"Have fun," he called after her, watching on warmly as she waved back at him before merging into the morning crowd.

Finally.

Now that she was in school, he was free to do whatever he pleased. Although sadly, for him that meant nothing but getting borderline drunk at a bar. He waited until he was sure her long golden locks weren't visible anymore, and then opened his glove compartment and started searching for his cigarettes. He grinned greedily when he found the box buried in between receipts and loose change. Snapping the compartment shut, he lit one and popped it between his lips, inhaling and exhaling in long bursts of satisfaction.

After a few breaths of tobacco, he adjusted his mirror and started his Maxima, taking just a few more before sinking the clutch, shifting, and driving off. He fumbled with the stereo with the same hand he held the cigarette with, tuning in and out of stations until he found a catchy tune. He recently discovered that they could be just as soothing as alcohol or tobacco for his particular needs.

"You didn't save me."

"Sweet Jesus!" Parker screamed, dropping the cigarette in his lap. "Leave me alone John." He grimaced as he gingerly retrieved the burning stub and popped it back into his lips.

"You didn't save him either."

Parker dropped the cigarette again. His eyes were fixed on the mirror as he stared John down in the back seat. It took him a while to realize that the cigarette was burning a hole in his crotch, at which point he hastily scooped it up and flicked it out the window.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Parker said through clenched teeth. "Go away."

A siren sounded from behind, and he frowned as he noticed a patrol car tailing him. He clutched and shifted down, hauling the car to a stop at the side of the road.

"Save the next one dad."

Parker glanced at the mirror again. Perhaps he wanted to see John's expression; to see just how much he knew. But John was gone, and he stared at the empty seat as though caught in a mystical trance.

He jumped back to life as a policeman knocked on his window. He rolled it down and smiled falsely.

"I'm sorry officer I—" he started, but then he grinned allowed a small grin. "It's you." He said, staring up at the face of a yellow haired man.

"Yeah it's me, Parker," the man said. "What the heck do you think you're doing—throwing your cig butt out the window?"

Parker sighed.

"You were never a smoker, Parker." He said a bit more sympathetically.

"Yeah well shit happens." Parker said. "Al, look, I know you're not gonna give me a ticket, so can I just go?"

"Well no," said Al with a chuckle. "I stopped you for a reason buddy."

"What's that?" Parker asked monotonously.

"Well, I thought I'd warn you not to go to any of the bars in town." Al said. "'cause you might get arrested."

"What—is it illegal to drink now?"

"Nope, just got a few pals down at the department to spring me a favor." Al said flatly.

"What? You can't do that!"

"You still have a kid, Parker," Al said firmly. "I talked to you as a friend, and that didn't work, so…"

Parker grated his teeth, a measure to prevent himself from swearing. "Is that all, officer."

Al grinned. "You'll thank me later. Cheryl asked me to invite you and Shirley to dinner, so eight o' clock?"

Parker nodded, staring at the road ahead.

"Alright, see you later." Al said with a grin.

Parker clenched his teeth and started his car again, rolling up his window as Al walked back to his patrol vehicle. What was he supposed to do now?

- - -

""I'm just saying Cheryl, it was pretty sick."

"And I'm saying you shouldn't talk about that in front of Keith—do you want him to have nightmares?"

Al gritted his teeth. "He probably doesn't even understand what I've been talking about, Cheryl."

"He's seven; not stupid," Cheryl replied.

Cheryl was a short woman, and she had that spunky attitude that most short people seem to have. Her grey eyes often glinted with a tinge of mischief, and her bottom lip curved inwards and quivered whenever she had something heated to say, like it did now.

Parker leaned on the counter so that his eyes were leveled with hers. "Relax honey," he said smoothly. "Here, let me help you with that."

He reached for the stack of plates in front of her, but she snatched them up before he could even touch them. She rolled her eyes if only to prevent herself from laughing.

"Just go keep Keith company until I'm done—and where's Parker?" She glanced up at him as she laid the plates down on the table. "Did you remember to invite him?"

"Yes honey," he said monotonously, walking backwards out of the kitchen while mouthing racy comments to his wife.

She giggled, but didn't respond, and he turned around completely as he entered the living room.

"Hey buddy, what you watching?" settling next to his son on the sofa.

"SpongeBob." Keith replied nonchalantly, his light green eyes fixed on the television screen.

Keith brown hair just like his mother, and her freckles too. In fact, the only feature of Al that Keith inherited were his eyes, and that sometimes made Al wonder if he would inherit his mother's height—or lack of rather—too. Of course, he dreaded the spunkiness that would come with it.

"Hmm," Al said, frequently glancing between his son and the television, already mightily bored. "What's he doing?"

"Same as always…"

"Which is what?"

"Being funny…doh!"

"Ah," Al said, forcing a laugh.

Keith mirrored his reaction and continued watching television as though their entire interaction never happened.

Al didn't take it too personally. Keith was just like that when it came to watching television. In fact, Al had a habit of purposely pestering the child during his favorite shows to see just what it would take to hold his attention, and every time the child would give a single phrase response and continue enjoying his show, or depending on how persistent his father was, ignore him completely.

"You should get him away from the teevee and take him out more." Cheryl told him one night when he related his astonishing results.

Of course the whole thing was easier said that done. After all, she wasn't that one who had first hand exp—

Knock, knock.

The front door pushed open, and Parker's head appeared through the gap. His expression was a mixture of fatigue and annoyance, both of which only deepened as he struggled with his sweater. Shirley, who had been standing by his waist all along, skipped over to the sofa and sat between Al and Keith.

"What are you watching?" She asked.

"SpongeBob," Keith replied.

"I love SpongeBob!"

Keith glanced at her with a grin. "Me too!"

And then they both turned to the television and said nothing more. Al smirked and stared at Parker, who was having something of a tussle with the coat rack.

"You're late."

"Sue me."

"Tough day, huh?" Al grinned.

"Well yes; I was stuck at home going through my"—he glanced at where the children were sitting—"special cabinet…only to find some of that stuff is just too strong for a weekday." He grunted as he sat in a chair a couple feet away from Parker's end of the sofa. "So I had to spend my day moping around; thanks to you."

The words were almost bitter; nearly so enough that they wiped the smile off Al's face. He knew exactly what Parker meant by "moping around"; he never intended for Parker to spend his day doing just that.

"Well why couldn't you just go to the park or something?"

"And do what?"

"Come on Parker, you can't keep—"

"Please, Al, just spare me, okay?" Parker buried his head in his palms. "You did anything interesting today?"

Al grinned. "If by interesting you mean freaking weird...Check this out;" he leaned over to Parker and began whispering. "Had a call on this guy; freak accident. Fell of his balcony and got impaled on his backyard fence."

"Ouch," Parker grimaced.

"That's not the worse part. One of the steel things got caught in his eye; it was all squished inside. You should have seen the guy's f—what?"

Al's description brought an image from that morning to Parker's mind. He couldn't help but wonder if it was probably the same guy, but then he shook his head, wondering how he could possibly be so stupid. It was the liquor, and nothing more. Al was right; he needed to stop now that he still had some sanity left. Whoever that guy was who fell off his balcony, God bless his sorry soul, just had a similar wound by coincidence. Stranger things happened everyday. And John? Well that was just an example of those "stranger things", or perhaps a manifestation of his guilt like his therapist said.

Whatever.

"Nothing. Just…tough day." He said, deciding the whole thing wasn't worth kicking Al into his concerned-protective mode.

"Oh good, you're here. Dinner's ready."

The two turned around to see Cheryl standing in the hallway, Tongs in hand. For a brief moment Parker remembered Michele, but he blocked it, allowing the thought of Cheryl's great cooking sliding down his esophagus to consume him.

He would have plenty of time to think about Michele later.

Can't forget about you