Brad stands on the deck overlooking the lake. He lights a match and starts the grill. The propane ignites in a multi-colored flash.
The flames slowly change from orange to blue, and Brad sets the frying pan over the fire. A light wind blows across the lake, and the backyard smells like fresh-cut grass. Smoke rises across the lake from a backyard campfire. It’s early September, and Rick feels the cooler weather of fall is on its way.
Rick looks down at the lake. The boat is pulled up on shore, and pretty soon he’ll have to cover it for winter. He looks at Brad; wondering what surprises may come next in his future.
He remembers his years in prison, and is in awe of how many different adventures you can pack into a life if you live it the right way.
Rick looks at Brad as he chews on an ice cube. “Is the oil for the fish hot enough? If it’s sizzling, it’s ready to cook on.”
Brad turns up the grill. The flames shoot up.
Rick gazes across the lake at the autumn leaves morphing into different colors right before his eyes. He sips the water and remembers the night when Steve and Brenda first came to his house a few months ago. His mind flashes through the memories like he’s paging through the pictures in a scrap book. He remembers his college years; his partying years; his years as a drug-addict; and his Prison years with Dino; his years as a business man; and now his year as a friend to Brad.
As he travels through the memories, he remembers his Mount Rushmore of souls who have profoundly impacted his life. Rick sips his water in amazement. Life is a mysterious place, he thinks. Amazing characters are always flowing in and out of your life, and the big picture of meaning is never clear until it ends.
Waves echo off the rocks on shore. The noises bounce against the house and into his ears. It echoes in calm, repeating patterns, one after another.
Rick pulls a folded envelope out of his pocket and hands it to Brad. “I have something I want to show you.”
Brad takes the envelope and looks at the address. It reads:
East Florida Federal Correctional Institution.
Dean Oliver #2488102
“How long have you had this?” Brad asks.
“I got it in the mail yesterday.”
“I thought you were never going to write him.”
The colors in the evening sky reflect in the lake, and the colors bounce into Rick’s eyes. “Talking with you got me thinking about him again. I wrote him last week and thanked him for helping me, and shared what’s been going on with both of us. Go ahead − read it.”
Brad unfolds the piece of paper…
Dear Rick –
How are you old friend? I never thought I’d hear from you again. It’s been years since I watched you walk out those doors. I remember telling you right before you left, ‘Convicts don’t write, they just disappear.’ Well you wrote back, which means you’re no longer a convict. I can see you’ve become a new, real person out there.
Those three years we lived together were some of the best of my life, and I miss them. I never told you this, but toward the end of your stay, your chess game got inside my head and you intimidated me a little bit. It shocked me because I’ve never been intimidated by anybody before.
It never felt like prison when we lived together. It felt like I was in a different world entirely – it was a world that we created with our hearts and imaginations − like a university and we were its first students. It was an exciting time to learn and grow, and I miss that excitement in here. I have to apologize again for how I treated you in the beginning. I did it because I thought you were tough enough to handle it. Judging by your success in the real world, I believe we both earned a checkmate as you seem to have done the best with your second chance out there.
One of my favorite guitar players, Buddy Guy, once said in an interview, “Just be the best until the best come around.” Well before I met you, I always thought I was the best. And then you came around. It sounds like this new kid, Brad, could be even better than you one day. Keep being a leader and show him the way, until he can one day do better than you. He can then show someone else the way one day. That’s how the life cycle of success works, my friend. Watching him grow will be one of the most meaningful and magical experiences of your life. I know, because I had the same experience watching you grow when you were in here.
As far as prison life goes, a man could live fifty lives in here and nothing would ever change, except the number of wrinkles on his skin. Since you went home, I’ve been transferred to prisons in: Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida. I should feel like I have traveled all of America by now, but I don’t. All prisons look the same on the inside, and all the people I’ve met act like the same character, from the same book, over and over again. I’m sick of this life, but I’m not complaining. Every day I still get to travel into the depths of my mind and soul, and no one can ever take that freedom away from me, no matter what type of physical cage I am locked in.
The laws have changed for lifers since you left, and in three years, I will be parole-eligible for the first time. I might have a chance to walk outside these prison gates and into freedom again like you did one day. If they give me a second chance, I’m going to seize the opportunity and not look back.
Maybe we can celebrate that moment of freedom one day together. Maybe this is what our next chapter will be about.
Brad lowers the letter, and sees tears in Rick’s eyes.
“I have a surprise for you.” Brad says.
Rick wipes away the tears. Warm blood flows into his chest. He always gets nervous with surprises.
Brad’s voice trembles; he’s so nervous and excited at the same time. “The courts made their decision today. They recommended that I remain free, and remain living at home. The courts also recommended that if I stay out of trouble until I’m 18, all charges will be dropped and it will be like nothing ever happened.”
Rick gives him a high-five. “That’s what I’m talking about buddy!” He steps back. “Do your parents know yet?”
Brad rubs the tears out of his own eyes. “I told them last night.”
“So I’m the last to know?”
Brad smirks, “I knew it would get you high again, and I wanted it to be at the perfect moment.”
Rick feels young again; like he’s dancing at a concert without a worry in the world. Things are going to be all right with both of their lives.
“So is this chapter over now?” Rick asks.
Brad smiles. “Almost. But there’s a lot left in our journey if we keep it going.”
“Sounds good, kid. I’m going to start calling you, Spark, because you just keep getting brighter, and brighter as your challenges get bigger and bigger. What’s your next move going to be?”
“Finish school. Then I don’t know. One day at a time, right?”
“Focusing on mastering one day at a time is the way to reach any dream that you have.”
Brad looks out at the property, “Easy for you to say; you’ve made reaching your dreams look simple.”
“It may look simple, but it’s not. Reaching your dreams is a lot like swimming across that lake. At times, storms are going to show up, and the waves are going to bash you, and make you feel like you’re drowning and you need to give up. At other times, everything will work out just perfectly for you. The trick is to just keep swimming no matter what the weather of life brings you.”
“Do you think I’ll ever make it?”
“I’m not sure yet. The only way to know is to jump into your dreams, start swimming, and then find out.”
The doorbell rings.
“They’re here,” they say to each other.