Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Drama · #1293117
A crossroads for two relationships.
|Gray dawn. |
Father and son woke up at the same time, Lawrence and Jonas- respectively. They gathered their clothes at the same time, fought for the bathroom door at the same time, ate breakfast with the same wan expression, neither looking forward to the day ahead. For both, this day was a crossroads of sorts in their lives. The paths they needed to choose were of different beasts, but paths nonetheless.
Neither knew of the others’ plight, or how similar their unconsciously shared problems were. Instead, they ate breakfast with a solemn silence. But the solemnity was broken as the father spoke quiet, restrained words.
“Dinner tonight. Meagan is cooking for us.”
Jonas said nothing as he stood and dropped his plate in the sink. Lawrence called out for his son before he could escape out the front door.
“What?” The son responded coolly.
Lawrence sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as if sawing wood. “Have a good one.”
Jonas nodded and walked out.
24 karat beauty. Lawrence agreed with the commercials; diamond rings really did have a timeless beauty. Especially the one he held against the driver side window, catching the sunrise light in each cut triangle which shaped the spectral gem. For weeks now he had thought about how to go about proposing to Meagan. The ring was a good place to start, or so he told himself countless times as he laid down much more money than he ever dreamed he’d spend on such a small commodity.
Now that he had the ring, he had to actually give it to her. Thousands of worries separated themselves in clear distinction as he played scenario after scenario of different possibilities. In his mind, he was Humphrey Bogart, smooth tongue and cool demeanor, swooning and sweeping his lady off her feet in monochrome glory.
But life wasn’t like the movies, books, or story of any imagination. It was hard, and this side too full of insecurities. Lawrence didn’t handle rejection well. He’d go into a shame spiral if a vending machine wouldn’t take his slightly crumpled dollar. If an ugly machine could do that to him, what would happen if his girlfriend of two years didn’t take? He decided to wait another hour. Anything to prolong walking into that police station which he was currently parked in front of, a puny ant readying itself for the steepest hill.
But eventually, the time came when what scraps of courage he had left mustered together to push him out the car door and into the building. He did make it to Meagan’s desk, trembling lips and all, and kneeled in front of her, with God and countless other employees as his witness.
“Meagan Beatrix Rice, will you marry me?”
Of course she said yes. But she didn’t do as her mother before her did to her father; she hyperventilated, cried, hugged the living soul out of her father, all while barely being able to say “Oh god yes” amongst her many sobs. Meagan simply said ‘yes’. The crowd clapped, roared, whistled, and Lawrence was for a moment pulled out of the gray dawn, happy.
He and Meagan went out for lunch –meaning they ate subs in her police car in a random park- and talked about their lives so far, and what lay ahead. But Meagan was the only one 100% in on the conversation. Lawrence was bust watching her eat, the way sauce would dribble on her chin and she’d wipe it away with a blush, her auburn bangs brushing against her eyes with uncommon persistence. He was sure he was in love, or infatuated at the very least.
“I dreamed of this day since I was a girl.” Meagan admitted, surprising Lawrence, as he was positive she was a tomboy her whole life. “The day a man would actually ask to spend their life with me… It’s a little surreal, I still haven’t even digested it all yet.”
“That’s why you have to chew your food.”
She laughed. “How did your son react when you told him you were going to propose to me? God knows he doesn’t think much of me.”
Lawrence sighed. “He likes you just fine." He scratched his scalp. "And I haven’t really told him yet.”
“Oh.” Is all she said. They continued to eat in silence. Once finished, Lawrence brought the trash out to the garbage can, which as in the middle of the park; as he threw the foil wrappers away, a father and a daughter caught his eye on the swing set. He laughed as the daughter pushed the father on the swing, saying “hold on tight”. Cute.
“Do you believe in God?” Meagan asked as he sat himself back in the car. Where did that come from? For the time he had known Meagan, not once has she ever brought up religion. But now was as good a time as any, considering that they were to be unified under the Catholic eye.
“No.” He responded truthfully. Meagan winced as he said it with no reservation.
She crossed her arms and stared out the window, as if something very interesting had caught her eye. “Yeah. I do.”
And so they sat there, minutes passing slow as a spoon through molasses. Lawrence was confused, mostly as to why Meagan seemed so visibly shaken. He asked what was wrong. She laughed, shook her head, almost scoffed, but held it in.
“How do you not believe in God?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t.” He didn’t like where this was going.
“You just don’t?”
Why was she doing this? “That’s right. Is there a problem with that?”
“No, of course not.” But he knew there was. The heavy sarcasm which dripped off each word was proof enough of that. “All this time…”
“All this time what?” Lawrence was getting pissed, but he kept himself in check. He knew he could solve this, with reason. He turned to her. “Look, just because I don’t- hell, just because I- shit, who cares what I believe in. I love you, Meagan. I don’t want to lose you to something so- so trivial.”
That was when the conversation took a sharp left turn. It escalated, voices louder, insults thrown into the mix. This was his own version of hell, where nothing was as it seemed, and happiness was just a few resign words away. Lawrence almost laughed at it all, considering that just a few moments ago everything was fine, a safe future for him alone. But it was as if that future was snatched away from him, by the hands of organized religion. What scared him the most was that one subject could destroy them so easily. How did they never talk about this before? It just never came up? No. It was probably always there, but she avoided it, until now... why now?
She asked him to leave. He got out quickly, slammed the door, and left with his ring. But he didn’t cry. He wouldn’t, couldn’t.
Instead, he went to his office, and worked. He drew plans for a new house, Double floor, sky light, open air kitchen, the works. He delved into his architecture, asked his secretary not to be disturbed, and worked until his hand would no longer draw.
Lawrence wanted to explain just why he didn’t believe in Meagan’s God. Tell her how his father gave him casual beatings at the merciful edge of a Billy club to ‘run Satan’s evil out of his body’. Show her the scars that still ran rampant across his back as proof. He called Meagan’s cell many times. She didn’t answer. He figured as much, throwing his own phone in the trash. Never had he felt so… devalued.
His wife, Elissa, died when Jonas was twelve. Lawrence always felt that he didn’t appreciate her as much as he should have, and now that she was gone, along with the family of four who swerved into her on a snapped brake cable, he wanted to use all this left over love on someone who deserved it.
Before time made his love die.
He thought that Meagan was that person, but after witnessing how easy their relationship snapped, like a twig and an afterthought, he just wasn’t sure anymore.
He wasn’t sure of anything anymore. Save for that he missed his son.
As he gathered his things and headed out the office, his secretary stopped him.
“Nancy, please, I just want to go home.”
“I’m sorry sir, but Meagan is on the line.”
This was it. Make or break. Lawrence will to this day always look back at that pivotal moment with an odd mix of shame and pride, as he let his jaded emotions get the better of him. He was angry, and he aimed to hurt.
“Tell her there’s not enough time in the world.”
“Time enough for what, sir?”
“I don’t pay you to ask me useless questions. Besides, she’ll figure it out.
Lawrence left with a heavy head. He missed his son.
Jonas’ cell phone chimed. A text message.
'Had to leave. Don’t call.'
It was as Jonas expected. He knew children couldn’t be trusted. By now Maury was half way across town, not to stop until she hit the airplane to California, home to her new life- college. He had tried to catch her, tell her that he loved her, wanted her married hand. Too late. A curse escaped his lips under heavy breath, angered that the twelve year old son of a bitch Kayla tricked him once again, telling him that he still had time to catch her, that she’d be hanging around the Parkers field cemetery for an hour before she drove off in that rusticated truck with everything she belonged in it. Normally he wouldn’t take Kayla’s word worth a grain of salt, but when she mentioned that old cemetery on which he and his secret love had spent many nights simply being in each other’s company, only one thought entered his mind.
That’s just like Maury.
This wasn’t the first time Jonas’ plans had been foiled by his Barbie-obsessed nemesis. Just last week, when he was trying to slip his arms around Maury’s shoulders during a late night horror special oh so smooth, Kayla burst in screaming 'Jonas, there’s a spider your arm!' Maury, the prime container for phobias of all assorted bugs and insects, screamed in turn and ran out the house, refusing to come near him the rest of the night. There was no spider on his arm, as confirmed by the malevolent smile Kayla burst into as her older sister ran behind a bush in the backyard.
At that moment he swore, if Kayla wasn’t Maury’s fucking sister, he would’ve punched her lights out. Otherwise, he had no reservations, since he was positive that she was no girl, no human. No human could put Jonas through what she had for the past four years since the two had become his across-the-street neighbor. From the first moment he made eye contact with her, he knew that something darker than Satan lurked beneath those skins. The middle finger she offered so readily was the sure confirmation of his beliefs.
And now, here he was, sitting against Ray Morgan’s cold tombstone in the dark, the only light source coming from the luminescent cell phone screen which had Maury’s message splayed across. Over and over, Jonas mouthed those words 'Had to leave. Don’t call.' He called her, only to have his heart punched out as the machine politely informed him that his number had been blocked.
Thus began the first tears Jonas had cried in a long, long time. Not since sixth grade as Mom nursed his first black eye, received at the hand of his first bully, Carlie Stevens, who now also happened to be a good friend of his. But these present tears tasted much bitter; either that or it had been so long Jonas had forgotten the taste of pain. He blamed the pills for his five year numbness, but what did he know. He didn’t even know how to say good bye. How to say I love you. This surge of emotion was too intense for his fragile mind. Maybe he shouldn’t have stopped talking his prescription.
His sleeve rubbed against his now dried up eyes. He called Maury’s too familiar number a couple more times, praying for a change of heart, but to no avail. She was officially gone. He was about to dial a third time, but a flash of darkness in his peripheries stopped his trembling thumb from dialing that last digit. Kayla stood feet from his right, a bouquet of red nipped roses sprouting from her back. Her eyes were wide.
“Where is she?”
Jonas’ head snapped up like an awakened dragon. His brain didn’t want to believe what it was hearing.
“Jonas… where is she? She said she’d be here.”
He couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up and faced this thing he had hated for so long. He aimed to shout to wake the dead, and he did. He said many things, horrible things, each word wounding Kayla’s eyes until finally they bled tears just as his did. He felt no pity for her, and in fact took pleasure in her defeat, the way she couldn’t even hold herself up.
But something about the way she had responded made him think, almost reconsider. She was bawling, like an infant torn from its mother. Was this a reaction he had expected from her of all people? Simply put, no. This worried him, a worry only to be checked off as completely true when Kayla gathered enough breath to say:
“Where is she?”
Jonas’ cell phone hit the leafy ground, but no sound came out. The wind was still wrestling with the frail willow spines and leaves, but he heard no rustle. The world was silent, numb, the most dangerous pill of all. His knees buckled, and he fell in front of the still crying Kayla, and held her. Kayla at first struggled out of this strange contact, then accepted the comfort offered, and for a while sat among the dead, the weaved carpet of burnt leaves and grave patches.
“I don’t know.” He whispered. “I don’t know.”
Eventide, they made their way back to her house. She brought out cookies and ice cream, and they talked. Memories mostly, but something Jonas hadn’t expected, an apology. In that instant, Kayla was no longer a blurry figment of an enemy he had dealt with for so long, but rather a fellow human.
“Why would she leave like that, no goodbye, no nothing?” she asked.
Jonas looked at a picture of Maury hanging on the wall next to the refrigerator. She was alone on an old rocking chair, wearing a pale yellow sundress. Her face was draped in an uncharacteristic straight face, no smile. Her eyes were locked dead on the camera. But what caught Jonas’ attention was the half-open mouth that was about to speak, but couldn’t, as it was stuck in that frame of time, that moment, forever.
“She wanted to.” Jonas responded. “She just didn’t know how. It all came so
fast, she had no time.”
“Time enough for what?”
“I should know this…” Jonas laughed. A wave of déjà-vu hit him, causing a wince reaction. He shook it off, and smiled. “But I don’t. Guess we’ll have to ask her when we visit.”
Father and son made it home at the same time. Lawrence went straight for the fridge, aiming to eat something big. Jonas was still stuffed from the cookies and ice cream. He was half way up the stairs to his bedroom before his father called for him.
“I was thinking,” Lawrence said, an unusual warble in his voice, “maybe you want to eat out tonight?”
Jonas shook his head. “I’m full.” He tilted his head to the side thoughtfully and knitted his brow. “What about Meagan? Didn’t you two have some sort of ‘thing’ planned? Don’t tell me you cancelled…”
“Why? Thought you didn’t like her.”
“I don’t know. Just a thought, I guess. And she isn’t that bad. You could do a lot worse.”
“I think. Maybe you should call her before you let this whole depression thing eat your face.” And with that, Jonas left his father with another path, one he hadn’t planned out. The father could only sip on his coffee, and feel the pressure of his own fathers' crucifix in his back pocket. The son went to his room and threw himself on the bed, sated and calm. Both thought about their day and their plans for tomorrow.
And at the same time, father and son thought one single thought, one which echoed between them through the unspoken, solemn, holy connection only a parent and a child share.
“I guess we'll always have time.”
In unison, both smiled a smile of déjà-vu for reasons unknown, and waited for the next crossroads to make its way to their feet.
They waited, and waited.