Theodore sat down on the stool behind the register, using his cane to help shift his balance and weight away from his left hip. He lifted his head as someone set a small stack of books on the counter. He smiled. “Hey, Dad.”
“Hey, kiddo. I am shopping for books you and Vera could read together. Know if any of these are ones she’d be interested in?” Jenner asked.
“That’s sweet of you, Dad.”
“I didn’t get to be there much until…” Jenner cleared his throat. “I want to change that.”
“Thank you.” Briefly, Theodore touched his father’s hand. “I won’t ever let a man come between you and your granddaughter again, I promise. If anyone ever tries to force you and Mom out, I’m kicking them to the curb before it’s too late.”
Rather than saying anything in return, Jenner squeezed his son’s hand. Theodore was more than okay with that. In his time with Russell, he had learned that actions truly did speak louder than words, and Jenner squeezing his hand said much more than any ‘thank you’ ever could.
Theodore sorted through the books before pushing five of them back to his father. “I think she’d enjoy these ones, and one of them is a low enough reading level that she could probably start to read it with me. Or you.”
“Or… or me?”
“Dad, I read to her every single night. She would love for you to read to her sometime.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe I’ll keep a few of these at the house, then, read to her after school,” Jenner said.
Theodore smiled. “She would absolutely love that.”
His father returned the smile without hesitation. “Perfect. I’ll make sure to do that.” He tapped his fingers to the books on the counter. “Go ahead and ring me up, kiddo.”
“Sure thing, Dad.”
Theodore couldn’t help but be surprised that Russell had actually shown up at the bookshop for lunch. Though his heart fluttered at the idea that Russell wanted to sit and eat with him by choice, he had expected the man to either bury himself in work or drown in sorrow.
He was thankful Russell had gone with the lunch choice, to say the least.
Outside, they sat on the hood of Russell’s car, Theodore’s cane leaned up against it. “How was your morning?” Russell asked, eyes on the ground rather than Theodore.
“Not terrible. Dad came in, bought some books for Vera. He’s going to start reading to her, too.”
“She’ll love that, huh?”
“Oh, definitely. She loves being read to, and Dad does the best voices in the world.”
Russell chuckled softly, lifting his head as he took a sip of his pop. “I’m glad you’re getting around to, uh, fixing your relationship with your parents. You all deserve that.”
“Thank you. I’m pretty happy about it, too.” Theodore shook his head. “I can’t believe I let Shane ruin my relationship with them.”
“You were young and in love with a charmer. When Mom and Dad picked out things that were wrong with Shane, it was easy for him to drive a wedge between you all. People like Shane know what they’re doing, how to manipulate people one way or another. You didn’t ‘let’ him ruin anything. He just… did.”
“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly.
Russell cleared his throat, toying with the wrapper his burger sat on. “My biological father did much of the same. He iced out all my friends, all of my brother’s friends, my sister’s friends, all of my mom’s friends. He made sure I didn’t have a relationship with my maternal grandparents, and he made sure Mom didn’t get to talk to them, either. It’s their goal to make sure they’re the only person you have to count out. If they can make you entirely dependent on them, it’s even better. They’re fucking monsters, and they’re damn good at what they do.”
Theodore watched him for a moment before dropping his head to Russell’s shoulder. Russell lifted a hand to his cheek. “You don’t talk much about your mom or brother.”
“Yeah, they’re… I don’t know. They make for difficult topics for me.”
“It’s okay. I’m the one who brought ‘em up.” Russell cleared his throat. “My mom’s been in a private facility for mental health for, umm, for about two years.”
Theodore lifted his head. Russell, however, didn’t turn to face him. “I’m sorry to hear that, Russell.”
“It’s okay. I’m the one who put her there. After a while, it was the only way I could make sure she was safe.”
“From… your father?”
“From herself. Depression ate its way through my family even more than alcohol abuse.”
Theodore wrapped his arms around Russell, closing his eyes as the detective tucked his head beneath Theodore’s chin. Finally, Theodore had landed upon another one of Russell’s hidden facts. Much like when he had found out Russell’s father was abusive, Theodore felt like he understood the man even more. He understood why he went out of his way to be polite, to be kind, to be respectful, to drop everything in favor of helping someone else.
He wanted everyone around him to know they had someone to count on the way he seemingly never had.
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