and so

and so, 6.

Ten years ago.

Christopher sat on the steps of the school, waiting to be picked up. He picked at the hem of his denim jacket, kicked his shoes against the concrete. He itched. He hadn’t stopped itching since he moved to the suburbs.

Chris had just had his third AA meeting, because his drinking was a thing, or so Dana had said. His foster sister explained that when her older brother Davy got drunk the first time, their dad made him spend a whole day at an inpatient rehab center, talking to the addicts. And Christopher had a real problem, so he’d probably be going to AA until the end of time if her father had anything to say about it. Dana was a real authoritarian on such things. And Chris went, but mostly because he was afraid of Mr. Reagan.

He needed a sponsor, he needed to share, and he needed the 12 steps. Or so he was told. Christopher didn’t want any of that, just  wanted to feel normal, but he couldn’t remember what normal felt like.

He was six years old when his mother left him in a social worker’s office, leaving the harassed looking woman to explain what was going on. He hadn’t been scared to hear she wasn’t coming back, just stared at the woman who told him he was going to live with some people who took in a lot of kids like him, and he’d be happy there if he gave it a chance.

He was scared that first night though, when he found out why his new family had so many children. He was told to be good and that the customer would tell him what to do; that he liked new kids best. He was wanted because he was new. If he made him happy, he would be allowed something special afterwards. The other kids called it candy, but it wasn’t candy like Christopher had ever experienced. That first night, after the initial shock and pain and trying to fight back, he fell asleep as his foster mom gave him a bath, then dressed him and slipped a needle into his arm.

Chris was startled out of his thoughts when Mrs. Reagan pulled up. He climbed into her car and met her eyes as she noticed his wrist, practically raw from the rubber bands he had snapped against it while waiting for her, trapped in his memories. He looked at her apologetically and then down, wishing he could sleep forever.

and so

and so, 5

“It’s good for you to get out of the house, even if it’s just to drive around for awhile.”

Josh looked over the steering wheel at his son, wrapped up in his coat and huddled deep into his seat. The kid was fast asleep. Dark shadows painted the skin under his lashes. Turning back to the road, Josh decided not to wake him. Christopher might be willing to trade stories with him, but he had heard the pacing last night and saw the look in his eyes when he found his son putting backyard toys away that afternoon. Blank eyes, mechanical movements. He almost wished for tears or fists instead. Almost.

Josh still wished he was home. A text from Jane Davis kept him in New York. He never thought he’d be the parent actually in contact with their son.

xxx

I don’t even know your name, but you were born tonight. I’m your dad, for better or worse, and your mom mentioned something about calling you Christopher, but I’m not sure. They say you’re healthy and have all ten toes and ten fingers and good lungs and I keep asking them to stop telling me about you and they won’t, they don’t understand. I don’t want this, can’t have this, and I told Jane not to put my name on the birth certificate and she said okay.

Grow up with your mom and be a good kid for her; I can’t be a good dad for you.

 

Hey Kid,

I blew out a candle for you tonight, happy first birthday.

 

Dear Kit, 

You’re four years old today. When I was four my mom told me I was going to go live with these people I sort of knew, but didn’t really. Next time I saw her she had her new kids with her, twins. I hope your fourth birthday present is better.

 

Dear Kit,

I’m a legal adult now. Twenty one is kind of a big deal, you’ll know one day. I won’t be there to warn you against jager bombs, but hopefully someone will.

 

Kit,

We got a deal, and we’re leaving for Europe today. Five guys all on their own in another country, trying for our big break. I made the right decision, I know I did. With the group, and with you. I can’t be there for you while I’m doing this. And I want to do this.

 

Kit,

I sound like an asshole in my last entry.

It’s been the fastest few years. I have crazy stories. I probably can’t tell you half of them. I wanted to write them down, tell you about them, but I’m afraid I’ll lose this notebook, or someone will see it, and they’ll know. This is the only way to talk to you and I can’t really do that well. But you’re nearing eleven now, a little human with thoughts and likes and dislikes all your own. Do you like music? It would be cool if you did, too.

 

Kit,

My folks were right. I haven’t told them that, but they know I know.

I never mentioned you to anyone, you know? Of course you don’t know. Do you ever ask about me? I’ve only written in here a handful of times. I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way, but I do. So I’ll say it now, put it down here in writing so I can’t take it back: I wish I knew you. Wish I had at least held you that first night. God, fifteen years old. What do you like, what do you do? Where can I send video games? Happy birthday, Kit. 

 

Jane Davis is an evil bitch. Records unlock at eighteen, did you know that? Jane Davis is the worst kind of mother for letting that happen to you.

 

Kit,

It’s been a few years and I had to hire someone, but now I have an address, a phone number, and an email. I’m told their yours. I’m told you responding positively could go either way. 

I’m told you’re gonna be okay.

and so

and so, 4.

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.

xxx

“Quid pro quo?” The words were awkward in his mouth as he questioned his son.

“What?’

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.

“Milk?”

“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?”

xxx

“You were sixteen.”

“Hmm?”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.

xxx

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.

Breathe.

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.

and so

and so, 3.

“Christopher hasn’t had a drink in a long time.”

“Should I not drink around him?”

“If he asks you not to.”

 

Josh hadn’t known what to make of Kelly Beckett. Kelly Beckett-Davis, as it was. Five foot four, she was taller than his mother, but just as fearsome, just as protective of her own. Blonde and blue eyed, and much smarter than him, he always felt a lesser being around her.

He could tell his presence made her nervous; made her a bit standoffish, but she tried to stay polite. Her eyes flashed at times. But she was willing to go along with things for the sake of her husband. Josh said he understood. He didn’t really.

“I just want to know my kid.”

“Your kid hasn’t been a kid in a long time.”

xxx

The smoke danced through the air as Christopher finished his cigarette, blowing out the last drag. He wanted something more, itched for it. The craving wasn’t going away. It had been there all day, a slow burn building in intensity from the moment he woke up. The disgust in his father in law’s eyes that morning had him at the corner store. The comforting pack kept in his breast pocket got him through the funeral, got him through the glares and the questioning eyes, got him to drive past the store with it’s illicit bottles glittering in the pale light. But he was home now and his dad was there and they were doing their dance again. Stay, don’t stay. you don’t have to, I understand. Please stay. They went around and around so often Chris didn’t know where he stood with his father. They did get along well, liked each other even. But it was a stop and go relationship. They danced.

Pitching his butt into the lake, Christopher stretched and leaned back. Josh took note of the scars across the exposed patch of skin and filed it away.

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

Chris grimaced, then sighed, “I quit.” He pulled out another cigarette and lit it. “Before Reagan was born. I’d quit then.”

Josh sat down next him and stretched his own legs out. “Do you want to talk about – ”

“When are you going back to LA?,” Chris interrupted.

The question caught him off guard. As soon as possible. “I’m not sure.” What’s the standard for sticking around and trying to be comforting to a kid you really don’t know?

“You should go if you have to.”

“The world’s not gonna stop if I’m MIA for a few days. I produce music, Kit. Bad music. Pop trash will still be there next week.” Why are you offering to stay? 

“Kit.” The name hung in the air.

Embarrassed by the slip, Josh continued on, “I’ve always called you Kit. Like, to myself? It’s a nickname for Christopher, did you know?”

Chris frowned, “My mother called me Kit.” He held the smoke out to his father, offering a drag, which Josh gratefully accepted.

Inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly gave Josh a chance to regroup. Embarrassed by his admission, and a little confused, he started, afraid to stop, afraid to keep going. “Christopher, it’s hard. And I know I’m like, preaching to the choir here. But I can stay and be here and try. Because that’s what we said we’d do, right? We said we’d try.”

 

 

 

and so

and so, 2.

“I miss them.”

Josh didn’t know what to do with the simple admission. While growing up he had wondered about the boy more than he cared to admit, more than he had ever admitted, but relating to this – this situation wasn’t what he was here to do. Wasn’t what he’d signed up for.

Reach out to the boy. Meet the boy. Smile guiltily at his mother. Go back to LA. Maybe a text here and there. That was the plan.

Instead he found his 26 year old son, far older in mind than he was in body, with a wife and small daughter and the the beginnings of a career in something to do with the ocean. Diving and research, he didn’t know. A young man with more past problems than he could wrap his head around. Foster homes and addiction and five years sobriety.

And yet he came to adore the kid. They had the same eyes and smile and frame. Heavily guarded, apprehension was written all over their first meeting. But in wanting Reagan to know some biological part of himself, Christopher allowed the second one, and the third, and Josh threw caution to the wind. They stopped and started, but a growing love and respect between the two kept them going.

Kelly kept her opinions to herself, except for the first time they were alone. She warned Josh against hurting her husband, not her daughter, and the fire in her eyes was fierce.

But they were alone now. The two women that kept Christopher together were gone in an instant, and again Josh wished to be home.

and so

and so, 1.

Christopher sat on the deck, head back, exhaling quietly into the night sky. Giving into nicotine had placated his nerves for the moment but other temptations were screaming in his veins. He was usually good at distracting himself. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could.

Josh watched from the steps. His own cravings were stirring. Not from the smell in the air, but from standing there watching his son hiding inside himself, from the memory of the funeral that morning, from knowing that he knew the young man for all of six months before it all came crashing down. It was too much and not enough and he wanted nothing more than to be back home. A beer in his hand, a girl in his lap, and the knowledge that a son existed something he could lock away in the back of his mind. But he was here, and so was Chris, and it was hard.