Denise Covey is hosting Write...Edit...Publish, a monthly bloghop (details here). October's theme is "haunting" and my humble submission is offered below. My story is 946 words long. Please respond with comments only. Be sure to visit the other participants as well. The link list is at the end of my post.
All Saints’ Day
Damn it! The living room light was still on. Somebody was awake. Probably Mom. After yelling at me for missing curfew, she’d pepper me with questions: Why are you late? Who were you with? Were his parents there? You’re telling me they don’t have a phone? Who drove you home anyway?
Please, Mom, no questions tonight.
I’d walked home from the Halloween party, fighting that hyperventilating hiccup a boy gets when he’s trying not to cry. Yes, I’d stayed later than I should have, hoping to talk to her if only for a few minutes. Why the hell did she want to be with that jerk instead of me? I missed my ride home waiting so long. I had to walk.
I opened the door quietly – not entirely sure why. Judgment and sentencing had likely already been passed. A surprise waited in the armchair facing the door: Dad. My father staying up past 9 o’clock was never a good sign. I bet he’d had that hard, cold paternal stare locked and loaded from the moment he heard my feet come up the path. As soon as the door swung open, he was ready to fire.
But then he saw me and knew the torture I was already imposing upon myself. His face of granite softened to leather, the corners of his mouth dropping. He turned to stare at the rug. I was more lost than ever. Finally rising but still not looking, he pointed to the couch. “Have a seat, son.”
Instead of sitting back down himself, he made for the kitchen. I heard the fridge door, the clink of glass from the cupboard, the pouring of liquid, the fridge again. He returned with a tumbler of milk, setting it down on a coaster beside me. We sat quietly for a while, both of us staring at the rug, I taking the occasional sip. When I was half done, he stood, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.” He went upstairs and I was alone. He didn’t even ask what was wrong.
Thank God, he didn’t ask!
Seven the next morning brought a knock on my door. Dad poked his head around, softly commanding, “Get some clothes on. We’re going for a walk.”
So, was this my punishment? Forced to get out of bed before noon on a Saturday? Or was this just the interrogation? Trudging to the kitchen, Dad was pouring coffee into thermal mugs for both of us. I don’t think he asked if I wanted any, or if I even liked the stuff. Handing me one, he reminded, “It’s chilly. You’ll want a coat.”
The sun was starting to pull itself up over the horizon as we left the house. There certainly was a nip in the air, the cool damp of an autumn morning. We walked in silence, heading towards the school. Decorations were still up. A few jack-o-lanterns had suffered the brutality of teenagers overnight, smashed to pulpy orange bits on the sidewalk. One house had been TP’d, another egged, judging from the smell. Pressed, I could probably name the culprits. No longer cute enough to beg for candy, they resorted to the last privilege of childhood left to them: making a mess for someone else to clean up.
Upon arriving at our expected destination, we sat on a bench facing out across the school’s parking lot. I knew why Dad liked this spot. In a neighborhood dominated by oaks and beeches, a single maple tree stood across from the front door of the school. Every fall, it would blaze a deep, satisfying red against all of the yellows and oranges around it. Dad loved that tree. As we sat quietly, he stared at the fallen leaves pooling on the ground.
I dreaded the questions. Please Dad, don’t make me talk about her. Don’t make me relive my humiliation. Yell at me. Ground me. But please don’t make me talk. I don’t want to cry in front of you.
“You know, it scares the shit out of us when you’re not home on time.”
At this, I finally looked up at him. His gaze was still on the leaves. I saw the circles under his eyes, his unshaved chin. I don’t think he’d even brushed his hair yet. He hadn’t slept any better than I had.
And when did he start going gray around the temples?
When he lifted his gaze to me, it was my turn to stare at the leaves. “Things happen to kids your age, son. We worry.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Next time, give us a call so we’ll at least know you’re safe. Okay?”
“And if something happens and you need a ride, call us. We’ll come get you. There’s no shame in wanting to get home in one piece.”
We both knew that’s not what had happened but I acquiesced with a nod.
Looking at each other was still too hard. We sat, sipping our coffee, shivering from the occasional breeze, light spreading in pink streaks across the sky.
“ I know you had a rough night and I’m sorry. I don’t need to know why.” Then reluctantly, “unless you want to tell me.” We both knew I didn’t. I almost laughed. Now he was embarrassed? “But next time, at least call.”
“Okay, Dad. I’m sorry, too.” I really meant it. I didn’t always do such a great job of living up to that promise in the following years but that morning on the bench across from the maple tree, I definitely meant it.
It really was a spectacular tree.
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