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The Paths We Take #6: The Best Place in the World

Mar 20, 2018

 

 

 

 

Michael

 

When I hit the frigid water, the air fled from my lungs and I kicked in a panic to reach the surface. I thrashed my arms searching for the nearest rock to climb on while the sun taunted me from above. My hands found the jagged edge of a boulder and I pulled myself out of the water, the warm air rushed me like heat from a fire. I lay on the rock, took deep breaths of the pure mountain air, and listened as the other carefree young souls made the leap. I smiled and thought to myself, this is the best place in the world.

The memories of jumping from Glenrock bridge into the deep pool of the mountain creek below passed through my mind as I drove the mountain road. The bridge was only twenty feet above the water, but when you’re twelve years old, the rush was everything. I spent most of my summers in this part of the state; my father sold our mountain home last year, but I still had friends whose families owned vacation homes in the area. I made my way back at least once a year, but if I could’ve, I would have stayed permanently.

The GPS showed twelve miles until the destination. My hands clenched the leather on the steering wheel of the Mercedes; the sign fifty feet ahead showed a serpentine curve warning. I came up to the first curve and pressed the accelerator; I love this car, I told myself as I continued to accelerate. Fifty-Five, Sixty, Seventy. I came out of the second curve and took my foot off the gas, letting the car float through the straightaway, and allowed the adrenaline to run its course.

“Incoming call from Sullivan,” the digital voice erupted through the car speakers. I pressed the green answer button on the screen; the picture of Preston appeared in the top right corner with a toothy grin and a middle finger salute that always greeted me when he called. He hated his first name, “Preston.” He said it made him sound like the kind of guy that posts “Let’s party on my daddy’s yacht” as the tagline for his Tinder profile.

“Hey man,” I said. “Was gonna call you. I have to make a detour for an hour or so.”

“What the hell,” Sullivan said as I made the right turn as instructed by the GPS. “Are you going to see Samantha?”

“No dude, my Dad called me earlier and said that he wanted me to drop by his business partner’s place near Red Pines. The guy apparently would be a good reference; the dude is seriously connected.”

“No joke… I hope he has beer and wasted sorority girls with him, because that is what you are missing out on,” Sullivan squeaked. At nineteen, his voice still hadn’t decided if it was going to take puberty seriously or not.

“I’ll be there tonight. You know how my dad is; I didn’t really have a choice.” The GPS was demanding that I take the next left turn, but the road was blocked with orange and white barriers. It rerouted me to take a left further down the road.

“You haven’t called Samantha, have you? She is just going to mess with your head with her bullshit. I am just trying to look out for you,” Sullivan said, the joking tone left his voice and was replaced with a lower concerned one.

“I am not going to call her dude. I don’t know if I could make it through an entire conversation with her right now.”

“Good. There are plenty of chicks here that you can talk to, or not talk to…whatever happens,” Sullivan joked. “Why don’t you put in a good word for me with your dad’s buddy while you’re there. Don’t be so selfish all the time Mikie.”

“Later man,” I said as I ended the call. I had been waiting for this reunion with Sullivan, Tucker, and some of the other guys that I hadn’t seen since graduation. No doubt, the weekend would be full of alcohol, puking off of the balcony onto the rocks below, and girls, but I just wanted to come back to the place where I had so many memories. I needed to escape.

I hadn’t seen a home, cabin, or store for miles, and the trees seemed to creep closer to the road as I winded my way through the mountains. I was alone with the pines, the brown, bronze, and garnet colored leaves that littered the ground, and the partially barren trees the protruded amidst the rocks.

“You have arrived at your Destination,” The GPS sounded, but there was nothing, just the road and the trees. I checked the rearview mirror to see if I had missed the driveway. I kept driving for about a half mile until I found an unmarked gravel driveway. The gravel crunched beneath my tires as I crept forward, watching as an elaborate stone walkway started on the left side of the gravel. I came to a massive iron gate with a man leaning against it smoking a cigarette. He was older, probably my father’s age, his deep frown lines separated his bushy eyebrows and heavy tired blue eyes. His stubble was a patchy gray and white that fit his haggard look.

He motioned for me to stop the car, and walked over to my window as I rolled it down. “Michael, right?” the man asked.

“Yes, Michael Redding. I was supposed to meet with Ray,” I stammered. I could see the gun holstered inside of the man’s jacket. I was used to seeing armed security growing up, but this man didn’t look like the well-groomed and athletic kind of hired security that my father used.

“I know your father,” the man said.

“Really? He doesn’t come around this part of the state much anymore.”

“I mean, I see him on TV all the time. I heard a couple of his speeches,” the man said in a raspy voice, the cigarette smoke stinging my nose. “Mr. Donnelly is waiting up in the cabin. I’ll get the gate,” he said as he grinned. “You don’t seem too excited to be here.”

“No, I appreciate Mr. Donnelly meeting with me. I know that he will be a great person to know when I finish school and start looking for a job.”

The man leaned down and started scratching the stubble on his cheeks. “Oh yeah, Mr. Donnelly is definitely the man you need to get to know.”

The man nodded his head and then walked over to punch a code into a keypad on the left side of the gate. The gate opened, and he motioned for me to pull forward. The driveway veered to the left, and then I saw the cabin. It was more of an estate, with what appeared to be several sections attached by covered walkways. The custom woodwork gave the place the million-dollar feel. A silver Range Rover and a gunmetal Porsche Cayenne were parked near the stone stairway that led up to the front door.

The man that greeted me at the gate appeared around the curve on a four-wheeler and parked next to me. He hopped off and lit up another cigarette. “You ready kid?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded, my hands were cold and from sweat. “I feel like I am here for a job interview.”

“You’ll be fine,” the man said.

“I am supposed to meet my friends this evening, so I won’t take up much of Mr. Donnelly’s time.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that kid. Mr. Donnelly is a businessman. Besides, there is a pretty girl inside that I think you’re gonna want to meet.”

“Girl?” I asked.

“Pretty blonde; well built; sweet,” the man said as he flicked his cigarette to the ground and gestured towards the front door. “After you.”

 

© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.