Henry Spencer knows that he’s not father of the year material, hell, he never meant to be. But he knows when the boys are fighting there’s only one thing that’ll break Shawn out of his pouting routine.
When Shawn slams the screen door, dumps his helmet onto the couch and sits down at the table furtively chewing his thumbnail with a look that says he has something he wants to talk about but isn’t there to talk about it, Henry folds his paper and then his reading glasses and gives him a long look. “Gus?” he asks quietly.
Shawn nods, but doesn’t look at him, only shrugs and sinks a little closer to the table. For all it’s worth, he could be ten years old again in his t-shirt and cutoff shorts fighting back tears after they got into a fight about whether Curt Smith or Michael Jackson was the more influential pop star and not the thirty year old in a button down he couldn’t have bought for himself and khakis that are a size too big, wearing a leather jacket like a shield.
Without another word, he heads to the kitchen and sets a saucepan of water on to boil before fetching the familiar blue box he kept in the cabinet for just this sort of occasion. He lets Shawn stew, watches him fidget and play with his phone and look anywhere but at his father.
Once the whoosh of the noodles sliding out of the box signals the eight minute countdown, Henry asks; “What’s going on, Shawn?”
Just like every time he sat at the table while his father prepared macaroni and cheese in the last twenty-five years, Shawn pushes up from the table and then forces himself to sit back down before quietly answering; “Nothing.”
Henry only nods and stirs the noodles, and then takes down a small mixing bowl. “Hot dogs?”
It hasn’t changed since he was ten, Henry takes a pair of cheap hot dogs out of the fridge and slices them – always rounds, never diced or chunked – and tosses them in for the last two minutes.
“You guys’ll work it out, you always do.”
“He was married! And he never told me!” Shawn’s voice cracks and he drums his fingers on the table, looking side to side before glancing up at Henry only a moment. “His best man was a goat.”
“Yeah, Shawn… well… people do stupid things when they’re drinking.”
“Did he tell you about her?”
Henry laughs under his breath, giving it one last stir before taking the saucepan off the burner and draining it with the lid – depositing the noodles and hot dogs straight into the bowl followed by a puff of powdered cheese and extra butter with a good sized splash of milk. “It’s Gus, Shawn. We both know if he had a secret girlfriend that he didn’t tell the whole damn world about; it was for a pretty good reason.”
Shawn looks back down at his hands as he listens to the steady scrape of the wooden spoon against the glass bowl, considering the logic. Damn dirty logic.
“So, that tells me he was either very drunk or she’s a total psycho.”
“Both, actually… kind of. More clinically insane, I think. There was Goldschlager involved in presumably large quantities.”
Henry nods and sets the bowl down in front of him, complete with wooden spoon – just like he always has. “Well there you go. Get over it, Shawn. He does have a life without you.”
Shawn’s lips twist into a pout around the large spoon as he takes several large bites. They both know him well enough to hear the unspoken ‘He’s not allowed’ when he says; “Yeah.”
By the time the wooden spoon scrapes the bottom of the bowl and Shawn looks like he’s about to be sick, Henry’s finished the paper and moved on to Sportsman’s Guide catalog. He doesn’t bother looking up to ask; “Feel better?”
“This changes nothing, Dad… you think you can ply me with conversation and macaroni and cheese… with the cut up hot dogs… and that lemonade you somehow make taste not like stomach acid…”
“You’re welcome, Shawn.”