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WITHOUT REGARD TO FORTUNE
By Evan Scollard
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Evan Scollard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs seconds tick away in their usual manner, some men impregnate the time with life, while others evade the clock's constant movement forward and cling desperately to the moment—however meaningless that moment may be. They fill their time with things they are supposed to enjoy, or that they even think they love. But a small minority of men live in routines, preventing any chance at the self-discovery that comes with organic and unplanned interactions. Those are the men that hate the clock most.
Miles shoved the pillow over his head, trying unsuccessfully to escape the incessant buzzing. Giving up, he rubbed his tired eyes and reached for the alarm. He lingered in the mess of sheets for a moment longer, before forcing himself out of the bed and in the direction of his dresser.
He stumbled through the dissipating darkness. The warmth of his bed beckoned him back to sleep as he pulled open a drawer and sifted through his clothes. Inviting more light into the room, he pulled back the shades and dredged through the morning sun's opulence.
He yawned and stretched until he shuddered. Still fighting grogginess, he fumbled into his slacks and felt around the cluttered floor for a belt. He found on by his nightstand and pulled it tight around his waist. Sitting back down, he eased his feet into a pair of socks. The mattress gloved his body and tempted him to lie back down, but he pushed himself up and into loafers.
Rummaging through his closet, he pulled a starched white shirt from its hanger and smoothed away the wrinkles. Quickening his pace, he picked out a navy blue tie and a tweed coat, throwing both over his shoulder.
He buttoned his shirt down and tucked it in as he visually checked over the contents of his desk. After noosing the tie around his neck, he grabbed the few books he deemed necessary and hustled out of his bedroom. He lost traction on the hardwood floor until he nearly fell. Catching himself, only barely, he whirled around the corner and towards the staircase.
As he descended, the feathery aroma of age-old architecture disappeared, replaced by wafts of breakfast. Walking into the kitchen, he lifted his gaze to greet the morning with timid readiness.
Stirring a stalk of celery through a Bloody Mary, his mother sat, focused intently on the magazine spread out before her and talking with her daughter. She pushed her hair aside, revealing a face that was once beautiful, but now mapped with age spots and hidden beneath a fictional complexion.
He saw what was before him, but had no discernable surprise. It was all a matter of routine and Miles had become quite familiar with it. But still, he made daily attempts to shorten the distance between himself and his mother. She acknowledged his attempts, but acknowledgment does nothing in the way of solutions.
In her youth, intimate connections were unknown to her. In fact, the only thing that reduced her to marriage was her fiancé's immense wealth. Beauty, however, faded—as it is apt to do—and the relationship lost its only buoyant force. But social convention demanded they remain together, and they obeyed—only partially for the sake of their son.
Rousing his mother from her drink, Miles cleared his throat. She turned her melancholy eyes and paradoxical smile to him. He ducked his head and played with his tie. Standing up, she moved his hands away and fixed the crooked knot herself.
"Claire," she called out, firming her tone.
The housekeeper scurried over, carrying a steaming plate. Placing it down, she backed away, not hearing Miles' quiet thanks. Helen took the celery stalk from her glass and sipped decisively.
"Interesting to think that you'll be out of my nest soon," she mused, void of any tangible emotion.
"Mum, I am still going to be here for the summer. And what if I go to school around here. I could just commute every morning and never have to leave you," He teased.
She smiled and pushed the plate towards him. The same smile that he knew. She stared at his face, a few days unshaven.
"Did you hear me?" he asked, pulling his mother out of her thoughts. "I'm sorry honey, what?" Still watching her, he picked the plate up off the table and gorged himself from a standing position.
Trying as hard as he could not to roll his eyes, he repeated himself, "I said that I'm leaving now."
"Ok Miles, drive safe. I am going out to eat with your aunt tonight, so your father will be here when you get home."
He nodded as he shoveled the remainder of the meal into his mouth and placed the plate into the sink, before picking his books and jacket back up.
"See you later Sarah," he whispered to his sister, who had been quiet with sleepiness until now.
"See you bud," she winked.
Still tired, he swung the door shut and rushed over to his car, leaving Helen alone in the dead kitchen. She let out a sigh and searched through her purse until she found her pack of cigarettes. Peering through the window, she watched her child transfer his books from one arm to another in an attempt to free a hand. She lit a cigarette and inhaled gently, staining the filter with lipstick.
Outside the house, Miles pulled the huge wooden doors open and stepped into the darkness. He pulled the key from his pocket shoved it into the slot of his sedan, unlocking the door.
He threw his books and sports coat into the back seat before disengaging the parking brake and starting the car. Feathering the clutch, he backed the car out of the detached garage and traveled down the lengthy driveway. Birds crowned the tree, shrieking their morning tune as the cobblestone disappeared beneath his tires. He turned quickly onto his street and sped in the direction of the highway. His eyes darted between the road and the controls as he tuned through the radio stations.
He kept an eye on the clock, begging it to slow. Shear, smooth power ran through the engine as he shifted through its highest gears. Slowing only slightly, he eased onto an off-ramp and off of the highway. He caught the first traffic light, just barely, and turned left onto a wooded back road. After a few hundred feet, the sprawling campus unfolded around him.
Back in first gear, Miles whined into the foremost parking lot and squeezed the car into his normal spot. He reached into the back and grabbed his books and coat, knocking a few loose pens to the floor. Stepping out with his arms full, he used the heel of his shoe to shut the heavy door.
He walked by Benjamin Hall's magnificent façade, desensitized to its beauty. River Hill Prep School had been home to him for four years, and with graduation looming in the near future, the days
seemed to go by at double the pace. High school as a whole had gone by without much fanfare. He never had many close friends, but he was well regarded by everyone—the product of consistent introversion. The all-male student body proved to be an excellent atmosphere for Miles. Teenage boys, awkwardly journeying into manhood, were naturally attracted to his unassuming temperament.
As he slouched through the main entrance, he passed off a quick nod to a passing classmate, and host of tardy students piled in behind him. They cursed at the hour and their exhaustion, and ran off to their respective classes. Trying in vain to escape a similar fate, he slid into his first-period room and strew his books across the desk.
"Late, Mr. Carlyn," the teacher called out from behind a stack of papers.
"Well, I –" Miles protested, only to be cut off.
"Your punctuality isn't a matter of debate."
He accepted defeat readily, and nodded subserviently.
The teacher, decked in plaid and stripes, took the victory in stride and returned to his paper, scouring them with a pen. Miles' chest heaved with an inaudible sigh. Head down, he poured over his notes in an attempt to avoid any possibility of eye contact.
With similar dynamics, the rest of his classes went by. His clumsy demeanor was routinely mistaken for apathy, and most teachers laid down a barbed remark, or at least managed to slip in a disapproving look. His only redeeming feature, to the educators, was the meticulous care he paid his academic work. Bordering on compulsion, his scholarly nature was exclusively his own. Every page in his father's library was worn and bent—studied intently by both father and son.
But Miles' intellectual wants extended beyond the confines of his high school studies. No subject failed to capture his earnest. He stacked his own bookshelves with literature pertaining to history, European affairs, botany, languages, cultures, chemistry, anything to appease his mindful appetite.
No one knew Miles—they knew only the pattern of behavior that existed long enough to be mistaken for personality. His outward appearance dictated character and he repressed himself enough to prevent ever having the inverse.
After an hour or two spent in the library, Miles escaped to his car and made for home. Traffic being relatively light, he enjoyed a short trip back to his dark, vacated residence. He forged his mother's name onto a check and paid Claire for the week before she returned to the laundry.
A lonely stretch of time passed while he scratched pen against paper, hoping to finish his work before sundown. As he shifted through his short stack of schoolwork, the sound of tires on cobblestone shook the focus from his mind. Tucking the pen behind his ear, he stood and nonchalantly cleared the table, readying the space.
Uncharacteristically sure of his actions, he sped through the foyer and out the door, into the driveway. His mother's car rested before him, idling gently. Coming to the driver's side, he pulled open the door and reached inside to turn off the ignition.
"Miles, I need space," Helen slurred as he pulled out the key.
He smiled patiently and brought his arm around her back. "Okay mum. Let's go inside so you can rest."
Understanding, she nodded in an irregular, sloppy motion. He pried the glass from her right hand and gingerly fit it into the cup holder. It had the country club's emblem splayed across the crystal and contained the remains of her whiskey. She offered no resistance as he lifted her from the seat and carried her into the house.
As he had a thousand times before, son laid mother down in her bed and wiped the spittle from the side of her face. He pushed a pillow beneath her, propped her head up, and carefully pulled off her sunglasses. Following the same pattern, he removed her jewelry, earrings, and shoes, laying them in a neat pile on her nightstand. He pulled the covers over her limp shell and crouched beside her.
Unlike a movie villain, who is always captured in the most obvious guilt, Helen's came in shades of uncertainty. He knew this was hardly normal, but not indictable. The devilish grasp she had on her son was indisputable, but far beyond his perspective.
Leaning back on his haunches, he whispered, "Goodnight mum, I'll have Claire send up some food in a bit."
By now incapacitated, she showed no signs of answering, so Miles laid a kiss on her tired brow and stood to leave. Just as gently, he turned off the lights and closed her door. He kept his footsteps muted as descended the stairs and returned to his unfinished work.
Chapter TwoAs cycles often do, Miles' routine repeated itself day in and day out. With sullen acceptance, he pushed himself through each week without much protest. Monday morning soon came, prodding him back into that miserable humdrum. And again, he was off to school with a signature disregard to punctuality.
The ride to school was just as hurried as the countless ones preceding it. For all the times he'd arrived late, it never stopped bothering him. Labeled careless by the faculty, he really was anything but. Arriving tardy always left him feeling disappointed with himself, but he lacked any of the discipline needed to change.
With that aching disappointment drumming in chest, he pulled the car into his spot and ran out of it. Quickly, he turned back, realizing that he had left the motor running. He shook his head in raw embarrassment, hoping no one saw. Knowing that they must have, he grabbed his things and hurried off clumsily. He ran up the side entrance steps and juggled the books in a comical attempt to put on his blazer.
The myriad of students gathered in the lobby surprised Miles as he consulted his wristwatch and saw that everyone should be in class by now. Dr. Theolonis came strolling out of the main office, bellowing, "First period class has begun gentlemen. I want everyone where he is supposed to be. Now."
The short, stout administrator stood formidably in the center of the room, watching silently as the young men began to disperse, leaving Miles, who realized that he had a scheduled free period. Standing in the vacated room, he moved towards the tables that his classmates had been swarming. He pushed tentatively forward, taking each step with caution.
Five tables sat in the timid morning sunlight, each representing a branch of the military—Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and the Marines. He remained a fair distance away—unsure of what to do, where to go. He moved a step closer.
As he glanced over the rest of the displays, which included pamphlets, posters, and collage boards, his peripheral vision picked up on a graying man, draped in Marine regalia, staring at him. At first, Miles tried to ignore his gaze, but found it impossible and finally looked up. The moment they locked eyes, he felt bound to approach the man. He searched desperately for the opportunity to leave. The heat of the watchful eyes intensified as Miles began to perspire. Every part of him desired to leave and escape the attention. Still, they'd entered into an unspoken social convention. Miles was alone with a salesman and he had acknowledged the man's presence.
He prolonged the encounter, taking a moment to absorb all of the medals on the man's chest, not sure how he could have earned so many in a career. Now he felt embarrassed to be wearing his simple civilian clothes.
"How ya' doing today, son?" asked the recruiter, bearing a crooked smile.
"I'm fine," Miles answered, uncomfortably. "Uh, you?"
Without hesitation, he continued his basic inquiry, "What's your name?" he asked, extending a hand.
Miles reciprocated, making a point to keep his handshake firm. "Miles," he answered, clearing his throat slightly.
"Ok Miles boy, where're you from?"
"I live over in Andover, it's about 25 minutes away."
The man was busy pulling two folding chairs abreast of the table, and Miles wondered if he had spoken loud enough to hear. Just as he was about to repeat himself, the recruiter lifted his head and said, "Oh sure, Andover's a fine town. I guess it keeps you from boarding," he joked. Miles laughed polity, but failed to see the humor.
The man's hair bobbed as he beckoned with his chin for the two to sit down, looking like a thin helmet. His skin was weathered by a life of exhaustion and his eyes sunken from bearing witness to worlds of atrocity. But the corners of his mouth were creased into a permanent smile that kept sorrow from his lips,
Not sure how to continue, Miles remained silent and waited for another round of questions. The recruiter leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees, and began talking again.
"Excuse me, I completely forgot to introduce myself," he laughed, "I'm Sergeant Kevin Blackwell, and I've been a Marine for 20 years now. You see, the Corps sends me out to schools once in a while so I can tell you guys all about the military."
Blackwell avoided the fact that he was a recruiter, a man paid to sign young men up for the military. Seeing that he had 55 minutes at his disposal, Miles felt far too frightened to leave him while he still had more to say, so he was left to entertain the tired Marine's pitch.
Awkwardly forcing a smile, he asked, "Well, what should I know?
After thinking for a moment, Blackwell responded, "Well, how would you like to see the world?"
Miles' smile slowly faded as he considered the real implications of military service. Pulling confidence from some recess of his body, he asked wryly, "Don't you mean Vietnam?"
"Well, who says you would be going to Vietnam," asked Blackwell, looking genuinely surprised.
"I have a few friends that joined, that is where they all went," Miles countered, returning to the safety of his sheepish demeanor.
Sounding as though he was relaying common knowledge, the recruiter boomed through a grin, "Miles! You're a scholarly gentleman—you must be if you are here at a school like this. The Marines will set you up with assignments of your caliber, the same type of work that you would be doing in the private sector. The only difference is that you are doing it for your Uncle Sam. Sure, there will be a bit of a pay difference, but we are in a war, everyone is making sacrifices. And with the draft coming up, isn't it better to be in control of your service?"
Excerpted from WITHOUT REGARD TO FORTUNE by Evan Scollard Copyright © 2012 by Evan Scollard. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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