Josh was in the middle of telling a story about his past as a Teen Pop Sensation when Chris heard the back door crack and a small voice call, “Issa Daddy?”
“Hey love. How come you’re not in bed?”
Reagan slipped through the door and ran to her father. It was cold, the air much too cold for the little girl to be out in just pajamas, and she snuggled into her father’s chest after clambering into his lap.
“I just see you.”
“I just see you too, Reagan,” Christopher said, burying his face into her hair.
“Quid pro quo?” The words were awkward in his mouth as he questioned his son.
Josh laughed softly, “One for one. Or something like that, I don’t know. Can we play our game?” The game had been the introduction to the dance the two did, each slowly gleaning information from the other. Getting to know each other, treasuring certain tidbits of knowledge, and wishing they could erase the others.
Chris shook his head, “I don’t think I can.”
“You can say no to anything tonight,” Josh pushed. The game had rules. Current circumstances would bend them.
Christopher didn’t answer. They had moved into the house, the kitchens’ warmth inviting. Stalling, he moved to the counter, starting to fix two cups of coffee. Decaf. He had enough trouble sleeping.
“Are we playing?”
Chris held up a mug with Save the Narwhals written across it. The animal was pink with a blue horn. It sparkled. A gift from his daughter.
“Um? I mean I guess but.. your coffee?”
“You were sixteen.”
“You’re 42 now. So you were sixteen when you had me,” Chris clarified.
“In September, yeah,” Josh paused, “That’s not a question.”
“When I was sixteen I didn’t want kids either. I didn’t want any ever and then Kelly got pregnant. Then there were doctor visits and nursery colors and her parents were so, so angry. I didn’t have time to think about whether or not I wanted it. A baby was coming. And then she came and she looked like me.”
Josh smiled without it reaching his eyes. He was annoyed with himself for suggesting the game. He didn’t want to think about Christopher having a baby, or Christopher as a baby. Didn’t want to think about deciding he wasn’t going to be in his son’s life. Telling his parents that yes, he was absolutely sure and no, he didn’t want to see his newborn before the mother took him home to Connecticut. Snapping in anger that he knew he was no better than his own biological parents, thanks.
He swallowed, “Why Reagan?”
“Her name. It’s not very common.”
“I lived with Mr. & Mrs. Reagan when I was about fifteen or so. I was Mrs. Reagan’s pet project, I guess. Her kids were all out of the house already and her husband was real busy all the time. She was nice though.”
“Do you still see them?”
“She died right before I graduated high school. And no, not really. Her kids were all a lot older; I didn’t know them well. Her husband kind of.. co-existed with me, I guess. We were both just there. But Kelly lived next door, so some of them kept up with her and like, followed her on Instagram or whatever. They knew we married, had a baby.”
“Named her Reagan?”
Chris raised his eyes to meet his fathers and nodded, “Yeah,” he whispered.
“They meant something to you. Or she did.”
“My life would’ve been real different without them,” he admitted.
Christopher had slept late, much later than usual. Up before the sun was his norm, given his livelihood, but it was almost eleven before he opened his eyes. The day before came flooding back to him. He smelled bacon, he heard the electro-pop-whatever Josh was listening to, and he tasted his own admissions on his tongue as well as the cigarettes from last night. He was grateful for the private bathroom as his head disappeared into the toilet.
He ignored his reflection in the mirror as he brushed his teeth after, swallowing most of the toothpaste as he noticed one of his daughter’s tub toys on the floor. He began to itch again.
Coming out of his bedroom, Christopher absentmindedly snapped a rubber band against his wrist. It was one of the tricks he had learned in therapy. It helped, sometimes. Sometimes, not so much.
Ignoring the plate left out for him, he slipped out the back door. He was trying to escape the ghosts in the house. The ghosts were outside too.