Monday, February 22, 2021

Some Things Never Change Chapter IV

 The next day, I debate whether to get up at all in the morning. I mean, the café is done, why not just stay in bed late today? I turn on my side and tuck my arm under the pillow, hugging it. It’s been way too long since I hugged someone in bed. I picture Tony laying across the bed, taking up almost the entire space, all the blankets wrapped up around him,  and I imagine turning from the edge to hug him. 

“Are you coming to bed?” I ask lowly.

Tony hasn’t come home for two days, not since we found out the money’s gone. I know he’s been sleeping at the hospital, in a chair by Erick’s bed. Now, he’s home, but he hasn’t spoken one word to me. 

“No,” he says curtly and sets himself on the couch. 

Then, for some reason, I imagine myself hugging Erick instead. He lies there quite still, in the same spot, like he always has when I’ve slept next to him.

I hear a knock on the door.

“Julia?” My mother’s voice comes into the room through a crack in the door. “Are you still in bed?”

“I’m up,” I say from under the covers.

I turn the corner at six forty, and I’m faced by the big sign: “Valhalla”. The streetlight hits it directly, making it look like it’s under the spotlight of a Broadway play.  The sun’s barely out, and the morning’s cold. I look down and see Erick hunched in his chair. When he sees me, he presses his palms on his lap to straighten himself up. Tony’s standing next to him, in the black wool coat I gave him. He’s pulled the collar up to protect his neck from the wind.

“Morning, Jules,” he whispers. 

“What are you doing here so early?”

He shrugs. 

“Hi, Erick,” I say. I don’t call him handsome, and I don’t lean in to kiss his cheek.

“Morning,” he says simply.

I take the keys out of my pocket. I’m wearing the cashmere gloves Erick gave me. I rub my hands together and find the softness comforting. I crouch down and open the lock. Then, as usual, I struggle with the metal curtain. 

“Let me,” Tony says. He crouches next to me and lifts the curtain in one swift move. I turn to Erick, but he doesn’t meet my eyes. 

We go inside, and Tony puts the chairs down and carries the two tables that go outside. We don’t play music this time. They’re both so grim. Tony keeps looking at me like I’m about to break down crying, and Erick keeps avoiding my eyes. After a while, I just can’t stand it anymore, so I bring out my phone and select shuffle. “Secret Smile” starts playing. I turn the volume up and start swaying with the music. Erick looks up for the first time. He’s been struggling with a tablecloth for about five minutes. He shoots me an angry look, and I smile at him. 

“Nobody knows it, but you’ve got a secret smile,” Tony hums behind me.

I attempt to ignore him, but he gets really close. His voice tickles my ear. I know he likes this song. He places his hands on my hips and a bolt of electricity shoots through me. Erick looks away again. He’s trying really hard to unfold the fabric. I wiggle out of Tony’s hands and return to the kitchen. I start filling sugar bowls. 

“I’m losing, I’m bluesing, but you can save me from madness,” Tony leans in across the counter singing and takes a sugar bowl from me. I escape his gaze, but he grabs my hand. From the corner of my eye, I see Erick giving up on the tablecloth. He lets it fall and wheels outside. 

He struggles with those damn things every day, but he has never given up before. The song ends. “Lovesong” by The Cure starts playing. I circle the counter and Tony follows me with his eyes.

“Where’s Erick?” He asks when he turns around.

“It’s seven o’clock,” I say stupidly. 

I walk outside, and he follows. Erick has wheeled to their table, which is still bare. 

“Do you want some eggs?” I offer.

Erick shakes his head without looking up. “I’m not hungry.”

Tony stops by after work once more. I see his tall figure approach me, and I fight the voices of the past in my head. He sits on an empty table, inside. I bring him a black coffee and carry on with work. Every now and then, I turn to him and find him staring. I play some current songs, to keep my memories in check. Take that, ex-husband! I select a song by Demi Lovato. One I know he would never sing. Then some LP, Fiona Apple, Ariana Grande. When I ran out of ideas, I let Jessica choose the music. There’s some Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran, and even Justin Bieber. Tony keeps looking at me, his mouth slammed shut.  

He stays in the café until I close and insists on driving me home again. The engine’s running but Tony doesn’t move. He turns the stereo on and Led Zeppelin's “When the levee breaks” comes out of the speakers. He turns the volume up and flashes me a mischievous smile like he knows what I was doing before.

This song brings out all kinds of memories. It was the first Led Zeppelin song I really liked back when Tony was trying to educate my ears, and it is, to this day, my favorite. It was playing the first time I smoked weed, obviously with him. It was the first song we played in our apartment when we moved in together sophomore year in College. I fight the urge to turn the stereo off. 

The song ends just as we pull over in my mother’s driveway. It’s a long song and a short ride from the café.

“Jules,” he grabs my hand when I’m about to step out of the car. “Are you ok?” He asks.

“Uh huh,” I say and open the door.

“Why did dad bring you home again?” Sean asks when I walk into the house.

“Just because,” I say. 

“You’re not getting back together, are you?”

You’d think he'd want that to happen, but actually, he sounds angry. 

“No, Sean. He just gave me a ride.”

“He’s been giving you rides a lot,” he says accusingly.


He huffs and walks away. A minute later, he comes out of his room with his guitar case.

“Where are you going?” I ask him because he’s at the door. 

“Out,” he says and leaves before I can think of a way to stop him. 

I have dinner with my mother and after I do the dishes, I decide to go over to Erick’s again. I hate being at odds with him. Sean’s not back yet, but I don’t call him. Partly because my mom’s been giving me a hard time about letting him skip dinner on a school night, and I just don’t want to give her the satisfaction of doing what she wants me to do, even if I’m itching to do it myself. 

I cross the street and walk the few yards that separate our houses. I ring the doorbell expecting a repetition of the previous night. Mrs. Sanders comes to the door.

“Good evening, Julia. Are you here to pick up Sean?” She asks.

What? Sean’s here?

“Yeah,” I manage to say and she lets me pass.

I cross the house wondering what Sean is doing here. When I get close to Erick’s room, I hear a guitar playing. I know it can’t be Erick so it must be Sean playing. I stop and listen. He’s gotten really good. He’s playing “Stairway to Heaven” and he’s doing so perfectly. I step closer. He’s singing it too. He sounds so much like Tony that for a moment, I think he’s there with them. But no, his voice is younger, softer. That used to be Erick and Tony’s favorite song to play on the guitar. I heard them practice it so many times that I learned the notes myself. There’s something about that song that makes my heart ache.

Flashes of our previous life pass before my eyes. Erick playing the song leaning against Tony’s car. Tony playing the same song. Them playing together at the end of our street, behind the junior high, where there are no houses. That was our spot. We drank, and they played. We sang and talked for hours. Tony practicing in the dorm rooms. Erick coming over and playing it better, so much better than Tony ever did. Me sitting in the room, me cooking while they play. Me doing homework while they practice. Me falling asleep with the sound of their guitars. They played it at our wedding too.

Now, it’s my son’s fingers that scratch the cords. At some point, the song explodes. Sean is singing loudly, confidently, like Tony does. I listen to the entire song with my ear practically pressed to the door. How come I’ve never heard him sing before? Well, not like this. 

“Not bad,” I hear Erick’s voice when the song is over. “Not bad at all.”

“Well, I’ve been practicing,” Sean says. “I’ve even been doing scales as you taught me.” 

So this is not the first time he’s been here. 

“That’s great,” Erick says. 

“You’re a good teacher, uncle Erick.”

“The talent’s all yours. You get that from your father.”

I hear Sean snort even from across the door. 

“Nah,” he says. “You probably passed it down to me at the christening. You know, one of those godfather gift things.”

Erick chuckles. 

“I should get going before grandma has a heart attack,” my son says. He doesn’t mention me.

For once, I react on time and knock on the door before they can find me eavesdropping. 

“Come in,” Erick says, probably thinking it’s his mother again.

“Mom!” Sean gets up when I open the door. 

“Hi,” it’s the only thing I can think to say.

“Jules,” Erick’s nervous tone is almost funny. 

“How did you know I was here?” My son asks.

“I didn’t,” I shoot Erick an accusatory look. He never mentioned he was teaching Sean to play. I don’t expect my teenage son to tell me everything, but Erick? “I came here to see Erick.”

“Oh,” Sean says and smiles widely. What the hell? “I’ll leave you to it then. See you, uncle Erick.”

He picks up his guitar with one hand and the case with the other one. It’s actually Erick’s old guitar. He gave it to him as a present a while ago. Sean doesn’t put away the guitar but walks out like that. 

“Wait,” I say. 

“See you at home,” he hurries out. 

I turn to Erick.

“How long have you been teaching him?”

Erick puts his hands on his rims and lifts his body up slightly to adjust his position in the chair.

“For about a year,” he says tensely.

“What?!” I burst out. “How come you never told me about it?”

“I’m sorry, Jules. He asked me not to.”


“I don’t know, but I didn’t want to…” at least he has the graze to sound embarrassed. 

“Sean,” I knock on my son’s room later that night. 

He opens the door to me in his pajamas. 

“Why are you back so soon?” He asks.

I stare at him dumbfounded. 

“I thought we could talk,” I let myself in and sit on his bed. He gives me this look as if I’ve just sent him to do chores. “Why didn’t you want me to know Erick was teaching you to play?”

He shrugs.

“I don’t mind it. I just don’t understand why you would keep that from me.”

He shrugs again. Teenagers. 

“Does your dad know?” 


Suddenly, it occurs to me that it’s not me but Tony he wanted to keep it from.

“Why didn’t you ask him to teach you?”

He huffs. 

“No, seriously, Sean,” I press. “Why didn’t you want your dad to teach you?”

He rolls his eyes at me. I give him a look. Watch it, kid!

“I just don’t, ok?” He says finally.

I’m too tired to deal with him right now, so I let it go.

Friday comes fast. I’ve been cherishing the days at the café because I know they will be my last. I prepare every coffee with dedication, I savor every sandwich I make. I try my best not to think about the future.  Will Mr. Cohen just kick me out? Will he send his lawyer the day the contract is over? What will I do once I’m unemployed? Instead, I focus on the present, something I’m not used to doing. 

Tony’s been around a lot. He shows up earlier than usual in the mornings and also comes by in the afternoons. Every day, he insists on driving me home. Every time, Sean lurks through the window. He doesn’t mention it to me again though. 

Erick and I still haven’t fixed things, which is driving me crazy. So today, I stop him while Tony’s getting the car.

“Erick,” I start. “How about a drink tonight?”

“I can’t tonight,” he averts his eyes. 

I hate that. He’s behaving like a child.

“What? You’ve got a hot date or something?” I say scornfully. I regret it as soon as the words come out. Maybe mocking his lack of social life is not the best way to fix things between us.

He looks up at me then and holds my gaze in silence. He nods almost imperceptibly. 


I guess my strategy to avoid thinking about my current problems included his pending date with Lou. So he’s seeing her tonight. On a Friday. Aren’t they supposed to go out on a Saturday? Everybody knows Saturday is date night. Friday is me and Erick’s night.

“Have fun,” I spit at him, unable to sound sincere. I turn on my heels and head back inside. 

Somehow, knowing that Erick has a date tonight completely trumps my zen attitude. The calm I had managed to summon for the past days vanishes. I can’t keep my mind from running possible future scenarios over and over again. Mr. Cohen’s lawyer showing up a week from now. My mother saying I told you so when she finds out I’m closing the café. Me not having any money for Christmas presents. Getting my things out of the property. As if worrying wasn’t bad enough, that obviously triggers memories of being evicted. Receiving letters from the bank. Packing all my stuff. Selling my furniture because I don’t have anywhere to take it to. 

By noon, I’m cranky as hell. 

“Hey, mom,” Sean stops by for lunch.

“What are you doing here?” I ask him in no motherly tone.

“Can’t a son stop by to see his mother?” he flashes me his father’s sassy smile. 

“How much do you want?” I ask because I know the look, and I also know that while he comes around fairly often, he never shows up on a Friday, not unless he wants something.

He stays quiet for a moment and then decides to admit it. “Twenty?” He tries.

“What for?” I ask.

“School,” he ventures.

“Nice try,” I say and turn back to the coffee machine.

“Oh, come on,” he says. “It’s not that much.”

“Well I don’t have it,” I shoot back. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s actually true. It’s the end of the month and I always run out of money.

A man stands up to pay his bill and hands me a twenty. Sean stares at me. I shake my head at him. 

“Ask your dad,” I say. I hate doing that, but really, he’s doing so much better than me these days.

Sean rolls his eyes at me. 

I’m not in the mood for his teenage attitude. I shoot him a look. He turns around to leave.

“Will you be home for dinner?” I ask before he reaches the door. 

“No,” he answers.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll be at uncle Erick’s,” he lies. 

That does it. 

“I don’t think so,” I snap. “Be home by eight!”

“What?” He glares at me. “Why?”

“You’re not seeing Erick today,” I say exasperated.

“What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want me to see him?”

No, he did not just speak to me like that. What’s wrong with me? I feel an angry lump in my throat.

“I know you’re not meeting Erick tonight. So don’t lie to me!”

“I’m not,” he sounds so sure of himself that I doubt myself. Maybe he’s not lying and he really means to go see Erick.

“He’s going out,” I say, trying to calm myself down. I’m aware I’m only losing my temper because I’m in a bad mood. 

“With dad?” He asks.

“He’s got a date,” I almost choke on the words.

“What?” Sean is frowning. His lips are pressed together in a straight line. “Are you serious?” 

He sounds outraged, so much so, that for a minute, I’m offended. Why is it so hard to believe that Erick can date? He’s handsome and smart and successful. 

“Yes,” I groan.

I’m about to tell him all the reasons why Erick can date, fully aware that this is not a conversation I should be having with him, but Sean turns his back at me and storms out of the café. 

When I get home in the evening, I’m feeling kind of guilty for snapping at Sean. I’m the worst kind of mother for taking my anger out on my son. I want to talk to him and make things right, but it turns out he’s not home yet. I feel anger rising up again. I told him to be home by eight and it’s almost nine. 

I call him, but I get his voice mail. I go into the kitchen and fix myself something to eat. 

“When is Sean coming home?” My mother walks in. 

This is the last thing I need. I call him again. No answer. 

I turn the TV on and start changing channels like I’m Tony. I go through all of them twice before I give in and try calling him again. Voice mail. 

By eleven o’clock, I’m not angry anymore but worried. Even though Sean is in many ways your typical teenager, he always picks up when I call. I’m not that strict a parent, and he usually tells me where he’s going and who he’s with. I know we had a fight earlier, but I don’t think it was that bad. Why is he acting out like this?

I bring out Erick’s number on my cell phone. He’s probably still out with Lou, but I have to check anyway. I press his name on the screen. 

The phone rings five times. I’m about to hang up when he answers.

“Jules?” He sounds drowsy like I just woke him up. God, I hope he’s not in bed with Lou. I picture him spooning with her after sex. Oh god, what’s wrong with me? I shake the image away. 

“Hi, Erick,” I press the phone against my ear. 

“Are you ok, Jules?”

“I…, is Sean with you?” I ask already knowing the answer.

“What? No,” he sounds awake now. “Why do you ask?”

“He was supposed to be home by eight, but he’s not here yet.”

I hear movement through the line.

“What time is it?”

“It’s half-past eleven.” I guess it’s not that late, but why isn’t he answering his phone?

“I’ll be right there,” he says and hangs up. 

I get out of bed and put on some pants. Then I sit in the living room to wait for him. I supposed he was home after all, or he wouldn’t have said he’ll be right here. Even so, by Erick’s standards, that could mean a while. The house may be less than a hundred yards away, but if he was in bed already, it’s going to take him a long time to get here. Erick can’t just hop out of bed, throw in pants and sneakers, and come rushing. Even transferring from the bed to the chair takes him a few minutes. Not to mention getting dressed. He also has to replace the night bag attached to his catheter for the smaller leg bag he wears during the day. I mentally go through all the steps of his morning routine and picture him carrying them out with his clumsy hands. I get up and pour myself a drink, in a coffee mug, in case my mom comes out of her bedroom. I also try calling Sean again with no luck. 

Almost half an hour later, I see Erick roll across the street from the window. I go outside to meet him. 

“Sorry it took me so long,” he says and runs his curled fingers through his disheveled hair. “He’s still not answering?”

I shake my head at him. 

“Can you try calling him?” I say.

“I already did, but I’ll try again,” he says fishing for his phone. 

He takes it inside his palms and sets it on his lap. Then he uses his knuckles to press the screen. I’m tempted to help in order to make the process faster. But I restrain myself. It goes straight to voicemail. 

“Have you called Tony?” He asks.

I shake my head. 

“He’s probably just out with his friends,” I try to convince myself. “We had a fight earlier.”

“What about?”

“He asked for money, I didn’t give it to him,” I leave the rest out.

“Was it a big fight?”

“No, not really. But I told him to be home by eight and he wasn’t happy about it. He’s probably acting out.”

“Have you tried his friends?” He suggests.

I feel stupid for not thinking about that before. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I’m really worried, so I do it. Erick waits patiently from his chair while I dial Sean’s best friend’s number.

“Hi, Zack, it’s Sean’s mother,” I say into the line feeling like my mother. 

“Oh, hi, Mrs. Taylor,” the poor kid says.

“I was just wondering, is Sean with you?”

“Uh, no mam,” he says awkwardly, but I don’t think he’s lying.

“Do you by any chance know where he is?”

“Sorry mam, I don’t,” the boy says.

“Will you tell him to call me if you hear from him?” I say. “Please,” I add for good measure.

“Sure, Mrs. Taylor.”

I look down at Erick and he reaches up to grab my hand with both of his.

“Do you have any more numbers?” He asks.

“I… Maybe,” I let go of his hands to scroll down my contacts. I select another name and hit call.

It’s pretty much a repetition of the previous conversation.

I shake my head at Erick.

“Let’s go inside,” he says.

My mother’s house has a single step at the entrance, but it’s a rather tall one. I open the door for him. Erick wheels back to get some momentum, he speeds up towards the step and does a wheelie. He lifts his front casters and leans his neck forward to maintain his balance. I’m holding my breath the whole time because he has fallen on this very step before. We don’t hang around here much, not because of the step but because of my mother, so he hasn’t done it that many times. Thankfully, he clears it this time and we go inside. 

“Why did you think he might be with me?” Erick asks me once inside. 

“He told me he would be,” I say reluctantly. I didn’t want to get into it, but at this point, I guess it doesn’t matter.

“He did?”

“He said he was going to meet you. I knew he was lying because you were... going out with Lou,” I almost whisper. I feel heat rising to my cheeks for some reason, so I bury my face in my scotch coffee mug, which is almost empty. 

He looks down. 

“That’s why I told him to be home by eight,” I finish washing down the alcohol. 

“Did you tell him I was going out?” He sounds a little edgy. 

“Yes,” I admit.

“Oh,” he says. Am I missing something here?

For a while, we just sit there, quietly. I’ve finished my drink so I have nothing to distract myself with. I’m starting to lose my mind by now. 

“Why don’t I call him again?” He breaks the silence.

“Yeah,” I sigh.

It goes straight to voicemail like every other time. This is so exasperating. 

“Do you want to go out to look for him?” It’s almost sweet the way he’s looking for a solution, a course of action. It’s ridiculous though. Neither of us has a car, and even if we did, we could do nothing more than drive around aimlessly. We have no idea where he could be. Or at least, I don’t.

“Apparently, you’ve been hanging out with him. Do you have any idea where he could’ve gone?”

He shakes his head.

“Is there a girl you know about?” I try.

He seems to consider it. 

“I just know her name,” he says finally. “I don’t have a number, not even a last name.” He runs his hand over his hair again. I’ve always thought that gesture was adorable. He used to do it before the accident, run his fingers through his hair, especially when he was tired or nervous. He does it a little bit differently now. He can’t really run his fingers through it, so he sorts of pads it with his loose fist. The result is the same though, his hair ends up sticking in every direction. 

“We could ask Zack if he knows about her. Maybe he has her phone number,” I suggest.

He doesn’t look convinced. He seems to be pondering about it when my phone rings. I pick up immediately, hoping to hear Sean’s voice. It’s an unknown number.

“Julia Taylor?” It’s a woman’s voice. Not young and it sounds rather formal.

“Yes,” I say, fearing the worst now. 

Erick wheels closer to me. His expression mirrors my fear.

“I’m calling from the police station. I have a Sean Cross here.”

“Is he ok?” I interrupt her.

“Yes, yes,” she says sympathetically. 

I exhale loudly.

“What did he do?” 

“Nothing,” she says. “He was the victim of an armed robbery.”

I sprong out of my seat. Erick’s eyes follow me up, startled.

“Is he ok?” I ask again.

“Yes, he’s fine. He wasn’t harmed,” the woman says.

“What precinct?” I hold the phone tight. She gives me the information and I say I’m on my way. When I hang up, I look down at Erick.

“What happened?” He asks, and I’m sure this is one of those moments when he really wishes he could stand. He’s craning his neck up and his arms are in a strange position, like he wants to reach out to me, but doesn’t know how. If he were still able to stand, he would be hugging me right now. I know because that’s what I desperately want him to do.

I explain without much coherence. When I’m done, he stares at me for a second with clear frustration on his face. 

“Call Tony,” he finally says.

So I call Tony. When he picks up, he sounds wide awake. It’s obvious that he wasn’t sleeping. He says he’ll be here right away, and in his case, it’s true. Barely ten minutes later, we see his car approaching. We go outside to meet him.

“Keep me in the loop, please,” Erick says to me.

“You’re not coming?” I ask.

Tony opens the car door and takes one foot out to stand. The engine’s still running.

“Come on,” he says.

I know the only reason Erick is staying is that he doesn’t want to slow us down. He can transfer into the car without much effort like he does every day, but then we would have to take his wheelchair appart. It’s not like it would take an hour, it would just be a few minutes. We could wait. 

“Go,” Erick says.

Tony and I are usually very patient with Erick because we know everything takes longer for him. But our son was just mugged. 

I nod.

“I’ll call you,” I say.

As we pull out of the driveway, I see his face through the car’s window. He looks sad.

I see Sean the minute we walk into the station. He’s barefooted! I can see him sitting in front of a desk and his jacket is gone too. He’s got goosebumps on his arms. I run to him and throw my arms around him.

“I’m ok, mom,” he says into my hair. 

I let go and hold him at arm’s length to examine him. He’s got a bruise and a cut on his temple. 

“Sean!” I cry. 

A female officer greets us. She explains to us that Sean was mugged by three young guys. They were armed. They took his sneakers and his jacket, as well as his cellphone and wallet. When they saw he didn’t have any money, they hit him with the grip of the gun. A police car saw them running from the scene. They have one of them in custody. The other two fled. 

The paramedics have checked Sean and apparently, he’s ok, except for the bruise. The cut isn’t deep so he doesn’t need stitches. He didn’t lose consciousness and that rules out the main worries. 

Tony has taken his coat off and placed it on Sean’s shoulders. He hasn’t put it on, but he grabbed the lapel and wrapped it around himself like a blanket. Sean’s been taller than me for about a year now. But Tony’s coat is still big on him. Lately, when I see him, I say to myself he’s a man and wonder how the hell he grew up so fast. And yet, now, his face looks so young to me, like a helpless child.

I hug my son again. 

“I’m ok, mom,” he says once more, but he hugs me back tightly.

We have to sign a dozen different papers and do a lot of waiting around. Tony handles everything while I just hold on to my son’s arm.

When we get back to the house, it’s almost four in the morning. Sean goes straight to bed, he must be exhausted. Tony pours me some water and then sits on the couch. I debate whether to call Erick. He must be sleeping, but I don’t want to leave him hanging. In the end, I decide to text him, saying Sean’s ok, and that we can talk in the morning. I get an instant reply. 

“Are you ok? Do you want me to come over?”

I look up from my phone and find Tony staring at me.

“Fine, just tired. I’m going to bed.  We’ll talk later,” I text back.

I hit send and put the phone away. I feel the vibration of Erick’s reply but don’t check it.

“Erick?” Tony asks.

I nod. 

“I promised to let him know if Sean was ok.”

“Were you hanging out tonight?”

I shrug, not wanting to answer.

“I thought he had a date with Lou,” he says.

“He did,” I say curtly.


I stare at him in silence.

“He didn’t go?” He asks.

“I don’t know, I was too worried about Sean to ask him about it.”

Tony squints at me. 

“So you weren’t hanging out?”

I make a noncommittal gesture.

“You called him.” It’s not a question this time but a statement. “You called him before you called me,” he says in a tone I’m very familiar with. It’s Tony’s version of outraged. A contained, grave tone where he pronounces each word slowly. “Jules,” he stares at me intently. “I’m his father!” 

He doesn’t shout but I can tell he's angry. 

“I know,” I say stupidly.

“Why didn’t you call me then?”

I don’t answer.

“When our son goes missing, you call me not Erick!”

“He wasn’t missing.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“I thought Sean might be with him,” I writhe in my place and take a sip from my water wishing it was scotch. 

“Why would Sean be with Erick?”

“Because he said he would be,” I try to explain.

Tony stares at me implying I’m not telling him the whole truth. I can’t stand his look. 

“Erick’s been teaching him to play the guitar,” I give in. 

The expression on his face changes instantly. At first, he looks surprised, then he presses his lips together and it’s as if I’ve stabbed him, or Sean has.

He gets up and paces to the door and back. Damn, now I wish I hadn’t told him. 

“Since when?” He mutters. When I don’t answer, he shoots me another look.

“A while,” I avert my eyes.

“How long?” He presses. “Jules,” he says with contained anger. His full height towers over me.

“About a year,” I confess.

He breathes heavily through his nostrils. 

“Why didn't you tell me?”

“I just found out,” I defend myself. “He asked Erick not to tell us.”

He huffs and turns around.

“Can I stay?” He asks after a few minutes of silence. I’ve gone through my entire water pretending it’s alcohol. I look up at him. “On the couch,” he adds.

I nod. 

I get up and fetch some blankets. 

“Are you coming to bed?” I look down on him. It’s been a week and we’ve barely spoken. 

“No,” he turns on the small couch. 

“Get some rest now,” he says. 

I stare down at him as he settles on my mother’s couch. 

“Good night,” I say.


I wake up startled like from a bad dream. Except I don’t remember what it was. I check the time on my cell phone. Half-past eight. Erick’s text message alert is on my screen. I still haven’t read it. Muffled voices are coming from the kitchen. I swipe the screen.

“Is Tony there?”

I sigh.

My mother’s making breakfast. Tony is sitting on a stool in the kitchen drinking fresh coffee. Sean is still asleep. 

“Why the hell didn’t you wake me up last night?” My mother greets me. 

“Morning,” I say, fighting the urge to roll my eyes at her. 

Tony gets up and pours me a cup of coffee. Our fingers brush as he hands me the mug.

“Thanks,” I mumble. 

We have breakfast on the counter. My mom cooks it and serves it. I don’t get up to help her because I’m just so tired. Something about the scene makes me feel like a teenager again. We had breakfast here so many times growing up. My mom is not the cooking type, and she doesn’t wait on anyone. I can’t remember her ever serving breakfast to my father. She does it for Tony though. My mother always adored Tony. I know she still hasn’t forgiven me for screwing up my marriage. 

We’re halfway through it when Sean comes out of his room. 

“Dad?” he says surprised. He looks back at the folded covers on the couch and frowns. 

My mom walks to him and grabs his face. “Oh, sweetheart!” She cries. “What the hell were you doing alone in there so late?” Then she turns to me. “See, Julia? I’ve told you you shouldn’t let him go out at night. He’s still a kid for god’s sake!”

Sean looks at me. 

I haven’t heard the end of it, and I won’t for god knows how long, as obvious by the rest of the morning. Tony is a good buffer though. I’m sure it would be much worse if he weren’t here. 

“Where are you going?” She asks when I get up at eleven. 

“I’m going to lie down,” I say. “I’m tired.”

“Tony’s here,” she says as if that’s a strong reason to keep me up. 

“It’s ok, Martha,” Tony says in my defense. “We came in pretty late last night.”

“You’re not leaving, are you?” She asks in a sweet tone, changing her expression when she talks to him. 

Tony shakes his head. “I want to hang out with Sean,” he says.

Our son looks up at me. 

“I’m tired too,” he says asking me with his eyes to back him up.

“I want to talk to you about something,” Tony says before I can make up my mind about whether I should get him off the hook. 

So we leave them alone. 

I go back to my room and check my phone that’s lying on the night table. I have one missed call and three text messages from Erick. 

“Hey Jules, are you up?”

“Can I come over?”

“I just wanted to know if you’re ok. Call me please.”

I bring his number on my screen and take a deep breath before calling him. He picks up at the second ring. That’s fast for him. He must have been holding the phone.

“Jules,” he sounds relieved.

“Hey,” I say into the line. “Sorry, I should’ve called you earlier.”

“No worries, you must be exhausted,” he says. “How’s Sean?”

“Ok, I guess. A little shaken up but fine.”

“How are you?” He asks in a sweet tone. I really love Erick’s voice, not just when he sings. He’s got a really nice voice when he talks too. It’s comforting.

“More or less,” I say honestly.

“Can I come over?”

I hesitate.

“Is Tony there?” He asks at my silence.

“Yes,” I admit. 

I hear him breathing through the phone. 

“Call me later?” He says finally.

“Sure,” I say.

We both stay quiet in the line.

“Jules,” he starts.


A few seconds pass before he speaks again.

“Talk to you later,” he says and hangs up, leaving me with the impression that he wanted to say something else. 

I fall asleep again. 

“You told him!” Sean’s voice wakes me up.


“You told him!” He repeats.

“Told who what?” I sit up.

“You told dad uncle Erick has been teaching me to play!”


“I asked you not to!”

He didn’t actually, but I get his point.

“I was looking for you and I thought you might be with Erick,” I say as if that explains everything.

“So?” He’s standing at the foot of the bed. The bruise of his temple makes me shiver. Then I look at his eyes and that makes me shiver even harder. They’re bolting with anger. “Why did you have to tell dad?”

“You were supposed to be home by eight,” I defend myself because I actually do feel guilty about telling Tony. I’m not sure if I should though.

“I trusted you,” he ignores me. 

“No, actually, you didn’t. I caught you, otherwise, you wouldn’t have told me about it.”

“Well, this is why!” He raises his voice at me.

I get out of bed.

“If you hadn’t disappeared, I wouldn't have had to tell him,” I start. I’m awake now and I can’t let him talk to me this way. “Besides, it’s not really my place to keep things from your father. I told you to be home, and you disobeyed me. I was worried and I had to call Erick.”

“You didn’t have to call dad!”

“Yes, I did! He’s your father.”

“Well, I wish he wasn’t!”


“You don’t mean that.”

“Yes, I do!”

“Tony is a good father. I don’t understand why you are so angry at him. Why didn’t you ask him to teach you to play the guitar? Erick can´t even play anymore.”

“What? Is that why you don’t want to be with him? Because of his disability? I thought you were a better person than that.”

Oh my God! Is he serious?

“What are you talking about?”

“I can’t believe you, mom! So he can’t walk, he’d still make a better husband than dad. By far!”

“Sean?” I don’t even know what to say to that. 

“Why do you prefer dad over him? Erick loves you. He loves me. And he’s a great guy.”

“He’s your dad’s best friend,” I cut him off.

“So what? Why do you still care about dad? He’s a terrible person!”

I feel short of breath. I can’t believe his words.

“How can you say that?” 

“It’s true!”

“No, Sean. It’s not.” It really isn’t. 

“Yes, it is!”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because I remember what he did to us, what he did to you!”

“He didn’t do anything to us.”

“I remember, mom.”

“You were eight. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I was eight, not blind.” He has lowered his tone of voice but something about it scares me. I stare at him. “He kicked us out of the house.”

“No, he didn’t, baby.” I try to touch him but he pulls away.

“He did. He could’ve saved the house, but he chose to save his company instead. He made us leave, and he left us.”

“You don’t understand. It was my fault. I…”

“You what, mom? You let grandma in the house?” He shrinks his shoulders. “Tell me, mom, what did you do that was so bad?”

“He had warned me, and I didn’t listen. I…”

“He blamed you for everything, not just for what grandma did. He blamed you for the house, and for grandpa. God, he blames you for uncle Erick’s hands. How is that your fault?”

“It’s not like that. If he had gone to a good hospital, his hands… Your father wanted to pay, but…”

“Mom, he crucified you!” I’m shocked by his words.

I stare at my baby boy. We’ve never talked about this before. When he was a kid, I explained that we had to leave the house, but… I told him his father and I were separating. He never mentioned any of this to me before. 

“Baby, what happened between your father and me has nothing to do with you. Your dad loves you, and he’s always been there for you.”

Tony is the kind of father who never misses a game or a school fair. He’s always given me money for Sean, even when I’m sure he had to skip a meal to make ends meet. 

“He watched you cry, and he didn’t even blink,” he mutters so low I can barely make out the words. “You said you were sorry a thousand times.” His eyes are wet. “Erick would’ve never done that to you. Erick would’ve never left us.”

“Baby,” my voice cracks. “It wasn’t like that,” I start to say, but I’m crying now. Sean’s crying too, and I don’t know how to make it better. “Your dad loves you.”

“Well, I don’t love him!” He storms out of the room.

I chase after him, but he goes into his bedroom and locks the door.

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