“Hey son,” he says. “Didn’t expect to see you.”
I get out of my car.
“Yeah, I know, Dad. It’s been too long, but I need your help.”
His brow arches but he nods.
“Sure thing, Keith. What’s going on?”
I summarize the story as quickly as possible and my dad nods with understanding. Then he heads to the attic and returns with a dusty cardboard box. There’s a curious expression on his lined face.
“You know, son, I’ve never seen you this concerned about a woman before. It used to be all floozies, all the time. What happened?”
I’m not sure I have an answer for him.
“Kelsey happened, that’s all,” I say simply.
“Well, it sounds like this one could be good for you. You know, I’d like to have a grandson before I’m too old to take him to a Yankees game, so if you really feel this strongly, then it’s important to make things right.”
I nod as my dad hands me the portrait. It’s an old photo of him and my second stepmom, resplendent in their wedding attire.
“I will. Thanks, Dad. I’m not making any promises about grandkids but if this works, maybe you’ll at least get to meet Kelsey. I gotta go now, but I’ll catch up with you this weekend, okay?”
Driving back to the city has never been easier. People are taking this stay at home order pretty seriously, so there’s very little traffic. Frankly, the city is empty right now, and storefronts are shuttered as taxis sit idle at the curb. It’s a little sad, but it works to my advantage.
I make it to her building in no time at all and miraculously catch someone leaving as I come up to the buzzer. I slip inside as they leave, which is good because I don’t know that Kelsey would let me up on her own.
Bolting up two flights, I knock and see the peephole darken as she checks to see who it is. But the door stays silent.
“Kelsey, let me in. I just want to explain,” I begin.
“There’s no need to explain,” she calls from the other side. “I’m not stupid. Naïve maybe, but not stupid. Go away. You aren’t even supposed to be here because of social distancing and all. How did you even get in?”
I bang on the door now.
“Will you stop banging and go away?” she demands, a little louder this time. “I have an elderly neighbor who has been trapped in her apartment for weeks. She needs her peace and quiet.”
“I don’t care, Kelsey,” I reply. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! My insistent pounding echoes down the hallway as I bang against her door with my fist. “Kelsey! You will open up and let me explain, so help me god,” I grind out. “What you do after that I can’t control but I’m not leaving until I see you.”
Finally, I hear the deadbolt slide and the door opens a crack. Like an enraged bull, I push the door open but she’s already crossed the room and has her back to me. Her curls are piled in a haphazard knot on the top of her head and she’s wearing loose sweats, but the curvy girl has never looked so beautiful. I want to go to her and wrap my arms around that sassy form, but I need her to want that too, so I start explaining at a rapid clip.
“Kelsey, please listen to me. Do you remember how I told you my dad was married twice after my mom? Well, the second woman had a daughter about my age. I’d never had any siblings and I thought maybe it would be cool to have a sister. We started hanging out, and it was fine. I introduced her to my friends, and she was really pretty, and a few of them even asked her out. But this crazy girl turned them all down, saying it wouldn’t be fair to me. I should have caught on then, but I didn’t really pay any attention. I was fourteen, and a total numbskull.”
Kelsey doesn’t say anything. She’s still turned away from me, but I can tell she’s listening.
“Eventually, I started dating a cheerleader and was spending all my time with the new girl. Things started getting weird, not to mention dangerous then when it came to my stepsister. One day my girlfriend’s locker caught on fire. All her stuff burned up and a project she had been working on all semester was gone. Then, her cat died unexpectedly, supposedly from eating something rancid. She was really upset about it when Michelle, my stepsister, handed her a note one day. It said: Keith is mine. Leave him alone or prepare to die.”
Kelsey turns to look at me now, her expression confused.
“Seriously?” she asks. “She sounds deranged.”
“Because she is. My dad and I confronted Michelle in front of her mom, but things went haywire. Somehow, my stepmother blamed me for her daughter’s crazy ways. Her mom was sure we were having sex and screamed at me and called me a predator. My dad filed for divorce the next day.”