The woman flinched visibly as she looked up in surprise. "How...?"
Howard held himself back from using the tired old line from the movies, 'You just confirmed it for me.' Instead, he hunkered down into a defensive mode. No clear threat had been identified yet, but something big was about to happen regardless. "What do you want here?"
The words came out more harshly than he intended, making him feel guilty when her expression wilted, but she was the intruder here, infringing on his territory. A person couldn't just wander into another person's turf and not expect there to be repercussions.
The woman stared down at the wallet in her hands for many long seconds as she contemplated her answer. Finally, she settled on her opening words. "My name is Elizabeth. Elizabeth Maxwell." She paused, but Howard didn't oblige her, forcing her to ask. "And you are... Howard, I presume?"
He nodded, making only a token effort at being something other than curt.
She drew a deep breath before plunging onward. "Yes, I know a Jake. Jake Maxwell. My husband. My..." She faltered for a moment. "He... He recently passed away."
Howard couldn't care less, but to say so completely surpassed his limits of cruelty. It probably wasn't this woman's fault the man had been such a son of a bitch. "My condolences," he muttered reluctantly.
Her lips automatically tilted upward slightly in the obligatory sign of gratitude that she had become all too familiar with lately. It was getting tiresome, pretending everything was alright. It reminded her of why she was out here. Closure would surely help dull the pain. "He... I'm... I'm told Jake had a son. From his first marriage. To your sister. Eleanor?"
His lips thinned involuntarily into a straight, disapproving line. He'd harbored some faint hope that maybe this Elizabeth had come to bother him, not the kid, but she'd pretty much just confirmed that wasn't the case. He nodded in response to her, unable to find words to serve his thoughts. He didn't want to encourage her, but somehow, he knew this was going to have to play out.
"After the divorce, I'm told he came into your custody?" A faint wrinkle formed on her brow, as if she was uncertain and puzzled about this fact, but it was all she had. "Do you... Do you know where he is now?"
"Why?" Howard asked flatly.
She winced, perhaps because of her answer, perhaps because of his hostility. "His father just died. I thought... I thought he might like to know."
Howard couldn't help himself. He grunted derisively. "I doubt it."
"I beg your pardon?"
From her affronted expression, he could tell she thought he was just being rude, not truthful. He shook his head to himself. The poor lady had bitten off way more than she was prepared to chew. "Listen. Elizabeth? Whatever it is you want here, whyever you really came here... I don't think you'll get it. You'll probably be a lot happier if you just leave now and don't come back."
She bristled. "You have no idea what I want, sir, or why I came here. Now do you know where I can find Duo?" The name rolled unfamiliarly off her tongue, but she wielded the name as if knowledge of it entitled her to something. "I would like to inform him about his father."
Howard smiled grimly. "I can tell him just fine. No need to personally deliver the news. Unless, of course, you've got some other reason to be here." He paused for her response, but she simply flushed and looked speechless. He tsked and helped her out. "Yeah, you're right. I don't know why you're here, what your situation is. And I guess you don't have to tell me. But you don't seem like you know a damn bit about our situation, either, lady. You don't have a bloody clue what you just walked into, or else you'd have never walked in here to begin with."
"But that's just it," she cried softly, the words spilling out of her unintentionally. She flushed more deeply when Howard gave her a silent, dubious look, but words said could not be unsaid. "That's it exactly," she repeated softly, averting her eyes, feeling somehow ashamed. "I don't know. I don't know a bloody thing. I didn't even know Jake had a son until his wake. So I just... I just... I don't know why exactly I came, but..."
Howard sighed as she trailed off. This was one fine mess, like a final send-off present Jake had left behind to torment those around him after his passing. Figured. Howard wondered how the guy had managed to bag a pretty decent-seeming lady like this Elizabeth. Maybe the same way he had somehow managed to spawn such a great son. Both of them were victims of that man. "Look. Duo's a grown man now. Much as I would like to make it so he never has to think about his so-called father ever again, it's not my place to be making those decisions for him anymore. Now personally, I don't think it's a great idea to come back, but if you have to, if you absolutely have to... you come back here on Friday afternoon, and you can do whatever the hell it is you came to do. But once the kid has his say, that's it. If he doesn't want you here, it's over. I won't be letting you back in."
They looked each other in the eye, one stubborn, one trying not to be intimidated. After a short eternity, she nodded stiffly, thanked him quietly, and left the small market without even finishing her purchase.
He was pretty sure Duo would be over at Heero's tonight. Good. He could use a stiff drink. He could hope she wouldn't come back, but things like this never went away. It would be a bad idea to try to brush it under the rug and pretend this lady didn't exist. He and the kid had always been upfront with each other. And he knew that Duo would be angry at him for a while for giving this woman a chance to speak her piece. But in the end, Duo would appreciate the opportunity to deal with this on his own. The best Howard could do was defer it to a more convenient time, and be glad that the kid had people who loved him that could help him pick up the pieces.
He hoped that this lady did, too.
last modified : 12/1/2007 01:08:42 PST