Salvage, chapter 1

Yesterday I announced the release of Phoenix Rising – Salvage. Here is the first part of the first chapter, in which Thatch meets his father, Wren Chares, for the first time. Wren Chares is modelled after James Callis (Battlestar Gallactica, Eureka).

 

COLORADO SPRINGS

Age 15

            Thatch’s first memory of his father is a painful one.

Wren Chares had emigrated from Greece just after World War II, when he was a teen. One could hear it in the way he said certain words. Thatch did not know this the first time he met his father in the waiting room of the Child Services building.WrenChares

He scrutinized every face that entered the office. Since he grew up avoiding thinking about his father, he didn’t know what to expect. He certainly did not expect to meet a lean, bespectacled man, about half a foot shorter than himself. His black hair was slicked-back with pomade. The brown suit he wore was faded and darned in several places. His olive complexion inspired a mixture of curiosity and confusion: Thatch had always believed his darker skin was the result of working outdoors.

Wren Chares and Thaddeus Adams were not even introduced. Their eyes met as Wren crossed from the door to the counter. There was a hushed exchange, Wren presented his passport, and the clerk presented him with a clipboard and a pen. With a couple of signatures, Thatch had a father.

When the clerk pointed at him, Thatch sank into his chair, face burning. As shocked as he was with his father’s modest appearance, he knew his father must be equally as shocked with his son’s–in a more unpleasant fashion. Thatch’s nose was flattened and crooked after being broken repeatedly, a livid purple spread from the bridge, blackening both eyes, fading to green, then yellow. His split lip had scabbed, but he could not stop chewing at it, causing it to bleed again. The welt from the gas can was a bright white line down the left side of his face.

“Hello,” Wren said. His smile looked like it hurt. It faded as he eyed the young man, inventorying his injuries.

Thatch stood and shrank under Wren’s scrutiny. He imagined the little man walking out of the building without another word. Thatch swallowed. He would take the bus back to Meeker, hitchhike back to Flint Ranch hanging his head. Back to the house where his mother could not look at him without bursting into tears, and he could not sleep without screaming himself awake.

“Well,” Wren said, breaking his delusion, “you look to be otherwise in good health.” He looked at the papers in his hand. “It says here your name is Thaddeus.” Thatch had never heard his name with the second syllable stressed before. “Do you have a nickname? Thad? Teddy?”

“Thatch,” he mumbled.

“I didn’t catch that.”

“Thatch,” he repeated louder.

“Thatch?” Wren furrowed his brow. “What kind of a name is ‘Thatch’? Did they use you to patch a roof? Is that what happened to your face?”

Thatch’s throat tightened with anger. Tears pricked at his eyes, but he swallowed them and drew up to his full height. Now he imagined being the one to walk out the door without another word.

“Well, do you even like ‘Thatch’?” Wren asked.

The question and his father’s kindly tone took Thatch by surprise. He deflated. He had never considered that before. “It’s what people call me,” he replied. He could not recall a time he had ever been called anything else. The only reason he even knew his full name was the teacher calling it on the first day of school, and they were always promptly corrected.

“Do you like ‘Thad’?”

“Nah.”

“Well, what about Todd? It’s mature, and… well…” Wren struggled to find an inoffensive way to phrase it. “More sophisticated.”

Thatch squirmed at the idea of responding to a different name, but could not conjure a valid reason to argue against it. He looked down at the little man, wondering what he would know about sophistication and why he should care how his name sounded. Wren returned his gaze patiently. The interest in his eyes made Thatch shrink again, although it was nothing like the interest with which Jed had looked at him. Wren’s gaze was more appraising, like an auctioneer or vet. For some reason, this worsened Thatch’s discomfort; At least with Jed, Thatch could always tell what he was thinking.

Torn between apathy and an almost-overwhelming desire for this man to like him, Thatch nodded, lowering his eyes. Wren grinned approvingly and put his hand out.

“Todd Adams,” he said, “I’m Wren Chares.”

Thatch’s face flushed. He had been pronouncing his father’s name “Cherries.” He clasped his hand, then let go, but Wren did not release his grip. His father donned an assertive expression as he took Thatch’s hand in both of his and would not release it until the young man returned the pressure. Wren gave him a tight-lipped smile, but his eyes were bright. He released his son and nodded toward the door.

Stunned, Thatch stared at his hand. Did his father just teach him how to shake hands?

“Todd?”

(That’s my name now.) He hurried out the door after his father, down the stairs, and out into the chilly mid-morning air. The social worker who had picked him up at the bus stop had parked behind the building early that morning. Everything seemed still and quiet. The front of the building opened onto a busy street. Thatch had always thought Meeker was a busy city. The noise and movement of Colorado Springs planted him to the doorstep. It even smelled strange, toxic.

Wren waited for him on the sidewalk, far too close to the moving cars for Thatch’s comfort. He descended slowly to join his father, then tried to stay close to the side of the building. Wren beckoned him closer to the street, into the direct sunlight. Thatch hesitated, imagining the little man grabbing his shirt and swinging him into oncoming traffic.

Swallowing, Thatch stepped forward. Wren put a hand on his shoulder and turned Flint Ranchhim until they were face-to-face. He squinted at his battered face in the light.

“Did all this occur during the fire?”

“Yeah,” Thatch lied.

“Any burns?”

“No.”

Wren reached into his blazer and pulled out a white pocket kerchief. “Hold this,” he said, passing it to the young man. “Look at me.” He resumed his assertive expression and placed a hand on the side of Thatch’s head.

Thatch’s heart pounded, eyes darting nervously to the passing cars. Surely he wouldn’t attempt anything in such a public place? He furrowed his brow as Wren took his nose in his other hand. His skin smelled like soap and motor oil.

“Relax. Look at me.” The moment their eyes met, Wren wrenched his nose with a crunch!

Thatch doubled over with a loud groan. Blood began to pour down his lip. Recalling the kerchief, he pressed it to his face. When he straightened, Wren stepped forward to take his face in hand again, but Thatch recoiled, slapping his hands away.

Wren frowned, then collected himself with another tight-lipped smile. “Much better,” he announced. “Come along.” He turned and began to walk.

Thatch’s nose throbbed, radiating around his skull. He ran his fingers over the bridge gingerly. It was no longer flattened and felt relatively straight. His face flushed, ashamed at his aggressive reaction. The anger in his chest dissolved.


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