Jim asks for nothing in the divorce and McCoy gives him everything. He signs the house over, transfers almost every red cent in his bank account and leaves Jim everything except the clothes on his back. He gives and gives until there’s nothing left and this is the way it should be.
“I guess this is it,” Jim says and his arms are full with a sleeping Joanna. “You can see her Friday around noon.”
They’re standing on the steps of the courthouse and the divorce is final now. Signatures have been scribbled on the dotted line, initials printed neatly next to the big red X. There’s nothing left but goodbyes now and this is the hardest part.
McCoy yanks at his tie, the knot choking him, and it’s humid in Atlanta, so goddamn hot for an April morning, and he’s getting a bit lightheaded. “Yeah, I’ll have to borrow my mom’s truck but I’ll be there.”
Jim sighs, pushing a piece of Joanna’s flyaway hair out of his face. His eyes are hollow, the thin skin beneath dark and bruised, and he looks as tired as Len feels. “I didn’t ask for the car, Len.”
“You two need it more than I do.” He shrugs and he can’t keep his eyes off Joanna, the way her chin is tucked against Jim’s shoulder and her too blonde hair hangs against her shoulders. He used to carry her like this, he’s sure of it but right now he can’t remember the last time he held his little girl instead of a bottle of bourbon. “I’ll get by.”
“I’m sure you will.” There’s disgust in Jim’s voice, something that’s been lingering in his tone for months. It’s hard to remember the days before, when they were in love and the world was theirs for the taking, the days when Jim whispered into McCoy’s ear about forever and eternity. They’re so far removed now and Jim’s eyes are so fucking cold, that McCoy has to think it was all lies in the first place.
Running a hand over Joanna’s soft hair, McCoy twirls a strand around his finger, and then steps away. He doesn’t want to wake her, doesn’t want to cry into his daughter’s sleeping shoulder. “Take care,” he tells Jim and then he’s gone, running down the courthouse steps without the familiar weight of a ring on his left hand.
McCoy sees his daughter every Friday afternoon. This is the only day of the week he’s allowed access to her and his visits are always supervised. It’s impersonal, embarrassing and McCoy is an insect under glass, beating his wings and flying nowhere.
His every move is watched, every decision scrutinized and he hates the prying eyes, the whispering lips. He’s treated like some sort of criminal, some idiot who neglects and abuses, but when his hands shake a bit too much or a bead of sweat slides down his jawline, he knows it’s a necessary evil.
He wants to be the fun dad, the one who gives her candy and takes her on pony rides, but there’s too much doctor in him and not enough anything else for it to happen. McCoy’s the strict one, the one who gives her vegetables, triple checks her seatbelt in the car, and he won’t let her anywhere near a horse.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” he tells her when she stamps her little feet and whines about the newest thing he says no to.
“But Daddy lets me do it,” she responds and he hears this time and time again. It tears at him a bit, knowing that he’s not winning her over by saying no over and over again and that Jim is obviously the better parent (the favorite parent).
McCoy gathers her into his arms, and she’s bigger than ever now, taller and broader and the baby fat is beginning to drain from her face. His little girl is growing up and he’s missing everything. “I know, baby. I’m sorry.”
He has nothing else to say but he dries her crocodile tears with his sleeve and tries not to think of how unfair all of this is.
McCoy tries to stay sober on Fridays. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the days apart, to separate a Tuesday from a Sunday, and they tend to pass by in a blur of weeks and months.
His mother visits every Thursday night, to the shitty apartment he’s managed to get with the meager savings he didn’t give away to Jim. He hasn’t had a job in a while, longer than he can even remember, and he isn’t sure how he pays the bills every month. But there’s water when he ducks his head beneath the showerhead, air conditioning in the sticky summer weeks when he melts right into the upholstery of his sofa and cable in the middle of the night when he can’t find peace even in his dreams. He learns not to question it.
He’s sprawled out on the sofa when his mother lets herself in with a key he doesn’t remember giving her. She’s carrying a grocery bag and when she comes into view, she’s sideways and a little blurry. Her hair is neat as ever, pulled back into a tight bun, and there are lines in her face, beneath her green eyes, digging into the corners of her mouth, that he swears weren’t there before.
“It’s Thursday, Len,” she says, just like she does every week. She pries the bottle from his fingers.
It always feels like it’s Thursday but he knows that isn’t right, that it can’t be. He struggles to his feet and wraps his arms around his mom’s smaller frame, engulfing her and pulling her close against his chest. “I hate Thursdays,” he mumbles into her shoulder and he feels younger than ever.
His mother cleans him up, makes him eat a decent meal and runs a comb through his hair. This is the one time a week he looks human, even if he never feels it. He manages to remain sober until Friday night, when his little girl is taken away from him time and time again.
This whole thing is a never ending cycle and McCoy isn’t sure how long it’ll take for him to completely break.
Joanna is five the first time she refuses to see McCoy.
He stands awkwardly in the foyer of Jim’s newest home (a big, beautiful Tudor style house in the suburbs and this is what McCoy’s hard earned money can buy), his hands shoved in the pockets of his faded and worn jeans. He feels out of place here, with the smooth marble flooring beneath his feet and the large vase of real flowers sitting on the entry table. McCoy doesn’t even have a foyer.
Jim comes down the staircase, his fingertips trailing down the railing as he descends. “I’m sorry, Len. She’s being stubborn.” He stops on the bottom step and McCoy tries not to let his eyes linger over the tight lines of Jim’s body, the way his shirt clings to his torso, how his dark denim trousers hug his thighs in all the right places. Jim looks incredible, but then again, he always has.
“Can I just go up and see her? Maybe if I talk to her…”
Jim starts shaking his head before McCoy’s even done with his sentence. His lips are pursed together and he folds his arms over his chest. Maybe he’s standing on that last step as some kind of human barrier, to keep McCoy from charging up to the second floor and demanding to see his offspring. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. She’s already upset.”
“Did I do something?”
“She’s five.” Jim shrugs. “It’s just a tantrum. I’m sure it’ll be fine next Friday.” (It’s not; McCoy doesn’t see his daughter again for a month.)
There are so many things hanging at the end of McCoy’s tongue. Next Friday is seven whole days away; this is the one time a week he gets to see his daughter. Jim has six other fucking days with her. This isn’t goddamn fair, but then again, nothing has been fair for a long time.
He tries not to let the disappointment show on his face, the confusion and the anger. He walls off his emotions to that small, tiny part of his heart where he locks everything away he doesn’t want to deal with. “Just…tell her I love her, okay?”
“Of course.” And Jim finally moves from that bottom step. He escorts McCoy out and doesn’t bother with the pleasantries of goodbye.
McCoy is left standing on the front stoop, the front door firmly shut and locked behind his back, and he’s never felt more alone.
His mother stands over him and he knows somewhere in the back of his mind that it’s fucking Thursday again. He wants to rip Thursdays off the calendar. She towers over him, her face a black and white stripe of sunlight and shadows from the open blinds across the room.
“I lost both of you that day,” she says, running her finger across McCoy’s forehead, sweeping away a piece of neglected and filthy hair that’s in desperate need of cutting and washing. “I can’t keep picking you up.”
McCoy takes her hand and holds it between his damp and sweaty fingers. “I’m sorry,” he tells her, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
“Get cleaned up,” she says, pulling away from him. “It’s Thursday.”
They’re at a park, somewhere down the street from Jim’s place. Joanna is on the swings, her legs kicking out in front of her to go higher and higher, like she’s trying to touch the stars with her toes. McCoy has no doubt that if she tries hard enough, she’ll be standing on Saturn someday.
He stands behind her, pushing her a little harder, a little higher each time she swings within his reach. She’s giggling, a sweet high pitched laugh that tickles McCoy’s eardrums, and this is the one time during his week that he remembers what life used to be like. He doesn’t remember before often enough.
Joanna is soaring, each swing higher than before, and he starts to worry that she’s going to get hurt. He sees the broken limbs, the scraped elbows, the bleeding knees, and she needs to slow down, hop off and do something safer, something that won’t leave her with scars and rotten memories.
“Jo-Jo,” he starts out but his voice peters out, a bead of sweat sliding down from his temple. His hands are shaking again, and this is normal for a Friday, but today the nausea is starting to rip through his stomach and climb up his esophagus. He hasn’t eaten today and the bile burns at the back of his throat, makes him stumble a little, into the chain link fence at his back.
Joanna is swinging, back and forth, back and forth, and he can’t stop her. He clings to the fence and holds a shaking hand to his stomach. He’s going to be sick.
“Len, what’s wrong?” It’s Winona, today’s chaperone whose been lingering around the edges of the playground, and her eye is as keen as ever. “You look terrible.”
He tries to straighten up, because this is just another knock against him, but he can’t quite make his spine rigid enough. He presses his face against the cool metal of the chain link fence and shakes his head. “Something I ate probably,” he manages to mutter but they both know he’s lying. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
“You should sit down, get some water.” McCoy sees Winona out of the corner of his eye and she’s talking to Joanna, telling her to slow down, it’s time to go. He still has an hour left with his girl.
Joanna’s face swims into McCoy’s field of vision, and for a brief second he worries that he’s going to be sick all over his little girl. “What’s wrong, Papa?” She puts her hand on his forehead, a small frown gracing her lips.
He grits his teeth and swallows against the acrid taste in the back of his mouth. “Just a stomachache, baby. I’ll be okay.”
“You should take some Pepto. It’ll make you feel better.” Joanna takes her hand away and nods her head. “I’ll write you a ‘scription.”
McCoy sinks to the ground, the fence scraping against his cheek on the way down. He’s going to have scratch marks, ugly, red lines down his face but he doesn’t care. “You want to be a doctor, Jo?”
Joanna nods again and fists her hands in the bottom of her shirt, suddenly shy for some reason. “Yeah.” It’s maybe the best and worst thing McCoy’s ever heard his daughter say.
He wants to hug Joanna, squeeze her and never let her go, because this is his child and she’s going to make an amazing doctor. He can feel it in his bones.
He doesn’t make it that far though. He reaches a hand out, the tremors in his fingers knocking his aim off course, and he stalls mid-air before letting his arm drop. McCoy throws up everything he didn’t eat.
Winona takes Joanna home and leaves McCoy by the fence, covered in his own vomit.
“We need to talk.”
Jim is in McCoy’s apartment and it’s definitely not a Thursday or a Friday. It’s one of those other days, the ones McCoy spends in a haze, wasting away the hours until his mother comes and forces him into the shell of the human being he used to be.
McCoy is sprawled out on his sofa, wearing nothing more than a pair of boxer shorts. There are bottles lined up on the floor, in neat little OCD rows. Most are empty and some are well on their way to getting there. One of the bottles is full, never touched and maybe never will be. It’s one of the bottles of champagne from their wedding.
Scratching at his bare stomach, McCoy wonders how the hell Jim even got in here. He suspects his mother had something to do with it but he just doesn’t give a shit. He wants Jim out and now. “What are you doing here? Get out.”
Jim weaves his way through the lines of bottles, the tips of his black, shiny dress shoes clinking against the glass with each step. “We need to talk,” he repeats, knocking McCoy’s legs off the sofa and finding a spot to sit.
“Since when do you want to talk to me?” McCoy tries to sit up and ends up leaning awkwardly against the arm of the sofa. The slit in his boxer shorts is gaping but it’s nothing Jim hasn’t seen before and he doesn’t move to cover up. This is his fucking apartment. “I don’t want you here.”
“I don’t give a shit about what you want anymore.” Jim grabs one of the bottles off the floor. It’s the champagne. “We have a daughter, in case you forgot.”
The thin, white scar cutting across McCoy’s lower abdomen is a constant reminder of his daughter. He’ll never forget. “Yeah, it’s not Friday.” He’s pretty goddamn sure it’s not Friday anyway. “I didn’t miss any visitations or anything so fuck off.”
Jim is running his fingers over the label of the bottle, a faraway look settling into his eyes. His voice is softer when he speaks this time and it’s almost like before, when they were first married and Joanna was just a thought niggling at the back of their minds. “My mom told me what happened at the park. Jesus, Len, you can’t keep doing this. It’s not healthy for Joanna.”
“I had the stomach flu. I’m fine now.” He’d be even better if he could get his hands on that bottle of champagne. He remembers how it tasted against his tongue, how it slid down his throat and warmed his belly. It’s a feeling he’d kill to have again, just for a minute. “Joanna is fine.”
“I don’t want her exposed to all this. You need to pull yourself together.” Jim is picking at the label now, his short finger nails tearing at the thin paper. He’s going to destroy the damn thing.
McCoy grabs for the bottle and cradles it in his arms like a newborn. He’s not going to let Jim destroy this, even if it is just a label. “I don’t have to do anything. What I do with my time is my business.”
“Not when it leaches over into the time you spend with her.” Jim sighs and runs his hands over his face, his fingers digging into his eyes. “I hate this. I hate what happened to us.”
Jim hates what happened to McCoy. It’s what he means to say but doesn’t have balls big enough to say it. “Get to the point, Jim.”
“I’m going to petition the court to have your visitation rights taken away. You just…I can’t let Joanna see you like this anymore.”
It’s like a slap to the face, a cold bucket of water being dumped over his head. Jim’s words hang in the air and they churn McCoy’s empty stomach. He loses his grip on the champagne and it falls to the floor and rolls beneath the couch. “You can’t do that.”
“I can and I will. I think you frighten her, Len. She doesn’t want to spend time with you.”
“That’s bullshit. She was fine at the park. She told me she wants to be a doctor.” Len struggles to his feet and he’s knocking over bottles left and right here, the careful lines he’s perfected are fucked now. Jim is lying to him, trying to steal his baby away. This is ridiculous.
A peek of a smile sneaks out of Jim’s lips and then slips away like it was never there. “Yeah, but she’s a child. She doesn’t know how to handle the things she sees.” He stands, his calves pressed against the worn, leather sofa. It was one of the only things McCoy took from his former life.
“You’re lying.” McCoy shakes his head, his hair whipping into his eyes. It stings for a moment but he isn’t sure if it’s from his hair or the tiny hole inside his heart that’s tearing open and leaking all over the place. “Why are you doing this?”
“I’m not doing anything, Len.” Jim reaches out and places a tentative hand on McCoy’s shoulder.
His touch is hot, like he’s had his fingers in the oven for a good part of the day. It burns through his skin, straight to his bone and he’ll be feeling the sear for days. “You’ve done this to yourself.”
McCoy lifts his hand and presses it against Jim’s. He wants to push the hand off, get this burning heat off his flesh, but his palm lingers over skin he hasn’t touched in years. It still feels the same, silky and smooth, and he can’t help but want more. “I still love you,” McCoy says, word vomit spilling from his throat before he can stop it.
“I know,” Jim responds, leaning in and kissing McCoy’s cheek. He leaves then but the warmth on McCoy’s shoulder, the soft press of lips against his flesh, lingers all night long.
McCoy is served with papers two weeks later (or what he thinks is two weeks anyway). He doesn’t bother to read them, just sets the envelope down on the coffee table and lies on his sofa. He doesn’t move for a long time.
This is how his mother finds him on what must be a Thursday. He’s sprawled out, one leg hanging off the couch, his head wedged uncomfortably between the seat cushion and the arm, and his mother is upside down, just like she is every time he sees her. She’s wearing a skirt today, something pretty, bright and floral and this is the first time he’s seen her in anything besides plain black in years.
“What’s wrong,” she asks and it’s ridiculous. McCoy’s whole life has been wrong for years now and this is the first time his mother seems out of sorts about it, there’s finally something she doesn’t know about, doesn’t feel and mourn right along with him. “Did something happen?”
McCoy pushes the envelope across the coffee table toward her, navigating around a pile of dirty dishes and empty bottles. He pulls his hand away and notices that there’s blood on his thumb, a small paper cut, and it’s beading, healing right before his eyes. He doesn’t feel any pain but sticks his thumb into his mouth anyway.
His mother rips the envelope open and reads over the paper, looks at her son and then reads the papers again. “Len,” she says, her mouth turned down that same way it did a few years ago, when she was trying to figure out how to forgive him for the unforgiveable. Her eyes, seemingly permanently red-rimmed (and it must be the family relation because McCoy’s are the same way), widen just a little, and she finds a spot amongst the mess to sit down on the table.
“I think it’s over, Mama,” he tells her around his thumb, looking away from her, at anything else. The ceiling fan above his head catches his attention and it hasn’t been cleaned in forever. The thick dust on the blades dangles above McCoy’s head and he thinks dead skin cells, hair, dirt.
She grabs his chin and forces his head down, to look in her eyes and his thumb falls from his mouth. “You’re giving up then? Just like that?” This is the ghost of the woman McCoy remembers, the one who taught him how to throw a curveball, how to ride his bike and tie his shoelaces. She shines brightly for a moment and it’s easy to pretend that this is so many years ago, that this is before.
“He’s right. Look at me, I’m not a good influence. Jo deserves better and Jim can provide that.” McCoy tries to tug his chin out of her grip but her fingers dig into his flesh, like she’s nailed into his mandible and they’re one and the same right now. “Probably for the best.”
“Fight for her. There’s still time to fix this. You lost your daddy, you lost your husband. Don’t lose your daughter too, baby boy.” She lets go of his chin and her hands fall into her lap, covering the small flowers of her skirt. Whatever fire that had sparked up in her seems to die down. “Get cleaned up,” she says, getting to her feet. “It’s Thursday.”
There is nowhere to go tomorrow, not with a court summons in his hands, but McCoy does it anyway just to see his mother smile.
It takes McCoy an hour to clear the bottles from his home. Most of them are empty and he throws them into a bag to recycle later on. The ones that have liquor in them, sloshing around the gloss and tempting him like a red devil on his shoulder, those he empties down the sink before he loses his nerve and drains them into his stomach.
He throws out every single bottle that paved the pathways of his apartment. All except for one – the bottle of champagne (the bottle he’ll never touch anyway). McCoy never claimed to be immune to nostalgia.
The tremors in McCoy’s hands appear within just a few hours of his last drink. He’s used to these, used to spilling glasses of water all over his kitchen floor and missing his mouth when he brushes his teeth. This is nothing new but annoying each and every time it happens.
His head begins to pound just after the tremors start to wrack his nervous system. He knows how this goes, he’s read the books, seen this happen first hand to patients. Knowing is maybe the hardest part and it causes his stomach to clench and churn, the nausea to build just that much faster in his esophagus.
He crawls into his bed (and it took him the longest time to even remember he has a bed and not just a sofa), and pulls the covers over his head. Sleep does not come easy, as his body shakes and burns, the alcohol running through him, taunting him to take just another sip to ease his pain. He wants to do it, with every fiber of his being, but he shoves his head under a pillow and screams and screams until the thoughts die away.
When he does manage to sleep, he dreams. He dreams of terrible things, of Jim and before, of his father strong and healthy, a young, respected doctor and McCoy was nothing but a son with pride in his eyes. He dreams of twisted IV lines, damp, sweat soaked foreheads, millions of lips moving in time together, begging and pleading to end it all.
He dreams of pulling the plug, over and over and over again.
McCoy wakes, soaked in a pool of sweat, and this is the reason he began to drink in the first place. But his demons are his past, a hurdle to jump over, and Joanna is his future. He changes his clothes and waits for this agony to end.
He’s been sitting at the back of this room for an hour now, listening, anticipating. His hands are damp and he keeps rubbing his palms against his thighs, leaving interweaving streaks of darker denim behind. This isn’t anything to be nervous about but his heart thumps like a wet jackhammer against his ribcage anyway.
Or maybe it isn’t nerves at all but embarrassment. McCoy never expected his life to lead him to this point but here he sits, his jeans sticking uncomfortably to his legs, a small bead of sweat running down the back of his neck. No, he never thought he’d let himself fall this far down the rabbit hole and now he needs help to climb back up.
The woman leading this group eventually spots him, even though he’s slouched down in his chair, a baseball cap pulled low over his brow. It’s his turn now and all eyes are on him.
McCoy stands, shoves his damp hands into his pockets and clears his throat. In a shaky voice he says, “Hello, my name is Len and I’m an alcoholic.”
Today is Friday but McCoy has nowhere to go. He sits around his apartment for a good portion of the day, his hands tucked between his thighs, his eyes boring a hole into the television set.
Time ticks by and every second seems like a minute and every minute feels like an eternity.
He wants a drink, needs one so badly he can feel it beneath his fingernails, digging deep into his veins, his nerves. His mouth waters just thinking about it and there’s nothing but beer commercial after beer commercial playing on a constant loop in front of him.
It’s dusk when he decides he can’t take it anymore. He leaves his mother’s leftovers sitting untouched on the coffee table, the television blaring at an indecent decibel, and grabs his keys and storms out of his apartment like a man on fire. He’s thirsty, so goddamn thirsty, and there isn’t enough water in the world to quench this.
There’s a liquor store two blocks from his complex and McCoy runs all the way there, a flat out sprint, and he nearly blindsides an old woman and two children in his rush. He skids to a halt outside of the door, the sun setting at his back, the bright neon open side illuminating his front and there’s orange everywhere he looks. It blinds him, glues his feet to the sidewalk and he can’t move.
The door opens, jingles a welcome, as people come and go, bottles in brown paper sacks crinkling past him with each chime. It’s so easy, just walk a step forward, open the door. It’s what he wants, what he craves, but he can’t quite get there.
There’s that fucking niggling at the back of his mind, reminding him of his meetings, of the reason he gave all this up in the first place. There’s that empty spot on his left ring finger and he rubs at it absently, and if he’s honest he can’t really recall the weight of the ring anymore. It’s been too long.
Everything has been too long – wallowing in self-pity, grieving, mourning, destroying himself and those around him. He needs something now, to occupy his mind, to keep him in line, to help him remember. He tries to think of what he did with his time before.
So McCoy decides to go get a goddamn job.
There’s a small clinic at the edge of town, desperate for help and willing to overlook any gaps in McCoy’s employment history. It’s not a bustling ER but it’s a paycheck, something for McCoy to occupy his time with.
He spends most of his time fixing scrapes and handing out lollipops. He writes prescriptions for the flu, recommends specialists in the city and this isn’t the reason he became a doctor all those years ago but it’ll do.
McCoy has an office, small and tucked away at the back of the clinic, but he has his own desk and a door he can shut when he needs to a minute to himself, to breathe and collect himself. The desk is mahogany, a little off center and there’s a dictionary propping up one of the legs. It’s not much to look at, but it’s his.
The office is plain, a small coffin of dingy white walls and a chair that’s seen better days. There are no diplomas hanging up, no knickknacks, no medical books stacked in piles for reference. There are no signs of life here.
There is, however, a small framed photo on the corner of McCoy’s desk. It’s a photo of happier days, of Jim holding a small bundle, a grin a mile wide on his face, of McCoy in a hospital gown, his hair damp and plastered to his forehead.
It’s a photo of before and what McCoy is determined to make it a photo of after as well.
McCoy sends Jim a text message on a Tuesday morning. He knows it’s Tuesday for a fact and doesn’t have to guess or gauge it from someone’s presence in his life. This is what he thinks growth is.
The message is simple: can we talk?
He waits all day for a response, keeps his cell phone in the pocket of his trousers just so he won’t miss it. He diagnoses two cases of strep throat, refers a woman to a gynecologist and puts four staples in the back of a head. This is a busy day.
McCoy is just finishing up after his last patient, filling out some paperwork that nobody is ever going to read, when his pocket finally buzzes. This message is simple too. It’s a time and a date and a place. And that’s it.
It’s enough though. It’s a start.
They meet at a café downtown, some place neither of them has been before and it’s a neutral ground. There are no memories here, no associations. It’s a clean slate.
Jim is as gorgeous as ever, in a form fitting gray t-shirt, faded ass hugging jeans and a pair of sunglasses sitting on top of his head. He looks amazing even when he’s not trying, when he’s lounging around in his sweat pants, when he’s waking up in the morning and scratching his belly and grumbling about coffee, his hair sticking up every which way. How McCoy ever got lucky enough to win this guy’s heart, he’ll never know.
McCoy doesn’t look nearly as good, he never does, but he at least made an attempt. He’s wearing a clean, white, button down shirt, black trousers and shiny dress shoes. Maybe he’s a bit overdressed for the occasion and maybe he’s dressed like their waiter, but he swears it’s the thought that matters.
“You look good,” Jim murmurs when he sits down and it’s hard to miss the sweep of his eyes across McCoy’s body. “Healthy.”
“Yeah, I’ve been working on myself.” McCoy shifts a little in his seat. It’s one thing to make the changes, throw away the bottles and go to the meetings. It’s another to open up, to let someone rip his chest open and share in the demons that lie in wake. “You look…you look like you.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Jim pulls the sunglasses off of his head and lays them next to his empty bread plate. His eyes, still as ridiculous and blue as ever, are narrowed and his lips are pressed in a thin line. He looks tired. “You wanted to talk?”
The waiter comes over but McCoy waves him away. He has a feeling this meeting isn’t going to last long enough to a meal to be consumed. “Yeah, yeah. I want to see Joanna again. I know the court date is coming up but I’ve been working on things, Jim.”
Jim rubs at his forehead with his thumb, right across the creases in his brow. He doesn’t say anything for a long minute and when he does, his hand drops to the table and his watch clatters against the wood finish. “I don’t know. What if something happens?”
“Then you take me to court. The date is already set and everything.” McCoy reaches across the table, his fingertips barely brushing against Jim’s forearm. The touch is brief but it’s electric and McCoy can’t help but to want more. He lets his fingers linger, sweeping softly against the tiny hairs on Jim’s arm. “I’m trying, Jim. I just want to see my girl.”
Jim doesn’t move his arm, not even an inch. He nods sharply and picks up a menu, the bright plastic shining in the dim lighting and it’s almost blinding. “You can see her Friday.”
McCoy grins and he spends the rest of the lunch with his hand across the table.
Friday turns into any day which turns into every day.
McCoy takes his daughter to an amusement park when she turns seven. The park is full of danger and disease; it’s there, lurking around the corners, hidden in faulty ride equipment and bacteria laced junk food.
He wanted to say no when she asked, just like he always does, but she stuck out her bottom lip, shed a few crocodile tears and McCoy couldn’t force the word out of his mouth. He gave in, caved like the ceiling of an old condemned building, and maybe for once it wouldn’t kill him to be the fun dad.
They ride the carrousel together, the safest and slowest ride of them all, and they’re unsupervised today. There are no prying eyes, no cold and callous comments about anything. It’s just McCoy and his daughter for the first time in years.
McCoy holds Joanna’s hand tightly as she sits atop a pink and gold porcelain horse. She’s giggling, kicking her legs softly against the horse’s back end, and this is what McCoy has been missing for years now. “Are you happy, baby girl?” It’s a question that’s been sitting at the tip of his tongue all day.
Joanna nods, launching herself into McCoy’s side, throwing her small arms around his waist. She’s sliding off the horse, skewed sideways on the saddle, and McCoy holds onto her for dear life, his hands finding her hair and wrapping a finger around a strand that’s fallen loose from her ponytail. “Me too,” he says and kisses the top of her head.
Joanna is in the living room, sprawled on out on the floor on her stomach, her feet swaying in the air behind her head, her chin pillowed in her palms. She’s watching that sponge who lives in the ocean and working on a homework assignment she has due in the morning. She’s quiet and happy and that’s all McCoy can ever ask for.
He sits at the dining room table, his stomach full and his plate scraped empty and all that’s left is colorful smudges where his food used to sit. Jim sticks his head out from the kitchen, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a dishtowel draped over his shoulder.
“Do you want a glass of…” Jim trails off there, his eyes widening as he makes this pinched sort of face. He’s stuck his foot in his mouth, like he’s forgotten years of their lives and this is before, but he quickly recovers and plasters a smile on his face. “Water? Glass of water?”
There’s a full glass of water sitting in front of McCoy so he just shakes his head and gathers his plate, getting to his feet. “No, thanks.” He tries to brush past Jim, to bring his plate to the kitchen because he’s the guest here and he should play the part, lift a helping hand.
Jim grabs the plate and plants his free hand on McCoy’s chest. “Relax, Len. I’ve got it.”
The hand is warm, damp and leaves a perfect imprint in McCoy’s blue button down shirt, right over his heart. He looks down and he can’t help but be drawn to Jim’s ring finger, the finger where a platinum band used to live, hiding a hideous tan line underneath. There’s no tan line anymore, no ring, and McCoy can’t stop himself from reaching out for the hand and holding it between his own.
“Why haven’t you remarried?” It slips out of his mouth before he can stop himself but he’s been wondering this for the longest time. They’ve been divorced now for years, since Joanna was toddling around on unsteady, chunky legs and Jim doesn’t deserve to be alone. He’s too gorgeous, too sociable, and too perfect to waste away without a partner.
McCoy expects Jim to pull away, to deflect the question and return to the sink full of dishes but he doesn’t. He stands there, his palm hot between McCoy’s fingers, his eyes soft and shining brightly beneath florescent bulbs. He’s staring at McCoy’s lips, no mistake about it.
“I don’t know, Len.” Jim shifts from one foot to the other and then leans in, their hands and the plate trapped awkwardly between them. He’s so close and he smells like fresh laundry, soap, and some sort of earthy mixture that McCoy knows is designer brand cologne. “I think I was waiting for you to come home.”
The plate clatters to the floor between them. “I’m here now,” McCoy replies, closing the distance between them, and finally, after all these goddamn years, he’s kissing his husband again. And this is the last piece to the puzzle, the only thing that’s been missing from McCoy’s new life.
This is the beginning of after and fuck, it’s going to be better than before ever was.
Joanna is twenty-two and she refuses to see McCoy.
He’s standing at the bottom of the staircase, crammed into a suit that pinches at his neck and a pair of shiny, leather shoes that squeak with every step he takes. He looks stupid, feels ridiculous, and now his daughter is refusing to see him. Today is going well.
Jim is perched on the bottom step, his hand wrapped tightly around the banister. “She says she doesn’t want to see you.”
McCoy rolls his eyes and looks up at Jim. It’s too early in the morning for this. He’s been up since the crack of dawn, pacing from one side of the room to the other. His nerves are getting to him, crawling under his skin and he has a deep itch that he just can’t reach. And he’s not even doing much today. “I’ll go talk to her.”
“She was pretty adamant.” Jim is striking today, looking perfectly comfortable in his three piece suit and it fits him like a second skin. He’s wearing black pinstripes with a crisp purple shirt and there is no comparison here. Jim shines in his formal wear and McCoy is the ugly piece of coal at his side pretending to be a diamond.
“She’ll get over it. Besides, I need to give her this gift.” McCoy’s been holding onto this for years now and this is the perfect occasion to give it away, or he hopes so anyway.
“If you say so.” There’s a small, blonde head poking out from behind Jim’s legs and two hands are clamped around his shin. David, all of two years old now, has been clinging to Jim nonstop for days, like he’s a second shadow and McCoy is certain this is some kind of jealousy issue, a lack of attention.
Jim reaches down and picks up the boy, who is all blonde hair and blue eyes like his father, and hugs him close to his chest. “We are going to find George and clean him up. I’m sure he’s found something to roll around in by now and I bet his new suit is ruined.”
“My mom is watching him so I’m sure he’s fine.” McCoy chuckles and presses a kiss to David’s head as he passes by. “But just remember that you love your children, dirty faces and all.”
“It’s gets harder and harder to remember that every day.” Jim laughs and tangles his fingers with McCoy’s for just a moment before walking away, his chin pressed against the top of David’s head, his hands cradling the child’s back.
McCoy finds Joanna in her room, the first door at the top of the stairs. She’s standing in front of a mirror, her back to the door, but her eyes meet his as soon as he pokes his head in. “Damn it!” She turns around, her dress swaying with her. “I told Dad not to let you up here!”
“Sometimes you can’t always get what you want.”
McCoy takes a second to look at his girl, his not-so-little girl and she’s stunning. Her eggshell white dress is something called a strapless fit and flare (which means next to nothing to him) and there are ruffles running down the skirt and careful beading trailing up the bodice. She looks nothing like the child he pushed on the swing set and every bit like a sophisticated, stable woman who is well on her way to a medical degree. His daughter has grown up to be beautiful, independent, and he hopes he had something to do with that.
“You look amazing,” he says softly, his jaw hanging a bit open and his vision is beginning to smudge. Joanna is starting to run together, her carefully coiffed hair bleeding down into her pale, painted on face. He sniffs and wipes at his eyes with his sleeve. “I’m proud of you.”
“Oh, Pop.” Joanna pulls a tissue out from somewhere inside her bodice. She doesn’t give it to him but keeps it and dabs at her eyes. “This is why I didn’t want you coming up here. All this crying is going to ruin my makeup.” She sniffs and then huffs a little, shaking her head like she can shake the emotion right out of her body.
“Sorry.” McCoy laughs and holds out his gift to her. They could use a little distraction. “Here, this is for you.”
Joanna snatches the bottle from his hands and stares at it. “What are you doing with this? You didn’t drink any, did you?” She checks the seal and then glares a little at him and he knows she gets that straight from his gene pool.
“No. I’m not going to throw away seventeen years of sobriety even if it is your wedding day.” McCoy shoves his hands into his pockets and leans back against the closed door. “I figured someone should drink this damn thing. I’ve had it for years.”
Running her fingers over the label, Joanna looks up and smiles. “This is from your wedding.”
McCoy laughs. “The first one anyway.”
His second wedding to Jim had been a small and definitely dry affair. They toasted with sparkling apple cider and stuffed themselves with three different kinds of cake. It was a celebration, a reuniting of souls, and the piece of paper they signed was just a formality standing between them and the rest of their lives.
“Thank you,” Joanna whispers and then she throws her arms around him, settling her chin into the crook of McCoy’s neck. She fits there perfectly, not quite the way she used to when she was small enough to hold in his arms, but pretty damn close. “I’m glad you two found each other again.”
“Me too.” McCoy pulls away and brushes away a stray teardrop on Joanna’s cheek with his thumb. “Now, come on. No more tears. You have an aisle to walk down.”
Joanna brushes her hands down her dress and then straightens up, shaking her shoulders a bit. “I’m ready.” And she looks ready, like she’s going to walk down that aisle and see her destiny standing at the other end and there’s no fear in her eyes, no hesitation. She’s going to so happy.
McCoy tucks Joanna’s hand under his elbow and walks her out of the room. He’s ready to let his little girl go and he knows that no matter what her future holds, she’s going to have a fantastic before, after and in-between.