A Life Discovered

by Bensiamin

Chapter 1

College Graduation Card for Bailey

AI-generated image by Bensiamin using Microsoft Designer

Bailey eased down the entrance ramp and onto I-81 heading towards home. Well, what had once been home. Technically he was leaving what had been home for the last four years, his rented apartment. College was over, he'd graduated with good grades that would have made his dad proud. If he'd been there for the ceremony.

Auburn was only a couple of hours north of Binghamton, and he was looking forward to a peaceful drive. It had been a crazy couple of days with the graduation itself, a few friends that came to support him. Then cleaning out his apartment and its four years of accumulated stuff. His dad had been right about it being his first home, and it had felt like home for the first three years when he and Morgana had shared the place and lived together. But after she moved out before Christmas of his senior year it had felt less like home and had become just a place to live. If you called that living. Meaning that the place he slept and ate and studied felt like it did to most other college students—a temporary habitation. It hadn't been a great year.

He pushed the thought out of his mind, slid into the left lane to pass a couple of local cars going under the speed limit, and set the cruise control for 67 miles an hour. His dad had always told him the State Troopers would almost always let you get away with two or three miles over the speed limit, as long as you weren't weaving or gave the appearance of being a drug runner. His dad had known cars and driving—he'd successfully operated a used car business with a mechanic shop on it since he'd returned from the military, and he ran it until he'd died during Bailey's first year of college. Well, the first week of college… in fact the first day. As he settled in for the drive, he remembered that frantic drive home.

He'd finished registering and was having lunch when Annabelle had called from the shop to tell him. It had started the all-too-common way with the hemming and hawing about bad news. Annabelle was the mechanic at his dad's shop when he'd shown up in their lives at age twelve, and now five years later she'd taken over the shop where she was the main mechanic. His dad had reduced the number of vehicles for sale, downsizing the number of cars on the lot so he could work halftime, and he'd worked out a generous arrangement with Annabelle so she could take over the auto repair part of the business and didn't strike out on her own. It was good for both of them. He hadn't lost a great mechanic and friend, and she hadn't had to start a new auto repair business from scratch. It had been good for Bailey as well, because working halftime meant more of his dad's time for him—which was exactly what his dad did, invest all that freed up time into the lives of Bailey and his friends.

He thought about that day four years ago. He'd told Annabelle to just tell him what had happened, but he already could feel the deep fear in his gut that it had been another heart attack. The awareness of the prospect did nothing to ease the anticipation of pain and anguish. When he'd heard the basic details and knew his dad hadn't survived, he said he'd drive right home. He'd hurriedly packed some clothes and called Morgana to let her know. The call went to voicemail, so she was probably still registering at the community college across town. Then he had enough forethought to call the Dean's office to tell them why he had to go home and would miss the first few days of class. The lady he spoke to commiserated with him, consoled him as best she could, and urged him to drive carefully. It had been hard. He'd told Annabelle he'd be there as soon as he could, and as he got on the interstate, he felt like breaking the speed limit and driving as fast as he could, but as soon as he began driving, he heard his dad's voice about hurrying up and then having to wait. His dad had been full of pithy advice, most of it practical and valuable. In spite of the anguish he'd been feeling, he'd smiled at himself and said in his mind, 'You're right, Dad. No point in getting a ticket now. That'd make me get there later!'

He didn't remember much at all about that drive itself, just the raw emotion and fear, and then the pure relief he'd felt when he got to the shop and saw Annabelle's face when she looked up as the door opened. She was leaning over the fender of a sedan tightening or adjusting something or other, and had looked up with an expression that was a mix of grief and joy. She'd dropped whatever tool she had in her hand and ran to him, pulling him into the deepest hug possible. That was when he lost it and cried for the first time, as she stroked the back of his head, smoothing his wavy brown hair, softly saying, "I'm so sorry, Bail, so sorry."

When things had quieted down emotionally, she'd explained that she'd found his dad at home in the morning. He'd been late coming into the shop where he still shared the office with her, and although that wouldn't have usually been something to worry about, she knew that since he'd taken Bailey down to Binghamton to start college the day before, he'd have plenty he'd want to tell her. After an hour she drove to his house and found him slumped in his recliner where he'd had a heart attack the night before.

"I called 911, and waited till they arrived with the police. I didn't get back here till after lunch and then got a call that it was death from natural causes, and that's when I called you. There won't be an inquest or autopsy or anything. You know, 'cause he'd had that other heart attack." Bailey had been at a loss for words, just watching and listening. She'd gone on, "You remember he made me executor of his estate? So, the body's been released to the funeral home, and there's nothing you need to do about that. He bought a plot after the first heart attack, so he was kind of planning ahead, you know. He was that kind of guy."

"You sure I don't need to do anything?"

"Oh, there will be things you'll have to do, Bail. But not right now, not today. What about starting class?"

He explained that he'd let the Dean's office know he'd miss a day or two and that was under control. She'd told him she needed to finish the car she was working on, which would only take half an hour, then she'd leave early, and one of the other mechanics could close up. When she'd asked if he wanted to stay with her and her boyfriend Flynn, he'd shaken his head. "I want to be home."

"You'll be okay there, all alone?"

He'd just nodded, more tears seeping out from under his eyelids. "Poor baby," she'd whispered as she pulled him close. "Okay, if that's what you want to do, go get settled and I'll finish up here and then clean up and come over. I'll have Flynn come over after work and we'll have dinner and figure out where we go from here. Sound like a plan?"

He nodded and hugged her back, the realization about the tasks ahead beginning to shape the feeling of emptiness that was slowly growing. Morgana had called him as he drove to his dad's house, the one and only real home in his life, and he explained what he knew, and they agreed he'd call her back later in the evening when he knew more.

Annabelle had been a smart person to start with and learned even more working for Colin McKenzie. Neither of them had gone to college, but his dad was practically wise in the ways of life, and that practicality had shaped him and rubbed off on Annabelle. She made no attempt to tell Bailey what to do, but as they sat and talked, she outlined the basic realities of the position he was in. He remembered that dad had made Annabelle his executor, but never thought about what it meant. She explained to him that the age of majority was eighteen and he was still considered a minor until he turned eighteen in December. She assured him that her job as executor was to fulfill his wishes and settle his estate and she'd do it all hand in hand with Bailey. He had no understanding of what could and often did go wrong in the settling of many estates, but put full trust in Annabelle because, well…he always had and always would.

She showed him his dad's will which basically said three things: everything in the estate went to Bailey, any outstanding debt that Annabelle owed for the purchase of the auto repair business was canceled, and he was to be cremated. Bailey held the will in his hands, staring blankly at it. "You knew about everything going to you, and probably aren't surprised about the cremation part. Colin wasn't a religious guy and wanted a simple service." Bailey felt his head nodding unconsciously. "You probably don't know about the debt part, and I want you to be okay with it."

Bailey looked up at her, eyes questioning. "I still owe your dad… well, the estate, money from buying the auto repair business from him. I'm pretty sure you didn't know about the debt cancellation part."

Bailey shook his head and said, "I'm fine with it. It's what dad wanted. He was a good guy; he always did what was right." Bailey paused and then added, "Like when he went and got the video of the dude that tried to sue him after he drove that car over a curb and trashed the transmission."

Annabelle chuckled. "Right, and then tried to tell your dad he had to take the car back because it was a lemon."

"That guy ended up sorry he fucked with my dad." Bailey smiled tightly, but there was little spark in his eyes. "He always said, do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons."

Annabelle nodded. Bailey went on, "So, the debt gets canceled. If it's in his will that's what he wanted and it's the right thing to do."

"I want you to be good with this. We're the survivors here, Bailey. I don't want it screwing up our relationship."

"It won't. Dad wanted it. That's it." He looked away blankly at the far wall of the living room. "Is that all then?"

"No, it's not. There's the funeral arrangements. You've got to meet with your dad's lawyer. All that stuff."

"Really? What's 'all that stuff' mean?"

"Well, there's settling the estate. What happens to this house and the stuff in it? What happens to the rest of the business Colin still owned? All of that. I know you haven't thought about the funeral, but that's in the mix too."

"Can we do it soon? Like while I'm here?"

"Probably. Since he wanted to be cremated, it should be pretty easy. I'll call the funeral home tomorrow and see. Maybe they can do it in a couple of days."

"Maybe on Saturday? That way Morgana can be here."

Annabelle nodded and then asked, "Have you called Dan?"

Bailey shook his head. "Do it. I called and let him know your dad died. He'll want to talk to you, spend time with you. I bet he doesn't get home early working on the county road crew."

Bailey nodded, but before he could do anything else, Annabelle said softly, "Bailey, I want you to know something really important that you also haven't thought about yet."

He looked at her blankly. "You're not alone. We're not family technically, but it sure feels like we are. You're not in touch with your birth parents, right?"

"I haven't seen or heard from either of them for years."

"That's what I thought. Just know that me and Flynn will always be here for you. We don't have kids yet, so we both feel for you in really special ways. Just know that, okay?"

Bailey was quiet, and before he could say anything she added, "You don't need to say anything. This is all really hard. Just know it, okay?"

And that was the way the evening had unfolded, Bailey thought to himself as he drove north. Flynn came over with take out. He'd called Dan and he came over and ate with them. They all talked and consoled one another. Bailey wasn't the only person feeling the loss. Colin had been a surrogate father to Dan and his sisters. After Annabelle and Flynn left, they talked about how Colin had always been at all their games, supported all their school activities, rode them hard about studying and doing their homework, and just loved them for who they were.

After they cleaned up and Dan left, he walked around the house surprised about how he felt. He was home and it still didn't feel like his dad was permanently gone, more like he was out of town for a day or two. He went in and lay on his dad's bed and could still smell him in the pillow. Just two days before they'd both been here in this house and they'd both been excited about getting him down to college. He realized that he was crying again, soft deep sobs. It dawned on him that he was starting to realize his dad was dead. He hadn't planned on sleeping in his dad's bed, but he pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and fell asleep breathing his dad's scent.

The next day he met with the attorney who had prepared the will and who made some practical suggestions. The most important was not selling his dad's house but keeping it as a rental so that it appreciated in value while he was in college. There was enough money in an IRA to completely pay for his university expenses, and that just left the value of the remainder of the business. Bailey learned that after the canceled debt to Annabelle for the shop building, it just amounted to the used car lot and the remaining vehicles. Bailey said he wanted those to be part of what went to Annabelle, along with the canceled debt.

The lawyer's eyebrows had gone up, and he'd asked if Bailey was sure he wanted to let that asset go for nothing. He'd answered simply that he was sure it's what his dad would've wanted to do. He hadn't wanted to lose Annabelle as his mechanic, she was his closest friend. He'd also wanted to help her successfully launch her own auto repair business, so doing this was part of that. The lawyer said he'd take care of it.

The funeral had been on Saturday, and Morgana had driven up Friday afternoon and stayed with him. By then Bailey had moved to his own bedroom and with help from Dan's mom had begun cleaning out his dad's things. She was a single mom and much went to her. She was at the funeral with Dan and his sisters, Annabelle and Flynn and a few business acquaintances. It was simple and tidy; the way Colin would have wanted it. No formal service, just a simple ceremony to put his ashes in the ground.

After stopping for gas and the rest room, Bailey headed north again. It didn't take long for his mind to return to the subjects he'd been thinking about. He knew he was going home but he didn't know why or for how long. During the past summers he'd worked for Annabelle handling the used car sales, a job he began doing the first year that his dad had taken him in, when he was twelve. It wasn't a full-time job, but he was studying business management and each summer he'd gotten an additional part time job that gave him experience. One summer he'd worked for a bookkeeping firm and learned how a business's books were supposed to be balanced and reconciled. The next summer he'd worked as a bank teller and learned about business financial transactions and lending. Last summer he'd worked for a tax accountant firm learning how to complete business tax returns and conduct basic audits. Because it was part time it hadn't earned him a lot of cash, but it meant he learned a lot more than doing a typical summer job that had no relationship to his coursework.

He had no idea what he was going to do now. It was hard to apply for part-time employment in advance, and his usual approach was to look for the opportunity after he got into town. He and Morgana had lived together during those summers in a small apartment her parents had originally created for her grandmother, now deceased. It was a converted garage, so not fancy, but it served the purpose for the summer. Those summers now seemed simple but pleasant and productive. Except for the run in with his birth father right at the end of last summer. That had been unexpected and horrible. He shook his head to get rid of the thoughts, not even wanting to acknowledge that it had had an impact and still stuck with him.

But this summer wasn't going to be simple and pleasant like the last three. He didn't even know if Morgana was coming back to Auburn for the summer. They'd hardly spoken in the last six months.

He hated talking about their split, but he'd had to be honest with Annabelle during spring break when she was grilling him about what had happened. He hadn't told her everything and tried not to blame Morgana but made it clear that the relationship had run its course, and he was going to come back to Auburn after he graduated to tie up the last loose ends in his life and decide what was next. Annabelle made sure he understood that he was staying with her and Flynn for the summer or as long as it took. He still owned his dad's old house and the lawyer had been right—it had appreciated even in Auburn, which hardly qualified as a major New York metropolitan area.

He had no intention of staying in Auburn. Apart from Annabelle, he felt like that was all behind him, and nothing tied him down there. All the associations he had from the time his dad took him in were good, except for that one run in with his birth father last summer. He didn't want to acknowledge that the weight of those first twelve years were a big part of the negative feelings he had about Auburn. Doing so meant he had to go down that path. His dad was dead and gone, and it was hard to feel the positives he had brought into Bailey's life that had offset the earlier negatives.

Colin had been his dad. His only real dad. The one who accepted and loved him for who he was. He remembered that night in the snowstorm when he was partially clothed and stumbled into his dad's back yard and then Colin had taken him in. His dad and Annabelle, that was his family. Well, them and Flynn, and then one ring out was Dan and his mom and sisters. Now he had a business management degree, so he sure didn't need to stay in Auburn. In fact, he'd probably do far better in a bigger urban environment, and New York or Boston were certainly attractive. He'd interviewed on campus with some major banks, accounting firms and businesses, but he felt he had to come back home and tie up loose ends before he could make the next move. The move to wherever!

He pulled into the driveway of Annabelle and Flynn's house and set about bringing in his bags. After unpacking his clothes, he called the auto repair shop to let her know he'd arrived. He got the customary greeting and then asked what was in the refrigerator that he could use to prepare dinner. "You don't need to cook for us, Bail."

"I know, but I want to. I've learned a lot and can cook pretty well. It's the least I can do."

"You're a better cook than me, that's for sure," she replied. "There's ground round I was thinking of making into meatloaf. There's vegetables and potatoes. Knock yourself out!" She laughed out loud and added, "Flynn should be home from work by 5:30 or so. There's beer and box wine in the fridge too."

"We're not having a party, you know," he said. Then added, "Or, maybe we are."

"We should. You graduated from Binghamton University two days ago. We were there for the ceremony but then had to come back for work, so we hardly saw you. Did you celebrate afterward?"

"Well, a few friends from the business school, we went out for dinner and drinks. That was it. Dan had to work the next day too, so he left not long after you did. No serious partying."

"Then call Dan and tell him to come have dinner with us and we'll celebrate. I'll pick up a bottle of champagne on the way home."


Annabelle giggled. "Well, actually, no. More likely Asti Spumante or something like that. You know, stuff I can afford. See you later. I've got to finish up the day's invoices."

Bailey texted Dan at work and then went to the refrigerator. He pulled out the meat and was finding the salad greens when his phone dinged. Dan welcomed him home and agreed to be there around six o'clock. It promised to be a fun evening.

And it was. Not only did the food turn out pretty well, they all enjoyed their time together and Dan told him he had a lead on a decent apartment for him. Bailey raised his eyebrows.

"It's month to month. You don't have to commit. I know you're thinking about not staying here, but if you want your own place, you don't want some dump, right? This one's in a building that's a few years old but in good shape. One of the guys I work with lives there and his uncle manages the building. So, it's kind of a connection thing."

Bailey grinned. "You mean nepotism. The family connection, right?"

"Yeah, but it's my friend's family, so if you take it, don't fuck it up or I'll never hear the end of it. That said, what are you doing for work this summer?"

Bailey paused and looked at Annabelle. She smiled and said, "You're better than me at selling cars, so I can use you, but I get it. You're a college graduate now, and you should look for a full-time job. You also don't need to rent an apartment. You're welcome to stay here for the summer. In fact, we expect you to." She looked at Flynn, who nodded in agreement.

"It's great of you both and I really appreciate it. I don't know if I can camp out in your house all summer. It doesn't seem fair to you guys. But I'll sell cars for you, you know that. Can I use the office to look for employment more commensurate with my degree?"

"Sure, you can, whatever commensurate means! Just give me some notice and don't leave me hanging when you land the killer job."

They all laughed together, and Bailey changed the subject, looking between Annabelle and Flynn. "I thought I heard something last year about you two having kids. What's going on in that department?"

The couple looked at each other and Flynn said, "Hey, we got married last year. That counts as a start, right?"

The smile was back on Annabelle's face. "Let's just say we're working on it. I'm in my thirties now, so the clock is ticking. We're finally at the point with Flynn's job being secure and the staff I've got at the shop being solid that we can think about it. You do understand that if…or when… I have a baby, I'm not going to be there working for a while. That's a kinda big deal."

"Hey, I get that," Bailey replied. "I'm just supporting the idea that you need to do it sooner than later."

Annabelle and Flynn cleared and went to wash the dishes, leaving Bailey and Dan at the table.

"You're serious about leaving?"

"Yeah, I think so. I've got a good degree now and have to do something good with it. Something more than's likely to happen here. That's what dad would have expected. He'd be totally let down if I came back here with my degree and ended up doing the night bookkeeping shift at the Hilton Inn."

Dan rolled his eyes. "That's not all there is here, you know."

Bailey grinned at him. "You're right, there are a few small manufacturing companies and the state prison. Somehow, I don't think that's the formula for success."

"You know I don't want you to leave."

"I know, man. You're my best friend. I don't want to leave you. But life moves on. Sometimes I don't know why I came back this summer except for you and Annabelle. I think I came back because I just don't know what I want to do with my life." He eyed his friend and added, "I don't have my shit together."

"Seriously, dude? You're more together than me. I was the one always in trouble and didn't go to college. You were the good student and got a degree. Seems like that's got your shit together material, to me anyway."

"Yeah. But I just don't know what I want to do. I feel like I'm drifting. Or like that Paul Simon song, slip sliding away."

Dan smiled and said, "Oh. You mean from that old song you dad used to listen to?"

"Yeah, the Paul Simon song."

Dan nodded in recognitions, then said, "So, slid sliding away since Morgana, you mean?"

Bailey was silent, and Dan didn't say anything. Finally, Bailey replied, "Well, yeah. But truth, it had been coming for a while. It wasn't like it just happened at Christmas."


"Meaning we more and more felt like we didn't fit. It was…I don't know, strained most of the time. Then she wasn't happy with me and decided it was time and moved out."

"What was she unhappy about? I mean I know you, and I don't get it."

"I guess it was compatibility or whatever. At the end she was always complaining that I couldn't make decisions and wasn't there for her?"

"Not there for her? Don't they all say that? Becky tells me shit like that all the time."

"I hear you, but I know some of it was true. Things got harder my junior year, and even harder the beginning of this year. It was like I had to force myself to get through it." He paused, and Dan asked what had happened.

"I don't know really, but somehow that run in with the shithead did something to my head."

"I thought there was more to that than you were telling me. If I ever see that motherfucker again, I'm going to kill him."

"No, you're not. That'd ruin your life. Anyway, it wasn't that big a deal. But at the end of Fall quarter Morgana said we were growing apart and wanted to end it and move out. I finished the school year on autopilot. So, that's why I don't know why I'm back here. She's from here too, so it's like I'm inflicting pain on myself. Dad's gone. You and Annabelle and Flynn are really it as far as family."

He stared out the window. "I mean, I've got stuff to do, loose ends to tie up, but I don't know why I'm here or where I'm going."

Dan looked at the plaintive expression on his friend's face and said softly, "I've known you for how long? Almost ten years? You're the most together person I know, so stop with the 'I don't have my shit together' stuff, okay? You'll give the rest of us a complex or something!" He grinned at his friend and then said, "I've gotta get going. Work in the morning."

"Yeah, me too. I'll have to go get familiar with the inventory and see if I can sell some cars for Annabelle. Let's do something this weekend?"

Dan nodded agreement but said it would have to be Friday since he had a date on Saturday. They kidded each other about regular girlfriends as they walked into the kitchen where he said goodnight to Annabelle and Flynn.

And so began the rhythm of the next few weeks. Bailey worked selling cars for Annabelle and spent his free time chasing down employment opportunities in the larger area around Auburn. Occasionally she'd walk into the office and catch him staring out the window, his face blank. He'd come back quickly, saying something like, "Just thinking about how to sell more cars."

On Friday or Saturday night he and Dan would meet up for dinner and drinks. Occasionally they'd catch a flick, but it was pretty low key. Most evenings after dinner he'd leave Annabelle and Flynn and go to his room and try to read, but often just end up staring off into space. Flynn asked him why he wasn't going to the park for a pickup ball game, but he said he'd lost interest since he hadn't played soccer in college. It dawned on him about the third weekend in that his problem might be one of those fancy words he'd learned in college: lassitude. He remembered it meant mental weariness and lack of energy. He certainly seemed lethargic a lot of the time.

Dan regularly commented on the need for Bailey to get a new girlfriend or at least start dating so they could do a double date. Bailey usually said he just wasn't ready. About the third time Dan said, "How can you not be ready?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you and Morgana lived together for over three years, so you were having sex, right? You two split up over six months ago. Aren't you tired of handjobs by now? That on top of having a relationship with another woman?"

Bailey wanted to answer honestly, but doing so would mean telling his best friend that the desire had gone. Gone for sex and most other things in his life. Instead, he said, "I miss the relationship, but we were together longer than you've been in a relationship. It leaves a big hole. It kind of has to mend first. At least for me."

Dan nodded but didn't say anything, and Bailey added, "And for your information, I have become highly proficient at handjobs."

Dan's eyebrows went up and he grinned knowingly, then said, "You were proficient when we were kids, so you must be some kind of Zen master now!"

Bailey sighed the relief inwardly and went with a smart retort. "In your dreams! In your dreams."

At the end of the second week Annabelle did compliment him on the inventory turnover rate, and observed that she wasn't as good as his dad had been at running the business and selling cars. "Well, they're two different things," Bailey replied. "What in business are called two different core competencies. What it takes to be a good mechanic and run a good auto repair business is pretty different than what it takes to stock the right inventory and sell cars."

Annabelle paused, smiled and then said, "And you learned this from Colin?"

Bailey grinned back. "Of course. Where else? I learned that by the time I was fifteen. I didn't need to go to college to learn it. You know dad hired you because he understood you had the core competency he didn't have, right?"

"I guess I need to think about that more. The turnover rate doubles when you're here for the summer."

"Hey, different skill sets. I've been trying to tell you that for a couple of years."

"Yeah, right. Well, now I've got to finish up adjusting the transmission in that Buick. We'll talk selling cars another time." Bailey bit his lip and held the comment he wanted to make: 'And that makes the case!'

Dan kept telling him the apartment he'd gotten a line on wasn't going to be available for ever and he'd lose it if he kept delaying, but to Bailey renting an apartment felt like he was tying himself down when he wanted to do the opposite. He hadn't had any luck finding part-time work, and Annabelle told him maybe he needed to get serious and look for full-time work and use his degree.

"But you said car sales go up when I'm here selling for you."

"They do, and I appreciate what you can do. But it's more important you get the right job and put your degree to work. That's what your dad would want, right?"

He gave her the side eye and said, "You're not trying to guilt me, are you?"

"Well, no…not really." Then she grinned and added, "Actually, yes, because it's time you did what's right for you. You've helped me out the last three summers. I can find someone to sell cars, or another option is to lease the lot, so I've got rental income and selling cars is someone else's problem. Either way, it's my business problem, not yours."

The next week when he was looking online at new job openings in the area, he saw an unusual one for an Executive Assistant. He'd always thought of them as glorified secretaries, but this one was for a medical equipment company not too far away and the job description had some parts that caught his attention. The key job responsibilities included:

That didn't sound like a glorified secretary, and it did sound like a challenging combination of things he was good at and new responsibilities. He did a little more research and discovered the company was located less than a twenty-minute drive away, so that was a manageable commute. Then with a little more research he discovered that this was a hundred-year-old company that had recently been acquired by a multinational healthcare company based in Chicago, that had recently brought in a new CEO. Which began to explain why the CEO would need more than a secretary. He filled out the application and then went on with his search for other openings. He found two other postings for which he completed applications and ignored the one for a bookkeeper at the state prison!

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