This is a one-shot, completed story written in response to a Mother's Day challenge. Remember, feedback is beautiful even on completed stories!
Back to work on my other stories.
Insert all the usual disclaimers... They're not mine, no money, don't sue. Thanks.
"Please come." Larry McCoy stared straight ahead out of the windshield of his black pickup truck. Over the cell phone pressed to his ear, he could hear the noise of the casino he son was presumably rushing through.
"I'll try Dad, but I can't promise anything. It's really busy here…" Larry let Danny's excuses fade away. There were always excuses these days and they almost always had to do with his son's work at the Montecito Resort and Casino. Larry frowned at the thought of the place. Not that he wasn't proud of Danny for landing such a great job that he was so good at, but he still wasn't completely settled on the fact that his son hadn't returned to the family business. He had looked forward to the day when they would work side by side, the day when he could see Danny everyday and enjoy his company as an adult.
"And Ed needs me to run these names through the computer…" Larry sighed. Ed Deline was another problem. That man had become more of a father to his son than he was and he hated it. He knew he was partially to blame for that happening. There were times recently when he felt like he really didn't know Danny anymore. He understood the trials of a fast paced business, having run his own for more years than he cared to remember, but the casino was another beast entirely. His son was in charge of keeping the busy casino safe and crime free and that involved plenty of terminology and technology that went speeding over Larry's head. More often than not lately, he had found himself avoiding talking to Danny because he didn't want the conversation to turn toward his son's work. He knew that Ed Deline had stepped up when Danny had needed someone who understood.
Larry also didn't understand the problems Danny had been dealing with since returning from the war. He never understood why he had joined the Marines in the first place; other than it being a place to get away from him. But there were so many other places Danny could have run, why into something like that? He did know that the time in the Marines had been one of the things that had drawn Danny to Ed's attention in the first place. Another thing they had in common.
Larry sighed. What did he have in common with his son anymore? Not much, except for what genetics had taken care of.
"Dad? Are you even listening to me?" Danny's voice was highly irritated and in the background he could be heard snapping at someone who had gotten in his way.
"Can you stop running around in that damned casino long enough to talk to me for five minutes?" Larry snapped back. He regretted it as soon as he had said it and even more so when he could tell that Danny had stopped running around and was still now. "Look, I'm sorry. I just wanted to ask if you'd come, but you're busy. It's okay kiddo, next time."
Larry started up the truck and pulled away from the Montecito valet area where he had been sitting. Partially hoping that Danny would really come this time and partially because he had chickened out on going in to talk to his son face to face.
Danny stood in the main entrance of the casino and watched as his father pulled away. He slowly closed his phone and put it back in the clip on his belt. Looking around helplessly, he let his head drop down, unsure of what to do.
He had heard the disappointment in his dad's voice and it made his heart ache with guilt. He turned and started slowly walking back toward the doorway next to the elevators that would bring him to the surveillance room. The crowds still moved quickly around him and the noise was still overwhelming, but Danny had lost his drive for today.
Instead of returning to his desk, Danny found himself slipping out one of the side doors into a courtyard. He took his suit jacket off and sat down on a stone bench placed over to one side. Pulling his sunglasses out of the inside pocket of his jacket; he slid them on and leaned back, enjoying the warm rays on his face.
Why all of the excuses? Danny rubbed the back of his neck to try and release the ache there. He and his father hadn't been seeing eye to eye for a long time, but now it felt like they were avoiding each other. He found that he was hurt that his father hadn't come inside to talk to him. Sure they had been fighting on the few occasions that they had seen one another, but that was normal. Right?
Danny sat up and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. He sighed and rubbed the tips of his fingers under the rims of his sunglasses. He tried to remember the last time that he had spent any time with Larry. Frowning, he realized that it was probably nearly a year ago, before he had been recalled. Things hadn't been perfect then either, but they could at least spend time in the same room or even go out for a beer together.
As he dissected the events of the past year, he realized suddenly that he had been turning to Ed more and more often. His boss and mentor had slowly been turning into his father figure as well. Did Larry realize that? Was that part of the problem? Of course he could relate well to Ed with everything they had in common, but that wasn't fair to his father. Larry was his father and there was no real reason for the growing distance between them. Danny knew he could make the effort to explain things better so that Larry would understand and could be there for him.
The phone against his hip began vibrating and Danny unconsciously reached down and pulled it into his hand. Glancing at the caller ID, he saw Ed's name flashing there. He flipped the phone open and pressed it to his ear.
"Hey Ed. … No, everything is fine. I'm going to need the rest of the afternoon off. … Really, it's fine. … Thanks." Danny closed his phone as he stood up and headed for the employee's entrance.
Larry parked his truck on the driveway nearest to where he was headed. As he got out, he glanced around at the seemingly miles of headstones in every direction. This place was familiar to him after so many years; he could pick out any changes in the landscape. He shifted the bouquet of flowers he was carrying from one hand to the other as he slowly walked up the hill in front of him. Once he reached the top, he stopped and felt a smile creep across his face.
Ten rows of headstones down the other side of the hill he could see her grave. Sitting on the ground in front of it, his back to Larry and his knees pulled up in front of him was Danny. He had changed into jeans and a t-shirt and had a baseball hat on his head, his normal off-work uniform.
Larry let his head tilt to one side as he stared at the scene in front of him. So familiar in his memory, yet so different with the grown man there in front of him. He closed his eyes and saw his son at age nine, sitting in the same exact place.
Nearly two years after his mother's death, Danny had still been having problems adjusting to life without her. He and Larry were fighting more and more often, usually resulting in the boy running off in tears, and then Larry crying out in frustration.
That particular day, instead of just running to his room and slamming the door, Danny had made a beeline out the front door of the house and disappeared. All thoughts of the bad behavior that had caused the fight gone, Larry had searched for hours trying to find his son.
He had finally found him here, at the cemetery, sitting in front of his mother's grave with his knees pulled up in front of him. Larry had run to him, pulling him up into his arms and holding him while they both cried. Things had been better after that, both McCoy men realizing how much they needed the other.
Larry ran a hand through his hair as he began to pick his way down the hillside toward his son.
"How fast were you driving to beat me here?" Larry smiled down at Danny as his son turned quickly, surprised.
He smiled up at Larry. "I don't think you want to know." Danny patted the ground next to him, inviting his father to join him. Larry put the arrangement of flowers into the small vase that was in the ground next to the headstone and sat down.
The two men sat in silence; each lost in his own thoughts and memories. Larry glanced over at Danny and found that in profile, his son still looked remarkably like his mother. Danny turned his head and caught Larry staring at him.
"What's up Dad?" Danny let his head drop down and rested his chin against his arms.
Shaking his head, smiling, Larry reached over and rested his hand against Danny's cheek for just a second before turning his gaze back to the grave in front of them. "You look like your mother." He closed his eyes and nodded. "You've always been a surprise to me Danny. Do you know that?" Larry opened his eyes and looked at his son again.
Danny shook his head; his gaze still fixed on his father.
"You were a surprise right from the start." Larry laughed at the look on Danny's face. "Not like that kid, we knew you were coming and we wanted you more than anything. Your mom was just sure she was getting the little girl she had dreamed of."
Larry let his gaze fix ahead of him and he could see his wife, nine months pregnant walking around the hospital trying to move her labor forward. The nurse taking care of them was sitting in the waiting room with the family that had gathered. She had made the mistake of asking everyone's opinions on the sex of the impending baby.
"Back then they couldn't tell us ahead of time whether we were having a boy or a girl." Larry, his eyes still focused ahead of him, nodded absently before continuing on with his story.
"Everyone is sure it's a little girl!" One of the soon to be grandmothers said with a grin.
"Everyone except Larry." There was general laughter. "He's still holding out for a boy."
"The next one will be their boy, this is the girl." The room was filled with different opinions and predictions. "They're going to name her Alexa." The nurse smiled as she was paged out of the room.
"You're mother's labor was difficult. It's one of the reasons we didn't have anymore babies." Larry looked over at Danny and found he had his son's rapt attention. Smiling, he turned his head back in the direction of the horizon and nodded. "And then you were there."
The doctor held up the screaming red baby, his hand frustratingly covering the answer to their nine month long question. "Congratulations!" He said, turning the newborn to be placed on its mother's stomach. "It's a boy!"
Larry had been cooing into his wife's ear, trying not to look at the unpleasantness of birth when he heard the proclamation. "A boy?" He stared at the little baby that his wife was now holding. "It's a boy?"
"Daniel Ryan." Larry looked over at the man that baby had grown into. "We had only thrown around a few names for boys." He said with a chuckle. "I guess we all just figured the majority had to be right. But we knew what to call you the minute we saw you. And we both fell head over heels in love with you in that instant."
Danny smiled quietly, a smile that had once been his mother's. After several more minutes of silence, he turned his attention back to the headstone in front of him. Larry sighed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He rested his hands against the back of his neck and closed his eyes.
"Dad? You okay?" Larry opened his eyes and looked over, meeting his son's worried glance.
"I'm fine Danny-boy." He reached a hand out and rested it on Danny's neck. He rubbed his son's shoulder gently before pulling his hand back. "Just thinking about things. You and I, we've always had our ups and downs… but when it matters, we're there for each other." He was speaking to Danny, but also to himself. Reminding him that it was never too late when it came to his son.
"I know Dad." Danny nodded his head. "I know."
Danny scooted forward and ran his fingers over the etching on the stone. Larry smiled and shook his head. "You've always done that."
Danny stopped and looked back at his father. "Huh?"
Larry pointed to where Danny's fingers were still touching the letters. "You've always traced those letters."
Larry was again transported to a vision of a time years ago. With his wife's illness coming on so quickly but lasting so long, most of their family was gathered around when she had finally passed. Their willingness to completely take over all of the arrangements was much needed and by the time the funeral took place, things like the headstone were already taken care of and there.
Larry had completely shut down in the days between his wife's death and the funeral. He wasn't sure how he had even gotten dressed and to the church that morning. And now he was standing at the cemetery saying goodbye to the crowds of people leaving. Out of the corner of his eye, his small son caught his attention.
The seven year old was dressed in black pants with a white shirt and black tie. His shaggy blond hair was a mess, even though Larry vaguely remembered someone combing it earlier. He was kneeling in the dirt in front of his mother's headstone, repeatedly running his finger over each of the letters engraved on it.
As the last person passed by him, Larry turned and walked to where Danny was kneeling. Without thinking, he grabbed his son by the arm and hauled him roughly to his feet.
"What are you doing? Look at you, you're covered in dirt. All we asked was that you stay clean for a couple of hours this morning." The little boy blinked and stepped backward away from his father. Larry's mother ran over and put herself between her son and grandson.
"Larry!" She hissed. "What are you doing?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned and took Danny's hand. "Come along sweetheart. Let's get you cleaned up." She led the little boy away, leaving Larry standing alone.
By the end of the next week, almost everyone had gone. Larry was standing in his living room watching his mother pack up the last of her luggage. "Mom, I can't do this."
The older woman stopped and looked at her son. "Yes you can because you have no choice." She walked over and kissed her son's cheek. "I'm a phone call away if you need me." Turning toward the door, she called out, "Danny, come and say goodbye." The little boy came running and gave her a big hug and kiss before turning back around and running off again. She stood up to her full height and eyed her son again. "Everything will be fine. I promise."
"I don't know how to connect with him. I don't know what he needs."
"You will, when you need to, you will." She kissed his cheek and walked out the door.
Larry was very hesitant with Danny, unsure of how to deal with his child's loss. He felt like he was walking on a thin line that could snap at any moment. After getting Danny to sleep that night, he collapsed onto the couch. He hated that he was beginning to feel annoyed with his son's wants and needs getting in the way of his own grieving.
"Give me a sign honey! I don't know what I'm doing!" He looked up at the ceiling pleadingly. There was only silence. But that silence was broken moments later by the frighten screaming of his only son.
"Mommy!" The little boy was shrieking and yelling. "Mommy!" Larry took the stairs two at a time and ran into his son's room. Danny seemed to still be asleep, but was thrashing around and screaming.
Larry moved quickly to the bed and sat on the edge. He cautiously put his arms around the boy, cradling his head in one hand. "I'm here. Daddy's here."
Danny's brown eyes opened, tears running down his face. He sniffled and sat up, wrapping his arms around his father's torso. Instinctively, Larry began rocking the two of them. He marveled that after all this time he could still fit Danny's head in one of his hands.
"It's alright. Everything is going to be okay, Danny. I promise. I'm here." He rocked Danny back to sleep that night and then spent the rest of the night laying next to him watching him sleep.
Danny had moved back up to sit next to his father while listening to the story he was telling. Larry was staring at the grass in front of him, his brow furrowed. Suddenly looking up, he stared over at Danny.
"I did okay. Didn't I? I mean, we have our problems, but for the most part, we're okay."
Danny frowned and looked at the ground. "Of course Dad. You've been great." He looked up and sighed. "I know I haven't been easy. Hell, there were times I went out of my way to make things harder than they had to be."
Larry laughed. "That's your job. You're the kid!"
Danny smiled and moved closer to his father, taking his baseball hat off and twisting it in his hands. The two men settled into silence again, staring at the grave. "What do you think she'd think of me now?"
Larry looked up in surprise. "She's proud of you Danny. That I know." He reached up one hand and ran it down the back of his son's head. "You were her everything." He pulled Danny's head down to rest on his shoulder, kissing his hair quickly. "You're my everything."
Father and son spent several more minutes watching the horizon and listening to the peace of the cemetery. Danny finally sat up and stretched.
"What do you say we get out of here? I took the rest of the day off. Let's go do something."
Larry nodded and stood up, brushing his pants off. "Yeah, that sounds good." He began walking back up the hill in the direction he had left his truck. "Where's your car anyway?" He turned around just in time to see Danny lean over and quickly kiss the top of the headstone.
"Happy Mother's Day Mom. I miss you." Danny looked up and caught his father watching. Shrugging, he took a couple of quick steps to catch up with him. "Come on Dad," He slung one arm around Larry's shoulders. "I'll buy you a beer."