Watchers – Chapter 3-1: Solve the Problem

watchers

The mood that morning was somber. Billy sat on the front porch of the Casa de Painter property; his head collapsed into his hands.

For what transpired early that morning in the darkness of the home should’ve been reflected in a much bleaker pattern of weather. Instead, Billy felt like he was living in a reverse Twilight Zone episode.

Rain clouds and heavy winds were replaced by chirping birds, squirrels at play, and a smoky hot summer morning that baked a warm haze above the surrounding tree line down the street.

What was that Disney flick Billy liked? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Billy was waiting for a deer to jump out from behind the bushes, nibble on some grass and join the other critters in song.

“Oh my, may. Happy day! A happy day in the FO-OR-EST.”

The cottage’s front door creaked open, as Emily and Christian joined Billy on the front porch.

“We called into town. Nobody’s seen or heard from Collin,” Christian said.

“He probably got lost in the woods. Does he sleep walk?” Emily asked.

“I don’t think so,” Billy said.

“I think we need to divide into search parties. He couldn’t have gone far. There’s nothing but trees out here anyway,” Christian said.

“Where’s Ryan and Adrian?” Billy asked. He remembered watching them leave this morning in Pawlo’s truck.

“They went into town to grab supplies. Paper, markers, flashlights, Walkie Talkies-” Christian said.

“The search party was Ryan’s idea. He thought we should split into teams. He went into town to grab a map, and we’re going to plot out different subdivisions in town where each team can focus the search,” Emily said.

“Sounds good,” Billy said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find him,” Emily said. “We’ll even round up the townsfolk to lend a hand.” She placed a hand on Billy’s shoulder.

She could feel the muscles in his shoulder pushing up against the skin. She felt his body burning with intensity; a possible whirlwind of emotions and adrenaline just waiting to burst.

Billy never considered himself an optimist. He always let the worse-case scenario plague common sense and positive reinforcement. He remembered a poor job performance he received two or three years ago while working at the grocery store.

He remembered being called into Tom Paulinson’s office. A gangly man in his mid 50s, bald except for the thin stripe of hair that wrapped around the back of his head like a nasal strip. Tom’s thin garden of hair was always curly and dyed black to cloak his age, and his face was completely bald except for a single patch of hair under his chin. He wore thin-rimmed glasses with extra-wide lens straight out of the 1980s. Billy’s grandfather used to wear a similar pair; they covered half the face, barely touching his high cheek bones.

On that chilly Sunday afternoon, Billy was told about his poor time management skills and even poorer hygiene. When Billy asked for specifics, Tom zipped his lip, refusing to say more. Billy was left wondering more about which part of his body needed extra attention.

When Billy told his mother that night, her response was blunt, to say the least.

“Suck it up, and keep going,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“It means you can’t let it get you down.”

“It’s too late for that. He already put me in a mood.”

Billy sat across from Collin at the dinner table, watching Collin chew a seasoned chicken breast while washing it down with a tiny shot glass of milk.

Billy never liked to mix his food. Billy placed portions on separate corners of the plate. They were never allowed to mingle. No contact at all.

The only exception to the golden rule was ketchup. Billy loved ketchup.

“What am I supposed to do, mom?” Billy asked.

“Dude, she told you to suck it up. So you do, you keep going,” Collin said.

“Yeah, but how? That’s easier said than done,” Billy said.

“Learn from your mistakes, evaluate what you need to do differently, and then tackle the problem,” she said.

“Pretty straightforward,” Billy said. He twirled his spaghetti noodles around on the plate, wondering whether it needed more cheese.

“It is. If you let constructive criticism beat you down, you’re never going to figure out how to pick yourself back up,” she said. “It’s not up to me, it’s not even up to Collin. It’s up to you.” Mom lifted her glass of red wine to her lips, and Billy watched as she placed the glass gently on the table, stained by pink lip stick.

At least her glass was a proper size, Billy thought.

“So what are you going to do?” Collin said, shoving spaghetti into his face. His eyebrows lifted as he chewed; this was a quality of Collin’s that Billy found strange.

“Sounds like I’ll have to take charge. Solve the problem.”

Billy’s mom smiled, and subsequently so did Collin.

Billy was shaken out of his trance by a sudden slap on the back, turning to meet Christian’s eyes.

For a moment, he noticed strange similarities to his mother and Collin in Emily and Christian.

“Ready to go?” Christian said.

“Sure. Let’s find Collin,” Billy said.

The three stood up and walked inside. Billy listened one last time as the birds, squirrels, and the secret bush deer chirped their happy animal melodies.

“Oh my, may. Happy day! A happy day in the FO-OR-EST.”

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