We were on the side patio. The sun fighting with the passing clouds. I’d just set the burgers on the grill as Lani and Heather sat with the kids, in the thick of negotiations over the usage of the Radio Flyer. I kept glancing back, smiling, at Heather’s kids, with my kids. Still hard to believe we were the parents now.
A shiny Buick slid up close, the tires rubbing the curb behind Heather’s Rogue. Heather glanced up, her sunglasses perched on her head, the happy color draining from her face before her smile could drop.
I shut the grill as she got to her feet. Heather swallowed, her voice cracking. “What the hell’s he doing?”
“Heather, please,” I said, looking over to Lani with the kids. “It’s…Mother’s Day.”
“She’s not our mother. She’s a goddamned monster.”
Dad stepped out of the car, weak but smiling, tossing us a parade wave. Ready to play the role of grandfather.
Heather groaned. She’s three years older than me, which gives her a much more detailed picture of what I blissfully slept through. I moved from one foot to the other, wearing a silly chef’s apron like an idiot. Behind us, Lani approached, pulling the wagon, all four kids piled in. Jake, my oldest, pointed to the car, “Who’s that?”
We seldom spoke about what put Heather through ten years of therapy. One for every tremulous finger now covering her face. She let out a gasp and ran in the house, leaving Lani torn between going after her, looking over the kids, or standing with me and gawking at the old bastard as he helped a murderer out of the Buick.
She went after Heather while I stood firm in the yard. This was supposed to be their day.
Jake asked again who the man was and I shushed him, then felt bad about it, so I snapped at Dad. “What are you doing here?”
The woman took a wobbly gaze at the kids. Dad stood there, incredulous. “Happy Mother’s Day.”
I shook my head. The woman at his side stood hunched over in the shade, her lips moving, afraid of the curb, her hand in my father’s.
“What’s she doing here?”
“Hell of way to talk to your mother.”
“I’m talking to you.”
He ducked carefully to help the old woman. She was creased, her movements brittle. She looked twenty years older than him, maybe that’s what prison did to a person. As for Dad, he looked over the yard, casual as ever. Innocent. But the old man had balls, he took a step in my yard. “We’d like to spend some time with our grandchildren.”
I took a step back, guarding the kids. “I’d like to spend time with my brother.”
He flinched when I said it. Jake looked at me, his blue eyes open wide. “Daddy, you have a brother?”
The old man had never seen him. My son stared up at me. The other kids were back to bickering about the wagon again. The grill was smoking.
“She’s not welcome here, Dad.”
“She’s your mother.”
“No, she’s not.”
“Who’s not your mommy, Daddy?”
I knelt by Jake, kept my back to the monsters. I opened my mouth, about to explain the inexplicable to a four-year-old, when Heather came tearing out of the door.
She was a blur of tears and shrieks. “You killed him. You deranged bitch. You killed him in his sleep.”
I got an arm around Heather just in time, trying to harness her rage, struggling to get a hold on her flailing arms and molten hatred. I smelled the bourbon on her breath, and through her hairs on my face I saw Lani corral the kids as they began to cry.
I wrestled Heather to the ground in a heap of sobs, lifted my head from her hair and saw my father watching us. I pointed up the street, to anywhere, “Go.”
His mouth opened, shut, and maybe he finally realized he couldn’t rewrite history. He shook his head slowly, got turned around and opened the door. Helped set the murder back in the passenger seat.
Heather convulsed in my arms. I shook my head. “It’s not your fault.”
She crumpled in my arms, her eyes rolling thirty years back in her head, seeing Jacob lifeless in the bed where she found him, choked to death by the demon staring out from the the car as it pulled up the street.
With the car gone, I got Heather off the grass and to her feet. She pulled her hair back and stared at the clouds, let out a wet breath.
“Come on,” I said, heading for the smoke, “Let’s go hug our kids.”