the short story project


Emilie Combs

A Good Man 

A Good Man 

 The boy’s head peers around the corner. His father still watching the TV. It’s all he does now, ever since the boy’s mother died. 
Not many words are exchanged between the two. 
Frozen meals and take-out are their diets. 
 The boy tries to start conversations, just small ones, but his father simply waves his hand and tells him to stop wasting his time. All the man has is time. 
 The boy noticed, a little while ago that his father kept an empty glass close to his chair. The boy didn’t know why, but he never asked. He knew not to ask about certain stuff. 
 The boy’s mother died just about a month ago. 
 The boy cried. His father cried.
The boy let go. His father didn’t let go. 
 The young boy, bored out of his mind, wandered into the kitchen and came upon the calendar. Tomorrow, he realized, was his birthday. He completely forgot and possibly so did his father.
That’s exactly what he’ll do! He’ll go out and buy something for his father and himself! But what should he even buy? A cake would cost too much. A present for both of them to share would be too expensive.
The boy decided that since his father was occupied with the TV, he could just sneak out and go to the market. 
He grabbed his plastic bag containing a few dollars from under his bed and quietly headed out the back door. 
 The market was just a few minutes away. To get there, you just have to cross the street and turn two blocks and it would be there. But before being able to cross, his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Bett, along with her small dog, stopped him. “Where are you going all by yourself, young man?” He dug his hands in his pockets, mostly to keep them warm from the cold winter air, but also to feel the bag of money.
“I’m heading to the market, my dad knows. He’s the one who’s sending me,” the boy lied. The old woman smiled, believing him.
“Your father’s a good man. Give him my best wishes?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The boy quickly walked away from the woman, not looking back. 
 He was then able to cross the street, reaching his first block to walk down. A man, a little older than his father, was ahead of him a bit, walking the opposite direction. He was fumbling with his keys and didn’t notice a bill drop out of his pocket. The man walked past the boy, not noticing him. The boy came up to the bill and realized it was worth twenty dollars. Should he take it? With that money, along with his own, he could buy a nice cake. . . 
 No. He wasn’t raised that way.
Instead of taking it, he picked it up and ran towards the man. He tapped him on the back. When the man turned around, his eyes were red and puffy, as if he’d been crying. The boy had seen the same features on his father’s face. It wasn’t a new sight. 
 “You dropped this back there, sir,” the boy said, holding out the bill. The man slowly took it from him and developed a small smile.
 “Thank you. Your parents raised a responsible young man.” 
 “I live with just my dad actually. Mom died a month ago.” The smile disappeared from the man’s face. He then laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. 
 “I know exactly what you’re going through. My daughter passed away a few weeks ago.” He took another look at the bill again, then at the boy and said, “Your father’s a good man. Love him every chance you get, because you never know when you might lose him.” He then patted the boy’s shoulder, smiled once more, and walked away.
The boy smiled slightly. 
 The boy finally reached the second block, thinking he was going to encounter yet another person, but it was an empty block. 
After this corner, the market would be waiting for him. 
 There it was. A big, but not too big, gray and tan building that awaited him. He went there with his mother all the time, usually getting a lollipop from the cashier at the end. It’s been a while since he’s been there or even had a lollipop. 
 The boy entered the market through the electronic sliding doors. A lot of people looked at him, but none said a word. He decided to stick with what he told the old woman to anyone who asked him anything.
He walked to the back of the market, where he knew the sweets were. The boy recalled that sometimes he would beg his mother to get him at least a cupcake, but she said maybe next time. He never got one. But there was no reason to complain. He had his own money now. He could finally get a cupcake that he’s always wanted. 
 He walked to the display of cupcakes in plastic containers on a table, and they were all stacked up like a tree. Everyone knows that when displays are like that, you never pull from the bottom. But he didn’t want one from the bottom. The perfect cupcake was at the top. With help from an employee, the boy got the perfect cupcake to share with his dad for his birthday tomorrow. 
 He walked up to the register, clutching his cupcake in its plastic container. He set it on the conveyor belt. The young lady at the register took it and swiped it across. She looked straight ahead, thinking there was an adult, but had to look down to find a young boy. “Are you here all alone?” she asked him.
 “My dad sent me here.” He placed the plastic bag of money on the counter. She looked at it, then him and took the money out. 
 “Look at that, you had just the right amount.” She opened the drawer and handed him a dollar and twenty-five cents back. “Need a bag, sweetie?”
“No, I’ll just carry it. Thank you.” The young boy walked away from the register, the woman smiling after him the whole way.
The boy held his cupcake and slid the change into his coat pocket. 
He walked quite a bit before coming onto a homeless man. The boy hadn’t seen a lot of homeless people in his town, but he knew they existed. The man was holding a paper cup, and he suddenly caught the boy’s eye. “Have anything to spare, young man?” 
The boy wanted to keep walking, being raised not to talk with strangers, but he said, “Yeah, I have this.” The boy reached in his pocket and pulled out the change. The man extended his cup and the boy dropped the money in.
“Very kind, young man. Your parents must be proud of such a generous boy. . .” 
“I live with just my father now. I have to go mister, glad I could help.” 
“Tell your father he’s a good man, then. Have a nice day.” The boy walked away from the homeless man with the biggest smile on his face. 
All these people, they all have said the same thing about his father: That he’s a good man.
The boy eventually made it back to his house, being able to avoid the old woman and her small dog. He entered the house through the back door. He went into the living room first, expecting to see his father in front of the TV. He wasn’t there. Why was he not there? 
The boy then heard it. Sobs coming from the kitchen. He walked in there and found his father slouched over the counter, a gun in his hand. 
The boy set down his cupcake gently, watching his father.
“Dad?” His father’s head whipped around. The gun dropped out of his hand and landed on the tile flooring. His father ran from his spot and hugged the boy tight, crying into his shoulder. 
The boy, shocked by this, hesitated to hug back, but eventually gave in.
“I was so . . . worried about you!” 
 “Dad, what were you going to do?” 
 “I thought you ran away. I couldn’t lose you too. It doesn’t matter now. Where did you go and without telling me?” The boy walked away from his father and retrieved his single cupcake. “What’s that?” 
 “It’s my birthday tomorrow. I thought I’d get something for us to share together. But I’ve decided that you could just have it, Dad, because I’ve heard that you’re a good man.” Tears broke out in his father’s eyes, a different type of tears. 
 His father got down on one knee, put his hands on his son’s shoulders and said, “No, you’re a good man.”  

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