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All the Bright Places (Page 14)

All the Bright Places(14)
Author: Jennifer Niven


Day 8 of the Awake

On Sunday evening, Kate and Decca and I drive to my dad’s new house in the more expensive part of town for Weekly Obligatory Family Dinner. I’m wearing the same plain navy shirt and khakis I always wear when I see my father.

We are silent on the way over, each of us staring out the window. We don’t even play the radio. “Have fun over there,” Mom said before we left, trying to be cheerful, when I know that the second the car hit the street, she was on the phone to a girlfriend and opening a bottle of wine. It’ll be my first time seeing my dad since before Thanksgiving and my first time in his new home, the one he shares with Rosemarie and her son.

They live in one of these colossal brand-new houses that look like every other house up and down the street. As we pull up out front, Kate says, “Can you imagine trying to find this place drunk?”

The three of us march up the clean white sidewalk. Two matching SUVs are parked in the drive, shining as if their pretentious mechanical lives depend on it.

Rosemarie answers the door. She is maybe thirty, with redblond hair and a worried smile. Rosemarie is what’s known as a caretaker, according to my mother, which—also according to my mother—is exactly what my father needs. She came with a $200,000 settlement from her ex-husband and a gap-toothed seven-year-old named Josh Raymond, who may or may not be my real brother.

My dad comes booming toward us from the backyard, where he’s grilling thirty-five pounds of meat even though it’s January, not July. His T-shirt says SUCK IT, SENATORS. Twelve years ago, he was a professional hockey player better known as the Slammer, until he shattered his femur against another player’s head. He looks the same as he did the last time I saw him—too handsome and too fit for a guy his age, like he expects to be called back to duty at any moment—but his dark hair is flecked with gray, which is new.

He hugs my sisters and slaps me on the back. Unlike most hockey players, he somehow managed to keep his teeth, and he flashes them at us now like we’re groupies. He wants to know how our week was, how was school, did we learn anything he might not know. This is a challenge—his equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. It’s a way for us to try to stump wise old Pops, which is no fun for anyone, and so we all say no.

Dad asks about the November/December study-away program, and it takes me a minute to realize he’s talking to me. “Uh, it was okay.” Good one, Kate. I make a note to thank her. He doesn’t know about the shutting down or the trouble at school beyond sophomore year because last year, after the guitar-smashing episode, I told Principal Wertz my dad was killed in a hunting accident. He never bothered to check up on it, and now he calls my mother whenever there’s a problem, which means he actually calls Kate because Mom never bothers to check voicemail.

I pick a leaf off the grill. “They invited me to stay on, but I turned them down. I mean, as much as I enjoy figure skating, and as good as I am at it—I guess I get that from you—I’m not sure I want to make a career of it.” One of the great pleasures of my life is making comments like this, because having a gay son is my bigoted prick of a father’s worst nightmare.

His only response is to pop open another beer and attack the thirty-five pounds of meat with his tongs like it’s in danger of rising up and devouring us all. I wish it would.

When it’s actually time to eat, we sit in the white-and-gold dining room with the natural-wool carpet, the most expensive money can buy. This is apparently a huge improvement over the shitty nylon carpet that was in the house when they moved in.

Josh Raymond barely clears the table, because his mother is small and her ex-husband is small, unlike my dad, who is a giant. My stepbrother is a different sort of small than I was at his age—the neat and tidy sort, no elbows or ears jutting out, everything in proportion. This is one thing that leads me to believe he may not be genetically linked to my father after all.

Right now, Josh Raymond kicks at the table leg and stares at us over his plate with the enormous, unblinking eyes of an owl. I say, “How’s it hanging, little man?”

He squeaks a reply, and my father the Slammer strokes his perfectly stubbled jaw and says in the soft, patient voice of a nun, “Josh Raymond, we’ve discussed kicking the table.” It is a tone he has never once used with me or my sisters.

Decca, who has already filled her plate, begins eating as Rosemarie serves everyone else one by one. When she gets to me, I say, “I’m good without, unless you’ve got a veggie burger on there.” She only blinks at me, her hand still hovering in midair. Without turning her face, she swivels her eyes in my father’s direction.

“Veggie burger?” His voice isn’t soft or patient. “I was raised on meat and potatoes, and I’ve made it to thirty-five.” (He was forty-three in October.) “I figured my parents were the ones putting the food on the table, so it wasn’t my job to question it.” He pulls up his shirt and pats his stomach—still flat, but no longer a six-pack—shakes his head, and smiles at me, the smile of a man who has a new wife and a new son and a new house and two new cars and who only has to put up with his old, original kids for another hour or two.

“I don’t eat red meat, Dad.” Actually, to be technical, it’s ’80s Finch who’s the vegetarian.

“Since when?”

“Since last week.”

“Oh, for Christ’s …” Dad sits back and stares at me as Decca takes a big, bloody bite of her burger, the juice dripping down her chin.

Kate says, “Don’t be an a*****e, Dad. He doesn’t have to eat it if he doesn’t want to.”

Before I can stop him, ’80s Finch says, “There are different ways to die. There’s jumping off a roof and there’s slowly poisoning yourself with the flesh of another every single day.”

“I am so sorry, Theo. I didn’t know.” Rosemarie darts a look at my father, who’s still staring at me. “How about I make you a potato salad sandwich?” She sounds so hopeful that I let her, even though the potato salad has bacon in it.

“He can’t eat that. The potato salad has bacon.” This is from Kate.

My dad says, “Well, he can g*****n pick it out.” The “out” sounds like “oot,” a relic of Dad’s Canadian upbringing. He’s starting to get annoyed, and so we shut up because the faster we eat, the faster we leave.

At home, I give Mom a kiss on the cheek because she needs it, and I inhale the scent of red wine. “Did you kids have fun?” she asks, and we know she’s hoping we’ll beg for permission to never go there again.

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