Side Affects, Chapter One

 

 “Hey, Rob!” Stanley ran over to meet me as I finished the inspection on my big gray Peterbilt Cabover. “Matt asked if I would ask you to please stop by his office before you go home. I guess it’s pretty important.”
 
“Okay, Stan,” I told him. “Here’s the inspection sheet, I’ll go check in with Matt. The Monster runs great, but it’ll need fuel. Everything other than that seems okay.”
 
 Everybody calls my truck the Monster. It’s a 110”BBC model Cabover with several special modifications.  It’s the only Cabover in our fleet, it’s painted in “Stealth” flat black primer, it’s really kind of ugly, and I love to drive it.
 
“Okay, Boss. I’ll have it ready to go for tomorrow, no problem!” Stanley’s our yard driver. He moves trucks, spots trailers, runs our truck wash and generally helps out anywhere he can.
 
“Thanks, Stanley!” I told him as I walked over to the building, and headed for my office. I had to drop off some stuff before I went to Matt’s office.
 
Matt and I are the co-owners of Partner’s Intermodal Freight and Warehousing. It was supposed to be a temporary thing; something we would do to raise capital to start a real business, but it became very successful. Today we own a fleet of trucks, a few trailers, several warehouses and our terminal building. Our offices are in Chelsea Springs, Michigan and we have both regional and over-the–road long haul drivers.  Matt runs the business, and I’m the senior driver. Not too bad for a couple of guys who started out with Associate degrees from the Community college in Grand Rapids and an old Cabover I bought from my Dad.
 
By the way, for those who might be interested, for whatever reason, I’m a white guy, about 6 foot 4 inches tall, around 230 pounds, depending on the time of day, with dirty blonde hair, otherwise I’m fairly boring. Matt used to call me Redneck, but that is really just because of some old habits. I worked in Alabama and Mississippi, building some churches for a couple of years after high school, and I still say “Y’all” sometimes.
 
Matt Blanchard is my best friend. He is an Urban Gentleman (Mattspeak for “black”), and he’ll tell you that he’s better looking, better dressed and a better speaker than I am, which is pretty much true. He is aggressively single and I think he is terrified of long term relationships. He’s also a self- professed tight wad.
 
I found Matt waiting for me in my office, playing an online fantasy war game on my Desktop computer. He didn’t turn around, but waved cheerfully to me.
 
“Hi Rob! How did your day go?”
 
“I love driving on these nice spring days. It’s such a relief after all that cold and snow! I had my windows down all day, my customers were all in a good mood, diesel prices are down, and it has been a great day all around. Stan says you wanted to see me, so…what’s up?”
 
“Just a sec, I should be able to pause in a minute…” He finally put the game on hold and then turned around.
 
“I got a call from Dr. Jack today. He says that your D.O.T. physical has expired, and until you get a new one, you can’t drive a big truck. Do you think a new physical will be a problem? “
 
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But just to be on the safe side, let’s do this: I’ll take the weekend off, relax, take it easy for a while, and then see the Doc on Monday. Sound good to you?” I hadn’t taken a weekend off since we started the company, and I’m sure my wife Renee would love it. Maybe we could take my old CJ7 to the woods and do some off-roading.
 
“Sounds like a plan…Umm, before you leave, can you find the disc for this game for me? I think I’m in love.”
 
“Sure, I’ll get it for you.” I have a fairly extensive library of games and movies that I keep in my office. Most kids in high school know more about computers than I do, but at Partners, I’m the one everybody runs to for basic computer problems. If I can’t do it, we have a service on speed dial. The only problem with the service is that they want money when they fix our computers, and Matt gets nervous when we spend any money.
 
“You know,” Matt said, “If you would come into the office instead of driving that old truck of yours, you wouldn’t need to worry about these physicals anymore, and maybe you could get some formal computer training.”
 
This has long been an issue between the two of us. Matt would rather I take over day to day operations, customer service and handle the computers while he handles things like purchasing, personnel, safety, accounting, etc. I will concede that he has a point, and we have always worked well together, but I still love driving my semi. Yes, I know it’s selfish of me, but so far, the way we work has been very successful. The discussion really hasn’t gone anywhere since it started, but if I don’t get my blood sugar and blood pressure under control though, I may finally have to consider it. In the meantime, though, I was going to continue to drive.
 
“I’ll talk to Renee about it. She might agree with you, you never know.”
 
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. She knows how much you love that old beast. I know, too, but I worry about you, and besides, I could use the help!”
 
I laughed. “So says the guy sitting around playing video games on my computer. If you would just learn a few basic maintenance tasks, you might not miss me in here so bad.” I handed him the disc he wanted. “Here you go, and don’t worry. I wouldn’t leave you with Renee as a partner. I couldn’t do that to you!”
 
“Yeah, I would never get anything done if I was lusting, I mean looking at her all day. I still don’t know what she ever saw in you.” He smiled. “I was always much better looking.”
 
He does have very good looking features, and I‘m what my Dad calls “dull-as-dishwater”. There is nothing special about me except my moustache, and I only grew that because I have a scar on my lip. Old girlfriend injury, that’s all I’m gonna say.
 
I smiled. “It’s your story; tell it any way you feel you have to in order to save your ego. Fortunately for me, she likes intelligence, too.”
 
To be honest, I have often wondered just what it was that made her choose me. Matt and I had kind of a friendly rivalry over her when we were in college. The three of us used to do almost everything together, and when she finally said she was in love with me I wasn’t sure if he was hurt or relieved. He handled it well, though. I think he eventually slept with every one of the bridesmaids at our wedding, except the Maid of Honor, who would have laughed at him.
 
Renee is short, not quite 5 feet tall, whereas Matt and I are both over 6 feet.  She’s sweet and extremely outgoing, very passionate about everything, and nobody can make me laugh more.  Unlike me, she is thin but not too skinny, and very cute, with flaming red/orange hair, which is just a bit more than shoulder length. We met when I was working as a Mall Santa, and Matt was the photographer, one of the odd jobs we did to make money in our college days. Renee had been hired to work with us as my elf, and I think Matt and I were both in love with her by the end of the first day. She likes to tease me by wearing short skirts, just because I love her legs. They aren’t real long, but they are very sexy.
 
I went out to my car and drove home, feeling very happy. I should probably walk home, as I don’t live much more than a mile away, but it’s too much fun going from my huge truck to my Firebird, which sits very low to the ground and is much more responsive than the Monster. It’s a 1988 T-topped Pontiac Trans Am,  with a professionally built 427 small block and a custom fitted 6-speed manual transmission. It’s painted a bright arrest-me red, and is so much fun it should be illegal just to sit in it.
 
Renee was in the kitchen when I got home, chopping up some vegetables to grill as a side dish for some barbecued beef that I could see marinating on the counter. She wore a dark green mini-dress, one of my favorites. I grabbed a knife and started chopping vegetables (I like to sneak in some green onions, too), but she stopped me with a kiss.
 
“No, I want you to call Min. They are participating in a research project at the University, and we think you would be a perfect subject.”
 
Ugh. Renee knows I hate going to the Doctor’s office, even if the Doctor is Min. Renee knew just what I was thinking. “Look, she says it may let you keep your CDL, and…”
 
“Well in that case, give me that phone, woman!” Laughing, I grabbed the phone and hit the speed dial number.  Min and I were soon going over all the details. The project she was working on involved a new kind of “natural” treatment for type 2 diabetes, like I have. If I was willing to give it a try, she offered to write up a waiver for me so that I could continue to drive for a while. If it didn’t work, we would have to seriously consider the option of ending my driving career.
 
Min Aldurson is an older, attractive Asian-American woman, who has been my family doctor since I was a child. I don’t believe she has changed much since I was five. She is tall and thin, with long, black hair that she usually keeps in a bun. She has a great bedside manner, and when I was a child she could heal me with a hug. She knew my Mother, and after Mom died, she would occasionally babysit with me when Dad had to work late. She and my Dad never dated or anything-heck, they didn’t even really get along most of the time. I love her dearly.  She’s never been married, and I told her that I would marry her someday when I grew up, which made her laugh, a warm, musical laugh that made me feel good. She has the most intense blue eyes I’ve ever seen-eyes that seem to peer right through you.
 
Min’s best friend was Renee’s Mom, Colleen, although I never met her until Renee and I started dating when we were in college. Renee is almost identical to her Mom in some ways, but Colleen has that special “something” that makes a woman truly beautiful.  
 
Min and Colleen had gone to school together from elementary to college. She was Colleen’s maid of honor at her wedding, and had been there for her when Renee’s Dad was killed in the skies over Viet Nam less than two months later. When Renee and I got married, Min was her Maid of Honor, too. Colleen moved to California just after Renee and I got married, where she met and married some formerly famous actor who I had never heard of before. He treats her like a princess, and they are very happy. We would like to go visit them, and stop by the retirement home in Arizona on the way back, where my Dad is, but I am always too busy with the business.
 
So far, my weekend was going very well. Renee told me that she had invited Jeremy and his wife, Anna, over for dinner. Jeremy Reynolds was my first childhood friend. We are both type 2 diabetics, and we shared the experience of learning to adjust our diets together. He was the one who helped me deal with my Mom’s death, and I had been there for him when he fell out of the tree and got hurt so badly.
 
The fall had been very serious. Jeremy had hit his head on some large branches, and broke a few bones when he hit the ground. The Doctors said he had a serious brain injury, and he had to go to a special hospital for treatment. He still has some problems that he has learned to live with, but it drives some people away. He has a terrible temper, and can be very juvenile at times. Oh, and he simply cannot tell a joke, although he tries. I once overheard his Mom quietly tell Min that he was a little “socially retarded”, but that she thought I was a blessing since I did not treat Jeremy differently, and that I was a remarkably patient and caring child. I’m not so sure about all of that, but since he had been there for me, there was no way I was not going to be there for him.
 
 The experiences we had almost convinced me to be a nurse. I was very serious about it, and even worked as a volunteer in a Nursing Home while I was in high school. Then I went on a trip to California in my Dad’s truck, and he taught me to drive it. Oh well, so much for the nursing idea.
Jeremy has a small business making herbal and “all natural” concoctions for New Age folks and health food junkies, and he makes a darn good living at it. He’s always been a very smart person; it’s just that he can be a little “over-the-top” sometimes. He did have some domestic violence problems at one time, but after I learned about an incident with Anna, I helped him to get control of it. The fact that I threatened to pull off his male organ and shove it up his rear may have seemed a little extreme, but Jeremy knew I was serious. Seven years later, they seem to be doing just fine.
 
Oh yeah, he and Matt do not get along well. I don’t know if it is racism or just jealousy. I ignore it, and I expect them to behave around me.
 
I decided to change out of my work clothes, and I was just finishing when I heard the doorbell ring, and Renee let me know that Jeremy and Anna were here.  We headed out to the back, and I got the grille started. Renee said she had bought some beer, so I went in and filled a cooler with the beer and some ice. I handed Jeremy a beer, grabbed one for myself and was just taking a drink when Jeremy walked up, slapped me on the back and said “So, Renee says that your trouser trout is a flounder?”
 
He does this crap all the time. He has no tact at all, and I probably wouldn’t have cared except for the beer I started to choke on . . .
 
 “W-What?” I sputtered, as I looked at Renee, who was blushing furiously.
 
“Renee called me this morning and asked me if I had anything for erectile difficulty.” He smiled and pulled out a large pill bottle. “I figured it was probably due to your diabetes, and got these beauties out. I made them when I had a similar problem a couple of months ago. Worked great, didn’t they, Honey?”
 
So now both ladies were blushing furiously.
 
Anna Reynolds is about average height, I guess, slightly thinner than Renee, and much prettier.  She has long, light blonde hair that she says has never really been cut. She trims it, just to keep it in good condition, and it is beautiful.  We have not always been friends, but Anna and I have known each other all our lives. I think she sees me as a kind of “big brother”. I have always protected her, as Jeremy learned  the hard way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
 
“Speaking of meds,” I asked Jeremy, “Have you heard about the study at the University?”
 
“Oh yeah, but I don’t think their idea will work. I did think of you as a perfect test subject, but I know you don’t like . . . No! You didn’t!”
 
“Yeah, I did. I’m getting a waiver from Min so that I can still drive, but Matt still wants me to go to work in the office-“
 
“What, and leave the Monster?” Renee sounded shocked. “Oh, Heaven forbid! That truck is the only real competition I’ve ever had!” I thought Anna and Jeremy might fall out of their chairs from laughing so hard.
 
“Oh, come on, Sweetheart, you know I love you more than I love the truck!”
 
“Oh yeah? I seem to recall an expensive new sound and security system you put in there, not to mention the new tires you bought a couple of months ago.” She pulled me down and kissed me. “At least I don’t have to worry about some bimbo. “
 
I looked her in the eyes. “Sweetie, there isn’t a bimbo alive that could drag me away from you.”
 
“Aww, you say the sweetest things! Good boy, now sit, and I’ll get you some barbeque”
“Yes Ma’am!”
 
“You know, you would be a great customer relations person,” Jeremy said. “I have never seen anyone with your talent for talking to people.”
 
“Yup, old motor mouth, that’s me.”
 
“No, that’s just it, you don’t overpower people. I’ve seen you sit and listen to someone, and you always seem to be focused right onto them. It’s very flattering, sometimes, and you do it effortlessly. I have always tried to imitate the way you communicate when I deal with my customers, but it’s something you do naturally. You are never fake or sarcastic, and you can speak intelligently about almost anything. It’s really pretty cool.”
 
Wow. I didn’t know what to say, and I certainly never thought that I was someone that ever made that kind of an impression on anyone.
 
The rest of the night went well. Anna and I reaffirmed our position as the premier water volleyball team, and then we all sat back and chatted around a fire and listened to some music. All in all, a very nice evening, and I was looking forward to sleeping late the next morning.
 
The weekend turned out to be a great one. Renee and I did some four wheeling and camped in a private park near Petoskey, and then came home and relaxed. Monday morning, I was all ready to get started on this new treatment. I had already started to take those horse pills that Jeremy gave me. They were gray and white, and huge! I was able to choke them down, but I made a note to ask Jeremy if I could take them crushed up.
 
At the University, Min introduced me to Doctor Stevens, her associate and partner in this study project. He was a young, friendly guy, average build, short hair. He said he had just returned from a National Guard weekend, so I shook his hand and said thanks. People who are willing to serve our country should know they are appreciated, in my opinion. I was not allowed to serve, so I spent a year building Churches before going to college. Seems I always had health issues of one kind or another.
 
The “treatment” he gave me was in a medium sized plastic cup. It was very grainy and sort of tasteless, but it didn’t make me gag and it went down quickly. Min told me that I needed to continue taking all of my current medications, as well as come in 3 times a week for my drink, and I had to check my blood sugar reading much more regularly. If I experienced any changes, I was supposed to notify them immediately.  I can handle this, I thought, even if I do have to come here to the Doctor’s office.
 
My week went by pretty normally, until that Thursday. I started to feel more energetic and generally just felt better all over. I also began to feel a little aroused when I kissed my wife, but I didn’t want to get her hopes up, so I didn’t say anything about it, although I did mention it in my reports to the Doctors on Friday.
 
Matt had me scheduled for another weekend off, which was cool. I had some plans in mind, but I wanted to surprise Renee. On Saturday morning, she went to work, as usual (she manages a local video outlet), and she said she was going shopping after work. I wanted to keep busy, so I went to the office and rearranged my desk so that I could make room for a new, wall-mounted big screen HDTV. I was looking forward to schooling Matt on some video games, and I really wanted to do it on a big screen. I went home and took a swim, and just as I was planning to take a shower, Renee got home, so I helped her bring in the groceries and stuff. She told me she had bought a new swimsuit, and she wanted to model it.
 
I went out to the pool to wait for her. She came out in a black, shimmery bikini that was just a little smaller than its price tag. I controlled myself, and told her it looked great. She decided to go in and make some lunch, so I snuck in to surprise her, and whispered in her ear, “You look very sexy in that, honey.”
 
“I thought you would like it. I haven’t worn a bikini in years, but this one looked so cute…hey, is that what I’m praying it is?”
 
I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom, but when I set her down on the bed, I saw she was crying!
 
“Sweetheart? Did I hurt you?”
 
“No!” She cried. “I have been dreaming of you scooping me up and making love to me, but I was afraid it would never happen! You couldn’t be more perfect if you tried!”
 
We made love as if to make up for all the years that we had gone without. I did my best to give her everything I had, and by the time we had finished, we were both worn out and emotionally drained.
 
She kissed me, a long and intensely passionate kiss. “That was amazing!” she said, still crying. She lay there for a while, just cuddling and stroking me. “I had worried we would never be able to do that again. I had forgotten how good it felt! I think I’m going to make Jeremy a big batch of those no-bake cookies he likes.”
 
“What do you mean Jeremy? I did have some small part in this, you know!” I laughed, rolled over and began tickling her. “I think I should get a few of those cookies, don’t you agree?”
 
She giggled wildly and screamed “Okay! I’ll make you a batch too!” I stopped tickling her, and she said “Well, maybe a little batch, to go with that little…”
 
She jumped off the bed, laughing, as I tried to grab her.
I really felt good, and we had a lot of fun that day. We made the cookies together, and yes, there were interruptions during the process, but that was fun, too. 
We eventually took a plate covered in cookies to Jeremy’s place, but he wasn’t at home. Anna thanked us with a hug and a small peck on the cheek. As we drove away, Renee decided she was hungry for some pizza, so she called for delivery. By the time we made it home, I was starting to get a bit tired. Renee chose a movie from our collection, and when the pizza arrived, I paid the delivery girl while Renee changed.  It occurred to me that if every day could be like that, I wouldn’t mind getting off the road at all.
 
About 2AM, the phone rang, and Renee groggily answered it. She suddenly sat up and clapped her hand over her mouth. I immediately got up and quickly put some clothes on- something serious was wrong. I slipped on some sandals, and when she hung up, sobbing, she explained that Anna was in the hospital in critical condition. She had collapsed at home, and Jeremy was acting very strangely. Min asked that we come to the hospital immediately. We jumped into my Firebird and headed to the hospital. Amazingly, I didn’t get a ticket on the way there, because I don’t think I let off of the gas pedal until I got to the hospital. Jeremy met us as we went in to the E.R., and led us to Intensive Care. Min met us outside of her room.
 
“I have to warn you that her appearance is extremely disturbing,” She said. “She is on the largest dose of the strongest painkiller I can give her, but it doesn’t appear to be having an effect.  We had to restrain her to give her an I.V., and watching her struggles is very hard. I worry that she cannot last much longer, so we should hurry.”
 
“Extremely disturbing” was a big understatement. Anna’s skin was a dark reddish color that was purpled by the blue color of her veins. She twisted and squirmed against the restraints, and would not let anyone touch her. Her moans of pain seemed to reach right into my soul. I wanted to help her with all of my heart, but there was nothing I could do. It was horrifying, and I felt so sorry for Jeremy, who could not even kiss her goodbye. Renee tried to comfort him, but he just stared at Anna. 
 
I was standing on the other side of the bed, and Min and the Nurse were wiping their eyes just a few feet away. For some reason, I stupidly reached for Anna’s hand, and noticed a strange feeling, like some kind of mild electrical surge. It wasn’t a shock; just a mild, almost pleasant feeling. Anna did not pull away, a fact that I didn’t pay any attention to at the time. It was not until the Nurse gasped that we noticed the hand that I was holding was a healthy color, and the red color seemed to be fading up her arm! Min grabbed my hand and inspected it, even sniffing it for a minute. She looked up at me, suspiciously. I didn’t know what to say or do. I allowed her to guide my hand to Anna’s forehead. The skin there immediately returned to a healthy color, and when Min moved my hand to Anna’s thigh, the color faded there, too.
 
Now, though, as I returned to holding her hand, it seemed that all of the red color was fading. She continued to wiggle and squirm, but it no longer seemed as though she was in pain. It seemed to me that she was almost, well, enjoying herself! Soon her eyes opened, and she asked us why she was tied down, which the nurse quickly changed.  I got out of the way, but Min and Jeremy both stared strangely at me. Not even my wife would come near me, and the last thing I noticed was that it was getting darker in the room, just before I collapsed.                       

 

Certainly an Intriguing Start

We can guess easily enough that something in the combination of Jeremy's pills and Dr Stevens' treatment is responsible for our protagonist's newfound powers (if that's what this represents). But how Anna's condition developed -- I'd bet that Jeremy is involved somehow -- remains to be discovered, along, of course, with the basic questions of what just happened to Rob and where we go from here.

Looking forward to more.

Eric

Nice start.

Well, I wonder where this is going. I'm having trouble getting the print big enough for me. I'll keep working on it.

Nice start though.

Gwen

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