‘Oh, Robert,’ she managed as Thisbe squirmed in her arms, her own face red and twisted, ‘that’s just wonderful.’
‘I think a celebration is in order, don’t you?’ he asked, then turned to look at me for confirmation. I was still trying to decide whether I should nod or not when he added, ‘I was thinking we’d do a nice dinner. Just the two of us. What do you think?’
It was hard to ignore Thisbe when she was screaming. I knew, because I had been trying since, oh, the day I’d arrived. And yet my dad could somehow do it. Apparently.
‘I don’t know,’ Heidi said slowly, looking down at the baby, who was clearly in a state. ‘I don’t think I can take her out like this…’
‘Of course not,’ my dad said. ‘We’ll find a sitter. Didn’t Isabel say she’d love to come help you out one night?’
Heidi blinked at him. She honestly looked like pictures of prisoners of war I’d seen in history books, that out of it and shell-shocked. ‘She did,’ she said. ‘But…’
‘Let’s call her, then,’ my dad said. ‘Get her earning those godmother stripes. I’ll do it, if you like. What’s her number?’
‘She’s out of town,’ Heidi said.
‘Oh.’ My dad considered this. And then, slowly, he turned to me. ‘Well… Auden? Think you can help us out here?’
Heidi looked at me, then shook her head. ‘Oh, no, that’s not fair. We can’t put you on the spot like that.’
‘I’m sure Auden doesn’t mind,’ my dad said. To me he added, ‘Do you? It would only be for a couple of hours.’
I probably should have been annoyed by this easy assumption, but honestly, looking at Heidi, agreeing felt more like an intervention than a favor. I said, ‘Sure. No problem.’
‘But you’ve got to go to work,’ Heidi said, shifting Thisbe to her other arm, which did not stop or even slow down the crying. ‘The books… payroll is tomorrow.’
‘Well,’ my dad said, glancing at me again. ‘Maybe…’
I was noticing that he did this a lot, the half-sentence-trailing-off thing, leaving you (or me, in this case) to finish his thought for him. ‘I’ll just take her with me,’ I said to Heidi. ‘Then you can pick her up when you’re done.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, jiggling Thisbe. ‘She’s not exactly in good shape for an outing.’
‘The sea air will do her good!’ my dad said, reaching over to take the baby from her. He smiled down at her screaming face, then sat down in the nearby rocking chair, cradling her in one arm. Heidi followed the baby’s movement with her eyes, her expression unchanging. ‘And you, too, honey. Go jump in the shower, and take your time. We’ve got it from here.’
Heidi glanced at me, and I nodded. A moment later, she started moving toward the door. Out in the hall, she looked back at my dad, who was still rocking Thisbe, seemingly unaffected by her continued fussing, as if she wasn’t quite sure who he was. Truth be told, at that moment, I wasn’t either.
With Heidi gone, I half expected my dad to hand the baby right over to me. But he didn’t. He sat there, rocking her and patting her back with one hand. I wasn’t even sure he was aware I was in the doorway, watching him, even as I lingered there, wondering if he’d done this same thing with Hollis and me. If my mother was to be believed, probably not. I certainly wouldn’t have thought so even ten minutes earlier. But maybe people can change, or at least try to. I was beginning to see evidence of it everywhere, even though I knew enough to not be convinced, just yet.
It had been about a week since my long night out, and since then, my knowledge of Colby nightlife only continued to expand. All those nights by myself, driving to the Wheelhouse, and then through the neighborhoods and streets, stopping now and then at the Gas/Gro: they’d been as boring as treading water. It was only now, with Eli, that I was finding the real night.
It was at the Laundromat, sharing pie and coffee with Clyde as he detailed his latest culinary adventures. Dodging the crazies at Park Mart while on the hunt for dental floss, wind chimes, and whatever else was on the list Eli carried in his head. Going to the boardwalk after last call, when a guy named Mohammed set up a pizza cart outside the most popular clubs to sell the best slice of cheese – at a dollar fifty a pop – I’d ever had in my life. Fishing on the pier and watching the phosphorescence lighting up the water below. I’d leave Clementine’s after closing, spend some time shooting the breeze with the girls, and then make my excuses and head off by myself. Fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour later, at the Gas/Gro, or Beach Beans, I’d cross paths with Eli, and the adventures would begin.
‘How does anyone get to the age of eighteen,’ he’d said to me the night before, ‘without bowling?’
We were at the Ten Pin, a bowling alley open late a couple of towns over from Colby. The lanes were narrow, the benches sticky, and I didn’t even want to know what the story was with the shoes I’d had to rent. But Eli had insisted we come, once he’d heard that this was one of the many things my childhood had excluded.
‘I told you,’ I said as he sat down at the head of the lane, sliding our score sheet beneath a rusty clip, ‘my parents were not sports oriented.’
‘You bowl indoors, though,’ he said. ‘So you should be, like, a pro at this.’
I made a face at him. ‘You know, when I told you I’d missed out on a lot of things, I didn’t mean that I was necessarily sorry about all of them.’
‘You would be very sorry if you never bowled,’ he told me, holding out the ball he’d picked out for me. ‘Here.’ I took the ball, putting my fingers in the holes the way he showed me. Then he gestured for me to follow him to the top of the lane. ‘Now, when I was a kid,’ he said, ‘we learned by squatting down and just pushing the ball forward with both hands.’
I looked down the lanes on either side of us, which were empty, as it was two A.M. The only people around were sitting up at the bar behind us, which was barely visible due to a fog of cigarette smoke. ‘I’m not squatting down,’ I said firmly.
‘Fine. Then you have to learn the proper release.’ He lifted his hands, holding an imaginary ball, then stepped forward, lowering it to his side, and then ahead of him, opening his fingers. ‘Like that. Okay?’