Emma had friends? Since when did Emma have friends? Jim sat in the van and stared.
He did vaguely recall meeting some guy who had been walking her home one night, but certainly not any girls and certainly not so many people over all. And the way they treated her – like she was the main thing. Like she was popular.
Like Jim would ever let something like that happen!
Wait. Was that really her in the mask? The girl had the right hair, more or less. She seemed a bit taller than he remembered Emma, but after months on the road, what did he know? Dad had said she was here, and filming some kind of video. There, the camera was on her again. It had to be her.
Dad. Talking to him hadn’t gone so well.
Jim knew he probably wouldn’t be welcomed back with open arms, but… it was just too weird.
The old man had been leaving the house when Jim pulled up to the curb. Jim hopped out and ran up to the guy not knowing if he was going to hug him or punch him.
“Jim!” Dad looked over his shoulder at the house. “Don’t let your mother see you.”
“That’s all you have to say to me?! After you left me in ….”
“That your van? Let’s talk inside.” Dad guided him back into the van and took the passenger seat. “We better get away from the house.”
“Dad?” Jim really looked at the guy.
He wasn’t just tired. He was haggard. The way he held himself had changed. Like he’d lost a lot of his old confidence. Or maybe more like it was a different kind of confidence from before. The old man’s voice was a little raspy when it never was before, and the look he gave the house was downright shifty. Jim didn’t like it. All these changes in the guy were somehow painful.
“Go. Just go. If your mother sees me with you, she’ll kick me out of the house again.” He covered the side of his face.
“You realize how messed up this is, right?” Jim started the van. “A father can’t be seen with his own son?”
“You brought that on yourself. And I guess I got what I deserved as well. I ended up traveling as a bum for a while.”
“Yeah. Dumpster diving. Hitchhiking. Spanging. The works. Can you take me to the McDonald’s out on East Wash? I have to get to work.”
“Sure thing.” Jim turned at the next intersection. He was amazed his father even knew words like spanging. “Wait. McDonald’s?”
“Lost my job at the insurance company. Never really liked it anyway.”
“It’s just temporary. Temporary. I have to have some kind of job so your mother will let me sleep on the couch. Maybe someday, when I’ve found a real job, she’ll take me back for keeps.”
Jim could hardly imagine it. His mother must have also changed. And not in a good way. “What about Emma. What’s she up to now?” Probably huddled in a corner of her bedroom trying not to make a sound.
“She’s good.” Dad nodded thoughtfully. “Good. She’s in that park between our house and the lake right now with some friends filming some kind of music video.”
“Where?!” That didn’t sound like Emma at all.
“Just leave her alone. Nothing good ever comes from the two of you being together. You had your time before she was born. Now you’re an adult and can take care of yourself – at least as well as any of us does” He glanced around the van as he muttered that last comment. “Now it’s her turn. Here’s fine. Thanks.” Dad popped the door open and hopped out before Jim came to a full stop in front of the McDonald’s.
Even before he realized he hadn’t had a chance to air any of his grievances, his father waved and walked away. He’d chase him down, but now it just felt weird. Like what Jim had to say was the least of it.
Had everyone in his family changed so much? Except maybe himself.
Jim couldn’t resist curiosity. He went to the park to check up on his sister. And now look at her!
He imagined himself running across the wide lawn of the park to give her a piece of his mind, and the expression on her face.
“No, no. You have to look terrified.” The girl with the camera straightened to her full height and let the gopro swing down in one hand. “Pretend Bruce is really your brother when he runs up behind you.”
Everyone – over half a dozen people – all laughed. But the next time they ran the scene, Emma really looked terrified even through the fluffy mask.
Right then something came to mind. He’d given an old guy a ride from The Twin Cities to Madison. The guy had said, “Imagine what your sister might have felt.” Thinking about it now made Jim uncomfortable.
He had his hand on the door release. He could just hop out and run over there. Give her a piece of his mind. But then what?
This was a waste of time, and he wasn’t far enough from the guy he stole the van from yet. Instead of this business with his birth family, he should be down on State Street pulling together another Van Family. Preferably one with plenty of money for gas, food, and beer.
He let go of the door release, and started his engine.
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