Again, in the bar…
“Dude, seriously? You’re going to talk about getting dumped out by The Troll at my wedding reception?”
“Relax, Collins, everything is fine. You’re a fan of a good story, right? Every hero has to fall. If I just told a bunch of good stories, no one would remember my speech. This way, I get to tell a memorable story AND have fun at your expense. It’s a two-fer!”
Collins sighed deeply, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples. This speech of Jon’s was taking a horrible turn. “Jonny, how are you doing this? An hour and a half ago, you had no idea what to say. Where is all this coming from?”
Jon shrugged. “I don’t know; you guys inspired me. I mean, we talk about this stuff all the time. We’re constantly trading stories. When we sat down and started talking this stuff out, the right ones just began to bubble to the surface. Now I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, I’m just finding the right way to say it. Plus, I’m having a grand old time watching you squirm.”
“Fine…whatever. Where do we go from here, wise old sage? Is this the part where things get better?”
Schmidt replied, “Probably not. The next thing that happened to you was that trip to Jonny’s school.”
Jon nodded. “Yeah…that’s definitely not something I can just leave out.”
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
After the wonderfully brutal break-up with The Troll, Collins started taking a serious look at the direction his life was headed, he decided it was time for a change of location. While he was dating The Troll, Collins had dropped out of school (he claimed it was primarily because his health deteriorated, but no one believed that for a minute; truthfully, everyone knew that even if it was health related, The Troll was to blame.) So, after he was freed from his little cage under the bridge, he wisely chose to return to his education.
Thinking that it would probably do him some good to get out of town and start fresh elsewhere, he put in an application at Jon’s school. He was quickly accepted, and scheduled himself for an early-enrollment orientation. It was all very exciting for Collins, given his circumstances, but there was one person who was not too thrilled about his choice in college: his father.
Collins’ dad was able to see right through the façade to his son’s real reasons for choosing a school out of state.
“Son, you can’t run away from your problems. No matter where you go, you’re going to feel like this until you deal with that mess in your head. Don’t go to school so far away just to get away.”
“I’m not running; I’m starting over.”
“That’s running. In fact, that’s exactly what they do in the witness protection program. They help you run away from something, and then help you hide from whatever you ran from.”
“Dad, seriously, I’m not running. I’m fine.”
“If you can look me in the eye and tell me that your motives for going to Michigan have nothing to do with that girl, then by all means, give it a shot. However, if you were to be truly honest with yourself and everyone around you, I think you’d see that’s the only reason you’re leaving.”
“You know what, I’m a grown man, and I can make decisions on my own. I want to try this school for reasons that have nothing to do with her; this is what I want to do.”
The elder Mr. Collins took a long, slow breath and replied, “You may be grown, but you’ve still got a lot of learning to do, bubba. If this is what you’re going to do, I’ll support you. I just wish you would take a semester to think about it. You could change your mind by the time New Year’s comes around.”
So, being young and foolish as he was, Collins packed his things for a four-day road trip to Michigan and left the next morning. In the years to come, Collins would have mixed emotions about that long weekend. If he had stayed home, his life may have turned out very different.
Arriving in Michigan, Collins decided to stay at Jon’s apartment instead of getting a hotel room to save money (plus Jon was the only person in “The UP” that he knew, so the majority of his free time would be spent at his apartment anyway.)
Throughout the weekend, Collins and Jonny did some sight-seeing and some hiking. Northern Michigan is a really pretty place to be during the summer. Jon would make the claim that it was never complete without two feet of snow on the ground, but the snow and the cold make it difficult to go out and explore. The summer months are the best time for those kinds of excursions.
After two days of fun, Collins had his orientation meetings to attend, and that was an all-day affair. He arrived at 8am on Monday morning for registration and the campus tour. In later years, he would joke that he should have just turned around and gone home as soon as things started going sideways.
Walking up to the registration desk, he said, “Hi, I’m here for early orientation. The email I got from Admissions said I should have a packet here.”
The pretty girl running the desk smiled at him and responded, “Good morning. Yes, if I can just get your last name, we can get you started.”
“Ok…let’s see here…we don’t seem to have a packet under your name. Let me look you up in the system.”
After a few minutes, his name came up on the list, but there was another problem.
“Alright, Mr. Collins…we have a bit of a mix-up here, and you are listed as a female. In order to get this sorted out, you’re going to have to head down to the Admissions office. Would you like for me to take you down there?”
Considering Collins was single and the girl was wonderfully attractive, of course he said yes. When they made their way to the Admissions office, Robo-Admissions pulled up his file.
“Let’s go over your information and make sure that everything is correct. You are certainly not a woman, so we’ll go ahead and change that right off the bat. Is your major still underwater basket weaving?”
“My major was never underwater basket weaving. I’m here for firefighting and forestry.”
“Hmm…I’ll fix that as well then. It appears you have not paid for your orientation yet either. How would you like to take care of this?”
“Are you sure you’re looking at the right file? I paid for everything last week.”
“Our records show that you haven’t paid for anything yet.”
“What’s the name on the file?”
“Josephine Collins. I’m assuming your name is Joseph and it was just filed incorrectly, since you’re the only Collins on the list.”
“That can’t be my file, ma’am. I’m not majoring in basket weaving, I’ve paid all the fees, my name isn’t Josephine, and I certainly am not a girl.”
“If this isn’t you, then I’m afraid you’re not in our system at all. What we can do is set you up as a new student, reschedule your orientation for a later date, and then go from there.”
Collins sighed. “So Josephine is the only Collins on record? Are you sure I’m not in there at all?”
“I’m looking at the list right now, sir. There is a Mr. Carter, Ms. Collins, and then it jumps down to a Ms. Eckerly.”
“Alright, if there’s nothing we can do, then why don’t we set this up for regular orientation and I’ll handle all this stuff then.”
Robo-Admissions made all the arrangements and Collins suddenly had the entire day free. Jon was working until mid-afternoon, so Collins drove down to the beach and sat in the sun until Jon got off duty. After that, they grabbed a bite to eat and went back to Jon’s apartment for some video games and some scotch.
Around five o’clock that evening, Collins got a call from the youth pastor from his parents’ church. This wasn’t uncommon, since they had known each other for several years, but as soon as Collins picked up the phone, he knew something wasn’t quite right.
“Hey, Chris, I am randomly in northern Michigan visiting some friends and I heard that you were up here as well. Is there any chance we could meet up and grab a brew or something?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m staying at my buddy’s apartment; we can meet up here.”
Collins gave him directions to Jon’s apartment, hung up the phone, and stared quizzically at Jon.
“What’s wrong?” Jon asked.
“I don’t know, but something’s up. There’s no way Reed is ‘randomly’ up here. I mean, maybe he is, but I sincerely doubt it. This is a busy week at the church, and I don’t think this would be the right time for him to take a spontaneous vacation.”
“Who knows; if something’s wrong, I guess he’ll tell you when he gets here. If everything is alright, we go out for a drink and maybe a quick bite to eat. No use worrying about it until he gets here.”
Jon and Collins stepped outside where Collins could have a smoke while they waited for Reed to arrive. They talked about inconsequential things, with Jon trying to keep Collins from overthinking things while they waited. They stood in the parking lot of Jon’s complex for ten minutes or so before Reed finally pulled up.
“Hey, Reed, how are you, man?”
“I’m good, dude. How’s Michigan been treating you the last few days?”
“Pretty good; kind of a bizarre day today, but overall it’s been a good trip.”
Collins introduced Reed and Jon, they exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then the conversation petered off.
“Look, Chris…I lied to you. I’m not randomly here in Michigan. I need you to call your mom.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Dude, it’s not my place to tell you. Just call your mom.”
“Reed…seriously, man, what the hell happened? Obviously it’s not my mom, so who is it? My dad? My sisters? What happened?”
“Chris…call your mom. Take my phone, and just call her.”
Collins searched Reed’s face for a clue as to what had occurred, and the only thing he saw was intense sadness. He took the phone and dialed his mother. He stepped over to his car a few feet away and sat down on the pavement next to it. He was on the phone for a few minutes, and then suddenly stood up. Reed looked at Jon and said, “This is going to be rough…do you mind helping me keep him occupied while we’re up here?”
“Yeah, no problem. Whatever you guys need, I’ll take care of it. If you need a place to stay, you can crash here. Chris is staying with me while he’s up here, and as long as you don’t mind sleeping on the floor or the couch, you can stay here.”
“Yeah, that would be nice. I have to return this rental car by tomorrow morning, and then I’m going to ride with him back home. I’m pretty sure he’s going to want to go home in the morning after this.”
“What’s going on, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Just as Jon said that, Collins walked back over to them wearing a shocked look on his face.
“My dad had a heart attack this afternoon…he’s…he’s dead.”