“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” I said.
But despite my protest, Tanner attempted to explain anyway. “Your father. He’s an ass, always has been. But you’ve probably figured that out already. He only mildly tolerates me because of my family’s last name. My dad’s a fourth generation Redmond Shoes C.E.O. and although the senator has been trying to convince you to get rid of me since we were in diapers, after we had Sammy I think he finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere. But no matter how much he likes my name, I’m still the dude that knocked up his teenage daughter. So even though we share a kid, I’m still climbing that damn tree and sneaking in your window like I’ve been doing since we learned how to climb trees, because your disapproving father likes to think he has control over everything that goes on in his house.” Tanner flashed me a smile that glinted in the moonlight. “So me being here, like this, is…frowned upon.”
“Frowned upon?” I asked. The turn of phrase sounded out of place being spoken by someone my age.
“Your father’s words not mine,” he admitted. “And you know what I mean, Ray. Don’t be a smart ass,” Tanner said playfully.
I sat down at the foot of the bed. “I have so much to ask you, my head has more questions than answers, but I don’t have a clue where I should start,” I admitted.
Tanner nudged my elbow with his. “Well, I have some questions of my own…if you don’t mind,” Tanner said. “So how about we trade off, one question at a time. But you have to promise to answer honestly. We’ve never lied to each other and I’m not about to start now.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“You start.” Tanner said. “What do you want to know first?”
There was one thing that I needed to know first. “I want to know about us, about Samuel. Sammy.” I was a bit in shock earlier to ask you too much about it.
Tanner clapped his hands onto his knees. “Then I shall start at the beginning,” he said in some sort of strange accent. I raised an eyebrow, not sure how to react to his brand of humor. He looked down at the carpet and continued on, accent free. “You and I have been together since we were in diapers. If you take the short cut, it’s only a five-minute walk between our houses. Our moms were close, before yours decided that vodka made a better friend than people do. We were in every class together growing up. We used to pretend to get married in our fort when we were little. Another one of our friends used to pretend to be the reverend. She even cut up one of her dad’s Hugo Boss shirts to make her ‘sacred robes’ and got herself grounded for a week, and after her parents told ours, the three of us didn’t see each other for the entire summer.” Tanner laughed nervously. He rested his chin on the back of his hand and sighed. “It feels really weird to try to explain us to you.”
“I can assure you that hearing it is probably weirder,” I admitted.
Tanner struggled stopping and starting again but he took a deep breath and continued., “We were fifteen when Samuel…happened. We had originally planned to wait to have…to be…physical, until we graduated.” He looked pained as her tapping his sneaker on the floor. “But then I got sick. Real sick.” He turned to face me. “Leukemia.”
I didn’t know how to react under the circumstances so I gave him a small smile and said, “I’m so sorry.”
He pressed his lips together than continued. “On the day they told me I might never see graduation, we moved up our plans. We were young and stupid, but we said our own made-up vows to each other right here in this room.” Even though the story he was telling was pulling on my heart strings, I felt removed from it. Like it wasn’t partly about me.
Tanner scratched his head and again looked through the open window “I promised to always smash Cheetos into your sandwiches and you promised you wouldn’t forget me when I was gone. And then we…,” he trailed off awkwardly, but quickly recovered, “…and then we made Samuel.” He smiled again, this time a large proud smile that told me he was genuinely happy with what we’d done.
And who we’d made.
“It’s a night I’m really hoping you’ll remember someday, because I may have been at death’s doorstep, but it was the by far the best night of my life,” Tanner finished. He folded his hands on his lap and with his chin to his chest he looked up at me, waiting for my response.
Unsure of what to say I said the first thing that came to mind “The Cheetos thing I still do,” I admitted.