Hard on the accent. Dad’s not as casual as he sounds.
Our voices are still overlapping, asking if Nic’s okay, telling Dad how worried we were, all about swim captain and “Why didn’t you call and tell us, Mike?” This last from my mother, in such a loud voice that Emory murmurs, “Be nice to Daddy.”
“It’s fine, Emmie,” Dad says. “I know all about the captain thing and the girl. He came over yesterday to Castle’s wicked messed up, but I had a busload of tourists getting ice cream, so I told him to head to my house, get ahold of himself and take this the way a man does.”
“How exactly is a man supposed to handle finding out that the girl he’s loved all his life likes somebody else, Dad?”
Mom’s and Grandpa’s mouths drop open.
“Don’t get all dramatic about this, pal. I expect better from you,” Dad says, but then he gives me a grin that makes him look unexpectedly boyish, the eighteen-year-old Mom fell for.
“Like a man takes everything. By drinking a beer, watching sports on television, feeling sorry for himself. For one night only. He was doing all three when I left him. He’ll be fine.
Christ, what a bunch of drama queens.”
I grab Dad’s sleeve as he’s climbing into his truck, to thank him, yes, but also to ask why he let us worry for so long. Dad doesn’t do the cell phone thing, but still . . . how hard would it have been to say it would all turn out okay?
“Don’t worry about the kid, Gwen. He’s a bit of an ass right now, but he’ll be fine. Sometimes we all need to cut loose. I told him if he didn’t knock off being such a hothead he was gonna wind up just like me.” He gives me that young-boy grin again. “That should scare him straight.”
He peers at me. “You look like you could use a drive, pal.
Maybe a getaway of your own.” He pauses, still squinting. Then leans over, flicks open the passenger-side door, tips his head to welcome me.
I climb in.
He backs up, screeching, zooms forward. The electric Seashell gate is primed to lift when you get close enough. But dad always barges through that. Every time I think he’s just going to ram right through it, knock it down, but it lifts just in time.
I love that we’re sheltered in Mom’s and Grandpa’s caring hands. But sometimes—like now—Dad’s wildness is a relief too. Like jumping off a bridge. A rush.
I flick up the sound on his CD. In the Bronco, it’s always sooth-ing music Emory likes. Elmo, low-key Disney, more Sesame Street, Raffi. Grandpa’s snappy, romantic songs from long ago.
With Dad, when it’s not talk radio, you can count on the angry rasp of the Rolling Stones, or the frustrated yell of Bruce Springsteen.
“Tramps like us, baby we were born to run . . .”
“Dad. There’s something I need to tell you about the Ellingtons,” I start. “It’s not good.”
He turns down the music only slightly. “Jeez, you and Nic, disaster-wise . . . a mile a minute. What now, Guinevere?”
I explain about Henry Ellington.
Dad gets increasingly angry. Thank God, not at me.
“He said he was counting what? His lobster forks?” Lobstah.
“But that’s what you told me to do, Dad. Keep an eye out for opportunity. That’s what you said. ‘My chance.’ But I didn’t take it. I would never. Couldn’t. Did you want me to? Really?”
He pulls over to the side of the road, halfway to the causeway. Rakes his hands through his hair. Looks anywhere but at me.
“Pal,” he says finally. “I was eighteen when your mom had you. We get to the hospital and she’s screaming and she’s crying and she’s in pain and there’s blood and there’s just . . . I only wanted to run. It all seemed a million miles away from how it started, fun on the beach, a bonfire, cute girl . . . whatever.
But . . . they hand us this kid—you, with your serious eyes.
This little worried crinkle thing you did with your eyebrows, like you already knew we aren’t the best, and it’s . . . like . . .
like we’re supposed to know what do with all that. How to fix that. And hell if we do. Luce knew how to clean stuff up. I knew how to fry stuff up. Gulia was already a disaster, pills, booze, dumbass boys. We knew what was coming our way there, and it was Nic. Another kid. We were his only chance. There was no other way. So, you know, we took it. Nic. You. Emory, with all his . . . whatever. I just want it to be easier for you guys.
Something just a little bit easier. Maybe I picked a stupid way to tell you that. I just didn’t want my way to be yours. ’Cause mine . . . well . . . I just want better for you. That’s all.”
Dad’s starts the truck up again, heading to his house on the water.
He takes a deep breath.
Another deep breath.
I’m waiting for major Dad wisdom.
“Dad . . . ?”
“So Nic’s here. And you’re here. Don’t try to make the guy spill his guts. A time for talking, sure, but Mario Kart goes a long way.”
Nic’s crashed out in front of the TV, clicker outstretched in hand. Dad throws a blanket on him, too short for his long legs, pulls out the couch bed for me. I text Mom, Viv, and Grandpa before I fall asleep at like two in the morning. Grandpa has nothing to do with cell phones and Mom always erases mes-sages while trying to retrieve them. Viv will get it, though.
Someone is shaking my shoulder, none too gently.
I bolt upward in bed, smacking the top of my head against Nic’s chin. Both of us yelp.
Then, “C’mon, cuz,” he says, his voice hoarse with sleep.
I slope off the couch, dragging the quilt with me, following him out the door to the slatted wide boards that run from the house over the salt marsh to dry land. Nic sits down heavily, wearing a pair of Dad’s faded Red Sox boxers, dangling his feet over the edge of the small bridge, flicking his toe into the water, scattering ripples. He looks awful. Dark circles under his eyes, which are a little bloodshot, his hair rumpled. He’s wearing one of Dad’s plaid flannel shirts too, too tight on his wide shoulders, the front straining at the buttons. I wrinkle my nose.
Beer and sweat. Ugh.
He clears his throat.
“Wanna hit the pier?”
“I want to hit you! I looked everywhere, Nic. I thought . . .
We all thought you’d drowned yourself in the creek!”