Almost Like It Never Happened

by | Oct 25, 2017 | Fiction

Roy had never felt stupider. The photograph looked to be from the nineties—the groom carrying his bride over ankle-deep water at a twilight beach, her train hanging just above the surf. He put the frame back on the nightstand and cursed himself for not moving out of the damn state. The wife’s name was Gina, and they’d been friends twenty-five years earlier. That was before the photo, long before he met Tammy or had his own closet business. Gina knew everything.

Something like this was bound to happen eventually. Roy had once taken precautions—had once sent alternate teams to the installs in Warwick and East Greenwich and Cranston and North Kingstown—but the last few years, he’d grown comfortable with his new life, lazy. There were too many people who might remember him—who could undo all of the good he had done these last twenty years.

Tyler hadn’t seen Roy’s reaction to the photo. He was busy staring at Kate—Gina’s teenage daughter. She said her dad was on a business trip and her mom was at the mall and she’d be back around noon.

“I think I know this beach,” Roy said, putting the photo down. Kate nodded, uncaring. She must have showered just before they arrived, her hair still wrapped in a towel. She asked if they needed water or anything.

“We brought our own,” Tyler said, “but thank you very much.” He used his church voice when he said it and if they weren’t in Gina’s house, Roy probably would’ve laughed. She was probably four years older than him. She wore tight gray sweatpants and a navy blue t-shirt.

Tyler watched as she left the room.

“Don’t stare like that,” Roy said. Tyler’s face turned red and he took out his cellphone. He had been on the damn thing the entire 40-minute drive to Warwick.

“We gotta hustle today. How about we try to finish by eleven?”

“You just don’t want to pay me.”

“I’ll pay triple if we finish in two hours.”

“No way we finish that fast,” Tyler said. He was right. He’d been to enough jobs to know it’d take three, even if they rushed.

“Get off the bed, please.”

“Why?”

“You never sit on someone else’s bed. Would you want a stranger sitting on your bed when you weren’t home?”

“But it’s okay to look at their photos?”

“Ty,” Roy snapped. But he didn’t want to argue. Instead, he admitted he shouldn’t have done that, he said he and Tammy had been to that beach in Mexico, and made up the name Emerald Beach, as if to explain it away. Then he asked Tyler to get the floor coverings.

Bringing him to jobs was Tammy’s idea. He and Roy had been at each other’s throats lately—she called it a phase—and in her mind, the logical solution was that they spend more time together, instead of less.

Roy couldn’t afford to wait for the tarps. He started the demo right away, using his hammer to knock out an old shelf and a waning wooden rod. When they married, he took Tammy’s last name, both for alliteration (Curgan Closets) and to signify that he was starting a new chapter. Roy Langman existed only in the memories of the people he hurt. His exes had undoubtedly moved on, they were better off without him. But his daughters, he couldn’t say.

He gently placed the pried out pieces of the original closet on the bedroom floor. The rusty nails and old screws went into his back pocket, so they wouldn’t leave scratches. Downstairs, he heard Tyler open the screen door and drop the tarps with a thump.

Roy’s days of booking three jobs in one day were long gone. Tammy had changed that part of him. There was an art to his work now. When he did the initial consultation the Saturday before, he took measurements and an inventory of their clothing. He offered four potential solutions. He showed the husband the samples to choose from and when he asked about wooden rods, Roy explained why he preferred metal.

Today he was back to his old ways. This was a hack job. They had to get out of the house before Gina came home and picked him out.

* * *

They met in the breakfast cereal aisle. Roy was pushing a shopping cart full of it; Corn Pops, Count Chocula, Alpha-Bits, he had them all, and she was walking in his direction, ignoring the shelves on either side.

“You must have a ton of kids,” Gina said.

“Not one, baby,” he said and winked at her. His first lie. She was wearing tight jeans and a red sweater that didn’t cover her left shoulder. She had curly brown hair, darker than Suzanne’s, almost black, and the way it hung on that bare shoulder made him bite his lip. Her skin matched the light amber honey in her shopping cart. He asked her name and stopped her before she spoke to guess Amber. She laughed like they always laughed and he knew he had her already.

Suzanne came down the aisle with two bottles of cranberry cocktail and he introduced them as if he hadn’t made a pass at Gina. He said he made a friend. Suzanne made a comment about him making friends everywhere he went. She was annoyed and in a rush. Roy invited Gina to a party they were having that weekend. A backyard kind of thing, he said. Bring your own. That was how it began.

They started spending time together, the three of them. They’d listen to records at Roy and Suzanne’s ranch house in Buttonwoods and share cigarettes and grocery store doughnuts. Suzanne dopily tried to set Gina up with her older brother and then with their milkman. She was oblivious why it never worked out.

Then in June, he put his arm around Gina one night while they all watched the local news and drank Narragansett. He was sitting between them on the sofa and Suzanne either didn’t see it or chose not to.

He groped Gina’s tit with his left hand during the five-day forecast and Suzanne shifted in her seat but said nothing. It was a stormy, early summer week when the meteorologists are grasping at straws and the little visual graphic contains the sun, lightning, and thunder clouds.

That was as far as it went. When Suzanne told him she was pregnant, he laid off for a while. An unfinished puzzle. He promised himself he wouldn’t. Not again. Not after what happened with Juanita. This time was different.

But Gina started driving Suzanne to all the appointments. She came around so much, he got tired of seeing her. She’d evidently been told to make herself comfortable, because she waltzed in whenever she wanted. He’d buy a six-pack and two would be missing the next morning.

One night he was shirtless at the kitchen table, reading the classifieds in the Providence Journal, looking for full-time work. Gina came in the back door.

“Where’s Suzanne?” she asked.

“Sleeping,” Roy said.

“How is she?”

“Pregnant.”

He lit a cigarette and opened a beer. He leaned back in his chair. They said nothing for a beat and she snagged the Newport box from the middle of the table. She fiddled with the box, but didn’t take a cigarette.

“You gonna smoke all my cigs now too?”

“You shouldn’t smoke indoors.”

“Says who.”

“Doctors,” she said, proud of herself.

“My mother smoked all through her pregnancy. Who gives a shit?”

“Not you,” she said.

She seemed sober, aware of what she was doing. He could see the mistake they were making long before his tongue was in her mouth.

“If you cared, you’d drive her to the appointments.”

“I have to work.”

“That’s an excuse. You don’t care. Just admit it.”

He pointed his cigarette at her.

“If you cared about her you’d’ve already left. You never would’ve come to the party. You wouldn’t spend every day doing nice things for her, trying to convince yourself you’re a good person. You’re not, baby.”

“Fuck you, Roy.”

“Mind your business.”

“Or what?” she said.

There was nothing else to do. If she were a man, he would’ve punched her in the teeth. He bolted out of his chair, and she out of hers, and they met beside the table, her hands on his belt and his hands in her hair, pulling her closer. It felt like lamb’s wool.

* * *

After the demo, it took fifteen minutes for Tyler to gather up the ripped-down shelf, rod, and wood scraps. It was already nine-thirty. Looking at him, it occurred to Roy that his son used too much of everything—too much hair gel, too much spray deodorant, too much time. His t-shirt was screen-printed with the name of some skateboard company in a swirl of neon colors. They had to finish the goddamn job, and his son was lollygagging and acting like a spoiled brat.

This was the beginning of the change that Roy feared. Tyler used to be earnest, kindhearted. He had been the son Roy never felt he deserved. Roy had been a disgraceful kid himself, always in trouble for this or that. Throwing rocks at cars in Hoxie four corners, stealing Sprites from the corner store. He wasn’t a bully, just an asshole. He fucked his way through life—angry at everything and terrified he’d never get what he was owed. He stayed that way until he was thirty-four, until Tammy, until he was certain there was nothing more he wanted.

The drawers had to be assembled. Roy set one of the boards on the tarp-covered floor and asked Tyler to hold the abutting, perpendicular board, but as soon as he revved the drill, Tyler’s hands went slack, and Roy nearly drilled through the floor.

“Come on. We don’t have time for mistakes. Hold it tight.”

“Sorry.”

“How am I gonna explain a hole in the goddamn floor?”

“I said sorry.”

“Okay,” Roy said, taking three deep breaths, a calming trick Tammy had read about in a magazine. “Okay. How about I hold and you drill?”

“I’ll just mess it up.” Tyler said.

“I don’t think you will. Why don’t you give it a try?” He smiled at his son and handed him the drill. He pointed to the pencil dot on the side panel and told him to line it up straight and gently pull the trigger. Before he could finish his sentence, Tyler had diagonally bored through the panel.

“What was that?” Roy asked.

“See? I told you.” Tyler got up from the floor and retreated to the bed to look at his phone.

“Okay. It’s okay,” Roy said. He hated how easily his son gave up. “Just try it again. Take your time and line it up.”

“You said we don’t have time for mistakes.”

“Try it one more time.”

“You can do it yourself. You’ll do it better than me anyway.”

Without a sound, Kate was standing in the doorway. She looked like a younger version of Gina; curly brown hair with a golden shine to it.

“This looks awesome,” she said, though nothing but the gray walls had been installed—it didn’t look like anything yet. “Do you do walk-ins too? Like could you take a small closet and make it bigger?”

“Depends on the house.”

“Can you come look when you’re done?”

“I can take a look, dad.” Tyler’s eyebrows arched. He stood beside the bed, his tool bags hanging practically to his knees. His jeans would fall right off if Roy placed a tape measure in one of the pockets.

“Let’s finish this job first.”

“I don’t mind,” Tyler said. “I can take her measurements.”

She smiled and left. Tyler had guts. Roy wouldn’t have had the balls to say something like that when he was fourteen. Maybe Tyler would be all right in a few years, when he outgrew this whiney phase. Roy could try his best to stay off Tyler’s back about what he wore and what he did with his crusty hair.

“We won’t make eleven, but I bet we can finish before noon if we hustle,” Roy said.

“What’s the big rush? You always say never rush a job.”

“Being efficient isn’t rushing,” Roy tried. “Don’t you wanna enjoy your Saturday afternoon?”

Of course he didn’t know about Roy’s past. Roy could tell him about his daughters, Kenna and Bailey, when Tyler was in his twenties, maybe—when they were out of this shaky patch, when they could talk man to man—and Tyler would trust and believe him when Roy said he had worked hard to be better than the man he was. If Gina came home and told Tyler the truth, he’d never trust him again. He’d abandon Roy the way Roy had abandoned the girls. If they could just finish up, he could put the invoice on the dresser and leave the past where it belonged.

* * *

They moved from the kitchen to the garage, to the hood of Roy’s Mazda while Suzanne slept two rooms away.

It was a one-time thing, he kept telling himself, but it happened again and again. After the fourth time, Gina said she loved him, and he almost felt sorry for her. Weeks passed, then months, and all the while she’d come over all dressed up to “spend time with Suzanne.” She’d say she had a date later, or she was going to The Backstop or Chelo’s.

He never said he’d leave Suzanne—never committed to anything when Gina asked, but when they were alone together, she’d daydream about their future. A fresh start someplace new. The Caribbean, Mexico. All Roy had to do was say yes.

He’d go from job to job, fixing leaky pipes, installing shelving or light fixtures or repairing fences or cracked walls, thinking about Gina. It annoyed him how much she got in his head. As the weeks passed he convinced himself that he hadn’t wanted her, that she was the reason it happened. He was trying to be faithful. He wanted to try, anyway, and having Gina around in dresses and heels and makeup didn’t help any. It got so bad he complained to Suzanne about her.

“She’s here too goddamn much.” he said in bed one night. Suzanne’s back ached. She was six months pregnant and was having trouble getting comfortable.

“She’s my friend,” Suzanne said.

“She was my friend. I made friends with her first,” Roy said.

“What does that matter?” She punched a pillow three times and put it under her side.

“It matters. She’s annoying. She drinks my beer. She’s here almost every day. Doesn’t she have a place of her own?”

But that got him nowhere. Suzanne didn’t care about his beer. She didn’t care about anything other than the baby.

“Listen. Okay. I’ll just say it. I didn’t want to have to tell you this,” Roy said, and then, “never mind. I shouldn’t.” He had to make her think it was something he’d been mulling over.

“Tell me what?”

“You’re right—she’s your friend. I should keep my mouth shut.” The key was getting Suzanne to drag it out of him. If she feared the worst, if she felt even a moment of panic, she’d believe him. Especially if it was all Gina’s fault—which it was.

“Tell me what?”

“Sorry I brought it up.”

“What? What did she do?” Suzanne sat up in bed. She slapped Roy in the chest and asked him again. “Tell me.”

“Okay. Okay. It’s not a big deal. Nothing happened. She—” and he paused to convince her he didn’t want to say it—to let Suzanne know she had brought it on herself. And then if she felt awkward or sorry about it, it was Gina’s fault, not his. “She has a crush on me.”

“She has a crush on you?” She sounded skeptical, but he could tell she was considering it. The build-up did the trick.

“I didn’t want to—I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“How do you know she has a crush on you?”

“Come on! I can’t tell when a girl likes me? Look how she dresses.”

“I’ll ask her,” Suzanne said, which was perfect. He knew she never would. He didn’t have to explain that it was an impossible question, where either the question or the answer would immediately kill their friendship, regardless of what Gina said.

“You’re mad.”

“I’m not mad,” she said, “I think you’re delusional.” She moved the pillow to the other side of her body and turned around.

The following Saturday, Suzanne wouldn’t leave them alone together; she even asked for Gina’s help making kamikazes, while Roy watched the Sox on TV38.

Later that night, he lied when Gina asked if she knew anything.

* * *

They had about forty minutes of work left when Tyler pulled a salami sandwich out of the mini cooler and twisted open a bottle of water.

“It’s only eleven,” Roy said, “I didn’t say it was break time.”

“Too bad.”

“All we need to do is install the drawers, finish the hardware and clean up and we’re home free. I’ll take you out to lunch when we finish, how about? Anywhere you want.”

“Why don’t I go talk to Kate about her closet?” he asked through a mouthful of salami and mustard. “Get us another job.”

“You don’t even know how to use a tape measure.”

“Whose fault is that?” Tyler asked as he pulled out his phone again. “You’re supposed to be teaching me.”

They were so close and there was no time to waste. Gina could come home any minute and ruin everything—of course Tyler was having one of his teenage tantrums.

“What do you think I’m trying to do?”

His phone emitted a silver glow that illuminated his lightly pimpled chin and nose. He couldn’t go five minutes without looking at that goddamn thing.

“Put down the phone or I’m gonna put it down for you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ll show you what it means,” Roy said. He rushed to his feet and snatched the phone out of Tyler’s hands. There was no explanation for what he was doing; he was a reaction, his anger swallowing him. He threw the phone on the hardwood floor and smashed it with his heel. The cracking resounded through his Rockport and tingled up his calf and thigh. It felt good to crush it beneath his foot, like an oversized cricket that wouldn’t shut up in the middle of the night.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Tyler shouted. When Roy lifted his boot from the phone, the dusty glass shimmered and reflected all of the sunlight coming through the window. All morning, they’d left the bedroom lights off. It felt dark, suddenly. Depraved.

“You’re paying for that, you asshole,” Tyler stomped out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Roy picked up the broken phone and tried to turn it on. Most of the screen was black, the cracks meeting in the middle. It was beyond repair. Seeing it, holding it in his hands, made Roy want to cry. This wasn’t him. Not anymore. Things were strained between them now, but that was just because Tyler was a teenager. Ty was his little buddy. When he was eleven and twelve, Roy showed him R-rated movies on Saturday nights after Tammy went to bed. They’d eat sour candy and watch Die Hard and Demolition Man and Point Break together. He wanted that back, and was afraid it was gone forever now.

What good did it do to hide his former life when he acted the part? He imagined his son on some plush sofa somewhere, telling an overpaid therapist about the time his old man smashed his cellphone. She’d call Roy abusive, or she’d write it in her notes anyway, and any of Tyler’s shortcomings would be his fault.

He raced down the stairs after him, out to the van.

“See how you like it,” Tyler hollered. He kicked the van, putting a baseball-sized dent in its side, the metallic pop startling sparrows out of their trees.

“Hey.”

“I hate you.”

Roy took three deep breaths and counted to ten for good measure. It was ten-past eleven. He said he would buy Tyler another phone if he just helped clean up.

“No.”

“I don’t know what happened to me in there. I don’t know what to say. We can go to the store as soon as we leave. I’ll buy you a newer model. Okay? The six?”

“Seven.”

“The seven then.”

Tyler said nothing.

As he entered the house, Kate stood at the top of the stairs.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Teenagers,” Roy said, and sort of shrugged. She smiled like it was funny and asked about her closet again.

“Please?” she said, with her pink lips and doe eyes.

“After I finish up,” he said, with no intention of keeping his promise.

In the master bedroom, Roy completed the job. He installed the shelving and tension rods. He screwed the hardware into place and slid the drawers onto their tracks. As he swept the sawdust and broken glass, he heard the front door open, and his heart nearly stopped.

When he heard the gawky footfall on the stairs, he knew it wasn’t Gina. After a moment, he heard Tyler and Kate laughing down the hall. He gathered the remaining equipment and coverings and brought everything out to the van and then left the invoice on the dresser. It was noon and there was no time to waste.

In Kate’s room, Tyler awkwardly measured the mirrored closet doors. There were pictures of Kate and her friends all over the walls. Collages of them at the beach, of them in their field hockey uniforms and homecoming gowns. There were no signs of recent childhood.

“That’s a small closet,” Roy said.

She said she could totally get her dad to pay for it.

They had to get going, he said. He mustered all of the charm he had left from his past life to convince her it would never happen.

“Listen, how old are you anyway, Kate?”

“Seventeen.”

“You’re a senior?”

She nodded.

“Do you know how long a project like this would take? To knock down walls? We’d need an inspector and we’d need permits and we’d have to check for plumbing and electrical. If we found any of that, any wires or pipes, or heaven forbid, any mold or structural issues? You’d be out of a bedroom for at least a month. Maybe two or three,” He was laying it on thick. “Then it’ll cost crazy money. Could be tens of thousands of dollars. For a closet! Then how’s your daddy gonna pay for you to go to college?”

“I’ll get a scholarship,” Kate said.

“A smartass. I love it.”

It was twelve-ten now and they were nearly out the door when Tyler asked Kate for her number. He didn’t stumble over his words, he didn’t stutter or say umm six times, and Roy was proud of him for that. But she laughed at his question, not with malice, just as a way of deflecting. She was basically an adult, and Tyler was barely a teenager. The tone of her laughter made it obvious that he never had a chance.

A few seconds passed and Roy turned back and tried to make it easier on his son.

“You’re not allowed to ask customers out, Ty.”

“I don’t think so,” she said anyway. She probably dated college guys. Tyler hung his head and fiddled with his tool belt. Roy wanted to say something else, something that would help his son feel better, but he couldn’t think of anything. He put his hand on Tyler’s back and whispered that it was time to go.

* * *

His marriage to Suzanne fell apart on a Friday night in Cranston. Roy had a bathroom tile repair job around the corner from Twin Oaks and headed straight for the bar after work. He called her from a payphone to say he was stuck at the job—he’d be there late. The backer board was cracked and crumbling and everything had to be replaced—not just the tile, and they were a family with three small kids. He couldn’t, in good conscience, leave them without a working bathroom for three days. She said she understood. She always did.

He hadn’t seen Gina in three weeks. She’d call the house sometimes, so he made it his business to never answer the phone. He wasn’t thinking about her at Twin Oaks—he hadn’t thought of her since the night with the kamikazes. But that was like him, his thoughts rarely reached beyond what was right in front of him. In a matter of time, she would stop calling and that would be that.

He had three vodka sodas at the bar and finished a pack of cigarettes. The Sox were down 5-1 to the Tigers, and his ashtray was overflowing. By number four, he was leaning into the peroxide blonde one stool over. She was a phlebotomist at the Potter Building downtown. Twenty-four years old—she kept saying it for some reason, like it was the solution to a complicated equation he’d posed.

She finished off two Long Islands and said baseball was dull. Her hair smelled like a combination of tulips and plastic. Soon they’d be in the back of his Mazda and afterwards he’d take her to a Bickford’s so he could sober up and so she wouldn’t feel cheap. After he brought her back to Twin Oaks, to her car or her friend’s car, he’d ask for her number for the same reason. He’d watch her scribble it on the back of some receipt from her wallet, and then ten minutes later on his way home, he’d crank the window down and throw it out on 95 south.

Because if there was no future for them, it was almost like it never happened. He’d even remember to stop at Dairy Mart for Oreos on his way home. He’d leave them in the living room where Suzanne would be sleeping in the television’s infomercial glow, and when she woke up with a craving at three or four, they’d be right there for her—proof of his devotion.

But that was the future, and it never turned out the way he planned.

Twenty-four had her hand in his lap when someone grabbed Roy by the back of his head, the short hairs above his flannel Sears shirt, and yanked him off the stool, to the sticky floor. He fell in slow motion, simultaneously knowing and not knowing what was happening.

Twin Oaks wasn’t that kind of place—there were tough guys everywhere, sure, but it wasn’t a dive or a VFW or something like that. The game was the only sound he could hear—he imagined everyone in the bar hollering, a commotion, some excitement, but the torrent of energy always happened afterwards—no honest person ever witnessed the first shot in a fight. His drink or Twenty-four’s iced tea spilled in his lap as he fell. Ice cubes slipped into his boot, and before he even hit the floor, he wondered if the back of his head was bleeding.

His last thought before the hollow, popping sound of his body crashing down, was why it was happening. In the moment between darkness and light, he could think of no one he’d wronged. Twenty-four’s boyfriend or husband, maybe—but nothing had happened. There were other men in other bars who’d wedged themselves between him and their women, who’d tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to explain the misunderstanding, who’d cursed him out like a rodent or shoved him toward the door like an unwelcome guest, who’d asked him to step outside where they’d exchange passionate swings. This was a surprise attack.

Gina was standing over him. The bartender telling them to take it outside. The other patrons practically giving themselves whiplash to watch. For a moment, he laid there, listening, frozen in place.

“His name is Roy Langman,” she yelled, “his wife is seven months pregnant.”

Twenty-four said nothing happened between them—how was she supposed to know? Gina told her to can it. She yelled his name again. Roy Langman. He was a handyman who cheated his wife and his customers. She kept yelling his name, until she was satisfied that everyone in Twin Oaks heard it. The bartender told her to get lost or he’d call the cops, and by the time Roy pulled himself up, she was already out the door.

He chased her to the parking lot, not knowing what to say.

“Get away from me,” she yelled.

“Don’t tell Suzanne,” Roy said. But she didn’t have to. There were so many people at Twin Oaks that night, and everyone knew someone who knew everyone else, and Suzanne found out that he lied about the job, that he was cozied up to some hussy, and that Gina was the only person who had her back. Gina. Once her rival, now the only person she could trust.

* * *

They were in the upstairs hallway when the front door opened. Roy stopped for a moment and wondered if there was another way out of the house, a fire escape or window he could leap from. He heard someone climbing the stairs, and when she reached the landing, he saw Gina carrying a white Macy’s bag. She was older now and had the kind of face that he couldn’t picture smiling. He pegged her for a vice principal. She said hello in a tentative way, like she hadn’t been expecting them. Roy was certain she was trying to place him.

“You’re all finished?” she asked. “Let me see.” She turned into the master bedroom and Tyler followed her.

He wished for a way to change his face. To spread his eyes apart or tilt his nose skyward or dampen his cheekbones so he could be anyone else. And for a fleeting moment, he believed she wouldn’t recognize him. He looked over the floor to make sure it betrayed no damage from Tyler’s phone. Everything was pristine as he expected. But when she opened the closet door, a tiny, shimmering piece of glass caught his eye, and he hated himself.

“Is this cerulean?” She ran her hands over the smooth closet walls as if rubbing them would change their color.

“It’s midnight gray.”

“We chose cerulean. We wouldn’t have picked gray.”

“Oh. Hmm,” Roy said, “I have the work order in the van. Maybe your husband made a mistake?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

He wasn’t sure she recognized him yet and she seemed to believe what she said, but he knew what the husband had ordered. It was a mix-up, Roy wanted to say—the one mistake that wasn’t his fault.

“I’m sorry you don’t care for the color. I can refer you to a painter. Or your husband could paint it. I can even take the hardware off if you like—give him a head start. Everything is already out of the closet, at least.”

He wanted to leave before she erupted. He didn’t know what she might say.

“It’s your problem, why should I fix it?”

Tyler’s face conveyed a faraway look of humiliation after his failure with Kate. She hovered behind them in the doorway. Roy wanted to take him outside and get him some fresh air. This was all too much—Kate and the phone and Gina and the haggling—it was supposed to be an easy job.

“If you’d prefer,” Roy said, blotting the anger from his voice, “I can take it out and keep your deposit for my labor.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“You will return my deposit.”

“That sounds fair, Mom,” Kate interjected.

“I know what I’m doing, Kathryn,” she snapped.

She had him picked out, Roy could tell. She was staring through him. She wanted to punish him. Wanted him angry. She wanted blood.

“Get out of my house.” She waved her arms in anger. She pointed towards the bedroom door, where Kate and Tyler stood, dumbfounded. “You installed the wrong closet. You screwed up. It’s your mistake. Not mine, not my husband’s. Yours. Get out. Get out of here.”

“This isn’t how I do business,” he shouted. He was turning. She had turned him.

“I know how you do business,” she said. Her face was tighter now, scrunched together in a fit of rage. Her voice betrayed no indecision.

“You have a different name and a real job and you think you’re better now, but I know exactly who you are.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Roy tried.

“You had the nerve to bring your child here? You want me to tell him? You want me to tell your son what kind of man his father is?”

“What are you talking about?” Kate asked.

“Do you know about Kenna?” she asked Tyler. “Did he ever tell you about her?”

“What?” Tyler asked.

“Enough,” Roy screamed. Tyler would demand to know everything now, and Roy was helpless to fix it. Tammy would have to drudge up their history and mention the broken parts. Their teenage son would drift away and be no more a part of Roy’s life than Kenna and Bailey. He tried not to think of them. He tried not to remember anything. Walking out, his attempts at winning their affections, and disappearing again. They were adults now. It was too late. But Tyler was fourteen. He was supposed to learn about responsibility, about doing the right thing, the value of seeing things through to the finish.

“You’ll never see a dime from me,” she said at last, pointing a veiny finger at Roy’s face. “You have the nerve to come into my home and say that I owe you?”

He was watching her lips move, watching her face, but he could see the entire room at the same time, as if he were suspended high above, looking down on everything. There was Tyler, angry, confused and embarrassed, with his back to Kate, the two of them the only ones with any chance to be greater than this small state. There was the gray closet in the corner, and the shimmering speck of glass inside it. There was Gina, hateful and righteous, or maybe ashamed of herself all these years later, sleeping with him the worst thing she ever did. She was free now. She could even unburden herself to Kate if she wanted to, could blame her mistake on the stupidity of youth.

No one was speaking, and Tyler grabbed Roy’s hand and said, come on. Roy hadn’t held his son’s hand since the last time they crossed a busy street together when Tyler was nine. His hand was damp and larger than Roy expected. He led him to the doorway, where Kate was still standing.

“There he goes,” Gina said, “there goes the father of year.”

Abandoning his daughters wasn’t some long-ago decision—it was a choice he kept making. There was a time, years ago, when he could have fixed things. He could have tried. He did nothing for them, no child support. There weren’t even college funds stashed away. He had the money and Tammy would’ve understood. But it was more than that. It was everything.

How would he explain it? What would Tyler say?

He deserved whatever happened now. Tyler would never speak to him again and he’d finally know how it must have felt.

But as they drove away from the house, Tyler only talked about how terrible Gina was. As if the entire day had been a cakewalk up until that point. He prattled on and on about Gina, about the install, and Roy knew that he understood the things she had said. He was defending his father, protecting him from everything he had done. Maybe out of shock as much as loyalty. It was too much. Roy expected questions about his past, expected Tyler to want to know everything. Instead, his son spoke endlessly and tried to make him laugh. He didn’t deserve it. He had to pull over on the highway.

“What are you doing?” Tyler asked.

“I don’t know,” Roy said. He must have been shaking, he must have made some sound. He leaned forward in his seat and put his head on the steering wheel and Tyler wrapped his arm around him and said everything would be okay.

 

Nicholas Lepre’s stories have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Minnesota Review, and elsewhere. Nicholas was a finalist in the 2015 Blue Mesa Review Summer Writing Contest and The Florida Review’s 2016 Fiction Contest. He recently completed his first book, Pretend You’re Really Here. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts with his wife and newborn son.

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