Don is not himself today. Sure, he is agile, and definitely not someone who sits down for hours. But now he's walking through the kitchen looking for something to clean, to make, to do, out of sheer restlessness. Which is quite a different matter.
In the livingroom his pacing is being noticed. Harry drops his newspaper, seeks eye contact with Roy, who's at the table bent over his law book. As if he feels Harry's eyes, he looks up, straight at the man who has been his 'substitute father' ever since his boyhood. Harry raises his eyebrows, Roy shakes his head in answer. Obviously Don is brooding over something, but who will be the volunteer to pry it out of him? Not me, Roy is thinking.
The older man plans to sit this one out. He has taken it upon himself to let his ex wife's son and his son in law become brothers. He's not going to cut in, in situations like this. “Why don't you go to him and talk to him?” Harry tries to sound casual and acts as if he's burying himself in the newspaper again.
“Beg pardon?” Roy stays where he is. Copies Harry's trick albeit with his law book.
“Come on son, you weren't studying. You were only gazing at the pages.”
“What do you expect me to do?”.
Harry smiles inward, at least Roy doesn't argue the non sequitur he created. “Why don't you just talk to him. That's what you'd do if he were your brother, right?”
Roy is folding his arms in defence, He would just as soon let his brother solve his own problems, he argues. Harry raises one eyebrow, looking straight at the blond young man a few feet away from him. He used that look when puncturing the scanty lies of the teenagers who were entrusted to his care.
“Are you still afraid of Don?” Roy tilts his head as a response. This ís an interesting view point. Is he? In the kitchen a chair is pulled across the stone floor, the sound reverberates Don's short temper and impatience.
“Yes, I am.”
“Why don't you go Harry?” Roy tries to taunt Harry a little.
“I want you to talk to him. And as your adopted father I can ask that from you”
Harry hides his face behind the newspaper, but not without noticing some funny wrinkles coming up at the side of Roy's eyes, mocking Harry's bluff. Does Roy really plan to continue this dialogue just to let Don do his mulling on his own, Harry wonders.
“Since when have I adopted you as my father?” As he utters the question, Roy feels a bit like a traitor, but it's done.. the words are spoken.
“Implicitly during your teens and explicitly... when Phoenix came here.”
“Actually,” Roy thinks, “you were the most explicit about it.” But he keeps his words to himself. Why hurt Harry? Besides, he likes the idea of Harry taking him for his son, how inofficial it may be. And how hard it may be for Roy to express his appreciation. The young man leans back in full length, smiling like a seraph. In the kitchen the chair scratches the floor once more. Don gets up, starts pacing again. Harry puts down the newspaper. “Roy, if you are planning to talk to Don, do it now. Or else I'll go myself.”
Odd, Harry's last remark is the argument that makes Roy get up from his chair. He doesn't want to back out. Or doesn't he want to end up being left out, once Harry and Don start solving Don's prying problem?
Harry folds up the paper, his ears open to the dialog that will enfold in his kitchen. That's easy, Roy is leaving the door ajar.
“Hi, what's up?” the latter asks with his back against the door.
Don looks up in surprise. His eyes narrow when he realises Harry probably sent the younger man to him. “Did Harry send you?”
The remark is like a sting to Roy, especially because of the tone. “Does it make a difference?” The youngest tries to soften the tone, but the darker, jewish man doesn't get it. “Of course it does” he retorts. He gets a shrug for an answer, while Roy turns to leave the kitchen. “You know, Don,” he casts just one glance at the dark brown eyes across the kitchen, feels seniority over the man he sees, even though he's five years less of age. “We went through this the night Harry brought in Phoenix. You haven't learned a thing.”
In the living room Harry holds his breath and finally realises that even he walks on his toes during Don's tempers. Time to enter the arena himself. Or not? He gets up, yet waits for what comes next.
Thus missing the embarrassment in his son in law's face. Don turns away from Roy, lays back his head
and sighs. Wishing he could bite off his tongue. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just...” Don holds back, does he really want to confess all the thoughts he has been entertaining the last two hours, or is it enough that it dawned on him how impossible he has been behaving. Enough, so he doesn't need to talk about it now?
“Come on, what's up?”
Don shakes his head. “No. It's just stupid.”
Roy sits down on the bench at the kitchen table, right across his 'brother'. “Try me.” His grey eyes are open and vulnerable. His smile is without any mock or disdain. Just plain and honest. In the door opening Harry appears, it's becoming a family gathering. Better get it over with, they'll drag it out of me anyway, Don thinks. And confesses he's been making himself crazy about Phoenix. How she recoiled from him, when he tried cheering her up. Even though he took care not to cross her boundaries. That she prefers to keep her grief to herself. And how he doubts she will ever accept him as her father and her friend.
Even before Don ends his complaint, one corner of Harry's mouth is twitching. Roy notices and knowing why, has to look away. He can't smother his grin, it runs from ear to ear. Don looks from Roy to Harry and back again, feeling more left out than embarrassed. “Whát? What's so funny?”
“You are.” Harry walks over to Don, pushes him on a chair. ““You are complaining about Phoenix recoiling and keeping her grief to herself. What do you think you've been doing the past hour? Keeping your thoughts to yourself. And the way you lashed out at Roy, when he asked you about it.”
Don is not amused. “Don't use a likeness between her and me as an excuse to ignore her problem.”
“We're not doing that,” Roy enters the conversation. “But you have to admit that somehow it's funny. And a warning. It may be pretty hard for her to shed that behaviour, since it in her genes.”
“I have been thinking about what you said. ”
These words make Roy raise his eyebrows, almost. His 'brother' Don, thinking over his words? It's time to laugh at himself now, Roy thinks, for he hasn't seen the respect Don has for him. Taken his brother's expressive style as a sign of scorn. “What did I say?”
Harry pulls his chair closer to the table , closing the circle.
“You said,” Don is looking for words. “That Phoenix seems to trust us. But in fact she is only playing along. Letting us get close, without actually trusting us. Knowing that complying is the safest way to maintain a supposed truce. While she fears that one day... we may turn on her, become like Edmunds.”
Harry nods. The child is not being a bother, not playful, not experimenting, unnatural. Sure she has discarded most of her fear... but all of it? “So?” is all he says.
“I wish I could come up with a way to convince her we are not like that.” Harry nods, and picks up the problem as Don has put it down.
Roy is looking away from them, he doesn't like what Don said. Just can't put his finger on it.
He stays out of the conversation about how to build trust relationships, problems Harry has worked on with some of the teens that have lived on his ranch. Harry never worked on building trust with him. Or Don. Don had been one of those teens once...
“You two are focussing on yourselves.” Roy's voice cuts through the conversation, shutting it down instantly. “Yes, you are only concerned with impressing upon her how good you are. She doesn't need that.” Roy's almost defiant. “she needs to know how good she is. That she's worth our love. Other peoples love too. The way you suggest it” Roy now faces his audience “means that each person she meets , has to prove himself first. You don't want that.”
Don is sceptical, but Harry is interested. “Go on.”
Now Roy lifts his shoulders. “There's nothing to go on with. I've no idea how to do it. But I just thought your starting point was wrong.”
There's a prolonged silence, in which each of the grown ups are thinking of these viewpoints. The first viewpoint was so easy, now Roy has thrown them into an abyss. No firm ground under their feet.
Harry gets up, getting refreshments for them all. Mostly for the sake of doing something. It might trigger a constructive thought. Behind him he hears Roy asking what stood between Don and his father. Don doesn't need to think long about it. “He had such definite plans for me. Never listened to what I wanted, never actualy saw the real son he had.”
“And what made you come back to the Phoenix1 ranch?” Harry turns his head a little not to miss a word. Don could escape the question by joking about coming for Cathy, Harry's daughter.
“I guess Harry let me run free. Let me find out what I was good at. Or rather, what I liked doing. Made me feel like a person.”
Roy nods. He would have given the same answer if Don had asked him the same question.
“But we didn't get a better relationship with our fathers because of that.” Don is trying to find the weak point in Roys theory. For if there is one, he won't use it on his daughter. But that's not what Roy wanted to point out. It was Harry they came to trust. And Harry never invested in proving how trustworthy he was. He invested in making them feel appreciated, giving them responsibility for their own life, so they could gain self confidence. Yet they came to trust Harry. And care for him. “So much that we are back at his ranch even though we are in our thirties.” Roy winks at Harry as he accepts the glass with juice from him.
“Yes” the older man remarks casually, handing Don the other glass. “such a bad job I've done. You still aren't capable of taking care of yourselves.” He sits down with his drink. “Even fighting like teenagers at times.” Harry moans to emphasise his so called disappointment
“So what do I do with Phoenix, once she draws back again?” It's Roy's opinion Don is asking for, not Harry's.
Roy's habitual shrug comes first. Then he answers with a question. What Don would do in the roundpen, with a horse that would shy away from him.
“I wouldn't mind. It's part of the process. The horse will finally have to choose whether to follow me or not.”
“And they always do in the end,” Harry pitches in. Don nods. No need to be modest about the truth.
“Inside and outside the round pen you are two different persons.” Roy remembers how he and Don were to fight out their battle in Harry's round pen, fifteen years ago. He remembers the shift in Dons attitude while they were in the enclosure. “Outside of it, you are full of conclusions and need for control. I suggest you drop that. Have faith in that kid of yours. Don't judge her or belittle her. Encourage her.”
The darker man nods. He has finally settled down, getting a grasp on how to deal with his daughter.
As if Fate means to play a trick on him, the door from the hallway slowly swings open, revealing on the threshold a slim six year old girl. With slightly lighter brown eyes, but the same defensive look that Don dropped only moments ago. Don rises asking her if she wants a drink. Then changes his mind, sits down again. “The juice is on the counter and so are the glasses. I think you're big enough to pour yourself a drink.”
Instead of moving in she hesitates. Is she allowed to fill the glass herself, like the grown ups do? What an unexpected honour. Don sees a shimmer of pride lighting up in his child's eyes.
1The fact that the ranch has the same name as the girl is purely a coincidence.