and so

and so, 0.7.

Hunched over the toilet, Christopher plunged two fingers down his throat, tickling the opening of his esophagus, then harder, rougher, up and down up and down. He was holding his breath, almost choking, and when the bile finally rushed up he moved his hand away and let it spill. No time to brace himself or catch his breath, he slammed his fingers down again, willing the act to continue lest he lose momentum.

Finally he leaned back on his heels, hand raw, head pounding. Using the wall for support, he stood up and went to the sink. Thrusting his whole lower arm under the water, he rinsed it, then cupped a handful and brought it to his mouth to rinse, and splashed another handful over his face.

Slowly turning his face up, he looked into the mirror. It was easy to not think about what he was doing while he was actually doing it. It required too much preparation and effort, and total concentration. Afterward all the thoughts he pushed away came rushing back.

Seeing his reflection was like coming out of a fog. His skin was pale. His eyes were wet and red and they looked like he had burst another blood vessel again, and he could tell by the way his throat hurt that it would be sore all day tomorrow. He reached up to feel his neck, ran his fingers over the swollen nodes, and sighed. He couldn’t do anything about that, but some drops would help his eyes, although probably not as well as he hoped.

Trying not to think about the new atrocity he was engaging in, he took a swig of mouthwash and let it burn. Later on, he would brush his teeth and hope they wouldn’t hurt too much. It would be a couple hours until then, hours of forcing himself to smile and talk and answer questions.

Taking one last look around the bathroom to make sure he hadn’t forgotten to clean anything up, he exited, took the stairs slowly, and went to the family room. It was Sunday and dinner had ended, but it would still be a long time before anyone went home and he could escape to his room. Sunday dinners were the worst because all the adult Reagan children came, with their wives and girlfriends and boyfriends, kids of their own. They would stay; watching football, finishing homework, and chatting about the week and the one to come.

XXX

Later, Will slid a piece of pie towards his foster brother, pulling a chair from the kitchen to sit with him. Christopher was in the squashy leather armchair that sat near the stairs, legs curled up under himself, slightly away from everyone else but close enough to be seen by them. He was totally engrossed in a book, lost in the world of Louisa May Allcott, who Kelly insisted he read for the betterment of his soul.

“Little Women?” Will questioned.

“Mhmm,” Chris said simply, hoping he would be left alone but knowing he wouldn’t be that lucky. Still, the youngest Reagan sibling was better than Davy or Dana.

“Ma wanted me to bring you that,” Will nodded towards the pie.

Chris looked at it and tried not to grimace, turning a shade paler, “Thank you.” His chest had felt funny since earlier, which wasn’t a new thing, but it clenched more at the idea of having to consume and rid himself of something else.

“So… the book?”

“Kelly asked me to read it. She wants to see the new movie next weekend but doesn’t want me to judge her choices or something.”

“Sounds like she thinks the movie’s going to be bad.”

Christopher just nodded.

Trying to meet his brother’s eyes, “You gonna eat that pie or keep looking at it like it’s a bomb? Or is it something I said?”

Embarrassed, Chris looked up and smiled guiltily. “Sorry. I’m – I don’t know. I don’t feel great, I guess.”

Will looked at him for a long moment. He picked up the plate and stood. “Yeah, I imagine you don’t.” He turned to go but then looked over his shoulder. “The vent in the bathroom connects to my room.”

 

and so

and so, 0.6.

“Where are you going to stay?” George Reagan asked his foster son. The quiet anger hadn’t left his voice but years on the job and raising children of his own had him well versed in controlling his temper. That morning while looking for change, he realized all the spare cash they kept in the coffee can in the kitchen was gone. It didn’t take long for him to realize a few other things were missing and, living with only one son these days, who the culprit was. Finding the stash took even less time.

Putting an old backpack down onto the bed, Christopher started throwing things in haphazardly. “I don’t know. Not here.”

“You have nowhere to go.”

“I guess that’s not your problem anymore, right? Eighteen’s long since passed.”

“That doesn’t matter to me. What you’re doing now matters to me. When did you fall off?”

“It doesn’t matter to you or it didn’t matter to her?” Chris sneered. He hadn’t mentioned his foster mother since she died, and doing so he knew he had struck a nerve. It was never a secret in the Reagan house that his fostering was something Mrs. Reagan wanted and everyone else obliged. He threw his wallet into the bag and zipped it up. Mr. Reagan stared at the boy as he crossed the room.

“Let him go.” Davy said from the doorway.

Christopher, half inside his coat, looked back at him.

“He’s faded now anyway. You’re wasting your breath.”

xxx

Mr. Reagan stood looking out the kitchen windows, snow coating the backyard in a thick blanket of white. It lit up the night to the point where he hadn’t needed a light to come down the stairs, and was heavy enough to keep him upstate despite not planning to spend the night. He sighed contentedly, thinking of the day.

Christopher stamped his feet on the ground and looked up, his breath rising in the cold winter air. He looked at his foster father, his eyes full of worry and fear and faintly, hope. So different from the emptiness that was there last time they met.

“Dana calls every now and then, Davy texts sometimes. But we don’t talk about anything really. I wanted to see you. I just wanted you to know. Um. That I’m okay, I guess.”

“That you’re not dead in a ditch.”

“No.”

“You’re sober.”

“I am.”

“And you’re a father.”

“I am. And a husband.”

Mr. Reagan nodded at the boy. He smiled at him, “Good.”

“I’m sorry.” Shrugging, Chris clarified, “For everything.”

xxx

“I am incredibly proud of the man you have become,” Mr. Reagan whispered as he hugged his foster son to his chest. Pulling away but still gripping Christopher’s shoulders, he said more clearly, “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t. Be safe. We’ll see you soon.” With one last look at the boy and his little family, he got into his car and backed out of the drive, careful of the ice.

Snapping the front door shut and locking it against the cold evening, Christopher allowed himself to smile as he moved to his daughters room to check on her. There was always a little tension between himself and his foster father, especially after Martha died and he started using again, but their first meeting since Chris got clean again went well.

He ran his fingers through Reagan’s curls as she slept, amazed at how much bigger she looked. She was more toddler than baby now, and it was happening much too fast.

“Daddy?”

“Shh. Go back to sleep.”

“I see you.”

“I see you too, Reagan. I love you.”

 

“How are you doing?” Kelly asked him later, as they moved around the kitchen putting things away.

Chris looked over his shoulder at her, “I’m alright,” he nodded. Knowing exactly what she was angling for, “I’m glad he’s not still mad.”

“George was never mad at you. He just wanted you to be better. And you are.”

“I know,” he said quietly. “I think a lot about the last time I saw him. I was awful.”

“You weren’t you. He understands.”

“I was a disaster, Kel.” Pausing to sink into a chair, Chris folded his arms across his chest and stretched his legs out. Tilting his head back, “I hate that I think about it so often but I’m glad I do too. You and Reagan, you two are why I stay clean, but remembering the lying and stealing I did – from such good people? That reminds me why I can’t go back to it, even a little.”

Kelly looked right into his eyes. “Christopher, if you ever touch anything even a little again, I will take our daughter and not come back.”

“I know.” Reaching his hand out, he pulled her to his lap and kissed her. “Kel?”

“Hmm?”

“My dad called me. Like, my real one.”

Book Reviews

Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Tim Mason is a fuck up. This was well established in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door. In its companion piece, The Boy Most Likely To, we follow Tim as he tries for redemption.

The story opens with an ultimatum and the offer of a scotch. Thankfully, newly sober Tim Mason only accepts the former, and we swiftly move into his escape from his clinical home life and into the arms of the loving and chaotic Garrett family. Living above their garage, there’s no judgement from the people who have welcomed Tim into their lives (expect, perhaps from the oldest Garrett sister, Alice). They accept his sarcasm and charm, and later, the biggest surprise of all.

I felt the twinge of needing something more from My Life Next Door and found it in The Boy Most Likely To. Huntley Fitzpatrick has a way of making you fall in love with her characters. Tim Mason is reckless, charming, and a bit of a mess. A lot of a mess. But he has 50-odd days sober and is trying to turn it around for himself. I like that he realizes he needs to do better or he could go down a road he won’t be able to come back from. He tries for his GED and continues with his job at the Garrett family’s hardware store. He doesn’t find solace in the bottom of a bottle or any illegal substance when he runs into his biggest drama yet. He steps up and does what his family wanted him to do all along – he becomes a man.

and so

and so. 0.4.

“Are you a virgin?”

Wide eyes, then sheepishly, “No.”

Christopher’s hands shook as he reached for his pack of cigarettes. They did so a lot, tremors remaining from his former habits, but the smokes helped. His foster family, the Reagan’s, didn’t fight him on it too much if he didn’t smoke in the house, so he kept the one remaining vice. Lighting up, he saw his girlfriend crinkle her nose before looking thoughtful.

“Was she someone special?” She asked.

Exhaling away from her, “It’s not like that,” Chris whispered. “I’ve had a lot of partners, but it’s not what you think.”

Kelly frowned at the idea that her boyfriend was that much more experienced than her.

“Don’t look like that. I – do you know the reason why I came here?”

“No.”

“Some would say I’m lucky. I’m sixteen, but only on my second foster. And I guess it could’ve been worse, kids can go through lots of them.” Christopher started, then stopped. He looked at her. “I don’t really talk about this unless I have to. I don’t want to, don’t even like to think about it, and that’s probably why I’m so messed up all the time.” He hugged his knees to his chest. “If I tell you some things, will you not tell anyone? People talk enough, y’know?”

“I won’t tell anyone unless you want me to.”

They were against their tree in the dense woods behind their houses. This tree saw a lot, first kisses and clumsy hands and broken bottles and empty bags from nights where nothing was enough. Taking a deep draw off his cigarette, Chris leaned all the way back until his full length was against the ground. He began.

“I lived with my mother until I was about six years old.”

“You knew your mother?” Kelly exclaimed.

Chris looked at her with dark eyes, “I just kind of need to get through this in one shot? Otherwise I won’t.”

She looked at him apologetically and agreed to hold all potential outbursts.

“These people I ended up with. They took in a lot of kids, you know? All ages, but mostly younger. As I got older, less and less of the kids that were first there stayed. But they took more young ones. They had friends, um. Ones they let in our beds at night? They paid to. I know it now, but didn’t really get what was going on when I was little. If we satisfied our ‘customer’ we got ‘candy’ before bed. Um. I don’t know what it was at first, but in the end it was heroin.” Christopher shuffled his feet and sat up, looking for another cigarette. Realizing he’d smoked the last one, his fingers reached for the rubber band around his wrist. Kelly winced as he started snapping it against his skin. The tender flesh was so red.

He looked at her without meeting her eyes. “So no, I’m not a virgin in the sense you’re asking. I’ve had a lot of sex, but not with anyone I wanted to.”

“You don’t have to worry about catching anything from me,” he continued. “The Reagan’s made sure I don’t have anything.” Chris rolled his eyes. “I had more needles after withdrawal than before.”

Kelly grimaced at the joke, and reached for his hands. His wrist was starting to look raw. Putting hers over his, she met his eyes.

“What happened to them?”

“The other kids? I don’t know.”

“Your foster parents,” she clarified.

“They’re in jail. Um. That’s how I came here. Mr. Reagan was the detective that did the investigation.” Christopher looked thoughtful, “I guess he’s Detective Reagan, but he told me not to call him that.”

“Does your mom know about all this?”

“Kel, it’s not like that. We’re… we don’t have a relationship. She gave me up and I haven’t seen her since.”

She looked at him, not knowing what to say.

Sighing, “The Reagan’s tried to reached out. It’s nothing doing. I wonder about her sometimes though. She was getting married. I don’t think she wanted me to know, but I did.”

“What about your dad?”

“Never met him. Don’t even know his name.”

“Davis?”

“My mom’s last name.”

“Oh. It’s all so awful.”

Christopher stood up, “It’s life.”

 

Mrs. Reagan was in the kitchen when Christopher came in later that evening. Noticing that she was washing dishes, he went over to help dry.

“You missed dinner, hun.” She chided gently.

“I’m not very hungry.” Then, “Sorry.”

“Teenage boys are always hungry,” she said wisely. “I’m glad you found someone you like to spend time with, but you still have to follow the rules. Dinner at 6:30, Christopher.”

He gave a small smile and nodded. “I am sorry, I’ll try harder.”

Mrs. Reagan watched him closely as he finished drying. The boy had filled out a little, no doubt from a steady diet instead of one supplemented by hard drugs; his hair was shiny and his skin wasn’t so pale. He looked human, so unlike the skeletal thing he was when George brought him home. “There’s nowhere for him to go tonight,” her husband had said. “I put him on a list.” Little did they know that they’d end up playing such a large role in getting the child’s life under control.

Putting a hand on his shoulder, she steered him towards the table. There was a covered dish waiting for him. Chris looked surprised, “You saved me a plate?”

“Of course. Eat, and tell me about your friend.”

Catching sight of his wrist as he sat down, she sighed inwardly. The boy was improving but still fought so many demons every day. Mentally reminding herself to put Band-Aids and an anti-bacterial on his nightstand, she turned her attention to the story Christopher was telling.

and so

and so, 0.3.

The music was so loud Kelly could feel it vibrate in her bones. She didn’t much like parties, but the need to let off some end of semester steam was alluring to both her and Christopher. They had decided to attend her best friend’s end of the year blow out, for better or worse, and it was turning out to be for worse. She had lost sight of her boyfriend as some of his friends pulled him outside while she chatted with her girlfriends. Much later, she felt his arms slide around her as he dipped his face to hers for a kiss.

“Hey,” he smiled sweetly at her. “Been missin’ you.”

“I can taste rum on your lips,” Kelly started, pulling back from Christopher’s arms. “You’ve been drinking?” She frowned.

Chris felt a little hazy, but his senses sharpened as the tone in his girlfriend’s voice turned accusing. “Just a little,” he admitted, playing with her long blonde hair. “C’mon, it’s ok.”

Kelly turned away from him, trying to hide her disappointment. “You’ve been doing so well.”

The buzz Chris was feeling receded faster. He took a deep breath, “I’m trying to have a good time.” Looking bashful, “I am having a good time. We’re having a good time.”

“I’m not. I’ve barely seen you all night. This is why?”

“Do you really have to do this with all these people around? I’m fine.”

Realizing he was gone, “You’re drunk.” Hurt, “I’ll find my own way home.”

She left, and Christopher stared after her before turning to head deeper into the throng of people. Searching out something stronger, he didn’t go home that night.

xxx

“Christopher, a drink? You look like a Captain man.”

Kelly’s eyes darted to her father, flashing.

God yes. “A soda would be great, thanks.” Christopher replied smoothly. He had almost five months clean and sober, and damned if this dinner with his girlfriends parents was going to push him over the edge. He smiled at Mr. Beckett as the familiar itch ran up his arms. He understood they were weary of him, but he was trying.

“Thank you,” he said quietly as a coke was put in front of him.

“How are your courses?” asked Mrs. Beckett.

“School’s good, thanks.” Nodding. “This semester is going better than last.”

“Well you don’t look strung out, so one would hope so.”

Chris said nothing, but he breathed deeply as he focused on steadying his gaze. He wanted to give away nothing in regards to how he was feeling, they didn’t need anymore ammunition. Under the table, Kelly squeezed his hand.

“Mom.”

“It’s fine,” Chris said. “Really.”

“Is it?” Mr. Beckett countered. “I’m failing to understand what’s fine about any of this at all.”

“Dad”

“Why are we pretending to have a nice meal together? We certainly aren’t.”

“Please.”

“Am I supposed to sit here and ask him to pass the potatoes? I’d rather ask how he plans to be good for you. He’s barely good for himself.”

Chris snapped at the rubber band around his wrist as he listened.

“This is not what we had planned for you.” Kelly’s father slammed his fist on the table. “An addict for a boyfriend? A drunk.” Bitingly, “A prostitute.”

“That’s enough!” Kelly cried, angry now.

“I am right here.” Christopher said. Quietly, to Kelly, “Maybe I should go.”

“I’ll go with you.”

They both got up from the table, one saddened that the wedge between them was driven in more deeply, the other heated. Neither said anything as they left the house, or drove away.

Later, on the drive home, “Can you pull in here?” Chris asked.

“What is it?” Kelly had pulled off the main street and parked in the lot of a darkened building. People milled around the entrance where a solitary overhead light shone.

Quietly, “It’s a meeting.”

Kelly was surprised he wanted to go in as he disliked AA meetings immensely, but knew if he was asking, he was hurting a lot. Itching even more so.

She looked at her boyfriend’s profile. He looked a little beaten down and his fingers were twitching. She’d seen his hands go to his jacket pocket a couple of times as they drove, but Chris would stop them before pulling out the cigarettes she knew were there. It was too dark to see, but she knew his eyes were probably sad.

“I need it,” he whispered. Whether he meant a smoke, a drink, or the meeting, Kelly didn’t question. Probably all three.

“Do you want me to come in with you? Or wait?” she asked.

Shaking his head, Chris made to undo his seat belt. “No, it’s okay. I’ll be okay, I’ll get a cab or something.”

“Christopher?”

He turned toward her.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” He smiled.

and so

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

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.”

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.