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Having him back Part I by Vegard
He stood leaning up against a beat up old truck. Staring at him.
Charlie studied him back. In a strange way this tall, almost gaunt, man looked familiar, like he was someone he’d known a long time ago.
"Hey Chuck!" Pete snapped his fingers in front of him, "You comin’ or not?"
Charlie turned to his best friend, and said, "Yeah, I’m comin’, but not right now. I’ll catch you up ok?"
Pete looked across the street, following Charlie’s gaze.
"Who’s that? And why is he staring at us?"
"I ain't sure, but I’m gonna find out. And he’s staring at me, not us."
Pete looked puzzled, but realized his buddy didn’t want him around, and with a "See ya’!" he rode off on his bike.
Charlie walked slowly across the street, not taking his eyes off the man, his own bike rolling at his side.
Pushing himself off his car the man straightened up. He really was tall, and he looked tough. Like a real bad-ass, even though he seemed to try and look friendly.
His eyes were fairly deep set under dark eyebrows, and his cheeks were hollow below his cheekbones. There was something reminding Charlie of a hawk, or an eagle, about the strong features. Features that looked familiar, because he shared them. Not the hollow cheeks but the rest, and whereas this man must have been in his mid forties, and looked it, Charlie was only fifteen. He’d had a real growth spurt though and he was only a couple inches shorter than the man he approached.
"Dad?" he said as he was about 5 feet from him.
The man nodded. "Yeah." He said, and his voice had a deep, serious tone. A voice Charlie didn’t recognize at all.
They studied each other. Charlie with his not yet mature look, with his darkish, blond hair cut like so many of the other kids in school. Shaved on the back and sides, and long, lighter colored from the sun, and floppy on top. His father with the same length stubble as his son, only all over his head instead of just the sides. His head was as tanned as his face and arms. The stubble was dark, and slightly peppered with grey, especially around his temples.
"How are you Charlie?" he said.
"Uh. Ok I guess."
"How’s your Ma?"
Charlie looked away. Feeling some resentment coming to the surface, but managed to push it down.
"She’s okay. She’s married and I have a half sister." Charlie felt his father didn’t deserve more of an update. And asked, "Did you just get out?"
"Yeah. About a week ago."
Charlie's eyes moved up from his blue eyes to his hairline. He had a full head of hair, and yet it was buzzed short. Charlie found that strange. Greg had a buzzed head to, but that was because he was going bald, and only after he'd hung on to a pretty sad combover for years.
"So, do they shave your head in prison?"
His Dad gave a brief smile. A quick, crooked one, that disappeared as fast as it surfaced.
"Nah. Not unless you want to."
They stood in silence. Still studying each other.
This was awkward.
His father seemed to relax a bit and smiled at Charlie. The difference in his face was remarkable as his face relaxed and his smile reached his eyes. Instead of the hard-ass look, it made him look quite nice and friendly. Probably handsome as well. For an old guy.
Charlie wasn’t ready to smile back though. Not yet.
"Do you want to go somewhere we can talk? Or do you want to leave, and maybe catch up later?"
Charlie thought about it. Part of him wanted to hop on his bike and catch up with Pete at his house, but this was too big. He wouldn’t have his thoughts on the video games today, that was for sure.
"Uh. Go somewhere and talk I guess."
"Great! Hop in!"
His Dad picked up the bike with ease and lay it in the bed of the truck, and they climbed in to the cab.
Charlie studied his father as they drove. He seemed tense, and the muscles in his jaw could be seen clearly as his jaw clenched and unclenched. Was that a scar? There was a sort of groove running across his right cheekbone, and another, fainter one right across the bridge of his nose, only visible this close. Charlie felt fascination mingled with anger and bitterness. This guy had left when he was three, and then got sent to prison for,..., for God knows what. But he'd been a convict almost all of Charlie's life.
Shortly after Mom got married to Gary Charlie had been in trouble at school for beating up a kid that had tried to bully him. And he'd snuck down the stairs to listen to the two of them talk about him after he'd been yelled at and sent to his room. It was then he overheard them talking about his temper, and Gary had said, "He has that from his Dad huh?"
His Mom had sighed, and said "I hope to God he doesn't! If he ends up in prison to, it will break my heart."
His stomach had felt like it dropped at least a couple of inches, and it was with wide eyes, and a rapidly beating heart, he'd sat and listened to their worries he'd end up in serious trouble.
He'd never found out more. For some reason he'd never asked his Mom about it, just speculated to himself. All he knew was that his Dad was probably in prison for something violent. Since it had to do with his temper and all.
He'd felt ashamed. Ashamed, and almost dirty. Like he'd gotten something bad and evil in him as the only thing he'd ever got from his father.
And he'd gotten into more fights. He did have a temper, there was no denying it. And although he tried to stay out of trouble, when his blood was up it would end with black eyes and nosebleeds more often than not. Both for himself and others. After fighting he would always feel bad, and like he'd let his Mom down, by letting "that" side of him come to the surface.
"I'm not gonna call you "Dad", just so as you know," he said suddenly. Sounding almost angry, and remembering with a twinge that the first word he had used to him was "Dad?"
His father took his eyes off the road for a few seconds and look calmly at him. "Off course not."
He looked at the road again. "How about you just call me Jack?" he asked, and added, "Or s**mbag or a**hole or something like that?"
Charlie stared out the window, and they continued in silence.
They pulled in to Rose's Diner over on Elm, and Jack led the way to a corner booth and chose a seat from where he could see both the entrance and the door to the kitchen. Prison habit maybe?
There were only five other customers and Charlie was glad he didn't know any one of them. No one knew about his Dad. Not even Pete.
The waitress took their order, without any chit-chat. She probably sensed the tension as they both sat there just looking at each other. They both followed her with their gaze as she went to tell the cook to fry up some burgers for them.
"So what did you do?" Charlie asked, fixing Jack with his gaze.
"You don't know?" he looked surprised.
"Nope. Mom never told me anything about you, except that you left when I was three."
Jack nodded. "I didn't actually leave. I was away, yeah. But me and Allison where still together when it happened."
"So, what did you do?"
"I killed a guy." Jack said it in a toneless voice.
"You killed a guy?"
His father nodded.
"Just like that?"
"Nah. Not "just like that". I was working on a rig over in Louisiana, and we were out one night after work and we got in to a fight."
Charlie didn't say anything, and just let his Dad talk.
"Some of the locals didn't like us roughnecks bein' there, and one of'em came up to us and started razzing us. So I punched him."
"And that killed him?"
"Nah, I punched him in the gut, and pretty soon my whole crew were in it, and the local guys to. And I was grappling with the same guy, and ended up hitting him and knocking him into a brick wall. And he died." As an after-thought he added, "So, yeah, I guess a bit "just like that"."
"The coroner at the trial said he'd had weak blood-vessels in his brain, and that one of'em burst when he hit those bricks."
Jack seemed to study the knuckles on his right hand, cupping them with his left. His hands were huge, and course. It wasn't that hard to imagine them as mean weapons in a fight.
"Why'd you get twelve years for that?" Charlie was puzzled. It had sounded kind of accidental in his mind.
"Witnesses from the bar said I'd started it. There was a lot of hostility towards us from the townsfolk already. And, you know, when one of their own dies that pretty much does it."
They sat in silence for a while, and the waitress came with their drinks.
"Is prison as bad as they show in the movies?" Charlie asked, and took a sip of his coke.
"Some is, some ain't"
Jack was quiet for a while, thinking about fights, lock-down, being put in "the hole" for days if you got in trouble. It was bad alright.
"People aren't there because they're nice, you know? And you put hundreds of thugs and criminals together and treat them like s**t to boot, it ain't pretty."
"What isn't like in the movies then?"
Jack shrugged, "The boredom. The boredom is worse than the violence. At least for me it was."
Charlie was curious about life in prison. After all, being a teenage boy, he'd grown up with shows and movies about prison life.
"Why?" he asked.
"Why did I hate the boredom the most?"
"'Cause it drives me nuts. Give me a good fight any day, in stead of putting me in a cell with nothing to do."
Their burgers arrived, and they ate in silence for a bit, before Jack asked,
"Are you good at fighting?"
Charlie shrugged, "Not too bad, but Mom gets real upset if I get in fights. Are you good?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah. I'm good. One on one I don't loose often."
"Can you teach me?" Charlie almost blurted out. He'd wanted to start training some form of marshal arts, and asked Mom and Greg about karate and boxing a few times. But they'd said they would rather he played some form of ball-game. And they'd suggested basketball, since he had always been tall for his age. But Charlie didn't want to.
"Sure," Jack said, adding, "Not sure how though. It's sort of something you have to learn by doing. You know?"
Their burgers arrived, and they ate without saying much.
"Do you like school?" Jack asked when they'd finished.
"Some of it. Not all."
"Are you any good?"
"At some of it, but not all."
"You ain't much of a talker are you?"
"I guess not. Are you?"
"Nah, not unless I got something to say."
the waitress came and took their empty plates and their order for another coke for Charlie and coffee for Jack.
"What are you gonna do now you're out?"
"I've got a job already. Over in East Texas."
Charlie felt bitter disappointment swell inside him.
"You're leaving again?" he exclaimed, thinking about the promise that he'd teach him how to fight.
"Nah. I'll work a schedule. One week on, one week off. We live in trailers over by the rig, and I'll find a place here for when I have the week off. It's only five or six hours drive each way.
"You reckon it's ok that I stay here?" Jack asked.
Charlie nodded, and said, "Mom probably won't think so though."
"Do you reckon we should ask her?"
The thought of this made them both laugh.
They talked about work and school a bit longer. Still a bit awkwardly, but the conversation went pretty well.
Charlie was telling Jack about having known Pete since the first grade when his phone rang, and he fished it out of his pocket. "Mom" it said on the screen, and he slid his finger across.
"Are you over at Pete's?"
"No, I'm at Rose's Diner with Jack."
"Who?" his Mom sounded puzzled. Charlie didn't have any friends she knew of named Jack.
"Your ex" he said, while looking at Jack. He sat leaned back in the booth following the conversation intently. At least Charlie's side of it.
Charlie heard his mother breath in sharply, and got a mental image of her nostrils flaring, and her eyes firing bolts of lightning.
"What?" she exclaimed with a slight hysterical note to her voice.
"Your ex," Charlie repeated, knowing full well this is not what she meant. She wanted a full explanation, but that could wait.
"Talk to you later ok?" he said, and hung up on her.
"Ouch!" Jack looked at him with sympathy. "Will she give you hell about this?"
Charlie shrugged. "I don't see how? It's not like I've done anything wrong."
"Do you want me to drive you home?"
The phone rang again. Charlie flipped it to silent, and put it back in his pocket.
"Nah. Not quite yet."
The thought of his Mom's reaction when he went home kind of weighed on him though. And neither of them could think of much more to say, so Jack paid at the counter and they drove towards Charlie's.
As soon as they came out of the truck, and Jack was lifting the bike off the bed, Allison came steaming out, with Greg right behind her.
"Charles Alexander! Inside, now!" she almost yelled at him.
But Charlie didn't feel like it. Tilting his head slightly he looked at his Mom with a furrowed brow, and said, "No."
His Mom had turned towards Jack, but now her head snapped back towards her son. "What?"
"I said, no," he repeated.
Gary growled "If you don't go in the house now, you will pay when we go back in. Do you hear me boy?"
"Yeah," Charlie said, adding, "And ok."
They seemed to expect him to go inside. His Mom looked slightly bewildered, and would have looked comical were it not for the furious glare in her eyes.
"Well?" she said, "Go!"
"Oh. Eh, I said "Ok", as in, "Ok, I will have to pay afterwards." I ain't going in now." Charlie explained. He wasn't going to let them bully him away from this. Half his life they'd made him feel like there was something wrong with him for taking after his Dad. He wouldn't have it any more. Driving back from Rose's, the resentment he'd felt towards his father had begun to shift. A large part was now lodged against his Mom in stead. It was like a large, until now missing, piece of the puzzle that was him had been found. And it was his Mom that had hid it from him.
A small flicker of a smile had crossed Jack's face as he listened to Charlie, and it didn't disappear fast enough. Allison saw it. And tall and tough as Jack was he seemed to wilt as she laid it on him.
"You!" she spat, "Why are YOU here?"
Jack didn't know what to say at first, but said, "Had to go somewhere, you know?" It sounded lame, but Allison didn't have a comeback either. She glared at him.
"Leave!" she said
Her ex pondered this for a bit, and said, "Your yard? Or town?"
"Well, one is up to you, and the other ain't."
She looked at Gary, who stood there not knowing what to say, or do. Jack looked at Charlie, who was surprisingly calm.
"Mom?" a small girl opened the door, and looked anxiously at them, especially at the tall stranger.
"Go back inside honey," Allison forced herself to sound calm. Laura looked worried, but did as she was told.
She seemed slightly calmer, but she still glared at Jack.
"Leave!" she almost hissed at him.
Jack looked at Charlie, who gave a nod, and Jack got in his truck and drove off.
They watched him drive away, and Charlie was steered in to the house by his Mom, then in to the kitchen, where she closed the door behind them. Gary stopped in the living room to calm his daughter who still looked worried.
The kitchen, with the door closed, was the usual place for Charlie to receive lectures, but he had never been as calm about it as he was now.
Frankly he was curious as to what his Mom was going to say.
She didn't seem too sure herself, but looking sternly at him she said, "You are not to see him again!"
"Because I say so!"
Charlie's brows were furrowed. He was thinking.
"Do you hear me?" It was more of an order than a question.
"Yeah, I hear you," he said.
"And?" she spat.
They both turned and watched Gary as he came in and sat down next to his wife. Charlie sat on the other side, facing them both. As always when they had serious talks with him in there.
"How are you gonna stop me?" he asked frankly.
"Are you openly disobeying us boy?" Gary growled.
Charlie thought about it a few seconds, and answered, "Yeah. I guess." He didn't feel he was trying to be smart or anything. But he also couldn't see how they could, or had a right to stop him seeing his own Dad.
This seemed to dawn on his Mom and Gary as well, and they were wise enough not to come up with empty threats.
"I'd like to get to know him," Charlie said, looking at his Mom.
She didn't know what to say, and looked almost pleadingly at Gary.
"He's bad news!" he said harshly.
Charlie didn't say anything, and Gary continued.
"Do you know what he did?"
"Yeah. He killed a guy in a bar-fight, and he did 12 years in prison for it."
Neither one of them disputed this, confirming in Charlie's mind that it was a true picture of events. Which was a relief to him. At the same time anger was growing in him from being kept in the dark for so long.
"For 12 years you haven't told me a single thing about him!" he said to his Mom, "Why?"
"We thought it would be for your own good," she said.
"We?" Charlie scoffed. "You didn't say anything about him before you got together with Gary either."
"Ok. I didn't think it would be good for you." His Mom looked dejected.
Almost glaring at her now Charlie got up and left the room. He felt adrenaline coursing through him, and felt he'd better go to his room before he said, or did, something he might regret. A way he'd taught himself to cope with his temper when it threatened to get the better of him.
Laura was sitting on the couch with her tablet, lost in her games.
Up in his room he lay down on his bed, still in his clothes, shaking with anger, and glared at the ceiling. Anger at his Mom almost overwhelmed him.
Thankfully he was left alone to calm down. It took a while though, but after about an hour he went back downstairs to grab a bite to eat. It was hours since the burger, and he fixed himself a couple of sandwiches and took them back to his room to eat there. Gary and his Mom watched him walk past, but neither one said anything.
Charlie was sure they weren't done with this though. And he was equally sure he would see Jack again. And he found he looked forward to it. Although he could hardly remember him from before, it was good to have him back.