The candles guttered in the draft cast by a clattering box fan, and Jericho struggled to focus on the small picture of Caytlyn that he had pulled from his wallet. His fingers felt like sausages, the skin threatening to burst every time he moved a joint. Needles scratched at the back of his eyes, and he blinked. The apartment was small and cluttered, but clean. The table took up most of the space in the combined kitchen and living area, with a sagging tweed couch pushed up against one wall and a very tiny television perched precariously on a spindly plastic chest of drawers. The lights were out, and the street lamps outside cast a warm glow on the threadbare carpets and gingham curtains. The girl pulled her robe more tightly around herself, a bare, freckled shoulder peeping out, and laid her head on Jericho’s shoulder.
“Who is she?” She asked quietly.
Jericho blinked, and pushed the picture out a bit further and tried to focus. “Caytlyn.” He mumbled. “My ex’s daughter.” He struggled for words. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that the entire conversation would be nothing more than a blurry scar in a few hours, and he hastened to unburden himself while he had the nerve.
“My wife was cheating on me and got pregnant. We split up, but the douche-bag left when he found out she was pregnant. She had Caytlyn, but.”
The words stopped, and a single, large tear traced a lazy arc down Jericho’s cheek. The girl smoothed it away with a thumb, and Jericho remembered his last visit to the hospital.
“She died. My ex, I mean. It was an auto accident. Caytlyn was only a few months old.”
The room swayed gently in the breeze of the fan, and Jericho briefly imagined that he was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Carribean. The moon shone softly, and the ocean breeze carried the sharp tang of salt. And then the moment passed, and the room was still.
“I’ve been raising Caytlyn ever since.”
The girl smiled, a genuine smile with no pity mixed in, and somehow Jericho felt stronger. He understood, then, how a face could launch a thousand ships, and almost said so, but some small part of his mind, the skeptical and self-preserving lizard part, thought better of it.
“She has cancer. Leukemia. The doctors say it is a long shot.”
The girl said something, but Jericho wasn’t paying attention. He remembered standing in the doctor’s office. And then sitting in the doctor’s office. And then weeping in the doctor’s office. He remembered the feeling of hopelessness for a child who hadn’t asked to be a bastard, who hadn’t asked for an absent father or a dead mother. He remembered a beautiful little girl, with her mother’s eyes, who hadn’t asked for cancer. He remembered trying, with the doctor’s help, to explain the situation to Caytlyn, and he remembered the large, bright eyes filled with hope as she asked daddy to promise that everything would be ok. He remembered stumbling through the dark streets, filled with hurt and rage and alcohol, cursing everything he could name. He remembered the dark joy that gripped him as he imagined grasping a deadbeat dad around the throat and slowly, very slowly, choking the life out of him.
“Jericho.” The girl’s voice interrupted his reverie. The candles were burned down, and it felt like hours had passed in the blink of an eye. And then she was kissing him, and Jericho felt comfort and self-loathing in equal measure. She stood, her smile more impish than kind, and pulled Jericho to his unsteady feet. “You'll be needing a wash. Are ya forgettin’ yer cards, mon?” She asked. “Ye drew the lovers.”
Jericho blinked. "I don't know your name."