Noisy Water Review

All the Time in the World

Riley Richards

The cell phone slipped from his fingers, and he was only dimly aware as it tapped him on the thigh before thudding softly to rest on the carpet. His head tilted back, eyes staring without seeing at the ambiguous designs of the ceiling. Then, ever so slowly, his head dropped into his hands. Pent-up breath punched its way out of his lungs in a gusty sigh. The breath knocked out of him, now literally as well as figuratively, all he could do was shake his head and laugh tenuously.

Jude Goodrich was not having a terrific day.

He scratched at the downy stubble on his chin with one hand and rubbed his forehead with the other as if somehow he could wipe away the confusion and letdown and set his reeling mind back to order. No such luck. All he got was oily fingers.

Jude just couldn’t decide how to react. He could cry softly to himself in a corner, he could rage and clomp about growling like a wounded grizzly, or he could put on a brave face, pretend nothing had happened and move on with his life. Truthfully, Jude didn’t want to do anything. He felt numb and hollow and he wanted to fade away, like wisps of smoke from a candle, just waft into the bliss of nonexistence.

His eyes locked on his bed, sheets and pillows strewn about in glorious, inviting disarray. Sleeping actually sounded marvelous. Unfortunately, he was due at the nursing home in less than an hour. He volunteered at the Meadow Park Retirement Center twice a week, visiting the inmates—patients, guests, whatever they called the old folks living there—who had no family in the area or no family that never showed up if they were nearby. There would be no deadening slumber for him today.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Jude lethargically turned his head to see his little sister standing in the doorway to his bedroom. Her eyebrows were quirked and a hand rested on a hip. Many people said the two of them looked like twins, same height, same thick blond hair, and the same pale blue eyes and button nose. She was always considered attractive however, while he was invariably deemed average. He didn’t care. Esteem suited her much better.

“Jenny dumped me.” He said it casually, impressed with the nonchalance of his delivery. He added a shrug just for effect. “Doesn’t matter.”

Her eyes softened slightly. “Want to talk about it?” Her voice was gentle, sympathetic. Suddenly, he was annoyed. There she stood in last season’s soccer jersey, hair tied high in her trademark ponytail, pitying him.

“No, Cassie, I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s no big deal.”

“Whatever,” she snorted. “You’ve been together for a year and you’ve been crazy into her even longer than that. How is it suddenly ‘no big deal?’ What happened?”

Jude threw his hands up, a bite in his tone. He did not want to talk about this right now, wouldn’t even if he wanted to. He would not expose himself or his pain, especially not to his kid sister.

“How should I know? You girls are so…” He trailed off, trying to think of a word.

“Fickle? Capricious?” His blank stare spoke for him. “Faithlessly erratic and inconsistent. Changing your mind like, every ten seconds.”

He shook his head and shrugged. “Sure.”

“You’re gonna need to get used to that, sweetie.”

A grunt.

“So she didn’t give any reasons? It was just out of nowhere like that?”

“She said I was losing interest in her, that I don’t care about her anymore.” He dropped his head again then immediately snapped it back up. “But I do! I totally care about her. I lo—” Pause. “I really like her.”

“Have you told her that recently?” Cassie had advanced a few steps into the room and now stood with her slender arms folded across her chest.

“No… But that doesn’t mean I don’t. She said I was distant and I don’t talk to her or spend time with her anymore, too.”

“You have been kinda listless, Jude.”

He rolled his eyes. “So I’ve been a little preoccupied lately. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“Like what?” She sat down on the carpet facing him, drew her bare shins up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees.

Jude just shrugged. “Life.”

Cassie stared at him, wide, pale eyes boring into him, unblinking. Her lips pursed as if she wanted to say something but was trying to hold it back. Finally, she clicked her tongue and asked, “Did she say anything else? I know you guys had that fight a couple of weeks ago. Did that have anything to do with it?”

“No.” Pause. “I don’t know, how could I tell? I apologized for it, what else can I do? I mean, it’s not my fault Lisa was kissed me.”

“Did you say something? Stop her, maybe?”

Silence. He remembered the argument, tears welling up and spilling out of Jenny’s usually piercing blue eyes. Her glossy black hair hung loose, falling across her face like a protective curtain. Her voice, normally so light and melodic cracked painfully as she yelled at him. All he’d wanted to do then was pull her to him, kiss her tears away and show her that she was his one and only. But he hadn’t. Instead, he just stood with a painful knot of guilt and remorse in his gut as he pleaded forgiveness, insisting how sorry he was. For the thousandth time he cursed his idiocy, his masculine obliviousness.

“Nothing happened. I apologized.”

“You’re killing me, Jude. Please say that you’re not serious.” Again, his silence was answer enough. “Come on, man!” Her voice rose in exasperation and her shoulders drooped. “She needs more from you than just a Facebook status. You can’t call yourself her boyfriend and just plod along like she’s nothing more than arm-candy to you. You need to make her feel special, loved.” Her voice softened again. “Helpful hint: women need to feel valuable. You can’t just toss them the scraps. You need to tell her, show her you truly care in order for her to believe it.”

“But what am I supposed to do?” Jude’s voice had risen as well in the confused, frustrated panic of any man in his position. “I do show her I care. She should know. I don’t tell you I care about you but you know I do, right?”

He’d expected that to be argument winning point, expected at least some consideration. Instead, Cassie clammed up for a moment, lips tight again, staring beyond him out the window or at his desk, or computer. What was she thinking? For that matter, what was any girl thinking? He just couldn’t handle it right now, couldn’t accept the reality that the girl he really did love was gone and it was probably his fault. His bed called to him, a promising escape.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live alone?” She said it low, almost a murmur. Her eyes turned to the ground.

Jude stared, not sure he’d heard her right. “Say what?”

“Going through life with no intimacy, no one to pour your love into? Having no one to truly know you and love you deeply in spite of it? A life alone is pretty pointless.” She looked back up, into his eyes. “People find their value in relationships and interactions, you know that. Don’t throw yours away because you’re too apathetic or jaded or scared or whatever you are to see how wonderful life can be if you let it.”

Jude blinked. He felt a tumult of emotions rising within him, anger, confusion, grief and a hopeful desire that maybe, just maybe, life was more than just some soul-leech out to suck him dry of joy. He knew Cassie was right. Deep inside him where his beliefs were not distorted by conscious thought or feelings, he knew. But he could not accept it. Would not. For whatever reason, Jude was comfortable. Abruptly, Jude suppressed the rising tide of emotion, smothered it.

“Whatever. You’ve had like, three boyfriends and you’re not even out of high school. I really don’t think you’re an expert on relationships.”

Cassie stood up. “Oh, I see, you’re twenty and I’m only eighteen so you’re automatically the king of the world? Fine. Enjoy wallowing in the brothel of your jaundiced self-pity.” She turned on her heel and strode to the door, but then hesitated. Almost timidly, she turned back. “Hey, I’ve got a game tonight. We win, we’re in the playoffs.” Pursed lips. “It would be cool if you could make it.”

He saw the hopefulness in her eyes. She rarely asked ask him for anything beyond ‘pass the Lucky Charms,’ so he knew how important this must be for her. Jude almost said yes. Almost.

“We’ll see, kiddo.”

She nodded and he watched the disappointment flit across her face. “Okay. See you whenever, then.”

Jude wanted to wish her luck, say something to at least make her smile. But he didn’t. He just nodded and watched her walk out of his room, listened to her steps descend the stairs. Just like he did with Jenny those few weeks ago.

He looked back at his bed, decided not to sleep after all. He had somewhere he needed to be. Grabbing his keys and wallet, he flicked off his bedroom light and left the house. The chill hit him and he flipped up his hood. For a day with cloudless skies and a brightly shining sun, it was unpleasantly cold. He shivered releasing a misty puff of breath. Why did he need to visit a bunch of boring, ungrateful old people? He had a life. He had friends. It was Friday afternoon.

Why indeed.

Jude started for his car. The whirring sound of wheels on pavement caught his attention. Across the street a little girl was slowly riding her bike, watching him. He noticed her dark hair, tied in loose pigtails and drooping down to her shoulders as if they couldn’t support their own weight. The sleeves of her blue hoodie were shoved up her skinny arms and bunched behind her elbows. Her eyes, though, were what really startled him. Great, luminous green pools that seemed to swallow her elfin face and absorb the world around them.

“Emily!” A woman’s voice. “Emily, come on. It’s time to go visit grandpa!”

The girl—Emily—and Jude both turned to the woman that called out from her porch, two houses down and across the street from his own. Wordlessly, and without another glance at Jude, Emily wheeled around and peddled back home. Emily’s mother waited for her to reach the porch and then ushered Emily into the house, flashing Jude a tired, but friendly smile. He nodded, climbed into his car.

The passenger seat seemed naked without Jenny in it, her slender body relaxed on the red upholstery, legs always crossed at the ankle. They would sit for hours, talking and listening to music trickling from the radio. It was where they held hands the first time, even where they had their first kiss. He forced himself to look away, started the car.

Heater cranked up to high, and music blaring from halfway-blown speakers, Jude drove to the nursing home. By the time he arrived, he’d forgotten what he was listening to. All he could think of was Cassie’s wounded eyes and Jenny’s bleeding voice. He blocked them out. Ignored them. There was nothing he could do.

The car was cozy. He contemplated taking a nap, just leaning back the seat and letting the world evaporate around him. The idea of the cozy, peaceful feelings that would swallow him tantalized his imagination. That sounded so, so nice.

Jude opened the door, and the subsequent gust of frigid air shattered his warm visions like a cold shower. Hunching his shoulders against the cold, Jude crossed the street to Meadow Park. He always parked at the curb across the street because the parking lot was almost continuously full. Well, that and the fact that he did not want his car wrecked by some granny who didn’t use her mirrors.

He pushed through the automatic doors into the lobby. It was warm. But that did not answer for the smell. Old people, vitamins, disinfectant, and other things he could not account for as well as a cacophony of scents ranging from apples to flowers to cheap air fresheners, all trying to make the place smell homey.
It did not smell homey.

“Jude Goodrich! There you are. Everyone has been asking for you, especially Violet. Where have you been?” It was Toni Johnson. She’d have been his boss were he an employee. Instead, she was more like an unofficial, and unnecessary, supervisor. Just his luck, she was behind the front desk.

She stared at him over the rims of her stylish glasses, waiting for his response. The bright red frames contrasted sharply with her dark irises. Toni had to be in her forties, late thirties at the very least, but she didn’t look it. Cropped, dyed black hair was immaculately styled, bangs sweeping softly over her forehead. Deep red lipstick, trendy earrings, and even a tiny silver stud in her nose rounded off her distinctive fashion sense.

Jude shrugged, neglecting to mention the fact that he was actually ten minutes early. “I slept in.” Toni’s face took on the familiar look of suppressed displeasure that people often gave him when they didn’t want him to know they were disappointed in him. But he always knew it anyway. He tried not to care. It worked this time. Oh the wonderful numbness of heartache.

“You know, Jude, you could really do great things if you applied yourself more.”

This talk?
He smiled pleasantly, tolerantly. “So I’ve heard.”

“It’s true! You have such a way with these people. You could really change their lives.”

Jude struggled to keep his smile in place, struggled not to verbalize just exactly what was on his mind. These people? Here ‘these people’ were, forgotten, downtrodden, completely disregarded as human beings except by a very select few. And that number was dwindling. Considered extraneous members of society, ‘these people’ were ignored even by their own their own children, the self-seeking scum that they’d hoped they raised right. There was no respect, no desire to learn from ‘these people’, no care. Yes, they were grouchy and ungracious, but Jude was sure he’d be too.

Why was he here?
Why indeed.

Jude shrugged again. “Their lives are over.”

“Then what’s the point?” Toni asked. Her face was bordering on sour.

“Maybe there is none.”

A flash of blue caught his eye, and Jude turned to see Emily walking in with her mother. So, grandpa was an inmate…resident. Her eyes met his and wouldn’t let go until the elevator doors closed between them and cut the connection.

He looked back at Toni. Her face had soured. Like old milk.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have some direction in life?” She threw up her hands, bracelets jingling. “You sleep in and drift through life with no purpose. Doesn’t that feel empty?”

Duh, he almost scoffed. But what could he do to change it? He couldn’t even keep the girl he loved from leaving him. Emptiness was natural for him.

Jude said nothing, just kept that sweet smile on his face. Finally, he said, “I’m going to go say hello to Violet.”

Toni pursed her lips and nodded. Then, without a word, turned and walked away.

Jude pushed the button for the elevator. When the doors opened with that elevator ding, he stepped in and rode it to Violet Abraham’s floor. A widow, and in her late eighties, Violet lived alone in an apartment in the assisted living wing so she didn’t need the daily care of some of the…residents, but she ate her meals in the dining room, and had her laundry cleaned for her, among other things.

A lone garden gnome stood just outside her door, beckoning for visitors to enter and grinning from between two rosy cheeks. Jude knocked, and following a muffled, “break it down if it’s not open,” stepped into the apartment.

While it did have a distinctly elderly odor, Violet’s apartment was not nearly as smelly as the rest of Meadow Park, which Jude was always glad for.

Wall to wall bookshelves wrapped around one corner of the apartment. None of them were as tall as Jude due to Violet’s remarkably short height and inability to climb stepstools. Even so, books of all sizes overflowed from the shelves, and many more were stacked precariously in seemingly random locations. A piano with its bench and a sofa with a short end table were the only other pieces of furniture in the small room.

“Look who it is,” Violet said in her soft voice, stepping out from the doorway of her bedroom. Her cottony white hair frizzled around her head like stuffing from a torn teddy bear. She shuffled towards him, wide smile creating ripples of upturned wrinkles on her face. Wide, wire-framed glasses relaxed on her pointed nose. “Hello, Jude.”

He took her arm and guided her to the couch. “Hey, Mrs. Abraham, how’s it going?”

“Oh…” Her eyes took on a faraway look for a moment like the lesser lucid residents sometimes had. Jude waited, wondering if he should be worried. “Oh, it’s going. Thank you for asking.” She sat down and chuckled a little, patting the cushion beside her. “Today brings back some old feelings and memories.” A sigh. “How are you doing, Jude?”

Jude hesitated, deciding what, if anything, to tell the old woman. “Not too bad,” he said finally, smiling.

“Good. And how is that girl you always talk about? Your special friend, Jenny. How is she doing?”

His smile flattened just a little in spite of himself. “I’m sure she’s just great. I spoke to her this morning.”

“Oh good. That’s nice to hear. How about your family? You were so proud last week that your sister was going to the playoffs. Has that happened yet?”

“No, not yet.” Jude almost winced. “Just needs to win tonight.”

Violet’s hazel eyes widened, comically large behind her lenses. “Wish that girl luck for me. If she’s half as good as you say she is then they can’t lose.”

“She sure is, best in the league.”

Violet laughed a little and patted his shoulder. “You’re always so nice. She’s lucky to have a brother like you. And Jenny is lucky, too.”

“So,” Jude said, abruptly changing the subject, “You said today brings back memories? Like what?” He had to get her to stop talking about him, had to or he’d burst, or die, or cry, or something.

Besides, who else would she tell her stories to? Violet was one of those that had family nearby, a son and a daughter each with a family of their own living within fifteen miles of Meadow Park. When her husband died though, rather than being offered a place to stay with one of them, she was admitted into this old folk’s home, left to rot without more than two visits from them a year. It wasn’t as if they lacked the means to support her either. The son was a surgeon. Jude was amazed that she was able to remain so cheerful.

“Oh you don’t want to hear about that…”

“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have asked, Mrs. Abraham.”

She smiled and patted him again. “Today is the day that my sister died. It had to be oh, almost seventy-five years ago, now.”

“What happened?” Jude hadn’t even known Violet ever had a sister. Inadvertently, Jude pictured Cassie as Violet told her story.

“It was an automobile accident.” Violet sighed again, sagging slightly with the memories. Jude could see her trying to keep her smile in place, just as he had been. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a second chance? To go back and change something, even just one thing that you regret?”

Jude could think of several. So he didn’t answer her, just lifted his brows and smiled to encourage her to continue.

She did. “I’m sure you haven’t. You’re so young, with your whole life ahead of you. But, then again, so was I. Margot—that was her name—had just turned eighteen and I was seventeen. There was this boy that we both liked, Frank. Frank Sutton. He had these cute dimples, and dark curly hair.” Violet’s eyes grew distant as she remembered, though her voice stayed strong. “I’d heard he was going to ask her out, and I just couldn’t stand it. So I convinced his brother to talk him into asking me instead.”

He could see where this was heading. Even though she was still smiling, Jude could see the pain behind her words as she retold the events. He appreciated her candor. She was a storyteller, like any old person, but hers were different.

“He did and it drove a wedge in between me and Margot. He and I truly cared for each other, it was true, and she knew it. But she couldn’t get over the fact that I’d gone behind her back. I’d betrayed her. Time went on and she was off to university, out of state. I was sure it was to get away from me and I didn’t blame her. A couple of weeks later we got a phone call saying there had been an accident. I had never apologized to her. I put it off as if I had all the time in the world. But I didn’t…”

She trailed off, regaining herself. Jude put his hand on her knee, trying to console her without really knowing how. Violet patted his hand and smiled at him, grateful nonetheless. “Soon after that,” she went on, “Frank broke it off with me, because I was angry and bitter all the time. I didn’t care I just wanted my sister back.”

“I’m sorry,” Jude managed lamely. He tried to be supportive, but as bad as he felt for her and wished her pain to be gone, he was having trouble focusing on Violet. His mind swam with visions of some pick-up truck slamming Jenny in her VW Beetle, or Cassie in their mother’s minivan on the way to her game.

Violet saw his face, misinterpreting the emotion. “Don’t worry about me, Jude. I’ve made my choices and I’ve come to accept them. My hubby Dewey helped a lot with the guilt, God rest his soul. But I’m waiting for the day that I can ask for her forgiveness in Heaven.”

“She’ll give it to you.” Jude was sure. He was also getting fidgety.

She smiled widely, showing her dull little teeth. “I just wish I would have known then what I do now. We’re so shortsighted when we’re young. We take for granted the things that we value the most and don’t even realize how much we love them until they’re gone.” Violet laughed and shook her head. “But I’m rambling like a crazy old woman. You’ve got your own lovely sister that you care for, and other friends. I’ll bet you have all this covered already.”

Jude couldn’t answer, only flashed a toothy grin to hide the knot in his stomach. If only he’d had that covered, wasn’t such a thoughtless, jaded chump. What he would give to be able to go back and change things. But why would he need to go back? The words Carpe Diem flared suddenly in his mind. Seize the day. Jenny had wanted to get it tattooed somewhere.

“Y’know, Mrs. Abraham, I wish I had it all together.”

She laughed, from the depths of her soul and through her belly so that it rocked her entire body. Her eyes shut tight, creating folds of wrinkles so that he couldn’t tell her eyelids from the rest. The skin on her neck jiggled as the surprisingly loud laughter vibrated through it. When she recovered, she took a few deep breaths and patted his hand again. “So does absolutely everyone in the whole world, Jude. And guess what? None of us do.”

He nodded. What else could he do? She was right, as always. But he not only did not have it all together, he’d lost the little bit he did have. The really tragic part was that he didn’t even know why or how. It was so easy to fall into a funk, for whatever reason. Getting out, of course, was another story entirely. Doubt yourself once, and it was much easier the next time, consequently becoming far more difficult to regain the faith you’d lost. Eventually, as Jude had experienced, you just lost the drive and desire to try.

Although he couldn’t pinpoint the moment it started, looking back now, Jude could watch his descent like a slow motion replay. He’d known it was happening but did nothing but enjoy the ride all the way down. Now here he was.

“You’re pretty great, Mrs. Abraham. You know that?”

She smiled and he could swear she blushed a little, which was good. Everyone could use a little more warmth and color in their faces.

“I could say the same about you, Jude,” she said. “And I will. You’re pretty great.”

There was sincerity in her eyes, and an open fondness. He felt so comfortable with Violet, so cared for, much like he always had with Jenny, and even Cassie. At that moment it was something he never wanted to lose and would do anything to keep. Beyond that, it was something he wanted desperately for the people he loved to feel when they were with him. Carpe Diem, today is the day. Jude Goodrich would not sleep this one through.

“Hey, Mrs. Abraham, I’ve really got to go, I’m sorry.” He touched her shoulder and smiled, genuinely this time. “Thank you so much for the story.”

“You’re welcome, Jude. Thank you for stopping by.” She squeezed his hand tightly in both of hers. “It’s always a pleasure to have you visit.”

Still smiling, he walked out of her apartment, almost tripping over the gnome. Could he really make a difference? Could he change things on a dime and become a new Jude like some version of Ebenezer Scrooge? He hoped so. For Jenny, for Cassie, for Jude, he hoped so.

He should apologize to Toni as well. The thought struck him as he rode down the elevator. Her day was ruined because of him. The doors opened with a ping and he stepped out, scanning the lobby. No Toni. His smile faltered. He’d let his careless indifference ruin her day, just like he’d done to Jenny and Cassie. Now he couldn’t even apologize.

A surge of futility rose within him. How could he have let himself do that? As if he could really regain what he’d lost. That ship had sailed. And who said he wouldn’t lose it again if he did get it back? Why should he try if he was always, always going to fail?
Why indeed.

A tug on his sleeve caught his attention. It was Emily. The little girl stared into his eyes, head craned back like she was trying to swallow raindrops.

“What’s up, kiddo?” Jude tried to smile at the girl, a little grin/grimace hybrid.

Emily gave him a little thin-lipped smile in return, still staring, never blinking. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to die?”

“Uh…” Jude was a little bit stunned, at a loss for an answer. Fortunately, Emily’s mother hurried over and took Emily’s hand. She flashed a tired, apologetic smile at Jude and guided her daughter away. “Come on, I need to use the bathroom, then we can stop at the bookstore on the way home…”

Jude shook his head and left the building, putting Emily and her unexpected question out of his mind. Instead, he thought again of Jenny and Cassie, and how he needed to apologize to them. But no, he wouldn’t just apologize. He’d already apologized to Jenny weeks ago and look how that ended up. It was a great start, a sincere “I’m sorry,” but at the end of the day, they were only words. Words he’d tossed around like candy at a parade.

What he really needed to do was show it. He would prove that he was sorry, that he was willing to change and that he really would change.

He walked slowly through the parking lot, mind running circles around him as he did. Jude pulled out his phone and found Jenny’s name. But then he hesitated. No. No, no, he would not text her, nor even call her. That was what old Jude would do. This was New Jude, and this Jude would go straight to her house, knock on her door until he saw her face.

After that, who cared? It would be just like when they first got together. He would win her heart again, he decided. He would show her that he truly cared about her, that he was committed to their relationship, that she was his best friend and he would always be hers. They’d hold one another, and gaze into each other’s eyes until tears streamed down their faces and they went blind.

Once he and Jenny were reunited, their relationship was on the mend, and their silences were no longer tense, they would rush together to Cassie’s game. He would cheer his little sister on until she was in the playoffs, and cheer her on every game after that until she had won the championship. Every time she scored a goal, or slide-tackled an opponent, he would only cheer louder until he was kicked out of the park. Then he’d cheer from his car.

A wide grin split his face and he skipped a little. Where this change came from, he didn’t know. Violet’s story? Cassie’s talk? His love for Jenny? Maybe his apathy just became too bored, too indifferent and decided to leave him alone. It hardly mattered. Today was the day.
Jude stepped off the curb, flipping his keys around in his hand. He laughed aloud, happier than he’d been in… he didn’t know how long. He felt reborn.

Then the laughter stopped.
The bus driver swore he never saw him.

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