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He sits on his sofa, in a small living room, within a meager one bedroom apartment. Not in a relaxed position. On edge. He sits there pondering death. Holding his loaded .38 revolver in his right hand and an unlit cigarette in his left, between his fingers, as if he were about to light it.
His thoughts take him back to when he was a child. A wry smile forms on his face when he thinks of his parents and their sense of humor. His birth certificate reads his name as Average Joe Public. Born to James and Janice Public. His whole life people called him A.J. Teachers; employers, and acquaintances were not privy to what the A and the J stood for. He appreciated that. Only two close friends and the two women he loved, knew the true meaning of A.J.
Ironically A.J. never saw himself as average. Now, at the age of 40, he realizes average is all most can ever hope for. Mediocrity is an actual accepted level of achievement.
He sets the .38 on the coffee table and lights the cigarette. Sits back on the sofa, takes a long drag of the cigarette, closes his eyes and replays the day his parents died in his mind.
He was 14. Like many of the kids in his neighborhood, he hadn't a care in the world. The houses in his community were humble. Two and three bedroom homes. Most of which were occupied by working class families. James Public worked as a restaurant manager. Janice Public supplemented the family’s income as a child daycare worker. They were not wealthy by any measure. James and Janice bickered frequently about finances. A.J. can't recall any other topic that was discussed so heatedly.
A.J. was at the park, playing basketball with his friends.
On the couch with eyes still closed, he places the cigarette between his lips, holding it in the corner of his mouth. His mind recalls the shots he was making that day on the court. He raises his arms, pantomiming shooting the ball. He opens his eyes. Sits up suddenly. Flicks the ashes on the tip of his cigarette into the ashtray. Takes a big drag and picks up the .38 again. He places the barrel against his temple. Closes his eyes. Sighs.
He saw a lady running toward the court. He recognized her. It was Bobby's mother. Bobby and A.J. had been friends since pre-school. She was like a second mom to him. He noticed that she wasn't smiling. In fact, her face... He will never forget that face.
His phone rings. A.J. simultaneously opens his eyes and sets the loaded .38 on the coffee table, the safety still engaged. A single tear rolls down his cheek from each eye. He looks at the caller ID. It's Bobby. Wipes his tears. Sniffles. Wipes the snot from the end of his nose with his sleeve.
I haven't heard from him in months, A.J. thinks to himself.
He reaches and crushes the cigarette out in the ashtray. Lifts the phone to his ear.
Straighten up. Don't let on that anything is wrong!
Bobby and A.J. were inseparable until that fateful day. Over the years they had become more acquaintances than friends. Once they became adults they did meet once a year for drinks and catch up. Amazingly in twenty years, this meeting was only missed by either of them once.
"It's that time of year again buddy," Bobby exclaims. "I will be coming to town to do the family thing for Christmas. I will be in town through New Year's Eve. We should get together between. Any new drinking holes with good beer?"
"Actually, I do not plan on being in town for the holidays Bobby. Sorry man."
"Where are you going?” Bobby inquired. "Someplace sunny and warm I hope!"
A.J. picks up the .38 with his left hand, still holding the phone to his ear. Clicks off the safety and places the barrel to his temple, whispers to Bobby, "I am going to be with MY family."
"A.J.! What the fuck! I think A.J. just shot himself! Oh my god! Call 911! A.J.? A.J.?"