"Wake up, sleepyhead. You don't want to miss the bus." Scotty rolled over and grumbled. He burrowed deeper into the rumpled sheets, barely batting his long black eyelashes. "I brought some orange juice." He rubbed at his still closed eyes.
I put the glass of orange juice on his night stand and switched on the lamp. Dawn hadn't quite broken through the clouds this morning. Shards of light from his race car lamp pierced the calm darkness, making Scotty squint his eyes shut tighter. He rolled away, clutching a stuffed Snoopy to his chest. "I know you're awake." I jiggled him a little. "I can always drive you to school. I know how much you wanted to take the bus, though." I stood to leave the room.
"NO!" Scotty shot out of bed and grabbed me around the waist. "I wanna ride the bus. You said."
I laughed, ruffling his little bed head. "Gotcha! I know I said you can ride the bus, I was just testing you." I picked up my seven-year old son, trying to balance him on my hip. He'd grown so much in the last year. Wasn't it only last year that I was able to carry him around like this?
He was getting so big. "Can I walk to the bus stop with you?" I kissed his freckled nose and smiled as he hugged my neck.
"Yeah. I guess."
"Good. Mommies need to do those things, you know. It's in the job description somewhere." Carefully I walked down the stairs leading from his loft bedroom. I stepped over the Lego jet fighter he left on the small living room floor, dumping him into his chair in our kitchen.
"Can I have waffles and chocolate milk?"
"And three cookies?"
"I'll put three cookies in your backpack for you to eat with your lunch," I compromised. We couldn't afford any luxuries so when he asked for something so simple like cookies, I found it hard to deny him.
I watched Scotty eat his breakfast as I sipped on my coffee. His straight black hair stuck up at funny angles. He looked up at me between bites, crystal blue eyes serene and cheerful. Sometimes I wonder if during my pregnancy he somehow knew the turmoil I was going through and adjusted back then, became this sweet, mature little boy, eager to help me, so lovable and dear.
I pushed away from the table to get his backpack ready. I slipped in his Hot Wheels lunch box and, as promised, a plastic bag with three cookies.
"I had a weird dream," Scotty said, finishing his milk.
"Yeah? Tell me about it." I looked over my shoulder at him, meeting his gaze.
He shrugged, reaching for a hot wheels car, rolling it back and forth on the formica. "My dad was there."
"Only I couldn't exactly tell what he looked like. I just knew it was him. He was flying in the sky, way up in the clouds. He was happy to see me and everything. He wanted to take me for a ride, you know, like around the clouds for a little while before bringing me back home. I was a little scared so I told him you had to be there." Scotty paused, draining his glass. "He said okay, that it would be a good idea for you to come along. He picked us up in his silver jet fighter. Then we flew over the ocean and watched some whales and then we were home."
"Sounds like a good dream." My heart ached.
"Yeah. I guess." Scotty continued to play with his car. He pushed his chair back with a screech and ran to the bathroom.
I had some time to collect myself. Scotty never knew his father. I did and I didn't. It's a long story, one I realized I would have to face one day.
I cleared the table, fighting back the emotions that were threatening to boil over. I ran hot water into the sink hoping the sound would drown out one little sob I couldn't hold back. The time was upon me to make a decision. I was terrified.
"C'mon Mom! Let's go." Scotty ran from the bathroom, grabbing my hand. He pulled me towards the door of our apartment. He had dressed himself in his favorite denim shorts and Dallas Cowboys football jersey. He even combed his hair.
"Whoa, tiger. Did you brush your teeth?" I asked him as I grabbed a dishtowel.
Scotty rolled his eyes comically, exposing all of his little white teeth, all except the one missing from the bottom row.
"Excellent. Let's go." I took a deep breath and succeeded in containing my tears.
We walked down the sidewalk to the designated bus stop, a little covered bench outside the leasing office door. I knelt down in front of my son and straightened his shorts which were twisted at an odd angle. "Okay, listen. Don't walk around on the bus, don't make loud noises. Bus drivers hate those kind of things. Stay in your seat. Sit with the kids your age, leave the older kids alone. Maybe if you sat at the very front of the bus that would be--"
"Mo-om." Scotty moaned in a sing-song voice. "I'm a big boy."
I almost started crying again. "Yes, you are. Remember that Grandma will pick you up from school today since tonight I work at the restaurant. Don't forget."
Scotty rolled his eyes, "Every Tuesday and Thursday you work at the restaurant, I know that already. I'm not a baby."
I kissed him on his soft little cheek, still slightly chubby with baby fat. I recognized that he was growing taller and the baby fat was slipping away. I hugged Scotty probably a little longer than needed, for him at least. "I love you, doodlebug. Have a happy day."
We watched the bus pull around the corner, yellow to red lights flashing. I checked my watch and noticed the bus was running late. Usually the bus was pulling out of the apartment parking lot just as I was finishing up my morning dishes. If I didn't hurry I would be late for work. "Did you pack my cookies?"
"See ya Mom. Tell Mr. Mayes I said hi!" Scotty yelled over his shoulder. He disappeared down the aisle of the old school bus. I stood at the entrance, unsure of what to do or say, not even sure I could restrain myself from hopping on the bus with him. The bus driver, an elderly woman wearing big round sunglasses and a denim shirt with apples painted across the front, must have sensed my anxiety. "Don't you worry none, Momma. I'll take real good care of him. We're running just a little behind today. The school's already been notified. Terrible accident on FM 280. Happened late last night or maybe early this morning. When I made my first run at 7:00 am on up to the high school they were still investigating. I'm afraid what might have happened with them kids couldn't have been good. But enough about that, your little boy is in Thelma McCrae's hands, he'll be taken care of. Yes ma'am." She waved at me before shutting the door. The bus pulled away with a shudder and a shriek, echoing the way I was feeling inside. A tear slipped down my cheek as I watched my little man drive away, smiling at me through the smudged window. One of those steps a mother has to face in her child's life. He was growing up. One day he would be gone.
"Enough of this, Torie," I chided myself, swiping at the tear. "You've got a living to make. Let's go to it." I had taken to talking to myself over the years, mainly because there was no one else around to talk to. It was better that way, I think. There weren't too many men willing to stay with a woman who already had a child. At least that had been my experience. Except for Charlie, but then that had its own complications.
Charlie had been my next door neighbor for almost eight months. We would pass by each other, say hello, make small talk. He was always friendly. He was a college student at the local university sharing an apartment with a roommate who also happened to be his girlfriend. I was attracted to Charlie in a physical sense and, since he was always so nice to Scotty, he held a special place in my heart on that count. But he had a girlfriend and I certainly wasn't going to get myself stuck in the middle of that situation.
One night when Scotty was spending the night with my mother I ran into Charlie. Apparently we both had a really boring weekend planned since it was a Saturday night and we were both waiting our turn for the lone working clothes dryer in the laundry room. We laughed about it. He explained to me that his girlfriend, Maribeth, was away for the weekend. She was attending a family reunion in Oklahoma. He wasn't invited since their relationship was kept quiet from her parents. Her parents didn't approve of their living together, he said. In fact, as far as they were concerned, Charlie was out of the picture long ago. I got the feeling he was a little depressed over the situation. He told me he had just mixed up a batch of margaritas and asked if I would like one. Of course, I wouldn't pass up an offer like that, I told him. He returned no more than five minutes later with a plastic pitcher of margaritas and two plastic cups.
The dryer was free at last and Charlie let me go first. I stuffed my load in the dryer and sat down next to him again. By that time I was feeling very relaxed, undoubtedly from the alcohol. I wasn't accustomed to drinking anything stronger than a single glass of wine on occasion and his margaritas were definitely heavy on the tequila. Charlie's company was very nice and he made me laugh. I loved his smile, how it reached to his eyes when he broke out in laughter, which was often. He didn't seem the type to come on to me if I wasn't giving him a signal first. I boldly decided to give him a signal. I don't know why exactly. I was attracted to him, despite his love for his girlfriend. And, in truth, I didn't want a relationship. For once, I reasoned, let me enjoy the company of a man again. No strings attached.
I leaned forward and pressed my lips very softly against his mouth. He didn't seem shocked. I felt him return my kiss, warm and soft. Soon we were locked together in a wild embrace. What happened next will forever be fired in my memory. It was so good, so carnal, so different for me.
I hadn't been with a man since before Scotty was born. It's hard to believe I remained celibate for so long, especially to me. But when Charlie began rubbing and caressing my back and hips, lifting me against him, so much of those feelings I suppressed came flooding back. We rushed through the motions the first time, desperately tearing at each other's clothes right there in the laundry room. Our mouths sought skin, tongues clashed and our lips found each others again and again during the quick coupling. He propped me up against a washing machine in the beginning stage of the spin cycle. I hurriedly stepped from my cut-offs, peeling my panties away at the same time. I released his penis from his jeans, wantonly wrapping my legs around his hips. He thrust into me with one wet motion, slamming me again and again into the vibrating machine. Within seconds I was flooded with my own orgasm, digging my nails into his back and shoulders, prompting him to release his semen deep into me. This time, though, I was protected.
After the laundry room incident we spent another energetic hour in the comfort of my bedroom, the first time I had even had a man in the sanctuary of my home. Charlie was an excellent lover, slow and attentive, paying special attention to my breasts and nipples, a spot that was so sensitive to me. His mouth and tongue traveled lower over my curved belly, to the spot right above my pubic bone, pulling a delicious shiver from me. He paused to look up at me for a moment, smiling that gorgeous smile, before sliding lower, tonguing me to another deep and powerful climax. I gladly reciprocated, reveling in the feeling of having a man in my mouth once again. I took my time with him, wanting him to feel just as good as he had made me feel. When he finally found release I willingly took it all in, licking him clean afterwards. It was a wonderful night.
And that was it. One night. He had Maribeth, I knew that and I didn't have the desire to interfere. My child always came first and I wasn't ready to bring a man into the mix just yet. But I thanked him with my eyes every time we passed each other. He always smiled back. A month later he and Maribeth had moved out. I never heard from him again and I never expected to.
Charlie was the only man I had been with in the last eight years. I give him credit for re-introducing me to one of the things my body was made for: the ability to feel and give pleasure. Not since that weekend eight years ago have I ever thought again about being with a man. Not that I didn't want to. It was more a feeling of punishing myself for being careless. After discovering my pregnancy, I pulled back from intimacy. Charlie managed to crack through the thick wall I had built around me. Now Scotty was providing another source of ammunition, forcing me to deal with the role I played with those three men years ago.
Unprotected sex wouldn't get ME pregnant. I was a teenager and invincible. But it did. I should have known better but I didn't.
I found out I was pregnant a little over a week before I was due to start college. All my plans fell apart as I devoted myself to the new life growing inside of me.
I grew up ten years in the first few weeks. I had wild nightmares of having my child taken from me, either by the state since I was young and unmarried (a fact I know now would not have happened), or by an unknown specter wanting to do my baby harm. It fueled my commitment to my child, to provide the best possible home for him. I immediately began looking for work. I didn't want to become a welfare mother. I couldn't stand the thought of being pitied or looked down upon because of my status.
Mr. Mayes, the owner and manager of Lucky's Restaurant off the interstate, took a chance on hiring this skinny little unwed mother-to-be all those years ago. He was like my second Dad. I worked all through my pregnancy, took a leave of absence and went right back to work, all the while Mr. Mayes asking me what I needed, if the baby was alright, so many questions. But not once did he ask about the father.
My mom, I thought her face would crack the day Scotty was born. During my pregnancy she pressured me to have an abortion. When that time had passed she begged me to consider adoption. I just couldn't. She thought I had been drugged at a local nightclub, and had sex with a man I didn't know. It was my fault. That was the story I told her. It also changed the way she saw me, her only child. I'll never forget the look of utter disappointment on her face.
Mom regretted any idea she ever had of getting rid of Scotty the minute I went into labor. She was there every step of the way. If our relationship had suffered during my pregnancy, the bond we shared when we both brought Scotty into this world repaired it. She loved him deeper than anything else in her life. Ever.
After Scotty started Kindergarten I went back to school myself. I completed the two year course in medical transcription between day shifts at the restaurant and the occasional night shift. Scotty stayed with Mom on those nights. Three months ago I went to work for a group of pediatricians as a receptionist while transcribing all the doctors' notes. I love my job. I still worked two nights a week at the restaurant mainly because Mr. Mayes hadn't found a reliable night manager yet. That and I was finding it difficult to leave the place.
Now, the subject I had been dreading since the day the doctor at the clinic handed me all six pounds, three ounces of wiggling, screaming pink flesh and black hair was staring me in the face. Scotty needed answers. He deserved answers.
That night nearly eight years ago was still a fog. I'll never regret having Scotty, I just wish I would have been thinking clearly that night.
The time had come to contact the group of us that partied together that weekend. How would I go about telling them why I needed to see them? Where would I even start?
I finished the dishes and freshened up before work. I stopped to check my makeup in the bathroom mirror. Would they recognize me now? My hair was still pretty much the same, straight and black. While it used to be a few inches past my shoulders, now it fell level with my chin. I had filled out a little more. I was always such a skinny little thing in high school. Now, at least, I had a curve to my figure. My eyes hadn't changed. They were still big and hazel with maybe a line or two now.
I left for work, still deep in thought. I'm a firm believer in fate. Things happen for a reason. Just like Scotty happened to me for a reason. I wasn't very grounded before then, in fact I was a real bitch to put up with sometimes. I guess most teenagers behave that way at one time or another. I think I could have easily headed down the wrong path. I was very impulsive back then. And rebellious.
I had another good day working at the doctor's office. Karen, one of the nurses at the office, invited me to lunch. We had a good time. Karen was married but didn't have any children yet. She wanted to know if I was seeing anybody. I always get nervous when someone asks me that, like they want to set me up on a blind date. I didn't want a blind date. I didn't even know if I wanted a regular date. Her brother-in-law was recently divorced, no children, and she thought I might like to meet him. I hated to say no. I told her that maybe they should all stop by the restaurant some night and I'll be glad to meet him. What happens after that would be left to chance. She seemed satisfied with my answer. Later that afternoon she mentioned that her brother-in-law was going to be in town that evening. A good friend of his was in the hospital after being involved in a terrible accident on 280 last night. She wasn't sure how long he was going to be in town but even so, he didn't live that far away.
I left work feeling nervous. Karen told me she might stop by the restaurant with her husband and brother-in-law. I parked my car in my usual spot at the restaurant, under one of the only oak trees shading the lot. I looked at my reflection in the visor and decided a little freshening up would be a good idea, just in case. I dabbed on a little more lipstick, brushed on a little blush and powder then wiped at the smear of mascara under one eye. Not bad, I thought, for a woman working a double tonight.
I noticed the brown beat-up Dodge Ram parked near the entrance to the restaurant. The lot had a few cars, but this one still held the driver. I passed by the truck, glancing at the man in the driver's seat. His window was open and he was smoking a cigarette. His hair looked dirty and stuck to his head in greasy clumps. I wondered if he lived in that truck; bags from fast food restaurants, old cups, wadded up paper and a baseball cap littered the dashboard. He whistled at me as I walked past, sending a shiver up my spine.
The restaurant was located off a busy highway. We usually got an odd mix of strangers in addition to our few regulars. I glanced over my shoulder at this stranger one more time when I pushed through the double glass doors. He lifted his fingers in some kind of greeting, smiling, his cigarette still clenched between his lips. He made me feel uneasy.
I kept busy for the next hour, working on schedules in the office and helping out in the kitchen. A few times I brought the orders from the kitchen and helped the waitress with the big parties.
After delivering a round of drinks, I turned the corner into the non-smoking section. There was Karen, her husband and Parker Lewiston. Parker was one of my old high school gang. I hadn't laid eyes on him since that weekend nearly eight years ago. It was fate again, I told myself.
"Torie! There you are. Got a minute?" Karen called out to me. I must have been white as a sheet at that moment because she stood and rushed over to me.
"Are you okay?" Karen asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No. No. I'm okay, really. Just a little surprised, that's all. I haven't seen Parker since high school." I replied, trying to breath some life back into my complexion.
"You know Parker already? Y'all went to school together? Well this will be just great then." Karen guided me over to their table.
Parker Lewiston looked every bit as intimidating as I remembered. No. More intimidating. He was half- Cherokee and half-Irish with a sexy little smirk that made my knees a little weak. He had the eyes of a man that always had something sinister on his mind, as though he was undressing you and imagining all sorts of things with just that little twinkle behind his expression. His blue eyes stood out against his tanned skin, and his black hair was shorter than I remembered. He was handsome as all get out.
Parker looked up at me and grinned. He stood up, all six feet something of him and gave me a hug. It felt okay. I wasn't going to push him away or anything. It just felt okay. "Torie, long time no see. How've you been?" Parker smiled down at me. All at once I noticed a tiredness to him. I thought about why he was in town. He was visiting someone in the hospital, a friend who had been in an accident. I hugged him back.
"Parker. Wow. Of all the people to run into... " I didn't know what to say. "Busy. Um, I've been busy with work and all. I guess Karen told you that I work with her at the clinic."
Parker slid back down into the booth, patting a chair at the end of the table. "Got a minute to chat? It's been so long."
"Yeah, I'm due a break here in a minute. Let me just go check on something and I'll be right back, okay?" I turned and hurried to the kitchen before anyone could stop me. My heart was pounding in my chest, my shirt was sticking to me. I felt like I was going to faint. I fanned my damp skin with a laminated menu and smoothed down the wrinkles in my beige skirt. I tugged at my hose, making sure no bags were evident. My blouse was still decent. No stains yet. My hair, I was sure, needed to be combed. I fluffed my black bob with my fingers, hoping that would be enough. I turned to look behind me at the floor, checking that I wasn't dragging something behind me on the floor, like a trail of toilet paper.
Five minutes later I sat down at their table, all smiles and pounding chest.
"Parker lives not too far from here, Torie. He owns his own construction company," Karen beamed, patting her brother-in-law's arm.
"Small construction company. Not a big deal, really." Parker interjected.
I nodded and smiled. "Construction? That's nice." I could have crawled under the table and died. Nice? Conversation was not on my mind at the time. I was trying to find a resemblance between Parker and Scotty. It was possible they had the same eyes. Parker's eyes shone a deep blue, almost sapphire, with a slight exotic slant. Scotty's eyes were lighter and were big and round. The hair had possibilities, though. This was ridiculous, I thought in the very back of my mind.
Suddenly a disturbance drew my attention away from the table. A man, disheveled and obviously drunk, was manhandling one of the waitresses. I recognized the grimy man from the parking lot. My heart pounded in my chest.
"Excuse me" I said, slowly standing, not sure how to handle the situation unfolding. Darla, the waitress, screamed which drew the attention of all the customers. The man was saying something to her, something I couldn't make out, but Darla was clearly terrified.
Darla stared at me, unable to speak. I cautiously approached the man. He had Darla by the arm, twisting it slightly behind her back. He was shaking, maybe strung out. Darla's eyes begged me to help her. I startled him and stared in complete bewilderment at the gun clutched in his hands, digging into the back of Darla's uniform. What happened next was a blur, but a very slow and painful blur.
"Torie, get back!" Someone yelled. It was too late. I felt the blast more than I heard it. Fire tore through my body. I was stunned and fell to the floor, clutching my arms to my body.
"Please no!" I think I cried before hitting the tile. That was the last thing I remembered before the searing pain spread through me.
I drifted in and out of a cloud of pain, vaguely aware of others around me. I recognized the stained ceiling of the restaurant and knew, with more than a little relief, that I had not been killed. At least I hoped heaven didn't have tobacco-stained ceilings. Karen was at my side, saying something in a soothing voice. Parker held my head in his lap. "The ambulance just pulled up, Torie. Don't you worry. The bullet looks like it missed anything vital but you have lost quite a bit of blood. No, don't look. Trust me on this one."
Parker's hand was on my forehead. "She hit her head pretty hard when she fell."
"Scotty? Where's Scotty?"
"He's at your mother's house. He's fine. He wasn't here." Karen answered back.
"She's in shock, hand me a tablecloth."
"Tell my mother--no, don't tell my mother. Scotty shouldn't know about this, he'll have nightmares. Karen?" I called out to the spinning room.
"I'm right here."
"What will I do about Scotty?" I cried out.
"Who's Scotty?" Parker asked.
"Honey, don't worry about a thing. You're not going to die. You'll see Scotty again. Just hold on a second."
Karen stepped back, allowing the paramedics to push through the growing crowd. I heard Karen mention that Scotty was my little boy. Was? I closed my eyes, waiting for the pain to go away. This couldn't be happening.
I turned my head as the paramedics loaded the gurney into the ambulance. The pain was intense. I tried to smile at Karen who was being held by her husband and his brother, Parker, but I don't think I succeeded. Before closing my eyes I noticed a flash of gold with a burgundy stone on the floor of the ambulance, tucked back in the corner underneath a fire extinguisher. It was a high school ring partially caked with dried blood. Must be from one of those kids last night...
I woke up in the emergency room, groggy but not feeling much pain. Parker was on one side of me, Karen and her husband on the other. My arm was heavily bandaged. I looked up at Parker and waited. Waited for what, I don't know, just waited. I wanted to speak but didn't trust myself to make any sense. Their images continued to swim in front of me.
"She's awake," Parker said, feeling my forehead. There was another bandage on my temple.
"Let me get the nurse," Karen said, leaving the room followed by her husband.
"Parker, tell me what happened?" I managed to get out from between my cracked and dry lips.
"You were shot, Torie, in the arm. The bullet went clear through but it may take a long time to heal." Parker stroked my forehead.
"I'm not dead."
"No. Not dead."
"The asshole was trying to run out the back when a deputy nailed him. He's dead."
I closed my eyes. "Parker, where's my son?"
"Scotty? He's still with your mother. Karen told her everything and your mom is keeping Scotty for the night. I think you'll be spending a few nights here anyway."
"Does he know?" I sobbed.
"She told him you got hurt at the restaurant, that's all. If you want to tell him, that's up to you," Parker said.
I blinked back more tears. "I have to tell him. I have to tell all of you." I felt like closing my eyes again, just to rest for a moment. I looked up and caught the frown on his face before drifting away again.
I woke up later in a different room. Parker stood against the window, his body casting a shadow over my bed. I watched as he combed his hand through his short hair making it spike up in odd places. Cowlicks, I thought. Like Scotty. He leaned against the wall and rubbed at his eyes. He looked tired and worn down. It was time to open the box I sealed away so long ago.
"Parker?" I tentatively called out, almost hoping he didn't hear me. He straightened slowly, pushing his fingers into his pockets. He pushed away from the wall with his shoulder and came towards me.
Scotty almost lost his mother, I thought. Where would that leave him? An orphan or cared for by another woman who wasn't going to be around for much longer? Scotty deserved the whole package. He was a good kid. I was the one being selfish. Long ago I faced up to part of the responsibility. Now it was time to accept the rest.
"What is it, Torie? Can I get you something?"
"We need to talk. It's important."
"Sure." Parker approached my hospital bed, pulling a chair up to my side. "Go ahead."
"This isn't going to be easy to accept. It's going to be just as hard for me to say it, but it needs to be said. And resolved." I took a deep breath, waiting for him to say something. He just looked at me. I wish there was some way I could have read a little of what he was thinking in his deep blue eyes. It was impossible. He was stoic and strong. This was going to be damned hard.
"Remember the weekend after graduation, the weekend we spent at Lance's lake house? We all went skinny- dipping, Blake brought out the weed and we did body shots? Can you remember?" I stopped. His expression shifted somewhat. He combed a hand through his hair again.
"Yes, I remember. I remember some of it, not all of it. We all got so wasted that weekend. There was a lot going on."
"Parker, it was an orgy. A gang-bang. None of us cared what we were doing, or the repercussions of our actions. None of us." I pushed myself up a little higher to a seated position. I held my breath as pain shot up my arm.
He nodded. "Yeah, it was damned reckless. We were kids, Torie. Why are you bringing all this up now?" The look on his face told me he had figured out the answer before I needed to tell him.
"Scotty needs a father and it's one of you three." I waited.
"Oh shit." He ran his hands over his eyes down to the stubble on his face.
"We might've been kids at heart but our bodies were mature enough... enough to create an innocent child."
Parker leaned over, elbows on his knees, and stared at the floor. "Scotty." It wasn't a question more of a statement. He knew.
"What would Scotty do without me, his mother, if he didn't know his father? I'm the only one who could shed light on this mystery. My mother never knew who the father could have been because I lied to her. I was scared, Parker. I didn't want her tracking everyone down at the time. All that doesn't matter anymore because I came within inches of losing my life and taking the only parent that Scotty has ever known away from him. It's not fair to my little boy."
Parker looked up, a heart-wrenching look on his face. "Torie, I hear you but I don't know what you want."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Take a test, a paternity test, and help me get in touch with Blake and Lance. After that, well, we'll just take it from there." He stared at me for a moment. I thought he was going to get up and walk out, as ridiculous as that may sound. True he wasn't the kid I grew up with anymore but I refused to believe he had grown cold-hearted through the years.
"Something else." Parker took my hand, rubbing it between his. "You don't know about Blake, do you?"
"No. What about him?" Thoughts of AIDS and the horrible possibilities that disease could bring to me and Scotty, if --
"It doesn't look good. He's in a coma. He sustained massive head injuries last night. It doesn't look good at all." Parker shook his head. "He was always too reckless. Got in a motorcycle accident last night on 280 coming home from a bar, just him and a tanker truck full of drilling mud, wasn't wearing a helmet -- " Parker squeezed my hand. "He'll never come out of it."
Tears were dripping down my face and I know I let out a sob. This was so hard to hear. That's not how I remembered Blake. He was always joking around, eager to move on to the newest fad, newest style. He was fun. "How could that have happened to Blake?" It wasn't any comfort, but it was all I could think to say.
"C'mon, Torie. There wasn't anything any one of us could have done to stop Blake from doing what he had his mind set on. You just can't blame anyone but Blake." Parker paused. "He's in this hospital if you feel like seeing him later. I-- ", his voice wavered slightly before he cleared his throat, "--I don't think you'll have another opportunity."
I squeezed Parker's hand. He leaned over and lay his forehead against our clasped hands. All this time he and Blake had remained best friends. I had managed, not entirely purposely, to separate myself from these men. My grief was overwhelming. "I'm so sorry, Parker. I wish I could do something for him. I truly do." What I needed to say next could push Parker away for now, but I had to say it. "Do you think his parents would consent to a test? Maybe we could just talk to his doctor... I don't know."
Parker looked up at me, his lips set in a thin line. His eyes hardened for a moment then softened. "It might be what his family needs right now, the thought that Blake could have a son might give them something to focus on, get them over letting Blake go. He's brain dead, you know. They haven't accepted it yet. Mr. Taylor keeps hoping that some kind of miracle would happen, that all of a sudden Blake will wake up. I'll talk to Mrs. Taylor tonight. I'll see. Maybe I'll bring her by to meet you."
I nodded. "Do that, Parker. Please?"
He nodded, patting my hand.
"As for Lance, he married Christy Cunningham. They live not far from here with their two little girls." Parker's mouth tightened. I got the feeling that Parker and Lance hadn't remained friends, and if I knew his wife, I knew why.
"The rich girl? Christy of the uptown Cunninghams?" I asked, trying to take the edge out of my voice. Christy and I went way back, back to the days of junior high when she teased me, making my life miserable.
"Yeah. That's the one," Parker nodded. "Lance isn't like he used to be. Truthfully, I don't think Christy knows a hell of a lot about how Lance used to be. Lance was always smooth. I'm sure he managed to leave a few things out when it came time to getting to know each other."
I closed my eyes. This wasn't going to be easy, I knew that from the beginning, but I realized now how much more difficult it was going to be dealing with Lance and Christy. I needed a lawyer.
"Look, Tor, I'll do all that I can when it comes to Lance and Blake. I'm good friends with Blake's family. I'll arrange for you and Lance to meet somehow, maybe over at my place one weekend, without Christy."
"What about you? You don't mind taking a test, do you Parker?"
My heart sank. I could tell he was struggling with something, and I dreaded hearing what he was about to tell me. "What is it, Parker?"
Parker leaned back, releasing my hand. He rubbed his hands over his face a few times, frowning. "Torie, I'm sterile. That's pretty much the whole reason I'm divorced now. Sherri and I could never have children. The tests she went through showed there was nothing wrong on her end. It was all me. We divorced two years ago. She remarried not long after and now has a child. It was all me - I can't father a child." Parker met my gaze.
I shook my head slowly. "Oh Parker, I'm sorry. I'm just so sorry." Truthfully, I didn't know who I felt more sorry for; me, Scotty or Parker. Out of all three choices, Parker would have been the first pick. Lance would be difficult to deal with because of his wife, and Blake couldn't offer much to me at all. At least with Blake, though, he had a good family. That was something.
I've gotten used to the idea over the years. It's not what I want but I can live with it." He stroked my cheek with his fingers. "I'll help you. Besides, I'd like to meet that boy of yours." He paused, a warm smile broke through his controlled expression. "My sister stabled her horse at my house for a while and he definitely needs a little boy to ride him."
"Oh shit, a horse?" I laughed through my tears.
"Not really a horse, more of a small pony. Something I sure as hell ain't gonna ride," he chuckled.
I returned his laugh. "Yeah, Parker. Maybe that would be fun for Scotty. He loves animals."
Parker left me about a half an hour later. Visiting hours were over. I was glad. I needed time to think. The day's events dazed me. I was still trying to muddle through my emotions. In time my arm would heal but I was anxious about my next step. I hoped I didn't cause more harm than good. It had to be done.
I lay awake, staring at the light fixture, not really seeing it, just thinking back eight years ago. Maybe if I poured all the contents of that box I had filed away in the dark corners of my mind so long ago something would crawl out and reveal the truth to me. The box was not only crowded with too many events but also veiled and cocooned with hazy threads of alcohol and drugs. So much so, that I couldn't delineate between real and imaginary. Did Lance yank on my hair so hard once, enough to make me cry out in pain, while he was with me? Did I imagine the evil glint in his eyes when I turned to question him? Did Blake mumble something about love and seeing more of me? All of it was so confused, glossed over with gray. The only thing I was certain about, that remained prevalent in my mind, was that I whored around that weekend along with the other five occupants of that lake house. I had no one to blame but myself.
My mother couldn't have stopped me from going to the lake that weekend. Looking back, I don't think she wanted to take away that little bit of celebrating. High school graduation had just passed and most of my fellow graduates were headed out of town for vacation. Some of the wealthier kids left for cruises or trips to Hawaii. I knew a few who were spending their summer backpacking across Europe. I got the feeling Mom felt guilty for not being able to afford to send me away on a nice graduation trip. I understood, though. I always understood our financial situation.
I did envy those kids who left our town that weekend to dare the bigger world. Maybe that's what compelled me to act so reckless. As for me and my other financially challenged friends, we struck out for a weekend at the lake. Blake's grandfather had loaned us his lake cabin for the weekend, a graduation gift for his only grandson.
"What the fuck?" I exclaimed when Jan pushed me off the creaking recliner. The rank plaid on the chair could make anyone dizzy. Jan swayed over me, giggling and drunk. I pulled myself up from the floor, using the duct-taped arm of the stuffed chair for grip.
"It's your turn, Torie. Are you in or are you out?" Jan swivelled her hips. She was wearing a bikini bottom and a t-shirt. I looked up at her in a haze, still sucking on a joint. The guys were sitting around the kitchen table with Tracy playing a game of cards - strip blackjack since me and Tracy didn't know how to play strip poker.
"I'm in." I stood up and wandered over to the table, smiling sweetly at Blake. "Blake, honey, what the hell is in this weed? I swear, I'm not seeing straight right now." We all started laughing. I passed the joint to Lance.