Helping Hands, Conclusion

After his call ended, Quentin entered the living room and renewed his proposal to assist with the bedframe. Ven rose from his seat eagerly, and the two men set to the task. Their argument from before the call hung silently in their air between them, like a humid summer evening.

Bonnie-B and the children arrived as the last of the frame was assembled. Nicholas and Hannah raced into the living room and began tearing into the paper, calling to their father in excited tones. As Quentin joined his children, Bonnie-B caught Ven’s gaze, and tilted her head in a silent question.

Ven nodded, a sad smile crawling across his face.

Lunch was consumed quickly, Ven and the Richardsons ravenous from the morning’s exertion. Quentin commanded Hannah to take care of the trash; as she left for the kitchen, Nicholas went to the bathroom, leaving Ven alone in the living room with the two adults.

“Hey.” Quentin and Bonnie-B looked up at Ven’s gentle call. “Really appreciate what you did for me today.”

“Of course,” Bonnie-B replied with pleasure. “You know, your still welcome to come over for dinner this evening.”

“Any evening.” Quentin leaned forward, and gazed intently at Ven. “Just because you’re living in the city now, doesn’t mean you need to be a stranger.”

Ven sighed heavily, and then stood slowly. “I’ll be up to see you, I promise. But, tonight — ” he waved a hand towards the nearest stack of boxes — “I really need to unpack.” Nodding, Quentin stood quickly, and called for the children.

“Mister Ven — ” Ven turned towards Hannah — “I really like your apartment.” Nicholas echoed his sister’s judgement.

“You guys are sweet.” The young man lowered himself to his right knee, and embraced the Richardson children. After shaking Ven’s hand, Quentin then lead the children out of the apartment, leaving Ven alone with Bonnie-B.

 She laid a hand on Ven’s shoulder. “Promise me, that you won’t spend every evening here alone.”

For a moment, Ven considered telling her Aidan was planning to come over tomorrow. But instead, he smiled, and simply said, “I won’t.”

She hugged him warmly, then left to join her family. The apartment door closed, and for the first time that day, Ven was alone in his new home. Sighing, he walked into the living room, located the nearest box, and ripped the packing tape off its cardboard top. 

Helping Hands, Part 10

Quentin removed his glasses, and pinched his eyes closed. “Ven — please understand, we have just as much compassion for Aidan as you do.” The words angered Ven, but the young man decided to let Quentin continue. “But the Bible isn’t a menu, you can’t just pick and choose the passages you like and ignore the rest. We either accept God’s word, or reject it, there’s no middle ground. And the Bible couldn’t be clearer, the laws against sexual deviance — ”

“Do you eat pork?” Ven pressed his challenge. “Shellfish? Do we stone adulterers?”

Quentin shook his head, his eyes downcast. “This again. Acts 10, Cornelius — the laws of Moses were abolished when salvation was opened to the Gentiles.”
Ven lifted his arms wide. “So if I can enjoy a BLT, why can’t you let Aidan live in peace?”

“Ven, Ven.” Quentin sighed wearily. “The New Testament — ”

“Epistles, not the Gospels.”

Hands on hips, head swiveling back, Quentin blew air through his lips, fbbbbbbt. “Aidan will always have my love. I told him that, after… we finished praying.”

Ven listened to the rain pounding on the bay window. He felt their conversation had reached its end, further words would only recycle their tiresome argument. He began searching his mind for a reason to excuse himself — something he left in the van, an errand he suddenly remembered — when Quentin’s ringtone interrupted the awkward silence. Quentin answered the call immediately, like a prison guard anticipating a pardon from the governor; Ven retreated to the living room, and after moving a box from the seat of his cushioned chair, sat and watched the rain.

Helping Hands, Part 9

“Aidan.” Quentin’s voice was distant, his mind engaged in recalling the face for that name. “I haven’t… how is he?”

Ven drew in his breath. “He’s fine, really. And he really did want to help today. But then, I said you’d be here.”

A torrent of rain assaulted the bay window, the percussive impact drowning all sound in the apartment. Feeling Quentin approach, Ven stood up, and turned, to see Quentin’s palms raised towards him.

“We weren’t trying to hurt — ”

“Maybe not, but that’s what you did anyway.”

Quentin blinked, biting his lower lip. “Ven, when you love someone — truly love them — that means you sometimes have to say things, they don’t want to hear.”

“Did you call him a Sodomite?”

Quentin’s face reddened. “I… would not — ”

“But others did, yes? Aidan told me he was kneeling, begging you and the other Elders to just listen to him a moment. But you wouldn’t let him talk — ”

“We were praying, Ven! That’s what the Lord commands us to do, Ven, to seek his wisdom — ”

“What kind of wisdom were you lacking?” His arms raised over his head, Ven closed in on Quentin. “Aidan was confused and scared, it should have been obvious to anyone that he needed to know he wasn’t alone.” He stopped, bringing his arms down. “But that’s exactly what you did, you forced him to remain kneeling and then put your hands on him — ”

“Like we do every time we ask for God’s healing.” Quentin shook his head dismissively.

Ven glanced to his right, then back up. “He couldn’t move, Quentin. He was surrounded, with all these hands pressing down on him. He said it felt like you were pushing him away.”

Friday Fictioneers: 30 Minutes or Less

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

The gate at the end of the driveway was locked, no intercom in sight. Balancing the insulated pizza delivery box on his left hand, Gabe checked the address on the receipt against the brass plaque embedded in the stone column. He nodded.

Gabe walked left, looking for any activity beyond the iron gate. Barren trees and a lawn anxious for spring formed a moat around the lifeless house.

He shrugged, and began walking back to his car — then stopped, hearing the voice behind him.

“You’re on time.” Gabe turned, and saw an elderly man, well-dressed, extending a wad of bills.

Every week, Rochelle Wisof-Fields hosts Friday Fictinoneers, where the objective is to write a complete story in 100 words or less in response to a photograph. I encourage you to learn more about Friday Fictioneers and view other responses to this week’s prompt by clicking the little blue frog.

Helping Hands, Part 8

Ven’s footfalls echoed in his new apartment as he re-entered. Quentin called from the bathroom, “Mind if I unpack the box in here? Looking for soap, and a towel.”

“Go for it. Should be in there.” Ven’s answer was swiftly followed by the sound of packing tape ripping from cardboard. The young man kept walking into the apartment’s living room, which returned fewer echoes now that the furniture, boxes, and moving crates had been delivered. He navigated through the towers of his possessions to a large bay window.

Large drops of rain began falling, and splattering against the window. The predicted front had arrived, and looked to be a typical spring storm, swift but violent. The large splattering drops suddenly gave way to a steady torrential drumbeat, and by the time Ven heard Quentin open the bathroom door, the downpour had become an enormous gray curtain, as loud as it was opaque.

“Bonnie and the children should have made it to the car before it started coming.” Ven nodded in response to Quentin, then lowered his eyes and placed his hands wide on the window sill.

“Putting your bed frame together’s a two-person job. We could probably get that done before they return.”

“Good idea.” Head bowed, hands remaining on the sill, Ven closed his eyes. Promise me, that you’ll talk to Quentin.

“So, why don’t we — ”

“Aidan volunteered to help me today.” After he spoke, Ven’s eyes opened.

Honest Truth

I’ve written a number of times about The Manic Years, where Megan relates her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. While the blog started as Megan’s therapy assignment, she has transformed it into a platform for discussing mental health issues. Megan actively solicits and posts stories from other writers about their own emotional struggles — she encourages each contributor to believe “that your experience will touch someone else’s life.”

I believe in what Megan’s doing over at The Manic Years, and have therefore decided to contribute my own story to her blog. It’s not a terribly dramatic story, nor is it particularly insightful. I didn’t try to be brilliant, didn’t try to shock, didn’t pretend that I knew how to “fix” any particular ailment. In keeping with the spirit of Megan’s blog, I wrote the truth about my experience, with as much honesty as I could muster. 

Helping Hands, Part 7

Nicholas was waiting outside the door of Ven’s new apartment. He stood tall, his freckled face beaming with pride. “Momma and me, we get all the boxes put away!”

Mother and I.” Quentin’s didactic response wiped his son’s enthusiasm away.

Bonnie-B appeared in the doorway, her son stepping aside for her, just before Ven arrived. She laid a gentle hand on Nicholas’ shoulder, as she looked at Ven. “We were wondering, since we’re done so early with the move, whether we should help you get started unpacking all your possessions.”

Ven sighed, and realized he was standing literally in the middle of the Richardson family, Bonnie-B and Nicholas in front of him, Quentin and Hannah behind. And it occurred to his actively curious mind how he was also in the middle of a life transition, no longer living in his college-town apartment where he would still be paying rent, but not quite living in his new dwelling in the city.

The young man cleared his throat. “Thanks, but I can’t ask for anything more of you. You have your own home, your own lives — I’ll be fine, really.” He looked down at Nicholas’ disappointed face, and raised his eyebrows. “But I did say I’d buy lunch for everyone, right?”

The Richardson children erupted with delight, and soon Bonnie-B, equipped with a pen from Quentin’s vest pocket and the back of an envelope from a utility bill Ven recovered from his backpack, was writing down everyone’s sandwich order. Quentin excused himself to use the bathroom, and the children raced to the elevator, leaving Ven and Bonnie-B alone a moment outside the apartment door.

Ven began retrieving bills from his wallet. “This should more than enough, even with drinks. They’ve got bottled iced tea, I like — ”

“Honey ginger, if I recall.” Ven looked up at Bonnie-B, expecting a smile of recognition. The sadness he saw in her face came almost as a shock to him.

“Ven.” From his new bathroom, Ven heard the toilet flush. “Promise me, that you’ll talk to Quentin.”

Ven opened his mouth to ask what they should discuss, but stopped at the silent command of her gaze, telling him that he already knew.

“I will.” And on hearing Ven’s words, Bonnie-B smiled, then touched his cheek. For a moment, Ven thought she was about to kiss him, but then she lowered her hand, excused herself, and walked towards her children waiting at the elevator.

Helping Hands, Part 6

Ven’s new apartment was on the seventh floor of a building that, while hardly new, had the benefit of being equipped with elevators. Ven drove to the rear lot, then backed the vehicle near a wide service door which lead to the building’s freight elevator. The Richardson children found more ways to assist (holding doors, using a cart provided by maintenance to transport heavy boxes), and unloading the van proved to run more smoothly and swiftly than had loading. After sending the final cartload up the freight elevator with Nicholas and Bonnie-B, Ven went back to the van and parked on the street outside the building. Exiting the vehicle, he glanced at the time on his phone — three minutes past one. Not too late to order out for lunch, and far too early to accept the Richardson’s dinner invitation.
Quentin and Hannah were inside the building’s glass-enclosed entry hall as Ven approached. Hannah was sitting quietly on a wooden bench, while Quentin stood tall, hands on his hips, his face beaming with satisfaction. He showed no sign of fatigue, which Ven found frustrating because the move had been physically taxing for him, despite taking less time than expected. Ven had been a cross-country runner in high school, and had retained his cardio-vascular endurance, but he also had the lithe upper body of a long-distance runner, which made lifting heavy boxes and bulky furniture a challenge for the young man. As he opened the building’s front door to Quentin’s effortless smile, Ven realized the armpits and collar of his t-shirt were damp with sweat, and his lower back ached. 

“Your efficiency is admirable.” As usual, there was no hint of irony in Quentn’s voice.

Ven pointed at Hannah. “You and your brother made it look easy!”

“It was.” Hannah bounced up from the bench as Ven and Quentin shared a laugh. The three then entered an elevator car, headed for the seventh floor.

From the corner of his vision, Ven saw Quentin tap Hannah’s upper arm, then nod as she looked up at him. Ven kept his eyes forward, pretending not to see their subtle exchange. The girl then turned to Ven — “Can you come to our house for lunch?”

Ven acted surprised. “Oh — thank you, that’s very sweet. But as you’re well aware, I’ve gotta whole lotta unpacking ahead of me.”

“The boxes can wait.” Quentin’s commanding voice reverberated in the small compartment, and Ven could feel his cold glare bearing down on him. He looked over, then up, to catch Quentin’s eyes.

“But I choose not to.”

The elevator door opened, but for a moment none of its occupants moved. Ven and Quentin stared at each other, refusing to blink, as Hannah remained still. The doors began to close, and Ven shot his arm forward without breaking his stare. Then, smiling softly, he looked down at Hannah. “After you.”

Helping Hands, Part 5

The rental van passed two stoplights, then came to a stop at a third. The silence at the front of the vehicle had stretched too long for Ven’s comfort, so Ven asked where the other Richardson children were this day.

“Penny and Truman are with the Perry’s.” Chris Perry’s face was a field of freckles; she was five, near the same age as the two younger Richardson children. “Quentin knew they wouldn’t be able to help much with the move, so he thought it best to keep them away.”

“I see.” The traffic light turned green, and the van lurched forward. “Tell them I said hi.”

“Of course.” Bonnie-B glanced out the side window, then back at Ven. “You could come over, after we’re done. Have dinner with us.”

Ven kept his eyes focused on the traffic ahead of him. The yellow sedan in front of him flicked its signal to turn right; they were travelling on a state route, two lanes in either direction with a center lane for left turns. Ven glanced at the side mirror, and saw no approaching vehicle; after a quick glance at the blind spot, he then maneuvered around the sedan, and continued travelling south.

“How does that sound?”

Upon hearing Bonnie-B’s question, Ven nearly apologized, but then his memory recalled her offer. He shook his head. “Sorry, I really want to get settled in to my new place tonight. Maybe some other time.”

“I understand.” They drove past a few more stoplights in silence, and Ven wondered if his refusal had offended Bonnie-B into silence. But to his relief, she then asked how his new job was working out.

“Fine. There’s a lot to learn, but the company’s got a good program for new employees. I’m pretty excited, actually.”

“Praise the Lord.” Ven opened his mouth, but Bonnie-B continued before he could reply. “Ven, I’m glad to see you chase this new opportunity, but I pray this doesn’t also mean you’ll be running away from us. We’ve only known you a few years, Ven, but you’re already like family to us. The children look up to you like the uncle they’ve never had. And I’ve seen how glad you’ve been around them. Even… ” She cleared her throat, and then continued softly. “Even these past few weeks.”

When she finished, Ven realized he was clenching his teeth. The van approached the street for his new apartment, and Ven flipped the turn signal, ca-click ca-click, the van stopping for a line of oncoming traffic. Ven bit his lower lip — “Hannah used to call Aidan her uncle, as well.”

ca-click, ca-click

The line of traffic passed, and the van then carried its silent passengers down to Ven’s new apartment building. 

Helping Hands, Part 4

Ven led the Richardsons through the front door of his apartment building. Hannah and Nicholas immediately raced up the stairs, then stopped and turned back on reaching the landing. Hannah called down — “Where do we go?”

“Third floor. Apartment 32, first door on the left. It’s open.” The children then raced away, leaving their parents and Ven to their slow ascent. The building had been erected without an elevator in the 1950s, and since it housed university students and recent graduates almost exclusively, no thought had ever been given to installing one to relieve the burden on its fresh-legged tenants.

Quentin, whose legs were too long to ascend a single step comfortably, began climbing two steps with each stride. Ven held back his own pace to stay with Bonnie-B, who asked if he was excited for the move.

“Relieved, more than anything else.” As they reached the second floor, a popular song with a rousing beat blared from an apartment down the hall. “Feel like I’ve been living out of boxes the last few days. Just want to get this over with.”

“Patience, Ven.” The young man always appreciated the calming sound of Bonnie-B’s voice. “You’ll be there soon enough. Try to live in the moment.” Ven returned her energetic smile, and for the first time that day was glad to have the Richardson’s assistance. He then looked up the final set of stairs, and saw Hannah, her short arms under the banker’s box that contained his few kitchen utensils. Her eyes were only slightly above the box’s lid, and her right foot was reaching blindly and with hesitation for the first step down.

“Whoa there!” Ven raced up the steps, and placed a hand on the front of the box. “Grab it by the handles, so you can see where you’re going.” He took the box from her, and demonstrated how to hold the box to give a clear view of her feet. Quentin then came, carrying three large boxes of books, each nearly too heavy for Ven to carry himself; father and daughter then began descending the stairs together, as Ven entered his apartment with Bonnie-B and Nicholas.

The boxes and crates were cleared from the apartment in three trips. The lightest containers were removed after the second, so Hannah was assigned guard duty outside the van as her family and Ven went up for the last run. Bonnie-B and Nicholas took down a pair of end tables and lamps, and were then relieved of further furniture duty. Ven struggled to keep up with Quentin as they moved the larger furniture down the narrow stairwells. Quentin’s remarkable strength and stamina, the qualities that made him a holy terror during touch football games at fellowship retreats, were on full display, and on many occassions Ven was convinced time would be saved by having Quentin do the work himself. Only his sense of responsibilty kept Ven from making that suggestion.

When the final piece of furniture (a futon Ven had purchased at a yard sale back in the fall) came down, a steady wind had begun, and clouds were forming overhead; the storm that Ven had heard in the forecast appeared on its way. The apartment now empty, Quentin then supervised the loading of the rental van, displaying the management and organizaitonal skills he had honed as a structural engineer. “Get the furniture and bulkier items into the van first — weight doesn’t matter. Now get the book boxes in, on the floor. Ven, where are those moving blankets I told you to ask for? Pack things in tight, don’t leave any space for stuff to slide around. Don’t leave anything fragile outside a box, if someone has to carry it on their lap that’ll be fine.” His tone was cool and commanding, his advice ever practical if not always easy to follow.

When Quentin closed the twin doors at the rear of the van, Ven glanced at his phone. Eighteen minutes before noon — they were far ahead of his most optimistic estimate. He was now definitely glad the Richardsons had come.

A sudden gust then swept across Ven’s face, and a raindrop fell on his forehead. He suggested they break for lunch, but Quentin dismissed the suggestion. “Let’s get you moved in to your new place, before the rain starts. Bonnie-B fixed us a big breakfast this morning, we’ll be fine with a late lunch.” Ven had barely eaten that morning, but the prospect of getting to his new place, and to avoid the weather, was more enticing than his hunger.

Nicholas looked up at his father. “Can I ride with Ven?” Ven flashed an approving smile at Quentin, but was met with a frown. “There’s no room in the back, and you’re not old enough to ride in the front.”

“I’ll ride with him.” Bonnie-B’s suprise offer surprised Ven, yet the idea instantly appealed to him. A moment later, he was behind the wheel with Bonnie-B in the passenger seat of the rental, followed by the Richardson’s sedan, as they headed south, away from the quiet college town where Ven had lived the past six years, into the city.