By Mathias Byerly
A crowd of about a hundred newly high school graduates burst out in enthusiasm, tossing their caps into the air. The crowd disperses after a few moments of congratulations from each other. Among the scattering members, Tyler Duncan is there aimlessly moving about in his green gown, hatless like everyone else. Walking off the stage that contained the whole graduating class, Tyler gets to level ground, where the whole audience was seated, and he scans. Seeing everything from the school’s miniature garden to a few oak trees, his facial expression, behind his poorly grown spotty beard, is unsure, not noticing any familiar relative faces. He rubs his head, which still doesn’t fix up his close cropped hair that was disoriented by his cap.
“Ty!” a feminine voice yells from his right, making him look. He grins his white big smile as his mother reaches to him. “Congratulations!” she hugs him.
“Thanks, mom,” he mutters. His mother’s alone, making Tyler slightly disappointed, but it’s no different than usual. “Did anyone else come?” he asks as he scopes the scene for familiar faces.
Mom’s bright smile dims. “Grandma was here, but…”
Tyler nods, “I understand. What about Aunt Sammie and Uncle…” he fades.
She shakes her head.
“But I’m here!” she smiles wide. “Oh I forgot! I need to go and grab the camera. I forgot it in the car.” She touches Tyler’s arm. “Then, I can catch a couple of pictures of you and your friends!”
Tyler forces a smirk. Mom goes to the car, in the direction of the stage. He paces in the opposite direction, keeping his back to everyone. He takes out his phone, and dials a number before putting the phone to his face.
“Hello?” answers a deep masculine voice.
“Dad?” responds a cheerful Tyler.
“Ah…Tyler? Why are you calling?”
“I just graduated high school,” Tyler says confidently, like he just won an award.
“Oh you did, did you now? Great. Congrats,” Dad mumbles monotone. “What are you going to do?”
“Ah…” grumbles Tyler’s nervous voice.
“You going to college? Or something?”
Tyler looks behind himself while moving further from the stage. “Should I?”
“College? Yeah, it’s how you get a good job. You want a good job, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Tyler hears footsteps approaching him.
“Look Tyler, I have to go.”
“Yeah me too—”
Dad interrupts, “Congrats again.”
“Thanks Dad! See you soon.”
“You ready to take some pictures?” asks Mom, holding out the camera.
Tyler puts his phone away, and turns around to his proud mother. He goes towards her, nodding.
A fire inside the woodstove heats the cozy, home library. Books cover the shelves from floor to ceiling while two leather chairs sit in front of the fire. The room is dimly lit, but the couple, in the chairs, are reading. The couple is Dad and his young wife, Tyler’s stepmom (if you could really call her that).
Dad is in his late 40s with a dark, thick mustache though his hair is becoming greyer by the year. His wife could look like Tyler’s sister, but isn’t, so young with golden hair. As the fire blazes and the frosty wind hits on the window like a possible blizzard is in the making, Dad and his wife are enjoying their books as well as each other’s company.
The phone rings in the distance, from some conjoining room. Dad watches his wife remove herself to check the phone. After a few rings, it stops, and Dad resumes reading his book.
Returning to the room, the wife holds the phone. “It’s for you,” she says.
Looking up disappointed, Dad responds, “Goddammit. Who is it?”
The wife gives the phone to him, and leaves the room.
Dad stares at the phone for a moment, thinking it’s probably a telemarketer or some political advertisement. He could probably hang up now, and it may not make a difference. “Hello?” questions Dad, with an ending sigh.
“Dad? It’s Tyler,” answers Tyler, with a burst of enthusiasm.
Dad sighs again. “Oh hi there, Tyler…Is everything okay?” he asks, trying to sound sympathetic.
“Things are good. Actually, things are great! I just graduated college. This morning, in fact!”
“Oh? I didn’t think it’s been four years.”
“It hasn’t. Well almost. It’s been three and a half. I was determined. Well, you made me determined.”
“Why’s that?” Dad’s confused by all of this determined business nonsense.
“You told me to go to college and to get a good job. And that’s what I did! I got this job offer at this firm downtown. Sixty Thousand to start off!”
“Wow,” Dad pauses afterward still thrown off by everything. The silence grows awkward right before he coughs for sound benefits more than anything else. He realizes he has to say something.
“I’m proud of you.”
Tyler gets pretty quiet, but not absolutely since his father can hear faint sniffling through the phone. It is winter so that could be the reason. Or maybe in fact, Tyler was choked up.
“Tyler?” Dad questions, breaking the tender silence.
Tyler clears his throat. “Yeah, Dad?”
“I’m kinda busy with something right—”
“Wait, I need to ask you something,” Tyler interrupts.
“So…What do I do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean ‘what do I do now?’ I graduated, I got a job so what do I do now?”
Dad sighs loudly, “Tyler? You think I have all the answers?”
“Well. I don’t. I barely know you! We have genes. And that’s it.”
“Oh,” Tyler whispers.
Dad pauses a moment, before saying, “I’m sorry. But I don’t know. I don’t know what to say…Start a family? With a woman. Or a man. Or whatever your preference is. So I guess start a family.”
No response is admitted, but Tyler nods, which is no good for his father’s ears.
“Tyler, congratulations with everything. But I have to go.”
“Bye, Dad,” Tyler admits solemnly.
“Bye,” Dad clicks the phone off, placing it away. He returns to his book.
Forks and knives scratching on plates echoes throughout the packed restaurant. Each table is covered in a stainless white table cloth with utensils and plates sitting on top. Everyone is dressed up in some fancy get-up like for instance, Tyler is in a three piece suit in shades of grey. He has no spotty beard, in fact quite the contrary; his face is clean shaven with his bright smile, and a haircut sitting perfectly with all hairs remaining in place.
Tyler enjoys his thick steak dinner, but looks up to his date, a beautiful blonde woman named Jennifer, in a stunning red dress. She pauses from her salad, smiling at Tyler.
“I never been on a first date like this,” Jennifer admits.
“Is that bad?” questions Tyler, tilting his head a little.
She laughs. “No! I wasn’t expecting a place like this.” She looks around at all the fancy dining people.
Tyler smirks. “I thought this would be a good place to start.”
“So it’s all downhill from here?”
“Pretty much. Slowly and slowly worse. Until all our dates are at fast food joints.”
Jennifer smiles. “Well looks like there’s a lot to look forward to.”
He nods, laughing, as he eats a bit of his steak. After the piece is totally swallowed, Tyler asks, “How’d you get into Marketing?”
“My dad,” she mutters.
He continues eating his steak.
“He owns the company, and I thought that’s a simple way to make a living …I mean I heard about it all my life, so might as well do something you know what you’re doing.”
Tyler nods, “Yeah, I wish I was like that,” responding quietly.
“Yeah? What’s your father do?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I think something with a publishing company.”
Jennifer doesn’t say anything, though focused on Tyler’s gestures.
He puts his fork down, looking at a few pieces of steak on his plate. “He was never around,” he continues, looking up at her now. “I talked to him a few times. But that’s it.”
She forces a smile, looking unsure of what to add.
“I guess I wasn’t important enough in his life,” Tyler bitterly states.
“You could have my dad? If you want,” she adds, trying to lighten the mood.
He laughs, and leans closer, almost hovering about the middle of the table. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually talk about my father. Let alone on dates.”
She copies Tyler’s actions of leaning, now barely a foot separates their faces. “It’s fine,” she says with a little giggle in her voice.
The both of them stare at each other for a moment until Tyler asks, “When can I see you again?”
She smiles, “You’re not done seeing me yet,” whispering.
Tyler with a five o’clock shadow walks into his apartment. He’s just coming home from work, wearing his suit and tie (tie undone). The apartment is dull, with nothing hanging on the walls. It’s a standard place with a few recliners, a couch and a television in the living room, totally non-distinguishable from this place to the next in this cookie cutter apartment complex.
He sits on the couch, limbs sprawled out as if he’s been stretched out by a torturing device. His moment of relaxation time fades out, and he takes out his cell phone.
He stares at his phone in the palm of his hand. He knows what he has to do, but he’s doing his best to waste as much time as he’ll allow himself.
Finally, he dials a number, leading him to his voicemail. Only one message.
“Hey Tyler, I would like to tell you this in person, but you’re never home,” says Jennifer. “I call you.
But you never answer…I guess you’re busy or whatever.” She sighs. “I’m keeping it. You can be there for me if you want, but I won’t force you. I can’t force you. I know how you feel, but it’s my decision. It’s my baby, Tyler…Please call me back.”
He pulls the phone away from his ear, and tosses it onto a chair.
“These are the twins, Bobby and Abby,” announces the husband, showing the group pictures on his cell phone.
“They’re only four, and they almost know the alphabet!” brags the wife, in her glory.
The husband moves to another picture. “Here’s the baby, John.”
“Aww, he’s so cute,” comments Tyler’s wife, all excited. The gracefully-aged Tyler with a faint smile stays silent. He looks closer to 35 than 45, and has his arm around his wife’s shoulder who’s pretty and around the same age as Tyler. They are at a party for associates of Tyler’s firm and their significant others. They’re in a middle of a conversation with a couple who looks older, but actually is close in age with Tyler and his wife.
“Only four months, this Tuesday,” adds the wife.
“You guys must never sleep!” exclaims Tyler’s wife.
“It’s worth it, though,” answers the husband.
The husband puts his phone away, “How long have you guys been together?”
“We’ve been married five years,” mutters Tyler.
“But we’ve been together seven,” adds his wife.
“Any children in your future?” questions the husband’s wife.
“We never really thought about it,” Tyler interrupts his wife.
His wife stares at him for that absurd comment. He lets go of her shoulder, and breaks away from the group with his hand in his pocket. “Excuse me,” he says to the group, walking away.
Going to the most isolated area, Tyler takes out his vibrating phone, and answers it. “Hello?”
About the Author:
In 2014, Mat Byerly graduated from Robert Morris University with a BA in Applied Mathematics. He writes screenplays, songs, short stories, and poems, but most often he writes stories with strong internal conflicts. He also has a tendency to write humorous material as well as create strange, unconventional situations. Currently, he lives in Pittsburgh, PA, working on his second novel while he tries to get his first one published.