The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 15.

Jamie sat in the overstuffed armchair in the living room, absentmindedly picking the stuffing out of one of the holes. Coach O’dell sat on the couch across from him, staring him right in the face. It was O’dell who had called last night, informing his parents that he had walked out of practice. Jamie was still fuming from the confusion he had caused.

“In the kitchen, now.”

Jamie cringed at the tone his step father used, knowing he was in deep. He didn’t have to question what was wrong, he already knew. He slipped quietly into a chair, his eyes never looking up from the floor. Trying to keep his temper in check, he squeeze his eyes shut, and took a deep breath.

“I want to know what’s going on. Why did Coach O’dell call this house tonight?”

“If he called, then I bet you already know why.”

John stepped around the table, and sat down next to the boy. “I want to hear it from you.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say that will be any different than what O’dell said. I left practice before it was over. That’s it.”

“He said you weren’t focused. You were spastic. He said you seemed like you were on something.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Then why would he think that?”

“I don’t know.”

John knew in his heart that Jamie hadn’t been on anything, but curiosity was getting the better of him. “There had to be a reason for O’dell to think that. ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t answer my question.”

Jamie felt defeated. He didn’t know what else to say. “I took something in the morning. For my leg, it was bothering me. But I wasn’t high.”

John remained silent.

“You know, if nobody’s going to believe me then I’m not going to waste my time trying to change their mind.” He got up, and walked up the stairs to his room, intent on sleeping away this mess he was in.

xxx

“Danny called me last night.”

Jamie looked up, looking directly into O’dell’s eyes. “So?”

“He told me about the conversation the two of you had last night.”

“And?”

“Come on, Jamie. I’m trying to apologize here.”

“Why should I not be difficult? You certainly had no problem being so at practice yesterday.” Jamie shot back.

“I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. I want to make this work. We need you on the team, but things can’t keep on the way they are. We need to work through this. Please.”

“I need you to trust me. I wouldn’t mess with myself that way. You know that.”

“Does that mean I’m forgiven?”

“I guess.” Jamie responded quietly.

“Can I ask you one more thing?”

He looked up, wondering what O’dell wanted now. He nodded, indicating his response. O’dell reached over, gripped Jamie’s arm in his hand, and pushed the sleeve up.

“How long have you been cutting?”

Jamie stared down at the scars, some of them newer than he’d like them to be.

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 12.

Jamie woke up to someone pouncing on top of his sleeping form. He rolled over, and pulled his legs up to his chest. He heard someone jump again, and opened one eye in time to see his little brother come down on his left side.

“Stop it.”

He jumped again, landing on his left leg.

“You little – !”

The sounds of running feet echoed the scream, and the seven year old tore down the stairs, screeching to a halt in front of his mother.

“What’s the matter, baby?”

“I didn’t do nothing, he just yelled, and..”

“I did not!” Came Jamie’s cry from upstairs. “Tell the truth, you little brat.”

He slammed his bedroom door shut, and limped over to his bed. Wincing, he reached down, and pulled up a box that was hidden beneath the box spring. His nimble fingers worked quickly, untying the string that held the lid to the base.

“Jamie!”

His head jerked up quickly at the sound of his name being called, and he moved swiftly towards the door. Reaching out, he twisted the lock until it caught, ensuring him privacy until he was ready to face his mother.

Sitting down again, the pain in his leg pulsating even more from his sudden movement, he picked the box up again. Lifting its lid off, he shuffled through the randomness that had accumulated inside until he found what he was looking for.

His fingertips grazed something smooth, hard, and plastic. He picked up the bottle, and stared at it. He unscrewed the cap, and shook two tablets into the palm of his hand. He hadn’t taken these pills in a long time.

Absentmindedly rubbing his knee, he brought his hand to his mouth and swallowed. Ignoring the pounding on his door, he lay down, allowing himself to fall asleep again.

xxx

“Daniels!”

“I’m talking to you!”

Jamie continued walking, banging his way out of the locker room. He made a beeline for the parking lot, and almost made it to the other side of the street when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m talking to you. Where the hell do you get off walking away from me like that? I’m your coach, damn it.”

Shrugging him off, “Leave me alone!”

“You show at practice completely out of it, how else am I supposed to talk to you?”

Jamie turned to face Coach O’dell, his eyes flashing.

“I’m not!”

“You’re certainly were acting like it.”

“I don’t care if don’t you believe me.”

“You haven’t given me a reason to believe otherwise.”

Jamie shook his head, turned to face the street, and continued his way home.

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, 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

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

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

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.