As he pulled into the garage, Chan could see that lights were on in the house. Someone was home. Since Elaine had died the year before, things had been different, the family dynamic had definitely changed. He, his wife, his daughter, and his son had been close-knit, a warmth always seeming to envelop them. Happy. That was something that he remembered from those days. It had been a while.
In those better days, even after Elaine had become ill, they had hung together well. But that had begun to erode slowly, Chan knew, and as his wife’s pain and suffering had increased, he felt as if all that warmth, the part he contributed for sure, was dissipating. It was as if he were being hollowed out. Watching his wife die had nearly killed him, left him weakened. His relationship with his children had suffered. Without Elaine, he felt empty, and he hated himself for having nothing much to give to Sarah and David III.
Back in the day, if he’d seen the lights on when he came home, he’d have been excited to get into the house and see them all. Now when he saw the lights on he felt guilty. It was a reminder of how emotionally numb he’d become. Sometimes he even felt like driving right past the house, going off somewhere, for coffee, to sit, to think about as little as possible. Except work, of course. He was always grinding on work.
And then there were nights like tonight. He was so tired now he had to go in. He closed the garage door and walked slowly to the house. It bothered him to even know that he was wondering if he could cut the facetime with his children down to a bare minimum, sneak into his room and collapse.
Pushing through the front door he managed to call out. “Hey, anyone home?”
There was no response. He actually breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe they’d gone somewhere, forgot to turn the lights off. Then he found David III sitting at the kitchen table drinking a glass of milk.
“Hey, Dave, how, how’s everything with you?”
His son looked up at him. “I’m hungry,” he said. David was fourteen. Surely he could handle his getting his own food.
Chan played along. “Where’s Sarah? She couldn’t cook for you two?”
David said, “She’s still at ballet class. I’m supposed to get to kung fu. I thought I’d eat some kind of sandwich.”
“Excellent,” said Chan, “now there’s a great idea. I think I’ll have one, too.”
“No bread,” said David.
Chan looked at his son. It wasn’t that he was mad. The tone was matter-of-fact. No bread. If he still used a shopping list, Chan might have added it.
“Oh,” said Chan. “Any Vienna sausages maybe?”
Chan opened the refrigerator. “How’s about I make us some bacon and eggs?”
“Dad, I already had breakfast this morning.” There was a little bit of heat behind this, but it didn’t phase Chan.
He really wasn’t hungry, but he pulled the bacon and eggs out of the icebox. “Well, what say we go nuts and have two breakfasts today?”
“That’s okay, Dad. Clint’s coming any minute to pick me up. We’ll get a burger or something quick before class.”
A car horn sounded outside. “That’s him,” said David, jumping up and heading for the door. He left his empty milk glass on the table. Chan was past asking him to put it in the sink.
“Have a good practice,” he called out, then listened to the door slam. He picked up the glass, took it over to the sink, and washed it out. Turning, he saw the bacon and eggs. He shook his head, picked them up, and returned them to the fridge.
Chan wanted so badly to give his children more of himself, to have more of himself to be able to give. But right now he wanted most to be showered and in bed before his daughter came home. He knew he didn’t have the strength to talk to her.
The front door opened. Chan looked around the corner. Of course Sarah would be looking in his direction.
“Hey, Honey, how are you? Good class?”
Sarah smiled. “Yes, Dad, it was good.”
She walked into the kitchen. “You’re home early,” she said.
Chan nodded. “Long couple of days.”
“I heard about them finding all of those bodies. That is so scary. Did you end up working on that case?”
Chan watched his daughter pour a glass of milk. Next year she’d be in college. She resembled her mother too closely for him to forget enough of what he wished he could.
“Yes, yeah, me again,” he said. “Lucky.”
“Your job, Dad, I don’t know how you do it.”
And with that she was out of the kitchen and off to her room.
“Goodnight,” Chan called after her.
He listened to the door close.
That could have been worse, he thought, relieved the exchange had been so brief.
Chan showered, thought about a shot of Jack Daniel’s, but decided against it. The moment he hit the pillow he was gone.
And then it was as if he were immediately awake. He looked up at the ceiling. It was so cold. Chan shivered, pulled the comforter up around his chin.
Then he looked down at the foot of the bed. The woman was standing there. She was that close, but again it looked as though her face was much farther away.
“Sarah?” Chan whispered. He knew it wasn’t his daughter, but he asked anyway.
The woman dressed in white sat down on the foot of the bed.
“Who are you?” asked Chan.
The woman sat, impassive.
“I don’t have him yet, but I’ll get Jason Yu,” said Chan.
The woman raised a hand to her face, laid an index finger on her lips.
“I mean it,” said Chan, “I’ll have him and his father both. I swear it.”
The woman tilted her head to one side, examining him, seemingly appraising him. And then for a split second her face came into sharp focus.
“Elaine,” Chan breathed, coming awake and looking toward the foot of the bed. But there was nothing.