Sticks and Stones

Submitted into Contest #118 in response to: Start your story with “Today’s the day I change.”... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction Happy

“Today’s the day I change. Today’s the day I present to the world a new me. I am amazing. I am unique. I am a beautiful, bright-winged butterfly, spawning from the cocoon of change.”

         Eli stopped the podcast and looked in the mirror as he repeated the words.

         The podcast was the final episode in a series titled: You 2.0 - A Motivational Guide.

         It took him three days to finish it but he intently took notes, relating each task to himself. He went back to his room and looked at his plans; a few Post-It’s with a series of objectives that he had been following the last couple of weeks to help him better himself.

         Stacked on his desk were piles of books on self-help, philosophy, stoicism, exercise, psychology, and sociology. At 23, he was more mature and intelligent than almost all his peers but lacked the confidence and social ability to engage anyone without it turning into a completely awkward interaction.

         In his mind he wasn’t enough. He had an image in his head of who and what he should be but didn’t meet those standards. He even thought he had some sort of social disorder, that damn Google.

         The next morning, he began like he had been the previous two weeks, with a glass of water and a brisk morning walk at Centennial Park near his apartment in Atlanta. The purpose was to get his blood flowing and start up his metabolism. He read it in one of the bodybuilding books; “At least 45 minutes of fasted steady state cardio when you wake up.”

         He put on his pair of New Balance walking shoes, a pair of sweatpants and an old Metallica t-shirt from the tour they did with Guns ‘N Roses in 1992.

         He went down his apartment steps into the street and took the trail into the park. The leaves in the park were changing colors. Fall had just begun and the change in season brought about more motivation for Eli to make these changes.

         He inhaled the cool morning air and looked at all the morning walkers, runners, and cyclists on the trails and sidewalks around him. He felt a sense of belonging, even though, God forbid, anyone was to come up and talk to him… and wouldn’t you know it?  A runner went right up to him; a female, to add.

         “Hey! Awesome shirt! Are you a fan?” She said as she jogged in place.

         “H-H-Hey… Thank uh, thank, thank you… Umm, No, I, well, Yes I do like them and their music and I would see them if I could but no, this isn’t… well I didn’t go to this show… No, I wasn’t alive for this…”

         “Cool… well see you around.” She smiled as she ran off. 

         “Bye…” The wave of embarrassment overcame him. 

“She threw me off… I wasn’t prepared… ughh… Nice, Eli…” He said to himself and let out a deep sigh as he continued. 

He tried to maintain a brisk pace and about halfway through, he slowed down. The overwhelming feeling of trying to make so many changes along with the pressure and stress, and the horror of the encounter not even 30 minutes ago got to him and he just wanted to be home, alone.

He sat down on a small rock wall to pull himself together. He realized his mind was running wild and he needed to take control once again. He sat up to take a deep breath when the rock he was sitting on broke loose and he fell backwards down a steep hill. 

He tumbled and rolled, losing one of his shoes in the process. He stopped at the bottom on a bed of grass strewn with leaves. His head still spinning, he opened his eyes and wished for the earth to swallow him up. So much embarrassment in one day.

He popped his head up and looked around. Amazingly, his glasses were still on his face. 

No one came to help because no one saw. He was both relieved and mildly disappointed. He looked around for his shoe when he saw a glimmer from about 5 yards away underneath a couple of leaves. 

He crawled over and reached down. He pulled out a black leather bracelet.  One end was a small red stone set in a silver notch that attached to the thin leather strap. The other end was a small noose that wrapped around the stone then pulled to tighten.

As the stone shined brightly, he put it on and admired how it looked on his wrist. He stood up, walked up the hill, and grabbed his shoe as he headed back home to get ready for work.

Eli was a sportswriter for an online news website. Work and writing were what he was able to use to express himself. It was the only thing that made him feel completely comfortable.

When he arrived at his office building after his eventful morning, he saw his friend Jack in the lobby waiting for him. Jack was one of the only friends Eli had. He saw through the shy, awkward persona. 

“Hey Eli. Whoa! There’s something different about you… Did you get a haircut?”

“Hey. No.”

“New shirt?”

“No. I went for a walk this morning so it must be the increased circulation of blood in my body causing it to-“

“Okay, man. I got it. Keep it up though, it’s doing you some good.”

“Thanks.”

“No costume? Today’s Halloween, remember? Oh great, here comes Kyle…”

“Why does he have to work here? Prepare for the onslaught of asinine insults.”

Craig looked up from his phone as he passed by and scanned Eli and Jack as he made his way past them to the elevator. “Hey guys. See you up there.” Then continued, around the corner.

“What?! Not even a fake slap?! He must be feeling sick.”

“I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Let’s head up, morning meeting starts in eight minutes.”

As they made their way around the corner, up the elevator to the 12th floor, and down the hall, Eli’s focus was concentrated on today and what he needed to do to improve himself at work. He carried the “work goals” Post-It in his pocket for reference and walked with confidence and purpose to his desk. 

He was distracted so much that he didn’t notice Jack nudging him. 

“Dude! You missed it.”

“Sorry. What?!”

“That girl in the hall was totally eyeballing you!”

Eli looked around, “What girl? Are you sure? Look in my nose, do I have anything?

“What?! I don’t know… What?!”

“Nothing on my face?”

“No!”

“Are you sure she wasn’t looking at you?”

“Yeah…”

“Hmmmph, I was focused on the game today; sorry. I can’t talk to girls anyway. You know that.”

“You just talk to them, man, it’s not hard.”

“For you... C’mon.”

As they sat in their meeting, each person went around discussing what their projects, articles or stories were going to be for the week. When it was Eli’s turn, he stood up, projected his voice and with detail, succinctly gave his ideas then sat down. As he did, he took down a few notes of things that popped in his mind. 

Once again, he was so engulfed in his own world that he didn’t notice everyone in the meeting staring at him. 

His boss, William, was so surprised, he tripped up on his own words before moving on to the final agenda of the meeting. 

“Alright guys, I’d like to introduce to you all the newest addition to the Sports and Entertainment team, Karla.”

Eli finished writing then looked up and saw the girl from the park that complimented his shirt. He lost focus and fell back into the horrified mindset, he had after she talked to him. He looked away and back down at his notebook trying to cover his face. 

William adjourned the meeting and Jack walked out with Eli.

“Dude, what was that?” Jack said.

“What?”

“When you gave your rundown, you were confident and on point.”

“Really?”

“Hell yeah! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like that. I know no one else in there had either.”

“Well, you know, I’m trying to be better.”

“Again, buddy, keep it up.”

“Thanks.”

They went back to their desks and began working. Jack sat directly behind him in their cubicle area sprawled out across the vast office space. After lunch, Karla walked by and introduced herself to them.

“Metallica?!” She said, pointing to Eli.

“That, uh, yeah, that’s me. 

“Right on! I’m surprised to see you here. Nice walk today? I saw you at the meeting but William had me running around all morning. Hopefully we can collaborate on some things later.”

“Uh, yeah, uh, sure, that’d be great. Yeah. I’d like that.”

“Cool. See you around. Nice to meet you, Jack.”

“Bye.”

“You too!” Jack yelled, trying not to laugh. “Bro, how are you a writer?”

“Shut up, Jack.”

“I don’t know why, but she likes you… I’ll tell you what though, that was less ‘uh’s’ than you normally say.”

Eli pulled his long curly hair away from his face, trying to alleviate the awkwardness. Jack saw his wrist.

“Whoa, what’s that?”

“I found it on my walk this morning. I liked it so I picked it up.”

“That’s a cool stone on there. Do you know what it is?”

“It’s a Garnet stone. It says online that the Garnet stone enhances confidence and survival instincts and subtly brings out love for life.”

“It seems like it’s working so, maybe there’s something to it then. We should head out. We need to be there in time for first pitch.”

“Yes sir... I hate the end of baseball, even if we’re in the Series.”

The two headed down to the parking garage and into Jack’s car. They talked about work and the fact that the Braves were heading into the World Series and could possibly win it all this year for the first time since 1995. They arrived at Truist Park and headed for the press box. 

“Metallica!”

The two turned around and saw Karla running toward them in the tunnel.

“Oh no,” Eli thought, “Not here! I can’t work with her here!”

“Whew, I’ve been chasing you since Cobb Parkway! Then I got all turned around! Haha! William said to tag along so I can get used to the ‘beat,’ old-guy word, but you guys left before I could tell you.”

Karla twisted her long brown hair and put it up to cool off. Jack caught Eli staring and threw a quick elbow into him.

“Cool.” Eli said, half clearing his throat trying to be nonchalant.

         They headed to the press box and took a seat in the back. The other local press were arguing about stats and players. Jack jumped in and took part in the verbal melee. Eli sat back and just watched like he normally did. Then someone asked him his thoughts on the line-up for the Braves and how it compared to the prior four games.

         Jack saw something that he’d never before seen from Eli. Eli sat up, like in the meeting earlier, stuck his chest out, and made a compelling argument. He cited prior stats, recent events, situations elsewhere in the roster, and even used some of the lessons he learned in psychology about how he felt the night would play out. 

         The group in the box sat silently impressed for a second then broke down what he said amongst themselves. Stunned, Jack went up to Eli, “What’s with you?! I know you know stats, but a week ago, you’d have never given a whole dynamic argument to these clowns on anything.”

         “I don’t know. It’s like I just didn’t care. I knew what I wanted to say, then just said it.”

         Jack patted his shoulder, “It must be that magic bracelet you have, my friend. Too bad it doesn’t work on Karla.”

         Eli turned and saw Karla by the window, watching the teams’ warm-up.

         Using the “confidence wave” he just rode on, he walked over. “Anything good going on?”

         “Not really, just checking out how well they’re hitting and catching. Nice elucidation you made, by the way. You’re like Jekyll and Hyde. Work and baseball are your thing, ehh?”

         “Yeah, I know the sport, but if you asked me to play or coach, I’d run the team off the rails…”

         “Haha! I’m the opposite, I can play but I can’t break it down like you.”

         “I can show you. Come on…”

         The three watched the game and took notes. Eli broke down his process and talked to her about what he looked for when he wrote and watched baseball. By the end of the seventh inning, the Astros were ahead by three runs.

         Eli excused himself and started to head out.

         “Where’s he going?” Karla asked.

Jack replied, “He goes and sits in the nosebleeds towards the end of the game. That’s where the true fans sit. Whoever is still there this late in the game when their team is losing are ‘die-hards.’”

“You don’t go with him?”

“Sometimes. He usually stays for the inning then comes back. If you really wanna go with him I’d give him a few minutes by himself then head up.”

Karla stayed until the middle of the 8th then went.

Eli was standing against the corner wall, watching the fans, the players, and the city. He looked at peace. Karla wandered close to him.

“I like it here.” He told her. “You’re in-between the chaos of the game and the stillness of the city. Especially tonight, the electricity has calmed down but it’s still there. The people up here just watch and appreciate their team and the sport. I like being near it, reminds me of playing stick ball and little league.”

“That’s kind of deep and insightful… Jack said you’ve been going through some kinda change lately. That you were kind of a loser before but today, he’s impressed with you.”

“A loser, ehh?”

“His words, not mine. I like you. Err… No, well, yeah, but not that I… You know.”

“Would you like to have dinner tomorrow?” Eli stared straight ahead at the field like he was watching the game intently. The words came out, he said them well, but it happened before he knew what was going on. He braced for the negative. 

“Yes.”

***

The Astros ended up beating the hometown team 9-5 but despite the loss, Eli was undefeated. He had his first date in years with someone he liked and seemed to like him back. He spent the rest of the night writing a great article effortlessly, probably one of his best. 

Although his team lost, they were still ahead in the series and he knew they’d come back to win the whole thing. His life was going great but like in this game, having a bit of luck would help. 

The next night, he had dinner with Karla at a small café downtown. They sat and chatted, realizing they had a lot in common. Eli laughed at a joke and brought his hands up to his head to pull back his hair.

“Where did you find that?” Karla said.

“What?”

“That bracelet.”

“Oh, in the park, the same day I first saw you. Why?”

“You’re not going to believe this… take it off and look at the leather underneath, right by the stone.”

Eli did. “K… for Karla?… This is yours?!”

“Yeah, I lost it 2 weeks ago. I would go by there every morning to look for it on my run. I can’t believe you found it!”

Eli took it off and handed it to her. “It’s hard to give it back, that Garnet stone has been my good luck charm the last few days.”

“That’s not a Garnet stone… that’s a Ruby.”

“What?”

“I know, they look similar, I wasn’t sure either. My aunt is into holistic health. She understands stones, oils, incense, and all that. She gave me this because it’s said to bring the wearer success in love. It has a sentimental value, but it looks like it might actually work.”

Eli smiled, knowing she felt the same way he did, plus it made him happy that returning it brought her relief. But he felt scared that his success and confidence would now be gone. They finished the date with him walking her to her door, kissing her cheek, and departing. 

When he got home, he called Jack and told him what had happened.

“That sounds like a positive date, man,”

“That’s just it. It was great, now tomorrow it’ll be gone. I won’t have the bracelet, and the new me won’t exist anymore.”

“What?! No, dude. Even if it did have something to do with the stone, which it doesn’t, you said it was the wrong stone anyway, right? So even then, any power that it had wasn’t for bringing the best out of you. That was all you, my friend.”

The realization hit him. “He’s right.” Eli thought.

“You’re right.”

Jack continued, “The morning walks, the great writing, the confidence when you spoke, the date with the cool chick. That didn’t come from a rock. That was you, growing up… my sweet baby boy.” Jack let out a wail and a fake cry.

“You really know how to ruin a moment.”

November 05, 2021 21:33

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