Ray has come home for his father's funeral bearing the news that he has a five year old son no one knew about, not even him. He trusts the protagonist, his sister, Nina, not to tell anyone yet.)
I finally make it back out to the living room and Ray is gone. I find him on the back porch. He’s not participating in the mourning but at least he’s still here. I hand him a Vodka tonic and sit down in a lounge chair beside him and stretch out my legs. We sit for a long few minutes and say nothing. I cut my eyes at him to see what he’s thinking. I can’t see anything.
“He’s five?” I ask, trying to get Ray to talk to me again.
“Yeah,” Ray says and his tone holds no animosity.
I’m jealous, but I’m trying not to be. I feel foolish thinking about the way Jack and I jumped the gun. I was so ready and so anxious and so sure it would all happen that we moved to a bigger apartment with room for a nursery, painted it a light green to go either way and filled it with all manner of excitement and anticipation. I bought a crib and a rocking chair and even little books and toys. I was just so sure. Life is supposed to go as planned. Right?
I don’t really know which questions to ask first. It dawns on me then whose child it is.
“Why didn’t Nicole tell you?”
“Because I was an ass then,” Ray says and smirks a bit, seeming to know what’s on the tip of my tongue. “I know, I know. I’m an ass still.”
“I wasn’t going to say that.” I say, but he’s got my thoughts pegged.
Early evening noises start up across the yard and the cool spring air slips over my black pumps and bare legs. I hear the ice tinkle in Ray’s glass and wish that I had made a drink for myself.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Michael,” Ray says. “I guess she didn’t hate me too much.”
Michael is Ray’s middle name and Michael’s mother is the woman Ray left behind when he went to prison for eighteen months for repeated stupidity and grand theft. The woman he didn’t go back to once he was out. When you add jail to his self-inflicted exile, Ray’s been gone for the better part of six years.
“So she must be talking to you again?” I say, trying to find some hope in the situation, trying to let loose of my own bear traps and let Ray have his time.
“No,” he says and shakes his head, “I think she just needs money. Not that I won’t give it to her. My lawyer says we can have the test done to find out if he’s really my kid. One look at him will tell you that.”
“Do you want to be more than just the money?” I ask, suspicious of the weight this seems to be laying on him.
“I don’t think I deserve to be,” he says, and when I open my mouth to speak he holds up a hand for me to rethink it.
He’s trusted me with something. This is not the time to talk about old injuries. Inside, the mourning goes on without us. I reach over and take Ray’s hand in mine. I fear that he’ll jerk it away but he doesn’t. Not at first. Our hands seem to grow hot around each other like a transfer of guilt and sadness and when it seems Ray can bear it no more, he gently pulls his hand from mine.
“Look,” Ray says, “don’t say anything yet. I have to tell Mom.” He sighs and takes the photo out again; looking at it with eyes I was not aware Ray knew.
I’m jealous of the photo.
“Do you think I could just send the kid over here and let him tell her?” Ray asks.
He looks hopeful and pitiful.
“I think that’s a great idea,” I say, feigning support, and aware that we’re almost joking with each other. “We can lose both of our parents to a stroke.”