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.