Richard had forgotten just how much most of his extended family enjoys having a drink. Or several drinks. Many, many drinks. He’s no teetotaler – enjoys a drink at the end of a long day just as much as anyone – but good Lord, he’s not twenty anymore. He’s escaped into a disused hallway off the lobby in an effort to preserve his liver, bottle of water in tow, and is just hoping his cousin Sean hasn’t followed him.
As of now, he’s just pleasantly tipsy, but if Sean has his way, they’ll both be in serious pain tomorrow morning. Tomorrow he’s promised to drive Liz and Paula to the airport, and then he has to make his way back to New York for work – he really doesn’t want to be hungover for any of that. Besides, Richard feels no need to make a spectacle of himself in front of his entire extended family tonight. He’s done that before, and Maureen still has the photographs, so he’s perfectly happy to hide away from the party for a bit to regroup.
He startles a bit though, when he comes around a corner and very nearly trips over James’ legs.
“Jesus,” he flinches. “You’re going to break my back, kid.”
“Sorry,” James murmurs, mouth full of something or other. When he looks closer, Richard notices that the boy is holding a napkin full of crab cakes – that makes him smile.
“Don’t worry about it,” he reassures. “What are you doing out here?” Because really, shouldn’t someone be watching him?
“It’s loud in there,” James shrugs. “And Logan had too much cake, so he’s throwing up. I didn’t feel like I needed to be there for that.”
Richard snorts. He is entirely unsurprised that Maureen’s son has overdone it on the desserts – it's certainly not the first time. Still, much as he doesn’t know James all that well, something does seem to be off with him.
“Mind if I join you?” He asks, lowering himself to the floor even as he asks the question. James just nods, still munching on his crab cake.
Only once he’s sat down, does Richard realize that he has no idea how to talk to James. They’ve never really been alone together, and his half-brother still isn’t nearly as comfortable with him as he seems to be with Maureen and Kathleen. For all that he’s not bad with children, Richard still doesn’t know exactly how to interact with this child, specifically.
“You, uh,” he stammers, “you alright?”
“Uh huh,” James nods. Richard isn’t terribly convinced, but that clumsy attempt at a question had been his big swing in terms of interacting with the boy.
They sit in awkward silence for a few moments, before James breaks it, asking: “Do you like your grandparents?”
Richard blinks a bit stupidly. That hadn’t been what he was expecting. Like, at all.
“Um,” he falters. “I guess. Though it’s just my Gram and Gran left – both my parents’ dads died a long time ago. Why?”
James shrugs. “Dunno. I don’t have any – I wasn’t sure what they’re supposed to be like.”
Ignoring for the moment the little bolt of sadness that hits him at James’ tone, Richard has a sudden – unpleasant – realization.
“Did my Gran say something nasty to you? Because, if she did, that’s just how she is – it has nothing to do with you.”
“No,” James shakes his head. “She didn’t say anything to me, but she and your mom were yelling at each other.”
Richard grimaces. “Yeah,” he sighs. “Gran’s not a very nice person. I have no idea at all why she’s here – I think Liz only invited her to be polite; assumed she wouldn’t come.”
“Kathleen thinks she was gatecrashing,” James says, pulling another crab cake out from his napkin. “But she’s gone now – Maureen put her in a taxi after your mom slapped her.”
“What?” Richard gapes. “Mom slapped Gran?”
“Mhmm,” James nods, still eating. Richard is shocked that his mother would hit anyone – never mind her own mother – but he’s more surprised that he hadn’t heard about it. If Maureen knows, then normally everyone knows. Come to think about it, he’s not entirely sure how James knows this, since it’s obviously not common knowledge.
“How’d you know that?”
James shrugs, turning his head down, and – if Richard isn’t mistaken – turning a bit pink. Interesting.
“I was just going to the bathroom,” he says. “I didn’t mean to see them.”
Richard just nods. He’s hardly going to chew the kid out for seeing something he shouldn’t have. Though, he gets the sense that James probably knows a whole lot more than he strictly should.
“Gran’s always been kind of unpleasant,” he says, not pressing the issue. “But she’s gotten really nasty as she’s gotten older – sometimes that happens. What about your mom’s parents?” He doesn’t mean to pry, really, but James had mentioned not having grandparents, and Richard wonders what exactly the deal is with Olivia’s family.
“They died a long time ago,” James shrugs. “They don’t sound like they were very good people, though. She said that her mom was drunk and cruel, and her dad was a monster.” Suddenly James’ face takes on a vaguely panicked look. “But I’m not supposed to know that,” he says, eyes wide. “I wasn’t supposed to hear. You can’t tell her that I told you that!”
“Hey, it’s alright,” Richard reassures. “I won’t say anything. Scout’s honour.” He holds up his hand, but the confused look on James’ face seems to indicate that he was never a boy scout. “It just means I promise,” he clarifies.
James just nods, nervously picking at his napkin.
“How many crab cakes you got there?” Richard asks, changing the subject without much finesse. He can feel an acidic sort of guilt eating away at him now that he has this new information. Clearly, there is a whole lot that he’s never known about Olivia, and – even though he’d been just a kid when he’d resented her the most – he now realizes that she had, more than likely, always been very much alone. Now that he’s an adult, with a better understanding of the situation – of most things in general – he'd very much like to go and give his teenage self a slap.
He settles for sitting in a quiet hallway with James, sharing the rest of the crab cakes and trying to make more of an effort to get to know the boy.
The moment that he and James re-enter the reception hall, Richard remembers exactly why he’d stepped out in the first place. If James’ grimace is any indication, they are in agreement that it’s far too loud – though, he supposes, the boy had eaten rather a lot of crab, so it could just be indigestion. He’s saved from considering that any further when Kathleen comes jogging over to them, looking uncharacteristically frazzled.
“Oh, thank God,” she huffs. “James, I thought your mom was going to murder me. Where did you go? I turned away for a second and you’d disappeared.”
“Sorry,” James shrugs, looking sheepish. “It was too loud and I didn’t want to watch Logan barf.”
Richard tries – and mostly fails – to conceal his laughter. He knows Kathleen must have been worried, but really, he can’t fault James’ logic there. Apparently his sister agrees, though, because she huffs out a small laugh of her own.
“Okay, that’s fair,” she nods. “But next time let me know, alright? I saw my violent death flash before my eyes when I imagined telling your mother I'd lost you.”
Richard doesn’t even try to conceal his laughter this time. Olivia would absolutely murder anyone who lost her son, and he’s quite sure she’d get away with it.
“James,” he says. “Why don’t you go see if you can find Eli – I know he was bored, and that almost always leads to trouble.” James just nods, looking around the hall now. “But stay in here, or tell someone where you’re going, okay?” He adds, not looking to be the architect of his own violent death.
“And no more crab cakes!” Kathleen calls after him. Richard just shakes his head and chuckles – his sister has no idea that she’s far too late with that warning.
“Katie,” he turns back to her. “How much do you know about Olivia’s family?”
Kathleen blinks at him for a moment, but doesn’t rush to answer the question. He doesn’t like the increasingly uncomfortable look on her face at all.
“Some,” she hedges.
“Care to elaborate?” He pushes.
“Why the sudden interest?” She asks, in a less-than-subtle evasion.
“Something James said,” he shrugs, trying to play it off as casual interest. Really, he thinks that he’d give his left arm to know the full story – apparently nosiness is a genetic trait that has not been limited to Maureen.
“What did he say?” Kathleen asks. Jesus, but she’s not making this easy.
“Something about his grandparents,” Richard admits. “That his grandmother was drunk and cruel, and his grandfather was a monster.”
“Oh,” Kathleen sighs. “What brought that up?”
Richard huffs. “He saw Mom slap Gran,” he tells her. “But you’re dodging the question.”
Kathleen’s eyebrows jump. “Mom slapped Gran?”
“Katie,” he sighs, frustrated. His pleasant buzz has well and truly worn off, and now he’s just tired.
“There’s a reason you don’t know anything about Olivia’s family, Rich,” she finally relents. “I don’t even really know anything about them – just what I’ve pieced together over the years through eavesdropping and guesswork. But, from what I’ve been able to put together, James’ description sounds about right.”
“What do you mean?” He asks.
“You really want to do this right now, Rich?”
“Yeah, Katie, I do,” he snaps. She just sighs.
“Fine,” she allows, briefly glancing around to be sure they won’t be overheard. They’re tucked away in a corner, and everyone else is singularly focused on having a good time, so she apparently deems it safe, and continues. “Her mom was raped,” she shrugs, voice flat. “Abortion wasn’t legal, and so she had Olivia, but – from what I gather – it sounds like she spent the rest of her life angry, bitter, and drunk. Maybe she loved Olivia – I really couldn’t say – but she sure didn’t treat her well. She died when Olivia and Dad were first partners – fell down drunk and hit her head.”
Richard can feel his head spinning a bit unpleasantly, and he pulls out a nearby chair and sits down, taking a deep breath. “Jesus,” he mutters.
“I warned you,” Kathleen shrugs again.
“You did,” he nods, feeling vaguely nauseous.
“And you pushed,” she points out.
“I did,” he nods again. Maybe he’s eaten too many crab cakes.
“I’m surprised that she would have told James any of that, though,” Kathleen muses. “She’s pretty militant about keeping the darkness to herself – she and Dad have that in common.”
“She doesn’t know that he knows,” Richard admits. “I think he notices a lot more than people think.”
Kathleen nods. “I believe that. It was just them for a long time – Dad says he’s protective of her.”
There is a physical pain in his chest, and Richard rubs his fist over it. More than likely, it’s just heartburn from all he’s had to eat and drink tonight, but it feels apropos for this conversation. For all that he knows, intellectually, that Olivia and James were more or less alone for the last decade, he hadn’t fully appreciated the implications of that. He’s always had a big family – taken it for granted that that was just the way of the world – and he’s ashamed to admit that he hadn’t considered all the ways that not having that would affect someone, despite what he does for a living.
“It really was just them, huh?” He asks, though the question is mostly rhetorical. Kathleen just nods, silent, and Richard can feel guilt gnawing away at his stomach lining. Because he’d been relieved, a decade ago, when his father had fled the city and refused to even speak Olivia’s name. He’d felt vindicated, even – like the barrier to his family’s happiness had been dismantled. It had felt like things were finally shifting back to how they ought to have always been – just his parents, his family, without the complication of the woman that it seemed like his father loved more than any of them.
Except now, his father loves this woman openly, and things are better than they ever have been. Both his parents are happier, his father doesn’t love any of them any less, and they are all – finally – in one place together. And Richard feels foolish and ashamed, because it had never been a zero-sum game like he’d always assumed. They’ve not lost anything at all.
“I was happy,” he admits, quietly. “When Mom and Dad left, I was happy. It felt like we’d won – like I’d won. I knew it would hurt Olivia, and I was happy about it.”
Kathleen just watches him, not saying anything, but she doesn’t seem entirely surprised.
“What kind of person does that make me?” He asks, not expecting an answer. “That I knew how much it would hurt her – how much she cared about Dad – and I was happy about it.”
“I don’t know, Rich,” Kathleen sighs. “How do you feel about it now?”
“Horrible,” he admits. “Nauseous.”
She nods, still not speaking.
“Jesus, Katie,” he huffs. “I was happy about it, and look what happened. That kid knows more than any nine-year-old ought to – he guards Liv because he thinks we’re going to hurt her, and maybe he’s not wrong.”
“Rich, take a breath,” she tells him, resting her hand on his shoulder. He takes the advice.
“I just-” he pauses. “I feel like a real piece of shit.”
“I know,” Kathleen nods. “And sometimes you are,” she gives him a little smirk. “But Rich, you were a kid.”
“For some of it, sure,” he nods. “But Katie, when they left, I was a grown man. I get what you’re trying to say, but that’s the part I can’t quite square with myself – that I was grown, and I knew better, and I still felt happy about it. I was happy that it would hurt Olivia – I felt good about it. That’s the part that fucks me up, because now I’m looking at the aftermath of it all, and I can see just how destructive it was – Dad leaving. And I was happy about it.”
Kathleen is just giving him a sad look now, and Richard almost wishes he’d kept his mouth shut. Almost.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Rich,” she says. “I guess that’s just something you’re going to have to live with.”
“Yeah,” he nods. “I know. I just feel like shit about it.”
Really, Richard is having a hard time thinking of anything that he feels worse about, at the moment. What sort of man does it make him that he’d reveled in the pain of someone who’s never been anything but kind to him?