“So how exactly do you propose we continue our little extravaganza? If you recall, I rode here on a motorcycle, and somehow I doubt you came rolling up in a minivan.”
“I have a car. It seats four. I’ll drive.” Emily offered.
“No way, mother. My car, I’m driving.” Myra looked like she was about to say something when Michael piped up.
“I’m sure there will be ample time for all of us to share the driving. After all, by my calculations it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a 15-hour drive to get to Eve. And since she is the closest, that should be our next stop, don’t you think?”
“And where, exactly, is Eve?” I asked.
“Well I don’t know exactly, but as far as I can tell, she’s in New Orleans.”
“What the hell is she doing in New Orleans?”
“She’s…working. Yeah, that’s it. She has a job there.”
“Michael, there’s obviously something you don’t want to tell me, so of course that’s what I want to know. What is she doing in New Orleans?” I loomed a little, but the little shit was unperturbed. That’s what comes from being God’s Own Enforcer, you get to be a little hard to intimidate.
“She’s working. And if you want to know exactly what she’s doing, then I guess we’ll have to find her.”
“Alright then, let’s roll. Emily, keys.” I was already heading for the door with my hand stretched out behind me, but Myra’s voice drew me up short.
“Freeze, buster. You might be able to fly the coop at a moment’s notice without so much as a hairbrush, but us womenfolk are going to take a few minutes to pack. So why don’t you and your little friend just sit there and enjoy each other’s company while Em and I go pack a couple of bags. We’ll be right back.”
Now I’m not going to say the thought of hopping on Lucky’s bike and rolling east didn’t occur to me, but I knew that would only doom me to a trip with a naggin archangel as my only company, and besides, since her presence was evidently required, I figured this would be a good time to get to know my youngest living child. They didn’t take that long, especially considering their gender, and it didn’t take us long to catch I-49 east and get the wheels on Emily’s Camry to humming. We stopped for the night in Tyler, a little town on the appropriate side of Dallas, and got a couple of rooms at a Quality Inn.
Michael volunteered to stay outside with the car to “better commune” with his Lord, since angels don’t really need sleep, and Myra just laughed when I raised on eyebrow at her as I headed into my room. She turned around and followed Emily into their room and I tossed my backpack onto the other bed and stretched out to watch a Law & Order rerun for a little while. I didn’t feel much like sleeping, and since there’s always a Law & Order rerun on no matter what time you turn on a hotel TV, I just kicked back and tried to process a day, that even in my nearly limitless experience, had to deem was pretty screwed up.
I had processed myself into a nice solid sleep with my boots still on when I heard a soft knock on my door. I grinned and smoother my hair into place as I crossed the room, popping an Altoid as I took the chain off the door.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to sleep with me laying just a few feet away…”my words trailed off when I looked down at Emily standing there in a t-shirt and sweatpants, looking up at me nervously.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to…I should just…I’ll see you in the morning…Oh fuck I’m suchanidiot…” she turned and started to bolt but I caught her arm before she finished the turn.
“Hey, hey, hey what’s wrong? Come in, sit down, I’m sorry, I just…” I trailed off myself as I realized I was rambling.
“Just what? Just thought I was my mom?” She arched an eyebrow at me in a perfect imitation of the look I’d given her mom a couple of hours before. “Not bloody likely, as your divine friend would say. She’s out cold. I think today was a lot for her to handle.”
“I know the feeling. I thought I was going to lie here and watch TV for a while and didn’t even know I was asleep until your knock woke me.”
“Oh God! I’m so sorry! I’ll go, I didn’t mean to wake you, I just assumed you’d be up. I mean, Michael doesn’t sleep, so I guess I thought that maybe you didn’t either.”
“Michael’s an angel. I’m human, or at least pretty much human. I do sleep, not as much as most, but I do sleep. But I’d rather talk to you. I’m sure you’ve got a few questions for me.”
“A few? Yeah, that might be an understatement. But I guess, I mean, I guess my only real question is why?”
“Why? Why what?”
“Why did you make my mom fall in love with you? Did you love her? I know why you came back, you didn’t mean to, but why did you leave in the first place? And don’t give me that shit about not watching people die, I can see that lie in your eyes.”
Sometimes I wish I had normal kids. All these years, and every single one of them has been a precocious little shit. All the way back to Abel, who knew what our Father wanted almost before he did. And Cain, who was so quick and strong. They’ve all been amazing kids in some way. Take Matthew, my last son. He was the bravest kid I’d ever seen. I didn’t want him to fight in the war. I knew better than to think that the Redcoats actually had a chance – free will has been winning out ever since Eve ate the fruit, but Matthew had a fire in his soul. He burned with so much righteousness that he would have blinded that little putz Michael, and he felt the injustice of the British rule so sharply that I never had a chance of talking him out of the war. I only went along to protect my identity, and in the hope that if I was with him, I could keep Matthew from doing anything too terribly foolish. I was wrong, of course.
It wasn’t even that much of a battle, really. We were far from any of the major incursions, just fighting with a bunch of patriots in Winnsboro, SC when a Loyalist group decided to follow up on the recent surrender of Charleston by wiping out the patriots throughout South Carolina. Our ragtag bunch beat them back pretty handily, but not before Matthew was shot in the leg. It would have been easier on him if they’d hit him in the chest. The doctor, or what passed for one there, didn’t even try to treat the wound, just hacked his leg off above the knee with a crude saw. The doctor knew nothing of disinfectant, and all he had for a painkiller was a stick to bite down on, and a little whiskey when he woke up the next morning screaming in agony.
He lasted for six days before the pain, the shock and the infection killed him. I sat beside his bed day and night with my musket across my legs, daring anyone to try and move him. I held him when he shook with chills, I mopped his brow when the fever started, and eventually I wrapped my arms around him and cried into his sweat-soaked hair as he lay still. I looked down into Emily’s eyes, blazing truth the way Matthew’s eyes used to glow with righteous anger, and I started to tear up.
“Alright. But if we’re going to have this conversation, I’m going to require some mental lubrication.”
“A drink, kiddo. I don’t tell these stories sober. It’s a rule I’ve got. Think your mother will be good to sleep through the night? This could take a while.”
“After the day she’s had? Yeah, I gave her half an Ambien, so she’ll be out for a good eight hours.”
“Then let’s roll.” I started toward the stairs, heading for the bar a couple hundred yards down the street, when I heard Emily clear her throat. I stopped, and looked at her standing there, barefoot, 24 years old, wearing sweats and a T-shirt that obviously served as pajamas. “Good point. You wait in there, I’ll go get us a bottle and a couple of glasses, and I’ll be right back.”
No, I didn’t ask her what she liked. I didn’t really care. The booze wasn’t for her, it was for me. She would probably need a slash or two before we were done, but I was gonna need a couple good belts before we ever started.
“That’s not good for you, you know.” Michael said as I walked past the car. He was sitting on the hood leaning back against the windshield looking up at what stars he could see through the sodium vapor parking lot lights.
“If I want your opinion, angel, I’ll beat it out of you.”
“I’m just trying to help.”
“If I ever ask for your help, please stick that fiery toothpick you carry around up my ass.” I didn’t wait around to hear his response, if there was one. I walked to the bar, flashed my best smile at the bartender and asked her how much for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green. After a few minutes of negotiation, I slipped him a ridiculous amount of money and walked back to the hotel with two highball glasses and bottle of good whiskey.
I knocked on the door, walked in, poured two fingers of amber firewater for Emily and knocked back a stiff shot of my own. I decided to dilute the second belt with one ice cube and knocked it back, too.
“Geez, Dad. Is it that bad? You’re hitting that stuff pretty hard.”
It had been a long time since anyone called me Dad, or anything like it, and her words made my hand shake a little more. I poured myself a third drink, added a couple of ice cubes to this one, and sat down at the ubiquitous round table that you find in every cheap hotel across the US. Emily sat cross-legged on the bed nearest the door, and for a long time she just looked at me.
“Well, go ahead. You wanted to ask me questions, ask.” I said when I could no longer stand her looking at me like she could see everything without giving me the benefit of lying about it.
Her voice was very small when she finally spoke, but it was loud enough to bring the walls of Jericho down all over again. “Why didn’t you want me?” She looked up at me through a curtain of her own hair, and those eyes, those eyes that could see straight into the heart of the matter, were full of tears.
I was on the bed with her before I knew I’d moved, and I was holding her as she cried little girl tears. She sobbed like the little girl I’d never known her as, and all I could do was sit there stupidly and wrap my arms around her and rock back and forth. After a few minutes her crying started to slack off, and I smoothed her hair back out of her face and wiped her face dry with my shirt sleeve. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, with all the sincerity in my soul “I never knew about you, baby. I was gone before your mom even knew she was pregnant. If I’d known you were coming, I could never have left you. And if I’d ever seen you, I could never have left you. I’ve had hundreds of kids over the years, and I’ve never been able to stand leaving after I’ve seen their eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want you, baby, it’s that I never knew there was a you to want.”
“I know. I mean, I’ve always known that. But it never mattered, you know? At least, not until you were here to say it to me.”
“I get it. But it’s true. You know that, right? I didn’t leave you. I just left. It might not have been the right thing to do, but it felt like what I had to do. At least then.”
“I know. So why did you make my mom fall so hard for you? You know she’s never had a third date in my life?”
“Wow. No, I didn’t know that. That wasn’t the plan. That’s not the way it was supposed to go. We were just supposed to be a summer thing, a couple of young people sowing oats, or at least one young person sowing oats and one person who still looks pretty good for a really, really, really old dude.” She laughed, and I knew we were good. If I can make ‘em laugh they can’t stay too mad at me. And it’s harder to throw things when you’re laughing.
“So you were supposed to just be a fond memory and maybe the face she saw every once in a while when she looked across the breakfast table at her husband?”
“Something like that, although I’ll admit in my vainer moments to hoping I was remembered in slightly different moments than those taking place at the breakfast table, unless you have an unconventional idea of breakfast.” I arched one eyebrow and got a punch on the arm and a golden laugh as my reward.
We talked through the night, mostly inconsequential getting to know you crap, but it was nice to take the time to connect to someone, someone who I didn’t have to hide my true nature from. By the time the sun came up and her mother came in from the room next door with coffee we were friends.