A Father's Name
Author:Holly Jacobs

Chapter THREE


Where was he?

It was the scent that finally triggered his memory. He was in Angelina Tucker’s bed. On the heels of that realization came another—Jason was dead. He needed to get the baby and go check on Jason’s parents.

Tyler found his clothes in a neat pile in the bathroom. They’d obviously been laundered.

He added that to the long list of things Angelina had done for him as he dressed.

He went looking for his benefactor and found her in the living room on the floor stacking blocks with Jace. He stood in the doorway, mesmerized by the sight. She’d stack a small tower and Jace would whack it over, then laugh hysterically as she’d sputter, “Why you…” and rebuild it, only to have it toppled again.

She spotted him and smiled. “You woke up.”

“I did and found some clean clothes. Thank you.”

She seemed flustered by his gratitude and shrugged. “It was self-preservation. They practically walked to the washer and begged to be cleaned.” She grew serious. “I’m sorry about your friend.”

“Thank you. He was more than a friend…” Tyler stopped, not sure how to describe his relationship with Jason and his parents. There was the family he’d been born into, such as they were, and then there were the Matthews, the family he’d chosen…or rather the family who’d chosen him.

“Your friend’s got a great kid. I figured Jace’s parents were pretty special. I’m sorry he’s lost his father.”

“Mellie, his mom, is gone, too. Jace only has his grandparents left.”

“I’m sorry for that, too.” Tucker shook her head. “But you’re wrong. He has you.”

Jace deserved better than him. Lucky for the kid he had Jason’s parents, who were the best. They were two of the most decent people he’d ever known. “His grandparents will take care of him. Speaking of which, I need to take him to them. We’ve got to make the funeral arrangements.” He paused. “About work…?”

“Don’t worry. Dad cleared your absence with your parole officer, and your job is waiting for you after the funeral. Will you call me with the details?”

Her question brought him up short. “Why?”

Tucker shook her head, sending her short curls flying. “So we can come and show our respect.”

“You didn’t know him.” She’d never even met Jason or his parents, so he didn’t understand.

“No, but we know you. You work for us. We want to be there for you. That’s what friends do.” Her expression didn’t brook any arguments.

Tyler hadn’t understood Angelina back when he’d asked her out and she’d said no, despite the fact he was pretty sure she wanted to say yes. He didn’t think he was being conceited when he thought she was as attracted to him as he was to her. He understood her even less now. He simply said, “Thanks.” He leaned down to the baby. “Hey, Jace.”

Jace immediately held up his hands to be lifted.

“He’s not shy about what he wants.” Angelina laughed as Tyler picked up the baby. “Bart has begun referring to us as Jace’s minions. He’s got everyone at the shop totally under his thumb.”

“I don’t know how to thank you both. To thank everyone at the shop for picking up the slack for me.”

“Like I said, helping out—that’s what we do. You should have seen him with North. North’s got a Star Trek phaser app on his phone and was thrilled that Jace thought it was as cool as he did. The rest of us simply mock it, but Jace and North played with that thing for more than a half hour. I’m afraid that first it’s going to be phaser apps on a phone, and next thing you know, North will be taking Jace to ComicCon, or DragonCon.”

Jason had been a huge science fiction buff who’d kept trying to tempt Tyler into joining him by giving him books or DVDs to watch. Tyler realized that his friend would never again rave about how brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, or threaten to give him a Star Wars ringtone.

He noticed Angelina was still talking. “…and Lou and my dad took turns playing honorary grandpa with him. They were talking about taking him fishing. I put a stop to that. I figured I’d fail as babysitter if I let him become fish-bait. But I’m sure they’ll be asking to borrow him sometime. They used to take Bart.”

Tyler didn’t know what to say. He was an ex-con, but no one at Tucker’s garage seemed to notice. They simply accepted him as one of their own. “Angel, I—”

“Tucker, remember, Ace?” She smiled as she said the words.

Without thinking, Tyler leaned down and kissed her. It started out as a quick buss on the cheek, but she turned her head, and his lips were on hers. It was a tender kiss of friendship that quickly turned into something more. Something Tucker actively participated in and then abruptly pulled back from, looking flustered. He didn’t wait for her to holler at him, he simply took the baby and walked to where he’d spotted Jace’s carseat.

“Don’t forget his diaper bag,” Tucker said, following after him, bag in hand.

He started toward his truck.

“Thanks. I seem to be thanking you a lot.”

“We look out for each other. No thanks expected.”

He knew she meant that—she didn’t require or expect gratitude. She didn’t even recognize how extraordinary that was.

He looked at the small woman in her holey jeans and a t-shirt that had a motorcycle on it and read Ride It Like You Stole It. Her hair was a mass of crazy curls and she didn’t have a bit of makeup on. All that being said, she was beautiful and everything in him wanted nothing more than to kiss her again.

But he didn’t. He felt guilty for wanting to. After all, his best friend was dead. How could he be thinking about women when Jace was gone? It said something about him, he admitted as they agreed to switch vehicles and fished his truck key out of his pocket for Tucker. “I’ll call later on.”

“Okay.” She stood in front of him for a minute, as if weighing something in her head, then moved swiftly and kissed his cheek.

Before he could do or say something that would totally unman himself, Tyler got in Angelina’s black Pilot and headed back into Erie, where Jason’s parents were waiting.

He glanced at the baby in the rearview mirror. Jace was chortling a string of noncoherent syllables to himself, happy and content. Tyler caught the word Da, and felt choked up. He remembered the day Jason had called him to tell him Mellie was pregnant. The baby didn’t know he’d lost everything.

But Tyler did and his heart ached for him. For Jason’s parents.

And, though it made him feel small to think it, for himself.

Jason Matthews stood up for Tyler and stood by Tyler. Jason had given him the closest thing to a family that he was ever going to have.

And now he was gone.

Tyler felt totally alone, but then he remembered Angelina’s simple assurance that they were there for him.

The thought warmed him and helped him feel as if he was able to get through these next few days. He had to bury his friend, then he had to say goodbye to his godson when the Matthews took the baby back to Florida with them.

But he wasn’t totally alone.

And Tyler Martinez was a man who recognized how much that was worth.

It was worth everything.

TUCKER WALKED INTO THE Kloecker Funeral Home along with her father, Lou, Joe and North. The place was filled with people who’d grouped together sharing tears and stories of the deceased. She spotted a man and woman who had to be Jason’s parents. The woman held a cane in one hand, and Jace in the other. They were surrounded by people offering their sympathies. Tyler was nowhere to be seen. She scanned the crowds and finally spotted him in a corner, standing by himself. His expression unreadable. His posture was ramrod stiff, and his fists were clenched at his side as he stared out the window.

Rather than get in the line of people waiting to pay their respects with her father and the guys, she walked over to Tyler. “How’re you doing?” She heard the words come out of her mouth and wished she could suck them back in. “Sorry. Dumb question.”

Tyler offered her a weak smile. “I’m as okay as I can be.”

“Why are you hiding back here?” She noticed that people kept glancing at them, and cut Tyler a wide berth, as if he had something contagious.

“Not hiding, simply staying out of the way.” His voice was tight, contained. Too controlled.

“Come with me.” She took his hand and pulled him toward the door. People parted as they approached. She saw her dad send her a questioning look, but she shook her head and trusted he knew that she meant she had it under control. She continued leading Tyler until they were far enough outside the funeral home, at the far end of the parking lot. No one could overhear.


“I’m fine,” Tyler repeated.

“Ty, we both work on cars and we know that systems need to be vented, or else the pressure builds until it blows up. Your pressure’s building. Vent.” He still didn’t say anything, so she pressed. “Jason was a friend. I never saw you two together, but it’s obvious you were a good friend to him. So why is everyone in there treating you like you have leprosy?”

Tyler sighed. “Those people are former colleagues. And it seems that they don’t take kindly to ex-cons who went away for embezzling from their firm.”

“Did you do it?” She wasn’t sure why she’d asked, but once the words were out of her mouth, she very much wanted to hear Tyler’s answer.

Rather than answer, he simply said, “What?”

“Did you do it? You said you went to prison for it, but you didn’t say you did it. There’s a difference. I caught it.”

“You’re the first person to ask me that question.”

“So, did you do it?” She wasn’t sure why she was so sure, but she was. There was more to the story than Tyler simply embezzling money from his firm. He’d had money. At least enough money for high-end cars and suits and such. So why?

His jaws clenched. “I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Fine. Then talk about Jason. How long did you know him?”

“We grew up together. Not in the same neighborhood, but we went to the same school. I was in high school and the first day our freshman year, our science teacher partnered us. Jason was lost when it came to science, so I helped him. I was behind in English, so he helped me. We were both horrible at French, but we met this girl, Mellie DeDioniso and she got us both through four years of that. All I remember about French is how to ask if you have a friend in French class, and truly that’s not the most useful phrase.” He smiled at the thought of some long forgotten memory.

Tucker saw his stance ease and his clenched fists ease into a more natural position.

“The three of us were friends. But our junior year, Mellie and Jason started dating. But them becoming a couple didn’t cut me out. It was always the three of us. And when things got rougher my senior year, I moved in with the Matthews. Jason shared his parents with me. You don’t know…” His voice cracked and he paused.

“I don’t know, but I’m here, willing to listen when you’re ready to tell me about Mellie and Jason, or about how you went to jail. I’m here.” She took his hand. “And as for those butt-munches in there, you’re better than all of them.”

“I can’t talk anymore.”

“Yeah, I get that, too. So, come on, we’re going back in. You’ve got friends. You’re not alone.”

“Angel, you don’t understand.”

“But I will someday. It doesn’t have to be today. Unless you want to tell me more?”

He shook his head.

“Then I’ll wait. For now. Come on.”

As they started back into the funeral home, Bart came across the parking lot. “Sorry, Tyler. I’d’ve been here sooner, but my ride from school had detention and I had to scramble to find someone else who’d drive me into Erie.”

Tucker put her arm around her son. “Come on, let’s get Tyler back into his family. They’re going to need him.”

She led him back into the funeral home, and glared at all the people who parted for them. She glanced at her father and the guys from the shop and she knew if something happened to her, they’d be the first ones there to support her. If she was accused of a crime, they wouldn’t believe it. And if she told them she’d done it, they’d be the first ones trying to defend her.

She walked past her dad and friends, past the line of people to the front where Jason’s mother and father stood. Jace spotted her and squirmed to get down, then toddled his way like a drunken sailor in her direction. “Hey, munchkin,” she murmured, scooping him up.

“Tyler. There you are,” Mrs. Matthews said. “Come stand with us. You know most of Jason’s friends. We don’t.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, I’m Tucker. A friend of Tyler’s. I never had a chance to meet your son, but knowing who he chose to spend his time with, well, I have no doubt that not knowing him is my loss. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Oh, you’re the woman who kept Jace for us. I don’t know how to thank you, dear. Tyler said he was taken care of, and knowing that—not having to worry about him—was a comfort. Thank you.” The grey-haired woman swept Tucker into a hug. “We’re lucky our Tyler has a friend like you.”

Tucker didn’t know what to do or say, so she settled for, “Why don’t I take Jace with me and let Tyler look after you for a while.”

Mrs. Matthews eyed her grandson who was happily plucking at Tucker’s hair, playing with the curls.

“Thank you.”

Mr. Matthews extended his hand, and shook hers, repeating his wife’s words.

With the baby in her arms, she sidestepped the grieving family and moved in front of the casket. This was Jason Matthews. Tyler’s friend. Jace’s father. She’d never met the man, but she felt a wave of sadness at his passing. He was loved. That was as good a legacy as anyone could leave. He was loved and he was missed.

She bowed her head, offered a prayer for this man who’d been such a good friend to Tyler, then took the baby to the back of the room. Jace squirmed, indicating he wanted down, and the second his foot touched the ground, he made a beeline back through the crowd to her father, Bart and the guys from the shop. He babbled and giggled, and was quickly picked up and passed from one man to another.

Tucker watched the scene and realized she was tearing up, which was ridiculous. But she looked over at Tyler. Mrs. Matthews was standing between him and her husband, one arm around each man, clinging to them as if they were a lifeline. Tyler stood stoic at her side as one after another, people approached and paid their condolences to Jason’s parents and practically ignored the fact Tyler was even there. He seemed to accept their reactions as his due, which bothered her even more.

And that’s when she did cry. She blinked furiously to hold back the tears, but one escaped anyway, and she brushed it from her cheek.

TYLER DIDN’T KNOW HOW he was going to repay Angelina. She’d stayed at the funeral home all evening, supposedly to help with Jace, while in reality he was pretty sure she was watching out for him.

At least half a dozen times she appeared at his side like some tiny watchdog and took his hand, smiling at people who used to be his friends and forcing them to acknowledge he existed. He’d have preferred living in anonymity, but her staunch defense was so genuinely offered, he couldn’t say anything.

So, when she’d say, “Oh, did you work with Tyler and Jason? It’s very kind of you to come out to pay your respects to Jason, and show your support of Tyler. Losing a friend is hard,” he’d accept his former colleague’s handshake and condolences.

She’d taken the baby home with her, and left him to get Jason’s parents home. He drove them back to Jason’s house, where they were staying.

“Tyler, could you come in for a few minutes? I’d like to talk to you?”

“Sure, Mr. Matthews.”

They went inside the small brick house that still bore Mellie’s touch in every nook and cranny. Tyler had hung the rustic chandelier in the entryway with Jason. He smiled as he remembered Mellie calling out instructions about how long to make the chain it hung from. He’d helped them paint the whole house. He’d referred to the burnt orange color in the study as poop colored, but Mellie had told him he’d love it when it was done, and truth was, he did. It gave the office that Mr. Matthews led him into after he’d sent Mrs. Matthews up to bed a warm feeling.


That’s what Mellie had brought to the house. Now, with both her and Jason gone, it felt hollow.

“I need to talk to you about what happens after the funeral tomorrow.”

“You know, whatever I can do…” Tyler started.

Mr. Matthews nodded. “I do. Jason told us what you did for him, and why. I don’t know what to say, Tyler.”

Tyler knew that Mr. Matthews was talking about more than Tyler helping with Jace and his stomach clenched. “He shouldn’t have told you.”

“He wanted us to know before he went to the district attorney and confessed. I don’t know why Jason didn’t come to us—”

“Or me,” Tyler said. “I’d have sold everything…”

“Us, too. He told me he knew that, but Mellie didn’t have the time it would take to liquidate assets. He needed to get her into the experimental treatment right away and thought he had time to pay back the account before anyone noticed. He’d have never let you take the fall if Mellie hadn’t been so sick.”

Tyler felt sick that Jason’s parents knew. He never planned to tell them, or anyone.

“Mr. Matthews, I don’t want you to think Jason simply let me confess. When the company thought it was me, I took the blame so they wouldn’t investigate further. He wanted to admit it right then, but I told him that would be selfish. Mellie needed him.” Tyler choked up, remembering how hard he’d fought to keep Jason from going to the cops immediately. “He’s gone now, so that’s over. And I’m not sorry that no one will ever know he did it. I want Jace to grow up with a name to be proud of. Jason would never have borrowed that money if he wasn’t so desperate to save Mellie. Hell, if he’d asked me, I’d have embezzled the money for him,” Tyler assured Jason’s father, hoping to put his guilty expression to rest.

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Mr. Matthews said. “You’d have found some other way, but you wouldn’t have embezzled the money. And I have to believe that Jason wouldn’t have done so either, if he’d been thinking straight. When he started thinking clearly, he did the right thing and I support that decision. It can’t negate what you went through for him, but it was a step in making it right.”

“Mr. Matthews, like I said, Jason wanted to confess as soon as the company realized the money was missing. I talked him out of it. I made him let me take the fall. It was clear Mellie wouldn’t have long and he needed to be there with her and with Jace.”

They’d diagnosed Mellie’s cancer while she was still pregnant. The doctors told her it was aggressive, that she should abort the pregnancy they’d worked so hard to achieve and begin treatment immediately, but she’d refused. She’d called her baby a miracle, and she held out hope for a second miracle. After the baby was born, her second miracle never materialized. It was too late for Mellie.

Tyler couldn’t allow Jason to confess to the crime and go through the legalities and ultimately prison, if not for Jason’s sake, for Mellie’s. And for Jace. He didn’t want his godson growing up embarrassed by his father. He wanted Jace to know he was Jason Emerich Matthews, Jr. and that was something to be proud of.

“I understand why my son did what he did. I understand his desperation. But we both know, he had other options. What you did…” Jason’s father’s voice broke.

He was quiet a moment as he pulled himself together then said, “It seems so unfair to ask more of you, but Tyler, we can’t take Jace. Marge is finally getting back on her feet after the first hip replacement and they’re starting to talk about the second surgery. I know she thinks we can, but we can’t. My son had been working to clear your name, and he wrote a new will to ensure that if he hadn’t managed to pay you back the money you were fined, his estate would. While he was drawing up all those legal papers, he wrote a new will and named you the baby’s guardian.”

Tyler had thought Mr. Matthews had asked him in to talk about the funeral tomorrow, or maybe packing up Jason’s house and selling it, but not this. Not taking Jace permanently. “I can’t take Jace, Mr. Matthews.”

“I don’t have any right to ask you. You’ve already done so much for our family. But we can’t handle him. We were almost forty when we had Jason. We’d long since given up trying to have kids. Then he came along, a gift. We were old to be raising a child, but we were thrilled. And though he was an only child, he brought you home and we had two sons. I love Jace, so does Marge, but we’re too old to be the parents that he needs. I know Jason had no right to expect you to raise his son, that we have no right to ask you, but we can’t do it and there’s no one else in the world that we’d trust with our grandson.”

“I never planned on having kids. You know how I grew up. They say that kind of thing is cyclical. I don’t want to perpetuate—”

“Tyler, I know what your father was like, but I also know that you are not your father. I know that from the first time you came into our house, you came into our hearts, and though you’re not our son by blood, we’ve never thought of you as anything but. So, you tell me you can’t raise a baby, I’ll accept it, but if you tell me the only thing standing between you and parenthood is your father, I won’t.”

“But you know—”

“I know that my grandson couldn’t ask for a better man to take care of him. That’s what I know. I know that my son couldn’t have chosen a better man to call friend and brother. That’s what I know. And I know that my wife and I are lucky to have you in our lives. We lost Jason, but you are still here. We still have a son. That is what I know. And lastly, I know that no matter how much Marge and I love Jace, we are not the parents he needs. We’re old and she’s been sick. I have no right to ask you, to expect you to throw your life into upheaval again for us, but I’m asking. Will you take Jace?”

“I will.” Tyler said the words before he could think. He’d loved Jace since the moment he was born. He’d wanted to play surrogate uncle. Though the notion of playing surrogate father had never crossed his mind. He’d never considered being a parent to anyone.

He had no role model.

But as he looked at Mr. Matthews, he realized that was a lie.

He took the older man’s hand in his. “I swear, I will work myself to the bone to provide for him. As long as I have a breath in me, he will never know anything but love.”

Mr. Matthews clasped Tyler’s hand. “I never expected anything less from you, Tyler.”

“I should let you get some sleep. I’ll pick you both up for the funeral tomorrow.”

“There’s one more thing. After the funeral, Jason’s attorney is going to read his will. You’ll find that you were named in it. With his insurance money, and the money from the house when we sell it, we can start to pay what we owe you.”

“That money will be put away for Jace.”

“There will be some left for that. But you will take the money and use it to restart your life. It’s what my son wanted. He started the process, and I guarantee that I’ll see it through. Let him have that comfort in death. He can’t give you back everything you sacrificed for him and Mellie, but he can do this.”

“Mr. Matthews…” Tyler didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have a clue. None of this was what he expected. None of this was what he wanted.

After losing Mellie, Jason should have suffered enough. Now he was gone. And the life Tyler thought he’d have was gone as well.

He was going to raise Jace.

Images of his father played in his head, like some never-ending slide show. The words he’d hurled like fists when he wasn’t using his actual fists. All of it.

What if Mr. Matthews was wrong? What if Tyler was doomed to repeat his father’s mistakes?

There was no easy answer.

All he could do was his best.

He thought of Angelina and something in him eased. She’d been little more than a child herself when she’d had Bart, and she’d done a hell of a job with the boy. She would never let anything happen to Jace. If he asked, she’d check on him and make sure he never slipped up.

It was a lot to ask of someone who’d already given him a job when no one else would. Someone who believed in him without ever asking for explanations. Someone who stood by him when old friends turned their backs on him.

Instinctually he knew that Angelina Tucker would agree.

She was a tiny woman, but she had a warrior’s heart.

She’d never let him hurt Jace.

If he fell into his past, she’d save the baby.

He knew that, and that knowledge allowed him to hope he could succeed at this.