"Oh, thank God you're here!"
Henry stays silent, staring through the glass that separates him from Sal.
"They said I only get one phone call; I didn't know who else to talk to."
This isn't real. None of this feels real. This is like the time Henry found his son laying on the ground, holding his bleeding face in his hands while a large dog tore into his wife's throat. This is like the time he saw his son standing there, silently staring at Diane's pale corpse.
Henry hates that he's getting used to this feeling.
"Please, Dad...I need your help. I need you to go back to Addison Apartments and--"
"It's been blocked off. Thought you would have realized that."
Sal's eyes widen beneath the holes in his prosthetic. "Yeah, but...I--"
"It's blocked off because of you. Because you turned that place into a crime scene."
Henry tries to ignore the sharp pang in his heart. Sal looks like he's just been slapped. Maybe it would be kinder if Henry had ever actually done that.
"Dad..." Henry closes his eyes. Sal's voice has started quivering. He becomes far less sure that this was ever a good idea.
Why hadn't he just stayed home? Why had he picked up the phone in the first place?
"Dad, I'm innocent. I swear, I didn't do it!"
"Their blood was on your hands." Henry isn't speaking metaphorically; a picture is worth a thousand words, after all, and there are pictures of Sal being dragged away in bloodied handcuffs all over the news.
"Don't." Henry takes a deep breath. It almost doesn't feel like it's him speaking when he finally says "You are not my son. My son is not a murderer."
He doesn't even look at him as he gets up and leaves. He can only barely hear Sal's muffled cries behind his prosthetic and the glass.
The numbness he feels as he goes through the ordeal of exiting prison and starts driving away is all too familiar. He drives on autopilot; moves his car strictly by reflex.
For the first time in years, he finds himself pulling into the parking lot of a liquor store. Grabs the biggest but cheapest bottle of whiskey that he can find, pays for it, and drives home.
He's three shots in before he lets his head fall into his hands. Before he starts to silently weep.
Henry knows he hasn't been perfect. He knows he's screwed up so many things, for himself and for Sal.
But just days ago, he'd been so sure that he'd mostly done right by him.
The bottle holds no answers for him.
Some time before Sal's thirteenth birthday, he and Henry have a late night talk without saying many words.
This takes place a few years before they move into Addison Apartments.
Henry still sees her face when he closes his eyes.
Turns to the side; that part of the pillow is cooler. It feels nice around his head.
Diane had always been pale; pale skin, pale hair, pale eyes. A rather startling pale grey, even more striking than his own blue eyes. Pretty; not in a supermodel beautiful way, but in a down-to-earth, girl-next-door sort of way.
He'd always wondered why she'd settled down with an average Joe like him. It's not just that she was better-looking than him; that's not really much of a feat, he's always thought. But she could light up a room everywhere she went; she'd been the vivacious sort of woman who'd always had a song in her heart, who always saw the best of everything and everyone. Light and life shone around her, even when she wasn't doing or saying anything of note.
He thinks there's probably still a part of him that's in denial. Thinks that the blood-drained body with the grey face and limp hair wasn't really her, at all.
It wasn't Diane.
He opens his eyes. They've adjusted to the darkness; in the shadows, the white wall of his bedroom looks even grayer than she had when he'd finally stumbled across her. Or rather, what was left of her.
He sighs and gets up. For a late night snack, he tells himself, not for a night cap, however badly he wants one; after a time in the hospital months ago, he's decided to stop keeping alcohol in the house. At least for a while.
It had been a wake-up call. Not for him; he didn't care about his health. He didn't give a shit what happened to him. Honestly, Henry still doesn’t.
No. It was because Sal, curled up and asleep, head buried in his knees and arms in the uncomfortable hospital chair, had been the first thing Henry had seen when he'd come to.
The guilt had been indescribable. Evidently it hadn't been bad enough that his son had spent more time in hospitals than many adults; it hadn't been bad enough that he'd gone into shock by walking in on his mother's remains moments before Henry had realized that something was wrong.
Now he'd almost witnessed his father die, all because of one piss-poor coping mechanism he'd picked up in recent years.
Sal's been through enough; Henry knows that painfully well. He doesn't need to be an orphan, on top of everything else.
The light is already on in the kitchen. Henry frowns, already knowing what the cause is.
There's Sal, sitting at the kitchen table. A book is open in front of him, and a steaming mug is next to him. Tea or cocoa, Henry thinks; his son has taken a liking to black coffee—he takes after Henry in one more way, that way--but he wouldn’t drink that at this time of night. His hair is down, for once; some time after The Incident--well, The First Incident, Henry supposes he should call it now--Diane had put his short hair up in pigtails as a joke, trying to cheer him up. He'd seemed to love them; he's kept them ever since.
Henry hadn't understood then, and still sort of doesn't. He doesn’t fully understand why Sal likes to paint his nails or put on skirts and dresses or wear earrings, either. It's all harmless, though, and really; whatever joy his son can still get out of this life, Henry will support.
"Sal?" he asks.
"Hey, Dad." The boy looks up at him. He isn't wearing either of his prosthetics; a large, soft pink eyepatch covers his right eye socket and a surgical mask covers the lower half of his face. They're still not enough to hide the damage that that damned dog did so long ago; Henry can see where the untouched skin around Sal's left eye gives way to skin grafts that don't quite match the rest of his face, the sunken-in part of the bridge of his nose, and angry red scar tissue.
But it helps. Henry knows it helps; it makes his son feel better.
"What're you doing up, Bud?" He asks the question less because he doesn't know the answer, and more out of concern. "Tomorrow's a school day."
"I know. I'll go back to sleep in a minute. Just..." Henry sees Sal's grip on the mug's handle tighten.
"Another nightmare?" he asks.
The boy nods. His bangs bob up and down as he does.
The right thing to do would be to ask "Do you want to talk about it?" Henry knows it, and he knows Sal does, too; Sal has always been a smart one. Diane had always said that he got that from him. Henry’s never really been sure of that, though; neither his son nor his wife had any particular interest in computers, but they'd both been intuitive when it came to other people. Both of them were social butterflies; Sal still seemed determined to find the best in everyone, no matter how they looked at him.
The bullying had gotten worse, these last few years. Children could be cruel, but as far as Henry sees, it's teenagers that are the worst. Young ones, specifically.
Henry needs to talk to Sal about that, too. Really, there's so much they need to talk about.
At that particular moment, though, Gizmo jumps up on the kitchen table, effectively breaking Henry from his train of thought and making Sal jump a bit. The large, fluffy cat rubs against Sal's face; Henry can hear him purring from far away.
"Hey, Gizmo," he hears Sal murmur. His mouth is covered, but Henry knows he's smiling.
Henry's mind drifts as he heats up some canned soup, the brand that's far too salty to really be enjoyable and too watery to really have any nutritional value but is easy to make in a pinch.
Gizmo's been a part of their family for years. Sometime after Sal had been attacked by that dog, Diane had suggested that they get him a pet to cheer him up.
Henry still feels like an asshole; he'd been so adamant against the idea. A good chunk of it had been the financial troubles that Sal's various surgeries and prosthetics had cost them; he hadn't thought they'd be able to afford another body to feed, at that time.
It was more than that, though. He'd struggled with his own emotions, struggled with sorting out what he felt and when he should be allowed to focus on it. Simply, it had boiled down to him not wanting to get attached to another living being.
He'd come so close to losing everything, that horrible afternoon. Henry had only been gone for a few minutes, and when he'd come back, his tiny son had been screaming as he held his bloody face, and Diane had been struggling to get a large, dark-furred dog off her.
He doesn't even remember where he'd been or what he'd been doing. All he knows is that it couldn't possibly have been important enough to miss that.
The microwave dings. The soup is warm, rather than hot, but the broth is savory. It helps soothe him as it goes down his throat.
He continues to think, as he lets his gaze settle on his son. He's turning thirteen this year; officially becoming a teenager, taking that first big step towards adulthood.
There'd been a brief but intense window of Henry's life when he'd thought Sal wouldn't make it this far.
He'd detached; thrown himself into work and chores around the house, all while Diane--still recovering from her own injuries--dealt with the more important things in their lives. Diane had been the one to welcome Gizmo into their home; the cat had latched onto Sal almost immediately. Diane had been the one who'd helped guide Sal through putting in his glass eyeball and working the latches of his prosthetic. Diane had been the one who comforted him through his nightmares and through the cruelty he now faced in his day-to-day life.
Henry is ashamed of it now. He'd been ashamed of it then, too. But seeing that tiny body bundled up in that hospital bed, head completely wrapped in bandages, had hammered in just how easily this bright young light could be snuffed out.
He hadn't wanted it to hurt, in case...something did happen, and Sal really was taken from him. So he'd pulled away.
Henry knows that that was unfair. Mostly to Sal, but also to him; what kind of father doesn't take every opportunity that he can to appreciate his children? Besides, it doesn't make much sense, now that his son is alive before him. Physically disabled, mentally ill, and still grieving, but alive.
Henry would be lying if he said he wasn't proud of his son. He remembers Diane holding him as a baby, delighted as the dark blue of his eyes gave way to a paler shade closer to Henry's, delighted as hair the same shade became fuzz around his scalp. Delighted that he seemed to be taking so much after his father.
But really...everything important that Sal is--strong, determined, friendly, kind--he'd gotten from her.
Henry likes to think that, if she were still here, Diane would be proud of him, too.
Gizmo is walking on top of the pages of Sal's book. Sal doesn't seem to mind; he scratches the cat down the length of his spine until he reaches the base of his tail. Henry had grown up with dogs, so getting used to Gizmo--named by Sal, after the character from his favorite movie at the time--had been quite an experience. Diane had told him that Sal wanted him because of how talkative he was; the way Diane put it, he'd yelled at them at the animal shelter until they decided to bring him home.
Henry doesn't have the heart to remind Sal that Gizmo isn't allowed up on the dining room table or the kitchen counters.
"What're you reading?" he asks. It isn't 'What was your nightmare about?' or 'How are things at school?' or ‘Are you doing all right?’ but the way he sees it, Sal will come to him if he ever wants to talk about something that important.
At least, that's what he hopes.
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Sal says.
Henry blinks. The answer surprises him a little; that doesn’t sound like a book a twelve-year-old would be interested in. "Oh?" he asks. "You enjoying it so far?"
"Mm-hmm." Gizmo finally jumps down from the table. Henry absently reaches down with one hand; Gizmo takes the invitation and rubs against it.
It's only the three of them, in this large house. It all feels so much colder and emptier, since Diane's murder.
They're still worth it, though. It's all worth hanging onto; it's worth it, trying to make it work.
It's really all that Henry can do.