Author’s Note: I think if I was forced to write straight drama or anything without even a bit of comedy or other elements to relieve it, I’d rebel. Actually, the story does, and the characters do. They were having an important conversation, but they refused to stay on topic.
Hesitation was a terrible flaw. She knew that. She’d done enough kicking herself for it in the past, with her uncle, with other things that she refused to think about, and she knew she should never have let that silence stretch on after he asked her if it was him. She tapped her fingers on the table, impatient, wanting him to pick back up already.
She was worried about him.
She didn’t understand that. She didn’t know Koslow. Of course, he’d had that breakdown in front of her, and that made her feel a bit more sympathetic than she would have been most of the time. She knew machines. She didn’t know people. She didn’t even like them, generally speaking.
“Come on, Koslow. Answer the phone so I know you didn’t get crazy and kill yourself or something.” She didn’t want to beg, but she also didn’t want this to turn into her uncle all over again. She couldn’t help him, but Koslow wasn’t dead—or he better not be. The call connected for a change, and she let out a breath as she heard him pant a few times. “Koslow?”
“I wanted to apologize. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say when you asked me if you could have done it. I don’t know you. I guess… it does seem possible. I mean, what better reason would you have for tormenting yourself with memories than if it was you, and why would your grandfather give you a bunch of clues instead of telling you if it wasn’t you? Maybe he thought you needed to build up to where you were capable of facing it. Maybe what he’s been protecting you from isn’t someone else but from yourself, from destroying you when you knew the truth.”
“I hate thinking that,” Koslow said. He was quiet for a moment, and then he cleared his throat. “Um… Not that I don’t appreciate you calling me back or anything because I do, and I hadn’t expected it, but… I’m soaking wet from the shower, and I need to let you go so that I can dry off. Can I call you back?”
“Yes, of course. I didn’t know you’d gone in the shower. I was afraid you’d gone. That you were…”
“You wouldn’t be the first one to think so.”
“I suppose not.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “You’re going to call back?”
“Would you feel that much better if I put you on speaker while I dressed and gave you a play-by-play? Oh, look, I’ve got a pair of socks here…”
She laughed, shaking her head. “No, I wouldn’t, actually, so please don’t. I don’t think I want to go there at all. Um… That sounds bad; it’s just… Look, the only reason that I worry is because I had an uncle with PTSD, and the medication and therapy didn’t help him. I was too young to know what to do, but I—I have no idea why I said that.”
“Hey, I had a panic attack in front of you, so we’re even. I’ll call you back in five minutes. If it’s any later than that, you call me. Deal?”
She heard the dial tone and set down the phone. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she refused to watch the clock. She went to the window and looked out, wishing the sun was up so she could start working on Phantom. She hadn’t expected Koslow’s visit to bring up her nightmares, though she should have.
He kept reminding her of her uncle, after all.
The phone rang, and she reached for it. “That was fast.”
“I’m not all that fashionable, and I’d already dripped all over most of the floor,” Koslow said. He groaned. “Um… I’m pretty sure that’s too much information—it was just water, but—I don’t even—I should apologize because I think the sock thing was… maybe flirting, might have seemed like something it wasn’t, and I didn’t intend it that way. I’m not… Not half that confident and I don’t know that I would have said that to someone I was dating. I’m not that kind of person.”
She blinked. “What kind of person? The kind that blurts out whatever you’re thinking?”
“That I am, more or less, but I meant… you know… Oh, I’m making this very awkward. It just struck me as I reached for the phone again that it might have seemed almost like… phone sex in reverse since I was getting dressed, not taking stuff off, and oh, hell, what did I just say?”
She found herself giggling. “Relax, Koslow. Your virtue is safe with me. I didn’t even picture your socks. We’re fine.”
“I don’t think we should talk anymore. All I manage to do is humiliate myself.”
She shrugged. “If you were out to impress me, that might matter, but you’re not, so I don’t think you have to worry about it. Just relax. We had an important discussion going before, remember? We were talking about why your grandfather might have done what he did.”
“Right. Except… Why is there a gap between when Dad disappeared and when he died? He doesn’t exist after the day I was born, but if I killed him or just saw someone kill him, where was he all that time? And… why did I kill him, if I did? What could he possibly have done that made me do that? Mom was devoted to him. She was still in love with him when she died. The only reason everyone has for hating him was that he took off, but I can’t see me killing him for that if he happened to come back.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Did you want your father to come back?”
Koslow let out a breath. “Before the nightmares, yes. I thought… It wasn’t that they tried to make me feel like it was my fault or anything, but he took off when I was born, and there was always that connection in my mind. Like… I’d somehow ruined things for everyone, but if I could get him back, I’d fix all of us. Mom would be happy, my brothers would be happy…”
“And then you started dreaming that he was dead.”
“You don’t think that if he showed up saying he’d robbed a bank or killed someone or had some other family…?”
“I would have been desperate to make him stay, though if he’d admitted to killing someone… I don’t know. There’s always so much hypothetical involved in having my dad be missing like that. I can’t say what I would have done.”
“Still, as far as you know, he was a stand up guy until he took off.”
“Yes.” Koslow was silent for a moment, but then he sucked in a breath and spoke in a rush. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why do you live with your grandfather?”
“So he doesn’t hurt himself out here all alone and no one knows about it before it’s too late.”
“But you weren’t that close before or our paths would have crossed. Mom was such a mess we had to live at the farm until after high school, and you could hardly have forgotten about the fiasco that happened when I started having nightmares and begged them to look for Dad’s body to make the dreams stop.”
“That’s a long story, Koslow, and I’m not in the mood to share it.”
“Instead of Koslow. That still makes me think people are looking for my dad unless I’m at work.”
“I should go make breakfast.”
“Do you usually eat breakfast?”
“No, not most of the time, I have to have some app on my phone or computer remind me to eat at all. I don’t know what it is. I never seem to have an appetite. Neutral topic. The car. What are you going to do with it?”
“Well, I’m planning on seeing the shape of the engine first and foremost. I’ll go from there. I’m not sure I’d leave the rest of it alone, though it’s impressive for being what it is. I guess it depends. Need to see how much damage there is underneath.” She twisted her lip a little. “You could come out and see the progress on the weekends if you like.”
“Probably not a good idea. My uncle hates me, and I’m not going near the farm now that Grandpa’s dead and my inheritance has been dealt with. I can’t afford to show much interest in the car, either.”
“Who said you were interested in the car?”
He cursed and hung up on her, and she shook her head, not sure why she was laughing.