You sit down and skim the menu while you wait, your nails drumming against the table. The waiter comes, and you ask for some coffee to calm your nerves, but you’re waiting for someone. You try leaning back, but you’re too tense and end up sitting upright, your back stiff.

She's the first one to walk in - a confident stride, stepping to the rhythm of the music in her ears. She glances your way - she knows it's you, and turns sharply in your direction. She puts one arm over the back of her chair and asks for some coffee, but changes her mind several times and ends up getting water. She's looking out the window with a funny smile on her face, and you're not sure if she's waiting or if she's avoiding looking at you.

Then he arrives as well. He's got a white suit, and a white top hat, and a white suitcase. And probably lots of cards up his sleeves. He sees you immediately, but he doesn't smile, asking the waiter for a lemonade as he shuffles by.

He sits, and everyone is here. You, and the two younger people you invited. You hesitate, you don't know how to start. While you gather your thoughts, the boy gets his lemonade. She grins at him, and he stares back over the rim of his glass.

The girl starts before you do.

"I met him on the train," she says. She pulls her earphones out, and as she shuts her phone cover you glimpse a one-song playlist put on loop. "Our seats were right next to each other. I was decorating my agenda."

"You decorate your agenda?" says the boy.

"I don't have one. I did at the time." She pauses. "It was hype."

"That doesn't sound like you."

"It's not." She sips her water. "In fact, that's the first thing he asked me."

"Is that you?"

You're not sure what to think. You expected to talk more than this. To ask questions. Lots of questions. You'd made a list, like a detective trying to figure out the murderer. Or, in this case, the motive.

"Is that you?" he repeats, with something like a smile, and this time she giggles.

You sip your coffee, try to relax. All three of you have got all day.

"More seriously," she says, "we talked a bit, and he told me he thought I was better than this. And I was like, dude you don't even know me. But he looked at me, and it was like he knew me, yunno?"

The boy nods.

"Did he ever talk about me?" she asks.

He shakes his head. She turns to you.

"Did he? I'd known him for a while."

You hesitate. But there's no point, really.

"I'm starting to think he didn't talk about any of his actual friends. About any of the important stuff, honestly. He talked about classmates, and his classes at university, and about what he had eaten at lunch. And sometimes, when we asked, he shrugged and gave a vague answer. Nowadays, I often wish I had pushed for more."

"Yeah, he didn't open up much," she says. "It was kinda hard to tell what he was thinking, too. He was more of a vibe than a thought, most of the time."

The boy looks up. They stare at each other.

"I wouldn't say there wasn't a vibe to him, but it all felt the same to me," he says. "I could always tell what he was thinking though. He had a tendency to imply stuff in his words and in his gaze. But vibe-wise, he was like polished marble."

You wonder how your son, who was always just your son, could possibly have come off so in so very different ways to two people. Which version was fake. And most importantly, what you had done wrong. The boy seems to notice something on your face, and he adds,

"I'm pretty sure he showed a different face to everyone though. Must've thought it funny."

The girl snorts and coughs on her water.

"That -" she says in between laughs, "That's something I can agree with. Dude had a horrible habit of having fun at people's expense."

Again, what did you do wrong.

"It's not your fault," says the boy. "How many years had it been since he'd left?"

"About five," you say under your breath.

"See?" says the girl. "People change in five years. Heck, I changed in a mere one. Turned my life around. Meeting him taught me I could stop imitating people and draw my own path into the world. That I didn't have a purpose, and that the very gift of life is that you get to choose what you were born for."

Your son said that?

"Very inspirational," the boy says.

He doesn't look impressed. He waves over the waiter and wordlessly points to something on the menu, and you realize you completely forgot you had to pick something. You hurriedly point at the page, and while she also points at something the girl grins at you like you just made her day.

The three of you are silent for a while. The last exchange was awkward, and maybe you're not the only one who needs to gather your thoughts this time. The girl plugs her earphones back into her ears, and starts up that one-song playlist, vibing to it in silence. The boy pulls out some cards - turns out, he puts them in his pocket, not his sleeve - and practices twirling them in his hands. Little by little, the deck seems to diminish, but you haven't seen any of them slip out. You watch in fascination.

It's funny. Now that you think about it, maybe that's why your son got along so well with the both of them. They're not all that different. Vibing to his own tune and masking bits of his life from you via a clever sleight of hand. In fact, you only learned that these two knew him from hacking into his computer and finding a backup of his contacts in a folder.

You don't even know why his stuff was sent to you. Seems like there were people he was closer to.

You feel bitter and upset. A bit jealous, too.

It's not like it's fair. You spent 18 years of your life raising him.

Again, you wonder what you did wrong.

The waiter is heading your way with three plates of food. It seems you asked for a steak in some green peppercorn sauce - that's what it looks like anyway. You're not used to pepper, but you're determined to force it down your throat if need be.

The girl is giggling again, and she's looking at you.

Turns out, the coffee didn't help at all. Your nerves are a mess. You focus as much as you can on cutting your steak.

The girl has a salad, and the boy a soup. She suddenly reaches over and pulls the bowl to the middle of the table. He glares at her. She says,

"You know, for someone who mocks the way meeting him changed my life, you sure copied his mannerisms a lot." Her eyes are laughing as she picks up the spoon and starts pushing around the floaty things in the liquid and fishing them out. "From the way you hold yourself, to the way you speak. Didn't know that sort of thing was contagious."

He's still glaring. He pulls the bowl back in its place and snatches the spoon.

"You've got a salad. Let me have my soup."

She sits back down, and after a few sips he seems to calm down.

"Comfort food?" she says.

"Sort of."

She impales salad on her fork, but she's looking at him as she eats, waiting. After a while, he goes,

"I met him at home." Your movements slow, confused. "We had this sort of base in the park - a wooden one-room house, meant to be a garden shed or something alike. It wasn't used though, and we went there every weekend with my siblings and their friends. We moved a few times, but it was never far enough that we couldn't go there. So we did. It was a neat place, and it was more like a home than any of our other homes were."

The girl chews in silence, her eyes on him. He doesn't look up.

"One of us, Oliver… Davis? - was his friend, I think. Something like that, at any rate, although they'd have professed otherwise. They kept talking each other down, but it didn't sound real. And they spent so much time together. Perhaps they started out as enemies and became friends over time, I don't know.

"Well, when someone spends so much time around you, even if you don't end up talking one-on-one, you get to know them. From what I saw, he was a very decisive person - if you found him hammering nails, he was making something. If you found him reading a book, he had picked it out himself. And if he was laying out in the sun, he wanted to be left alone. He always knew what it was that he was doing.

"So when he was talking to someone, you'd wonder what he was up to. Sometimes, he'd leave the conversation lost in his thoughts, and sometimes he'd look like he'd accomplished something. Now I'm wondering if those times he wasn't talking to people like you."

He's looking ahead at the girl now. She shrugs.

"How did you end up changing?" she asks.

"I didn't, not really. Or maybe I did - I used to fold as much as I could when meeting new people, to pretend like I wasn't there. Perhaps I was trying to match his confidence, if only in appearance."

A moment passes. The girl scrapes her dish clean of grilled onions and sauce. While the boy lifts the bowl to his lips to drink what's left of his soup, she asks you how was your steak.

Oh, right, the steak. You haven't been giving it any thought, but the taste feels like it has impregnated the back of your tongue. It doesn't taste half as bad as you thought it would. It tastes rather good, actually.

You feel like you should say something. You haven't asked what you called them over for - it feels like you wasted their time. But they look fine, now that you look at them. Also, the knot in your chest is gone. You feel light and up for a walk.

"Thank you," you say out of nowhere. On its own, it feels like it isn't enough - but they seem to understand, and the boy gets up to shake your hand.

"No problem," he says. "I've heard losing a child is awfully hard. I can't say I know what it feels like, but you have my sympathies."

The girl gets up too, and shakes your hand up and down at a weird pace, winking at him. He doesn't take the bait, but he does smile.

Then she's looking you in the eye.

"Look," she says. "You did your best. He may not have talked about me, but he did talk about you. It's actually one of the few earnest conversations I've had with him. You were a great parent, I don't think you have much to do with his overdose."

You freeze up.

"That was raw," says the boy. "I wouldn't know whether to agree with that. But you've got the rest of your own life to figure it out, don't you?"

For the first time in the last few months, you want to laugh. But you shouldn't laugh - this is not something you laugh about. You haven't even figured out the why yet.

But then again, perhaps the why can wait.

After all, you've got all the time in the world.


It's been a week since you met with the girl and the boy. You were able to take a step back, and realized you'd walked out of the restaurant with a lead - Oliver Davis. But you aren't sure you're ready to pursue that just yet, so you decided to let it settle, let the peace of mind grow - your son changed some people's lives for the better. Perhaps you did something wrong, perhaps not - but for now, you've returned to the restaurant, and you're sitting down with a steak with green peppercorn sauce. This time around, you taste the steak. It tastes good.

Right. You'll just take your time to figure it out.

July 03, 2021 03:51

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Gerard Watson
20:32 Jul 08, 2021

The first paragraph of your story intrigued me. It made me curious about what would happen next. Not sure how I felt about not giving the boy or girl formal names. At times, I got a little lost in the dialogue. Good job of showing, not telling. I enjoyed the story. It is well-written and flows logically. Is the gist of the story about grieving or at least a curious father trying to find out why his son dies from a drug overdose?


16:34 Dec 21, 2021

Thank you so much for the comment. Glad that my beginning was intriguing. I did somewhat regret my decision of not giving the boy and girl names - it was hard to write, which should have been an indication I needed to change that aspect n_n; The son did die - at least that's what I intended to write. I'm very glad you enjoyed my story. I'm so sorry I'm replying so late. Thank you again :)


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