The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 7.

The day passed in a blur of color. Jamie closed his eyes, holding on to specific images as they flashed through his mind.

Waking up covered in sweat… again.

The cold metal against his skin as he traced yet another bracelet of blood over his wrist.

Finding one of his devil jerseys crumpled into a ball on the floor next to his bed, torn in several places.

The eerie silence of the house that morning.

Finding a business card in his jeans pocket with the words Junior Division Metropolitan League embossed on it.

The pain that made him cry out as he sunk the razor blade farther into his arm than he ever had before.

“Name?”

“Jamie Daniels”

“School?”

“St. Dominic’s Academy”

“Coach O’dell sent you?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re seventeen?”

“In April.”

“Take this pass, kindly do not lose it, return it to me after your tryout. The locker room is down this hallway and to the left.”

“Huh.” What am I doing here? I’m not a hockey player anymore.

Jamie was lacing up his skates when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up into the surprised face of his former coach. He found himself feeling just as shocked as O’dell looked. “What are you doing here?”

“You’ve been out of it for too long, Daniels. As of last week, I no longer work for St. Dominic’s.”

“You don’t coach the devils anymore?”

“The devils moved up to Varsity this year, I wasn’t coaching them anyway. I was still working with the new JV team, but I got offered a better position. I miss the team, but this is closer to home. I can be with my family more now.”

“The devils… moved up to Varsity?”

Jamie stood in the middle of the ice, first line, right wing. His man, the person he was supposed to be blocking, stood less than three feet away from him. A time-out had been called; one of the younger guys trying out had smashed into the wall. His arm was now hanging at his side in a rather awkward position. But Jamie barely registered that someone had been hurt. His attention had been fixated on one thing since the moment he stepped onto the ice: number twenty-three, of the opposing side.

Number twenty three had straight black hair, slightly mussed; grey-blue eyes, and was built just like Jamie. Thin, not skinny. Toned, not muscular. An inch or two shorter than himself, and a couple of years younger. Jamie wasn’t sure why he was even at the rink to begin with, but muscle memory was at least taking over for his lack of true heart. Until he caught sight of the name on the back of this kid’s jersey. Davidson.

Davidson.

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 6.

A victory party, celebrating the JV team’s triumphant win over the varsity. Pulsating music, flashing lights, lots of alcohol. Devils and parents alike are in attendance. Takes place at teammate Adam Kelsing’s house.

Jamie stumbles drunkenly into the basement of his best friends’ home. His fellow devils are there, all equally drunk, laughing and having a good time. His coordination isn’t great; as he goes to turn into another room he smashes into the door. He hears light laughter behind him. He turns around. His girlfriend of almost four years is standing there, giggles erupting from behind the hands that are covering her mouth. He smiles, and loses almost all traces of his previous mindset. Gently putting his hands on her hips, just below her waist, he pulls her close and whispers in her ear.

“What are you laughing at, huh?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you, silly boy.”

Jamie smiled even wider, “Thanks to you, I’m no longer a little boy.”

“Sshh! My parents…” Kayleigh’s voice trailed off as she turned her head to search the room for her mom and dad. “…Are not down here.”

“No, they’re not.”

“The team is.”

“Huh. So they are. Hadn’t noticed.”

“How could you not notice your own teammates all around you?”

“I’m with you. There’s nothing else to notice.” faint blush tinged Kayleigh’s cheeks. She really did love him. Always had. And I always will, she thought, as Jamie led the way upstairs.

Several hours later. Jamie and John are driving home in a black Jeep Cherokee. It’s snowing. Black ice covers the road.

“Are you proud of yourself?”

Jamie turned from the window. A mixture of disappointment and curiosity came over his face.

“What?”

“You were caught with your girlfriend in your best friend’s house and his parents walked in on you!”

“Yeah,” he whispered. He didn’t want to talk right now. All he could think about was what Kayliegh had said to him while they waited for their parents to stop apologizing to Mr. and Mrs. Kelsing. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. It’s like they said, we are just kids. Maybe we should take some time apart.” Jamie hadn’t been able to think straight since that moment.

“You’re sorry! What the hell were you thinking?” His stepfather’s voice brought him back to the present.

“What does it matter? We apologized, to both Adam and his parents. What more do you want me to say?,” Jamie felt his temper rising as each word spewed from his mouth.

“Don’t you understand? If you keep this up you’re going to end up exactly like your mother.”

“What?”

“She got pregnant at fifteen. Come on, Jamie, you know that. Do you want to end up like that?”

“I thought you loved my mother.”

“I do love your mother, but I wish she hadn’t been put into the situation she was in. I wish she hadn’t gotten pregnant by that jackass. He screwed her, and then screwed her over. And she got landed with a baby and no one to help care for it.

“You wish she’d never had… me.” Jamie realized quietly.

Before John can respond, the jeep skids on some unseen ice and slams into the guardrail.

Jamie rolls over in bed. He’s dreaming. In his sleep, he raises both arms over his head as if protected himself, then drops them down on the bed.

“No,” he whispers.

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy, 5.

Samantha.

He’s been so quiet lately. And moody. He snaps at everyone, even his little brothers. He just hasn’t been right since the accident, since he found out about Alan. No, stop that. He’s always known about his father, the hockey… Jacob. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. You never wanted Jamie to know Alan played when he was younger. Always afraid that would turn the boy off the sport. And look, it has. But he had been okay with it; at least he seemed to be. He never said anything about it. Never even brought it up after the car crash. How did things get so messed up?

John.

Great, you’ve really fucked it up now. If Jamie didn’t hate you before, he’s really going to now. Why’d you have to go and try to rehash everything? Hockey? Kaleigh? Those topics have been off-limits for months now. He doesn’t even look me in the eye anymore. Or anyone, for that matter. He doesn’t want to talk to you, plain and simple. What happened that night will never be forgiven, never.

…And I deserve never to be forgiven.

Jamie. 

I’ve spent the past twelve months being ignored by everyone in my family, everything I’ve done has gone completely unnoticed. Why does it suddenly matter that I’m not a devil anymore, that I’m not involved in school? It’s not like I’m on scholarship like everyone else. Things that were important but.. they just aren’t anymore. Why can’t they understand that? As for hockey… I don’t know. Should I try out for the league? Should I not? Does it really matter? It’s just a game, after all. No. It’s not just a game. Not to me. It never was. Hockey was always something that connected me to him. A common bond. But he plays, too. I can’t compete with him.

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.

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.”