tagRomancePictures to Remember Me By

Pictures to Remember Me By

bycoldwater1©

Rick cruised along the freeway in the rental car, barely paying attention to the road. The traffic was light at this point, rush hour in Philly long since over. Between that and the GPS guiding his way to the hotel, the trip really didn't require much of his attention. He slipped into a daydream, trying to escape the sad reality of his life.

He searched for something pleasant to focus on. He went to his old standby, those glorious days of his youth when he led his Little League team to the Regional title. For the thousandth time he recalled that final inning on the mound. No matter how many times he relived it, ghosts of the emotional roller coaster he rode out during those 18 minutes would visit him. Perhaps that was why he kept going back to it. Sure, the memory of being the hero was gratifying, but it was more than that. This was the one event from his childhood that he remembered vividly, that hadn't faded into a vague grayness.

He even remembered every name. The names of his teammates, even the names of the opposing batters he faced that inning, announced over the sound system. Rick recited the names in his head, always amazed that they came to him without a struggle.

He used to be able to just enjoy this memory, but lately it came with strings attached, bringing up other feelings. The sense of nostalgia had become so strong; the longing for those happy, innocent days so potent, that tears would well up.

This sensation had become infinitely worse since that fateful day six months ago when he saw his doctor and received the diagnosis. He already knew the truth, but it wasn't until the doctor confirmed it that it seemed real and the dread really hit him. What had been a mild case of mid-life crisis became moments of crushing desperation to find something meaningful in his life while he still could.

It was ironic that he spent most of the time trying to forget his condition. He would try to distract himself with something, anything, so he wouldn't have to think about it. Ironic because his affliction was precisely his inability to remember. He had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at just 48 years of age.

His mind was still razor sharp most of the time, as long as he could latch onto something to anchor himself mentally. He had developed methods to compensate for his lapses and thus was still holding his own as a successful and respected businessman. Certainly there were awkward moments when he would forget the names of long time colleagues and business associates. He had become adept at anticipating these situations, however, and steering around the issue.

Every morning when he arrived at the office, he would go down the organization chart and read off the names of everyone in the building, pairing up the names with faces in his mind.

The situations that caused him the most trouble were questions that came up on the fly, where he had to react to something unexpected. He needed something to grasp to focus his mind on the issue; until he was able to find that something, he was useless. The rising panic he felt in those situations only made it worse. He found that the best approach was to stall and get others to start talking. Eventually someone would unknowingly give him a mental lifeline that he could grab hold of and draw his mind into the problem, allowing his cranky synapses to make the right connections.

He had managed to play these situations well enough that people looked at him as being a wise eccentric. When he stalled and coaxed his colleagues to reason things out, people assumed it was a ploy to lead them to the solution, as though he were seizing a teaching moment. Some of the junior employees would get annoyed at him when he seemed obtuse, thinking he was toying with them. Little did they know he was just confused. Once he managed to focus, he would invariably produce the right answer, reinforcing his status as the guru.

Sadly, Rick knew his career was destined to end poorly. Eventually those mental lapses were going to prevent him from functioning in the business world. The search for mental lifelines would take too long and he would be exposed. He pondered again if he should just announce his diagnosis to his peers. It would save him from a potential spectacular failure, but it still seemed like an unpleasant alternative.

He knew the respect he had gained would be gone in an instant. Despite what people said, and they would say all the right things, he would be immediately dismissed in people's minds as mentally deficient. They wouldn't fire him. He would be shunted off to some menial position, albeit with a nice sounding title, and never trusted to do anything important again.

Rick had already been through a similar situation with his now ex-wife. The moment he told her the diagnosis, he saw the change in her. The respect was gone, replaced by pity. From that moment on, she treated him like a child. She saw things in black and white. He had been a smart man, but now the doctors said his brain didn't work right, so she wasn't going to take him seriously anymore. She was relieved when he left her, realizing she was absolved of years of caring for him as he declined.

Rick knew that leaving his wife was putting his future care at risk, but he couldn't stand the thought of living with someone that had no respect for him in the meantime.

An annoying voice brought him back to reality. The GPS was trying in vain to tell him to turn around, that he had missed the exit to his hotel. He realized that it had been telling him this for a few miles now. He would need to get off at the next exit. He shut off the GPS voice function, not wanting to listen to it for the next three miles to the exit.

Rick settled in for three more miles of sad reflection on his life. There had to be another way. Fading in place just wasn't acceptable. He wished he were headed for something fun or at least distracting instead of a business conference. At least he might get a little more enjoyment out of life while he could still appreciate it. "That's it," he thought, "When I get back from this damn conference, I'm planning a vacation . . . a long vacation." How long? As he pondered this, he missed the next exit. "Dammit."

A new thought came to him: what if he didn't stop? What if he didn't attend the conference at all? Would it really hurt his career to skip it? Did that even matter to him anymore? He would have to give some excuse to his boss as to why he didn't show up unless . . .

He made a momentous decision. Fuck it all. Fuck his career. Fuck his boss. Fuck his ex-wife. Fuck everything.

He was going to start that vacation right now. He didn't know where he was going and he decided he didn't care. He would drive until he decided he didn't feel like driving anymore and do whatever came to mind when he got there. He would return when he felt like it, maybe never.

It occurred to Rick that he had a decent sized investment portfolio, he could live for quite a while on it. Maybe when the money ran out, he would just step in front of a train.

Rick continued south until 2 am, then stopped to sleep for 6 hours at a roadside motel. After breakfast, he headed out again. At about 3 pm, his cell phone rang. His boss's number showed up on the screen. Undoubtedly, he was calling to ask where the hell Rick was, and why he wasn't at the conference. Rick rolled down the window and flung the company phone into a Georgia swamp.

Halfway through Florida, he turned in his rental car, bought a cheap used convertible and headed west to the gulf coast.

There was one resort in the small beach town he ended up in. It was upscale without being ostentatious. It offered laid back, casual elegance that was off the beaten path. Rick paid for a room, figuring he would seek out something more budget friendly if he chose to stay more than a few days.

The next day, he wrangled a job as a bartender at the beach bar, one of those open air, grass roof 'tiki bar' things that most resorts have. He just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The bartender that day just quit on the spot after a fight with his barmaid girlfriend. The manager was in a desperate situation, when Rick, who was sitting at the bar at the time, offered his help.

"I'll tend your bar for the rest of his shift if you want. You don't even need to pay me. Consider it an audition. If you are happy with me, we can talk about a paid position tomorrow."

In a bind, the manager accepted. Rick had learned to tend bar in college to offset a small fraction of the cost. Thus far, whatever pocket of his brain held all those drink recipes seemed to have been untouched by his ailment.

Over the next week, Rick bought an old beat-up 30' wooden boat. It was in rough shape, but the important part was that it was still floating. A local agreed to let him keep it at his dock for a reasonable fee. Rick took up residence in the boat.

Rick soon found his new life to be to his liking. He worked 40 hours a week at the bar, spent a couple of hours a day at a local gym and worked on repairing and restoring his live-aboard boat. He experimented with other hobbies he had never had time for previously. He took scuba lessons, took up photography, played the saxophone and began writing short stories. He didn't have the slightest regret at having given up his six figure job.

Working at the beach bar was low stress. It never got overly busy. People wandered off the beach in bathing suits and ordered a drink or two, then shuffled off again. Others didn't bother leaving their beach chairs and just let the waitresses serve them. The clientele were upper middle class vacationers who were generally in a relaxed state of mind during the day. They often liked to make small talk, but nobody expected him to remember anything they told him the next day. If nothing else, there was always some eye candy in bikinis around, including the two waitresses.

Bella and Elise looked to be college age. They were both pretty and shapely, Bella being on the athletic side and Elise more classically curvy. They both recognized the benefit of flaunting what they had for the sake of tips. Officially, their waitress uniforms consisted of a white polo shirt with the resort logo and a teal miniskirt. Both girls were in the habit of showing up every day in this attire with bikinis underneath. Depending on the mix of clientele that day, they would expose more or less skin during their shift.

Bella was the more daring of the two, and if, on a particular day, the customers were predominately male, she would often work in just a bikini, and a skimpy one at that. Rick heard a rumor that she had pushed it as far as wearing a thong one time, but a woman complained that her husband couldn't keep his eyes off the barmaid's posterior, and the manager reluctantly asked Bella to cover up.

The waitresses took to Rick right away. He suspected his age and his new laid-back demeanor made him seem safe. That is not to say that their relationship with him was completely platonic. Both girls seemed to really enjoy teasing and flirting with him. Bella especially would "accidentally" rub against him behind the bar. The less she wore, the more she would do it. At times, Rick was thankful there was a bar between him and the eyes of the customers, lest he display some embarrassing evidence of arousal.

What got to him most, sending his imagination on wild fantasies, was the casual touching of each other that the girls engaged in when they were behind the bar. His sense was that they did it precisely because they were aware of the effect it had on him, not that they were actually into each other that way.

Rick knew they were toying with him. It was just sport for them. He was not so naïve as to think he had the slightest chance with either one, but it made the workday fun, if sometimes sexually frustrating.

Occasionally, bar patrons were surprised by their idle conversations with Rick. People expect bartenders to lend a sympathetic ear, but don't generally expect them to be particularly bright or knowledgeable. Rick took great delight in engaging vacationing businessmen in conversation about their work. He loved seeing the look of surprise creep across their faces when they realized he had intimate knowledge of things like capital equipment depreciation or industrial robotics.

The following conversation would invariably ensue:

"What the hell are you doing here tending bar?"

"Let me ask you something: Is your job stressful?"

"Yes, that's why I needed a vacation."

"Can you go to work in shorts and sandals?"

"Of course not."

"Do your co-workers look like this?" Rick would call over one of the two half-naked waitresses and give her a playful pat on the ass, eliciting a giggle.

"Not hardly."

The businessmen would invariably see his point.

Rick knew, of course, that he couldn't completely escape the issues associated with his condition. It came up three weeks into his "retirement." Rick needed to get Elise's attention, but at the last second, her name escaped him.

"Hey . . . um, beautiful, those drink orders are ready."

Bella turned around.

"No, not you Bella, your partner in crime."

Elise looked at him, annoyed, "I do have a name, you know."

Rick's heart sank when he saw surprise and suspicion cross her face. "Wait . . . my god! . . . you don't even remember my name, do you? What's my name?"

"Um . . . I'm sorry, I'm drawing a blank."

"I can't fucking believe you! I know I'm just a lowly waitress, but you should at least have enough respect for me to learn my name. We've been working together for three weeks. I'm more than just an ass and a pair of tits, you know."

Rick's face reddened. He had fled his career so that he didn't need to live with the stress of hiding his condition. He realized that he hadn't accomplished anything if he let the same stress overtake him here. Besides, so what if they fired him? It was a job he had taken on a whim.

He gestured for Elise to follow him to the back corner of the bar by the register, away from the customers. He called out to Bella, "can you come over here, too?" Elise glared and Bella looked puzzled, but both complied.

"Ladies, I need to tell you something. There is a reason I gave up a six figure salary in Boston to come tend bar on the beach in Florida. It's the same reason I couldn't remember your name just now. I . . . I have Alzheimer's." Despite his best effort, emotion crept into his voice.

Elise looked shocked, then her eyes welled up. "My god, Rick, I'm so sorry I yelled at you."

She flung her arms around his neck and squeezed him tight. Bella embraced both of them together.

"Um, you'd best let go now before something embarrassing 'pops up'." Two bikini clad bodies draped over him were having a pleasant but awkward effect.

"I thought only old people get Alzheimer's," commented Elise.

"Some of us get it early. I started seeing symptoms three years ago."

"You are one of the smartest people I know. My grandmother has Alzheimer's and she can't function at all. She needs care 24 hours a day. She has no grasp of reality. You are nothing like her," observed Elise.

"Not yet."

"How long?"

"How long before I get like her? Who knows? It could be 3 years, it could be 30 years."

"My god," Bella said softly, a tear slowly rolling down her cheek.

Rick was touched that she was sympathetic to his plight. Despite her racy behavior, Bella really was a sweet girl. He reached out and wiped the tear from her face. "OK, enough of the melodrama, girls. We've got customers to get drunk."

"What do you say the three of us get drunk too, after our shift is over," Elise suggested, a tinge of sadness still in her voice.

"Sounds like a plan," said Rick.

Two hours later, the three of them walked out to the parking lot.

"Where should we go?" asked Bella.

"We could head to 'Mariani's," offered Rick.

"Too expensive. I can't afford to get drunk there on what I make," said Elise.

Rick was about to offer to pay for the drinks, when Bella spoke up with another suggestion. "Let's just get a bottle of something at 'Coastal Liquors' and find a quiet spot on the beach."

"Or we could take it on my boat," Rick suggested on impulse. He immediately regretted it, thinking it might sound a little too creepy. He needn't have worried.

"Oh Rick, you've been holding out on us, you have a boat?" exclaimed Bella.

"Well, yes, but don't get the wrong idea. It's not like it's a yacht. It's more like a heap of junk."

"I don't care, I love boats. Let's go."

They arrived at the dock with two bottles of Chianti, Rick's favorite. They climbed aboard.

"This is awesome, Rick, I love it," said Bella. Elise seemed more noncommittal.

"It's a work in progress," he said as he went below deck to find some wine glasses. Bella followed him. She spotted the forward berthing with its crumpled bedding.

"Wait, Rick, do you live here?"

"Yup, this is home." He cringed, figuring his humble living arrangement would not impress her.

"My god, that's so awesome. It would be fun to live on a boat."

"Well it takes some getting used to. There isn't much closet space."

Rick found the glasses and a corkscrew and turned to go topside, nearly running into Bella. She blocked his path, giving him a sly look. She draped her arms over his shoulders and said teasingly, "So this was just a ploy to get me in your bedroom, wasn't it?"

"Darn, you caught me," Rick replied with a laugh.

"I knew you were devious, but there's a problem with your plan," she said as she turned to exit.

"What's that?" asked Rick, beginning to wonder if there was the slightest chance this was more than just flirting.

"You brought too many girls here."

"Who says two is too many?"

"Ooh, you're kinky. I should have known. I don't think Elise would go along with it though, she's kind of a prude."

Elise turned to Bella, hearing her name as the other two came back on deck. "What are you two saying about me? I'm not a prude."

"Well, then. I stand corrected. Rick, this is your lucky day. She's OK with having a threesome with us."

Elise looked shocked. "Bella, I didn't say that!"

Bella laughed. "Relax Elise, we're just teasing."

Elise blushed, but looked a little miffed. Rick had mixed emotions. He was nearly certain Bella had been joking all along, but she had made it just believable enough that he had been feeling an uneasy thrill. Uneasy because, while it sounded great in a fantasy world, he suspected two girls at once in reality would be a bit too much to handle.

The three of them drank wine until the sun set. Bella continued to flirt shamelessly as she slowly got drunk. Elise drank sparingly.

Elise pulled out her cell phone. "I gotta go, Jim just texted me. He wants to know where I am. C'mon Bella."

"I don' wanna leave. I'm havin' too mush fun. Besides, there's still wine left."

"But I'm your ride."

"Rick'll take care of me, won'tcha Ricky."

"You're drunk. I don't think that's a good idea."

"Fuck you, you're not my mother."

"Fine, suit yourself," Elise said and she left.

"Who's Jim?"

"Her boyfriend. She does everything he tells her. That's why I dumped mine . . . too controlling."

"Yeah, I believe I witnessed the dumping."

"Boyfriends suck. I'm sick of them telling me what to do. There's only one thing they are good for."

Rick knew what she meant, but he couldn't resist asking anyway. "And what would that be . . .?"

"Oh c'mon, you know what I mean . . . a girl's got knees . . . I mean needs. Three weeks is too long . . . makes me crazy."

"Oh you poor baby, three whole weeks."

"You're making fun of me. How long's it been for you?"

"Try three years."

"Oh god! Oh my fucking god! You're shitting me."

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