Chapter 41: Liam
Jenny and I are on her computer at Cornelia’s during one of her days off (which before today, I didn’t know those existed), staring at three different applications... for college.
“You have this, Liam, I promise,” Jenny tells me as she stares at the computer with me. The essay is incomplete, but there are ideas for the prompt I’ve chosen.
I don’t pay attention to much around me, but when Jenny’s cold hand lies on top of my hand to stop the drumming of my fingers against the tabletop, my hand jerks back at her touch instinctively. Even when I see the dejected look on her face, I can’t seem to regret my actions.
But she continues to hold her hand out for me to take from across the table, her green eyes watching me expectantly as she waits for my response. “It’s okay to be nervous,” she murmurs, and I’m tempted to meet her gesture but something inside me twists and I can’t make myself to.
I pretend I don’t see her outstretched hand and run my fingers back through my nonexistent hair. I shake my head at the stupid nervous habit of mine and remember how I shaved nearly all of my hair off after Libby’s call that day.
“I’m not nervous anymore,” I try to say casually, but it comes out more as a sigh. “I’m just tired of this place.”
Jenny retracts her hand from the table almost as if I slapped it away, but I can’t find myself to be sorry for what I said. I am tired of this place. “Well,” she says, defeated. “I guess it’s clear now.”
I look up from the damned coffee-cozy and meet her gaze. “What is?”
She purses her lips and does a one-shoulder shrug. “You’re not interested.”
“I-” but I stop. What am I going to say anyways? Yes, I am? That would be a lie. No, I’m not. That would be another one. “That’s not it.”
Her lips twitch into an almost-smile. “I know.”
“Then...” I drag out the word, confused as to what she’s trying to tell me.
“You’re stuck.” I don’t need her to spell this statement out for me. I’m stuck... with her.
“Yeah.” I roll my lips inside my mouth and resist the urge to dig into my pocket for my cigarette box.
She tilts her head to the side and gives me a sincere smile. “It’s okay to miss her. I mean, it’ll hurt, but it’s better than running away from it all.” I stare at her, trying to process all of this. “You can’t run away from your feelings, Liam. It’s not right.”
“Then what do I do?” I ask. My heart is beating erratically because of us just talking about her. How am I going to react if I actually see her again?
Another one-shoulder shrug; another almost-smile. “Call her.”
I huff out a bitter laugh. “I can’t.”
“Find a way. I know there is one.”
Shit, I think. There is one. My voice is shaking when I say, “Can I borrow your cell?”
I’m on my ninth call when he answers.
“What the hell do you want?”
“It’s Liam,” I say, trying to stay calm despite the raging words I have to say to him after all these months. The sharp wind blows past me and I’m tempted to run back inside Cornelia’s, but I know that this is the type of call that others shouldn’t witness.
“Oh,” Cal says, almost sounding more annoyed. “You finally wanna hear your parents’ sob story?”
Sob story? I try to swallow any shouting that could be involved and say, “No. I’m here about Libby.”
He laughs and the act startles me. “No, dear boy, I think you want to hear the pitiful fate of your parents.”
“You’re such an assh-”
“They were abandoning you, by the way. There’s no doubt about that. They were halfway to Oklahoma - y’know, where your mother is from - and they died. Poof! No more Nottes’.”
I want to end the call. I want to scream at him. But more than anything, I want to know more. “How?”
I can hear the smile in his voice. “The people wouldn’t give out that sort of information, but the point is that they ran away and died - all because of you.”
His words cause my heart to drop - he formed them in just the right way to wound me. My voice is strained when I ask, “How come I didn’t know?”
The smile is still there. “No connections - they couldn’t find you. They took their name off your apartment’s lease and there was no point in trying to look for any other generations of the Nottes family.”
“So they gave up.”
There’s silence between us, the only sound passing through being the shouts of crazy bikers passing by on the sidewalks and the light music playing overhead inside Cornelia’s. The air damp and the roads are sloshed with late snow. Early December does not treat New York well.
“Tell Libby I said hi, Mr. Nottes,” Cal suddenly says. I don’t catch up with his words, but only listen to the sound of his grave voice. “I’m sure she’s absolutely thrilled to see you.”
And the call ends.
I lower the phone from my ear and stare at it, completed amazed by how many emotions are coursing through me at once. Shock, anger, grief, remorse, rage.... It won’t stop.
I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there when I hear Jenny’s voice come from the opened door of the cafe behind me. “Liam? Liam, it’s cold. Come inside.”
My body is trembling, but I’m not completely sure it’s because of the cold. “No,” I somehow manage to tell her. I watch as I hand her the phone, but don’t remember telling my body to do so. I say goodbye, but can’t feel it on my lips.
I turn away and my vision blurs, but so many things are clear to me at this moment.
My parents left me.
I shake my head and hold up my hand as a mustard taxi begins to pass.
They died in the process.
The cab slows and its light goes off on the hood.
My parents are gone.
I climb inside the back bench and manage to tell the woman in the front my address.
And it’s all because of me.
When the cab comes to a stop in front of the apartments I nod and hand the woman a few dollars.
“That’s not enough,” the woman chastises and I sigh. My breath comes out as a ghost.
“I’ll run inside and get some more.” I glance out the car and see Jimmy and Jere through the window, pulling on their coats inside. “How much?”
The woman shrugs. “Around four more.”
I give her a curt nod and rush out of the vehicle, somehow not falling out in my attempt to escape from my thoughts. Jimmy must’ve seen me through the window because he meets me at the door. “Where in the hell have you been?”
I raise my eyebrows in surprise, pretty sure he knew where I was. “With Jenny,” I reply, but it comes out robotic. I am not me. “Do you have four bucks?”
He groans and the cab driver honks behind us. Digging in his back pocket, he finally comes up with a few dollars in change. Muttering a thanks, I rush down the patio steps and hand the woman her money. No thanks was needed apparently, as she rushes away from the curb.
“So are you gonna answer my question?” Jimmy asks from the door, and I shrug.
“I said I was at Jenny’s.”
I brush past him and into the apartment’s warmth. I see Jere sitting at the kitchen table, his little legs swinging back-and-forth beneath the chair. I walk over to him and lean my hands against the table’s edge, looking down at what he was doing. He’s coloring something for... someone. “What’re you doing, little man?”
He glances up and his mouth goes up in a huge smile. “Hey Daddy!” He scurries to drop his crayon and hold the picture up for me to see. “You see him? That’s Grampa. And him? That’s me!”
I look at the drawing and end up confused. “Why is Grampa lying down?”
Jere sighs and lowers the paper, looking away from me entirely. “He’s in the doctor’s bed.”
The doctor’s bed. “Jere, is he in the hospital?”
He nods solemnly and sets the paper back down on the table. “And I’m singin’ to him.”
My head falls into my hands as I take this information in. Bentley’s in the hospital. “Jimmy,” I murmur into my hands. “Did you know about this?”
I can almost hear him roll his eyes. “Of course. That’s why I was trying to reach you, and no, you weren’t with Jenny because I tried to ring her.”
Probably while I was on the phone with Cal.
I try and calm down once more. My parents are gone. And Bentley’s in the hospital.
I raise my head up from my cupped hands and stand up straight to turn to Jimmy. His entire physique is guilty. “What,” I say, completely done with questions for the day.
He looks between me and Jere and the door before he finally tells me. “Libby’s on her way. She’ll be here in two days.”
And then he flies out the door and Jere makes the most exuberant “YES!” I’ve ever heard.
All I can think of are Cal’s words back from the phone call only one hour before this moment. “Tell Libby I said hi, Mr. Nottes. I’m sure she’s absolutely thrilled to see you.
I can feel Jere tugging at my arm as he asks me if I’m okay. Am I? I wonder, until I’ve finally come to a conclusion. No. No, I am not okay.
And I let myself wonder if I ever will be.