Olly raises his cup and blows on the already melting whipped cream. It slides across the surface like a miniature iceberg. He eyes his dad over the top of the mug, trying to gauge what kind of mood he’s in.
Lately the moods have been bad, worse than normal.
“Newton was wrong,” his dad says now. “The universe is not deterministic.”
Olly kicks his legs. He loves when his dad talks to him like this, “mano a mano,” like he’s a grown-up, even though he doesn’t always understand what he’s saying. They’d been having more of these conversations since his dad’s suspension from work.
“What does that mean?” Olly asks.
His dad always waits for Olly to ask before explaining anything.
“It means one thing doesn’t always lead to another,” he says, and takes a slurp of hot chocolate. Somehow his dad never blows on the hot liquid first. He just dives right in. “It means you can do every goddamn thing right, and your life can still turn to shit.”
Olly holds his sip of hot chocolate in his mouth and stares at his mug.
A few weeks ago Olly’s mom had explained that his dad was going to be home for a while until things were fixed at his work. She wouldn’t say what was wrong, but Olly had overheard words like “fraud” and “investigation.” He wasn’t quite sure what any of it meant, only that his dad seemed to love Olly and Kara and his mom a little less than he did before. And the less he seemed to love them, the more they tried to become more lovable.
The phone rings and his dad strides over to it.
Olly swallows his mouthful of hot chocolate and listens.
At first his dad uses his work voice, the one that’s angry and relaxed at the same time. Eventually, though, his voice just turns to angry. “You’re firing me? You just said those assholes were clearing me.”
Olly finds himself getting angry, too, on behalf of his dad. He puts his mug down and slips off his stool.
His dad paces the length of the room. His face is a storm.
“I don’t care about the goddamn money. Don’t do this, Phil. If you fire me everyone’s going to think—”
He stops moving and holds the phone away from his ear. He doesn’t say anything for a long minute.
Olly stops moving, too, hoping that whatever Phil says next will fix everything.
“Jesus. You guys can’t do this to me. No one’s going to touch me after this.”
Olly wants to go to his dad and tell him everything is going to be OK, but he can’t. He’s too afraid. He slips out of the room, taking his hot chocolate with him.
The first time Olly’s dad gets afternoon drunk, violent drunk, yelling-at-the-top-of-his-lungs drunk, doesn’t-remember-what-happened-the-next-day drunk doesn’t happen until a few months later. He’d been home all day, arguing with financial news shows on television. One of the anchors mentioned the name of his old company, and his dad raged. He poured whiskey into a tall glass and then added vodka and gin. He mixed them together with a long spoon until the mixture was no longer the pale amber color of the whiskey and looked like water instead.
Olly watched the color fade in the glass and remembered the day his dad got fired and how he’d been too afraid to comfort him. What if he had, would things be different now? What if?
He remembered how his dad had said that one thing doesn’t always lead to another.
He remembered sitting at the breakfast bar and stirring the milk and chocolate together. How the chocolate turned white, and the milk turned brown, and how sometimes you can’t unmix things no matter how much you might want to.
A Tale of Two Maddys
“Your mother wants to know if I’ve noticed anything different about you lately,” says Carla from across the living room.
I’m watching the first Mission: Impossible movie with Tom Cruise. He plays a superspy, Ethan Hunt, who leads a double, sometimes triple, and sometimes quadruple life. It’s toward the end and Ethan has just unmasked himself, literally, to catch the bad guys.
Carla repeats herself, louder this time.
“And have you?” I ask, pausing the movie just as Ethan is pulling off his incredibly realistic face mask to reveal his true face. I tilt my head to one side for a better perspective.
Carla grabs the remote from my hand and hits pause. She tosses the remote into the corner of the couch.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, feeling guilty for ignoring her.
“It’s you. And that boy.”
“What do you mean?”
She sighs and sits. “I knew it was a mistake letting you two see each other.”
She has my full attention now. “What did my mom say?”
“Did you cancel a movie night with her?”
I knew I shouldn’t have done it. She looked so hurt and disappointed, but I didn’t want to wait until after nine to IM with Olly. I can’t get enough of talking to him. I’m overflowing with words. I’ll never come to the end of all the things I want to say to him.
“And she says you’re distracted all the time. And you ordered a lot of clothes. And shoes. And she almost beat you at some game that you always win.”
“Does she suspect?”
“That’s all you’re worrying about? Listen to what I’m telling you. Your mother is missing you. She’s lonely without you. You should’ve seen her face when she was asking me.”
“No,” she says, holding a hand up. “You can’t see him anymore.” She picks up the discarded remote and clutches it in her hands, looking anywhere but at me.
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