«We can’t keep him!» shouted Angelica to her husband, Vinnie. «We have to think of ourselves. Our children!»
«But…he’s just a kid.» The thought of abandoning her late sister’s son, Cody, was too terrible.
«I don’t care. He’s not our responsibility! I’m not raising or feeding another mouth.» she challenged, and Vinnie had no choice.
He called CPS, who had contacted them after his sister’s death because he was the only family left, and turned Cody over to them.
He will never forget the look on the boy’s face as he walked out of the house holding the social worker’s hand. Cody looked at him sadness. Obviously, the boy had no idea where he was going, but he knew that Vinnie and his family had gotten rid of him.
«God forgive me,» Vinnie breathed, and he heard his wife scoff cynically as she walked back into the house.
Thirty years later…
Vinnie was repairing his front porch with his son George after it suddenly collapsed. Their entire house seemed to be falling apart, but they couldn’t even consider moving with this housing market. But, that wasn’t the only reason. Of his three children, George was the only one who had moved out and was living in a tiny studio apartment a few miles from them.
His other son, Marco, played games all day, determined to become a «Twitch star.» It would be nice if he found a real job, Vinnie often thought, but he didn’t dare say anything because Angelica would kill him.
Meanwhile, her daughter, Sandra, became pregnant at 18, and the baby’s father abandoned them. So she was always with them. Angelica babysat their grandson while Sandra worked as a cashier at a local grocery store. Vinnie was still providing for everyone except George, who still came in often and raided their fridge.
It was difficult. Money was tighter every month, and he had nothing saved for his retirement. He wanted his children to be more independent, but Angelica coddled them. She often said that times were harder now, but their children didn’t seem to be putting much effort into school or anything else. And now Vinnie felt tired, supporting everyone. And he will probably support them until he dies.
But as he hammered away at the wood and asked George to pass him some more nails, Vinnie thought about Cody. It had been years since he had thought about his nephew. At first the guilt had been overwhelming, but then life had distracted him. Vinnie didn’t know why he was thinking about the kid now, but he hoped that Cody had been adopted and was doing better than his own family.
To everyone’s surprise, a limousine appeared on their street and parked right in front of their house.
«Wow,» George hissed, his lips pouting.
Vinnie squinted his eyes and wiped the sweat from his forehead as he stood straighter. He wondered who was in the limo and why they were in their neighborhood. Rich people never drove by here, and the last cars seen here were usually early 2000s pickups.
Then the driver got out and walked around the luxury car to open the door in the back. A businessman in a fancy gray suit got out. He was wearing sunglasses. Vinnie felt something cold down his spine. The kind of feeling you get when something bad is about to happen.
Was anyone in trouble? Is this man a lawyer? Do I owe anyone money? Did Angelica do something? The questions ran through Vinnie’s mind as he took off his work gloves and walked down the porch steps.
«Can I help you, sir?» he asked and felt George behind him.
The man remained silent for a few moments and faced Vinnie with a frown. Vinnie could feel his gaze, even through his dark glasses, and the sense of dread increased. Finally, the man reached up and removed his glasses, revealing a face that Vinnie would have recognized anywhere.
It was the face of his father and sister. It was Cody.
«Hey, Uncle Vinnie,» the man said stoically.
«Cody… My goodness, kid. It’s good to see you,» said
Vinnie, feeling the sweat pouring off him once more.
He bit his lower lip at the awkwardness of that moment. He had no idea what to say to the kid he’d abandoned all those years ago. Especially now that he had come so impeccably dressed and in a fancy car.
«Cody ?» asked again George.
«He’s your cousin. You met him when you were little,» Vinnie said, knowing that the children didn’t remember their cousin, since they were a little younger than five-year-old Cody at the time.
«You must be George, right?» said Cody, nodding his head.
A slight smile formed on his mouth as he stared at Vinnie’s son. His jeans were ripped and dirty from construction, and his hair was a mess. Vinnie didn’t look much better, but he ran a hand through his graying hair to feel better.
«Want to come in for a drink?» offered Vinnie, and Cody immediately shook his head.
«Not a chance. I only came here to see this mess and tell you something,» Cody started, but stopped when he heard the front door open, and out stepped the wife, daughter and grandchild.
«Hmmm. That’s the wicked witch.»
«Excuse me?» exclaimed George, offended, by Cody’s words.
Cody looked at his cousin and gave him a big smile.
«I was talking about your mother. The wicked witch who told Uncle Vinnie to get rid of me, years ago when my mother died. And Uncle Vinnie didn’t have the guts to stand up to her, and from what I can see, he still hasn’t. It’s sad,» he explains, leaving them all speechless.
Embarrassed, Vinnie looked down, knowing exactly why he had felt fear so much earlier. He had it coming. He had done something horrible, years ago. Now he was going to have to pay, maybe not financially, but by losing his pride.
«Hey, you have no right to say that about my mom,» George complains, looking angry.
«Shut up,» Cody replies, mocking his cousin. «I’m leaving this hellhole in a minute, and I’m only here to tell Uncle Vinnie that even though what he did was cowardly, I still have to thank him. I was adopted by the best parents in the world, got a scholarship to Harvard, and built my business. They never have to worry about money again. Whereas you, well…»
Cody turned his head, looked at Vinnie, and smiled like a cat. The women had moved closer and heard everything.
«You brat! GET OUT OF MY GARDEN NOW!» began to yell Angelica, as their daughters joined in, calling Cody names and insulting him.
Cody’s smile was frozen, and Vinnie could only look at his shoes, drowning in shame. Finally, Cody laughed, put his sunglasses back on, and buttoned his fancy jacket.
«Goodbye, nightmare parents. I hope you have a good life,» he said as he turned away.
His driver opened the door again, but before he got in, Cody looked at Vinnie. His nephew shook his head again and got in. The limo drove away, and Vinnie had to listen to his family’s terrible blaming and ranting.
At one point, he simply sat on the porch steps and reflected on his life, his mistakes, his horrible decisions, and most of all, his lack of spine, as Cody had pointed out. He would never forget that terrible moment. But despite the shame it brought him, he was glad his nephew had made it in life.
Years later, Vinnie finally got up the courage to write an email to Cody after finding him on his company’s website, apologizing and asking about his life. He didn’t expect a response, but he got one. Cody accepted his apology and told him about his business, his wife, his children and his foster parents. They eventually met over coffee and formed a bond between uncle and nephew. Vinnie told Cody stories about his mother, and he loved them.
Years later, Vinnie got sick, and someone anonymous paid his hospital bill. He knew who it was all along, and soon the rest of the family found out. His children were happy about it and felt bad about insulting Cody at one point. However, Angelica grumbled, got angry, and hated Cody for «showing off his money.»
That was the last straw for Vinnie. He packed his bags, told his kids it was time to grow up and be adults, and left New Jersey for Florida. His relationship with Cody was much improved by then, so his nephew rented him an apartment, paying a few months in advance so he could start a new life.
He contacted his children from time to time and sent money for his grandson. But that was it. He never divorced Angelica. He just walked out of her life.
Cody would occasionally visit him and his family on vacations to Orlando. And other than that, Vinnie was alone and happier than ever.