Chapter no 16 – Ledger

Reminders of Him

Patrick and I started building the swing set in my backyard today. Diem’s birthday isn’t for a few more weeks, but we figured if we could get it put together before her party, she and her friends would have something to play on.

The plan sounded feasible, but neither of us knew building a swing set would be a lot like building an entire damn house. There are pieces everywhere, and without instructions, it’s caused Patrick to mutter fuck at least three times. He rarely ever uses that word.

We’ve avoided talk of Kenna up to this point. He hasn’t brought it up, so I haven’t brought it up, but I know it’s all he and Grace have been thinking about since she showed up on our street yesterday.

But I can tell the silence on that subject is about to end, because he stops working and says, “Welp.”

That’s always the word Patrick uses before he’s about to start a conversation he doesn’t want to have, or if he’s about to say something he knows he shouldn’t say. I picked up on it when I was just a teenager. He’d walk into Scotty’s room to tell me it was time for me to go home, but he’d never actually say what he intended to say. He’d just talk around it. He’d tap the door and say, “Welp. Guess you two have school tomorrow.”

Patrick sits in one of my patio chairs and rests his tools on the table. “It’s been quiet today,” he says.

I’ve learned to decipher the things he doesn’t say. I know he’s referring to the fact that Kenna hasn’t shown back up.

“How’s Grace?”

“On edge,” he says. “We spoke to our lawyer last night. He assured us there’s nothing she can legally do at this point. But I think Grace is more

concerned she’ll do something stupid, like swipe Diem from the T-ball field when none of us are looking.”

“Kenna wouldn’t do that.”

Patrick laughs half-heartedly. “None of us know her, Ledger. We don’t know what she’s capable of.”

I know her better than he thinks I do, but I’ll never admit that. But Patrick may also be right. I know what it’s like to kiss her, but I have no idea who she is as a human.

She seems to have good intentions, but I’m sure Scotty thought the same thing about her before she walked away from him when he needed her the most.

I’m getting loyalty whiplash. One minute I feel horrible for Patrick and Grace. The next, I feel horrible for Kenna. There has to be a way everyone can compromise without Diem being the one to suffer.

I take a drink of water to pad the silence, and then I clear my throat. “Are you at all curious about what she wants? What if she’s not trying to take Diem? What if she just wants to meet her?”

“Not my concern,” Patrick says abruptly. “What is?”

“Our suffering is my concern. There’s no way Kenna Rowan can fit into our lives, or Diem’s life, without it affecting our sanity.” He’s focusing on the ground now, as if he’s working all this out in his head as it’s coming out of his mouth. “It’s not that we think she’d be a bad mother. I certainly don’t think she’d be good. But what would this do to Grace if she were to have to share that little girl with that woman? If she had to look her in the eye every week? Or worse . . . what if Kenna somehow made a judge feel sorry for her and her rights were reinstated? Where would that leave Grace and me? We already lost Scotty. We can’t lose Scotty’s daughter too. It’s not worth the risk.”

I get what Patrick is saying. Completely. But I also know that after getting to know Kenna just over the last couple of days, the hatred I had for her is starting to turn into something else. Maybe that hatred is turning into empathy. I feel like that could possibly happen to Patrick and Grace if they gave her a chance.

Before I can even think of something to say, Patrick reads the expression on my face. “She killed our son, Ledger. Don’t make us feel

guilty for not being able to forgive that.”

I wince at Patrick’s response. I’ve somehow hit a nerve with my silence, but I’m not here to make him feel guilty for the decisions they’ve made. “I would never do that.”

“I want her out of our lives and out of this town,” Patrick says. “We won’t feel safe until both of those things happen.”

Patrick’s whole mood has changed. I feel guilty for even suggesting they entertain Kenna’s reasoning. She got herself here, and instead of expecting everyone in Scotty’s life to conform to her situation, the easier and less damaging thing would be for her to accept the consequences of her actions and respect the decision Scotty’s parents have made.

I wonder what Scotty would have wanted if he could have seen this outcome. We all know the wreck, while preventable, was also an accident. But was he mad at her for leaving him? Did he die hating her?

Or would he be ashamed of his parents—and me—for keeping Kenna from Diem?

I’ll never have that answer, and neither will anyone else. It’s why I always find something else to focus on when I start wondering if we’re all going against what Scotty would have wanted.

I lean back in the patio chair and stare at the jungle gym that will hopefully start to take shape soon. As I stare at it, I think of Scotty. This is exactly why I tore it down.

“Scotty and I smoked our first cigarette in that jungle gym,” I say to Patrick. “We were thirteen.”

Patrick laughs and leans back in his chair. He seems relieved that I’ve changed the subject. “Where did you two get cigarettes at thirteen?”

“My dad’s truck.” Patrick shakes his head.

“We drank our first beer there. We got high for the first time there.

And if I remember correctly, Scotty had his first kiss there.” “Who was she?” Patrick asks.

“Dana Freeman. She lived down the street. She was my first kiss too.

That was the only fight me and Scotty ever got into.” “Who kissed her first?”

“I did. Scotty swooped in like a fucking eagle and took her from me. Pissed me off, but not because I liked her. I just didn’t like that she chose

him over me. We didn’t speak for like eight whole hours.”

“Well, it’s only fair. He was so much better looking than you.” I laugh.

Patrick sighs, and now we’re both thinking about Scotty and it’s bringing the energy down. I hate how often this happens. I wonder if it’ll ever start to happen less.

“Do you think Scotty wished I was different?” Patrick asks. “What do you mean? You were a great dad.”

“I’ve worked in an office crunching sales figures my whole life. Sometimes I wondered if he ever wished I was something better, like a firefighter. Or an athlete. I wasn’t the type of dad he could brag about.”

I feel bad that Patrick thinks Scotty would have wanted him to be any different than he was. I think back to the many conversations Scotty and I had about our future, and one of those conversations sticks out to me.

“Scotty never wanted to move away,” I say. “He wanted to meet a girl and have kids and take them to the movies every weekend and to Disney World every summer. I remember thinking he was crazy when he said that, because my dreams were way bigger. I told him I wanted to play football and travel the world and own businesses and have a steady cash flow. I wasn’t about the simple life like he was,” I say to Patrick. “I remember, after I told him how important I wanted to be, he said, ‘I don’t want to be important. I don’t want the pressure. I want to slide under the radar like my dad, because when he comes home at night, he’s in a good mood.’”

Patrick is quiet for a while, but then he says, “You’re full of shit. He never said that.”

“I swear,” I say with a laugh. “He said things like that all the time. He loved you just the way you were.”

Patrick leans forward and stares at the ground, clasping his hands together. “Thank you for that. Even if it isn’t true.”

“It’s true,” I say, reassuring him. But Patrick still seems sad. I try to think of one of the lighter stories about Scotty. “One time, we were sitting inside the jungle gym, and out of nowhere, this pigeon landed in the yard. It was only three or four feet away from us. Scotty looked at it and said, ‘Is that a fucking pigeon?’ And I don’t know why, maybe because we were both high, but we laughed so hard at that. We laughed until we cried. And

for years, up until he died, every time we’d see something that didn’t make sense, Scotty would say, ‘Is that a fucking pigeon?’”

Patrick laughs. “That’s why he always said that?” I nod.

Patrick starts laughing even harder. He laughs until he cries. And then he just cries.

When the memories start to hit Patrick like this, I always walk away and leave him alone. He’s not the type who wants comfort when he’s sad. He just wants solitude.

I go inside and close the door, wondering if it’ll ever get better for him and Grace. It’s only been five years, but will he still need to cry alone in ten years? Twenty?

I want so badly for them to heal, but the loss of a child is a wound that never heals. It makes me wonder if Kenna cries like Patrick and Grace do.

Did she feel that kind of loss when they took Diem from her?

Because if she did, I can’t imagine Grace and Patrick would willingly allow her to continue to feel it, since they know what it feels like firsthand.

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