Chapter 167: Nothing Changed
They didn't talk a whole lot while getting dinner ready. She tossed the naan into the microwave to warm it up, and he spooned up bowls of the curried chicken.
In a few minutes, they were sitting at the table in their jammies, food in front of them, Abby watching Tim expectantly, letting him start the conversation. But he didn't. He sat quietly, messing with his food, not actually eating it.
"Do you want to talk?"
He shrugged. "Maybe… I don't know… It just feels… so stupid. So ridiculously stupid. Nothing changed. At all. Not like I just suddenly remembered this. Not like yesterday I thought he deserved father of the year and today he doesn't."
He continues not eating.
"Tell me what happened?"
"You said they should have looked out for me better, Ducky said it was abuse, and then everything sort of shifted. Like the whole world is three inches to the left today. Everything's exactly the same, but not quite where I expect it to be."
Abby nods, eating her own food. "Unsettling?"
"Yeah. No one ever said the word abuse. I know I never thought it. The kid with the black eye and the broken arm, he got abused. I got yelled at."
"I got yelled at… signed at emphatically… You got terrorized and degraded."
He looks up from the chicken he's been tapping with the back of his fork. "That's always how you saw it?"
"Not always. Before you started talking in your sleep, I thought you and John were kind of like Tony and Senior or Gibbs and Jackson, just rubbed each other wrong. Then you started talking in your sleep and… and suddenly everything, including the fact that you get sea sick but not plane, car, or any other sort of motion sick made a whole lot of sense."
"I really do get sea sick. Always did. Started throwing up less than ten minutes after I got on a boat the first time."
"I know. But even if you didn't, I'd assume you would now."
"What did you hear? At first?"
Abby looks distinctly uncomfortable. He can tell she doesn't want to say the words and is trying to come up with a nicer way of saying it.
"Just say it. Not like I haven't heard it, and it's not like prettying it up will help."
"You were talking about having your ass passed around a battleship to get the fag fucked out of you. That's the one that comes up most often."
Tim nods. "He only actually said that to me once, well twice really… It wasn't quite that the first time, but close enough. It scared the shit out of me, obviously stuck in my head harder than I thought it did." He smiles dryly at her, pulling his sarcasm into a protective shield. "And shockingly enough, it didn't do anything to make a battleship seem like a place I wanted to be, and somehow it didn't inspire me to want to sign right up to join an organization that might expect me to help gang rape some poor son of a bitch who ended up at my mercy."
She squeezes his hand. "Twice is about a thousand more times than anyone should ever say that to anyone else. How old were you?"
"Fourteen the first time, seventeen the second. He was really unhappy when I tore up the Annapolis acceptance letter."
"And what, he was only mildly displeased when he whipped it out when you were fourteen?"
"No. But I don't remember what set him off on that one… Got a B+ in History? Weighed too much?" It wasn't so much that he wanted to remember it, but talking about it brought it back, and he shuddered. "It was the summer of the boat. The summer I was going to get over being sea sick or die trying. After two weeks of it, I knew not to eat anything before getting on the damn thing, so I was just nauseous instead of puking, but I was angry, and my blood sugar was way low because I hadn't eaten anything since dinner, so massively crabby, and he was drilling me on quadratics, wanted me to do them in my head, and I could, but I didn't want to, so I stopped, told him I was going to be a surgeon and surgeons don't need to be able to do quadratic equations in their heads, and I was being sarcastic and snotty and told him if he knew any anatomy beyond ass, cock, and cunt and wanted to drill me on it, that'd actually be useful, and he went off on a rant about how men broke people and girls fixed them back up again. 'We break 'em, and girls sew 'em back up.' And then he got on me with how if I wanted to be a girl he'd let the guys on his ship cut my dick off and fuck a cunt into me, and I spent a few minutes dry heaving in terror and then did the equations."
Tim's not entirely sure what the expression on Abby's face is. It's whatever comes a step after homicidal rage. He is pretty sure it's a good thing for the Admiral that he's on a ship somewhere with a ton of sailors between him and Abby, because otherwise he'd be dead.
It took a few minutes, but finally she seemed to calm down and asked, "Did you tell Ducky you deserved what happened?"
"No. I told him I earned it."
"Not like that. That was the price for being who I wanted to be."
"No one should have to pay that."
He shrugs at that, too. "It's entirely likely that's just part of how I've conceptualized it to make it easier to deal with. At least with that narrative, I'm not entirely the victim of a sadist. There's some choice and control about it. I picked me over him and got verbally beat for it. I wasn't just a passive whipping boy."
"Okay." She doesn't look like she believes that, but right now he doesn't entirely believe it either, so that's okay.
"I called Penny today. Because I was thinking about it, and trying to figure out what they knew, and I told her, all of it, and she didn't know."
That makes Abby look angry, but a different flavor of it. "She should have!"
"She said that, too. First thing she said to me, 'Yes, that was abuse.' Second, 'I should have gotten you out sooner.' But she didn't know, and I don't think my mom did, either."
Abby really doesn't believe that, at all. "How could your mom have not known?"
"It's not like he said things like that when we had people around. Not usually. Usually if there were people around he kept to sarcasm and back-handed compliments. But everyone heard the Annapolis fight. I got my acceptance letter December 15th. He got home the 23rd. I showed it to him the 24th. He yelled at me until Christmas, but after that was done, once I stepped out of his office, something changed with my mom. He was home until January 3rd, and that whole time I was never alone with him. My mom or Gran or Pop or Sarah was always there. He was gone until June 15th. I graduated on the 17th. On the 18th, I was living with Penny, and two months later my mom had left him and they were divorcing. I really don't think she knew how bad it was until then, and then she did everything she could."
"She should have known."
He shrugs at that, too. "I never said anything."
"Don't make this your fault."
"I'm not saying it was. But… they aren't psychic. You can't know what no one tells you. And obviously he's not going to say 'I called Tim a worthless cocksucker and waste of talent until he cried and the little bastard still can't hit a target with a handgun. I swear to God that little cunt's doing it just to piss me the fuck off!' That never happened."
That step beyond homicidal rage look is back, but Tim watches her take a deep breath, force herself calm, and say, gently, to him, "Baby, you aren't supposed to go out with your Dad and come home crying. Not ever. And from everything you've told me a good two thirds of times you were alone with him resulted in you crying." She got up, found her purse, and grabbed a compact, then brought it back to the table. "And, look, I know you can cry silently, but your face gets all red and puffy, the whites of your eyes go pink, and the irises get really bright green, and you stay that way for at least half an hour, longer if you were crying hard." She flicked the compact open and showed him himself in the mirror. "It's been twenty minutes since we got out of bed, and you stopped crying before then, and it's still obvious in your face. So don't tell me she didn't know something was wrong. She's not blind, so she had to know. Penny lived three thousand miles away for most of your life and you didn't tell her, fine, I'll give her a pass. But not your mom. Maybe with the Annapolis fight it got so bad she couldn't pretend it wasn't a problem. Maybe she finally got scared one of you two would snap and physically damage the other. Maybe he was doing it to her, too and she finally had enough of it, I don't know. But she had to know he wasn't treating you right."
Tim stared at himself in the mirror, and she's absolutely right, it's obvious he's been crying. There's no possible way to miss it.
"I've never looked at myself after."
Abby nods and holds his hand as he keeps staring.
He looked back up at her, if everything was three inches to the left this morning it's about a foot and a half now. He knows he'd be in the car, in the back seat, coming home from whatever it was that resulted in crying. And he'd pull himself together, force himself to stop, wipe his eyes, take deep breaths, calm down, and then walk into the house like nothing had happened. His mom would look at him, ask how it went, he'd say 'Fine,' and go to his room, hide out there until he was fully in control again.
"I don't know what to do with this. I can't hate her."
"Don't hate her. It's not good for you and wouldn't help anything, either. But it's okay to be really fucking pissed at her."
"I…" he looked at himself in the mirror again. He rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath, shoving that to the side because he can't deal with it, not now, and went to something he could handle. "I started talking in my sleep, why didn't you say anything?"
"Lots of reasons. You didn't seem to remember it. It's obviously painful. You don't talk about it. When you do talk about your dad, you'll sometimes just pause in the middle of the sentence, seem to think about what you're going to say next, and then go on without saying whatever it was. You actively edit yourself when you talk about him, and it shows. To me that says big damn wound, don't poke! You get on great with Penny and your Mom, you adored your grandparents… I figured you were as close to at peace with it as you could get, and you didn't need me dredging it back up again."
"I was. And nothing's changed. That's why this is so stupid. The whole past is still exactly the same."
"How you're thinking about it is different."
She scooted her chair closer to his and wrapped her arm around him, her head on his shoulder. She doesn't have an answer to that, so she forks up a bite of the chicken and holds it out for him. "Eat."
He took the bite off the fork, chewing absently. "Ducky was saying talking about it might be good."
Abby nodded. "Probably."
"Would you listen?"
It's a serious question so she gives it some serious thought.
"I will always listen. I don't want you to feel like you've got things you can't tell me. I will carry your burdens with you; that's part of this whole love and married thing, right?" She smiled at him. "But I'm not a counselor, and if you need more than just to tell those stories, I might not know what to do. In fact, I probably won't know what to do, and the best answer I have, hunt down your dad and kill him slowly, probably isn't a good plan."
"Might feel good."
"Might. And if anyone could get away with it…" She's only half kidding, and part of this is making sure he knows it's safe to be as mad as he wants to around her. "But… Anyway… The point I was getting to is that I might not be the best person to talk to. But I will listen, always. Anything you ever need to say, and I will listen. And if you want someone to go with you and hold your hand while you talk to someone who does know what he's doing, I'll go with you. Dr. Wolf at work, or Father John at church, Kate's sister, Ducky even, they do know what they're doing, and you could talk to them. Or you can talk to me. Or you can not talk, and see if just letting it lie will let you get back to where you were… If that's what you want. Do you want to get back there?"
She kissed him. "That sounded really unsure."
"It was. But, the day before yesterday was familiar and comfortable and functional. I had a context that worked for me. My dad was an asshole. My mom and I survived it. Penny was a lifeline. My grandparents provided me and her with a safe haven. My sister was a non-combatant. And all of it was on him for wanting me to be someone I wouldn't be."
"If it works…"
"But it's not real."
"Enough of it is. Your mom should have done a better job protecting you, but that doesn't make him any less responsible. And one thing is absolutely certain, you do not know the whole story of what was going on between them."
"That's true. Penny told me my mom miscarried three times between me and Sarah. I never knew that. Probably never knew a lot of things."
"Probably. And like I said yesterday, I don't hate your mom. I don't adore her, but… I assumed if he was doing things like that to you, he was probably doing it to her, too. Probably would have gotten into it with Sarah if your mom hadn't left and taken her."
Tim shrugs. "From what Penny's telling me, he might be a flat out sociopath."
She gestures with her fork in a tell me more sort of way while chewing, then points at his food, indicating he needs to have more than one bite of dinner.
"According to her, he always asks about me, wants updates and pictures, has signed copies of my books up on his shelf, and seems to really regret the fact that we don't speak."
"What?" That shocks Abby, too.
"Yeah. I don't want to get into what he's said about my books. We've talked about them exactly once, and it wasn't pretty. But he's got them? He asked Penny to get him copies of them? Signed copies? And I don't know if that's part of his everything has to look perfect at all times thing, or if he's just playing Penny, doing things he knows she expects, or what, but…"
"That's how it feels to me. In what sort of world does he call my books a waste of time and talent and then ask my grandmother to get him signed copies of them?"
"I really don't know."
"And why ask her? Maybe for the first one, because of the penname and all, but if he wanted them... They aren't hard to find. He's got guys whose whole job is to go do stuff for him…"
"If he wants her to think he cares, it makes sense."
"Yeah. I wonder if he's got Sarah getting him copies as well…"
"Could be. Are you going to ask her?"
"I don't know. She was barely nine when they split up. She basically never lived with him. They always seemed to get along. She loves him. He seems to love her. He even approves of Glenn. Who also seems to like him. I don't want to torpedo their relationship."
"You have no responsibility to cover for him."
"No, I don't. But I do have a responsibility to my sister to look after her and her happiness."
"Warning her your dad is a psycho seems to fall under the looking out for her umbrella."
"If he hasn't tipped her off to that in twenty-eight years, he's probably not going to. Day before yesterday, she didn't know any more than we fight whenever we get near each other. She probably doesn't need to know more than that today, either."
Abby shrugs, and he eats another bite of his dinner.
"Penny told me he does ask for pictures of us, and I am going to tell Sarah that I don't want her giving them to him. Especially not pictures of Kelly and any other babies we may have."
"No matter what, he doesn't ever get to be near our children."
Abby nods vehemently, agreeing with that.
He takes another bite of his food, chews, swallows. He doesn't look at her when he says, "I'm an adult. I'm successful. Beautiful wife I adore. Kid on the way. I feel like this should be done. It's been twenty years since I left his home. I told Penny I was done, and then you're holding me, telling me I'm beautiful and perfect, and it's not done… He was supposed to love me like that."
"Penny finally admitted he didn't."
"Does it help?"
"Sort of. It's… honest at least. There's no more doing-it-for-your-own-good, deep-down-he-really-cares, doesn't-express-himself-well crap. That's refreshing… I guess. And it's not a problem with me anymore—"
"It was never a problem with you, Tim."
He deflects that with a shrug and continues on with, "And like you, she's never going to try and encourage me to get in touch with him again, or mend our relationship, so I guess that's good, too."
"But you want to be done, not good."
"Yeah. I want the day before yesterday back."
"You'll get there."
"I know. Got too much going on now to be dwelling on the past." He strokes her tummy and manages to produce a fairly limp smile. "Got too good of a present and a future to let the past ruin it."
"But it's still there because it can't not be there."
He looks at her, tired, sad, frustrated. "Yeah."