and so, 0.2.

Fourteen year old Kelly Beckett watched from her window as her new neighbor slipped out his back door and walked quickly towards the trees. He was very skinny and probably around her age, but so far that’s all she knew about him. Putting on her flip flops, she moved to leave her own house and follow.

The thing about living upstate was that there was just so much property. Houses weren’t closed in on each other and their yards all led to the edge of dense woods. Because of this, Kelly didn’t catch up with Christopher until almost ten minutes later. When she finally came across the boy she almost turned back. He was crouched against a tree trunk, head bent over so she couldn’t see his face, and sniffing something off a key. He wiped his nose when he was done and looked up.

“What are you doing?” She asked with large eyes.

xxx

“I haven’t been clean this entire time,” Christopher admitted, wincing at the spoken truth. “I’ve slipped.”

“When?”

“A couple of times since I was fifteen. But I haven’t used at all in the last five years.”

Raising his eyebrows, “You got clean at 21?” Josh questioned.

“Yeah, that was the last time. I uh.. yeah. Not to say I haven’t thought about it now and again.” Every day almost all day. The itch never fully goes away.

“It’s hard.” Josh whispered, nodding. Then, “Your wife knows?”

Memories rushed to the surface as Chris remembered first seeing Kelly Beckett, then first meeting her.  Blushing slightly, “She knows. She lived next door to the Reagan’s, didn’t I tell you?” Josh shook his head. Grimacing, “She knew me before I was a real person.”

Josh frowned at that, hating the way his son characterized himself. He did it a lot, referring to the person he was as a child as not real.

Sensing his father’s frustration, Christopher continued. “We’ve been together for awhile. She’s seen me newly sober and not at all. The last time I was using she said flat out she would leave if I kept going.” Looking up, “I didn’t want her to go.”

Sighing, “Josh, look. It’s really hard. I was stoned basically my entire childhood. And when that was taken away I found drinking a decent substitute. It just made everything I hated about myself and about my life go away. But I can’t have that either because I’m not the person I want to be when I drink, and I don’t want the life I have now to go away.”

“But now you’re clean.”

“Now I’m clean,” Chris confirmed.

 

and so, 0.1

Christopher smiled so widely his eyes almost disappeared. It was June, and it was his birthday, and his little daughter had just finished helping unwrap her gift to him. It was a framed photograph of the two: Chris rocking her to sleep when she was newly born, and he thought it had gotten deleted from his phone a year ago. “I missed this,” he whispered into her hair. “Thank you.”

xxx

Later, Josh sipped on a beer while he and his son enjoyed each other’s company. They sat near the low wooden fence in the backyard talking idly. It was their third time meeting, but the friends and neighbors hanging around for the days’ celebration provided enough distraction when things grew quiet.

Christopher started, “Mrs. Langley asked me three times today if you were single. I, uh, wasn’t actually sure so I told her you were with someone.”

“Which one is that?,” Josh questioned.

“The older lady telling the little kids a story by the trees. With the blue hair.”

“She pinched my ass earlier.”

Chris startled, then snorted. Thoughtful, “She would.”

“I do actually have a girlfriend though. Her name is Emma.”

“Maybe don’t introduce her to Mrs. Langley if you ever bring her around. She’s ‘staking her claim’ or whatever that means.”

Josh glanced at his son, “She could be my mother!”

“Kelly says she’s a cougar.”

xxx

They were alone; husband, wife, and child lounging around after the small party was over. Mostly asleep, Reagan had crashed on the couch shortly after the last of their friends left. Happy and full of cake, Christopher yawned and then stretched, showing off a small sliver of tummy as his shirt rode up, his wife staring appreciatively. His lean form left her hungry for something other than the day’s sugar.

“Did you have a good birthday?,” Kelly asked, moving closer to her husband.

Smiling shyly, “I did.”

“Dana called. Wanted to say ‘happy birthday’ but I suspect she wants the dirt on your dad. I told her you’d call her later. Or tomorrow.”

“My dad?”

Kelly shrugged, “I posted some photos. He’s in the background.”

Rolling his eyes, Christopher dipped closer to her, “… call her later,” he mumbled into her hair.

xxx

That night, pressing his forehead against his wife’s, Christopher kissed her gently on the lips and rolled off of her. They had been laying together quietly, spent, just breathing. Normally he would drift off to sleep too, but he was too wired, too full of sugar, and a little annoyed at how often his phone had gone off that evening. While never very close, his foster sister, Dana, had called nonstop. Knowing her it was more to do with wanting gossip than actually wishing him a good birthday, something she didn’t even do when he lived with her parents.

Grabbing the cigarettes he had bummed earlier, he rummaged through his jacket for a lighter and his phone. He had quit a couple of years ago, but still liked to indulge in a good smoke now and then.

Stepping outside, he drew hard as he clicked the lighter to life. He exhaled quickly then breathed deep, relishing the hit of nicotine. He liked smoking, really hadn’t wanted to give it up, but knew he needed to when Kelly became pregnant. Still though, he had very few vices left. He put all thoughts of potential disappointment out of his mind as he dialed his foster sister, feeling around his jacket pocket for the second cigarette, just in case.

“Dana, hi.”

 

and so, 9.

One year later on a sunny October afternoon, Josh found himself parked in front of his son’s house watching a young woman chase a little girl around the front yard. He smiled at their play, wondering who they were. Hoping they made his boy happy.

A year’s worth of therapy to deal with his own issues had come and gone, and he felt ready to deal with the aftermath of that awful day. He had left Christopher without realizing how low he was, too caught up in wanting but not wanting what was in front of him. His sister had called him a selfish bastard when he told her what happened. Then she hugged him. She hugged him again when she dropped him off at the airport, wishing him good luck.

He walked up to the duo slowly, trying to make a little noise as he crunched over the fallen leaves so as to not startle them.

The woman spotted him and smiled, “Can I help you?”

“I hope so. I’m looking for my son. He lives here, Christopher? I’m his dad.”

Her smile faded as she scooped up her daughter and moved to go inside. “Just a minute.”

She sent an older gentleman out, kindly but looking like he was preparing for something. “You’re Josh Lyons. Christopher Davis’ dad?,” he questioned, leaning against the door frame.

“Yes. If he’s not here, can you let him know I stopped by? He has my number.”

“My name’s Jeffrey Ogden. Come on, son, let’s sit down.” He gestured to a small swing chair off to the side of the front yard. It hadn’t been there last time.

As they sat, Josh looked around at the changes that had taken place. A different car was in the driveway and there were curtains instead of wooden blinds on the windows. “Nothing worth beatin’ around the bush for, but Christopher hasn’t lived here in a years’ time. We moved in about ten months ago, and he’d been gone for about two at that point.”

Josh sighed, “You wouldn’t happen to know where he is? A forwarding address maybe?”

Sad eyes met his, “Son, no. Listen to me. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but the young man who lived here prior passed away.” Jeffrey closed his eyes and dropped his voice. “It was on purpose. Chris worked for me. Wrote me out a letter and slid it under my office door so I’d see it the coming Monday morning.”

Josh was quiet as the old man spoke on, not wanting to understand what he was hearing. “But what – ”

“Overdose. When the paramedics found the body he was sliced up real badly too. The boy had problem on top of problem. He was a good kid though. The kind that went out of his way for people. But none of that now.” He plucked an envelope from of his pocket and held it out, “He left a letter for you too. Suppose he had a feeling you’d be back eventually.”

xxx

Josh sat in his hotel room, unable to stop shaking, feeling like he couldn’t breathe. He felt the most wretched sort of person.

Dad,

If it’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that life is hard. It was hard for you and Mom to be teenage parents, so you both did what you thought was best. You did what you thought was best as adults as well.

The truth is, it’s hard for me too. You can’t help the hand you’re dealt but sometimes you get lucky. Kelly and Reagan were my lucky hands. They kept me straight during some pretty rough times. Kelly was there when I was learning to be a normal person. By giving me Reagan she gave me a reason to keep trying.

But I wasn’t enough to save them.

And I’m too much for everyone else.

This is what’s best for me.

 

Christopher

and so, 8.

The wind had picked up since Josh and Christopher had returned home. It held the kind of chill that teased the coming winter. It was the kind of weather both men had grown weary of.

“My in-laws are stuck, too. They knew I was living with their neighbors as a teenager, and since they were good people they were kind to me. But eventually, everyone finds out your secrets.” Christopher looked at his father as he slipped down to sit next to him. He didn’t mind the cold of the concrete steps. They were something he could feel that wasn’t the ever present itch. “The night I called to tell them the girls were gone was the first time I’d spoken to them directly since Reagan was born. They almost didn’t allow me at the funeral.”

“Why?”

Chris met his dad’s eyes, “They said it should’ve been me.”

Josh opened his mouth to respond but no sound came out. He was stunned, not really comprehending that people could be so cruel, but again he knew his son had faced cruelty all his life. He pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes.

Chris continued, “They were just angry. It doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t believe you,” Josh whispered.

Christopher screwed his face up in a way that suggested he didn’t believe himself either. Silent, steeling, then “Can I tell you something?”

“Mhmm.”

“I’m afraid for when you leave.”

Stop. “Why?”

Chris bit his lips in almost the same way his father did when he was nervous, “I don’t really trust myself.”

He immediately wished he could take it back, knowing the weight of the words was too much.  Despite his best efforts, Christopher knew his dad had one foot out the door. He didn’t look back up to see his face pale or his eyes grow wide.

“Oh. Um.” Say something not stupid but shut this down. “I mean, you have someone for that, yeah?” Josh stumbled over his words, not wanting this kind of honesty. “Someone you talk to.”

Sucking his teeth, Christopher nodded. “Yeah. Of course.” No. He hadn’t had a sponsor or been to a meeting in a long time. He believed everyone had their own way of dealing with things, but despite going religiously when he first sobered, he didn’t agree with the method. Chris stopped going as soon as he moved out on his own.

He stood up to move inside, not wanting to draw out the uncomfortable moment. “I uh. I’m sorry,” he whispered.

That night Josh was on a plane back to LA; his nerves shot and angry with himself. He nursed a drink during the flight, hating himself for acting like such a coward. His own mother had berated him when he called to update her, calling his outrage on behalf of his son fake, and how she’d never been more disappointed.

Back in New York Christopher stared down the powder he hadn’t touched in years. The wind howling outside masked his own demons as the night wore on.

and so, 7.

“I don’t really understand why you hate her so much.” Silence. “My mother.” Christopher clarified. He’d been awake for a little bit, but both he and his father were lost in their own heads. Driving the afternoon away, Josh had turned them back around by the time Chris had woken up. “It’s not like she let it happen.”

“She knew about it.”

“She knew after everyone knew. After it all stopped and I was living somewhere else.”

“Are you really making excuses for her?”

“There’s nothing to excuse, Josh. What happened while I was fostered isn’t her fault any more than it’s mine.”

“How are you not angry?” 

A dark look crossed his face and Christopher flashed his forearm, showing off his scars, “Do you really think I’m not?”

Josh pulled over after a few minutes, finding a clearing to park in. It was getting hard to breathe in the car. The internal argument he’d been having to stay or go was raging again. Chris freely spoke about his childhood traumas when they questioned each other as a get to know you, but he rarely acknowledged his self harm. It was his, maybe something he discussed with therapists, never with his father. Neither did they talk about the line Chris walked closer to everyday, the one that separated his sobriety from bliss. His son’s struggle was becoming harder to shut down.

“I need a walk.”

“I need a smoke.” A drink.

Unintentionally they both set off in the same direction, strides matching each other, and Josh would’ve laughed if he wasn’t so confused.

xxx

“Amelia, if you want the boy to stay long term just say it. I can’t ask the shelter to hold a spot any longer. Unfortunately it’s needed.”

Christopher could hear Mr. & Mrs. Reagan talking about him. It seemed they were always talking about him, though quietly, but not realizing the vent in the bedroom he currently occupied connected to all the others in the house. He heard most of their conversations.

“I want to help him,” Amelia said softly. Her husband sighed. They had four children of their own, mostly grown, their youngest in college. He was weary of adding another charge to their responsibility, much less one with the kind of baggage Chris had. His file was thick, the pedophilia he was exposed to only the tip of the iceberg. Could they open their home to this?

“Christopher is a heroin addict. He spent his childhood at the mercy of an illegal sex ring. And the levels in the liquor cabinet have gone down significantly since his arrival. Are you sure about this?”

“You’ve reached out to his mother,” Amelia countered. “Have you had a response?”

“She requested I respect her right to give up her son.”

“Every child deserves to have someone care about them.”

xxx

“I’m angry about a lot of things, Josh. I keep getting these raw deals, you know? It’s kind of like I wasn’t supposed to exist, so I keep getting punished for it. But I can’t blame her for what happened.” Chris looked at his dad and shrugged, “Leaving is what was right for her. You can’t be angry at her for that. I’m not. And you did it too.”

Josh’s temper had mellowed since earlier, but Christopher’s had spiked. He hadn’t really seen the boy in a foul mood. Unbelievably sad ones, yes, but never this.

“I always thought you lived with her. She knew so much about you when I contacted her.”

Chris smiled sourly. “My favorite color, how I take my coffee, what I eat for breakfast, my daughter’s middle name?”

“She knew where you were and what had happened to you. She knew you were clean.”

Chris breathed in deeply, “I’m not defined by getting fucked every night by strangers or how many days sober I have.”

“I know.”

“Do you? Everyone whose supposed to mean something to me gets stuck on that once they know about it. I don’t want to talk about this with you. You’re stuck too. God. My wife and child just died and we’re arguing over Jane Davis. I was six last time I saw her. The woman isn’t anything to me, why don’t you understand that?”

“Kit?”

Christopher looked at his father.

“You like all kinds of blue, black with sugar, food that early makes you nauseous, and she doesn’t have one. Her full name was Reagan Beckett-Davis.”