“Mr. Conner! Mr. Connor!” squeaked a familiar voice.
Con looked away from the frozen food case – veggie sausage patties? Really? – and smiled at the sight of Dizzy Miss Lizzy running toward him, her black patent leather shoes smack, smack, smacking the wood floor of Trader Joe’s. His instinctive pleasure drained at the sight of the square, sinewy figure following silently in Lizzy’s wake. Con’s smile straightened into a thin line, his eyes hardened.
He tried though. He didn’t want Lizzy to think for an instant that his hostile feelings extended to her. He dredged up a stiff smile and tried to infuse a little warmth into his, “Hey, Miss Lizzy.”
“Mr. Connor, we’re having ice cream.” Lizzy reached up a skinny arm – Con winced inwardly at the site of the sticker-covered cast on the other – with every expectation of being picked up. But Con could no more have picked her up than he could have run her over with his grocery cart. He wasn’t sure he would ever pick up a child again. He went cold just remembering that contemptuous, What kind of normal grown man chooses to hang around little kids? with all that it implied.
“That’s great, Lizzy.”
“Up,” Lizzy prompted.
If Con’s smile got any tighter, he was going to pull a muscle in his neck.
Wes Callahan now reached them. He wore faded jeans, a red tee shirt, and an expression as grim as Con’s felt.
“Myers.” His brown eyes were dark and direct.
“Callahan.” Con was equally brusque.
“Up,” Lizzy commanded.
Callahan said, “Angel, Mr. Myers has to buy his groceries.”
His little angel slipped her hand into Con’s and confided, “I’m not talking to Daddy.”
Me neither. But Con didn’t say it. Instead he got out, probably with all the warmth of a social robot, “That doesn’t solve problems.”
Lizzy was unimpressed. “Michael J. tried to feed one of Miss Pip’s goldfish to Roscoe.”
Con said weakly, “Uh…”
“Daddy! I like this flavor.” Lizzy darted away to press her face against the glass door of the case across the aisle. “Daddy, this kind.”
“I guess I’m forgiven,” Callahan observed wryly. He was looking at Con. He even smiled, sort of, as he added, “For the moment.”
Con turned, opened the frozen food case and grabbed the first thing he could reach. Anyone else he would have asked the usual things. How was Lizzy doing? How was Mr. Callahan doing? But obviously Lizzy was doing fine, and making polite conversation to her asshole of a father was beyond Con.
“Look, Myers,” Callahan began awkwardly.
Con threw a couple of packets of frozen brown rice in his cart and let the case door swing shut. He pushed his cart away, but Lizzy came darting back like a little butterfly.
“Mr. Connor, you didn’t sign my cast.”
“Angel, Mr. Con—Myers will sign your cast when he comes back to school.”
Con stopped rolling his cart and threw a disgusted look at Callahan. Wasn’t that typical of the kind of parent Callahan was? Blithely lying to his kid so he didn’t have to be bothered with the awkwardness of telling an unhappy truth.
Callahan looked red and even a little uncomfortable as he met Con’s fierce gaze.
Con said to Lizzy, “If you’re still wearing a cast the next time I see you, I’ll sign it. Okay?”
Lizzy’s rosebud mouth turned down. Her dark eyes looked mournful. “But when are you coming back to school?”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t all that easy to tell unhappy truths. “We’ll have to see how it works out,” Con hedged. He gave his cart a nudge, aware that he was trying to sidle away. There were other shoppers around them now and this was getting more awkward by the minute.
“What?” Callahan said.
Lizzy began to cry. That was mostly about her father’s harsh tone of voice rather than anything Con had said. She couldn’t know what Con was really saying.
“What are you talking about, Meyers?” Callahan demanded.
Really? In public? Right there than in the frozen food aisle? In front of Lizzy? Con gave Callahan another of those scornful looks and determinedly wheeled his cart away. Behind him he could hear Lizzy making little mooing sounds – but that was okay. That was her crying-for-attention voice. Her father was quieting her, his deep voice reassuring but refreshingly brisk. Refreshing, because Dizzy Miss Lizzy had Wes Callahan neatly twined around her littlest finger. Good. Con hoped she’d run him ragged when she hit her teens.
But no more thinking about Lizzy or her homophobic dad. No more worrying about the family dynamics of his former students. Or the fact that Michael J. had tried to poison Con’s rabbit – former rabbit -- with sushi. It wasn’t his problem anymore. It wasn’t his business.Con wheeled his cart into the shortest line and before he knew it, he had his bag of groceries and was walking out into the warm dusk.