This chapter piggybacks off the last one.
Chapter 13: True Gift
The FaceTime call rings on Benny's laptop a few times, making him more and more anxious with each ring, before the call is finally answered. Benny's breath hitches as his dad's face fills the screen of his MacBook.
The warmest of smiles spreads over his dad's face as he speaks. "Hey son."
The anxiety Benny was feeling before melts away upon finally seeing his dad and hearing his dad's voice. He can't explain why, but something about hearing the smooth evenness of his dad's voice provides him with a calm he hasn't felt since he was younger. The feeling is almost nostalgic.
Benny returns the smile. "Hey dad. Happy Birthday."
"Technically it's not my birthday yet in Canada, so you're a bit early."
"Yeah, but it's already your birthday where you are, so we're going to celebrate now and you're going to like it."
His dad just chuckles. "Hey, you got me there. And you're officially the first person to wish me happy birthday today, so thanks for that."
"Neat." Benny beams. "Does that officially make me the best son in the world?"
"You've always been the best son in the world. But I guess this reconfirms that fact."
Benny smiles. "Great. So, got anything fun planned for your special day? Night on the town maybe, or maybe even a party?"
"Eh, not really. I have to head to the office later to get some work done. I've got a couple important deadlines that I need my immediate attention, and if I'm late on them I'll be in trouble with some really important people. But maybe a few colleagues and I will go out to dinner tonight or catch a show or movie."
"Work on your birthday?" Benny gasps. "That's definitely no way to celebrate. I'm very disappointed in your life choices today dad."
"Yeah Benny, I'm disappointed too. But sometimes being an adult means having to work on your birthday, as unfair as that may seem. Just like how you still have to go to school on your birthday."
Benny thinks about this. "I see your point. But promise me you won't overwork yourself today, and you'll actually find time to do something fun and to celebrate. You deserve to do something fun on your birthday, even if you're busy with adult things. And you deserve to at least have some cake." Benny adds as an afterthought.
"You got it kiddo." His dad nods. "I'll be sure to make time for fun and cake, only if you promise not to stay up all night playing video games."
Benny's eyes widen in shock. "Wha—, who told you about that? Was it grandma?"
"No, you did. Just now." Benny pouts. "What, you think I don't know how much time you spend playing online games on the weekends? You're my son. Of course I know these things. I'm insulted that you would think so lowly of me."
"Point taken, but in my defense I deserve to indulge in some mindless games when I have free time. Junior year is killer dad! These teachers keep piling on work and tests and projects and SAT prep, and just when I think I have a break, I have to write a term paper. I've been so stressed this year dad. I even found a gray hair the other day, see?" He leans closer to the camera running his hand through his hair to further prove his point.
"You are not allowed to get gray hairs before me. But I understand where you are coming from. Junior years is always the most stressful out of all of high school. And I agree, you definitely need a break from all the work you have been doing. Or some kind of reward perhaps?"
Benny doesn't pick up on the hint his dad is giving. "Honestly I think a good night's sleep would be reward enough."
"Only sleep, huh?" His dad looks up thoughtfully. "Well that's just too bad. I guess I'll have to let someone else drive the Audi around while I'm away. You think your friend Rory might want to take it for a spin?"
"Rory once ran his bike into a McDonald's, I don't think he can be trusted with—" Benny's eyes nearly pop out of their socket when his dad's words finally register. "Hang on, did I hear you correctly? You want me—" he points to himself, "to drive the Audi? The brand new Audi RS Q8? Are you being serious right now dad or is this some elaborate prank you're pulling because you're bored or something?"
His dad has an amused smile on his face as he watches Benny completely freak out. "I'm not pranking you kiddo. I put a lot of thought into this decision and have spoken with your grandmother to get her opinion on it as well. You've been working hard this year, keeping your grades up in school, staying out of trouble, and helping out around the house as far as I've heard. I think you have more than proved you can handle the responsibility of having a car."
The chortle Benny lets out is mixed with shock and excitement all at once. "You're kidding me right now. You're giving me the Audi dad? But, like, I—" he's having a hard time piecing words together, but who can blame him? His dad is letting him have the brand spanking new Audi!
"Lending, not giving." His dad corrects. "The car is still under my name, but you'll be added to the insurance and registration, so you will be able to drive it without any complications. But anyway, I think you've earned it. You've always been a good kid, even when things got hard for all of us." His dad gives him a fond smile. "And I'm proud of you. Of course you need to pass your drivers test before you start driving anywhere."
"Oh. Uh, ye-yeah, totally." Benny splutters, still too in shock to really process what's happening. Or to formulate words really.
"No driving late at night, especially on school nights." His dad continues, Benny nodding in agreement (he would agree to anything at this point). "And under no circumstances are you allowed to drink and drive."
"Yeah dad, of course. I would never do something like that. I don't even drink."
His dad gives him a knowing look. "Right, so you mean to tell me you didn't drink at that Halloween party you went to?"
Benny's left spluttering again. "Okay, I only drank a little bit because I was playing beer pong. And it was just beer, nothing too serious. But I was responsible about it and didn't let myself get drunk. I wasn't even really tipsy. And I didn't drive afterwards. Look at that, I'm already following the rules."
"That's what I like to hear."
"Man." Benny leans back. "I can't believe this. I get to drive a freaking Audi. Everyone else is stuck driving Honda's and Nissans. I'm going to be the luckiest kid at Whitechapel High." Benny has a dreamy expression on his face as a fantasy of himself driving into the parking lot of school pops into his mind, with students staring at him in awe as he comes out of the car. "Wait, I'm not the one that's supposed to get gifts today. You are. It's your birthday."
His dad waves it off. "Consider it as a really early birthday gift."
"My birthday's in May. You're four months ahead of schedule."
"I know I know. But I wanted you to have the car once you have your license. Like I said, you've been working extremely hard this year, and all the previous years. No harm in giving you an early birthday present, right? Unless you want to wait until May to start driving the car, which is fine by me."
"No, no, no!" Benny quickly says. "I'm perfectly fine with driving now, thank you very much."
"That's what I thought." His dad chuckles. "I'm sure you're dying to show it off to your friends and all the kids at school. And maybe also a special someone…" he hints with a raised eyebrow.
Benny's face slightly falls, his heart rate picking up. His immediate thought is a panicked how could he possibly know? But he forces himself to calm down. All his dad said was "special someone". He never mentioned Ethan's name, nor did he mention the special someone being a boy. There's also no actual way his dad could know that Ethan is his boyfriend. His dad probably assumes any special someone in Benny's life is a girl anyway.
For a split second, Benny considers telling his dad. If there's anyone who deserves to know about this part of Benny's life, it would be his dad. And now would be the perfect time since they're on the topic anyway.
The words are on the tip of his tongue, but instead, Benny coughs. "Uhh, hey, you received the package I sent you, right?"
"Oh, right!" His dad bends down and holds an unopened box to the camera. "It came last night. Right on time for today if you ask me. And I didn't open it yet like you requested."
"Great, because I want to see your face when you do finally open it." Benny says. "Also that's only part of the gift. There's another part to it, but that you'll have to get when you come back home. It's going to take some time before it's done anyway. You are still coming home before my birthday, right?"
"You bet I am. I wouldn't miss it for the world kiddo."
Benny let's out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Okay good. Now go ahead and open your gift! You're going to love it I promise."
"If you say so." Benny watches as his dad grabs a pair of scissors and cuts the box open. Benny's holding his breath again as his dad removes some of the packaging from inside the box. He fights the urge to bite his nails knowing that his dad will reprimand him for doing so (because some things never get old). Finally, his dad chuckles. "Oh wow. This is great Benny." He smiles as he pulls out the vinyl records Benny sent for him, all albums from artist they used to listen to when he was younger, varying from My Chemical Romance, to Tupac, to Nirvana, to Aaliyah.
"Do you like it?" Benny asks nervously, suddenly feeling shy.
"Of course! I love it." His dad looks up at the camera with a big smile (bigger than Benny has ever seen it) before sifting through the vinyl's. "You really managed to find all of my— our favorite albums." He holds up the album cover for A Night at the Opera. "Remember when you first heard Bohemian Rhapsody and you made me play it on repeat at least ten times?"
"That was your fault for introducing me to such a masterpiece at six years old. How could I only listen to it once? I sang that song at school so many times my teachers had to ban it!"
"Ha! I remember that. You were so upset that day."
"And I had every right to be. What kind of person bans one of the greatest songs to have ever been written by man?"
"You're right Benny. That was definitely cruel and an act of treason." His dad smiles as he continues to sift through the various albums. Benny tried to include as many albums as could fit in the box but was only album to send fifteen (including the Built to Spill album). He wanted to send more, but he guesses he can always get more for his dad when he finally comes home. As his dad goes through the albums he holds them up one by one, talking and laughing at memories the two have from over the years. Each memory brings a smile to Benny's face, warming him in a way he hasn't felt in a long time.
"Remember when I first let you listen to this album?" He holds up the album Get Rich or Die Tryin'. "And you started rapping the lyrics to Candy Shop at my cousins wedding."
"Yikes." Benny cringes. "I've been trying to forget that one, thank you very much. Ten year old me should not have been allowed to have the microphone for that long. Or take that one sip of champagne."
"You're the only kid I've ever met who is affected by a sip of watered down champagne. I'm scared to see what will happen when you drink something much stronger." His dad looks at him pointedly. "Plus what was worse? The Candy Shop incident or the time you started breakdancing to Sweet Caroline?"
Benny thinks about it. "Hmm. Although I'm a terrible dancer and the Sweet Caroline incident was truly tragic, I'm going to say neither. I think the time I performed Daughtry's It's Not Over at that talent show in third grade takes the prize for Benny's most embarrassing moments of all time."
"Really? Your grandmother loved that performance."
"She also loved the spaghetti necklace I made for her when I was five. She loves anything that comes from me dad."
"Fair enough. But if it makes you feel better I also loved that performance. You had quite the stage presence back then."
"You also love anything I do, so that doesn't really count either."
"Not true. I don't love your secret lasagna."
"Well that's your fault for letting me use the kitchen unsupervised when I was twelve." Benny crosses his arms. "And my lasagna isn't that bad anymore. I actually know how to cook now."
"I guess I'll have to find out for myself, huh?"
Benny sighs. "Yeah. But I promise you'll actually like it. Even my friend Erica likes my lasagna and she hates everything. But anyway, keep looking through the vinyls. There's one more I really want you to see. I think you're going to like it." Benny sits forward anxiously, as if that's going to make him see his dad's reaction to the Built to Spill album any better.
His dad nods, looking through the final few albums before pausing with his eyebrows raised. "Woah!" He gasps as he holds up the blue album to the camera. "You got the best Built to Spill album?" Benny nods, grinning broadly. "I can't believe it! How did you manage to get your hands on this? I haven't found it anywhere."
"I have my ways." Benny says a little too cockily. "But look at the cover. That's the real surprise."
His dad flips the album over to read the cover before gasping. "You got it signed too? By Doug Martsch? Benny, wha— how—"
"Like I said, I have my ways."
His dad doesn't seem to hear him, still mesmerized by probably the best birthday gift he's ever received. The smile on his face is big but genuine, and Benny almost thinks his eyes are watering up, which is strange because Benny has never seen his dad cry nor has he ever seen his dad become emotional. And oddly enough, Benny's starting to feel emotional as well. He had been upset when his dad said he wouldn't be home for his birthday. They usually celebrate it as a family every year, Benny, his dad, and grandma. It's one of the only times they all get to be together since his dad is in Japan during every other holiday, and Benny looks forward to it every year. It's one of the only times he gets to forget how much it hurts to not have his dad around. It's one of the only times he gets to feel like nothing has changed.
"Well," Benny says after a while, "do you like it?"
"I love it buddy." The smile hasn't left his dad's face, and Benny smiles too. "You've really outdone yourself this year. This has already made my birthday feel special."
"Yeah, I don't mean to toot my own horn but I got you the perfect gift didn't I? Definitely beats socks and ties."
"I don't mean the gift Benny." Benny stares at the computer screen curiously. "I meant this." His dad gestures between himself and Benny. "You and me talking and spending a little time together even though I can't be with you right now. That's all I cared about Benny. Being able to spend some time with my kid like we're doing right now. And, yeah the gift is amazing, and probably one of the best gifts I've ever gotten," Benny tries not to look too smug at that comment, "but honestly the best gift I could ever ask for is sharing this day with you. That's what's most important to me.
"I know how hard it's been with me being away so often. And I know how important things like this is to you. It's important to me too." His dad pauses to clear his throat. "But sitting here and talking to you has made me happier than ever. So thank you for doing this."
Benny nods as he gives his dad a water smile. "You're welcome dad. Doing this makes me happy too."
"I'm glad. And I really love the vinyls. I can't wait to start listening to these later. But I have to head out to the office soon so I'm going to let you go."
"Okay dad, yeah." Benny blinks back the moisture in his eyes and sniffs. "No problem."
"But text me in the morning when you wake up. I'll see if we can video chat again."
"You got it dad." The chances of his dad being available to talk in the morning are pretty slim, but he gives his dad a reassuring smile anyway. "I really miss you being here."
"I miss you too kiddo. More than you even know."
"Have a good day today okay?"
"I will, I promise. I love you son."
"Love you too dad."
"Bye." The call ends. Benny stares at his laptop screen, not really focusing on anything on the screen. Just staring. He tries to hold on to that warm feeling for as long as possible, though the longer he sits there staring at his desktop, the harder it gets to hold on to that feeling. He hasn't felt a warmth like this in a long time. He grasps at the edges of it as it fades away, willing it to stay with him just for a little while longer.
It doesn't. But he's not surprised.
He wipes the tear that trickles down his cheek as he shuts his laptop and stands up, making his way to bed.
Hope you all enjoyed this chapter and the introduction of Benny's dad. The next chapter should be coming soon, so stay tuned for that.
I now have a twitter account where you can submit ideas, prompts, suggestions, or where we can just talk and be friends. The handle is attack_bourgie.