“And who might you be?” The man asked as he opened the door to find them on his doorstep.
“Uh,” Andrew lost all his confidence as the man stared him down. “I’m Andrew and this is my brother Quinn. Is Harriet home?”
The man’s eyes narrowed even more as he searched his face. “She’s not. May I ask why you want to see her?”
Andrew swallowed hard. The man was greying in both head and beard with a face hardened by the years. He had blue eyes and was of average height with a thick build. His hair had probably been very dark once, nothing like Harriet’s bright gold. In fact, there was nothing of Harriet in him at all.
“Are you Doctor Thatcher?” Andrew asked.
“I am, but that tells me nothing about why you’re here or what you want with my daughter.”
Well, this wasn’t going to be easy, was it? Then again, he didn’t know what else he expected. He didn’t know how much the man knew about what had happened between them, but clearly he knew enough that even Harriet’s estranged friend knew it had to do with Andrew.
“I, uh,” Andrew tried not to shift on his feet, but his body had him doing it anyway. “I was hoping that we could talk. I think I sort of got Harriet into some trouble a couple weeks ago.”
The man immediately stiffened and turned even colder. “What kind if trouble?”
Andrew flinched when he realized what the doctor had taken from his words. “Oh, no not like that.” Actually he didn’t know. He prayed it wasn’t like that, but he hadn’t talked to her in some weeks. For all he knew, she could be.
Quinn made a small squeaky sound and batted, almost reflexively, at his arm. Both Andrew and the doctor turned to him. Quinn didn’t look up, but he felt their gazes and stared straight at his sneakers like he’d been taught. Maybe he should never have taught Quinn that, maybe that was wrong. Maybe they should have tried to get him to behave instead. Andrew could recall his parents trying to tame Quinn. He could remember the hours of blood curdling screams, the holes in the walls, the smashed windows, the police sirens. The screaming and screaming and screaming…All of it Quinn, every bit of it.
“Come inside then.” The doctor said after a long look at Quinn.
He didn’t look especially mad anymore, so Andrew put a hand on Quinn’s shoulder, ignoring the flinch, and walked him in. The house was fairly large, well decorated, and spotless. It was a far cry from the Bapson house of crosses, chipped cups, uneven paint, and parrot $hit stained carpet. The doctor lead them past a lazy looking great dane lying out on the richly embroidered rug and through to a dining room with a carved table and six seats. There was a small stack of papers sitting there and a cup of still steaming coffee.
“Susan.” The doctor called and a petite woman with a green scarf wrapped around her head popped in and gave Andrew and Quinn a kind, if not slightly confused, smile. “Please make our two guests some tuna sandwiches.”
“Uh,” Andrew went, needing to interject, but feeling embarrassed for it. “Tuna doesn’t, uh, settle well with Quinn.”
Quinn couldn’t really do any sort of seafood after he had somehow convinced himself that he the tuna could speak even after it was dead and apparently cried out in pain which made Quinn cry out in terror.
But the doctor didn’t need to know any of that.
“How about some peanut butter and jellies then?” He asked and Andrew nodded.
The woman left and Dr. Thatcher waved a hand at the chairs, gesturing for them to take a seat. Quinn sat beside Andrew, staying perched at the very edge of his seat with his palms and upper arms laid flat against the table. Andrew ignored him.
“I believe I saw your face a few weeks ago in the paper.” The doctor said, sitting across from them like he was some refined prince. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Andrew. Bapson.” He swore at himself for being so stupid and nervous. He was just some random guy. A random doctor guy who was gazing at him like he was deciding how exactly he would dissect him. “And yes, I was in the paper. With Harriet.”
“And Mr. Mavros.” The doctor said.
“Yes, we’ve been best friends since junior high.” Andrew said and immediately regretting saying best friend like he was some school girl. “I took Harriet out to the party after the interview.”
The doctor just gave him a long stare. Andrew stared back, ignoring the lightness in his head. After a while the man said; “I don’t understand why exactly you’re here. There’s nothing to talk about. You slept with my daughter and there’s nothing else to it.”
“I—” Andrew gulped. “I heard from a friend of Harriet’s that she hasn’t been back home in a while and I—” He took a deep breath and forced himself to talk like a normal human being. He’d done nothing wrong after all. “I just wanted to come by and say I’m sorry for what happened. We had been drinking and—”
“Harriet doesn’t drink.” The doctor said, cutting in.
“She wasn’t going to, but I talked her into it and we were drunk—”
“My daughter doesn’t drink.” The doctor said again, his voice turning colder.
“But she did this time.” Andrew could feel the anger begin to brew inside of him.
“No, she did not. She never drinks more than half a cup, if that.”
Andrew laughed even as he lied. “Then you don’t know her very well.”
“What I do know is that your pulse is picking up, you’re not meeting my eyes, and you just swallowed too hard. All signs of a liar.” The doctor was getting mad too. “And above all. My daughter does. Not. Drink.”
Andrew opened his mouth to say something—what, he didn’t know—but Quinn beat him to it. He screamed loudly enough that the scarfed woman came flying in to see who was dying, the large spotted dog on her heels. When the sound disappeared, Quinn sat in his chair with his knees pulled up, his heels resting on the chair. He hid his face behind his knees and held his hands tight over his ears. He was breathing hard and seemed to be rocking back and forth the tiniest bit.
“Sorry.” Andrew said, all the anger having fled at the first of the sound. “He doesn’t like loud noises.”
The doctor didn’t seem mad anymore either. He was watching Quinn curiously.
“Does he speak verbally?” The doctor asked.
Andrew bit down the bitter defensive feeling. “Of course. Just not usually in the company of strangers.”
The woman who had popped in a few seconds ago before popping out came back in then with three peanut butter and jellies. It wasn’t the Wonderbread and Goober peanut butter and jelly they had at home, but some high end stuff. There were potato chips too that looked as if they were homemade. The dog on the other hand, came up to Andrew, gave him a brief sniff in the face and lay his great, lazy body down beside the older man’s chair.
“Does he have a good mind for patterns?” The doctor continued, not even looking at his incredible quality food or the giant dog he possessed.
“I guess…” Andrew didn’t know why this was relevant, but at least the doctor wasn’t looking at him like he was the scum of the earth anymore.
“Did he have trouble with motor skills or develop them late?”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“Did he crawl strangely or have trouble picking things up, or rolling over? I can see that he rocks when he’s overwhelmed.” The doctor wasn’t even really talking to Andrew anymore. He seemed to sink into his own mind before turning to Quinn and asking. “Do you have trouble sleeping? Lots of nightmares? Do you ever hear a some one calling your name when no one sai—”
“Hey, hey.” Andrew shouted, feeling as if he were the one with delayed skills. “My brother’s not some science experiment—”
Quinn’s head shot up from behind his knees and he looked at the doctor. “Harriet said you once dissected an owl with her.”
The doctor’s face turned inward again as he said, “We did. Right here at this table.”
Quinn smiled and pulled at his eyebrows. “Cool.”
“I think,” The doctor said, rising from his chair and stepping over the dog. He turned to the large glass and wood cabinet pushed up against the wall. “We still might have some feathers from that owl.”
Andrew’s parents kept a similar cabinet, though not nearly so fancy. Theirs was filled with mother’s and father’s day cards drawn in crayon and Quinn and Andrew’s tiny plaster hands and the Lincoln Log mission Andrew made in fourth grade. Sometimes Andrew took them out of the cheap cabinet just to hold them and remember that there were good times. Times when his father was home to play with them, times when his mother wasn’t rattling about some scripture or other.
Only this cabinet…Andrew could see a picture of a young girl with braids standing beside some sort of little metal box on a decorated table. He didn’t know what it was, but the girl was smiling with pride, holding up a gold medal, her tongue sticking through the gaps where two front teeth were missing. Beside the picture was the medal. There was a cell made out of clay and a dot-to-dot picture of Van Gogh and a thin metal square with sand stuck to it in intricate patterns beside a violin bow and yet another first place ribbon. There were certificates of perfect scored state-tests, a Berkeley acceptance letter beside a diploma and ridiculous transfer papers. There was a picture of Harriet, maybe eighteen, standing beside men and women he’d only seen on the news for amazing medical feats.
And there she was beside them. A colleague, an equal, a protégée.
What was he doing here?
Harriet had been destined for greatness her whole life and he was just an awkward man-child who still had to wear a retainer at night.
“Ahh.” The doctor said and pulled out three long feathers from behind a dead wasps’ nest and a selection of colorful rocks. “Here they are. You know, Hattie hasn’t looked at these in a long time. Maybe you would like them?”
Quinn put his legs down quickly and sat up at attention, staring at the feathers. “Yes, please.”
“Here. From the wings of a great horned owl.” The man said and handed them to Quinn who looked like he was being handed a winning lottery bill. The doctor turned back to Andrew as he sat back in his seat and ate a single potato chip. When he swallowed and wiped his fingers on a blue cloth napkin, he said, “What sort of work do you do, Mr. Bapson?”
“I—Andrew, please.” He hated when people called him Mr. Bapson, that was his dad’s name not his. “I’m going to school right now, but I work as an apprentice when I’m not at there. Actually, I go to school with Harriet, but we only just met a few weeks ago.”
“What are you studying Andrew?” The doctor ate another chip. Quinn was digging into his food with one hand, and holding the feathers out with the other, staring at them intently.
“Business mostly, but I take some designing classes on the side. Lots actually.” Andrew felt himself turn a little red. He didn’t know why he always felt shame for his passion, but he did sometimes. Especially in the faces of rich doctors whose daughters he slept with.
“Are you good with numbers then?” The doctor wanted to know.
Andrew smiled a little. “Not really, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.”
The doctor smiled and opened his mouth to say something, but he was cut off by an irked voice.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Andrew smacked his knee up against the table as he turned to look at her and winced in pain. Harriet barely had time to register that Quinn was there before he was up and trying to shove feathers into her face, Paper Boy at his side, trying to sniff out where Harriet had been for the past several weeks.
“Look Harriet, your dad gave me these feathers. They’re-owl-dissect-horn-you-know-wingspan—”
“Quinn, that’s wonderful, but what are you doing here?” Harriet shoved the feathers away as gently as she could without breaking them or Quinn’s fragile spirit. She stared Andrew down and then her father.
“We were just talking Hattie.” Her dad said, taking a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The way he ate it was so causal, but Harriet knew it was anything but. What exactly had gone on in here? Beside Quinn having feathers and no longer seeming to know English.
“We should probably go.” Andrew said, putting down the paper napkin he’d been fiddling with. “Quinn has homework.”
“Do not.” He protested.
“Do too and so do I, let’s go.” Andrew grabbed Quinn’s sleeve and dragged him past where Harriet stood in the archway. He stopped once to give Harriet a smile and a nod of acknowledgment while Quinn tried to show her the feathers one last time. Harriet was vaguely aware of Susan leading them out as her dad got up from the table and picked up his food, heading into the living room, Paper trailing behind him loyally.
Harriet followed to yell at him or something, but instead she just watched as he sat down and patted the seat beside him. Harriet could only stare as he turned on the TV and took a drink of coffee. Her dad, doctor as he was, said that everyone was allowed a minor addiction and his was coffee. Harriet’s was peanut butter and pancakes. And getting herself into situations apparently.
She’d been staying with Aunt Phyl and Uncle George for the past three weeks and had only come home because she needed a book. School was in swing now and for the first time, she didn’t have a dad to come home to and help her study. Uncle George was smart with numbers, but not all of what Harriet did was numbers. It hurt her pride to know that she still relied on her dad that much.
She sat down beside her father and he put his food down and lowered the volume of the TV. He turned to her and clasped his hands, his face wrinkling the way it always did when he was unsure how to convey something.
“What I did was wrong.” He said it completely bluntly, the way he always said things. “It was way over the top and I’m sorry.”
“We’re both adults, you know. I should be able to see whomever I wish.” Harriet said, not feeling quite like an adult at all. She wanted to rest her head on her dad’s shoulder and she wanted her mom to come sit beside them and pet Harriet’s head, the way she used to.
“I know that.” He said, maybe a little sadly. Or as sadly as a hardened doctor could be. “I’m a reasonable man. But even the most reasonable and poised of men are protective when their daughters are concerned. You’ll understand when you have kids.”
Harriet finally allowed herself to sink into the sofa cushions and let out the breath she’d been holding for weeks. “I’m not sure I’ll ever have kids.”
“That’s what I thought. I was a doctor in my thirties with one testicle and no time for children or any sort of family. Then I met you and your mother and…” He smiled at the memory and gripped Harriet’s hand, squeezing it tight. “Life is beautiful like that sometimes Bug.”
“And sometimes it really sucks.”
Her dad laughed and hugged her. “And sometimes it really sucks. You just have to make the most of it. Now why don’t you go give that Andrew boy a call? See if he’s made it home yet. He’s a good boy, that one.”
Harriet felt herself agreeing as her face burned. “I don’t even have his number.”
“Oh?” Her dad chuckled. “Why don’t you go take a look at that napkin he left on the table?”
Harriet tried not to get up too fast.
She failed miserably.