***READ PARTS ONE, TWO, AND THREE FIRST***
“Say it again,” I demanded for the third time.
I was standing behind the kitchen counter with Noelle. We faced my father, who was slouching in the stool and eying his surroundings hungrily. He grabbed a magazine and I snatched it out of his hands.
“Tell us,” Noelle snapped. I shot her a grateful look but she avoided my gaze. I refocused on my father, who was now staring at Noelle with a half-smile on his face.
That was honestly the last straw. I slammed my hand onto the counter and didn’t even notice the pain. “Answer my question, or I will make you leave.”
My father smirked. He must’ve been enjoying the attention. “Well, if you insist.” He leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. “Like I said, after you moved out, I lost the house and have been livin’ on the streets. And lately, I have been thinkin’ about you, my only son, and thinkin’ that I’ve been real harsh on you. I wanna make ‘mends.”
I stared at him incredulously. I didn’t know how he expected me to forgive him after years of absence.
I didn’t realize I was shaking until Noelle grasped my hand.
“Come with me,” she said, wrapping an arm around my waist. Then she turned to my father. “You stay here,” she demanded, glowering.
I was dimly aware of Noelle leading me to the living room and guiding me to the couch. I sat down on the edge and put my head in my hands.
The tears came and I didn’t even attempt to stop them.
“What am I going to do?” I asked desperately, voice trembling. Noelle rubbed my back and didn’t say a word. “I thought he was dead, Noelle. I haven’t seen him in twenty years.”
I looked at Noelle hopelessly, and she met my gaze for the first time that day. To my surprise, her eyes were damp. A tear escaped her eye and I instinctively swiped it away.
She sucked in a breath and fixed her gaze on the floor. I cleared my throat.
“How did he get in?” I asked, quickly changing the subject. I tried to steady my breathing.
“I heard a knock on the door,” she began. “At first I didn’t recognize him, but then he told me who he was…” She shrugged as if she didn’t want to go into details. “He was crying, and I took pity on him.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Crying? My father doesn’t cry.”
Noelle hung her head. “I know. I shouldn’t have let him in.”
She hugged herself, staring blankly at the wall. As I watched her, I felt my earlier anger subside. I had never seen Noelle this distraught, and I felt a rush of affection towards her. I placed my hand on her shoulder and she snapped her gaze to me, startled.
“No, it’s okay,” I said, the calmness of my voice surprising me. “This might be for the best.”
She gave me a puzzled look and stood up. “What are you saying?”
Careful not to stand too close to Noelle, I rose to my feet. “I’m saying that this might give a dose of humanity.”
Noelle peered at me, eyes sparkling. For once there was no hint of annoyance in her eyes. There was something like pride. And maybe a little bit of…
I brushed away the thought. I couldn’t have been that. I was probably imagining it.
Noelle followed me into the kitchen, where my father was showing a surprising amount of self-control. He hadn’t touched the magazine on the counter, although he was craning his neck to study the cover. His head snapped up when he spotted us.
I studied him closely. His demeanor hadn’t changed since I had last seen him about fifteen years ago. His eyes darted from side to side in a shifty manner. At first glance, he seemed untrustworthy and mischievous.
But maybe he deserved a second chance. Maybe he had changed.
Apparently, “making amends” meant living off of my money.
I willingly gave my father a room to stay in while he promised to search for a job. To my surprise, he found one. At a hardware store.
I guess it was better than nothing.
After a month or two, I figured that he would make enough money to move out (I would help him pay for an apartment, of course), and Noelle’s calculations proved my hypothesis correct.
But when I got home from work, just one week after my father had been hired, I found him sitting on my leather couch, munching on potato chips.
I froze with one foot still in the foyer. “Home early, I see,” I said, already fearing the worst.
“Stupid hardware store fired me,” he grumbled, confirming my worst suspicions. I winced as he shoved a handful of greasy food into his mouth. I watched in disgusted fascination as crumbs tumbled down the front of his shirt.
“What for?” I asked, sighing. I pulled myself through the door with extreme effort. My father stood up and sent the crumbs cascading to the floor.
“Yelling at a customer! Can you believe they fired me for that?”
I ran a hand over my eyes. “Yes, I can. You shouldn’t yell at a customer. You shouldn’t yell at anyone.”
He made a face. “What’s the point of life if ya can’t yell at people?”
I barely kept from wincing, because that’s exactly what I thought a few weeks ago. Trust no one, blah blah blah. Apparently, my father had never fully gotten out of that mindset.
Just then, Noelle walked into the room. She was… dressed up. She looked lovely in an emerald dress that brought out her pale skin and black hair.
Why was she dressed up?
Then it hit me like a pile of bricks. I slapped my palm to my forehead.
“The fundraiser! I forgot about the fundraiser!”
Noelle had insisted that we go to the fundraiser. She told me that it would be part of my personality reform.
She glared at me from across the room. “Really, Mr. Beckett? You forgot? We were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago.”
Ignoring Noelle’s icy expression, I rushed upstairs to change.
I honestly did forget. I had been complaining about it for the past week and Noelle must’ve thought I was looking for an excuse not to go.
After putting on enough cologne to mask a skunk’s spray, I bounded down the stairs and into the foyer, where Noelle was waiting impatiently. My father was nowhere in sight.
“Where’s my dad?” I panted.
“In his room. I told him to stay there for the rest of the night.”
I scoffed. “You seriously think he’s going to do that?”
Noelle opened the door and made her way to the garage. “Believe it or not, he listens to me.”
I rolled my eyes and shut the door tight. “Yeah, right. He’ll have the house in tatters.” I grabbed the keys for my back convertible and opened the door for Noelle. She got in without saying a word.
It was going to be a fun car ride.
We arrived at the fundraiser just as everyone was getting settled. There were a few chairs, but most of the room was filled with tables filled with… things. So many things.
I leaned over and whispered, “So, what kind of fundraiser is this anyway?”
Noelle crossed her arms. “I already told you,” she said coldly, making it quite clear that she wasn’t going to tell me again. She stared straight ahead and kept her face impassive.
We stood near the back of the room. I found myself silently hoping that this wouldn’t take too long. I didn’t want to leave my father in my house for any longer than I had to. I checked my watch, then lowered my arm sheepishly when Noelle glared daggers at me.
At the front of the room, a man tapped the microphone, causing it to emit a hair-raising screech. Everyone winced simultaneously.
“Sorry about that,” the man apologized. The crowd murmured. The man cleared his throat and continued. “ Welcome to the annual Touching Hearts Silent Auction. All proceeding will go to the Touching Hearts Organization, aiding children with disabilities all across America. We will be auctioning off over fifty items, so choose wisely. If you have interest in the item, write your name and your bid on the sheet of paper in front of the item. After ninety minutes, items will be sold to the highest bidder.”
The man scanned the room helplessly as if he didn’t know what else to say. “So, um, have at it, folks!”
The crowd moved slowly, with people huddled in large groups. Noelle grabbed my arm.
“Let’s go to that table,” she dragged me behind her. I didn’t even try to resist.
We came to a halt in front of an Ultimate Micro-Brew Beer sampler. I rolled my eyes.
“Ha, ha. I’m not going to buy this…” I trailed off as I spotted a very familiar-looking man out of the corner of my eye. I tried to stare nonchalantly to figure out who it was, Noelle saw me looking. She gave me a questioning look and followed my gaze.
Recognition flashed across her face, and she vanished from my side.
Then I saw her heading towards that man. I hovered in indecision. Should I follow her or should I just carry on with my business? Then I saw the man kiss Noelle on the cheek. I made a beeline towards them.
“Hi,” I said, stretching out a hand. “I saw you from across the room and I realized that I know you from somewhere.”
He shook my hand and smiled. “Yes, I do recognize you. You're the famous Ace Beckett.”
I glanced at Noelle, who had a venomous look in her eyes. “I… yes. I am. I… still cannot think of your name.”
“I’m Peter. Peter Williams,” he said. “I would shake your hand, but I just did, so…”
Noelle laughed and put her hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Peter, would you mind getting me a drink?’
“It would be my pleasure,” he replied, smiling down at her. He set off to get a drink and I gritted my teeth. How chivalrous. And how did this guy know who I was? I wasn’t that famous, was I?
“What are you doing?” Noelle hissed, suddenly standing right next to me. “That was so embarrassing!”
A rush of indignation flashed through me. “I’m sorry, but I’m kind of hurt that you didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend!”
Noelle stared at me. Then she dug her nails into my arm and practically threw me into a chair.
“That’s. My. Brother,” she seethed. “I’ve told you about him countless times,” she growled. “You know, I thought maybe you had changed. That you were a better person.” Noelle looked at me with something akin to pity. “I guess people can’t change that much. You’re still as self-centered and rude as you were when I first met you.”
With that comment stinging my face like a hard slap, she walked away. I sat in the folding chair, slumped and dejected. Because she was right.
I was still self-centered and rude. I was arrogant and shallow and insensitive. I was still a bad person.
I stood up slowly, everything seeming far away and quiet. Out of impulse, I walked over to who I assumed was the leader of this whole operation. I grabbed his arm.
“What are the three most expensive items you have here?”
The man peered at me strangely. “Um, the most expensive? Have you looked around, sir?”
I glanced around quickly. “I'm kind of in a rush. Here, just…” I pulled out my checkbook and poised my pen to write. “What is the most expensive item?”
His eyes darted nervously as if he was unsure of how to handle me. But he pointed to a table far off. “Probably our collection of watches,” he said, looked at me out of the corner of his eye.
I dashed over to the table and wrote, “I’ll top the highest bid by $1,000. ~ Ace Beckett”
Then I ran out the door and hailed a cab.
As the cab pulled into my driveway, I heard a peculiar drilling noise. I thanked the driver and jogged to my front door, hurriedly unlocking it.
I was greeted by a baseball bat flying at my head. I ducked and yelped, and the bat swung wildly before slamming into a picture on the wall. Glass rained down.
“Oops,” said my father sheepishly.
“What the heck!” I yelped, jumping away from the glass. “Are you trying to kill me?”
My father looked at me incredulously. “Course not. I just wanted t’ make sure you weren’t a burglar!”
I looked at the picture in dismay. “What… that’s… I have a lock for a reason!”
He let the bat drop to the ground. “The least you could do is say thank you!”
I was in awe at this man’s nerve. “Thank you? Are you kidding me? You broke my picture! And where did you even get that baseball bat?”
“It was in the back of your closet,” he said, crossing his arms. I clenched my hair, probably looking like a mad man. Almost without realizing it, I grabbed my father’s arm and dragged him into the kitchen, throwing him onto a stool.
“Why are you going through my things?” I hollered into his face. He opened his mouth to answer, but I wasn’t finished. “Actually, what I want to know is why you even came to me in the first place. Only a fool would think that you were actually capable of loving someone other than yourself, so why are you here? What more could you want from me?”
Instead of looking ashamed or abashed as I expected, my father only looked angry.
“Son, everything I’ve done was for you. Why do you think you’re successful now? Because I helped you. I sacrificed my happiness for you.”
I actually laughed at that. “So that time you abused and killed Ben was for my safety? The time you left me at home by myself, for three weeks, when I was eight years old, that was for me?”
My father looked as if he had been slapped. “Son-”
“No,” I held up a shaking hand and turned my head. “I’m not your son. Get out of my house.”
He scrambled out of the stool and I watched, chest heaving, as he thrust open the door and slammed it behind him. He didn’t have a car, so he began walking down the long driveway. His feet would hurt after a while.
“Good,” I muttered. “Serves him right.”
But a small voice inside of me told me that I should go after him, at least take him to the nearest hotel or apartment, help him get to town safely.
Deep down, I knew I could never bring myself to do that.
I leaned against the counter and stared out of the window at the semidarkness. The sun was setting, but in my rotten mood, I failed to appreciate its beauty.
Noelle stormed into the kitchen, hair flying wildly. Her blue eyes were furious and her hands were clenched in her dress, wrinkling the fabric.
“YOU ABANDONED ME! ALL BY MYSELF! WHAT THE HECK!”
I opened my mouth to respond, but she barrelled on.
“I HAD TO LEAVE MY BROTHER TO COME AND SEE WHERE YOU WENT! I’VE BEEN TEXTING YOU FOR THE LAST HOUR AND A HALF AND DO I GET A RESPONSE? NO! I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO BE A BETTER PERSON, ACE! THAT MEANS ACTUALLY PUTTING IN THE EFFORT AND NOT RUNNING AWAY FROM YOUR PROBLEMS! IT WASN’T THAT HARD TO STAY THE WHOLE TIME! IT’S FOR CHARITY, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!”
Noelle gasped for air, still glaring at me.
I turned towards the window, a lump in my throat. She was right again. I had kicked out my father, forcing my problems away instead of working them out. Before I couldn’t stop them, I felt the tears running down my cheeks, but I kept my sobs silent, not wanted Noelle to hear.
I hadn’t cried in a long time. It was… refreshing.
Noelle spoke, noticing my silence and sounding slightly guilty. “Mr. Beckett? Listen, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.” She stopped, considering. “Well, I did,” she continued, “but I think I can help you eventually.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and turned to face her. Her eyes widened when she saw my tears.
“Oh, God. What happened?” she asked, rushing over to me and tentatively placing a hand on my shoulder. I struggled for composure.
“You were right before, Noelle. I can’t change, because I’m just like my father. I pushed him away, kicked him out. I should’ve helped him. And now he’s… who knows where.”
Noelle stared at me in open-mouthed awe. “Ace—Mr. Beckett, I’m… just, why did you leave?”
I looked her in the eyes, finally, and found they were glistening. “I came because I thought you had given up on me. And when I came home, I found out that… that man had been rummaging through my things. And then he had the audacity to tell me that he cared for me, that he sacrificed everything for me. That’s when I kicked him out.”
Noelle had wrapped her arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t look at her through the pool of tears in my eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Beckett. What can I do?”
I looked up at her concerned face and attempted a smile. “You can start by calling me Ace.”