It was a sweltering, windy Sunday as I gently cruised across Lake Norman on my Hacker-Craft runabout. I was alone, reflecting on poor choices I made. I could see my cell phone ringing next to me in the seat. It was Erin. I averted my gaze from the phone and throttled the big Crusader 454 motor to hurdle me across the lake. I headed north towards Sherrills Ford to the quiet cove where my lake house sat.
I slipped into the darkness under the trees lining the cove. The shade chilled the air as the boat trundled under the swaying branches. I approached my boat lift and used the remote control to drop the platform. As I idled the boat into the lift I looked up at the little green house lined with a back wall full of glass.
I stepped off onto the platform and walked up through the garden towards the house. As I approached the back of the house I heard a vehicle digging through the gravel in the driveway. I walked in and approached the hallway leading to the front door. As I approached the door, Erin came bursting through with a scowl covering every inch of her face. As she stomped toward me she yelled:
“So this is where the fuck you’ve been hiding!”
“I wasn't hiding.”
“Then why haven't you answered your phone for five fucking days!”
“Look, stop yell-”
“I was worried about you!”
“Can't you let me suffer in peace?”
I slinked past her and walked upstairs to the bedroom and spread out across the bed. Erin stomped up the stairs and stood at the foot of my bed and stared. I looked out from the loft to the views of the water through the back of the house. I didn't even know how she got there. I never brought anyone to the lake house. It was too late to run from her now. So I broke my silence again:
“Tell me something Erin, what are you going to do to help me right now? If I don’t end up in prison for the rest of my life, I’ve betrayed everything I have left here. I’m trying to leave you out of all this. None of this has anything to do with you. Jamie did this to me.”
Erin laid on the bed next to me and responded:
“Paul, I understand that. I love you. I’m here because I love you. Why don’t you understand that?”
“I’m just trying to keep you out of this because I don’t want to harm you.”
“It’s okay. I’m ready for whatever happens.”
“I’m not so sure of that.”
I knew that was the wrong thing to say, but it was too late.
“Erin if I make it through this, I’m leaving Charlotte. There is no point in me staying. Will you come with me?”
“Miami? Just up and leave for Miami? I’m not so sure that’s a good idea for me.”
“Says the person who travelled all the way across the country for months on a whim.”
“I don’t know if it’s the right time.”
“It’s okay I’ll go alone like I do with everything else.”
Erin got out of the bed and barrelled down the stairs. Before I could even get up I could hear the tires of her Jeep digging a path through the gravel in my driveway. I sat up and looked out over the water again. I must have been crazy to think my luck would begin to change. I got up and walked back downstairs to my kitchen, where I had briefcase of documents sprawled out over the counter. The next day was the first day of pretrial discovery hearings for my federal tax evasion trial. I was hoping that my attorney would be able to get all the evidence thrown out, or else I was in for a real ride.
What I didn’t tell Erin earlier that day was that I had movers taking my things from my other house to Miami already. I used most of my stashed cash to have a friend secure a condo for me last month. If I went to prison or not I wanted to get away from Charlotte when it was all over.
I got up and walked out to my backyard and took in the late afternoon sun. I sat in the garden and watched the water lap on the shoreline. It all seemed unfair, the lack of cooperation from those I loved was too much. I knew I had an early start the next morning so I decided to go back to my home. I went out to the mostly empty garage and hopped in my Volvo 850 Wagon. The black brick started with a quiet whoosh, and I took off down the gravel driveway. I rolled down I-77 towards home contemplating my every move as the miles counted down. My thoughts raced about a future in prison. It was already bad enough that I had almost all of my money taken from me in the prior months. What I had left was enough to live and just enjoy what freedom I had left.
The headlights danced off the windows of my house as I pulled into the driveway. It was dark and warm inside the house when I walked in. I climbed the steps to my bedroom and grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels on the nightstand poured it into the glass next to it. I took a long sip and took off my shirt. I grabbed the bottle and glass and proceeded to the bathroom where I drank what remained in the glass. I started the shower then poured another glass of liquor. I stripped and grabbed my glass and hopped in the shower. I leaned against the wall as the water ran over my body.
I took another long sip as I listened to the patter of water running past me. I began to cry my tears and the water running together down my face. My mind ran back to the feeling when everything I built fell apart around me. It hurt knowing I worked so hard to just end up destroying my own life.
I remembered everything, Jamie had left me months ago. She said my life was too much for her and I didn’t support her dreams. I was spiraling and my only friend who wasn’t dead or in jail was Erin. She wasn’t at my home the day I walked out my front door to five federal agents walking towards me. I remember dropping to my knees on the front porch and putting my hands up as they continued to approach me. All I could think about was the humiliation as I rode in the back of that black Suburban.
I snapped back into reality as the water in the shower began to run cold. I cut off the water and walked out of the shower to my mirror. I looked deep into my own eyes and tried to reason with myself about the whole mess my life had become. As I started to reflect again, my phone rang in the bedroom. I ran over to pick it up, my lawyer greeted me on the other end:
“Paul you ready for tomorrow?”
“You tell me.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I wouldn’t say drunk, I’ve only had a few today.”
“Straighten yourself the fuck up. You better be ready at 9:00 for me to bring you to court.”
“Brent, I’ll be ready. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t tell me that.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow man.”
I turn around to my assistant, Liz Graf standing in the doorway covering her eyes. She was a stout 5’4” with full breasts and strong legs. She greets me nervously:
“I didn’t want to interrupt your call.”
“Please uncover your eyes it’s weird.”
“Could you at least cover yourself?”
“Oh, my bad.”
“Your suit for tomorrow is downstairs, and I dropped off some groceries you needed.”
As I wrapped a towel around my waist, I replied:
“Thank you so much. By the way, I left your money on the island in the kitchen. Sorry I can’t pay you by check, but obviously I can’t do that right now with everything going on.”
“It’s no problem, I’m starting to like the cash.”
“Well good. Make sure to handle everything tomorrow while I’m in court.”
Liz bounded back down the stairs and I laid on my bed. I drifted off into a deep slumber as I began to dream up images from when me and Jamie fell apart. The green Mustang I bought her was still in the driveway by itself in front of my garage. As soon as we broke up, federal agents swooped in to get whatever information from her they could. I’m just glad she didn’t know as much as she thought she did. As I slept I continued to see her face running through the halls in the house, smiling like a child without a care in the world.
I woke up to my alarm blaring from my phone. It was 8:00 and time for me to get myself ready for court. I was just glad to see the room wasn’t spinning. I grab my phone from the nightstand to see a text from Erin “I’m thinking of you. I love you.” My heart warmed thinking about how much she really cared about me. But I was still dreading the thought of facing my mistakes in public.
I made my way downstairs to the living room where my suit was laid was on the sofa. It was strange walking through all that empty space alone. Overpriced furniture and thick walls toned down the hollow noise. I grabbed my suit before I let the emptiness of the house get to me. I made my way back up the stairs to get prepared for the day. I walked into the bedroom and looked out the window as I slowly dressed for court. I prepared myself for disappointment and shame. I wondered where all my friends were while I faced the most monumental misstep in my life. Before I could get misty-eyed, my lawyer made his way up my driveway.
I pulled my tie snug to my collar and grabbed my coat as the doorbell rang. I made it to the front door to see my lawyer, Brent Walker. He was barely 5’2” but had the voice of a man who stood 6’8”. He looked up at me through the door frame and spoke:
“You ready for this?”
“Good, hopefully this is the last time we do this.”
“It will be.”
I straightened my back as I made the walk to my driveway. Brent unlocked his black LS460L and we took a seat. As we made our way down the avenues to the federal courthouse, Brent asked:
“Do you feel like you did anything wrong?”
“What are you going to do if we win this?”
“Go down to Miami and drop off the face of the planet.”
“I'll find something to do. They didn't nab all my money.”
“Remember, I don't have any friends in Florida. Hopefully today is the last time you need me for this shit.”
We parked in a nearby lot and made the short walk to the courthouse. As we made our way towards the front steps I stopped and asked Brent to join me in prayer:
“Lord, I humbly ask you today to shed favour upon me. I ask you to forgive my transgressions and bless those I may have transgressed against. Please bless all of your children who have made themselves a part of my life. Thank you for allowing me to continue to draw breath. Thank you for continuing to bless me. Amen.”