When I got home, I could see my breath in the apartment, it was so cold, so I jumped into bed and huddled under the blankets. I kept my new sketch pad, pencil, and fishing pole close beside me. Michael’s alarm clock on the dresser said a quarter to twelve. My birthday was almost over. So much had happened that day to write about in my diary, but I didn’t dare. In fact, I wondered if I’d ever continue the one I had, or if I should get rid of it. Al had said Linda saw me as competition, which seemed weird; and this diary thing would just make that worse.
I heard the kitchen door open and the familiar rhythm of Michael’s footsteps. Then the bedroom door opened.
“Hey, kid, how you doin’?” he said.
“Okay,” I lied.
“I’m glad you’re still up,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Well, because there’s something I gotta tell you,” he said.
This didn’t sound good.
He sat on the edge of the bed we shared, smoking his cigarette, took off his brown plaid flannel shirt, and tossed it on the bed, leaving the inevitable white tee-shirt underneath.
“I didn’t go to work today,” he said.
“Oh, really? How come?” though I knew I didn’t want to know.
“I was at Linda’s.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you were at work.”
“Well, I was over there, and we were talking,” he said, “or, I should say, yelling. Or I should say, her father was yelling.”
“Linda’s father was yelling? At you?”
“Well, yeah, kiddo, he was,” he said. “That’s the thing.”
“The thing?” I said. “What thing?”
“The thing I’m trying to tell you.” He looked down at his hands, each grasping the other. “The thing he was yelling at me about.”
“What was that?” Did my diary have something to do with this “thing”?
“Um, Linda’s pregnant,” he said. “She’s going to have a baby. And, uh, I guess it’s mine.”
“Her father wants me and her to move to California.” He took a deep drag off his Camel.
I couldn’t be hearing him right.
“It’s true, Shorty,” he said. “We have to get married. Linda’s Uncle Joey, Grenelli’s brother, lives out there. He’s got a car repair shop like Grenelli’s. He’s gonna hire me. We’re gonna stay with him and Linda’s aunt, until we can get our own place.”
Michael’s words swam around in my head.
Baby? Married? Move? California? Faster and faster the words spun. But he kept on.
“I have no choice, Danny. Grenelli’s not happy. He threatened me. Said he’d have me killed if I didn’t go to California and marry Linda. He’s got connections, Danny. He’s not somebody to mess around with.”
My teeth dug into my bottom lip. I tasted the blood. The pulsing pain under my lip squelched the gathering scream inside me.
“You should have seen him, kid. He went nuts,” Michael was saying. “Said I disgraced Linda and the whole freaking family. He said I was lucky he didn’t take out his gun and shoot me right there in the freaking living room.”
I bit down harder on my lip, sucking the blood as the cut deepened.
“I’m sorry, Danny. I can’t see any way out of this one. It’s gonna be okay, though, I promise.”
Okay? I looked at my fishing pole. My throat closed as my stomach tried to escape up through it.
“I’ll write to you and call sometimes, when I can afford to. And maybe you can come and live with us. I’ll talk to Linda.”
Tears filled my eyes, blurring my drawing pad and fishing pole.
“I’m sorry, kiddo. I really am,” he said.
A tear spilled over onto my cheek, clearing my vision.
Michael looked down at the floor as he spoke. “Maybe after we move out of her uncle’s place you could come live with us. Danny, you okay?”
“Look, I know this is sudden. You’re not the only one who’s in shock. I mean, California. What the hell do I know about freaking California?” He dragged hard on the cigarette, then smashed it out in the small metal ashtray on the nightstand.
How could he be so stupid? How could he let that happen? Especially with someone like her? Did he really love her? It was hard to believe, and harder to believe she loved anyone but herself. Wasn’t California on the other side of the world? With nothing but oranges and highways like in the pictures in my geography book? My head pounded, throbbed. I felt beads of sweat beading up on my face. I climbed out of our bed, passed Michael, and scrambled to the bathroom.
“Hey, Shorty, where you goin’?” I heard him say.
I ran and hugged the toilet, my whole body heaving forward, but nothing came. I realized I hadn’t eaten. I sat back onto the tiled bathroom floor, the second time that day wrapped around the toilet. I thought about Teresa’s old threats that Michael would leave if he ever learned the truth about the doctor visits, but even though the so-called “doctor treatments” had stopped several years earlier now Michael was leaving anyway, and he didn’t seem to know anything about all of that. None of this was supposed to be happening.
“Hey, Danny, you okay?” I heard Michael call to me.
I sat on the bathroom floor of my birthday, and even though I knew she was a nice lady, I hated Al’s grandmother for getting sick in the Catskills.