Sneakers beat against cold, damp concrete. When he saw him yesterday, he couldn’t believe his dumb luck. He’d only seen pictures that his mother thought she so expertly hid from him. Even at a distance, he noted who he had inherited his eyes, nose and cinnamon colored hair from. Following him had proven too easy until he disappeared inside an apartment building. Late last night he’d hung back in the shadows, silently tracing footsteps to unit 309. In all his fourteen years, he knew people looked for any excuse to let loose on the weekend. Strangers he’d passed by during the work week either looked so miserable that they should be shot out courtesy, or they’d past the point of misery and entered into a zombie state of mind. If luck was on his side maybe he’d get to check out 309 without anyone noticing his presence.
With a grey zipped hoodie obscuring his face and long shaggy hair, he sloshed through puddles of water and skipped up slabs of eroding concrete steps. Standing in front of the entrance, the wooden door frame were engraved with carvings; a few hearts, jagged lightning bolts and emoji smiling. The paned glass was smeared with finger prints and god knows what else. Twisting the rusting knob, he walked in taking note of the dingy floor tiles, going up the stairs were no better. They creaked loudly, dipped in making him fear falling through. At the top of the third floor, carpet spilled throughout the hallway, wrapping around various corners. Some were patches of seaweed green or a faded tangerine orange. Following the squares tempted him to play hopscotch.
Standing in front of 309, carefully looking around for prying eyes, he pulled out his trusty lock picking kit and went to work. Moments like this always gave him the jolt of a thrill. There was always a chance of being caught but it was best not to jinx himself. Successfully hearing the turn of the lock, he hurriedly shoved his tools into his back pocket and entered into the unknown. Closing the door with a soft click, he listened for movement but only heard the tick of an overhead clock. To his right rested a small wooden table with two chairs, a refrigerator in the corner, a small counter space and a deep stainless steel sink. Just beneath the counter sat a microwave and bowls of water and cat food. Cat food?
Searching around, he moved deeper into the unit bumping into a coffee table. He hissed rubbing his knee and heard a meow and felt the animals graze against his other leg. Feeling along the wall, he found a light switch and flooded the area with light. The cat looked up at the intruder assessing him and rubbed against him again. Bending down, he scratch the cat behind its ears and neck and down the length of its back. Satisfied, the cat tipped away into a back room. As he scanned the premises, nothing was out-of-place. There wasn’t even a dish in the sink. Perhaps this man has a serious case of OCD. Walking further inside, he slightly opened the blinds which are the whitest white that could be found on earth and peeked out to a gloomy drizzling sky. Before he could react, his face was smashed against the glass and pearly white blinds, hands arrested twisted at his back and felt a huge sturdy hand crushing his spine.
“Who are you?”
“If you could just ease up-”
“I won’t ask you again.”
“My name is Brandon.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“My arm is going numb.”
“Doesn’t have anything to do with your mouth.”
“Seriously, I can explain if you let me go.” Silence ate away until pressure lifted off Brandon’s back.
“You try anything…” he let the threat sink in before he turned around and looked up at a giant of a man scowling down at him. At best he was roughly have this man’s height and he knew there was no chance on God’s green earth that he could take him. Rolling his shoulder in its socket, he took two steps away for safety reasons. “I’m listening.”
“Like I said, my name is Brandon and I’m here to ask you some questions.”
“Ask me some questions? Take your hood off.” Letting it plop at the nape of his neck, he revealed his shaggy brown hair and blue eyes. “You some sort of queer-looking for trouble?”
“No I’m not some sort of queer, I’m you’re son.”
“The hell you are. Get out.”
“I’m not leaving until I get some answers.”
“You got some balls breaking into my unit demanding answer from me. Listen kid, I’m not your father and I don’t have any children.”
“I am your son, I saw pictures of you my mom tried to hide from me.”
“Oh, and who is this mother of yours?”
His mind raced with questions of his own. Delilah never told him about any pregnancy. What’s more, was this boy his son? Thoroughly scanning over his features, green checks burned over his mind’s eye. Still, he needed more.
“What other proof do you have besides a name?”
“Haven’t you been looking at me? You can’t deny I have some semblance of you.”
“Even so, bring me more than a name.”
“You obviously know my mom. Why’d you abandon us?”
“A better question is why your mother allows you to leave that house looking like that.”
“Find a chair and sit in it.” Though Brandon felt safe he decided better than to test this man who could snap him in half. Parking his butt in a chair, he waited until the man came back with clippers and shears.
“I know your name is Alexander Paige Newsom. I have your last name.”
“I know my name as well, was born with it. Now sit still.” Inches of cinnamon hair fell to the floor and he felt weird about his dad, a stranger cutting his hair for the first time. “Don’t make people guess what you are. You’re a boy, look like it. Got it?”
“Okay.” Listening to the buzz of the clippers, Brandon didn’t know exactly how to feel. If his dad didn’t believe he was his son, he wouldn’t be taking the time to groom him to his own standard. “Are you going to answer my question?”
“When you bring more proof.”
“How bout I take you to my house. My mom’s there all the time, she works from home. That should be enough proof for you.”
“I’m giving you want you want, easy peasy.”
That day he left without answers but it didn’t stop him, he kept going back determined to acquire as much information as he could about his father. Each time Brandon made it home after dark, his mother asked him were he’d been and he honestly answered he was at his father’s apartment. Delilah laughed every single time citing he had an overactive imagination. He even told her his dad cut his hair. Clearly she didn’t believe him, but she’d have the shock of her life once he convinced his dad to stop by.
Brandon arrived unannounced every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Alexander let him in without fuss. As usual, his unit was beyond clean for the male specie.
“Can I ask you something?”
“You’re an OCD freak, right?”
“No. Spent a good amount of time in the military. Habits don’t leave so easily, or at all sometimes.”
“Did you kill people?”
“Ask me something else.”
“Okay, why aren’t you married?”
“So you’re going to die a hermit?”
“Maybe.” Brandon chuckled bringing an involuntary grin to Alexander’s lips. As much as he hated to admit it, the kid was infectious and he grew on him like vines to a tree. “What about you, you getting hitched?”
“I’m only fourteen. I have plenty of time to do what I want. A man should set up a sustaining life for himself first before even thinking about attaching another life to his.”
“And you know this how?”
“My mom. I get frequent lectures when she sees a girl talking to me.”
“Well, you should listen to her. Mother’s know best.”
“You know, mom misses you.”
“She say that?”
“No. I can tell. She hasn’t dated anyone since giving birth to me. When I ask her if she wants to get married, so says no. Sometimes I hear her in the shower crying. I’m pretty sure it’s over you.” Guilt pressed its way into his conscience. Delilah never left his heart and soul even after their breakup. He still loved her even now. There was no denying Brandon was his son, he laughed like him, had his eyes and would stop at nothing for the truth. He liked persistence. Honestly, staring and listening to a pint-sized version of himself felt unreal. Brandon was as close to the purer part of himself. It was like he was getting to himself all over again. He hoped that Brandon would stay like that, pure, because life had a cruel way of skewing the truth, the trust we have for one another and decisions we are sometimes forced to make.
“Delilah deserves to be happy.”
“She will once you come back home. She’ll be floored! I told her I met you and you gave me a haircut. She laughed and blew me off. Just she wait.” he chuckled again.
“You’re going to give her a heart attack.”
“Nah, you are when you come back home with me.”
“I never agreed to that.”
“You will. Any way, I’ll get going, don’t want to worry mom.”
“Okay.” Before Brandon left, he ran over and gave Alexander a hug. “Tell Cha Cha I’ll be back.”
“Who’s Cha Cha?”
“That’s not her name.”
“Well I renamed her. Bye dad.”
As the door opened and closed, he was left felt feeling vulnerable. His son called him dad and gave him an unsolicited hug. He hadn’t done anything to earn it, nor did he deserve it. But it sure felt good to know Brandon didn’t hate him.
“Her name is Delilah.” he murmured as he sauntered back to his bedroom.
Marching up the stairs onto the porch, the front door burst open, Delilah standing there with her hands on her hips.
“Where have you been?”
“With my dad.”
“Brandon stop saying that and come inside.”
“Brandon!” she chided.
“You’ll see. I’m going to bring him back to us.” He kissed Delilah’s cheek and smiled at her. Her face flushed a muted pink as tears stung her eyes.
“Go wash up and get to bed.”
Bringing him home was no easy task. It was two weeks shy of Brandon’s seventeenth birthday before he agreed. Brandon had grown to five feet ten inches and put on an acceptable amount of muscle thanks to his father’s rigorous exercise routines. Sometimes when he stopped by, he was made to run five miles in the dark just to get some questions answered. Still Alexander didn’t answer the one question he longed to put to rest. But this evening his dad was going to clear the air.
“Why are you so quiet?”
“Just thinking. Mom’s going to freak when she sees you.”
“Thanks for making me more nervous than I already am.”
“What’s a son for?” Pointing the way, they rode in silence until they pulled up to the curb of Brandon’s home. Bolting out of the car, Brandon waited for Alexander to bring up the rear. “Come on, stop slow poking around. You were in the Marines, you should have this.”
“Son, women are a totally different marching ground.” Brandon’s eyes widened in shock and throat tightened. “What’s wrong?”
“You called me son.”
“You never done that before.”
“Let’s go.” Brandon playfully jabbed at his father’s ribs and immediately was put in a head lock. Both laughing in unison. You couldn’t tell the two apart. Before gliding his house key in the lock, he instructed his dad to wait just inside the door. Alexander nodded and let Brandon go through first.
“You’re home late again.” he said from the kitchen.
“I know, but I have a good reason.” Striding from the kitchen, Delilah’s mouth was set in a frown.
“If you say you were at your dad’s again I’m going to lose it.”
“Then I won’t say it. But it’s true. I know it’s taken longer than I planned to bring dad home, but I did it.”
“Just wait mom. Dad, come out.” Mother and son waited but no one appeared. Charging her son, she struck him in the shoulder and whacked him with her kitchen towel.
“Stop hitting him. No son of mine is a liar.” Delilah’s arm halted just as she was about to placed another frustrated blow to her son’s shoulder. Brandon snorted a ‘I told you so’ and backed away from his mom. “You okay?”
“Didn’t feel a thing.” Grinning wide at his father, he pat him on the back for good luck and disappeared upstairs. Delilah and Alexander stared at one another in silence. She was totally mind blown, fragmented thoughts struggled to download words to her mouth. As he walked closer to her, she thought she’d jump out of her skin. Guiding her to the couch, he gently sat her on the cushion and sat beside her.
“Delilah?” She turned her head with her mouth wide open and eyes bulging out their sockets. He smile inwardly, heart racing like a V8 engine. He was trying his best to remain cool.
“What are you doing here?” she asked after she found her voice.
“Brandon asked me to come. I also thought you deserved answers, in order to do that, I had to face you. So here I am.”
“You can’t just pop back into my life an expect everything to be okay.”
“I don’t expect everything to be okay.”
“Fine. Tell me why you broke it off with me.”
“The short answer…I was afraid.”
“Of you, how you made me feel.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that because I don’t believe you. In relationships, people don’t leave because they love each other!”
“I didn’t know how to handle my feelings for you. Do you ever remember meeting my parents, siblings?”
“You never spoke of your parents, and you don’t have siblings.”
“My parents were already divorced when I met you. I have two brother’s and one sister. I’m the oldest. When my parents divorced my siblings and I were split up. The only reason my mother kept me was because there was no traces of my father in me. Everything I loved was taken from me. I’ve tried to reconcile with my siblings but they don’t want anything to do with me. Then I met you. Everything was going well at first. I fell in love with you and that scared me. What scared me more was the thought of you leaving me. So I left first. I thought it was logical at the time, but I’ve lived with the regret of my actions. I was selfish and didn’t take your feelings into consideration.”
“You could have just told me about this.”
“I know but I was afraid to. I know I was wrong.”
“Yes you were, big time.”
“I know you’re angry and probably disappointed in me, but I won’t ask for your forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. But what I am asking is a chance to get to know my son better. Please don’t take this opportunity away from me to have Brandon in my life.”
“Wait, how does Brandon know you’re his father? I never showed him your picture.”
“Our son snoops, he even broke into my apartment. I watched him. Not to mention he tried following me. Stealth is not his forte.”
“What?! Brandon! Get down here right now!”
“Relax Delilah, it’s not a big deal.”
“It is. I didn’t teach him to break and enter, or to become a private investigator.”
“Hands off. Brandon!”
“Just wait a second and breathe. Brandon, you might as well come off those stairs. I heard you come back down ages ago.” Brandon rounded the corner with a sheepish grin.
“Brandon, you invaded my privacy. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?”
“I know but every time I asked you about dad, you would clam up. I’ve heard you crying in the shower countless times and I just wanted to fix things. Now you won’t have to cry anymore. Dad’s here.”
“He is a stranger-”
“Dad isn’t a stranger, not to me and not to you. It’s not like the three of us can’t make this work. I’ll be graduating high school in less than two years. Who’s going to take care of you when I’ve gone off to college? You shouldn’t be here alone, you deserve to be happy and have someone take care of you. Who better than dad?”
“This is between Alexander and I. We are the adults who decide what is and isn’t going to happen.”
“Well, I took the guess-work out of things. Dad’s willing to give it another shot.”
“Brandon, I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to, I can tell. I’m not some naive little boy. Why am I the only one being an adult about all this?”
“It’s complicated between he and I.”
“No it’s not. You’re the one who always told me to forgive. You’re the one who said people deserve at least a second chance. Don’t you think you both deserve a do over?”
Delilah shoved her hands on her hips, turning away blowing breaths of frustration. While his mother’s back was turned, he gave his father two thumbs up and a Cheshire smile. He hadn’t a clue what he was going to do with his son. By the time Delilah turned around, her son had scurried away leaving her standing beside Alexander.
“I can’t make any promises Alex.”
“Okay, I can live with that.”
“I can’t keep you away from your son but while he’s in your care, you better not hurt him.”
“I won’t.” If he were brutally honest, Delilah was scarier than any sergeant that he’d ever come across.
“I don’t hate you. I’d forgiven you long ago. It’s just difficult to see you again.”
“I get it. But at least you’ve remained beautiful.”
“Flowery words won’t work with me.”
“All that I’ve said is true.” She looked up into his eyes and felt her heart tug. How irritating it was. She’d fight with all she had not to fall into his hands again, but the truth was, there was never a moment she’d forgotten him. She’d never gotten over Alex and wanted him to come back, but she’d make him earn his keep because she wasn’t giving in so easily. “Delilah?”
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“Oh I doubt it.”
“I won’t ever run again. I’ve learned my lesson. If you decide to give me a second chance, I’ll make good on it. I promise.” He held out his hand as she hesitated. Delilah twisted her lips mulling it over. Begrudgingly, she slapped her hand in his, silently vowing to make him suffer just a little when Brandon came barreling down the stairs and stopped shy of entering the living room.
“Mom, dad has a cat, guess what her name is.”
“Shut up Brandon.” Alexander warned.
“Delilah. He named the cat after you.” he guffawed. Delilah looked up at Alex in question as his mouth fell open.
“Come here boy, I’m going to kill you!” Brandon bolted out the front door, down the steps and into the yard. Alex tackled him on the grass putting him in a headlock. Between gasps of air, Brandon managed to laugh and turn the tide of his father. There they rolled around on the damp lawn laughing disturbing the neighborhood. Delilah stood at the door, a small tug lifted at the corner of her mouth as she shook her head.