It took Digger a second to recognize me, and then he said what I was thinking, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I heard the ribs here are good,” I deadpan improvised. I’m pretty sure he not only hadn’t expected to see me at this party, he hadn’t expected to see me on this coast. I don’t know why I didn’t expect to see him since I knew he was Galani Gilliman’s agent. I wasn’t thinking, I guess.
Or maybe I expected either Ziggy or Tony would have warned me. Whatever. I was staring at the motherfucker now.
Is it weird to use the term motherfucker for one’s actual father? Whatever.
He seemed to be on autopilot. “So, how you doing?”
“Fine.” I wasn’t in the mood to make small talk. Not that I ever am. But given that we were supposed to be suing him, I wanted to talk to him even less than usual. “How about you?”
“The usual. Little of this, little of that.”
“Uh huh.” Okay, that was it. We were out of small talk. I should have said goodbye then and gotten Ziggy and left. Instead I decided to see what would happen if I said, “I did it, you know. Gave up my controlling interest in the band so your boy there could sign that development deal.”
“He’s not my fucking boy,” Digger snarled, suddenly vehement, and I began to get an inkling why he looked so forlorn. “Though maybe he’s yours.”
I held my hands up in don’t-blame-me mode.
“Is this your doing?” He stood up. “I’ve done nothing for that kid but work my ass off for him. I don’t deserve to get the boot like this.”
“I had nothing to do with it. If Ziggy has a problem with you–”
“He never had a problem with me. Never.” He put his hand over his eyes then. Was he starting to cry? Jeezus. When he put his hand down his eyes were red but he wasn’t crying. He cleared his throat. “Maybe it’s karma. I know. You don’t give a fuck. I didn’t always do right by you, Daron. I know that. I didn’t always make the right choices when you were growing up. And I’ve paid for those mistakes, don’t you think? You were right. John Mills put me in his fucking back pocket and I caved when I should’ve been speaking up for you. You were right about that. But I’ve paid for that. You already fired me. I don’t deserve to lose Ziggy, too.”
I tried to remember, then. Why was Ziggy firing him? Was it my fault? Was he doing it so I’d come work for him?
No. It was part of the deal with the devil. I mean, the record company. They were going to pin some shit on Digger and make him the scapegoat.
I was pretty uncomfortable with that. Looking at Digger right now–it was obvious to me he had been drinking heavily since getting the news–I was even more uncomfortable with it. I seemed to recall that heavy drinking was what wrecked his liver to begin with.
He sat back down because his legs wouldn’t hold him anymore. And he hid his hands in his face again.
“I really really really worked hard for that kid,” he said. “I busted my ass. He doesn’t even know the half of it. That kid never sees past the end of his own nose, though. Never sees what people around him do for him. Everything revolves around him.”
Ziggy’s the sun, I thought suddenly, and I’m the moon.
Digger looked up at me. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Uh.” Yeah, I did. So Ziggy could be a self-centered shit. That was not news.
“He wraps you around his finger. I know it.”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? What’cha doing for him now, Daron? It’s not enough he’s got all the pussy in Hollywood chasing him, he’s gotta have dick, too?” He snorted. “Not just any dick, though, eh? Your dick.”
“You don’t know anything about it,” I found myself saying.
“Yeah yeah, believe what you want. I know how it goes. When he’s got no use for you anymore he’ll kick you to the curb, too. He’ll give you the boot without a thought.” Digger chuckled. “Oh, wait, I forgot, he paid you off. He already gave you the boot. But now he’s figured out you’re still good for something after all, is that it? Cocksucker, cocksuckers both of you.”
Remember that promise I made to myself not to be violent? Remember how I broke it when I fired him? Remember how I ran into him at that holiday party with Jonathan and I had that sudden urge to tackle him and beat his face in, at least until I saw how jaundiced and ill he looked?
I remembered. Even though he was talking shit, even though he was saying words that should have sent me through the roof, this time the little voice that was saying “don’t listen to him, he’s a drunken idiot” actually made sense to me. Huh. He was drunk. He was an idiot…
Then it suddenly became clear to me that he didn’t say this shit out of some kind of clueless oblivion. He wasn’t on a booze rant. He knew perfectly well he was trying to get a rise out of me. The realization that this was predictable, that it would always go like this and that I could have known it would, took all the anxiety out of it for me. Digger suddenly seemed about as scary and stress-inducing as a sitcom, which is to say not very.
“Jeez.” My whole body felt like a fist that suddenly let go. “And to think I was almost starting to feel some sympathy for you, there, Dad.”
His eyes narrowed accusingly. I hadn’t been allowed to call him “Dad” since I was about six. I didn’t remember the exact conversation. Maybe we were in the car going somewhere? I think he said some bullshit about how because I was “a little man, now” I shouldn’t call him Daddy anymore. My sisters never got that talk so Courtney still called him Dad even now.
I went on before he could say anything. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll make sure Courtney gets through college.”
Oh, that really burned him. I knew it would. I was implying that I was doing for her what he should have done. He knew it, too. His face was getting redder by the second.
I wondered if he hit me if Tony would come to my rescue. I felt sure he would. I wondered what he’d do to Digger. If Digger actually went for me, though, I didn’t think I could let him. I didn’t think I could simply turn the other cheek. I took a long slow breath, though, getting ready for it just in case.
In fact, I was pretty sure I could be the one to say something really bait-y and hurtful and be the one to get a rise out of him. If I wanted him to hit me.
Instead I said, “Look. Whatever’s between you and Ziggy, that’s got nothing to do with me. What’s between you and me goes back into ancient history. It’s water under the bridge, Dad. I cut you off for a reason, you know? You don’t owe me anything. I don’t owe you anything. We’re done.”
Digger’s eyes always had a kind of sad-sack quality to them, but never more than then. “He’s gonna try to screw me to the wall, you know.”
“Get a good lawyer,” I said. “See you around, Dad.”
And then I turned on my heel and marched back into the party room. I hope I looked a lot cooler than I felt. I felt like a big dork. If Tony is to be believed, though, it looked like I strutted up to the bar like I owned the place, snapped my fingers, and Ziggy hopped right down into my arms. Okay, not my actual arms, because we were playing it cool. He blew a goodbye kiss to the black-maned beauty I assumed was Galani Gilliman, grabbed his jacket, and out we went.
“Does valet parking have your keys?” he asked, as I led him across the restaurant.
“No. I self-parked.”
“Because I was a dork and didn’t pay attention when I pulled in. But it’s handy because now it means we can go out the side and avoid the photographers staking out the entrance.” As I said this I was leading him to the side exit.
“Does that really matter?” he asked as we went out into the Los Angeles night, crisp with arid exhaust.
“It does, only because…” I didn’t finish until we were in the front seat with the doors shut. “I want to do this.”
I grabbed him by the back of the head and kissed him as hard as I’ve ever kissed him. I can’t say I knew what was going through my head. I don’t even know now. I know we had all kinds of issues to resolve. And I know trying to set up boundaries and discuss what was appropriate were among them. But my emotions were buzzing–all of them–and it felt like the thing I wanted to do most in the world. It was one of those kisses where I really didn’t let him breathe.
“She’s just a friend–” he blurted when he could.
“Jealousy is not what has me riled up right now,” I said, much more snarly than I thought I should sound. I sat back from him. “But thanks for acknowledging my feelings.”
Then I put the SUV into reverse, he put his seatbelt on silently, and we got out of there before I could tempt fate any more.