The Price of Happiness

I could feel the warmth of the sun hitting my face, it was too early for that shit. It had been a long day prior, it was my graduation ceremony from high school. It was your typical ceremony, some asshole you never heard of gives a speech to kids who aren’t listening, they call your name, your parents take pictures, you go out to eat… and then you meet up with your friends later and truly celebrate, which is what I did. There was only three of us; Scott, Eric and myself, Jamie. We had a couple drinks in my back yard since my parents had left to go on vacation. They told me it was the only time this year that they would have an extended amount of time together, I didn’t contest their decision. We were not party animals in any way. Eric was about five foot seven, 170 pounds, wore glasses that my grandfather might wear and used an inhaler, and the guy might be the reincarnation of Steve Carell in “40 Year Old Virgin.” But who was I to make fun of the guy, I wasn’t athletic, terribly awkward around women and I’m thin enough that my ribs show on my pasty-white skin. If there was ever someone that could break through the barrier between our world and the “cool kids” world, it would be Scott. He dressed the nicest, he worked out regularly and was a pretty handsome dude, but I know what you’re thinking, and no, I don’t have a thing for Scott.

Eric was the biggest lightweight among us, he started off funny, but then he got sentimental, which got depressing. Eric said, “You know, we might not all be in the same place together for a long time.” He was right, Scott was going off to Cal-Berkley, Eric was going to a state school about an hour away, and I was taking a gap year. As I sipped my Black Label, reality set in. These guys were the only friends I had, and we would all be off doing our own thing for a while. And when I say friends, I mean close friends, not the type of people who you only discuss school with, those aren’t real friends.

“You need to lay off that shit,” Scott said, “too much of that and you’ll be out of commission tomorrow.” Johnny Walker was nothing to mess with, but whenever I drank it, it didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t drink regularly, only when my parents are away, which seems to be almost always. My father was a construction site manager for a major real estate developer, and my mom was a sales rep for a manufacturing company. They’re away most of the time, which would be nice if I had any plans of throwing a party or get laid, but neither of those things have happened.

Scott was my closest friend, we met Eric in fourth grade and we’ve been cool ever since, but Scott and I have known each other since kindergarten. Because my parents were away so much, they let me stay at Scott’s house. Scott lived with his mother, Rachel, she and Scott’s father got divorced when Scott was very young. When I was 13, I overheard a conversation our mothers were having about the reason for Rachel’s divorce, it had something to do with Rachel catching the father cheating on them, she forgave him, and a week later he asked her for a divorce. I never understood that, she was a very pretty woman with natural blonde hair, a slim figure and full lips. She looked much younger than she actually was, which I assumed was about 40–45 years of age. It was a culmination of things that brought out this warm feeling in my neck and face, it wasn’t sweat, but I felt like I had on a wool turtle neck when she was around.

I had stopped frequenting Scott’s house when I got to high school, it was the age when my parents thought I was able to stay home by myself. When I told kids that I stayed home by myself five nights a week they thought it was so cool, but it definitely didn’t feel that way. I taught myself how to do a lot, cook, clean, do laundry, things of that nature. I missed out on a lot with my parents, especially my dad, being away. I never got involved with sports, I was never told about the perils of male puberty, and it took me a while before I learned to shave the right way. One of the few things you can’t Google to find the answer to, is how to become a man.

The time had finally come for Scott to go off to school. Eric and I were at his house before his mom drove him to the airport, none of us would see him until he came back for the Monday prior to Thanksgiving. It was relatively quiet, I couldn’t tell if Scott was having cold feet or not, he was looking around his room to see if there was anything that he forgot to pack.

Eric pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and said, “Are you bringing your bean-bag chair with you?”

Scott glanced over from the hunched position he was in as he packed some clothes into his luggage, “No, and you can’t have it.” he said.

Eric had a befuddled look on his face and said, “You know, I’m going to be going through some serious mental distress since we all won’t be able to hang out for a while. I think the bean-bag chair will help me get through it.”

Scott pinched his lips together and said “Fine, but please. I beg of you. Don’t get any fucking jizz on it, please. Because I know you’ll be in your dorm getting real intimate with yourself.”

They went back and forth for a little while, so I decided I would use that time to go to the bathroom, I didn’t want to hear a full length conversation about jizz and bean-bag chairs. Scott’s room was right at the top of the stairs of the second floor of his house, and to get to the bathroom from his room, you had to walk down the hall past his mother’s room to the other end of the floor. As I walked down the hall in my socks, I felt the smooth hardwood floors as I slid my feet without picking them up off the floor. I did this to avoid making any creaking noises, I don’t know why I did this, maybe because I didn’t want to be seen as a nuisance. While doing my best land-ice skating impression, I overheard what I thought to be someone sniffling. I was just outside Scott’s mom’s room now. I stood there for a moment and heard her exhale heavily a few times, I could only assume that she was crying or had been crying, because they weren’t the type of sounds that you would make when the doctor is checking your lungs. They were the type that sounded less forced and wavered a little. I didn’t want to be caught listening in, so I went to the bathroom and back to Scott’s room.

It was eventually time for Scott to go. Rachel was standing by the car, she didn’t look like she had been crying. She had a smile on, and her hair was in a bun. I don’t know what it was about women who wore their hair in that way, but they were instantly more attractive to me. Maybe it was the fact that they exposed more skin, showing something that not many others could see. Eric and I said our goodbyes and Scott was off to the airport. As I walked home, Eric alongside, I couldn’t help but think about how lonely I might get now that Scott and Eric were off to their respective schools. My parents were always away, I wasn’t in school, and I didn’t have a job. We eventually got to Eric’s street, I gave him a big hug and said “Try not to hump everything that moves.” He laughed and said he’d call me when he came back home for the weekend, and then I walked home.

Over the next few days I spent time working on my resume. I don’t know why it took so long, there wasn’t much on it by the time I finished. I never had a job before, I never needed one. My parents felt the need to give me hundreds of dollars every so often to compensate for the fact that they were never home. The only things I could include on my resume was that I was a high school graduate who was president of the computer club and a member of the film club. I put on a dress shirt and slacks and drove down to the strip mall to hand in my resume to some stores. I got a few “We’ll give you a call”’s “We aren’t hiring right now”’s and “We’ll keep your resume and give you a call if we have something”’s. Fucking great. I went to the food court, got a hot pretzel and left.

My route home from the mall took my past Scott’s house. As I looked out the window of my 2007 Camry, I saw his mom struggling with some groceries, so I pulled into their driveway to help. She was wearing old jeans and a grey hoodie, but she looked as pretty as always.

As I stepped out of the car she said, “Jamie! How are you? You look very handsome dressed up like that.”

“I’ve been okay, I just got done applying for jobs at the mall. It didn’t go too well,” I said chuckling. I picked up the bags that she couldn’t manage and walked up the path with her to the front door. Rachel fumbled with her keys while balancing a bag on her knee until she found the right one and opened the door.

“Just leave them anywhere”, she said, exhaling heavily. I left the bags on the kitchen counter. “Thank you so much,” she said, “But could I bother you to help me with one more thing?,” she asked.

“Of course”, I said, as I wiped my hands together to try and dry the sweat that had accrued from carrying the bags.

We walked into Scott’s room and she asked, “Could you help me disconnect the computer here and reconnect it in my room? Scott has a laptop and I figured since I have a desk in here I could put the computer in it.” I began disconnecting the wires from the monitor and the PC and carried everything into her room. As I did that, she went back downstairs to put the groceries away. She had a bed that looked to be about a queen-size, soft light-beige colored carpet, a few closets and a mirror on the back of her bedroom door. It was a spacious room, but there wasn’t a whole lot in it. Everything was in its place, there was no mess. Rachel always looked the time to keep things orderly, her hair and clothes always looked nice and clean, just overall tidy person.

I walked down the stairs to the kitchen, as I moved step by step I could smell something good being cooked. I saw Rachel with an apron on, by the kitchen counter and said, “Everything is set upstairs, just let it turn on and everything should be good.”

“That’s amazing,” she said “Thank you so much, and as a token of my appreciation please stay for dinner, it’s almost done.” I didn’t want to be rude and decline, especially since I’m sure it had been a while since she had extended conversation with anyone.

“If you insist” I said, with a smile. She was wearing a Cal-Berkley t-shirt with pajama pants, and as I’m sure you guessed, her hair was in a bun.

She had made us steak and vegetables, but she could have made anything and I would have loved it since I don’t get home cooking very often. We made casual conversation about college, life and whatnot, and when we had finished I said that I should be heading home.

“Jamie, thank you so much for your help, I’ve been having a rough time with Scott being gone for so long. He’s the only man in my life and without him around I’ve been struggling with having nothing to do. The truth is, I worry about him constantly. Is he staying on top of his school work? Is he eating right? Does he remember how to do his laundry?” she said.

“I understand completely” I said, “but if you ever need any help with the computer or anything, for that matter, just let me know. But yeah, have a good night.” As I turned my head and began to walk away, she grabbed my hand. By the time I looked back at her, she had her hand around the back of my head and was pulling me in for a kiss. My only thought was, “Oh God.”

Driving home I couldn’t help but feel a little happy. Of course it was weird, it was my best friend’s mom, but to have an attractive woman make the first move on me of all people did a number for my self confidence. In the days after that I just felt good, things were going well for me. I got a call back from the Radio Shack at the mall, I began to work out a little on my days off, I did a little research on how to invest in the stock market. I would occasionally go over to Scott’s house to have dinner with Rachel, it was once a week or so. We learned a lot about each other over those meals. I found out that Scott’s father had bought the house that she currently lived in when they had gotten married and after they got their divorce, he didn’t even care enough to try and kick her out, he just ran off with his mistress. Rachel was able to afford not to work because of the large amount of money that was left in a joint bank account she and her ex-husband shared, which he also abandoned.

It sounded perplexing to me that someone would leave so much to someone they had lost their feelings toward. I could only imagine how Rachel felt about it, the man you loved basically vanishes and leaves everything behind, including their former spouse. Through all our conversations on the topic, I could tell that she felt no malice towards him, she wasn’t that type of person. Rachel was strong willed and would not allow something like that to weigh her down and dictate how she wanted to live her life.

We would sit next to each other on the couch in her living room after we ate and continue whatever conversation we were having at the dinner table. Some days would be romantically intimate, others not, but what was constant was what we learned from each other. She told me so much about herself, her ambitions as a young woman to be a writer and how it kind of when awry when she became pregnant with Scott. Rachel said that she wanted to be a self-help writer for women. I couldn’t think of something more appropriate considering she was the type of person she was. She, like myself, had to endure a lot with no one to help her though whatever was ailing her.

Upon learning of this, I sprung into action and took her upstairs to her bedroom. I immediately got on the internet on her computer and worked my magic (not exactly what you were expecting, huh?). It took me about five minutes to set up a domain and website for Rachel, it was going to be for a blog.

Partially unaware, Rachel said “What is this supposed to be?”

Moving my fingers across the keys like a piano, I said “This is yours, its going to be your “New York Times” or “Washington Post”.” Rachel saw what I was getting at and a smile began to grow on her face.

“This is my… blog?” Rachel said.

I got off the chair and let her sit down. “Yes, it’s all yours. You can make it look however you want and you can do whatever you want with it,” I said. After clicking around on the screen Rachel got up and we walked to the door. She looked up at me with a grin on her face and hugged me tightly.

After a moment she looked up at me and said “Thank you for that, if you didn’t spontaneously do that, I’m not sure that I ever would have.”

“It was my pleasure,” I said, “I knew the writer in you couldn’t stay dormant forever, so I wanted you to have a place where you can reach the world with your writing.” I genuinely did, I wasn’t trying to score brownie points with her, I definitely wasn’t smooth enough for that anyway. I just wanted to make her happy. In the weeks that came after the first day she kissed me, I felt unequivocally happier that I ever was before. It was the people who made me feel good about myself, that were the ones I wanted to make happy, and she did just that.

Rachel taught me a lot about perspective. She spoke to me about how she was able to keep things that were important to her paramount in her life as opposed to things that were negative, which was how she was able to carry a positive attitude despite her loneliness and anger towards her former husband. If she didn’t mention those specific feelings to me, I never would have known. Her thoughts on perspective and how to recognize what’s important in your life are things that resonated with me.

After that, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and I was on my way home, the whole drive I had a smile on my face. A few days later Scott was home for Thanksgiving and he invited me over for dinner. It was just the three of us sitting around the dinner table, we dressed casually since there was no one else coming. It was a happy time for everyone. Scott was enjoying the college experience, Rachel was hard at work getting her blog out on the internet and Radio Shack was treating me better than I thought, I was there three weeks and they made me an assistant manager.

Once Scott went back to school, Rachel and I saw less of each other, but it wasn’t for bad reasons, quite the opposite actually. She was on the computer a lot responding to women who would email her with whatever personal issues they were trying to seek help with. I began working more at Radio Shack, but now with upper management, not stocking shelves, so I was rising through the ranks. Occasionally I would come by, but Scott would be there too. The intimate moments were no more, but we had an unspoken understanding of each other and where our lives were going. I recognized and respected the fact that Rachel had found a second life with her blog, a second chance to live out something she wanted to do all her life. She was happy. Seeing this taught me that sometimes in life, things won’t go your way, they may not go your way for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you should crawl into a ball and stop trying.

Scott noticed his mom staying busy and also how enthused she was, but since he hadn’t seen that in so long he didn’t question it. He never asked any questions about how any of this came to be, he was just glad to see her with a passion for life. I never brought it up to him either, and I doubt that Rachel would either, it was our secret. We made each other happy, we helped each other start new chapters in our lives, but we could never share how we got there with Scott. that was the price of our happiness.

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