The first week was soon behind them and the house was starting to fill with their belongings. It still felt hollow to Zach as they tried to unpack and make it look more like a home. Everything felt strange and a bit foreign as they tried to put up elements of their past life in their new reality. Zach made a small attempt at trying to make his room feel like something he recognized but he stopped short of putting anything on the walls. His posters seemed out of place here. His little collections of things didn’t seem to matter. All those were part of memories that he wanted to still be making in another life and he couldn’t bring himself to unpack them now in this new house that he hated more everyday. He left them in boxes and when his father told him that he had to have them unpacked before the end of the week, he shuffled them under his bed or into his closet so they were out of sight. He kept his room barren and only had a bunch of books to keep him occupied and a small TV that he didn’t bother turning on.
Zach knew that his father was becoming frustrated with him. It wasn’t like he didn’t know why either. Their relationship had been easy when his mother was still alive but it had become appallingly apparent to both of them how much of that she had been a part of. Even though they had long since put their difference behind them, it was becoming obvious now how much she was responsible for forcing his father’s hand when it came to certain things. She would remind him to buy groceries in the middle of the week when Zach was coming over for the weekend. She would be the one to take home the dirty laundry for Zach, who had just started doing his own in the time since he had started living with his father. She had been the one to tell his dad what he liked. She told them both to clean up when they wouldn’t. She had been the one to tell his dad what his favorite dishes were. She was the one that knew both of them and it was a piss off that it took losing her to find out that she had done all this so they wouldn’t figure out how little they knew about each other. Worse than this, it wasn’t just obvious to Zach. His father was wearing his frustration and his guilt out in the open.
At first, they were both blown away by grief, too lost in the sea of this new world that neither of them were prepared for to be able to do anything but cling to each other for support. Zach was lost without someone to tell him what to do and how his world was ever going to recover. His father did his best to guide him through it, initially. He would make a point to drive him to school and find a way to help him if he couldn’t make it through the day. It wasn’t long before both of them were in over their heads, however. Zach needed a kind of stability that his mother seemed to be able to offer with ease and his father just couldn’t seem to find a way to do that. As the months rolled on,they began to drift apart from each other. Zach found that he was less interested in things like TV and found himself either swallowed in the internet or some game that he would lose interest in after about a week. His father stopped cooking meals and they lived off microwave food for while until they were both getting sick of it. Zach might have been resentful if not for how his father would still make a small effort now and again. He knew that Zach was upset about how slow the internet was here so he would pick up a few extra comics for him if he wanted to read something new. He knew that Zach hated the TV dinner pork chops so he started buying the ones with roast beef instead. It wasn’t the same as the meals his mother was able to cook but it was something. There were little things that he tried to do and Zach knew that he wanted to be better than this. Sometimes Zach tried to make it enough for them. He tried to seem enthusiastic about things that his dad talked about and tried to act normal. Still, it couldn’t take away the lingering feeling that they were two strangers trying very hard to act like they weren’t.
It was the first Saturday since Zach had gotten his bed back and he would have been content to stay in it all day if not for the fact that he knew his father would get on him for not having put his books away yet. He’d stacked them up in a corner and now that his bookshelf was built, he started going through them all. He put the ones he cared about on the top shelf and the ones he didn’t care about on the bottom. He was int he middle of sorting his DVDs when his father came in, distracted by his phone.
“Hey buddy, how’s the unpacking coming?”
“Fine,” Zach shrugged. He didn’t like being called buddy all the time like he was still four but he resisted the urge to remind his dad of this. “Is your phone working? Did they get the internet hooked up properly?”
“Talked to them yesterday and they will come back next week so it looks like you’re going to have to tough it out without the social media much for a little longer,” his father replied, still looking at the phone. He sighed without looking up. “I’m getting a bunch of groceries tomorrow to start the week. If there’s anything you need, write it on the list on the fridge tonight.”
“Don’t you usually just grab things every couple of days?”
“I start up work on Monday and I don’t want you stuck in the house with nothing all day,” his dad replied, looking up. “And it’s just for orientation for the next couple of weeks and then they are giving me a couple weeks during Christmas to spend here. I figure this will give you plenty of time to unpack those boxes you keep trying to hide.”
Zach knew the look on his face was hiding nothing. He said nothing. He already knew what his father would say and he knew they had no choice. His dad needed this job and the company was the one who had technically paid to have him move here. They needed to get moving on getting settled because he wasn’t made of money, as he always liked to say. He had to work and Zach knew that. It also meant that he was going to be left alone in this creepy house with nothing to do and nowhere to go for two weeks without anyone but himself. He didn’t even need his father to talk to him because he could already hear him saying the he didn’t want him on his video games all day. He wanted those boxes unpacked. He wanted everything done already. He wanted him to just buck up and stop looking as lost as they both felt. Zach knew that his disappointment was showing and wondered if his resentment was too. As his father started to turn away, he got the sense that it was.
When his father’s back was turned, a small glint of silver light caught his eye. Zach realized that it was the same silver strand he’d seen in the attic.
“Did you go up to the attic?” Zach blurted out. His father turned and looked confused.
“No. You said that you cleared everything up there.”
“I did but I thought you might have gone up there,” Zach replied.
“I thought I saw a cobweb on the back of your sweater,” he sighed, going back to his DVDs.