I watched for his reaction but he simply waited for me to continue, the corners of his eyes wrinkled in polite attention.
“Normally I just have to manage it, but I had a flare-up,” I continued. “This was the worst one I’ve had. Is the worst one, I guess. So I’m stuck like this, for a while at least. Hard to say how long it will last.”
Clint nodded and thrust his hands into his jean pockets. “You doin’ therapy or anything?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. Gotta go back to the doctor in a couple weeks. If my tests are good, they’ll let me start doing therapy.”
Clint shook his head. “Hell of a disease, son. Best of luck to you.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “I was wondering if you’d still let me come in and do some coaching.”
Clint shrugged and looked me in the eye. “If you can. Can’t promise I’ll pay ya if you can’t do it, but I’m happy to give you a shot.”
I nodded. “I appreciate the chance.”
“You’re welcome. Where’s that nice girl you had with you last time? I’m guessing you don’t have your car set up to drive yourself yet.”
“She dropped me off,” I said, my smile disappearing from my face. “I’m actually staying with her family at the moment. Long story.”
His eyebrows shot up. “You’re lucky to have that kind of support. I’ll tell ya, a partner in life is the greatest blessing in the world.”
I knew I should have more to say about Lorrie than that, but I couldn’t muster anything else. I turned and watched the kids wrestling against the wall. Even though they weren’t very good, they could all probably beat me right now with my useless legs. I wondered when I would get my strength back to be able to take them again. Maybe I never would.
Clint broke into my thoughts. “Son, I know that look, and I don’t like it. I’m gonna give you some advice: cut out the bullshit.”
Blood rushed hot to my face. I shook my head. Why was he talking like he knew me? “What look? I don’t—”
“Shut up and just listen. Every second you spend wishing you weren’t in that chair is one you could spend living the life you have, and that should start with taking care of your relationships with the people that love you.”
“Who said I wasn’t taking care of those relationships?” I asked, my pulse pounding.
“I did. Call it an old man’s intuition. You gonna tell me I’m wrong?”
I opened my mouth then shut it, too stunned to come up with a rebuttal.
He seized on my silence. “Listen, son, I know you’re in a rough spot right now and I’m trying to help you. Take care of things on the homefront before you go picking any new fights. Which in this case I’m guessing is whatever it takes to get yourself upright again.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said, my tone clipped. I didn’t need a lecture from Clint.
He paused and looked away for a second before turning his steely gaze back on me. “I buried my wife last year. Married her right before I went to ‘Nam. She waited for me the whole time.” He shook his head. “I can tell you for a fact that you’re blessed to have someone in your life. Greatest fortune a person can have. Cherish every day of it.”
My jaw tensed. “I’ll do my best.”
He looked down at his shoes for a moment before bringing his head up again, his lips tight. “We all spend half our life getting up, son. Once we’re stood straight, we have a look around, enjoy the view, and if we’re lucky we die peacefully. It’s a lot easier to stand up with someone by your side, and the view’s a lot better. You don’t wanna get to my age and wish you had done better by the people you love. Trust me.”
I felt like I should say something, but he’d worked up a head of steam. “Every day,” he said, pounding his fist from emphasis. “If you have someone to come home to who loves you, life will be happy. If you don’t, good luck figuring it out. It might be possible, but I’m sixty-eight years old and I don’t have a god damn clue how to do it.”
I started to respond, but something in his tone made me stop. His words rattled around in my head while I tried to figure out why it bothered me so much.
He bit his lip for a moment. “Give me a call when you’re feeling up to coaching,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “I gotta go teach these kids how to avoid getting their asses kicked, but you can stay as long as you like.”
With that, he turned and walked to the ring.
I sat there, shaken and confused as I watched him get in and start coaching. Why was I so affected by the old man’s speech? I’d been pissed off when he was giving it and now I couldn’t get it out of my head.
I was still thinking about what Clint had said when Lorrie texted about an hour later to tell me she was out front. Before I left the gym, I passed by the desk in the building’s entrance. To the right of the computer monitor perched on the desk was a picture of Clint and a woman with long brown hair. They were at a party and smiling wide. She must’ve been his wife. Was she the one who used to sit here at the front desk?
I glanced at the photo again. The two of them looked so happy and in love. It was sad to think about the short time the people in that picture had left together.
Eventually, I got out of his bed and cleaned myself up in the bathroom. Even though I did my best, my eyes still looked puffy. Soon it was time to pick Hunter up at the gym. After finishing up with changing his pillowcase, I left, still spinning my wheels on how I could get past my obsession with Marco. The best I could think of was to ask my therapist about it the next time I saw her. For now I was an empty, exhausted husk.
I arrived at the gym and sent Hunter a text to let him know I was outside. A few minutes later he came out the front entrance. We exchanged short greetings and then I helped him into the car in silence. Once we were situated, I backed the car out and headed for home.
“Hey, thanks for taking me,” he said, once we were on our way.
I pursed my lips and nodded absently. At least he was in a better mood.
My mind wandered to the letter I’d sent Marco. Maybe I shouldn’t have been as cold. Maybe I should have pretended to forgive him, and then coaxed it out of him once I’d built up some trust. Would I have been able to do that? Maybe I could send him another one. I wished I could track whether he’d received the one I sent.