Walking out the door, Ethan comes stumbling out at the exact same time.
I replay last night’s events in my mind. He cuddled with me for a good ten minutes before I kissed him and left. Was I too forward? Well, in my defense, he did invite me in his bed. It seemed right at the time, anyways.
Damn it, Jocelyn, you knew him for one day. Calm down.
He barely looks at me. Instead, he starts to walk down the hall. He has same, stern look on his face that he always has. Amy nudges me. Seeing the vacancy I’m sure is showing on my face, she raises her eyebrows playfully. I smirk and nudge her back.
A man is sprawled out on the couch. His back, broad and slumped, faces us. He must have not gotten a good night’s sleep in a while. I can tell that he is not George. He has less grey hair. In fact it’s a reddish color. Like mine. I look down at my locks. Of course his hair is not as fiery, but it is a familiar red color.
Maybe I have stared at him too long, because Amy tugs at my sleeve.
We all eat bowls of cereal as George, Ethan, and Amy chat about the Millbridge plan. Ethan does not even dare to look at me. His glare is directed to his bowl of Cheerio’s. What’s his deal?
I find myself peeking at the sleeping man frequently, each time with more time. In my mind, I am piecing together the fractions of facts hovering in my mind. He spends his time looking for his daughter. He broke into my house. It can’t be. It just can’t.
“Jocelyn?” George waves his hand in front of my face. Ethan finally glances at me, with impenetrable eyes.
“I, uh,” I stammer.
“Listen,” Ethan interjects, slamming his hand on the table. I wince at the sudden noise. Everyone looks at him with normal faces, as if he slams furniture regularly. I want to shoot him an aggravated look, but I decide against it. What’s wrong with him? Only a few hours ago, he sleepily cuddled with me, telling me things he would never say any other time. I stare down at the floor tiles, horribly humiliated by the boy across the table.
“As I was saying, Jocelyn, you will be taking care of Eileen. She’s been ill for a week now,” George says. He says it quietly, as if his wife shouldn’t hear it. How ill is she? She seemed fine when I first met her.
“Yeah,” I mumble, fiddling with my plastic spoon. Inside, I’m dying to know why I can’t just go with them. But part of me knows that I am a coward, and a tiny one at that.
“It’s just that Eileen needs a woman around,” Amy pats my shoulder sympathetically. I just nod.
The man on the couch stirs, and then sits up. For some reason, my heart skips a beat. He runs his hand through his red hair at the back of his head. Everyone at the small table turn to look at him. Something inside me lurches.
“Dad?” I squeak, unable prevent my words. Right after I say them, I regret them.
I look around, pathetically hoping that no one heard me. Of course, everyone had. Ethan looks pissed. The skin between Amy’s eyebrows creases. She must think I’ve gone insane; I’ve always been able to filter my words. Before all this happened, at least.
The man turns to face us, and I suck in a breath. He isn’t my father. What’s wrong with me?
He has a wider nose, and a less friendly mien.
“What?” he asks, voice rising with every angry syllable, “What did you just say to me?” I am taken back by his fury.
For the moment, I am speechless. I hope he doesn’t think I am mocking him.
“You think it’s funny, don’t you? How would you like to see your family, the people you love most, being torn apart by…,” he rants. My chest aches as he covers his face with his hands. I hate that my words are the cause of his pain.
“I didn’t mean that, sir,” I say weakly. My voice comes out so shaky, as if I am on the verge of tears.
What is wrong with you? Don’t cry and make a scene out of nothing.
I decide to listen to my forceful thoughts.
“I know,” he removes his hands. His eyes are red and puffy. He swipes his eyes and clears his throat, as if to regain his manly expression. But I can tell that he indeed is as defeated as all of us. He’s nothing special, just another brick in this wall that’s rapidly tumbling down.
“I know,” he repeats. I resist the urge to swipe my own tears away. Amy strokes my hair as silence takes over.
“Who are you anyway?” the man asks softly after a few moments. Ethan was right; this man is a little crazy. One minute he’s sour, the next he’s sweet. Sounds like someone I know, who is sitting across this table. I glance over at the boy a few feet away. I recollect the phrase the boy had said yesterday, “I actually do care.”
Did he mean that? Or was that just to keep pushing me forward? But, of course, if he wanted to push me further, he had to care a little about me at least. Ugh. Why did I have to kiss his cheek last night? It only made me look more desperate than I already am.
“Jocelyn,” I answer after a while of overthinking. The man’s eyes soften. His thin lips curl into a smile.
“That was my wife’s name,” he tells me.
Although his words are directed to me, he stares at nothing in particular. He seems to be pleasantly reminiscing about the world we used to be familiar with. Wow, it really is like a distant memory, the previous world. After letting his blunt words sink in, I cringe at his use of a past tense verb, instead of the present tense. Whenever he mentions his deceased family members, I can’t help what ponder the millions of places my parents are. The only place I am certain they are is in my heart.
He sticks out his hand and musters a grin, “Formerly known as Joe.”