Can’t see what good it does to say so now, but the truth is, I never liked the bastard from day one. My son brought Jim Mead fishing, and I ended up spending an entire afternoon out on the boat with the two of them. “Gee Dad,” Adam began, just after we’d dropped Jim off in front of his palatial house, a squall had forced us to give up the ghost and head on home, “You sure were quiet today.”
I couldn’t very well confess to Adam that I didn’t like his new friend, and for no particular reason either. I just flat out didn’t care for the damn kid. You meet certain people and they put you off. It’s as if you can’t stand the way they smile, what they choose to talk about, the sound of their voice. Certain people just can’t help but rub you the wrong way. “Was I that quiet?”
“You sure were,” he said, studying my reaction. “The quieter you were, the more Jim talked. I think all that silence made him nervous. Plus, he’s never been fishing before.”
“Ah, sorry, I got a lot on my mind these days.”
Adam ran his bony hand up and down his pant leg and said, “Yeah Dad, I know.”
“I thought being out on the lake would take the edge off. And it did. Thanks for coming.” Many of my friends couldn’t get their kids to go anywhere with them. I was glad my son still wanted to fish with the old man. It seemed petty for me to have developed an aversion to his pal the way I had.
“I’m glad,” he said. “I know it’s hard, being forced to move out for no good reason, having to live alone and stuff. I can’t help but be mad at Mom. She just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t see how she’s better off without you around.”
“I make her feel bad about herself.” Discussing my problems with his mother was absolutely not the right thing to do. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself. My mouth started running like a sick bird’s ass. “I’m such a fool, when she asked me if I thought she was too fat, I said yes. That was my first mistake. And then she told me that her weight gain made her feel more substantial, and what did I do? I scoffed. Not a smart move. She said I wasn’t interested in listening to her feelings. Even now. I hear her wrong. I can’t seem to find my footing with that woman.” I needed to replace my wiper blades. It was raining so hard that I could barely make out the road ahead of us through the torrent of water rushing over the windshield.
From the seat next to me I sensed Adam’s breathing quicken. He didn’t deserve to listen while I unloaded my crap. I knew that. “But you guys used to get along,” he pointed out. I felt bad, glancing over momentarily I saw his forehead crinkle up.
“I thought we did,” I said, turning my attention back to the blurred view. “But your mother told me that she was unhappy with me from the beginning. Seems I’ve always been terribly evasive, that I’m a snide jerk. In these last years especially. I promised to change—but she’s not interested in waiting for a miracle. Those are her words, not mine.”
When I pulled up to my old house a familiar sadness strangled what little warmth I had left inside. I began to shiver, said goodbye to my son, and struggled to hold back a sob. Swallowing agony down like some nasty horse pill.
The next time I saw Jim he was standing outside my old house on the lawn talking to my ex wife. When they spotted me driving up the road their smiles turned into frowns. What could the kid possibly have against me? Surely Donna wouldn’t badmouth me to Adam’s friend. Would she?
“What’s up?” I asked, once I’d climbed out of the Corvette. “Where’s Adam?”
“He’s got practice,” Donna told me, using that exasperated tone she liked to use when she found herself disappointed with my actions. “It’s Wednesday Russ.”
“Oh crap,” I shook my head. “I was supposed to go to the school. Too much on my mind, I guess. I’ll hurry over there.”
“No point going now, you’re too late. I’ll call him and tell him to ride home with Mandy.” Donna pulled her cell phone out of her pocket.
I felt like a fool. “Hold on,” I said. “Adam can stay put for a few minutes. I’ll rush over there. We’re going to the movies. It just makes sense for him stay where he is.”
I waited for Donna to get a hold of Adam. In the meantime Jim asked me how I liked my car. He said his father had considered buying a Corvette, but decided on a Viper instead. Well, the guy was a freaking oncologist. I’m only a lowly finance manager at the Chevy dealership.
Adam would wait for me. I headed back towards my car. Anxious to get in one last dig, Donna called out to me, “Don’t forget where you’re going.” I bristled to see Donna and Jim yucking it up at my expense as I drove away. Another reason to dislike him lengthened my list. That, and the fact that the little pecker-head had figured out how to make Donna smile.
By summer I had come to the conclusion that it was time to move on. I would never return to live in my old house. We were going to sell. Donna had her eye on a condo complex near Universal Studios. I had finally broken down and hired a divorce lawyer to make sure that I wouldn’t be taken to the cleaners.
At the end of June I stopped by the house to pick up my son because we were driving up to San Francisco. I thought Adam would get a kick out of the city. Jim helped load his bags. “Have fun,” he mumbled. “I wish I was driving up the coast with my dad. As if that would ever happen.”
We were flying north on the 101 and Adam said, “I feel sorry for Jim. His dad’s never home and his mother’s a bimbo.”
“I’m sure they’ll take him somewhere this summer.”
“No Dad. They won’t. They just send him off to New York to visit his big sister. His parents live in their own little world. They pretty much ignore him.”
“That’s too bad,” I say. “At least you know that your mother and I love you.”
I agreed to go on a date with a rather forward girl from work. Amber was a shapely divorcee with a couple of little kids, quite a bit younger than I was. Despite my efforts to dissuade her from pursuing me she just wouldn’t give up. “Look,” I said, “I’m not ready for a relationship.”
“Me neither,” she said. “I just want to fool around.”
I took Amber at her word. Because there was no way in hell I was about to get involved with a young chick with two little chicks of her own. No way.
We’d gone on a few dates and Amber asked to come over one weekend so she might meet Adam. Warning bells sounded through my distressed brain. “No,” I told her, “we agreed not to drag the kids into this. Remember? Keep it light. No involvement. None of that. You do remember, don’t you?” Of course she claimed that she did but I had my doubts.
On Saturday mornings I always took Adam out for breakfast. He stayed with me almost every weekend unless his mother had something going on. We were sitting at Jerry’s Famous Deli eating pastrami and eggs and I asked him if his mother was seeing anyone. “I couldn’t help noticing that she’s dropped a few pounds, and had her hair styled.”
“Who knows?” Adam’s eyes were so uncharacteristically vacant as he added, “She’s up to something though. I don’t ask because I don’t care.”
Like a fool I let his comment go. I sipped my coffee and changed the subject.
The neighbor heard three shots. Donna and Jim were naked in her bed. Adam had taken aim from the doorway, shooting his mother and his friend point blank with my rifle. Then he turned the smoking gun on himself.
Adam left a note in his room. I read it and then burnt it. My son’s words still haunt me and I wake up at three o’clock in the morning almost every single night. Boatloads of whiskey can’t make me sleep. Neither can those tiny sleeping pills the doctor prescribed. I may never see a full night sleep again. I don’t deserve one.
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.