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Authors: Chris O'Guinn

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Fearless (9 page)

BOOK: Fearless
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“But now it’s back.”

Liam nodded, looking annoyed. “It’s like I just can’t get Lou to leave me alone. Anyway, it’s not too bad yet. I’ve been doing the homeschooling thing for years, but I told my parents I wanted to go to high school like a regular kid.”

“Christ, you
want
to go to school?”

Liam laughed. “Trust me, when you’ve been cooped up in your house for years, even high school sounds good.”

Sully pushed the door open and came in to check on us. He gave me a few friendly sniffs and then lay down at Liam’s feet.

“Sully’s been my best friend for years,” Liam said, kneeling down and petting the dog. “They got him for me when I got sick. Before I found weed, let me tell you, the only thing that made chemo bearable was curling up with Sully.”

I was numb. I didn’t see how Liam could be so Zen about everything. If I’d been handed such a shitty deal, I’d want to smash something.

“So, yesterday at the hospital….”

“We were hoping for some good news and we didn’t get it. So more chemo for me.”

He again just looked annoyed, like this was just such a damn inconvenience and not a threat to his life. Was he just pretending to be brave? Did he maybe not want me to see how scared he was? I couldn’t even guess.

“I….” I had no idea what to say. I was completely lost. My heart hurt for him.

“Oh, don’t even start Argentina.”

“Pardon?”

“Argentina? As in, ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina?’ Dude, if you’re gonna be gay you’re gonna have to know these things.”

“I’ll study up.”

“Good.” Sully rolled onto his back and Liam rubbed his belly. “The worst part is the way it’s fucking up my parents’ lives. My mom used to be the executive assistant for this corporate bigwig, but she had to take so much time off for me that her boss fired her. My dad owned his own business, but he had to sell it to pay the hospital bills. We used to have this big house and a yard for Sully, and now we’re here, thanks to Lou.”

“I’m sure they don’t mind.” I didn’t know his parents
that
well, but from what I’d seen, they wouldn’t resent him for it.

“Of course they don’t. They’re amazing. They’re always right there with me, fighting Lou every step of the way. I just wish they didn’t
have
to.”

“Is…. Is there anything I can do? Like, I don’t know, go with you to chemo or something?”

Liam’s expression was so full of unguarded gratitude that I had to look away. “Thanks, but you’d lose all respect for me if you saw what a whiny bitch I become after chemo.”

I had trouble imagining Liam whining or ever showing weakness. But I wasn’t going to push myself on him. “Did you want to take Sully to the park?”

Liam nodded, showing relief that the tough conversation was over. “Okay, Argentina, let’s go grab the Frisbee.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Maybe just Tina, for short?”

“No.”

Liam smirked at me. I smiled back. We’d dealt with the elephant in the room, the one named Lou. I didn’t feel better about it, but I wasn’t going to waste any more time on him. I was just going to enjoy hanging out with my friend and Lou could go piss up a rope.

As we were leaving, Anna asked me to stay for dinner again. Liam and I still had a mountain of work to do to get him caught up, so it sounded like a good idea. I called my mom, though, not wanting to worry her again.

“It’s fine, honey. Oh, but your dad called.”

Anxiety hit me like a baseball bat to the head. “Yeah?’

“He wants you to call him back.”

“Why?”

“It’s his weekend, kiddo.”

I’d forgotten. I think I wanted to forget. I wanted to tell my mom to tell him I wasn’t going, but then I decided that wasn’t fair. No, if I was going to try and ditch him, I had to man up and do it. I just didn’t know how to do that.

“I’ll call him back.”

“Love you, kiddo. Be home by nine.”

After hanging up, I turned to Liam. “I can stay.”

“Awesome.” When he caught my look, he rolled his eyes. “Okay, really cool. Happy?”

I smiled, but it didn’t last long. “I need to call my dad.”

Liam cocked his head to one side. “Oh, your parents….”

“Split, yeah. A couple years ago.”

“Sucks.”

“Not really. My dad’s a jerk.”

“Oh....”

“But I have to spend time with him. Everyone but me agreed on that.”

“Wow, you really don’t like him.”

I shrugged one shoulder. “It’s just….”

“What?”

I shook my head. It was such a mess. I didn’t like thinking about it, much less talking about it. It made me angry, and then guilty for being angry, and then pissed that I felt guilty and then just depressed about everything.

Liam eyed me for a moment before leading me out of the apartment, Sully right on our heels. We made our way to the park, but this time we just walked around it for a while. Liam let me have some space to untangle the knot of resentment and anger in my head, which I appreciated.

When it came out of me, even I was surprised by how pissed I sounded. “My dad’s a selfish prick. He never had time for me or cared about me until the divorce. Now it’s like he’s father of the year, always wanting to take me places and whatever. It’s like he still doesn’t really care about me, but he wants to get me on his side or something.”

“His side?”

I felt my nails biting into my palms. “When my mom asked for a divorce, he acted like she was being mean to him and that it was all her fault. He still acts like he has no idea why she would leave him.”

“That’s kind of brutal.”

“Yeah, well, the thing that really guts me is how he treats my mom. He’s always bailing on sending her the check he’s supposed to send. He gives some lame excuse and then lays into her with a guilt trip to get her to drop it.”

Liam was quiet while he absorbed that piece of information. “Sounds to me like you shouldn’t have to live up to your part of the divorce agreement if he doesn’t.”

I gaped at him. I had figured he would give me some speech about how your dad is your dad even if he’s a crappy dad. That was why I didn’t talk to anyone about this. I didn’t want them to tell me to get over my grudge. I was very comfortable with it, after all.

“You really think so?”

Liam nodded, looking angry on my behalf. “Totally. I mean, I get it. He’s your dad. You don’t want to be a dick to him, but it’s okay to stand up for yourself.”

“God, I wish I had your balls.”

“Well, I admit, they’re a pretty sweet set, but you can’t have them.”

Coming out of nowhere, that made me bust up. “Can I just borrow them?”

“Well, okay, but you have to be careful. And give them a good cleaning before you hand them back.”

I couldn’t keep up with him. Every time I tried, he just got raunchier. I decided to quit while I was ahead. “Why don’t you toss the Frisbee with Sully while I deal with my jerk dad.”

I watched them run off to the grassy area and then punched in my dad’s number. I felt like there were hamsters running on a wheel in my gut as it rang again and again. What would I do if I had to leave a message?”

“Hello?”

“Hey, dad.”

“Justin! How’s it going, champ?”

“Uh, fine....”

“There’s a Bond film marathon at the Cerritos Megaplex on Saturday. That sound like fun?”

It kind of did, really. And this was what I really resented about my dad. It was so easy to be angry with him until you talked to him. Then it felt like yelling at a little kid. Sometimes I really didn’t think he even understood why the things he did were wrong.

“Uh, well....”

“Come on, we'll pig out on junk food and you can try to convince me Brosnan is better than Connery.”

“I....”

I looked across the park and saw Liam running around and having fun with Sully. I remembered what he told me about how to fake being brave. If ever there were a time to give it a try, it was right then.

“I don’t think so, Dad.”

There was a moment’s pause. “That sucks. I thought you like Bond movies.”

“I do, but—”

“You don’t want to sit in a theater for ten hours? We can leave early or go late.”

“No, Dad—”

“Or we could do the marathon at home. Then we’d get to pick—”

“Dad!”

“What?”

“Why didn’t you send Mom the check this month?” I ran a shaking hand through my hair.

“Champ, you don’t need to worry about that.”

“I do, when it means we have to choose between electricity and food.”

“Is it that bad?” my dad asked, sounding totally shocked. “You could always stay with me….”

The anger returned, so suddenly it made me tremble. “Is
that
what this stupid game is about?”

“Huh?”

“Are you trying to make things so bad at Mom’s that I’ll move….” I felt shockwaves of realization hit me. “Or is it so that
she’ll
take you back?”

“Don’t be silly, sport. Some clients were late with their payments this month is all.”

“You always say that,” I said, and even I could hear the growl in my voice. “But then when those checks come in, it’s not like you make it up to Mom. You’ve never sent two payments at once, not ever.”

“Son, I have bills to pay too.”

Now he was sulking. This was what usually did my mom in. She just couldn’t handle it when he pouted. I hadn't had much success against it either. It just felt so
bad
to call him on his crap.

“Whatever,” I told him. “But until you send the check, I’m not coming over.”

“Did your mother put you up to this?”

I got even more pissed. “You know she wouldn’t. I’ll get an earful for doing this, but I don’t care. You stop jerking her around and I’ll do the visits, but not until.”

“You’re not being fair.”

“Yeah, well, newsflash: life’s not fair. Now, I’m chewing up minutes, so I have to go.”

“Son—”

“Later.”

I sat on a nearby bench and stared at the phone. I felt really good for having made a stand, and yet I felt like crap for having been so harsh to my dad. All these confusing feelings chased each other in my head, guilt and relief, anger and sadness. It had been a rollercoaster of a day.

Sully appeared before me, Frisbee held in his jaws and hope lighting up his eyes. I looked up at Liam, feeling stupid (on top of everything else) for letting this get to me when he had so many worse things to handle.

He didn’t seem to agree. He reached out and gripped my shoulder and gave me a supportive smile. “Wanna help me wear Sully out?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I told him.

I had to force the smile, but I really was grateful to him. He’d helped me do something that I had badly needed to do. So I followed him back to the grassy area and made myself focus on having fun instead of the shit storm I had just stirred up.

Chapter 9

I
T TURNED OUT THE CONSEQUENCES
of my actions weren’t very far off. In fact, they were waiting for me when I got home.

“You need to call your father.”

“Hi, mom, how are you?”

She glared at me, and it wasn’t one of her mock-glares either. She was pissed. “Don’t get smart with me, kiddo. Your father called and he was furious. He yelled at me and accused me of turning you against him.”

“He shouldn’t have done that.”

“It took me ten minutes just to figure out what he was talking about.”

I guess I should have warned her. Somehow, I hadn’t thought my dad would call her instead of me. I forgot to take into account, though, that he could still intimidate her.

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

“Not…. Kiddo, these visits are part of the agreement. If I don’t live up to my part, he can take me to court.”

“Good, then he can explain to a judge why he doesn’t send the checks like he’s supposed to.”

“Justin…” Her anger evaporated and she looked away. “That’s not…. You don’t need to worry about that.”

“Of course I do.”

“Kiddo, I’m sorry you don’t have all the things you used to have. I know we’re having a tough time.”

“Mom, I don’t care about stuff!” I told her. “You’re doing everything you can. He should too.”

My mom’s eyes were gleaming with tears. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to fix things.”

I felt like crap. I hated seeing her cry and even though I knew—
knew
—it was my dad’s fault, I still felt guilty. “Mom, look…. I don’t want to see him, okay? The judge said I could make that call when I’m sixteen. I’m a few months early, is all.”

“Nearly a year, actually.”

“I’m rounding,” I told her with a wry smile.

She surprised me by pulling me into a hug. “You’re a good kid, Justin.”

“Does that mean I don’t have to clean my room?”

She smiled faintly, holding me at arm’s length. “But it’s a pigsty.”

“Do the pigs really mind, though? I mean, has anyone asked the pigs how they feel about the sty?”

I got the briefest laugh out of her. “I just worry, you know? I don’t want you to look back someday and wish you’d been closer to your dad.”

“Well, I’ll worry about that when it happens.”

She got a napkin and dried her eyes. “So, when do I get to meet this Liam?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Hadn’t really thought about it.”

I
had
thought about it. I’d imagined her coming into my room while Liam was smoking a joint and beating me within an inch of my life. As yet, I hadn’t figured out how to introduce them so I was planning to avoid it.

“We should have him over for dinner some night. His parents are feeding you more than I am.”

That could work. Liam adored junk food, so he’d probably love having the take out we usually ate. I wasn’t sure how bad that would be for him, though. I’d have to ask him.

I finally made my way to my room and firmly shut the door. I got online to check my favorite site for messages. It was usually spam or just annoying announcements from the site admins. Sometimes the Creeps sent me pictures that I didn’t need to see. As yet, I had not gotten the note from Zach that I dreamed about.

Hawaii was on, to my surprise. Even more surprising, he pinged me.

BOOK: Fearless
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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