Seattle, June 2014
Daniel parked his Lexus at the hospital and surveyed the entrance with fear and loathing. Going inside was the last thing he wanted to do—well, maybe with the exception of getting his testicles waxed. By a three-hundred-pound woman named Helga. But Daniel’s father was in there, in room 605, and no excuse in the world would get him out of a visit this time.
He pushed down the soft leather visor to look in the mirror. As always, his short, trimmed beard was as neat as an obsessive hand with a Zafiro Iridium razor could get it, his skin was clear and moisturized, and his dark eyes were sharp. They were also the color of a cheap bottle of rosé. Sleep was one luxury Daniel couldn’t buy. He nudged at his short dark hair with his fingers, neatened his Dolce & Gabbana tie, and got out of the car. He opened the back passenger door and took out his suit jacket—it was hung on a felt-topped wooden hanger as always—and put it on.
Inside, the tide of nurses and visitors in the hallways parted before his willful stride like the Red Sea for Abraham. Usually having that effect on people was a good thing, but now it only meant he was in front of the door marked 605 in an unfortunately short amount of time. He took a deep breath, telling himself he had faced hostile boards of directors and raving lawyers—he could face this. He opened the door.
Daniel’s father was sitting up in bed when Daniel walked in. Frank Derenzo had been a striking and imposing man as little as six months ago, with his iron-stung black hair, piercing dark eyes, and impeccable tailoring. But the illness had taken him and wrung him out like a dishcloth. He looked half what he once was—his body wasted and his face pale.
Damn. Daniel abhorred seeing the Iron Man like this. It was just… wrong. And disturbing.
He forced a smile despite the fact his stomach had dropped down to the vicinity of his knees. “Hello, Father.” He went to the bed and reached out for a manly handshake. His father took his hand and held on to it, looking Daniel up and down and shaking his head in that disappointed way of his. Zap. Daniel felt a sting in his healthy ego. He hated that he could still feel bothered by his father’s disregard. He pulled his hand away.
“So you decided to finally appear,” Frank said. “Glad to know there’s a filial streak left in you somewhere.”
“Of course I came, Father. How are you?”
Frank grimaced. “How do you think I am? I’ve got a couple of months of breathing left in me. Or so they say. The pain isn’t so bad—yet. I’m putting my affairs in order. That doesn’t mean I’m not pissed as hell. I never did like it when someone told me to get off the pony ride, and this is the biggest pony ride of them all.”
“I’m truly sorry, Father,” Daniel said. And he was. His father was only sixty years old. He’d always been so strong. He didn’t deserve to have his legs cut out from under him like this. Life was a fickle bitch.
Frank made a “what can you do?” face. “I know you’re watching the clock, so let’s get to it. You. You’re one of the things I need to get in order, Daniel.”
Daniel blinked in surprise. “I’m in excellent shape, Father. There’s nothing I need.”
“Yeah, Dan, there is. Sit down.”
Daniel hated it when anyone called him “Dan.” It was so… TV sitcom. But there was no point arguing with his father. The man gave orders; he didn’t take requests.
Daniel moved the bedside chair back a foot, then a tad more, and debated removing his suit jacket. He didn’t usually sit in it; didn’t want to get it wrinkled. But that might make it seem like he planned on staying awhile. Wrinkles were the lesser evil. Weren’t they? Then again, he had an important meeting in two hours. Didn’t want to look—
“Jesus, you’re wound tighter than a hummingbird on speed! Just fucking sit already,” Frank complained.
“That’s what you called me here to say? That I’m uptight?” Daniel asked tersely. He left his jacket on and placed his ass in the chair.
“Of course not. I could have said that much over the phone.” Frank’s eyes twinkled a little.
Was he trying to crack a joke? Now? Daniel cleared his throat and compulsively checked his watch, not even registering the time. “So what is it, Father?”
Frank took a deep breath. His face softened. “Right. No point in beating around the bush. This is what I have to say to you, Daniel, and I want you to really hear it: You need to get off this track you’re on, son. Don’t live the life I led.”
“I’m telling you, Daniel. I look at you and it’s like looking in a goddamn mirror. And from where I’m standing—or rather, lying—that is not a place you want to be.”
Daniel huffed a laugh. “What are you talking about? Do they have you hopped up on meds?”
“Listen to me, goddamn it!” Frank raised his voice. Daniel was a grown man, thirty-four years old, but his father using that tone could still make the five-year-old inside him whimper like a little girl. “I’m not high and I’m not crazy. Do you know who I am right now, Daniel Meyer Derenzo?”
Daniel looked at him.
“I’m fucking Marley’s ghost, that’s who I am to you.”
“I’m you in twenty-five years and, I’m telling you Daniel, you don’t want to be me at the end of your life.”
Daniel opened his mouth to say something about the state of medicine, how careful he was with what he ate, his routine at the gym. But all of that felt like a rather rude boast to a man dying of cancer. And anyway, possibly not the point his father was getting at.
“Okay,” he said instead, as if soothing an angry dog. “Just take it easy.”
“Lisa walked out on you what, three years ago? And why?”
Zap. Another small sting to Daniel’s ego. His spine stiffened. “We grew apart.”
Frank shook his head impatiently. “That’s bull pizzle. She walked out on you for the same reason your mother walked out on me— I paid zero fucking attention to her and she decided she wanted a husband who was more than a signature on the bills. I did that, Daniel. I put her on a shelf and lived for my work, and then I was fool enough to blame her when she left me. And before I could get my head out of my ass, she was dead and gone.”
Daniel didn’t like to be reminded of it, not of any of it. He was a teen when they divorced, and Frank had always been so absent, Daniel never blamed his mother for leaving. But he didn’t want to go there, because he’d never gotten over the guilt that if he had only been better, more perfect, his father would have spent more time with them. He would have, right?
Still, Daniel didn’t see how that had anything to do with his own divorce. “I’m sorry you never got to reconcile with Mother. That’s the difference between you and me, Father. I don’t blame Lisa. She’s a good person. The divorce was a mutual decision. I’m just, you know, not the relationship type.”
“And that, Dan, is the problem,” Frank sighed. “Believe me, I’m not saying this because it’s my idea of a fun time to poke and prod at my grown son. I’m saying it because I wish to hell someone had sat me down and told me this when I was your age.”
Daniel wiped his upper lip, relieved to find that he wasn’t sweating yet. But he could feel the storm clouds of stress rolling in, and his heart rate was speeding up. “I’m sorry you’re so disappointed in me. But I’m fine. Better than fine. I’m doing extremely well.”
“Uh-huh. Are you seeing anyone? Have you even been on a date since Lisa left you?”
“Yes. I… that’s… it’s none of your business.” And now Daniel felt a giant “L” flashing on his forehead.
“Right. You’re too busy working to date. When was the last time you took a vacation? Walked on the beach? Played poker with friends? Sat in a goddamn hammock?”
“A hammock? Really? What is this, Gilligan’s Island?”
“Shut up, Daniel! I’m trying to impart some goddamn pearls of wisdom!”
“The tone” was back. Daniel, breathing hard, made himself calm down. He started his breathing exercises, silently, and willed his face to relax into don’t-give-a-fuckdom. If he let his dad get to him, he’d be down with a five-alarm headache for the rest of the day and he couldn’t. He had to review the paperwork on Mojambo, then he had three important calls related to Liptec and—
“Just look at what I did to us.” Frank’s brow was creased in frustration, his voice rough. “You’re my only son. Yet we’ve seen each other, what, once a year for the past ten years? I wasn’t even part of your childhood. Did I ever go to a single one of your ball games?”
A laugh burst from Daniel’s lips. “Yeah, well, that would have been a trick since I never played sports.”
Frank waved a hand. “See what I mean? I was a terrible father. I should have taken you camping or over to the islands. We should have spent more time together.”
Daniel was at a loss for a reply. As a boy, he’d wanted that more than anything. But he’d stopped craving his father’s attention long ago. Now he really wanted to get out of this room and forget—forget that his father was dying of cancer, forget this entire conversation. He struggled for something positive to say. “I, uh, always looked up to you. You were a success. You were a big shot. You were an inspiration to me.”
“A success!” Frank shook his head. “I have a lot of money. So what? It didn’t stop me from getting cancer. And even if I can buy the best room at the hospital, it’s empty. It’s empty, Daniel.”
“I’m sorry, Father. I tried to get here sooner but—”
“It’s not your fault. You don’t ignore people all your life and then expect them to give a shit at the end. I know this. No, you listen to me. Here I am at the final curtain call of my one and only lifetime, and what do I have? I have a huge bank account I can’t take with me. You’re my only legacy, Daniel, my legacy in genetic material. And you’re miserable. So tell me: What was it all for?”
“God… you…. I am not miserable!” Daniel was getting pissed off by his father’s refusal to recognize how successful he was. Would it kill him to be proud just fucking once?
Frank eyed him up and down for a long moment. His face softened. “No, I get it. You look good.”
It’s about time. “Thank you.”
“Nice tie,” Frank pointed at Daniel’s neckwear. “And those shoes! What are those, John Lobb’s?”
Daniel looked down and felt a wave of pleasure at the sight of his shoes. “Yeah, the new line. I got them at—”
“They’re beautiful. Let me see one.”
“Come on.” His father held out an impatient hand.
Frowning a little, Daniel slipped off one of his side buckle Oxfords and handed it to his father. Frank studied it. “Nice.” Then he threw it out the open window.
Daniel ran over to the window. His shoe was lodged elegantly on the first-floor rooftop down below. “Are you insane?” he sputtered. “What did you do that for?”
“Because it’s ridiculous! You’re working your ass off, day and night—I know you, Daniel—and what do you get out of it? A fifteen-hundred-dollar pair of shoes? Daniel, that’s not living.”
Daniel glared at him.
His father gave a deep sigh. “Look. I know you think you have all the time in the world, but that’s a false assumption. You blink your eyes and you’re forty, blink again and you’re fifty, and then—then you’re lying on your death bed realizing that the business deals you once thought were so important—shipping this and buying that—they’re vaporware, Dan. No one remembers, no one cares, any more than they care about your fancy shoes. They don’t mean shit. I just—I want so much more for you than that.”
Frank sounded so sincere. For a moment, the curtains of resistance in Daniel’s mind parted and he got a glimpse of what his father was saying. He felt a sharp burning in his gut, an emotion he couldn’t define but one bad enough to steal his breath away. But he stubbornly pushed it aside and shook his head. “There is nothing wrong with my life. I’m fulfilled. I’m… happy.” Daniel’s voice broke. He pressed his lips together, angry at the betrayal of his vocal cords.
His father smiled sadly. “It’s enough, Daniel. The money you already have, it’s enough. Love someone. Have great sex. Travel. Sit on a porch in the fucking woods and read a book. But don’t let time slip away from you. Because time, Daniel, time beats to hell anything they sell on the stock exchange. Take it from a man who’s nearly out. Live your life, Daniel.”
Daniel stood at the window, an impeccably dressed man in one shoe, and stared at his father. Daniel could see that the old man meant it, that he was dealing with some end-of-life crisis of faith in the Church of the Almighty Dollar. And who could blame him? As weird as it was to see one of the most ruthless businessmen Daniel had ever known talking about marriage and children and time, Daniel could concede his father had a point. He had been thinking that he should slow down a bit. He’d been thinking that for a few years now, in fact, even if he hadn’t acted on it. Wasn’t Nick always telling him that?
But it wasn’t in Daniel’s nature to appreciate being told to get off the pony ride either.
He took a deep, calming breath and forced a fake smile. “I’ll, uh, I’ll think about it. Will that do, Father? Now I have to find a maintenance man to get my goddamn shoe.”
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