Vanessa de la Cruz walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, I’m starved,” she said, grabbing a cracker. “Who took all the cheese?” Her hair was a mess, her eye makeup was smudged. Ricky had seen her around with Kit before. There was something so quirky about her.
“Fun night?” Ricky asked.
Vanessa nodded. “Greatest night of my fucking life,” she said.
“I’m serious,” Vanessa said, eating a cracker. “I spent so much time thinking I was in love with one guy. One guy! And I just decided to get over it and it was like the whole world opened up. I made out with five dudes tonight. Five. They will tell legends about me one day.”
Ricky laughed again.
“None were a love match, unfortunately,” she said. “But, you know, I have to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Ricky laughed once more—she was funny. “No, I guess not.”
Vanessa looked at him, actually looked at him, for the first time since they’d started talking. “You’re the one! Kit’s guy!” Vanessa said suddenly. “Did she kiss you?”
Ricky nodded. “But I don’t think she saw fireworks.”
Vanessa bent her head to the side, surprised and disappointed. “Really? She seemed into you.”
Ricky smiled and shook his head. “She’s definitely not into me.”
Vanessa considered him. “She should be. You’re cute.”
“Oh, well, thank you,” Ricky said, unconvinced.
“No, I’m serious. I didn’t see it before, because you dress like a middle schooler.”
“I just mean, you know, you could dress cooler.”
Ricky looked at his T-shirt and khakis. “I guess so.”
“You’re sure Kit’s not into you?”
“I’m positive. She said all we will ever be is friends.”
Vanessa cocked her head to the side again. “I’m sorry. Those Rivas will break your heart.”
Ricky took a sip of the beer he’d been nursing. “I’ll be all right.”
Vanessa nodded. “I can tell you from experience that you definitely will.”
“Good God, Nina actually lives on the edge of a cliff,” Mick said, as he moved down the stairs.
“Yeah,” Jay said. “It’s a pretty great location. Sick waves.”
“Sick waves?” Mick asked. “Oh, right. Yeah. I bet.”
Mick didn’t surf. He didn’t get the appeal. It seemed like an odd way to spend your life, riding a piece of wood in the ocean. It certainly didn’t seem like a thing to bank your fortune on the way it seemed his children had. Had none of them considered that talent like Mick’s might be hereditary? Surely one of them must have a voice. He would have been happy to help them break into the industry.
In one phone call, he could set them up with a career most people would kill for, could set them up for life. He could give his children things that most people only dream of.
He had not been perfect as a father, that much was obvious. But if the goal for any generation is to do better than the one before them, then Mick had succeeded. He had given his children more than he had ever been given. He reminded himself of this as his feet hit the sand. He was not so bad.
He moved out of the way, letting Kit and Hud and Jay all join him on the shoreline. He kicked off his shoes, pulled off his socks, cuffed his pants. It had been a long time since he had been on the beach at night. Being on the beach at night was for young romantics and troublemakers.
Mick felt perfectly fine no longer being young. He liked the gravitas of age, liked the respect it afforded him. And if getting on in years was supposed to make you afraid of dying, he wasn’t doing it right. The prospect of death didn’t bother him at all. He had no plans to bribe the Grim Reaper.
In fact, in some perverse sort of way, Mick was quite looking forward to the aftermath of his passing. He knew the nation would mourn him. He would be called a legend. Decades later people would still know his name. He had achieved that rare level of fame that allows a person to transcend mortality.
What Mick was afraid of was becoming irrelevant. He found himself paralyzed by the thought that the world might pass him by while he was still in it.
“All right, Mick, we’re here. What do you want to say?” Kit said. She glanced at her brothers, who would not look at each other. Kit wanted to know why Jay had beaten the shit out of Hud, but at the moment, there were more important things.
“You can call me Dad, you know,” Mick said to her.
“I can’t, actually, but let’s move on,” Kit said.
Hud, in grave pain and wishing he had access to Percocet and maybe a couple of stitches, found himself unsure what to say—or whether he was even physically capable of saying it. And so, he kept quiet.
“I know we haven’t been close,” Mick started. “But I’d like for us all to get to know each other a little bit.”
Kit rolled her eyes, but Jay was listening. He sat down on the cold sand of the beach and crossed his legs. Mick put his hands down on the sand and sat, too. Hud didn’t think he could sit without his ribs causing agonizing pain. Kit just refused.
“Go ahead,” Jay said.
“Shouldn’t someone find Nina?” Hud asked.
Mick guessed that Nina would be the hardest to win over. He figured it would be easier to divide and conquer, so he plunged ahead. “Listen to me, kids,” he said. “I know I wasn’t as available as I should have been but—”
“You weren’t available at all,” Kit reminded him.
Mick nodded. “You are right. I wasn’t there for you during things that no child should have to live through.” This was the first time Mick had acknowledged the loss of their mother, and both Hud and Kit found it hard to look him directly in the eye as he said it. The two of them still held pockets of grief in their bodies that bubbled up at inopportune moments. Kit, particularly, grieved the way some people drink, which is to say: rarely but always alone and to excess. So she could not keep Mick’s gaze at that very moment because she did not want to cry.
But Hud found the easiest way through pain is, in fact, through it. And he let the tears fall when they came. When he thought of his mother and the despair he’d felt in those months after she was gone, those months where they waited for their father to attempt any kind of rescue … Hud could do nothing but feel it. And so he turned away for the exact opposite reason his sister did. He turned away so no one would see him tear up. And then he wiped his eyes and turned back.
Jay wasn’t looking away at all. He was listening, intently, hoping his father had something to say that might make anything better. Anything at all.
“I’ve made mistakes,” Mick said. “And I can … I can try to explain them, and I can tell you my own problems, about the screwed-up way I was raised. But none of that matters. What matters is that I’m here now. I’d like to be a proper family. I want to make things right.”
Mick had envisioned the possibility that upon his saying this, one of them might run into his arms and hug him tight. He had an image in his head that this would be the beginning of Sunday dinners together when he was in town, or maybe celebrating Christmas at his place in Holmby Hills.