The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday November 24, 1994
“Your problem is that you think you're going to be fifteen years old forever.”
“I'm sixteen Dad.”
The steakhouse was part of a national chain, its faux-wood interior was designed to give it a rustic log cabin feel. The Thanksgiving crowd was thick but subdued and it was wall to wall families. The minute he had heard where they were going Tristam had felt a twinge a dread. One of the many things he'd learned from his weekend visits with his father was that he was only brought to nice restaurants if there was going to be a lecture of some kind. Diners and burger joints were always a sign that a fun, spontaneous evening lay ahead. This place was a five star restaurant and Tristam wasn't sure he was going to make it to the dessert tray with his sanity intact.
“Don't change the subject on me. You get in fights, you cut class- you know why? Because you're ungrateful and impatient.”
Tristam shifted in his seat “I didn't cut class, that was all a big misunderstanding…”
“Misunderstanding?” His father poked angrily at his salad. Gawain Wight wore a white dress shirt and a black tie; his suit jacket was slung over the back of his chair. He was clean-shaven, with blond hair that was streaked with gray. “Don't sit there and act all innocent with me now, not after the nonsense you pulled over the summer. You mean to tell me you haven’t been into some kind of mischief? I can see it in your eyes.”
“You could believe Mom, she's the one that told you I didn't cut class.”
“Can't you listen? Would it hurt you to just sit there and listen to me?”
“Youth is wasted on the young, you know that? Look, I didn't bring you here to browbeat you.”
Tristam bit his tongue. Could have fooled me.
The waitress brought their entrees, she grinned and batted her eyes at Gawain. They spent a few moments flirting while Tristam watched with amazement.
How does he do that?
They ate in silence for a time but Tristam couldn't enjoy his steak or the quiet because he didn’t know if his father was finished with his lecture or regrouping for another assault.
Gawain set his fork down and drew breath, “I just want you to grow up right. My father was dead and buried for seven years by the time I was your age. There was so much he never got to warn me about. I never wanted you to make the same kind of mistakes I did.”
Don’t worry Dad I'm making fresh new mistakes.
An electronic beeping issued from inside his father's suit coat, he reached back and retrieved his cellular phone. “Just a minute son I've been expecting this.”
“Whatever.” Tristam rolled his eyes.
“Thalia? Thalia is that you?” Gawain stuck his finger in his free ear, “Of course, you just sound different.”
It was at moments like this when Tristam wondered why they bothered. He was a burden, an unplanned consequence and they both knew it. So why did the man insist on trying to have these stereotypical fatherhood moments that never worked out?
“I'm with my son. You know…. You don't? He's sixteen going on seven,” Gawain laughed.
I would love to smack you. Tristam glared down at his plate, You don't know me. You don't know what I'm going through. You don't know what you put me through. All you do is judge me.
“So, did you find anything out? What do you mean? Where did he go?”
And to top it all off I'm having steak on Thanksgiving! Who in their right mind has steak on Thanksgiving? Tristam thought as he chewed, this was just another in a long series of letdowns. He wondered how his Mom and sister were doing; they were having dinner with Ronnie Miller's super rich parents. Maybe I should have gone with them. Maybe I should have just stayed home.
“Who's on it? Him? Why don't you take over? Oh... Oh... Yeah, I forgot.”
Tristam felt his father's eyes flicker to him and then down to the floor. Oh here we go. I can hear it now- ‘Sorry to do this son…’
“OK. OK. Watch your back. Later.” Gawain set the phone down on the table and turned his attention back to his meal. “Sorry about that.”
“You're a busy man.”
“Yeah, too busy I think.” He frowned, “I'm sorry to do this son but I have to cut our evening short. No movie tonight, I have to drop you off after dinner.”
“I kinda figured,” Tristam shrugged.
“It's not that I'm trying to punish you, it's just work. I hope you can understand that.”
I wish I could believe you. Tristam looked at his father, Thing is old Dad o'mine I have a strange feeling that you find my company as uncomfortable as I find yours.
They stared at each other for a few moments, then Gawain took a long drink from his glass of wine and asked, “It looks like you've got something on your mind son.”
“Well,” Tristam said, “I do have a question.”
“Are you like the only FBI agent in twenty miles or something?
His father seemed to flinch a little at the question “No. No of course not, but my skills are much in demand.”
“Why? What do you do? I never really understood that.” Tristam cut himself another mouthful of steak and chewed thoughtfully.
“I…” Gawain leaned back in his seat, “I analyze evidence. I help with investigations that have become sidetracked. I notice things other people sometimes miss.”
“Are you like in the X-Files or something?”
Gawain pursed his lips, “I told you before I don’t like you watching that show. It gives a completely distorted view of the Federal government, the kind you can only get from paranoid Hollywood liberals.”
“Dad, it's a TV show.”
“Garbage in, garbage out. You should spend more time reading books. When I was your age I already had a job, I wasn't spending my weekends playing Dragons and Dungeons.”
Groaning inwardly Tristam settled in for a fresh lecture.