X. 7 years ago…
Cooper graduated high school as valedictorian. Most of his teachers were glad to see him go because most had to admit he was smarter than they were. Although he never boasted about it but just by him being himself they all had come to realize it. Jo Baldwin never let Cooper take advantage of that fact. He wanted his son to enjoy being a youth as long as possible. But on graduation day he had to admit, his son was no longer a child but about to become a man. Several colleges had come knocking and Cooper decided to go back to California. But first, he was going to have the best summer. He called his immediate plan the “George Bailey” tour. Named after the character in It’s a Wonderful Life, Cooper planned on traveling the world for a few months with Malone to take in sights, sounds, and tastes. They planned on living and experiencing as much as they could possibly cram in. Then, as he promised his dad, he would go to school while rooming with Malone. It was the perfect plan. It was all scheduled to begin the day after graduation.
The morning after graduation, Cooper woke up before his alarm went off. Actually, he barely slept all night because of his excitement. Finally, he was going to see the world. His dad agreed to drive him to the airport where he would board a plane for Denver. Once in Denver, he would board a bigger plane to take him to California to meet Malone.
His dad didn’t wake up until his alarm went off. “What?” Jo said groggily walking into the kitchen and seeing Cooper waiting for him. “Now you know what it felt like all those school mornings waiting for you.”
Cooper was not amused.
“All right, all right. Last thing I want you to do is miss your plane,” Jo grabbed the keys from the hook. “I still don’t understand how two recently graduated high school boys can afford such a trip.” He looked at his son. “I probably don’t want to know, do I?”
Cooper looked down. His hobby for some time now had been computer coding and he may have indulged in some hacking. Not anything too terribly illegal but he did manage to get some plane tickets and hotel rooms reserved under his and Malone’s names without full compensation. Harmless little pranks, really, in the grand scheme of things.
They walked outside. Even though it was the end of May there was still a chill to the air. Something that Cooper was not going to miss.
“Breathe that in,” Jo said. “You know what that is?”
“Frost?” Cooper offered.
“That is life. No matter where you go or what you do this year you will never beat that breath of fresh, crisp, mountain air. Especially after it rains.”
Cooper had his doubts.
“Breathe it in. Breathe in life.” Jo insisted.
His son relented and took a deep breath.
“Nice, huh?” Jo smiled. Cooper climbed in the passenger side and waited for his dad to get in and drive.
They rode in silence down the street. When they came to a traffic light and stopped Jo spoke, “I’m proud of you, son. Valedictorian, that’s an honor.”
“It’s a small school,” Cooper said humbly.
“No, you’re special son. Your mom always said you were. She would be so proud of you.”
Cooper quietly pondered the words.
The light turned green and they started through the intersection. Neither one had time to notice the car speeding down the street until impact. The car hit the driver’s side door and spun their vehicle around. Cooper assessed the situation. He could feel some blood trickling down his forehead and put his hand up to wipe it. Overall, he thought he was okay.
“Dad?” he asked to find out how Jo was doing.
“Dad?” he asked again louder.
His dad didn’t move.
“Dad!” Cooper yelled.
He later found out the driver of the other car had been coming home from a graduation party. It was estimated the driver was doing about 70mph in a 30 mph speed limit zone. He walked away with a few scratches. Cooper walked away with a cut on his head and some bumps and bruises. Jo didn’t walk away at all. He never regained consciousness and died on the way to the hospital.
The “George Bailey” tour was delayed. Cooper stayed in town for the summer and saw to funeral arrangements and sold the house. He drove a U-Haul to California and placed all his family’s earthly belongings in a storage shed. Then about the time he was supposed to start school he set off by himself. He didn’t know exactly where he was going only that he wanted to be gone. The only person who ever knew his whereabouts was Malone because that was the only family he had left.
While Cooper traveled the world trying to outrun his pain, Al also traveled the world. But in her travels she rarely got to see any of the sights of her destinations. When Al came to town somebody usually ended up arrested, hurt, or even dead. The young recruit was racking up a name for herself as a ruthless killer.
Meanwhile the older gentleman had not given up hope of finding the notebook with Henry Buttlefeld’s notes. It was not too late to save his grandson. Every day without a cure made him more determined to succeed. He did not accept failure in any endeavor. This was no exception.