Dan could not understand why Meredith was so quick to forgive. The man hadn’t seen fit to participate in their lives when they’d needed him most, what use did they have for him now? Dan had weathered his teens and college years largely alone. Mother had been so focused on Meredith and her boyfriends and prom and whatever else girls do, she’d had no time for Dan.
When he’d gotten the job at the bank (on his own merit, unlike many of his fraternity brothers), he’d managed to navigate the corporate waters on his own. Dan was nothing if not capable. There’d been a few missteps – a hysterical girl and ill-fated pregnancy in college; a few months where he’d struggled to balance his drink and his work. But Dan had worked it out. He was so confident in himself that he barely noticed that he went home to an empty apartment. So focused on his ability to exist as a single entity, he was completely unable to recognize his own misery.
Through it all, Dan harbored the seed of discontent, stamped with his Father’s name, deep within himself. He tended it with bitterness and fed it with each missed momentous occasion. By the time Meredith told Dan she’d spoken with Father, the seed had wrapped its black roots around his mind, choking out any memory of decency associated with his father.
He’d wanted to call Father and berate him. Tell him to leave his sister alone. He’d wanted to tell him exactly how much they didn’t need him, how little their ‘Father’ mattered. But days turned into weeks and the call was never made. Because in the very center of his capable self - his no-nonsense, fuming, miserable, self - Dan was a coward.
“Come to lunch,” Meredith pleaded. “Come and talk. We don’t have to talk about the past, we can talk about movies! He knows so much about movies!” Movies are the finest friend of the solitary man, a fact Dan knew well. For months, she hounded him and finally, he relented.
“Just lunch,” he said.
The morning he was to see his father, Dan woke as usual, shaved, showered and dressed. He looked in the mirror and adjusted his neat tie, then leaned over the sink and violently vomited.
He walked into the bank, pale and sweating. His secretary leaned across her desk with a grin of greeting. “Hold my calls,” he barked, barely glancing her way. Dan closed his door and aimlessly pushed paper around his desk. Right before lunch, he found himself bent over the toilet in the men’s room, dry heaving fear.
Dan walked slowly to the restaurant. He didn’t want to be the first to arrive. As he approached the café, he could see them through the plate glass window. Meredith, animated and bright and nervous, kept glancing at her watch. Father, small and neat and cool, did not seem to notice the time. He was ageless; his skin pulled taut and smooth across his forehead, his neck slim and his back straight. At fifty, he appeared no different than he had at thirty. He’s not throwing up in the sink, thought Dan.
Dan stood and watched too long. Father happened to glance out the window, and caught Dan’s eye. Father’s gaze narrowed and his brow furrowed, but he did not speak. Dan turned on his heel and ran. He ran from the restaurant and his father and his hopeful sister. He ran straight home to his apartment, called back to the office feigning illness, and climbed into bed. He stayed there for three days.
He did not answer the phone and when, on the third day, Meredith came knocking, he reluctantly answered.
“Dan! What’s happened to you?”
“Sick. I’ve been sick.”
She pushed her way into the apartment and busied herself in the kitchen, making coffee. She talked nonstop. “When you didn’t come to lunch I was so worried! And Father was so disappointed!”
Maybe Father hadn’t seen him after all. Or he hadn’t told Meredith.
“We waited forever!” she went on. “Then your office said you were sick and you wouldn’t answer the phone and…Oh! Dan, what is it?”
Dan sat on the couch and held his head in his hands and cried. Great, heaving sobs that shook his body and filled the small apartment with their despair. Suddenly, Meredith understood everything. She understood her brother’s coldness and distance and the depth of his loneliness.
“Oh, Dan,” Meredith sat next to him and tenderly, hesitantly, put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll never ask again.”
She never did. It was the last time they spoke of him until Dan called her to say Father had died. The oddity of that suddenly struck her. Why had they called Dan, instead of her?