Pretend Daddy(4)

By: Amy Brent

Then, just as I found the first sliver of peace since picking up that damned phone call two days ago, the couch cushions shifted underneath me, and I sighed with dread at another sympathetic soul wanting to comfort me. Considering how reserved and, according to dad, cold I was, I had reached my quota of hugs within the first five minutes of the memorial and every other that came after that was just an added torture to my already broken soul.

However, my mom had raised me right, and despite how much I wanted to just be left the hell alone, these people were my guests. I didn’t have in me to simply blow them off and be rude. For that reason, I opened my eyes and turned my face to look at the nuisance next to me. To my surprise, the person beside me wasn’t a nuisance at all.

“Hank, I was wondering where you were,” I greeted my father’s lawyer and best friend with a smile that was almost genuine.

The light coming in from the window made his dark skin glow and look much younger than his seventy-one years. It also made the red in his eyes that more visible.

He forced a smile and offered me a glass of bourbon. “Got you a refill, Benji.”

“Thanks,” I said, placing my empty tumbler at the side table and taking the glass he was offering me. “This is my fourth, by the way.”

Hank shrugged his shoulders. “If there’s one day that it’s okay to get wasted, it’s the day you bury your father. When my Pop died, your dad and I threw up for two days straight. That’s how much we drank.”

“Didn’t he die when you were fourteen or something?” I asked with a frown forming between my brows.

“Yeah, the day after my fourteenth birthday, to be exact,” he informed with a sideways smirk. “Probably why took Kevin and me only two and a half beers to get completely shitfaced, but I don’t remember a single thing about the funeral which has helped me a lot throughout the years. Putting your dad in the ground isn’t a fun memory to keep.”

A sarcastic chuckle bubbled up my chest, and I rose my glass to him. “I’ll drink to that. To not remembering.”

“And to that son a bitch and his weak ass heart,” Hank added with tears in his eyes as he raised his glass as well.

With a nod and a sigh, we clicked our glasses and sipped the warm, burning liquid. For the next few minutes, Hank and I sat on that couch and exchanged stories about my father. We shared tales of growing up with him—Hank as a kid and friend, and me as a son—and though our situations were quite different, dad was the same. From there, we moved on to the company and dad’s dreams for it.

It was comforting to talk about all those things with someone who missed my father as much as me, and it helped clear my head from the grief for long enough to worry about practical things. We were in middle of a merger that would make our company the biggest telecommunication conglomerate in the country and would give us the opportunity to expand to an international level. This was the biggest deal we had ever brokered and something we had dreamt about for years, which meant I couldn’t allow my feelings and the uncertainty brought by the CEO’s death to jeopardize it.

As the guests started to leave, I turned to Hank and said, “If you can stay a while longer, I’d like to talk to you about the company. I know you’re retired, but I still value your opinion, and with me ascending to CEO and consolidating dad’s shares to my name, I need to start thinking about who will take my seat as both CFO and board member.”

For some reason that I couldn’t quite comprehend, my words made Hank fidget. My brows pulled together in confusion, but before I was able to ask him what was wrong, he said, “C’mon, Ben. Today is about how big of a pain in the ass your dad was and how much we’ll miss him. Let’s not ruin it by talking shop.”

“Why would it ruin the day?” I asked in a matter of fact tone. “My dad built that company, it was his baby. I just want to make sure that the transition will go smoothly and his legacy will be protected.”

Hank shook his head and gave me a ghost of a smile. “You were your father’s baby. Even at forty and with gray hair on your head, you were his boy. The company was just a way to provide you with a good life.”

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