William Bloom stinks of minoxidil.
It molds his thinning hair into wet clumps, glistening in the light of the TV. He puts it on in the bathroom and leaves it in the medicine cabinet next to the bottles of antidepressants prescribed to everyone in the Squire house. Nicole Squire takes them because her husband died six months ago of a violent heart attack. Connor and Beth Squire, her children, take them because their father died six months ago of a violent heart attack.
Every night, Will Bloom sits on the couch with this broken family, watching Netflix. Beth, Connor, their mother, and Will Bloom. Nicole and Will hold hands on the couch, newlyweds. Beth sits on the far end and folds her legs so she doesn’t touch her new step-father. Connor sits on the beanbag chair on the floor so he can read a paperback Western he bought from Goodwill.
But the TV blares, disrupting the narrative voice in Connor’s mind. Their mother is losing her hearing and she’s only 44 years old. Normally, one of her children connects the little earbud set that amplifies the sound. But Will likes the volume loud when he watches TV. Will wants the living room dark, like a movie theater.
Nicole wants, more than anything, for them to sit together for a couple hours in the evening. She wants to feel like her family is together. Repaired. Will fills in for her dead husband and in a way, he’s better than Bobby Squire because Will lets her pick sometimes. And what Nicole likes, more than anything, is a good baking show. Tonight, it’s an old episode of Holiday Baking Championship. The glitzy music doesn’t provide a fitting soundtrack for the continuing adventures of Barnabas Sackett.
After she’s had her fill, Will turns on Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist, which Connor can actually get into because there’s a surprising amount of violence that Will clearly didn’t expect. He keeps clearing his throat throughout the movie; Beth and Connor exchange wry looks in the darkness. Twice, Will’s hand fondles the Roku remote, as if he’s had enough and is ready to turn it off. Midway through, when it’s clear even the violence won’t save this joke of a film, Connor takes to watching William’s face instead, the way it contorts into pained expressions.
Connor knows these nights make his mom happy, and he wants to be there for her. He just doesn’t understand how she could marry Will so fast. He hasn’t even moved in yet. Three years ago, he was a complete stranger.
Doc Holliday got tuberculosis from his mother. He cared for her, even when the disease was in its contagious phase. The least Connor can do is watch TV at night with his mother.
And then his phone buzzes with a text that changes everything.
I need to talk to you about Will Bloom.
Connor didn’t respond last night until after the movie was over. Will had to go home because a realtor was visiting his house early in the morning, and so Connor’s mother walked him to the door. They kissed with the door open; cold air blew in and Beth shivered on the couch.
“Ma, come on!” she whined.
It’s important. Please meet with me.
Connor had welcomed the winter breeze though the open front door, imagining himself impervious to the elements. Most of the juniors at his high school like to show off by wearing shorts in the winter. Connor always wears jeans and a trench coat. And there was only one place where he would ever consider meeting a stranger.
Meet me at Doc Holliday’s grave, he’d texted back.
Now he’s in Linwood Cemetery on the east side of town. It’s his day off from work and the dry, cool air sneaking through the mountains surrounding Glenwood Springs bites at his bare skin. The peaks cast long, blue shadows over the snow blanketing the graves. He’s standing on the shoveled path in front of the waist-high iron fence around the tall tombstone, trench coat buttoned up, black winter cap pulled down over his ears, the toes of his black boots idly brushing snow away from an old bottle of whiskey. People leave whiskey at this grave. Sometimes, if there’s a little left, Connor will drink it.