Look Don't TouchBy: Tess Oliver
"That's bullshit. I have every one of your school photos." He barely lifted his milky gaze to look at me before focusing back on his work.
I pulled out the first picture. It was old and faded. The date October '61 was printed on the edge. A little kid, about three, was wearing just a ripped pair of shorts and holding a tambourine. Dirt smudged his face and arms, but what really stood out was his smile. Behind him was a woman with long wavy hair and a shirt with long flowing sleeves. A leather headband was tied around her forehead, and she was smiling right along with the toddler. My dad had rarely spoken about his parents, the grandparents I never knew, and when he did it was wholly unflattering. He claimed they were two homeless vagabonds who played off of each other's flaws and who should never have been given the responsibility of raising a kid. His mother had died in what Dad called 'miserable and embarrassing circumstances'. Apparently, she had grown fond of heroin and eventually it killed her. After her death, his dad, my only grandfather, decided to move to South America for no particular reason except he thought it would be different. My dad was sixteen at the time, and he decided to stay here in the states on his own. He lost all ties to his dad along the way to his billion dollar bank account.
I looked across the table at Dad. "They were hippies."
"I told you they were homeless vagabonds. Sometimes we lived in that mildew rotted van of theirs for months."
"But they were part of a cultural movement. Peace, love and . . ."
"Drugs and avoiding 'the man' as they liked to call anyone with a job or a real life."
I looked at the picture and felt a pang of jealousy over the kid in the photo. "You look happy."
He made a scoffing sound and wrote down some numbers on his paper.
"Right, I forgot. Happiness is just a silly abstract word that means nothing." I rubbed my thumb over the woman in the picture. "My grandmother looks pretty. I think I have her eyes."
My comment made him stop writing. He didn't look up right away, but as he lifted his face, my breath stuck in my throat for a second. It was really happening. The rich and powerful David Nash Archer was being erased from this earth forever by a chain of rogue cancer cells. His face was drawn from the rigorous chemo treatments and the constant pain. It seemed his weakened physical state had left him just a tiny bit vulnerable to an unexpected show of emotion. "Her eyes were green like yours. They never stopped sparkling."
I stared at the man as if he had just grown horns. He could have told me aliens came to eat dinner with him last night, and I would have been less stunned. I had never heard him say anything good about his parents, and I'd certainly never heard him say anything that sounded remotely as if he had an actual human heart beating in his chest.
He quickly obliterated the odd moment. "Put those pictures away. We have something important to discuss." He placed his pen down and sat back, his face contorting in pain as he tried to get comfortable in the chair.
I placed the photos back in the box. "Can I get you something?" I asked, as he held his breath to let a wave of pain pass.
"No," he said tersely. His skin whitened more, and he kept his eyes shut for a few seconds. He opened them and stared at me across the table. "Morris Grant called to see how I was doing."
"I see." Growing up I never made direct eye contact with him, especially when he was mad, which from the stretched thin mouth and flicker of rage in his eyes, he was that and more. Now that I was an adult, and an adult who had proved himself by raking in a fortune of my own, I had no problem locking my angry gaze with his. "I'm starting my own company."
"Not sure if your unsavory reputation is going to help you with that. I knew you had a weak link inside you." He motioned with a shaky hand toward the shoe box. "Unfortunately, I couldn't stop the transfer of genes from my parents to you. You've got some of that wild streak in you. I was able to stop and control it when you lived under my roof but now—"
"Now I'm an adult and every fucking decision I make is my own. I don't need a fatherly lecture or an ounce of your anger or disappointment or whatever other negative feelings you can summon for your only son."