Short story produced using a writing challenge generator. Something I hope to do more.
A character borrows money, but the intention behind the action is not what it seems. A character becomes energetic during the story. The story ends during a wedding. The story takes place in mid-winter. During the story, there is a terrible misunderstanding.
I was ignoring him, his voice was agitating me even more so than usual today and I couldn’t have tolerated it if I had actually been listening to him. My attention was elsewhere; outside. There was ice on the window, like a perfect frozen frost, and although there had not been any snow yet the sky was a heavy grey and the air had a particularly cold bite to it, so I was optimistic that it might start today.
Snow had to be the only good thing about winter, a pure white that fell from the sky as though it had been sent from heaven, it settled on everything it touched and lay there, like a blanket that would slowly wipe away the filth. Everything would begin to look fresh, clean and pure when it was covered with snow, and I loved that about it. But like everything else in this world people soon destroy that perfection. The more people walk through it the more disrupted and dirty it looks, scattered and gritted it becomes nothing but slush that soaks into my shoes and depresses me.
“Nate!” He was shouting at me now, determined to get my attention, insistent that I listen to him. How could I listen to that boy? I can hardly even look at him. Of course I care about Tod, he is my cousin and a good lad, but so lively and loud, and the part that really bothers me is that he is incredibly unclean. While we were teenagers he moved in with myself and my mother so that he could attend a university close to us, I was happy at first because until then I hardly ever got to see him. I regretted those thoughts though. He was a messy person who didn’t know how to take care of himself, didn’t understand the concept of a good night’s rest and certainly didn’t understand personal privacy. He used to share every single thought that popped into his head.
I sometimes miss that about him. While he is still very lively and certainly still very loud he isn’t as open with me. I understand it though, he told me once that I was difficult to talk to, which makes sense because I don’t like listening to people. As a general rule I’m not a big fan of most people, so I don’t mind not being told everything. However, being told some things would be nice; after a while Tod just stopped sharing his problems and concerns with me, I don’t know much about him anymore, I only know what he used to be like back when we were kids.
“What is it for God’s sake? Just spit it out!” I snapped at him, I was feeling frustrated and rushed. I didn’t like it when he came into my home, everything in my house is perfect, clean and organised. Then he comes in and just tosses his jacket on the floor, his hair isn’t combed; it just sticks out in every direction. His shirt isn’t buttoned up properly, his tie is crooked and there’s even a stain on his shirt collar, and I can’t even tell what it is! He always looks like this, it drives me mad just looking at him, but he never listens when I tell him to fix it.
“Just loan me the money, I’ll pay you back, I promise,” he was being unusually pushy and insistent, which was strange, more so was that he was asking for money. I had never heard him ever ask anyone to borrow money before, it was one of the qualities I really loved about him; he could be painfully independent. Even when he first moved in, he had a part time job the next day and insisted on paying his own living costs, though my mother had been very reluctant to accept it he had left her with no choice in the end.
“Not until you tell me your reason. Why do you need so much money so suddenly?” He wasn’t asking for any small sum, he had requested two thousand from me, and insisted he needed it quickly. I honestly couldn’t imagine what could have possibly made him need that sort of money, but I was quite certain that he wasn’t even asking me for the full amount. He wasn’t the type who would do that, he’d cover whatever he could and if the need was dire enough he’d ask for a little to cover the rest. Just what the hell was going on? He wasn’t just asking for money, he was being very secretive about his reasons. I could never imagine what was going on with him.
He bit his lip when he looked at me and frowned.
“There’s…. a girl,” he started sounding hesitant. It was obvious he didn’t want to speak to me about this, he was blushing and looked embarrassed. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, but the way I saw it there was either a gift he wanted to get a girl, in which case I didn’t want to know, or he had knocked a girl up and wanted to give her money, in which case I didn’t want to know or he was running away to get married in secret, in which case I definitely didn’t want to know. I sighed and raised my hand, he stopped and looked at me.
“I’ll give it to you, you don’t have to explain,” I was exasperated by him, and rather hopeful that he wasn’t running away to get married. Both of our mothers would kill him. I went to my desk, wrote him a cheque and sent him on his way, but after looking at him for so long I had a sudden desire to wash and iron all of my shirts and ties. The thought of his dishevelled appearance was just too much.
I am the type who can be said to have a few peculiar traits, but for the most part I just want things to be perfect. This however is an impossibility, but one I strive to rectify. My home is just the beginning; everything is clean, and pure, organised and set within its place so as to make it look and perform at the greatest possible standard. Most work places however do not offer this level of perfection and to be quite honest upset me, so shortly after leaving university and quitting my first job, the manager of with was a disgusting example of a human being who seemed to have no interest in dressing or washing properly, I set up my own company.
The company offers various IT solutions and has grown to a considerable size whereby I have been able to split into Software Development, Software Maintenance, Hardware Maintenance, Hardware Installation and IT advisor departments, all of which have their own floor in my office building which I ensured was constructed of glass with an all-white interior design, everything perfect. Of course all of my employees need to be perfect too; the security guards at the entrance don’t just ensure that everyone who enters is in fact an employee, but also ensures that they are dressed, washed and presented in the way I insist all of my employees be presented.
It is for such reasons that giving my cousin a sum of money like two thousand is not such a big deal, however it is still strange. After he had left and I had satisfied by need to scrub the residual dirt he left in my mind and from my home I couldn’t help but feel curious as to what was going on with him. So I decided to find out. I can be very persistent when I decide on something, and this was one of those times.
It had been around three hours since he had left my home. In that time I had driven to his flat and found him to still be there, I could see him walking around in front of the window that faced the street. So for now I just sat and watched. He appeared to be on the phone, then hung up and vanished for around twenty minutes, then left the building and got into his car, he was wearing casual smart clothes and his hair was damp, so I assumed he had showered and changed since ending his phone call.
He drove to the bank, where he spent around five minutes, and of course I followed him. He left carrying a case, which made me particularly concerned. The only assumption I could make was that he had gone straight ahead and cashed that cheque, he hadn’t even had it deposited to his account he had taken the cash.
I followed him as he drove to the edge of town, a little residential estate. Night had already fallen to it wasn’t too hard to park up across the road from where he did and watch him without being too conspicuous.
He looked cheerful as he approached a small house and knocked on the door, it opened a few moments later and a young woman was stood on the other side of it. She smiled and said something, but I couldn’t be sure what. Then they both looked behind her; a young boy appeared a second later and rushed at Tod, jumping into his arms. I watched as my cousin dropped the case and wrapped his arms around the boy, who couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. They were all smiling brightly, like a happy family.
I couldn’t take my eyes off them, the young woman smiled then looked down at the case and spoke, and I saw Tod reply with a grin. This is where the happy family appearance ended, the expression went serious and she frowned, her lips suggested that she was speaking again but her face made it look like she wanted to be shouting at him. I couldn’t be sure what was going on, Tod put the boy on the ground, picked up the case and the three of them went into the house.
I waited a while, but there was nothing to suggest that Tod would be leaving any time soon. I pulled out my phone and checked my account, two thousand had been withdrawn and cashed, and I could see it on the statement, so I hadn’t been wrong; that case really did contain the money. Next I searched the address of the house I had seen him enter, but there seemed to be no obvious results, I couldn’t find out who she was or what she did, or at least not on my phone, I’d have to look into it more carefully when I could concentrate at home.
It wasn’t until two hours later that he had left, it was late and I was tired, but I had to make sure that he was leaving the money with her, otherwise investigating her was a waste of time. The door opened and he stepped out, she appeared behind him. She had changed; her hair was down now, which made me realise it had been tied up before, and she was now wearing a large t-shirt, I couldn’t tell from where I sat across the seat whether she was wearing anything beneath, but it certainly didn’t look like it.
After saying goodbye and kissing her on the cheek Tod turned and walked towards his car. He definitely didn’t have his suitcase with him, and his shirt and hair were looking even more out of order than when I had seen him earlier. That settled it, he had given this woman the money, he was having sex with her and there was a child involved in the whole thing. I had the puzzle pieces set out, there were still a few missing, but I might be able to figure them out if I could just see how they all fitted together.
I drove home after that. I sat at my computer until the early hours of the morning, my concern was growing. When I had looked deeper into it the house he had visited, where the girl and the boy seemed to be living, was registered to Tod. The mortgage was in his name, the bill payments, everything. There were no clues as to who the woman and child were, but if he was paying for their home I could make an assumption; he was supporting and ex-girlfriend who had given birth to his child.
It made sense, he had bought the house four years ago according to the records I found, and that child looked around five years old, so it was quite possible that it had been bought specifically for the purpose of accommodating them. I tried to think about what time period the child’s conception could have fallen under, trying to think if he had behaved abnormally or mentioned any girls, but it only made me realise that it was around six years ago that I had finished university and moved out of my mother’s home; the point where Tod stopped telling me things about himself.
I now felt particularly frustrated by the whole ordeal and slipped off to bed. I understood now. If they had been in love this woman and Tod would be living together, getting married and having a loving, healthy relationship while raising that child together. If he was paying for everything, taking care of her and not even living with them he could only assume that she was using the child to make him take care of her. Tod had always worked hard, he currently had three jobs, working at an office during the day, a bar most nights and working at a building site on weekends. He was always tired but never seemed to have much money, I was beginning to understand why; it was that woman’s fault.
I didn’t sleep well that night, but I tried hard to tell myself that it was none of my business, after all Tod would have told me what was going on if he had wanted me to get involved in it. It bothered me and interrupted my sleep for days, but I no longer wanted to act on it.
Three days after the incident Tod showed up, it was late afternoon and he was looking as cheerful as ever, though rather flushed, I supposed that he was tired and the cold outside was most likely getting to him a bit. He was carrying a case.
“I came to give this back,” he said happily.
“Keep it,” I growled, the sight of that case agitated me.
“You don’t even know what it is!” He scolded me with false exasperation.
“The money,” I answered, I was trying to pretend to be busy, sitting at my desk, looking at documents and typing away. Not only did his appearance still bother me, but I felt for sure if he stuck around too long I’d end up saying something about the woman and child.
“But, I promised to-“ he started, but I cut him off.
“You needed it for a girl right? Keep it, a gift for finally getting a girl,” I said, clicking a new email that had caught my interest.
“Can I talk to you about that?” He asked, he sounded nervous. I frowned at my screen, but I couldn’t help but smile. Slowly I turned in my chair to face him, and nodded.
“Talk away,” I insisted, placing my hands in my lap and waiting expectantly.
“When I told her where I got the money, she was really angry with me,” he explained slowly, he was looking at the floor while he spoke. “She told me I had to bring it back, but there is something important we had meant to do with that money, we got into a huge fight about it and we haven’t spoken since, but this morning when I got up the money was in my living room, with a note that said I had to return it. I’m not sure what to do now, I think I really upset her…” He trailed off looking miserable, I couldn’t help but feel angry. He was acting as though he loved this girl, it made me hate her.
I grabbed my computer screen and turned it towards him, the email was still open.
“I suspect she no longer needed your money,” I growled. He looked up at the screen and his eyes went wide. The email featured a large photograph of a young woman, with a young boy standing at her side, she was showing a determined expression but the boy looked confused and quiet. Underneath was a line of text;
‘Sir, this young woman arrived late this morning insisting that she had brought your son to see you. She refuses to leave.’
“But… She…” Tod was stammering, his eyes wide and his hands shaking, he was obviously in shock and I couldn’t blame him. She was clearly trying to pull the same trick on me as she had pulled on him, accept I wouldn’t have it.
“I’m going to the office, feel free to make yourself some tea,” I got up, pulled on my jacket and left before Tod had even had a chance to recover. I was sure he was still sitting and staring at the computer screen even when I pulled away in my car and headed for my office building.
When I arrived things were quiet enough, I had called and asked that she and the child be taken to my office, which is exactly where I found them. I walked straight to my desk and sat down, she was in one of the two chairs that was in front of my desk, and the child was seated on her lap.
“How much are you after then?” I asked, hoping to get the whole discussion finished with before Tod had a chance to realise what was going on and come to confront her about it. I didn’t want to have to see him go through that.
“Excuse me?” she said, successfully pulling off the confused act.
“Enough to leave Tod’s house, move away and support the child until he comes of age, and of course enough to keep you happy for the rest of your miserable, scheming life. Does four hundred sound fair?” I had been looking at my computer screen, checking the security cameras to ensure that Tod had not yet arrived even while I spoke, so I didn’t notice the genuinely shocked look she expressed at my comments until the moment before it turned to pure anger.
“Are you determined to think the worst of people? I brought your own child to you and this is the sort of thing you say!” The boy had gone very quiet and was looking at me with large, sad eyes. I sighed.
“You think you’re doing the lad any favours by teaching him to act like this?” I growled, glaring at her.
“He is your son!” She insisted sharply.
“Woman, I have never met you before now, how could I have-“ She glared at me and cut me off with a name I had been sure I would never hear again.
“What?” I stammered.
“Emily Heartford,” she said again, softer this time.
“But… she…” I didn’t know what to say.
“So it’s true, you and her really did?” She asked, her eyes had fallen to the boy now, who was looking up at her eagerly.
“But you’re… You’re not…” This wasn’t Emily, I knew that much for sure. Emily had been my girlfriend for during the last year of university, but she had suddenly vanished one day without saying a thing, I hadn’t seen her for… six years.
“She came to me, holding her infant child in her arms, in the middle of the night. She was crying, we had been friends since we were kids, but I had never seen her cry like that. She wouldn’t let me invite her in, but she handed her son to me. She told me that you were his father, that she wanted him to grow up happy and strong, and that he was to be named Nathan.” She looked at me now, gently, I had no idea what to say to this.
There was a call, I picked up my office phone and didn’t really register what was being said, until I heard Tod’s name.
“Yes, show him to my office please,” I muttered, feeling as though I were falling into some deep, dark place where I knew nothing.
“You waited until now…” I muttered.
“At first I didn’t know what to do, when I asked around I ended up at your mother’s place. Tod still lived there, and he was just so nice that I ended up explaining everything to him. He didn’t trust Emily though, he said she had really hurt you and that he had never trusted her.” I flinched hearing this, I hadn’t introduced Emily to Tod very often; she and I had preferred to avoid Tod when we were together, but I did remember that the two never seemed to get along particularly well.
“He offered to take care of us, Tod and I became friends, and he really did want to dote on his nephew, but it took him a while to accept it. He worked really hard to make sure that Nathan was taken care of, but he never wanted you to find out, he said you didn’t suit a child.” She was still quiet and gentle when she spoke, and it seemed the child in her lap was taking great interest in what she said.
“He doesn’t,” Tod was stood in the doorway and close it behind him. “I didn’t want you to find out about Nathan unless we could be certain that he was your child. But you’d never answer my questions about Emily, so I’ve been looking for her,” he explained.
“Looking for her?” I was shocked by this and watched him sharply.
“The money I borrowed, I’ve been saving to pay for a private detective while I’ve been looking myself. Accept Kathy decided last week that you should know, she wanted to come and tell you. So I had to ask you for the money, the only way to get her to wait patiently was to get the detective on the job. Accept when I took her the money and told her we could finally get the detective, she got pissed at me and said we didn’t need one, I just had to come out and tell you,” he laughed.
“And of course, you already know that she made me return the money, she was insistent that we do that before we tell you. I didn’t realise she intended to tell you so soon though…” he trailed off quietly.
I wasn’t sure what to think any more, I had a child, that part was clear. Emily wouldn’t have lied about such an important thing, and this child looked so much like Emily I couldn’t help but find myself often staring at him. It hurt, Emily hadn’t had the confidence to tell me something so important, and neither had Tod.
“Am I such an unreliable person?” I asked quietly, running my hand through my hair and sighing. I felt lost, no idea what to say, no idea what I should do. I wanted to cry, laugh and yell all at the same time, the fluster of emotions was making my chest hurt.
“Eh?” they both gasped at my question looking shocked and confused.
“I really must be a difficult man to talk to, Emily would rather leave than tell me what I had done to her, and neither of you could even tell me. We’ve known each other since we were kids,” I said looking Tod in the eye, “and you couldn’t bring yourself to tell me that you have been caring for my son for five years?”
“Well… that’s…” he stammered. I felt my hands shaking as I watched him struggle to explain himself.
“If it wasn’t for this young lady, if it had been left up to you, would I have ever found out about him?” I asked. The way Tod looked at me anxiously then at the ground was the only answer I needed. He would have never told me.
I realised it now, my lack of interest in other people, my lack of faith in them. I thought I was protecting myself from being hurt, I didn’t want to let people get close to be because I didn’t want them to leave me. All I had really been doing was preventing people from opening up to me, it was my fault that I didn’t know about Nathan, not theirs.
It wasn’t clear to me what I needed to do now. This might have been my son, but I didn’t know him. I didn’t know his birthday, what he liked, how he felt about any of this, nothing. I did not know this boy. I had always had a clear path in front of me, a clear goal and I always knew what I needed to do, but there was nothing to guide me here, and the mix of emotions I felt wasn’t helping in any way.
I got to my feet slowly and walked around my desk, I was moving towards the door of my office when Tod stepped in front of me and I felt a tug on my jacket. Tod was looking at me firmly.
“You know now, so what are you going to do? Are you going to take responsibility, or just make Kathy continue to look after you child?” He was speaking to me sharply, much sharper than I had ever heard him speak before. I turned to see Nathan, holding the back of my jacket and looking at the ground, there was a tear hanging from his chin, this was obviously going to be very upsetting for the boy. Kathy was sitting in the same place, watching us, but she looked as though she desperately wanted to speak.
I placed a hand on Nathan’s head, his dark hair and big eyes were just like Emily’s; soft and cute.
“You’re old enough to understand what’s going on, right?” I asked him. Tod moved and made a sound as though to interrupt my attempt to speak with the boy, but Kathy got up and stopped him.
“You’re my dad, right?” said the boy in reply.
“Do you know who your mum is?” I asked him.
“The lady who gave me up and left?” he asked, uncertainly. I shook my head and looked at him calmly, his eyes went wide and filled with tears, I could see his lip quivering.
“Emily and I made you, we both know that. But who is your mum?” I asked him again.
Nathan sobbed and the tears flowed, despite his clear efforts to choke them back. Tod and Kathy were looking very concerned.
“And your dad, who is he?” I asked him gently. Suddenly the boy wailed and ran to Kathy, he pushed himself at the small space between her and Tod and grabbed both of their legs, holding them tightly.
I stood up and looked at them, they didn’t seem to understand at all.
“You’re his parents,” I told them when they frowned at me. This didn’t seem to ease their frowns at all, it made me want to laugh at them.
“Does he look like he cares whose blood he has?” I asked them seriously, “You two raised him, supported him and loved him his entire life. Emily and I are no more than the characters of a story he has heard, we’re not his family. I admit it, this is all my fault, I should have been there for him in the beginning and I wasn’t, I should have raised him and supported him, but I didn’t. I will give you any support you want from me, but Nathan wants to live with his parents.”
“But, he’s your-“ I cut off Tod’s attempt to reason with me.
“You heard loud and clear what he thought of Emily right? The lady who gave him up and left, the lady from the story who didn’t want her own child, are you really going to give him up too? Can you really bring yourself to do that?” I watched them seriously for a moment.
“No!” Kathy dropped and flung her arms around Nathan, holding him tightly. “I don’t want you to leave me,” she sobbed, I couldn’t help but see a similarity between myself and this child as he uncertainly put an arm around her and patted her back, looking uncomfortable and unsure about his opinion of physical contact as he did so.
“You love her, don’t you?” I asked Tod, he looked shocked as he stared at me. “I am the only thing that has stopped you all from being a family, you know that don’t you?”
He looked at me blankly for a moment, I could see him thinking it over in his mind, and then he obviously realised it. It was true, I knew it was. He loved her and the child as though they were his own wife and son, it was only the knowledge that they were working towards introducing me to my son that had stopped them being a family.
“I’m not standing in your way anymore.” I told him sternly. He was still looking at me as though he were shell-shocked. “I want to be involved in Nathan’s life, but I could never replace the parents he has.”
Nathan was looking at me steadily now, and I met his gaze for a brief moment, then turned and stepped towards the door.
“Please excuse me,” without looking back at the group I left. I was quite certain that they needed some time alone.
I had never imagined I would see it, or that our mothers would accept it, but there it was.
In front of all of our family and friends the two of them stood, thankfully I had never seen Tod look so perfect. He had, reluctantly, allowed me to prepare him for the occasion; his suit was a perfect black, and made specifically to fit him, the handkerchief, bow tie and cuffs were all the purest shade of white and for once his hair hand been combed and looked ideally tidy. His bride stood in a luxurious white gown, of course the most perfect and pure shade of white and complemented with decoration of beaded lace.
Nathan stood beside me, watching with a bright grin across his face. Keeping him clean and tidy was proving difficult, I was certain that he had now spent too much time with Tod to ever be a clean cut and presentable member of society, but for this one day, in this moment everything was perfect. A fact that didn’t truly dawn on me until I glanced out of the window and saw the snow, falling from the pale grey sky and settling on the frost hardened ground.
“Uncle Nate,” hissed a small voice, accompanied by a sharp jab at my side. I smiled and took a small box from my pocket. The entire church watched as I opened it and removed a pair of rings. I handed one to Nathan, and the other to Tod, who beamed at me. He placed the finger lovingly on Kathy’s finger and declared his vows in a strong, clear voice. Then Nathan stepped forward, he gave the ring to Kathy and she beamed at him and patted his head affectionately.
We stood side by side and watched as Kathy said her vows, the priest finalised the ceremony and I found myself putting a hand over Nathan’s eyes as Tod grabbed Kathy and swooped her into a deep and passionate kiss.
“Uncle Nate!” the boy protested loudly, causing the kiss to be interrupted and the applause it had gained to turn to laughter. I looked out at the crowd and laughed cheerfully with them.
Standing in the corner of the room, watching me and smiling silently stood a small and slim young woman, with long waves of black hair falling around her small, round face. Those big, adorable blue eyes watching me. In the years it had been since I had last seen her she had hardly changed, she still looked so young and charming, her eyes so energetic and bright. At the time I had thought I loved Emily, but now I know that I just thought we suited one another, she was quiet and clean; something that I found desirable. I don’t blame her for leaving, and although I never saw her again after that day, and although I haven’t spoken to her since we were students, I was glad I saw her one last time.
I was glad she saw our son, and the happy family he got to grow up with.