Lisa finds the scars on his knuckles and along the sides of his fingers. She holds his hand between hers, the careless way a kid does, and her little fingers are dwarfed by his own, somehow finding tenderness beneath the thick chains of callouses.
“What’s this one for, Daddy?” she asks, again and again, pointing at one and then another.
They sit together in their living room, the same way they did the last time he was here, except she fits in his lap differently this time and Junior is listening-not-listening on the floor on his old playmat, waging war with his GI Joes. So Frank tells them the stories - not the truth, that he can’t remember most of them, but shit out of their comic books like trying to lasso barbed wire and Lisa twists in his lap to look at his, with her face all screwed up, skeptical but bemused.
“As real as I’m sitting here,” he answers, straight-faced, but then he catches a glimpse of Junior staring at him in awe on the floor and cracks and Lisa stabs her finger into his palm as he starts to laugh, once again managing to tickle him.
“Daddy,” she admonishes, but she’s laughing too. He has to shuffle her aside as Junior begins to pout on the floor, expression clouding over with the beginnings of an upset.
“Hey, buddy,” he says, and reaches for him. Junior gravitates to him as if being pulled. When he clambers onto the sofa as well the three of them are a mess of limbs, and Frank draws the two small warm bodies to his chest, pressing a kiss into his son’s soft hair. He’s not sure if he still knows how to do this. Junior’s hand clamps conciliatory, possessively, to the shoulder of his shirt. He’s not sure if he knows these two humans at all. “Hey, I’m sorry, I was only messing with you…”
“Shut up, Frankie,” Lisa says suddenly, sourly, turning her head and tucking it into Frank’s neck.
“Hey, hey,” he says, frowning, his hands coming up to rest on their backs, but she won’t look up and he feels the mood of the afternoon change, as swiftly and suddenly as dust kicked up over the sun.
They sit there awhile. It’s silent save for Frankie’s sniffles and then they calm and all’s left is the steady breaths of children clinging to him like a lifeline, a quiet bubble in the afternoon.
“I don’t want you to go again, Daddy,” Lisa says, eventually. She mumbles the words into the crook of his neck and doesn’t look up and he feels Frankie nodding on his left side. There’s a beat. “I don’t want you to go.”
He works his suddenly tightening throat into his response. “I don’t want to go either, sweetie.”
It isn’t exactly the truth. It’s not a lie either, but the words seem to sink into stomach and settle there, like dumbbells. Like weighted chains.
The kids’ arms tighten around him, holding onto him as tightly as they could.
Do it for Frankie, Karen Page says in the aftermath of the car crash. Do it for Maria, do it for Lisa - tell me what happened, Frank, tell me, we can figure it out-
A laugh that’s more spit than breath and Schoonover knocks his head back against a trunk until he can look up at him, eyes glittering in the headlights.
“Yeah, Frank,” he coughs out, “tell her the truth.”
“You- shut up,” she hisses, trying to scrabble him back. “Frank, Frank please, don’t do this, you don’t-”
He drags Schoonover to the shed and throws him through the door, kicking him for good measure, feeling the swell, the weight of his rage, heavy like poured lead and throbbing behind his eyes.
“If you do this, I’m done.” Karen staggers along behind him, arm crossed against her ribs and slip-sliding in the damp mulch. “You do this and you’re the monster they say you are, you hear me Frank? You’re dead to me.”
“I’m already dead,” he says.
And he shuts the door.