He hadn’t noticed how much his stomach had hurt. Not until it stopped hurting. It had been too constant, far too prolonged, for him to notice it before. And as the pain eased from his gut, as the muscles released their hold on the knot of stress he’d been carrying around, tightly squeezing until the stress had completed full gestation, birthing dread; it was when this pain dropped away that he knew it had been there all along. Happiness. Something like happiness was finally skipping in his heart. Life wasn’t all doom and gloom and he’d always had the power to feel this. All he’d had to do was put in a little work. He got a haircut. He went for a run. He asked a girl on a date. Everything felt like something know. Meaning performed itself before his eyes. Excitement made him bounce a little with each step.
Chuck hung out down in his room until the hour was late. So late that Adam didn’t have the chance to scroll reddit, as he usually did before falling asleep. When Chuck announced an hour before dawn that he’d better get some sleep, Adam thought about checking reddit. But he was too tired. Tired and sated. He didn’t need anything this night. There wasn’t anything that reddit could give him.
The next morning, Adam slept until mid-day, but still decided to go for a run after eating a quick breakfast of oatmeal and toast. He was eating a healthy breakfast and everything. He really had begun a new chapter in his life.
Despite the clouds laying like an opaque blanket over a gray sky, Adam’s spirits were high. He donned an old pair of sweatpants and a Metallica t-shirt he’d bought at a yard sale, and took off for his run. Legs pumping, feet slamming into hard pavement, heart sprinting along in time, he ran through the neighborhood. He ran all the way to the sign that announced their development then back. Then he ran all the way back to the sign again. By the time he was back in his own front yard, he was soaked with sweat. It ran into his eyes, causing him to blink through the stinging salt. He bent at the waist and grabbed his knees. His chest heaved with sharp stabs of breath.
Cold droplets sprinkled from the sky, hinting at the downpour to come, and Adam thanked the universe for his good luck. He’d gotten back home just in time to beat the rain. He stood and wiped the sweat from his face. The droplets fell with greater speed. He closed his eyes and reveled in the refreshing cool drops pinging into his hot skin.
A crack of thunder was like a whip spurring him into the house. He hastily unlocked the door and hurried inside. Pausing just inside, one hand on the storm door, Adam watched the rain patter into the walkway. It darkened with wetness, the drops falling in clusters, like the clouds were crowding. They spread and the clusters overlapped. Then the skies parted and tidal waves of rain crashed down, filling the air with the roar of fallen water.
Adam shut the door and shook himself off in the foyer. He took a peak into the living room and saw that the couch was empty. Dad’s blue comforter was still balled up on one end. His slippers were on the floor, the toes just dipping under the coffee table. Next to a rumpled newspaper, Dad’s half-empty coffee cup sat, brown and waiting. Adam took a step into the room and swiveled. He looked from the wall where the couch stood to the opposite wall, where large pane windows were blocked by the dying hedges that ran parallel to the front walkway.
In front of this window, a rocking chair with dull blue cushions and a matching footstool stood beside a large dark wood trunk, where Dad kept his needlepoint supplies. Adam had always found it weird that his dad liked to do needlepoint. He was a manly old guy. Except for that. Mom rolled her eyes at the hobby too. “The lady of the house has her needles out. She’s about to darn my socks!”
But Dad had a good sense of humor about it. He never flinched. He only smiled and sometimes gave a chuckle or two and wove intricate patterns of birds until swaths of white fabric. Birds were his favorite images to embroider. Dad knew all the different species of birds. He would pick out just the right shade of red to match the vivid shade of a cardinal’s feathers. He’d compare green thread side by side until he was certain the fir trees holding the nest were true to life. When asked why he embroidered birds almost exclusively, Dad would say, “I like birds. Used to go hunting with my father. Always liked to see the birds. They made the forest sing.”
What a bunch of bull. Obviously they made the forest sing. Singing was what birds did. The fuck else would they do?
Still, Adam missed seeing the look in Dad’s eye whenever he’d work on a project. He missed the calm look of concentration. His wrinkled eyes narrowed and his plump cheeks sucked in to the bone, as he threaded the needle or stitched an especially tricky part of the pattern. Dad hadn’t touched his needlepoint supplies in months. Not since he lost his job. Now all he did was watch television, make phone calls, and tweak and retweak his resume. He’d probably rewritten the damn thing a hundred times, and Mom kept on him that he wasn’t doing enough. He was doing everything. He was a hollowed trunk of who he used to be, rotting bark caving in around sunken sleep-deprived eyes.
He didn’t know where Dad might be now. Maybe the old man had finally gotten an interview. The surrounding silence told him that the others had gone out too. He knew that Chuck would have left for class by now, and Mom usually ran her errands around this time in the morning. And Chris would be…oh, that was right: school. That kid’s school year had started. Duh, the kid was probably sitting in the cafeteria right now, showing off his shiny brass and trying to flirt with the band geek girls. How that fat dummy had any kind of social life, Adam had no clue. He somehow managed to be the biggest dweeb and the biggest normie out of the three of them. He stuck out and fit in all at once and every once in awhile, Adam just had to sit back and be amazed by it.
With the house empty for once in his life (it really did happen so rarely), Adam decided to read in the rocking chair by the window. He’d always liked that seat. He used to play his Nintendo 3DS there, rocking back and forth and listening to the sounds of the house. COD blaring from upstairs. The low hum of his mother on the phone in the kitchen, chatting with her sister while she prepared dinner. The steady stream of television sitcom noise from the set in the den, where Chris hung out coloring in his Civil War coloring books. Before he’d found the trumpet, he’d been into history. But all of that had been years ago, when Adam was still in high school. The house didn’t hum with activity anymore. Soft murmurs and chatter had all but died away. Loneliness. Coldness. Or maybe that was only in Adam’s world. He had to admit, he left the basement so rarely, the family might still be warm with each other from time to time and he was simply missing it because of his night-crawler schedule.
Then again, had they ever really been warm together? Even in his fondest memories of family life, they were separate. Chris in the den. Chuck upstairs. Mom in the kitchen. Adam in the living room or basement. Only Dad went from room to room, greeting everyone, cracking corny jokes that made them roll their eyes but laugh despite themselves. Only Dad didn’t do this anymore. Five months ago, he’d sat down on that lumpy couch, and he hadn’t gotten up since. Not for any significant length of time. If he was home, he was on the couch or taking a shit. He didn’t do much else.
Adam made his way through the dark gray of the house. All of the lights were off, what with it being the middle of the day, but the sky was so cloudy, the rain pelting the shaking pane windows, that hardly any sunlight filtered through the dusty vinyl slats. The light that did break through was gray. Gray as a Russian Blue. Adam couldn’t decide if it was depressing or cozy.
He found The Eye of the World on the leather couch in the basement where he’d left it. For the first time, he looked down at the shining red leather and wondered why this far nicer couch wasn’t the one upstairs in the living room. But with a shrug, he dismissed the question. Leather wasn’t any good to sleep on, and the couch was where Dad slept. Dismissed like an old dog. Send him off to make glue.
Anger surged like a wave rising. It swelled, a balloon stretching against opaque rubber. He shut his eyes and fought it back. The pressure would build and explode if he let it. Intuitively he knew that. He’d never had much of an anger problem. Never had a violent outburst. But an instinct told him not to dwell. He felt it, a truth written into his sinews, he could snap if he dwelt on the injustice of it for too long. He could snap so hard that the broken rubber snapped back at him, hurting him worse than anyone else. With purpose, he blocked his rage. He put it away. He’d look at it some other time, when he really felt capable of turning it all over.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon curled up in the rocking chair, feet resting on blue cushions. He listened to the rain beat the windows. He heard the roar of wind whipping up in fury, the first leaves of fall swirled in circles across the lawn. He could just make out a sliver of green through the crowded hedges. Reading of Rand’s journey to Tar Valon, his battle with the Trollocs, his flight from the dark one, Adam rested in the silence and comfort of the gray. He’d decided that it was cozy after all.