forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 16: The Emptiness and the Comfort

August 22, 1957

He wasn't sure how long he'd been out there when he heard the knock on the glass door. The rain had stopped and nearly everything was already dry again. He turned toward the living room to see his uncle standing there, not inside the door as he expected, but actually out on the terrace.

"Uncle Bill?" Dan noticed his uncle's breaths were labored and he was obviously uncomfortable being outside at this height.

Regan took a few steps forward toward the chairs, moving quickly, and then holding on to the back of one until his knuckles turned white. He took a few calming breaths and then sat down in the chair across from Dan.

"We can go inside—" Dan started to offer.

"No, it's okay. You like it out here." Regan gazed around the terrace. "God only knows why."

Dan gave his uncle a small smile. The wind had picked up a bit and a leaf blew gently across the stone floor. He allowed himself to be distracted by it, wondering briefly if a strong draft of wind had carried it up from the park.

Regan gripped the sides of the table, almost as if to steady himself. "Ned, Bob, and Barbara said to tell you goodbye for them."

Dan looked back at the apartment. "They're gone already?"

Regan nodded. "I came to get you, but when I saw you out here, I ... I didn't want to disturb you."

Dan turned in his chair, staring at the sliding door leading into the apartment. "You should have gotten me. I wanted to go to the airport with everyone."

"I'm sorry." Regan frowned. "They understand, though, really."

Dan shrugged. "I don't."

Regan stared at him, a mixture of puzzlement and guilt on his face.

Dan sighed. "How long have I been out here? Are you all back from the airport already?"

"No. I stayed behind. I didn't want to leave you here all alone." Regan stared down at the table. "I'm sorry if I made the wrong call, but you just seemed to need some space."

"You could've asked me, though. All you had to do was knock on the door." Dan shook his head. "Forget it. I can always write to them, I guess."

The two fell into a silence that was both strained and comfortable somehow. Maybe it was the relief that his uncle wasn't pushing him to talk about things that made it comfortable despite the tension over him being left out of the airport trip.

"How are you holding up?" Regan finally asked.

Dan shrugged. He wasn't sure how to answer that. "It's over, right? They've got Tony. Hopefully he'll be in jail for the rest of his life."

"Yeah, I guess it's over." Regan echoed his words.

The two sat quietly again for a minute. "I don't feel guilty anymore." Dan tried to explain what he was feeling. "I know it wasn't my fault."

His uncle gazed at him, concern in every corner of his face. "What wasn't your fault?"

"Her death." Dan looked down at the table, studying the intertwining pattern of the metal. "I always blamed myself because I thought she didn't know anything about those papers. I thought she really had no idea what Tony was after. I thought maybe I could have stopped him. But I couldn't." He took a deep breath in and out. "And the whole time, she knew." He traced over the pattern with his finger. "I was the one who had no idea what was going on. She knew."

"I see." His uncle's green eyes, so like his mother's, continued to gaze steadily at him. "You know it wouldn't have been your fault even if she didn't know."

Dan shrugged. "Maybe."

"Dan, it was never your fault." His uncle muttered something under his breath that he couldn't quite make out.

"What did you say?"

"The only person to blame is Tony."

Or my father. But he couldn't say those words aloud. Whatever reasons his dad had for handing the papers over to him instead of his mom or Unay or Mr. Hill, whatever his dad might have been thinking, it didn't matter. Tony could have been caught long ago, long before he murdered his mom, and maybe even before any other people he'd killed.

But his father didn't turn the ledger over to anyone. He hid it in that other bastard's house, and that was something Dan couldn't even begin to understand. "Why hide the evidence at his father's house? Why didn't he just turn it in to someone else? And then the whole stupid puzzle to find it ...."

Dan's uncle sat quietly staring down at the table. He finally looked back up at him. "It does seem strange. It doesn't quite make sense, does it?"

"There's a part of this story that is missing, and I'm honestly not sure I even want to know, but if I don't know, I'll end up blaming him instead of myself." Dan swallowed hard and then looked up to meet his uncle's eyes.

"What was your father like?" Regan suddenly asked. "I never knew him, just of him."

"I didn't know him, either, apparently. I don't think I knew either of my parents. They didn't have high-paying government jobs. He was a mostly out-of-work musician. She worked part-time at a grocery store in Queens." Dan tried to piece his scattered memories together, thinking of them all like pieces of a puzzle, one of his dad's puzzles. Nothing made any sense to him. "When did they do all this other work? And if they had such good jobs, why were we living in that neighborhood?"

Regan shook his head. His uncle had no answers for him. "Are you ... mad at either of them? Do you feel betrayed somehow?"

Dan shook his head. "No." He wasn't mad. Maybe that would come later. But he didn't know how to explain the emptiness he felt inside. It wasn't that his parents were dead, because he thought he'd already come to terms with that, or at least started to, but now—for whatever reason—it felt like he had lost them all over again.

He took another deep breath and then turned to stare up at the sky above Central Park, hoping the air would dry out the tears just waiting to spill. He didn't want to cry. "I just miss her. I miss her so damn much."

"She loved you." Regan's voice was barely loud enough to hear. "Whenever she'd write to me about you, she was so proud of you. It came through in every word. She definitely loved you."

"I know." Dan sighed. "She loved you, too." He glanced at his uncle. "Even when she found that newspaper article, she still loved you."

 

Dan stayed out on the terrace after his uncle had gone back in. He leaned over the railing and stared down at the park. The cars along Central Park West slowed and crowded together as offices were closing and people were making their way home. For just a fleeting second, he imagined himself falling over the railing, plummeting down to the street below.

He blinked the thought away and moved back from the edge of the terrace. He reached for one of the chairs and sat down with a sigh. He was going home tomorrow. Home was Brighton Beach. Home was the Diamond household: loud, noisy, sometimes confusing, but always welcoming, always supportive.

He'd miss his uncle, though. This was the longest amount of time he'd ever spent with him. He felt like they had really connected despite the sometimes strained conversations and outright arguments.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the glass door sliding open.

"May I join you?" Honey stepped out onto the terrace.

"Sure." Dan nodded. Apparently the others had come back from the airport. He thought maybe he should go back inside, but although hed been upset at missing the chance to say good-bye to the Iowans, now he didn't feel like being around everyone all at once. He didn't mind having a little company, though, especially if it was Honey.

"We missed you on the ride to the airport." She gazed at him, her hazel eyes wide with worry. "Are you okay?"

He nodded. "I'm sorry. I wanted to go, but Uncle Bill ...."

She shook her head. "It's okay, really. The whole thing with Tony and Bli—Unay was pretty overwhelming for me, and then with ... well, before that ... so I can't even imagine how it must feel for you."

Overwhelming. He guessed that was a good word for it.

She bit the inside of her lip and stood there, just watching him. Eventually she went over to the railing and looked out at the park, her back to him.

Dan gazed beyond her to the skyline on the other side of the park. "The city looks serene from up here, doesn't it?"

"Sometimes I miss being in the city." She turned around to face him, leaning against the iron fence. "But I really love Sleepyside. It's home. Here, I feel like I'm just visiting now."

Did you even have a place to call home before Sleepyside? Haven't you always just visited here and never really lived here? He wanted to ask the questions, but couldn't get the words out. Maybe he was scared she'd run off if he did, that she'd avoid facing that part of her past. Besides, he already knew the answers. "Sleepyside is beautiful," he finally commented.

"We're going home tomorrow." She frowned slightly. "And then we start school right after Labor Day."

"Sleepyside Junior-Senior High." Dan smiled. He was grateful for a topic of conversation that felt safe. "You'll be a freshman, right?"

She nodded. "And you'll be a junior?"

"Sophomore. Remember, I missed over a year of school, so I'm a bit behind." Dan's mouth turned down on one side in a half-frown.

"Right. And you'll be turning sixteen soon?" She blushed slightly as she asked the question.

He shook his head. "Not until March."

"So you're only a year older than me?" She seemed surprised by that. "You must have gotten ahead in school at some point, then."

He shrugged. "Possibly. I think my mom started me early."

"Oh." She smiled. "I thought you were closer to Jim's age." She came over to the table and pulled out one of the chairs next to him. "He's sixteen and, yet, he'll be a senior already."

He didn't want to talk about Jim. He reached over and took one of her hands. "I like you, Honey Wheeler." He hadn't meant to say anything; the words just seemed to pop out of his mouth.

Her cheeks reddened, but then she winked at him. "Yes, I think we've already established that." She smiled sweetly. "I'm so glad I got to know you better. You're only ever up in Sleepyside for a couple of days at a time, and only once a month, and you spend most of that time helping Regan in the stables."

"I'm going to try to visit more often." He had a sudden thought. His heart was pounding in his chest as he spoke. "And if you could let me know when you have a school dance, maybe I could arrange to visit then and you'd let me take you?"

"Oh. Well, I'm not really allowed to date, remember? But if we went as a group, with Trixie and Jim and Di and Mart and Brian, well, then, yes, I'd like that." She smiled, revealing that dimple that he found so appealing.

He leaned over the arm of the patio chair and kissed her, letting his lips linger on hers. Somewhere in his mind he heard himself saying he shouldn't be doing this, that there's no kissing allowed, that Mr. Wheeler wouldn't ever let him see her again if he caught them, but he didn't want to stop. He couldn't stop. He started to part those soft, kissable lips, wanting to slip his tongue into her mouth.

She pulled away from him.

She opened her mouth to speak. "I'm—"

He cut her off. "I'm sorry. I know; no kissing. I ... I shouldn't have." He gave her a shy half-grin.

"I'm not." She blushed furiously. "But maybe we should go back inside." She glanced at the glass door.

Dan regarded the barrier separating them from Mr. Whitney's apartment, from the rest of the group. He took a few deep breaths, clearing his thoughts. "Wait. You're not what?"

She swallowed loudly enough for him to hear it. Then, she whispered her answer. "Sorry. That you kissed me."

"Oh." He was sure he was grinning from ear to ear.

She stood up. "But I really should go inside."

He watched her stand up and head toward the door. "Wait."

She turned to look at him, a shy smile adorning her face. "Yes?"

"Thank you." He grinned. Before she could ask, he added, "For coming out here to keep me company."

"Oh. You're welcome." She put her hand on the handle, ready to slide it open.

"Wait." He wanted to tell her something else—anything else—to get her to stay outside with him.

She turned to him again, looking at him expectantly. When he didn't say anything, she finally turned back to the door.

"Wait."

She turned her head, tilting it slightly as she studied him. "What is it, Dan?"

"Nothing. I just ... I like talking to you, being with you." He got up from the table and walked over to her. He took one of her hands. "Stay a little longer. Please?"

Her cheeks turned redder than he had ever seen them. "I want to, but I think I'd better not." She slipped her hand out of his.

As she closed the door behind her, he worried the emptiness he had been feeling before would return. He shouldn't have kissed her. Then maybe she'd still be out here talking to him, making his life feel normal again. He walked over to the railing and peered down at the park below. The wind cooled his face and his heart beat slowed back down. He sighed, and then turned back to the door. If he wanted to be near her, he'd have to go back inside.

He stared at the door for quite a long time before he strode over to it and slid it open. He looked around the room; only one person was there.

"Hey, stranger," Neil called out to him. He was on the couch, his guitar lying next to him.

"Where is everyone else?" Dan asked as he shut the door behind him.

His brother shrugged. "Over at the Wheelers' place. I was put on guard duty here."

Dan rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Seriously?"

Neil leaned forward, moving to sit only on the edge of the couch rather than leaning back into it. "It was a lot to take in all in one day."

He shrugged. He supposed it was, and he didn't think Neil even knew the half of it.

"Mr. Teddy Hill wants to talk to you some more." Neil gazed at him steadily. "Are you up for that?"

He had a lot of questions for Teddy and Unay, but he also wasn't feeling like he wanted to talk to either of them any time soon. "About what?"

"I don't know. He said it was important, and he wanted you and your uncle both to be there." Neil frowned.

Dan leaned against the wall, quietly thinking.

"What's on your mind?" Neil asked, breaking the silence.

Dan shrugged again and then sat in the armchair opposite Neil. "My parents, mostly. What they did, when they did it, why they didn't tell me what they did, those kinds of things."

His brother nodded in agreement. "You really had no idea what kind of work they did?"

"No. Then again, I was only nine when my dad left for Korea. I'm not sure I would've cared even if he had told me. As long as there was food on the table and the lights still turned on, it didn't really matter to me." Dan shook his head. "But you'd think I'd remember if he had mentioned working for the I.R.S. or the A.T.T.D. or whatever." He leaned back in the chair, and then shook his head again. "It just doesn't make any sense."

Neil sighed, but didn't offer any other response.

"And my mom ... working for the F.B.I.? No way. She worked as a cashier at the A&P. She wasn't ... she couldn't have worked for them." Dan kicked at the carpet, annoyed with the inconsistencies in his life. "She could have told me, couldn't she? 'Guess what, Danny? I'm going to work for the government!' or 'Hey son, I got a job working for a secret agent,' or ... I don't know."

"Yeah, it's not the kind of thing you'd probably just spit out like that." There was a hint of amusement in Neil's voice.

Dan looked up at him sharply. "It's not funny."

"I know. But imagine Mameleh coming home and saying something like that ...." Neil winked at him. "Can you picture it?"

Dan glared at him for a moment and then went back to kicking the carpet. "Do you think Mr. Hill knows why she didn't tell me what she did for a living? Why both my parents kept me completely in the dark?"

Neil raised a bushy eyebrow. "No, but would you tell a nine year old kid, or even a twelve year old one, something that might end up putting all of you in danger?"

Dan stared back at him. "No, but would you give a nine year old kid important papers that were needed to close a case against a ruthless criminal?"

"No." Neil sighed. "It would be good to really piece together what happened back then, but you may not ever be able to."

"I know." He frowned.

Neil stood up and started walking toward the front door. "Mr. Wheeler invited Teddy Hill to come back over tonight. Let's make sure to ask him what he knows."

"Great." Dan groaned. "Is he there already?"

Neil shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. He could be, but I doubt it. Someone would've probably come over to tell me."

"Don't count on it."

Neil was nearly at the front door when he turned back around. "I'm sorry you got left out earlier, but it's your own fault. You shouldn't just run off all the time."

Dan scowled. "No one even bothered to check with me."

"No, we did." His brother sighed. "I saw you out there, and you didn't look so good. For the record, I agreed with your uncle that it was probably better to leave you alone and just let you brood."


chapter 17: tell your story, I'll be listenin'