyes.

He did have a very good general idea on why this was (Brock was not so full of himself like he was in Part One just yet). For starters, he was neither tall or very good looking. His hair was very frizzy and thick, red and white blemishes streaked across his face. He wore glasses all the time on a daily basis and unlike a lot of his male peers, Brock still had a very childlike look to him rather than possess more of a young male-like look. He also wasn’t very athletic and he was usually poor at any sport he played. Although he was small in size he was a very slow runner and a very poor jumper, so he wasn’t good at anything athletic. He also didn’t have too much to offer in terms of grades. He was in no advanced level classes and his grades were very unspectacular. If someone was going to be coined an Average Joe of Edwin Middle, Brock would be number one in that regard.

Ironically while in Middle School, Brock liked to hang around people his athletic and popular cousin Lenny tended to be friends with. He knew that he wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance talking to these people if he didn’t follow his cousin around like some kind of lost animal but if that were the case, he would be firmly placed with the geekish kids. Who was he kidding? He was a geek yet was in severe indenial about this. He often asked himself why he didn’t just accept his fate and join their ranks, especially due to the fact that he was usually shunted (sometimes forcefully if Roberto Randle or one of his cronies were involved) to the outside of this circle of friends his cousin had when they were in a group talking to each other.

When he sat and ate lunch with these people or even walked from class with them, he was usually the comic relief and was made to eat something sick and disgusting in order to satisfy their entertainment needs for the period. Either that or he was told to go to the vending machines and bring them back something and in the process to throw away their lunches. Oh, and if there wasn’t anywhere else to sit at he was the first one usually made to get up and make room for someone who supposedly deserved the seat. It was at these times when he was reminded that he was “allowed” to hang with the group but wasn’t necessarily a part of it. But of course Brock had his blinders on so he was also indenial that these people were not really his friends. But in reality, they weren’t and you read in Part One that Brock would only get ridiculed by them once high school rolled around and was left with just Lenny.

So, thirteen year old Brock was just there, that’s all. He wasn’t an honor student, he wasn’t an athlete, and he was destined to be a future slacker not only in his mind but likely in the minds of others. What was he good at? Brock didn’t have the answer to that question. He wasn’t good at school, sports, video games (nor would he ever be in Part Two), or life in general. And in all honesty anytime there was a family get together or party he didn’t even feel he was very welcome there even if his own parents hosted the party. His brother and all of his cousins looked at Lenny like he was some god and as for Brock, he was looked at as a waste or space for the most part. Even the adults took well to Lenny over Brock. After the initial greeting in which Brock typically stood next to Lenny like some kind of sidekick, the conversation would be turned right into Lenny’s direction. This was just a sad situation for anyone to be in but of course no need to elaborate more, you all should have known this by now, it’s just a little reminder that Brock did not start this second chance life at birth!

The bus rides to and from school really weren’t any better and if anyone’s telling the whole truth, they were nightmares. Usually he was the target of being picked on either by words, physical abuse, or both. And this came from people who were supposedly his friends. Although he knew these people liked to use him more as a human pinball than they were friends, he just tended to let them have their fun. There was no need to stand up to them, these beatings and verbal onslaughts would be worse if he did. Wait, didn’t I just say we needed to get back to Brock’s new life just thirty seconds ago? This is why I’ll always be the deputy and God remains the sheriff!

Brock shivered for a second back in present day at these flashbacks.

“Brock, are you okay?” asked Skye with concern, lightly touching his arm.

“I’m good,” smiled Brock as they began to descend a large, windy hill that led to his old middle school which now operated as a grade school. “This place just brings back some rather bad memories to be honest. But I think it’s time I’ve faced them.”

“I’m happy to face whatever is bothering you with you,” affirmed Skye.

“You really rock, you know that, right?” said Brock.

They reached the bottom of the hill and parked in the school lot. Since it was nearing five, the parking lot was almost completely deserted except for a few stray cars. Brock decided to get out of the car anyway with Skye and suggested they walk around the school for a bit.

“So you said something about bad memories,” said Skye as they walked hand in hand. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Brock told her all about what kind of memories this place brought back to him and what he thought he was almost destined to be back in middle school, although he still left the second chance at life portion out of it. This was rather common sense as even a girl as compassionate as Skye would probably find Brock’s experience a little too far fetched. Not only that, Brock had no physical evidence of that life, only memories. Anyone who met the old Brock did not remember doing so and Brock had no pictures or anything saved on anything regarding his old life.

“So in your opinion Lenny was light years ahead of you then,” said Skye when he had finished with the flashback. “What about these days?”

“He’s living in Steel City now working in a corporate office,” said Brock. “He’s married with a little two year old and he’s in the process of buying a house.”

“And look at what you are,” said Skye softly but with more reassurance in her voice than anyone Brock had ever known. “Brock, the way you’ve always spun things was that you’re doing exactly what you wanted to be doing since you went to school here. You’re living in Florida, you have a condo, a great job that you love and an awesome girlfriend who you love!”

“You’re right,” said Brock. “Especially that last part, you’re very right. Like I’ve been saying all day, you’re amazing, Skye.”

“No, you’re amazing, Brock,” she countered. “I mean, look at what you were then and look at what you are now. You’re older, wiser, and you’re doing everything you set out to do. God works in mysterious ways and it just wasn’t your time to conquer yet. But now it is. God works in the most perfect of ways!”

“Maybe it is my time,” said Brock, looking over at the old football field and track overlooking their left as they walked. “No, it is my time, and it’s also your time too. We’re in this thing togehter and I couldn’t ask for anyone better. Anyway, it’s going on six, we must have been walking around for a good hour already. I think now’s the time to take you to my old high school. But I have something even better than just a visit to a school tonight.”

“What’s that?” she asked eagerly as they got back in the car.

Brock waited a few seconds before responding, although he was smiling the entire time he was silent.

“Do you know what makes Friday nights so awesome during this time of the year, especially in this area?” he asked as he started driving again.

“No idea,” she answered. Being from Switzerland, she obviously had no idea what Friday nights meant in America, but in River Valley, they were something even more special.

“Well, see on Friday nights around here, businesses close early and tens of thousands congregate at different schools in the River Valley to watch an event that I think you’re going to love,” said Brock.

“Oh, you have to tell me!” she pleaded longingly, now grabbing both of his arms.

“Oh, alright then,” he sighed. “Skye, you are going to see your very first football game live. American football. Well, high school football, but it’s still just as if not more entertaining. Live and under the lights. You’re going to see all of it, from the bands playing during the pre-game to the final whistle. You finally get to see this live. What do you think?”

“Wow,” she breathed. She was obviously excited for this. “Are you serious?”

“Yes I am,” he said. “It’s kind of weird that there’s hardly anyone there I know these days as far as I know but to spend this evening with you, I would never trade it in for anything.”

“Wow,” she whispered. “Just wow. I’ve waited thirty-two years for this! But Brock, I think we first need to do something right here.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Brock.

“You brought me down here to tell me about your Middle School experiences and they weren’t very good ones,” said Skye. “I think the time has now come that you let these demons of the past go and just forgive everyone. You know as well as I do if you did that they would no longer have this power over you but as of right now they still do. The good news, Brock, is that you can end it right now.”

Brock took another look back at the school and then back to Skye and nodded.

“Yes, I do,” said Brock, turning his head back to the school. “It’s time to use these as a motivational experience rather than a heartbreaking one.”

“Think of all the positives it has done for you,” said Skye. “Think of all the good that has come out of it and made you into the person you are today.”

“It brought me to where I needed to be,” said Brock, looking back at Skye. “And not only where I needed to be, but where I wanted to be. Without them, I’m not Brock Patrick. I’m someone else, living another life.”

“You’re absolutely right,” whispered Skye, taking his hand as they walked back to the car.

Brock drove Skye back up and out of the doldrums of his adolescent woes and out towards Thomas High School.

“You know we passed the place up earlier but I couldn’t tell you that it was the building just yet because I wanted to keep this surprise secret,” said Brock.

“Oh that’s more than alright,” said Skye. “You’re forgiven.”

They reached the high school at six-thirty, still really early in terms of everything but Brock wanted Skye to get a full dose of this American Friday Night Ritual. Since it was only the first week of the season, it wouldn’t get dark until at least the second half, but that was okay. He just wanted Skye to see the game she loved live and in person, although it was only high school football.

“Few rule differences to be aware of in high school ball,” Brock explained as they drove toward the parking lot. “The quarters are a little bit shorter, only twelve minutes instead of fifteen minutes. Also, in high school, many of these kids play on both sides of the ball, so the quarterback can also play safety. They call this the ‘Ironman Athlete.’ And finally, most of these fans out here tonight are parents, so don’t offend anyone’s kids, although this school has a decorated band history so a lot of band parents are here too!”

“I’ll definitely remember that last one,” she said as they paid the vendor five dollars to park on the practice football field.

“We have a good parking spot,” said Brock as they started walking towards the ticket booth. “And if we hurry we can watch the kids do their pre-game warm-ups.”

“Yes, I definitely need to see that!” she said, now almost running ahead of him.

“Wait up!” he called from behind her. “We have to buy our way in!”

It was one of those times where the late summer air just had that hint in it was about to fade to fall. The trees were just now starting to slowly but progressively turn from green into those rusty colors of red, brown, and yellow. The air was cooler while the wind whipped around, rustling the branches of the treesand Brock was happy he and Skye changed into jeans and hooded sweatshirts after they ate lunch earlier since the temperature on this clear night had to be approaching fifty degrees and now that he was used to the warm Florida climate, fifty felt like thirty these days. Wow, the weather definitley gave Brock that sense of calmness and assurance that life was indeed great, despite the occassional stress and happenings in the world today, life was a precious gift indeed.

As Brock finally caught up to Skye, he kept looking around for familiar faces of his past but they were very few and far in between. And if he did see someone he knew, they looked as if they had aged far beyond twenty-nine or thirty. This was one of the reasons why Brock so longed to leave River Valley forever, only to return on select visits. The life cycle of many of the people here was all in the same. They would have a childhood very identical to the average American’s and a hallowed few, such as Brock (in this timeline of events) and Lenny among about twenty or thirty others in their graduating classes, would go on to have outstanding careers in something they loved while becoming leaders and very influential people. But for most, it was graduate high school, maybe find some college experience, work in blue collar-esque or laboring jobs, get married, have kids, watch their kids play sports more likely than not for the same high school they attended and boast about how good their kid is at their chosen sport or sports while drinking beer with other parents around a bonfire. Then, the cycle repeats itself when these kids end up working identical jobs to their parents, work hard to earn their basic living, never knowing what it would be like to live their own life to the fullest and not through their kids.

Brock didn’t want this and it was another thing that connected new Brock with old Brock. Again, the only difference between the two was the work ethic and drive to do well and be different than the status quo. Both versions of Brock had the desire, but this Brock had the plan, the drive, and the willpower to go above and beyond.

It was Brock’s sophomore season in 2006 and at age fifteen, he had finally found his niche in life. Keep in mind that it technically took Brock thirty-seven years so finally is indeed appropriate here. So why was he in the bottom locker room getting ready to get into his football gear to head out into the stadium? Because ironically, this niche was not football.

It was the homecoming game and Coach Mack just called the quarterbacks to go through their stretches. The quarterbacks were always the first ones to head out at six, followed by the receivers and running backs for offensive individuals and special teams individuals. Since Brock played receiver he would be out there in about fifteen minutes.

Brock knew playing this sport wasn’t in the cards for him and he really just wanted the season to end so he could go back to the one thing that made him happy and feeling productive: hitting the weight room hard and not following some stupid templated workout. Back in these days, he felt scripted workouts never delivered the results that a more individualized workout would bring. But, it was only the fifth week of the regular season, and there was still a good month of football left, as Thomas High School did not have a great football team so the playoffs were always out of the question. They had not won a game thus far and they were expected to lose again tonight, which would leave them with a record of 0-5 for 2006 and if one dated all the way back to 2003, the record at this point was 4-31. Good, then he can go back to his newfound love of fitness.

“Backs and receivers!” called Mack, opening the door and poking his head through it.

They all got up and followed Coach Michaels, a younger, short, and rather stocky assistant coach with a low voice who possessed a deranged laugh and at times personality, out onto the football field where they practiced individual drills for thirty grueling minutes. Then, it was special teams individuals for fifteen minutes followed by ten minutes of defensive individuals and then a little bit of team practice. Finally, at seven twenty-five, they filed back into the locker room where they basically turned around to storm onto the field once their band had taken their position on either side of them. With all of the cardio and hard running, no wonder the team was no good; they used up their energy before the game even began with what was pretty much a practice. Some of the teams they play practice this tactic as well but the best teams do not do this.

Since Brock was only an undersized sophomore, he didn’t play very much. He stood on the sideline for the entire first half with most of the other underclassmen while the seniors, juniors, and a few talented sophomores whose parents had ties to the school had their way on the field. Well, having their way was pre-mature because in reality Thomas High’s varsity was getting massacred. All Brock could do was sit and watch as the varsity team struggled to make anything happen and by the end of the half, it was William Henry High School who had a huge lead on them, twenty-nine to zero. The offense didn’t even cross the fifty yard line and Brock speculated their total yardage for the entire half had to have been a very low number.

The halftime adjustments were very uneventful as the coaches tried to make sense of this large deficit. They talked about the score really being seven to zero as the defense gave up three huge plays in the second quarter to bring the score from seven to zero all the way up to twenty-nine to zero. Brock knew better, as Coach Mack was really just trying to raise the sagging confidence of his varsity squad. He also said that other than the three big plays, the William Henry offense was averaging three point two yards per play and told a couple of the seniors that they were playing the best games of their lives. Brock knew the local newspaper would pick up on this and by tomorrow, people would be thinking, “is he trying to say his defense did a good job against William Henry?” Again, it was only halftime so the score could probably get a lot worse over the next hour or so. At least with this go around Brock’s embarassment was part of a team effort when the Thomas High Wildcats would become the laughing stock of River Valley.

The best thing would have been to perhaps look to throw the ball a little more…or a lot more…as Mack liked to do a lot of read option runs that never seemed to work. That’s why they lost forty-one to nothing against St. Sebastian, thirty-four to nothing against Island Park, and they were down twenty-eight to nothing in the first quarter to Muralville, but they decided to be a little sympathetic with Thomas High and played their back-ups for three quarters. The final score of that game was forty-five to seventeen. And then last week against Robert High over in West Virginia they lost twenty-four to seven. At least it was only a ten point game until the fourth quarter.

So there he stood in the second half and heading into the fourth quarter the score now read forty-two points for William Henry, seven points for Thomas High. The officials should have just blown the final whistle then, but at least now the younger kids would come in and show their stuff.

“Brock! Brock!” called a voice.

Brock looked up and Mack was looking right at him.

“Yes, sir!” answered Brock.

“Brock, go in there at outside linebacker and get Jackson out of there,” said Mack. “He’s been getting manhandled this half.”

“Yes, sir,” repeated Brock, jogging into the game.

Usually on defense Brock played inside linebacker in a defense that featured three down linemen with five linebackers, however, during last week’s reserve game against Robert High he recorded a sack and six tackles, as well as an additional quarterback hurry. So, Brock guessed the coaches were seeing what he could do on the outside as a pass rusher.

On the first play, Brock didn’t see much action, as it was a run play that went to the other side of the field. On the second play, he was in on a stop as they ran up his way but the defensive end, Bartman, made the initial hit. Brock just was in on the assist. On the third play, the quarterback rolled out to his side and Brock blitzed, which was his specialty. He easily outmaneuvered the tackle and got to the quarterback just after he released the ball. Brock turned and saw that the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

It was a three and out, so William Henry called on their punt team out onto the field, only this was their varsity punt team.

“Guys, this is there varsity team coming out here!” yelled another sophomore, Rick Davis. “Let’s show them what we got.”

William Henry got the punt off in time and soon Brock was streaking down the field before turning as the returner, Marcos, caught the ball deep downfield. Brock ran right into a kid at least twice his size who literally ran right over Brock. The good thing was that Brock managed to slow the kid down but it didn’t mean much as Marcos was tackled well behind where Brock made contact with the kid. Brock stood back up and jogged back to the sidelines, where the varsity was being called back in to play offense. It looked like Mack now wanted to raise the confidence of his anemic offense.

The final whistle sounded about ten minutes later as Brock found his way into one more defensive series but it the offense only threw the ball once for a first down and then sat on the ball for the final play. The final score read: William Henry: forty-two, Thomas High: fourteen. So much for the game.

Back in present day, Brock was walking up to the gates of the double sided stadium, if one could call it a stadium, that is. Skye was still clutching his hand, her head darting around the surroundings. They stood in line, waiting to hand their ticket to the elderly man with gray hair that was brushed back with glasses and a toothbrush moustache. Brock had to smile at this one, still going strong, at age seventy-two, was former English teacher Murray Wentz, Brock’s favorite teacher ever. If there was ever a best teacher poll conducted for graduates of Thomas High  that featured every teacher who had ever taught there, Mr. Wentz would have won that poll by a landslide. Each and every student who ever walked through the hallways, whether or not they ever had the good fortune to take one of his classes, always had the highest respect for Mr. Wentz.

Perhaps the absolute greatest thing about Mr. Wentz was that he vividly remembered every single student he had ever taught. He taught at Thomas High from his mid-twenties all the way to the year he retired, about eight years ago in 2012. Jed also had the priviledge to be taught by Mr. Wentz. Mr. Wentz had such a great passion for teaching that he started substitute teaching the very second he did retire from teaching full time. Brock was also willing to bet that he still subbed in for other teachers to this day. Only the Son of God himself, along with a few of his most trustworthy followers could claim they had more influence in the lives of others. He had not seen Brock for a number of years since this was the first high school football game Brock had attended in quite a while. In fact, it was his first game in four years, the last game he had attended took place in 2016 right before he made the move out of River Valley in order to freelance train for a bit in Forest City before he decided to make his move to Fort City.

“Ah, Brock, it’s great to see you again, great to see you, sir, is everything alright today, sir?” asked Mr. Wentz with the same enthusiasm he had back when he taught at Thomas High.

“Yes, sir, I’ve been doing awesome!” said Brock brightly as Mr. Wentz tore off the stub of his ticket.

“Good, good,” he replied as he proceeded to Wentz. “And who is this wonderful young lady, might I ask?”

“This is Skye, my awesome girlfriend of a little over one year,” said Brock.

“It’s wonderful to meet you, Skye,” said Mr. Wentz. “Okay, you two have a good time, it’s been great seeing you, Brock. Tell your father hello for me.”

“Will do,” nodded Brock and he and Skye  continued to walk up near the old scoreboard.

The place wasn’t really packed just yet but it was bound to be. Brock just wanted Skye to get the full experience of the game, as she had never been to one in her life but she loved the sport. This girl, like him, lived and died with every single Forest City Cursebreakers game. Every win or loss almost directly affected their next few days and if they didn’t have the life they wanted to live to keep them busy, they may have had a much tougher time coping with life after each loss and between the years 1999 and 2016, the Cursebreakers were one of the worst teams in the APFL.

Brock also got Skye to start rooting for the Buckeye State Commanders of the NACA. Since she was from Bern, she never even heard of any NACA college team. Although many NFL teams had their presence felt in Switzerland, the NACA wasn’t as popular as the APFL was overseas in Europe.

“So this is the high school level, then,” said Skye as they walked in front of the scoreboard and leaned against the fence, watching the kids warm-up. “These kids really look older.”

“Yep, nothing beats this here,” said Brock. “Kids just playing a game they love, or kids looking to find themselves within the game. You get a little bit of both.”

“Brock, you always make me laugh,” said Skye, getting closer to him. “I’m happy you thought to bring me here.”

“Oh, you’re going to have the time of your life tonight,” said Brock, as she leaned against him.

Over the next hour the stands gradually filled up and Brock noted that for a high school game, the stands were nearly overflowing and it was way more crowded than Brock had ever seen at a Thomas High game. In fact, there were at least ten rows of people standing behind both he and Skye. Brock looked over to the opposite end zone and saw the same exact thing. Even in the stands, people looked to be almost crunched together as they sought to make themselves comfortable due to the close seating arrangements.

“Okay, this is new even to me,” said Brock just after the national anthem was played.

“What’s that?” asked Skye, turning to him, accidentally brushing two people as she did so.

They were nearly sandwiched into their space now, so Brock was hoping Skye was comfortable with the arrangement.

“This place is overflowing,” said Brock. “Like, this place cannot hold more than a few thousand people. This has to easily be the most heavily attended game in ages if not the most.”

Come to think of it, he now saw more than a few faces he either graduated with or those who graduated a year or two below him or above him. A few of them caught his eye. He looked right and saw lanky Roberto Randle in his wife of two years, Clara. They locked eyes for a second in which they gave each other a swift greeting, but Randle looked rather apprehensive as if something was clearly up. Behind Randle were a few other old friends (from this life) Brock had graduated with. They looked as if they were attending a funeral rather than a season opening football game. Brock was really wondering what was going on and seeing Skye looking excited calmed his sudden nerves.

Suddenly, the announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker.

“Thank you all for attending in what should be quite an emotional evening indeed,” said the announcer. “Last week, news broke that this would be the final year Thomas High School, as well as the Thomas Local School District, would be in operation as a merger agreement took place between the Board of Directors from the Thomas Local School District, and the Gem City School District, in that the students of Thomas High School will be joining their Gem City peers for the 2021-2022 school year. We are expecting many to be resistant to the decision and we ask for your cooperation in the entertainment and integrity of tonight’s game that any protest or planned resistance remain peaceful in not in any way, shape, or form affect the play on the field tonight.

“Due to the concerns of the venue potentially expecting more attendance than we can hold, two of our final four home games will be played at Summersville High School, one at Gem City High, and the final at Warren Stadium in Muralville. Initially, we were to play our entire season on the road, yet our Board of Directors wished for one final home game to be played on our home turf one last time for the Thomas Wildcats. Tonight will be a night to remember indeed. Our student athletes have worked very hard in preparation for this final season and they all wish to send the Thomas Wildcats out as winners.

“It is now without further ado, that we now introduce the final edition of your Thomas Wildcats in their final season opener!” exclaimed the announcer loudly as the fight song rang out and the Wildcats, dressed in their usual all black look, took the field.

“That explains why this place is packed with generations of former students,” said Brock in an undertone that only Skye would hear. “Wow, I don’t know what to say. This is the first I’ve heard of this. No one told me. Not my dad, brother, Lenny, Lonnie, or anyone.”

“So what will happen to this school?” asked Zula, gazing up at the old building that could be seen from just behind the press box.

“I wish I knew,” said Brock, looking up at the eighty-one building that had been crumbling even in his time at the school. Deep down, Brock had to know the school district, which had long been operating at a loss, was going to eventually shut down. After so many years of tried and failed efforts, closing down and merging with another would eventually be the only option. There just wasn’t enough money in the district and it had been like this for over twenty years.

As the game wore on, the Wildcats played like there was no tomorrow. Brock was more than sure that the coach, whoever it was these days, gave them a pre-game pep talk for the ages. This was the final time the school would see a regular season game on their home field and the last time the team won at home was 2016, when Brock still lived in the area and had no idea his soulmate was halfway across the globe. It had been a long time gone. So many teams had come and left their imprint on that very football field, including Brock. He could almost see himself still playing, almost see Coach Mack and the others, many of whom were here tonight, donning the silver and black, and living in the moment with every last snap the offense and defense took.

Coach Mack had always talked of living in the moment and Brock never understood what that meant and here, fourteen years later, Brock really caught a grasp on what Mack was saying. There is only a limited number of time to do what you are doing in this very moment in time, and that in this very moment we must live, wanting to be here more than anywhere else at this very moment. For Brock, the here and now was watching his first high school game in a few years with someone who had been his best friend since he moved to Fort City. Coach Mack wished for his players to want nothing more during their time on the football field to be on that football field, playing their hearts out, and leaving everything they had to give right there on that field. Brock couldn’t go back and fix things anymore than once, that’s the rule, but what he knew in this timeline is that sometimes late is better than never, and he was going to take in everything he could.

By the end of the third quarter, it was Thomas High ahead of Grove Ferry, twenty-six to ten. Brock knew that this night belonged to the Wildcats, as the Knight Riders of Grove Ferry just couldn’t match them tonight. Sure, Grove Ferry was probably the far superior team as they had a rich football tradition, but the kids of Thomas High were playing for something far bigger than this year’s team. They were playing for every single individual who had ever walked through the doors of Thomas High School, a district that had been around since 1994 in it’s current incarnation. These kids were playing for the Thomas South Tiger-Cats, the high school that preceded the current district, and even the Thomas United High School, the name of which was still plastered across the entrance of the building in front of this very stadium.

“It’s one thing when this district had three different high schools way back in the day, Skye,” said Brock. “But now we’re seeing districts merge. And in this county, this is something new to all of us.”

“That’s sad,” said Skye somberly. “That really just breaks my heart. I may not be from here, but after seeing just how much people care about this place by being here tonight makes me realize just how much the school really meant to them.”

Not long after, the final whistle blew and the Wildcats waved over to the student section, who then proceeded to storm the field, as did many spectators from the stands, in which the home section appeared to be seated on both sections of the stadium tonight.

“I don’t know if this was planned,” said Brock. “I’ve seen students come onto the field but I’ve never once seen the parents or fans of the team run out here at any high school game.”

“This isn’t typical high school football, is it?” asked Skye.

“No it is not,” replied Brock. “I definitely chose the right game to take you to. I hope you liked it.”

“I loved it,” she replied. “This has been one awesome evening and I couldn’t have spent it in any better way with you, Brock.”

After all of the memories dating back to the second grade of Brock attending games, which at one team consisted of all five home games and then years later when he and his dad would go to one game a year until this year, he would never forget tonight’s game. This game, in all stages, both on and off the field, would rank at number one in every single category. The mere attendance was on another level, something Brock had never seen in his life at a Thomas High game. Brock didn’t know whether or not the team was going anywhere playoff wise this year, but he did know one thing, and that was that for once, the kids on the team wanted to win and win badly, regardless of what field they called home this season.

As they walked back to the car, there was nothing to look forward to tomorrow other than the Commanders game and Skye sounded excited about the prospect of watching the game at Brock’s parent’s place with yet another family gathering. These parties still annoyed Brock for a time but ever since he left the area he became more and more appreciative of them. This just must have been God’s way of telling Brock that he was just needed somewhere else and it was why Brock was allowed to relive a portion of his life.

“Don’t worry, girl, once you experience my dad during a Commanders game you’ll be thankful to be watching with only me come next week,” Brock joked.

“Oh, Brock, he can’t be that bad!” she replied playfully.

“Oh, just wait!” said Brock.

This trip had only lasted two days so far and it was two successful days. Tomorrow would be a football game and possibly another cheat meal that was typical during a College Football Saturday. And then the Labor Day picnic would come on Sunday and come Monday, they would be heading back to their home in Florida together.

Skye was more than excited for the next two days but Brock could have left now. A lot had changed in the area since he left for good two years ago and this was probably the biggest blow yet. With Thomas High School folding after the year, Brock would probably never attend another high school game again ever in his life. Well, except if Skye wanted to see the merged team play in the future maybe he would give it another shot.

If there was one thing Brock learned on this trip, it was to never wish for things to be sped up. God has a plan for all of us and He has a course for all of us. Best yet, His time is the best time. When one gets impatient it’s always best to smile, look up at the sky, and realize that there is someone up there who’s power and love is so great that anything you want in life will come. Life is all about living in the moment and staying the course. Success will come, but success is only as good as being happy and having someone to share that success with, and that’s where Skye came in.

Brock had always had a difficult time on the dating scene due to his relentless pursuit of reaching for his ambitions and looking back at that he didn’t need to worry, because God had selected Skye a long time ago. As of how long ago was anyone’s guess. It was always a matter of time before their paths crossed at the right time. And soon enough, they had, and Brock was worrying about this why? Why worry, when God has your life in the driver’s seat? Just when Brock thought he’d never meet anyone who could live up not really to his standards, but to all of his strenghts and weaknesses, along came Skye, who exceeded even his own wildest expectations of the perfect girl. The fit lifestyle, the dark look, yet the Christian heart made her not one in a million, but one in eight billion.

The same goes for careers, as Brock had moments at Becks when he wondered why he was still there and not some hotshot trainer at a gym somewhere. He could even go back further to his unemployment days and even to his past life where he was nothing more than just a bagger while everyone else was tasting six figure success but for all the right reasons. In the past life, Brock wanted crazy success for all the wrong reasons.

But God was in control from the second Brock decided to follow the lead of God. Brock worried about work constantly, but when the time was right, Brock started succeeding on the work front. He could only thank God for allowing him to go back to that fateful day in the eighth grade and fix things, make them the way they were meant to be.

Speaking of careers, Brock started getting sick of making what he believed to be a mediocre $30,000 dollars per year tops at his old job in Steeltown. Again, God showed Brock the way not on Brock’s impatient time but on God’s time, as there were lessons to be learned. When the time was right, Brock made the move to Fort City, Florida and soon enough, he found his passion to be better than ever before in the south. But unlike the original plan when he wanted to move there when he was twenty-five, he had to wait until he was twenty-seven. Again, God’s plan, not his.

Only God’s plan trumped Brock’s plan, because now Brock was making over $90,000 a year at age twenty-nine. And it was the $90,000 that told Brock he would have financial security and stability for the rest of his life. The salary gave Brock the sense of relief that he could invest in anything he needed. And best yet, the amount of money he was now making could go to charitable causes, the way money is supposed to be spent.

If there’s one very important lesson Brock had learned in his first twenty-nine years of life, it was to just sit back, chill out, and allow God to do what He does best, and that’s to sort out the mess, and let His believers live as good of a life as they can live. And Brock could not more grateful.

Tyranny vs. Classical Liberalism

Before I talk about my first influence behind Once, I first want to thank everyone for the very recent uptick in my blog views, follows, and comments. You guys are awesome and if anyone is interested in a good read, it’s my goal for Once to hit bookshelves by 2018. We are currently in the beta-reading and final edit process before I hit the send button (or mail hard copy) to various publishing companies. So always feel free to refer this blog to others interested in the war/fantasy genre because I can guarantee you a modern day war driven fantasy with a powerful plot consisting of many twists and turns along the way. Be aware that this blog is entitled Matthews Fit because it does contain plenty of fitness posts since my line of work is in the fitness industry, but since my book protagonists tend to be fitness freaks, any post regarding Once is going to be loosely related to fitness and living an active lifestyle. Okay, so onto my very first influence: Tyranny vs. Classical Liberalism.

Tyrants and brutal empires. Recorded history is full of them. From Hitler and the Third Reich to Napoleon to the British Empire to the Ottoman Empire. Accompanying tyranny is war, violence, pain, and suffering. Much downside reveals itself from the sheer power of an empire, any empire, for that matter. From being the policemen of the world to bullying others in the form of advanced weaponry and technology, all in the name of fulfilling a violent agenda. From ancient times until today, danger has lurked in the shadows of these superpowers. If one chooses not to do what the biggest kid on the playground wishes, it’s going to be a showdown, a fight, which will usually never end up in favor of the little guy. In other words, only the strongest survive.

I would like to take a look at the above sentence one more time: Only the strongest survive. But who is the strongest? Are they the ones who have the most willpower? Or is God simply taking the side of the little guys, as He did during the Exodus as recorded in the Old Testament? Or as in the days of King Saul, when David defeated the giant named Goliath?

When it comes to large empires, one thing is typically very, very common, and this is the existence of big government which overreaches its arm into the rights of the masses, all in the name of security. The right to free speech is gone, as are one’s right to bear arms. Soldiers are often quartered, forcibly, in the residences of the common people, while uncertainty and fear lurk everywhere. There is no freedom, only security, but with security one isn’t really living. They are simply existing. Existing to serve the purpose as subjects to a government that may be centralized thousands of miles away. Serving only for the government’s own interests. And once that brutal empire is finished with them, they dispose, especially if these victims signal or even carry out a protest or a rebellion. This is all their lives mean to the tyrannical empirical nation located oceans and seas away, being carried out by soldiers and those loyal to the empire. Unknown to these soldiers and loyalists, they are only pawns in the game of the kings, queens, and parliaments. However twisted the agenda is matters not to these pawns carrying out the deeds of their rulers, as they’re brainwashed into believing it’s in everyone’s best interests.

Enter into my mind a very identical conflict, almost like a modernized version of empirical overrule on others of a lesser power. All the way back in 2010 a plot formed in my mind, and with this plot came a nice little mixture of several different influences of stories, television shows, and even music, with only the means of shaping what I can only hope is the next big series. Maybe even the next big franchise. Yet at the center were values of people who were victimized and put down by their rulers living large thousands and thousands of miles away.

In this world comes a main character who is initially rather self absorbed and into their own interests, not necessarily oblivious to what has been happening for quite a time but very, very distant. A college athlete, and a very good one at that. If, say, the chosen sport was American football (which it’s not), they would be a rather high projection for the entry draft. As for the best friend? Very, very aware of the conflict yet is rather prudent about it. Never go with the flow, but simply lost as of how to go about it. Also a great athlete, better than the protagonist, and would be one of those prospects sitting in the green room on draft day, waiting to hear their name called so they can walk across the stage. Yet, sometimes the most random people are thrust into something they never wish to walk into. And this is a huge basis in Once. People, who might have other agendas, being thrust into action due to something, such as a catalyst, a call to action, something, that makes them wish to abandon everything they’ve ever worked for and dreamed of, in order to see something happen that is much, much bigger than themselves. A mission, a path, and a fork in the road, that all of us must undergo at one time or another, in our own lives, in order to fulfill a mission and a purpose, given to us by a higher power much, much greater than ourselves.

Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, Polytheist, or whatever, I must be clear that each and every one of us have this purpose in life, especially if we play the good guy. We’ve all met the bad guys, the cancers of the Earth, and those who succeed only by creating divisiveness. It could be in the name of politicians, or co-workers, or if you’re a student, someone in your very own graduating class or even teachers for that matter creating this kind of divisiveness for their own agendas, their own entertainment, or perhaps because they’re so miserable their only means to happiness is to create and spread misery amongst their own social network. When you play the good guy, you have a goal, and that goal should be to spread the exact opposite. Influences from mortal men, the spreading of evil agendas, and the spreading of false truths and gossip run amok. Everyday we are faced with these. Sometimes, it’s those influential serpents in the garden spreading the uncertainty, stress, and the breakdown of unity. All in the name of creating war, where they can reign supreme because although arguing, fighting, and disagreement is spread among the masses, these serpents, snakes, in other words, are behind it. All of it. And sometimes, it can only stop if we see through our own differences, remember our own good souls, and fight the negative influences, energy, and dark souls that walk our very streets.

Also, feel free to check out my twitter @tmatthewsfit91 as well as my facebook @facebook.com/toddmatthewsphysique if you too would like fitness tips in your quest to possibly live an active lifestyle.

The Sports Rivalry that Fueled Once

We all love our good old sports rivalries. Just take a look at all of the major sports out there, college included. For the record, I need a rundown, because many of my favorite teams are spawned from the pureness of a good old rivalry.

Now I’m going to be clear and mention that I can’t give away who my preferences are in terms of sports because I would be giving away essential details to the plot. For starters, the sport itself is fictional (it’s actually a sport I invented years ago), as are the teams and everything and everyone involved. However, if you’re sharp, you are going to pick something up relatively quickly. Or you can just google the sports leagues and sports rivalries until you find a match. I’m literally clueing you like none other, because in part, I do want someone to solve this riddle. For those who know me, you don’t qualify because you know exactly where I’m going with this.

Yet I really love to use sports in order to get my points across, and Once is no different. In fact, this particular sports rivalry (I have to be vague here and cannot mention the rivalry itself or else I’ll be giving the plot away) contributes to both the main plot of the story AND the sports subplot I have created.

So if Once is categorized as a war story with many magical and fantastical elements, why am I including sports in this at all? Take a look at the world today. We have issues going on with the Presidential Inauguration with a huge line of protesters (don’t blame me, I voted for Gary Johnson), an escalating issue with Russia, a crisis in Syria, the Brexit (brilliant if you ask me lol), potential hyperinflation of the dollar, a nation divided (see above), and Lord knows what else. But what is everyone talking about? Antonio Brown videotaping his coach on Facebook Live. Brady v. Ben Episode II. Chris Paul out six to eight weeks. Facebook trashing the Dallas Cowboys nonstop. Debates between whether DeShaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky are more worthy of being the number one quarterback taken, and Aaron Rodgers playing magic man (that throw was amazing). In other words, sports are our pleasant distraction from what is really going on in the world today. So for that matter, I included sports.

But this post is about a sports rivalry that helped inspire and fuel Once. The first part is listed above and is very simple: a pleasant distraction. Part two: The story of Once actually has a story under the main story, and that story is the sports rivalry I continually talk of. I literally use Once as an allegory to this sports rivalry, because the plot itself reflects on it so very well. If you are a sports fan and if you happen to pick up Once when it gets published (I’m merely hyping my work, I still need to go through one final edit before sending it to publishers) you will probably break that code fast. For you non sport fans, a simple wikipedia search may help you break the code. As I talk more about Once, I’ll dish out more clues. But I will say, the entire Once series is an allegory of a sports rivalry, because I love my sports but I really don’t take them as serious as people think I do, unless if my favorite team is playing their chief, and most hated rival Then things get personal. The same goes for Once. Remember this short but very important post, because it’s imperative.

Stay tuned, as the second half of Comeback Kid gets released at the end of the week! Plus, you all should know by now my influences behind Once, but I’m going to give you an in depth look at each influence, without revealing any information on my plit, of course. Again, stay tuned!! My blog is starting to grow and I’m loving it.

The Great Sport of Shotball

You sports enthusiasts are going to love this one. The game is shotball, and it encompasses a deadly combination between football, soccer, basketball, and rugby. Played on a one-hundred yard field with two soccer nets on opposing sides, shotball is a sport that is going to test your energy stores like none other. You need a level of conditioning seen in sports such as football and basketball in order to last four quarters but you also need the aerobic capacity to continually run up and down certain lengths of the field. This sport is eleven on eleven, it may be co-ed, and yes, tackling is part of the game.

So what does a shotball field really look like? It is a one-hundred yards in length and fifty three yards across with three distinct lines. The first two lines are located on the twenty-five yard line while a center line is located on the fifty yard line. At each goal line rests a soccer net. Simple, right?

What about the positions? There are eleven players on each side of the field. Each side has one goal keeper, one wanderer, two defenders, three attackers, and four centers. So, let’s start with the goal keeper.

Goal Keeper: This one is pretty straight forward. They are in to block any shot taken mainly by the attackers and wanderer, but in some cases the centers and defenders may also shoot on goal. They need to be ready for anything because if that shot is coming and the ball is in the air, goal keeper interference is allowed. (GK’s wear numbers 1-19).

Wanderer: This is the only player who may play in any zone at any given time. The lines at the twenty-five and fifty are irrelevant to them. They can play offense, defense, and the works. The wanderer is usually the player who is fast, has decent endurance, and doesn’t mind hitting as much as they love scoring. They can be a third defender, a fifth center, a second goal keeper, or a fourth attacker. Teams built on defense prefer defensive minded wanderers. Those who love ball control may like their wanderer’s natural position to be center. Yet those teams that love offense will want a wanderer who can score. (Wanderers wear numbers 10-49, or 80-89).

Defenders: These are your defensemen. They cannot cross the center line at the fifty yard line and may only play on their side of the field. A good defenseman loves contact because they are going to do all they can in order to force the ball out of the hands of the attackers. They must hit hard but they also need to be aware of who has the ball at any given time, as the attackers are the best offensive players in the game and some teams love to score fast. (Defenders wear numbers 50-79).

Centers: Four centers and they may play anywhere between the twenty-five yard lines. They cannot go deep into either zone. The centers are the middle men. Typically the players who are good at moving the ball downfield will play center. They will set up the offensive drive. Typically a defender or wanderer will relay the ball to the center and the center may find another center or an attacker to get the ball to. The centers can travel all the way to the twenty-five yard line in the attacking zone, so they have to be good at passing the ball, as many assists will come from the center. However, they must also crave contact, because in many cases the centers are the first line of defense. If the team is defensive oriented, the centers will be hard hitters who look to rip the ball from the opposing team’s hands and run the ball into the attacking zone. An offensive minded team is just the opposite, looking to move the ball through the air with precision passing and timing. (Centers wear numbers 20-49).

Attackers: The attackers are the primary scorers. They may only play on the offensive side of the field and may not cross the fifty yard line. The attackers are also the only ones allowed inside the twenty-five yard line with the exception of the wanderer. On teams that love quick strikes, the attackers will creep towards the goal keeper and the centers may toss the ball to one of the attackers that loves contested passes. Or, if the team likes ball control, the attackers may play closer to the fifty and systemically move the ball downfield in conjunction with the centers. Either way, the attackers must be good shooters. (Attackers wear numbers 80-89. If all numbers in the 80’s are taken, they may wear numbers 10-19).

So how do we score? There are three ways to score in shotball. You can simply throw the ball into the net for one point. If you want two points, the ball can be kicked into the net, or if you need three, the drop-kick may work.

What does the ball look like? The ball can be a rugby ball, a soccer ball, or an American football, depending on the preferences of the teams.

What is the length of the game? The game can be played in either two halves of thirty minutes apiece or four quarters of fifteen minutes apiece. There is a fifteen minute halftime.

What about overtime? An extra five minute overtime period will commence. If the team that initially inbounds the ball scores, the opposing team has one shot on offense to score. If the team that initially inbounds fails to score and the initial defensive team scores, the game is over. If no one scores on their initial possession, the first team to score on any subsequent possession wins.

What are the fouls and penalties? Fouls and penalties tend to follow the NHL standard of a minor, double minor, or major. Here are just a few:

Minor, 2 minute power play for the opposing team: Holding, Roughing, Pass Interference, Hands to the Face, Illegal Use of the Elbows (elbow to the head or neck area), Illegal Substitution (player enters without checking in), Offsides (player crosses a line illegally), Illegal Block in the Back, Clipping, Chop Block, Cross Checking, Late Hit (incidental), Tripping (intentional), Intentional Grounding (throwing the ball away without a receiver in the area).

Double Minor, 4 minute power play for opposing team: Unnecessary Roughness, including but not limited to: Roughing the Passer, Roughing the Shooter, Hit on Defenseless Player, Piling On (jumping onto a pile if the player is ruled down by contact), Late Hit (intentional), Hitting Player on the Ground.

Major, 5 minute power play for opposing team and possible misconduct: Targeting (hit to the head, neck region, misconduct if called for foul twice), Fighting (misconduct if three fights occur in a single game).

Penalty shots do occur only if the offensive player is on a breakaway or is in the act of shooting the ball towards the goal. All other penalties result in an inbound once the power play begins.

For the most part, the penalties follow American football and hockey. Traveling with the ball is allowed. However, if a player is ruled down by contact, they must give up the ball. In many cases, a player may get rid of the ball before they hit the ground. There is NO intentional grounding if the player tosses up the ball as they’re being tackled. In this case, they may give up the ball even if there is no receiver in the area. The ball is live at all times regardless of the pass is incomplete or if a fumble occurs. If a fumble instigates a scrum for the ball, the play is ruled dead and the team who gains possession of the loose ball inbounds when play is started again.

Shotball is the primary sport in Once. There are many sports mentioned in Once, but shotball is the equivalent to football in the United States, or soccer in the rest of the world. It is the most popular sport that mirrors high school football on the local level. Many ask me how I came up with the sport and why it was inserted into Once. Here is the story:

One day back in 2009 I was watching ESPN as the NFL issued yet another rule taking the violence away from the game. I can’t quite remember what the rule was, but it was one step too far for me, so I took out my old laptop and started writing rules for a new game. I called it warball to reflect the rather violent atmosphere the game contained, but I soon found out the game shared the name with an old album from an otherwise unknown band, so I changed the name to shotball in recognition of the different ways one could shoot the ball into the net in order to warrant a score.

 

The Writing of Once: An Inside Look

Yesterday I gave everyone the inside scoop on the Comeback Kid saga but what about my main project, Once? What is it that motivated me to create such a story that actually began way back in the day during my sole year at Kent State all the way back in 2010? Many of you know that this is much more than a fitness blog, so therefore I like to preach about other topics, such as my writing, sports, politics, symphonic metal, fantasy, and various others in between. Well, Once is practically a combination of all of these interests.

Last week, I mentioned that Once is really a combination of several influences such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lost, themes often seen in symphonic metal, libertarian politics, American history, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and current events. You’re going to see a wicked combination, crossovers, tributes, and references to everything listed above. You’re going to see my main protagonist possess many of the traits that several key figures in my influences possess and then some. Once is also a saga, and the work is going to be the very first one in the series. Unlike Comeback Kid, I won’t be posting this one, as I really want to get the work published professionally. It is currently being beta-read as I write this and after the beta-reading, I’m going to go through one last edit before actually sending it out into the world.

Back in the fall of 2010, I was really looking for a second hobby next to working out at the rec center in order to combat my increasing boredom at Kent. It is important to note that Kent State has a lot, and I mean a lot of things to do, but since I can be the world’s greatest introvert at times (which explains my excessive writing) I had to do something. Ironically, at the time I had no interest in pursuing a career in fitness so I was actually a history major. This confession may actually come as a shock to some, but although I had an interest in fitness and loved to workout and potentially compete (which I did a year later and placed well), I come from the Ohio Valley and I assumed no one from the Ohio Valley could ever create a sustainable career in fitness. So I was skimming through my history book and came across two things that really jump out at me to this day: The American Revolution and the Civil Rights slash Counterculture Movement of the 1960’s.

Right, so what do the American Revolution and Civil Rights Movement have in common? See, we historians love to answer these kinds of questions that involve the most critical thoughts on the planet, and this question that popped into my head at the time was no exception. The American Revolution was a fight for freedom. The Civil Rights Movement was a fight for equality. Yet, although the American Revolution was a fight for freedom, wasn’t it a fight for equality in a manner of speaking? Didn’t the Americans want to be just as free and independent as their British rulers? Of course! During the Civil Rights movement, didn’t Martin Luther King want the African-American population to see the same equal rights as their white counterparts? Of course! Thus, we have something in common between two very vital eras in the history of the United States! Now, Barack Obama wasn’t my favorite president, but being that had the Civil Rights movement not occurred, Obama never would have seen the Oval Office. Ditto for the American Revolution. Had the Americans not declared freedom from King George III in England, George Washington never would have become president. Two important movements in the growth of our country and two people who are forever linked by extraordinary events.

This made me think of a very critical question: What would happen to a nation had the American Revolution taken place in modern times? But I’m far too ambitious than to simply answer that question and I have a thing for fantasy, so I had to make this critical answer to the critical question as epic as possible. Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of my favorite TV shows growing up, and I loved the way certain characters in the book could bend elements, so let’s put that in the book. Harry Potter was one of my favorite book series growing up and I just needed to take some elements from arguably the greatest tale told since the Bible, so I put some magic into the book. Lost loved to play mind games with others and just because you might see it, doesn’t always mean it isn’t something else, so I decided to place some of that in the book too. George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with A Thousand Faces, so I bought the book and read it. Elements are scattered throughout the book. Ron Paul was (and still is) my favorite political figure so I read some of his books, and the same went for Judge Andrew Napolitano, who I would probably nominate for Supreme Court Justice tomorrow! I love the lyrics, the sound, and the feeling I get from listening to bands such as Nightwish, Xandria, Within Temptation, and Delain among others, so they were key influences in writing this epic tale.

I wrote about my main protagonists earlier last week as well, and why they are in Once, as well as a role they will play in the work. Where did they all come from? They are amalgams of many different characters playing many different roles from the above influences. Each one of them is inserted into the text for good reason and there is always much, much more than what meets the eye for these characters. Cain Robertson, Lira Ross, Micah Robertson, Jed Robertson, Asha Robertson, Marcos Gretels, Clyde Flanders, Korra Adams, Randelo Jefferson, Savannah Rivers, and the others aren’t only based off of book, movie, and TV characters, but each of them are loosely based off of people I have been fortunate enough to meet in my lifetime, especially recently. These characters almost become your best friends and you come to like many of them as they’re developed from a simple thought placed into my brain by a higher power greater than myself. That’s powerful.

Many have told me that although it’s great to create this tale, this world, the characters, and the likes, that they simply aren’t real. No, they’re real. They’re very, very real. Each plot was influenced by real events, each character is based off of somebody who is real, and even the world and universe in which the tale resides is based off of something. Something real. They’re not real? I honestly beg to differ.

This is it for today, and as promised, Comeback Kid, Part II will be released by the end of the week in order to coincide with my move to Pittsburgh, where I look to expand and evolve my fitness career. Also, I’ll be posting periodically in hopes of spreading the good news if and when Once is picked up! It’ll be my first crack at this so it’ll be a challenge, but with challenge comes opportunity.

An Inside Look

Fourteen months ago I sat down in the rec room of my mom and dad and I penned a short story entitled Comeback Kid. The short story was very simple and straight forward. To anyone who knew me and my ambitions, the plot talked about a twenty-nine year old personal trainer named Brock Patrick. Brock did everything in this world that I wish to accomplish. He became a very renown trainer on the Atlantic Coast. He won over a girl resembling my current celebrity crush (anyone who knows me knows who she is based off of), and most importantly, Brock remembered what it took to get to where he was.

After a few months I decided to turn this into a full length book, the second half of which is going to be released this week in conjunction with my own relocation into my very first apartment in the South Hills, located just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A little bit of a background on the subject of Comeback Kid: Comeback Kid is actually a combination of two plots I wrote up years ago combined into one. Brock’s second timeline and the end of the other plot were so very similar that I just decided to combine the two an thus, Comeback Kid was officially born. I will admit that I did change some elements of the original plots in order to fit the book (I need to quit calling this a book because in all technical terms, it is not a book, merely a series of episodes, but it could very well be recognized as a book and I may actually self-publish this one day as an e-book).

So what were these elements that were changed? I’ll give you a rundown:

In Comeback Kid, Brock is an extremely unsuccessful and unhappy thirty-five year old in the very first chapter. In the plot synopsis this was based off of, the main character who I never quite got around to naming was a thirty-five year old man married to a woman he loved only because he had two kids with her. He worked in a job he did not enjoy and never envisioned himself working in, and his relatives were basically doing the same things Jed, Lenny, Maria, K.J., Lonnie, and Riley were doing. I almost had Brock do this as well (a la Mindy in the first timeline) but I really felt I’d be insulting people who actually did lead these lives and thus, I wanted to shift from it.

What did I do? I did a little bit of brainstorming and went back to my middle school days. I thought about how very hesitant I was to do anything when I was younger and my parents had to literally force me to engage in physical activity (seriously), give everything I had in practice and in a game (seriously), and at times, force me to continue on with the sport or activity because I simply wanted to stay indoors and play video games (yes, seriously). What, did you think I was born holding a dumbbell or something?

So, I decided to ask myself what might have happened had I continued being “that kid.” Let me tell you something. To this day, I still have no idea what I would do if I weren’t part of the fitness industry. Sure, I love to write, but I also love modeling a lead male protagonist after myself. Why? Because he HAS to look as if he’s about to save the world (fictional world, since only Jesus can save our real world). So in all honesty, if I didn’t have my current bodybuild, I would be void of ideas because I just HAVE to put myself in the book under a different name, such as Brock Patrick, for example. So Todd the Writer could never exist without Todd the Trainer. Kind of weird, because they are two completely different mindsets. Todd the Writer shows off his artsy side. Todd the Trainer shows off his scientific side. Together, they’re unbeatable and a force to be reckoned with. Apart, they are nothing, nothing at all.

So obviously, with the above paragraph being stated, Brock Patrick is, well, nothing at all in the initial timeline. Why? Because he never found fitness and without fitness he never comes across being a writer, just like the man writing this blog! So when it came to what could have happened had I remained the lazy kid who never bothered to do well in school (because my mind was on video games), didn’t want to engage in physical activity (because my mind was on video games), and most certainly didn’t want a time commitment (because my mind was on video games), I had to really ask myself what the hell was I supposed to do to make a living (because my mind would still be on video games)! Are we having fun yet?

What did I come up with? Everything I had ever feared I would become had my mind remained on playing video games. Would I have cared about school? No. Would I have wanted a job that was going to cut into my video game time? No. Would I have wanted to do any kind of household chore that cut into my video game time? No. Would I have wanted to do anything that cut into my video game time? No. Would my parents have forced me to do something that cut into my video game time? Absolutely.

Enter Jay Patrick. The dad is always the tougher of the two parents if the kid is a boy. They always are. And vice versa if there is a daughter involved. In that case, mom is typically the greater of the two evils. So who is Jay Patrick? He has my dad’s personality, but an extremely exaggerated version of it. Other than that I completely made the character up from scratch. For instance, my own father never served in the armed forces, he’s much shorter than Jay, and my dad is not a used car salesman. But he is just as tough as Jay Patrick. And he would be more than tough on me if I were like the Brock Patrick from the first timeline. Jay loves to compare, or better yet, contrast, Brock from his cousin Lenny and brother, Jed.

Enter Lenny and Jed. So who exactly are these two? Lenny is based off of my own cousin who is around my age with many similarities and differences. For starters, my cousin who inspired the character is actually older than I am and he doesn’t work for an electronic store, but this was his dream for quite some time (video games, but in much more moderation). He’s also quite talented at pretty much everything, which made him a perfect example of what success looked like. I think every parent wants their kid to be like Lenny and rightfully so. Okay, so onto Jed. First of all, Jed is very loosely based off of my own brother and as a running gag, I have inserted the very same Jed into every single synopsis I have written for my own amusement. Jed is pretty much the middle man. Jed is successful and he’ll reach the same success that Lenny has achieved. Yet Jed tends to hang out in the background more than reaching the forefront while most of the animosity Brock displays during the first timeline is focused on Lenny (due to their age similarities).

Brock also needed a rival who would become everything he wanted to become in the first timeline. I wanted someone who was an influential leader who succeeded more than anyone who had ever graduated Thomas High School (a direct carbon copy of Edison High School). Yet he had to arrogant, self-righteous, and just downright unlikable since Brock displayed these characteristics in the first timeline. Enter Dale Detmer. Dale is a personal trainer living on the Atlantic Coast who is succeeding more than any Thomas High School graduate ever had. If he isn’t the most prominent  then he is definitely up there in the rankings. He is someone Brock had always loathed and he is actually based off of a few former classmates whose names I won’t mention because I really don’t need any conflict in my life or accusations of slander. Let’s just be vague and say that Detmer is based off of three to four different guys I went to school with who thought they were God’s gift to Earth and leave it at that. Any Edison High School graduate from the Classes of 2008, 09, and 10 should get a hint on who exactly Dale Detmer is. But what good is a rival without a very nice sidekick who is the exact opposite? Enter Azula Skye von Beck, hailing from the great land of Switzerland. Just so you all know, Azula Skye is the name of my red Chevy Cruze. I decided to name her after Azula from The Last Airbender because I always thought the name was badass.

But what good are the characters without a damn good story line? So I thought to myself; what the hell would I be doing had I not entered the fitness industry? Enter Lucks Foods, based off of Riesbecks Foods. Just so the Riesbeck Corporation is aware, the Brock Patrick in the second timeline, and therefore the real life version of Todd Matthews, loves your company and there are nothing but good things written about it in the text. My very first (kind of sort of first) real job was at Riesbecks and my entire thought process here was that I’d probably still be working there today if I never found my fitness lifestyle to be so intriguing. Actually, I’d probably get fired for something, whether I was just moving too slow, being withdrawn from the customers, or something of that nature, so Brock gets fired and works for his cousin who is now the CEO of Victory Electronics. After Detmer intervenes as an inconvenience to Brock, he decides to beg for his job back at Lucks in front of Dale and Skye.

So why is it called Comeback Kid since Brock never really came back from anything? In fact, Brock was pretty much granted a cheat code to relive part of his life and change what he had messed up. I contemplated on a new title but in all honesty, Brock still had to mount a comeback to win the day. Put it this way: although he was given a new opportunity he was still the same Brock that everyone knew when he was in the eighth grade back in 2004-2005. In fact, I was an average, even below average student in almost every subject back in middle school. Both Brock and I never played any sports in middle school although we tried doing so but failed miserably. So with that being said, Brock really is the Comeback Kid. Because he was granted a new opportunity to live as a kid once more and mount a comeback in an attempt to prove everyone wrong in their initial perspective of what he would grow up to become. In the first timeline, Brock proves everyone right. In the second timeline, everyone is proven wrong. And that, my friends, is a Comeback Kid.

Who would benefit from reading this work? Literally anyone who is struggling in life, especially our younger generation. This book is actually targeted towards middle school students, and although adults may get a lot out of the book, it is our middle school and even high school students who will truly benefit from reading this. Comeback Kid is scattered across this blog and as mentioned previously, since the blog is rather small I may put this in ebook format and sell it for a few bucks. Nothing crazy, obviously, but it’d be sold more for convenience than anything else.

As for my people at Anytime Fitness, I wanted to give you all a huge shout out! Best of luck to your future endeavors and keep in contact with me! I’ll only be forty-five minutes up the road but I look for each and every one of you to continue your relentless quest for your own fitness goals. Best of luck and I’m excited to see what the future holds for all of us. Remember, we always need to move forward. The quickest way to the end zone is straight ahead.