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Laurels
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Cause what you see isn't always the truth
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June 2, 2015, late afternoon

Arnold leaned back in the old metal chair at the table on his back patio. He lit another cigarette and exhaled the smoke. He dabbed the ash over the ashtray and looked off into the backyard. Their fenced-in yard had been let go in the last month. Arnold had meant to mow the lawn, pull the weeds, and clean the patio furniture during the last few weeks. But all he found himself doing was sitting quietly and contemplating things.

Arnold could look to one corner of the yard and see the place where a three-year-old Noah would make mud pies after a rainy day. In the other corner, he could see where seven-year-old Noah buried his goldfish, Baxter, one cloudy Fall day. Arnold let out another exhale of smoke and shook his head. Everything reminded him of his grandson, but he couldn't pull himself away from it.

For most of the day, Arnold had stayed out of everyone's way. He volunteered to run out for food and other errands. He didn't try to spend time with Ella, nor did he speak with Christian or Angie during lunch. Edie had taken to managing the chores around the house, so he could let her do that. Kelly was still locked in her room, watching the stream. Noah was still alive as of the second day, now spending his day locked in a cabin with two of those girls he met the first day. Arnold could take some relief, but it wasn't much. Noah was probably already dead, and there wasn't much point in denying it.

The door to the house opened, and Christian stepped out.

"Hey," was all Christian said as he stepped outside.

"Hey," replied Arnold.

Christian leaned against the wall of the house and sighed.

"The girls left for the movie," Christian said. "Kelly's still in her room, so it's just the three of us here now."

"Great," Arnold said. "What's for dinner?"

"They're gonna eat while out," Christian said. "Edie said there's leftovers for us."

"Okay then."

The men fell silent. Christian walked over and sat at one of the other chairs at the patio table.

"Can I have a smoke?" he asked.

"I thought you quit."

"I did," Christian said. "But I'd still like one."

Arnold grabbed the pack and passed them over to Christian. Christian stopped smoking when Kelly got pregnant with Noah. He relapsed after the divorce, but quit again when Angie got pregnant with Ella. Arnold lit his cigarette lighter, and Christian leaned in to light the smoke. Christian took a long drag, then exhaled.

"Oh fuck, that's good," he said to himself.

Arnold shook his head.

"Son, if you're gonna lose yourself to addiction because of this, you better think otherwise," Arnold said.

Christian paused and stared at his former father-in-law.

"Don't worry," Christian said. "I'm not thirsty."

Christian took another puff from his cigarette. He couldn't believe Arnold brought up his former drinking addiction. Christian had always struggled with drinking since he was seventeen. It could be blamed on parents who didn't give a shit about him and left him to fill the void with alcohol and tobacco. He was in and out of programs for most of his twenties, his career as a professional poker player keeping him in environments that encouraged him to drink.

When he was first dating Kelly, she had tried to keep his drinking under control. Christian had always promised her he'd keep it to a minimum, and made sure to order non-alcoholic beverages around her. But soon he was drinking vodka from water bottles and passing out outside their apartment. It wasn't until Noah was two and he passed out he was alone with Noah one evening that it finally went too far. Kelly came home from her job to find Christian passed out on the couch and Noah crying his head off in his crib. Kelly finally had enough, and that's when the divorce papers came in.

For the next few years, Christian had to struggle with alimony payments and custody agreements that weren't helped by his continual struggle with AA and the rocky stability of his career. But that's when Angie came in and helped him finally get clean. Now Christian's home in Las Vegas was dry, with not even a single can of beer around for the Fourth of July and all ashtrays in a box somewhere in the attic.

For the last sixteen years, Christian knew Arnold blamed him for Kelly and Noah's suffering in the fallout from the divorce. Arnold had never been the biggest fan of Christian. Arnold wasn't the least addictive person he knew, but Arnold had come from a serious Irish family that knew when to take it easy on liquor. Kelly only married Christian because she got pregnant, and Christian had failed to live up to the responsibilities being a husband and father had entailed. Arnold didn't believe in divorce, especially since he had made his own marriage to Edie last nearly fifty years despite numerous issues in that period of time, but even he had to agree it was right for Kelly to leave. Christian may have gotten his act together for his second marriage, but he still failed his first wife and his son, and that had consequences.

Arnold looked over Christian, with his slightly thinning hair and the bump on his nose. and felt slightly disgusted. Even though they were able to be calm right now, Arnold was still a bit peeved with Christian. The divorce had damaged Kelly. She never had a serious relationship after they fell out, despite Edie's attempts to get her to see other men or to try online dating. He knew Kelly was afraid to put herself out there. It was probably why she still lived with her parents after getting divorced. Her job would pay enough for her and Noah to live on their own, granted things would be a bit tight. But she wanted to stay close to her parents, wanted to help out around the house, and wanted Noah to have some stability in his family situation. Arnold could allow her to do this, knowing it was probably for Noah's best, but even so, he knew Kelly could do better, and Christian had ruined her for it.

Arnold lit another cigarette as he finished the first one. Christian was staring off into the yard.

"Do you think Kelly's going to be okay?" Christian asked. "I mean, it can't be good for her to stay cooped in that room watching that video."

"Of course not," Arnold said. "I don't think any of us will be."

"Yeah, but have you wondered if she'd...you know..."

Arnold glared at Christian.

"Don't. Don't you dare suggest that."

"Well, it's still possible."

"That doesn't mean we should talk about it."

"Arnold, we can't just ignore it."

"I can ignore a lot of things," Arnold told Christian. "I ignored how much of a shit you were when you were married to Kelly, all because I thought she would be strong enough to handle you."

Christian took another drag. "That's really uncalled for. I'm not the issue here."

Arnold turned slightly away from Christian. Christian shook his head.

"You know," Christian began, "Kelly mentioned how much of a cold asshole you were when we were first dating. She said you always liked to stow away your feelings on everything and that you were hard to approach for help. And I know she's not the only one who thinks that. She said Edie's found you hard to get along with at times."

Arnold turned back to Christian. "Don't bring my wife into this."

"Why not? Why not involve everyone?" Christian asked. "You've spent the last two days refusing to talk to anyone, pushing yourself towards closer and closer to lung cancer, and you can't even say anything to your wife and daughter."

Christian put the cigarette out in the ashtray.

"Now I know why Noah barely talked about you," Christian said.

Christian got up from the table and began to walk towards the door to the house. Arnold stood up in place.

"Now wait a minute," Arnold said. "What do you mean by that?"

Christian turned towards the older man.

"Whenever I called Noah or he came to visit, I'd ask him how his family was doing. He would talk about things he'd do with his mom and grandma, how they'd listen to some of his jokes, or plans they'd make for the future, such a shopping trips with Kelly or sewing projects with Edie. When it came to you, all he had to say was 'Same old, same old.' From what I can tell, you and Noah have barely done anything together in years. Maybe he found you weren't someone he could approach anymore."

Christian walked to the door and swung it open, stepping into the house and letting the door slam behind him. Arnold turned back from the door and looked out into the yard, putting the cigarette to his lips again.



"Hey, Grandpa," Noah said, "I got a joke for you."

"Okay, let me hear it."

Arnold was sitting on the patio, smoking, while a thirteen-year old Noah was standing before him with a big smile on his face.

"How do you know when someone is gay?" Noah asked.

"Uh, I dunno, how?" Arnold asked, chuckling.

"When he's got blonde hair, blue eyes, and is your grandson."

Arnold was silent.

"Really now?"

Noah smiled and nodded.

Arnold was silent for a second. The ash from the cigarette fell into the ashtray. Noah was staring expectantly at his grandfather, waiting for him to say something. Finally ready to break the silence, Arnold chortled.

"Well, you could have fooled me," Arnold said. "With those looks, I'd have thought you'd have your pick of any girl you'd want."

"Oh, Gramps" Noah said, chuckling, "I can still get any girl I want. I'm not just going to be every girl's gay bestie. I've gotta choose wisely."

Arnold nodded, trying to not show that he didn't know what "bestie" meant.

"Well, that's all I gotta say," Noah said. "Mom said dinner will be ready soon."

"Okay. See you inside," Arnold said.

Noah smiled and quickly walked back to the door. Arnold waited until Noah disappeared into the house to turn back towards the yard. His smile disappeared as he raised his cigarette to his mouth. He let out a sigh with the smoke in his lungs.
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