Thunder Over the Bay
Nick loosened his tie and laid his gray suit jacket on top of the picnic table as he strode across the yard towards the black doghouse. Caleb was sitting cross-legged in the grass, clad in raggedy jeans and a Portland Trail Blazers sweatshirt. Both father and son shared the same silky chestnut hair that contrasted their pale skin. Caleb’s brow furrowed as he delicately traced the yellow bat symbol painted on the front of the doghouse. The inside read Bruce.
“Hey Champ,” Nick said. “Your mom made some tuna casserole. Come on inside before it gets cold.”
“I hate being called Champ. And I hate tuna casserole. Bruce always eats my tuna casserole,” Caleb said, refusing to look his father’s direction.
“Look Cha- uh, Bud. I know Bruce’s death was hard on you.” Nick stopped as he flinched and then swatted at a mosquito. “But he was old and had a good life with us. Besides, we can always find you a new friend.”
Caleb turned abruptly to face him, narrowing his large, hazel eyes and tightening his lips. “Like how you want to replace mom?”
Nick could feel the color starting to rush to his face. A loud roar filled the yard, and he looked up at the clouded sky, optimizing on the distraction provided by the Coast Guard rescue helicopter.
“Think they are going out to rescue stranded boaters? Looks like a storm is coming in quick,” Nick said as he sat on the ground next to the freckle-faced ten-year-old. He grimaced as he made contact with the earth, and realized this decision meant he’d have to expedite his trip to the dry cleaners. He pulled out his Palm Pilot and moved the reminder up a day on his calendar. Caleb continued to stare at his father, all the while keeping a constant and firm facial expression. He was unimpressed by the common occurrence of an overhead helicopter, and began to rip up blades of grass.
“Listen Bud, everything is just fine with your mom and old man. We have our fights, but most mommies and daddies do.”
“Mommies and daddies?” Caleb retorted. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a baby. I’m not stupid. You’re gone all the time on work vacations or whatever you call it, and Mom says it’s with other ladies from work. Mom tells Aunt Ashley about it on the phone when you’re gone. I know things, a lot more things than you think. And don’t call me Bud either. I have a name. You should know, you gave it to me.” Caleb fiercely pulled up a nearby dandelion and blew hard. Its wispy florets burst apart and were carried away in a damp and salty breeze. The sky began to darken, and a handful of seagulls squalled as they passed over the yard on North 19th Street.
Nick had taken his tie off, wrapping it and unwrapping it repeatedly around his right hand. He took a calming breath and awkwardly placed his hand on Caleb’s left shoulder.
“Look, no matter what happens with your mother and I,”-Nick stumbled for a moment when he saw fear in the boy’s eyes- “and nothing will, you and I will always be pals.” Caleb shirked away from his touch, unconvinced, and stared at the earth. Nick looked down at his watch. “How about we say forget the casserole, and head downstairs to watch the Seahawks preseason game?”
Caleb frowned and then jumped up and climbed on top of the dog house. He pulled a tennis ball out of his sweatshirt pocket and began to toss is it in the air. A faint sound of thunder rumbled in the distance, and the sky began to turn the color of a charcoal sketch.
“Is that a yes?” Nick persisted.
“I hate the Seahawks. And baseball.”
“It’s football, Champ, football. And apparently you hate everything this fine summer evening? You normally love watching sports with me. You’re even wearing my old Blazer hoodie.” Nick stood up and cracked his neck. His body had seen better years, but at the age of thirty-eight he felt he was in better shape than most. “Whadaya say? I’ll even explain the plays to you during the commercial breaks.”
“Why can’t we ever do something I like?”
“We do all of the time. Why, just last weekend we went to that art show down on the boardwalk.”
“Yeah, for like one hour,” Caleb said. He threw the tennis ball at his father who caught it with ease.
“See, look at that arm! You’re an athlete like your old man!” Nick glanced back at Caleb and realized the art show was still a very alive and sensitive topic. “We saw everything there was to see, Bud. There was no reason to stay any longer.”
“You never asked if I was ready to go.”
“Well, I thought we had spent adequate time there.”
Caleb jumped down and reached inside the doghouse. He pulled out a book and swiftly tucked it inside of his sweatshirt.
“Aw come on, your mother and I told you to stop hiding crap in there.”
“It’s not crap. Mrs. Jenkins says to always have a book close by, and this one is my favorite. It’s about a guy who doesn’t need friends. He just needs his wolf, White Fang.” Caleb smiled for the first time, reminiscing about tales of the Yukon Territory. A cloud passed over his eyes as he also recalled he no longer had a canine companion. Gentle raindrops began to fall, and the boy sprinted towards the Douglass fir that resided in the outer skirts of the yard. He quickly reached the base and climbed up with the ease of a squirrel.
“Well thank you, Mrs. Jenkins, as if my son needs any more social anomalies,” Nick muttered under his breath. The rain was falling harder when he reached the tree, and he pushed his Palm Pilot further into his pocket.
“Ok, Bud, that’s enough. I get it. Let’s go inside, ok? We don’t have to watch the game. We could even order a pizza! No kid hates pizza. At least no kid of mine,” he said with a forced smile.
“I..” Caleb started.
“Hate pizza? Really now?” Nick said, rolling his eyes. The thunder hit again, but it was a roar this time, and much closer.
“I just want to be alone.”
The rain was pouring steadily now, and a flash of light struck in the distance.
“Bud, you’re alone enough as it is. You need friends, people friends. Maybe it’s a good thing Bruce passed on, because God knows you could, well, let’s just say human interaction is a good thing.”
“Shut up!” Caleb said, a tear trickling down his check. “Bruce was my best friend. He cared more about me than kids at school, and he loved me more than you do. I wish you were dead and Bruce was here.” The last part he whispered, but continued to hold a steady gaze all the while. Nick’s fists began to clench and he reached for the lowest tree branch.
“That’s enough!” he said, adrenaline coursing through his veins. “I have tried to be patient with you because of that damn dog’s death and all, but your attitude needs a major adjustment, Champ.” The branch weakened under his weight, but he pressed on anyways. “You get down this instance, or I’ll ban you from your precious books for a week.”
Caleb moved up several more branches, not easily hindered by the detrimental weather. Nick didn’t fair as well, and continued to struggle up each limb. The aged tree reached a height of twenty-five feet, and Nick had made it nearly halfway up. Caleb was another two feet up, and remained persistent in his climb.
“I’m going to run away,” Caleb said, squinting his eyes to guard his vision from the rain that was now blowing sideways. “I’m going to the Yukon.”
“You wouldn’t last two hours on your own,” Nick shouted against the wind. He reached for a large branch that was slicker than he had anticipated. He lost his grip, and then his balance, and fell several feet to the ground below. He remained motionless, limbs sprawled out in a contorted manner. His Palm Pilot lay just inches from his head, broken.
“Dad?” Caleb yelled. “Stop it, I’ll come inside. But I’m not watching your stupid game.” His facial features relaxed, and a cold ice ran up his spine. “Dad? It’s not funny. I’m coming down. Dad? Dad?” Thunder rolled in the distance.