Home > A Curve in the Road(14)

A Curve in the Road(14)
Author: Julianne MacLean

Lester slaps his knee, and I jump. I wonder if he’s about to ask about Alan’s accident, which I am fully prepared to discuss to the best of my knowledge, but he changes the subject. “Where’s that grandson of mine? He must have grown at least a foot since I last saw him. What is he . . . fifteen, sixteen?”

“He’s seventeen,” I tell him. “He’s a senior in high school now, and we’re very proud of him.” It hits me that I just said we when Alan is no longer here, and I have to force myself to push past that thought. “He’s captain of the hockey team and president of the student council.”

I’m not usually a mother who brags about her child, but I can’t control myself. I want Lester to know what he’s missed out on over the past decade—and what a wonderful father Alan was.

“Is that a fact?” Lester says. “Well? Where is he then? Too busy with hockey and school to greet his grandfather?”

I clear my throat and squeeze my hands together until my knuckles turn white. “He’s in the basement,” I say. “He wasn’t expecting you to arrive until tomorrow. I’ll go get him.”

I rise from my chair and go downstairs, where I find Zack lying on the carpet in front of the television, reading on his phone, while Winston is stretched out beside him with the big plastic cone around his neck. At the sound of my approach, Winston sits up and thumps his tail.

“Hey there.” I pick up the remote control to turn down the volume on the TV. “We have company. It’s your grandpa Lester.”

Zack lowers his phone and regards me with bafflement. “He’s here now?”

“Yes. With his wife, Verna, and your uncle Bruce.”

Zack’s forehead crinkles. “Have I met Bruce before?”

“Once, briefly,” I say, “when we visited them. You were only seven, so you probably don’t remember. But you should come up and say hello. They’re going to stay for lunch.”


Zack moves to get up, and I wait until he is on his feet and facing me before I fill him in on the situation. “Listen . . . you know that your father wasn’t close to his family, right?”

Zack nods at me.

“This is the first time you’re going to meet them in person since you were little, and I just want to warn you—they can be a bit . . .” I struggle to find the right words. “They can be a bit insensitive sometimes, and I want you to be prepared. Don’t take it personally if your grandfather says something rude. They’re here for the funeral, and we just need to be polite, let the stupid things they say roll off our backs, and get through it.”

Zack’s eyebrows lift, and he seems strangely amused. “Sounds like it’s going to be a time. Don’t worry, Mom. I can handle them.” He taps his thigh a few times. “Come on, Winston. Let’s go upstairs and meet some people.”

Winston gets up and lethargically climbs the stairs, while I say a silent prayer that everyone will behave.


“So this is the big man on campus I’ve been hearing so much about,” Lester says as Zack enters the living room. “Look at you. You look just like your father when he was your age.”

Lester stands up. He’s a tall man, over six feet, with broad shoulders and a deep, booming voice that most people find intimidating. I suspect that’s why he’s always been able to get away with such bad behavior. People are afraid to stand up to him.

“Hi, Grandpa,” Zack says.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Are you shy? Come over here, and shake my hand like a man.”

Zack gives me a brief look and crosses the room toward Lester, who grabs his hand, pumps it hard, and pulls him roughly into his arms for a bear hug. He ruffles his hair and says, “He’s not so big and tough. Captain of the hockey team, eh? What’s all that for? What are you trying to prove? You probably get checked into the boards every ten seconds. At least that’ll toughen you up.” He turns to me. “You watching him for concussions? They say hockey and football players are getting brain damage and can’t play no more.”

I stand motionless, staring at him in shock. “We’re keeping an eye on things.”

“I saw a movie about that,” Bruce adds. “But I think it’s a big pile of horseshit. It’s just the drug companies trying to make money.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think that’s the case, Bruce.”

Lester punches Zack in the arm. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No,” Zack replies with an uncomfortable chuckle, rubbing his arm.

“Why not? What’s wrong with you? You don’t like girls? You like boys instead?”

“No. I just haven’t the met the right girl yet, I guess. I’m pretty busy.”

“The right girl. Humph. You oughta be sowing those wild oats while you’re young.” Lester regards my son with a suspicious, sinister look that causes all the little hairs on the back of my neck to stand up.

I move forward to urge Zack away from Lester toward the chair on the opposite side of the room.

Meanwhile, Winston is standing in the doorway, his head hung low, panting heavily as he watches the exchange. His behavior concerns me because it’s not normal for my boisterous golden retriever to remain in a doorway when we have guests. Normally he’s a tireless social butterfly and always enjoys meeting new people. I wonder if it’s the pain medication that’s causing him to feel groggy. Or maybe he’s sore, or self-conscious about the cone.

“What in the world is that thing?” Lester asks, turning his attention to Winston. “What did he do to himself?”

Feeling instantly protective, I move closer to my dog. “He was injured in the accident with me. He was thrown out the window, actually. He had surgery that night, and he’s still recovering.”

“Oh, poor baby,” Verna says in a saccharine voice.

I stroke Winston’s back and encourage him to lie down next to me as I take a seat in the chair.

“Your mother tells me you’re involved in student government,” Verna says politely to Zack.

Her tone is sweet as syrup, and there’s a charming sparkle in her eye. For a moment, it’s hard to believe she could ever have been a loveless stepmother when Alan was a boy, but I don’t doubt the truth of what Alan told me. The syrup is clearly artificial.

Zack answers her question, and I’m proud of how well-spoken and respectful he is. He also talks about his plans to attend university after high school.

“That’s a good way to rack up a whole lot of debt,” Lester says contemptuously. Then he hacks and coughs into his fist. “But I suppose you can afford it with two rich doctors for parents.”

“It’s just one parent now.” Zack lowers his gaze to his lap, and I give Lester a searing look because it kills me to see my son in pain, reminded of how he’s missing his father and knowing he’ll never see him again.

I sit and stroke Winston’s smooth golden coat and pray that Lester won’t stick his foot in it again. Which he probably will.

Mom—who I swear has some form of radar when a distraction is needed—enters and lets us know that lunch is served.

We all head into the kitchen, where I do my best to keep the conversation light over big, hearty bowls of beef and barley soup with warm rolls and butter.

I suggest a few restaurants my in-laws might enjoy for dinner, making it clear that I’ll be busy preparing for the gathering at the funeral home and I want them out of my hair until then. Verna asks if there’s anything she can do to help, but I assure her that I have everything under control and her presence at the wake is all that’s required.

My mother serves apple pie for dessert, and when we’re done, we all rise from the table. Verna thanks us repeatedly, but as we make our way to the door, Lester spots one of Winston’s toys—a stuffed duck that quacks—on the floor next to his food bowl.

He bends forward and picks it up. “What’s this now?”

He squeezes its belly to make it quack, then biffs it into the front hall. “Fetch, boy!”

Winston lifts his head, but his ears press back under the cone.

“What’s wrong with ya?” Lester asks, stomping his foot repeatedly in front of Winston’s nose. “Are you a wuss? Go get it. It’s a duck!”

I squat beside Winston and stroke his shoulders. “No need to get up.”

Again, Lester kicks at Winston’s bed with the toe of his boot to try and rouse him. “Is he a dog or a pussy?”

Despite my vow to ignore certain misbehaviors today, I can’t deny a heated surge of anger. I grab hold of the toe of Lester’s boot and shove it away. He loses his balance and stumbles backward.

“He just had surgery,” I explain.

Lester chuckles meanly. “You’re his mommy, are you? I always figured that’s why Alan married you. He loved being a mama’s boy.”

I rise to my feet, look Lester in the eye, and speak matter-of-factly. “You should probably go now.”

Verna is quick to gloss over the altercation. “Thank you so much for lunch. The soup was delicious.” She moves toward the door, tugging at Lester’s sleeve.

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