Chapter 2: Ctrl

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 47

Chapter Two – ctrl – January 2, 2013

 

I was jolted awake from my sleep on the couch, and it was minutes past six. I felt like I was hungover; my head was pounding, my stomach was empty, and my bladder was bursting. I checked my bedroom, hoping Shelly had come home and just wasn’t ready to face me yet. I thought we could work through this, put our relationship to the test. But the bedroom was empty. There was no other sign of her.

I took care of my bladder and my head, then I took care of Jordan and I’s hunger. Jordan was full, Jordan’s bladder was empty, but Jordan’s head must have been bothering him too because he would not stop crying. No matter what I did.

Knowing what Jordan is crying for is easy as pie or hard as fuck, nothing in between. Jordan, and many other babies, have specific tones of cries for different things. It’s easy if you’re paying attention and prepare yourself. If it’s a wailing cry, he’s tired. If it’s a screech, he’s scared. If it’s a choking cry, he’s frustrated. If it’s muffled, he’s uncomfortable. 

Today it was hard as fuck, but only at first, because I quickly figured out what he was crying for – for whom he was crying. It’s a rare combination; he was screeching and choking. It was all for his mother. It was the worst feeling in the entire world, maybe on par with being shot. I knew exactly what he was crying for, and it broke my heart, knowing there was nothing I could do to help him. I held him and consoled him the best that I could. “Daddy’s got you. Daddy’s not gonna leave you.” I would say over and over. “She‘ll be back. I know she’ll be back.” She always came back.

I bit my lip and called Shelly. It went to voicemail, and I hung up the moment I heard her voice on the message. I tried again with no answer, but I summoned the courage to leave a message. “Hey, it’s me, Jordan misses you. Will you please come see him?” My call was never returned.

By two o’clock, I couldn’t take it anymore. I dressed Jordan in warm clothes for a drive. I had to leave the house for a few hours. I packed a diaper bag, grabbed my jacket, and we left. I merged north onto I-5 and kept driving. I didn’t know why I was doing this. All I did know was that I couldn’t be alone in that house anymore. I had to get away and heal myself with Jordan, just to get our minds clear again.

An hour into the drive, I was wondering where to stop, where I would end up. I shifted my thoughts into my classical criticism: Why am I still here? Why couldn’t they have just killed me in that alley? A bullet to the upper chest usually kills a man, so why not me?

I was transported back in time. I remember when I woke up having been asleep/in a coma for over twenty-four hours. “Fuck,” I croaked as I lifted my head up. I tried to sit up but I was interrupted. 

“Don’t get up, Athens,” Logan’s voice said, “use the bed.”

I must have looked confused because he just did it for me. He pressed on a remote control for the bed and lifted me so I could see the room better.

I look at Logan’s face for once second and immediately knew why I was here, “how long have I been asleep?”

“Thirty hours,” he answered.

I chuckled and winced from the pain, “been counting this whole time?”

“I have at least,” Logan said. It turned out a small crowd of people visited me in the hospital. Logan, my boss Chris, the three ladies I walked out with that night, as evident by the bouquets of wilting flowers and a very long thank you note written by the three of them. “You’re a goddamn hero, Athens.”

“Give me a fucking medal,” I joked.

“Seriously, you took five bullets, dude. You saved three people. Three against one is a bad bet on chances. But you survived,” he smiled.

Shelly popped into my mind. “What about Shelly?” I asked, “has she been by?”

“Shelly’s been busy with work at Children’s,” Logan informed.

“Oh,” I tried not to sound hurt. “That’s too bad.”

Suddenly I was taken out of my head by a faint sound of a siren behind me. I sighed, “shit, what the fuck now?”

I pulled my truck off to the side, and the cruiser parked behind me. I prepared my papers for the officer as he opened his door to speak with me. I didn’t know why he was pulling me over. I had been going only slightly above the speed limit, my plates were good, and so were my lights. Did I swerve between lanes on accident?

He squinted at me as the obstructed sunlight was in his eyes. “Afternoon, sir, my name is officer Richards, license and registration, please.” He was probably my age, but tall and toned with dark military hair.

“Yes, sir,” I said, handing over my papers.

He read my license: Athens Gunn, twenty-nine years old, six-foot-two, a stocky two-hundred-pound male from Edmonds, Washington. Officer Richards smiled at me. “Hey, I like your name, Athens Gunn.”

I smiled back, It wasn’t the first time I heard that. “I know, right? It’s awesome.”

He kept smiling at me, and he glanced in my back seat at Jordan, who had been sleeping. He immediately looked sorry for disturbing us. “Is that your son?”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise from his kindness. It wasn’t a typical exchange I would have with a Seattle cop. “Yes, his name is Jordan.”

“You got a cute one,” he smiled again. “Where are your two heading?” He asked with the same warmth.

I was at a loss for words trying to come up with an answer, but I didn’t feel like lying. “Honestly...” I sighed, “we’re having a bit of a crisis. So, I don’t know where we’re heading.”

He cocked an eyebrow at me slightly concerned. “You’re not in any kind of danger, are you?”

“Nope, just a family emergency,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr.Gunn,” he frowned. “Well, the reason why I pulled you over is that you were driving in the passing lane for too long.”

“Ohhhh!” I elated to him, finally getting it. I thought Shelly had sic’d the police on me for some reason.

“Yeah, I’ll just let you off with a warning, but the left lane is for passing only,” he replied. 

“Sorry for the mistake, I’ll remember.”

“Not to worry. Also, where are you coming from?” He asked as if it were an after-thought.

“My home in Seattle,” I answered.

Officer Richards looked please. “Well, Mr. Athens Gunn, sir, please drive safe and take good care of your boy,” he said, handing back my papers.

I was back on the road heading north, but not for much longer. I didn’t have my passport, so I couldn’t continue north unless I wanted to stay in a hell hole border town. I exited I-5 in Mount Vernon and parked in front of the Safeway. I sat in the parking lot, thinking up a plan for my next move. Where should I go? It was almost four o’clock at this point. Jordan was getting antsy, as was I, so I went inside the store and wandered around.

I could go back to Seattle, but why? If Shelly had returned, she would’ve called, and I didn’t feel like spending the night in that house alone at the moment. I considered heading east, maybe even until I reached the east coast. Than there was my hometown of Bellingham. It was a half-hour away.

I settled on Bellingham for the night, and we’d head back once Shelly came to her senses and called. I was back on the road, and I had a strange feeling, nostalgia, or just my diminishing hunger thanks to cinnamon granola. I saw the sign telling me the river was about to drive over: Samish River, the same river which ran through my hometown. It was for sure nostalgia. “Oh my god. Oh my god!” I delighted to no one in particular. The next sign side: Entering Whatcom County. Shortly after was the distance update: Bellingham – 9 Miles, Vancouver, BC – 64 Miles. “Home stretch!” I called back to Jordan.

I turned up the music and sang my collection to Jordan. I hoped he would become well-versed in music by the time he got a taste of it for himself. He’s grown accustomed to being serenaded by me; it doesn’t just happen at night to get him to sleep. I sing to keep him entertained, I sing to help him to stop crying. I like to believe he likes it.

I merged off of the interstate using exit 253 for Lakeway Drive. It’s coming up on twelve years since I last stepped foot in this town. I left when I was eighteen years old, and I never thought I would be back here again. From what I saw, Bellingham, Washington looked the same to me, frozen in time when I was younger. Everything looked the same. The bus stops looked new, the street signs were new, as were my feelings about this place, but the buildings were all the same.

For me, nothing good ever happened in this town. David Gunn was probably within walking distance of my hotel room. He’s the last person in the world I ever want to see again. I left Bellingham for Seattle to attend the University of Washington, but I left home well before the first day of class. I promised myself I would never be like my dad. Somehow, the toxic masculinity he spewed onto me didn’t make me the father I am to Jordan.

Jordan and I made it to the hotel. I tossed the diaper bag onto the leather chair and out of exhaustion from the drive, and the day, I collapsed onto the bed. I woke up out of control, I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t know what to do, but the fact that I decided to be here now with Jordan, made me feel in control more so that ever.

I dreamt of the past again last night. Tonight was different than the last. I dreamt of a good future, for once, it seemed so real.

Through my eyes, I saw a child, so grown up, and so well put together. He was wearing all black, so was I. We were both outside, and we were miles way from home. It was just this boy and me. I don’t know for sure who this child is, but it was only him and I, which could only mean one thing: me and Jordan.

1/3/2013

The next morning, I woke up with some crust in my eyes and some text messages on my phone, both from Shelly, both defensive and both hostile.

DON’T FUCKING CONTACT ME OR MY PARENT AGAIN!!

REMEMBER MY WORDS: KEEP EVERYTHING!!! KEEP JORDAN.

I didn’t respond, not that I wanted to, but I was crushed. Even with two days, even with that time apart, Shelly still felt the same way about Jordan and me. Wanting nothing to do with me was reasonable, but wanting nothing to do with Jordan struck a nerve with me, it completely enraged me. I had way more of a right to be pissed off than Shelly did. I practically hissed through my teeth staring at the screen. Fuck you too, bitch.

I tossed my phone on the bed, grabbed Jordan from the car seat he slept in, and went into the bathroom to start our days. Jordan needed a bath, and so did I. I love giving Jordan his baths. I really love bathing with Jordan. I find it to be a very bonding experience. To have nothing but wet flesh between us.

Once we were situated in the tub, I bent my knees and replaced Jordan against my thighs facing me. Then I just talked to him. I don’t baby talk to Jordan, almost never. I speak to him like an adult, calm and gentle, as if the two of us were simply bantering.

I went transporting back to the dream and had hope that was Jordan and I. That things would be okay in the future as long as we stuck together. I looked at him, and at the moment Jordan was reclining against my thighs. I used a cup to four the warm water onto him. I just spoke to him all the while. I like to tell Jordan stories all about my life, or all about the world, or sometimes I just fill him in on the day ahead.

“Right now, we’re in Bellingham,” I said to no clear response from Jordan. “Daddy was born here, I lived here for eighteen years,” I paused flashing back to that time. “I escaped from here.” I sighed with resistance looking down at him. “Now I’m back here because-because,” I paused, sighing at the realization. “Because I’m escaping again. However, we’re not here to heal, ‘cause healing could never happen here.” The summers of my youth raced through my head. I sighed again, but with mild pleasure. “Oh, but it wasn’t all bad,” I smiled back to Jordan, who was just giddy as can be.

I was happy as can be as well, and I wanted to keep it going as long as I could. “Hey, Jordan.” I knelt to Jordan and squinted with my smile lighting up. “Wanna hear a crazy story?” I asked him. I inhaled sharply and asked again. “Huh? Wanna hear about daddy as a kid?” I kissed his face over and over again.

Jordan squealed with me as I kept asking him, as I kept chuckling with him. I pressed my lips to his stomach and blew hard until the raspberry sound erupted. I nearly died laughed with him.

“So, it sounds like you wanna hear this,” I said. “Well, it was me, Uncle Pat and Pat’s brother, Phil.”

It was summer. Pat and I were sixteen, Phil was eighteen about to leave for college. We were out driving around one night, and we ended up on Lummi Island out west, and it was late. Phil parked the car off to the side of the road where Brant Island can be seen in the daytime. Phil turned to us and dared us to strip and take a dive.

“Bet none of you got the guts to take a swim,” I said to Jordan, imitating Phil. “So, guess what?” I asked Jordan. “I did it with no question. Do you know what happened next? Phil drove away. I remember him yelling, so long fuckers!” I said. He didn’t really drive off, just far away enough to scare the shit out of us. We ended up walking naked along the road for about five minutes until we found Phil up the road. I rinsed Jordan off with warm water once more. “Now, enough stories, let me show you Bellingham, for yourself,” I said.

I was unexpectedly happy to be back in Bellingham, but I think that was because I was here on my own terms, and I had an option to leave, which was soon. I decided to head to Spokane after I bought some extra clothes, but I wanted to see downtown Bellingham first. I had to walk a street or two. I had to see the marina. I had to get coffee from my old high school joint.

I kept driving as I saw it, Bellingham High School, my high school. I didn’t stare too long, so my adulthood would not contaminate the scared teenage memories which remain within the halls of this building.

With Jordan in the stroller, we walked down to Magnolia Street and circled downtown using Holly Street. It was short, but it felt surprisingly incredible to breathe in the air again, to be in my hometown, nonetheless.

Then I saw him.

The brown-haired, hazel-green eyed, stubble-face, six-foot-four robustly built motherfucker. He was wearing aviators, a fitted black t-shirt, and black jeans, some things really never change. My best friend since kindergarten, and in every sense of the word, my brother: “Patrick motherfuckin’ Flynn,” I called out.

“That’s me,” he answered, getting a look at the person who said his name. He saw me, and he lost his breath. “What the fuck are you doing up here?”

“Visiting,” I smiled back.

“Are you fucking kidding? How long are you here?” He asked. That was a question. I still wasn’t sure.

“I’m here until tomorrow night,” I guessed, trying to make it sound like a real plan. “It’s been so fucking long.” I hesitated to hug him, but Pat took charge and hugged me anyway.

“Fuck, you look good,” he boasted, looking me up and down.

“You look better,” I laughed. “Where are you headed?”

“I was going to grab a coffee.”

“Care for some company?” I suggested.

“With you? The best of company? Of fucking course,” he said, and the walk signal summoned us to begin crossing.

“Who’s this?” He asked, pointing to Jordan in the stroller.

“Who’s this?” I teased. “Your honorary nephew, Jordan Gunn,” I explained, and that seemed to begin to ring a bell in Pat’s mind. “He’s my son,” I smiled.

He asked, stumbling on his words, “wha…huh? You’re a father?”

“Yep! I’m a dad!” I exclaimed.

“You’re a dad!” He said, returning the excitement ten-fold.

I’ve known Pat since Kindergarten, I’ve had friends come and go, but he has remained with me all through. Pat and I met during one of the first days of kindergarten, we both got in trouble for pissing on the grass of our playground. He was the first friend I could remember; he had my back, and I had his. Patrick and I both went into the punk group of the school. I make fun of the group now, but we were a close-knit group, each of us made sure no one messed with the punks.

Patrick Flynn had my back since day one. Whenever anyone messed with me, Pat would be right there helping me, and I returned the favor. I can remember the first significant conflict in elementary school. As a first-grader, Pat and I were in the same classroom that year.

Winter break came and went, and we were back in school, It was a few minutes before the teachers were to collect us outside. A bunch of other students in our class was gathered at the meeting area already. Pat and I were catching up on our Christmas holidays, and how late we stayed up on New Year’s Eve.

One of the rich kids showed up with his orange hot wheel up in his hand – the rich kids always had what I wanted most. Suddenly, he crouched down and placed miniature car on the concrete. He pressed his left index onto the very top of the vehicle to apply pressure and force, and he increased the pressure of his finger until his finger gave way. The car went flying. I hadn’t noticed what Michael was up to until his hot wheel hit my shoes.

I didn’t move. I kept my attention on Pat, talking about falling asleep at twelve-thirty on New Year’s. The rich kid approached my shoe to retrieve his car, and he stood up and shoved the car in my face.

“Hey loser, what did you get for Christmas?” He asked.

I hesitated, “I got a pack of hot wheels.”

“Well, did you get the new track?” He asked.

“I didn’t get the track,’ I confessed.

“Why bother getting the cars if you cant get the track?” He said disgustedly.

“I like to make my own track,” I said.

He cracked up and started mocking me. “You probably use the leftover mouse traps and mothballs.” I was holding back tears. “You and Pat probably stole the hot wheels anyway,” he continued.

“At least he’s got a real friend and not the idiots who love your toys,” Pat called out. The rich kid turned around to face Pat. The teachers all came outside at that moment, and the moment of anger between the three of us was over.

Pat, Jordan, and I reached the coffee shop I had in mind; Cool Beans. It was a place my friend and I went to every day during high school. My friends and I went to every day during high school. My friends and I weren’t being huge troublemakers. We were not off-campus getting high. We were not off-campus getting drunks. All we were doing off-campus was going to Cool Beans.

“Fuck, let me hold your son now!” Pat demanded.

“Oh, Jordan!” I cheered, crouching down to him. “Ready or not, here’s uncle Pat!” I unbuckled Jordan, took him out of his stroller and displayed him in my arms for Pat, and Pat ripped him out of my hands.

“Goddamn,” he said, clutching Jordan’s waist looking at his face. “He’s the spitting image of you.” He took another look at him and smiled back at me. “Well, more handsome, of course.” He had Jordan lying face-up on his forearms, and he was lifting him, pretending to devour Jordan, even making chomping noises. Jordan loved it.

“Do you live up here?”

He sipped his coffee while holding on to Jordan. “A little over a year ago after I finished my Ph.D. In Psychology, I moved back here to make my next move, it was going to be Seattle or Portland.” Pat paused to confess something incredible to me, “but then I met this girl.”

I was urging him to spill to me, “who?” I asked.

“Her name is Cassie,” Pat was smiling as he spoke her name to me.

I mused at his happiness, “tell me all about her.”

“She’s a nutritionist at Saint Joseph Hospital, she’s really beautiful, and...” his smiled had turned into a full-blown grin. “I love her.”

I exhaled surprised at those words, “really?”

He smiled, “yeah, really, I love her.” He shifted the conversation into second, and brought it up. “Speak of, how is your marriage?”

I cut the shit. “It’s over.” I actually fake laughed.

Pat looked stunned, “what happened?”

“She cheated on me... On Wednesday,” I said.

“What in the fuck?” He gasped. “It’s Friday, right?” He asked me for clarification.

“Yeah, it’s Friday, Pat,” I said, and explained it all to Pat. I told him about how I walked in on Shelly and the bitch boy. “I walked in one them,” I said. “After thinking it through the past two days, I’m pretty sure this was an affair, which has been going on for months.”

“I’m so sorry,” he sympathized. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“Thanks for the concern, Pat, but I’m more worried about Jordan,” I said, looking down into his eyes.

“Have you spoken to her?” He asked, looking at Jordan too.

“Trust me. I tried that already,” I said, defeated. “I don’t know where she is,” I sighed, taking my focus back to Pat. “She won’t return my phone calls or my e-mails. I can’t even get a hold of her parents.”

“Do you want to tell me how it all...” he lingered trying to find the right word, “unfolded?” Pat asked gently.

“Yeah, I was out running errands. Picking up the groceries, getting extra things for Jordan, getting the car an oil change,” I listed off. “Was gone for at least three hours, so I left Shelly at home while I took Jordan.” I breathed in and out and told Pat about everything. From the moment I walked into my house, to when I walked into the bedroom.

“I pulled up to the house, and everything seemed normal out front.” Looking back now, I realized bitch-boy’s car was parked in front of the neighbors house. I kept the story going, “well, I walked inside and heard noises.” I looked Pat in the eyes, raising my eyebrows, “sex noises. I put everything away, and I went upstairs.” I winced from the memory of that whole moment. “Our bedroom door was closed, and I could clearly hear Shelly enjoying herself, but then I hear a second voice that was way too clear to be coming from the television or a computer. I walked into our bedroom and saw him on her.”

Pat asked, “what did you do?”

“Knocked his ass out,” I said.

“The fucker deserved what was coming to him,” he boasted.

I finished the story short, “than I pointed at her, and I told her to get her shit and leave.”

“Well, it’s been two days now, and Shelly hasn’t come back around to you yet?”

“I’ve tried that; she doesn’t want to talk to me,” I said.

Pat gave me a look. A light had turned on, and he had a plan forming inside of his mind. “What’s her number? I’ll call her,” he grinned.

“Thanks, but she has your number,” I said.

“Not my new number,” he said. “And by the way, neither do you. We’ll fix that in just a minute.”

I squinted at him, “oh, you’re too good.” I gladly handed him my phone with Shelly’s number on the screen.

“I‘ll be right back,” he said, standing up to go outside.

“Thanks for the help,” I said, taking Jordan back.

He nonchalantly waved his hand dismissively at me. “Thank me later,” he said, leaving the table. I watched Pat, I was hoping that he and I could simply pick up where we left off.

I looked around and imagined my whole group of friends from high school sitting at those tabled with our camel lights, with our black coffees. I noticed the No Smoking sign on the windows. Bummer I thought. The memories were nearly overwhelming, especially so when I realized I was sitting there with my greatest friend in the world, and my baby boy.

He returned to the table with a really stark look of sadness on his face. “She didn’t answer,” I guessed.

“Nope, she did,” he began.

“What did she say?” I asked, and then he hesitated, but I had to know. Bracing for the worst, “just tell me.” I said.

“She told me we have to stop contacting her,” Pat said as gently as he could. “She told me she doesn’t want to see you every again. Lastly, she told me she doesn’t want to see Jordan.”

I couldn’t believe it. “That’s it?” Shelly had explained this to me before, but this time it was clicking. Shelly didn’t ever care about he or even Jordan. “She doesn’t want to see us? She’s just gonna abandon Jordan?” I asked ferociously, “like he’s fucking garbage? She’s just done? She’s just FUCKING done?”

Pat reached for my hand, “Ath...”

“GODDAMN IT,” I screamed. “How the hell am I supposed to do this shit on my own?” I asked, “how dare she just leave us! How dare her with this bullshit!”

“Athens, I’m here for you,” Pat said. “Please, you can stay here, you can work here.”

“I don’t even know what to ask for right now,” I said, feeling truly defeated further.

“How about you just stay with me for one night?” He suggested, “just one night at my place.”

I surrendered all control, finally looking Pat in the eye. “Maybe I can do that,” I said, soaking in his warmth. “Maybe I can stay for a night.”

Pat had dinner ready to go, as Jordan played with some toys. Pat lived in a two-bedroom condo just west of town. I grabbed our store bags and brought them inside. Later on that night in Pat’s bedroom, I lay Jordan down in his playpen as his bed for the night and sang Happy Now? By No Doubt to lull Jordan asleep.


Submitted: November 23, 2020

© Copyright 2021 AthensGunn. All rights reserved.

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