It's a holiday that Matt and his son, Brady, will never forget.
p.s.: I've removed an expletive for the sample, but the real word is in the book. Teenage boys . . .
Matt had little time to obsess over Kate in the busy week before the Thanksgiving holiday. Several jobs needed finishing up before the office and plant could shut down for four days, and that meant rushing a couple of things through, and some extra hours for him.
It was just as well. Keeping busy kept him focused. For him, four days off meant too much time on his hands. The only thing on his agenda, other than Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ house, was helping his dad with a couple of projects at the lake house. Brady would be spending the holiday with Don and Helen in Freeburg. It’d be the longest separation for them since Brady’d moved in with Matt in June.
They set out Wednesday evening, grabbing a quick dinner on the road. Matt planned to drop Brady off then turn around and head straight back to Linden.
“Your grandma is so excited about seeing you, she was practically giddy on the phone last night,” Matt commented as they neared the city limits of Freeburg. Brady’d gone silent for last half-hour. “She said several people have asked about you. Think you’ll get in touch with some of your old friends?”
Matt sighed. “That seems really strange to me, Brady. Isn’t there anyone you’d like to see?”
“Well, you might have a boring four days.”
“It’ll be fine. I’ll play games with Grandpa or something.”
Matt turned the car into the Thompson’s driveway, braking hard as he saw an older model gold sedan already parked there.
“What the f-!” Brady hissed.
Matt swiveled. “What’s the matter?”
“What is she doing here?”
“Who?” Matt asked, his eyes darting around.
“That’s Josh’s mom’s car. I’m not going in there. I don’t want to see her.”
Matt glanced up at the house and saw the front door open.
“Back up, Dad. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Brady. We’re already here. Your grandma’s seen us.” He put his hand on Brady’s shoulder. “Take it easy, okay? Let’s find out what’s going on. By the way, I hope you’re not planning to use that language around your grandparents.”
Matt opened his car door and retrieved Brady’s suitcase and crutches from the back seat as Helen stepped onto the porch, waving. For a moment, he wondered if he should go in and warn them that Brady was uncomfortable about the guest.
Finally the passenger door opened, and Brady climbed out, slowly making his way to the house.
“Bradyyyyyy,” Helen squealed.
Matt looked up to see her pull Brady into a hug. Smiling, he pushed the door shut. The kid really did have a lot of people who loved him. Matt climbed the stairs and gave Helen a peck on the cheek then went inside, intending to shake hands with Don. Instead, he stopped short. A rail-thin woman stood in the center of the living room wringing her hands, and staring at Brady.
“Brady, did you say hello to Mrs. Merchant?” Helen turned to Matt. “Matt, this is Joan Merchant.”
He set down Brady’s things and turned to the woman. She held out a limp hand, and Matt took it, the cold a sharp contrast to his own. He looked at his son, whose face had gone white.
The woman took a step forward, her watery eyes on Brady. “It’s so good to see you, Brady. How are you? I’ve . . . I’ve missed seeing you. Do you like your new school? Your grandmother’s been tell–”
“Where’s grandpa?” Brady cut in, ignoring the questions.
Matt held his breath. He knew his son was being rude, but could he blame him? He hadn’t expected the woman to be there. Hadn’t prepared for it. Was this the first time he’d seen Josh’s mom since the accident?
“She made you a chocolate cream pie – your favorite,” Helen continued in a sing-song voice.
Silence filled the air.
“Well,” Mrs. Merchant said brightly, tears in her eyes. “I suppose it’s time for me to get home. I know your grandmother is anxious for some time with you, Brady. It’s nice to see you.” She nodded at Matt. “Good to meet you.”
Helen followed the woman outside, and Matt turned to Brady.
“What was that all about? You couldn’t have at least–”
“A pie? She made me a pie?” Brady shook his head. “Her kid gets me in a wreck, and she makes me a pie. That’s great.”
Helen stepped back inside, her face red. Aw, man. It looked to Matt like she was on the verge of crying, too.
“Brady, we’re not going to be hateful to Josh’s mother,” Helen said, her voice shaking. “She’s been through a lot. She’s already lost her son, and she’s on the verge of losing her husband. Maybe her home. They’re talking about moving – if they even stay together.”
“Maybe they should.”
Matt heard Helen suck in her breath.
“Now, listen here, young man. This is not how I want to start our holiday. Mrs. Merchant is a friend, and I won’t have you talk that way. That poor woman is haunted every day.”
“Yeah, well so am I. So are a lot of people,” Brady said, his voice rising.
“Brady, come on,” Matt intervened. “Let’s keep it together. Your grand–”
Brady rounded on him. “We told him not to drive, Dad. He thought he was smarter than everybody else. Said he wasn’t drunk and he could handle it. We practically begged him to let me or Garrett drive. You know what he said?” Brady was yelling now. “Get this. He said his parents would kill him if he let someone else drive the goddamned car!”
Groaning inside, Matt reached out to his son, resting a hand on his shoulder.
“Brady, let’s go outside for a minute.”
He turned away. “It’s cold outside.”
“Yeah, I know. You can cool off a little.”
He put his other hand on Brady’s shoulder and propelled him toward the door.
Brady sank onto a bench on the porch, his head in his hands. Matt leaned against the railing.
“He was my best friend,” Brady choked. “My best friend did this to me. Some friend, huh? Some fucking friend.”
“You know, Brady, at some point you’re going to have to forgive him. He screwed up. And he paid for it. Paid even more than you have. That doesn’t excuse it. And don’t think there aren’t times when I’d like to punch the kid myself, but you have to move on, let some of this anger go.”
“Why didn’t she tell him to let someone else drive if he was drunk, huh?”
“Probably because he wasn’t supposed to be drunk. He used poor judgment. That’s the whole point. When you’re drunk, you can’t make good decisions. You’re not thinking straight.”
“Yeah. I know. My whole life is about people getting drunk and doing dumb things.”
Matt winced, but kept silent.
“His stupid parents were just worried about that car. His dad was always telling him, ‘better take care of that car, boy.’ God, parents screw kids up more than they do any good.”
Matt forced himself to stay calm, to let Brady vent. This was obviously the source of some lingering pain and anger. He’d never heard any of this before.
“Listen, Brady, parents aren’t superheroes–”
Brady snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Sitting down, Matt took Brady’s arm. Part of him wanted to shake the kid. Another part wanted to pull him into a hard hug. He did neither. “Listen to me, your life hasn’t even begun yet. You’re seventeen years old. Seventeen. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You’ve had some shitty luck, I’ll give you that. But so have a lot of people. Don’t let it define who you are. Don’t let it keep you from being the person you want to be. You get to decide that.”
He felt a tremor run through Brady’s body and watched his other arm swipe at his eyes.
Matt’s tone softened as he moved even closer to his son’s face. “Brady, I know you miss Josh, and it hurts to be mad at him. Some really important people you’ve trusted have let you down. I can’t promise you it won’t ever happen again, but I can promise you’ll be stronger every time you pick yourself up off the ground and go at it again.”
Brady looked away, but Matt kept talking, his voice sure and steady. “And I promise to do everything I can to be there for you. I love you. Got that?”
Brady’s eyes flickered down and Matt threw his arm around his son’s shoulder and pulled him close. Brady’s body shook as the boy finally released the pent-up emotion and frustration he’d been holding in for months.
For the first time, Matt felt his son’s arms around him, and his heart swelled. Brady clung to him, his head buried in Matt’s shoulder, his fists clenching his shirt.
“You’re gonna be okay,” Matt told him. “You’ve been given a second chance. Don’t spend it being bitter and angry. You can be more than that.”
Brady hiccupped and sniffled a few moments before pulling back from Matt. He didn’t meet his eyes, but he nodded. Matt patted his back while they sat in silence until a chill wind swept around them, blowing leaves onto the porch.
“I don’t know about you,” Matt said, giving Brady’s shoulder a light punch. “But I think chocolate pie sounds pretty good.”
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