Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Spotlight: To Move Forward by Geoffrey Bauernfeind

Please say hello to Geoffrey Bauernfeind and 

To Move Forward 


Twenty years go by quickly and there are moments when you think back and relive some of the good times you shared. Now and then there has been contact, but vague and brief.

Then, one day, you meet and those old feelings resurface. But there is also fear. Apprehension. Questions. He has friends. You have friends. Do you want to see this person? What could he possibly want? Is a reconciliation possible? Do you really want to rekindle that lost love? And if so, at what cost?

Patrick and Ben were more than friends before they went their separate ways. In the years that followed, Patrick stayed true to himself and Ben married. Patrick searched for happiness. Ben seemingly had it all. Now Patrick and Ben, currently divorced, meet at a fair, and suddenly Patrick is thrust into Ben’s life once again. He has no idea what he is getting himself into because, as much as Patrick desires Ben and vice versa, there are skeletons in both cupboards and both must make sacrifices in order to be together.


Shuffling my feet nervously, I stood inside the main entrance to the State Fair. The crowds streamed into the grounds at a furious pace. Having arrived early, I had time to wait and think and torment myself.
It had been years since I had seen Ben and, after he and his wife split, I also had stopped receiving the family photo at Christmas. The last one was from about five years ago. It showed a smiling young family in matching sweaters. The accompanying letter had been the usual holiday update for family and friends, vague enough as not to be indiscreet by saying, “If we were close, you would know this.” It was well written, impersonal, and, like the others, it had included a handwritten note at the bottom telling me not be a stranger and to visit if I could. I never did. As always, Ben’s wife had written the note to make it seem more personal.
Years of irregular small talk, or the random e-mail, culminated with the suggestion he was going to the fair with the kids and would I join him for the day? I can only imagine his surprise when I sent back a tentative “Maybe,” later followed by the shock of a “Yes.” A fair question to ask would have been, “Why now?” I had asked myself the same thing before hitting 'Send'. After all the years of avoiding Ben, I guess I still wanted to know if he was actually happy. The life I saw in quick glances seemed to be relatively happy and serene with the exception of the divorce, but that would have been a typical exception. The perfect family who happened to split apart. The perfect split where the kids lived with mom and spent every other weekend or more, if they wanted, with dad. Of course Ben was happy. But the question still lingered: Why now?
Maybe it was time.
I spent the last couple of decades on the fringe, politely avoiding. I wanted to know, but I didn’t. I wanted to let go, but I couldn’t. Not letting go gave me the ability to sabotage my own life effectively. Sometimes, when I was able to forget for a while, I would find someone with whom I could share my screwed up world. Life was good, not perfect. Then an e-mail or Christmas letter arrived leaving me to second-guess and effectively screw up my relationship. Around the time of Ben’s post-divorce girlfriend, I stopped looking for someone. It was over, it had been for more than twenty years, but that didn’t matter. I needed to move on. He wanted to talk after the break-up, as he had when he split from his wife. I listened to him as best I could, but we never met up. He couldn’t see the tears on the other end of the phone. I had wanted to be there, to hold him and tell him I could make it better, that I could love him the best of all, but to what purpose? I had my chance a long time ago and we had changed.
He moved on. Why now? I needed to know this wasn't only over but it never could be, only then would I finally, painfully, move on. Avoidance had been a mistake. Forty was not ancient, I had time, but I needed to get this done, now.
Ben held his sons hand. They and his son wore matching cowboy hats and Ben had trimmed his beard to an eye-catching goatee. It looked as if his daughter had brought a friend. Someone said something and they all laughed. When Ben looked up, even through his dark sunglasses I could tell his eyes were locked on me. The kids, realizing Dad had stopped joking, followed his gaze. At six-five (when I don’t slouch) it’s hard to become invisible. He smiled and waved. His daughter and her friend exchanged glances and his son looked excited.
“How are you doing Pat?” He shook my hand and hugged me. “Kids, this is Patrick, my oldest friend. Pat, this is Annie, her friend Kathy, and Darrin.”
“Hello,” I said quietly.
“Nice to finally meet the man in the picture,” Annie said. “Picture?”
“Dad has an old picture on his wall of you guys at school,” she continued.
“That is the guy?!” Darrin exclaimed. “He doesn’t look this big in the picture!”
“Darrin...” Ben cautioned.
“But, he's so big Dad!”
“Darrin!” Ben said quickly. The girls giggled.
I blushed. I had an idea of what he meant. Depending on exactly when the picture was taken, it could be easily two decades old and I, seventy pounds less.
“Sorry,” Ben said.
“It’s okay.” In school Ben stood five-ten and under two hundred pounds; he couldn’t weigh much more now. I had gotten fat, he hadnt.
“Well, let’s get started,” he said to the kids, then to me, “We can catch up while we walk.”
We wandered into the park proper, seeing activity everywhere. Darrin wanted to visit the horses, so we went over to the barns first and walked along the stalls. Between comments like “Oh, that one is pretty,” and questions like “Can we get a horse?” Ben made sure to include me in some way.
“Do you remember riding when we went to the Dells?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah, that was fun. I remember having to pay extra for not getting the horses back on time.”
We were lost. I calmed him by leaning over to squeeze his hand and told him the trail was over the ridge, even though I didn’t have a clue. We rode close together, occasionally reaching out to each other for comfort.
Eventually, we came to a road, followed it, and picked up the trail on the opposite side. We were red as beets at the end of the ride.
After making them promise to meet us for lunch at a little booth near the stadium, the girls went off into the crowd. Ben relaxed and I felt less inhibited. Darrin clearly loved his dad’s playful side. I did too.
Darrin ran wild in the baby animal barn. He touched each lamb and piglet one at a time. We stepped back to watch from a distance.
“Why didn’t we get together before?” Ben asked.
I shrugged. “Don’t know. Always busy, I guess.”
“We couldn’t have been that busy,” he said. “A lot of wasted time.”
“We talk....”
“Not that often. I miss hanging out with you,” he said, watching Darrin pet a rabbit.
“You had a wife and family. You were busy.”
“Well, you know how all that turned out. What’s your excuse?”
“Work, you know, just life.”

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About the author:

Although this is his debut story, Geoff has been writing on and off since he was a teenager, albeit for himself. When he finally took the plunge in 2012 and put his first story on the internet, he was surprised and overwhelmed by the positive and encouraging response. Geoff was born, raised, and lives in the Midwest and has spent most of his life driving between Chicago and Milwaukee. Currently, he lives in a little house, in a little town, outside another little town, with three cats, a dog, and his very supportive “Husbear.”


Promotional post. Materials provided by the publisher.

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