I really liked Tamora but things with her just didn’t last. In the last few weeks with her, we fought a lot. I just didn’t know what she wanted from me. Anytime I asked her, she said, “If you don’t know, then it doesn’t do me any good to tell you.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean?
“Tam, come on. You have to give me a clue. What did I do? What do you want me to do?”
“You didn’t do anything. That’s the problem. I’m about to graduate, Ares, and you are doing nothing!”
“You want me to get you a present, throw you a party, what?”
“God, you’re so stupid! Just go away, Ares. Go figure things out!”
Well I tried. I did all the usual things I do to get my head on straight. I worked out until my muscles ached. I hung out with the guys. I had no clue what Tamora meant. Finally, I just figured that she just wanted to break up with me before graduation. She was being distant enough.
“I just don’t get women, Cid,” I said over pancakes the week after Tamora and I sort of broke up…or she told me to figure things out.
“I mean, one minute you’re sleeping together and everything is fan-freaking-tastic, and the next, she tells you you’ve fucked up, but she won’t tell you how and she’s mad because you can’t read her mind.”
“I get’cha dude. Girls are crazy creatures.”
“I know, right? Tamora accuses me of doing nothing, but I don’t know what the fuck she wants me to do!”
“Got no clue for you, bud,” Cid said, yawning. He’d been out all night at the latest frat party. “I’m too tired to think.”
“Well, go to bed then…or better yet, stop staying out all night!”
“Who the fuck are you? My mom?”
“Nah. I can’t even take care of myself, let alone take care of you!”
Just when I was feeling my lowest, that’s when Carly rematerialized.
“Carly? Is that you?” I shouted, when I saw her across the parking lot next to my dorm.
“Oh, hey Ares. It’s good to see you.”
“Where the fuck have you been?”
“Where? I’ve looked all over for you. It was like you disappeared.”
“Well, why didn’t you call or come and see me? I thought we had a thing together. I mean, I really liked you!”
“Oh Ares. It was fun while it lasted. But that was all. I knew that, but I could tell that you didn’t. That’s why I didn’t come over or call. I knew that you’d want a lot more from me than I wanted to give you.”
“Well, you gave me more than I expected. And then you were just…poof…gone.”
“Sorry about that. How have you been?”
“Terrible,” I admitted, rubbing my neck embarrassed.
“What’s so terrible? I saw you around with some blonde. Looked like you two were an item.”
“We were. But we aren’t now.” I proceeded to tell Carly all about Tamora. “I just don’t get what I did wrong,” I finally said. “Why don’t girls just ever come straight out and tell you things?”
Carly laughed. “I could probably give you a whole psych analysis of that, Ares. But in this case I think I can enlighten you about Tamora.”
“She said you were doing nothing. I think what she meant is that you seem to have no real direction in your life.”
“No direction? What the hell does that mean?”
“Everyone else here has a plan, you know? They’re studying for a degree and have an idea of what they want to do with it. You don’t. You’re just here. You don’t seem to care about your grades or your classes or your major. You told me that college was an escape for you and that you were happy being a lifeguard.”
“I am happy being a lifeguard.”
“Well, that’s not a very ambitious career, is it? Sounds like Tamora wanted more from you.”
“Well that’s just stupid. Who the hell cares what I do for a living? It’s not like I’m poor or anything. My whole fucking family is rich. We own tons of property and businesses in Isla Paradiso. I stand to inherit my Aunt’s resort, for Sim’s sake!”
“I don’t think it’s about the money, Ares. I think it’s about your lack of direction. You see the money as a way to let yourself just play around. Tamora sounds like a person who needs more than a playboy.”
Well that just pissed me off. Everything Carly said seemed right. But I didn’t see anything wrong with the person I was. I decided then and there that I was just going to forget about Tamora. She could graduate and get a job and marry some corporate worker drone and I’d live my life having fun and doing what I liked!
The rest of the term I did exactly that. If I wanted to go play juice pong at one of the frat keggers, I would do it. If I wanted to study instead of going out with the guys, I’d do that.
And who the fuck cared if my grades were only mediocre at the end of the term? I hadn’t come to college to get As. What did I even need a college degree for?
When I got back to Isla, I told my sister Juno and her husband Phillip that I didn’t want to go back to the university for the next term.
“But you only have one more term left,” Juno argued. I wasn’t surprised because she was a teacher, after all. “Don’t you want to finish what you started?”
“Why bother?” I shrugged. “I didn’t want a P.E. degree anyway. I just did it because it was easy. It’s not like I plan to use it.”
“What do you want to do?” Phillip asked me.
“I don’t know. I’ve still got my lifeguard job. Maybe I’ll write or something. And there is always taking care of my mom and dad’s businesses. That’s what you guys wanted me to do in the first place.”
“While I’m figuring things out,” I said, “I think I’ll just hang here and play with your kids. That’s ok, right?”
I loved my niece, Ami. The sound of her laughter whenever I played with her just melted me.
“The caw! The caw! Unca Ary, you gotta play the caw!”
“Are you sure?” I asked, scooping her up. She laughed and nodded. “Ok!”
I made my hand into a claw and said in my most menacing voice, “The claw is coming to get you!” Then I attacked her tummy, tickling her all over.
Unfortunately, living with my sister and Phillip wasn’t as pleasant as I thought it would be. They had had another baby while I was at college. My nephew, Roger, was adorable and sweet, but he had a huge set of lungs on him! That kid cried all the time. To escape, I took to jogging around town.
I also spent time at each of the businesses that my parents had invested in. Rhea and Omar had taken over their management, but I knew that neither of them wanted to do it permanently.
The thing is, while I was gone, Rhea and Omar had hired competent people to do the work for them. I discovered that the businesses really ran themselves and there was nothing I was urgently needed for.
I had a lot of free time.
And so I started sailing.
Being out on the water has a calming effect on me. I thought about my future. I thought about my past. I thought about Tamora and Carly and even Martina.
“I need to give up women for awhile,” I decided. “Not forever…just awhile.”
Ok, that wasn’t so hard.
“I don’t need to have a serious job,” I told myself. “Being a lifeguard is an honorable profession.”
Good. I liked lifeguarding.
“I need to move out of my parents’ house.”
Wait, what? That was the only home I knew. Did I really want to move? I thought about it and realized that it was time that I did move. Juno and Phillip were the real owners of mom and dad’s house. I didn’t belong there anymore.
That’s when I decided I should purchase a houseboat. If I moved into a houseboat, I’d have my own place and it would be on the water…my favorite place to be.
The only thing I wanted from my parents’ house, I decided, was Moonie. The Old Man, I thought, would probably benefit from not being in a house with two babies. He was getting to the point in his life where he didn’t do much more than sleep and eat. His old bones were tired.
And I was surprised to find that I had missed him while I was gone.
I don’t know how much Moonie liked living on the water, but that first night on the houseboat, I was glad to have him sleeping beside me.
Since I was back home, I resumed my work as a lifeguard. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Saving people can be a pain…can’t they just be safe on the water?…but it is also quite a rush!
It was while I was on the job that I saw Martina again. I hadn’t seen her since I threatened to call the cops if she came to my workplace one more time.
I spotted her off in the distance. She was carrying a toddler. Then I saw her running toward the water and the toddler was no where in sight.
Had she just set the child down? What was she doing there? Was she going to go swimming in her clothes? And it was starting to rain…I had to investigate no matter how much I really didn’t want to speak to Martina again.
“Hey! What are you doing? Hey! Martina!” I shouted as she did indeed step into the water, high heels and all.
“Oh, it’s you! I’m swimming. Go away.”
“Whoa. Calm down. I don’t think you’re dressed appropriately for swimming.”
“What do you care?”
I pulled Martina away from the water. “I don’t care what you do, but I do care about the safety of the people on this beach. Now, what are you doing? I saw you with a child.”
“It’s none of your business. Get away from me Ares!”
Martina tried to stomp past me, but I turned with her and saw the boy sitting alone on the beach in the rain.
“Oh my god! You left the baby out in the rain all by himself. What are you thinking? Are you insane?”
Martina glared at me and rushed toward the child, picking him up.
“I’m leaving,” Martina said. “We’re leaving. Just go away. Get away from us,” she held the child to her tightly, causing him to cry.
I just stared at him. What the hell was happening? The boy looked just like…Martina started to run down the beach as I was stupefied by what I was beginning to believe was my son.
“Wait!” I shouted, when I finally found my voice. But it was too late. Martina was gone and I wasn’t able to follow her. Just then I heard another cry for help, and I had to go rescue someone else.
That night I drove over to the Collins’ house. I took a guess that Martina would still be living there. I took a deep breath before going up to ring the doorbell. I don’t know what I was most afraid of—being right that Martina had my son, or being wrong.
I approached the door and looked into the window. I saw Martina. She seemed to be arguing with someone. I thought she might have seen me, but she didn’t do anything except gesticulate angrily and yell at whoever it was with her.
When I knocked on the door, however, it wasn’t Martina that answered it. Instead it was her younger sister, Christy.
“Hi Ares. What are you doing here?”
“I came to talk to Martina.”
“Oh. Well. Can you come around back with me?”
I was confused but I followed Christy to the back yard.
“Look, Ares, I don’t know if you know that Martina isn’t exactly herself lately.”
“I kinda got that. She tried to go swimming in her clothes today.”
“Ah. Well, I don’t think now’s a good time to meet with her. She’s having an episode.”
“She thinks she’s being spied on. She’s very upset. She’s screaming at people and yelling and no one is there. When she’s like this, it’s best to just leave her alone.”
I had no idea what to say. “Ok. Well, what about the child? Today I saw her with a little boy.”
“She had Homer with her?” Christy looked worried when I nodded. “That’s not good.”
“I know. Isn’t it dangerous for her to be around a toddler?”
“I think so, but most of the time it’s ok. I’m here and she mostly ignores him.”
“Oh.” I wanted to ask Christy if the boy was mine. I was also terrified to ask.
“Maybe you can come back in the morning,” Christy said. “Like I said, now isn’t a good time. Tomorrow you can meet Homer, too. He’s asleep now. I don’t want to disturb him.”
“Ok. That’s good. I want to meet…Homer.”
“I thought you might, Ares. I’m glad you’re back in town.”
The next day I went back to the Collins’. This time Martina answered the door. The boy, Homer, was behind her.
“Ares, what are you doing here?” Martina demanded, seeing me.
“I’m here to ask a few questions,” I said and pushed my way past her and into the house.
Looking at the boy more closely, I knew that he was mine. I didn’t even have to ask. Instead I said, “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“About Homer. The boy. He’s mine.”
“Oh, well, what do you care? You left me and went away.”
“I broke up with you. And then I went to college for a few terms. And none of that really matters. This boy is my son, and you kept that information from me!”
“So what? You wouldn’t have wanted him. He cries too much and is always underfoot.” Martina pushed past me, completely ignoring the boy who was sitting on the floor sucking his fingers. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“That boy is my son! And he’s just a baby. Of course he cries! You should have informed me about him. I should have known about him. I could have taken him from you if he was such a bother!”
“Oh, what would you have done? You didn’t love me. Why would you love him? You left us. Now leave us again. Get OUT!”
“No, I’m not going anywhere.”
“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” Martina started screaming and hitting me. Homer started to cry. I stepped back and tried to get Martina to calm down, but she just got madder and madder. I heard someone running down the stairs. It was Christy.
She picked Homer up and rocked him. Martina was still shouting for me to get out. I wasn’t sure what to do.
“You should leave, Ares,” Christy said in a soft voice. “I’ll call you.”
“What about Homer? Will everything be ok?”
“Once you leave, she’ll calm down,” Christy said uncertainly. “Homer will be fine. I promise. I look after him all the time. He’s a good boy.”
What choice did I have at that point? Martina was raving and the boy was crying so hard. He looked scared. I forced myself to leave, but I knew I would be back.
Turns out, I didn’t have to go back to the Collins’ to see Homer again. Martina came to me.
“Hello Ares,” she smiled when I opened the door for her. “I thought you might want to meet Homer properly. He’s being a good boy today. No crying and all that.”
I was surprised that Martina seemed perfectly normal. I let her in.
“So Homer is mine,” I said.
“Oh yes. He looks just like you. He has your hair and my skin. His eyes are sort of a mixture of both of ours, though. Isn’t he handsome?”
“Can I hold him?”
“I don’t think so. He doesn’t like strangers.” She turned so that Homer was away from me just a bit. I raised an eyebrow. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. The other night Homer had seemed perfectly fine in my company until his mother started raving at me.
“Why did you come over today, Martina, if you weren’t going to let me see my son?”
“Oh, well, I wanted to tell you that I have forgiven you. You broke up with me when I was pregnant and then left town before I had the baby so that you wouldn’t have to care for him. I could be really angry about that, but I don’t think I will be.”
That was a switch. I could almost feel the crazy radiating from her even though she was speaking calmly. “So what does that mean, Martina? Are you going to let me be a part of Homer’s life?”
“Oh, I don’t know. He doesn’t know you. He might hate you like I do.”
“He might, but I still want to know him. I could help you take care of him. Maybe we could work something out so that he spends some time with me.”
“Spend time with you?” Martina was starting to get agitated. “Why should I let him spend any time with you? I’ve had to do all the work so far! You don’t deserve anything!”
“Now wait a minute,” I said, getting agitated myself. “That’s not fair. I didn’t know about him at all because you didn’t tell me. I would have been there for you both if you had told me.”
“You’d have been there for him, you mean. You wouldn’t have done anything for me. You didn’t love me. You left me. You went away!”
Oh god, she’d said the same thing the other day before getting worked up. “Just because we broke up,” I said as calmly as I could, “doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have helped with Homer.”
For a minute, I thought that Martina was going to lose it, but then she seemed to collect herself, taking a deep breath. “Ok. Ok. You say you want to help. Well, then you can help.”
Martina’s mood had shifted again. She seemed almost smug now, and I was suddenly afraid of what she would do. But what she did was set Homer down on the floor. He immediately stuck his hand in his mouth.
“You can help all you want, Ares. The boy is yours and you can have him.”
Before I could say anything, Martina turned toward the door. She opened it and started running. I watched as she ran up the dock to her waiting car.
“Well hell. What am I going to do now?” I asked her retreating figure. I turned back to Homer who was babbling.
“Bah bah bah bah da da.”
Did he just say daddy?