"I can't believe Dad let him in his house! The guy could be a swindler, a theif! He could be taking Dad for all he's got, lying to him to get a hideout spot with free rent and free food! He could be a goddamn murderer for all we know and he's been staying with Dad for a good part of a month now!"Robert rambled.
He'd been going on and on about the stranger whenever Dad was out of earshot. Robert's anger only heightened when he found out Walter or Walton or something of that nature had been sleeping in his room for the last month and he was now forced to make do with the couch. After he had finally found enough pillows to suit him I headed upstairs to get ready for bed, well past tired of his rants.
The whole second floor was loud and crowded. It consisted of mostly a narrow hallway dotted with several doorways leading to bedrooms or the single bathroom that sat at the end of the hall and with four adults and two kids it was too difficult to manouver to even get my teeth brushed. I decided to wait it out and get settled in my room while the others got ready for bed. I opened my old bedroom door, giving way to so many familiar smells and sights. The smell of my old perfume still lingered, vanilla with hints of floral, with the scent of furniture polish and dusty, torn blankets. My old bed still sat where I left it in the corner and posters and photographs and old drawings still covered the walls. I collapsed onto my bed and buried my face into the soft cotton of the quilt my mother made me. I sighed, I still missed her. It felt strange not having her here. to see her favorite chair and see it empty, to smell her adored perfume and not have her where it was most potent. It sent pangs of loneliness and guilt that Dad must have felt every day. I felt bad for leaving him so soon, but we were all busy. I was just finishing school, Todd had just had his second kid and Robert had just gotten a huge promotion. That was partly why we came to visit. We agreed that we'd left too soon. That Dad was still hurting and Mom's death had taken its toll on him. A family friend had called us to tell us that Dad was extremely depressed, would hardly leave the house until he began to avoid the thing completely. We had planned the trip shortly after that, hoping a visit would get him back on his feet. Then we heard about Walton. That a strange man had been following Dad around and it was rumored that he was living with him. That's when we planned an early visit, to make sure this guy was alright. I still didn't quite know. Robert seemed to immediately think he was trouble, whereas Todd assumed he was fine. Todd had that trusting trait Dad had. They both had a good heart to strangers, handing out freely to bums when they had money, giving rides to hitchhikers, more than happy to start a conversation with the passer-by, all of which had dangers tied to them I wasn't aware of as a child. I knew Dad was lonely and I knew he was hurt, and for some reason Walter made that loneliness go away, or at least dull it for Dad. I agreed with Robert that he could be anything from a murderer to a swindler, but he made Dad happy and if he didn't hurt Dad, I was fine. That is until I had proof of his background, which for right now he supposedly had none.
Suddenly I heard the noise outside my room quiet. I got up and looked out the door to see an empty hallway. I quickly changed into cotton shorts and an old T-shirt, grabbed my bathroom things and headed to the room at the end of the hall. I started by taking off my makeup, once the last bit was off i moved onto washing my face. I splashed warm water over my face and scrubbed soap all over it. I dove into the sinkful of suds and soaked my face in the warm water once again. I wiped off my face and opened my eyes to see a dark figure standing at the end of the hall, very blurry with my contacts out. I let out a little squeal out of surprise which caused the figure to jump as well.
"Sorry", he said rushing up and snatching his toothbrush from the cup that sat by the sink. "I thought everyone had went to bed... I just need my toothbrush".
I put on my glasses to see it was the man who was staying with Dad. He slathered toothpaste on his brush and walked away, brushing as he went. By the time I was packing up my things he had returned and spit in the sink. I looked at his reflection in the mirror. He made eye contact with my reflection before quickly looking away.
"Sorry for scaring you. I really don't mean to", he said putting his brush back.
"That's fine. I'm...a little jumpy when I'm staying in a different place...Walter..right"? I asked as I zipped my bag.
"Walton."He said looking up, but then quickly looking away. He practically threw his toothbrush at the cup by the sink, missing, then awkwardly picking it up and throwing it once again at the cup, this time making it.
"I'm Diana", i said as he began to walk away.
"I like that name." He said, slightly turning around before darting to his room.
I woke up late the next morning. Bright sunlight shown through the sheer curtains. I got up and headed downstairs to see Robert snuggled up on the couch, his face half buried in his pillow.
"Where's everyone?" I asked, nudging his shoulder a bit. He mumbled something into his pillow and went back to sleep.
"Huh"? I asked a bit louder.
"They took Todd's kids to the park. I guess they were being..." he then fell back into his daze.
I went to the kitchen, got two bowls and filled them with cereal before heading back to the livingroom where I plopped down at Robert's feet after turning on the TV. Robert finally gave up on the idea of sleep and soon joined me. I loved coming back home. It made me feel like a kid again. No worries, no school, no bills, just my brother and I watching TV with bowls of surgary cereal on our laps.
My fantasy was soon ruined as Walton walked in wearing one of Robert's old favorite T-shirts and a pair of sweatpants, his dark curls in a mess.
"Where is everybody?" he asked, staring at me with those warm brown eyes.
"They went to the park." Robert said flatly.
"Do you want some cereal?" I asked getting up. I was as unsure of him as Robert but if he was going to be hanging around I might as well be friendly.
"Um.." he glanced at Robert who was purposely avoiding any eye contact as he stared intensely into the TV. "No thanks".
"Uh...ya.. I'm...I'm just gonna go for a walk."
"You can have breakfast with us. I don't bite, I promise."
"It's him I'm worried about", Walton said nodding towards Robert.
"No..no," Robert said turning towards him."Sit down. It's a perfect time to have a talk"
"What kind of a talk"? Walton asked, catching the hints of curiousity in Robert's suspiciously nice tone. He glanced at both of us, his face mildly terrified. He seemed highly aware of Robert's distaste for him and sitting down to have a "talk" with someone who you're sure hates you is never anyone's idea of fun.
"Oh, just stuff. I'm a bit suspicious of your story. Some things...just don't seem right. And if you're living in my father's house I'd like to know you a little better."
I got up before Walton could answer and got him a bowl of cereal. As much as I'm sure that conversation would make him uncomfortable, I was just as curious as Robert on what he would say. I returned with the food and offered him a seat between Robert and I after I turned off the TV so we could hear eachother better.
"Where you from"? Robert asked, getting right down to the interigation.
"I don't know. I can't remeber a thing since the hospital. I damaged my temporal lobe somehow and lost my memory," he explained, showing us the scar right above his neck.
"So you have no idea who you are? Where you came from? Right?" Robert asked in a bit of a sarcastic voice.
"You act like I'm lying".
"Well, the cost of living is pretty high nowadays. Maybe you found this vulnerable, friendly old man who took you in because you conviently "lost your memory". Free food and rent sounds pretty damn good."
"Would explain why you haven't gotten a job,"I agreed.
"I've been hurt. It's kind of hard to work when you've had a serious head injury,' Walton snapped, he looked a bit hurt at my comment.
"This would also be a great place for a criminal to hide out. A few drug lords chasing after you wouldn't expect a house in some small town where an old widower lives."
"I may be a criminal. I have no idea of my life before the..."incident" if that's what you'd call it. But if I'm hiding out i have little knowledge of it since I spend a little over four hours getting milk yesterday".
Robert, having nothing to say to that took another mouthful of cereal before continuing. 'What milk would that be"?
"That doesn't matter. I was just wasting time."
"Why?" Robert asked. "Where were you really?"
"I was avoiding this!" Walton snapped.
"Why? Have something to hide"?
It was getting way out of hand and I could tell by now Robert was just arguing for the sake of argument and Walton was just making things worse by feeding into it.
"Well, do you blame him? Look, Robert, you need to stop this you're just making things worse. We don't know anymore than we did when we started and now you're yelling at Walton for something you didn't even know he did. Knock it off! Both of you!"
It was silent after that while we munched on our cereal. Just as it was becoming awkwardly quiet Robert looked at Walton.
"Nonetheless, I'm keeping my eyes on you. Your whole story is suspicious, even if you're telling the truth."
Walton then got up silently and put away his empty bowl. He went upstairs before leaving the house with the slam of a door.
We spent the rest of the day at Pine Slope, a little hill near the orchards, it had been abandoned long ago due to the rocky patches along the whole plot but there was a patch on the very ridge that grew the best blackberries I have ever eaten. We went there every fall as a kid so we could can the berries at there prime for jam all winter. It was somewhat of a family tradition and Dad said he wanted Todd to pass it on to Christy and Sam and Robert and I to pass it onto our kids when the time comes. The hike up there was always pleasant, no matter that it took us most of the day to get there it was time well spent. It gave me a chance to talk to Dad and see how he was doing.
"I'm fine. I haven't felt this happy in years. To be honest, I had quite a rough go of it after your mother died."Dad said.
"I think we all did. But I always had Robert to talk to and Todd had his family. Must've been even harder for you, being all alone."
"It was," Dad admitted. He wasn't angry or hurt. He just said it matter-of-factly, like it was no ones fault. I didn't know if Dad was capable of blaming, I'd never seen it, but him admitting he had a hard time with no one around didn't help my guilt for leaving him. "But it was a phase. I'll always miss her. I just have more distractions now, I suppose. I still hate that house when it's empty. But I'm a strong man and I've lived through it. You don't need to worry about me, Diana. You know that."
"Yep." I said, though I didn't believe it. If he resorted to letting a complete stranger in his house he obviously needed someone to worry about him.
"So what do you think of Walton?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"What do you think of his character? Do you think he's...trustworthy?"
"Of course. I'm just helping him out. He's a good man and a good friend. You know, I'm not as deaf as Robert thinks I am. I know you two don't think much of him but you just need to give him a chance. He'll prove himself."
"I'm still deciding," I defended.
"I understand that," Dad smiled. "We're almost to the blackberries."
After filling our baskets with berries we headed down the trail, halfway jogging because of the fading sunlight. We all piled into the car with the baskets in our laps and rode home. Walton still wasn't there. He hadn't been there since the argument this morning. I wondered if he was upset still as we put our baskets on the counter. I went upstairs before anyone else and showered the cold sweat from my body then changed into sweats and a blue tanktop. By the time I got downstairs dinner was almost ready. I began to get worried about Walton as we ate our chicken and baked apples. I hoped he hadn't left town because he didn't feel welcome anymore. Then who would Dad talk to after we left? I worried he'd gotten into some trouble or gotten hurt or something. I hoped he would come back. Not because I really cared about him but because I was sick of wondering where he was. Because I didn't want Dad to find out his friend ran off or got hurt because of me.
Just as my mind was going off in all different directions Walton came through the door. I looked up to see a huge smile spread across his face, revealing his missing tooth. His hair was in a strict part and although it was clear he had worked very hard to get his hair to look neat, his wild dark curls twisted in their own directions. He plopped down in the chair next to me, throwing two dollars and fifty cents on the table.
"Where've you been"? Dad asked before I could.
"Getting a job",Walton smiled."I searched all over town and they all said no. But the Johnsons are very gracious people. They'll give five dollars an hour for helping out on their orchard and a little extra for helping with livestock and repairs. Mr. Johnson has horrible joint problems and since I had a connection to you, Carter, they were more than happy to give me the job.
"What's the money for?" Dad asked staring at it.
"I'm paying you back. I worked for a half an hour and that's what I got for today. You have been so generous to me and I haven't done a thing."
Walton looked at me, reading my face. I smiled. He was a better man than I had given him credit for. Dad was right, I just needed to give him a chance and he'd prove himself. And he proved himself. Though I still had that tiny voice in my mind that was unsure about Walton, still suspicous of this stranger but this had made that voice much quieter. I was greatful and I figured I could push those feelings aside to express my gratitude.
He smiled back.