Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(8)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(8)
Author: Roan Parrish

   Every time he said it out loud it sounded more unrealistic than the last.

   Wes raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He kept looking at Adam like there was a mystery he was trying to solve.

   “Wes!” Gus’ voice sounded more distant. “Can I touch this snake?!”

   “Oh god, I’m sorry,” Adam said. Then the words registered, and panic ripped through him. “Wait, snake?”

   “She’s not poisonous, don’t worry.”

   That was actually not what Adam’s reaction had been in response to, but he made himself nod calmly.

   “Good, good.”

   “Are you coming in, or?”

   “Oh, nah, I’ll just wait here,” Adam said extremely casually. “Don’t mind me. Yep. Fresh air. I’ll just. Uh-huh, here’s great.”

   Wes smiled for the first time and it was like nothing Adam had ever seen.

   His face lit with tender humor, eyes crinkling at the corners and full lips parting to reveal charmingly crooked teeth. Damn, he was beautiful.

   “Wes, Wes!” Gus ran up behind him and skidded to a halt inches before she would’ve slammed into him. “Can I?”

   “You can touch her while I get the ladder,” Wes said.

   Gus turned to Adam.

   “Daddy, do you wanna touch the snake? She’s so cool.”

   Adam’s skin crawled.

   “Nope, you go ahead.”

   Adam sank down to sit at the top step and wait. The sun was setting, and it painted the expanse of Knockbridge Lane in muted pinks and purples. The mountains rose to the west, and to the north and east were trees. A Cooper’s hawk glided in a wide arc high above the tallest branches.

   It was beautiful here, there was no denying. Adam hadn’t left all those years ago because it wasn’t a beautiful place to live. But no amount of natural beauty could make up for living with parents like his.

   The door opened and Gus barreled out.

   “Oh my god, Daddy. She sat around my neck like a scarf!”

   Gus’ eyes were bright as stars, so Adam swallowed down his nausea and smiled right back.

   “That’s so cool!” he said weakly.

   “So. Cool.” Gus shivered with delight. “You know how everyone said Wes was a vampire and a witch and stuff?”

   “You know better than to believe everything people say, don’t you?” Adam admonished.

   “I know.” Gus waved him away. “I was gonna say, I think he’s more like a superhero. He has all these sidekicks, and he knows how to do everything.”

   Gus pulled the door shut and skipped toward the garage. Adam trailed along in her wake. He was embarrassed to admit it, but he was just the tiniest bit jealous of his daughter’s worship of Wes.

   Wes came out carrying a ladder, a hammer, and some nails.

   “Penny nails,” Adam said absently.

   When they’d lugged the ladder across the street and stood in front of their house, Adam said, “Okay, Gus, your call. Where are they going?”

   “Can I go on the ladder?” she asked excitedly, eyes wide.

   “Er, no, baby. Sorry, it’s too dangerous.” She pouted but shrugged. “Because I might have a heart attack,” he muttered.

   “Let me guess,” Wes said. “You don’t like heights?”

   Adam rounded on him, instantly defensive.

   “Why would you say that?”

   His whole life people had looked at his small stature and his sexual orientation and his sensitivity and assumed he was weak and scared.

   And yeah, okay, he was afraid of some things. But it was natural to be afraid. There was nothing wrong with it. Tarantulas and snakes could be poisonous. It was self-preservation to fear them. He wasn’t upset that he was afraid of things; he was upset that people thought being afraid meant being weak.

   And Adam Mills was definitely not weak.

   Wes looked taken aback. “You just seemed really worried about Gus going up, so I thought... I don’t know. Sorry.”

   Adam internally cringed at himself for being so defensive.

   “Oh. Right. Um, no problem. That’s just because she’s, you know, a very small child.”

   Wes nodded.

   “I don’t really know much about children.”

   “Surely you at least were one?” Adam said, trying to lighten the mood he’d cast in darkness.

   Wes just blinked. “Not this kind.”

   “What kind?”

   He shrugged, and walked onto the porch, then around the side of the house.

   “Here’s your outlet,” he said.

   Gus pointed to the front of the house. “Let’s put them there, like an outline of light.”

   Adam nodded and gathered the lights under his arm. Then he began to ascend the ladder.

   The truth? Was that Adam was afraid of heights. But he would be goddamned if he was going to admit that in front of Wes now.

   “Are you okay, Daddy?”

   Gus sounded concerned and Adam realized he’d stopped four rungs up the ladder.

   “Uh-huh, fine.” His voice broke but he made himself keep climbing.

   From the top of the ladder, Adam surveyed the neighborhood below him.

   This, it turned out, was a huge mistake.

   “Oh god, oh god, ohgod, ohgodohgod. It’s tall. This is tall. High. Up here. This is dangerous! How many people die each year in routine Christmas decorating accidents?!”

   “Careful, Daddy,” Gus said.

   Wes said, “Three hundred ladder-related fatalities annually in the US. Hmm, I would’ve thought it’d be higher.”

   Adam squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to unclench the claw of his fist from around the lights enough to find the end of the strand.

   “Here’s ten years of Christmas-related injuries.” Wes scrolled on his phone. “Wow, 134,281 people were sent to the ER with holiday decoration–related injuries from 2008 to 2017. God, who knew.”

   Adam’s whole body was rigid, and he heard himself make a tiny whimpering sound that he hoped didn’t reach the ground.

   “They’re not straight, Daddy,” Gus called helpfully from the ground.

   Adam, who was at the moment trying to figure out how on earth it was humanly possible to lift a string of lights, unpocket a nail, hammer in said nail, string the lights on the nail, and move the ladder to another position without falling to his death, just said, “Thank you, baby.”

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