We sat at our regular table, quietly eating our eggs and drinking our coffee. It was 6 a.m. A few fishermen sat at the counter and chatted with the owner and laughed and ignored the hard rain outside. They probably intended to ignore their near-future. Boats bobbed and sank in the chop, rubbing against their docks.
“You get some sleep last night?” I asked Norman.
“Sure did. Slept very well,” he said.
“Don’t let this bother you,” he said.
“I won’t.” I lied. Keeping thick skin is tough. “You?”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
“But you’re quitting,” I said.
Norman smiled at me. “I said I’d stop with the pitching and trying to sell my work. I’ll write till the day I die. Till I can see my Elizabeth again.” He looked at the fishermen. “See those guys?” He pointed with his head.
“They love what they do. It can be shit work, but they fish. I may put down the work for a few days or a few weeks, but I go back. But heck if I’m going to stop writing because one producer didn’t want to pick up my work. What about you?”
“What about me?” I said.
“What’s your next move? You were just as passionate about this as I was.”
“I’m going to produce this series. Get that under my belt. Then I’m going to decide if I pitch it again.”
The fishermen got up and hugged the owner and said farewell as they walked out the door into the downpour. “I’m going away for a bit, too,” said Norman. “Going to spend some time with the kids. We’ll get breakfast when I get back.”
“Great. When you get back, I’d love to get your eyes on the outline for my new series,” I said. “Maybe get your editing on the first few drafts.”
“I’d be happy to take a look for you. I’ll call when I get home. You can send the outline before that. It’ll give me something to do while I let my well fill back up.”
The owner walked up to us and filled our mugs. “If I were you, I’d stay her until that rain lets down,” she said.
“I wouldn’t stay here a minute longer than I need to,” said Norman.
“Good, my invitation was half-hearted.”
“You don’t do anything half-hearted,” said Norman.
“You’re right, she said. Did I hear you’re going away a bit?”
“Just a few weeks.”
“Where will you eat?”
“That’s a good question, said Norman.”
“Maybe you should order three weeks of takeout now,” I said.
“You know, Norm, we’d do it for you.”
Norman smiled, happy to hear her offer. “I know,” he said. “I won’t be gone that long. I need to venture out. The kids will be sure I do.”
“Well you come straight here when you get home. I expect you sitting in that chair. She walked from the table and disappeared behind the kitchen curtain.”
Norman drank his coffee and looked at his watch. “You should get going,” he said. “It’ll take you longer to get to work in this, unless thirty-six is underwater.”
“I’ll get going soon. Not too soon.”
We sat back in our chairs mirroring each other – legs crossed, shoulders drooped, mugs cupped in our hands, and half-smiles across our faces. The rain and wind smacked against the window.
Thirty minutes went by. I finished my coffee and lay down my mug and shook Norman’s hand as I stood up. “You have fun,” I said to Norman. Forget about here for a while. Unplug. Except for what I send you.”
“I will,” said Norman. “But you keep going. Don’t stop except to refuel.” We shook harder and then Norman pulled me in and hugged me. “I’ll see you soon,” he said. “Tell your boss I said hi.”
I smiled and left him there like i had all the other times before.
Looking back, I should have stayed longer and just enjoyed our time together. I didn’t realize it then. But I should have. A few weeks passed and I emailed Norman the series outline and the first episode drafts. But I didn’t hear anything back. I assumed he was having fun with his kids and grandkids, finally letting himself unwind a bit. A few more weeks went by and work consumed me. Early mornings at my desk turned into late nights in the editing room. My boss hired two younger writers to help and I spent a lot of time guiding them, giving them the same welcome I’d received. Norman still didn’t answer. I figured he’d extended his trip.
I’m not sure what made me do it. Late one night, I searched Norman’s name with the word obituary. There it was. His name scrawled across my screen with a few links to various obits. I cried as I read through them. He had just passed and his services were coming up. I wanted to go and say goodbye. I wanted to thank him for that first breakfast. I wanted to let him know just how much I appreciated all of his advice. I wanted to tell him that I’d never forget the old man from the marina. But his family didn’t know me. No one knew me. It was their time to mourn and remember his amazing life. To go or not to go. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. Over the course of the next few days I battled myself. Brittany assured me that he’d appreciate any decision I made. The night before his services, I sat staring at his obituary. In Lieu of flowers. He asked people to donate to a popular animal rescue organization. So I did. I made my decision. And to this day I question whether or not I made the one.
The next morning I went to The Cottage and walked in and sat at our table. The owner walked up and we hugged and cried and I drank coffee. Instead of an omelet, I ordered his eggs. And then I headed off to work. That afternoon one the younger writers stood by my desk and plopped her printed script in front of me. She looked distraught. “What’s wrong I asked?”
“The executive producer made her comments,” she said. “It’s covered in red.” She pointed to all the struck-through lines.
I looked up and laughed, likely insulting her. “You’re a good writer,” I said. “Don’t worry about the comments. We’ll go through them together. But most importantly,” I said, “this is a tough business. You have to have thick skin.”
The Cottage became my place. I went alone and Brittany and I went early in the morning so we could sit at our table. Ownership changed hands but I still went. Now we take our girls and I show them where it all started, where my writing life took shape. And they order their chocolate chip pancakes and Brittany orders her pork roll and cheese and I order my regular or Norman’s regular. And I will keep going back, no matter how many times ownership changes or how many coats of paint cover the memories. As sure as the walls are standing, Norman is there eating his eggs and sipping his coffee, his sweater keeping him warm.