Ryan Ahern took one more look at the flyer before screwing it up and throwing it in a nearby bin. He didn’t see any point in showing it to his mother. Just because the school was having a Father’s Day fair on the Saturday before the actual day, that didn’t mean he had to go.
He couldn’t really blame the school, since the invitation said it was also open to grandfathers, uncles or a special male friend, but Ryan didn’t care for the day. He hadn’t forgiven his father for walking out on his mum and him. Ryan had only been six when that happened, but he still remembered how devastated his mother had been. Eight years on and he still burned with anger whenever something reminded him of the event.
“Hey, Ry, where are you?”
Ryan glanced up and saw the freckled face of his best friend. “G’day, Adam. What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re walking home at a snail’s pace, and you look like you’re about to rip someone or something apart. That’s just not you!”
Ryan ran a hand through his curly black hair. “I was just thinking about my dad.”
Adam Keegan nodded. “That explains it. What brought that on?”
“The stupid school fair.”
Adam flicked worried glances at his friend as they silently walked the block and a half to his home. Ryan ignored him and continued to stew over ancient history.
“Do you want to come in for a bit?” Adam asked.
Ryan realized that he needed to calm down. The way he was feeling, his mum would pick up that something was wrong as soon as she walked through the door. “Okay, but not for long. I’ve got to do my homework and start dinner before Mum gets home.”
“You can do some of your homework with me, if you like.” Adam grinned. “It’ll save me ringing you later to ask for your help.”
Ryan chuckled. “True. Okay, no more than half an hour, though.”
They walked in through the back door. Mr. Keegan was working at the kitchen table.
“What are you doing?” Adam asked as he dropped his school bag onto the floor.
Roger Keegan pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Hi, Adam, Ryan. I had an idea earlier about that tree house you guys built the other month. You said you couldn’t hear when we called you unless we yelled, so I dug out the old baby monitor we used for your sister. I’m just seeing if I can get it working again.”
Adam rolled his eyes while Ryan grinned. “A baby monitor? You’ve got to be joking, Dad. We’re not having a baby monitor in our tree house.”
Roger winked at Ryan. “It has a baby end and a grown-up end. I thought the grown-up end could go in the tree house. Would that settle your ‘we’re not babies’ problem?”
Adam crossed his arms and thought about it. “I’ll let you know — I’m not rushing into things that are going to affect my reputation. In the meantime, you’ll have to move somewhere else. Ry and I need to use the table for our homework.”
“Homework?” Mr. Keegan raised his eyebrows at Ryan. “Is this your doing, Ryan? My son doing homework without being harassed?”
Ryan chuckled. “I don’t think so. I think he became corrupted all by himself.”
“Well, I’d better disappear before he changes his mind. Miracles don’t happen often and I don’t want to mess this one up.” He started to clear the table.
“While I’m thinking of something crude and rude as a response to those aspersions on my character, there’s a fair at the school for Father’s Day. Here’s the flyer.” Adam handed over his copy.
Ryan frowned. For a couple of minutes he had forgotten about that event. Adam’s easy rapport with his dad made the reminder even more painful.
“Gee, I’m sorry, Ry. That was thoughtless.”
Ryan shook his head. “Not your fault.”
“What are you two talking about?” Mr. Keegan asked. He picked up the box of things he had been working on, but he didn’t move away from the table.
Adam glanced at Ryan before responding. “Ryan’s not too keen on Father’s Day.”
“Oh…” Roger paused as if he wanted to say something more, but headed out of the room instead. “Let me know if you need anything,” he called back over his shoulder.
* * *
“Another great dinner. Thanks, Ryan.”
“It wasn’t that good, Mum.”
Claudia Ahern smiled. “Any dinner I don’t have to cook myself is a great dinner. I really appreciate that you have a meal ready for me when I get home. You’ll make someone a great husband, one day.”
“Mum, I’m only fourteen. Don’t get me married off too early!”
“Almost fifteen. Which reminds me, what do you want for your birthday?”
Ryan paused for a moment. He wondered if he could ask for the new computer system he really wanted, but quickly realized they couldn’t afford it. “I’d like some new clothes, but I have to pick them myself — your tastes are just too…”
“Old fashioned?” Claudia suggested, arching her eyebrows.
“More like just not quite in the latest styles.”
Claudia laughed. “And a diplomat, too. Okay, you can pick some new clothes, but I’ll get you a surprise, too.” She paused. “You still like Bananas in Pajamas, don’t you?”
“Don’t you dare!” Ryan stopped when he realized that his mum had successfully teased him… again.
Claudia grinned but changed the topic. “Your football gear is in the laundry. I didn’t see the point in ironing it, so make sure you put it in your bag tonight.”
Sometimes one of Ryan’s friends would ask him if the house felt lonely with only his mum and him living there, but Ryan always said no. The two of them had been together for a long time, and their home was just a comfortable place that was filled with each other’s presence. Ryan didn’t feel there was room for any extras.
* * *
“Ryan, this is Peter. He’s just joined and I’d like you to stay with him and show him the ropes. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure, Stan.” Ryan grinned at the gangly young redhead standing next to his football coach. “Come on, Pete, I’ll introduce you to the other guys.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mr. Wilson.”
“Please, call me Stan. Mr. Wilson makes me feel old.”
Peter Campbell smiled nervously at the middle-aged coach. “Okay, Stan.”
Ryan grabbed Peter by the arm. “Come on. We’re about to start the warm-up and I want you to meet a few people first.”
As they jogged across the field to where most of the team was stretching, Peter asked a question. “What’s the coach like? I heard he’s pretty tough.”
“Stan? I’d say strict, rather than tough. He won’t put up with people who don’t pull their own weight, but he puts in the extra work that’s needed, too. I’ve seen him working with some of the guys for an hour after training is supposed to be finished — helping them with their technique. You do the right thing by him, and he’ll go the extra mile for you. Just you wait and see.”
“How long has he been the coach?”
“He’s been here for the three years that I’ve been with the club. I don’t really know for sure — five at least. We can ask one of the under eighteens if you like – some of them have been playing since they were ten.”
“Nah, don’t bother. I was just curious, that’s all.”
“What brings you to this part of Melbourne, anyway?”
“My dad got a job transfer, so we’ve just moved here from Adelaide. We’re still getting to know our neighbours, and I start school next week.”
While they did their stretches, and later during breaks in the drills, Peter and Ryan continued to chat. Ryan found out that they were going to be at the same school and made a point of promising to show Peter around there, too. Ryan caught Stan smiling and nodding his head approvingly at what he had overheard. Ryan grinned, but then he was ordered to do a set of sprints because he was talking too much.
“If you’ve got enough breath to gab, you haven’t been running hard enough. Now, go!” Stan ordered.
* * *
“I was talking to Roger Keegan, today.”
Ryan looked up from the TV to where his mother was doing the ironing. “Oh?”
“He told me about the Father’s Day fair at the school.”
Ryan grunted and picked up the remote control. Changing the channel gave him an excuse to avoid commenting.
“He told me that they’re raising money for World Vision, so I think it’ll be a good idea to go.”
“I hope you have fun. I’ve got other plans for the day.” Ryan turned the volume up. He wasn’t sure what it would be, but he was sure he would be able to find something to do on that Saturday.
“Turn that down, please. I can’t think when it’s that loud.”
Ryan resisted for a moment, but then did as he was requested. He tensed as he waited for his mum to continue the conversation. After a while, he looked around to find her finishing off the last of the laundry.
A few minutes later, Claudia joined him on the couch. “It doesn’t look like there’s much on.”
“Nope.” Ryan flicked through the five channels again. It was one of the times that he wished they had cable, but he knew from visiting friends’ homes that more channels didn’t guarantee that there would be something interesting to watch.
“You don’t want to go, do you?”
Ryan knew what she was talking about. “Nope.”
“Because I don’t see the point. We’re happy, just the two of us. I don’t need a father, and I don’t see any point in celebrating that other people have one.” Ryan had to struggle to calm himself. He was pleased, but not surprised, by the squeeze that his mum gave him.
“It’s not just fathers, you know. It’s for all the guys in the world who help.”
“I don’t need any of them! Don’t you think that I realize what you’ve been sacrificing for me? You work hard, holding down two jobs, just to make sure I have the things I need. You’re more a father to me than anyone else — why should they have a special day?”
“Is it bothering you that you don’t have a dad to do things with?”
“NO!” Ryan took a deep breath before continuing. “If you’ve met someone and want to get married again, or even just have him move in, then that’s fine with me. But don’t do it so I can have a man in my life. I’m happy as I am.”
She chuckled. “No, I haven’t met anyone, and I’m not currently looking. I’m happy, too, but when I see you all sullen, I get worried.” She gave Ryan a good look up and down. “I think you’ve turned out really well, if I say so myself. You’re kind, considerate, and generally happy. That’s why I’m concerned. It’s as if you’re frightened of Father’s Day.”
“I’M NOT FRIGHTENED!”
She sat silently.
“I’m not frightened,” Ryan repeated in a calmer tone. “It’s just that it reminds me of that scum and what he did.”
“That’s over, Ryan. I’ve moved on and I rarely think of him. When I do, I just look at you and see one good thing he gave me. The bad stuff I can leave behind. Why can’t you?”
Ryan didn’t reply. He couldn’t articulate the fears he had inside of him. Fears of being his father’s son.
* * *
Ryan crossed his arms. “I don’t want to be here.”
“You can sit in the car all day, if you like, but we’re not leaving until you get out and mix. The school’s raising money for a good cause and we — that’s both of us — are going to do our bit to support them.” Ryan’s mum clambered out of the car without looking back.
Ryan sat there for another minute before accepting the futility of his rebellion. His mum was perfectly capable of staying until midnight if it came to a test of wills between them. He had made his point, and she had responded. Reluctantly, he climbed out and locked the door behind him.
“Ry! Over here!”
Ryan trudged over to where Adam stood with his dad. Adam’s father was chatting with another man.
“They’ve got name tags here for the adults, so everyone will know who they’re here for.” Adam scanned the table. “Hey, yours is missing!”
Ryan shrugged. He didn’t care. “Maybe Mum took it.”
“Does that mean you didn’t get anyone to come with you?”
Ryan glared. “I’ve got my mum! Why the hell would I want some guy?”
Adam grinned. “We thought that might be your attitude, so we took steps.”
“What do you mean?”
Adam nudged his father. “Dad, Ryan’s here.”
Mr. Keegan turned around and smiled at Ryan. “G’day, Ryan. I’m glad you could make it.” He held out his hand.
Ryan started to take it but froze when he saw the name tag on Mr. Keegan’s shirt. Under the printed “Adam” someone had used a red texta to write “+ Ryan”.
“Wh… what’s that about?” Ryan pointed at the offending item.
Mr. Keegan glanced down. “This?” He grinned. “You’re not my son, but you’re someone I care about. I talked it over with your mother and this is what we came up with. It’s not just for Father’s Day, but today I’m claiming you as someone special.”
Ryan wasn’t sure what to make of it. He was at first surprised, then angry, but ended up confused when he found out that his mum had played a part in it.
“Roger isn’t the only one who’s added your name to their tag.”
Ryan spun around to find his mum standing behind him. “What?”
“Because, despite everything you’ve been going on about, you’ve got men — good men — in your life, and we’re here to acknowledge and celebrate that. Besides Adam’s dad, Stan and also Mr. Trent from the church have added you to their name tags.
“You’re my son, and we’ve got something special between us, but don’t you think it’s about time you thanked some of the people who have been helping me raise you?”
Copyright Notice — Copyright © May 2007 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.