Gemma sat the laundry basket down on his bed and opened up the closet. Most of the clothes inside were his—the few nice shirts he had, old T-shirts, and flannel. But a couple things that belonged to her mom still hung there.
She pushed Brian’s stuff to the side so she could get a better look at Nathalie’s. The wedding dress hung in a clear plastic bag that was supposed to protect it, but the train looked yellowed. Some of the pearls in the bodice had come loose.
The blue dress that Nathalie had worn in A Streetcar Named Desire hung without protection, and Gemma reached out to touch it. The fabric felt rough but thin. She pulled it out and held it in front of her.
The only mirror in the room was above the dresser, and Gemma turned so she could see how it would look on her. Nathalie was taller than Gemma, so the dress was a little long, and Gemma was a bit thinner. Otherwise, it looked about right.
“Gemma!” Brian called from downstairs. “Supper is done!”
“I’ll be right down!” she shouted.
She took another minute to admire her reflection with the dress, and wondered what her mom would make of all this. If Nathalie were around, would Gemma have become a siren? Would Harper have become so neurotic? Would everything have turned out so much better?
Those were questions that Gemma could never know the answers to. So she hung the dress back up, closed the closet door, and left her dad’s clothes on the bed.
“We’re gonna eat inside tonight,” Brian said when Gemma came into the kitchen. “I was planning on us eating out in the backyard, but the heat is ridiculous. The dog days of summer are really here.”
“Yeah, it’s been really hot the last few days,” Harper said as she set bottles of ketchup and mustard on the table.
For the next few minutes they got settled and loaded their plates up with meat and potato chips. Brian took long drinks from his beer, while Harper and Gemma sipped their soda, none of them saying anything.
“Are you all ready for tomorrow, then, Harper?” Brian asked, breaking the silence.
“Not completely. But almost,” she said between bites. “I still have packing to do, but I should be done by tomorrow.”
“Good.” He nodded. “I thought I would take a half day tomorrow, help you get everything loaded up, then all of us could drive up to Sundham and make sure everything gets squared away.”
“That sounds good,” Harper said. “I know that Daniel had wanted to come. Do you think it’d be okay if he rode back with you guys? He’d ride up there with me.”
“Um, yeah.” Brian thought for a minute, then nodded. “Yeah. That should be fine.” He looked across the table at Gemma. “Does that sound okay with you? You’ll have to sit with him in the truck.”
“It’s fine by me,” Gemma said. “Daniel doesn’t bite.”
“I should hope not,” Brian said, almost under his breath.
“So…” Harper said when they lapsed into silence again. Gemma was barely touching her food, preferring to munch on chips instead of really eating. “It’s the last family dinner. For a while anyway.”
“Yep.” Brian smiled at Gemma. “It’s just me and you now, kid. Think you can handle it?”
“Yeah.” Gemma smiled back at him.
“I think we’ll manage,” he assured them with a lopsided grin.
The conversation ran dry again. While they weren’t the most chatty family on the planet, they usually talked freely. The tension of things to come was bearing down on them, though, and it was hard to make cheerful small talk.
“Part of the reason I wanted this dinner tonight was because Harper is leaving tomorrow,” Brian said, his eyes fixed down on his half-empty plate. “But that’s not the only reason. I knew this was my last chance to talk to you girls together for a while, and, um … I needed to talk.”
“What’s wrong?” Harper asked. “Is it cancer?”
“Harper!” Gemma said, appalled. “Why would you even ask that? Why is that the first place your mind goes?”
“Calm down.” Brian held up his hand. “It’s not cancer. I’m not sick. Everybody’s fine.”
“Sorry,” Harper said. “Just when I hear ‘sit down and talk,’ I immediately think bad news.”
“Well … stop that. Everything can’t be bad all the time.” Gemma leaned back in her seat, then turned to Brian. “What is it, Dad?”
“I’m divorcing your mother,” Brian blurted out.
Harper and Gemma instantly fell silent and just stared at him.
“Why?” Gemma asked, and once she spoke, the questions came out rapid-fire.
“What about Mom’s health insurance?” Harper asked, leaning forward on the table.
“The accident was almost ten years ago,” Gemma said. “Why would you stay married to her for so long just to divorce her?”
“Where is she gonna live?” Harper asked. “You can’t leave Mom out on the street.”
“Is this because Harper is going to college?” Gemma asked.
“If you can’t afford her insurance and college, you don’t need to give me any money. I already told you not to,” Harper said.
“Why did you go see her? Did you already know you were going to divorce her?” Gemma asked.
“How long have you been planning this?” Harper added.