The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 17.

The quarantine was over, but they still wouldn’t let him leave the hospital. They told him he fell through the ice but he didn’t remember. The last memory he had was of his confrontation with O’dell in his living room.

Doctors were sent to talk to him about the cutting but they found him unresponsive. The loss of his freedom didn’t move Jamie to speech. His removal from the team didn’t faze him either. His mother worried ridiculously about catatonia despite assurance from from the medical team treating her son. He had retreated into himself, but he was aware.

He needed this time. To process, to begin healing. He knew he couldn’t keep on this way. There were people wanting to help bring him back and he wanted to let them. To be in control, to be Jamie Daniels again.

His father kept coming to see him. Jamie hadn’t acknowledged him, staring at the ceiling or sometimes out the window. Alan talked to him anyway. About his life in England and his years playing hockey, his son. My brother, thought Jamie. His yearly box of pictures and news clippings his grandmother sent. All intriguing pieces of information that Jamie filed away to ponder when he was alone.

Samantha and John came, bringing the kids once or twice, but usually they were alone. His mother fussed over sheet thread counts and whether his pillows had feathers or were foam. His stepdad looked at her as though she’d lost her mind. “I have to do something,” she explained. She filled the room with flowers and then it was Jamie’s turn to look at her like she’d lost her mind.

The hospital became a revolving door of former teammates.

Goldstein came, bringing with him a meatball hero from his parent’s deli. “Ya gotta eat something other than jello.”

Dennis spent an afternoon with him, telling him ranching stories, all the while trying not to sneeze at the flowers.

Coach O’dell came while Jamie was asleep. He stared at the boy from the doorway for a long time, trying to figure out how things had gone so wrong. His number two for years had bloody limbs from his fall. Danny, of course, had filled him in on his other dramas and O’dell shook his head. “You’re gonna be okay, Jamie. You’ll make it.”

The days continued to pass in a blur of rotating nurses and friends and family visitations. He was still silent, but began letting on that he was paying attention. His nurses felt his gaze as they changed his dressings and smiled encouragingly. The doctors grew hopeful.

His cuts healed leaving angry scars in their wake. Jamie stared at them, remembering each slice. He wanted to cut. Needed to. Even though his head said no. He touched them gingerly, feeling his body practically scream for the blade, anything to feel the cold metal against his skin instead of dealing with his father’s sudden interest in his life, his mother’s sad eyes, Coach O’dell, Danny Jesse Adam Kayleigh.

Kayleigh.

Kayleigh had come to see him.

“What are you doing to yourself?” she whispered. She didn’t look sad, just disappointed.

Which was worse, in Jamie’s opinion. He spent so many years trying to be perfect; the perfect boyfriend, the perfect son, the perfect teammate. Maybe not the most perfect student but he tried. “Don’t you know how worried I’ve been? Danny said they almost didn’t pull you out in time. Do you remember? The ice was thin. You weren’t breathing.”

Kayleigh’s eyes strayed from his and looked down his body, stopping at his left arm, above the wrist. There was now bruising mixed with the scars.

“Why?” She moved closer, tears beginning to sting her eyes. Burying her face in his chest, she started to cry. Jamie shifted and breathed deeply. “I’m gonna be alright, Kales.”

 

The end.

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 16.

When Jamie woke up, he was cold, thirsty, and alone. He felt the unseen walls surrounding him, and heard the beeping of the heart monitor in the corner of the room. What he didn’t know was how he got to the hospital. Pressing the call button above his right shoulder, he tried to shift himself into a more comfortable position, but found movement to be difficult. His arms felt numb, but his lower half was sore.

He winced as the nurse bustled in, turning the overhead light on and blinding him temporarily. She checked his vitals as he tried to blink away the tiny circles that blocked correct vision.

“Glad to see you’re up. How’re you feeling?” she asked. Jamie paused a moment, debating whether to bombard the poor woman with questions, or just answer her question.

“Tired.”

“That’d be the medications you’re on. They’ll make you feel sluggish for awhile.”

“But why am I on anything? How did I get here?”

“Your doctor will be in later to discuss your situation. Right now, I suggest resting until he gets here.”

“But – ”

“Just rest.” she said quietly, smoothing down his blanket.

xxx

“He needs to know. He wants to know.”

“And I will tell him when it’s time. Until then, you will not say anything to him. Do you understand?”

“I’m his father.”

“It only says that on paper.”

Jamie woke later in the night to the sound of voices talking outside his room. He recognized the woman’s voice, it was his mother’s, but the man’s voice was alien to him.

Groggily, he raised his head off the pillow, trying to catch more of their conversation, but they seemed to be moving away from the door. All he was able to hear was the padding of footsteps as they echoed away from his room.

What was that about? he thought to himself. He was positive they were talking about him, but he didn’t know why. Nothing made sense. Where was he, again? He just couldn’t remember.

Jamie turned his face towards the window, a sliver of light shining in. It shone and reflected off something white on his arm. Bandages. White in color, wrapped around his arm tightly, causing the feeling in it to fade to pins and needles. Underneath, the skin was itchy. Why?

Feeling another wave of tiredness fall over him, Jamie rested his head back on his pillows and closed his eyes. He was asleep within minutes, and never noticed the man with the green eyes that slipped into the room. He didn’t stir either, when he pulled a chair close to the bed, and took his hand.

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, 14.

Jamie continued to look up at his old friend, a sad smile on his face. “You found me.” He whispered.

“I’ll always find you.”

The two men sat in the sand, the wind ruffling their hair.

“Put it out.” Danny said, gesturing towards Jamie’s cigarette. “My mom’ll throw a fit if I come home smelling like that.”

Jamie took another quick pull and then obliged, putting his cigarette out in the sand.

“How did you know I’d be here?”

“You always come here when you’re upset.”

“How’d you know I was upset?”

Danny bit his lip, hesitant about his answer. “O’dell told me.”

Jamie breathed deeply, but didn’t say anything.

“He’s worried about you. We all are.”

“There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Really?” Danny asked in surprise. “Last time I checked there was plenty to worry about.”

“Danny..”

“No, please, listen to me.” He stopped, checking to see if his friend would interrupt. When he didn’t, Danny continued.

“I’ve known you since the sandbox Jamie, you can’t hide from me the way you do others.” He paused again, waiting, but Jamie continued to stare straight ahead.

“What happened that night? With Kayleigh? What was so bad?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I bet you haven’t talked about it with anyone. Come on, help me understand.”

Jamie leaned all the way back so that he was lying on his back in the sand. He stared straight up, his eyes reflecting the stars in the night sky.

“We had sex.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Well, yeah. We kind of all do. The whole parents yelling thing tipped us off.”

“She told me she needed a break right after.”

Danny lay down next to him, not saying a word. He didn’t want to interrupt now that his friend was finally talking.

“She called me a few weeks later. She was four weeks late.”

Danny sucked in his breath, and held it. Questions exploded inside his head, but he stayed quiet. He hadn’t known this.

“She was pregnant. John was right. I would – I did get her pregnant. He was right.”

“Kayleigh.. she doesn’t look pregnant. She.. would have had the baby by now though. Right?” Danny questioned softly.

“She isn’t anymore.” Jamie rolled onto his side, facing the swing set he had played on as child. He could almost hear the spirit of his unborn child laughing on it.

“I told my mom about it. She cried a lot, and told my stepdad. They weren’t happy.”

“I wouldn’t think so.” Danny whispered.

“You know, that night John told me that I’d wind up like my mom; too young, uneducated, and alone. He was right, wasn’t he? I am alone. The only difference between me and her is that Kayleigh killed our baby.”

“Don’t say that, Jamie.”

“She did, Danny. She didn’t want a child. She wanted a career in hockey, and she’s going to get one. She’s damn good.”

“So are you.”

Jamie smirked, but didn’t answer; his thoughts still lingering on the baby. “Were you really high at practice?” Danny asked tentatively.

“No.”

“But O’dell said-

“I wasn’t.”

“You trusted me up until this point Jamie, why are you lying to me now?”

Jamie was on his feet, feeling his temper rise.

Danny was on his heels. “Talk to me.”

He turned around, eyes flashing. “Listen to me. I wasn’t on anything. I took some painkillers earlier in the day because I couldn’t walk. My brother was jumping on my bed while I was in it and landed on my knee. I wouldn’t have been able to practice if I didn’t take anything. But I wasn’t high.” He turned back around, and started to make his way home.

Danny blinked into the night. He hadn’t been expecting that. “I’m going to have a lot of apologizing to do,” he said to no one in particular.

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.”

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 10.

Jamie pulled his jersey over his head and hung it up in his locker. Young men were all around, being loud in the way teenage boys are. Laughter echoed off the walls, yet he remained silent. Jamie was never one to willingly make conversation with anyone, and he wasn’t about to start now. These were his teammates, and nothing else.

Farther down the row of lockers was number twenty three, Jamie realized. He hadn’t forgotten that Dan made it through; he just hadn’t resigned himself to the fact yet. He had seen his brother two other times, and both had been on the ice. He played well, Jamie had to admit that, but he still wished he wasn’t there. It was going to take a lot of effort to accept his position on the team.

“Want a ride?”

Jamie looked up from the book he was looking at, finding himself face to face with the Jeep he almost walked into. His stepdad’s face peered from the drivers’ side window.

“I’m on my way home from work; I thought we’d ride together.”

Jamie sighed, and gripped the door handle. He sat down, and pulled the seat belt tightly around him. He wore it religiously ever since the accident. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

John looked at the boy, now a young man, and then turned to face the front window. He pulled cautiously into traffic.

xxx

“Why did you come for me?”

John looked up, surprised; he hadn’t heard anyone come down the stone steps. “What?”

“After practice, why did you come for me?”

“Why do you ask?”

Jamie shrugged.

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“I was curious. I wanted to know how it went. I didn’t think you had an interest in hockey anymore.”

Jamie continued to look at him in silence.

“When O’dell called asking for permission, and later telling me that you were actually playing, I almost fell over. I wasn’t expecting you to play again.”

“Did you not think I’d be any good?”

“You know that’s not what I thought.”

“Then why else would you be surprised?”

“You stopped playing. I really didn’t think you’d play again after…”
Jamie waited a couple of beats. He’d known this was coming. They’d avoided it for too long.

“You didn’t think I’d play again after my surgery. You thought I’d be too messed up for that.”

“I did.”

Jamie sighed, and sat down next to John. “I didn’t think I would, either.”

“Jay, I never really apologized for that night- ”

“Don’t. I don’t want to get into it.”

“We should, though. A lot happened that night that I’m not proud of; a lot has happened since then that I’m not proud of. Everything’s changed. I want to make things better.”

Jamie thought about that. “Why did Stanley move in with us? And his kids?”

“He’s my brother. He was having trouble, and I wanted to help him out. I didn’t think they would be here this long.”

“He doesn’t like me much.”

John chose not to answer, continuing to stare out at the frozen water.

“It went well.”

John looked up, then. “What?”

“Practice. It went well.”

He smiled. “Tell me more.”

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 9.

Two weeks later. North London, England.

Alan Davidson stepped into his office and immediately paged his secretary telling her to hold all his calls for the rest of the afternoon. He had just been informed that a second round of tryouts for the Metropolitan League had been held that afternoon, and his son, Daniel, had made it through. He would be playing hockey in the United States, in a state called Minnesota. He felt flush at the thought. Minnesota. There were so many memories there.

His first time in another country; alone.

His first time experiencing another culture.

His first big break-working for the Daniels Group, a prestigious law firm.

His first love.

His first born.

He was undeniably stuck on the last two. Samantha Daniels had been beautiful. She was also his former partners’ only daughter. His teenage daughter. It wasn’t a good mix. He had been immediately drawn to her; her long blonde hair almost an aphrodisiac in itself. He had loved her tenderly, if not illicitly, but loved her nonetheless. He still missed her, after all these years.

His thoughts drifted to the aftermath of his rash actions, and their repercussions. Samantha had bore him a son; a little boy that had her golden hair, but his greenish gold eyes. It couldn’t be denied that the boy was his son, the paternity test had yielded the truth. The result was Alan returning to England in shame, hoping to keep the boy a secret.

What am I going to do? He thought.

He knew all about Jamie; knew because Samantha’s mother never let a year go by without shipping a box full of pictures and letters explaining all about the boy. Spiteful woman, he often thought. Alan’s mind often wandered to the deepest part of his brain, where he kept the secret of his son tucked away. He looks like me. He has my smile. He plays hockey.

Hockey. That was going to be a problem one day, Alan was sure of it. He knew his son had talent, he watched from afar as Jamie went through the motions of peewee games, the Junior Divisional Championships, and playing for St. Dominic’s. Jamie’s grandmother had sent him his yearly box a few months in advance this year; he had received it yesterday and it contained documentation that the boy had been placed on the Metropolitan team.

With Daniel.

This was going to be interesting.

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, 0.2.

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.”