Robbie and I were best friends, at least that is until I achieved dubious fame.
Missing Girl Found By Walker
screamed the headlines, above a photo of me holding a bewildered,
dishevelled child. Two days prior 5 year old Jennifer Dreaver had wandered off during a family bush walk. Searchers were combing another section of bush. We saw them on the way in , and of course Robbie wanted to join them. I managed to talk him out of it. Which is ironic considering that I emerged an accidental hero.
Now that was a right circus.
Amidst the scrum of reporters, photographers and rubberneckers I inwardly questioned the parenting skills of a couple who not only took their young child into the bush, but lost her there. Outwardly I smiled for the birdy, playing the hero. While in the background a mute witness to my newfound adulation stood Robbie. His usual reticent self.
Good ole Rob-Man, who not just had my back, but could be relied upon for his discretion.
FFS who uses that kind of terminology nowadays? I was beginnng to sound like some great-granddaddy era stuffed-shirt. Discretion my big toe. In modern-day speak Rob Man was too busy having my back to have his own. Unlike yours truely self aggrandisement wasn’t his style. Which worked to my advantage as I surrendered that precious bundle (more like bludy nuisance) to her tearful (or as I saw it neglectful) parents. If little Ms Dreaver smiled and waved over her mother’s shoulder to that solitary figure who stood by now on the periphery of my fame it went unnoticed. After all it was me in the spotlight. I was the man of the moment, the walker who’d gone to investigate sounds coming from a clump of bushes off the main track. “Against my companion’s advice. Well I had to didn’t I? I mean someone could’ve been hurt, and isn’t it just as well I did?”
”Oh yes, yes.” The tearful mother fixing me with desperate eyes. No doubt imagining her daughter’s fate were I not to have happened along. While a grateful father gripped my hands, fixing me with an expression of profound gratitude and exclaimed. “Thank God you did son, and if there’s ever anything......”
If I felt any guilt on Robbie’s part I brushed it aside.
Sorry for casting aspersions Rob-Man, but I had to take out some insurance. You know, just in case you got any ideas or let certain things slip.
Afterwards we drifted apart. Given the circumstances a predictable outcome and one that attracted considerable sympathy, The man who’d saved a child’s life had become a victim of sour grapes, and from non other than the companion who was prepared to ignore little Jenny’s cries for help.
And there were other benefits....
Debts I’d run up were forgiven, extensions granted on overdue papers and past grudges forgotten (for this read that people I’d wronged realised they’d get nowhere pursuing/harassing a hero). My home life also improved, with mum and dad heaping long overdue praise. They were overjoyed when Mr Dreaver a successful businessman made good on his pledge. “If there’s ever anything I can do.”
They were magic words, assuring my future with little personal effort required.
As for Robbie I heard that he was upstate washing dishes at some desert truck stop.
With his rep in tatters he dropped out, which gave me brief pause. However I was far too busy to worry unduly, with an agent to manage personal appearances and a junior executive position with Mr Dreaver’s manufacturing company. I had places to go which also meant a hectic social life. With so much going on I almost envied my former bestie. ‘Rob-Man’s got it easy, no pressure or responsibilities. No hero rep to keep up, even after all this time. Washing a few dishes isn’t near as exhausting as being a real life hero. The man who found a missing child. Even now with the bludy kid a grown woman ready to graduate college.
A grown woman who unbeknown to me had started having flashbacks. When this development became known I had to wonder why the Dreavers never told me. Just as I wondered over the years why despite giving me breaks they never quite elevated me to family friend status. For a short while Jennifer referred to me as uncle, but was just as quickly disabused of that. “No Jen Jen he helped you when you got lost, but he’s not a relation.”
Much later she became of age and a looker. But for the age gap I might’ve dated her. Perhaps I should’ve, because then she mightn’t have taken that desert road trip, stopped off at a certain truck stop and encountered a dishwasher on his break while looking for the bathroom facilities. An encounter that led to another flashback. I call it that flashback.
Because from there my life began to unravel.
They got talking, exchanged contact details, and after several months speaking with her parents and a counsellor Jennifer Dreaver took charge of the narrative and told the real story.
“I knew I’d seen that man’s face before, the one at the truck stop. He had such a kind manner but it was his voice. When he asked if he could help me, and when I stumbled he put out his hands to steady me. Just like he did in the bush when I was a little girl. It was his voice saying it was going to be alright, and those same hands holding me. When his friend brought me out I wanted to tell mum and dad he was the one but there was a crowd and it was noisy. When I saw him over mum’s shoulder I smiled and waved but he never came forward. No one else saw and later I thought I’d dreamt it....”
Because that day we’d been cutting classes. I had incomplete assignments due and wasn’t in the mood for drama. Besides it was too nice a day to be cooped up in a boring lecture hall. Robbie joined me because he didn’t think I was in any fit state to drive. Bunking didn’t come easy to him, but neither did letting me risk my neck. There were searchers in the carpark when we reached our destination, but I managed to talk him out of getting involved, It’d draw attention to our bunking class.
It was Robbie who heard Jennifer’s whimpering sounds. This time I couldn’t dissuade him, but made my displeasure clear. Far from avoiding drama he’d walked right into the thick of it. Except the final irony turned out to be as simple as the call of nature. Can’t be helped, can’t be avoided, needs must. So while he did the deed I relieved him of the child, and that’s how the searchers found us. I could’ve told the truth, but held my peace instead.....payback for sticking his nose in.
Until all these years later, when Jennifer Dreaver is determined to see the real man who found her recieve his due, While for me the usurper a label I have to wear now, the final irony‘s turned out to be as simple as that flashback,