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 Amelia 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.”

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, 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, 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, 7.

“I don’t really understand why you hate her so much.” Silence. “My mother.” Christopher clarified. He’d been awake for a little bit, but both he and his father were lost in their own heads. Driving the afternoon away, Josh had turned them back around by the time Chris had woken up. “It’s not like she let it happen.”

“She knew about it.”

“She knew after everyone knew. After it all stopped and I was living somewhere else.”

“Are you really making excuses for her?”

“There’s nothing to excuse, Josh. What happened while I was fostered isn’t her fault any more than it’s mine.”

“How are you not angry?” 

A dark look crossed his face and Christopher flashed his forearm, showing off his scars, “Do you really think I’m not?”

Josh pulled over after a few minutes, finding a clearing to park in. It was getting hard to breathe in the car. The internal argument he’d been having to stay or go was raging again. Chris freely spoke about his childhood traumas when they questioned each other as a get to know you, but he rarely acknowledged his self harm. It was his, maybe something he discussed with therapists, never with his father. Neither did they talk about the line Chris walked closer to everyday, the one that separated his sobriety from bliss. His son’s struggle was becoming harder to shut down.

“I need a walk.”

“I need a smoke.” A drink.

Unintentionally they both set off in the same direction, strides matching each other, and Josh would’ve laughed if he wasn’t so confused.

xxx

“Amelia, if you want the boy to stay long term just say it. I can’t ask the shelter to hold a spot any longer. Unfortunately it’s needed.”

Christopher could hear Mr. & Mrs. Reagan talking about him. It seemed they were always talking about him, though quietly, but not realizing the vent in the bedroom he currently occupied connected to all the others in the house. He heard most of their conversations.

“I want to help him,” Amelia said softly. Her husband sighed. They had four children of their own, mostly grown, their youngest in college. He was weary of adding another charge to their responsibility, much less one with the kind of baggage Chris had. His file was thick, the pedophilia he was exposed to only the tip of the iceberg. Could they open their home to this?

“Christopher is a heroin addict. He spent his childhood at the mercy of an illegal sex ring. And the levels in the liquor cabinet have gone down significantly since his arrival. Are you sure about this?”

“You’ve reached out to his mother,” Amelia countered. “Have you had a response?”

“She requested I respect her right to give up her son.”

“Every child deserves to have someone care about them.”

xxx

“I’m angry about a lot of things, Josh. I keep getting these raw deals, you know? It’s kind of like I wasn’t supposed to exist, so I keep getting punished for it. But I can’t blame her for what happened.” Chris looked at his dad and shrugged, “Leaving is what was right for her. You can’t be angry at her for that. I’m not. And you did it too.”

Josh’s temper had mellowed since earlier, but Christopher’s had spiked. He hadn’t really seen the boy in a foul mood. Unbelievably sad ones, yes, but never this.

“I always thought you lived with her. She knew so much about you when I contacted her.”

Chris smiled sourly. “My favorite color, how I take my coffee, what I eat for breakfast, my daughter’s middle name?”

“She knew where you were and what had happened to you. She knew you were clean.”

Chris breathed in deeply, “I’m not defined by getting fucked every night by strangers or how many days sober I have.”

“I know.”

“Do you? Everyone whose supposed to mean something to me gets stuck on that once they know about it. I don’t want to talk about this with you. You’re stuck too. God. My wife and child just died and we’re arguing over Jane Davis. I was six last time I saw her. The woman isn’t anything to me, why don’t you understand that?”

“Kit?”

Christopher looked at his father.

“You like all kinds of blue, black with sugar, food that early makes you nauseous, and she doesn’t have one. Her full name was Reagan Beckett-Davis.”

and so, 6.

Ten years ago.

Christopher sat on the steps of the school, waiting to be picked up. He picked at the hem of his denim jacket, kicked his shoes against the concrete. He itched. He hadn’t stopped itching since he moved to the suburbs.

Chris had just had his third AA meeting, because his drinking was a thing, or so Dana had said. His foster sister explained that when her older brother Davy got drunk the first time, their dad made him spend a whole day at an inpatient rehab center, talking to the addicts. And Christopher had a real problem, so he’d probably be going to AA until the end of time if her father had anything to say about it. Dana was a real authoritarian on such things. And Chris went, but mostly because he was afraid of Mr. Reagan.

He needed a sponsor, he needed to share, and he needed the 12 steps. Or so he was told. Christopher didn’t want any of that, just  wanted to feel normal, but he couldn’t remember what normal felt like.

He was six years old when his mother left him in a social worker’s office, leaving the harassed looking woman to explain what was going on. He hadn’t been scared to hear she wasn’t coming back, just stared at the woman who told him he was going to live with some people who took in a lot of kids like him, and he’d be happy there if he gave it a chance.

He was scared that first night though, when he found out why his new family had so many children. He was told to be good and that the customer would tell him what to do; that he liked new kids best. He was wanted because he was new. If he made him happy, he would be allowed something special afterwards. The other kids called it candy, but it wasn’t candy like Christopher had ever experienced. That first night, after the initial shock and pain and trying to fight back, he fell asleep as his foster mom gave him a bath, then dressed him and slipped a needle into his arm.

Chris was startled out of his thoughts when Mrs. Reagan pulled up. He climbed into her car and met her eyes as she noticed his wrist, practically raw from the rubber bands he had snapped against it while waiting for her, trapped in his memories. He looked at her apologetically and then down, wishing he could sleep forever.

and so, 5

“It’s good for you to get out of the house, even if it’s just to drive around for awhile.”

Josh looked over the steering wheel at his son, wrapped up in his coat and huddled deep into his seat. The kid was fast asleep. Dark shadows painted the skin under his lashes. Turning back to the road, Josh decided not to wake him. Christopher might be willing to trade stories with him, but he had heard the pacing last night and saw the look in his eyes when he found his son putting backyard toys away that afternoon. Blank eyes, mechanical movements. He almost wished for tears or fists instead. Almost.

Josh still wished he was home. A text from Jane Davis kept him in New York. He never thought he’d be the parent actually in contact with their son.

xxx

I don’t even know your name, but you were born tonight. I’m your dad, for better or worse, and your mom mentioned something about calling you Christopher, but I’m not sure. They say you’re healthy and have all ten toes and ten fingers and good lungs and I keep asking them to stop telling me about you and they won’t, they don’t understand. I don’t want this, can’t have this, and I told Jane not to put my name on the birth certificate and she said okay.

Grow up with your mom and be a good kid for her; I can’t be a good dad for you.

 

Hey Kid,

I blew out a candle for you tonight, happy first birthday.

 

Dear Kit, 

You’re four years old today. When I was four my mom told me I was going to go live with these people I sort of knew, but didn’t really. Next time I saw her she had her new kids with her, twins. I hope your fourth birthday present is better.

 

Dear Kit,

I’m a legal adult now. Twenty one is kind of a big deal, you’ll know one day. I won’t be there to warn you against jager bombs, but hopefully someone will.

 

Kit,

We got a deal, and we’re leaving for Europe today. Five guys all on their own in another country, trying for our big break. I made the right decision, I know I did. With the group, and with you. I can’t be there for you while I’m doing this. And I want to do this.

 

Kit,

I sound like an asshole in my last entry.

It’s been the fastest few years. I have crazy stories. I probably can’t tell you half of them. I wanted to write them down, tell you about them, but I’m afraid I’ll lose this notebook, or someone will see it, and they’ll know. This is the only way to talk to you and I can’t really do that well. But you’re nearing eleven now, a little human with thoughts and likes and dislikes all your own. Do you like music? It would be cool if you did, too.

 

Kit,

My folks were right. I haven’t told them that, but they know I know.

I never mentioned you to anyone, you know? Of course you don’t know. Do you ever ask about me? I’ve only written in here a handful of times. I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way, but I do. So I’ll say it now, put it down here in writing so I can’t take it back: I wish I knew you. Wish I had at least held you that first night. God, fifteen years old. What do you like, what do you do? Where can I send video games? Happy birthday, Kit. 

 

Jane Davis is an evil bitch. Records unlock at eighteen, did you know that? Jane Davis is the worst kind of mother for letting that happen to you.

 

Kit,

It’s been a few years and I had to hire someone, but now I have an address, a phone number, and an email. I’m told their yours. I’m told you responding positively could go either way. 

I’m told you’re gonna be okay.

and so, 4.

Josh was in the middle of telling a story about his past as a Teen Pop Sensation when Chris heard the back door crack and a small voice call, “Issa Daddy?”

“Hey love. How come you’re not in bed?”

Reagan slipped through the door and ran to her father. It was cold, the air much too cold for the little girl to be out in just pajamas, and she snuggled into her father’s chest after clambering into his lap.

“I just see you.”

“I just see you too, Reagan,” Christopher said, burying his face into her hair.

xxx

“Quid pro quo?” The words were awkward in his mouth as he questioned his son.

“What?’

Josh laughed softly, “One for one. Or something like that, I don’t know. Can we play our game?” The game had been the introduction to the dance the two did, each slowly gleaning information from the other. Getting to know each other, treasuring certain tidbits of knowledge, and wishing they could erase the others.

Chris shook his head, “I don’t think I can.”

“You can say no to anything tonight,” Josh pushed. The game had rules. Current circumstances would bend them.

Christopher didn’t answer. They had moved into the house, the kitchens’ warmth inviting. Stalling, he moved to the counter, starting to fix two cups of coffee. Decaf. He had enough trouble sleeping.

“Milk?”

“Are we playing?”

Chris held up a mug with Save the Narwhals written across it. The animal was pink with a blue horn. It sparkled. A gift from his daughter.

“Um? I mean I guess but.. your coffee?”

xxx

“You were sixteen.”

“Hmm?”

“You’re 42 now. So you were sixteen when you had me,” Chris clarified.

“In September, yeah,” Josh paused, “That’s not a question.”

“When I was sixteen I didn’t want kids either. I didn’t want any ever and then Kelly got pregnant. Then there were doctor visits and nursery colors and her parents were so, so angry. I didn’t have time to think about whether or not I wanted it. A baby was coming. And then she came and she looked like me.”

Josh smiled without it reaching his eyes. He was annoyed with himself for suggesting the game. He didn’t want to think about Christopher having a baby, or Christopher as a baby. Didn’t want to think about deciding he wasn’t going to be in his son’s life. Telling his parents that yes, he was absolutely sure and no, he didn’t want to see his newborn before the mother took him home to Connecticut. Snapping in anger that he knew he was no better than his own biological parents, thanks.

He swallowed, “Why Reagan?”

“What?”

“Her name. It’s not very common.”

“I lived with Mr. & Mrs. Reagan when I was about fifteen or so. I was Mrs. Reagan’s pet project, I guess. Her kids were all out of the house already and her husband was real busy all the time. She was nice though.”

“Do you still see them?”

“She died right before I graduated high school. And no, not really. Her kids were all a lot older; I didn’t know them well. Her husband kind of.. co-existed with me, I guess. We were both just there. But Kelly lived next door, so some of them kept up with her and like, followed her on Instagram or whatever. They knew we married, had a baby.”

“Named her Reagan?”

Chris raised his eyes to meet his fathers and nodded, “Yeah,” he whispered.

“They meant something to you. Or she did.”

“My life would’ve been real different without them,” he admitted.

xxx

Christopher had slept late, much later than usual. Up before the sun was his norm, given his livelihood, but it was almost eleven before he opened his eyes. The day before came flooding back to him. He smelled bacon, he heard the electro-pop-whatever Josh was listening to, and he tasted his own admissions on his tongue as well as the cigarettes from last night. He was grateful for the private bathroom as his head disappeared into the toilet.

He ignored his reflection in the mirror as he brushed his teeth after, swallowing most of the toothpaste as he noticed one of  his daughter’s tub toys on the floor. He began to itch again.

Breathe.

Coming out of his bedroom, Christopher absentmindedly snapped a rubber band against his wrist. It was one of the tricks he had learned in therapy. It helped, sometimes. Sometimes, not so much.

Ignoring the plate left out for him, he slipped out the back door. He was trying to escape the ghosts in the house. The ghosts were outside too.

and so, 3.

“Christopher hasn’t had a drink in a long time.”

“Should I not drink around him?”

“If he asks you not to.”

 

Josh hadn’t known what to make of Kelly Beckett. Kelly Beckett-Davis, as it was. Five foot four, she was taller than his mother, but just as fearsome, just as protective of her own. Blonde and blue eyed, and much smarter than him, he always felt a lesser being around her.

He could tell his presence made her nervous; made her a bit standoffish, but she tried to stay polite. Her eyes flashed at times. But she was willing to go along with things for the sake of her husband. Josh said he understood. He didn’t really.

“I just want to know my kid.”

“Your kid hasn’t been a kid in a long time.”

xxx

The smoke danced through the air as Christopher finished his cigarette, blowing out the last drag. He wanted something more, itched for it. The craving wasn’t going away. It had been there all day, a slow burn building in intensity from the moment he woke up. The disgust in his father in law’s eyes that morning had him at the corner store. The comforting pack kept in his breast pocket got him through the funeral, got him through the glares and the questioning eyes, got him to drive past the store with it’s illicit bottles glittering in the pale light. But he was home now and his dad was there and they were doing their dance again. Stay, don’t stay. you don’t have to, I understand. Please stay. They went around and around so often Chris didn’t know where he stood with his father. They did get along well, liked each other even. But it was a stop and go relationship. They danced.

Pitching his butt into the lake, Christopher stretched and leaned back. Josh took note of the scars across the exposed patch of skin and filed it away.

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

Chris grimaced, then sighed, “I quit.” He pulled out another cigarette and lit it. “Before Reagan was born. I’d quit then.”

Josh sat down next him and stretched his own legs out. “Do you want to talk about – ”

“When are you going back to LA?,” Chris interrupted.

The question caught him off guard. As soon as possible. “I’m not sure.” What’s the standard for sticking around and trying to be comforting to a kid you really don’t know?

“You should go if you have to.”

“The world’s not gonna stop if I’m MIA for a few days. I produce music, Kit. Bad music. Pop trash will still be there next week.” Why are you offering to stay? 

“Kit.” The name hung in the air.

Embarrassed by the slip, Josh continued on, “I’ve always called you Kit. Like, to myself? It’s a nickname for Christopher, did you know?”

Chris frowned, “My mother called me Kit.” He held the smoke out to his father, offering a drag, which Josh gratefully accepted.

Inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly gave Josh a chance to regroup. Embarrassed by his admission, and a little confused, he started, afraid to stop, afraid to keep going. “Christopher, it’s hard. And I know I’m like, preaching to the choir here. But I can stay and be here and try. Because that’s what we said we’d do, right? We said we’d try.”

 

 

 

and so, 2.

“I miss them.”

Josh didn’t know what to do with the simple admission. While growing up he had wondered about the boy more than he cared to admit, more than he had ever admitted, but relating to this – this situation wasn’t what he was here to do. Wasn’t what he’d signed up for.

Reach out to the boy. Meet the boy. Smile guiltily at his mother. Go back to LA. Maybe a text here and there. That was the plan.

Instead he found his 26 year old son, far older in mind than he was in body, with a wife and small daughter and the the beginnings of a career in something to do with the ocean. Diving and research, he didn’t know. A young man with more past problems than he could wrap his head around. Foster homes and addiction and five years sobriety.

And yet he came to adore the kid. They had the same eyes and smile and frame. Heavily guarded, apprehension was written all over their first meeting. But in wanting Reagan to know some biological part of himself, Christopher allowed the second one, and the third, and Josh threw caution to the wind. They stopped and started, but a growing love and respect between the two kept them going.

Kelly kept her opinions to herself, except for the first time they were alone. She warned Josh against hurting her husband, not her daughter, and the fire in her eyes was fierce.

But they were alone now. The two women that kept Christopher together were gone in an instant, and again Josh wished to be home.