The red letters of the store’s sign flickered above the entrance, and the trashcan next to it overflowed on to the sidewalk. Food wrappers, cigarettes, and broken tools littered the surrounding concrete.
“Welcome to Second City Tools where we hope your time with us is a happy one,” the cashier said as I walked through the door. He wore a pair of green mechanic’s gloves, and his hair stood gelled into tiny spikes. Country music blasted through the store’s PA system, Toby Keith belting out a song about America.
“I need to speak with Frank, I got a call about an interview,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but Frank isn’t here right now, he’s out to lunch,” the cashier said.
“But, I got a call saying to come at this exact time for the interview,” I said. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“No,” he said and turned his back to me. He began stapling newspaper fliers together. Click...Click...Click...
I told him I would browse around the store and to let me know when Frank showed up. He didn’t respond. Click...Click...Click...
White light saturated the left side of the store. Missing light fixtures shrouded the right side. Aisles of tools extended endlessly in front of me, a labyrinth of home improvement. Yellow caution-tape and orange traffic cones closed off sections of the floor where tile was cracked or missing. Signs that read ‘NOT FOR SALE. DO NOT TOUCH’ sat on every tool display.
I walked past an aisle whose sign read ‘Safety Accessories’. Two men stood at the far end. Both were wearing the same dark blue t-shirt as the cashier. One held what looked like a box knife to the other’s neck. He wore a crimson red ball cap with a white cursive ‘A’ on it. He looked up and glared at me as I strolled by. Their conversation continued once I turned the corner into the next aisle.
“If you ever turn the radio station in the middle of a George Strait song again boy, I’ll kill ya,” a voice said.
I assumed it was the man in the baseball cap. His drawl hung in the fluorescent air, entangled in southern roots and wickedness.
“The King will be respected, understand?”
The threatened employee scurried around the corner, bumping into my shoulder as he passed. His thick-rimmed glasses failed to hide the embarrassment on his pubescent face.
I turned around and the crimson hat stared me in the face. I buried my head in the batteries and flashlights in front of me and acted like I hadn’t been listening.
“Need help findin’ anything today sir?” he asked.
“No, I’m just waiting for Frank, I have an interview,” I said.
“No shit?” I wasn’t sure if he was asking a question or not. “Come right this way. My name is Ronnie zan Vant, pleased to meet ya,” he said.
He grabbed me around the shoulder, pulled me close, and shot me a wink. We walked through the maze of aisles toward the back of the store. He informed me that his hat was official University of Alabama Crimson Tide memorabilia straight from the campus bookstore in Tuscaloosa. He was a fourth generation ‘Bama grad.
“Bear Bryant is the best human bein’ to ever walk this Earth,” he told me, “I ain’t ever met anyone who don’t agree ‘cept Auburn fans. You ain’t an Auburn fan are ya?”
“No sir,” I said.
“Roll Tide!” he hollered and pumped his fist into the sky.
At the back of the store we travelled under a sign that read ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY. DEFY AT OWN RISK.’ We followed a thin hallway, and met a wooden staircase with no bottom stair. The wood bent under my feet as I ascended each step.
In the office at the top sat three men also in dark blue t-shirts. A sickly-looking man with greasy hair and a dark blue apron sat to my left. A mustachioed man with diamond stud earrings and a beer belly sat to my right. A robust mocha-skinned man with a shaved head and arm tattoos sat in front of me at a desk, his face buried in the pixels of a computer screen.
“Our new slave is here y’all,” Ronnie said. He slapped my shoulder and swatted my butt. The three men turned to observe me, synchronized, choreographed. The mocha-skinned man elevated from his chair and shook my hand.
“Glad you decided to come, Carter. I’m Frank, the store manager,” he said.
“The cashier told me you were out to lunch,” I said.
“I am,” Frank said. He motioned me towards an office chair next to him. Ronnie took a seat next to the sickly-looking man.
“It looks like you met Ronnie already,” Frank said, “That’s Peter next to him. They’re my assistant managers.” Peter nodded his head and ran his fingers through his greasy hair. His bloodshot eyes drooped to the corners of his mouth. He pulled out a bottle of eye drops from his apron and applied them.
“The ogre with the mustache over there is Roy, our warehouse manager,” Frank said, “It’s about time he went back to his cave, so we can proceed with the interview.” Frank waved his hand and Roy obeyed. He clunked down the creaky stairs without a word.
“You a hard worker?” Frank asked.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“You always on time?” Frank asked.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“Excellent. How would you feel about starting tomorrow?” Frank asked.
“Um, sure,” I said, startled.
“Good,” Frank said, “Be here at 4 p.m. I’m going to start you out with late shifts this week. We have a truckload coming in that I need help with. Grab a t-shirt and box knife on the desk behind you on the way out.”
“I really appreciate this,” I said.
Frank smiled. “We’re always looking to lend a helping hand.”
He shook my hand and turned back around to his computer. Ronnie gave me a salute and a “Roll Tide!” Peter stared at the wall and appeared to have forgotten anybody was there.
I maneuvered my way back to the front of the store where the cashier continued to staple fliers, the stack taller than him now.
“Looks like I’ll be seeing you tomorrow,” I said, “My name’s Carter by the way.”
“Okay,” he said never turning from his task. Click...Click...Click...
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Ethan,” he said. Click...Click...Click...
The sun fled behind the mountains as my Jeep galloped on to the interstate. Red, pink, and purple pastels splashed across the darkening sky. Rebecca would be happy that I finally got a job. Hospital bills were literally piling up on the kitchen counter. Rebecca hadn’t left the trailer in two weeks and her mother hadn’t left our company in a few months.
The stars shimmered over my head as I reached the exit. I pulled into the driveway and the porch light kicked on. I walked up and rested my head against the pink ribbon that hung next to our door before going inside. Rebecca sat in the recliner with a blanket around her and the winter hat my mother knitted pulled down close to her eyes. Her mother was sprawled out on the couch snoring with the force of a thousand men on horseback. Rebecca turned around and smiled at me excited that I was home. I hurried over to her and we embraced like I had been gone for years.
“I got the job, honey, I start tomorrow night,” I said.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said.
I picked Rebecca up off the chair and carried her to our room. She fell asleep before I even got through the door. I eased her down, afraid to break her frail and emaciated body. I kissed her forehead and slipped in next to her, my heart aching and my world turning to black.
Ethan greeted me again as I walked through the door the next day. “Welcome to Second City Tools where we hope your time with us is a happy one.” he said.
“We met yesterday, remember?” I said
“Okay,” he said and turned around to staple fliers. Click...Click...Click...
Classic Rock played through the stereo so I figured Ronnie wasn’t here today. Old men in flannels, overalls, and work boots roamed the aisles followed by their spouses. The women sighed as their husbands covered every inch of the store.
I tiptoed up the rickety staircase and into the office. Peter sat at the computer. He was filtering through pictures of naked women, and gnawing on his index finger. He pulled out his bottle of eye drops from his apron and applied them. I raced back down the stairs, wondering if I should have said something. Should I have looked at the naked women with him? I decided to look for Frank instead, and venturing through a red door, I found myself in a cavernous warehouse.
My steps echoed off the concrete floor. Thousands of boxes sat on rusty shelving that stood three stories high. Only a few dim lights dangled from the ceiling. I saw the outline of two men a couple hundred feet away. I crept toward them. They stood next to a beached semi trailer. It was Frank and a Hispanic truck driver. I hid behind a stack of boxes and spied while they fired Spanish at each other. Frank handed the man a wad of cash and the two exchanged more words. Frank put his finger to his neck in a cutting motion and laughed.
The truck driver grabbed a box labeled ‘Spray Paint’ from the trailer and disappeared through the emergency exit door. I backed away from my hiding spot and tripped into a stack of boxes, knocking them over.
“Who’s there?” Frank screamed. “Show yourself!”
I tried to scramble to my feet but Frank sniffed me out before I could make my escape. He shined a flashlight into my face.
“Oh, hey Carter,” he said. “Sorry about that. I thought you were someone else. Ready to get to work?”
I nodded, afraid what would happen if I said no.
“Fill up a cart with the spray paint boxes over there and follow me,” he said.
The boxes reeked of skunk and pine. ‘DO NOT OPEN’ was written on every one. I followed Frank through a series of twists and turns. The lights grew dimmer as we turned each corner. Frank used his flashlight to guide the way. The warehouse had to be ten times the size of the actual store. We reached a white door lit by a single light bulb over head, and ‘DO NOT ENTER’ written on it in red paint. Frank knocked once.
“Who’s there?” a voice asked from the other side.
“It’s your boss, dumbass,” Frank said.
The door crept open and Roy’s mustache peered out. Frank motioned for me to stay and he vanished into the room with the spray paint boxes. I stood in the darkness, waiting. The light bulb above the door flashed off and on every few minutes. A chill crept over my body and I swore I could see my breath when I exhaled. I sat down against the wall hoping Frank would hurry up and lead us out of the torturous dark. Smoke squeezed through the crack at the bottom of the door and the skunk and pine tree smell filled my nostrils. I contemplated knocking on the door and asking if I could come inside. I wouldn’t tell anyone what I saw.
My eyelids felt heavy and I struggled to keep them up. For a brief moment Rebecca’s image filled my head. She lay limp on the ground next to me, her eyes rolled to the back of her head. Somewhere around me a bell rang as if to signify the mourning of her demise. My head throbbed with pain. I reached into the darkness, trying to stop it, but I couldn’t tell where the sound originated. I fell over, smacking my head against the ground. My eyes opened and I awoke. I sighed, relieved it was only a dream. But, the ringing bell sounded again. I pinched my arm, hoping I was still asleep, but again the bell rang. I couldn’t see anything, only the black abyss that stretched all around. The ringing ceased, and all was quiet for a few long moments. I closed my eyes once again, and heard glass shattering from down the hallway. I huddled against the wall. Another long silence filled the air. I could hear myself breathing. Maybe I was imagining it all. A bell’s ringing once again sounded, loud and sharp. I jumped to my feet, now ready to flee. Children’s laughter echoed through the darkness.
“Who do we have here?” a voice asked.
“I’m not sure, looks like trouble,” a second voice answered.
Their laughter filled the hallway.
“I’m a new employee,” I yelled in random directions. “I’m waiting out here for Frank.”
“Likely story,” the voices said in unison.
The light bulb above me went out. The air around me tightened. Footsteps pounded towards me, and I was tackled the floor. The side of my face contacted the cold concrete. An arm wrapped around my neck, and a rope fastened my hands together. It dug into my wrists, exposing raw flesh.
“The boss won’t be happy to know he has a thief on his hands,” one of the voices said. They erupted in laughter, a sound straight from the bowels of hell.
The white door Frank had gone in swung open, and the light bulb turned back on. Both bodies were lifted from on top of me, and their laughter turned to whimpering.
“You little ingrates better have a good explanation for this,” Frank barked.
Roy cut my hands loose and picked me up by the shirt collar, his mustache almost tickling my cheek. Two young boys stood looking at the ground in front of Frank. Their red hair could have scorched their scalps if it was any brighter.
“Apologize to Carter now, or I’ll hang both of you by your underwear on the flag pole,” Frank said.
“But, you told us we were security guards,” the one on the left said.
“Yeah, security guards,” the one on the right said.
“Now you’re both gonna help Daisy the rest of the night up front. She should be here now. Roy, escort these hooligans to the front before I smack their pretty little faces,” Frank said.
They turned around and walked up to me. Their faces were plagued with freckles, their eyes a dark burgundy. They couldn’t have been older than 14.
“We’re sorry,” they said together.
“I’m Leon,” the one on the left said.
“I’m Noel,” the one on the right said.
Roy growled at them through his mustache and pushed them around the corner.
“Actually, I want you to head up front too and ask Daisy if she needs help with anything,” Frank said to me.
Frank stepped back into the room and slammed the door behind him. I hurried around the corner and followed Roy and the demon children to the front.
Her hair was the color of wheat fields at sunrise, her lips redder than cherry wine. Her thin and athletic waist accentuated her large breasts that bounced with every little movement. My breath shortened, my palms moistened, and my pants shrunk with each step closer I took.
“Carter,” I said.
“Daisy,” she said.
“That’s a very pretty name,” I said.
She giggled and pointed me towards the ‘Hammers’ aisle where a stack of boxes needed to be put away. A spotlight was upon her figure. She flooded the scenery with her beauty, and the world around her sparkled. I couldn’t remember seeing a female in this way since the first few months I dated Rebecca, years ago. Rebecca. Her face popped into my head and I felt a knot form in my stomach. Every time I looked at Daisy I became unaware of my life. I spent the rest night making trips up front for instructions, and small talk.
“Nineteen,” she said.
“No way, I would have guessed at least twenty-one,” I said.
She blushed and looked at her feet. I apologized for my little knowledge of tools every time I approached her. If she had customers in line, I sat and waited my turn. At ten o’clock she turned the open sign off, and shooed the demon children out the door. They hopped on their bikes and sped off into the distance, throwing rocks at each other as they rode. I drove off into the sunset towards home thinking of Daisy’s beautiful features, and Rebecca’s deteriorating health.
The next few nights were the same. I helped Frank unload suspicious boxes into the room with the white door in the back of the warehouse, and then was sent up front to stock the shelves with tools I had never heard of and talk to Daisy. She laughed at my jokes. I smiled at her innocence. We took smoke breaks twice an hour. She always had an extra one for me. I hadn’t smoked in years, and I had to wash my hands and face of the smell before returning home to Rebecca each night. It wasn’t like I was a smoker again. A few cigarettes never killed anyone.
One night, at the end of my first week, she shooed the demon children away, closed the store, and motioned for me to follow her upstairs.
“I’m going to have you help me with a few closing procedures,” she said and winked at me.
My heartbeat quickened as she led me to the office. A naked woman in high heels with a cigarette in her mouth posed on the computer screen.
“Sit,” she said.
I took a seat in the office chair behind me. She closed the door and turned the lock. Her slender legs strutted towards me, slow and seductive. Her fingers teased me, slightly lifting up her shirt and then letting it drop. I crossed my leg over my lap, trying to hide my erection. She moved my leg and climbed on to me, and began to kiss and suck on my neck. A sweet aroma wafted from her skin, intoxicating, and irresistible. My hands cradled her sides, and she bit the tip of my ear. The slight pain tingled every nerve in my body.
I hadn’t engaged in this kind of physical contact since Rebecca had become sick. Her face flashed in my mind. Daisy forced her hand between my legs. I pushed her off me on to the floor and jumped out of the chair.
“This is wrong, I can’t do this,” I said.
“Why not?” She nibbled on the end of her finger and rubbed her chest.
My body quivered. I could see Rebecca sitting on the couch at home eagerly awaiting my arrival, wondering how my day at work had gone. Daisy bit her lip and crawled on all fours toward me.
“I don’t want to get caught by Frank,” I said. I also had a wife, but I couldn’t get the words to leave my mouth.
“Don’t you like to be naughty?” she asked and rubbed her face on my inner thigh.
“Open the fucking door!” Frank screamed, his fist attempting to break down the door.
Daisy jumped to her feet and let Frank in explaining that she was showing me cash procedures and had locked the door as a safety measure.
“Go downstairs and wait at the front door,” he said to me. “I need to have a word with our lovely head cashier for a moment.”
I exited the room and the door closed hard behind me, shaking the walls. I rushed down the stairs, forgetting about the non-existent bottom step. My knee crashed against the floor, and my face slammed against the wall. It swelled and pulsed. I limped to the front of store.
The boy who had almost lost his life to Ronnie for changing the radio station sat on the counter humming a rock song that played through the PA.
“Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to your face?” he asked.
“I tripped,” I replied.
His name was Mason, and, despite his boyish looks, he was the power and air tool expert of the store. I mentioned the incident with Ronnie.
“He’s a southern fried asshole, I’m not afraid of him, or his threats,” he said.
After waiting for twenty minutes in silence, Mason ran to the back of the store and reappeared a few minutes later. He had borrowed a set of keys to the front door.
“God knows we could be waiting all night for those two up there,” he said. “And, I’m tired of looking at your face. It’s making me sick.”
He unlocked the door and let us out, leaving the key on the front counter.
“If Frank gets angry, blame Roy, he’s just a dumb brute who gets yelled at all the time anyways,” he said.
I sped my car home as fast as I could, hoping no highway patrolmen were on the roads. I creaked the door to my trailer open, and tiptoed to the couch where Rebecca slept. It always shocked me how she could sleep while her mother snored like Sasquatch. I stroked her arm and pecked her on the forehead. Her eyes blinked open. She smiled, and dimples formed on her cheeks.
“What happened to your face?” she asked.
“Tripped over a box,” I said.
“How was work?”
I felt like an intruder carrying her to bed. Daisy’s face and body were imprinted on my mind. I kissed Rebecca on the cheek, my head aching, and my world turning to black.
I spent the next morning at the hospital with Rebecca, holding her hand as radiation pumped through her veins, watching her deteriorate by the second. She rested her head on my shoulder. She glowed a radioactive green. This was Rebecca’s third round, and our debt was a testament to that. My mind wandered to the night before. I had held my arms around another woman, and let her violate me. I could smell her intoxicating scent and envision her perfect shape. I looked over at feeble Rebecca, and a sharp pain entered my chest. Rebecca’s doctor approached us and asked for a minute of my time. I followed him to his office and we sat down.
“I just thought I’d let you know everything is progressing as planned,” he said.
I nodded and attempted to stand up to leave.
“Also,” he continued, “I thought you should know that all of your outstanding bills have been taken care of.”
“What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t made any payments,” I said.
“I am aware of your financial struggles and was concerned at first as well,” he said and grabbed a file on his desk. “What I discovered was that you were given a private donation from an organization called Healing Hands that often deals in charitable activities.”
“I don’t know anyone associated with that,” I said.
“It looks like someone who works there caught scent of your dilemma and thought you deserved help. Almost like a guardian angel.”
I dropped Rebecca off at home after her treatment and headed to work. I refrained from telling her the news for fear that it was somehow a scam. Ethan greeted me at the door as he did every day.
“Welcome to Second City Tools where we hope your time with us is a happy one,” he said.
“This is the fifth or sixth time we’ve met, I’ve worked everyday this week,” I said.
“Ok,” he said and turned around to staple his fliers. Click...Click...Click...
Country music played through the stereo today. I trotted up to the office where Ronnie and Peter sat at the computer. They were both scrolling through naked women, and high-fiving as each new picture popped up.
“Hey fellas,” I said and both men turned around.
“Roll Tide!” Ronnie hollered at me. He jumped out of his seat, put me in a headlock, and ruffled my hair. Peter pulled out his bottle of eye drops from his apron and applied them. The twang of steel guitars and banjo playing through the stereo suddenly changed to the shrieking of electric guitars, and pounding drums. Ronnie threw his hat against the wall and grabbed a box knife from the desk.
“I’m fuckin’ serious this time,” Ronnie said, “I’ll kill ‘im.”
Ronnie sprinted down the stairs with Peter and I in hot pursuit. Mason stood halfway down the store helping an elderly lady with garden supplies. We were not able to catch up before Ronnie pounced on Mason, knocking him and the lady into a wall of shovels and rakes.
“What the hell you, redneck piece of shit?” Mason hollered.
“I told ya what would happen boy,” Ronnie said.
“I haven’t touched the radio all day you dumb honky,” Mason said and lifted himself from the floor.
Ronnie stood up and pointed the blade at Mason. The old lady writhed in pain on the ground.
“I think I broke something,” she said.
“Shut up, lady, It’s time for this boy to pay,” Ronnie said.
Frank galloped from the front of the store, jumping on Ronnie and wrestling the box knife from his grasp. We helped the old lady up and Frank apologized, saying that she could have whatever she wanted in the store for free, no limit. The woman swatted him with her purse and smashed his foot with her cane. He said he could also offer her a cash settlement if she chose to not call the police. Frank grabbed one thousand dollars from the vault and Peter escorted the woman to the front.
Frank roared at Ronnie to leave for the day and return the next morning to receive his punishment. He held him by his neck against the wall while he relayed this information. Ronnie scampered out the door, not even bothering to grab his favorite crimson hat. Mason strutted triumphantly to the break room for his lunch.
“Come with me,” Frank said tugging on my shirtsleeve.
We trudged our way through the warehouse maze to the dimly lit white door. We paused in front of the door, and he knelt down, his face a nose length away from mine.
“What really happened between you and Daisy last night?” he asked.
Every pore in my body discharged sweat, and my muscles stiffened. His eyes had turned a bright red and orange and I swore I saw smoke being pushed from his nostrils each time he exhaled.
“She was showing me protocol for dealing with cash in the office, and forgot to unlock the door when we were done, I swear on my life,” I said.
He placed his hand on my shoulder and breathed a deep and alleviating sigh. His legs straightened and he pulled me into his chest, patting me on the back.
“Good, we can’t have any employee romances on our hands. I’d have to fire you. Or kill you.” He laughed. “Just kidding about the firing part.”
He pushed open the door and ushered me in. The demon children sat at a desk dividing green plant buddings and white powder into small zip-lock bags.
“Well, look who it is,” one of them said.
“Our favorite thief,” the other one said.
They laughed their hellish laughs. I could not remember which was Leon and which was Noel. Frank shooed them back to their work and we sat down on a purple couch behind them. A coffee table stood in front of us, a multitude of lighters and lines of the white powder on its surface.
“You’re cool, right?” Frank asked.
“Yes sir,” I responded.
“Good,” he said. “I have a knack for hiring people that are down. Take a line with me.”
I had never done cocaine, but if I didn’t start now I feared I could lose my job or my life. He handed me a short, and fat straw that was caked in yellowish white residue. I followed his lead, and put the straw to my nose, and my face to the table. I pulled as much air as I could through my nose, and snorted the powder like I was a veteran.
My nasal cavity burned, and my eyes filled with water. My head buzzed and the room began to spin.
“Fuck yeah!” Frank cheered. “Atta’ kid.” He slapped me on the shoulder and continued to take lines off the table.
I couldn’t feel my face or my extremities. My heart accelerated, attempting to burst through my chest. I didn’t want to stand up, but I couldn’t keep my body still. The demon children began dancing around me and over the couch, making loud noises and strange faces. My head was about to spin off my body. I buried my face in my lap and begged God to make it stop.
After what seemed like days of torment, the feeling in my body was regained. I lifted my head. The demon children and Frank were gone. I had no recollection of when they had left, or how long I had been sitting here.
“Feeling better?” a soothing voice asked.
I turned around and Daisy sat at the desk.
“Frank told me to take care of you, and make sure you feel better,” she said.
She winked, licked her lips, and leaped on top of me, pinning me to the couch. Her intoxicating aroma filled my nostrils and an electric pulse pumped through my body.
“He left for the night, so I think we should be safe.”
I showed up to work early in the evening the next day. I was going to tell Frank that I could no longer continue my employment. Water poured from the sky, flooding the world. The rain always made Rebecca’s body ache. She would be in bed all day and through the night. I gave her a higher dosage of pain medicine before I left.
Red and blue lights flashed in the parking lot at work. An ambulance was being loaded with a stretcher. Ethan stood drenched in front of the store window with no coat, only his hands protected by his green gloves. I got out of my truck and walked to him. Frank stood talking to two policemen at the register inside. A crimson red hat sat in the back of one of the patrol cars.
“What happened?” I asked Ethan.
“Ronnie tried to kill Mason for changing the radio station again,” he said.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“He’ll live,” he said.
Frank cracked the door and told us we could go home for the night. I would tell him tomorrow. I ran back to the truck and vaulted into the driver’s seat. Daisy was waiting for me in the passenger’s seat.
“Holy shit! Get the hell away from me. I can’t do this anymore. I have a wife,” I said.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“It can’t be mine, it’s only been a day,” I said scratching my head.
“It’s Frank’s, but he knows about us.”
“I told him.”
“What the fuck?”
“It’s not good to keep secrets.”
I banged my head against the steering wheel, contemplating ending my life at that very moment.
“Well, what’s he going to do?” I asked.
“Nothing, but you better not quit. You owe your life to him, and if you try to leave town he will find you.”
She slammed the door behind her and went into the store. The cop cars and ambulance drove away. Frank stared through the window. He pointed his finger at me, and then disappeared to the back of the store. The lights shut off a few seconds later.
The next morning I sat at the hospital with Rebecca. She leaned against my arm while the IV dumped toxins into her body. The doctor walked in the room holding a clipboard and a smile. Rebecca sat up.
“I have some extraordinary news, the cancer is going into remission,” he said
The doctor gave us each hugs and left us to rejoice in solitude.
“I’m going to live,” Rebecca said.
We kissed and cried and kissed some more and then cried some more. I had never cried so hard.