Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

If Beginnings Matter

“Billy, where are you?” Tamra asked him before he could put in his cell phone earpiece and say “Hello.”

“In my car.”

“Yeah. Where?”

“On 99, somewhere between Merced and Fresno.” He looked down the freeway for signs, but he couldn’t be sure.

“What?”

“I’m driving to Fresno.”

“Billy.” Tamra sat down in the same wicker chair on William’s porch where he had spent the night. “Why?”

“I’m going to see Phillip Bergoyan.” He felt a little excited and proud to actually be doing something instead of sitting at home.

“Who’s that?”

“The guy who used to run the paper in Brenlee. When we were kids.”

“Okay…”

“I need to talk to him.”

“Today?”

“Yes. He knows something or maybe lots of things about Tommy.”

“Shit, Billy. How old is that guy?”

“According to my $40 online search for him, he’s 81, collecting Social Security, and he lives alone in an apartment building in downtown Fresno.”

“You’ll be lucky if he still remembers his name.”

William hadn’t thought of that. “He’ll remember.” William needed him to remember.

“When are you coming back?”

“I don’t know.”

Tamra didn’t say anything. She looked at the old white BMW convertible her stepfather had rescued from a junk yard for her seven years ago. With the top down it became more obvious than usual that it needed body work and a paint job. If she squinted and blurred her vision she could almost make it look like a giant floral arrangement instead of all her most cherished belongings protruding from the passenger and back seats: clothes, snow skis, duct taped laptop, yearbooks, jewelry, a small silver box from her grandmother, shoe boxes and albums of photos, and a cardboard file box full of her banking records.

“Tamra.” Emotional panic and caffeine cut a temporary narrow path through the effects of William’s morning joint.

“Where are you?”

He heard her sniffle and sigh more clearly than he made out the words, “On your porch.”

“What’s wrong?” He pulled into the far right lane of the freeway and started watching for a good place to stop and talk, maybe to turn around.

“Nothing.” And then quickly correcting herself, “Chad’s a dick and I think maybe I’m a slut.”

“You’re not a slut and Chad was, is, and always will be a dick.” He took the first exit into Madera, California and parked in the McDonald’s parking lot.

She didn’t respond at first and then said, “You’re so unreliable, Billy.”

“But I know a slut when I see one.” He hoped she was at least smiling, because he didn’t hear her laugh. “What do you need Tamra?”

“Someplace….”

“What?”

“Can I stay with you?” She sounded as though he had made her ask, but he really didn’t know what she needed.

“Of course.” William rolled down his window and felt suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of deep fried hash browns. It reminded him of an old hangover remedy.

“Thank you.” After a long pause in which he thought he heard her wiping her nose, Tamra said, “How do I… I need to get inside.”

As he told her which flower pot on the back porch to look under for the spare key, William felt that first wave of emotional panic subside only to have another wave trigger a more general interior panic. What was he doing? She was moving in? He was barely over his divorce? This could only end badly. He wouldn’t be good to her and she would resent him. What was she thinking? But he wanted to find her there when he returned from Fresno.

“The place is kind of a mess. Don’t clean.” He told her.

“Okay. But I’m not working, so I might anyway.”

“Please don’t.” Then William decided, all too quickly, that he had to treat this like a roommate situation. “We’ll discuss the house rules when I get back.”

“House rules?”

“Meanwhile, um… make yourself at home. It’s yours as long as you like.”

“I’ll pay rent, Billy.”

No, not this talk, not while soaking in the stench of fast food and still high enough to say something paranoid and honest. “No. Look, Tamra, you aren’t paying me rent for a house I own. Not yet, anyway. We’ll work out money, if we need to, when I’m not so fucking high and freaked out about Tommy and everything –“

“You’re driving high?”

“I’m drinking coffee.”

“What?”

“Hey, I’m almost there. It’s freeway driving. I’m fine now.”

“Billy.”

“Tamra.”

And they both held their breath for a moment. Each one ran backwards through memories of failed relationships – his marriage that just ended, her marriage too soon after high school, his live-in girlfriend during college, her five year affair with a lawyer from Stockton, his post-college live-in strict Buddhist (no dope, no meat) girlfriend, and most recently, her disasterous two years with this insurance salesman cum sherriff’s deputy Chad who grew up (and still loved, modern science or logic could never explain why, his old home of Glendale). None of these things ever worked for long, but none of them ever started quite this way, so maybe, if beginnings matter…

William spoke first. “Move your stuff in. Do whatever you want, just don’t rearrange my office. The rest is yours. You can store stuff in the spare bedroom if you want.”

“Billy-“

“I’ll be back tonight probably and then we’ll talk, okay?”

“Thanks. Bye.”

“Bye.” William hit the red phone icon on his cell phone. He didn’t know why, but for the first time in a year he wished he weren’t high.