"Thanks for the threads, Ben," Donny says.
"Don't mention it, Donny. You'll need nicer clothes if we're gonna be doing business together."
Donny looks perplexed. "Whattya mean?" he asks.
"I'm gonna give you a second chance," Ben says, "and I want you to work with me."
Donny casts his eyes downward. The newly-given shirt is a nice polo design, with blue stripes across grey. It is nicer than anything Donny currently wears, or owns. Donny does not deserve it.
"Are you sure?" Donny asks meekly, "I just started on the methadone. There's no telling what the future will bring."
"I've got no choice," Ben replies, "I've gotta inject some life into this dying business. I need help."
Donny smiles. Inject? What a choice word to use. Subconsciously, Ben must be already contemplating his decision. Donny had been the one to ask for assistance first. Now it was Ben's turn to ask for help.
"Ok," Donny says, "but I still think Greg would be a better candidate."
Ben pulls out his cell phone.
"I think so, too," Ben says, as he scrolls through the contacts in his phone, "that's why I want you to call him now."
Donny's throat clamps shut. His palms are clammy, as nervousness envelopes him.
"Y--you want me to call him?!?!" Donny exclaims, "the dude is gonna rip my head off, and rightfully so!!"
"Part of the twelve step program, which I want you to start attending, by the way," Ben says, "is to make amends with people from your past. Rather than feel guilt or shame about what you did to Greg, I think it would be more productive to mend fences with him."
Ben holds out the smart phone to Donny. Greg's number is highlighted. Donny merely needs to press the green call button to initiate the reformation.
"I--I can't face him," donny says, "I'm too ashamed."
"You have to," Ben says, "it'll prove to me that you really meant what you said, about repaying what is owed."
Ben offers the phone again, shaking it impatiently. Donny takes it. He looks at the picture of Greg staring back at him beside the prefix, area code, and other numbers. Ben must've snapped this pic at the Mexican restaurant when they had the meeting together.
Donny sees a black and white photo of a gaucho riding a horse, hanging from the wall behind Greg. Although Greg had been through so much in the passing months, he still has a brilliant smile fixed upon his face. Donny cannot measure up to such a man. The guy was a fucking hero. Greg had saved a mother and her child at great personal risk. And how had Donny treated such a venerable figure? By robbing him blind.
"I can't do it, Ben," Donny sobs. The pitiful tears show his cowardice.
"You HAVE to do it," Ben insists, "or me and Greg will have to proceed without you."
"Can I just text him?" Donny says weakly.
"No, you've gotta call him. You've gotta face it. Otherwise, you'll never beat your past. I can't promise Greg will forgive you, but you need to confront your demons."
Donny presses the green call button before his mind weasels out of it. There is a pause as the call connects. The cellular signal bounces off towers, searching out Greg over a distance of miles. It starts to ring. The phone goes to three unanswered rings, and for a moment Donny is relieved, thinking it will simply go to voicemail.
The line picks up. "Hello?" Greg asks.
Donny freezes up. This is the first interaction he's had with Greg since thieving the pills. Had Benjamin not been beside him, Donny would've hung up right than and there. As it was, Donny just sat in dumb silence.
"hello?" Greg asks impatiently. Ben nudges Donny, urging him to speak. Donny shakes his head, negating what was being attempted here. Ben takes the phone from Donny and speaks.
"Hello?" Ben asks
âHey Ben,â Greg answers, âWhatâs the word?ââ¨ âAre you at your place?â Ben asks.â¨ âYeah, I was just loading some boxes up.ââ¨ âThereâs someone here that would like a word with you.â Ben says softly. Ben offers the phone back to Donny. Once again, Donny shakes his head in denial. Ben frowns and forces the phone into Donny's hand. Donny hitches a breath and talks.
"Greg? Is that you?"
There is a pause as feedback whines on the connection. It's as if Greg's anger was swirling through the reception.
"Donny." Greg says gravely.
"Yeah, it's me," Donny answers.
"Where are you?!?!" Greg yells. Donny pulls the phone back away from his ear at the unexpected shout. Donny is so frightened, he neglects to give his actual location. It's as if Donny is afraid Greg will storm over to the Y and haul Donny out by the scruff of the neck.
"I'm at Ben's store," Donny says, frightened, "Digital Dreams."
"I'm coming over," Greg says forcefully, "don't fucking go anywhere, you got it?"
"Yeah," Donny says, and Greg hangs up abruptly.
Donny powers off Ben's smart phone and returns it.
"He's coming over," Donny says with a shaky voice.
"Good," Ben says, with a faint smile, "we should head back to IC then." If Ben could've heard the venom in Greg's voice, perhaps he wouldn't be so glad.
Ben texts Greg, letting him know they were just now on the way back to Digital Dreams, and would be about half an hour, on the return trip to Iowa City. Greg's reply? Ok, I'll head out, too.
As they drive Ben's huge truck back, they stop at the drive-in to grab some grub. Donny takes the food with no ability to pay Ben back. After devouring the fast food, Donny questions Ben's motives.
"Why are you helping me?" Donny asks, with genuine interest. Ben raises an eyebrow, but does not answer. He seems to be contemplating that question himself. After a time, Ben speaks.
"How much is a life worth?" Ben asks abstractly, "$300? It doesn't seem like that much to save a human being."
That was true. But to a failing enterprise, $300 can literally break the bank. IT further illustrated Ben's selflessness.
"I know you think the bible is full of horseshit," Ben says, "but I always think of the quote Matthew 5:7: blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Donny sits in stunned silence. He never knew Ben was religious, or even spiritual.
"You're right," Donny says. Ben turns a hopeful eye toward him.
"I do think it's horseshit," Donny says repugnantly, "if you've seen the things I have, you'd wonder why God would allow such things to happen."
"Some things we do to ourselves," Ben comments, "and if we continue down a certain path, we continually hurt others, and yourself as well. We can't blame God for everything. We have to take some accountability for our own actions as well."
Donny waves a dismissive hand and turns to stare out the window. Donny didn't believe in God. It was a fairy tale that he had outgrown.
"We should probably stop talking about God," Donny says, "I just feel differently. I know it's your Christian duty to try to save, but leave me out of it. I'll just deal with you and Greg. God has never taken an interest in me, so why interact now?"
"Christian Duty, huh?" Ben says sourly, "tell me Donny, why do you suppose I'm helping you so much? I feel like I'm being driven by a higher power here, one that--"
"Please don't," Donny pleads, "I said we shouldn't talk about it. I'm gonna just get upset if we do."
The ride from then on is quiet, except for the rumble of tires on the pavement, and the occasional burst of wind.
"You should think about relocating to Iowa City eventually," Ben says, "so you'd be closer to Digital Dreams. In case I have need of you."
Ben never failed to think optimistically. It was the main difference between them. But Donny was trying to be enthused about things. He still had to be realistic, however. The rose-colored glasses wore did not come in Donny's prescription.
"Right now, I'm more worried about just having a place to crash," DOnny replies, "I like Iowa City a lot more than Cedar Rapids. But for now, my address is at the Y in CR."
With that statement, Donny became aware of a powerful truth: he was no longer homeless. There were other options available. And Ben was willing to lend the resources for Donny to make such changes. What a swell guy. If ever someone deserved eminence, it was Benjamin. He was the captain of their lofty ambitions. Should the population become aware of Ben's ableness, they should flock to Digital Dreams in droves. With Ben steering the ship, they would be guided safely along.
Digital Dreams was the brain child of Benjamin. The art was fancy and decorative. Too much so, in Donny's opinion. The costs must've racked up steadily, before the place was even open. Ben was a grand design kinda guy. He built things up, only to get it knocked back down by reality. Like a kite that soars too loftily, and is battered by the winds of change.
Ben and Donny sat in two fine chairs, waiting for Greg to come. Donny glanced around at the many computers stacked against the walls in pyramid shapes. Ben sure had a knack for interior design. It's just too bad he wasn't social enough to let the outside world in on the advancements going on in here.
There was no reason Ben couldn't succeed. His own introverted personality would be the ruin of him. But who was Donny to give any tips on prospering?
The interior shape resembles something like a hot-air balloon, with a small hallway leading from outside, like the basket, to one large circular space that held the gusty air of an entrepreneur. Ben masters sat near the center, without an office to confine him. Benjamin resembled either a captain of a space vessel, at a command station, or maybe a nerdy queen ant, at the center of it's chamber.
Greg progressed to their position. Donny could hear the clumping sound of his boots on the raised-floor of the business. Ben had put in the raised-floor at quite the expense. He told Donny it was to prevent static electricity, and help run conduits, as well as ground the floor properly. Donny checked it off as another superfluous expense.
Greg appears. He is red-faced, but no from the cold. He is furious. It is evident in his every gesture, the way he rips down the zipper, the way he stomps over to the chair opposite Ben, and beside Donny.
Ben's high-backed leather chair leans back with the tall man's apprehension. Ben's hands are clenched to the armrests. Confrontation is in the air. Donny stares at the floor, cringing in the glittering metal mesh chair.
Ben shows his intuitiveness as a leader, and holds up his hands in a âwait before you explodeâ motion.
âListen Greg,â Ben says carefully, âI know that youâre upset, and you have good reason to be. But before you go off, Donny would like to say a few words first.â
Gregâs breathing is harsh and very audible. His nostrils flare as oxygen floods his body, fueling his vehemence. Ben motions to another immaculately shiny chair and Greg begrudgingly sits down. As he settles himself, Greg takes off his thin spring coat and shoots a look towards Donny. Donny stares at the floor, clutching his black skull cap tightly. Donnyâs eyes are closed, but not from bruises this time. His eyes are completely healed, but Donny cannot summon the strength to look Greg in the eye. Greg notices that Donny is shaking minutely. Donnyâs wavering hands seem to increase in their jitters as he turns toward Greg. With still downcast eyes, Donny speaks.
âGreg, Iâ¦â Donny starts, âIâm the one who took your pills. Iâm sure you figured it out when it first happened. Ben told me how upset you were. And youâre right. I wronged you, and Iâm sorry. I have no excuse. The pills are all gone. I took them all, snorted up my nose.ââ¨ Donnyâs voice wavered with each word. Greg could detect the regret. Donny was being genuine.
âI fucked you over,â Donny continues, âbecause of the junk. I went into your medicine cabinet that night, to find some band-aids, and there was the bottle. I couldnât stop myself. I told myself I would only take one for the pain, because I was swollen and beat up. Then, I was lying in bed, and I got up just to take more pills. Then I was emptying the bottle into a little baggie I found on the floor there. I donât know why I left the ones behind. It wouldâve made more sense to just take the whole bottle. But maybe, I wanted you to know, to understand what a piece of shit I am, and that Iâm still a junkie.â
At the end of his brief statement, Donny broke down into tears. Ben says nothing, but offers up a box of Kleenex. The sobs once again portray a lost man-boy, an old soul aged beyond his current life span. Greg is moved by his honesty, but there is much to atone for. Pity points do not add up much for Greg anymore. At Gregâs lowest, there was no one there to offer sympathy, or condolences.
âStop it Donny,â Greg says gruffly. Benâs eyebrows rise slightly in surprise. Donnyâs crying gradually dies off.
âYouâre not gonna get any pity from me,â Greg says bluntly, âI tried to help you out. I tried to jump-start things for you, to get something going with your life. And you stabbed me in the back.â
âGreg,â Ben starts to interrupt, but Greg raises his own hand, silencing Benâs objection.â¨ âIâm not gonna feel sorry for you,â Greg says, âyouâre not gonna get off that easy. I treated you fair and square, and now I have to treat you as your actions deserve.â
Donny composes himself as best he can while listening to Gregâs onslaught. But Donny does not retaliate. Donny knows he had this coming.