“You haven’t even met them yet. Don’t be so judgmental.”
“You said they have a short lifespan. Let me know when they die and you’re between rats. I’ll come for a visit.”
“That’s just mean. I’m going to be broken hearted when they die.”
“I’ll send flowers.”
“Terrible. You’re a terrible old man. I have to go shower and play with your grandbabies. I love you.”
He grumbles at the grandbabies remark. “Love you too. Bye.”
Monday. An awkward day. There’s the lingering eviction notice. The getting me off in the alley. And the meet-my-rats incident. I have no idea what to expect this week. Flint and I are two pinballs bouncing into each other and shooting off in opposite directions until we’re destined to collide again. Each crash feels more explosive.
I see patients at the hospital in the morning and take a long lunch at home since my first afternoon appointment had to cancel. By the time I arrive, Amanda is on her way out.
“You get fired again?”
She laughs. “Every day. He’s in court most of the week, so I have flexible hours to chauffeur my kids around. Have you found a new place yet?” Her smile turns into a small frown.
“Not yet. I’m looking at a place tomorrow morning.”
“Hope it works out. Harrison will be crushed when he finds out.”
I nod. I don’t know Harry well enough to know how crushed he will be, but I’ll be a little crushed because I like him a lot.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yes. Bye.” I smile as she passes me.
My new client suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The client after her is a seventeen-year-old girl with an eating disorder. After her, I sit at my small desk by the window and type up case notes on my laptop as the sun sets and my favorite Chopin Nocturne No. 2 in E-Flat Major drifts from the speakers.
I jump. “Jeepers! You startled me.”
Harry frowns. “I didn’t say boo.”
“What are you doing here?” I close my laptop and swivel in my chair to face him.
“My dad said if I helped out around the house more, finished my homework without being asked to do it, and stopped complaining about the meals he makes, then I could play guitar with you.”
“Oh, I see.” My lips roll between my teeth as I sort out his explanation. “Well, it’s getting late. How much longer will he be here?”
“He’s not here.”
“He just dropped you off?”
“I rode my bike.”
“You rode your bike? That has to be an hour ride.”
“Eighty minutes.” He sets the guitar case on the floor.
Holy crap. He rode eighty minutes on his bike with a guitar case that doesn’t have a strap.
“I have two guitars here.”
“I like this one. I have it tuned perfectly.”
“Your dad let you ride your bike here?”
Harry shrugs. “Sort of. I mean he said I could come here if I helped out around the house, finished my homework without being asked to do it, and stopped complaining about the meals he makes. So I finished my homework as soon as I got home from school. Cleaned my bathroom and emptied the trash from the kitchen. And I didn’t complain about the shitty lentil loaf and some squash thingy he made for dinner.”
“Harrison, does he know you’re here?”
He sighs. “He’ll figure it out.”
I watch him strum the guitar. He’s good—incredible natural talent. But I can’t get distracted by his abilities. He rode off without telling anyone where he was going.
I bring up Flint’s number and press send. It eventually goes to voicemail.
“Hey, it’s Ellen. Harry is with me. He rode his bike to the office. I’m about ready to leave, so I’ll drop him off. Hope you get this message and know that he’s safe with me.”
“I thought we were going to play.” Harry shoots me a frown that is totally Flint.
“Let’s play in the car—carpool karaoke. You play and I’ll sing.”
After determining that his bike will have to stay since it’s too big for my car, we get settled into the front seat, guitar hugged to his chest. My phone vibrates with a text from Flint.
Harry plays and I make up songs on the way to his house. “I know some good music teachers. I could give your dad their names.”
“I have you,” he replies with such innocence.
“I’m more of a therapist. I could work with you too, but I’m not sure your dad wants you working with me as a client like that.”
“So I’ll just keep playing with you when I come to my dad’s office after school or when I get my stuff done at home.” He opens the door and hops out. “Come see my room.”
“Uh … I’m not sure tonight is a goodnight for that.” I base my response on the steam flowing from Flint’s nose as he waits on the front porch for his runaway son.
“Come on!” Harry waves me in his direction.
“What in the ever loving hell do you think you’re doing running off without saying a word?”
I cringe as Flint yells at Harry.
“Not now, Dad. Okay? Come on, Elle.”
Flint looks past Harry to me sinking low in the driver’s seat. I should back out and let them bicker, but I feel a certain obligation to Harry. I don’t want to just leave without saying goodbye.
I ease out, staying guarded behind the car door. “Another time, Harry. Okay?”
“Why?” He deflates.
“Get your butt inside.” Flint grits his teeth.
“Elle, it won’t take long.” Harry ignores his father.
Camilla steps out onto the porch and pulls Harry in for a hug. He says something to her and she motions for me to come in. I cringe, glancing at Flint, who is not giving me any sort of welcoming look.
“Quickly. I have to get home soon.” I climb the porch steps.
“Take the guitar with you when you leave.” Flint’s jaw works overtime as I pass him, giving him a slight nod of understanding. Taking away the guitar I loaned Harry is not the right kind of punishment, but he’s not my son.
Not my house.
Not my rules.
Not my call.
Their home is just as magnificent and enchanting as the Hamiltons’, but they have a grand piano in their great room. I gawk at it a few seconds before following Harry. Just as I suspected, Harry has a huge window seat in his bedroom. He shows me everything, including pictures from when he took dance lessons and his fishing lure collection.
“My dad loves to fish. He lives in Cape Cod,” I say.
“Really? That’d be cool to fish in the ocean.”
I nod while grinning. “My dad sure thinks so.”
Flint’s large frame fills the doorway. He’s removed his suit jacket, loosened his tie, unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and rolled up his sleeves. I fight the internal struggle to want to piece him back together versus strip him the rest of the way because I still feel cheated that I’ve not seen him completely naked.
“Who’s this?” I nod to a photo.
“My mom. She died in a car accident when I was two.”
He hands me a framed picture of a woman breaking the finish line tape.
“Is this a marathon?”
“Chicago. I think. She was supposedly a runner.”
And beautiful. I study the picture until Flint clears his throat.
“We need to have words, young man. And I don’t think you want Ms. Rodgers here when we have them.”
“I did everything you told me to do. Homework. Chores. Gagging down dinner without complaining.”
“I’m going to walk Ms. Rodgers out and then we’ll talk.”
I give Harry a sympathetic smile and hand the photo of his mom back to him. “Do you have a phone?”
He nods and pulls it out of his pocket.
“Unlock it and I’ll give you my phone number. I could have been gone earlier when you rode all that way to see me. Next time just give me a quick call or text me. Okay?”
“Okay.” He unlocks his phone, and I add my name to his contacts. “Wait!”
I turn just as Flint moves out of my way.
“Smile.” He shrugs. “Or don’t.” Harry takes my picture. “For your contact profile.”
“Bye.” I hold up a hand, hoping it’s not the last time I see him, but, from the look on Flint’s face, I fear it might be a final goodbye.
“Good to see you again.” Camilla and Gene smile as I pass by them at the bottom of the stairs.
I think they were eavesdropping because they look awkward just standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Maybe you could come for dinner tomorrow.”
Flint halts in front of me, turns, and scowls at his mom.
Dear god this is awkward.
“Flint, it’s fine. Your dad and I will make dinner. I know you have a lot of work this week with your trial. It’s better that she come here than Harrison ride his bike to see her.”
“Six thirty sound okay, Ellen?” Camilla waves off Gene as he nudges her, probably to warn her what a terrible idea it is to invite me to dinner. “Please, Harrison would love it.”