PG-13 for mature situations

I saw him as he was walking toward the food court. Walking, I said, but maybe I should have said dragging. He shuffled along. His shoulders drooped. His head drooped. His collared shirt was unbuttoned and in sore need of pressing. It took me a moment to recognize him.

“Larry!” I called. He turned and looked at me, Larry did. His grey eyes flickered with recognition, but little else.

“Hey, Lindsey,” he said. Then he stood in the middle of the food court, irresolute, people streaming past him in both directions.

I hurried over to him, my JC Penny shopping bags bouncing in my hands. “Larry,” I said again, almost breathless and unsure of what else to say. I didn’t know what other safe ground there was, except for his name.

Larry nodded. I could see him grasping for a topic. “The kids,” he burst out, “how they?”

“Good,” I said, grabbing at the kids like they were a life-raft. “They’re fine. Lily just had her piano recital last week and won first place. Manny just started swim lessons. He can already swim nearly the length of the pool. The kid’s half fish, I swear.” I grinned.

Larry grinned, and looked nearly like his old self.

I stopped grinning. “And you? You’re holding up?”

The smile melted from Larry’s face. “It’s tough.”

I glanced down at the bags in my hands, then up at Larry and the Borders bag clutched in his left hand.

“About to grab a bite?” I asked.

Larry nodded. “Yeah.”

“Why don’t you come over to my place? I’ll throw on some burgers.”

An odd look crossed Larry’s face, fleetingly, then he shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks.” He gestured. “There’s a CPK over there. I’ll grab something.”

“Larry, don’t feel like you’re all alone. I’d love to have you over. The kids will love to see their Uncle Larry again.”

Again, that look on Larry’s face. Then: “Will Phil be home?”

I shook my head. “Unfortunately, he’ll be working late. But even so–”

“All right,” Larry said.

I did a double take at his sudden change of heart. “Really?”

“Sure, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“All right then,” I said, and grinned. “Are you done with your shopping?”

Larry nodded. “Sure.”

“Fine then.”

We turned and went out to the parking structure, chatting about little things—the weather, burger condiments, the small doings of the children. I never said the word ‘divorce’. Neither did Larry.

We split to scurry to our respective cars and drove to my compact little two-story in the suburbs. Lily and Manny came flying outside at the noise of our engines and clambered at my window until I tumbled out, laughing, and giving them packages to carry. Then they caught sight of Larry and dashed over to him, dropping my bags all over the driveway.

“Uncle Larry!” they cried. “Uncle Larry!” Lily chattered a mile a minute about her piano recital and showed him the ribbon she insisted I pin on her shirt every morning. Manny giggled and tried to climb Larry’s leg.

At first, I moved to rescue Larry from the children’s exuberance, but he was laughing and chuckling right along with them like he had before the divorce had begun to strangle him. So I simply scooped my bags up from the ground and went inside to start the burgers.

The patties were sizzling in the pan by the time Larry and the children finally made their way inside. I called for Lily to set the table and the four of us settled down.

Manny began a long story involving water and goggles that I lost track of after a few minutes. But Larry seemed to be enjoying Manny’s childish prattles.

“Uncle Larry,” Lily said suddenly. “Will you ever bring Auntie Sara to us again?”

The table quieted.

“Lily,” I started.

“No, Lily,” Larry said quietly. “I won’t.”

“Oh,” Lily said. She got up from her seat and walked over to Larry. She stretched up onto her toes and kissed his cheek. Larry gave her a wan smile.

“Play Candyland with my, Uncle Larry?” Manny said, ketchup smeared across his face.

“Of course,” Larry said.

“And Mommy?” Manny said, turning to me.

I smiled at my youngest and nodded. The children cleared the table and set up the game. We played for nearly an hour, and then I sent Lily and Manny up to bed.

Larry and I began to talk. We had gone to college together, the two of us and Phil. We reminisced about the old days, when late term papers were the worst of our worries. I brought out a bottle of Scotch and we swapped stories of college life. Anna had gone to school elsewhere, and so these memories were not dangerous, I felt.

Suddenly there was a jingle of keys in the front door. Larry leaped to his feet at the same moment Phil entered the house.

“The kiddies aren’t in bed already, I hope?” he said, his voice booming after the unconsciously lowered tones Larry and I had been using.

“Yeah,” I said, getting to my feet. “They have school. . .” my voice trailed off as I saw Phil notice Larry.

Larry deposited his glass of Scotch on the coffee table as if it was a hot coal and rubbed his palms on his trousers. “I should go, Lindsey.”

“Oh you don’t have to leave,” I said.

“No, it’s really—I should go now.”

Phil said nothing.

I sensed that now was not the time to push him. “Okay, Larry. Thanks for coming.”

I walked with him to the door. Phil stepped to one side and offered a strained smile. “See you around, pal.”

Larry didn’t answer. I shot Phil a look that he ignored, then stepped out onto the porch with Larry and pulled the door shut.

“Don’t mind Phil,” I said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“I do,” Larry said quietly. I almost thought he hadn’t meant for me to hear it, so I pretended I hadn’t.

“He’s not good at showing sympathy. When my father died, he acted like a block of wood for weeks whenever I mentioned him.”

Larry turned to me. “Anna’s having an affair, Lindsey. That’s why she wants the divorce, that’s why she’s leaving. So just—just be careful, okay?”

“I’m so sorry, Larry. I didn’t know–”

“Of course you didn’t; I didn’t tell you.”

“Phil–”

“Don’t talk to Phil about this. He knows.”

“Does he?”

“I’m kind of glad now Anna and I never had any kids. Kids don’t deserve this.” He looked me straight in the eye. “And neither do you, Lindsey, neither do you. I’m so sorry.”

Then he walked down the drive to his car, hands in his jacket pockets, shoulders hunched against the wind and misery.

I felt the buffet of them both as well, and a single tear trickled down my cheek as I watched him go.

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