Ugh, I'm sorry this is taking so long, you guys. I promise I'm working on the new chapter. There've been delays – I had a paper due today that I didn't know about! Quaint.
It's almost done. While I'm here, I figured I'd give you all a preview. :)
Joe stands reticently at the doorstep of his father's house, fingers hanging loose and frigid at his sides, barely brushing against the surface of his jeans. He exhales with a shudder, blinking the snow out of his eyes. The adamant scarlet of the sunrise fades into quivering white and yellow and gray, and Joe hardly remembers how it feels to be unafraid.
He stands, unmoving, hardly breathing. His throat constricts viciously, dry and swollen. Inexplicably, indolently, he thinks of the day his mother died, of how he had come home to an empty house, but that when his father had arrived, he had swept him up and hugged him so desperately that he had lifted him completely off the ground, even though he was thirteen. Joe had hugged him back and cried, and that was the only time he had really cried about his mother – about anything – and he had expected that when morning would come, he would find himself in another lonesome embrace, but had been met only with tortured stares, aside glances, forcibly apathetic sighs, questioning hazel eyes, thin mouths.
He wonders if Lucy is still alive. Oddly, it is this question that causes him to raise a hand and knock, softly, on the surface of the door. From inside, he hears muffled barking, old and tired. His breath hitches. He still has time to run away; he still has time to—
"I'm warnin' you, if it's you goddamn Jehovah's Witnesses again I'm gonna get my twenty gauge and I'm gonna—"
It only then occurs to Joe exactly how long it has been since he's seen his father's eyes, much less looking straight at him. Jackson Lamb seems older somehow, but not in wrinkles of the face or graying of the hair – in the wind-worn, wizened quality of his stare, of the lines moving around the sorrowful tilt of his mouth. He opens the door with a grumpy swing, not actually looking at the occupant of the doorstep until the end of his sentence. Joe stands, as he has been for twenty minutes – he stands, and looks his father in the eye, and feels no dread. Above all things, he feels a sick sense of guilty happiness (or happy guiltiness).
"Oh, my God," his father says, voice low and quiet like a thunderstorm. Joe swallows. His eyes feel moist; they sting. He doesn't know what to say. It seems stupid. It seems insignificant. "Joe."
"I..." Joe croaks, and as soon as that comes out, he knows he has to finish that sentence. Thousands of possibilities run through his head: I'm sorry – I missed you – I don't know what to tell you... but something entirely different comes out of his mouth.
"Dad, I... I've... been an idiot. And an asshole."
Jackson Lamb has no visible response at first, but Joe notices something horrifying: there are tears snaking down his cheeks, dripping onto his forearms as he holds the door open in catatonia. But then, slowly, he begins to nod – once, twice, thrice, and then it is rhythmic; up and down, up and down, and the tears are not stopping now. Joe feels some on his face, of all places, but perhaps that's the snow. His father raises a fist to his mouth, letting out a wheeze, and Joe fears for a split second that he is perhaps having a heart attack, but the worry passes.
"Yeah," his father says after a time, voice ragged, and he grits his teeth in an attempt to stop the tears. "Yeah, son, damn right you have."
Joe's heart feels as though it has just burst.