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Chapter no 8 – Ledger

Reminders of Him

I didn’t park in the garage when I got home last night. Diem likes to wake up and look out her window in the mornings to make sure I’m home, and when I leave my truck in the garage, Grace says it makes Diem sad.

I’ve lived across the street from them since Diem was eight months old, but if I don’t count the years I moved out of this house and lived in Denver, I’ve technically been in this house my entire life.

My parents haven’t lived here in several years, even though they’re both passed out in the guest room right now.

They bought the RV when my father retired, and they travel the country now. I bought the house from them when I moved back, and they loaded up and left. I figured it would last a year at the most, but it’s been over four years now, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

I just wish they’d warn me before they show up. Maybe I should download a GPS app to their phones so I’ll have some kind of warning in the future. Not that I don’t like their visits. It would just be nice to be able to prepare for them.

This is why I’m building a privacy gate at my new house. Eventually.

It’s slow going because Roman and I are doing a lot of the work ourselves. Every Sunday from sunup until sundown, I drive up to Cheshire Ridge with Roman and we work on it. I contract out for the more difficult stuff, but we’ve completed a good chunk of the build ourselves. After two years of Sundays, the house is finally starting to come together. I’m maybe six months from moving in.

“Where are you going?”

I spin around when I reach the garage door. My father is standing outside the guest bedroom. He’s in his underwear.

“Diem has T-ball. You guys want to come?”

“Nope. Too hungover for kids today, and we really need to get back on the road.”

“You’re already leaving?”

“We’ll be back in a few weeks.” My father gives me a hug. “Your mother is still asleep, but I’ll tell her you said bye.”

“Maybe give me a heads-up before the next visit and I’ll take off work.”

My father shakes his head. “Nah, we like seeing the surprise on your face when we show up unannounced.” He heads into the bathroom and closes the door.

I walk through the garage and toward Patrick and Grace’s house across the street.

I’m hoping Diem isn’t in a talkative mood because my concentration is going to be shit today. All I can think about is the girl from last night and how much I want to see her again. I wonder if it would be weird if I left a note on her door?

I knock on Patrick and Grace’s front door and then walk in. We’re all back and forth at each other’s houses so much, at one point we got tired of saying, “It’s open.” It’s always open.

Grace is in the kitchen with Diem. Diem is sitting in the center of the table with her legs crossed and a bowl of eggs on her lap. She never sits in chairs. She’s always on top of things, like the back of the couch, the kitchen bar, the kitchen table. She’s a climber.

“You’re still in your pajamas, D.” I take the bowl of eggs from her and point down the hallway. “Get dressed, we gotta go.” She runs to her room to put on her T-ball uniform.

“I thought the game was at ten,” Grace says. “I would have had her ready.”

“It is, but I’ve got Gatorade duty, so I have to run by the store, and then I have to swing by and pick up Roman.” I lean against the counter and grab a tangerine. I peel it open while Grace starts the dishwasher.

She blows a piece of hair out of her face. “She wants a swing set,” she says. “One of those ridiculously big ones like the one you used to have in

your backyard. Her friend Nyla from school got one, and you know we can’t say no. It’ll be her fifth birthday.”

“I still have it.”

“You do? Where?”

“It’s in the shed in pieces, but I can help Patrick put it back together.

Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“You think it’s still in good shape?”

“Was when I took it apart.” I fail to tell her Scotty is the reason I took it apart. I got angry every time I looked at it after he died.

I put another piece of tangerine in my mouth and reroute my thoughts. “I can’t believe she’ll be five.”

Grace sighs. “I know. Unreal. Unfair.”

Patrick pops into the kitchen and tousles my hair like I’m not almost thirty and three inches taller than him. “Hey, kid.” He reaches around me and grabs one of the tangerines. “Did Grace tell you we can’t make the game today?”

“I haven’t yet,” Grace says. She rolls her eyes, her annoyed gaze landing on me. “My sister is in the hospital. Elective surgery, she’s fine, but we have to drive to her house and feed her cats.”

“What’s she getting done this time?”

Grace waves a hand at her face. “Something with her eyes. Who knows? She’s five years older than me, but looks ten years younger.”

Patrick covers Grace’s mouth. “Stop. You’re perfect.” Grace laughs and shoves his hand away.

I’ve never seen them fight. Not even when Scotty was a kid. My parents bicker a lot, and it’s mostly in fun, but I’ve never even seen Grace and Patrick bicker in the twenty years I’ve known them.

I want that. Someday. I don’t have time for it yet, though. I work too much and feel like I’m slowly running myself into the ground. I need to make a change if I ever want to keep a girl long enough to have what Patrick and Grace have.

“Ledger!” Diem yells from her bedroom. “Help me!” I walk down the hallway to go see what she needs. She’s on her knees in her closet, digging around. “I can’t find my other boot—I need my boot.”

She’s holding one red cowboy boot and rummaging around for the other. “Why do you need boots? You need your cleats.”

“I don’t want to wear my cleats today. I want to wear my boots.”

Her cleats are next to her bed, so I grab them. “You can’t wear boots to play baseball. Here, hop on the bed so I can help you put on your cleats.”

She stands up and flings the second red boot onto her bed. “Found it!” She giggles and climbs onto her bed and starts putting on her boots.

“Diem. It’s baseball. People don’t wear boots to play baseball.” “I am, I’m wearing boots today.”

“No, you can’t—” I shut up. I don’t have time to argue with her, and I know once she gets to the field and sees all the other kids with their cleats, she’ll let me take off her boots. I help her put on the boots and take the cleats with us when I carry her out of the room.

Grace meets us at the door and hands Diem a juice pouch. “Have fun today.” She kisses Diem on the cheek, and then Grace’s eyes go to Diem’s boots.

“Don’t ask,” I say as I open their front door. “Bye, Nana!” Diem says.

Patrick is in the kitchen, and when Diem fails to tell him goodbye, he stomps dramatically toward us. “What about NoNo?”

Patrick wanted to go by Papa when Diem started talking, but for whatever reason, she called Grace Nana and Patrick NoNo, and it was so funny Grace and I enforced it enough that it finally stuck.

“Bye, NoNo,” Diem says, giggling.

“We may not get back before you,” Grace says. “You mind keeping her if we aren’t?”

I don’t know why Grace always asks me. I’ve never said no. I’ll never say no. “Take your time. I’ll take her somewhere for lunch.” I put Diem down when we get outside.

“McDonald’s!” she says.

“I don’t want McDonald’s,” I say as we cross the street toward my truck.

“McDonald’s drive-through!”

I open the back door to my truck and help her into her booster seat. “How about Mexican food?”

“Nope. McDonald’s.”

“Chinese? We haven’t had Chinese food in a long time.” “McDonald’s.”

“I’ll tell you what. If you wear your cleats when we get to the game, we can eat McDonald’s.” I get her seat belt buckled.

She shakes her head. “No, I want to wear my boots. I don’t want lunch anyway—I’m full.”

“You’ll be hungry by lunchtime.”

“I won’t, I ate a dragon. I’m gonna be full forever.”

Sometimes I worry about how many stories she tells, but she’s so convincing I’m more impressed than concerned. I don’t know at what age a child should know the difference between a lie and using their imagination, but I’ll leave that up to Grace and Patrick. I don’t want to stifle my favorite part of her.

I pull onto the street. “You ate a dragon? A whole dragon?”

“Yeah, but he was a baby dragon, that’s how he fit in my stomach.” “Where’d you find a baby dragon?”

“Walmart.”

“They sell baby dragons at Walmart?”

She proceeds to tell me all about how baby dragons are sold at Walmart, but you have to have a special coupon, and only kids can eat them. By the time I make it to Roman’s, she’s explaining how they’re cooked.

“With salt and shampoo,” she says.

“You aren’t supposed to eat shampoo.”

“You don’t eat it—you use it to cook the dragon.” “Oh. Silly me.”

Roman gets in the truck, and he looks about as excited as someone going to a funeral. He hates T-ball days. He’s never been a kid person. The only reason he helps me coach is that none of the other parents would do it. And since he works for me, I added it to his schedule.

He’s the only person I know who gets paid to coach T-ball, but he doesn’t seem to feel guilty about it.

“Hi, Roman,” Diem says from the back seat in a singsong voice.

“I’ve only had one cup of coffee; don’t talk to me.” Roman is twenty-seven, but he and Diem have met somewhere in the middle with their love-hate relationship, because they both act twelve.

Diem starts tapping the back of his headrest. “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”

Roman rolls his head until he’s looking at me. “All this shit you do to help little kids in your spare time isn’t going to gain you any points in an afterlife because religion is a social construct created by societies who wanted to regulate their people, which makes heaven a concept. We could be sleeping right now.”

“Wow. I’d hate to see you before coffee.” I back out of his driveway. “If heaven is conceptual, what is hell?”

“The T-ball field.”

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