This story is by Jennifer Kelly and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The music blaring in Doug’s ears matched his mood. Pissed off said it all. Ever since his ex-wife gave him the cold shoulder, anger and irritation bubbled up inside of him. He stewed in his own misery for three days before he decided to do something about it. Since killing his ex-wife would land him in jail, Doug decided to hit the gym.
Doug focused on the task at hand. Lying back on the bench, he stared up at the ceiling. He noted the pipes and conduits covered in dust and cobwebs before he grabbed the barbell. Chest presses always cheered him up. He weighted the bar to his all-time record, despite the fact he didn’t have a spotter. It was such a crappy week he didn’t think it mattered if he maimed himself by lifting.
Taking a cleansing breath, he exhaled and placed his hands on the bar. Doug strained to push the barbell from its resting place, but maneuvered it above his chest. After another breath, he brought the bar down. He exhaled and pressed the barbell off of his chest.
When he reached the top, blood rushed into his arms and some of his irritation fell away. The sensation reminded him why he lifted weights in the first place. Strength and looks aside, lifting relaxed him.
Easing the weights back down, Doug thought about why he was in such a bad mood. He should be at the top of his game right now. The perfect business opportunity landed in his lap last week. There was no way he could lose money on this plan. The problem was he needed some money to invest.
His girlfriend refused to loan him anything.
“You never pay me back. I haven’t kept track, but if I had, I bet you would owe me more than $10,000 by now. You aren’t getting a penny from me until you pay me what you owe me.”
“That’s kind of hard since you said you don’t know what I owe you.”
His logic resulted in him getting the finger.
Since his girlfriend didn’t want to cooperate, Doug approached his ex-wife. She was such a pushover, it never occurred to him she would say no. She grew a backbone since the last time they talked.
“No. You owe child support. Why would I give you money? Go ask your girlfriend.”
Four. His muscles burned, but he ignored it.
“I paid the child support. I can’t help it if you aren’t getting the money.”
“My attorney talked to the court. You don’t have a job so they can’t garnish wages. That means you haven’t paid child support. So no. I am not loaning you money. Now or ever.”
Five. The burn increased. Doug held the weight at the top of his rep for a few seconds to catch his breath. Only three more left, then he would take a break.
Before he could lower the bar, footsteps stopped next to his bench and a shadow fell over him.
“I thought I taught you better than to lift alone.”
Doug recognized his best friend’s voice, but didn’t respond. Instead, he lowered the bar to his chest. The bar pressed down on his pecs, his muscles quivering and begging for rest.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?”
Pushing with all his might, Doug pressed the barbell up. He got the bar halfway up when searing pain ran through his left arm. His upward movement ceased, and Doug panicked. If the bar fell on this chest, he didn’t think he could push it off.
“Are you ready to ask for some help, dumbass?”
Before he could answer, the weight lifted out of his hands. Doug closed his eyes and heard the barbell clank as it settled into its resting spot on the bench. Lifting his arms up over his head, he stretched out his triceps and biceps.
Maybe if I don’t open my eyes, he’ll go away.
“I’m not leaving until we talk.” A tool landed on Doug’s chest. “Sit up. I don’t have all day.”
Doug opened his eyes to see Mike towering over him. Doug sat up, making space for Mike on the bench.
“How did you know I was here?” Doug wiped his forehead with the towel.
“Your ex-girlfriend called me,” Mike growled. “She wants your stuff out of her apartment.”
Doug’s head jerked as he looked at his friend.
“So she was serious, huh?”
“You know, you haven’t looked me in the eye for months now,” said Mike, his tone softening. “What is going on with you? You aren’t returning calls. Your girlfriend and your ex-wife are conspiring against you. You’re being reckless in the gym. What gives?”
Doug’s shoulders sagged as the truth of Mike’s words washed over him. When he created this mess, he hadn’t thought about how his actions harmed everyone else. He understood why the women in his life didn’t want to see him anymore. But what kind of dad was he if he didn’t pay his child support? The kids didn’t do anything. He was the one who messed up his marriage. A wave of misery engulfed him, and tears pricked behind his eyes.
And now I’m crying like a baby.
Wiping his face with the towel, Doug took a deep breath.
“Bad week. I thought working out would help, but you’re right. Getting hurt isn’t going to fix things.” He leaned back and stared out at the gym. The sounds of men grunting and weights clanging filled the air. Doug turned to Mike. “I screwed up. And I keep screwing up. I don’t know how to fix it though.”
Mike’s eyes got big.
“Did I hear the great Doug Gerome admit that he’s wrong?”
Doug threw an elbow into his friend’s side.
“Knock it off. Unless you want me to pummel that pretty face of yours.”
Laughing, Mike rubbed his chin and gave Doug a dorky smile before his face sobered.
“Man, you can’t fix what happened in the past. Be smart about the future. Pay your child support. Stop with the get-rich schemes.”
“It’s hard to pay your bills when you don’t have a job, man.”
“Then get a job. It’s not that hard. I know you’ve had offers to train some of the guys here.” Mike tilted his head toward a group of men standing around the water cooler. “You could whip those men into shape for sure.”
“Training isn’t what I want to do.”
“Sometimes you don’t get what you want. You do what you need to do.” Mike stood up. “You know where to find me. See you around.”
Without another word, Mike walked away. Doug sat there, wondering if his last hope to find redemption was leaving. Before he could think about it, Doug called out.
His friend stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“Can you help me?”
Turning around, Mike smiled at him.
“Of course I can. What are friends for?”