It was the first Monday of a new year, and he'd been more than ready to attack the remaining paperwork after his vacation in Los Angeles. Alone, the warm weather had been wonderful- not to mention that he was sure his pants were a little bit tighter around his waist. He'd brought home with him a new pair of cufflinks from Miles, a tortoise shell pocket knife from Cobb, some leftover chocolate walnut fudge that Mal's mother had made, and some Christmas artwork from James and Phillipa.
Arthur sat on his couch, hunched over his coffee table, flipping through the pile of paperwork that he had spread out before him. Everything that he was required to sign was just about in order, and ready to be sent off. The man he was paying quite handsomely to handle the business end of things knew that discretion about a paper trail would be important. For now at least, her house and everything in it would remain in his possession, under a separate alias from the one on his apartment. In a couple weeks, he would start looking for work again, but in the meantime, he planned on doing some catch up on any new penalties for dream sharers if they were caught on the illegal end of the business— by the civil authorities or otherwise.
Hmm… What's this…?
He'd picked up one of the manila envelopes on the coffee table. He wasn't sure how he'd missed it, but when he tipped the muted orange envelope upside down, a long, white envelope slid out onto the table. His name was scrawled out on the front in blue ink. There were two letters inside.
Arthur's eyes widened after he unfolded the first letter and read the first line.
She kept it… his letter…
He reached for the second letter and opened it. It was much shorter, and he knew immediately from the handwriting that it was from his grandmother.
I have kept this letter safe for you to read upon my passing. Truthfully, if you hadn't seen me take it from your father, I probably would not have hesitated to destroy it. Yes, I know about that.
Arthur shook his head. Like any kid, he'd been convinced that she'd had eyes in the back of her head.
But, what I soon realized, Arthur, was that it wasn't up to me to decide what to do with the letter that is included in this envelope. You are a young man now, and I trust you to make the choice that is right for you.
Your loving grandmother,
Hand on his jaw, Arthur refolded his grandmother's letter before he picked up and started again on his father's letter. He drew in a deep breath and swallowed.
I write this letter in the event that your grandparents do not allow me to see you in person, and I am guessing that is how things will go.
You were once a small boy, one who I left behind, and I understand that when you read this letter, you will be very angry at me because of that fact.
I am sorry for that, and I now also offer to you my condolences for the passing of your mother. I wish that I could've been there for the both of you during her cancer treatment… but what does that wishing really do besides create more pain?
Son, the reason why I had to leave you two was because it was safer for you if I weren't around. I can't tell you more than that… maybe I can tell you when you are older if our paths cross, but just know that I love you, and I wish every day for everything to be different. I wish I were also better with words.
There I go again—wishing. It's a nice sentiment that just doesn't work.
If I had known the consequences of a number of the choices that I made in the past, I would have chosen differently.
If this letter has not been destroyed before it could be read by you, then my expectations for this message have been far exceeded.
Arthur laid back into his couch, hands out at his sides, still holding the letter. His father was right; he was angry. Arthur's mind was whirling, jumping from one thought to the next. What had he meant by, "it was safer for you if I weren't around"? Did he have a violent streak, a drinking or drug problem? Arthur couldn't remember, but he didn't think so. Was it a gambling problem? Had he pissed off the wrong people? Had he tried to go straight, but it hadn't worked out? It was possible.
Yes, it is very possible...
Why had it taken his father an entire year to find out that his mother had died? Why bother initiating the attempt at contact in order to follow up on that tragedy at all? Why not just disappear and leave it at that when all you have is a half-assed explanation that nobody will ever believe?
Heaven forbid that he's trying to bullshit the nine-year-old me. God help that man if he has a second family somewhere.
The person who had written the letter seemed no more real than a character in a fairy tale, even though Arthur knew he was out there somewhere in the world, breathing the same air, looking up at the same sun and stars.
Not unless his "choices" have caught up with him, I suppose.
Standing up, Arthur refolded the paper and gripped it between his two hands. For a moment, he rocked his hands back and forth, as if to rip the letter down the center. He wondered if he had any matches or lighters in the apartment, but realized to his disappointment that it wasn't too often that he needed to light up a cigarette, candle, fireplace, or a barbecue grill. Would the garbage disposal or the toilet have the same satisfying effect?
"Asshole bastard…" he muttered. "Inconsiderate dumbass…What were you thinking?"
He said it wasn't safe for him to be around us... I...
"No." Arthur shook his head immediately, adamantly- as if pushing away the thought made it any less true. "I'm nothing like him," he reasoned to himself and his otherwise empty apartment. There was no excuse for leaving your wife and your kid without explanation.
Now he wasn't sure what to do as he stood there in the middle of his living room with the paper in his hands. Looking around, the bareness of the walls only added to his aggravation. He could at least make it look like someone lived there for more than a few weeks out of the year.
He exhaled through his nose. "I need to get some fucking paintings."
~ ~ * * * (*) * * * ~ ~
Arthur opened his eyes, turned his head on his pillow, and squinted in the green glow of his clock. It was almost five in the morning. He thought he had drifted off once or twice, but he didn't trust that judgment. His mind was cloudy, and he felt like he'd spent a solid day trying to find cover in the middle of no man's land on a battlefield.
Ultimately, he had decided not to destroy the letter. For now, it would remain at the bottom of the safe in the back of his closet. The more he had thought about it, the more it had bothered him, beyond the fact that it had been written by a man who had ducked out of his life when he was four years old— even if that man was a lying sack of shit, that didn't matter.
I enjoy my work, but… What if I wanted to… if the opportunity or time ever came… Am I doomed to stay with the dream-share until I die? Will I be able to have a family? How many prices are on my head—how many are there that I don't even know about? Have I crossed too many lines? How many of my choices are going to haunt me?
He didn't have an answer. And there would be no answer until the day came that he turned away from the life he led. He was grateful that Cobb had been able to get out, and he was gonna make sure that it damn-well stayed that way… but, where did that leave him?
Nobody thinks about this stuff until it's too late.
~ ~ * * * (*) * * * ~ ~