Darkest Fear Page 10

Win did that swirl thing with his snifter. “College girlfriend. Used to make monkey noises during sex. Dumped you in the beginning of our senior year. Married your archenemy Greg Downing. Dumped him too. Probably still makes monkey noises.”

“She has a son,” Myron said. “He’s sick.” He quickly explained the situation, leaving out the part about possibly being the kid’s father. If he couldn’t talk about it with Esperanza, there was no way he could raise the subject with Win.

When he finished, Win said, “It shouldn’t be too difficult. You’re going to talk to the doctor tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Find out what you can about who handles the records.”

Win picked up the remote and flicked on the television. He flipped the channels because there were a lot of commercials on and because he was male. He stopped at CNN. Terese Collins was anchoring the news.

“Is the lovely Ms. Collins visiting us tomorrow?” Win asked.

Myron nodded. “Her flight comes in at ten.”

“She’s been visiting quite a bit.”

“Yep.”

“Are you two”—Win crinkled his face as if someone had just flashed him a particularly nasty case of jock rot—“getting serious?”

Myron looked at Terese on the screen. “Still too new,” he said.

There was an All in the Family marathon on cable, so Win flipped to it. They ordered in some Chinese food and watched two episodes. Myron tried to get lost in the bliss of Archie and Edith, but it wasn’t happening. His thoughts naturally kept returning to Jeremy. He managed to deflect the paternity issue, concentrating, as Emily had asked, on the disease and task at hand. Fanconi anemia. That was what she said the boy had. Myron wondered if they had anything about it on the Web.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” Myron said.

Win looked at him. “The Stretch Cunningham funeral episode is up next.”

“I want to check something on the Web.”

“The episode where Archie gives the eulogy.”

“I know.”

“Where he comments that he never thought Stretch Cunningham was Jewish because of the ‘ham’ in his last name.”

“I know the episode, Win.”

“And you’re willing to miss it for the sake of the Web?”

“You have it on tape.”

“That’s not the point.”

The two men looked at each other, comfortable in the silence. After some time passed, Win said, “Tell me.”

He barely hesitated. “Emily said I’m the boy’s father.”

Win nodded and said, “Ah.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

Win used the chopsticks to grab another shrimp. “You believe her?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“For one thing, it’s a hell of a thing to lie about it.”

“But Emily is good at lying, Myron. She’s always lied to you. She lied to you in college. She lied to you when Greg disappeared. She lied in court about Greg’s behavior with the children. She betrayed Greg the night before their wedding by sleeping with you. And, if you will, if she is telling the truth now, she lied to you for the better part of thirteen years.”

Myron thought about it. “I think she’s telling the truth about this.”

“You think, Myron.”

“I’m going to take a blood test.”

Win shrugged. “If you must.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ll let the statement speak for itself.”

Myron made a face. “Didn’t you just say I should find out for sure?”

“Not at all,” Win said. “I was merely pointing out the obvious. I didn’t say it made a difference.”

Myron thought about it. “You’re confusing me.”

“Simply put,” Win said, “so what if you are the boy’s biological father? What difference does it make?”

“Come on, Win. Not even you can be that cold.”

“Quite the opposite. As strange as this might sound, I am using my heart on this one.”

“How do you figure?”

Win swirled the liquid again, studied the amber, took a sip. It colored his cheeks a bit. “Again I’ll put it simply: No matter what a blood test might indicate, you are not Jeremy Downing’s father. Greg is. You may be a sperm donor. You may be an accident of lust and biology. You may have provided a simple microscopic cell structure that combined with one slightly more complex. But you are not this boy’s father.”

“It’s not that simple, Win.”

“It is that simple, my friend. The fact that you insipidly choose to confuse the issue does not change the fact. I’ll demonstrate, if you’d like.”

“I’m listening.”

“You love your father, correct?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“I do,” Win said. “But what makes him your father? The fact that he once grunted on top of Mommy after a few drinks—or the way he has cared for you and loved you for the past thirty-five years?”

Myron looked down at the can of Yoo-Hoo.

“You owe this boy nothing,” Win continued, “and equally important, he owes you nothing. We will try to save his life, if that is what you wish, but that should be where it ends.”

Myron thought about it. The only thing scarier than Win irrational was when Win made sense. “Maybe you’re right.”

“But you still don’t think it’s that simple.”

“I don’t know.”

On the television, Archie approached the pulpit, a yarmulke on his head. “It’s a start,” Win said.

6

Myron mixed childlike Froot Loops and very adult All-Bran into a bowl and poured on skim milk. For those not reading the Cliffs Notes, this act denotes that there is still a great deal of boy in the man. Heavy symbolism. How poignant.

The Number 1 train took Myron to a platform on 168th Street so far below ground that commuters had to take a urine-encapsulated elevator to reach the surface. The elevator was big and dark and shaky and brought on images of a PBS documentary on coal mining.

Located in Washington Heights, a quick stone’s toss from Harlem and directly across Broadway from the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was gunned down, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center’s famed pediatric building was called Babies and Children’s Hospital. It used to be called just Babies Hospital, but a committee of learned medical experts was formed and after hours of intense study, they decided to change the name from Babies Hospital to Babies and Children’s Hospital. Moral of the story: Committees are really, really important.

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