Harold opened his eyes slowly, carefully scanning the five inches of space directly in front of his face. He realized he was lying on his back, but he couldn’t immediately determine why he was on the floor and, in particular, why his neighbor Annette was leaning over him.
“Harry? Hairry? Honey, can you hear me?” Annette asked, fanning him with a financial planning magazine.
“Annette?” Harry answered, slowly raising his head toward his chest.
“Now you just lay right there for a second,” Annette answered, “Don’t be in a hurry to move.”
“I’ve got to sit up,” Harry insisted. He noticed a tall, slender young man kneeling next to him and reached his hand upward, motioning for assistance. Tim took Harold’s hand in his and pulled him forward. Harold sat up for a moment, then stood to his feet.
“Harry, wait. Take a second to catch your breath.” Annette insisted.
“Thanks, Annette.” Harold said, “But really, I’m fine.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tim answered, “I need to finish talking to Mr. Keystone about that survey I mentioned to you.”
“Well ok, I guess I’ll go on back home.” Annette said. “I’ll check on you tomorrow. You take it easy so you’ll be able to come to my Christmas party. Oh and Tim, I’d love for you to come too. And bring anybody you want with you.”
Harold thanked Annette again as he walked her to the door, although he didn’t quite know what he was thanking her for. He only remembered seeing Tim standing in his doorway and then waking up on the floor. He returned to the kitchen, and he and Tim stood there awkwardly in near silence for a few minutes. Tim nervously apologized for involving Annette, and explained he had hardly said three words before Annette had come running to the rescue.
“That’s ok. Annette is the neighborhood watch and she won’t have it any other way.” Harold said. Harold quickly finished seasoning the chicken and potatoes he had been preparing and placed them in the oven. Then, he remembered what had caused his spell. He swallowed hard, poured two glasses of water, and invited Tim to join him in the living room for a chat.
Nobody ever really hopes for an in-home accident. Not really. But, as he reached past Tim’s left shoulder to turn on a side table lamp, Harold almost wished he’d spill the glass of water in his hand, allowing just a few droplets of water to settle on the electrical outlet. That would cause another mini-disturbance and suspend time a few moments longer. He sat on the end of the sofa nearest to the recliner Tim had chosen, and leaned back, clasping his hands together behind his head, fingers intertwined. “So, what was it you were telling me a little while ago?” he asked.
“Well,” Tim answered, “you’re my biological father. My mom’s name is–”
“Paula.” Harold interrupted. “It has to be.”
“Yeah. I hope you’re not mad that I’m here.”
“I’m just shocked as hell. I mean. Whew. I can’t even think of what to say to you. What can I say to you? How old are you? How’s Paula doin?”
“I’m 16. She’s fine. She doesn’t know I’m here, which is why I have to leave soon. I just–”
“Wait.” Harold said. “Did you fly out here?”
“Yeah.” Tim felt his throat squeeze the breath from his words. He tried to breathe slowly and deeply, and explained, “I hope you’re not mad. I know it was wrong, but a few weeks ago when you got that call about the water quality survey, that was me and my friend who called you.”
“For real? I thought that guy who called sounded young, but I thought he might have been a college kid or somethin. How did you find me?” Harold realized that question might have been a bad one to ask. He hadn’t been hiding; he just didn’t think anybody would ever be looking for him. “I mean, how did you find my number?”
“I saw your friend Mr. Othello in a pizza shop and he gave it to me. I…I hope you’re not mad. I just wanted to introduce myself and I needed to see you. I hope you can understand that.” Tim stood up, and walked toward the front door. His heartbeat pounded in his eardrums, and he felt his throat squeeze even tighter.
“Wait. Can you stay a while? I just don’t know what to say. But, I want you to stay. I know this ain’t an accident, you comin’ here. I been thinkin bout Paula a lot lately and I wanted to call her so many times. I just didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t even know she, well we, had a son. I just need to wrap my mind around this.”
“Your food’s burning.” Tim said, pointing to the kitchen. Harold sprang up from the sofa and sprinted to the kitchen to snatch his pans of potatoes and chicken from the oven. Both pans were black, as well as the food in them.
“I heard you mention pizza a second ago. You wanna grab some now?” Harold asked, chuckling as he dumped the burned food into the trash can.
Harold disappeared for a moment to gather his keys and wallet. Tim stood in the doorway and scanned the contents of the living room. There were a few framed photos, most of which were of a little girl. Tim obviously wondered if the girl might be his sister. One photo was of Harold and the girl opening Christmas presents together. Another was of them at the zoo.
“Ok. You ready? There’s a place about six blocks from here if you feel like walking.” Harold turned on the porch light and opened the front door.
They walked in silence for the first block, both nervous, trying to appear unaffected. By the time they had reached the second block, Harold figured basketball would be an easy opening topic for discussion. He estimated Tim was about 6‘4” tall, so he assumed he must have a passing interest in the game. So, he was unprepared when Tim told him he didn’t play. But, he rebounded by mentioning football, and was secretly relieved his son liked at least one real sport.
Tim told Harold about his school life, informed him that Paula was a nurse, and talked about his day-to-day life. As they walked the rest of the way to the restaurant, and as they ate their pizza, Harold listened to Tim basically tell him how awesome Paula had been as a parent. He didn’t think it was meant as any type of slight, and he didn’t take it that way. But, it did make him wish he could have prepared for this meeting. He wished he could have been sitting with Paula and Tim. He wished he could have had Zoe, his daughter, over for the weekend too, just to meet her big brother. He listened as much as he could as Tim talked, but he had already begun to plan a few things.
“So ummm,” Harold said, “When are you leaving?”
“Where are you staying?”
“At a hotel by the airport. So, I’ll take a cab back out there tonight.”
“You must be joking. You gotta stay at my house.”
“Look,” Tim paused, “I know why you’re saying that, but you don’t have to. I’m not asking you to do anything. I just wanted to meet you.”
“I get that. But you didn’t ask. I offered.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Ok. I just need to cancel the reservation.”
Harold and Tim walked leisurely back to the house. Harold noticed Tim’s long, purposeful gait. He was a cool dude, and Harold was proud already. It made no sense to be proud so soon, but he was. He saw Paula’s fingerprint all over Tim, and he was proud to have a connection to her, albeit rather late in arriving.
The sun had begun to set, and the neighborhood children worked hard to squeeze in a little more play time in their front yards before dark. After they got home, Tim and Harold spent the rest of the evening chatting and watching television. The nervous energy began to evaporate slowly, and they even shared a hearty laugh when Annette came by again just to make sure Harold was ok. When it was time for bed, Harold placed bath items and an extra blanket in an all-pink bedroom.
“I’m sorry it’s so girly.” Harold apologized. “Zoe, my daughter, sleeps in here when she visits. If it’s too much, I can pull out the sofa bed. I just thought you might want some privacy.”
“It’s no prob. This is cool. Thanks a lot.”
“Alright. If you need anything I’m down the hall.”
As soon as Harold shut the bedroom door, Tim exhaled. He leaned back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He was exhausted. He changed clothes and before getting under the covers and turning off the light, he sent a text to Paula. He knew she was likely asleep, but he wanted her to know he was thinking of her. When he had finally settled into bed, he almost felt as if he had already been dreaming for the past 24 hours. He replayed every snippet of his conversation with Harold, and tried to picture what the next day would be like. He drifted off to sleep with the realization that in a few short hours, he would be waking up in his father’s house for the first time in his life.