For the next few weeks Hope continued about her life, pretending that nothing was wrong. But inside her a torrent of emotions were raging; waiting for an outlet. She had become so unhappy with Dean that she barely spoke to him anymore. The unfortunate thing for Dean was that due to his extensive social commitments and gruelling work schedule, he failed to notice how the woman he loved was slowly pulling away from him.
In the moments when Hope allowed herself to think about the bigger picture, those emotions she had buried, but which were rapidly rising as each day passed, slammed into her conscious mind. From them she identified three main problems. The first, and least problematic, was her work. She was fed up with it and had become bored. She wanted to do something that inspired her, but she didn’t know what that was. She kept telling herself that the plan was just to save up some money and go travelling; to escape this place and find herself in other places that were far away. The second problem, and far more pressing, was Dean. She really wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep up this charade of a relationship. But she didn’t as yet know how to end it, or how she was going to explain her feelings to Dean when she barely understood them herself – and he did deserve an explanation. The last problem was by far the worst, and the most difficult for her to think about, though her mind drifted to it so often; her father. The process of getting to know this strange man was exhausting and confusing. The thing that bothered her the most, however, was his relationship with her mum, or lack thereof. Hope had far too little information to go by and that, she realised, was the heart of the problem.
Hope sat with these confusing thoughts and feelings swishing ruthlessly through her being. One particular night she found herself having dinner with her family, as she had made a conscious effort to do so these past four Wednesdays. She had found the family ritual to be comforting of late – and secure – it sort of symbolised to her that things were okay between them all, despite the dramatic changes they had undergone.
But because Hope was suffering internally, she was finding this dinner inexplicably difficult. She sat in silence as her mum, dad and brother talked animatedly about their lives and their plans. There was nothing unusual about the conversation, or the mood at the table, but that was exactly what bothered Hope about it. They were all acting so normal; like nothing was going on at all.
As Tanner handed out the parts for that evening’s play, Hope felt a furious wave of emotion thunder through her. She could hold her tongue no longer. ‘Are we really going to do this?’ she said angrily.
Her family stopped what they were doing and stared at her, momentarily distracted by her serious tone of voice. ‘Do what honey? Her dad asked innocently.
Hope got up and threw her script on the coffee table. ‘Do this! Do the same normal thing we do every week; just carry on like everything is fine, like everything is normal and okay, like nothing’s happening?!’ Her eyes misted up as the anger began to escape her.
Ian, Audrey and Tanner sat in silence, quite stunned by her sudden outburst. Again it was her dad who spoke first. ‘What do you mean honey?’ He paused, before gently saying, ‘Is this about Jack?’
Hope seized upon the question. ‘Yes it’s about Jack! What else would it be about?! You’re all sitting there, like you do all the time, pretending that nothing’s happened, that nothing is happening, while my whole world is getting turned upside down!’ She angrily crossed her arms and glared at them.
Audrey didn’t know what to say. She was completely unprepared for the confrontation, and started biting her nails. Ian looked at her in an effort to gauge how to handle the situation, but she gave him nothing to go on at all. Tanner looked at his sister’s face and immediately registered just how upset she really was. He felt awful.
He approached her and tenderly said, ‘Gee, I’m really sorry sis, I didn’t realise it was getting to you so much. You know, you put on such a brave front all the time that I thought things were going okay.’ He put his hand on her shoulder reassuringly.
She sighed and replied, ‘They are. But that’s not the point. Yes things are moving along, and we’re all getting along, but that’s because everyone’s playing it so damn nicely. You don’t understand – NONE of you understand how hard this has been, and IS, for me.’
At that point Audrey looked up, and still gnawing her fingernails, firmly said, ‘That’s not true Hope, it’s hard for all of us.’
Hope found that that was just the ammunition that she needed to really get her started. With a far more forceful tone she exclaimed, ‘Yeah, see you say that, but you don’t act like it. None of you do! Not even you dad. In fact dad, you’re outrageously nice to the man, and I don’t get it. I don’t get why you’re not angry. And mum, you act all awkward towards him and you’re completely closed about the whole thing so I’m left wondering what the fuck happened between you!’ She threw her hands up in exasperation before continuing. ‘I mean, what the hell happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? I don’t get it; I don’t get it because you’re both so cold now. Are you like that because of dad, out of respect for him, I mean what? WHAT is it?!
Toward the end of her tirade Audrey slowly stood up. Before Hope had quite finished Audrey calmly said, ‘Hope, I don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t matter now, what’s done is done and I’m sorry. I can’t change it.’
Hope was infuriated. ‘No, mum, you’re not getting it. I don’t want you to change it. I just want to know what happened; I just want the truth.’ Her voice softened with deeper, sadder emotions as she murmured, ‘I want to know what I’m a product of.’
Audrey looked down at her feet and shook her head. ‘No, no Hope, there’s no point. Why does it matter? You are my daughter and I love you and I’ll forever be grateful to Jack for that. But that’s it, there’s no more to it and’ –
‘Oh that’s bullshit! Of course there’s more to it! You’re just too’ –
‘Enough!’ Audrey said forcefully. ‘I’m NOT going to talk to you about this anymore. Just LEAVE it!’ With that she stormed out of the room. Hope heard the bedroom door slam and it made her freshly angry. Grunting with frustration she grabbed her glass of wine and stamped outside to get some air and try to calm down.
After a while Ian came out and sat quietly beside her. He put his arm around her and she let her head fall onto his shoulder, her eyes misting up with tears.
‘Are you okay now honey?’ he asked her.
‘Yeah, I’m okay. I’m just so frustrated with mum, I don’t get her.’
Ian sighed. ‘I know it must be really frustrating and confusing for you, but your mother has her reasons and maybe you need to respect that, for the time being at least.’
‘But it’s been ages dad, and she’s still as closed about it now as she was when you guys first told me. I’ve got to the point where I just want to make sense of it all, you know?’
‘I know honey, and you will, you just need to give it more time.’
They sat there for a while in silence, before Hope couldn’t help but ask her dad the question that had been bothering her for so long. ‘Dad, why aren’t you angry about it all?’
Ian thought about the question, and how best to answer it. ‘I was honey. But the thing you forget is that I found out about it before you were even born. I’ve had a long, long time to get over that initial anger. But it was there. And, don’t forget too that your mum and I were only friends then, so technically she hadn’t done anything wrong. It still hurt though.’
‘You just seem so insanely okay with it all now.’
‘What other choice do I have? I made a decision twenty-five years ago to stand by your mother – the woman that I love, who I have always loved, and I still stand by that now. And now look, I have not one, but two beautiful children. How can I ask for anything more than that?’
Hope, deeply comforted and moved by her dad’s sentiments, cleaved to his shoulder more. ‘But, you’ve raised me from birth. You’re my real dad. Doesn’t it bother you that this other dad is in my life now and is spending time with me?’
‘Of course it does honey. And when he first came over, you know, I was really worried that our relationship might suffer. But Jack seems very respectful of it, and I admire him for that. I also think that you have a right to a relationship with him and I don’t want to stand in the way of that.’ He paused and reflected further, before ever so vulnerably saying, ‘But make no mistake honey – you’re my daughter, and you always will be.’
Phil watched from afar as his nephew cleaned the bar. God he was so grown up now – he was a man. How quickly the time had gone. Phil hadn’t asked any pertinent questions of his nephew since he had started working for him. But they played on his mind, all those questions – what have you been doing? Are you alright? Have you talked to your father? Chase had always been guarded, even at the best of times. Phil supposed that he had had to be, considering all that had happened. But now the kid seemed more closed then ever. Granted he seemed okay, but just so guarded – very guarded. How was he really doing on his own?
Phil decided that it was now or never. He casually walked over to the bar and began nonchalantly taking an inventory of the stock. Without looking at Chase, he began his enquiry, trying to seem as relaxed as possible. ‘So, I haven’t had a chance to ask you, have you talked to the old man lately?’
He shot a sideways glance at Chase to try to gauge his reaction without appearing obvious. He knew that he had to tread very carefully here. Just as he expected, he saw Chase’s body tense as the kid momentarily froze up, after which he quickly continued scrubbing the counter with more vigour than was necessary.
‘No. I haven’t spoken to him in ages … and don’t intend to.’ He gripped his jaw tightly in an effort to stifle any unwanted emotions that the mention of his father could potentially arouse.
Phil sighed; it was just as he feared. But he couldn’t just leave it at that, could he? Keeping up the pretence of a stock-take, he felt that he would be ill advised to press the matter further.
He was debating the pros and cons of asking more questions when Chase surprised him by asking, ‘Have you?’
The kid was stony with determination, but Phil seized his moment of weakness. ‘Not as much as I should, but I speak to him now and then. He’s in Sydney now you know.’
‘Yeah, I know that much.’ Chase feigned disinterest.
Phil chanced a direct look at his nephew. He saw deep conflict in his face, though he would not meet his uncle’s gaze. Furrowing his brow, Phil gave up contemplating the right way to handle the situation, and went with his instinct. He walked up to his nephew and placed his hand on his shoulder. ‘You know Chase, maybe it’s time you did talk to him. I mean really talk, you know? You might be surprised.’
Chase grunted with contempt. ‘I highly doubt that.’ Thinking about it further, he said, ‘Besides what is there to talk about now? It’s all said and done, can’t change anything.’
Phil grimaced slightly. ‘Yeah, but you know, you might just find that you don’t know the whole story. You’re a man now, you might … I don’t know … see the whole thing in a different light if you talk about it now.’
Chase felt a surge of foreboding. What did he mean he might not know the full story? Was there more? Had they hid more? How much worse could it be?!
Chase didn’t want to go down the road of a full scale conversation on the matter, but he was too curious. ‘What do you mean I don’t know the full story?’
Phil pulled away, concerned that he had said too much. The last thing he wanted to do was make matters worse, or to worry the kid. He held his hands up in defence.
‘Look, all I’m saying is that you’re a man now and you might get something out of talking to your old man, you know, man to man.’ He paused. ‘He’s not the monster that you think he is you know.’
He looked Chase dead in the eyes, and Chase saw that there was nothing but frankness in his words. ‘You have to say that, you’re his brother’ he said glumly.
Phil laughed and began to walk away. ‘Trust me son, I’ve called him far worse things behind his back and to his face. But truly mate – in regards to all that … stuff, he’s not the enemy.’
‘What the hell does that mean!?’ Chase demanded.
‘I’m not saying anything else. Ask him about it Chase … think about it okay?’ He waited for some sign of assurance. Chase dropped his shoulders in resignation, and gently nodded his head as he ran the cloth over the bar.
When Phil retreated into his office he threw himself down in his chair and took a deep breath. He poured himself a generous portion of expensive whiskey and drank it straight. Reclining back, he ran his hand over his beard and thought about what he’d said. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. But it was true – what he had said – the kid didn’t know the full story, and perhaps it was time he did. And obviously Richard had no intention of coming to the party on that one and making the first move. Oh well, he’d sowed the seed in his nephew’s mind, that’s all he could do.
Tanner and Chase had been meeting at the same time every Monday for over a month. During their time together, Chase had become more and more intrigued by the fascinating views and theories that Tanner spouted. He listened to his ideas on the vices of modern technology, and his passionate stance on conserving the environment and repairing the damage that man has inflicted. Chase was fascinated by how Tanner loved the simple work that he did. He found it amazing that someone so young could derive such simple, yet meaningful pleasure, out of washing dishes and listening to strangers banter.
Chase also found that he was learning more about himself then he ever had before. There was such honesty about their time together. There was no bullshit. Tanner asked deep and meaningful questions, many which Chase found quite challenging. But he always felt compelled to answer the kid truthfully. Chase wondered, however, how long it would take before Tanner began asking him questions that he was not prepared to answer. But luckily for him, the kid seemed aware that there were some topics that were off limits. It was unlike any friendship – or any relationship at all – that Chase had ever experienced.
But this particular Monday something wasn’t right. Chase looked down in disappointment at his pathetic representation of Doubt. It wasn’t doubt at all! There was nothing doubtful about it! He was angry at his failure. Tanner pensively drew a perfect abstract picture of Knowledge beside him.
Looking at its perfection, Chase dropped his shoulders in defeat. ‘It’s not happening for me man.’ He paused and leant back on his hands, looking out at the water. ‘You know what? I think I’m more a writer than an artist.’
Tanner didn’t look up. ‘So write something.’
Chase sat and pondered the theme of doubt from a literary perspective. He got out a fresh sheet of paper and considered the many coloured pencils available to him. He selected a purple one and started writing. Time passed in a serenely productive breeze as the two of them created together.
After a while, when Chase was moderately satisfied with his written lamentations, he asked Tanner, ‘Why did you choose history?’
Tanner looked up for a moment and then kept drawing. ‘Ancient history to be specific Chase. I chose it because I don’t believe that I can understand the world as it is now, without knowing how it came to be this way.’
Chase appreciated his theory. It was a good answer. But then, all the kid’s answers were good. There was conviction in everything he said and believed. Chase envied that. Intrigued, he queried, ‘What is it that you want to understand?’
‘Everything. But that’s relatively impossible, so I am limiting my search to what’s important.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘Humanity. What drives us. What we’re capable of. Why we’ve created such a paradox – a technologically advanced world that gets increasing devoid of meaningful human contact every day.’
Chase was both intrigued and saddened by Tanner’s assessment of the world. The kid was right. Again. Little bastard.
He was just about to comment on the kid’s insight, when Tanner took him off guard with a completely unrelated question. ‘You don’t have any family here do you?’
‘What? Where did that come from?’ Chase was genuinely taken aback.
‘Well, considering humanity’s past leads me to question the past of the individual man, in this case you.’
Chase decided quickly that it was best to just answer him directly, as he was far too smart to be fooled. ‘Alright. No – I don’t. You?’
‘I’m lucky. I have both parents – still married, and an older sister, Hope.’
‘You’re close knit then?’
‘Very. I am indeed one of the lucky ones.’ He smiled to himself. Then he looked up at Chase with deeply inquisitive eyes. ‘Have you ever had that Chase?’
Chase thought about the question. It took him somewhere that he did not want to go. Yet he felt compelled to answer the kid. In fact he found it quite impossible to not tell him the truth. Still, he could give him the brief version and hope he’d be satisfied with that, though he doubted it. ‘Not really. My mum died years ago, my dad lives with his new wife in Sydney and I have no idea where my older brother is – somewhere in Europe I think.’ He swiftly stifled the deep feelings that his overly brief summary aroused.
Tanner stopped drawing and looked out at the river. ‘That sucks man.’ He resumed his work, and Chase, relieved, started writing again to mask his pain.
After they had spent some time in their private worlds, Tanner started to pack up his stuff. ‘So, what did you write? Can I read it?’
Chase felt he could hardly refuse. He handed him the paper. Tanner adjusted his glasses and read it aloud.
‘The grip of doubt has a hold on me. It claws and scratches at my skin. Its eyes invade my soul. Its intention is to destroy my very foundation. It doesn’t realise that I have no foundation. I am an empty mass of atoms. There is no meaning in my form – no object in my heart. There is no blood in my veins. There is only doubt. And it strips my being from me layer after layer.’
‘Nice’ Tanner announced, as he handed the paper back to Chase and got up. ‘Same time next week?’
Chase nodded. After a few steps Tanner turned back, ‘Hey Chase, you can join my family if you want.’ Throwing him a cheeky smile the kid ran off into the distance. Chase smiled as he pack up his things. He looked out at the river. He realised that he actually felt peaceful for a change. What a rare experience. Tanner’s family? Well that would be something to behold.
After sitting in silent contemplation for a few minutes, Chase packed up his things and began the long walk back to his car. When he was almost there he thought he heard someone call out his name. What? He turned around and sure enough, he saw Tanner running toward him. Finally reaching his target, Tanner leant over, puffed from his exertion. Chase gave him a puzzled expression.
Between gasps of breath, Tanner explained, ‘Chase, got to thinking about the whole family thing – my parents, it’s their 25th wedding anniversary this Saturday, they’re having a big party. You should come.’
Chase didn’t know what to say. ‘Oh, that’s nice of you, but I don’t really think’ –
Tanner cut him off. ‘No, no, really … I think, no – I know – it’s a good idea. You should come, it would be good for you. And it would be good to have someone else really interesting there to talk to, you know, in case I get bored.’ He flashed a winning smile at Chase.
As always, Chase couldn’t help smiling back. ‘Well I can’t deny that, but still, I don’t know man. I’ve never even met your folks, it’d be weird.’
‘No, not weird. It’s perfect, because you won’t be the focus of everyone’s attention, and I know you’d hate that. But you’ll meet my family, and I have a feeling that you should – that it’s … important.’ He paused to let Chase think about it. ‘Here’s the address. Seven o’clock. You should come. Seriously.’
Tanner handed Chase a piece of paper and dashed off.
Chase looked at the paper with the address. Go to their anniversary party? He’d never even met them. Surely he wouldn’t be welcome? Still, as he wandered away deep in thought, Chase couldn’t help being riddled with curiosity, and a strange inclination to be at that address on Saturday night.