The doctor placed the baby boy in my arms. Skin so soft, cries so strong, ten fingers and ten toes so, so small. I wrapped his tiny, naked body tighter in the blanket. The doctor had been too rough, too careless. No one would love this child like I could.
I pressed him against my chest, and his sobbing slowed. Precious child. My precious child.
“What will we name him?” I whispered to my wife.
Her head bobbed to the side and she smiled at me through a glean of sweat. She was so strong. “You name him.” The voice that was usually as delicate as chimes in a soft wind came out in a rasp.
I stared at my son, rubbed the single bald patch in the sea of hair swimming against his head, and wondered, what kind of name could possibly describe a child so close to perfection?
Even the patch of skin peeking out from his angel fine hair seemed too perfect to be real.
“Ezekiel.” The name came out in a breath.
My wife that knew me so well smiled gently and reached for my hand, “After your father.”
“Of all the things he wasn’t, he was at least… my dad.”
She rested a hand on our son and formed her lips in a mischievous grin. The only grin she’s ever had. Even in her most sincere moments she seemed to be scheming something. I loved it about her.
“You’ll be a better father than he was.” She said quietly.
“Oh I know that. But he deserves the best.”
She tugged my sleeve and I responded instantly, sinking down in the bed next to her. She winced but said nothing. I reminded myself of how fragile my bride would be for the next few days.
“You are the best.” She was so close our noses almost touched. I chuckled and closed the gap, pushing our noses flat.
And there was that sinister smile.
“Evelin, dear, how are you feeling?” The nurse entered the room without knocking. She checked the baby then tended to my wife.
Evey shot me a sly grin, I knew how she hated her full name, but she’d never let on to that. “I’m sore but happy. Thank you, Sara.”
The nurse nodded once, not caring that my wife was kind enough to learn all her nurses names, and left as quickly as she came.
Evey sighed and sat back, “He’s perfect, John. Our son is perfect.”
“He’s everything.” I said simply.
The whole way home from the hospital I tried to convince Evey that I wanted to change every one of Ezekiel’s diapers. I wanted to get him dressed in the mornings, I wanted to give him baths at night. I wished I could feed him too. I wanted to be my little champion's everything.
When we got home he had his first poop. We just held each other and laughed at the faces he made. Then, when it was time to change him, I swept him in my arms before Evey had the chance to move, calling over my shoulder that she should sit down and let me do it.
Evey made fun of me for thinking even his poops would be perfect.
We agreed to take turns changing diapers after that.
At three months old Ezekiel gave us his very first smile. Gosh, I must have taken a hundred pictures that day. I did anything to coax that little grin out of him.
At three months and one day I bought him his first clip on tie. Evey thought I was being silly. I just needed to celebrate somehow.
When he hit five months Evey gave him mushed peas for the first time. He spat them out. I didn’t scold him. I would have done the same.
It wasn’t until he was almost ten months old that he said my name, ‘dada’.
It was the single most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
I walked around the house all day repeating dada dada dada, just so he would say it back to me.
And he did. Everyday.
Right before his first birthday Evey met me outside when I came home from work. She looked tired. And so very worn.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I scooted next to her. “Is Ezekiel okay?”
“Ezekiel is fine.” She said, her lips drawn thin, her skin tight.
I pulled her hands into my lap, “Are you okay?”
She shook her head but didn’t speak.
“Evey.” I said. My voice came out sharp, panicked.
She drew in a ragged breath, like it hurt her just to breath. I wanted to pull her into my chest more than anything in that moment.
“He isn’t yours.” She rasped.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Ezekiel. You’re not his father.”
I didn’t mean to do it. I meant to pull her closer to me, to erase the words. But instead I flinched away.
She drew another rough breath, “He isn’t yours John. It’s someone else - there’s someone else.”
She wouldn’t look at me. I wanted her to look me in the eyes. To dare to see the fire and misery she was putting me through. Look at me.
But her eyes stayed focused on the grass.
“I’m going to live with him.” Another long, painful breath, “Ezekiel and I are going to live with his father.”
“You can’t do this. I’m his father!”
Her head sagged and I almost let a crack of pain for her break through the wall of anger.
She turned her bloodshot eyes on me, “I love you so much John, I’m sorry.”
“Then stay!” I begged. I wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t care who Ezekiel’s real father was. I was his dad. “Stay with me, forget this conversation even happened. Let me keep my wife. Let me raise my son.”
She stood slowly, tears coated every inch of her cheeks, “I’m sorry, John.”
I stood quickly but didn’t dare touch her, “You can’t take my son!”
She didn’t even flinch. She stepped through the grass and closed the door between us.
I never saw my son’s first steps.
Part 2 - Ezekiel
I pulled the hood to my favorite sweatshirt over my head and slouched to the other side of the room. I kicked piles of clothes out of my way - clean, dirty, it didn’t matter.
Music blared around me, it was some sort of death metal the radio was playing. Anything with a strong bassline and guitar riffs was good with me, Aunt Mary hated it because she couldn’t understand what the guy was screaming about. I think the song was about death or something. I really didn’t care.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and tried to get out of the house without anyone noticing me just like every other morning.
It never worked.
“Breakfast Zeke?” Aunt Mary asked. I cringed at her chipper voice. It was like a jagged knife against my chest.
Aunt Mary’s kids - my cousins - were already eating their perfect breakfast at the table. Blueberry pancakes with bacon and syrup. I hated bacon so Aunt Mary always offered to make me sausage instead.
I turned back to the door and slammed it behind me without an answer before she could offer to drive me to school.
I hated the big, perfect, immaculate house I was forced to live in. I hated my cousins’ perfect lives in their happy little family. And I hated that they insisted on pretending I was supposed to be a part of it.
Sure, Aunt Mary and Uncle Todd agreed to take care of me, but I wasn’t their kid. I knew I was just a burden, so I tried to stay out of their way.
Even if it meant walking to school in the rain.
I kicked at a puddle that dared to be in my path and the burning in my chest that always showed up when I thought about my family came at full force.
I smacked a hanging tree branch out of my way, embracing the sting that came with it.
The hours of psychotherapy that had been pushed on me over the years declared that I had “Reactive Attachment Disorder” - some crap about abandonment - but I didn’t have a mental illness. I was mad.
Mad at my dad for leaving me when I was baby. Mad at my mom for dying and leaving me with people that already had a family of their own.
But more than anything, mad at my dad for never coming to rescue me when she died.
He left me to be a burden on someone else. On everyone else. Anyone but him.
So I hated.
I hated that he wasn’t man enough to own up and take care of his own responsibilities. Me.
A stray dog trotted past me, drenched and starved looking. I took a swing at him too.
At school I was forced to take off my drenched sweatshirt, as if that changed the fact that the rest of my clothes were soaked through. But I guess they couldn’t ask me to take off my pants.
I peeled off the cotton, exposing my scrawny, fifteen year old bones, and sat in the back seat of the class.
I fell into my spot in the back corner of the room and pulled a beat up book from inside my desk. The Count of Monte Cristo had been a favorite of mine since I was twelve, back when my teachers didn’t even know if I could read.
I slouched low in my seat and opened to the dog-eared page from the day before. “'I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.” What that must be like, I thought.
Mrs. Ecclesworth droned on about the same thing she had been teaching for a week because there were still students that didn’t get it. I hated that I was forced into boredom just because some people had raised idiots.
I pulled The Count closer to my face because I knew Mrs Ecclesworth wouldn’t care. She had long ago stopped caring about anything I did. Said I wasn’t worth the effort. Thanks for that.
An hour later Mrs Ecclesworth passed out our papers, dropping mine on the desk without a glance. She hated me almost as much as I hated her. Because I didn’t try. Because she couldn’t catch me cheating. She had decided a long time ago that I never did my own work, had moved me right in front of her nose so she could catch me at it. When that didn’t work she just started failing me even though my answers were fine. If I got ‘em right she assumed I had lied somehow.
I was fine with it, but Aunt Mary had a fit. She stormed into school one day and screamed at anyone that would listen. So they decided to put me in a room alone and take a test while they watched me. Thirty minutes later my paper was turned in and Mrs Ecclesworth jaw had hit the ground. She couldn’t accuse me of cheating again.
After that she gave up on me. As long as I didn’t distract the other students I could read in the back of class. I think she was mad for being shown up. I think she still thinks I cheated somehow. I honestly didn’t care what she thought. I didn’t mind getting the F’s. According to her I wasn’t going anywhere in life anyway.
At the end of class she passed out our latest essays. “A”. Nothing new. The material was simple. High school was boring.
I tucked the paper away and pushed The Count back into my desk. Before I could stand up I was shoved back down.
“Get another “F” Zeke?” Daemon practically shouted. He loved an audience. I didn’t bother to look for the teacher, Daemon knew better than to mess with me before the teacher left.
I tried to get up again but his boot met my shin and I let out a low grunt. He bent low in front of me, the stench of unbrushed teeth practically choked me, “You know what “F” stands for? Failure. That’s all you are Zeke. A failure. I don’t care what your dead mommy used to tell you.”
I held my breath and started counting, a trick I had learned in my forced therapy. It never worked. Daemon shoved me hard again, snapping my neck. “Did ya hear me Zeke? I said you’re a failure. A nothing. Your dad didn’t want you, your mom killed herself just to get away, and the only family you have left wishes you were dead too. You’re worthless, and you’d be doing the world a favor if you would off yourself too.”
I look up straight into his squinty, beady eyes. Say what you want about me and my life, but don’t mess with the one person that ever actually wanted me. “My mom didn’t kill herself.” I murmured.
“What did you say?” Daemon smirked and checked over his shoulder to make sure people were watching. He loved an audience.
I tried to stand again but Daemon shoved me down hard, jarring my spine, “She didn’t kill herself.” I repeated through clenched teeth.
Daemon sucked in a rumbling breath through his nose and spat a hot lugy straight at my nose and the room filled with cruel laughter.
Bile rose in my throat but I choked it down. Blind, I tried to stand again but a hard kick to my shin brought me to my knees.
Daemon’s putrid breath was by my ear, “Don’t you ever talk back to me again.” He shoved me over then stalked away, taking the entire class with him.
I spat again at the sidewalk, stalking home as slowly as I could. Typical. Get beat up in class, laughed at by everyone who knew me, and even though there’s a bruise welling up across my cheek all day, none of the teachers seem to notice. Mary would notice.
I let out a long breath and banged a stick against the fence, I really didn’t want to face her.
Trying to sneak up to my room without being seen was pointless, Mary and Todd made a point to greet me every day and ask me how school was. I ignored them every time. I wasn’t their kid. They needed to stop pretending.
But I tried to creep up the stairs anyway only to be blocked by a very blond head.
“Zeke!” Cousin Lizzy said, ready to launch into a conversation about who knows what. But her smile fell away faster than she had appeared. “What happened?” She gasped, throwing her dainty hands over her perfectly lip glossed lips.
“Fell down a pothole.” I snapped quietly, “Go do your homework.”
My ten year old cousin scrunched her nose at me, “A pothole? How’d you do that?”
“Lizzy. Go away.”
She stomped her little foot, a trick that always worked on her parents, “But I’m already done with my homework! I’ve been home for an hour.”
I shuffled past her, hugging the wall, “Then put your head in a garbage disposal. Just get out of my way -”
“Zeke!” Great. Aunt Mary saw me. “What on earth happened to your face?”
I huffed and tried to look away, “I was born that way. I know, not that cute. I’m just going to my room.”
Aunt Mary’s fingers curved around my chin and forced my head to the side. She gasped again at the sight of the bruise. “Todd! Get in here! Zeke’s been hurt!”
I jerked out of her reach, “I have not! I’m fine.”
Mary grabbed my chin again, her fingers like a vice, “Oh no you’re not. Tell me that boy’s name and I’ll call his mother right now.”
“Uh!” I pulled away again, “It wasn’t a guy, it was a girl. A nine year old with a beard. And you should see her, I won the fight.”
“Zeke, stop. If you’re being bullied -”
“I’m not. I got hit in gym class by a ball. That’s all.”
“You said you fell down a pothole.” Lizzy interrupted, bouncing on her heals. “Right before you told me to stick my head in a garbage disposal.”
“Shut up Lizzy.”
“Zeke.” Aunt Mary started, but I wasn’t going to hear it.
“You know what, forget it. I’m gonna grab dinner on my own tonight. Enjoy your family time.” I pushed Lizzy toward Mary and ran out the door before she could follow me.
“Zeke!” Mary called, “Todd!”
I hopped the fence and shot down the closest alley before they could follow me, taking shortcuts I had used a hundred times before when I wanted to lose Mary and Todd.
Within minutes I was at a run down pizza place across town. The food there sucked but I was pretty sure Mary didn’t know the restaurant existed, so it was my hideaway when I needed to disappear.
I slid into my favorite booth in the back of the restaurant, ordered a slice of cheese pizza and a coke, and pulled Pride and Prejudice out of my bookbag, another one of my favorites. Not that I’d ever tell anyone that.
I had just taken a slice of pizza when I noticed a man watching me from across the restaurant. I focused on what Dr. Darcy was trying to explain to Mr. Bennet, burying my face in the book. But from over the book the old man took off his glasses and leaned closer, shamelessly staring.
My fingers curled over the pages of the novel and I sank lower in my seat. It’s not like I wasn’t used to being stared at, mocked, but what did this old guy care about me? What was his problem?
I glanced over my book again and the man was getting up, eyes locked on mine. I pushed myself from the booth and slung my bag over my shoulder. I watched TV, I knew what was happening. And I wasn’t about to get killed in this pizza joint.
Just when I turned my back on the weirdo I heard my name. Not my name.
Slowly, with my heart having frozen and picked up speed at the same time, I faced him.
The old man’s eyes were full of tears, his lip shook. I took a step back, who was this guy?
The man’s voice came out in a rough gasp, “My son.”
There he was, standing in front of me. My son. I had searched for him for years, ever since I found out his mother had died. But since I had never learned the name of the man she left me for I couldn’t find Ezekiel under his new name. I had searched catalogs in libraries, news articles, asked everyone she knew, but she had made sure I couldn’t find him. And because I wasn’t his real father I couldn’t get anyone to help me.
And there he stood, fifteen years, seven months, and four days old. My son. No one could love him like I did.
“Who are you?” I demanded. The old man’s face fell and it felt pretty good. I knew that face, I had looked at pictures of it for years, hoping he would save me. But he never did.
The wrinkles around his eyes and mouth and the grey flecks in his hair were new. He used to be a good looking guy, with laugh lines instead of worry lines, I remembered from the few pictures I had looked at from my childhood before I burned them all.
Now I just wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to feel all the pain he had caused me. And I wanted to know why he came now. Why would he come after all these years? What could he possibly want from me?
I hated him. And I wanted him to pay for all he had put me through.
“I’m - John. I was… I was married to your mom when you were born. You - I… you’re my son.”
“No I’m not.” I spat. He blinked hard. His lips pulled together. I fought back a smile.
“Pride and Prejudice was a favorite of your mom’s too.” The man said quickly then flinched back at his own words. He was fidgeting.
I took another step back, balling my fists up, “What could you possibly want from me?” I demanded quietly.
The man flinched again, “I - please, could we sit down? I just want to talk. I promise.”
“No. What do you want?”
He ducked his head then looked up at me, almost as an apology, “Please.”
Ezekiel sat hunched over his untouched pizza, sipping on his soda. The waitress asked me if I wanted anything but I waved her away. Now I wished I had something - anything - to do with my hands.
“Ezekiel -” I tried, but he cut me off.
I had to choke the word out, “Zeke. I just wanted to talk to you.”
Ezekiel tipped his head to the side and glanced at me from the corners of his eyes, “Fine. Let’s talk. Why didn’t you come for me when she died? Why’d you leave me to be raised by someone else?”
He blinked once, twice. “I didn’t want to. When you’re mom left she didn’t leave me with anything to find you. I didn’t know you’re new last name, the city you moved to, even the man who would raise you after she died. Nothing. I wanted to be your father so badly, but because I’m not your - your biological father and I hadn’t seen you for so many years I couldn’t get anyone to help me find you.”
He rolled his neck and sighed, “Funny way to say you just didn’t want me.”
I reached out to him but he jerked away. My hand dropped between us and I cleared my throat, “Why would you think I didn’t want you Ezekiel?”
He locked eyes with me, bringing them into low slits, “Zeke. And because you left. You left me and mom before I could even remember you and then when she died you didn’t come for me. Why would I think you wanted me?”
My jaw worked, opening and closing without sound. “I - Zeke,” I cringed at the name, “I wanted to find you -”
“Why?” He leaned in, his lips pressed together, “You’re not my real father. Why do you care?”
I drew back. His words struck me like an actual fist. “I may not be your father, but you are my son. I held you in my arms,” His eyes dropped down when I motioned holding a baby, “I heard your first words, I changed your diaper, I fed you your first solid food... I was the first one you called dada.”
Ezekiel took another long sip from his soda before he answered, “Glad to hear you care. Real heart warming. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m an abandoned kid without a dad.”
My brows drew tight together, “What about the man your mom left me for?” I couldn’t make myself call him Ezekiel’s dad.
Ezekiel examined a spot on his thumb, “That dead beat?” He shrugged, “He left her as soon as he found out she was sick.” His gaze lifted to me. Fearless, daring. “According to her, you were my dad. At least as far as caring about me went. That loser never looked back when he abandoned me. Not that you were much help either.”
“Ezekiel,” I was begging now, and I honestly didn’t care, “I never wanted to lose you. Just let me prove to you how much you mean to me -”
He shoved himself from his seat, grabbing his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder, “Nah, I’m good.” He said then stormed away, leaving his copy of Pride and Prejudice behind.
If I kept my head down at school I was pretty good at staying invisible. As long as I snuck in and out of classes quickly, sat at the edge of the cafeteria by the garbage cans where no one liked to sit, and kept my eyes low so no one thought I was looking at them, I could get by most days without anyone noticing me.
It was a lot harder to stay unnoticed when I had an inch wide bruise covering half my face, but I was good at hiding that too. Keep my hood drawn low and watch my feet. No one would see me. Not even the teachers.
I had managed an entire day of successful aversion when the final bell rang and I followed the crowd out of school. I hugged the wall and kept my eyes low so no one would see me and think to throw a punch as a goodbye. And that was why I didn’t notice him until it was too late.
“Ezekiel.” That thick, almost choked voice rose in the air.
I snapped my head up, moving much faster than I ever dared on school grounds. The old man stood ten feet from me, ringing his hands over a wad of papers.
He held the stack of paper out to me with one hand, “You left this last night.” He said then swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing nervously.
I glanced over my shoulder, considering just taking off at a run. If I did that I’d be bound to be noticed and I’d either be stopped now or tomorrow and be punished for being remembered.
I wondered if it was worth it.
He cleared his throat, “I - I thought you might like to have it back, it’s obviously been well read.” He smiled and the gesture brightened his tired looking eyes, “You’re mom always wrote in the margins too.”
I stepped forward and snatched the book from his hands then took several quick steps back, “I know.” I said, “This was hers.”
He smiled again. I think he even sighed. “I thought I recognised her writing.”
I watched him stand there for several seconds and he didn’t move. “You miss her.” It wasn’t really a question, more of an observation.
His brows shot up and his lips fell open, “Of course. Your mother was a wonderful woman.”
“She left you.” I said, not trying to protect him from the truth, “She cheated on you with my father then left you for him. If you really do think of me as yours then she took your kid from you. How could you not hate her?”
He bit his thumb nail and looked around, as if the answer was somewhere in the air, “Love… a lot of the time, is a choice. I loved your mom very much when we were together, and I know that she loved me too. And even though I don’t still love her the same way I used to, she gave me you. And I will always love her for that.”
I took another step back and considered running again, “You don’t even know me.”
His gaze dropped and his shoulders fell, “I don’t know you as a fifteen year old, no. But I’d like to.”
“Why?” I demanded, “Why would you care?”
He shrugged, it was a pitiful motion, “A dad never stops loving his son.”
“But you’re not even my dad.”
“Perhaps. But you are my son.”
“Not according to mom.”
He offered a small smile and I realized that he was as broken as I was, “Sometimes blood has nothing to do with it. You were my son. I held you in my arms. That hasn’t changed.”
I sat in the old hotel room where the pictures were dusty and the bed was stiff. I stared at the wall and counted down the hours. Three hours until Ezekiel was out of school again and he would talk to me for a few minutes before leaving to go home with his Aunt and Uncle. His Aunt and Uncle who he didn’t believe actually loved him.
He always let me talk to him, sometimes only for a minute, sometimes we stood there for an hour. Sometimes I could tell he was trying to hurt me, other days he seemed to really listen to what I had to say. Some days he even let me walk him home.
Those were the best days.
I just wanted to know him. I craved it. I needed it. I needed to know my son. My fifteen year old, scrawny son who always hugged the walls and kept his hands balled up in his pockets. Who sometimes had bruises that he never wanted to talk about.
He told me yesterday that he got an “A” on his science test. He said it was easy and I could tell he meant it. I was so proud of him.
Fifty dollars a night to stay in this dingy hotel and wait for the hours or moments that I got to spend with my son.
I lived for those moments.
Weeks later he let me take him to dinner. I was running out of money fast but I let him choose any place in or out of town and order whatever he wanted. He chose a slice of cheese pizza and a coke at the place we first met. I picked at a couple breadsticks.
Ezekiel sat across from me and pulled the cheese off his pizza slice, “So, my Aunt Mary wants to know where I’ve been going after school lately.”
I raised my eyebrows, more confident now than ever before in our conversations, “Oh? Did you tell her the truth?”
He shrugged his slim shoulders, “That a man named John who happens to be my mom’s ex-husband decided to show up in my life fourteen years later? Nah. Just told her I was hanging out at school. She can’t decide if she should be happy or sad about it.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
He stirred his straw around the soda three times before answering, “She thinks I’ve either made friends or I’m doing something illegal. Since I’ve never had a friend in my life I think she’s leaning toward the illegal stuff.”
I tilted my head, “Are you doing anything illegal?”
Ezekiel let his head drop an inch and watched me through his narrowed lashes, “Are you serious? I’m with you every day, John. Are you giving me drugs?”
I smiled at the sound of my name. It was no ‘dada’ but it was a whole lot more than nothing, “Not that I’m aware of. So are you going to invite me to your school play?”
He pressed his hand against the table, “Yeah no. There’s not a cell in my body that wants to play a cat on stage in front of thousands of people that already hate me. I’m planning to be sick, I don’t care if I fail the class.”
I frowned at him from across the table though he wouldn’t meet my eyes, “You can’t skip school, Ezekiel. They’re counting on you.”
“To be cat number three? Not quite. They had to make up the roll just to give me a place. I’m in one scene with zero lines. They’ll go on without me.”
“Son -” I started, but he stopped me.
“John. I’m not giving people another reason to spit at me when I walk past them in the halls.”
I looked down at the breadstick I had been picking at. He was right, I wouldn’t force him to do something that would cause any more bruises that I wasn’t allowed to ask about. My fingers curled into a fist, but I was going to go into that school and find out exactly why it wasn’t being addressed when my child got abused.
“You shouldn't care anyway,” he mumbled, “it’s not like you’ve been around before now to see any of it. It’s none of your business.”
“Can I ask you something Ezekiel?” I asked.
“Zeke.” he corrected.
I ignored him. He was suddenly in the mood to hurt me again, which was fine, but that was the only time he corrected me on his name so I knew I was safe to say what I wanted. “Why are you so much more mad at me than your biological father?”
Ezekiel looked up suddenly but didn’t say anything, so I continued, “You know by now that I never wanted to lose you and that I’ve been searching for you for years. But you’re still mad at me for not being there. Which I can understand. I think I would be too. But when your biological father is mentioned you shrug him off and move on. Why are you so much more mad at me than him?”
His eyes swept the room slowly, “He never wanted me, John. He wanted my mom. And when mom was sick and he knew she would die, he left before he got stuck with me. He was never really my dad.” His eyes darted up to mine and stayed there, “You wanted me. But I never got you. Not a single memory of a loving dad. Not one. Just memories of a guy that would shut me in my room as soon as he got home so he could pretend he didn’t have a kid. Mom died when I was ten. I have plenty of memories of a guy that didn’t want me.”
“I wish I could have been there for you.” I said quietly, something I had said to him a million times before.
He shrugged it off as if none of it really hurt, “Anyway, you’re never coming to a school play or sporting event because yeah right, like I play any sports. But Aunt Mary’s making me come to some stupid family picnic next week.” he shrugged his narrow shoulders again, “I guess it’d be alright if you wanted to come.”
I tried not to smile too wide at what felt like the sincerest form of love I’d ever been offered, “I would love to, son, but I have to head back to Florida in the next couple days.”
Ezekiel’s head shot up, his eyes wide, “You’re leaving me again?” He practically shouted, I could almost see a frantic fear in the way he held his breath.
I held out my hands, “No!” I assured him, “I’m just running low on funds. I’ve been staying in a hotel for almost a month. I just need to get back, get a little more cash, and then I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise.”
“How long?” He demanded, his voice was as hard as stone.
“Give me a month or so. I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can. I want to see you, Ezekiel. Don’t you dare think I’m going to let you go again.”
I forced myself not to beg him to understand while I watched him stir a single ice cube around in his cup for what felt like forever. Finally he looked up at me, “You’re only leaving because you can’t afford to stay here anymore?”
“Just for now. Not long, I promise.”
He stirred his straw again, then without looking up he said, “So why don’t I just come with you?” He glanced up at me, “You said you’re here for me. And you’ll come back for me. So why don’t I just come back to live with you in Florida?”
“I - I would love that. But your family, your school -”
“There’s nothing here for me, John. So can I come live with you or not?”
“You would really want that?” I asked softly. Never had I allowed myself to hope for anything near this. What we had now was so much more than I had imagined…
Ezekiel laid both his hands on the table and watched me, “Yeah. I want that. If you do.”
I tried hard to keep the tears down. My son. My son.
I pulled my books one by one out of a cardboard box and lined them up on the shelf in my new room. I had six boxes total. I had never let Mary and Todd buy me much.
This was the second time I had unpacked my things, the first time Aunt Mary almost had a heart attack at the idea of me moving in with a guy that she hadn’t seen in years and who wasn’t technically my real father. It didn't’ help that I had been hiding the fact that I had been meeting with him for a month.
The only way she would even think of letting a strange man take me away was if she knew him very, very well. Her words, not mine.
So John postponed his trip and Aunt Mary and Uncle Todd payed for John’s hotel room for the next few weeks and I was forced to unpack everything I had already packed away.
Three weeks later he had somehow convinced Mary and Todd that he was a stand up guy and I wouldn’t die in his hands. As long as we came to visit them every other month. And as long as I agreed to call if I even had one second thought.
So we drove back to Florida together in an old car that made too much noise. John smiled like a doofus the whole time.
His house smelled like cats even though he owned none and the old lady next door knocked on our door like every day because she needed to borrow something or something in her apartment broke or we were being too loud. John said she was just lonely, so I made a point to talk to her in the hall when I came home from my new school every day.
Apparently the new school counselor - who was some hippy freak - found out my story and decided I was still thoroughly broken for a fifteen year old. So I got more physcotherepy. Which was great.
But things are actually pretty good now. My room is too small and the house still smells like cats even after I bought an air freshener. But for the first time that I can remember I have a family so I’m actually kind of… happy.