#My52 “The Price of a Life, conclusion”

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#My52: Week 8

Word prompt: photograph

Word count – 2632

Reading time – 6 mins,  35 secs


Part VII

Against his better judgment, Dex opened the door in the far corner of the dining room and walked down the back hallway.

Montages from his life in this house flashed through his mind.

A game of hide-and-seek with his dad.

Racing through the halls with Bobby Tanner and Walt Lansing during a sleepover.

Looking for the eggs his dad hid on Easter morning.

Dexter sighed. All good memories that should have made him smile, but so long ago, they were fuzzy and out of focus.

Who was taller, Bobby or Walt? Did his dad ever find him in the garage’s corner behind the tool bench?

He couldn’t remember. Too much bad had come after the good.

A few weeks away from his nineteenth birthday, it wasn’t lost on Dex that one-third of his life dominated his existence.

Dex stopped at the last room on the right… his room.

He opened the door and entered like he was treading on hallowed ground.

The room was his sanctuary, but it had also been his prison, banished there when Verna wanted to relax, or when ‘Uncle’ Simon came for a visit.

He pushed the ugly thoughts from his mind, tired of his tormentors occupying his thoughts.

Someone had covered everything in the juvenile bedroom in white sheets, but it all appeared to be in place.

Dex knew if he uncovered the tubular nightstand next to the bed, he’d find his initials—DJM—carved on the side. A rare act of defiance after being chastised by Verna in front of his friends.

The baseball mitt grandpa Gerald gave him for Christmas the year before he died was in the bottom drawer of the dresser, and the pointed silhouette on top was the trophy he won in the sack race at the base’s family day cookout.

But Dex was confused.

More than half the furniture he remembered was missing from the house, but his room appeared to be untouched.

Why? Had someone taken advantage of Proctor’s condition and removed whatever they wanted without his knowledge or consent?

Fresh anger blossomed in his chest and Dex stormed around the room thinking of his dad alone and at the mercy of everyone.

He yanked open the closet door and found not everything in his room was untouched.

Dex kicked through the clutter of old toys on the floor of the otherwise empty closet.

He wasn’t upset the clothes were gone—they were clothes bought for a child—it was the loss their absence represented, and how little say he’d had about his life… in his life.

I have to get out of here.

He took a step backward but stopped when he saw the shadow of something hanging in the closet’s dark corner.

Reaching in, Dex grabbed the garment… and fell against the door-frame when he realized what he was holding.

Awash in emotions, his chest tightened in sadness as the tiny smile on his face grew into a grin.

He raised an arm to wipe away the tears forming, then gazed at his find.

The child-size camo fatigues were a big part of Dexter’s happiest memory.

Proctor gave the fatigues to his son to wear for the base’s Bring Your Child to Work Day.

He remembered the pride in his dad’s eyes as his staff called Dex his mini-me and he still felt the awe at all the wonderful things said about Proctor.

“He’s everything I hope to be.”

“He’s the biggest hardass on the planet, but he’s also the best officer on the planet.”

“He won’t ask anyone to do anything he isn’t willing to do. We respect that.”

“He could teach those girly-men in Washington more than a thing or two about how to be an officer.”

The day was revelatory for Dexter. Proctor wasn’t just dad or even a decorated soldier. He was a well-respected leader and mentor his unit wanted to emulate.

The grin returned to his face… along with stark clarity.

It wasn’t that things were missing from his childhood home, but more so the things which were still there.

His things.

No one had stolen from or taken advantage of Proctor Morgan.

The missing furniture items were removed by his request.

Dex mentally chided himself for not seeing it sooner.

The ugly Naugahyde living room furniture Verna demanded because some Hollywood A-lister hawked it on late-night television. The contrasting end tables with cherubs as the stands. And the horrid high-backed Victorian dining room furniture his mother believed reeked of class.

The long-suffering Proctor acquiesced to keep his wife happy but hated it all.

His wife’s offenses after she left were no doubt more than enough motivation for Proctor to clean house… literally.

But he didn’t erase his son.

Still clutching the fatigues, Dex grabbed the file folder he dropped and headed for the door. He didn’t have a clue what to do with his inherited home yet, but leaving the fatigues behind wasn’t an option.

Dexter’s mind was a jumble of thoughts and memories. He had to meet with the executor of Proctor’s estate again in two days and needed to come up with a plan before heading back to Vegas.

With his free hand, Dex patted his pockets, looking for his cell phone as he re-entered the dining room.

Crossing the room, he noticed a small table on the opposite side of the hospital bed he didn’t see when he’d first arrived.

Curiosity led him to the table, and despite the dust, Dex recognized his father’s medals arranged on the front edge of the table.

Surrounding the medals were photographs of Dexter—from the hospital the day he was born; from his first day of kindergarten, and in his jersey for Pop Warner football.

But it was the largest photo in a gold frame sitting behind all the others Dex picked up.

Proctor’s arm was around Dex’s shoulder as father and son stood in matching fatigues under a large banner that read Bring Your Child to Work Day.

His breath caught in his chest and a choking sound escaped his lips as Dex laughed and cried at the same time.

He leaned against the bed and slid to the floor, tears streaming down his face.

He’d cried so many tears of self-pity and loneliness. For what he’d lost and what he didn’t have. For his meager existence overshadowed by the violence he couldn’t escape.

But now, Dex’s tears were for the love of a father for his son.

Verna stole him away and kept them separated, but she couldn’t separate their hearts or break their bond.

Proctor Morgan’s physical condition didn’t allow him to go find his son or fight to bring him home, so he kept him close the only way he could—in his heart and surrounded by his photos.

Jumping to his feet, Dex rushed to the kitchen to find something to hold his new-found treasures.

Darting from cabinet to cabinet, clarity smacked the young man in the head again and he knew he’d never sell the house.

Despite failing health, Proctor did what he could to provide for his son.

Dexter lost faith and almost himself, but his father left enough legal bread crumbs for him to find his way home one day.

He found an old Hostess bread tin in the pantry suitable for a carryall and hurried back and gathered up the photographs.

There was so much to do, his mind raced at the possibilities.

His freshman year was going well at UNLV and he’d already picked classes for the fall… but he wanted to come home. He needed to come home.

Bennington had a community college and the University of Colorado was only two hours away.

This could work. It had to.

He’d call Jerome Gaffney as soon as he got back to his hotel room.

The guidance counselor had become a good friend and father-figure and Dex knew the man would give him sound advice.

Turning in a quick circle, Dex took in the room one more time then headed for the front door.

He didn’t know the first thing about furnishing a home past milk crates for bookshelves, but he’d learn soon enough.

Pressing the remote, he popped the trunk on his rental, secured the bread tin and file folder then closed it, hurrying to the driver’s door.

Hearing a car door close, Dex turned to the street. One look at the new arrival and Dex froze for a heartbeat before whirling around to leave.

His hand was on the door handle but instead of opening the door, Dex hung his head and blew out a harsh breath.

He didn’t know if it was destiny or fate or simple luck, but thanks to his father, Dex had a promising future.

It was time to let go of the past.

He walked down the driveway with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Stopping at the curb, Dex raised his head but not his voice on the quiet street.

“Did you ever love me?”

Verna Morgan opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.

He huffed. “Guess I got my answer.” He turned to leave.

“It’s not how you think-”

“How do you know what I think, ma? Did you ever ask?”

He fought to stay in control of his emotions.

“You didn’t ask when you dragged me away from here. You didn’t ask when you used me to file for dad’s benefits, and you damn sure didn’t ask me when that investigator came looking for me a few weeks ago.”

“You’re too young to understand-”

“Stop it.” She jumped at the harshness of his voice, but Dex didn’t care. “No more lies. No more excuses.”

He searched her haggard face.

Despite the determined set of her jaw, Verna’s fatigue was obvious.

The blows delivered by Simon’s fists, coupled with an itinerant lifestyle and too much alcohol caused her to look two decades older than her forty-six years.

“Before we even left here, I used to cry myself to sleep hating myself. I knew I had to be a bad son for you to always be so unhappy with me. I wanted to be perfect for you, but I realized too late I wasn’t your problem.”

“Simon started coming around and I figured you were mad at dad for being away so much. Then he came back disabled, and I thought you hated him for it.”

Taking his hands from his pockets, Dex took a step closer to his mother.

“But you know what, ma, dad wasn’t your problem either. It’s you, always scheming to get your way, chasing a life you wanted. There wasn’t anything you wouldn’t do… separate father and son, forge documents, lie… no price was too high for you to pay, even if it was someone else’s life.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good life, Dexter.”

“No, ma, there isn’t. But we had a good life.”

“No, you had a good life, Dexter. A military brat with a father doing a job he loved. I was just the live-in maid. I deserved more. Your father promised me.”

“Was that before or after you took up with Simon?”

“That’s not fair. Your dad was always gone, training at other bases… deployed.”

“Shit happens, ma, but dad was in the service when you married him.”

“It got lonely. The other wives snubbed me, and then you came along and…”

“I wasn’t enough.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth and stop trying to make me the bad guy.”

Throwing his head back, Dex laughed. “Damn, ma. You fight to the bitter end, huh? ‘Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. I deserved this. I deserved that.’”

He took a step back, still laughing.

“We’re done here. I have things to do.”

He turned and headed up the driveway.

“I don’t know where Simon is. I-I think he’s left me.”

He paused in his tracks; the laughter returning. Turning, he faced Verna with a feigned surprise expression.

“What? Without giving you the good life he promised? I’m shocked.”

“Don’t be cruel, Dexter James.”

“I learned from the best.”

“Dexter.” Wringing her hands, Verna stepped away from the rundown Explorer for the first time. “Someone in a black Mercedes picked him up two days ago, and he hasn’t come home… and I don’t think he’s going to.”

Dex blew out a long, low whistle. “A Mercedes. Sounds like he upgraded.”

He saw the flash of anger in her eyes before she looked away.

“Did I say something wrong, ma?”

“I love him, Dexter.”

“You love him? Yet, he left two days ago, you don’t know if he’s dead or alive and the only thing you could think to do was come here? You love him about as much as you love me.”

Verna couldn’t contain her anger this time and stormed up the driveway.

“I made a choice, Dexter James! Drive all over Vegas looking for Simon or come here and help you. Stop trying to make me sound like a monster.”

Emotional fatigue bore down on Dexter Morgan. He was tired of the back-and-forth. His mother would never apologize because she didn’t believe she’d done anything wrong.

“You came here, ma because your scheme to dupe that investigator who came looking for me didn’t work. He didn’t know us, but the attorney who hired him knew dad… and how he felt about you.”

“I never tried to dupe-”

“You did. I saw the forged power of attorney.”

“I knew you needed help, Dexter. You know nothing about wills or probate.”

“So, you’re saying to help me you had to take from me?”

“I’m your mother, Dexter James, I wasn’t trying to take anything from you.”

“If dad hadn’t confided in his attorney, you’d have these instead of me.” He held up the house keys. “And Simon wouldn’t be missing, he’d be here getting comfortable in his new home…. a home he didn’t work for or deserve.”

Dex backed toward his rental. “I’m done, ma. With this and with you.”

Reaching the car, Dex opened the door but looked back at his mother. “The irony of this ma is you never got that life you were searching for. You put us all through hell for nothing. You tried to steal my inheritance that, had you been a normal wife and mother, would be yours right now.”

He took one last look at the woman who gave him life before getting in the car and starting the engine. Dex watched Verna stepped to the side as he reversed down the drive. She called out as he passed her. He stopped.

“What about me? What am I supposed to do now?”

“That’s not my problem, ma.”

“So, you’ll just drive away and leave me with nothing and nowhere to go? You hate me that much?”

He shook his head. “I don’t hate you, ma. I don’t feel anything for you.”

Dexter almost felt guilty at the truth of his words until he saw the rage and contempt in Verna’s face.

“Dexter James, you owe me. I am your mother!”

“Goodbye, ma.”

Without another word, he backed into the street, then drove off, relieved.

Stopping at the stop sign a half block away, Dex looked into his rear-view mirror and saw his mother get in the Explorer.

And then he saw a second head.

Simon. Hidden in the back seat the whole time.

Verna’s emotional plea, her lies about Simon’s desertion… had all been just another scheme. A plot. A con.

Dex did not understand what his mother had hoped to accomplish by confronting him, but she’d failed and proven there was no redemption for her.

And he was okay with that.

He turned the corner and headed for the hotel… and the future his father intended for him to have.



Part I     Part II     Part III   Part IV   Part V  Part VI


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