I got to meet Cal’s girlfriend about a week later. There were still a few weeks left of school, and during that time Cal would be turning into an adult. I was really scared of this. I didn’t want to lose him. But maybe everything would be okay.
Lately I had been going on short walks, hoping it would help my strength, and one evening when I came home I walked in on a rather… private moment.
“Cal! Omigosh, these are so beautiful!” the lovely young lady was saying, looking ecstatic to be given the bouquet.
“Not as pretty as you,” Cal said.
The girl began blushing and she looked rather shy. “I wish we had started going out sooner…”
With the way my son reacted, I had the feeling this was their first kiss. He began blushing brightly and rubbing the back of his head nervously. That’s when he noticed me standing near the door. He went even redder.
“Ahh, um, Dad!” he said and the girl turned to look at me. “Um, er, Dad–this is Teri. My girlfriend. Teri, this is, um, my dad.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. She was a very pretty girl and I was glad Calcifer had asked her out. Even though as we made our introductions, Cal seemed to be getting into an argument with Penny. I marveled at his courage at make believing while his girlfriend was right there.
“Stop it!” he snapped. “I didn’t do anything!”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Cal.
I coughed and began talking a bit louder, to try to distract her. “Is this your last year, too?” I said, looking nervously at my son. Pull it together! I thought. Talking to imaginary people isn’t exactly something that attracts the ladies!
“I’m sooooo sorry!” Cal breathed out. “I didn’t realize how much this upset you. Can’t we please talk about it? Um, later tonight?”
Teri gave me a bashful smile, obviously trying to ignore the insanity of her boyfriend. “No, I still have another year left.” She turned around and raised her eyebrows. “Cal, are you okay?”
“Huh?” He jumped slightly then gave her a huge smile. I gave him a look and he hurried over, casting furtive looks at the air where he imagined Penny was. “Yes! I’m doing great. Why don’t we go for a walk?
“I’d like that,” she whispered, shyly taking his hand. “It was wonderful meeting you, Mr. Danevbie.” She began blushing even more as Cal pulled her out of the house.
I leaned against my cane and watched them head off to the park. My heart swelled with joy at seeing Cal like this. Okay, so he still had an imaginary friend. But at least he wasn’t getting drunk or starting fights with the fridge anymore.
Maybe my dreams of having a legacy weren’t so far off after all.
Then again, maybe Cal hadn’t changed much after all.
I was shocked, completely shocked, when the policeman brought my son home early from school one day. Cal had a ticked off look on his face while the cop explained to me that Calcifer had flooded the school. My son just rolled his eyes and looked quite bored of the whole conversation.
“Thank you, officer,” I whispered, taking my son’s wrist. “I’m sorry for how he’s acted. Is everyone okay?”
“Yes,” the officer replied. “Thankfully.” He walked off and I slammed the door shut, turning to look at Cal who was heading towards his room.
“Stop–right–there!” I commanded and he froze, looking a bit nervous.
“Dad, I can explain!” he said, stomping his foot and looking even more upset. “These guys were saying stuff about Teri and I wanted to teach them a lesson. You told me never to fight, so I rigged the toilets to overflow on them and also the sinks to spray them–and they did but I sort of messed up the piping system a wee bit more than I intended and–“
“Calcifer!” I moaned. “I appreciate you not fighting but that’s still not what you do. I know it’s hard to hear things about someone you care about but messing with plumbing is not the way to get them to stop!”
“What are you gonna do, ground me?” he demanded.
“I just might!” I snapped. “Go to your room. I never thought my son would be dragged home in a police car. Though with all your underage drinking, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already!” I added as he slammed his door shut.
“I’M SORRY I’M SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT!” he shouted.
“You’re not a disappointment!” I shouted in return, though not as loud as he had yelled. “Just… give me time to think.”
It was another mistake, I knew it was, but I felt too miserable about grounding him. I didn’t want him to hate me. I knew spoiling him like this was wrong! He needed discipline! However, like always, the images of my own father came into my mind.
Calcifer seemed happy that I told him he wasn’t grounded. But his smile faded when I said, “Your behavior can’t continue like this and we really need to talk about it.”
“My behavior…” he whispered. “Ugh, Dad, how many times do I have to tell you–“
“Your attitude is what you make it!” I told him, giving him a serious look. His eyes seemed scared and strange. I wondered what was going on inside his head to make him so sure that he was an unchangeable monster. I wished I could reach inside and pluck that thought right out of his head. “My life wasn’t the happiest of lives, but I kept a good attitude about everything–“
“And what did it get you?” he demanded. “A tiny little house, hardly any money, and a freak like me as a son! Whatever your life was, at least you’re human. You were born normally. You weren’t made in a science lab. You weren’t–“
Now it was my turn to cut off his words. “I’m tired of having this argument with you,” I said icily.
“Then we won’t!” He clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes. The fear was gone, and there was darkness in them now. “I don’t care what you say, what you insist. It doesn’t change me. It won’t change anything! You are you, and I am me. Whatever it is I am!”
“Calcifer, I think you’re just using your past as an excuse for your drinking and your temper tantrums!” I said, backing a little bit away from him.
“I haven’t been drinking!” he yelped. “But you know what? I think I need one! I’m so sick of everything! I just want to forget everything!” He stormed to his room, changed into some clothes, then ran outside.
At least this time he wasn’t running out in his underwear.
Since I couldn’t go looking for him, I went to bed. My body was hurting worse than it had in a while and I felt too weak to stay up and wait for him. I tried calling the cops but the phone felt too heavy in my hand.
I didn’t sleep very well, though. My pain consumed me. My midriff felt like it was going through a medieval torture chamber. I wound up throwing up on the floor but just stared bleakly at it. I couldn’t clean it up, I couldn’t even get to bed. So I just closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep.
When I woke up, my mess was gone. I sat up slowly, rubbing my back, wondering what had happened. I heard Cal in the other room and wondered if he had cleaned it up.
“NOGODEE NNERSANMEH!” he was screaming at nothing. Or maybe he was screaming at Penny. “IGIN DRUNG IFFNWANNA!” He tried going towards his bedroom but fell flat on his face. “Oohhhggggaaa,” he moaned.
I went over to try to help him but could hardly even grasp his arm. I was too weak, in too much pain. I felt like collapsing so all I could do was lean against the wall and wait for him to wake up. He finally started crawling towards his room.
“I’m sorry I made you angry,” I said, each word being forced out with heavy concentration.
“Innawa gege,” he mumbled, dragging himself to his feet and stumbling into his room. “Annini,” he said before falling onto his bed. Soon I heard snoring.
I went back to my own room and lay down on top of my blanket, falling asleep quicker than I wanted to.
The nights that Cal spent with Teri, he was sober. The nights he didn’t, he was drunk. He didn’t seem very focused on his schoolwork and I had the feeling he was going to graduate at the bottom of his class.
Before I knew it, though, it was his birthday.
My little baby was going to be an adult. It felt like it was too soon (but didn’t it always?) and I felt trepidation about this one. An adult, ready to go out on his own. I felt scared before his party. Unlike Cal, I had cared about school. That was why I waited until after graduation before leaving. Cal didn’t care… so I was really worried he’d up and leave tonight. But hadn’t I been a better father than my own?
I decided to give him the best party I could. I bought some decorations and even a dance floor. I ordered his favorite pizza, got his favorite cake, and let him invite whoever he wanted. I was both relieved and disappointed he only invited Teri.
He greeted her happily, pulling her into a tight hug then he gave her a small peck on the cheek. She beamed up at him and when they came in, she took hold of my hands.
“Thank you for letting me be apart of this, Mr. Danevbie,” she said.
“I’m happy you’re here!” I said with a grin. Her cheeks tinted pink as she stole a glance at the birthday boy. Cal saw she was looking his way and he went a much darker shade of pink than her, and quickly looked away. “I hope you have a good time,” I added and she started beaming again.
The party went really well. Cal and Teri danced for a long time then all of us watched a movie I had bought for his birthday. It was a scary movie and I really hated it, and Teri practically sat in his lap the whole time, her fingers entwined in his shirt, her face against his neck.
Their faces were certainly together often that night. I almost felt like going to my room and staying there, as the two of them constantly stopped whatever they were doing and started kissing. But it made me really glad to see them together. They were so happy with each other, and at least she was keeping him from drinking all the time.
Just before he blew out the candles, I wanted to give him a hug. I had cuddled him before he became a toddler and before he became a kid, and I had hugged him before he became a teenager. I wanted one more hug, but he refused.
“I’m eighteen!” he complained. “Stop treating me like a kid!”
Before I could apologize, Teri stepped in. “Calcifer, your father loves you. You’re about to start a whole new stage of life.” She took his hand and gave him puppy dog eyes. “I know I’d feel really happy if my father wanted to show some affection.”
Cal looked at her then looked at me. I bit my lip and looked away. “Nah, it’s fine,” I said. “It’s not–“
“It’s okay, Dad,” he said, giving me a quick but tight hug. “Thanks for throwing this party for me, and stuff.”
I relished the hug but didn’t complain when he let go. As he went to the cake, I gave Teri a look and she smiled back at me.
The sparkles started and I watched, feeling very sad but very excited. My little boy, my son–all grown up. Then he’d be graduating, and moving out. And who knew what would happen next? Perhaps a wedding sometime in a couple years, and then grandbabies. Despite my health, maybe I would get to see some grandchildren.
“Ugh, my hair!” he complained as he pulled out a piece of cake. It had flattened quite a bit and I could tell he hated his clothes.
Teri was giggling. “Aw, stop, you look great. My handsome man.” She stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. He went red and got her a piece of cake.
I decided to leave the two lovebirds alone, and retired to my room.
Teri went with Cal so he could get some new clothes and a makeover. She wasn’t with him when he returned and he explained that she wanted to study.
“What about you?” I asked, putting away the clean dishes. “Don’t you need to study?”
“I have a few days before my test,” he mumbled, flicking the hair from his eye. “I’ll study later. I’m thinking about going to the dance club…”
“Why don’t you study with Teri?”
“Dad!” he snapped and I realized that things weren’t going to be any different now that he was an adult. “Can’t I spend my birthday how I want?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I just thought–“
“You thought I’d be a goodie kid and not have a drink or two,” he grumbled. “What’s wrong with a drink?”
“Nothing, except two things!” I replied. “One, you’re too young! And two, you never just have a drink or two. You come home completely…” I trailed off and clutched my chest. “Ahh.”
“Dad?” he whispered. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I muttered. “Just… go. Have fun. Try not to get completely drunk.”
“You are NOT fine!” he yelled. “You just want to lay around and WALLOW in silent misery! You ever think that I…?” He trailed off and then shook his head. “Never mind, just forget it. I don’t know when I’ll be home!”
I really… really… really wished this would stop happening.