Chapter 5: Liam
She smiles and welcomes herself in. “Hi, darling, just doing a house check.”
As I process her fast-paced words, my ears burn red. This place is nowhere near housecheck standards. Jimmy’s beer cans are scattered around the living room and kitchen counters, Jere’s toys are everywhere on the wooden stairs, last night’s Ramen noodles are still in their bowls on the kitchen table, and Jimmy is still passed out on the couch from last night’s party he attended.
Debby scans over everything that I’d recently criticized myself of, and shakes her head, a small frown replacing her bubbly smile. “Liam,” she sighs, and I grab fistfuls of my hair, pulling at it in frustration and groaning in embarrassment.
“I know, I know,” I mutter, walking around the house and starting to gather Jimmy’s quarter-full beer cans and emptying them in the sink. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry I’ve been such a mess lately and I don’t know why.” I groan and she hesitantly walks over to me, rubbing my back and leaning her head arm, sighing again, but this time in understandment. I furrow my eyebrows, trying to think of what’s been keeping me from focusing on my responsibilities.
It was Jere’s last day of school the other day and we went out for ice cream that day, Jimmy joining us for a change and buying Jere and him an extra scoop. I paid for my own, so I got one scoop. Yesterday I had to bring Jere in with me to Juke’s, Bentley giving me a hard time with it every time a customer left, but treating Jere like he’s his own grandson. Jere’s even insisting on calling him Grandpa, but I’ve turned him down one too many times in the past to change my mind.
Bentley pulled me to the side while I was cleaning up towards the end of the day, a timid look on his face and a small bubbly glow after horsing around with Jere. His grasp on his arm was light when he shuffled me to the supply closet. He glanced back at Jere, who was plucking at one of the guitar’s strings, and a smile forms his chapped lips.
Turning back to me, he patted my shoulders and said, “It’s okay, son. You know why I call you that, right?” I nodded. His wife’s unable to have children. His smile wavered, but his eyes shined. “He can call me whatever he wants, son. It’s okay.”
My heart beating hard against my chest, I nodded, guilt running through my veins at the thought of Jere being his only grandson that’s not even blood-related to him. Giving me one more pat on the shoulders and a broad smile, Bentley turned out of the closet and applauded Jere exuberantly.
Jere’s been referring to him as Baba ever since.
The absence of Debby’s touch snaps me out of my daze and I blink, catching her concerned stare in my peripheral vision. My lips purse and I shrug out of habit. For what, I’m not sure.
It just feels right.