Long Lost Page 4

Ali’s daughter, Erin, was matriculating at Arizona State. Ali, Erin, and Jack were flying out for the week to get the freshman settled.

“That’s okay. I already hired a car.”

“I’d be happy to drive.”

“It’ll be fine.”

Her voice cut off any further discussions on that issue. I tried to settle back and watch the game. My pulse still raced. A few minutes later, Ali asked, “Why do you keep staring at the other coach?”

“Which coach?”

“The one with the bad cable-show dye job and Robin Hood facial hair.”

“Looking for grooming tips,” I said.

She almost smiled.

“Did Jack play a lot in the first half?”

“Usual amount,” I said.

The game ended, Kasselton winning by three. The crowd erupted. Jack’s coach, a good guy by all counts, had chosen not to play him at all in the second half. Ali was a tad perturbed by this—the coach was usually good about giving kids equal time—but she decided to let it go.

The teams disappeared into corners for the postgame spiel. Ali and I waited outside the gym door, in the school corridor. It didn’t take long. Coach Bobby started toward me, the same swagger, though now his hands had tightened into fists. He had three other guys with him, including Assistant Coach Pat, all big and overweight and not nearly as tough as they thought they were. Coach Bobby stopped about a yard short of yours truly. His three compadres spread out and folded their arms and stared at me.

For a moment no one spoke. They just gave me the hard eyes.

“Is this the part where I pee in my pants?” I asked.

Coach Bobby started with the finger again. “Do you know the Landmark Bar in Livingston?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Tonight at ten. Back parking lot.”

“That’s past my curfew,” I said. “And I’m not that kind of date. Dinner first. Maybe bring flowers.”

“If you don’t show”—he moved in closer with the finger—“I will find some other way to get satisfaction. You get me?”

I didn’t but before I could ask for clarification he stomped off. His buddies followed suit. They looked back at me. I gave them all a five-finger toodle-loo wave. When one of them let his stare linger past the comfort zone, I blew him a kiss. He turned away as if he’d been slapped.

Blowing a kiss—my favorite rile-up-the-homophobe move.

I turned to Ali, saw her face, thought Uh-oh . . .

“What the hell was that?”

“Something happened during the game before you got here,” I said.


I told her.

“So you confronted the coach?”


“Why?” she asked.

“What do you mean, why?”

“You made it worse. He’s a blowhard. The kids get that.”

“Jack was practically in tears.”

“Then I’ll handle it. I don’t need your macho posturing.”

“It wasn’t macho posturing. I wanted him to stop picking on Jack.”

“No wonder Jack didn’t get to play in the second half. His coach probably saw your idiotic display and was smart enough not to fan the flames. Do you feel better now?”

“Not yet, no,” I said, “but after I smash his face in at the Landmark, yeah, I think I will.”

“Don’t even think about it.”

“You heard what he said.”

Ali shook her head. “I can’t believe this. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I was sticking up for Jack.”

“That’s not your place. You have no right here. You’re . . .”

She stopped.

“Say it, Ali.”

She closed her eyes.

“You’re right. I’m not his father.”

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

It was, but I let it go. “Maybe it’s not my place, if it was about that—except that wasn’t it. I would have gone after that guy even if he said it about another kid.”


“Because it’s wrong.”

“And who are you to make that call?”

“What call? There’s wrong. There’s right. He was wrong.”

“He’s an arrogant ass. Some people are. That’s life. Jack understands that, or he will with experience. That’s part of growing up—dealing with asses. Don’t you see that?”

I said nothing.

“And if my son was so gravely wounded,” Ali said between clenched teeth, “who do you think you are to not tell me? I even asked why you two were talking at halftime, remember?”

“I do.”

“You said it was nothing. What were you thinking—humble the little lady?”

“No, of course not.”

Ali shook her head and stopped talking.

“What?” I asked.

“I let you get too close to him,” she said.

I felt my heart nose-dive.

“Damn,” she said.

I waited.

“For a wonderful guy who is usually so damn perceptive, you can be pretty obtuse sometimes.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone after him, okay? But if you’d been there when he yelled at Jack to do it again, if you’d seen Jack’s face . . .”

“I’m not talking about that.”

I stopped, considered. “Then you’re right. I am obtuse.”

I’m six four, Ali a foot shorter. She stood close and looked way up at me. “I’m not going to Arizona to get Erin settled. Or at least not just for that. My parents live there. And his parents live there.”

I knew who his referred to—her late husband, the ghost I’ve learned to accept and even, at times, embrace. The ghost never leaves. I’m not sure that he ever should, though there are times I wish he would and of course that’s a horrible thing to think.

“They—I mean, both sets of grandparents—want us to move out there. So we can be near them. It makes sense when you think about it.”

I nodded because I didn’t know what else to do.

“Jack and Erin and, heck, me too, we need that.”

“Need what?”

“Family. His parents need to be part of Jack’s life. They can’t handle the cold weather up here anymore. Do you understand that?”

“Of course I understand.”

My words sounded funny in my own ears, as if someone else were saying them.

“My parents found a place they want us to look at,” Ali said. “It’s in the same condo development as theirs.”

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