Authors: Sara Hooper
Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Copyright © 2013
Gina Singh stepped back, put her hands on her hips and surveyed her handiwork. Everything was in place just as she had envisioned it over the last two weeks as she planned and purchased items for her new apartment. Without anyone else’s input, she had chosen the colors, the furniture, the drapes, the dishes, everything. It was hers and it was as she wanted it. More than anything else, it was symbolic. Today, in this apartment, she was experiencing her first real taste of freedom in her twenty-two years of life. It was the perfect day.
She was born in the United States, but Gina’s family was first-generation immigrants from Delhi in the Northern part of India. Her older brother was the only one of the three children in the family born in native India; however Gina and her younger sister were raised in the culture. Her father would not have it any other way. Although she considered herself an American, at home, the family still practiced most of the religious and social beliefs of her ancestors. This cultural environment had always made it difficult for Gina to have much of a social life, particularly as it related to dating and forming relationships with Americans.
Amlan Singh, her father, had held her captive in a psychological way. Buried in and loyal to Indian culture, he restrained Gina in many ways. Her childhood was spent with family, not friends; her social life had always been limited and bordered by tradition. There were no slumber parties, or sleepovers such as the girls she knew at school enjoyed. Gina didn’t “mix” with people of other races and cultures.
Indian culture had also crept into her love life, but she fought back. When she was thirteen, her father “promised” her to a boy who still lived in India just to ensure that she would carry on the traditions of her native family. For years, she had worn the engagement ring, unaware that someday she would be free to pursue her own life, even at the cost of alienating her father. Once she had entered college as the recipient of several scholarships in addition to her father’s financial support, the ring had gone into her jewelry box. Her obligation to marry the “selected” husband had vanished from her mind. It was her first show of defiance toward a culture she no longer believed in, and it wouldn’t be the last show, either. Gina had fallen in love with a fellow student during her junior year, but the romance had little chance of blooming into anything that would last. Her father saw to that by claiming her studies and her career had to come first, or he wouldn’t help her through college. She had given into her father’s wishes; once may have been enough.
But now, the choices were hers to make. Gina was beautiful and full of life; she had realized her dream of becoming a marine biologist, and she had landed the perfect job for her career. She had a list of many friends, a diversified list - all cultures, all races, all castes. In just four months since she graduated college, Gina had found her niche. The world had opened to her.
“Is that all you had to move?” her friend and co-worker asked.
“Yep! That’s it.” Gina moved to her purse and pulled out her wallet, reaching for a few bills to give him.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he said, holding up his hands to her. “You don’t owe me a thing for doing this. You don’t always have to pay people to help you, Gina. I did it because you are my friend; you gave me a job when I needed it. One good turn deserves another in my book.”
Gina always felt she owed someone for doing things for her. It was part of her father’s influence in a way. If you paid a person money for helping, it meant you didn’t have to acknowledge a friendship. Indoctrination, she presumed, taught to think a certain way in order to keep the boundaries in place. Gina had a lot to learn, but she was intent to take heed. It was another part of having been subjected to a culture that had stifled her life.
The old dog lay at Shane’s feet, his head on his front paws, eyes moving from side to side as he watched the younger animals test the strength of their owner’s leash. Shane couldn’t help but wonder if he knew why they were at the vet’s office; did Max sense this was his last day, just as he had sensed the dwindling life of Amanda? His hand drifted down to scratch the loyal friend behind the ear, a move that had always born a message of love. This was going to be a tough day, but a promise is a promise.
Shane Ryden had never imagined that his life would have gone down the paths it had. Born to parents who had been raised in the ‘60’s, he had always been encouraged to embody a free spirit, to do what he wanted to do, not to take life so seriously that it couldn’t be enjoyed, and to pursue love with the expectation that it would come. He had embraced this attitude with reckless abandon.
Beginning in high school and lasting through college, Shane was always the ultimate athlete who had a body comparable to Charles Atlas. In other words, he was hot with a capital “H!” Girls flocked to him, guys envied him, and teachers could neither corral nor fail him. He had a magical personality boosted by charm that defied rejection. Shane was magical, it seemed, all good things came his way without any effort on his part. Deep inside, however, he struggled with who he was and where he was going in life. Being the leader, the partier, the hero, the desired, doesn’t always make for a settled person. The truth of his younger years is that he relied on others to carry him; it was his one major fault. But, life had taught him some hard-learned lessons.
During his third year of college, Shane met Amanda through a tutoring service on campus. His grades were suffering as a result of his lifestyle, and he knew he had to get himself on track or he wouldn’t make the cut for dental school. During their first session, it was evident that a magical connection formed between them that surpassed their academic borders. He was smitten! Amanda was everything a guy could want; she was smart, beautiful, kind and willing to help anyone who needed it. Above all that, she wasn’t a bit impressed by Shane’s good looks, desirable body or charm. Over the course of a few months, they had started dating and falling in love. They married during the last year of his internship, living happily for four years. Two years before he sat in the vet’s office with Max, Amanda had lost her battle with coronary disease. Since then, it had only been Shane and the old golden retriever, his last connection to the woman he loved beyond comprehension. Today would mark the end of the final chapter of “them.”
“Mr. Ryden?” the veterinary assistant said from the door behind him. “We’re ready for you and Max.” In slow motion, Shane rose from his chair, bent over to help the old dog stand and led him through the door to the treatment room. Shane’s heart beat rapidly and loudly in his chest and he silently asked for the strength to fulfill his promise to Amanda, that he would do this when Max became too incapable of living a quality life. As the needle was inserted into Max’s leg, Shane stroked the fur of his loyal friend while tears filled his eyes.
Back in his car, Shane sat for quite a while, reflecting on the past few years and where his life would go from here. He hadn’t dated and had very little social interaction except with a few close friends. He had buried himself in his successful practice, which was filled with Amanda’s presence. She had located the office space; she had ordered the supplies and equipment; she had hired the staff and arranged for the computer system that managed appointments and accounting activities. Even her mark was on his logo, which she had designed. Shane didn’t want to change any of that, but he did want to find a new direction for his personal life. Otherwise, he was afraid of becoming a recluse, a tempting alternative to facing the loneliness that comes when you lose your partner in life.
His ringing cell phone stirred Shane back to reality. “Hello,” he quietly said.
“Hey, Dude!” came the quick, light response from his friend, Don. “Did you forget our co-ed volleyball game at Manhattan today? We’re scheduled to play the first game. You promised!”
“Ah, actually, I did,” Shane answered, still quietly. “You go ahead. I think I’ll just stay home and catch up on some patient charts.”
“What?” Don pressed on. “You can’t desert me, Dude! We’ve had this match lined up for weeks. We need you. Well, at least we need your serve and spike. Those guys from Newport will be highly pissed after driving fifty miles and we can’t even cough up a team! C’mon, Dude! Help us out.”
“Hold on a sec,” Shane said, “let me check on something.” The “something” he needed to check was his conscience. Was it right to participate in a fun activity after just having euthanized his late wife’s dog? Could he really drink some beer and hang out with his friends instead of mourning his losses? Did he deserve a chance at happiness or was he going to live a life dedicated to the memory of his beloved wife? Finally, he raised the cell phone back to his jaw. “What time is the game?” he asked.
“They’ll be at the beach ready to play at three. We’re all meeting for a little practice there around two-thirty. You coming?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there at two-thirty.” Shane ended the call and cranked up the car. During the last weeks of her life, Amanda had made him promise two things: He would have Max taken care of when the time came, and he would have a happy life, even if it included another woman. She had given him the permission; he had to make the choice. With a determination to live happily, Shane put aside the blanket of mourning so that he could keep his promises. He pulled out of the parking lot with a determination to give it his best shot. It was well deserved.
Situated on the Pacific Coast, Manhattan Beach is known for its multi-million dollar homes, up-scale restaurants and ritzy environment. Some of the most well-known athletes in the world live in The Hill neighborhood, while acclaimed movie stars fill in around them. It is a city in and of itself. Shane had purposely located his dental practice in North Manhattan in order to take advantage of the abundant wealth in the area, as well as to play volleyball, the game that made Manhattan Beach so popular. Twice, he had competed in the annual Manhattan Beach Open volleyball tournament before it became part of the professional volleyball tour. He loved the game, and this was the most perfect place in the states to play it. Since the beginning of Amanda’s illness, though, his volleyball games had dwindled to almost nil. The Ventures co-ed match-ups were one of the best-known, most popular volleyball tournaments held at the beach, and Shane’s team had always been a tight contender for the title. Highly competitive, it was recognized as one of the most crowd-drawing events at the beach. Not only were the teams made up of good amateur players, some of the most recognized names in volleyball also participated. One of them was Shane Ryden, a classic and very amiable player.