Collin Stewart’s fall from grace wasn’t a long one, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him and leave him with scraped palms and a bruised pride. The only one he felt, though, was the bruised pride. After all that he’d done to try to win Maureen back, to find out she was still carrying a torch for her dead husband was a sucker punch to the gut. Never would he have thought her capable of such deception, but he had been wrong. So wrong. She had ripped his heart out. Again.
All around him night had fallen, but he sat on the sidewalk, legs stretched out in front of him, in a pool of light cast by the faux carriage lanterns secured to the wall to either side of the door. He was vaguely aware of time passing, just as the passing cars in the street behind him barely registered. Nor did he notice the creeping shadows as they moved across the front of the building, thrown against the siding as a car across the street pulled out of a driveway and its headlights skimmed over the fence and garbage cans lined up at the edge of the front yard. Collin saw only the events of the evening as they replayed themselves across the movie screen of his mind, examining each moment minutely to determine where, exactly, things had gone wrong. It wasn’t like him to lose control the way he had, and he needed to figure out what it was that had caused him to unleash his anger and allow it free reign.
Things had been going relatively well, or as well as could be expected when her little brat was around. God, how he hated that kid. While Joey had a good blending of both his parents’ features, Collin only saw Alex when he looked at the boy, and that alone was enough to make him lose control. That man had stolen Maureen from him when they were in college, and seeing the man’s face peeking out through the face of the boy was almost more than he could stand. Every time he saw the kid, it was all he could do to keep from punching him in the face, but he controlled himself for Maureen’s sake, as well as his own. To harm the boy would ruin any chance he had getting Maureen back where she belonged. He supposed that was why he always ragged on Maureen about Joey’s lack of respect. He just wanted the kid to behave. Was that asking too much?
But as it was, each time the boy acted out, it was like Alex was still rubbing his face in the fact that Maureen had chosen to marry him instead of Collin. Whenever the boy acted like a smartass, which was most of the time when he was around, Collin had to use all of his restraint not to pound the boy’s face into an unrecognizable bloody pulp. It was the only way he could think of to stop seeing Alex in the boy. Collin knew his feelings toward the boy were irrational, but that’s how much he hated Alex Crawford.
Upon closer inspection, however, Collin realized it wasn’t the boy who had triggered his lapse of control this evening. Joey had been on his best behavior, more or less, so he couldn’t blame the boy.
Dinner had been subdued, which was a good thing. Had there been lively dinner conversation, the kind Collin envisioned a normal having as they ate, there was a chance Joey would mouth off, so it wasn’t dinner. It was after…
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
The man’s voice disrupted the flow of images playing through Collin’s head, and it took him a moment to register that the voice was coming from behind him and was not, in fact, part of the memories he was revisiting.
“You okay,” the voice asked again.
Collin flinched, blinked away the images, and turned, bracing himself with one hand as he twisted to address the person talking to him. “Yeah,” he said, hissing against the pain that was suddenly biting at the palm of his hand. “I’m okay.” He struggled to get to his feet. “Misjudged the step is all. Lost my balance.”
The man gave a nod and continued on his way.
Alone once again, Collin brushed himself off and looked back at the house. The lights were still on in the living room, but there were no shadows visible at the window. Still, he couldn’t be sure that Maureen wasn’t watching from some other window. He briefly considered ringing the doorbell and apologizing to Maureen, but discarded the idea almost as quickly as it entered his mind. Things had gotten ugly, and he wanted to give her time to cool off before he approached her. He also needed to find out what had caused things to go downhill so quickly. He turned and, without another look at the house, left the yard, being considerate enough to close the gate behind him.
The street was quiet, but as he approached the corner he could hear music filtering out onto the street from the pool hall. A group of kids in their late teens were gathered outside, joking with each other as they smoked. He gave them a cursory glance as he passed them by on his way to the car, noticing one guy with his arm wrapped possessively around the waist of a young woman in tight jeans. He felt a pang of jealousy as she nuzzled the young man’s neck, and a familiar tightening in his briefs. At least somebody’s gonna get laid tonight, he thought bitterly as he continued on his way.
The light in the crosswalk was a bold, red DON’T WALK, and as he waited for the light to change to WALK, he watched a bus pull across the intersection. The bus was all practically empty: an old woman toward the front of the bus and the driver stared out the window, watching the world pass by with a vacant stare, and further back, two women in their later twenties chattered away. Once the bus passed, Collin had a view of the avenue. Across the way to the left, in the middle of the block, a bar was open. The music behind him drowned out any sound that might be issuing from the bar. To either side of the neon-stained windows, the store fronts were locked up tight, security gates pulled. A block away, on the far corner, a twenty-four hour fruit stand/grocery mart was open, their lighted windows a beacon in the otherwise darkened streets. A lone individual was unpacking a crate, loading the contents onto one of the outside display cases. To the right, for the next four or five blocks, there was nothing but darkened storefronts and the cyclopean glow of the traffic lights. Beyond that, there was a lighted marquis to the movie theater, but it was too far away to see what was playing. If he could block out the kids he had just passed, he could very well have been the last man on earth. Traffic was nonexistent, and there was not another soul on the street. To confirm that, he glanced at the fruit store again, and sure enough, the man had disappeared. It was eerie, considering it was a Friday night; the streets should have been bustling with activity, people making their way to the movie theater or to the clubs that dotted Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Collin didn’t want to go home. There were too many memories of Maureen there, memories he wasn’t quite ready to face yet. This neighborhood was deader than a ghost town.
The light blinked from the red DON’T WALK to the white WALK. Collin stepped off the curb and crossed the wide expanse of Fifth Avenue. The street before him was lined heavily with trees, their spreading canopies of foliage so thick overhead that they blocked out the glow of the streetlights. Fishing his car keys from his pocket, Collin started down the shadowy corridor, walking halfway down the street before veering to his left and stepping off the curb. He circled around the back of his Lincoln Town Car, opened the driver’s side door, and slid behind the wheel. After locking the door, he slipped the key into the ignition, but didn’t turn it. Instead, sitting there in the safety of his car, the tinted windows aiding the shadows in keeping him hidden from prying eyes, he turned his thoughts back to the events of the past few hours.
After dinner, he and Maureen sat in silence while Joey laughed hysterically at whatever sitcom was on the television. Collin couldn’t even remember the name of it or what the premise was; it was that forgettable. She’d taken the little brat up to bed, and what had he done while she was upstairs. He’d gotten up and gone into the kitchen for something to drink. That’s when things started to get fuzzy. Something he had seen in the kitchen, something…
Whatever it was, it had triggered a memory he thought he had buried long ago; he could hear his father’s voice whispering in his ear, She’ll never love you. Not like I do. And then phantom hands were touching him in places a father should never touch a son. He hated his father for what the man had done to him, but worse, he hated himself for liking it. Even now, as the memories caressed and stroked him, he felt his body responding to the ghostly touches.
Tears streamed down his face as he fought to suppress the sobs. What the hell had he seen? His hands were on the steering wheel, his grip so tight his knuckles were white. The echoes of his father’s voice, the memories of his unwanted advances crowded in the car with him, pressing against him, making it difficult to breath. “You’re dead, you bastard,” he gasped. “I buried you, God dammit! I buried you! Why can’t you stay dead?”
Long buried emotions fought their way to the surface like a ghoul clawing its way out of the grave. They broke through, leaving him a sobbing mess behind the wheel. Body hunched over, head resting against the stitched leather of the steering wheel, he was powerless to do anything but let the emotions out in a flood that could rival The Great Flood. The only difference, here there was no Noah and no Ark to save him. There was nobody he could turn to, nobody to throw him a life preserver. He had to ride it out. Only then would he be able to bury them again. But right now he needed to bury himself. Darkness reached out to pull him in, but not even the concrete bunker he had built in his head, the one with the steel door that had kept him safe as a child, could keep his father from following him into that shelter of his mind. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from the ghosts of his past.