Chapter Fourteen: Self-Improvement

Wednesday went so well that Adam decided to keep up with his self-improvement streak on Thursday. He woke up early and went for a jog. It’d been a long time since he’d exercised on purpose. His legs ached and his lunged protested. But the morning air was chilly and refreshing. The burn of his muscles was strenuous, but also exhilarating. He felt powerful and energetic.

A neighbor he hadn’t spoken to in years gave him a friendly wave. He waved back and smiled. The old lady’s eyes crinkled. She carried her mail inside while Adam tried to remember what her name was. Mrs. Cook? Mrs. Baker? Something like that. She used to swap recipes with his mom. Maybe she still did, for all Adam knew. He didn’t know when exactly he’d stopped keeping up with his family. He supposed family dinners had petered off after he’d graduated high school. They’d stopped completely when Chuck had left school. And when did he ever have a reason to talk to his parents other than those dinners they used to have?

His feet pounded over the asphalt. He squinted against the oncoming rays of the morning light. The pressure slapping into the arches of his feet felt nice. Like a steady, thrumming massage. He wondered if his dad ever felt as lost as he did. Without a job, his sleep schedule was all messed up, just like Adam’s from working closing shift all the time. Maybe Dad stayed up all night to keep away from Mom. She’d always been a bit harsh. Nobody would call her a softie. An abrasive woman with big opinions, she’d always been the voice of the household. Chuck and Adam weren’t anything like her. Chris was the only one who took after Mom. That kid had no problem speaking his mind. Or his trumpet.

Adam really was gonna throw that damn thing out a window one day. What a stupid, useless hobby. Adam wondered if Chris had started all the marching band nonsense to meet girls. He did always seem to have nerdy band girls coming over the house. One had been over last Friday. Chris, the idiot he was, had taken the girl upstairs to practice their scales together. Harmonizing a trumpet and a tuba. What a romeo he was. Chris was fat though. There might not be any other way for him to meet girls on his level. And the acne-covered socially-retarded females he brought over definitely seemed about on his level. One had spent an entire evening explaining why she needed a retainer. When a chick was that weird maybe she had to settle for a guy with tits bigger than hers.

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He kept running. He fell into a rhythm. He circled the same half-mile area twice, and then widened his perimeter. He decided to run all the way out to the main road that branched off of Amherst Street, where the sign for his development was positioned, under a telephone wire, with poison ivy growing in thick patched beneath it. Or at least that had been the case the time that Adam and Chuck had wandered away from their block back when they were in fifth-grade and first-grade respectively. Dad hadn’t even punished them for wandering so far from home. He said the rashes they got was nature punishing their dumb asses for him.

It took him over twenty minutes to run all the way out there. He could have stopped, he guessed, but once he decided to do it, that was it. His eyes roamed over the lawns as he ran. The repetitive movements of his body was cathartic, relaxing, hypnotic. Here he was, outside, running, taking in all the sunshine and fresh air, and all because he had decided to. He could do that. He had that power. He could make a decision and then act on it. It seemed so obvious now, but somehow it had never occurred to him.

Since he’d left school, he’d been letting everything happen to him. His life had been built by chance, rather than by design.

He rushed past the sign, this time keeping away from the grass and brambles. The last thing he needed was a bought of poison ivy. His arms pumped and his chest heaved. A trickle of sweat traversed his forehead, dripped into his eye. It stung with a bitter sharpness and he wiped it away without ceasing his movements.

Slowing his pace as he turned home, he realized he’d probably run over three miles.

And all because he’d made the choice to.

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An idea struck him and he seized hold of it with purpose, clutching fervently, before he could talk himself out of it.

He was going to ask a girl out. Any girl. He had never done it and his time was running out. Twenty-three years old and virgin. But only because he hadn’t made the choice to get out there and try.

So what if Josh had been flirting with Becca. Josh flirted with every female.

Becca was shy, nice, cute, on the timid side. Adam recognized the possibility that she might reject him, but she wouldn’t be a bitch about it. She wasn’t that kind of girl. She’d let him down easy and that was what he needed from the first girl he asked out.

He was so pumped with this idea that he couldn’t stop moving. When he got home, he went right to the shed and found the lawn-mower. The lawn needed a trim and it was just past nine now. Mom was always on him that he didn’t help out enough, and poor Dad could use the weekend to relax. All the poor old dude ever did was job search, get yelled at, and do yardwork.

There had to be more to life…

Something oozing and awful slithered up Adam’s spine. A feeling, a fluttering, a sense of dread. But he had no idea what he was suddenly feeling in dread of.

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He shoved the ambiguous emotion away and threw himself into his yard work.

Taking care of himself, pulling his weight, putting in the heavy lifting, he felt like a new man. He caught a glimpse of his own sweat-soaked form in the side window of the house and had to smile. He looked really decent.

Yes, he would ask Becca out. That was a normal thing to do, right? Chicks had guys ask them out all the time, right? Yeah…yeah…No, he wasn’t about to talk himself out of it now.

This was the start of his life. This was the start of his own American Dream. He wanted a family and house of his own one day. He wanted a woman to love and kids and all that came with it.

And none of that would ever be his if he didn’t stop being such a pussy and just ask a girl out already. If she said no, he’d ask out another.

But this was where it started.

With invigoration, he planned what he would say. He imagined her reaction. He fantasized her enthusiastically saying yes. He agonized over her turning her nose up in disgust, rolling her eyes, and saying no.

By the time he put the mower away, he had it all worked out. He knew exactly what he was going to say.

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