I’m not really a punchy kind of guy, no matter how badly I want to be. Instead, I look him in the eye and I ask, “Why her?”
He says, knowing exactly what I’m talking about, “What does it matter? I wasn’t the one for her. And besides, you’re two years late. That’s two years too long. What the fuck are you waiting for, Luke?”
All blood drains from Dad’s face.
He looks shocked.
We sit at the kitchen table while his new girlfriend, Misty, sits in the living room, a glass of wine in her hand. It’s the first time I’ve met her and I wish I could’ve left a better first impression, but there’s not a lot you can do when you’ve spent the last hour alone in your room, an endless stream of tears running down your face, leaking into a pillow, a pillow that smells like the boy that’s caused your tears. I heard them come in, their voices loud, their laughter louder. Then Dad called my name, and I answered that I was here, so he asked for me to meet his Misty. He actually said, “Come meet my Misty.” I loved that he called her his. She would love that he called her his. I loved that he sounded so happy. So, so happy. But I also knew that I had to tell him about Mom, and I knew I would be the reason why his happiness was short-lived, so I didn’t bother wiping my tears, didn’t bother hiding that I was going through some kind of emotional breakdown. I wanted the news to come from me, and it had to be soon because I didn’t want to give Mom that victory. We’ve given her enough.
“I’m so sorry, Lois,” Dad says, his voice breaking. “I should’ve been more diligent. I just…”
“You can’t blame yourself for this, Dad.”
“We saved for so long. You’ve worked so hard the past two summers for this.”
“It is what it is. There are other colleges, financial aid. I can always go to community college or whatever.”
“But UNC’s your dream.”
Because I wanted to be close to him. Because I didn’t want to leave him alone. But in the past year, he’s started dating again and he’s on his feet and his social life has taken off and he doesn’t need me around. “It is what it is,” I repeat and come to a stand. “Go be with your girlfriend, Dad. Enjoy each other’s company. You deserve it.” I smile, but it’s forced.
“Lois,” he says. “How was your day with Luke?”
I shrug. “It was the same as always.”
“You seem to be taking this college news pretty well. Did he say or do something to make you feel better about it all?”
I nod. “Yeah. He did.” He made me realize that no matter where we were, how far away from home we were, things wouldn’t change. So what if we had another four years together? It was only four years. After that, he’d go off and do his own thing, and I’d do mine, whatever that might be, and nothing would change. Three years ago, I had the same thought. We had four years of high school together. Maybe then he’d look at me differently. He’d look at me the way he looked at any one of his past girlfriends. Or the way he looked at the girl at the diner today. He’d see the wideness of my hips, the largeness of my breasts. He’d blush when I’d smile at him the way he did with her.
But he teased me all day. His hands, his words, his everything. He liked the attention I gave him, the way I’d blush when he jokingly flirted with me.
Because that’s how we worked, Luke and me.
He was a tease.
And I was a joke.
I wanted to kiss her.
I’ve wanted to kiss her since the moment I saw her.
But we were eleven. It would’ve been weird.
Now I’m almost eighteen, and I’ve kissed enough girls to make up for all the pent-up angst that’s built from not finding the courage to actually kiss the girl I want to kiss.
She told her dad that she’d dated. She’d never told me she dated, never even mentioned a date or a guy in passing. And it made me want to kiss her more. I didn’t want to bring it up because I knew she had other things going on, but I was curious. So I asked, and she answered, and her answer made me furious.
Curious and furious.
And rhymy, apparently.
“Watch!” Lachlan demands.
I push aside my thoughts of Laney and focus on my brother. “I see, bud. You’re getting good at brushing your teeth on your own,” I tell him through the reflection in the bathroom mirror.
He smiles wide, toothbrush in hand, a mixture of baby and adult teeth on full display. “I’m Thor years old!”
“You mean four?”
“No. Thor! Tongue to teeth, Luke. Thhh-or!”
With a laugh, I say, “Four is the number. Thor is the superhero. And you’re six, dude.”
“I know!” he laughs out, looking down at his hands holding up five fingers. “Six.” Then he continues to brush his teeth. When he’s done, he asks, “Do you think I’ll live to be eleventy-three?”
“I’ve told you, eleventy-three isn’t a number.”
“Lucas, will you buy me a four hammer? I asked Dad. He says I have to do chores. But you’ll just buy it for me because I’m your best friend, right?”
I shake my head. “If Dad says you have to do chores, then you have to do chores. And you are not my best friend. Laney is.”
“And Dumb Name.”
“Don’t call Garray that.”
“Why not?” he asks, stepping down from the stool we have set up so he can reach the taps at the sink. Clearly, he got his height from my mother. “Everyone else does.”
“Because…” I drop to a squatting position and wait for him to climb onto my back. “Just because.”
When he settles, I stand up and piggyback him to the door. “Because I said so.”
“Fine,” he moans, switching off the light. “Laney’s my tooth fairy.”
“Daddy said she’s there to watch out for me and take care of me if no one else can.”
I walk us to his room, a room filled with my trophies and medals and pictures of me running, pictures of us together. I drop him on his bed. “You mean your godmother? How in the world do you get godmother and tooth fairy confused? You goose!”