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Evan Howell


I never doubted that I'd hear from Dad again.  He’d been missing for over a decade and everyone else figured he was gone for good.  Not dead; no one thought that.  Just that he'd finally gone off map permanently.  I knew him better, though. 
So, while his email was not a big surprise, it was kind of disappointing.  I expected better.  Maybe an urgent knock at 4 a.m., him peering anxiously over his shoulder as I opened the door.  Or I'd come home from work one day to find him looking for money in my sock drawer, his car idling outside with a 19-year-old girlfriend behind the wheel.  It was even a boring email.  "Sam..... I'm in Harrisburg.  Can we meet for lunch at AJ's tomorrow?"  He didn't ask for money, didn't regale me with a long-winded explanation of where he'd been, didn't tell me he was going to get back with Mom. 
I couldn't believe that he knew how to use a computer.  Since he's been gone most of my life, I've constructed a mythology for him.  It’s based on a mixture of things: the fleeting experiences we’ve had together, the anecdotes of family members, assorted movie clichés.  In my head Dad is many things, but he is not the kind of guy who does email.  And as much as I don't like him, I kind of like the image I've created.  In my head, he’s something of an old school hustler, the type of guy who can come into town with $5 in his pocket and leave with $500.  I imagine him doing things like hanging out in pool halls that open at 10 in the morning and skipping town ahead of loan sharks.  Sending emails didn't fit.
Even so, I responded right away: "Sure.  I'll be there at 12:00."  It must not have occurred to him that people are at work in the middle of the day on Wednesday, but I didn't want to haggle over a meeting place.  If I made things too difficult, I might not hear from him again.
Now it wasn't my intention to tell Mom, but we were over at her house that night.  The boys had just gotten out of school for the summer and she wanted to congratulate them with a home-cooked meal.  After the dishes were done and the kids were playing outside, we sat around talking: Mom, Stacy, and myself.  Once the subject of the kids had been exhausted, there was a pause in the conversation.  It wasn't even a particularly long pause, but for some reason, I decided to fill it.
"I heard from Dad today."  Very cautiously, like picking up a firecracker that didn't go off.
Stacy (who didn't know either) looked at me with disbelief, but Mom just shut her eyes.  She sat down her cup of tea and smoothed her blue jeans.
"What does he want?"
"Nothing.  Just to meet for lunch tomorrow."
"Sam, that man is incapable of wanting nothing.  What did he say?"
"It was just an email.  Two sentences saying he's in Harrisburg and wants to meet at AJ's." 
"You be careful," she said.  "Don't give him any money.  The only thing you give him is a half hour of your time.  And you know he doesn't even deserve that much.  I don't care how long he's been gone."
She looked ready to say more, but the door opened and the boys came rushing in, crowding around their grandmother to show her a bug they'd found in the garden.  Stacy gave me a hard look and mouthed the word "Why?"
I shrugged.  I didn't have a good reason.  I couldn't keep it to myself, though.  Ten years is a long time.  I'd expected more emotion out of Mom.  She'd been married to the man for 12 years, had four kids with him.  Last time he resurfaced she'd been excited.  He actually had stayed in her guest room for a month.  He talked like he was back in town for good.  He even got a job at the hardware store and started on a project in the backyard, building a shed.  Then about a month into this game, he got tired of it.  Mom woke up one morning to find all his stuff gone, no explanation at all.  The shed had sat unfinished in her backyard for a year before I finally completed it myself. 
Stacy told the boys it was time to go home, so they kissed Grandma and we headed out to the car.  Mom hugged me at the door, tighter than usual.  When the kids were out of earshot she asked, "How did he get your email address?"
"It was my work email, actually.  The school's got all professor emails on our website.  He did some research, I guess.  I wasn't working there last time he was in town."
"He's resourceful alright."  She shook her head.  Weariness had replaced her grandmotherly excitement and I felt a little sorry for opening my mouth.
Stacy attacked me as soon as we were alone.  "Why did you do that?  What good did that do your mother?"
We were in the kitchen.  I sat on the counter, fingering the tab on a beer.  "I don't know.  I couldn't keep it to myself.  It's been over 10 years."
"Yeah, and your mom has used the last decade to build a nice life for herself.  She's been doing great.  That was a stupid, stupid thing to say.  I wish you hadn't even told me, to be honest."
I responded with a sip of my beer and a half-hearted nod.  She was probably right.  No point in arguing.
"I'm just glad you didn't mention it to the boys," she said.  "I was afraid you were going to tell them that Grandpa’s in town, maybe plan a family trip to the dog track.  I'm sure he could double their college savings in an afternoon."
I laughed at this and it broke the tension.  She leaned in against me and put her head on my chest.
"I'm thinking about you, as well," she said.  "I don't want you to get hurt."
"Honey don't you worry about that.  I'm not going to give him anything.  You know, he probably won't even show up."
"That's what I'm hoping for," she said, then took a sip from my beer and went upstairs to bed. 
I was awake for a long time that night.  I tried to distract myself with TV and reading, but couldn’t stop thinking about Dad.  I had a few beers, hoping they would put me to sleep.  They didn't have the desired effect, but they did free up my thoughts.  Something was different this time.  I could feel it.  It had only been a two sentence email, but what he didn't say spoke volumes.  He'd asked me to lunch.  He didn't give any excuses, didn't offer any explanations, and most importantly, didn't ask for anything.  He just wanted to talk.  I felt strangely hopeful.  That was the reason I'd told Mom, though I wasn't quite able to articulate it.   

I woke up to the sound of my wife making breakfast.  It was 6:30.  I'd slept for maybe 2 hours.  First thing I thought of upon waking was lunch with Dad.  Immediately I was up, drinking a cup of coffee and pinching my wife's butt.  I wasn't teaching that morning, just had office hours, so I hung around with her and the kids until 9:00.  Then they went off to Vacation Bible School and I headed into work early.
I passed AJ's on my way.  The parking lot was empty.  It doesn't even open until lunchtime, but I looked anyway, hoping that maybe he'd be reading the paper on the front steps for lack of anything else to do.
I got little accomplished at work.  I'd grade a paper or two, then get distracted.  Every five minutes I'd open up my email, unable to help myself.  After two hours, only one kid had stopped by.  At a quarter to noon I put a sign on my door and left. 
When I pulled up this time, the AJ's parking lot was nearly full.  I scanned it for anything that could be Dad's car, though I had no clue what I was looking for.  Last time he was in town he'd been driving an old Corvette (purchased from a police auction).  I didn't see that one now.  Really, any of the cars could have been his.  The dingy Lincoln that I parked beside was a candidate.  So was the shiny Escalade that was parked beside the Lincoln.  Neither would have surprised me.  Or it could have been the minivan that was parked in the handicap spot.  He could have bought that when he arrived in town, maybe with visions of driving his grandkids around.  (And he very well could be handicapped, too.)
I didn't see him when I walked in.  It  was a busy lunchtime.  Waitresses hustled around, balancing trays and sidestepping customers.  The tables were filled with workers on lunch break and mothers trying to find something to do with their kids now that school was out.  A Hispanic construction crew took up the whole counter.  No sign of Dad.  It occurred to me that he wasn't going to show and I began to feel like an idiot.  I was about to turn and walk out when I saw him in the back.  He'd been shielded from view by a waitress. 
There was no food in front of him, just a cup of coffee.  He hadn't spotted me yet, so I took a moment to appraise him.  It was shocking.  For the first time in my life, my dad looked old.  I'd only known him to look one way.  He was a stand-out running back in high school, and those high-school jock good looks never left him.  Even when his hair turned silver, it seemed to only enhance his wide shoulders and strong jaw (as numerous women in Cabarrus County and elsewhere will attest).  He lived hard, but never showed any ill effects.  I always assumed that if there were a nuclear blast, the only things left once the smoke cleared would be cockroaches and Dad, him looking the same as always, casually dusting the radiation off his sport coat.    
He wasn't even wearing the coat now.  Just a faded red flannel that looked fit for working in the yard.  His hair was still bright silver, but thinner, slicked back like it always was.  The cheekbones and tendons in his neck were more visible.  His hands, cupped around his coffee mug, were lined with thick purple veins.  He didn't look sick.  He just looked like an ordinary old man.  I was so taken aback because this was a sharp contrast from the youthful marvel I was accustomed to.  He finally saw me staring at him and waved me back.  Grinning, he stood up to greet me, and when I shook his hand, he pulled me in and gave me a back-slapping hug.  We sat down and he pushed a menu towards me.
"I'm glad you came," he said.
"Yeah.  Of course."
"Go ahead and order.  I'm buying."
I flagged down the server, and got what I normally get at AJ's: BLT, baked beans, and a sweet tea.  When the server left, there was a moment when neither of us said anything.  I suddenly wanted a drink in front of me, anything to occupy my hands.  He took a slow drink of his coffee and a glance around the room. 
"I'm glad you came," he said for the second time.  "So…tell me about things?  How have you been?"
"Good.  I've been really good."
"Come on.  I need more than that after ten years.  How are Stacy and Kevin?"
"They're doing great," I said.  "Stacy's not working at the hospital anymore.  She's at home now.  Kevin's 12 years old, and we have a 7 year old too.  His name's Brandon."
He clapped his hands and his eyes glittered.  He was proud of me, and I was glad that I'd come.  For a moment, I forgot about the ten years he'd been gone and the way he'd destroyed Mom the last time.  I was just thrilled to be talking with him.  That was the power he had.   
"Two boys!" he said.  "Tell me about them."
"They're good kids.  Very active.  Kevin plays baseball year round.  I'm coaching his summer team.  We've actually got a game over in Salisbury tonight.  Brandon does Scouts and plays coach pitch.  They both do well in school.  They're in an accelerated program."
"I'd love to see them.  Maybe I can come to that game tonight."
I pictured myself trying to introduce him to my sons, and that brought me back to reality.  I tried to be tactful.  "You know, I'm not so sure about that.  That's a lot for the family to swallow so soon.  There will be a lot of games this summer, though."
His response surprised me.  "You're right, you're right.  Too soon."
He smiled to show that he understood, but he looked fatigued.  I couldn’t tell if he'd just been up late the night before or if it was a deeper kind of tired than that.
"Remember when I coached your baseball team?" he asked.
"Yeah, I do.  Third grade, right?"
"Sounds about right."  He laughed.  "You guys weren't very good."
I laughed also, because it was true.  "Not at all.  That's why you only did it one year, right?  You'd never lost as much in your life as you did that season.  Am I right?"
He chuckled in agreement.
"I guess my boys get their athleticism from you," I said.
We went on like this for a while.  I ate my lunch, the waitress cleared the table, and we kept on talking.  I updated him on what some of those baseball teammates were doing as adults, talked a lot more about my boys, and complained about all the Yankees that were beginning to take over Cabarrus County.  Not once did he mention Mom, which surprised and encouraged me.  We spent most of the time talking about my job.  When he was in town ten years earlier, I'd been a teacher at JN Fries Middle.  I'd since gotten my doctorate in mathematics and was a professor at UNC Charlotte.  He himself had a Bachelor's degree in math (and a much better math mind than I'll ever have) and he had countless questions about my job.  We'd been talking for nearly an hour when I realized he hadn't said a word about himself.  The whole conversation was about my family and my job.  I mentioned this, and told him that I'd like to know what he'd been up to.
He sighed at this, as if the answer was too complicated for words.  "Been working.  Working harder than I ever have for the past couple of years.  I've finally worked to the point where I can take a break.  That's what brings me here." 
"What kind of work?"
"Contracting.  I know a guy up in Connecticut and I've been working on roofs with him.  I'm wanting to get a license, maybe start up my own business.  It's a lot easier to get a license down South, though.  Less red tape.  Plus, I've been meaning to come down and check on my family.  It's kind of like this worked out perfectly.  And with all the new construction I'm seeing around here, it seems like back in Harrisburg is where I need to be."
I nodded.  "That's great, Dad."
"Sam, I'm sorry about last time.  I really shouldn't have up and left like that.  I know you're angry.  You should be angry."
"I'm not the one you need to be saying this to." 
His sudden apology annoyed me.  However, it also surprised me.  He'd never apologized before.  Ever.  In the past, he'd show up on the doorstep after a lengthy absence and you'd think he was doing us a favor.  This certainly wasn't the case now.  He almost seemed to be pleading, and it occurred to me that he wasn't invincible after all.  The rough edges of his lifestyle had ground down his narcissism, and he was finally looking for something outside of himself to depend on.  I felt like I was confirmed in how I'd felt, my hunch about things being different.  But I also felt like we'd done enough talking for one day.
"Dad, I've got to run.  I have a class at three that I've got to prep for."
"Yeah, of course." 
At the register up front, I reached for my wallet to pay, but he held his hand out.  He pulled a money clip from his pocket and handed me a crisp twenty.  In the parking lot, we shook hands and I took out my car keys.  I noticed that he didn't have any. 
"So, where are you headed now?"
"I'm staying over at the Super 8 over on 29.  Just for a little bit, anyways."
"How are you getting there?"
He seemed embarrassed.  "Walking.  And don't offer me a ride, because I don't need one.  I was actually going to cut through a new development I saw on Morehead.  Maybe I can network with a contractor or two." 
"Sure thing."
He then asked for my cell phone number and I gave it to him.  He said he'd be in touch in the next couple of days, I said OK, and we went our separate ways.  

My class that day went well.  It was a summer session course, and until then I hadn't exactly been enjoying it.  There were only ten students, mostly underclassmen, and every day they dragged themselves into class sweaty and wilted from the heat.  Summer classes in general weren't my favorite either, but I was excited as I sat in my office prepping my lesson.
I greeted the students by name as they entered, and lectured excitedly once class started, throwing in frequent jokes and anecdotes.  I dragged students up to the board to demonstrate problems, and by the end they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves.  It was fun.  I taught class as though Dad was watching from the back of the room.
I'd planned on going straight home after work, but Stacy called and informed me that one of our toilets was malfunctioning again.  I needed to pick up new hardware for the thing.  There was a Lowe's on my way home, but a childhood friend of mine owned Harrisburg Hardware, so I headed back that way.  Unable to help myself, I checked the AJ's parking lot when I passed, but didn't see Dad.  My friend wasn't working when I went in, but his son was.  We made small talk for a little while, and then he helped me find the necessary equipment. 
There was a brand new grocery store right across the street (built on the spot where my elementary school used to be), and I was curious to see what it looked like inside.  Impulsively, I texted my wife and told her that I would pick up ground beef and make burgers for dinner.  As always happens when I'm in grocery stores, I bought way more than I went in for.  I finally had to go back and get a cart, and figured I'd just do all the shopping for the week.  My purchases quickly racked up, and I was in the middle of debating the merits of generic versus name-brand peanut butter when I heard a familiar voice coming from the aisle next to me.
"…in the supermarket.  Anything I can get for you?"
Dad was talking on his cell phone.  His voice sounded deeper than it had at lunch, louder too, and it was easy to hear him over the grocery store music piping in from the speakers.
"This should last us at least until next week," he said.
He started walking up the aisle, and I left my cart behind and followed him, one aisle to his right, still holding both peanut butters.  He stopped after a few steps to pick something else off the shelf. 
"I'm going to get some pasta, too.  That sound good?"
Whoever he was talking with responded, and Dad gave a sound of affirmation, then said, "Yeah, it went well.  I'm going to wait until Friday to call."
I couldn't make out the words, but I could hear the voice on the other end.  It was a woman and she sounded angry.  Dad cut her off.
"Listen to me, dammit.  Stop talking and listen for once.  We'll get it, but it ain't free.  We've got to work.  You seem to think I can come into town and work miracles any time I want."
He started walking again and we were nearing the end of the aisle.  If he turned right, he'd run right into me.  I was suddenly afraid of how he'd react if he knew I was listening.  I turned and began to walk back to my cart, mentally scrambling for an explanation I could give him, but by the sound of his voice I realized that he'd gone the other way.  I hurried into the aisle he'd just vacated and continued listening.  I could hear him picking items off the shelves and dropping them into his cart. 
"It might be a few weeks before I get to see her.  Marty said we've got until July 4 weekend, didn't he?  You were there when we had the conversation."
He stopped at the soup display and asked the girl what kind she wanted.  He dropped some of them into his cart, reached the end of the aisle, and (to my great relief) turned in direction opposite me and continued shopping.  I followed him up the next aisle, but it seemed like the girl was doing most of the talking now.  However, as he reached the end of the aisle, she said something that angered him and he interrupted.
  "You worry about your half and I'll take care of mine.  And next time Marty calls, just tell him I'm at work, you dumb bitch.  He doesn't need to know everything we're doing down here." 
He snapped his phone shut.  I left my cart where it was and hurried out of the store, taking a detour through the produce section so that he wouldn't see me.  I called Stacy on the way home and told her I'd had a change of heart about cooking dinner and that she'd need to do it. 

True to his word, Dad called me on Friday.  I was at home grading papers, and I let it go to voicemail, then checked the message.
"Sam!  Hey there boy.  Great to see you the other day.  Hope you and Stacy and the young'uns are having a good week.  Love to get together again.  Call me back.  If I don't pick up right away, I'm probably up on a roof somewhere.  I'll get back with you quick."
I hadn't told either Mom or Stacy.  Mom had called on Wednesday night, acting like she was just checking in, but we weren't on the phone for a minute before she asked about how it went with Dad.  I lied, said that he'd been a no-show, and that I hadn't heard anything else via email.  I told Stacy the same thing.  I hated for her to be right about him, but it was even worse for her to know the whole truth.  Better for her to just think he was a no-show. 
I waited an hour after Dad left his message, then called him back.  He picked up on the first ring.
"Hey there!  Get my message?"
"Yeah, I got it."
"What do you think?"
"Sounds good," I said.  "We should get together."
"Great!" he said.  "You free on Sunday?  Maybe I could meet you after church and get lunch somewhere."
"We could do that," I said.  "Actually, you know what?  There's a game tonight.  Brandon's team is playing in a round-robin tournament this weekend.  Want to come?"
"I'd love to!"  If he'd said that at lunch on Wednesday, I would have thought it was genuine excitement. 
"I'll swing by the Super 8 and pick you up around 6:00.  I've got to get there early and take the kids through some warm-ups."
"Um….actually, I won't be at the motel.  I picked up some work for the day in one of those new developments in Harrisburg.  How about I'll just be at AJ's?"
"Fine," I said.  "Gotta run.  See you in a few hours."
There wasn't a game that night, so I had to lie to Stacy.  I told her that I was going to campus to help with a fund-raising drive.  On the way to pick him up, I made two stops: the grocery store and an ATM.  He was ready when I arrived, casually leaning against the wall outside.  He was wearing a Braves hat and blue jeans, in addition to a T-shirt that did little to hide his newly expanded stomach. 
"You do know it's 90 degrees outside, right?" I asked.  "Awful hot for roofing."
"That right?" he said.  "Well, the foreman agrees with you.  We quit at noontime.  I'm still a little cooked, though.  We'll have to find a shady place to sit at the game."
"Sounds good."
I headed back up the highway, and then got on I-85 South.  We talked the whole time, just as casually as if we always went to the boys' games together.  Dad would interrupt the conversation to point out things different than he remembered: a few new buildings in the Charlotte skyline, new housing developments everywhere, once-busy factories that were now shuttered.  He was in a great mood, jumping back and forth from sightseeing to talking about the baseball game.  He asked if I had an extra glove, and wanted to help with warming the kids up.  I got off at the exit for Billy Graham Parkway and turned left.  It wasn't until I turned right at a sign for the airport that he began to catch on.
"Sam, where is this baseball game?"
I didn't answer him, just kept following the signs, trying to find a decent parking space.  He asked me again where the game was and again I ignored him.  
"Boy, you need to answer me.  What the hell are you doing?"
I turned into a parking deck, punched the button for a ticket, and drove under the mechanical arm.  I had to go up a few levels before I found an empty spot, where I parked and turned the car off.
"Why do you think we're here?" I asked.
He looked incredulous.  "Don't question me like I'm one of your sons, you little prick.  You need to explain yourself to me."
I grinned at his insult and repeated my question.  His eyes and the veins on his neck bulged.  I thought for a moment that he was going to hit me, which will always scare me regardless of how old he gets.  Instead, he flung the passenger door open, denting a mini-van that I'd parked beside, and stormed across the parking deck.  I grabbed a duffel bag that was on the backseat and followed, staying about ten steps behind.  We got all the way down to the ground level and were walking back up the road I drove in on, when he whirled around on me.
"How long do you plan on following me?"
"Where are you going, Dad?"
"What the hell do you care?  You tell me I'm going to see my grandsons, one of them I've never even met!  You tell me that, get my hopes up, and then you bring me here.  You're lying to me."
He'd stopped walking, and we were standing face to face on the side of the road, cars and airport shuttles whizzing by.  His hair, so neatly combed on Wednesday, was sticking out from under his hat and blowing around wildly.  It was surprisingly long when not slicked back.  He was out of breath from his walk and looked like he was on the verge of crying.
"Where are you going, Dad?  You've got no place to go.  Where are you going to get your half from now?"
"Where are you going to get your half?  To pay Marty." 
I paused for a good ten seconds to let this sink in.  To his credit, he held my eye contact for nine of those seconds.
  "Now that you can't get it from me or Mom, where's your money going to come from?  And how about your lady friend?  How close is she to getting her half?"
This seemed to knock the wind out of him.  It took him a long time to answer.  The emotions I'd seen moments earlier were gone; the long-lost old man desperate to see his grandkids vanished.  His eyes narrowed and several times he started to answer, then stopped.  He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, then put his hands in his pockets.   
"I have no idea," he said quietly.
"Glad to hear that, because I do.  Follow me." 
I turned and began walking back to the airport, black duffel bag swinging from my hand.  He trudged along behind me.  I frequently had to stop and let him catch up.  Even though I should have known better, I kept waiting to hear an explanation from him, maybe even a phony apology like the one I'd gotten on Wednesday.  Not a word though.  He wasn't ashamed of anything, just frustrated that his plans were falling apart. 
It was at least a quarter mile walk and I was sweating heavily when we reached the airport.  The air conditioning was cold on my face when we walked into the lobby.  In front of us was the huge, ever-changing screen that showed arrivals and departures. 
There were posters all around advertising the exotic locales serviced by various airlines: Aruba, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt.    
"Take your pick," I said.  "You get a free one-way ticket to any place serviced by this airport.  And I mean any place, because I have your passport.  It was the only thing you left behind at Mom's last time you visited.  Charlotte's a hub, too, so you have a lot of options.  Take as long as you want."
I found a chair and made myself comfortable while he examined the screen.  He looked for at least 15 minutes, at one point conferring with a ticket agent at the Delta counter.  He walked over to me, and I thought he'd made up his mind. 
"How did you find out?" he asked.
"Mom," I lied.  "She's the one who told me."
"But how?"  He made no attempt to hide his desperation, like a confident politician being handed the results of an unfavorable election.
"Wouldn't tell me.  I've gotta tell you, though, she's a lot more resourceful than you give her credit for."
He shook his head and went back over to examine the flights.  After at least 20 more minutes of talking to ticket agents and reading brochures, he came back over to me.
"You realize what you're doing, boy?  You may never see me again.  You willing to pack your father away like that?"
"Dad, you need to understand that this is a gift," I said, getting more and more impatient with him.  "I'm doing you a huge favor.  You were planning to rip us off."
Here he tried to cut me off, but I went on.
"Come on.  You know that me and Mom won't give you a dime.  I ought to call the cops on you, and instead I'm giving you a free plane ticket.  You don't seem to have many options.  Harrisburg sure isn't one.  Can you go back to Richmond?  How much do you and that girl owe Marty?"
He gave me a look that showed he didn't like this question, but he didn't have a response.  I kept on going.
"And I think the bigger issue is how many Marty's there around the United States.  How many people like that do you owe money to?  Is there a single place you've lived that you can go back to?"
He didn't seem to be listening anymore.  He crossed his arms and stared at the floor, where he was using his shoe to trace the pattern in the tiles.  I thought he was stonewalling me, but then he said something, hardly discernible above the noise of the crowd.  I asked him to repeat himself.
"I think I'll go to Argentina," he said.
"Alright.  Let's get a ticket then."  I handed him the black duffel I'd been carrying.  "You didn't know to pack, so I've got a bag for you.  In addition to your passport, it's got a few sets of my clothes, along with a toothbrush and deodorant and all the bathroom stuff you'll need.  Now, another thing is….what about that girl of yours?  You should call her, see if she wants to buy a ticket and go with you."
He considered this briefly.  "No, I shouldn't.  I was starting to get tired of her anyway."
We went to the counter and I bought him a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, via San Juan.  It cost me $987 on my credit card, in addition to the realization that I was going to have to explain this to Stacy after all (thanks to our joint bank account).  It was money that was being saved for a down payment on a boat that she didn't particularly want anyway, so I figured that maybe it wouldn't be too bad.  Ticket in hand, Dad shouldered his duffel bag and we walked over to the metal detector.
“Now, this is a great plan you’ve got, boy.  Seems to wrap everything up nicely, doesn’t it?  One problem, though….what’s to keep me from showing up on your front porch again?”
I’d already thought about this.  “Why would you?  What use are we now?”
He stopped walking and gave me a funny look, something almost close to admiration.  I even thought he was going to smile, but he just shook his head. 
"You know I can't go in there without a ticket, right?" I said.
"I've been in an airport before."
"Right.  Just got new safety stuff now.  Thought maybe you didn't know."
This was the appropriate time to shake hands, but neither of us wanted to do it.  Still, I wanted to say something to wrap it up, end on a positive note.   
"You're going to have a blank slate down there, you know."
"Yeah," he said.  "Don't need to tell me how it goes, son.  I've had lots of them."
"OK," I replied, then turned and walked away.  When I was near the door, I looked back to see that he had cleared security and was walking towards his gate.  I hustled over to the ticket counter and bought the cheapest ticket I could find: $137 to Knoxville.  I checked the board to see when his flight was departing (from Gate D4 in 15 minutes), then went through security and made my way to the D terminal.
There was a cafe directly across from D4 and I found an inconspicuous seat there.  I didn't see him and began to panic.  I knew that I should have personally walked him to his gate.  Instead, he'd gone and cashed out his ticket, was probably headed outside to hotwire my car.  I was about to dash out to the parking deck, when he walked out of the bathroom, shaking his hands dry.  He took a seat in front of the ticket counter and waited with the duffel bag on his lap.  I stayed there for the next twenty minutes.  I made sure that he boarded, and I watched the plane as it taxied onto the runway and out of sight.    


Evan Howell is a grad student from Richmond, VA. He has published fiction in Insomniattic and Green Silk.
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