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Chapter Four

Nick’s biggest problem is his inability to keep his trap shut. Yet another reason to add to my check list of reasons why I didn’t ever tell Nick personal stuff. We spent the rest of the recording session with all four of us at odds…

“Howie,” Nick had snapped at our Latino counterpart a half an hour after our smoke break, “Dude, you gotta lay offa me.” Howie had been ready to whap Nick up the head for yet another spill. Nick had been officially banned from open drinks in the studio now as Brian used paper towels to sop up the cranberry juice that was staining our sheet music red.

“And why do I have to lay offa you?” Howie asked pointedly, glowering at Nick’s skull like he wanted to break it in half or something, like one of Gallagher’s watermelons.

“Dude, because,” Nick had said nodding at me, “Some of us are dealing with bigger issues than cranberry juice right now and maybe you don’t wanna make some of us have a worse day than he already is.”

Howie and Brian had both looked at me expectantly.

“God damn it Nick, are you incapable of keeping anything to yourself?” I demanded.

“What’s going on?” Howie asked. Brian’s eyes had that good Christianly glaze to them, like he was revving up the inner concordance to start spewing out applicable Bible verses at rapid fire.

“Nothing,” I answered, turning away.

“His father’s dying,” Nick spilled.

“What?” Brian gasped.

“How’s Denise taking it?” Howie asked.

“His actual father,” Nick clarified. He looked at me and realized I was glowering at him in anger. “What?” he asked stupidly, “They got a right to know what’s up your butt, don’t they?” he asked. I sighed. I wanted to box Nick in the ears. I had to restrain myself.

“I thought you stopped talking to him?” Brian asked, concern in his eyes.

I sighed, “I did, but then my mum went and talked to him and she was telling me he wanted to see me and…”

“Wait, wait, so you went and visited him because your mom made you?” Nick asked. I glared at him. He swallowed back the teasing he had been about to bestow upon me and pulled a dollar bill out of his back pocket and pointed in the direction of the vending machines, as though he’d been just about to scurry off anyway.

Brian glanced between Howie and I, then pointed at the retreating blonde giant, “I’ll go – uh – “ he took off after Nick.

“Make sure he doesn’t get any more liquids,” called Howie. He turned back to me. “Aje,” he said quietly, he moved closer so his voice could drop lower than before. He eyed me up and down, “You okay?”

Fathers had been a touchy subject for Howie ever since Hoke had died. Howie easily welled up when he got talking about fathers. We’d had an interesting display several months before when Nick’s grandfather had died somewhat unexpectedly and Nick had been talking about how he felt crappy because he’d wished his grandfather had traded places with his father and Howie’s eyes had gotten all smoky-like and he’d stammered out that we all took our fathers for granted. I knew Howie would not be okay with my smart ass sperm jokes and good riddance salutations. I swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat.

“Dying, huh?” he asked. He leaned against the wall beside me. I nodded. Howie took a deep breath, “And how do you feel?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I answered.

Nothing?” Howie asked.

I looked him in the eyes, “Honestly, it’s closer to relief than worry or burden,” I said quietly. It felt weird admitting that aloud, but the emotion behind it had been dancing around inside me for quite some time. I looked Howie over. “It’s hard,” I said, “Because I want to give a damn but…”

“You’re afraid to,” Howie supported.

“Yeah,” I answered, “I guess. It’s just –“ I paused. I felt my lips twitch. “Every time I’ve let myself get anywhere near this guy,” I said softly, “He leaves.”

Howie nodded slowly.

“He’s dying, Howie,” I whispered. “It’s like I already know he’s gonna leave me. How the fuck can I even start to get close to him. There’s no chance he’s going to stay this time.”

Howie’s frown turned down the corners of his forehead and made his nose flare. “Don’t you want that chance to know him before he’s gone forever though?” He asked.

“It’s not like I’d lose anything,” I said. “I never had him in the first place.”

“But this way, when he’s still out there alive somewhere, you’ve always had the possibility. It’s been available. Now…” Howie shrugged, “I dunno, maybe the idea of it doesn’t bother you, but maybe it should. Once he leaves this time, Aje, there’s no do-overs, there’s no later to try again. If you’re avoiding this because you don’t feel like forgiving him… maybe you should rethink your options.”

“Don’t feel like forgiving him?” I asked, “D, it’s not like it’s a choice I’m making,” I said.

Howie shrugged, “You’re choosing not to forgive him,” he said simply. “And my question is this: fifteen years from now when you and Rochelle are parents and you look back at this moment are you going to wish you’d chosen differently - wish you could turn back time?”

I stared into those big Latin eyes.

“I tried to stop him,” came Brian’s voice suddenly from behind me in the hallway, “But he wouldn’t listen.”

“Dude I am not gonna spill a third time,” Nick said, and I heard the pop-fizz of a Red Bull can opening.

Howie’s eyes widened, “Oh for the love of God.”



“I think you do want to give it a second chance,” Rochelle said pointedly. She was sitting at the dining room table later that night, a plate of spaghetti before her, drinking milk with strawberry syrup mixed in. She lowered her hot-pink glass. “You haven’t shut up about Howie and his opinion since you came home from the studio.”

“I just think it’s an outrageous accusation,” I said defensively, “That I choose not to forgive him? Well he chose not to stick around – how’s that?” I shook my head and stabbed into a garlic-infested meatball with my fork like I was the Trojan horse attacking the city of Troy.

Rochelle shrugged, “You can say it pissed you off all you want, but why did it piss you off?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “Did it maybe hit too close to home?”

“Bullshit,” I grumbled, spinning my fork in the pasta.

Rochelle’s bright red lips moved into an expression that told me she was trying not to be amused by my reactions at this point, the way one might look at a child who was struggling to explain feelings he was having. “How many times have you told me your greatest fear about this baby is messing up and losing his respect and love?” she asked.

I swallowed. That was my biggest fear - that I’d end up somehow with a kid that thought of me the way I thought of my dad, or Nick thought of his. “It doesn’t matter, I’m gonna be a better father than he was…” I said.

“Good intentions,” Rochelle said, lifting her strawberry milk again, “But if he doesn’t give you the chance to be his father, then your good intentions don’t matter for crap do they – until he gives you a chance.”

I stared at her. “So what’re you saying? That karma’s gonna bite me in the ass if I don’t go there and forgive him and let him fucking walk out on me again?” I demanded.

Rochelle shrugged, “I’m just saying that maybe, for the sake of your own future peace of mind AJ, that you should give it one more shot.” She raised the strawberry milk to her mouth and took a long, satisfied sip, staring straight into my eyes as she did.



Kills 99.99% of Germs. I rubbed my hands together as I stepped into the room, my heart slamming in my chest so loudly I was certain he could hear it already. “Hey Bo-“ I started, but just as I started greeting him, he snapped, “Can’t a guy get any damn peace around here?!”

I froze at the corner of the curtain.

He looked up at me and our eyes locked and he suckered in his breath, shaky and long. He stared at me for a tedious minute, then he finally croaked out, “You came back.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I thought you were a nurse,” he explained his greeting, “They’ve been in and out constantly, like a fucking rotating door…” he swallowed, “It’s impossible to rest in a hospital.”

“I can go if you…” I started, but again, he interrupted me.

“No,” he said firmly.

I stood awkwardly by the foot of the bed. “I – uh –“

“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to that same plastic chair that hadn’t moved since I’d been there last. I hesitantly went over and lowered myself down into the seat. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and stared up at him. He seemed small in the bed like that, and he was bald. His lips had a crusty, chapped kind of look to them, and his eyes were blood shot, like he’d been crying. He studied me a long moment in silence. “What made you come back?” he asked.

My friends. I thought. Part of me wanted to be spiteful and go with the maybe you sold a #1 selling album and I wanted a cut… sound familiar? answer, but I held my tongue. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to begin. He sat there, waiting expectantly. I ran my palms across my knees and looked up at the IV pole that stood like a centurion beside me. “Anything good?” I joked.

“Morphine,” he said pointing at an electronic medication dispenser with a timer stuck to it. He pointed up at a gross looking opaque bag hanging near the top. “Chemotherapy,” he added.

I stared up at the bag, then looked down at him. “Well, at least the morphine’s a ride, right?”

“It’s okay,” he replied.

“It’s strong,” I said. “They didn’t give me no morphine when I came in for my knee.”

He looked at my legs, “What’s wrong with your knee?” he asked.

The question hung between us. Considering half the known world knows about my knee, I thought, It’s pathetic that my own father has no idea how fucked they are. I shrugged. “Just knee surgery one or two times.” He studied my knees. After a long moment, it felt awkward, so I covered them with my cupped palms. “No big deal,” I minimized.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for that,” he said.

“There’s a hell’ve a lot better to be sorry for missing.”

He stared right into my eyes. “And I’m sorry for that, too, Alex.”
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