Tim headed downstairs to greet his father with more than slight trepidation. He’d been avoiding thinking about this all weekend, but—would Dad realize something was different when he came back? Had Tim been thorough enough in the commands and suggestions he’d given Mom?
As he reached the front entrance, he saw his mother already waiting by the open front door. Just then, his sister ran past him; as Dad walked in, wheeling in his suitcase, Heather glommed on to him in a bear hug. Dad gave her a kiss on the forehead, and then turned to Mom, embracing her and giving her a kiss on the lips (which gave Tim a twinge of jealousy).
“Well, what a coincidence,” Dad said with a smile. “All my favorite people in one place. Tim, c’mere, kid!”
He grabbed Tim into a hug as well.
“How you doing, champ? Did you have a good weekend?”
“H-huh, y-yeah, pretty good,’ Tim stammered in reply. More than good.
“Well, so did your old man,” Dad said, putting arms over Tim’s and Heather’s shoulders. “I really hit a home run this time—and I’ll tell you alllll about it…I just need to get some food in me. Bill, come on in.”
Tim hadn’t realized it, but Dad’s co-worker, Bill had been waiting outside the doorway. Bill was a middle-aged man, with gray, slicked-back hair, wearing a sharp suit. Unlike Tim’s father, who often wore rumpled suits he bought in bulk from Men’s Wearhouse, Bill’s suits were fitted, probably bespoke. They made an unusual pair, but apparently they worked well together.
“Thank you for inviting me to your lovely home on such short notice,” Bill said, with a slight smile. He greeted Mom and Heather with a nod, and gave Tim a firm handshake.
“Wait till I tell all of you about the business Bill and I did in Louisiana. What’s for dinner, honey?”
“Chicken cacciatore and some mozzarella sticks, but it will be a little bit before it’s done,” Mom said as she took off Dad’s suit jacket and folded it gently. “Can I take your jacket too, Bill?”
“Thank you, Kathleen—you know, it’s been a while since I had a home-cooked meal,” Bill said, taking his jacket off. As he did, Tim couldn’t help but notice the watch Bill was wearing. Patek Philippe. Tim knew enough about watches to know that was a luxury brand. How could Bill afford all this stuff, if he made the same as Dad?
Tim’s dad was in his late forties and had played baseball in college, so whenever he spoke, he sprinkled in sports metaphors liberally, along with the occasional bon mot from a favorite old movie, his other big hobby. Mom met him when they were both in college, after she attended one of his team’s games with some of her dormitory roomies. She used to talk about how handsome he was, with his short blonde hair shining in the sunlight, looking oh-so-sharp in his uniform. You’d barely know to look at it now—he was middle-aged, a bit paunchy, and had a receding hairline.
“Could you get us some beers while we wait for the food, darling? Bill and I have a lot to celebrate,” Dad said, his hand rubbing Mom’s lower back.
Watch the hands, Tim thought, but kept his expression bland.
“Of course, dear,” Mom said. “Why don’t you both relax in the living room and I’ll bring it right over?”
Dad and Bill sat on the two recliners and Tim and Heather sat on the couch. It was awkward—he didn’t know Bill well enough to ask him anything, and he could hardly look at his father, all things considered.
Soon enough, Mom came in with a couple of beers, and Bill and Dad clinked the two bottles together.
“Bottoms up,” Dad said, before taking a swig. “So, how did you two spend the weekend?”
“Oh, I, uh, I just hung out at home,” Tim said. He hoped that Dad didn’t notice the nervousness of his tone.
He needn’t have worried, because Heather soon chimed in.
“Dad, we came in first in the track and field competition,” Heather said excitedly, sitting next to him. “We’re going to regionals at the end of the month!”
“Well, sounds like we both have something to celebrate,” Dad said, smiling. He turned his head to the kitchen. “How about you, dear? You had that hot yoga thing this weekend, right?”
Tim surreptitiously stood up and went to the sink to get a glass of water. This conversation was a real minefield.
“Ah, that got canceled,” Mom sighed. “But it’s alright—I ended up doing something productive.”
“Oh? What’d you do?”
“Ah, I just,” Mom stumbled. “I spent some time with Tim. Maybe productive wasn’t the right word for it. It was fun, though, wasn’t it, Tim?”
Tim choked on the water he’d just started drinking.
“cough Yeah, it was, uh, fun.”
Luckily, Dad was so focused on talking about his trip that he didn’t seem to notice. Bill simply nursed his drink, his expression hard to read.
Eventually, they moved to the dining room. Mom served the chicken cacciatore and Dad dug in while he talked about his new business venture. As Mom went back to the kitchen to work on dessert, the conversation continued.
“I’m going to have to fly out again on Wednesday with Bill, and this time it’ll be a longer trip,” Dad said. “But the business this is going to bring us could fund Tim and Heather’s college tuition for at least a couple of years.”
Dad grabbed a piece of bread, sopped up the cacciatore sauce on the plate, and took a big bite.
“Whoa, Dad, really?” Heather said. “Wait, that means you might miss seeing me compete at the regionals!”
For a second, Tim wondered if ‘Sweetie’ would be at the regionals to watch Heather compete. The bile rose in his throat.
“I’m sorry, princess, but I’m sure your mother will take plenty of videos I can watch later,” Dad said, giving Heather a gentle pat on the hand.
“Yeah…” Heather said, trying to hide her disappointment.
“Sometimes things like this can’t be helped, though, can they, Bill?”
Bill smiled. “Yes, you see…sometimes you have to be like a shark, on the hunt, as it were.”
“Like a shark?” Tim asked.
“Oh, don’t get him started,” Dad chuckled, and took another sip of his beer.
“Like a shark—not like a goddamn minnow,” Bill repeated, looking at Tim. Maybe it was the beer, or maybe it was the subject at matter, but suddenly, his up-to-now impassive face became a bit more animated. “You see, while your sister’s track and field competition is doubtlessly important—your father and I, we have to look at the bigger picture. When we see an opportunity, we have to jump and take it.”
“Huh, yeah, I’m sure that’s…uh, a big deal in business,” Tim said, trying to make conversation, not really caring.
“Take this trip last weekend,” Bill said. “We weren’t the only ones presenting a proposal. There was another rival team from a different firm. Those assholes at Delco. We happened to run into them in the hotel lobby when we checked in the day before the presentation. We said hello, wished each other best of luck. We didn’t mean it, and frankly, neither did they. And then, after they left, we noticed one of them had dropped a USB drive, must have fallen from one of their pockets.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” said Tim.
“Well, what do you think was on that drive?”
“Like, their presentation?” Heather asked, suddenly interested.
“More than that,” Bill said. “The drive was encrypted, of course, but we had people back in the main office who took care of that for us. Confidential quarterly reports, contingency plans, financial proposals—there was a wealth of information there. We spent half the night reviewing it and coming up with ways to counter each one of their proposed plans. The client was absolutely thrilled, figured us for geniuses.”
“W-wait, so you guys took the drive?” Tim asked. That didn’t sound like Dad. Would he really do something like that?
“Of course we did—and they would have done the exact same thing if they’d been in our position,” Bill said.
Dad shifted in his seat, seemingly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. He cleared his throat slightly.
“But was that the right thing to do?” Heather said.
“Let me propose a hypothetical, Heather. If you were in a race, and one of your opponents tripped and fell, would you stop and help them get back up?” Bill asked.
“Well, no—I’d lose the race and…” Heather started. Bill cut her off.
“And another runner would use the opportunity to beat you both, right?”
“Yeah, of course,” Heather replied.
“It’s the same situation here—it’s a cutthroat thing, this business,” Bill mused. “Though I suppose that also applies to life. Talking about morals and ethics is all well and good, but what do you do when your morals and ethics conflict with you getting what you want?”
“Well, if nobody followed morals and ethics, wouldn’t society fall into, like, anarchy?” Tim asked.
“Now, don’t you think this is getting to be a bit of a heavy topic?” Dad interrupted, sounding slightly exasperated. “We’re supposed to be celebrating.”
“All right, all right,” Bill said, with a laugh. “But one last thing before we move on. I’ve often found that people who hide behind talk of ethics and morality are essentially cowards. They’re too scared to do what they truly want to do because they’re afraid of what other people might, or what the fallout might be. But if you want something, you have to seize it—because if you don’t, someone else will. Be smart about it, but seize it.” Bill gulped down more of his beer.
You have to seize it, Tim thought, nodding in agreement.
Bill put his hand in his shirt pocket and then, with a theatrical flourish, took out a USB drive and showed it off to Tim and Heather.
“At the end of the day, your father and I made a deal that’s going to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company, and the fellas on the other side—well, they’re out the cost of a few plane tickets, a truckload of market research, and a USB drive.”
“Well, I’ll drink to that,” Dad said, and took another swig of his beer. Bill smiled and did likewise.
As the dinner went on, Dad and Bill went into details about the trip, explaining their proposal. Mom brought some fruit salad and joined in on the conversation. Tim couldn’t really follow the technical terms Dad was using, but it sounded like it could open up a whole new client base for him in Louisiana. Which meant he’d be traveling there a lot.
Eventually, Bill looked at his Patek Philippe watch.
“My goodness, it’s almost ten,” Bill said, with a slight smile. “I really have to get going. I’m sorry for imposing on you all for such a long time.”
“No problem, partner,” Dad said. “Always happy to have you over.”
Dad stood up and walked Bill to the door. After Bill had left, Dad turned back towards the dining room, where Mom, Tim, and Heather were clearing dishes from the dinner table.
“Well, I think I’m going to go sleep for ten hours. I’m exhausted,” he said.
De lumbered up the stairs, his exhaustion visible in his frame. To Tim’s chagrin, his mother closely followed.
Tim looked towards the living room. His sister was lying on the couch, eyes focused on her phone.
Tim went upstairs, a tense bundle of emotions. It had been a strange day.
That night, Tim had a strange dream.
He was walking along an endless hallway, trying to reach his own bedroom. There were an equally endless number of doors to each side. He walked and walked, unable to get anywhere, until he noticed a bit of light from a door that was ever so slightly open.
Unable to contain his curiosity, Tim looked through the crack of the door.
It was his sister’s bedroom, but not as it was now. The pink furniture, the My Little Pony bed covers…this was how he remembered Heather’s bedroom ten years ago.
Heather sat on the floor next to the bed; she was texting on her phone, completely absorbed in whoever she was conversing with.
Tim cautiously opened the door, and Heather looked up from the phone’s screen. When she realized who it was, her mouth broke into a huge smile and she ran to him. Tim hadn’t seen his sister smile at him like that in a long time.
“Tim, I’m so happy you’re here—do you wanna play together?” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him into the room.
“Heather?” Tim asked, reflexively. This was Heather, wasn’t it? Why was she acting so strangely?
Just then, Heather looked past him and out into the hallway. Tim turned around to see what he was looking, but could only see darkness.
“Oh…sorry, I didn’t realize you were there,” Heather’s voice took on a note of trepidation. She looked at Tim sorrowfully.
“I’m sorry, Tim, I can’t play with you. Sweetie says I have to go with him instead.”
A light suddenly blinded Tim, and he fell backwards.
“Forget about him,” a voice said. “Let’s go.”
A strong light pulsed on and off repeatedly, its point of origin hidden from sight.
His vision was impaired by the flashing lights, but he could see his sister walking out the door, her hand being held by someone. She looked back at him with a sad expression.
“N-no,” Tim said, but as he ran after his sister to open the door, his knees collapsed under him and he fell back.
The door slammed shut.
When Tim scrambled to open it again, he was greeted with a different sight.
He was at the doorway to his parents’ bedroom. He could see a glimmer of light coming in through the window, highlighting the scene taking place on the bed.
His mother, fully nude, was on top of his dad, bouncing up and down, her breasts jiggling.
After a few moments, his mother stopped, turned to look at him.
“What is it, Tim? As you can see, I’m a bit busy at the moment,” Mom said flatly.
“M-Mom, I, I…,” Tim looked on, stunned.
“What, this?” Mom resumed her humping. “Well, your father and I are married. What did you expect we’d do after he returned from his trip? You didn’t really think we were just going to bed, did you?”
“B-but, w-we…y-you and I…”
“Close the door, would you, son?” Dad said, as he grabbed Mom by the hips.
His mother giggled and lay down on top of his father, kissing him, wrapping her tongue around his.
As the lights dimmed all around him, he heard his mom’s voice say, “I guess you just weren’t enough of a shark.”
Tim woke with a start. The nightstand alarm clock read 3:32 AM.
“Jesus…what the hell kind of dream was that…,” he whispered to himself.