The time eventually came to tell my roommate. But after months of reciting and replaying the script in my head I still didn't know how. I wanted to know how he'd take it, if finding out that Id lied to him for the last 11 months would crimp our friendship.
Chrysteen and I went out to dinner the night before and she asked if I had told him yet. I said no and she wanted to know why. It was easier to just leave things the way they were, I thought. Leave him out of it. Ill be off the lease in a few months and move somewhere else. He doesnt have to know, he doesnt need to know. Well, you told me, she said. Yeah, but that's different. Our food came and I changed the subject to her son.
We talked about how much she despised his father for not taking care of him more. For not spending time with him. She wasn't hostile about it, she just wanted the kid to know who his daddy was without pointing to other people and asking.
That night we were up late talking. She asked and I responded, truthfully for the first time about so much of the things that Id been hiding because I didn't need to hide them anymore. I didnt need to sidestep the story and make up people and places to cover my tracks or reuse lies I'd told others. It felt good. I had a clean slate without having to protect it.
But now she wanted me to go from an eraser to a firehose, washing down months of scribbling and mind maps of deciet so elaborately strung and woven together between people and places and times, to demolish all I had created for the phantom risk that she didn't run from like the rest. And I agreed.
My roommate had already gotten up and went out for a cup of coffee. I threw on a robe and went into the kitchen to get something started for breakfast before she had to leave and go get her son from his father.
We had eggs and Kool-Aid and mustard in the fridge. The pantry wasn't much better, but we did have pancakes. They were my roommates so I decided to start some coffee and wait for him to come back. I stood smelling the coffee brew and turned to see her standing up against the fridge with one of my long shirts barely covering her. She said hi and I said hi back and asked if she wanted some coffee and she said yeah so I poured some before the pot was full in a clean cup that was not mine. She took it in both hands and sipped like a chipmunk and leaned on me for a hug. I could feel the cup at my breastbone. It was warm and made my feet feel good, my fingers and elbows, my cheeks. I looked down at her for a kiss but she said no, morning breath and I said I don't care and she said I do.
I heard my roommate pull up and said she should probably put some pants on before he gets inside. She shrugged and smiled as she walked around the corner to my room and got dressed.
He came in through the sliding glass door with a Starbucks coffee in one hand and a toolbox in the other. We exchanged heys and he took the toolbox to his room. When he came back he asked what I was cooking and why so I told him about the girl. Geez youre still with her, he asked, that's got to be a new record. Just about, I say, I was thinking of making some pancakes, do you mind. No, but we could just go out to breakfast instead. I shook my head. I don't have enough money to pay for me and her and it would feel awkward to have her pay. I guess, he shrugged, then looked in the fridge. Damn, when are you going to stop eating all our food, he says.
She came around the corner in the clothes she wore last night and hair still tossled from the morning. Well good morning, sunshine, he said. Hello, she said. Looks like the master chef here is going to fix us some breakfast, right Mr. B? Yeah, where's my apron and goofy hat I ask. You actually have one of those, she asks. No, hes lying to you, Ryan says. I look at the box and say I just hope these damn things come out edible. Or at least recognizeable. She laughs and he comes over to check the directions on the box. He takes the pan I'd chosen and sets it aside on another burner, then pulls another one from below.
I looked at her and smiled. She was smelling her shirt, and when she saw me looking at her she put it down and made a nasty face. I smell like sex, she mouthed to me. I put my hand to my ear and tilted my head toward her. I smell like sex, she whispered, impossibly faint. What, Ryan asked. Nothing. Oh. Hand me that spatula there.
I handed it to him with purpose, with force. He reached for it but it was stuck in my hand on purpose. Then he yanked it out and started swatting at me. At least two or three good whacks. Ah you bastard I shouted, and he went back to the pan to start scraping the pancakes up.
I opened the fridge and saw he had made some orange juice from a can before he left that morning. I asked her if she wanted some and she said sure. He said yeah, I'll have some to, there, master chef. I took her juice over to the nearby table where she reeled me in with an index finger. She whispered that she smelled like sex in my ear and I said I know and handed her the juice smiling. She sipped it and whispered if I'd told him yet and I shook my head. She pursed her lips and motioned me to him with her eyebrows. I turned around and set my glass on the counter.
So, Ryan, I said and he said what do you want go away. I said yeah, I need to tell you something. I know you want to come out of the closet, but now's not the time, we have company, he says and motions to the girl at the table with the spatula over his shoulder without turning from the stove. It can wait until after breakfast.
I turned to her and shrugged. He got a plate down and filled it and handed it to me and said here, take this to your woman. I said yessuh and stopped by the Lazy Susan cupboard to get the maple syrup and held it on a finger while I grabbed the butter from the countertop and carried the whole jangling mess to where she sat alone.
She smiled at me and put her hand on my thigh as I stood there with her plate. I set it down in front of her but she didn't look away from me. I pointed at her plate and said I made you some breakfast. She giggled and said oh questioningly and Ryan said that's right, I get no respect around here. I said well, Ryan made it but I brought it to you. She said well thank you anyway, and thank you, Ryan. Yeah yeah, you're welcome.
He turned around with another full plate and set it down in front of me saying eat up, you bastard. I said thanks Ryan. After he finished making his he came to sit with us. He wolfed his down and I was still working on the last bit of mine. She had already stopped eating and still had nearly a whole pancake left drowning in what syrup it couldn't sponge up. She said she was so full and that it was really good. He said yep, so much for Betty Crocker with his mouth full and forced another forkfull in.
He asked what we were doing for the day and Chrysteen said she had to go pick up her son in a little bit, but we were going to take a shower first. He said oh, yeah, got to keep track of the little urchin. He asked why didn't you bring him over and she said because she wanted him to be able to spend some time with his father. He said yep that's why I'm not having kids. I couldn't stand not being able to go out and do whatever the fuck I feel like because I have to babysit. Nuh-uh, not for me. I said yeah and she looked at me, waiting for me to tell him.
What if I told you I had a kid I asked. He had his head nearly in his plate shoveling what was left of his pancakes in his mouth and started shaking his head. He said nothing but raised his eyes and put down his fork and cracked his knuckles and kept shaking his head. There's no fucking way he said. It took you three months to even get with another girl. And that was after Lil of all people. No.
I said it's true. He got up and took his plate to the sink, rinsing it off and wiping down the syrup so it didn't congeal to the plate. Don't worry about the dishes, I said, I'll do them. I looked at Chrysteen and shrugged and shook my head. He left the kitchen and went into his room. I followed him to the living room and leaned on the couch while I told him about Brenda in shouts across the hallway. I saw through his door cracked open slightly as he kept shaking his head and I could hear him sifting through things in his bedroom closet when I couldn't see him. I heard a box of ammo thump on the ground with a slight jingle.
He came out of the bedroom with an old Russian sniper rifle that he bought from an arms dealer who sold it to him out of his house. He was holding it up by the barrel and in the other hand carried the olive-green box of ammo. If you have a kid, howcome I've never seen it he asked. I waited until he set the stuff down and said I was afraid the shock would freak you out. With all the stuff I've been through and junk I've seen, nothing shocks me any more.
I guessed it was true because he didn't blow back and overreact like I had imagined him doing on so many bike rides and commercial interruptions when I could have told him without letting it fester and eat away inside me. It was almost too numb of him I thought but he just seemed to accept it, understand and move on.
He said if I had a kid when did I ever see it. I said I'd go over after work or before sometimes. He said if I had a kid I'll have to pay support and he never saw any papers. I said they were mailed to my parents house because that's what's on my driver's license. He said if I had a kid how am I going to be able to pay rent. I said I've been managing fine for the past few months. He said yeah, off of Ramen and rice and Kool-aid. Then he laughed and sighed. He said well, there goes your social life and I said yeah, but I dont know. So, wow, he said. That is a surprise. But it doesn't shock me. Nothing shocks me anymore. He started listing off people that have trusted him with secrets ten times worse than the one I kept from him. Are you upset at all I asked and he said no, my step brother has a kid, remember.
Step brother's daughter was a blonde munchkin with blue eyes and big teeth. Her name is Hope and he watches over her and pays his rent and daycare and manages a car wash making ten bucks an hour without a high school diploma. He only came over a few times but when he did I could tell because all the doors were shut when I got home so she didn't get into our rooms and break stuff.
Just when I thought he'd accepted it he walked quickly up to me and put his face close to mine and said slowly I don't believe you and squinted his eyes. I think you're lying to me. He looked in one eye, then the other. I said it's true. Chrysteen, who had been quiet until this point said it's true, he told me. I've seen her. She's as real as you or me.
He said oh, look, you've even got your new girlfriend in on it, huh. He walked away shaking his head. I said it's true and followed him to his room. He asked where the birth certificate was. You're telling me the truth, show me the birth certificate. I said I didn't have it and he threw his hands up in the air. I said but I've got court documents to prove it. He turned and looked at me. Serious he asked. I said yeah, hold on, I'll get them.
I went into my room to dig them out from an obvious hiding place on the upper shelf of my closet. Chrysteen followed me into the room and sat in a nearby chair. She put her hand on my belly and I touched grabbed it with my free hand. In the other hand I held a manilla envelope and handed it over to him, now standing at my bedroom door. He snatched it from my hand and watched me smiling, his eyebrows raised, and walked to my bed to sit and read. I stood where I was and put my hands at my hips, waiting, and looked over at Chrysteen. She beckoned me closer with open hands and I sat on her lap. Just like the first night we met, I whispered through her red hair and she smiled and looked up at me and held my cheek for a kiss.
Ryan read through each page carefully. Some paragraphs I saw him read and re-read as if to make sure that it wasn't some elaborate hoax. Two or three pages into it his smile faded. He would shake his head a little bit every time he turned to the next page and went back to the somber reader he was at the last sentence on the page before.
Jesus, he said, almost splitting the word into two. Well, it looks like you've got a kid, the old pimp-daddy with a kid. He laughed and I smiled. Even Chrysteen chuckled. He turned back to the first page and started to read again, this time faster and skimming passages or pages all together.
So this chick, he says, where does she live again. Over in Post Falls. Damn. So, what are you going to do he asked. Whatever I have to. She's my kid. Are you sure, he said, I mean, are you absolutely positive. I said yeah, there's more if you want to see it and he said sure. I pulled out a folder near where he sat and he read through the paternity test results in the same careful manner.
He shook his head when he was done and exhaled. God damn, he said. So, have you even seen this girl or what he asked. I said yeah. I've been going over to see her for the past few weeks. He said yeah, right. You hardly have time to spend with me when you get off work. I leave you messages all the time. Youre always working.
Chrysteen jumped in and told him about how I'd been leaving for work hours early and coming home hours later. As she spoke he started to concede. He looked over the documents again, not really looking, and his face lost nearly all expression as if he were instead watching TV.
He turns and tosses the papers on my pillow and stands to leave. Well, he said, just make sure you pay your rent. I've been paying for the last three months, I said. Ryan said well and walked out.
I looked down at Chrysteen and she said that went better than she thought. I said yeah, it wasn't so bad. She rubbed my thigh and I bit her neck. She said aah and pushed me on to the floor. I stood up and pulled her off by her ankle as she laughed. We struggled for a minute and she laughed at her own weakness and said it's not fair while I held her wrists to the ground. She wrapped her legs around me and twisted but I didn't move much. She laughed again and my phone rang.
I picked up the phone but didn't answer. Chrysteen was panting and red-faced and I handed it to her. She recognized the number and grumbled something. She let it ring again until she caught her breath and answered hi, mom.
She made a yapping motion with her hand opening and closing like a puppet and I took the dishes we'd left on my bedside table to the kitchen. Ryan was standing there washing the dishes and I asked if he was cool and he said yeah. I said I'd be able to cover all my bills and he said whatever and I put my dishes on the counter next to him.
Chrysteen came around the hallway corner into the kitchen and said she had to leave. Ryan said what, already and she said yeah, I have to go get my son because my mom and I have plans today. He said that's right, I forgot you had a kid. God, we're going to have everybody's 50 kids running around here, he says and she laughs.
He walks to his bedroom and she turns to me. What are you going to do today, she asks. I was thinking of going over to my parents house. Are you going to tell your Dad she asks and I say yeah, that's the plan. She leaves with a kiss blown across the living room and I grab my keys to leave.
At home mom was at work and dad was cooking something. I could smell it before I walked in. Bacon. He had eggs and potatoes, too and he turned his head away from the stove to see who was coming in. Hey, bud, he says and I say hey. Im cooking some breakfast, do you want some he asks. Sure, I say, and lift myself to the kitchen counter opposite the stove.
What'cha been up to he asks. Just working I say. You work too much, he says. You've got your whole life ahead of you to work. You dont need to pack it all in right now, he says. I say yeah, I know and listen to bacon strips simmer on the skillet. One of them pops and Dad looks at it an pokes it with a fork. I think it's dead, dad. He says you can't be too sure and shakes the fork at me smiling. He points to a plate covered by a paper towel with grease stains seeping through. Theres some done right there if you want a piece. I say sure and hop down to get one. I hand one to him and hop back up on the counter and watch my feet dangle as I chew the fat on one side of the strip. I think about the reactions I could get, like a plate of chewy bacon being flung across the kitchen until a wall finally stops it to a shatter or at least a spattering of bacon grease on the wall dribbling down to the floor.
Hey Dad, I say, tearing the bacon from my mouth, there's something I need to tell you. The words hung in the air as he stopped stirring the potatoes and watched the spatula he held just above the pan, listening. I'd taken the first step, pushed down with both feet on a diving board. He says yeah, waiting for me to continue. Dad, I have a daughter. He turns to me straight-faced and lets the spatula drop slowly to his side while the other hand scratches the back of his neck. It happened while I was with Brenda. I didn't find out until recently after I had some tests done to prove it was mine. What are you going to do, he says. Take responsibility for her. That's all I can do. I'll finish up school. Keep working. Are you able to see her he asks and I say yeah. When I can. He says well, just make sure she doesn't run you under a bus. Are you okay he asks. I nod and finish my bacon. He hasn't shouted or demeaned me. He hasn't made me feel guilty or wrong. Confused, I ask if he's okay with it. He shrugs and says well, it's not the normal way to do things, but you've got to go from here, or, you know what I'm getting at. I say yeah automatically but don't really understand what he's saying. I exhale and change the subject, telling him I'm thinking of finding a new job. We make small talk until breakfast is ready and we sit together to watch Tiger Woods on TV and I wonder what it's like to have a Nike contract.
Mom walked in with a few plastic bags of food cutting into her thinning forearms. She has begun to loose weight and the dark bags under her eyes aren't going away. But she still smiles when she sees me on the couch and sets the grocery bags on the kitchen table. I stand to help unpack and she whispers to me if I've told Dad. I tell her yes and she hugs me.
I've been talking Brenda into letting us take her during the day and she says she wants to come over here first with Nadalee just to make sure she'll be okay, I tell her. Her eyes light up and the darkness below seems to fade somewhat. She smiles and asks when. Here in the next few days, I suppose. She says well, I have to work the next three days. How about Thursday afternoon. That way I can have some time to sleep before she comes over. I remember how unbelievable it was to me when I was working overnight. The first night after the night shifts ended I forgot what it was to wake up to the sunlight. I say sure and pat her on the back, audibly against her winter coat, for her to release me.
We unpack the groceries together and I ask why she bought so much junkfood. She says it gets eaten so she doesn't care. When we're done she goes into her bedroom and shuts the door behind her. I go to sit by dad and he asks what I'm up to and I said nothing, maybe I'll go shooting with Ryan later. I ask if he wants to try and go fishing this summer and it feels like nothing has changed between us other than the weight of the secret being gone and nearly forgotten. He says sure and gets out his fly-tying gear to show me a few new ones he put together over the last few days. I inspect them and they look just like the pictures in the book and wonder how he does it. We watch TV together and he ties flies while I think about how to tell the rest of the family. The time will come and sooner is better than later. But not today. Today I'm tying flies with Dad.
I warned Brenda as Thursday approached. She said it would be fine to bring Nadalee over. I picked her up and put the car seat in my car, again flashing back to when we were together before doing the same thing under different circumstances. We loaded her up with bags and toys and all the things I wouldn't have in my car if I had a choice. Except for the girl. She smiles at my kiss when my whiskers brush her face and she pulls at my ball cap. We ride over and Brenda finds a radio station, tapping an old irritation of mine with each button pushed on my stereo. But I let it fly for the five-minute drive and she asked if my mom would be weird. I asked Brenda if she would be weird and she said no. Well then, I guess not.
When we arrive I unbuckle the girl from the car seat and mount her on my hip while bending over to get a bag from inside the car. We walk up the stairs to the apartment and I'm stuck between pride and fear with each step I climb. Brenda walks behind me and when we walk inside Mom is finishing up dishes. She turns the faucet off and smiles with her mouth open, keeping her eyes on us while turning to the refrigerator to dry her hands. Come in, come in, she says. Make yourself at home. Can I get you anything she asks and Brenda says no, thanks, and giggles slightly.
Mom comes around the corner and opens her hands to the baby. I hand her over and she is reluctant at first like she was with me. She held on to my jacket and began to whimper. Mom recoiled, clasping her hands at her chest as if in prayer and says that's okay. She reaches over and brushes some of the hair from the baby's face and says she's taken to you. I say yeah and look down at the bundle clinging to my shoulder.
Mom tells us to come in and sit down and we follow her to the living room. She and Brenda make small talk about the hospital and birth and quirks about pregnancy that I realize I missed all together. I didn't get to feel anything move in the middle of the night or go make a bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal and don't come back without it. I didn't get to hold hands with her at the delivery. I wasn't even informed. I found out through work two days later from someone who heard from Mary. They talk like old friends and watch me play with Nadalee. I try to feed her and she refuses everything. They laugh and Brenda says shes real picky about what food she eats. Mom says I was at that age, too.
We stay for about an hour until Brenda says she has to go take Nadalee in for an appointment. I look at her and she says she forgot about it until just before I picked her up. Mom says well be sure to come back with the little one soon. As we leave Mom leans in for a kiss and Nadalee turns her head away. Brenda laughs off embarrassment and Mom says it's okay and kisses her on the head.
When I get back from dropping her off, Mom stands in the kitchen drinking some water to help her swallow some pills. She's wearing pajamas and says she's going to bed as she puts an Aspirin bottle back into the cupboard it came from. It rattles slightly. She thanks me for bringing over Nadalee and the name sounds funny coming from her mouth. It's been so hard, she says. She gets choked up trying to tell me that her Dad's birthday is next week. I walk over to put a hand on her shoulder and she starts to cry. She says thank you and I ask for what. For bringing us some good news. She laughs away the last of her tears and wipes her already darkened eyes, then rubs them. I really mean it, she says and I say yeah, I know. I never thought of the girl as a gift and all the legal smokescreen showed me was a duty, a liability, a monthly payment. But for the first time I saw Mom overcome this sadness she carried for a year. And I watch as she walks away to rest running aged fingers through her hair.