Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 24

November 8, 2014, Saturday

Kao pulled the tray of bacon out of the oven and set the strips on a paper towel. He breathed deep and slow to calm his still-pounding heart. Ten minutes went by fast on the treadmill when it wasn’t part of a required regimen. He actually stayed on for a couple extra minutes just so he could reach an even two miles and then he jogged until the timer hit thirteen minutes.

He carried a breakfast tray with a plate of sliced pears and apples and a plate with bacon, toast and a veggie omelet. At the top of the stairs, he yelled to let the children know there was breakfast in the kitchen. After bumping open the bedroom door open with his backside, he turned to see Erica smiling.

“I guess I have to get pregnant more often,” Erica said as she sat up in bed.

“Oh, this is for me.”

“Boooooo.”

“Just kidding. Gotta fatten you up.”

“When did you get in last night?”

“Just before five.”

“Poker go late?”

“Yeah, people were still playing when I left. I took a nap around midnight after being at the bar with James and Biggie.”

“Baby, you can’t keep those kind of hours. You’ll burn out again.”

“I know. And I won’t. You’ll get sick of seeing me soon enough,” Kao said. “When did the kids go to bed?”

“Dex fell asleep with me around ten. The girls were all in their rooms by midnight. I fell asleep before Saan and his friends finished studying. When are you guys going to Michigan?”

“I think I’m going to let him go by himself. He’s responsible enough.”

***

Paul’s stomach knotted and churned as he tried to focus on the proctor’s instructions, but he could only think of the second glass of orange juice he had with breakfast. He turned on his graphing calculator to check the contrast between the numbers and the screen. His mechanical pencil had plenty of lead. Regardless, it felt like a sauna, and when Paul pulled his sweatshirt away at the neck he smelled the steam from his body.

He laughed uncomfortably at Saan’s advice to just relax and not to think too much, but he had never been able to find comfort in taking a test and this was no different. Paul took a test booklet and passed the remaining one to the girl behind him. She smiled sweetly at him, and for a brief second, his mind drifted to something besides the test.

Saan sat in the parking lot and looked on the SUV’s navigation system for the nearest grocery store. He wanted to surprise his classmates with a couple celebratory bottles of champagne and needed ice, a Styrofoam cooler and plastic champagne flutes. He found a Whole Foods about a mile away.

As in most situations where he wasn’t recognized, the patrons at Whole Food craned their heads as Saan pushed a cart through the aisles. Had he just been six-six or Asian, he probably wouldn’t have generated the gawking stares. But being both, he was still getting accustomed to the double takes from strangers. The only people taller than him in his family were his uncle and older half-brother, but he was still growing, which was a blessing and a curse. He had the height for basketball but had already heard about the lack of successful professional quarterbacks at his height, and he was constantly reminded by coaches, scouts and sportswriters, who had already started forecasting the rest of his sporting life.

Once Saan had the champagne in the cooler, he took a drink of Jack Daniel’s and made himself a whiskey and Coke. He made a U-turn on Palm Avenue and headed to Fashion Fair Mall to see if he could find any decent shoes that fit his size fifteen feet. It was a lazy morning with light traffic, and Saan turned the radio up since he was alone.

He saw the car at the last second and braced for the impact. The other driver slammed on the brakes just as the truck slammed into Saan’s SUV, which veered into the median before rolling over onto its roof. A man at the bus stop rushed to the SUV and dragged an unconscious Saan from the car, and a homeless onlooker helped carry him onto the sidewalk.

Saan came to as the paramedics prepared to roll him onto the stretcher. His neck was secured in a brace. He felt the concrete on his arms and back. The sun was in his line of sight and he closed his eyes.

“What’s your name?” the EMT asked.

“Saan. Saan Saeteurn.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“The sidewalk. Shaw Avenue I think. Fresno.”

“Good,” she said.

“Am I going to be okay?” Saan asked.

“We’re doing the best we can.”

Saan moved his toes and clenched his hands and felt relieved.

“We’re going to put you on your side, okay?” the EMT said.

“Okay,” Saan said. “My friends are at Bullard taking the SAT. They’ll need a ride home around one.”

***

Clockwise through the room, the men and women introduced themselves and Dennis waited his turn. He tried to memorize their names by repeating them in his head starting with the chairperson followed by each additional person. The eclectic crowded included young and old. Some of the members were dressed in suits while others had shoes that had been through some rough patches. Dennis listened to the introductions and recited his own in his head.

“Hi, my name is Dennis and… and… and I’m an alcoholic,” he said.

“Hi, Dennis!” the room responded in unison.

“Hi, my name is Vanessa, and I’m here to support Dennis.”

“Hi, Vanessa!”

After the introductions, the chairperson made an announcement, “I should have done this earlier, but I forgot, so I’m sorry. The doors are closed for the evening, but Cesar will be joining us. He called me earlier and wanted all of you to know he was running late.”

The topic for the meeting was “Making Amends” and once again, the members took turns speaking in a clockwise fashion. Dennis listened intently on their tales of woe, broken relationships and estrangement. Most everyone had something to share, but there were a few members who declined to speak. Dennis declined as well.

When the chairperson announced a fifteen-minute break, Dennis and Vanessa went to refresh their coffee. Cesar Hernandez approached with the Big Book in hand and introduced himself. He was in his mid-50s but looked sturdy, a byproduct of working construction since he was in high school. Except for a few minor lapses, Cesar had been sober for more than twenty years.

“Would you like a book?” Cesar asked.

He saw Dennis’s hesitation.

“It’s on me,” Cesar said. He wrote his name and number on the inside of the hardcover. “Please, give me a call if there’s anything I can help you with.”

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