Read Nobody's son Online

Authors: Shae Connor

Nobody's son (page 3)

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A second later his mama had her hand on his shoulder, and she held the paper in front of him. “You won, baby.”

Shaun stared at the letter, then at her.

“The essay you wrote for school. The one about me being a police officer? You won. Best essay.” She moved closer, sliding her hand around his shoulder to pull him into a sideways hug. “Best essay in the whole school. They want you to read it at the school assembly next week.”

 

 

EVEN Adecade later, Shaun could still feel the warmth of her embrace and the pride that practically oozed from her pores. That’s how it felt walking into the house where they’d lived. Like she was still there, arms around him, loving him.

And, of course, having his gran there just made the feeling stronger.

“Hey, Grangigi.”

He rarely used the full nickname. As the only grandchild, he’d been the one to choose what to call her, but he’d shortened it as he’d grown up. She didn’t comment on the difference, just smiled at him from her favorite chair. “Hey there, baby. I made chicken and rice for lunch, so there’s leftovers in the icebox.”

“Thanks.” He stopped by to kiss her cheek before heading into the kitchen. They only had one standing date for dinner, on Tuesday nights. Between Shaun’s work schedule and Gran’s church meetings and other activities, they never knew when they’d both be home. But Gran liked to cook, so there was nearly always something in the fridge for him to heat up when he got home. Some nights he’d sit up in the living room with her to eat, but tonight he took his bowl of chicken and rice downstairs, heated it up in his microwave while he undressed, and then sat on his bed to eat.

It hit him halfway through dinner and a rerun ofNCIS. “Jesus,” he muttered. “Did I really turn down a date with a smokin’ hot guy in favor ofthis?”

He immediately felt ashamed. This was his family home, the place he’d just been mentally waxing poetic about, and he stayed in part because he hated the idea of his gran living here all alone.

But at the same time, wasn’t growing up supposed to be about growing out? Leaving the nest and spreading your wings, or some overly sentimental bullshit like that?

Shaun snickered at himself and dug back into his dinner. He had a job at a gay resort with a clothing-optional back forty. That was about as far from this nest as it was possible to get. “One step at a time,” he told himself.

And that just made him think of the other thing he’d been putting off: getting in contact with Willis Erwin.

The last of his rice turned flavorless in his mouth. He swallowed, prevaricated for a few minutes, and finally set the bowl on his nightstand before reaching for his phone.

Meet me Wednesday at 2. Daily Grind in College Park.

It seemed like hours before the response came, but it was only about ten minutes.

I’ll be there, son.

“Don’t call me son,” Shaun growled at the phone. He tossed it onto the bed next to him and tried go back to watching TV.

He mostly failed.

Chapter FOUR

 

 

EVERY SOoften, something Shaun’s gran said or did would remind him of her age. This Tuesday night, as he sat at the kitchen table and watched her finish cooking for their weekly dinner date, it was the gray in her hair.

When she was working, Shaun’s mama had worn her hair in two braids, tightly wound and following the curve of her head on each side. Shaun had lost count of how many times he’d watched her weave the plaits with nimble fingers, taming the natural curls that she often left free on her days off. Shaun could remember his gran’s hair being longer, relaxed and straightened, but after his mama died, Sherry had taken on her daughter’s habit, keeping her hair natural and braided.

Shaun’s mama had always kept Shaun’s hair cut short, probably because it was easier to deal with. Shaun tried growing it out after she passed, but he couldn’t figure out how to keep it braided like she did, and the short dreadlocks he tried were too much maintenance, plus sleeping on them gave him a headache. His gran never said a word about it, but when he came home after having it cut into a fade again, she smiled and nodded, just once.

Now, as Gran bent over the pot of stew on the stove to give it a final taste for seasoning, the overhead light glinted off the white in her hair. There was much more white than black now, and even though her skin remained smooth—only smile lines around her mouth and crinkles at the corners of her eyes—Shaun was starkly reminded that she was forty years older than him.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll have her.

He swallowed back the thought and focused on the moment. He’d set the table for two, placing the flatware and glasses in the positions she’d taught him decades earlier. He’d been barely able to reach the table then, and now it felt too small, like he’d bang his knees on the underside when he tried to sit, even though he never had.

The room seemed to shift around him, and he could see his mama standing by the refrigerator—not the shiny new one they’d bought a few years earlier but the older model he’d grown up with. She flashed him a smile and opened the door to get ice for their glasses, and when Shaun blinked, she was gone.

“Baby, you okay? You look like you seen a ghost.”

He had, but he couldn’t tell his gran that. He forced a smile. “Just my mind wandering again,” he said. “You need any help?”

“You can come get the biscuits out of the oven while I dip out the stew.” She still made buttermilk biscuits from scratch more days than not, and Shaun had never tasted one nearly as good as hers.

He grabbed pot holders from the rack on the wall and opened the oven door so he could pull out the pan of perfectly browned deliciousness and bring it to the table, where he set it on one of the wooden trivets his grandpop had made many years before. He’d done some woodworking in the unfinished basement off and on, building bookshelves and small tables and boxes, and when he’d died of a heart attack at just fifty-five years old, he’d left behind a half-finished dresser for Shaun’s bedroom.

Shaun looked up from the table at the framed needlepoint that hung on the wall, then let his gaze travel over to the living room, where he could see the edge of the brightly colored crocheted afghan that hung on the back of the sofa. His gran had made the needlepoint when she was a teenager, and the afghan had been a wedding gift to his grandparents from Gran’s mother. The house was full of little things like that, items that Shaun used every day but rarely thought that much about.

His gran might be the only living relative he had left, but the truth was that he lived every day surrounded by family.

The realization hit him hard, and he had to catch his breath as he lowered himself into his chair. He’d spent so much time focused on what he’d lost that he’d almost forgotten to appreciate what he still had. His gran, sure, but also the house he’d grown up in, the pictures and keepsakes his mama had left behind, the wood pieces his grandpop made, and all the other items that had been a part of the home even longer than he had.

A bowl of fragrant beef stew appeared on the table in front of him. “Your brain wandering off again, baby?”

Shaun took a deep breath and let it out before raising his head to smile at his gran. “Just thinking how lucky I am.”

Sherry took her own seat. “Blessed,” she corrected. She held out her hand. “Say the blessing for us.”

Shaun didn’t like praying out loud, and his gran knew it, but this he could do. He’d been saying the same short blessing almost since he could talk. He took her hand in his.

“Father, bless this food and the hands that prepared it. In your name we pray. Amen.”

“Amen.” Sherry gave his hand a small squeeze before pulling hers back. “Now, are you gonna tell me what’s going on? Or do I need to find a switch and beat it out of you?”

It was a running joke with them. Shaun’s mama hadn’t wanted to spank him, and he’d rarely behaved badly enough to warrant it anyway. His gran had told him tales of being whipped with a switch when she was younger, but she’d never used one on her daughter or on him.

“I’m all right, Gran.” He stirred his stew, waiting for it to cool enough to take a bite. “Just been busy. New computers at work and stuff.” It wasn’t a lie, but he wasn’t nearly ready to tell her what else was going on.

“Mmm-hmm.” Sherry Rogers could put a world of meaning into those two wordless syllables. This time she meant, “I know that’s not all, and you know I know it’s not all, but I’ll let you be for now.”

Shaun gave her a smile. “How was Sunday?” This time of year, the church had a “rising up” ceremony for the kids, where certain age groups were promoted to the next level in Sunday school and youth groups. Shaun could remember the anticipation and excitement he’d felt every time he was a member of one of those groups.

Gran smiled. “Those kids get younger every year, God bless them. One little boy decided he didn’t like his bow tie, so he tried to take it off and got all tangled up. His mama had to go up and get him untied before he strangled himself.”

Shaun laughed. “Maybe they should’ve gone for a clip-on.”

“That’s what I said too.” She took a sip of her sweet tea. “You never did have anything else but clip-on ties until you could tie one yourself.”

“And that means I still don’t have a real bow tie. Not that I have anywhere to wear one if I did.” The tux he’d rented for his senior prom had come with a banded bow tie that clipped together in the back, so even then he hadn’t needed to tie it.

“You probably won’t, unless you plan to turn into some kind of secret agent 007 James Bond type or get married or something.”

Married. Shit. That just brought Shaun back to half the reason for his mixed-up thoughts. He took another bite of his stew and chewed slowly, trying to keep his face neutral so Gran wouldn’t start asking questions again.

What could he expect to happen if he told her he preferred men? She spent every Sunday and several nights during the week on church activities. She read her Bible every night before bed. She watched some religious shows on TV, too, though he counted himself thankful that she wasn’t a fan of most televangelists—or of the conservative hosts on Fox News, for that matter, even though some of her friends never watched anything else. She mostly voted Democrat, and he’d never heard her repeat any of the usual antigay talking points. He went to church with her now and then, and he hadn’t heard any of that from the pastor, either.

He should probably figure out a way to ask some leading questions, get a sense of how she might react.But not tonight, he thought, taking another bite of stew and then washing it down with a sip of tea. Tonight he just wanted to enjoy her company.

He took another tack. “Did Darnell stop by yesterday?”

Sherry smiled broadly. “He did. Fixed that drip under the sink in two shakes. He’s a good man.”

Shaun nodded and returned the smile. “He is.” Darnell Curtis was the closest thing Shaun had to a stepfather. He’d been dating Shaun’s mama seriously when she died, and since he worked for a contracting company, he’d been the one to spearhead the work to finish Shaun’s basement room.

“He said you’d be meeting up tomorrow night again?”

Shaun nodded. “Yep. They finished up that project Friday, so he’s finally free.” The two of them usually had a standing pool game on Wednesday nights, but Darnell had been working late almost every night for weeks, trying to get a house finished before the end of August.

Gran lifted an eyebrow but didn’t look at him as she spooned up more stew. “Good. Maybe he can get out of you what you don’t want to tell me yet.”

Shaun’s face heated, and he picked up his tea glass to take a long swallow. He hadn’t actually thought she’d forgotten about that, but he’d hoped to make it through dinner without her poking at it.

“So,” he said, reaching for his spoon again. “What else do you have going on this week?”

She swallowed her stew, sipped her tea, and dabbed at her lips primly with her napkin before launching into the details of her various group meetings and the dinner with her church friends she had planned Thursday night. Shaun responded mostly with nods as he finished his meal. He didn’t know if he’d be ready to talk to Darnell the following night, but he definitely wasn’t getting into anything with his gran now.

He needed more time to figure things out in his own head first.

 

 

SHAUN HADdeliberately chosen a meeting place nowhere near home. Daily Grind was a terminally hipster café-cum-coffeehouse not far from the Atlanta airport. The tiny space sat nearly empty at midafternoon, except for a few young people bent over laptops and tablets and a lone middle-aged man sitting at a table near the window. Even if he hadn’t seen Willis Erwin’s picture online, Shaun wouldn’t have had trouble picking him out.

Shaun didn’t bother with coffee. He just walked over and, ignoring the way the thought made his skin crawl, sat in the chair across the table from the man who might be his father.

Erwin regarded Shaun silently for a moment, then said, “Thank you for coming.”

Shaun jerked a nod. “Figured I should find out what you need to say.”

Erwin leaned forward, wrapping both hands around his coffee mug. “Well. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m a drunk.”

Shaun raised his head to meet the other man’s gaze. “Okay.”

“Officially, a recovering alcoholic, but I figure why mince words.” Erwin shrugged. “I’ve been a drunk most of my life, and I screwed up a lot of stuff because of it. Lost a wife and almost lost my business, and it still took almost dying for me to straighten up.”

He settled against the back of his seat, one hand still on his mug. “I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous almost a year ago. Made it all the way up to step eight, where you’re supposed to name the people you hurt and start making amends. That’s why I started looking for your mama.”

This was the part Shaun dreaded. “What does she have to do with it?”

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