Don paced angrily back and forth in the living room in his baby blue bathrobe and boxer shorts. He grimaced, huffing a perturbed breath every few moments before looking sternly at his son, Jeff. He rubbed his stubbled chin in deep thought as he paced. Finally, he spoke.
“First, you get caught skipping class. Then, you stay out after your curfew multiple times. Now, you are escorted home by a police officer after a party gets crazy.”
He gestured toward the policeman standing behind Jeff, his arms crossed.
“I figured it’d be best if I brought him home rather than process him,” the officer said.
“Thank you, Lloyd,” Don said. He continued his pacing, now looking at Jeff with furious, burning eyes. “How do you justify all this sudden misbehavior, Jeffery?”
Jeff stared at the floor. His face flushed with crimson embarrassment. He shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s it? That’s all you can muster?” Don said, raising his voice. He turned to the couch, where his wife, Diane, sat. She was silent, but her face telegraphed the slow-burning disappointment in her only child.
Jeff fingered the zipper of his black hoodie, which smelled faintly of cheap beer and cigarettes. He shuffled his feet, fearful of giving his father even the slightest answer, because he knew it wouldn’t be justifiable.
Don stopped pacing. He crossed his arms and stood in front of his son, foot tapping. “You’d better give me a better answer, or you’ll never see anything outside this house or school again.”
Jeff raised a timid glance at his father for only a second before looking back at the floor again.
“Why are you skipping school?”
Jeff fidgeted with his zipper more.
“Why have you broken curfew so much?”
Jeff’s usually calm demeanor was cracking as much as his father’s voice was raising.
“Why were you drinking and smoking at a party?”
Jeff felt his eyes welling up, and a wave of heat overcame his entire body. His lip trembled, failing at keeping the words he wanted to say to his father back any longer. He finally looked his dad in the eyes, tears running down his face.
“There’s this girl!” Jeff yelled through his sobbing. “I like her, alright? Is that a crime? I skipped class to catch a bus downtown to by her flowers. She really likes lilies and I knew the florist in town had some and I just wanted to make her happy because she was having a really bad day. I kept going every week because it kind of became our thing.”
He wiped the tears from his eyes. “She’s really cool, Dad. She’s smart, and funny, and her hair looks like fire when the light hits it a certain way, and she smells good even when she’s in P.E. She wanted to hang out more often but she works at the corner shop til ten after school so the only time I can see her is after curfew.”
He sniffled and wiped his nose with his hoodie sleeve. “Tonight she had a party at her house because her parents were out of town and she got her older brother to get a keg and someone found her dad’s cigarette stash, but I didn’t smoke any of them because I think they’re gross and she says it makes her dad’s breath smell horrible and I didn’t want her to think my breath was horrible. And I only had part of one beer because she grabbed my arm to go sit with her on the patio away from everyone and it spilled on my jacket. She almost kissed me on the patio but Officer Lloyd showed up and ruined it and now I don’t if she’s gonna like me or not anymore.”
Don stared in silent shock, listening to the story his son was struggling to get out between sobs. He wasn’t lying. His son rarely lied. It’d only been recently that he was untruthful about his activities, and he now knew why. Don’s faced softened as Jeff revealed each detail.
After Jeff was finished, he wiped his eyes and tried to regain some sort of composure. He looked in his father’s eyes and noticed the anger had left them. In its place was a calm, sentimental glow that seemed to slowly spread over his entire face.
They all were silent for several moments. Don finally turned to his wife, who had the same look on her face as he did, with the added detail of tears welling up in her eyes. Don knew she was thinking the same thing he was. He was thinking of nights lying in the back of his truck with her when they were sixteen, staring up at the stars as they cuddled under an old blanket her grandmother had made. He thought of the days he’d pretend to go to school only to meet her at the creek behind the church to swim all morning and picnic all afternoon. He thought of how nervous he was when she smiled and took his hand for the first time at the spring dance, and how his heart jumped out of his ribcage so powerfully that she could feel it beating against her chest as they danced. He remembered how moonlight would make her blond hair seem to glow like a lighthouse beacon, and he joked about never losing her at night because of it. He remembered the overwhelming thrill and nervous energy that would envelope him every time he thought about her, and his whole body ached each time they were apart.
Now, history was repeating itself.
“Lloyd, thanks. You can go home,” Don said in a calmer voice. Lloyd tipped his hat, privy to what was taking place, and silently left.
“Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Diane asked.
“I…I figured…I…I don’t know.”
Don put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Son, if you’ve got something important, like this girl, don’t think that you can’t tell us. We could’ve avoided all those arguments and groundings and getting police involved.”
“I didn’t think you guys would understand,” Jeff said in as normal a voice as he could muster.
Don looked back at his wife, giving her a wink. She smiled coyly.
“Believe us, son. We know,” he said. He gave Jeff a big hug. His mother followed suit.
“Now,” Don said, draping his arm over his son’s shoulders, “I think you should tell us more about this girl over some ice cream.”
Jeff grinned, following his parents into the kitchen.