The worst thing about this interview was the monkey suit Brett had to wear. He felt more like a nerd out of prep school than the former college football player he'd been before he'd busted his knee. He hadn't played since the bowl game of his third year. Now all he had to show for it was a permanent limp and a knee brace.
He got into the elevator and hit the button for the tenth floor. He imagined what the interviewer might have to say later.
With your magnificent good looks, he pictured them saying, we'd have to be crazy not to put you in front of the camera right away! Brett smiled.
"Wait!" someone called. "Hold the elevator!"
Brett barely had time to react, but he managed to keep the doors from closing. And just in time, too, he thought, as a woman who could have been a Victoria's Secret Angel stepped inside and hit a button.
"Thanks," she said, and busied herself rummaging through her handbag, eventually pulling out a pair of glasses and putting them on.
Brett studied her – he loved to look at girls like her. Her hair – sleek and blond with highlights – was pulled back into a bun and held in place with a set of incredibly detailed chopsticks. She brushed a long strand off of her designer glasses, which framed a set of eyes the colour of fresh grass and tucked it behind her ear. He followed that across her neck and let his eyes linger on the low-cut blouse: how it hugged her breasts and her narrow waist. A pencil skirt with a slit in the back flowed over her hips and revealed a set of perfect calves, ending with a pair of black pumps, the kind that Brett marveled at a woman's ability to wear, but at the same time, was incredible glad that they did.
In his mind's eye, he pictured how she might look – would her hair be curly? Straight and long? Rumpled bedhead? – cascading over her bare shoulders and –
She cleared her throat. "Excuse me?"
"Hm?" Brett shook his head quickly and looked back to her face.
"Can I help you with something?"
"Nothing," Brett said quickly.
She nodded slowly and turned back to face the elevator door. Brett licked his hand and slicked his hair back into place. "What do you do here, anyways?" he asked.
"I'm an intern," she replied without looking at him.
He bobbed his head in a quick nod. "I'm a football announcer," he lied. He didn't have the job yet. But he would in an hour.
The elevator bell chimed. "Floor seven," a cool female voice announced. The woman stepped out of the elevator.
"Wait," Brett called after her. "What's your name?"
"None of your business," she replied as she turned a corner.
Brett wanted to turn and smack his forehead on the wall of the elevator, but the last thing he wanted to do was walk into that interview with a big red mark marring his face; he was sure that would cost him the job.
Brett cracked open a bottle of beer and sat down in front of the television. He was still fuming. His knuckles ached from where he'd punched the elevator wall three times after the interview. Brett examined them – they were crusted with bits of dried blood.
"I'm sorry," the interviewer had said to him. "I'm sure you'd be great as a commentator, but here, we look for experience to show us that hiring someone is a worthwhile investment. Don't get me wrong, I think you'd be great, but I just can't hire a brand new commentator like that. You just don't have the experience. You don't even have any footage to show me."
He'd gone on to suggest that Brett try somewhere else, somewhere lower. "Come back in five or six years, when you've got some stuff under your belt," he'd said. "Show us what you can do." Unpredictable. That was the word he'd used to describe what hiring Brett would be like.
"Fine," Brett muttered to himself. "You want experience? I'll give you fucking experience."
He staggered to his room on the other side of the small apartment and dug his old tripod from a bin in the closet. The camcorder was easier to find – it was on the desk, exactly where it had been sitting since his dad had given it to him at his graduation in the summer.
He set them up in front of the couch and sat down. He muted the television and went over what he planned on saying in his head. He focused on the game, voicing his own commentary, until he realized how absolutely absurd he sounded doing this in his damn apartment.
He shook his head and turned on the camera. He would send this to them when he was done. But when he hit record, he froze. No words came. Not even the silent game in front of him sparked anything. So Brett turned the camera toward himself and started talking.
"My name is Brett Gables," he began, all the while think of how stupid this was, how he should be running commentary, especially if he couldn't be running a touchdown. That gave him an idea. He spun the camera and focused it on the television. "For most of my life, this was what I wanted to do. Play football. Win the Superbowl." He turned the camera back on himself. "I was a top prospect. When I was in my third year of college, I was caught under a tackle. I broke my left knee. My career ended.
"Until that moment, I'd never dreamed of a career outside of football. I decided that if I couldn't play, I'd broadcast for ESPN. They rejected my application today. Said I didn't have enough experience. Seems easy enough, don't you think? Welcome to my experience." He drew out the last word. It left a bad taste in his mouth, but if this is what it would take, then it was what he would do.
Over time, Brett had gradually become accustomed to having to dress up. Suits stopped being thought of as monkey suits; in fact, he enjoyed wearing them.
He held tightly to his briefcase – the only thing that mattered to him at this moment was what was inside it. It was just a DVD, but for Brett it was half a lifetime of memories. Well, maybe not half a lifetime, but it felt like it.
Since the failed interview – something that Brett did his best not to think about, Brett had ended up being hired by a local news broadcast. The only opening had been for a human interest reporter, and he begrudgingly took up the position. He knew how much it would suck compared to sports.
Human interest, though, turned out to not be as bad as he'd expected. Actually, he'd gotten pretty good at it. And it took him to all sorts of places – ones he couldn't have even imagined. Even, once or twice, to a football game, a prospect that, while awesome, no longer sparked that same longing and frustration it had used to. It was just a game.
The elevator pinged and Brett stepped in, remembering the last time he'd been here. But this time he wouldn't be venturing up to the ESPN studio. Today, he was going to talk to NBC.
He stepped off into a brightly lit reception, and cringed internally when he recognized the pretty blond behind the desk.
She looked up and paused as she was about to say what were probably rehearsed lines. "Have we met?" she asked instead.
Brett scratched the back of his head, knowing how much he'd rather lie, but that he'd tell her the truth anyways. "Ah. Well, this is embarrassing. I was hoping that wouldn't come up. I'm surprised you remember… I wish I could say no. But, uh… I was the asshole who hit on you in the elevator here a few years ago." Maybe it was blunt. But since he'd started really getting into his reports, and after all the crap he'd seen the last few years, he had a hard time sugar-coating anything at all. "I have an interview," he added.
She checked a book. "Gables?" she asked, not looking at him now.
"Have a seat. I'll let them know you're here."
He smiled and thanked her, and began to walk away but turned back. "If you don't mind, I never caught your name."
She looked up and hesitated. "Alisha," she finally said.
He shook her hand. "It's good to meet you, Alisha."
Brett sat down in front of Conrad Johnson and wiped his hands hurriedly on his pants.
"Do you have your resume and portfolio, Mr. Gables? DVD compilations and everything."
"I do, sir."
"Sure. Conrad," he repeated.
So far, so good, he thought. He opened the case and paused for a moment at the sight of the two DVD cases strapped inside. The one on the left was the compilation that he knew Conrad was looking for. The other was full of clips that usually weren't part of news stories. They weren't often on television. They meant nothing to the news station, but meant a significant amount more to Brett. That DVD was three years of moments that had changed him.
"Conrad. If you don't mind." He cleared his throat. "I know you just asked for a compilation of my work, and I have that. But I also have another thing… it's not long, and if you wouldn't mind, when you're going over my work, I'd like you to look at it." He brandished the second case lightly.
Conrad extended a hand. "Let me see."
Brett handed him both discs, and then pulled out all of the papers he needed.
"What's this?" Conrad asked, studying it.
A smile twitched at the corners of Brett's mouth. "I guess you could call it a human interest story."
Conrad Johnson sat silently in his office reviewing the paperwork that Brett Gables had handed to him a few days before. He liked the kid. He understood that he was pretty well known in the last place he'd worked, especially considering that he was just out of college. He was good, too. That's what all of the references he'd only just gotten off the phone with had said to him. Young, yes, but talented and wise beyond his years.
Satisfied, he moved the papers aside. That left the DVDs. He was excited to see if this kid was as talented as they said. He popped the compilation disc into his laptop.
The stories were pretty much what he expected as far as content went, but Conrad had to admit that he was impressed. Brett had a way of presenting what he reported on that made him feel empathy for the people on the camera. It was powerful. Brilliant, really.
Conrad reached automatically for the phone to call Brett back, but his hand stopped over the second DVD. He stared at it for a second, considering it, and the opened it and slid it into the computer's drive.
He could tell that most of the content wasn't filmed professionally, but he ignored that. The first image was in a small living room. The camera spun and focused on Brett's face. It was a slightly younger Brett. He looked tired, and sounded a little drunk.
"My name is Brett Gables, he said into the camera, and then turned it to a football game on a television screen. "For most of my life, this was what I wanted to do. Play football. Win the Superbowl." The camera spun and focused back on Brett. "I was a top prospect. When I was in my third year of college, I was caught under a tackle. I broke my left knee. My career ended.
"Until that moment, I'd never dreamed of a career outside of football. I decided that if I couldn't play, I'd broadcast for ESPN. They rejected my application today. Said I didn't have enough experience. Seems easy enough, don't you think? Welcome to my experience," he finished rather sourly.
The film cut to an image of a scene of destruction. A voice over – Brett's voice – said, "This was my very first human interest story. A tornado ripped through a small town and destroyed everything. Even today I look at these pictures and marvel at the force of nature."
The next shot followed a young girl, surely no older than eighteen, sifting through piles of rubble. Tear tracks streaked across her copper-toned cheeks.
"Everything," she whispered. "Everything is gone. Destroyed. I've nothing left."
"Shannon lost her entire family in that twister. The look on her face when I met her broke me. That changed me. It made me realize that hey, a lot of people have it worse than you do just because you didn't get a sportscaster job. This girl is sixteen, and went from a family of five to being a lone orphan in a matter of minutes. And I was upset because I had to go check out this tornado instead of the football game?"
The film cut again, this time to a shot of a decorated war veteran, standing in front of a grave decorated with a small American flag. The name on the marker was Paul Bradley.
"Colonel Philip Bradley. World War Two, Korea, Vietnam."
"All of us fought in the wars," the man, this colonel, was saying to the camera in the next shot, "My father, a widower, had already been killed in action by the time I enlisted, and my brothers, Paul, William John, Donald, and I all fought as well. I was the second-youngest. I was sixteen in 1943. I lied about my age, and I was on a ship to Europe three months later. I stayed there until the end of the war. John tried to join me, but he was thirteen and couldn't pass." He laughed.
The film cut to Philip Bradley walking down a pathway that led to a beach, silently pointing to things and explaining them underneath the voice over. "Robert Bradley was killed September 3rd, 1940 in the Battle of Britain. Paul died fighting alongside his brothers here at Omaha Beach in the D-Day landings. Philip was shot in the shoulder, and barely survived to receive the Purple Heart. He was seventeen when he was wounded. William and Donald were both killed in Korea. John fell in Vietnam. He's the only one left. Just thinking about how they all fought so that we can have peace – it's unbelievable, I marvel at the sacrifices they were willing to make. We're lucky that people like Philip exist. We really are."
The film went on like that. Each clip was as moving as the last. Brett had somehow managed to capture the extreme sadnesses and happinesses of the world and portrayed them here with surreal beauty and grace.
Finally, the film cut to Brett, sitting in the same chair that he started this off with. "I've spent this showing you a lot of peoples' stories. These people I've had the privilege of meeting in the last few years are some truly amazing people. They're brave. They carry on. As I got to know each one of them, I learned those things from them, and so I show you my story through theirs. Many years ago, I was a cocky bastard who thought I could have anything I wanted, until I couldn't. They taught me the meaning of deserving. Of love, of kindness and of a great many other things that would take me hours to tell you about. I want to continue telling their stories, because if there's anybody who deserves to have their story heard, it is them, and I won't hesitate to tell anyone that. That's why I'm here. They are my life."
The screen cut to black, and that was it.
Conrad was silent in his office, and he sat there for quite a while. And then he hit 'Play' again, and watched again as the heartbreaking stories were fed to him for a second time.
When the screen cut to black again, Conrad reached slowly, like he was in a trance, for the phone's receiver, and dialed the number from the application.
"Brilliant," was all he had to say when Brett picked up the phone. "Absolutely brilliant, Mr. Gables."
"I'm sorry, who is this?"
Conrad backtracked, having been so caught up that he had forgotten to announce himself. "Well, I'm hoping I might be your new boss, Mr. Gables. This is Conrad. I've just reviewed the last of your material, and… honestly, I was blown away. Anyways, I'd like to offer you a position, if you're interested."
The main character of this story is based on a real person with the same name. He was my friend, and I'm sad to say, he was exactly like this. So when the time came to write a story about breaking a stereotype for my writing class, I thought up this idea of Brett having a change of heart from his usual, egotistic self. (For those out there wondering, he hasn't. Maybe that's part of the reason we don't talk anymore. But I can hope he'll come around.)
I hope it was a good read,