Sins of the Father by black_IrishMcBain
When Bobby had spotted Sylvia on the street, coming out of the methadone clinic on 35th Street, John had walked up to her, without hesitation, and had grabbed her arm like he was grabbing a hold of his own life. He couldn't twirl her around, as she was walking with a cane now. He'd told her to wait, and he'd walked around to the front of her.
Her hair was more pigeon-grey than silvery white, but the short length of it accentuated her still fine, long neck. She had duffel bags of skin underneath her ice blue eyes, and her cheeks were peppered with small, flat, beige moles. Her once-thin body had been saddled around the hips with the consequences of cheap fast food and alcohol abuse. She hadn't recognized him at first, but then she'd heard the way he said her name. No one had spoken to her so softly in years.
Now, they were sitting in the top floor of the Greek diner around the corner on Eighth Avenue. John had bought her a hot lunch of roasted
chicken with potatoes. He could only manage a coffee for himself while Bobby stood off in the corner – with a slice of pepperoni pizza in one hand and a beer in the other – to make sure no one would come up and interrupt the reunion between John and his father's mistress.
"Jack, I don't want you to think I never tried to track you down," Sylvia said, dirty fingers stuffing her mouth with a greasy plank of chicken breast.
She was the only person in his entire life to call him Jack. She'd always had a fascination with John F. Kennedy and had been enthralled to learn that his nickname was Jack. Little Johnny McBain was the only person who would let her change his name. She'd said that the only other Johns she knew were mean old Irish men who wouldn't let the wrong girl call them away from their proper name.
John hadn't cared at the time. He hadn't really wanted Sylvia calling him by any name – Jack or Johnny, it didn't matter. He hadn't wanted her in his life to begin with. The name change had been his father's fault, just like everything else, in little Johnny's mind.
"God, I miss your pop, Jack. I really do. I haven't had anybody look after me like he did," Sylvia said.
John handed her a napkin. He looked her over, all the time thinking of his father. He recalled the time he first saw Sylvia and his father in an embrace. It was only four months after the death of Sylvia's husband, his father's partner.
Little Johnny had tracked down his father's patrol car at Sylvia's house. John had been asked by his mother to bring his father a forgotten sack lunch. He leaned his bike against the side of the house and heard his father's voice coming from the basement. His father was telling Sylvia not to cry, that everything was going to be alright.
John was about to tap on the window, so his father would know he was there, when he saw his father wiping his own eyes. John had never seen his father cry before. When he saw his father pull Sylvia into his arms, John felt a small tinge in his stomach. His father was holding Sylvia like he held John's mother. Then, he saw his father kiss Sylvia.
Surprised and confused by the sight of his father kissing a woman who was not his mother, John grabbed his bike in a rush, inadvertently banging it against the aluminum paneling of the house. He looked through the window on instinct, and his father saw him. They locked eyes.
"Johnny, wait. Son, wait, let me explain," Thomas McBain called to his teary-eyed son.
Little John hopped on his bike and sped away, knowing that his father would catch up to him easily. He didn't know where to go. John couldn't go home and throw himself into his mother's arms and tell her what had upset him so much. She would have made him some tea with lots of milk and sugar to settle him and she would have got the secret out of him and she would have been hurt. John couldn't hurt his mother like that, even if his father could.
John went to the park. He knew his father would find him there, but he didn't know where else to go. Deep down, he wanted his father to explain, to tell him that he hadn't seen what he had so clearly seen with his own eyes.
"Son, thank God," Thomas said, putting his hand on John's narrow shoulder.
John scooted away from his father's touch and moved away to the other end of the bench, pulling his knees to his chest.
"Johnny, you've got to listen to me. What you saw, I never wanted you to see, and I'm sorry," Thomas said.
"Why, Dad? Why were you kissing Mrs. Fitzpatrick?"
Thomas rubbed his mouth and sat down. "I need your help, son. I got myself in a holy hell of a mess, and I need your help and understanding," he said. "You're going to help your old man, aren't you, son? I can count on you, can't I, Johnny?"
John was silent and unforgiving, until his father put his head in his hands and began to sob. John moved back down to the other side of the bench where his father was.
"It's o.k., Dad," he said, stroking his father's hair.
"No, it's not, Johnny. You shouldn't be in this. This never should have happened."
"Don't cry, Dad. I'm sorry for …"
"Don't you apologize to me. Don't you apologize to me. You didn't do anything wrong."
"I'll help you, Dad. Whatever you need me to do."
Thomas put his arms around John and held on to him tightly. He explained to John how he and Sylvia had made a terrible mistake in the
middle of their grief over losing Mr. Fitzpatrick.
"And now there's a baby on the way," Thomas said. "You and Mikey are going to have a new little brother or sister."
John didn't quite know how a kid who wasn't part of his mother would be his brother or sister, but he accepted the news. He wondered briefly where his mother was going to let Mrs. Fitzpatrick's baby sleep.
"Here's where I need your help, Johnny. I can't tell your mother about Mrs. Fitzpatrick or the new baby. It would hurt her real bad, and I love your mother too much to hurt her that way. I made a mistake, and she shouldn't have to pay for it. Do you understand?"
John nodded. It made sense to him that his father wouldn't want to hurt his mother. He didn't want to lie to his mother though.
"I'll bet mom would help with the baby and Mikey will be happy to have somebody to boss around," John said.
"No, son. We have to keep this between us," Thomas said.
That was the day John got two families. He could remember the first time he held Gavin in his arms – the discontent puddle of skin with the same suggestion of dark brown hair that the other two McBain boys had been born with.
"I had two good men in my life, and I didn't deserve either of them," Sylvia said, rubbing her itchy nose with the heel of her hand. "I was out of my league with both of them, you know. I guess that's why God took them away from me."
The lukewarm tart of the coffee went over the lump in John's throat. He felt the same twinge in his stomach as he did when he was a boy and saw that kiss. It was wrong. It was all wrong.
"Sylvia, where's Gavin?"
"Your brother's fine. He's a good boy," she said.
"Where is he? I want to take him home. I want him to meet Mikey. I want him to meet my mother."
Sylvia dropped her eyes to her plate and scoffed down a few more potatoes, until John reached over and put her hand down to the table. "Where is he?"
Sylvia sat back and pulled a loose cigarette from her pocket. Her shaky hands drew the stick of tobacco to her mouth.
"I don't know," she said.
John sat forward. "What do you mean you don't know? When's the last time you saw him?"
"I told you he was a good boy, and he was."
John slammed his fist on the table, alerting Bobby, who unbuttoned his secondhand leather coat to retrieve his gun. John put his hand up to stop Bobby. Sylvia looked at Bobby warily and then back at John.
"I gave him away. Not long after I left Atlantic City. He was better off with another family," Sylvia said, her voice registering a soft whine. "I couldn't take care of the baby by myself. You gotta understand, Jack. I wasn't in the right frame of mind, losing your pop that way."
John's stomach turned and turned the bitter coffee over and over. "Why," he began with half a breath. "Why didn't you give the baby to us?"
"I know you and your pop thought your mother was perfect. But no woman is that perfect," she said, a billow of smoke coming out of her mouth.
John pulled two hundred dollars from the inside pocket of his jacket and threw the bills on the table. One hundred for his father, the other for Gavin. Sylvia reached for the money. John put his hand over it.
"Who'd you give the baby to?"
Sylvia told John she'd passed Gavin off to a local parish. It seemed like he was a ghost after a while, a dream she'd had. But there was an empty hole in her soul, she said, and nothing could fill it.
John stood up, and Sylvia scrambled and scratched at the money he left on the table, until she got it securely in her hand.
"My brother had better be well," John said.
"I never knew your voice could get so mean, Jack. You're not like your pop. He was always kind."
"My name's John, not Jack," he said. "And, he never loved you."
Evangeline laid her forefinger atop her lip to prevent her giggles from escaping. Dr. Crosby – Jim – was on all floors doing his best bucking bronco imitation. The bull's temperamental outburst had lasted much longer than Jim's attempt to ride it.
"Come sit down, before you hurt your back," she called.
Jim panted to his seat, where he joined Evangeline in laughing. He took a long sip of his merlot and bit into a cold asparagus tip.
"I was sore for a week. All this in an attempt to prove to my brothers that I was as macho as they were," Jim said.
"I'm tempted to think that all of life is about proving something."
"That's one way to look at it," he said.
Evangeline looked around Jim's apartment. He was modest about spending his money, though there were a few splurges here and there: crown molding, a Thomasville coach house chairside chest to complement the Downing Street leather couch and leather chair. All of his furniture was dark brown or reddish-brown, playing off the butter-colored paint on the walls. The book collection was extensive and ran throughout the apartment, along the independently placed, individual book shelves.
He had cooked for the evening, after having experienced Evangeline's one great dish – a rustic beef Burgoyne with crusty macaroni and cheese on the side – and her not-so-good dish of coq au vin. Both had been taught to her by a French chef, one of her boyfriends while studying in Europe. The relationship had turned sour by the time she was learning coq au vin, and Jim could taste the bitter results in the food.
Jim had offered to cook this time. Though he was nowhere near being an expert in the matter of cooking, he had far more than two dishes in his arsenal, even if most of them were mediocre. Tonight, he made a simple braised salmon, placed over a raft of steamed asparagus tips. Not sure this was enough calories for a woman with Evangeline's appetite, he had stopped at Llanview's only bakery and bought an elegant pear tart.
As they waited for the espresso machine to grind and sputter its dark nectar, Evangeline and Jim took quarter slices of the tart – no need to be polite – and boxed the remaining half for the next night. Jim could see Evangeline was ready to talk again.
"So, tell me more about this Richard person," Jim said, bending over to put the box in the refrigerator.
Evangeline had already divulged the guilt she had felt when she'd learned of her former boyfriend's death while she was studying for final exams at Oxford. Richard had sent her a letter a week before he'd committed suicide. He had wanted her to open the letter the same day he was planning to do away with himself. Her closest friend at university, Lorenzo Alcazar, had helped her cope with the maliciously timed death.
"Richard engulfed me as a freshman in college. He was a junior, and I thought he was so worldly. I thought he knew so much. I was a young woman – what did I know about anything? He needed so much of me and always told me how much he loved me. He said it was love at first sight for him."
"Unlike your father, who loved you dearly and was very proud of you but kept his feelings to himself," Jim said.
"Exactly," Evangeline said. "I'm still not really sure whether I loved Richard, or if I simply buckled under the intensity of his 'love' for me. Any way, by the time I was a sophomore, I couldn't have any male friends, without Richard becoming extremely possessive."
"And how did that make you feel?"
Evangeline smiled. "A little suffocated, but for the most part, flattered. Richard was one of the most handsome guys at school, very smart, and he was popular. It felt good to have him want me so much."
"When did you realize that this wasn't a healthy relationship?"
"I don't think I made any big realizations until I finally got away to Oxford and Lorenzo began questioning Richard's behavior," she said. "Lorenzo was the only person in the world whom I had told about Richard's first overdose with me."
Jim took out his brandy and made some white chocolate cappuccinos out of their espressos. Evangeline sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, demolishing the remainder of her pear tart.
She told Jim how Richard had taken an overdose of aspirin, when she went on her morning jog with a male friend. She had put her foot down and demanded the freedom to run with Daniel Evans. Richard had only relented after hours of arguing. He and Evangeline had made love in her single dorm room, and in the morning, she'd gone out without waking him to take her run.
When she had returned, he had still been laying in the bed. After a few moments, she'd noticed that he was in a different position, with something in his hand.
"I can't describe to you the panic I felt when I couldn't wake him up. I called his best friend, and he told me not to call the police. Richard's father was an important man, and he couldn't have this kind of thing getting out," Evangeline said, sipping her drink. "They came and put him in the shower to wake him up some, and then they drove him to a clinic physician."
"Did you get the feeling that he'd done this before, since his friends knew the routine so well?"
Evangeline wrapped her arms around herself. "I was too busy blaming myself, which is exactly what he intended for me to do. I know I shouldn't, but I still feel a little guilty sometimes," she said.
"Now, after Richard, did you always find yourself dating men who were emotionally abusive?"
"It was abuse, wasn't it?"
"It sounds like it to me," Jim said. "He isolated you from your friends and demanded you feel a certain way. He held you emotionally hostage so that you would do your bidding, and when he committed the final act, after you'd taken a step toward independence, he was guaranteeing that you'd always think of him."
"It's funny, but he miscalculated on that one. I forbid myself from thinking of him for years, until I began talking with you," she said.
"I don't think he miscalculated at all. Every choice you've made in your dating life has been a reaction to Richard's behavior."
"Everyone uses their pasts to make judgments. I'm no different than the average person."
Jim took the last swallow of his cappuccino. "Of course, you are. You are an extraordinarily accomplished woman. You could have your choice of big cities to work and live in: Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC, even London. Yet, you are in the small town of Llanview, Pennsylvania, to remain close to a troubled police officer," he said.
"John is not the only reason I stay in Llanview," Evangeline lied.
"Not only is he the lone reason you've made a long-term home of Llanview but he's also the only man who is anything like Richard you've dated in years."
Evangeline slammed her hand on the kitchen counter. She stood from her seat and walked over to the closet to retrieve her coat.
"John is nothing like Richard! He's nothing like him!"
"Don't go, Evangeline. If you go, I won't be able to help you."
Evangeline put her hand on the door knob.
"I won't be able to fully help Lt. McBain," Jim said.
Evangeline paused and took her hand from the knob.
"Until I can understand your dynamic, I can't save him. He can't express himself fully."
"So this never really was just about me," Evangeline huffed.
Jim touched her elbow. "I was genuinely concerned for your well-being, and my asking you to talk was only to give you a friendly ear. It had nothing to do with Lt. McBain in the beginning," he said. "But the more we talked, the more I realized that in order to help the lieutenant, I would have to understand you and your relationship with him as well."
Evangeline returned her coat to the closet and took her seat once again at the kitchen counter. "John is nothing like Richard. Don't say that again," she said.
"I told you when we first started, Evangeline, that you're going to have to be honest with me, if this is going to work. Of course, these two men are very different in some ways, but in one important way, they are similar," Jim said.
"John does not abuse me emotionally," she said.
"No, he doesn't. But isn't he holding you hostage emotionally? Until he tells you he loves you, isn't he holding you here in Llanview? Don't you need him to say it, to make up for your father not saying it?"
"I thought psychiatrists were supposed to let you come to your own conclusions," Evangeline said.
Jim smiled. "I would, if I thought you'd speak to me tomorrow."
Evangeline handed Jim her empty cappuccino cup. He went back to the espresso machine to make her another cup when she directed him to the brandy.
"Jim, you have a lot right, but you have a lot wrong. John getting well enough to tell me he loves me scares the living daylights out of me," she said.
"Yes, you suggested that before. You are afraid you might not love him if he is well."
"I've thought about it, and it's not that I might not love him if he is well, I might love him too much. John engulfs me – more than Richard ever did. If he can finally express his love for me, what's to stop us from totally consuming each other? What if I don't exist anymore?"
"And that kind of love scares you?"
Evangeline gulped some of her brandy. "If I told you that you weren't going to exist anymore, wouldn't that scare you?"
"I suppose," he said, pouring himself a little of the brandy.
The two of them talked about love and forgiveness, until the sun came up. Evangeline felt easier in her back, as some of the muscles that had held the tension of the ages relaxed some.
She didn't tell Jim that they were coming up on the tenth anniversary of Richard's death. The fifth anniversary had been frightening when she received a letter from Richard. He'd sent it to her through a lawyer who'd been paid in advance to deliver it to her on the exact date.
When she had told Lorenzo about the letter, he'd flown her out to San Francisco to be with him for a while, and then they had gone to Spain and stayed at a villa for the summer, until her nerves settled. She'd convinced herself that Richard was alive and wanted his revenge. It took a long time for Lorenzo to convince her otherwise.
She hoped now that Richard hadn't planned something similar for her this time.