More silence, and I think I’m as stunned as he is by my declaration. It’s clear that he doesn’t feel the same obligation I feel, but this has never been his burden. It has only ever been mine. His twelve-step apology, no matter what it stems from, doesn’t extend that far.
‘Look, I don’t expect you to be involved or anything, okay? I didn’t claim that you were his father four and a half years ago, and I won’t now – not that there might not be some media speculation –’
‘Brooke. You can’t seriously mean to go to Austin and bring him back to LA? What about your career? Or the fact that you’re twenty? And single?’
I should have known he wouldn’t understand.
‘What, like there’s no such thing as a single mother? Besides which, I can’t think that far ahead right now. All I know is he needs me and I’m going and I don’t give a shit who thinks what about it, including you. Just deny you’re his father, if it comes to that. I’m sure Graham and Emma won’t tell, and they’re the only ones who know. I have to go now. Later, Reid.’
I press end and toss the phone on to the bed.
I still hate saying Graham’s name. Or thinking about him. I press my fingers to my sternum, hard, because it hurts. It always hurts when I think about him.
The weather in Austin is close to that of Los Angeles this time of year, though it’s a bit more volatile. I roll up a jacket and cram it alongside the jeans. And then I stop dead, thinking about River. He’ll need clothes. And toys. And soap. And … whatever else kids his age need. Special food? A nanny? I have no idea. I have no idea. The enormity of this decision swirls around me and fills the room, insinuating that I can’t possibly do this.
I’m going to fail. One way or another, I’m going to fail.
I’ve heard those same sorts of prophecies inside my own head my entire life, and I learned long ago to ignore them. At fifteen, I decided to become a movie star, and now I am. I run my career and my personal life as I see fit, and no one – no one – tells me what to do. I screw up occasionally – like I did with Graham. That failure cost me my best friend, and I’ll never come to terms with it. ‘Dammit,’ I mutter, yanking the second case from the bed and shoving Graham Douglas from my mind. Again.
If I get to Austin and believe there’s a viable alternative to me taking my son back, I’ll consider it. Otherwise, I’m just going to have to figure this single parent shit out.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Tonight, Dori and I have our first public date. We have literally days until she leaves for Berkeley, which is an ass-numbingly boring five-hour drive from LA. The last thing I want to do is drop Oh by the way – I’m a father … sort of on her right before she goes.
The longer I don’t tell her, the worse it becomes that I haven’t.
Unless she never finds out.
The probability of Brooke actually bringing the kid home with her like he’s a puppy from the pound is doubtful. Aside from the legal implications of her having relinquished her rights to him, there’s the simple fact that Brooke Cameron doesn’t voluntarily interact with children. Even Graham’s kid seemed like no more than a means to an end to her – an inconvenience she knew she’d have to tolerate to be with him. She’s got a younger half-brother, I think, born after we split, but I’ve never seen a single photo of her with him. Although that could have as much to do with avoidance of her father, whom she loathes.
Would Dori do that for me? Though I don’t plan to claim paternity publicly, no matter what I plead guilty to privately.
Christ, I can’t even go there right now. Dori was abandoned by that guy in high school, and on the surface, what happened between Brooke and me looks no different. Except that Brooke told me she was pregnant … and then I abandoned her.
Fuck. If I was religious, I would cross myself.
Life was so much easier before I had a conscience.
Brooke has complete control over what happens now, and I’m never fond of that scenario. She’s volatile and impulsive – not a safe combination, though she said she wouldn’t tell. Graham and Emma aren’t going to out me, either, though I can just imagine their united disapproval, if I happen to run into them.
Once I find out what Brooke plans to do, I’ll tell Dori.
Dori: What are we doing? A hint, please? Or just tell me? I don’t know what to wear.
Me: A casual dinner, then a party at my friend John’s place.
Dori: A party??
Me: It’s not a big deal. If you don’t want to go, we don’t have to.
Dori: No. If this is how you want to do it, then let’s do it. What should I wear?
Me: Whatever you want
Dori: You always say that!
Me: And I always mean it.
There’s been no change in my sister in the five months since her accident, and according to her prognosis, none is expected. Locked in a persistent vegetative state, she continues to exist, but nothing more. My parents finally stopped asking God for a miracle with every dinner-table prayer, so I no longer have to bite back words that keep my stomach twisted into knots. Now, they simply request God’s care of her – a prayer that still swells from the last traces of faith in my heart, even as I deem it incompatible with the fact that she’s in this condition at all.
I’m spending time with Deb this afternoon, killing time before meeting Kayla and Aimee for another of their Cinderella transformations. While trimming the stems of the tulips I picked up on the way over, I relay the latest developments in my life. I’m getting better, but these one-sided conversations still feel contrived. When Mom, Dad or Nick comes with me, I’m silent except for replies to something they say. I’ll stroke Deb’s arm, help feed her, sing her favourite songs, brush her hair – but I only speak to her when we’re alone, like we are now.