Breakdown (Ginger Man 19A)

Charlie was glad they had taken an early lunch, was relieved to have only seven pairs of inquisitive eyes bearing down on him as his arms covered Rick, slouched over the dining room table and sobbing uncontrollably.

“I shoulda stopped him . . . tackled him, or sumpin’ . . . kept Mike outta that goddam car — ”

“Easy, budy, easy.” Charlie had never hugged another male who wasn’t a relative as firmly and sincerely as he held onto his friend.

Rick lifted his head, showing his reddened, tear-streaked fact to Charlie. “I jus’ stood there . . . watched ‘im go when I knew he weren’t right . . .”

“Nuthin’ about him was right, after he flunked outta college.” Charlie recalled the uncomfortable conversations, the unreturned phone calls and text messages, the doors slammed in his face. The darkness that had infected his friend like a virus. “Lotta people tried to stop him, including me. We all failed, Rick. You were just — ” Charlie stopped, not knowing how to finish his statement in a way that wouldn’t make Rick feel worse.

“GODDAMIT!” Rick had buried his face on the table again. “Oh, I’m sorry, so sorry . . . Mike, MIKE!”

“It’s all right, Rick. It’s over.”

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