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, 0.5.

Scarecrows lined the pathway of the Beckett house and glowing pumpkins were in the windows. Orange garbage bags with painted on faces sat at the curb, filled with fallen leaves. They had put a plastic punch bowl outside, filled it with candy, and left a note that said Take One.

It was Halloween night. Kelly sat on her dresser with Christopher pressed against her. Black streamers and dark lighting, they were behind a locked door while the party went on below them. They had been alone together for awhile, ignoring their friends; kissing, cupping faces and exploring hands.

And talking. Kelly was surprised how much Chris spoke when they were intimate. How much he opened up when he was at his most vulnerable. She loved this side of him.

Christopher tensed, hard, breathing deeply. He tasted her and wanted her and he couldn’t catch his breath.

“Are you sure?,” he breathed.

Kelly pushed against his chest, her lips brushing his, “Shhh. Yes.” She reached down to undo his jeans, sighing against his mouth. “Let me show you what I want.” Then, searching out his eyes, “You’re trembling.”

Chris looked up, lips quirking into a ghost of a smile. “I’m okay.” He bent closer to her and lifted her off the hard wood and onto the bed. Rolling the condom up his length, he then steadied himself on top of her. “I want this. With you. I’m glad it’s you,” he said nervously, leaning down.

xxx

Christopher walked slowly over the crunching leaves that littered the grass he had raked earlier that day. He would have to do it again tomorrow. Checking his phone and seeing he had ten minutes until curfew, he felt around in his jacket for a cigarette. It was surprising to have that ten minutes, since he had stayed to help Kelly clean up after their friends had left.

“Hey.”

He looked up and saw the oldest Reagan son on the front steps of the house. Sighing inwardly at the loss of a hit of nicotine as well as having to endure Davy, he stepped around him and nodded in his direction as he made to go inside. “Hi,” he said softly.

“Now I know there’s no Reagan alive who wants to head inside before curfew.”

Faltering at the door, Chris turned around. “I’m not a Reagan.”

“You’re as good as. Come sit with me. You’ve got a few.”

Sitting down, Chris looked up expectantly. “Yeah?”

“You gonna tell me about what you got up to tonight? Ma and dad might already be in bed, but ol’ Davy remembers the ways of teenage boys well.”

“What?”

Nodding to the Beckett house, “No cops had to show up, that’s good.”

“Why would the cops come? The music wasn’t that loud. Nothing was out of control.” ‘Party’ was only used in the loosest of terms.

“No nonsense I gotta tell the parents about?” He sniffed obviously, “You did a good job of cleaning any scents off you.”

“Do you want to breathalyze me?” Chris snapped. He reddened, realizing he had maybe gone too far. Breathing deeply, he looked up again. “What do you really want? Don’t you have kids of your own to harass?”

“In bed already. Sugar comas. Lindsay and I took them around for candy earlier.”

“Tell me about the blonde,” Davy smirked. “You did have that well satisfied look on your face walking over here.”

“I don’t – ”

“It’s good, you know. Spend time with a girl, especially one like the Beckett girl. Her head’s on straight, which is far from what I can say about you most of the time – ”

“Are you congratulating me or talking shit?”

Davy stopped, staring at the kid. “She’s good for you. I know you. Don’t screw it up.”

“Davy. You don’t know anything about me.” Christopher deadpanned. He stood up, brushed off his jeans, and went inside.

Shutting the front door, he leaned his head back against it. The hallway clock chimed midnight. Time to turn back into a pumpkin.

xxx

Christopher was pulling on a clean pair of pajama bottoms to sleep in when his bedroom door slammed open.

“You know, Chris – ”

He couldn’t help flinching as his brother bulldozed his way into the room. Startled, his vision started tunneling before he remembered to breathe. “Don’t you knock?!”

“You’re going to wake up ma and dad, quit yelling.”

Blinking hard, “I’m not?”

“Christopher. You’re shaking. And white like paper. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, you just scared me, barreling in here like that. What’s wrong with you?”

Davy turned and walked out without answering. Chris sank onto the bed, his heart still pounding. He listened to the sound of his own breathing for a few minutes. “Get a grip,” he said to himself. “It’s just Davy being an asshole.”

“I am frequently an asshole but in this moment, I’d like you to reserve judgement. Here.” Davy shoved a cup of hot chocolate in his hands. “Drink it.”

Breathing in the scent, Chris wrapped his hands around the mug, savoring its warmth. He stared down at it, trying to figure out why it smelled vaguely like cinnamon. “You didn’t spike this, did you?”

Lips in a thin line, Davy rolled his eyes hard at his brother. “No. Drink.”

“Why am I drinking hot chocolate?” He took a small sip.

“You don’t like tea and you don’t need caffeine this late. And chocolate’s good for shock. Your color’s better already.”

“I.. ”

“I know. Stop. Keep breathing and drink.” He placed a hand on Chris’ back. “It’s okay. I wasn’t thinking.”

“About what?”

“That barging into your room like that would do this to you. You don’t have to say anything. I know it put you back there. I am an asshole, I’m sorry.”

Christopher slowly looked back at his mug, and drank some more so he wouldn’t have to say anything. He kept it up until the chocolate was finished. “I don’t mean to be such a mess,” he whispered.

“There are things in your past that most of us don’t have. I didn’t realize how easily you could get sent back there.” Davy looked at the teenager.

“How’d you know?”

“Believe it or not I am an adult and a father. And a big brother. And I didn’t need the physical reactions, I could see it in your eyes.”

Chris cleared his throat. Placing the mug on the nightstand, he stared out the window. “What were you coming in here to say? Before, uh, this.”

“I was going to say things that were out of line and unnecessary. Don’t worry about it.”

Christopher turned to look at him. “I like her. She doesn’t deserve to be talked about the way you started to. And I haven’t touched a drink in four months.” He could see Davy doing the math, calculating how long he had been here as Drunk Chris versus Sober Chris.

Davy looked at him. “Good. Try to sleep, kid.”

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.”