You’re starting to piss me off with all that. I can play nice as well as anybody.”
Andrew shook his head. “Okay. Whatever.”
Marcus checked the time on his phone again. “We better get going. We don’t want to be late for the briefing.”
“Where’s your brother? We need to get going,” Harrison Schofield said to his oldest daughter, Alison.
“I think he’s in the backyard.”
Schofield held up the boy’s Spider-Man backpack. “He may need this.”
Alison sighed with frustration and said, “I can’t take care of everything, Dad.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “Easy, teenager. I mean you no harm.”
She stuck out her tongue, and he gave her a little wink. “Hey, Dad. Are you going to see Grandma today?”
A flash of shame passed over him, and he felt his stomach churn into knots as he thought of his mother. Still, no matter what she had done, no matter the pain she had caused, she was the woman that had given birth to him. A part of him loved her despite it all. Another part hated her and could never forgive her. “Why do you ask?”
“I heard you and Mom talking about it. I was . . . well, just wondering if maybe I could come along. I’m old enough to handle it.”
“Honey, I don’t think I’m old enough to handle it. But I tell you what, we’ll see how she’s doing today. If it goes well, you can come on the next trip.”
He finished making lunch for the two younger kids—peanut butter and jelly and apple slices for Melanie and a ham-and-cheese Lunchable for Ben—and packed them into their Dora the Explorer and X-Men lunch boxes. Alison, unlike her siblings, was too cool to bring cold lunch.
As he hurried the girls out the door to the backyard, he heard his son laughing. But a jolt of fear shot through him when he heard a man’s voice. He rushed forward and rounded the corner. He found them standing in the open patch of grass that spanned the distance between his home and that of his neighbor. Ben stood in the snow, wearing a puffy blue coat. A football flew from his right hand. It sailed through the air and was snatched down by an old man with long white hair and a close-cropped white beard.
Ben noticed him and said, “Dad, Mr. O’Malley came over to play catch with me.”
Schofield’s next-door neighbor tossed the ball back to Ben and said, “The boy’s got a wicked arm, Harrison.” O’Malley’s words flowed out in a thick Irish brogue. “He’ll be playing in the NBA before we know it.”
Ben laughed, his head tipping back as his little body shook with delight. “That’s basketball, Mr. O’Malley. Football is the NFL.”
O’Malley laughed with the boy, and Schofield felt a stab of jealousy and anger at how naturally and easily their laughter blended together, like two old friends sharing a joke at his expense. O’Malley said, “Sorry about that, my boy. The only sport I keep up with is soccer. But I did play rugby when I was at University.”
“I play soccer, but I’ve never even heard of rug bees.”
“Oh, it’s a splendid game. I’ll teach it to you when the weather’s better.”
“Did you hear that, Dad? Mr. O’Malley’s going to teach me how to play rug bees.”
Schofield patted his son on the head and said, “That’s great, Ben. But we need to get to school, and Mr. O’Malley’s a busy man.” As he spoke, he tripped over some of the words and tried not to make eye contact with his neighbor.
Ben waved at the white-haired old man as he headed for the garage. “Bye, Mr. O’Malley. Have a good day.”
“You too, my boy.”
Schofield seethed with rage at the old man’s intrusion into his life, his time with the kids, but he kept the feelings bottled deep inside. He turned without a word and started after his son. At his back, the old man said, “Harrison, I wanted to thank you for loaning me that snow-blower contraption.”
Schofield raised a hand in acknowledgment but didn’t turn. He hated the