The following weeks I got to practice on the phenomenon called long distance relationship. Yeah... I hated every second of it. I'd lost count of how many times I'd begged Martina to come for a visit, or even to move in with me though we'd just started dating, but she always had excuses. I hated that, too. And when I told her that I wanted to come to New York and visit her, she said straight out that she didn't want me to come.
Her reason was legit, though. She hadn't told her parents about the age gap between us or even that we were dating, and since she was living with her parents right now, it was kind of practical to at least make them aware of it. She just wasn't sure how to break the news. Especially because she still wasn't legally divorced from Rocco. Therefore I told her that I could stay at a hotel so they wouldn't know I was there. But...
She declined anyway.
I found comfort in texting and talking to her on the phone, though. Sometimes she sent pictures of herself too, but instead of making me happy it only made me miss her more. Nothing could replace having her in my arms.
Not to mention that your dick is gonna fall off, if you don't get some of her sweet pussy soon. Fuck.
I couldn't remember the last time it had been weeks without getting laid. Years, probably. So to say that I was about to go nuts was a solid understatement. But the most fascinating part was that it didn't tempt me to even consider picking up some random lady, fuck the shit out of her and dump her before the sun rose. Nothing could ever beat what Bambi and I had, anyway.
Dom is right. You have it bad for her. Yeah... And you're fucking proud of it!
It was late Thursday evening when I suddenly heard slow knocking on my door. My first assumption was that Martina had decided to surprise me and came for a visit after all, but that was a bit far-fetched. I knew she was working a double shift to save up for a new place to live. If only she wasn't so stubborn. Even though we'd just started dating, moving in together was the next logical step anyway. She could get a new job here, and even if she didn't, I had enough income for the both of us.
There it was again. A slow, quiet knock, and I almost believed it was the TV. So I turned it off just to be sure, and walked towards the door to open.
There was nobody there.
Then my attention was drawn towards the elevator where I saw a very familiar figure; the least expected one.
I saw him sigh. Then he slowly turned around, and what I saw startled me.
His eyes were hooded and he looked like he'd lost weight. It was clear that he hadn't shaved in a while and there was a stain on his shirt visible from afar. It was like looking at myself in the mirror before Martina came back into my life.
"Is she here?" he asked, and sounded defeated.
"If you're talking about Martina, then no, she's not."
I got a tiny response from him, a mere eyebrow lift, before his face fell back into serious folds.
"Do you know where she is?"
"Uhm... In New York with her parents," I answered, but suddenly felt a bit insecure.
"Of course. I should have known they lied to me," he mumbled, and I decided that it was time.
"Please come in, Rocco. We need to talk."
He shrugged and followed me with his head hanging low. His hands were in his pocket and he was sadder than sad.
"Do you want something to drink? A beer perhaps?"
"No, thank you," he mumbled. Then he sat down on the couch and rubbed his tired face.
"She won't talk to me. She doesn't pick up the phone when I call, she doesn't reply to any of my texts, and her parents told me she'd moved somewhere, so I figured it was here."
That was surprising. She was definitely still living with her parents. I knew that much.
"Well... She's not here, although I wish she was, though."
Rocco was silent for a long moment.
"You really love her, don't you?" he said eventually, and I just wasn't man enough to keep from smiling. Like a fucking school boy!
"More than I ever thought was possible."
"Good. She deserves that."
I didn't really know how to respond. This wasn't the Rocco I was used to. This young man was empty. Lifeless. Shut down.
"I want that, too," he said, while I was pondering about what to say.
"What do you mean? You want her back? Is that why you refuse to sign the papers?"
"No. I did sign them, but I need to talk to her before she gets them."
"I need to apologize. I should never have done what I did to her."
I immediately knew what he was talking about.
"No, you shouldn't."
"You know about it?"
He looked surprised and ashamed at the same time.
"Parts of it. And when I heard your mother and granddad were there to set her straight, I figured out the rest."
I felt my anger rise when I thought about Martina trying to defend herself from three angry people. And not just any people. Two of them were probably a crossing between Hitler and the devil himself, and no matter how much they claimed to be religious, I just didn't buy it. Not the least bit. It was just an excuse to justify the way they mistreated everybody around them. And if they crossed the line, which they did pretty much all the time, they folded their hands, looked to the sky and everything was good. Except, it wasn't.
"What on earth were you thinking, Rocco? Were you trying to traumatize the girl for life? Because if so, you've pretty much succeeded."
Rocco's eyes grew wide with regret.
"Oh, no. Is she okay?" he asked, and I wanted to tell him it was a lot worse than it was. I didn't. He seemed depressed enough as it was.
"After the circumstances? Good, I guess. She doesn't want to talk about it, so I don't really know. But she's reluctant to eat, so my guess is that they body shamed her..."
I caught his gaze and kept it while I continued, just to make sure he understood.
"...in addition to physical assault."
"H-he beat her?" he exclaimed in terror. Then he got up and started pacing around, while he combed his hands through his tousled hair.
"What else did you expect? He's beaten the shit out of his wife for as long as I've known him. The poor woman have to ask for permission to go to the toilet, for fuck's sake."
Rocco was silent and stared out through the window. San Francisco had taken on its nightgown and lured out the people who usually stayed indoors during daytime. I used to be one of them. Not anymore, though. After going through hell and isolating myself from the rest of the world, I now stayed at home for other reasons, which was talking to Martina as often as I could.
"How about that beer now?" I asked after a couple of minutes without either of us making a sound. He nodded slowly, and I thought I heard him sniffle. Was he crying?
"I'm sorry," I said as I gave him his drink. He looked at me in confusion.
I stared at my guitar. It had been collecting dust for a couple of days now.
"For being such a failure as a father," I said at last.
"You didn't deserve to grow up like that. I can't imagine how you felt, being caught in the crossfire all the time."
"Huh..." was his only reaction. I don't think he expected to ever hear that from me.
"And I'm sorry for ruining your marriage by going behind your back like that. I don't have any excuse, because there isn't any. I don't even expect you to forgive me, but just know that I am."
He spent quite a while processing it all, and after that, he sniffled again and blinked back a tear.
I don't know what came over me, but I suddenly walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him. I couldn't remember last time I hugged my son, and to be honest it felt awkward as fuck. But he needed it.
"Dad?" he said against my shoulder, and I let him go, thinking it was the hug that made him uncomfortable. I mean, I didn't blame him.
He cleared his voice and laughed. A sad, little laugh so loaded with frustration that I almost hugged him again. But he wasn't done.
"You're the first one I've ever said this to," he started, and a tear rolled down his cheek, soon followed by another.
Then he couldn't hold his façade up any longer, and broke completely. Once again I hugged him to my chest, and this time it didn't feel as awkward. Maybe I could get used to this?
"I know, son. And do you know what?"
I paused shortly.
"I'm proud of you."
"You are?" he said in disbelief.
"Don't get me wrong, because I'm not happy about the way you used Martina simply because she was convenient for you, or that you treated her badly and ignored her and all that crap. But it takes quite a pair of balls to come forward with a family like yours."
He sniffled when I let go of him, and I caught a glimpse of a tiny smile.
"And I'm genuinely happy to hear that you've found yourself."
I patted his shoulder as we walked back to sit on the couch again. Then we both took a swig of our beer.
"I wasn't much of a father when you grew up, but I'm here now. If you need any help..."
I made a tiny hand gesture to fill in the rest.
"I know how Bree..."
"It's mostly grandpa."
He sat back and looked relieved. He was still sad, though.
"Do you wanna know something? I've always sworn to myself to never become like him. I wanted to be more like you."
"Me?" I exclaimed, in a mixture of horror and surprise.
"I'm probably the worst example of a parent you can find."
"Perhaps. But you never laid your hands on a woman."
We exchanged looks and I tried to hold back my laughter.
"Ew, dad! Not in that way! You know what I mean."
Rocco laughed as well, and I relaxed a bit. Maybe it was hope for me as a parent after all?
Don't even think about it, Aaron!
"Yeah, I do. I'm just surprised," I admitted. Then neither of us had anything to say for a while, and Rocco sat in deep thoughts.
My eyes tried to find his, but he kept staring at his beer can.
"Mom will disown me, and God knows what grandpa will do. I ruined things with Marty, and..."
"You ruined?" I cut in.
"Didn't we kind of do that for you?"
"Yeah, but do you really think that would've happened if she was happy? If I truly loved her the way you should when you're married, and not only as a friend?"
How was I supposed to respond to that?
"It was never a good relationship to begin with. She kept giving, whilst I just took. And she... I don't know. She just accepted it, I guess. I swear she's the kindest person I've met. I just wish I could tell her."
He smiled half-heartedly and leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees.
"She's really changed you."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Somehow I believe that I just borrowed her for a while, when in reality she's here to save you from yourself."
I snorted and played cool, but felt a tug in my stomach.
You know he's right, Aaron.
"Don't tell me your grandfather's crazy preaching has rubbed off on you. That crap with angels and stuff..."
"I know you don't believe in it, dad, and you don't have to. But I know I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for her."
I looked down at my hands.
"Me too," I said, feeling gloomy just by the thought of it.
"Yeah. After you left New Year's eve? Well, all I can say is that things got kind of rough."
"Considered taking my own life, yes."
He looked stunned. I don't know if it was because of how pathetic I sounded or if he was relieved that we were in the same boat, but at least we understood each other.
"So she really did save you, huh?"
Rocco didn't say anything more. He looked a bit lost, so I tried to comfort him.
"Look, no matter what happens, I've got your back. Okay?"
He smiled and his gratitude peeked through the drapes of sadness.
"I've fought against Bree and her dad before, and I never thought I would say this but I'll gladly fight them again if it makes things easier for you."
I looked at him the way my dad used to do to me when I was a kid. I kind of missed him. But that ship had sailed long time ago.
"Thanks. That means everything to me. Literally. You're probably the only one I've got left."
"And Hunter," I reminded him, but he just sighed.
"Not anymore. He went back to his ex-girlfriend."
Then he mumbled.
"Must be practical to be bisexual."
We laughed together, and I realized that I'd never felt this close to my son before. It was true about Martina. But she didn't only save me. She'd brought father and son closer together too. And before we knew it, a beer had turned into three, and we talked until an exhausted Rocco fell asleep on the couch way past midnight.
Luckily, because I had no functional guest room anymore.