“Please sit back, relax, and treat your senses with this feast for the soul. Once your artistic minds have indulged in my audition, I’m confident you too will conclude that I merit the starring role in America’s new favorite masterpiece.”
“I’m sorry, young man, but auditions closed one hour ago.”
The stranger left forward, right hand raised. “That’s my fault. I-I’m the reason he’s late. I just started parenting about thirteen hours ago, and this is much harder than it looks and turns out I am not naturally good at being a dad so I’m going to work hard at it just like this little nerd has worked hard at being a Broadway star in the making so, please, I’m begging you fine me for the extra time if you want but just let him audition.”
Thirteen Hours Earlier
“Congrats, kid, you’ve snapped up a valuable ticket to a juvenile detention center.” I froze.
“Andrew.” A familiar voice behind me cut in.
“Stella?” His mouth spit out incredulously.
The room was dead silent. A tall man behind the desk, me, and my mom standing in the doorway. This could turn out pretty well. On the other hand, it could get interesting.
“Andrew, can I have a word with you, sans little ears?”
You already know that little ear will be glued to your private convo. They stepped out into the hallway and closed the office door without another thought of me.
“So you remember me. Good. Do you also recall the 4th of July weekend circa twelve years ago? The day when you told me you were in love with me?”
“No, I forget admitting you owned my heart.”
“Well I didn’t forget and you know what else I remember? The following April I gave birth to Anthony.”
“Are you trying to tell me the boy I just caught rifling through my desk with my wallet in his hands is the product of what happened between us?” The words came slowly, but my breath was rushed.
“Yes. that’s what I’m saying. You’re Anthony’s dad and he’s your son. A direct product of the man who fell for a teenage girl.”
“Way to tilt the narrative in your favor,” he retorted indignantly. “I was one facial hair away from being a prepubescent and you told me you were twenty-one. Being with someone you think is your own age is different.”
“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter now. What matters is that when you told me you loved me, you left me with the best memory of my life up to that point and a pregnancy.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up about that.”
“Oh, it’s really not a problem at all. Since you did me the courtesy of notice when you enlisted, I figured I should give you the info that a little detour you took to screw around at the beach left me a baby.”
“That was different.”
“I know it was. Because here’s the thing- I was in your bedroom and all you had to do was say the words. You weren’t even in my country by the time I realized.”
“No, I wasn’t in your country, Stella, I was only off protecting it from terrorists.” I didn’t know whether to resent him or admire him.
“Well then, my knight in shining armor, I’m sure you’re aware how kindly Uncle Sam takes to civilians trying to contact an actively deployed Navy SEAL.”
“You tried to contact me while I was overseas? I assumed you hated me for leaving without coming to kiss you goodbye.”
“I was in love with you, I thought you loved me too, and I was playing host to an organism later known as our child. Of course, I tried.”
“When did you stop trying to reach me?”
“Stop? What do you mean stop? How do you think I found out you own a gym; why do you think I am standing in the said gym?” Good god, Mom, I thought. Twelve years is a long time to search for someone.
“I cannot believe this is happening.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad one?” she asked so softly I nearly missed it.
“If I kissed you would you do a good thing or a bad?” he responded with a more tender air.
“Good.” Incorrect. I’ve never needed a father and I was happy without one.
So that was the first time I witnessed my mom kiss my dad. Of course, I was new to the concept of having a dad so this really didn’t sink in until later.
“I imagine you’re married to some lawyer by now and you think I’m a lowlife,” he said. I was itching to see if she was still in his arms, like a couple or something.
“No,” she replied. “I’ve dated maybe three men since you and not one of them saw a kid and decided to put a ring on it. Nor were any of them lawyers, or Navy SEALs. It’s just me and Anthony. What about you and your wife?”
“I live with my brother, no women to speak of.”
“Sounds nice, I bet you love it.” Do I detect a bit of wistfulness? Would you want to leave me for my uncle?
“I share an apartment with him, I co-own a gym with him, and a few years back we went in together on this cute little set of parents in the suburbs. No, it’s great.” I heard her laugh.
“So we’re both single.”
“So it would seem we are.”
“Do you still have feelings for me, Andrew?”
“Wow. I guess you’re not the type to play games anymore.”
“Not with you, Stella. I care for you in ways only an idiot adores a woman who he hasn’t heard from in over a decade.” Interesting.
“Look, I won’t say seeing you hasn’t made me nineteen again, but I didn’t come here to give us another try. I came here to tell you what I’ve been trying to let you know for twelve years. By the way, if you want a paternity test, just ask.”
“No, if you say he’s mine, then there’s no way he isn’t. But tell me one thing: is he always like that?” And what is that supposed to mean? I demanded.
“Like what, going through other people’s things? Yeah, he likes to play detective; he likes the idea of hunting down domestic terrorists and putting a stop to their evil plots.”
“Yep, he’s mine. One more question: when you brought him here, what exactly did you tell him as to the reason?” You had to give the woman props for pulling that stunt, she didn’t tell me the truth but she didn’t lie either.
“That there was someone I needed to see and it was very important. But, I know what your real question was, and I didn’t explain to him or anyone else that I was aiming to have this conversation. Look, if you don’t have an interest in being involved with his life-”
“I do. I gave up the idea of ever having one of my own, but I always wanted a little tyke.”
“He’s no tyke, Andrew; he wants to be a Broadway star.”
“What about the mini-homeland security situation?”
“Hobby. Time-killer. Call it what you will, but it’s not the dream career.”
“He’s a lot like you, huh? Bound for law school and pursuing fame as an actress.”
“Well, I’m a lawyer now and I only act on the weekends. Pragmatism won out once I had bills for the world to pay.”
“If you need money, I’m happy to-”
“I don’t need or want your money.”
“Up until today, you were a single mother, you must need something. Wouldn’t you at least benefit from support?” Not that I’m closed to the idea of child support, but what do you mean ‘up until today’? Oh my god, it’s hitting me now. I have a father now.
“It’s not financial support that I need. Anthony and I have more than enough, monetarily speaking, for everything we could want. What I could use is the kind of support you gave me back when you were my best friend.”
“So now we’re raising a kid together.” We’re processing that piece of news together, pal.
“Are we a couple again as well?”
“If I had my way.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time you had your way with me,” she teased. I could hear her smile.
“Do you think it’d be best for Anthony if the three of us lived together?” She paused for a while before giving an answer.
“I don’t know. His whole life has been him and me, he’ll need time to adjust. On the other hand, we’ll all get to know one another faster if we’re in close quarters. We can talk about it.”
“As in the two of us, or the three of us?”
“Let me put it this way: he’s not the only one adjusting from two to three.”
“Good God, Stella, where do I even begin?” I heard the door click from the other side and, against my will, prayed for Juvy to still be a viable option.
“Introduce yourself first. Then tell him about your career, a few of your favorite things, some hopes and dreams, etcetera. Just have a conversation with him and be the man that I fell for, and as kind, as you possibly can. When in doubt, ask him about his fancy audition; it’ll keep him talking for hours. Note: his sense of humor is a lot like mine.”
“He has a fancy audition? That’s- that’s wonderful, we must be so proud of our son.” She nodded like a bobblehead, I didn’t even have to look to see it clearly. “Should I tell the story of how you ended up a single mother?”
“He already knows what happened, I just never gave him your name or photo. Maybe he’ll get more if you decide to stick around this time.” I rolled my eyes internally; ‘Knows what happened’ is stretching the taffy. I never got a story.
“I am so sorry for leaving you like that. Sorry, I left you the way I did.” I was getting used to the sound of his voice by that point.
“I was kidding.”
“I’m- I’m still sorry.”
“Your stutter has gotten better. It’s almost nonexistent, actually.”
“Yeah, most people don’t even notice it these days. Does Anthony stutter like me?”
“Nope, he’s eloquent like his mamma. Just don’t ever give him garlic bread, or wine.”
“You gave a child wine?” I heard chuckles.
“No, my friend Cynthia did. I gave her wine and she passed it on when I was in the bathroom.”
“I get that, but if it’s the Cynthia I remember from when you were in high school, why leave her alone with a kid in the first place?”
“Because I’m not perfect, I’m actually human and I learned that I’m not allowed to keep him attached to me constantly.”
“I should go in there and start getting to know him. Please come with me.” Seriously, please.
“Of course.” Thank the dear sweet lord.
Back to Now
The stranger sat down after intervening on my behalf. He was amazed by audition, or so I’d like to believe. That was the easy part though; the part that I knew every step and every note of. But I had no practice with having a dad there. I mean, he was my dad according to my mom but he was a stranger to me like a new babysitter. I didn’t call him dad at first. I just avoided talking to him. But, as anyone with a maternal force of nature knows, I didn’t get my way for long. The night of the audition, we went out to a restaurant to celebrate- just me and my parents and the lingering thought that we might all be wondering the same thing: what comes next?
That night was by far the most awkward of my life. The sound of forks squeaking on dishes will drill through my ears forever.
I was running on clouds when I registered Mom’s voice. “So, now that you’ve gotten to take in Anthony’s talents, what do you think?”
I groaned internally, wishing I could bury my face in my hands, but I couldn’t hide. Mom laid a hand on mine, sensing my thoughts (because lightning will strike twenty times before she resigns herself to not knowing my feelings) and gave me a look I recognized. This is something to be grateful for, it warned. We’re doing this because we’re proud of you.
That much was fairly new to me. It still shocked my system to look across the table and whisper to myself you’re my dad. But, thankfully, he was processing it better. You’re my son.
Thank you for reading this long-winded tale of a family growing. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
If you want more, start with a personal favorite of mine on friendship and growth:
The New Friend
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See my ever broadening collection of short stories here.