Jay got ahold of himself and looked up to see who had pulled him off.
“Dad?” the two of them said at the same time, with the same inflection.
Kit found this sort of preposterous. Dad?
Some of the crowd began to disperse now that the fight was over. But a lot of people stuck around, shamelessly gawking at Mick Riva, in the flesh.
“Will you sign this napkin?” Kyle Manheim asked, the second he could get close enough. He handed Mick a pen he’d scrounged up from some girl’s purse.
Mick rolled his eyes and scribbled across the cocktail napkin and handed it back. A line had started to form. Mick shook his head. “No, no, that’s it, no more autographs.” Everyone groaned, acting as if they had been denied a basic human right, but still, they began to wander off.
“All right, get up, you two,” Mick said, offering an arm to each of his sons. This, too, mystified Kit as she watched, that he could offer a boost now, having offered so little for so long.
Hud and Jay each took the arm he offered and pulled themselves onto their feet.
Hud took a quick catalog of his injuries: He was pretty sure his nose was broken and could feel he had a black eye, a nicked eyebrow, and a sliced lip. His ribs were bruised, his legs were sore, his abdomen tender. When he tried to breathe deeply, he almost collapsed.
Jay had a gash on his chin, a bruised tailbone, and a shattered ego.
Ashley moved closer to Hud, as if to try to take care of him. But as she took a step in his direction, she saw him flinch. And she understood that her presence, at least right now, could only make things worse.
She turned from him and Hud breathed her name. But she kept walking, pushing through the onlookers.
She wanted a place to cry alone. As she made her way into the kitchen, she considered going out to her car. But it would take forever for the valets to extract it from the maze of vehicles they had parked on the front lawn. Instead, she cut in line to the bathroom, sat down on the toilet lid, and bawled her eyes out.
• • •
“What are you doing here?” Jay asked his father. His chin stung as the air hit the fresh cut and he wondered just how bad Hud was feeling.
“I got an invitation,” Mick said.
“There are no invitations,” Hud said. “And even if there were …” He didn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t. He didn’t know the man in front of him well enough to insult him to his face.
“Well, I got one,” Mick said. “But who cares about that? Why are you two beating the life out of each other?”
“It’s not …” It’s not any of your business. “It’s a …” Jay found himself at a staggering loss for words. He looked over at his brother.
Hud looked back at him—bloodied and purple and hunched over, trying hard not to breathe too deeply—but clearly just as confused. And in Hud’s confusion, Jay found solace. He was not crazy. This was, in fact, beyond comprehension.
“You can’t just walk in here and start asking questions like that,” Kit said. Mick, Jay, and Hud all turned at the sound of her voice. Her stance was wide, her shoulders were squared, her face showed neither awe nor shock.
“Who are you?” Mick said, but then the moment it came out of his mouth he knew the answer. “I mean, I—”
“I’m your daughter,” Kit said with a tone of amusement. It did not surprise her, his not knowing. But she found herself desperate to hide how much it still stung.
“I know that, Katherine,” he said. “I’m sorry. You grew up even more beautiful than I envisioned.” He smiled at her in a way that she assumed was supposed to convey some sort of charming embarrassment. And in that smile, Kit saw the magnetism her father wielded. Even when he failed, he won, didn’t he?
“We call her Kit,” Jay said.
“Her name is Kit,” Hud added.
“Kit,” Mick said, directing his attention back to her and putting his hand on her shoulder. “It suits you.”
Kit moved away from her father’s hand and laughed. “You have no idea what suits me.”
“I was the first person to hold you the day you were born,” Mick said to her gently. “I know you like I know my own soul.”
Kit found his intensity—his presumed connection with her—unsettling. “I’m the one who has invited you to this party for the past four years,” she said.
Hud looked at Jay and said, under his breath, “Did you know that?” Jay shook his head.
“Why are you only here now?” Kit asked.
Kit had looked forward to writing that invitation every year. She felt powerful doing it, as if she was both brazen and valiant. She was daring him to show up. Daring him to show his face around here. She felt vindicated every time he didn’t.
Every year he ignored that invitation, it renewed her indignation. It was one more good reason to dislike the motherfucker. It was one more reason not to bother worrying if he was OK or if he missed them. It was one more reason she wouldn’t have to show up at his funeral. And it felt good.
But him here, now. This wasn’t how it was all supposed to go.
“I want to see if we can … be a part of one another’s lives,” he said. “I’ve missed you all so much.” He looked directly at Kit as he spoke, and his eyes misted, and his mouth turned down. For a split second, Kit’s chest ached, imagining a world of pain that her father might have lived in without them. Did it hurt him? To be away? Did he think of them? Did he feel their absence every day? Had he picked up the phone a hundred times but never dialed?
But then Kit remembered that her father had taken a stab at acting back in the late sixties. He’d been nominated for a Golden Globe—that’s how good he was.
“No,” Kit said shaking her head. “Listen, I’m sorry,” she said, sincerely. “I know that I invited you. It was my mistake. I think that you should go.”
Mick frowned but remained undeterred. “How about this?” he said. “Let’s all go someplace quiet and talk.”
He could see that Kit was about to reject this plan and he put his hands up in surrender. “And then I’ll go. But despite everything we’ve been through, you are my children. So, please, let’s just talk for a moment. Maybe down by the beach, away from the party. That’s all I’m asking. You all have a few minutes for your old man, don’t you?”
Kit looked to Jay, Jay looked to Hud, Hud looked at Kit.
And then the three of them took the stairs down to the beach with their father.
Casey was telling Nina the story of the time she got stuck on a Ferris wheel with her first boyfriend when Nina heard people in the hallway saying Mick Riva had broken up a fight in the backyard.
“Did you hear that?” Nina said to Casey.
“Hear what?” Casey asked.
“It sounded like someone said Dad broke up a fight outside.”
Nina got up and walked to the window and Casey followed.
Casey had never experienced that: the use of “Dad” as opposed to “my dad.” There had been only herself growing up, no one to compare notes with, share parents with. And then here Nina was, sharing the word with her.
Nina stood at the window and looked down at her yard.