Chapter 40: Excandescence
The dread I feel as I step out of my car and into the frigid winter air is enough to make my stomach turn. I take slow steps across the slushy parking lot, my hands shoved deep into my jacket pockets. Condos reach up toward the cloudy night sky like concrete fingers while traffic crawls along the busy road. The glowing white sign of the restaurant looming ahead of me reads Tecello's. Located in the heart of the city, it's an expensive place, one that my parents used to visit on dates. It feels so strange to be here now. Still, I push myself forward. Reluctantly.
My father made a reservation for just the two of us. I almost wish Logan were coming too. He could act as a buffer between us, a way to ease the inevitable tension, but I know I have to face this alone. I'm not quite sure what to expect from tonight, though. Mostly, I hope it won't leave my relationship with my father in an even worse state than it is now, if that's even possible.
The warmth of the restaurant helps me relax a little, but I realize immediately that I am underdressed. Probably shouldn't have worn jeans, but I can't say I care. I'm sure my father could find reasons to be disappointed in me regardless of what I wear.
A lone elderly couple waits in the lobby, sitting on the bench by the marble wall. They stare at me with tired eyes.
"Good evening. Do you have a reservation?" the tall blonde woman behind the desk asks me. Past her, I can see that the restaurant is packed with people in dresses and suits. Already I feel like an outsider.
I force a smile onto my face and then say, "Yes, it should be under David Moore."
The woman clicks around on the computer and smiles at me.
"He hasn't arrived yet. Would you like me to take you to your table?"
What I really want to do is turn around and leave.
She picks up two menus off the desk and leads me through the crowded dining room. Her heels click against the white marble floor, and her ponytail sways like a metronome. Laughter and conversation fill the air around us, along with the sounds of clinking glass and cutlery on delicately arranged plates. Fortunately, our table is located against the wall and not in the middle of the room, so we'll have some semblance of privacy.
I thank the woman, take off my coat and hang it on the back of my chair. Well, at least I wore a dress shirt. It looked good in the store, but now it feels stiff and unnatural on me, like a giant sloth clinging to my neck. I undo the top couple of buttons and then decide to button them again. Glancing at my phone, I see that it's 8:13 p.m. My father told me to be here for eight. I wonder when he'll arrive. It would be like him to make me wait a while. In the meantime, I unfold the menu and look at the pictures of various plates stacked with chicken, pastas, salmon and steaks.
All these lights are giving me a headache. They shine above my head and reflect on the polished floor. I feel like I'm in a giant display case—completely misplaced amongst all these well-dressed, probably rich people. I take a deep breath and try to force those thoughts from my mind. If only I could force myself to be calm, this would be so much easier. Instead, it feels more like I'm about to have my last meal before heading to the execution chamber.
I happen to glance up from the menu, and there he is, tall and domineering. The same blonde woman escorts him toward me. He says something to her, and she laughs. Then his gaze meets mine, and his smile fades. I was cold not too long ago, but now I feel uncomfortably sweaty. I really don't want to be here. This man is a stranger to me.
As expected, he wears his usual dress pants, shirt and tie. He takes a seat across from me. I don't want to look at him, but I can't seem to look anywhere else.
"I'm glad to see that you were able to make it. I wasn't entirely sure that you would come," he says.
I shrug, hoping I don't look as nervous as I feel.
"I told you I would."
"You did, but given our recent exchanges, it would be understandable if you felt a little apprehensive about this."
A little apprehensive? I wish I were only a little apprehensive.
"So why did you want to meet with me? Why now?"
"I'm sure we can both agree that we haven't communicated well in a long time. I think it would be best if we could find some common ground and try to understand each other better, and I thought you would feel more comfortable if we met somewhere neutral as opposed to meeting at my house."
"It's impossible for you to understand me when you're completely closed off to new ideas, wouldn't you agree?"
"Then, please, help me understand this… this lifestyle that you have become so attached to."
"Lifestyle? See that's the problem. I could explain it to you all night, but you already have these strong ideas that block you from considering any other perspective."
My father opens his mouth to respond, but a short brunette approaches our table and smiles at us, interrupting the growing animosity.
"Good evening. Are you ready to order?"
My father orders without looking at the menu. Since many of the names therein are in French or Italian, I order the first one with a description that sounds remotely familiar, which turns out to be stuffed chicken breast. The waitress collects our menus and leaves, and part of me wishes I could go with her.
"That's interesting," my father says.
"What?" I ask, though I don't really care at all. I wonder how long it will take for our food to arrive, for us to finish eating, for me to be able to leave...
"That was your mother's favourite dish when we used to come here."
She probably ordered it for the same reason I did—an inability to understand the menu and a lack of desire to try anything else.
"I'm surprised you'd remember something like that," I say.
"Of course I remember. This was one of her favourite restaurants." He pauses, a thoughtful look in his eyes. "You were always so much like her. I suppose I spent a great deal of time trying to push you to be more like me."
He seems to be waiting for me to say something. I don't.
"I know that life hasn't been easy for you lately—"
"Or ever," I mutter.
"But," he continues, "I'm proud of the way you've stuck with it. In spite of all that's happened, you're doing well in school and you seem to have your priorities in order. I have always wanted you to be confident and sure of yourself, and I can see that, in some ways, you are."
"But you still disapprove of my decisions, right? That's the one thing that never changes unless I do what you want me to."
He doesn't answer, and I sigh, annoyed.
"How many times are we going to have this conversation? We've been having it for the past three years, and nothing has changed. I spent so much time trying to please you, but I'm not going to do that anymore. I have to live my life for me."
"I'm not asking you to follow in my footsteps. The most important thing to me is that you stay in school and keep your life on the right track. You've always been very responsible, and I know I can trust you in that regard. I don't want you to feel as if you're not a part of our family, because you are. Logan misses having you in his life. He looks up to you so much. As far as… everything else, well, let's take it one day at a time. I'm not making any promises, but I will try to understand."
The waitress returns with our drinks, and I'm more than grateful for the interruption, but all too quickly she's gone again.
"How have you been?" my father asks.
I take a long sip of my water, shrugging.
"No, seriously, Noah. I honestly want to know how you've been coping since... since the accident. Logan has been going to therapy, and it helps him work through all the changes that he has faced. But you… have you talked to anyone about it?"
"I've talked to friends I guess."
"I mean have you talked to a specialist? I know you're grieving and you probably have a lot of emotions surrounding what has happened. I think it would be beneficial for you to have a way to sort through it."
"I don't need to talk to anyone. I'm fine."
"Here." He pulls a pen and a small card out of his pocket and writes something down. "Dr. Colley is a friend of mine. He's also a highly reputable therapist. Just give him a call." He hands the card to me, and I stare at his scratchy handwriting. After a moment, I set the card down in front of him on the table.
"Even if I were interested in this, I couldn't afford it."
"Don't worry about the cost. I'll take care of it. I've already mentioned your name to him. All you have to do is call." He slides the card toward me, and I stare at the phone number again.
"Why do you suddenly care about me?"
"I never stopped caring about you, but I needed some time to accept the fact that you're never going to be the person I had envisioned. I'm only now realizing that that's not necessarily something to regret."
The food arrives, though my mind is so far away I barely notice it. Now, our steaming plates replace the emptiness between us.
Just as I pick up my fork, my father says, "You mentioned that you're... involved with someone." The words seem to make him cringe. "Is it serious?"
I swallow uncomfortably. I was really hoping that this subject wouldn't come up.
"Yes, it is."
We begin to eat in silence, a silence that is broken when he says, "Whatever you do, Noah, I hope you'll remember to be safe. I'm sure you're aware that there are many diseases going around these days."
I wouldn't have thought this evening could become any more awkward.
"You really don't need to tell me that. I know."
"Well, it bears repeating. I don't want you to make foolish decisions. For the sake of your health, among other things, please be careful. That's all I'm saying."
"Yeah, I know. So anyway," I say, eager to change the subject, "How has Logan been?"
The rest of the evening passes by rather uneventfully. We talk about family and school and summer plans, all the while steering clear of the more contentious issues. I can't remember the last time we had a conversation like this, one free of animosity and spite. It's almost reminiscent of the way things used to be, back when we were father and son, back when we got along.
At the end of dinner, my father and I say our awkward goodbyes and head for the parking lot.
"This was nice," he says. "I would like us to do it again one day soon."
Not wanting to destroy the semi-pleasantness that has somehow formed between us, I nod my head mechanically and we go our separate ways.
When I get into my car, I breathe a sigh of relief, pulling out my phone to dial Luke's number.
"Hey," he says sleepily. It's so nice to hear his voice again.
"Hey, what are you up to?"
"Lying in bed, tired as fuck."
I sigh. "Wish I were with you instead of sitting in my car. You look so cute when you sleep."
Luke laughs. "Are you implying that I don't look cute when I'm awake?"
"No, but when you sleep, it's different. You let your guard down."
"Wait—why are you sitting in your car?"
"I just had dinner with my dad." Those words sound so unnatural together.
"Oh, yeah. I forgot that was tonight. How'd it go?"
"Okay, I guess. It's hard to say. I'm just glad it's over."
"Do you think it helped your relationship at least?"
"Well... I think it's a start—a very shaky, fragile start but a start nonetheless. I mean, it's a big change from where we were last summer, when he couldn't even stand to be around me."
"Well, there you go. It sounds like you've come a long way since then. At least he's reaching out to you now."
"Yeah..." I say, staring out into the night. I suppose all my father and I can do is try. We may never recover the carefree, close relationship we shared before I came out, and maybe that's okay. After all these years, it seems as if he's finally willing to listen. I guess that means it's time for me to start talking.
A/N: I apologize for being gone. It was very difficult for me to finish this story, and I changed my mind a lot when it came to the ending. In fact, there is much that I would change about this story. It's the first novel-length (well I guess technically longer than a novel) story I've written and it's been a learning experience for me.
Thanks to those who have read and reviewed. Your support is what really helped me finish it. And if you liked this story, I have another one that I should be posting in the next couple of weeks.