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“Mom’s great. It’s good to see you, too, Dad.” I wasn’t supposed to call him Charlie to his face.
“You really feel okay about leaving her?”
We both understood that this question wasn’t about my own personal happiness. It was about whether I was shirking my responsibility to look after her. This was the reason Charlie’d never fought Mom about custody; he knew she needed me.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure.”
I only had two big duffel bags. Most of my Arizona clothes were too permeable for the Washington climate. My mom and I had pooled our resources to supplement my winter wardrobe, but it still wasn’t much. I could handle both of them, but Charlie insisted on taking one.
It threw my balance off a little—not that I was ever really balanced, especially since the growth spurt. My foot caught on the lip of the exit door and the bag swung out and hit the guy trying to get in.
The guy wasn’t much older than me, and he was a lot shorter, but he stepped up to my chest with his chin raised high. I could see tattoos on both sides of his neck. A small woman with hair dyed solid black stared menacingly at me from his other side.
“Sorry?” she repeated, like my apology had been offensive somehow.
And then the woman noticed Charlie, who was in uniform. Charlie didn’t even have to say anything. He just looked at the guy, who backed up a half-step and suddenly seemed a lot younger, and then the girl, whose sticky red lips settled into a pout. Without another word, they ducked around me and headed into the tiny terminal.
Charlie and I both shrugged at the same time. It was funny how we had some of the same mannerisms when we didn’t spend much time together. Maybe it was genetic.
“I found a good car for you, really cheap,” Charlie announced when we were strapped into the cruiser and on our way.
“What kind of car?” I asked, suspicious of the way he said “good car for you” as opposed to just “good car.”
“Well, it’s a truck actually, a Chevy.”
“Where did you find it?”
“Do you remember Bonnie Black down at La Push?” La Push is the small Indian reservation on the nearby coastline.
“She and her husband used to go fishing with us during the summer,” Charlie prompted.
That would explain why I didn’t remember her. I do a good job of blocking painful things from my memory.
“She’s in a wheelchair now,” Charlie continued when I didn’t respond, “so she can’t drive anymore, and she offered to sell me her truck cheap.”
“What year is it?” I could see from the change in his expression that this was the question he was hoping I wouldn’t ask.
“Well, Bonnie’s had a lot of work done on the engine—it’s only a few years old, really.”
Did he think I would give up that easily?
“When did she buy it?”
“She bought it in 1984, I think.”
“Did she buy it new?”
“Well, no. I think it was new in the early sixties—or late fifties at the earliest,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Ch—Dad, I don’t really know anything about cars. I wouldn’t be able to fix anything that broke, and I couldn’t afford a mechanic.…”
“Really, Beau, the thing runs great. They don’t build them like that anymore.”
The thing, I thought to myself… it had possibilities—as a nickname, at the very least.
“How cheap is cheap?” After all, that part was the deal killer.
“Well, son, I kind of already bought it for you. As a homecoming gift.” Charlie glanced sideways at me with a hopeful expression.
“You didn’t need to do that, Dad. I was going to buy myself a car.”
“I don’t mind. I want you to be happy here.” He was looking ahead at the road when he said this. Charlie had never been comfortable with expressing his emotions out loud. Another thing we had in common. So I was looking straight ahead as I responded.
“That’s amazing, Dad. Thanks. I really appreciate it.” No need to add that he was talking about impossibilities. Wouldn’t help anything for him to suffer along with me. And I never looked a free truck in the mouth—or rather engine.
“Well, now, you’re welcome,” he mumbled, embarrassed by my thanks.
We exchanged a few more comments on the weather, which was wet, and that was pretty much it for conversation. We stared out the windows.
It was probably beautiful or something. Everything was green: the trees were covered in moss, both the trunks and the branches, the ground blanketed with ferns. Even the air had turned green by the time it filtered down through the leaves.
It was too green—an alien planet.
Eventually we made it to Charlie’s. He still lived in the small, two-bedroom house that he’d bought with my mother in the early days of their marriage. Those were the only kind of days their marriage had—the early ones. There, parked on the street in front of the house that never changed, was my new—well, new to me—truck. It was a faded red color, with big, curvy fenders and a rounded cab.
And I loved it. I wasn’t really a car guy, so I was kind of surprised by my own reaction. I mean, I didn’t even know if it would run, but I could see myself in it. Plus, it was one of those solid iron monsters that never gets damaged—the kind you see at the scene of an accident, paint unscratched, surrounded by the pieces of the foreign car it had just destroyed.