Chapter 2.2

Later in the day Judy made dinner for everyone, but no one was really hungry except for the boys who scarfed down macaroni and cheese with gusto. Once the dishes were washed and put away, everyone started to get ready to go to Edward Murdock’s viewing.

Liz had told everyone over dinner that the twins would be staying home with Eric while the rest of the family went to the viewing. She and Eric had decided it was hard enough trying to explain all this to them so they could understand it and there was no reason for them to have to go to both the viewing and the funeral the next day.

Diego headed upstairs to get changed. He went down the hall, grabbed a quick shower and then put on the new clothes he had bought a few days earlier. Once he was dressed, he sat on the edge of the bed, unconsciously flipping his father’s Zippo open and closed, over and over.

“You okay?” His mother stood in the doorway of his room, wearing a black skirt and grey blouse, her hair pulled up into a bun.

“Yeah, I guess. I’m just not looking forward to this.”

“Believe me. No one is.”

“How about you? You holding up alright?”

Judy sighed heavily. “No Darren. No I’m not.”

Diego got up and went over to his mother, giving her a hug and then walked with her down the stairs to a waiting Liz.

“Are Aunt Donna and Aunt Catherine going to meet us there?”

“Yes. Your Aunt Carol will be there too. Liz, do you want to drive?”

“Sure Mom.”

The three of them headed into the garage to get into Liz’s SUV when Diego noticed Edward’s red Mustang sitting there, looking like it was eager to make an escape and hit the open road.

“Why don’t we take the Mustang to the viewing?” Diego heard the words come out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

“Excuse me?”

“C’mon Mom. Dad loved that car. It’s a beautiful fall night, why don’t we take her out and let her say goodbye to Dad too.”

Liz looked like she was about to tell Diego to shut his mouth when Judy surprised them both. “You’re right. Your father adored driving that car and used to tell me how much more he enjoyed it when I went with him. I remember how the smile would never leave his face when he was behind the wheel. I’ll go get the keys.”

A few minutes later Judy returned, the keys dangling from the chrome keychain Edward had purchased specifically for the keys to the car. She quietly handed them to a surprised Liz, patting her cheek as she did so.

“I know you love this car as much as your father did. If anyone should be driving it, it’s you.”

Once they had all climbed in, Liz turned the key and started the engine. It came to life with a deafening roar as she gave it some gas and the entire car rumbled with barely suppressed energy. Diego couldn’t help but notice the smile on Liz’s face as she pulled out of the driveway and made a left.

***

Ten minutes later they pulled into Schneider Funeral Home off York Road. There were no other cars in the parking lot so Diego assumed they were the first ones there. He had only been to a funeral home once before when the grandmother of a family friend had passed away when he was a teenager. When his father’s parents had died they simply had a funeral in a church and since his mother hadn’t spoken to her parents in decades the family didn’t go to either of their funerals.

As the three of them walked over to a side entrance, a tall man with a medium build and a black suit opened the door to greet them. He shook Judy’s hand as he said “Mrs. Murdock. Good to see you again. If you’ll follow me we can make sure everything is the way it should be before people start to arrive.”

He patted Liz on the shoulder and stuck out his hand at Diego. “You must be Darren.”

Diego noticed that his arm was covered in tattoos that ended just above the wrist as he shook his hand. “That’s me.”

“My name is Mr. Grayson. So sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” With that he closed the door behind Diego and followed him into the funeral home.

They were standing in a small lobby area with large bay windows that looked out at York Road beyond. Traffic streamed past, people on their way to where they needed to be with no idea that a family was getting ready to say goodbye to someone they dearly loved.

Mr. Grayson cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention and then walked through a large set of double doors into the reception room. To the right of the doors was a pair of large boards perched on easels that were covered with pictures of Diego’s father. Images from when he was a child growing up in New York to ones of him and Judy when they were dating. They chronicled Edward’s entire life including pictures of him an Liz at car shows and a group shot of the old Computer Club that must have been taken at The Palace.

Diego’s eye caught one picture in particular. It was a smaller one, tucked into the corner of one of the boards. He was sitting with his father, both of them with a cigarette dangling from their fingers on the steps of the deck in the back yard, deeply engrossed in conversation. Diego remembered when his mother had taken that picture. It was the day he had told his parents he was going to attend The Art Institute and become a graphic designer.

The sound of a soft sob broke Diego’s reverie as he turned and then saw his father.

When Diego first saw Edward Murdock, he could have sworn he was just sleeping. His father looked so peaceful, lying in the casket, his hands resting on his chest. To Diego’s eyes, he could have jumped up at any moment, screaming “Gotcha!” and they all would have had a great laugh over the whole thing.

Liz and his mother were standing next to the casket, tears in their eyes and Judy with her hand resting gently on Edward’s cheek. Liz looked over at Diego and motioned for him to come over, saying that he shouldn’t be scared or uncomfortable.

Diego hadn’t seen his father in four years but other than more grey hair at his temples Edward looked the same as the last time he had seen him. Short, with olive skin and a stocky build and a face that always seemed ready to break into a smile. His mother had dressed him in a grey suit and white shirt, which Diego had expected. What he wasn’t expecting was that Edward was wearing his favorite tie, one with little Starship Enterprises from Star Trek all over it.

Edward had been a huge fan of Star Trek in all its various incarnations. He would go and see all the movies, usually dragging Judy along despite her insistent protests. He and Diego used to sit and watch The Next Generation together and have long discussions about which season of Deep Space Nine was the best. Later the show had been a refuge when Diego’s life began to fall apart. He would come home and know he could just watch Star Trek with his father, not needing to explain why and escape reality for a few hours.

When Diego looked at the tie and then his mother, she shrugged her shoulders and said “He was such a fan of that stupid show. I didn’t get it but I thought he would appreciate the gesture.”

Diego smiled and said “I know he would Mom.”

Mr. Grayson them appeared and announced that people were starting to arrive if we were ready. Judy sighed and said that was fine. The three of them then moved just to the right of the casket and prepared themselves for what was to come.

***

The next few hours were a blur for Diego. It was an almost endless stream of people, each one of them wanting to hug or shake his hand and offering their condolences. He saw his aunts and uncles as well as some assorted cousins that had flown in. There were numerous people his father had worked with, few of which he recognized, in addition to people from the old Computer Club, some of whom Diego hadn’t seen in decades. The number of people who came to pay their respects truly surprised Diego and made him realize just how loved his father was.

He was listening to his sister have a discussion with a middle-aged man from their neighborhood when he heard someone say “Hey.” next to him.

He turned to see a man a couple years older than he was, with Hispanic features, short black hair, a hawkish nose and large green eyes. He stood about a half an inch shorter than Diego and had his hands folded in front of him, a small smile on his face.

“Oh my God. Trevor …”

Trevor Nazario had been Diego’s best friend since they had met at a comic shop in Philadelphia while Diego was in college. The two had discovered a mutual love of all things involving the X-Men and quickly became inseparable. The friends would attend comic book conventions together, stay up playing Call of Duty online until the sun rose and be first in line for every superhero movie that came out.

It had been almost five years since he had spoken to Trevor. They didn’t communicate at all the four years Diego was on the road and the year before that their relationship had been incredibly strained due to the situation Diego had put himself in. Seeing him now, at his father’s viewing, was almost too much.

Diego wordlessly embraced Trevor, tears streaming down his face.

The two men finally separated after what felt like forever and Diego just looked at him. “What are you doing here?”

“Your Mom called me when your father passed away. We still spoke every now and then even though you weren’t around. He always treated me like I was his own son so I wanted to come and pay my respects. I had no clue you were going to be here.”

“Yeah. I got into town on Tuesday. I’m staying with my Mom. Is Nikki with you? I mean, are you and Nikki still together?”

Nikki Genovese was Trevor’s longtime girlfriend and someone who relished making Diego’s life as difficult as possible. She was his own personal nemesis and Trevor loved nothing more than watching the two most important people in his life playfully tease and torment each other.

However, when things between Diego and Trevor became tense over that last year, what was once friendly joking became something more hurtful. It all came to a head just before Diego had left when he and Nikki had gotten into a heated argument where things were said that couldn’t be taken back easily. Diego had just assumed his friendship with Trevor was over since he would never ask his best friend to chose him over the woman he loved.

“Yeah, we’re still together. She decided to stay home since she didn’t really know your father all that well and has never been a huge fan of funerals.”

“Is she still mad at me?”

“I don’t think I would really call it anger anymore. Sure, she was thrilled when you up and disappeared but that didn’t last once she saw how upset it made me. Honestly we both just thought you were gone, that we’d never see you again and that was it. She’s moved on.”

Diego pushed his glasses up with his index finger. “What about you? Have you moved on?”

Trevor smiled. “Nah. You’re my best friend. I always hoped to see you again. For me, seeing you is probably the only good thing to come out of your father passing away.”

Diego gathered his friend in another embrace, saying into his ear “Yeah. My Dad always had a way of looking out for me even when I wasn’t expecting it.”

Trevor then walked over to Liz and Judy, hugging both and telling them how sorry he was for their loss and how much Edward meant to him. Once he had walked over to the casket and paid his respects, he headed over to Diego again.

“I can’t stay. I’ve got some things I need to take care of but we need to get together and talk. Soon.”

Diego nodded his head. “Definitely. And do me and favor and don’t tell Nikki I’m back in town? I’m not ready to deal with all of that just yet.”

Trevor said sure and told Diego to text him this weekend, maybe they could hang out like old times. Which sounded like just what the doctor ordered for Diego.

***

The viewing went on for another hour or so, with people getting up to speak about Edward and how much they would miss him. Some told funny stories and others lamented the fact he was gone, fighting back tears as they did.

Finally it was just Judy, Liz and Diego. Judy went up and gave Edward a light kiss on his forehead while Liz placed a picture of the two of them and the Mustang in the breast pocket of her father’s jacket, tears falling from her cheeks. When they looked at Diego he simply said “Could I be alone with Dad for a few minutes?”

Judy’s mouth formed a sad smile and she said “Of course. We’ll wait outside. Take all the time you need.”

Once they were gone, Diego stood next to his father’s casket, a hand on the sleeve of his jacket.

“Well Dad, I guess this is it. I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time to say a proper goodbye but you of all people probably understand why. Just so you know, Mom gave me your Zippo. I’ll take really good care of it, I promise.”

Diego felt a tear running down his cheek. “I’m really going to miss you Dad. Of all the people in my life, you were always there for me. You never questioned or asked why, you just offered to help any way you could. I really appreciated that and I wish I had told you that before now.

“I promise I’m going to try to make things right. No more dumb decisions or hurting people I care about. I don’t know what my future holds, but I’ll always take a part of you with me. And hopefully you can live out the dreams you put on hold for your family through me.

“Goodbye Dad. I love you.”

Diego turned and headed for the lobby, his hands in his pockets as he let the tears fall down his face. He stopped by the two large boards that had the pictures of his father’s life pinned to them and once again his eyes were drawn to the image of the two of them, sitting on on the steps of the deck.

He reached out and unpinned the picture from the board and placed it in the pocket of his shirt. Then he walked out of the funeral home to his waiting sister and mother and headed home.

Chapter 2.1

Diego gave up any pretense of being able to fall asleep at around five Thursday morning. He had been tossing and turning all night, filled with dread at the thought of what the dawn would bring. The day he would have to say a final goodbye to his father.

He got out of bed, put on his glasses and began to head downstairs. If he still knew his mother after all the time away, she would be in her kitchen. Wide awake and no doubt already making breakfast for Diego and his sister. On his way down the hall he peeked into the guest room, which used to be Liz’s bedroom, only to discover that it was empty, the bed not even slept in.

When he arrived downstairs he heard the sound of crying coming from the living room and saw Judy, face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Liz was sitting next to her, her own face streaked with tears, arms wrapped around their mother.

Diego felt tears beginning to well up in his own eyes as he realized just how much his father’s death was affecting all of them.

Deciding it was best to leave the two of them alone, he went into the kitchen and figured he might as well make some breakfast for everyone. He looked in the freezer, found some hash browns and then grabbed the eggs and an onion from the refrigerator. He heaved his mother’s cast iron skillet onto the stove, added some oil and got the hash browns frying while he made a pot of coffee.

He had just finished whisking the eggs in a bowl and was adding some spices when he looked up and saw both his mother and sister standing by the island, eyes puffy and red. Their mouths were hanging open and a look of utter disbelief was on both their faces.

“What …” Judy stammered. “What are you doing?”

“Making some breakfast for everyone. I thought that would be obvious.”

“But when the hell did you learn how to cook?” Liz asked

“C’mon. You don’t think I lived on the road for all those years and ate fast food the whole time, did you? I had to teach myself how to cook. It was way too expensive otherwise.”

“Who taught you?”

“I taught myself. I watched a ton of Rachael Ray videos on YouTube and just kinda figured out the rest. It wasn’t that hard really.”

He walked over to the stove, flipped the hash browns and then poured in the eggs. “If you guys want toast with this you can put it in the toaster. This will be ready in a few minutes. I made coffee too.”

As his sister and mother looked at each other in stunned silence, Diego blanketed the hash browns and eggs with cheese and covered the skillet with a lid, letting the cheese melt. He then walked over to the coffee pot, poured himself a cup and began to put plates and silverware on the island.

After they had sat down, Diego grabbed a potholder, lifted the skillet and loaded up the three plates with breakfast. When he was done he sat down and began to eat, checking his email on his phone as he did. He was on his third forkful when he realized neither Judy nor Liz had taken a bite yet.

“What are you two waiting for, an engraved invitation?”

The two of them picked up their forks and began to eat, hesitantly at first but with increasing enthusiasm the more they ate, especially Liz who all but devoured the meal.

“Holy crap Diego. This is really good. I can’t believe you made this.”

“Believe it. I think there’s some more in the skillet if you want it.”

Liz looked at Judy, who motioned for Liz to help herself and then got up to refill her plate.

Judy glanced at her son as she said “This is really very good Darren. Better than good. I’m so glad to see that at least one of my children picked up the cooking gene from me.”

“Hey!” Liz said with a mouthful of eggs. “I can cook.”

“Yes dear. Just not well.”

“Wow Mom. That hurts.”

“Need I remind you of the Christmas Fiasco of 2016?”

“Mom, I swear to you the directions I got online said to cook the bird at 450 degrees for six hours.”

Judy visibly shuddered. “Thank goodness the market was still open. Pastrami sandwiches might not have been the most traditional holiday meal, but it was better than nothing.”

Diego was laughing out loud as he watched the exchange between the two of them. “I’m sorry I missed it.”

“If you had been there to see that turkey you wouldn’t be saying that. It was like the scene from that movie you two used to watch, Christmas Vacation.”

“Okay Mom, enough. We get it. I can’t cook.”

“I swear there was smoke billowing out of that poor bird when you took it out of the oven.”

“MOM!”

Judy smiled at her daughter as she patted her on the shoulder. “Thank you for making breakfast Darren.”

“No problem Mom. So, um, how are you holding up?”

Judy put down her fork and reached for her mug of coffee. “I take each moment as they come. This, right now, is a good moment. I’m with my children enjoying a pleasant meal. A few minutes from now, who can say?”

Diego nodded as he took a sip from his own mug, the one with the large Batman Symbol on the side. It was the one he had used constantly when he lived at home and had been surprised to find it still in the cabinet all these years later.

“If you don’t mind me asking Mom, but why are you having both a viewing and a funeral for Dad? We were never that religious so it seemed a bit odd.”

“The viewing is for the people who worked with your father and his friends, the ones who might not be able to come to a funeral on a Friday morning. This way everyone who wants to can pay their respects to your father.”

“Well, if it’s okay with you I’m going to skip the funeral tomorrow.”

Liz looked at her brother like he had just spit in her food and insulted her children. “What are you saying Diego? That going to Dad’s funeral would be too much for you? That you can’t be bothered?”

Diego glared at Liz, trying to keep himself from saying something hurtful. “No. It’s going to be hard enough for me to say goodbye to Dad tonight. At least you and Mom got some kind of closure with him, a chance to tell him how you feel. I didn’t get that opportunity. And that will eat at me for the rest of my life.

“I don’t want to have to feel like that twice. I don’t want to have to sit there and look at him and think about how much I’m going to miss him and never be able to tell him I love him ever again. I can’t do that two days in a row. It might kill me.”

Diego felt tears beginning to roll down his face and he grabbed a napkin to wipe them away. Liz was opening her mouth to say something when their mother stopped her.

“Liz, stop. It’s okay. Darren doesn’t have to go to the funeral if he isn’t up for it. It will be mostly family anyway and Dad would understand. Lord knows he wasn’t a religious man. He would probably think the fact we’re even having a funeral mass said for him was ironic to the extreme.”

“Are you sure it’s okay Mom? If you really want me there, I’ll go.”

Judy held Diego’s hand firmly and gave it a squeeze. “It’s fine. All I ask is that you come for the lunch we’re having afterward at Bernie’s Restaurant. I know all the family will want to see you.”

Diego smiled “Sure thing Mom. Thanks.”

Liz frowned at Diego while she took the plates and silverware and put them all in the sink. “Whatever. I have to take a shower and get the basement ready. Eric and the kids will be here this afternoon.”

Diego watched as his sister walked off and started to realize just how far they still had to go before things returned to some kind of normal between them.

***

One of the best parts of the house, other than the backyard, was the huge basement. Their father had it finished while Diego was still a baby and had a bathroom put in, drywall and insulation as well as carpeting.

When it was too cold to have a sleepover outside, Diego and his friends would take over the basement, covering the floor with sleeping bags and playing video games until the sun rose. They would use it to have Star Wars movie marathons or just hang out and talk about comics and gaming.

Once Diego moved into Philadelphia, his father had always intended to turn it into a man cave of his very own. Somewhere he could watch Flyers hockey games and have the occasional beer in peace. That all changed when Liz had the twins in October of 2013. Judy really wanted them to take the space and turn it into a kind of apartment for Liz, Eric and their family. Her thinking was that it might mean her daughter would visit more and Judy could see her beloved grandchildren more than twice a year.

And it had worked like a charm. Once it was remodeled to include a bed and even a small refrigerator, Liz would bring Max and David to visit at least once every couple months. As they got older the twins would stay in the guest room upstairs while Liz would enjoy the solitude and quiet of the basement.

Diego walked down the steps to the basement to find Liz replacing the sheets on the bed. The room hadn’t changed much in the time he was gone. A new lamp, an antique desk against the one wall but overall, still the same. It always amazed him how a basement could be so warm and inviting every time he came down here.

“Hey sis.” he said to Liz’s back as she pulled the fresh sheet tight against the mattress.

“Hey.”

“How come you’re staying upstairs instead of down here? I would have thought you would have loved the chance to be down here by yourself.”

Liz still didn’t turn around as she spoke. “I wanted to be closer to Mom. Plus sleeping in my old room felt kind of, I don’t know, comforting.”

“Yeah. I can understand that.”

“Did you know growing up Dad used to come into my room every night to say good night to me and kiss my forehead? Didn’t matter how late it was when he got home. Every night without fail I could count on that.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I do the same thing now with the twins.”

“That’s sweet.”

Liz finally turned around to look at her brother. “I’m sorry I snapped at you okay? I’m just really tense and not looking forward to tonight. I get why you don’t want to go to the funeral, really I do.”

“Thanks Liz.” Diego then outstretched his arms, giving his sister a playful expression.

“C’mon.”

Liz looked at him. “What?”

“C’mon. Time for a hug.”

“I’m not hugging you.”

“I’ve got all day. You need a hug.”

Liz let out a sigh and hung her head in defeat. “Fine.”

Diego was surprised by just how long and how tightly his sister held onto him before letting go and heading upstairs.

***

Eric and the twins arrived at the house a little after one later that afternoon. He had texted when he got off the Pennsylvania Turnpike that he was on his way so both Judy and Liz were waiting for them in the driveway when he pulled up.

Diego watched from the window as his mother squealed in delight as her grandchildren got out of the minivan Eric was driving. Both Max and David ran toward their grandmother, huge smiles on both their faces. Judy Murdock may have been difficult to deal with as a mother sometimes, but she adored being a grandmother and was shockingly good at it.

While Judy showered the twins with attention, Liz walked around to the other side to greet her husband with a kiss and a brief hug. Eric Bowman was a monster of a man, six-and-a-half feet tall, broad chested with a shaved head and arms the size of most people’s thighs. He was a star athlete in college until an injury shredded his knee beyond repair, causing him to walk with a slight limp. Luckily he was in school on an academic scholarship on his way to an architecture degree when it happened, so it didn’t derail his plans in the least.

The fact Eric was African American was the cause of much conversation when he was first introduced to the rest of the family. While Edward was fine with it and didn’t see what all the fuss was about, Judy was less than thrilled. When the subject would come up, she always said that she wasn’t prejudiced but that she worried about what they would have to deal with as a couple. The result was a subtle awkwardness every time Liz and Eric came to visit.

Liz finally had to sit her mother down and explain that yes, they were in love and no, they didn’t care what anyone else thought. She told Judy in no uncertain terms that if she wanted to have Liz in her life, Eric was part of the deal. After that things quickly improved and then once Liz announced she was pregnant with twins, Judy thought he could do no wrong.

As Eric got the bags out of the back of the minivan, Judy brought the boys inside, promising to make them each one of her famous grilled cheese sandwiches. When they saw Diego, they both hid behind their grandmother, not sure what to make of this new presence in the house.

Judy got down on one knee and looked at each of them in turn. “Now boys, don’t you remember your Uncle Darren? This is your mother’s little brother. The last time you saw him you were both so little. Say hi.”

Max, the braver of the two, walked over to Diego and looked up at him. “Hi.”

Diego bent over and reached out his hand. “Hello.”

Max shook it and then looked over his shoulder at his brother, telling him to come say hi. David slowly walked toward Diego, sticking his hand out and shyly saying “Hi.”

Diego shook it as he said “Hello.”

The two brothers, seemingly forgetting all about the person standing in front of them, then ran back toward their grandmother, who had taken out her cast iron skillet to get started making a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches.

“That went better than I thought it would.”

Diego turned to see Liz standing there, arms folded with Eric just behind her, putting the bags down in the hallway.

“Holy crap. It’s been forever since I last saw you Diego. How have you been?” Eric reached out and shook Diego’s hand, a bit more vigorously than he was prepared for.

“I’ve been good. Hanging in there. So I hear you and Liz finally went and got married.”

Eric smiled. “Yeah. I would have done a long time ago but Liz wasn’t having it.”

Liz elbowed her husband in the ribs. “Liar.”

“So how’s your family been?”

“Good, good. Oh, that reminds me.” Eric looked over to where Judy was standing at the stove. “My parents said to tell you they really wish they could have been here for the funeral. They send their best and said if you need anything, just call.”

“Thank you Eric. Please tell them I appreciate it the next time you talk to them.”

“I will.” Eric then turned his attention back to Diego. “We’ll need to catch up later after the funeral and all that. I’d love to hear all about your adventures out there in the world.”

“Sure thing.”

Eric put his hand on Liz’s shoulder. “Hon, when is the viewing tonight?”

“Mom?”

“Seven o’clock. The people at the funeral home said we should be there about a half hour early to make sure everything is to our satisfaction.”

“Cool. I’m bushed after all that driving so I’m going to head downstairs to get a quick nap in, if that’s okay.”

“Sounds good. Maybe I’ll join you. Mom, can you watch the boys for an hour or so?”

“Of course. Would you two like to spend some time with your grandmother?” Both boys giggled and yelled yes.

Once Eric and Liz had gone downstairs, Diego walked over to the island and sat next to David. The boy looked over at him and held half of his sandwich out, offering it to Diego.

Diego took the sandwich saying “Thank you.” while mussing David’s hair and took a bite. As he chewed he thought to himself Wow. These really are good.

Chapter 1.4

For as long as Diego could remember, he had been a night owl. There was nothing he loved more than being awake at three in the morning while the rest of the world was sound asleep. In high school and college weekends meant he could stay awake until the wee hours of the morning, doing whatever he pleased. It was a large part of the reason he had decided to become a freelance graphic designer after graduation from The Art Institute. He could make his own hours, not have to punch a clock and be left alone.

What Diego loved most though about being awake while everyone else slept was the quiet. Even living in a major city like Philadelphia, where things were always happening, there was a point where the city would quiet down and a sense of calm would envelop everything. It was the moment Diego lived for and he looked forward to it every night.

In the suburbs where his mother lived however, the quiet took on a whole new level. You could stand in the middle of the street and not see anyone. You could walk around and know for certain you were the only one enjoying the solitude and peacefulness. Diego kind of felt sorry for everyone else that they missed it.

Diego slowly stirred under the heavy quilt. Sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes, it took him a moment to realize where he was and why. It had become something of a habit over the last few years, with all the traveling and moving around he had done. After a few seconds he remembered and a wave of sorrow and anger washed over him, remembering the fight with his mom and that his father was dead.

He sat on the edge of the bed, realizing that there was no way he was going to be able to go back to sleep. He grabbed his phone and saw that it was 4:25 in the morning, which meant he had been sleeping for over ten hours. The sun wasn’t up yet and his mother and sister must still be asleep.

Diego pulled on his shoes, grabbed a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of his backpack and slowly made his was downstairs, trying his best to be as quiet as possible.

He walked through the living room and kitchen and went out the large glass sliding doors that led to the massive wooden deck in the backyard. It had come with the house when his parents bought it and other then refinishing and re-staining it years ago, the deck was pretty much the same as the day they had moved in.

As he carefully closed the door behind him, the scent of the pine tress hit him, the impossibly tall ones that lined the edge of the property. There was a hint of frost on the grass of the yard that would burn off as soon as the sun rose in an hour of so.

Diego had loved this backyard growing up. He and his friends would have sleepovers, cook using the fire pit and then set up tents to sleep in, though they did very little sleeping. They would wait until they were sure everyone was asleep and then head out to explore. It usually just involved a trek to the local Wawa to buy soda and candy, but for a 12-year-old boy and his friends, it was a grand adventure.

Diego sat on the wooden steps that led down from the main deck to the yard and lit a cigarette. He inhaled deeply, letting the smoke fill his lungs and then exhaled, the smoke forming a cloud in front of him. He could already feel himself calming down just a bit as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the silence of the early morning.

Lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t hear the sliding door open or the footsteps of someone approaching from behind.

“When did you start smoking again?”

Diego jumped and whirled around, scared out of his wits. He let out an exasperated breath when he saw it was just his mother standing there, bathrobe tied around her waist and slippers on her feet.

“Jesus Christ Mom. You just scared the crap out of me.”

Judy smiled a mischievous grin, the same one she would get when she would sneak up and scare her children when they were younger. “I’m sorry Darren. I heard the sliding glass door open and just wanted to check to make sure everything was okay.”

“Why aren’t you asleep?”

“Since your father died, I’ve found I haven’t been sleeping all that much. I was actually on the living room couch when I heard you go outside. I …” she hesitated. “I can’t bring myself to sleep in our bedroom. At least not yet.”

Diego looked at the ground, trying his best to understand what she was going through. “That’s perfectly normal Mom. It may take a while until you can sleep in your room again.”

Judy sighed. “Sometimes I don’t think anything is going to be normal ever again. And don’t change the subject. When did you start with the cigarettes again?”

Diego had been a heavy smoker all through high school and his first year at college. It was a habit his mother despised and had spent a considerable amount of time informing Diego of that fact. However, since his father was also a smoker who had never been able to completely quit the habit, most of Judy’s arguments fell on deaf ears.

Diego had finally quit cold turkey after his first year at the Art Institute. Having to run outside to grab a smoke all the time as well as the fact the habit was getting more and more expensive had convinced him the time was right.

He looked down at the lit cigarette in his hand, trying to remember when he had picked it up again. “Maybe a year ago or so? I was with some friends in Reno and everyone was smoking and drinking and I guess I figured what the hell, why not. I only smoke like three a day or so. Nothing like I used to.”

Judy looked at her son disapprovingly. It was a look Diego was very familiar with and he was fully expecting a lecture about how they would end up killing him someday.

Instead, Judy simply looked away, her gaze falling on the line of pines that represented the edge of the property.

“How did it feel Darren?”

“How did what feel?”

“Moving around all the time. Not knowing from one day to the next where you were going to be or what you were going to do. How did that … freedom feel?”

The question took Diego aback. His mother had never wanted to talk about his traveling in any of the brief phone conversations that they had had over the years. He would try to share some amazing experience with her and she would change the subject, just wanting to know if he was coming home any time soon.

It was usually Edward who would ask for details, would want to know everything Diego was feeling and experiencing at the time. He sometimes felt like his father was living through him, enjoying an adventure through his son that he always wanted but could never have.

“It felt incredible Mom. I learned so much about myself and the world. Sure, there was times when I was wasn’t sure about what was going to happen and that was scary. And it wasn’t always fun, there were times when all I could think about was why the hell I had decided to do this. But I wouldn’t give up the last four years for anything.”

“So it was worth what it cost you?”

Diego wasn’t sure what his mother was getting at. “What do you mean?”

Judy finally looked at her son, a hint of ire in her features. “You know exactly what I mean. Upsetting your sister and I. Deserting your friends. Leaving your clients in a lurch. Knowing that if you left, there were likely going to be repercussions that might leave scars that would never heal. Was it all worth it?”

Diego took a drag off the cigarette in his hand and exhaled, trying to gather his thoughts before he spoke.

“Liz and I were talking about this very thing this afternoon. I’m well aware that what I did hurt a lot of people, hurt you most of all. I knew that was going to happen when I was planning it and I didn’t really care. I’m sorry if that hurts you but it’s the truth. For me, at that time, it was the right decision.

“So yes. To answer your question it was worth it. If that sounds selfish or upsets you, I guess I’ll have to live with that. The same way I’ll have to live with not being able to say goodbye to Dad and thank him for what he did.”

This was the second time in as many days Diego had had to defend himself and his decision and he had a funny feeling it wasn’t going to be the last.

He walked over to the wash basin that stood off to the side of sliding glass doors and put out his cigarette. For years his father had simply kept an old metal coffee can on the deck, using it as an ashtray since he was forbidden from smoking in the house. One day Judy decided that she was sick of all the “trash” on her deck and bought the wash basin at a flea market, filled it with sand and instructed everyone who smoked to use that to dispose of their cigarettes.

“Why did you tell your father?”

“Because I needed to tell someone and for some reason I can’t explain I knew Dad would understand. He wouldn’t necessarily like it, but some part of me knew he would get it and wouldn’t stop me. Dad always treated me like an adult who could make his own decisions.”

“And I don’t?”

“It not that you couldn’t, but that you wouldn’t.”

Judy tightly folded her arms and walked down the wooden steps into the grass. The first indications of sunlight were just starting to brighten the night sky as Diego followed his mother into the yard.

“Look Mom. I don’t know what you want me to say. If you want me to leave, fine. If you want me to feel guilty about all this, that’s fine too because I do. But if you’re looking for some kind of apology, that’s not going to happen. I don’t think I have anything to be sorry for. It’s my life and I simply decided to stop living it by committee. Dad understood that. Why can’t you?”

Judy turned around and looked at her son. “Because I’m your mother. It’s my job to worry about you, take care of you and ensure sure you make the right decisions. That never ends no matter how old you may be. You don’t have to listen to me, but that isn’t going to stop me from giving you my opinion.

“And the reason your father understood and let you leave without saying a word to anyone is because you and he are so much alike it’s infuriating. He wanted to go on big adventures, live life one moment to the next never thinking ahead. It was all he talked about while we were dating. But he gave all that up when I got pregnant with Elizabeth. I always thought a part of him resented me for that and not saying anything about you and your trip was his way of getting back at me.”

“Mom, I’m sure that wasn’t the case. He tried to convince me to say something to you but when he saw I wouldn’t do it he gave up.”

Judy bent her head down, her eyes closed. “I know, I know. You father was many things but spiteful wasn’t one of them. Much like you.”

Abruptly she turned and headed toward the house, asking her son to wait for her to return. While he waited Diego saw the sun was rising and could hear the world slowly waking up, another day about to begin.

Five minutes later Judy returned and placed something in Diego’s hand. “Your father would have wanted you to have this. I wanted to give it to you now before I forget or it gets lost in the all the craziness of the next few days.”

Diego looked down at his hand and saw it was a silver Zippo lighter. It was well worn, obviously older than he was and had the faintest smell of lighter fluid. He then turned it over and saw that it was engraved with the words “Wish You Were Here.”

Diego knew the lighter very well. His father had carried it with him wherever he went and would flip the lid open and closed repeatedly if he was nervous or waiting for something or someone. That sound was one of the earliest things Diego remembered about his childhood. Every once in a great while Edward would let his son hold it when his hands were full or as a reward if he had done something well. Diego would just look at the shiny silver metal and think how incredibly cool it was.

If Diego was being honest, that lighter was a big part of the reason he had started smoking in the first place. So he could be more like his Dad.

“Mom … this is Dad’s Zippo. I can’t take this.”

“What else am I going to do with it? I don’t smoke and have no plans to start. If I don’t give it to you it will just end up in a drawer and get lost. And that damn thing meant so much to your father I don’t want to see that happen.

“That and, like I said. He would have wanted you to have it.”

Diego opened and closed the Zippo a few times and was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that he would never see his Dad use the lighter again. He started to sob uncontrollably, the tears streaming down his face. He balled up his hands into fists and pressed them against his forehead, trying to will the tears to stop so he could catch his breath, to no avail.

He fell to his knees in the wet grass, sobbing and shaking. At some point he felt his mother wrap her arms around him, telling him it was going to be okay between sobs of her own. He wasn’t sure how long the two of them were like that, but by the time Diego had regained some kind of composure the sun was almost up and the last of the stars were disappearing into the dawn sky.

“It’s so hard to believe I’m never going to see Dad again.”

Judy wiped the tears from Diego’s face with her thumb, holding his chin with her other hand. “Your father will always be with you. No, you won’t be able to see him, but if you talk to him I’m sure he’ll be listening.”

The two of them got up and brushed the dirt from their knees, walking slowly back to the deck as they did. Once there, Judy went to the sliding door and stopped before she opened it.

“I apologize for what I said earlier Darren. I’m still trying to deal with all this and I think I let myself take some of that out on you. I shouldn’t have. And for that I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay Mom. I understand.”

Judy nodded as she opened the sliding door. She was halfway through when she stopped and turned around to look at Diego. “Do you have something to wear to the viewing tomorrow and the funeral on Friday?”

Diego thought about it and quickly realized he didn’t. Nothing he brought with him was appropriate and all the clothes he left here four years ago no doubt no longer fit.

“Um, no. As a matter of fact I don’t. I’ll have to go out today and buy some. Is that thrift store still off Moreland Road in town?”

Judy straightened her shoulders and glared at her son. “You are not going to buy clothing for your father’s funeral at a godforsaken thrift shop. I won’t have it. You will take my Macy’s card, go to the mall and buy new clothes that haven’t been worn before by who knows what. Is that understood?”

Diego laughed to himself. According to his mother, if someone else wore you clothes before you, they weren’t really yours. No, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but this wasn’t the time to have that argument.

“Fine Mom. I’ll head to the mall later today and buy something nice.”

“Good. Now come inside and I’ll make some breakfast.”

Diego followed his mother into the house, unconsciously opening and closing the Zippo as he did.

***

Later that day Diego looked up the Septa schedule on his phone to see when he could catch a bus. The Willow Grove Mall was only a few miles away and the buses went up and down York Road all day long. He only had to wait a few minutes before one came and he was on his way.

Once there, armed with his mother’s credit card, he found a couple of dress shirts, one grey and one black, along with a pair of black Dockers and a black tie. It then dawned on him that not only did he need clothes for the funeral but he also needed shoes. The only pair he owned was on his feet and he doubted his Mom would want to see him wear his beaten up hiking boots to the church.

Once he had his new outfit, Diego went across the street and got a quick haircut. It was less about his hair and more to do with his beard, which had grown out of control the last few years. He figured his mother would appreciate the extra effort and Diego wanted to look his best when he said goodbye to his father.