Page 19 of Together

Adam dawdled over breakfast, deliberately burning the first piece of toast and having to make another one, pouring himself a glass of milk as well as orange juice, glancing up every now and then at the kitchen door as if he expected William to appear. ‘How’d you find him?’

‘Pierre and Little Sterling Avery met him in Camden. He was working for Harkers.’

‘Nice,’ said Adam automatically. ‘You went out last night to get him?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Did you tell him anything about me?’

‘I didn’t really get a chance. It was late.’

‘Please can I stay home?’

‘The bus is here in five minutes. Go brush your teeth, and don’t go into William’s room, OK?’

‘Aw, Dad.’ But Adam went. He was a good boy. He played by the rules, like Emily did. He wanted to please the people he loved. Their sunny, blond-haired boy.

Robbie wished he had Emily here to help him.

William didn’t emerge till nearly noon. Robbie was outside, splitting wood, trying to let the rhythm of the task take the worry away from his mind. He saw movement from the corner of his eye and Bella bounded out on to the snow, followed by William. He didn’t have a coat and his shoulders hunched immediately. It had warmed up, as it often did after snow, but it was still cold enough.

Robbie leaned his maul against the block. Bella ran up to him, panting and pressing her shoulder against his leg. He pulled off his glove and scratched her ear. ‘Morning,’ he called to William.

William was lighting a cigarette. ‘Where’s my truck?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Robbie. ‘Where did you leave it? Outside the bar?’

‘It’s got all my stuff in it.’

‘We’ll find it later.’ He walked over. William looked pale, dark shadows under his eyes, stubble on his chin. He’d slept in his clothes; it had been too much trouble for Robbie to remove them and besides, he didn’t think William would thank him for it. Robbie could smell the sour scent of hangover on him, the lingering booze seeping from his skin and into his breath, and he remembered the days he’d woken up like that and gone straight to the bathroom to shower and brush his teeth to hide the smell. It had never hidden very well. He wondered if William remembered smelling it on him, if he remembered Daddy’s morning headaches.

‘I’ll make some coffee,’ Robbie said.

The dog came in with him, but William didn’t follow until he’d finished his cigarette. He stomped the snow off his boots and rubbed his arms with his hands.

‘You can borrow a coat and gloves,’ Robbie said. ‘Mine will fit you.’

‘Why am I here?’

‘They found my number in your pocket at the Scupper. Apparently you didn’t have many friends left to call. I tried to take you to your apartment but they told me you’d been kicked out.’

‘I don’t need your charity.’

‘It’s not charity. Do you remember who I am?’

‘I remember.’

Robbie poured him a mug of coffee and put it on the table. William grudgingly left the mat near the back door and sat down at the table, his boots still on and dripping on the floor.

‘Do you remember me from when you were a kid?’ Robbie asked, pulling out the chair next to him.

‘No,’ he said, but it was too quick. He looked down at his coffee.

‘I remember you very well. I remember teaching you how to use a hammer and throw a baseball.’

‘I don’t.’

William’s headache and hostility were written all over him. Robbie shelved the questions for now.

‘You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like. Do you want some breakfast?’ He glanced at the clock. ‘Lunch?’

‘I’m not hungry. I could do with a drink if you’ve got one.’

‘Coffee and orange juice is all we’ve got. Milk, too, though I need to pick up some more. Emily has a big store of English Breakfast tea if you like that.’

‘I meant a drink drink. Something to take the edge off.’


William glanced at him. ‘You’ve been gone for my entire life and now’s the time you pick to get fucking judgmental?’

‘I’m not being judgmental. I don’t have any alcohol in the house.’

‘Oh man, you’re not a religious freak too? I got out of all that.’

‘I’m not religious. I’ve been sober since the seventies. I was drinking when I was with your mother. I drank a lot.’

William subsided into his coffee. ‘Why am I here?’

‘It looked like you didn’t have anywhere else to go. George said he’d fired you, and your former neighbour was pretty sure you’d been sleeping in your truck.’

‘You’ve been checking up on me?’

‘Seems like you can be angry with me for not being part of your life, or angry with me for being too interested in your life, but it’s not fair to be angry about both at the same time.’ He said it sharply.

William dug his hand into his pocket. ‘Give me some money. I don’t have any.’


‘Why not?’ He scowled. ‘You owe me enough. I never saw a penny from you when I was growing up.’

Robbie opened his mouth, then thought better of it and took a sip of coffee instead.

‘I didn’t know where you and your mother were,’ he said instead. ‘Marie never answered my letters and your grandparents sent them all back.’

‘Well, you can make up for it now. Give me some money, take me back to my truck, and we’ll call it even. You’ve done your fatherly duty and you can feel good about yourself.’


William swore. ‘Why not?’

‘Because if I give you money, you’re going to go straight to the nearest bar and drink it all away.’

‘I don’t have a job or an apartment. I need money.’

‘It’s like I said. You can stay here for as long as you need to. I can find you work, too, if that’s what you’re looking for. George said you were good with your hands. But nobody wants a drunk boatbuilder.’

‘It’s my own business whether I’m drinking or not.’

‘Maybe. But I’d just as soon you were sober when you met your brother.’

He straightened, looking a bit panicked. ‘I’ve got a brother?’

Maybe it was perverse, but Robbie was glad to see something other than pure hostility on William’s face. ‘He’ll be home in a couple of hours.’


‘He’s dying to meet you. Do you . . . have any other siblings?’

William shook his head.

‘How’s your mother?’

‘None of your business.’

‘What did she tell you about me?’

‘Nothing good. She told me once that you were a Vietnam vet but that you never talked about it, and for a while I thought you’d freaked out or something, like you hear about. But then I grew up and I realised that you just didn’t give a shit.’

‘She still with that church?’

‘I told you: none of your business.’ William shot him a look of pure hatred and stood up, scraping his chair back. ‘I could do with a goddamn shower, and some aspirin.’

‘The bathroom’s upstairs next to the room you were sleeping in. There’s Advil in the medicine cabinet.’