I’ve received three calls from Patrick on my drive back to the house, but I haven’t answered any of them because I’m too angry at Kenna to have a conversation about her over the phone. I was hoping the Landrys didn’t hear her beating on their door, but it’s obvious they did.
Patrick is waiting in my yard when I pull back into my driveway. He’s talking before I even get out of the truck.
“What does she want?” he asks. “Grace is a mess. Do you think she’s going to try to fight the termination? The lawyer said it would be impossible.” He’s still spitting questions at me as he follows me into the kitchen.
I toss my keys on the table. “I don’t know, Patrick.” “Should we get a restraining order?”
“I don’t think you have grounds to do that. She hasn’t threatened anyone.”
He paces the kitchen, and I watch as he seems to grow smaller and smaller. I pour him a glass of water and hand it to him. He downs the whole thing and then takes a seat on one of the barstools. He drops his head into his hands. “The last thing Diem needs is for that woman to be in and out of her life. After what she did to Scotty . . . we can’t . . .”
“She won’t show up here again,” I say. “She’s too afraid of having the cops called on her.”
My comment only heightens his worry. “Why? Is she trying to keep her record clean in case she can take us to court?”
“She lives in a shithole. I doubt she has money to hire an attorney.” He stands up. “She’s living here?”
I nod. “Paradise Apartments. I don’t know how long she plans to stay.”
“Shit,” he mutters. “This is going to destroy Grace. I don’t know what to do.”
I don’t have any advice for him. As involved as I am in her life, I’m not Diem’s father. I haven’t been the one raising her since she was born. This isn’t my fight, even though I’ve somehow immersed myself in the middle of it.
I may not have legal say, but I have opinions. Strong ones. As much as the entire situation doesn’t have one single positive outcome for all parties involved, the simple truth is that being a part of Diem’s life is a privilege, and Kenna lost that privilege the night she decided her freedom was worth more than Scotty’s life.
Grace isn’t strong enough to face Kenna. Patrick may not be strong enough, either, but Patrick has always made sure to at least pretend to be as strong as Grace needs him to be.
He’d never act this distraught in front of Grace. He saves this side of himself for the moments Scotty’s death gets to be too much. The moments he needs to escape and cry alone in my backyard.
Sometimes I can see them both start to unravel. It always happens in February, the month of Scotty’s birthday. But then Diem’s birthday comes around in May, and it breathes new life back into them.
That’s what Kenna needs to understand. Grace and Patrick are only alive because of Diem. She’s the thread that keeps them from unraveling.
There’s no room for Kenna in this picture. Some things can be forgiven, but sometimes an action is so painful the memory of it can still crush a person ten years down the road. Patrick and Grace get by because Diem and I help them forget about what happened to Scotty long enough for them to get through each day. But if Kenna is around, his death will slap them in the face over and over and over again.
Patrick’s eyes are closed, and his hands are in a point against his chin.
It looks like he’s saying a silent prayer.
I lean forward over the bar and try to keep my voice reassuring. “Diem is safe for now. Kenna is too scared to have the cops called on her and too broke to start a custody battle. You’ve got the advantage. I’m sure after tonight she’ll cut her losses and head back to Denver.”
Patrick stares at the floor for about ten seconds. I can see the weight of everything he’s been through settled squarely on his shoulders.
“I hope so,” he says. He heads for the front door, and once he’s gone, I close my eyes and exhale.
Every reassuring thing I just said to him was a lie. Based on what I know of Kenna now—however little knowledge that may be—I get the feeling this is far from over.
“You seem distracted,” Roman says. He takes a glass from me and starts pouring a beer a customer has had to order from me three times already. “Maybe you should take a break. You’re slowing us down.”
Roman knows I’m not fine. Every time I look at him, he’s watching me. Trying to figure out what’s going on with me.
I try to work for another hour, but it’s Saturday night and it’s loud, and even though we have a third bartender on Saturday nights, Roman is right, I’m slowing us down and making it worse, so I eventually go take the damn break.
I sit on the steps in the alley, and I look up at the sky and wonder what the hell Scotty would do right now. He was always so levelheaded. I don’t think he got that from his parents, though. Maybe he did, I don’t know. Maybe it’s harder for them to think with a level head when they have such broken hearts.
The door opens behind me. I look over my shoulder, and Roman is slipping outside. He sits next to me. He doesn’t say anything. That’s his way of opening the floor for me to speak.
“Kenna is back.” “Diem’s mother?” I nod.
I rub my eyes with my fingers, relieving some of the pressure from the headache that’s been building all day. “I almost had sex with her last night. In my truck, after the bar closed.”
He has no immediate reaction to that. I glance over at him, and he’s just staring blankly at me. Then he brings a hand to his face and rubs it over his mouth.
“You what?” Roman stands up and walks out into the alley. He’s staring at his feet, processing what I’ve just said. He looks as shocked as I felt when I put two and two together outside my house. “I thought you hated Diem’s mother.”
“I didn’t know she was Diem’s mother last night.”
“How could you not know? She was your best friend’s girlfriend, right?”
“I never met her. I saw a picture of her once. And maybe her mug shot, I think. But she had long blonde hair back then—looked completely different.”
“Wow,” Roman says. “Did she know who you were?”
I still don’t know the answer to that, so I just shrug. She didn’t seem surprised to see me outside my house earlier. She just seemed upset.
“She showed up and tried to meet Diem today. And now . . .” I shake my head. “I fucked up, Roman. Patrick and Grace don’t need this.”
“Does she have any rights as a parent?”
“Her rights were terminated because of the length of her prison sentence. We’ve just been hoping she wouldn’t show up and want to be a part of her life. I mean, they feared it. We all did. I guess we just assumed we’d have some kind of warning.”
Roman clears his throat. “I mean, to be fair, the woman gave birth to Diem. I think that was your warning.” Roman likes to play devil’s advocate in everything he does. It doesn’t surprise me he’s doing it now. “What’s the plan? Are they going to let Diem meet her mother now that they know she wants to be involved?”
“It would be too hard on Patrick and Grace if Kenna were in their lives.”
Roman makes a face. “How’s Kenna going to take that?”
“I don’t really care how Kenna feels. No grandparent should be forced to have to set up visitation with their son’s murderer.”
Roman raises a brow. “Murderer. That’s a bit dramatic. Her actions led to Scotty’s death, sure. But the girl isn’t some cold-blooded murderer.” He
kicks a pebble across the pavement. “I always thought they were a little too harsh on her.”
Roman didn’t know me back when Scotty died. He only knows the story. But if he had been around five years ago to see how it affected everyone, and he still somehow managed to say what he just said, I’d have punched him for it.
But he’s just being Roman. Devil’s advocate. Uninformed.
“What happened when she showed up? What’d they say to her?”
“She didn’t make it that far. I intercepted her in the street and dropped her off at her apartment. Then I told her to go back to Denver.”
Roman shoves his hands in his pockets. I watch his face, looking for the judgment. “How long ago was this?” he asks.
“It’s been a few hours.”
“You aren’t worried about her?” “Who? Diem?”
He shakes his head with a small laugh, like I’m not following. “I’m talking about Kenna. Does she have family here? Friends? Or did you drop her off alone after telling her to fuck off?”
I stand up and brush the back of my jeans. I know what he’s getting at, but it’s not my problem. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
“Maybe you should go check on her,” he suggests. “I’m not going to check on her.”
Roman looks disappointed. “You’re better than this.”
I can feel my pulse hammering in my throat. I don’t know if I’m more pissed at him or at Kenna right now.
Roman takes a step closer. “She’s responsible for the accidental death of someone she was in love with. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she went to prison for it and was forced to give up her own child. She finally shows back up hoping to meet her, and you do God knows what with her in your truck, and then you prevent her from meeting her daughter, and then you tell her to fuck off. No wonder you’ve been slamming shit around all night.” He walks back up the steps, but before he goes inside, he turns to me and says, “You’re the reason I’m not dead in a ditch somewhere, Ledger. You gave me a chance when everyone else gave up on me. You have no idea how much I look up to you for that. But it’s really hard to look
up to you right now. You’re acting like an asshole.” Roman walks back inside the bar.
I stare at the door after it closes, and then I hit it. “Fuck!”
I start pacing in the alley. The more I pace, the guiltier I feel.
I’ve been unequivocally on Patrick and Grace’s side since the day I found out what happened to Scotty, but the more seconds that pass between Roman’s words and my next decision, the more uneasy I feel about it all.
There are two possibilities running through my head right now. The first is that Kenna is exactly who I’ve always believed her to be, and she showed up here selfishly, only thinking of herself and not at all thinking of what her presence would do to Patrick and Grace, or even Diem.
The second possibility is that Kenna is a devastated, grieving mother who simply aches for a child she desperately wants to do right by. And if that’s the case, I don’t know that I’m okay with how I left things tonight.
What if Roman is right? What if I ripped away every ounce of hope she had left? If so, where does that leave her? Alone in an apartment with no future to look forward to?
Should I be worried?
Should I check on her?
I pace the alley behind the bar for several more minutes, until I finally ask myself the question that keeps circling back around. What would Scotty do?
Scotty always saw the best in people, even in those who I failed to find good in at all. If he were here, I can only imagine how he would be rationalizing all of this.
“You were too harsh, Ledger. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, Ledger. You won’t be able to live with yourself if she takes her own life, Ledger.”
“Fuck,” I mutter. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
I don’t know Kenna’s personality at all. The reaction she had earlier could just be dramatics for all I know. But she could also be in a really dark place, and I can’t sleep with that on my conscience.
I feel unsettled and frustrated as I get in my truck and head back to her place.
Maybe I should feel a sense of relief that I now think Roman was wrong, but I just feel pissed.
Kenna isn’t holed up inside her apartment. She’s outside, looking like she doesn’t have a care in this world. She’s playing with fucking fireworks. Sparklers. Her and some girl, twirling around in the grass like she’s a kid and not a grown-ass adult who, just hours earlier, acted like her world was coming to an end.
She didn’t see me pull up because her back was to the parking lot, and she hasn’t noticed I’ve been sitting here for several minutes.
She lights another sparkler for the girl, who then proceeds to make a mad dash with her sparkler and leave trails of light with her as she disappears around the corner.
Once Kenna is alone, she presses her palms to her eyes and tilts her face up to the sky. She stands like that for a few seconds. Then she wipes her eyes with her T-shirt.
The girl reappears and Kenna smiles, then the girl disappears, and Kenna lets her face fall back into a frown.
She’s just turning it on and off and on and off, and I don’t like that I like that she’s pretending not to be sad every time that girl comes running back to her. Maybe Roman was right.
The girl returns once more and hands her another sparkler. As she’s lighting it, Kenna looks up and spots my truck. Her whole body seems to shrivel, but she forces a smile toward the girl and makes a motion for the girl to run around the building. As soon as the girl is gone again, Kenna begins to head in my direction.
It’s obvious I’ve been sitting here watching her. I don’t even try to hide that. I unlock my door right before she reaches my truck and climbs inside.
She slams the door. “Are you here with good news?” I shift in my seat. “No.”
She opens the door and starts to get out. “Wait, Kenna.”
She pauses, and then closes the door and remains in my truck. It’s so quiet. She smells like gunpowder and matches, and there’s a strange current inside this truck that’s so palpable I expect the whole damn truck to explode. But it doesn’t. Nothing happens. No one speaks.
I finally clear my throat. “Are you gonna be okay?” My concern is buried beneath a stone-cold exterior, so I know my question seems forced, as if I don’t care what the response might be.
Kenna tries to get out of the truck again, but I grab her wrist. Her eyes meet mine.
“Are you gonna be okay?” I repeat.
She stares hard at me with her swollen, red eyes. “Are you . . .” She shakes her head, seemingly confused. “Are you here because you’re afraid I might kill myself?”
I don’t like how she seems to want to laugh at my concern. “Am I worried you aren’t in a good headspace?” I ask, reframing her question. “Yeah. I am. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Her head tilts slightly to the right as she turns her whole body so that she’s facing me in her seat. Her shoulder-length strands of straight hair lean with her. “That’s not it,” she says. “You’re worried if I end my life, you’ll be left feeling guilty that you’ve been so unbearably cruel to me. That’s why you came back. You don’t care if I actually kill myself—you just don’t want to be the impetus for my decision.” She shakes her head with a shallow laugh. “You did it. You checked on me. Your conscience is clear now, goodbye.”
Kenna goes to open her door, and the girl she was lighting sparklers for suddenly appears at her passenger window. Her nose is pressed against the glass.
“Roll down this window,” Kenna says to me.
I turn my key so that I can roll down her window. The girl leans in, smiling at us. “Are you Kenna’s dad?”
Her question is so out of left field, I can’t help but laugh. Kenna laughs too.
Diem has Scotty’s laugh and smile. Kenna’s laugh is her own. One I haven’t heard before this second. One I want to hear again.
“He’s definitely not my dad,” Kenna says. She cuts her eyes to mine. “He’s the guy I told you about earlier. The one keeping me from my little
girl.” Kenna opens her door and hops out.
She slams my truck door, and then the teenage girl leans in the passenger window and says, “Jerk.”
Kenna grabs the girl’s hand and pulls her away from the truck. “Come on, Lady Diana. He’s not on our side.” Kenna walks away with the girl and she doesn’t look back, no matter how much I want her to and don’t want her to, and fuck, my brain is a pretzel.
I’m not sure I could be on her side even if I wanted to be. This whole situation contains so many nooks and crannies and corners I get the feeling choosing sides is going to be the downfall of all of us.