Chapter 1: Dredging Up The Past

Chapter 1: Dredging Up The Past

Danny’s knuckles were white as he gripped the Jeep’s steering wheel. Out of the corner of his eye, his wife’s profile was granite. Set jaw, shoulders stiff, Heather stared out the windshield. He smothered a sigh. He was so Goddamn tired of fighting with her over what seemed like every little thing. This time it was about him picking up extra shifts at work.

He wasn’t sure what Heather expected: they had a mortgage to pay, and tuition at St. Catherine’s Catholic school for their three sons. Not to mention all the other bills that came with their middle class existence. His salary as a detective—and hers as a kindergarten teacher—didn’t stretch as far as it used to and they needed those overtime dollars.

On the radio, the DJ nattered on about inconsequential dross and then said, “Next, up we have a deep track you may not have heard recently—Bombshell from The Kingmakers—”

Danny clicked the radio off and glanced in the rearview. All three boys were pretending to not hear them argue. The sigh he’d stifled before escaped.

 “What was that sigh for?” Her voice lashed him.

“Just sick of fighting.”

“Fine.” Heather looked back out the window.

The reluctant détente in their skirmish opened the door for the boys to start squabbling with each other. After five minutes, Danny barked, “Enough!”

 “Matty started it,” Lucas complained.

“I don’t care who started it. I’m finishing it.” Danny said as they pulled over in front of the white Dutch Colonial where he’d grown up. He stared in the rearview mirror as he spoke. In the back seat, Lucas looked sullen but a grin crept across Matty’s face.

“Matthew,” Danny warned—his ten-year-old knew how to push all of his older brother’s buttons.

“Mom! I’m not doing anything.”

“You’re in trouble,” Tommy said in singsong voice.

“Shut up!” Matty glared at his younger brother.

“Your father said enough.” Heather opened the door and grabbed the casserole at her feet. “Come on, Nanny and Grampy are in the house. Danny, bring the bag of books in the back. Your mother’s going to donate them to the nursing home where she volunteers.”

Her steps were brisk, her heels clicking on the wide brick walkway. The boys followed. Danny stayed in the car for a second and relished the silence. He and Heather had been married for thirteen years. They’d had trouble on and off, but the year had been pretty rough. If he was being honest, rough was probably an understatement. Other than their children, they didn’t seem to have that much in common any more, and a constant state of low-level antagonism had become the norm as they lived increasingly parallel lives.

But his troubles with his marriage weren’t something he was going to bring to table for Sunday dinner. Grabbing the books, he paused and looked at his childhood home. The Padovano family was born and bred in Brooklyn and three generations of his family had lived in this house.

When he was kid, Sunday dinners with the family were an annoyance. They were something his mother had insisted on and God help you if you missed one. Now? Now he was glad that his own sons had the opportunity to have that kind of larger family gathering as part of their childhood. He hoped when they were grown, they’d appreciate it the way he did now. A pang of guilt touched him. He was well aware that they weren’t growing up in the same environment he did.

Inside, he dropped the bag behind the door and went into the kitchen where his mother was holding court.

“Danny!” she said with the enthusiasm of someone who hadn’t seen him in a month even though she’d seen him at church not an hour before.

“Hey, Ma.” Danny kissed her proffered cheek.

Across the kitchen his sister, Maggie, chopped vegetables and rolled her eyes. She hated cooking and every Sunday got roped into becoming their mother’s sous chef. Heather came in from the dining room, moved the casserole from the counter to the microwave, and started to clean some of the dishes to make room on the counter. Danny turned to go look for his father.

“Ma, aren’t you going to make Danny help?” asked Maggie.

“I have all the help I need with you girls.”

As soon as she turned to check something on the stove Danny waved at Maggie. She stuck her tongue out at him.

Before long, they were all settled at the big oak dining room table. Danny’s father, Richie, sat at the head of the table while his mother, Deb, sat to her husband’s right. Next to her, Maggie and her daughter, Cole. Danny’s family rounded out the guests. They said grace, adding a special prayer for Danny’s younger brother, Joey, who was in the army, and tucked into a huge meal and some lively debate and conversation. After, they retreated to the family room.

“What’s in the box, Grampy?” Cole asked, eyeing a cardboard box next to one of the chairs.

“Some old photos and stuff,” Richie said.

“Cool. Can I look?” After an affirmative nod from her grandfather Cole pounced on the box. Nearly seventeen, she was the spitting image of her mother as a teen. Lucas went to look in the box, too.

“She looking at colleges yet?” Heather asked.

“Ugh. Yes. I can’t believe it.” Maggie’s face pinched. “She wants to go to USC.”

“Pricey,” Danny said.

“Don’t I know it? And her Dad is throwing around a lot of financial promises he’d better keep.”

Danny didn’t press the issue. Maggie’s ex lived in Michigan now and while he hadn’t been a complete deadbeat, he hadn’t lived up to most of his promises in the past. Maggie, as far as Danny was concerned, was right to be skeptical. Across the room, Cole showed a picture to Lucas and they both laughed.

Danny watched his niece. Cole didn’t look like a little girl any more—she looked like a young woman. It made him feel old. “Wasn’t it yesterday I was giving her piggy back rides in the back yard?” he said to no one in particular.

“Look at these pictures,” Matty said, handing a pile to his mother and father. They were of Danny and Maggie when they were about his age.

“You look just like your father,” Deb said, beaming at her grandsons.

“Check this out! It’s your high school yearbook, Uncle Danny. I bet there’s some great pictures of you in here.” Cole flipped through some pages. “Whoa…” She looked up, her dark eyes huge, her smile giddy. “You really did go out with a rock star? Man, you have wicked street cred.”

Danny’s meal turned to lead in his stomach.

“What are you talking about?” Heather asked. Danny could feel the sideways glance from his wife.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

“Nothing? Right, Uncle Danny. Your high school girlfriend is the lead singer of The Kingmakers. And you say its nothing?” Cole held out the yearbook. “I mean, look at that photo!”

Splashed across one page was a picture of Danny and a pretty girl with dark hair. The background was the high school football field. He was standing behind her, arms around her waist, and they were both smiling.  On the opposite page, a picture of the two of them dancing at the prom. Her arms were around his neck while his hands rested on the small of her back.

Lauren. Danny felt his heart constrict.

Then he felt Heather’s stare.

“Funny, that’s never come up before,” his wife said.

“That was a long time ago,” Danny said, a note of defensiveness souring his voice.

Cole, oblivious to his discomfort, continued blithely on. “This is the coolest thing ever. She’s famous. You had a thing in high school. You know, this would be perfect for my paper—“

“—Your what?” Danny asked.

“My paper. For school. I have to write a paper on someone famous from New York. Doing it on Lauren Stone never crossed my mind. I could interview you about what she was like back then. That would for sure get me an A!” Cole was beaming. “This is brilliant.”

“Don’t waste your time,” Deb said, her expression looking like she’d smelled bad cheese.

“Waste my time? Nanny, she’s, like, a star!” Cole nearly squealed.

“Like I said, it was a long time ago.” Danny grabbed a handful of peanuts from the dish on the coffee table and stuffed them into his mouth, giving himself a few moments to collect his thoughts. Lauren had been a huge part of his life once, a part that had ended painfully. The last thing he needed to do was open old wounds—especially ones that would put pressure on his already strained marriage.

To his displeasure, however, the room erupted into a roundtable of editorial comments about Lauren and their relationship. They ranged from Cole’s insistence it was the coolest thing ever to his mother’s sharp comment that Lauren was a hussy and never good enough for Danny. Another sub-current in the conversation was whether or not Cole should even write the paper, a suggestion she rejected out of hand.

“A paper where I can get a first-hand interview? That kind of angle will guarantee me an A—,” she protested.

Finally, Danny had enough. “Can we just drop it, please? Cole, I’ll think about it.”

Cole started to plead her case but a sharp throat clearing from her mother ended that. The room settled and Danny thought he was in the clear, but then his thirteen-year-old looked up, his expression serious and thoughtful and said, “Dad? If she was your girlfriend, did you love her?”

“Girls have cooties!” Matty said.

“Nuh-uh. Mom doesn’t have cooties,” Tommy said. He folded his arms and nodded his head at the pronouncement.

Danny hoped the cootie discussion would divert the conversation but was disappointed when Lucas pressed the issue.

“Did you?”

Pressing his lips together, Danny resisted the urge to say it was none of anyone’s business, but he felt every eye in the room settle on him. “Back then, yes, I did.”

“Do you still?”

“Now? Not the way I love your Mom. But I hope Lauren’s happy and found someone who loves her.”

Lucas nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer. “Cool.”

Danny scooped up another handful of peanuts and stared towards the television but didn’t see what was on the screen. He’d just lied to his son—to his entire family. He thought about Lauren all the time. Every time he heard The Kingmakers on the radio it brought up memories of when they were together. Memories of how things ended and unanswered questions about what might have been.

It became excruciatingly clear to him in that moment just how strong his feelings still were for Lauren Stone.

Danny’s answer might have satisfied Lucas, but it didn’t satisfy his wife. As they pulled away from Richie and Deb’s house, Heather folded her hands in her lap, and asked, “Is that why you always change the station when a Kingmakers song comes on?”

“Is what the reason?”

“Because she’s your ex?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Heather didn’t look at him but her eyebrows went up. “Why didn’t you ever mention her to me?”

“Never occurred to me that it was important.”

“All the times you’ve heard her on the radio and you never once thought to say something?”

“Maybe I didn’t want to dredge up a painful part of my past. Can we drop it?”

Heather had met Danny at a club, well after high school. But now all she could think about was the fact that Danny’s ex-girlfriend was talented, and famous, and beautiful. It bothered her. It bothered her a lot, and she hated that it did. For all their problems, Heather had never questioned her husband’s loyalty, but there was something about this situation that set her on edge. She was very quiet the entire ride home and then busied herself with housework while Danny watched the baseball game.

She was furiously scrubbing at a stain in the sink when she heard Danny come in. He leaned into the sink and rinsed out his beer bottle. “What’s eating you?” he asked as he rested the brown glass bottle on the counter.

She bit her tongue and said, “It’s nothing,” when she really wanted to yell that he knew exactly what was bothering her.

“Doesn’t seem like nothing.”

“Your famous ex. You looked pretty cozy in your prom picture.”

“Jesus, Heather. It was a high school prom. You can’t be serious.”

She narrowed her eyes, cross he was so dismissive. “You never talk about her.”

“Why would I talk about her? Do I as you to talk about your ex-boyfriends? Yes, my girlfriend from high school is a singer in a rock band. So what?”

“I don’t know.” Heather had no reason to be angry but knowing he’d dated someone famous made her feel insecure and jealous. She tried to stop herself, but asked the question that had really been on her mind: “Did you sleep with her?”

“Christ. Why does that matter?”

“Did you?” Heather hated the hot lance of suspicion that coursed through her.

“It was almost twenty years ago!” Danny raised his voice.

“Don’t yell. You’ll wake the boys!”

“I’m not yelling, and I’m not the one picking a fight over nothing.” But he did lower his voice. He went to put his arms around her. She stiffened and pulled away. He folded his arms and frowned.

“It’s not nothing to me. Answer my question.”

Danny cursed under his breath and threw his hands up in an “I give up” gesture. “Fine. We went out for three years, so yes, we slept together.”

Heather’s stomach turned. Three years was more than dating. That was a relationship.

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t know—I just do.” She refused to own up to her insecurities, afraid of how she’d look.

“Look at me, Heather.”

She glanced up.

“You’re the one I married, not Lauren. She doesn’t even cross my mind anymore.”

Heather straightened her shoulders. She had to get a grip on her jealousy. Almost twenty years—and an entire continent—separated her husband from Lauren. “You’re right. I’m just being ridiculous. Go back and watch the game.”

She smiled, but it was strained.

Danny rummaged in the refrigerator and grabbed another bottle of amber lager. He glanced at Heather but she’d turned her attention to the stovetop and was scrubbing with even more vigor than the sink. He wandered back into the living room and put the footrest up on his favorite recliner. The game faded into the background as he went over the conversation he’d just had with Heather. He took a long drink out of his beer and tried to ignore the fact he’d just lied to his wife for the second time that day.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Homeward Bound