Steve Grogan hails from the small (but often filmed) city of Troy, NY. Over the years his poems and short stories have seen publication both in print and digitally. He is a father, boyfriend, writer, musician, and martial artist. You can find a book of his poetry and a book about martial arts on Amazon. (See the links, thoughtfully included!) He is also the author of a “throw-in-everything-INCLUDING-the-kitchen-sink webcomic called REDemption.
This story marks his first contribution to the site.
Poetry: For Those in Shadows
Martial Arts: The Search for the Warrior’s Path
“He Was Loved”
In this day and age of mega-multiplex movie theaters and massive chain stores, the little mom and pop establishment Pawling Avenue Video was facing hard times. Fortunately for them, their store had something none of those other places had: an employee named Sharon Ritter. Sharon was the only reason anyone came into the store anymore. (After all, it wasn’t often that you got to look at a former homecoming queen while you were trying to figure out what movie to rent.) Even if she was feeling tired or sick, Sharon was one of those women who not only looked beautiful, but always maintained a cheerful disposition.
It was late December, and Sharon was home from college on winter break. Her family had owned Pawling Avenue Video since she was three years old, so she’d always pick up some hours when she was out of school. They’d started this practice ever since Sharon was old enough to work. Most American teens would have resented their families for such indentured servitude, but it made Sharon love her parents even more. They had instilled a work ethic in her that helped her become valedictorian of her high school, and she was on the fast track to earning that same title in college.
Although Sharon looked forward to getting back to school, there was one thing she would miss when the winter break ended: the chance to see her old friend David Martin. They had been friends since they were sophomores at Troy High School. He had been the designated social misfit of their class, but something about him drew Sharon in like a magnet.
The more Sharon got to know David, the more his label confounded her. Although his fanatical love of horror movies was destined to forever mark him as an offbeat character, he was just as charming, funny, and intelligent as any other guy she talked to. Unfortunately, due to the high school caste system, hardly anyone knew that.
Whenever she was home on a break from school, David would show up at the store at least once to talk with her. More often than not, he would spend two to three hours there before he even looked at a single movie; sometimes he wound up leaving without renting anything. Many people would view this habit as odd, maybe even creepy, but it didn’t phase Sharon at all because she truly enjoyed his company.
David’s usual arrival time was between 6:30 and 7:00. Tonight it was inching toward 8:00, and there was still no sign of him. His absence, coupled with his last visit, had Sharon worried about him.
The previous evening, David revealed to her that he had gotten in an argument with his parents because he wanted to go into the field of astronomy while they wanted him to study law like his father and grandfather. (They had run a very successful law firm, one of the biggest in Troy, NY, for several generations, and they wanted David to take it over.) Sharon could tell the fight had been intense because the shouting had reduced David’s voice to a raspy whisper.
Sharon knew David had struggled with depression during high school. (There was a time when he was out of school for over a month; rumor had it that he’d attempted suicide.) He seemed to be doing a lot better during college, mainly because school meant time away from his family. Now she was worried the argument might have pushed him over the edge. Had he made the attempt again, and succeeded this time?
Her fears were alleviated when David walked into the store around 8:30. He was dressed in his typical baggy attire. (Sharon had no idea why he dressed that way. One summer they went swimming, and his outfit revealed a fantastic, chiseled physique, but David was very humble and kept it hidden.) Even though it wasn’t snowing or raining outside, he had his hood up. When he saw Sharon behind the counter, David smiled. She returned the gesture.
“Hey, stranger,” Sharon said. “You’re later than usual tonight.”
“I didn’t realize I was on the clock,” David said with a laugh. “Got any new horror movies in?”
“No. We have a couple new dramas though.”
David shrugged. “I’m not really in the mood for drama. I had enough of that at home. I guess I’ll go look at some of the older movies. Find some pleasure in nostalgia, you know?”
Sharon nodded as he headed over to the horror film section. A few minutes later, he came back with a box for the old slasher classic Halloween. She took the box from him and retrieved the movie from one of the shelves behind the counter.
“You’ve rented this so much that you could have bought it fifty times over by now,” she said. “Have you watched any other classics lately?”
“No,” David admitted. “I haven’t had the time.”
He opened his mouth to say more when a woman entered the store with several videos in hand. She came up to the counter and handed them over to Sharon.
“They’re a day late,” the woman said. “I’d like to pay the balance now.”
“Are those horror films?” David asked.
The woman acted as if she didn’t even hear David. Sharon tallied up the late fee, taking the customer’s money and making change. Then, with the slightest nod of acknowledgement, the customer left the store.
“I can’t believe how rude she was, just ignoring you like that,” Sharon said.
David waved his hand in the air. “I’m used to it.”
Sharon fell silent after this remark, searching her mind for something to say in reply but finding nothing. It made her sad to think how the world could shun such a sweet, caring, thoughtful young man just because he looked or acted different from what most people considered “normal.” Even his parents joined in on the game! How could they be so cold to their son, dismissing his hopes and dreams just because he didn’t want to have the same career as the other men in his family? Why were some parents so damn selfish?
With a sigh, Sharon dismissed these questions. It was pointless to waste time thinking about them; she would never find an answer. They were better off spending their limited time together talking instead of dwelling on such frustrating subject matter.
“David, are you okay? You were so upset last night,” she said.
“I’m fine. My parents were still ranting and raving when I went home, but I just shut myself in my room and ignored them,” David said.
“You’re a great guy, Dave. I don’t know why that isn’t good enough for them.”
He looked at her and smiled. She could sense he wanted to say something profound, something beautiful, something she had been dying to hear him say for years but, as is often the case, reality didn’t match up to her fantasy.
“I think I’ll take a look at the dramas after all,” David said.
“Thought drama wasn’t your bag?” Sharon asked.
“Me too, but one of the best things about life is the ability to try new things, right?”
With that statement, David wandered over to the drama section. As he browsed the movies, Sharon asked herself a question that had been floating through her mind ever since high school: why had they never dated? She had always thought of herself as different from the other “in-crowd” people, believing that she wasn’t an elitist like them. But if that were true, why hadn’t she made a move toward this young man? Was it fear of what her friends would say if she dated the social misfit?
After all these years, she had to finally admit the truth: that fear was the EXACT reason why they had never been a couple. She was just as snobby as the rest of those jerks. There was nothing else that would explain her lack of action except fear of isolation.
The sound of the front door opening distracted Sharon from these thoughts. She saw Sheriff Donald Regan enter the store. He wasn’t in uniform, but it was hard to miss the chiseled features of his face. He brushed a heavy layer of snow off his jacket as he approached the counter and the pretty young lady behind it.
“Hello, Sharon,” he said. “It just got brutal out there.”
“Hi, Sherriff,” Sharon said. “Snowing pretty bad out, huh? That’s strange. It was totally clear when David came in, and that was only a few minutes ago.”
Sheriff Regan paused in mid-stride. “Dave who?”
Sheriff Regan completed his trip over to the counter, stripping off his leather gloves and rubbing his eyes. A pained look came over his face. Sharon knew the expression indicated he had something unpleasant to tell her, but what could it possibly be? And why had that look come over his face when she mentioned David’s name?
Not one to waste time or mince words, Sherriff Regan answered her question with the next sentence out of his mouth.
“Sharon, David Martin killed himself last night. He shot himself in the head with a hunting rifle.”
Sharon shook her head in disbelief. “That’s impossible. David came in about ten minutes ago. Actually, he’s still here. Can’t you see him? He’s back there in the drama section!”
Sharon pointed to where David was standing, and it was only then that she noticed the hood of his jacket was down, revealing a gaping wound where a bullet had crashed through the back of his skull.
As if he knew she was looking at him, David turned around to face her. She saw that his eyes were glassy, vacant.
Sharon woke up in a hospital bed with no idea how she got there. Sheriff Regan and her parents were by her side.
“Mom, dad…what happened?” Sharon asked.
“Sharon, take it easy,” her mother said. “You fainted. You’re in the emergency room at Samaritan Hospital. Sheriff Regan brought you in.”
“How are you feeling?” Regan asked.
“I’m all right. I just need a little time alone,” Sharon said.
“If that’s what you want, dear,” her father said.
Sharon’s parents headed out. The Sheriff followed them. He paused in the doorway, turning back to Sharon one last time.
“For what it’s worth, David did leave a note. He said he did it because no one loved him.”
Sharon stared at Sheriff Regan, taking in the information he’d just given to her but not sure how to react to it. The only response she could manage was a nod. Realizing there was no more to say, he left the room.
After sitting there in silence for a moment, Sharon spoke to the empty room (and to David’s spirit, if he was out there listening somewhere).
“No one loved you, David?” she whispered. “Well, I guess you’ll never know how wrong you were on that one.”
Author: Redemption Comics
Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).
Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.
He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.