They charged him with felony assault because of the kid’s injuries. Chris, being responsible, turned himself in as soon as he heard the news. He thought that would work in his favor, being responsible, but the kid’s somebody knew somebody and so they gave Chris a $20,000 bond. No one could pay it. His mom was on a two-month bender and his grandma was out of sorts worried about Chris’s little sister. His dad took his call, but being the one Chris got his responsibility from, he said he felt like it would help Chris grow up to finally answer for his actions.
He stayed in there eight months before the DA remembered Chris was alive. They dropped the charge to a misdemeanor and gave him time served but he was never the same after that.
“All I ever did was hit that kid two times,” he would say, and try to change the subject.
His grandmother took him in but then his mom cleaned up and Chris couldn’t take being around all three of them in unison. He’d taken a job as a line cook at the Chuck Wagon on NC 421 and did well for about six weeks. His dad sent him the first $100 for his probation fee but as Chris drove to work on any given Tuesday something in him snapped.
The brilliant sunshine bounced off the rust colored leaves as Chris made his way to work. One of his favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs had been stuck in his head the night before and so he fished the disc out of the carrying case and made sure to take it in the car. When the drum roll hit and the guitars joined in at full volume the synchronicity filled Chris with a sense that he was larger than just his body. The $100 bill from his dad was supposed to go toward paying his monthly probation fee but it felt like a burden burning a hole in his pocket. He wasn’t of a mind to fry chicken and scoop butter-laden greens onto plastic trays today and so he drove past the Chuck Wagon and headed for downtown.
Anne-Marie had called the night before just before midnight.
“Kind of late to be calling I think? Hope you didn’t wake Jasmine.”
“Chris, I missed you. I thought about you a lot. I hope you got my letters.”
“Yeah, I read them. How come it took you so long to call? I been home nearly two months now.”
“I was scared, Chris, I didn’t know what to say.”
“You could have said ‘Hey Chris, I’m glad you’re home.’”
“Hey Chris, I’m glad you’re home.”
“Funny. You always could make me laugh. I miss that. You still seeing that kid?”
There was a long pause. Chris couldn’t tell what she was doing on her end of the phone. He flipped a few channels with the remote.
“No,” Anne-Marie finally said. “I—I—we broke up a couple months after …”
“What did I fuck his face up too much for your tastes Annie?”
“Well, you did a number that’s for sure.”
“All I ever did was …”
“Chris this baby is yours.”
Chris put the remote down. “No, Jasmine is my little sister but she’s almost three now. What baby are you talking about?”
“My baby. Our baby. That’s why I split up with Jeff. Things were never the same after the fight. He was angry and he pushed me one time before I told him I was pregnant. After we split up, we had a paternity test and it ruled him out. You’re the only one I slept with when me and Jeff were broke up those two months.”
Chris rubbed his chest. He thought he might get sick.
“Are you still there?” Anne-Marie asked.
“Yeah,” was all he could say. He heard Anne-Marie breathing and could picture her curling the phone chord around her finger, looking down with those hazel eyes. He tried not to think about their first affair or the weekend at the hotel room. She’d kept saying she wished he had some condoms but she also never hesitated as they made love.
“Don’t be mad at me. I don’t think I can take that right now,” she said.
“I didn’t even know you were pregnant,” Chris finally said. “No one told me. No one came to see me. Come to think of it, you’re the only one who stayed in touch with me. It was like the world had gone silent.”