Alex and Jeremy

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My name is Alex. Alex Pryor. I worked late that Friday evening and as I left the office of a landscape design firm, it started to rain. Walking out into the parking lot, I saw a tow truck’s lights flashing and walked over to see if I could help in some way.

As I arrived a car – an old Mustang that had definitely seen better days – was just getting raised and the owner was standing to one side. It was Jeremy, one of the guys I had been assigned to mentor when he first joined the company about two years ago. Jeremy was, and remains, a gifted landscape designer coming up with innovative solutions to design problems.

I walked up to Jeremy and saw that his shoulders were heaving slightly. He seemed to be crying, which was confirmed as I faced him. There were more problems than just a car that wouldn’t start.

“Jeremy,’ I started, “what’s wrong?”

He turned to face me and was instantly embarrassed. He didn’t want to be caught crying, but here he was doing just that.

He looked at me and just started, “The car wont’ start. I live in a crap place. I am trying to repay college loans. No money to repair the car…” And, he just sobbed softly.

“Hey, where do you want me to take the car,” the tow truck driver asked. I looked at Jeremy, who didn’t seem to hear the question, or just didn’t care at that point. I opened my wallet and handed the driver a card for my mechanic and told him to take it there and that it would be expected.

“Henry’s? You want me to take this pile of scrap to Henry?”

I nodded yes and pulled out my cell to give Henry a call to expect the car, Then I turned to Jeremy.

“What am I going to do,” he asked as he looked up to me.

“First, you are going to dinner with me. You have to eat and are going to tell me all about it.” With my hand in the small of his back I guided him to my car, opened the door for him and held it as he got in, then I closed it. As I got in, he began talking to me…

“You must think I am some kind of a wimp.” His voice was soft as he spoke.

“No, I don’t. I happen to know you aren’t a wimp. I spent a year working with you and know you are smart, resourceful, ingenious, and kind. You are definitely not a wimp. But, I do know that every once in a while, life can be a bit much for anyone. Right now, you need dinner, and so do I. So, will you go to dinner with me?”

He smiled softly and nodded.

“Okay. Great. That’s the first step to getting things going in the right direction.”

I started my new Honda and drove to a casual restaurant where we were seated immediately. After ordering and getting our drinks, I looked at him and just waited until he was ready to begin.

“Crying over a car,” he began…

“You weren’t crying over a car, Jeremy. Tell me how things really are going.”

Jeremy looked at me through his blue eyes evaluating what he should tell me. How he should tell me. Would he be honest?

“Out with it,” I gently told him.

“Alex, you helped me so much when I began with the company. You let others see my designs and always gave me credit. I can’t burden you…”

“Yeah, you can. And it’s not a burden. Talk to me. But before you begin I need to tell you that your car is going to Henry’s. Here’s the address and other information you will need. Henry is the best.” I handed him a business card for Henry’s and as he fingered it he began to tremble gently.

“Hey,” I started gently, “what’s wrong? Whatever it is we will figure it out. All you need to do is to tell me.”

“Henry will want money and I don’t have any. I live in a crap place. Drive a crappy car. Never go out because I can’t afford it. I’m just even with all of my bills, but that’s all. I’m just so tired.”

“And, with all that going on, you still find ways to help others. I’ve seen you at building projects and at the homeless shelter helping to hand out food.” As I spoke my hand gently covered his soft, warm hand. “As bad as you might have it, you always have time for others.”

We talked through dinner during which I was reminded that he lost both of his parents while in high school. I also found out his university loans were pretty high; not huge, but bad enough to take a lot of his income. And, due to the requirements of his job, he didn’t have time to get a second job like so many do to make ends meet. As dinner finished, we were talking and yes, even laughing like the friends we are. After the plates were cleared there were a few moments of silence as I looked at Jeremy. Really looked at him. If he were a woman, I’d call him beautiful, what do you call a guy who could take your breath away with a smile?

“Jeremy, why don’t you stay with me for a couple of days, or longer? I have an extra bedroom suite and a separate apartment if you want privacy. I live alone and you’d be doing me a favor. And, the truth is I can loan you kütahya escort a car while yours is getting repaired.”

He was shocked at the offer. I sensed it had been a long time since anyone had done something nice for him.

“I can’t. I can’t stay with you.”

“Why not? I have a house that is too big for me. I think you know there’s nobody in my life since my wife died in a car accident five years ago. Why not do me a favor? You need to find a better place to live and I’m offering it.”

“No. I can’t.”

“You’re right. You can’t,” smiling at him, “afford to pass up the opportunity to pay less rent and live in a nicer place. That would just be plain dumb. Nope. You can’t do that.” Okay, so I laid it on pretty thick, but by the time I finished speaking her was smiling.

“Rent?”

“Yeah. I’d charge you…uh…$50 a month.” He began laughing.

“$50 a month,” he confirmed when he stopped laughing.

“Yes. $50 a month and you have to just pick up after yourself. I will take are of grocery shopping and loan you a car while yours is getting fixed.” Then I got very serious, “If you choose to do this, you will pay extra on your school loan so it’s paid back sooner and pay off your other debts. That’s the deal.”

I watched him think about it. Weigh it. Looking me in the eye with what looked like a bit of mischief. And, then he smiled.

“Deal!” He offered me his hand to shake and as I took it in mine, I did not want to let it go, but of course I did.

“Okay, let’s go get some clothes for the next couple of day or so, and we can move you in over the weekend.”

“I can get a ride…”

“Don’t be silly. We’ll go” and then it hit me. He lived in a crappy place. He didn’t want me to see it. He was embarrassed.

“Jeremy,” my voice soft and understanding, “I didn’t always live in a nice home. When I graduated from college, I worked as a day laborer and slept in homeless shelters for a few months. Wherever you live is better than I had it. Let’s go get your clothes.”

“Alex, I didn’t know.” The tenderness in his eyes gripped my heart.

“Yeah, my parents and two brothers died in a plane crash just as I finished school. No pun intended, I went into a tail spin. If it hadn’t been for Sam (the owner of the landscape design company), who knows where I would’ve ended up?”

“Let’s go and get your clothes,” I said as I brightened a bit.

It was a short drive to the motel where he was staying. $350 a week for a flea trap! I waited at the car while he went to get his clothes…all of them in two suitcases as it turned out. As I was waiting, I got propositioned and offered drugs, both of which I declined. When Jeremy returned, we put his suitcases in the trunk and left…that would be the last time Jeremy saw that place.

“Jeremy, you need to do me a big favor,” I started as we were driving home.

“Sure, Alex. Anything.”

“No matter how clean you keep your clothes, there will be bugs in them. Fleas. Bed bugs. Do me a favor. Throw them in the trash before you even walk inside. Tomorrow, I will give you money for new clothes. Please.”

“Well…”

“It’s a new life for you. Might as well start with new clothes, right?”

“There are a couple of things I’d like to keep…maybe some shoes?”

“Okay. Shoes. Two pair.”

As we drove, Jeremy asked, “How did you meet Sam?”

I was silent for a few moments as I relived that day almost ten years ago.

I had been working as a day laborer. A strong back to do just about anything. I found work by hanging out at the home center hoping someone would ask me to dig a ditch, move cement blocks…anything to make a few dollars. Rain or shine I’d be out there. A twenty-two-year-old kid just barely surviving.

One day Sam pulled up in his truck looking for a laborer. The truck said, “International Landscape Design.” The just under it a rather humble statement, “We are the best.” A bunch of guys approached him. Sam waved them off, looked around, and walked over to me.

“Know anything about digging holes.” he asked me.

“Sir, by this time I might have a PhD in hole digging. What do you need?”

“I have to get a couple of hundred plants in the ground today.”

I just nodded and that was it. I was going to dig holes for Sam that day.

We got to the property and he showed me the landscape plan and showed me where to start digging. I didn’t pay much attention to him as he was laying out plants. My job was to dig holes. Then I looked up. Sam was putting plants that wanted dry soil where water was going to flow whenever it rained and the ones that wanted water were up on the slope. Not such a good idea.

“Excuse me. Sam? Are you sure about your plant placement?”

He looked at me. Then at the plants. Then at the plan. Then finally back at me. “What’s wrong? Are you some kind of expert, or something?” His tone was mildly challenging, which made me smile softly.

“I was thinking,” I began, “the plants you have on the slope like wet conditions and the plants malatya escort you have here, where water will collect, like dry conditions. Maybe just reverse them?”

He looked at the plans again. He looked at the plants. Then he looked at me.

“You’re right. The plans were wrong. Just who are you?”

“My name is Alex Pryor – that’s who I am.” And, I started to move the plants to the correct places. A few minutes passed as I worked. I saw him looking at his phone and then at me.

“Wait,” Sam said. “Alex Pryor. You went to Clemson? The youngest person to ever win the Culbertson Award? That Alex Pryor?”

I nodded slowly and looked at him. The Culbertson Award was an open landscape competition that normally went to people who’d been in the business for 20 years. It was unheard of for a college kid to win it, but I did in my senior year.

“What happened? I should be the one moving plants for you.”

“Life. Death. Stuff. I needed time.”

“Drugs? Alcohol,” he asked.

“No. Never,” as I shook my head.

“Ever been arrested?”

“Nope.”

“Then you’re coming to work with me. With me. You just saved me several thousand dollars by catching this mistake. You might have to dig some holes,” he said laughing, “but you will be doing all of the design work. I’m a small company now, but together we will do great things.”

Could my life change that fast? Could this be the beginning of a new chapter? What could I possibly lose?

“Okay,” giving Sam a smile.

“I’ll pay you,” and he offered me what I thought to be more than he could afford. I turned him down and gave him a counter offer: one-third of what he offered me, plus 20% of the profits.

After thinking about it for a moment, he responded with a smile. “Hell, I’ll give you 25% of the profits.”

We shook hands and got back to work. That was the day my life changed and got a wonderful friend in Sam.

*****

I glanced over at Jeremy as I finished the story and saw a tear slip down his cheek. “You see what we’ve become. One of the leading design firms in the world within ten years. It’s been a great ride. And, Jeremy, with people like you we are only going to get better.”

Jeremy wiped away the tear and looked up as we pulled into the driveway of my home.

“You live here?” Jeremy saw a nice home, but not really very big. Understated, but the quality could be seen even on the exterior. It’s a one-story home with a wrap-around porch and a view of the valley that was incredible.

“It’s situated on three acres,” I began. “There are no close neighbors. The house was designed by my wife and I. Bringing the last of our things from our old place, she was struck by a semi-truck and died instantly. If it hadn’t been for Sam and his wife Ann…well, they saved my life a second time.” I stated it all kind of matter of factly, but Jeremy could see that I still hurt.

“Jeremy, it’s history. You now know more about me than anyone in the world besides Sam. I only ask that you honor my privacy.” Jeremy just nodded. I could see he understood.

“Now,” I said with a smile to break the mood, “welcome home for as long as you want it.”

We got out of the car and I got his suitcases from the trunk. I put them on the ground near the car.

“Remember, throw your clothes away after I show you the house. You are only keeping two pairs of shoes, right?” Jeremy nodded.

We entered the home and Jeremy saw that it was decorated with neutral colors and comfortable furniture. If there was a style, it would be called easy elegance done with restraint. Jeremy walked around touching furniture and then stopping to look at a picture of my wife.

“She was beautiful,” he stated.

“That she was,” I agreed.

“So,” as I began to point out the obvious, “kitchen, dining and relaxing. Explore the kitchen and learn where things are. Over there is my office.” He looked in and saw the large monitors as well as a drafting board. “I still like pencil on paper sometimes,” I explained. “The Master is over there, and there are two suites down that hall. Take a look and see if you want one. Also there’s an apartment next to the garage.”

“I want to be in the house,” Jeremy said.

“Then, be in the house, Jeremy, and welcome. Get your shoes and throw away your clothes and suitcases. But, wait a moment.” I went into the office and handed Jeremy an envelope.

“The money I promised for new clothes. And use the Honda, okay? I have an old truck I can use.”

Jeremy looked in the envelope and then at the car keys and started to softly cry.

“Why are you doing this,” he asked.

“Everyone needs a bit of help now and then. It’s just my turn to help you,” I replied with a soft smile. “So, maybe I should be the one thanking you for the opportunity. Let’s leave it at that.”

I turned to let him start to get settled and then spun around.

“Jeremy, I don’t have any clothes that will fit you. I completely forgot about that. You are smaller than I am.” Looking at my watch, “All of the manisa escort stores are closed. There’s nothing I can do, but I still don’t want the old clothes in here,”

“Alex, don’t worry. I will just wear these clothes until I get some new clothes tomorrow morning.” He gave me that wonderful smile as he spoke. I nodded and then walked off stopping in front of my wife’s picture for a minute. Did my wife speak to me as I stood there? I don’t know, but I turned to Jeremy. If she did, I will have to think about it.

“Jeremy, I must have had a brain fade.,” as I looked at my watch. “We can get to the big box store and you can buy what you need for tonight and tomorrow. Will that be okay?”

He nodded smiling and we walked out of the house and back to the car. Within the hour we were back and he had a few things he needed.

“Good night, Jeremy. Sleep well. See you in the morning.” And with that, I went in to read and then sleep…a rather fitful sleep filled with dreams of my wife smiling at me. I wasn’t gay. But, Jeremy was the first person in five years that I had been attracted to. I told myself that it would probably wear off soon…but what if it didn’t wear off? I shrugged mentally and went to sleep.

The next day Jeremy went out shopping for clothes while I went grocery shopping. Jeremy didn’t need any special food and he wasn’t vegan, so I just needed to get enough for both of us. He got back at about 5:30, just a bit before dinner was ready, with bags and bags of clothes. He was like an excited kid and grinning from ear-to-ear. I loved seeing him that way.

I gave him a glass of wine while I drank plain tonic water and listened to him tell me about his day. His excitement was contagious as he told me about his adventures in the stores; we were both laughing as he finished speaking. I got up to serve a simple dinner of pasta and salad which he placed on the table. It was then ne noticed the fresh flowers on the table.

“Flowers! For me?” He really played it up by even batting his eye lashes.

“As a matter of fact, I thought you might like them for some reason. They are just out of the garden.”

As we sat down to dinner, I smiled and gave him a small wink. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Jeremy sat there for a few moments as he looked around the house and began to cry softly. I reached out to touch his arm gently as I waited for him to gain control.

“Nobody has ever done anything l like this for me before. Ever. Why are you doing this?”

“Why? Because someone was kind to me when I needed it as you do right now. And, besides, I just plain like you, which makes helping you pretty easy. And to answer the next question, I don’t want anything from you. All you have to do is to let me help you. Besides, I like having you here, Jeremy. So, let’s eat. Okay?”

He smiled and nodded. And that was the first day of many that followed. We fell into a routine that made living together easy. We went to movies, art galleries, took hikes, and enjoyed life together. We even had dinner over at Sam’s a couple of times. Jeremy and Sam’s wife, Ann, got along very well, too.

After dinner one night at Sam’s, he and I went outside where we talked.

“You are back to being your old self, Alex,” Sam said smiling. “Jeremy is really helping you.”

“I know,” I said softly. “And, he thinks I am doing this for him. I’m the winner there.”

“No, you both are. And, should something more develop, Ann and I will be very happy for you. As far as work is concerned, we’ll figure it out.”

“More,” I asked.

“Yeah. More,” and with that he turned to walk back into the house with an enigmatic smile

About a week later while I was working in my office on Saturday afternoon Jeremy walked in and asked me if I had a minute. Of course, I had a minute – or any number of them, I told Jeremy and gave him my complete attention. When I did, I could see that he was nervous; he looked kind of like a deer in headlights.

“Jeremy,” I started trying to comfort him, “whatever it is, it’ll be okay.”

“Alex, I need to tell you something. Well, Ann, Sam’s wife, says I need to tell you and I think she’s right.”

“I’ve generally found her to be right most of the time.” I smiled trying to reassure him. “You know that I care about you and only want the very best for you, Jeremy. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because I’ve gotten to know you and have you in my life. Why don’t you sit down and when you’re ready, tell me what’s on your mind?” He sat down in a chair facing the desk.

“Well,” he started after taking a deep breath, “the last several months have been the best in my life. Everything has just been so perfect. I’ve come to know you and…well…I feel deeply about you.” He rested his hand on the desk and I reached out to touch it…cover it with mine.

“Ann told me that I need to tell you something about myself.”

“Ann knows whatever it is you want to tell me?”

Jeremy just nodded his head. “And, Sam probably knows, too.”

“Now, you have me very curious.” My hand didn’t leave his.

“I didn’t want to wreck, um,” he kind of stammered and hesitated, “our home…or relationship…or whatever we have here. But, Ann thinks you need to know. And, after I tell you, if you want me to leave, I will.”

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