I guess people change.
“You still ogling that picture of yourself,” Brooke yaws sleepily, letting her hand press over mine, tracing the outline of a much younger man with her finger.
“I never knew you were friends with my mom, either,” she says casually, making my heart freeze.
I swallow hard, a dozen things falling quietly into place.
“Your mom,” I echo back to her quietly, expecting her to maybe mention someone from the reunion. Anyone but Naomi Fletcher.
I feel Brooke tense up and she props herself up on one elbow, looking at me intently.
She’s not mad or upset, just surprised.
“My mom,” she says again, pointing to the picture. “You, my dad, and my mom all together, ya know? Like best friends,” she explains, looking at me askew like I might be kidding around.
“I know you don’t wanna talk about it,” she says, letting her hand move up to my chest, twirling my small tuft of chest hair.
“But… I dunno. Dad never mentions her either. And all I know is she left dad as soon as I was born. I just thought you might—” she starts, but we know each other well enough by now.
“You never knew,” she tells me rather than asks and I won’t lie to her, I shake my head slowly.
“I never knew she was your mom, no,” I admit.
There’s a long silence. The kind of silence you get when the past makes itself known, opening up some old wounds or dropping a bomb that nobody saw coming.
If it wasn’t for Brooke and me, how I feel about her, I wouldn’t give any of it a second thought.
I guess I still am a little selfish when it comes to other people’s problems.
But Brooke isn’t just anyone now. She’s mine. And I’m starting to see why maybe Mike, her dad grew to hate me so suddenly and so violently.
I advised the mother of his child to leave if that’s what she wanted, and knowing Naomi, she would have taken some pleasure in explaining her decision to Mike.
I don’t know the details, how could I? And now I’m loathed to ask Brooke to join the dots for me, but she does anyway.
I get the strong feeling she has more questions for her dad and her mom than she does for me.
What surprises me most is Brooke wants to know about me and her dad. She doesn’t seem to have anything for me regarding her mom.
“What was it like between you and dad? Before all that fell apart, I mean,” she asks, genuinely interested, and like I said, not angry or emotional.
Nothing like her dad, I come to think of it.
“You really wanna know?” I ask her, not having to think hard about better times when we were all so much younger than that college photo.
“I dunno how much you’re dads told you, Brooke,” I begin. “But your dad and I grew up together in the city.”
“A boy’s home,” she murmurs, nuzzling into me again, listening like I’m reading her a story she’s only read parts of herself.
“Yeah. We never had family ourselves, just each other. And it was an unspoken thing until we were about nine I think. When we both pledged to stick together through life, no matter what.”
I stop for a moment, a shiver running through me as I hear our little voices in my mind. So serious about something as unknown as the rest of our lives.
“Lots of kids make promises,” Brooke remarks, urging me to go on.
“They do,” I agree, “And… Well. I guess your dad held me to that promise more than I even remembered as we got older.
“I got a scholarship through the high school football team. Your dad was gutted but determined to follow me to college and he got in by the skin of his teeth, working two or three jobs to make ends meet.” I recall.
“I think he’s still paying it off,” Brooke says, laughing softly, but not to poke fun. It’s just the irony of it all I guess.
“I didn’t know that either,” I confess. Suddenly feeling a weight I never knew existed, but hearing it from Brooke as I tell her my version of events, it feels better than trying to talk to her dad about it.
And her mom, Naomi? I have no idea where she is, never saw or heard from her again after that day I gave her my advice.
“Well, now I think I understand things a little better,” I explain to Brooke. “About why your dad has it in for me.”
“How so?” she asks.
“Well, when your mom came to me before I left to start my pro football career, she asked me for advice. She was pregnant and wanted to know if she should see it through or not. She also wanted some money.”
Brooke’s silence makes me hesitate, wondering if this is the right time or place to even be discussing any of this.