He Ain't Heavy
Wednesday, May 19, 2021 by Donnie Stevens
“How long do we have before we have to leave our home?”
Cody sat massaging his second cup of coffee, staring out the kitchen window of their two-story, cedar siding house with its white rail front porch under the three upstairs window dormers. The dream house Megan, his wife helped customized from floor plans ten years earlier. Megan’s hand touching his, broke his concentration.
“I know what we have got to do. And I’m okay with it,” she assured him. “But shouldn’t we talk about it and start making plans.” When he didn’t answer, she urged him on. “It might help if you talk about it.”
Cody leaned forward, his head bowed and elbows resting on his thighs, hands clasped. “Every day I wake up thinking it’s going to get better. Then, I know it’s not.”
“You can’t help our business was shut down because of the coronavirus. Maybe in a few weeks things will open back up and business will get better?”
“No, it wasn’t all the coronavirus.” He let go a heavy sigh. “Our CPA called last week and sent me last year’s tax returns. Just as I expected, we lost money again, even more. And since this year started off, even worse….” His silence forewarned her. “I’ve sent a copy of the tax return and quarterly to the bank. Losing money two years in a row and now shut down because of Covid 19…,” he met her gaze, “there’s no way we’re going to make it. I have asked for a meeting with my loan officer, but I already know the outcome. Once they review the tax financials and see that I have broken all their covenants, they will call the loan.”
Her silence was disparaging. Maybe if she shouted, screamed, or threw out a, ‘I told you so,’ it wouldn’t eat at him so bad. But instead, she sat staring at him, teary eyed. He felt small. Finally, with her hands clasped in her lap, she spoke.
“Can we sell the business?”
He shook his head. “Nobody in their right mind would buy a music store in this environment. Maybe ten years ago when all the high schools around us still ordered their band equipment and accessories from us and kids took an interest in music there was a chance. But not anymore.
“Then what do we…I need to start planning for. How long before we have to vacate our home?”
Tightness in his chest, Cody sprung from his chair. With his hands, he rubbed his face and then ran his fingers though the more than two months growth of hair since he couldn’t get a haircut. “I don’t know Megan! I don’t know when the banks will foreclose on the business or how much time they’ll give us to vacate our home! I want know until it happens, okay!” His heartrate elevated; he inhaled a deep breath.
When Megan didn’t respond, he looked her way. She’d covertly turned away wiping her cheeks. He had lost it in front of her again. The very gut-wrenching decisions he’d hoped to hide from her, his anguish, his disappointment, and disillusionment on hoping he could wave a magic wand, and everything would be alright. But it wasn’t. And now he stood taking it out on the one person who loved him and had stood with him the last fifteen years while building a business through good and bad times, never putting any pressure on him, but encouraging him through it all. He should say something, do something now, but what? This was happening too frequently, lately. Instead, he chose the easy way out again. He picked up his car keys from the kitchen desk. “I’m out for a while. Call if you need me.”
He drove to the city park and parked in the empty parking lot. No one was bicycling, jogging, or walking their dogs or playing catch with little ones. The park was closed, Governor’s orders. He drove down River Street, where all the main restaurants were located. Usually on a Friday evening you would have to fight the traffic and wait in line thirty minutes to get a table. Hardly a car in sight on the main drive and most restaurants displayed big signs that read, ‘Closed Due To Covid19.’ Then finally, he drove downtown to his music store, the business he had owned for fifteen years. Sitting in his Blazer, staring at it, he remembered that day, Clay Hyler told him he was retiring and wanted to sell. He and Megan were so excited at an opportunity to own their own music store since music was his second calling.
After numerous meetings with their CPA and lenders, all agreed it could be a profitable venture for him. But he would have to come up with a third of the money for the banks to participate. He had no choice but to turn to his father. But his father had other plans for him and his brother, Neil. He offered them equal ownership in his customized, cabinet shop if they would come to work and learn the craft and the business could be all theirs someday. But once his father saw how disappointed Cody was, he gave in. He gave him the three hundred thousand dollars he needed for the down payment with the understanding this was his share of the family inheritance. Anything left or made in the business going forward would belong to his brother, since Neil and his father became partners in maintaining the family business. Cody agreed. His father passing away a year ago January, his brother Neil had inherited everything, along with a thriving business, and now he had nothing to show for his labor of love for the past fifteen years.
His music business started going south five years ago. First, he lost the schools to larger national accounts that could out bid him, then the churches, and lately people downloaded sheet music from websites for pennies on the dollar. Other than selling a few guitars, keyboards or beginner drum sets, business had almost died. He had no one to blame but himself. He seen it coming five years ago and should have gotten out while the economy was still good. A tap on his window startled him. Rolling down his window, he recognized Hanson, one of Danville’s police officers wearing his mask.
Hanson bent lower and spoke in a low voice. “You okay, Mr. Cody?”
His eyes wide, Cody couldn’t help but break a smile and waved his hand. “Yeah, I’m okay. I was just sitting here…sitting.”
Hanson raised back up. “I kind of figured you were but wanted to make sure.”
“I had to get out of the house for a while and go somewhere, so I came down here to do nothing.”
“Must be something about today that’s making y’all restless, I reckon.”
“What do you mean?” Cody’s eyebrows raised.
“Seems all I’ve been doing today is riding by all these closed businesses and finding the owners sitting in their cars in front of them. I guess y’all are anxious to open back up.”
“Something like that.” Cody tried to hide his frown.
“Listen, Mr. Cody. I know it ain’t none of my business, but I can see you’re worried. I see that same soured look on all the faces of the people sitting in their cars staring at their businesses.”
Cody drew a deep breath. “You’re right Hanson. It’s not good.”
“Mr. Cody, I want to give you some advice and please don’t take it the wrong way.” Hanson hooked his thumbs in his wide black belt and stepped back. “There’s very little we can do or change about what’s happened in this country. But what we can do is pray. And pray hard. Because God can change things for us.”
Cody nodded. “You’re right, Hanson. He can change things.”
“Well, I got to keep making my rounds, Mr. Cody. Stay safe now.”
“I will. You too.”
Cody sat silent a few minutes longer, then went inside his music store. Something he hadn’t done in several weeks, because it always tormented him afterwards knowing the fate of his business looming ahead of him. His cell phone rung. Seeing it was from his loan officer, he answered.
“Hello Cody. I guess you know the reason for my call.”
“Yes sir. I sent you the financials earlier today.”
“Thank you. We’ve reviewed them and want to meet with you next Tuesday if you’re available.”
“I’ll be there.”
“And bank policy requires everyone coming in to wear a mask. It’ll be me and our commercial VP in the conference room six feet apart.”
“Then have a good rest of the weekend and we’ll see you Tuesday at ten o’clock.”
“I’ll be there.” At last he was going to find out the outcome as bad as it was going to be. He almost felt relieved. Now, to go home and tell Megan. But first he had something to do. To take Hanson’s advice and pray. So, in the middle of his music shop, he knelt and prayed. But not for profits or a way out, but for this burden to be lifted from him and Megan, no matter the cost. If he had to lose everything to bring peace and some order back into their lives, so be it. Afterwards, he sat at his office desk devising a plan forward to share with Megan. She deserved better than he had provided the past three months, and today he would deliver.
Once he drove home and stepped inside his home, at first glance, Megan was putting groceries away from three large boxes on the kitchen counter.
His eyes narrowed. “Have you been shopping?”
“No.” She threw him a wry glance. “I thought you had. Knowing we are…,” she hesitated, “don’t have a lot of discretionary money to spend, I would never buy these many groceries at a time. I found them sitting on the front porch a few minutes ago.”
“It wasn’t me. Maybe they were delivered to the wrong house?”
“I thought that, so I called Food Lion. They assured me the groceries were ordered by phone and payed for with instructions to deliver to our address.”
“Strange. Here let me help you put them away, then we need to sit and talk.”
Cody sat down with Megan across from him in the den. He reached over and took her hands and met her gaze before speaking.
“First I need to apologize. I know I haven’t been easy to live with the past few months. I’ve known for some time the business was going south but just didn’t want to burden you with it. This coronavirus just hastened its demise. But I’ve come up with an exit plan and will share it with the bank Tuesday morning.”
“You have a meeting with the bank?”
“Yes, they called me an hour ago to sit it up. My plan is to start liquidating our inventory at a discounted price and hopefully have it all sold in the next ninety days. In the meantime, I’ll try to sell the property and hopefully come out with enough, so the bank won’t take our home.”
“What if we don’t come out with enough to satisfy the bank loans?”
He dropped his gaze. “Then the home goes too. I’m sorry, Megan.”
She tried unsuccessfully to hide her sniffle. “When do we need to tell the kids?”
“Let me get through the bank meeting Tuesday, then we’ll sit and discuss it with them. But only what they need to know. Okay.”
She nodded. “Oh, while I’m thinking about it, your brother Neil called. “He wants you to call him back.”
“What did he want?”
“He said something about wanting you to go somewhere with him Monday, if you’re available.”
“Okay, I’ll call him. Monday works for me.”
This weekend, the same ole stay at home and work or piddle at nothing to pass time went by uneventful. Since he’d set up a bank meeting and devised a plan to unravel fifteen years of his labor of love, he dwelled on what his future career might be. Megan had opted to go to work as well once it was safe to do so. All along, she had been his rock and he didn’t realize it.
Finally, Monday came, and his brother Neil came by and asked him to go with him to his attorney’s office. The reason, he didn’t share.
Neil looked over at his brother. “How is Megan and the boys? We haven’t gotten together since Christmas.”
“They’re doing fine, considering. I just hope things can open back up this summer, so we can see some normalcy back into our lives. How is Carolyn and your girls doing?”
“Oh, we’re fine. I leave them at home, and still go to my shop to work alone nowadays.” When Cody didn’t respond, Neil kept talking. “I remember you sharing with me about your music store not doing well. What are your plans going forward?”
Cody sighed. “I wished I knew. I’m shutting the store down as soon as I can open it back up.” The thought made him snicker. “I’ve got a meeting with bankers Tuesday to share my exit plan with them. Hopefully get in front of a foreclosure.”
“I’m sorry, brother, you have to go through this.”
“Nobody’s fault but mine.” He let go a heavy sigh. “I should’ve taken Dad’s offer and went in business with you and him.”
“You didn’t go into it blindly. You did well with the business at first, didn’t you?”
“For the first ten years. After that….” He let his words linger. Neil didn’t need hear his whining.
Neil glanced at his brother. “I have to be honest with you. I envied you having your own business and working for yourself. I know it took courage to step out and do it.”
Cody drummed his thighs with his fingers. “Courage.” He huffed. “Something I definitely lack right now.”
Neil remained silent at he parked in front of his attorney’s office.
Cody asked. “You never told me the reason you wanted me to tag along?”
Once in front of Neil’s attorney, an elderly man sat in a plush leather chair behind his cherry, wooden desk with a matching credenza and bookcase behind him. Shelves stacked with books and folders, his attorney pulled his glasses off and leaned forward. He spoke.
“Okay, Neil, as requested, I’m here to read and exercise your father’s will. If you are ready, I’ll began.”
Silently, Neil nodded.
Cody’s insides tensed. Why did Neil want him here? His father gave him a copy of the will years ago. It clearly stated Neil was to receive everything since his father had given his son Cody, half his net worth fifteen years ago. Anything made afterwards was to belong to Neil who helped him earn it through their joint business venture.
The attorney read his father’s will, word for word as the copy he had received. Cody sat blindsided, his gaze lowered the whole time, not understanding why his brother had put him through this. After the will was fully read, the attorney looked at both brothers and said is there any questions of any part of this you want me to read again.
Neil looked at his brother, looking down. “I have a question.”
His attorney sat back. “Very well.”
“I understand as of now the money and two homes my father owned are now mine, and I can do whatever I wish with them.”
“That is correct. Your father’s will has now been formally executed at his wishes and all assets are now your discretion.”
Neil glanced back at his brother who still stared down at the floor silent. Then he spoke. “I want half of the money in my father’s estate to be distributed equally between Cody and me. And Cody….”
In awe, Cody looked up meeting his brother’s gaze.
Neil’s eyebrows drew together. “Which house do you want?”
Outside, Cody couldn’t contain his tears. Finally, he got the words out. “Why did you do this? This wasn’t Dad’s wishes.”
“I didn’t do it for Dad. I did it for me.”
“But you didn’t have too.”
“I know. But I’ve known for some time you’ve been struggling with your business. I’ve been wanting to help you in some way, so now I can.”
“Because you’re my brother and I love you. And you would have done the same for me.”
Overwhelmed, Cody had to let the words sink in before he could speak. Finally, he did. “You sent those groceries to our home too, didn’t you?”
A smile crept across Neil’s face. “I love you, brother.”
“I love you to, Neil.”
Both stood on the sidewalk of Court street hugging for a long moment. Cody couldn’t wait to tell Megan. His burden lifted and prayer answered, for the first time in years, he looked forward to a brighter future for his family.