Even as Shawn walked up the attic stairs, he wasn’t sure how he could possibly know his father was up there.
He didn’t think he was psychic.
He didn’t think he could read his father’s mind.
He didn’t have to.
Not this time.
He turned on the light as he reached the top of the stairs. Sure enough, Henry was standing in the middle of the room, until that moment immersed in complete darkness.
He whirled around as the room was suddenly flooded with unexpected light, though he didn’t look the least bit surprised to see Shawn standing there.
For a moment, neither of them spoke. They just stood, regarding each other in the pale light of the single bulb hanging over their heads.
Finally, Shawn broke the silence. “I know they didn’t have them when you were a kid,” he joked feebly, gesturing at the light switch on the wall. “But they have these new-fangled inventions here called electric lights. Scientists are even saying now that your odds of seeing in the dark increase exponentially if you actually use them.”
Henry just grunted, not responding to the quip at first.
Finally, he sighed, jamming his hands into his pockets. “I wasn’t trying to see, Kid.”
“I know,” Shawn nodded, walking all the way into the room, joining his father in the single lop-sided circle of light in the center of the room, directly under the bulb.
“I think she left some stuff up here…” Henry continued, looking around at the stacks of boxes around him. “I thought I saw a few boxes awhile back…”
He left the thought hanging in the air between them.
Neither of them pointed out the obvious.
If he left the lights off, he couldn’t have wanted to find those boxes too badly.
“You mean you didn’t throw them out during The Great Attic Cleaning of ’06?” Shawn snorted. “I thought you threw away everything up here except the insulation, which you actually probably should’ve thrown away since I’m pretty sure it’s asbestos.”
“It’s not asbestos, Shawn,” Henry rolled his eyes, turning away and opening another box, half-heartedly poking through the contents. Shawn watched him until he finally gave up and pushed the box aside, ripping into the next one almost angrily.
“God damn it!” Henry shouted, kicking that box aside, sending it skidding across the floor. “I know that damn box is up here somewhere! I saw it!”
“Dad,” Shawn said quietly. “It’s not up here.”
Henry’s eyes narrowed angrily at his son as he spun around again. “I think I know the contents of my own damn attic, Shawn.”
Their eyes locked across the dimly-lit room. Shawn took another step towards him. “There’s no box. She didn’t leave anything, Dad. The only stuff up here is yours, and a few boxes of mine that I managed to bury under your junk without you knowing it.”
For a moment, Henry’s fists clenched, but he quickly released them again, exhaling slowly as he set one foot in front of the other, moving closer to his son.
“What stuff?” he demanded quietly. “I told you to clear your junk out of here.”
“Is that really what’s pissing you off?” Shawn shot back, raising a skeptical eyebrow. “My old baseball uniform from third grade?”
“I don’t have room for all your crap!” Henry shouted.
“Of course not,” Shawn shot back. “You need this space for all the boxes Mom didn’t leave here.”
Even as the words came out of his mouth, Shawn knew he was hitting a new low, but it was too late.
He couldn’t take them back now.
Part of him didn’t want to.
Henry blinked as the words flew threw the air, finding their mark even quicker than Shawn had anticipated.
“Shawn,” he growled, his voice low and rumbling as his fingers tensed again. “What the hell are you doing here, anyway?”
Shawn shrugged, having to consider carefully before answering.
What was he supposed to say?
That he was there because as soon as he’d gotten the news about his mother, he’d known his father would be in the attic, sitting alone in the dark?
How the hell did you tell Henry Spencer something like that?
“I don’t know,” he said finally, shaking his head. “I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Then get the hell out.”
Henry blinked in surprise, but Shawn just met his glare evenly.
He wasn’t going anywhere.
“No!” Shawn was almost shouting himself now. “I don’t know if you heard, but I just lost my mom. So don’t tell me to get the hell out. I’m not going anywhere, Dad.”
Henry opened his mouth to respond, but for once he didn’t have a retort or a lecture.
His mouth clamped shut again as his eyes locked with Shawn’s. “I’m sorry, Kid,” he sighed finally, when all other words failed. “I’m sorry she’s gone.”
“Me, too,” Shawn nodded.
Henry looked around the room again, finally breaking eye-contact. “I know she left a box…”
“There’s no box, Dad.”
Henry sighed, running his hand over the back of his neck. “We were married for almost twenty years.”
“Twenty years, and there’s not even one damn box.”
His foot kicked at the boxes again, but only hard enough to nudge them away from him.
“Did you want her to stay?” Shawn asked quietly after a long silence.
Henry looked up at him. “Of course I wanted her to stay, Shawn.”
“So did I,” Shawn agreed. “Every time she came back to town, I asked her to stay longer…sometimes she’d stay a day or two…”
“She always wanted a job where she could move around a lot,” Henry told him. “Even before we got married, that’s what she wanted. To see the world, to work in different cities with different people…she never really left, Shawn. She just…stopped staying.”
Shawn nodded, not having to tell his father that he completely understood what that meant.
That he’d felt that way his entire life.
He moved towards the back of the attic, dragging out a small, cardboard box from underneath a stack of almost identical boxes. He carried it back to his father, dropping it on the floor by his feet.
“That’s the box I stashed up here,” he told him. “It has some baby pictures, everything from high school that I never thought I’d need again, and my toy cars I never played with.”
Henry blinked down at it, looking confused. “I told you, Shawn. I don’t--”
“You don’t have room,” Shawn waved him off breezily. “I know. But this is my box, Dad. And I’m leaving it here.”
Henry opened his mouth to protest, to tell Shawn to get his useless junk out of his attic…but the words never came out.
Finally, he grunted, picking the box up and dropping it back on top of the stack. He pulled a black marker out of his pocket, scrawling Shawn’s name across it in bold print.
“If you’re going to leave your crap laying around, Kid,” he said. “At least label it so I don’t waste my damn time looking for it.”