‘Hey, Aud. It’s me! What’s going on?’
My brother’s voice, loud and cheerful, boomed through my cell phone, a loud bass beat behind it. I was sure that Hollis did spend some of his time in places other than bars, but he never seemed to call me from any of them.
‘Not much,’ I said, glancing at my watch. It was eight thirty P.M. my time, which meant well past midnight at his. ‘Just getting ready to go to work.’
‘Work?’ he said, saying the word like it was from another language. Which, to him, it sort of was. ‘I thought you were supposed to be having a lazy summer, just hanging out at the beach.’
I was sure it was no coincidence he’d put it like this, almost verbatim the way my mother had described it during our last conversation: if Hollis was able to spin my mom’s thinking any way he wanted, she had similar influence over his own. Their connection was almost eerie, really, a bond that was so strong you could almost feel it, like a tidal pull, when they were together. My mother claimed it was the result of all those nights they spent together when he was a baby, but I wondered if it was just that Hollis had a way with women, starting with the first one he’d ever known.
‘Well,’ I said now, as the music grew louder, then dropped off again behind him, ‘I didn’t plan on working, actually. It just sort of happened.’
‘That sucks!’ he said. ‘Drop your guard, and stuff like that will sneak up on you. You gotta stay vigilant, you know?’
I knew. In truth, though, this latest situation was no surprise. If anything, I’d walked right into it, eyes wide open. I had no one to blame but myself.
‘I can’t believe it!’ Heidi had said when I came down the day after I’d worked on her books. As always, she was in the kitchen, lying in wait, the baby strapped to her in the Baby-Björn. ‘When I went to bed last night, this was all such a mess, and then this morning, it’s… it’s fixed. You’re a miracle worker! How did you even know how to do all that?’
‘I worked for an accountant last summer for a little while,’ I told her, pulling the coffee out of the freezer. By the time I got up they’d long ago rinsed out the pot, so I always got a fresh one, all mine. ‘It was no big deal.’
‘I spent two hours last night going over this checkbook register,’ she said, picking it up and waving it at me. ‘And I could not find the problem. How did you even know to consider double withholding?’
I started the coffeemaker, wishing I could at least have a cup in me before having to converse with anyone. No chance of that, though.
‘The register indicated it happened last May,’ I told her. ‘So I just figured it might have again. And then when I went to look at the tax statements –’
‘Which were such a mess, too, I couldn’t find a thing in them!’ she said. ‘And now they’re all organized. You must have spent hours getting all this stuff in order.’
Four, I thought. Out loud I said, ‘No. I really didn’t.’
She just shook her head, watching me as the coffeemaker finally produced enough for a quarter of a cup, which I quickly poured into my mug. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I’ve been needing to hire someone to help me with the books for months now, but I was hesitant, as it’s such a sensitive job. I didn’t want to give it to just anyone.’
Oh, dear Lord, I thought. Please just let me drink my coffee.
‘But if you were interested,’ she continued, ‘I’d make it worth your while. Seriously.’
I was still waiting for the caffeine to hit as I said, ‘Um, I wasn’t really planning to work this summer. And I’m not exactly a morning person…’
‘Oh, you wouldn’t have to be, though!’ she said. ‘The girls do the deposit every day, and that’s the only thing that has to be done by a certain time. The rest, like the books and the payroll and keeping track of the register take, you can do later in the day. It’s actually better if you wait, really.’
Of course it was. And now I was stuck, as clearly, no good deed went unpunished. The bigger issue, though, was what had inspired this sudden burst of Good Samaritan behavior on my part? Was it that hard to realize that it would never just stop with one thing, there would always be a next step expected, and then one beyond that?
‘That’s a really nice offer,’ I said to Heidi, ‘but –’
This thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind me: a moment later, my dad rounded the corner, carrying an empty plate, a Diet Coke can balanced on top of it. When he saw Heidi, and she looked back at him, I knew instantly their argument from the night before had not been resolved. It wasn’t exactly a chill in the air as much as a deep freeze.
‘Well,’ he said to me, walking to the sink and putting his plate into it, ‘I see you’re finally awake. What time do you go to bed these days, anyway?’
‘Late,’ I told him. ‘Or early, depending on how you look at it.’
He nodded as he rinsed off the plate, sticking it in the dish rack. ‘Ah, the ease of youth. Up all night, not a care in the world. I envy you.’
Don’t, I thought. Heidi said, ‘Actually, Auden spent last night going over my books. She found the error that threw off my balance.’
‘Really,’ my dad said, glancing at me.
‘I’m trying to convince her to work for me,’ Heidi added. ‘Do a few hours a day in the office at the shop.’
‘Heidi,’ he said, rinsing off his hands, ‘Auden’s not here to work. Remember?’
It was just one comment but crafted for maximum impact. And it delivered: I watched as Heidi winced. ‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘I just thought that she might –’
‘She should be enjoying her time with her family,’ he told her. Then he smiled at me. ‘What do you say, Auden? How about you and me have dinner tonight?’
He was good, my dad. I had to give him that. And so what if this was all about getting back at Heidi for the night before? It was exactly what I wanted, just me and him, and that was all that mattered. Wasn’t it?
‘That sounds great,’ Heidi said. When I looked at her, she smiled at me, although it seemed a little forced. ‘And, look, don’t worry about the job thing. Your dad’s right, you should just be enjoying your summer.’
My dad was taking a last sip of his Diet Coke, watching her as she said this. It had been a while since I’d had to listen to my parents fight, but no matter. Same tension, same barbs. Same look on my dad’s face when he knew he’d won.