Titus Schillings was tired. He was only thirty-four, but he felt at least ten years older. Twenty on a bad day. Physically, he was the picture of perfect health. Tall and lean, he was a natural runner. In high school, he had ran cross country. Now, he ran every morning before work on the shoulder of the road that ran along the banks of Little River. And yet, most days, by the time he got home from work, he felt like he had been dragging the weight of the world around all day.
Titus moved about the kitchen of his small, Craftsman-style home. He hated that he was still living in the town he grew up in, but he loved his house. He had never intended to come back to Little River after grad school, but after his brother-in-law died almost seven years earlier, he felt like he had to stay and help his sister with her four sons. Annie wasn’t well, that much was obvious. So, every morning, he made the forty-five minute commute to work, and every evening, fighting rush hour traffic, it took him nearly an hour to get back home. His commute home was the reason for his bad mood as he prepared dinner for himself and a couple friends who were coming over.
As Titus was setting the table, he heard a knock on the door. Before he had time to respond, the door opened and Grace, his best friend since high school, walked in carrying a bottle of wine and a store-bought cheesecake.
“I brought dessert.” Grace said, as she gave Titus a peck on the cheek.
“Awesome.” Titus reached for the bottle of wine. “More importantly, you brought booze.”
“What happened?” Grace rummaged through a drawer, looking for the corkscrew.
“Just a bad day.” Titus stirred the pasta, and then turned to look at his friend. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And then there was an accident on the Interstate on the way home. Traffic was backed up for two miles. I just got home a little while ago.”
“When are you going to just move to Knoxville?” Grace asked as she offered the glass of wine she had just poured to Titus.
He accepted the glass with a sigh, and took a sip. “You know I can’t, Grace.”
“You could if you weren’t such a good guy.”
“Annie needs my help.” Titus ran his hand through his thick, sandy blond hair, causing it to stand on end. “And the boys need me.”
“Your siblings could help out, you know. Annie’s their sister, too. And your parents, for that matter. Why don’t they do more?”
“They help with money.” Titus shrugged. “And they’re not that great with the boys.”
“And your brother and sister?” Grace challenged.
“They’re both busy with their own families.” Titus moved the food from the stove to the table, and checked his watch. “Where’s Brady?”
Grace shrugged and ignored his question. “Maybe if your brother and sister helped more with Annie and the boys, you could have a family.”
This time, Titus ignored her. Refilling his wine glass that he had quickly drained, he said, “I think I hear Brady’s truck.”
Brady Bowers didn’t even bother with the perfunctory knock. He just walked right in, saying, “Sorry I’m late, Man.”
“It’s okay.” Titus said with a smile. “I just got everything on the table. And you just saved me from Grace nagging me to death.”
“Hey!” Grace held up her hands defensively. “I’m just trying to look out for you, since you won’t look out for yourself.”
Brady narrowed his eyes, but appeared to decide not to ask questions. He pulled out a chair, and sat down, leaning back on two legs. He nodded to the wine bottle, “Can I have some of that?”
Titus handed him the bottle, and then he and Grace sat down as Brady filled his glass to the top.
“I guess I should have brought two.” Grace said, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
Titus’ two best friends had maintained a love/hate relationship since they were all three in high school together. They had both mellowed a lot toward each other over the years, but they were always picking on each other.
Ignoring Grace’s comment about the wine, Brady said, “Guess who I just ran into?”
“Who?” Titus asked at the same time Grace said, “A woman, I presume.”
“Not just any woman.” Brady grinned. “Sexy Lexi.”
“Lexi Jones?” Titus raised an eyebrow.
“Dear Lord!” Grace rolled her eyes. “Is she back in town?”
“Yes.” Brady nodded his head dramatically. “Yes, she is.”
“Give it up, Man.” Titus laughed. “She turned you down practically every day in high school. You need to let the dream die.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong, my friend.” Brady was clearly enjoying himself. “Lexi was very happy to run into me. She said so. And…” Brady paused to make sure they were both paying attention. “We’re going out for drinks Friday night.”
“Seriously?” Grace was so surprised she forgot to look disgusted.
Brady was about to say something when he was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Is that Jamie?”
As Titus pushed back his chair and stood up, he shook his head and said, “No. He had to work late. He’s not coming.”
“Then who is it?”
Titus just shrugged, and walked across the room to the door. When he opened it, there were two young guys in polo shirts and khaki pants who looked to be in their early twenties standing on his front porch. “Can I help you?”
The guy who had knocked on the door was short and stocky, with short brown hair and thick, plastic glasses that didn’t seem to match the rest of his look. He held out his hand to Titus, who warily shook it. “I’m Jordan and this is Kyle. We’re from First Baptist. We just wanted to invite you to a special meeting we’re having next week. We are having an evangelist from Louisiana named…”
Titus held up his hand and cut the guy off in the middle of his speech. “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”
Not to be deterred, Jordan asked, “Do you have a home church?”
“No, I don’t go to church.” Titus responded with uncharacteristic bluntness.
“Well, we would love to have you anytime, not just in our meeting next week.” Jordan didn’t seem at all ready to leave, and his buddy Kyle was smiling and nodding enthusiastically behind him.
“Thanks, but I don’t think so.” Titus was trying to shut the door, but Jordan had stepped forward and was slightly blocking it. Titus hated being rude, so he just stood there.
“I really think you would like our church if you were to give it a try.”
Titus was shaking his head, but Jordan didn’t give him a chance to speak.
“We have a really great pastor. His name is Jonathan Schillings, and everyone really likes him. He’s a great preacher, and he’s got a real passion for reaching Little River for the Lord.” Jordan didn’t even pause long enough to take a breath. “He’s a younger man, probably about your age.” Jordan squinted his eyes behind his thick glasses, as if he just saw something about Titus that he hadn’t noticed before. “You know, you kind of remind me of him.”
“Yeah.” Titus said dryly. “I get that a lot. He’s my brother.”
For the first time since the door was opened, Jordan was at a loss for words. He stepped back, and Titus took that opportunity to close the door. “Thanks anyway.” He said softly.
As Titus retreated back to the dining room, Grace tried to hide a smile, and asked, “More wine?”
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.