A few minutes later Liz pulled the Mustang into the driveway and then the garage. It was almost 9:30 and while Diego was exhausted, he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to relax, to say nothing of actually getting some sleep. Too much was racing through his mind after seeing Trevor again and all the emotions that it had stirred up within him.
Liz and Judy had both gotten out of the car and were waiting for Diego, who was still sitting in the backseat, idly flipping the Zippo open and closed.
Finally Liz looked at her brother and pointed toward the house, saying “Are you coming? Or do you plan to sleep in the garage?”
Without looking at them, Diego said “Do you guys mind if I go out for a while?”
Judy stepped toward the Mustang. “Out where?”
“Just out. Maybe to grab a beer or something. I need to clear my head and I won’t be able to do it in the house.”
Diego watched as his mother narrowed her eyes and looked at him, obviously worried about his state of mind after the viewing.
“You’re an adult Darren. You can do whatever you choose. All I ask is that you be careful.”
Diego climbed out of the back of the Mustang and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks Mom. I won’t be late. I’ll just wait out here for an Uber.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll go with you.”
Judy and Diego looked at Liz, surprised expressions on both their faces.
“I need to get out too. That viewing took a lot out of me. Seeing Dad like that, knowing he wasn’t going to be getting up. Knowing tomorrow will be the last time I’ll ever get to see him. I could use a drink too. You mind if I tag along?”
Diego smiled and spread his hands. “Sure thing. The more the merrier.”
“Thanks. Let me just go inside and check on the boys. Maybe I’ll see if Eric wants to come too.”
As Liz went into the house, Judy hugged Diego and told him once again to be careful. When he was alone, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lighting one as he waited for his sister. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact the Zippo was his now. It felt … right. Like it belonged in his hand. He rubbed his thumb on the inscription and thanked his father.
After about twenty minutes Liz walked out of the house, the keys jangling from her hand. She had changed into a pair of jeans and a Philadelphia Flyers sweatshirt and threw Diego a t-shirt as she got into the Mustang. “Eric was still exhausted from the trip here. The kids were asleep and he was engrossed in some show with guys in tights so I don’t even know if he realized I left.”
Diego laughed as he changed into the t-shirt. “So where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care. I just need a drink.”
“Harrigan’s is right around the corner. That work for you?”
“Sure. I haven’t been there in years.”
Diego jumped into the passenger seat and smiled as Liz revved the engine and once again pulled out of the driveway, making a right on Home Road.
Harrigan’s Pub was located on County Line Road at the end of a small strip mall, less than a ten minute drive from where Liz and Diego grew up. Among the people that frequented it, Harrigan’s was known as a dive bar that was always trying really hard not to be considered a dive bar. First it attempted to be a sports bar, then it became a traditional Irish pub and currently it was trying to bum a ride on the wave of popularity that small microbreweries were enjoying.
However, despite all the effort Harrigan’s was, and always will be, simply a neighborhood tavern where you could get a shot, a beer and a decent meal. And the patrons wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the place that Diego and Liz would go whenever they were home and needed a break from their parents. It was where they went on Thanksgiving Eve and St. Patrick’s Day and even occasionally Christmas Day to hang out with old friends.
Over the years their father had become something of a regular, going there to watch Flyers games or just to get out of the house for a few hours. It was one of the only bars that still allowed people to smoke inside and while Judy had gone with him numerous times, she never quite understood the allure of the place. She was quite happy to let Edward go there, smoke his foul cigarettes and watch hockey.
Diego noticed that the parking lot was mostly empty, which wasn’t that surprising on a Thursday night. Most people had to work the next day and it was close to ten by the time they parked the car and walked inside.
The bar itself sat in the middle of the roughly rectangular room with stools on all four sides. The one wall included a handful of booths while the other had a shuffleboard table and an old ice machine that had honestly seen better days. The rear had a small stage and dance area as well as a pair of pool tables. Diego noticed that the old jukebox had been replaced with one of those new digital ones where you could play songs from your phone. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer seemed to be a permanent feature.
“God. Other than the jukebox and the fancy new beers, this place is the same as the last time I was here.” Liz said as they grabbed a couple of stools near the end of the bar.
“I wouldn’t know. Last time I was in here they were going through their Irish phase.”
“It’s been that long?”
“I think I was in here with Dad a couple months before I left. He knew we could come here and talk about my plans and not have to worry about Mom.”
“Yeah. Mom was never a real fan of this place. She never understood why Dad came here.”
“Which suited Dad fine.”
They were both still laughing as the bartender, a skinny blonde with a tank top and jeans, came over to see what they wanted. Liz got a Blue Moon and after some thought Diego ordered a Coors Light. Once they had their drinks the bartender went back to the other end of the bar, where she was busily working through a large stack of scratch off lottery tickets.
“So I see you and Mom have patched things up.”
Diego took a drink from his beer. “Yeah, kind of. She’s still upset about what happened but I think she’s willing to try and understand why I went and did what I did.”
“Well at least that’s a start.”
“I also saw that Mom gave you Dad’s Zippo.”
Diego fished the lighter out of the pocket of his pants and held it out for Liz. She took it, opening and closing it several times.
“I was pretty shocked. I would have thought she would want to hold on to it, considering how much it meant to Dad.”
Liz handed the lighter back to Diego. “Mom was never the sentimental type. She’ll probably go through all of Dad’s clothes by the end of the weekend, have them all bagged up for charity.”
An awkward silence then fell as they sipped their drinks and listened to the music playing on the jukebox, which for some reason was a steady stream of Led Zepplin. Finally Liz turned to Diego, her expression resolute.
“Okay. I have like a thousand questions about your trip and what you’ve been doing the last four years. I’m not sure when the right time will be but I figure there’s no time like the present. That cool with you?”
Diego smiled. “Sure. Fire away.”
“First of all, where did you live? In a car or something?”
“Of course not. I reached out to people I had met online and so forth, friends who lived around the country. I couchsurfed a lot. I stayed in hostels, that kind of thing.”
“So what did you do for money?”
“While I was planning everything out I worked as much as I could and tried to save as much money as possible. Plus I sold a ton of my stuff and put all of it in the bank. By the time I left I had a pretty good sized nest egg. But when it started to run out, I worked.”
“What, like random jobs?”
“Yeah. Fast food places, supermarkets, that kind of thing.”
“Did you make any friends?”
Diego laughed. “Wow. You really do have a lot of questions.”
Liz smiled. “I’ve been thinking about this for years. You know, when I wasn’t pissed off and wanting to kick your ass for leaving.”
Diego ordered another beer and lit a cigarette before answering Liz’s question. “I made a bunch of friends. Some really good friends as a matter of fact. There was this couple of van lifers I got to know in Arizona …”
Liz waved her hands in the air. “Wait. Wait. What the hell is a van lifer?”
“It’s just what it sounds like. It’s people who decide to live in a converted van instead of a regular home.”
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“Think about it. You can go where ever you want. Because of the small space you don’t collect material things and instead collect experiences. Your expenses are minimal. It’s a great way to live.”
“Would you do it?”
“In a second. As I was saying, I met this couple in Arizona who were teaching me the basics of van life. What you need, how to convert a van, that kind of stuff. I was putting things in motion to set up somewhere for a while and save money to get started working on my own van when I got your call about Dad.”
“Where were you going to go?”
“As in Las Vegas?”
Liz finished her Blue Moon and ordered another. “Why Vegas?”
“It was my favorite city I lived in. I stayed there for almost ten months living with a group of people I met in California. I got a job at Caesars busting tables at one of the restaurants. I was making decent money and could have even moved up if I wanted to. The best part is that the city never really shuts down. It’s just … on, twenty-four hours a day. There’s always something to do or somewhere to go. It’s an amazing place to live.”
“So are you going to go back there?”
Diego looked at his sister with a perplexed expression. “What do you mean?”
“I mean the funeral is tomorrow. Once that’s done there’s no reason for you to have to stick around. I’m going to stay for a few more days to help Mom go through Dad’s stuff and get organized but you, you can get back on the road if you want.”
“You trying to get rid of me?”
“No. I just mean you can get back to your life if you want to. That is what you want, isn’t it?”
“I … I don’t know.”
Diego began unconsciously peeling the label off his beer bottle as he looked down at the bar. “I thought that’s what I would want. But seeing Mom again, you, Trevor, it got me thinking a lot about what it cost me emotionally to travel like I have the last four years. How much I missed all of you and how much hurt I caused. Maybe I need to put some old ghosts to rest before I leave again.”
“It was good seeing Trevor again.”
Diego hesitated before he said almost under his breath “Yeah.”
“You realize if you stick around and reconnect with Trevor you’re going to be opening a can of worms the likes of which you may not be ready for, right?”
“You’re talking about Roxanne?”
“Of course I’m talking about Roxanne.”
Diego sighed heavily, lighting another cigarette and looking at the poster on the wall opposite from him instead of Liz. “I know. But she might not even live here anymore. I might be worried about nothing.”
“She still lives here.”
Diego looked at his sister, his stomach suddenly feeling like someone had punched him. “How do you know?”
“We’re friends on Facebook. I can tell you all about what she’s been doing since you broke her heart.”
Before he left, Diego had made the decision to delete all of his social media accounts. In the wake of his breakup with Roxanne he had deactivated most of them anyway because he didn’t want to have to see the ramifications from what he had done. Deleting them altogether when he left was a way to ensure he could leave the past in the rearview mirror and not be tempted to take a look.
“She still lives in Philly?”
“Uh-huh. In Fishtown. She’s a full-time writer now. Works for a couple different websites and has a pretty large following for her fan fiction.”
“Roxanne writes fan fiction?”
“Yep. Mostly anime stuff which does nothing for me personally. But her Harry Potter stories are amazing.”
“Does she … I mean is she …”
“Is she married?”
Diego swallowed, not sure which answer he wanted. “Yeah.”
“Divorced. Got married in 2017 but it only lasted a year. Since then I couldn’t tell you. It looks like she gave up on Facebook after that, hasn’t posted anything other than links to her work in a long while.”
Liz took a drink from her beer and glared at her brother. “You’re not thinking of getting in touch with her, are you?”
Diego shook his head after a moment. “No. No way. I’m the last person she would want to talk to.”
“Damn right. I mean, you cheated on her. For months. With that skank. You’re lucky she didn’t beat the shit out of you or something.”
“She wasn’t a skank.”
“Yes she was. You were just too dense to realize it.”
Diego let the comment go. All these years later and he was still just as confused and uncertain about why he had done what he did as he had been then.
“Anyway,” Liz continued. “if you start hanging out with Trevor again there’s a good chance at some point you’ll run into Roxanne. You prepared for that? Because it’s not going to be easy.”
“You think I should just run away again? Avoid the situation and go back to living on the road?”
Liz put her hand on Diego’s shoulder. “It sounds like you had a plan and some goals before Dad died and brought you back here. I just think it seems silly to throw all that away so you could possibly get hurt all over again. I understand you feel some weird need to make things right, but sometimes the best thing you can do is leave the situation alone.
“Look, I’d be thrilled if you decided to stay for a while. You and I don’t get a chance to hang out that much and since the kids are staying here with me after Eric goes home you can get to know your nephews again. But you need to do what is best for you. You always have in the past so why change now?”
Diego narrowed his eyes and stared at his sister. “That’s cold sis.”
“Truth hurts. Deal with it.”
Diego smiled as he ordered another round for the two of them. Once their beers arrived he hoisted his into the air. “A toast. To Edward Murdock. One hell of a father who will be greatly missed.”
The clinked their bottles together and drank deeply. Once they finished Diego paid the bill and the siblings walked out into the October air, which had grown chill since the viewing hours earlier.
“Thanks Liz. I needed that.”
“You’re welcome. Me too. I wish we could do that more often.”
They got into the Mustang and Liz started the engine, shattering the silence of the night.
“You realize Mom will be awake, waiting for us to walk in the door, right?”
“Um, yeah. This is Mom we’re talking about. Some things never change.”
“Thank God for that.”