She was quiet for a moment, and all I could hear was the rocking chair creaking, back and forth, back and forth.
‘I’m scared it’s too late,’ she said finally. ‘Like he’s right, and this is unfixable. I know, I know, you say it’s never too late. But I’m not so sure.’
My phone, which was in my back pocket, suddenly beeped. I pulled it out, checking the screen.
You free for coffee? I’m buying.
I read these words once, twice, three times. Never too late, I thought. Then there was another beep.
Name the place, I’m new here! J.
‘Who’s texting you so late?’ Heidi called out as she came back inside, carrying Isby, her phone in her free hand.
‘Just my ex prom date,’ I told her. ‘It’s a long story.’
‘Really,’ she said. ‘What… oh, my God!’
I jumped, startled, then looked behind me, expecting to see something crashing down or on fire. ‘What?’ I said. ‘What is it?’
‘Prom!’ Heidi shook her head. ‘I can’t believe we didn’t think of it earlier! For the Beach Bash theme. Prom Night. It’s perfect!’ She flipped open her phone, punching in a few numbers. A second later, I heard someone pick up. ‘Prom,’ she announced to them. There was a pause, then, ‘For the theme!
Isn’t it perfect? Well, think about it. People can dress up, and we can do a king and queen, and play cheesy music, and…’
She kept talking, but I headed back upstairs to my room, where my books and notes were waiting. Once I settled onto the bed, though, I found I couldn’t concentrate, so I sat back, breathing in some sea air. Then I saw my laptop on my bedside table. Before I could stop myself, I was booting it up and hitting LiveVid, the video site.
HOPPER BIKES EXHIBITION, I typed in. RANDALLTON. Ten videos popped up. After scrolling through them, I found one tagged STOCK and RAMP, and clicked on it.
It was the same one they’d been watching at Clementine’s: I recognized the helmet and the background. I remembered what I’d seen at the jump park, and even to my untrained eye what Eli was doing was different. There was a grace to it, an effortlessness, that made it clear how hard it really had to be. As he moved across the screen, each time going higher, higher in the air, I felt my heart jump. It was so risky and so scary, and yet at the same time, so beautiful. Maybe the truth was, it shouldn’t be easy to be amazing. Then everything would be. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth. When something’s difficult to come by, you’ll do that much more to make sure it’s even harder – if not impossible – to lose.
The next morning, after about a week of awkward phone calls, I finally went to visit my dad at the Condor. I found him in his room with the shades drawn, sporting a desert island–style beard. After opening the door for me, he flopped onto the unmade bed, stretching his arms over his head and closing his eyes.
‘So,’ he said, after emitting a long, loud sigh, ‘tell me. How is my life without me?’
Simultaneously, I resisted the urge to answer this question and to roll my eyes. Instead, I said, ‘Haven’t you and Heidi talked?’
‘Talk.’ He scoffed, flipping a wrist. ‘Oh, we talk. But nothing ever really gets said. The bottom line is, we don’t see eye to eye. I worry we never will.’
The truth was, I didn’t really want to know all the sticky details of their problems. It was enough to know they had them, and that they were Big and Unresolved. But since I was the only one there, I felt I had no choice but to wade in deeper. ‘Is this… is it about the baby?’
He sat up slightly and looked at me. ‘Oh, Auden. Is that what she’s saying?’
‘She isn’t saying anything,’ I told him, pulling open the heavy shades. ‘I’m just asking because I want you guys to work it out, that’s all.’
He watched me, studious, as I walked around his room, picking up coffee cups and fast-food bags. ‘Your concern is intriguing,’ he said finally. ‘Considering I thought you didn’t like Heidi.’
‘What?’ I threw a couple of sticky, ketchup-covered napkins in the overflowing trash can. ‘Of course I do.’
‘So you don’t think she’s some vapid, soulless Barbie doll?’
‘No,’ I said, pushing aside the thought that, okay, this might have once been true. ‘Why would you think that?’
‘Because that’s what your mother said,’ he replied, his voice heavy. ‘And you two tend to think alike.’
I was in the bathroom as he said this, washing my hands, and hearing it I looked up, then away from my own eyes in the mirror. Maybe this had once been true, as well. ‘Not about everything,’ I said.
‘Oh, but that is what is great about your mother,’ he mused as I looked around for a clean towel to wipe my hands on. ‘You always know what she’s thinking. There’s none of this guessing around, speculating, having to read all the hidden signs and codes. When she was unhappy, I knew it. But Heidi…’
I stepped back into the room, sitting down on the other bed. ‘Heidi what?’
He sighed again. ‘She hides everything. Keeps it deep down, and you think everything’s fine, but then one day, out of nowhere, it suddenly explodes in your face. She’s not fine, she’s unhappy. You haven’t been doing enough after all. Oh, and you’re the worst father ever, also.’
I waited a beat or two before asking, ‘Did she actually say that, though?’
‘Of course not!’ he snapped. ‘But in marriage, all is subtext, Auden. The fact of the matter is that in her mind, I have failed her and Thisbe. From day one, apparently.’
‘So you try again,’ I said. ‘And do better.’
He gave me a sad look. ‘It’s not that easy, honey.’
‘What’s the alternative, though? Just staying here, alone?’
‘Well, I don’t know.’ He got off the bed, walking over to the window and sliding his hands in his pockets. ‘I certainly don’t want to make things any worse than I already have. It’s possible they’d be better off without me. Even probable.’
I felt my stomach twist, unexpectedly. ‘I doubt that,’ I said. ‘Heidi loves you.’
‘And I her,’ he said. ‘But sometimes, love isn’t enough.’ The weird thing was that what bothered me most about him saying this was that it was such a lame, throwaway line. He was a great writer: I knew he could do better.