Joe’s Last Novel
Dwight held his hand out and watched as his wife exited the limozine. She was as beautiful tonight as she ever was. He gave her a peck on the cheek and waited for his best friend Joe Storm to exit the long black car.
Joe had set up this entire evening. He called Dwight yesterday saying that he had good news and invited the couple out to dinner. Dwight clapped Joe on the back as the three approached the door to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse.
“Thanks for inviting us out Joe. We’re excited to hear your news.” He already knew what he was going to tell them, as did Stacy. Tonight was a celebration dinner.
He and Stacy had known Joe since high school. They all went to Indiana University together. Dwight and Stacy had become successful lawyers while Joe Storm had gone on to become a wildly successful novelist. Three of his books had been sold to Hollywood movie studios. Tonight he would tell them that his latest novel was finished. It had become a tradition to go to the five-star steakhouse to celebrate the occasion. It was also the only time Joe left his house.
“It’s good to see you out Joe,” Stacy said, giving Joe a kiss on each cheek. They took their seats at their table. “Are you going to make a habit of it?”
She knew full well that he wouldn’t. After graduating from IU Stacy, Dwight, Joe, and Joe’s girlfriend Tracy took a cruise to the Bahamas. The tightly knit group had been planning the trip for years. On the first night aboard each couple was married by the ship’s Captain.
None of them had ever been happier. But on the third night of the cruise they all were drinking too much and having a little too much fun. Tracy got too close to the rail and fell overboard into the ocean. The Coast Guard searched for her body for three days but never did find her. Joe had not been the same since.
The waiter approached and took their drink orders.
“Can you also bring us three shrimp cocktails please,” Joe asked?
Dwight noticed that he seemed happy. “You seem to be in a good mood. What’s going on buddy?”
Joe took a drink of his water, leaned back in his chair and spoke.
“Well you know the reason we’re here is to celebrate me finishing another novel.”
Stacy laughed. “We kind of figured that.”
Joe continued, “Well It’s not actually done yet. It’ll be finished on Saturday afternoon. Three more days work I figure.”
“Well good for you Joe. I’m excited to read it.”
Dwight was excited to read it. In addition to being a corporate lawyer for Matthews & Howerton he was Joe Storm’s agent. More than that he was responsible for all of Joe’s finances.
“But that isn’t why we’re here tonight.” Joe looked very excited now. “I’ve been seeing someone.”
Stacy and Dwight exchanged looks. They were shocked. Joe had not had a single date since Tracy died. He rarely, if ever, even left the house. His groceries were delivered to his downtown loft and he had his assistant run any errands that needed running. Anything else he needed he’d order online. If the money wasn’t in his checking account it would automatically transfer from his savings.
“My God that’s amazing Joe,” Stacy said getting up and wrapping her arms around her friend.
“Tell us all about her,” she said when she sat down again.
The waiter interrupted with their drinks and shrimp. You didn’t come to St. Elmo’s and not get the shrimp cocktail.
As soon as the waiter walked away Stacy opened her mouth. “Well tell us. Who’s the girl?”
“Her name is Liz Green. She’s a freelance journalist and travels all over writing creative non-fiction. She gets a lot of her work from GQ, Esquire, and Vogue.”
“Nice,” Stacy said. “What does she look like? Where did you meet her? When did you meet her? Oh my God you have gone out with her right?” Stacy was out of breath. She was talking so fast.
“Slow down babe. We’ve got all night. Right Joe?” He winked at his friend. “Now continue. Please before you give my wife a coronary.”
Joe spent the rest of the evening telling his friends about his new love. He told them how they had met on the computer about a year ago. He told them that they spent many nights together in bed each working between sessions of lovemaking. It was over dessert, a Mark West pinot noir and chocolate mouse cheesecake that he told them.
“I’m going to ask her to marry me on Saturday.”
Stacy gasped and once again left her seat to hug her friend.
“Joe that’s great. Congratulations,” Dwight said.
“I just hope she says yes,” Joe said, his face showing the worry and fear that his friends were accustomed to.
“How could she not? You’re the cutest guy I know,” Stacy laughed and pinched her husband. “Except you of course.”
“I’d like you two to be there. I’m cooking dinner at my place Saturday night. Can you make it?”
“Of course we can,” they said in unison.
Dwight and Stacy talked excitedly on the ride home. They had waited so long for their friend to come out of his depression or whatever it was and it looked as if it might finally be happening.
They drove to Joe’s downtown loft on Saturday making a quick stop to pick up a bottle of his favorite wine. The little boutique wine store had one bottle left. Bodegas El Coto was a Spanish Rioja and Joe loved the stuff.
When the got to Joe’s they saw his car in the parking lot and walked the three flights of stairs to his loft. The door was open and dinner smelled delicious.
“Joe we’re here,” Dwight announced.
“Dinner smells great. I wish I could cook like you,” Stacy said as she continued into the small living space. She noticed that the loft had more of a feminine touch since she’d last been there. There were paintings on the walls and they had been painted a very light khaki color. Even the entertainment center now had a vase of flowers and other keepsakes.
She didn’t see Joe in the kitchen so she knocked on his bedroom door. It pushed open and Stacy screamed.
“Oh my God! Dwight. Get in here quick!”
Dwight ran to his wife and saw into the bedroom. His best friend was hanging from the rafters.
“Go call 9-1-1.”
Stacy ran from the room sobbing.
Dwight pulled a pocketknife from his pocket and cut his friend down. His skin was cold, lifeless. He knew that it would do no good but he began to administer CPR anyway. He had to do something. He continued until the paramedics pulled him away.
Stacy sat stoic on the couch. She just stared out the window. Dwight sat down next to her and started to cry for the first time.
“I don’t understand,” she said. He was so happy on Wednesday.
Dwight couldn’t form words. He and Stacy sat there for a long time. Finally a police officer sat in a chair across from them.
“I’m sorry for your loss. Were you close?”
Stacy spoke. “We were best friends. We’ve known him for years.”
The officer stood and held out a sheet of paper in front of him.
“It doesn’t say much but it certainly seems like he did this to himself. I’m so very sorry.”
Dwight took the note. Five words: It was the only way. Neither of them knew what it meant. Joe’s last note only caused more confusion.
Two hours after they first arrived for dinner the couple finally left their best friends home. Dwight would pay someone to pack his things up. He couldn’t bear the thought of doing it himself.
The officers allowed him to take Joe’s laptop home. Dwight had told them he wanted to look for answers. Especially considering how happy he had seemed just days ago.
Between preparing for the funeral and his own work schedule Dwight was unable to look at the laptop until the next Saturday. He had begun to accept that his friend had simply been an unhappy person and that maybe something had happened with the Liz girl.
He woke up early and prepared a pot of Starbucks coffee. The first thing he saw when he booted up the laptop was the document on the desktop.
by Joe Storm
He opened the document and began to read. Within minutes things began to make sense. He continued to read his best friends last novel, scrolling faster and faster as the action picked up. Admittedly this was Joe’s best work. He had just finished the novel when Stacy walked into the den rubbing her eyes.
“Whatcha doin baby?” she asked, picking up and taking a drink of his coffee.
“I need you to read this,” he told her.
She sat in his chair and started to read from the beginning. He let her read a couple of pages before he stopped her.
“The rest of it is amazing. It’s his best piece of work.”
“I still don’t understand,” she said.
“You would have to read the entire book to fully understand but here’s what happened. Joe fell in love with Liz Greene, his main character. He wrote himself into the book and into the plot. As the story line developed he allowed himself and Liz to fall in love. Everything he told us about the other night happens in the book. I don’t think he anticipated where the plot would go and in the end he had to allow Liz to die.”
“That’s what he meant by it was the only way.”
“Yeah. And in the end he couldn’t live without her.”