Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
Softly, over my racing heart, I heard him say, “Cee, I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what’s happening.” There was frustration in his voice. My arms dangled, unsure of how to react. “Every instinct inside of me says I should leave and walk out that door.”
And yet, here he was.
I didn’t answer. I stood perfectly still. I knew we were teetering on a precarious edge that could give way at any moment.
And give way it did. With the single ring of Quentin’s cell phone. He released me, swearing under his breath, and had his cell phone to his ear before a second ring sounded off.
“Yes?” he barked, turning his back to me as he walked to the other side of the room.
I dropped down on the bench, trying to decide if what just happened really happened.
“No, not yet,” he said to whomever he was talking to. He glanced over at me and I quickly diverted my eyes.
“I said I would take care of it, ” he hissed irritable, abruptly ending the conversation. He ran his hand through his hair again and turned to look at me. “I have to go.”
“Someone else needing to be checked on?” I didn’t move from my place by the window.
His hand hesitated on the doorknob. “Um, I’ll call you.”
But I didn’t believe it any more than he did.
I walked back to the house in a dreary stupor.
Dad. I’d forgotten about Dad. I trudged into the living room and found him sitting ramrod straight on the couch, his cane hovering vertically between his legs.
“Yeah?” I moved behind the chair next to the couch, exhaustion and water dripping from every limb of my body.
His eyes found my voice, eerily looking but not seeing me. “CeeCee, I do not think it is appropriate for Ms. Harris to be passing out our personal information to a complete stranger.”
“She didn’t.” I scrambled to come up with a logical explanation so he wouldn’t try to contact her. “When I signed up for the, um, partnering program, I said she could give my information to whomever she thought I would partner best with.”
“You should have told me about the program. Your school should have sent information home about the program and what was to be expected.”
If they did, I doubt he would have read it. “It’s no big deal. They were just trying to connect artists up.”
He stood, agitated. “It is still inappropriate to have an unknown male show up at our house and you spend time alone with him in that room of yours above the garage.”
“Dad, seriously,” embarrassed by his train of thought. “He’s just a photography student at the U.”
“He told me that much. But he was too quiet. Nobody is that quiet. You know nothing about him . . .”
Irritation flared up at his sudden need to be a parent. “Dad,” I gritted out, “it’s no big deal.”
“It is a big deal. I may not be able to see, but I can hear. And there were times I couldn’t even hear him breathe.”
“Well, that’s something,” I added hotly and turned to leave the room. “Because at times I’ve wondered if you were still breathing.”
“CeeCee, you are seventeen and still living under my roof and my rules,” his raised voice countered, but he didn’t bother to try and follow me out of the room. “I am still your father and you will speak to me with respect.”
“Hmph,” I grunted.
Father. He hadn’t been a father since the day Mom died. Since the day he couldn’t gain control of the car, spinning everything about our lives into this mess. He was the reason we were here.
I headed up the stairs, and stormed down the upstairs hallway that overlooked the living room.
“And don’t forget we have dinner at Lucy’s in thirty minutes,” he added distastefully.
Ugh. My head had no space for an evening with the cousins. Why he ever bothered to accept her invitations was beyond me. Everything about his sister rubbed him wrong. She was the only decent thing left in our lives and he managed to push her away every chance he got.
I glanced over the banister and caught sight of him standing directly in front of the only art piece of Mom’s that he’d kept. She’d made a name for herself in San Francisco, but Dad had sold all her paintings, save one. His arm was stretched out, his fingers tracing the contours of the metal pieces folded gently into the waves of linen, the background flooded in an ocean
It was breathtaking. No. Heartbreaking.
I knew he was trying to touch Mom, to find her energy in the raging ocean background. I tore my intruding eyes away. The intimacy of the moment produced a wave of grief, of loss, of guilt for having lashed out at him.
The drive to Aunt Lucy’s was quiet.
No mention of Quentin, or the partnering program, or our fight. A stark contrast to the wall of sound we were greeted with as Summer opened the door and her mouth at the same time.
“CeeCee!” Summer threw her arms around me, my mouth catching a clump of her bright red hair. My body sagged, unsure if I could force myself through an evening with the twins after the emotional roller coaster of the past twenty-four hours.
“Hey, Summer,” I said, spitting her hair out of my mouth. I pulled away and noticed Autumn standing quietly behind her. “Hi, Autumn.”
“Girls,” Dad added gruffly as he shuffled by us and into Aunt Lucy and Uncle Russell’s ultimate “great room” themed house. There were no doors, only partial walls that crisscrossed each other giving you the illusion of privacy.
“Well, he’s in a fine mood,” Summer whispered behind her hand, but I’m certain he
had heard her.
“Summer, why don’t you let CeeCee actually enter the house,” Autumn stated matter-of-factly over her shoulder
, as she followed behind Dad. I liked Autumn and her brusque ways.
“I am. Sheez.” She slapped the door closed and looped her arm through mine like we were the best of friends. “It’s been forever. I can’t remember the last time we saw you.”
“Last week at school,” I answered, which didn’t seem all that long ago to me.
“Welcome, Peter,” I heard Uncle Russell say to my dad. “Would you like to join me out on the back porch while I fire up the grill?”
“Russell, Peter does not want to sit out there in the cold and smoke,” Aunt Lucy chastised before saying, “Hello, Peter.”
I rounded the corner in time to see the half-hearted hug my dad reciprocated to his sister’s embrace.
“Sure he does,” Russell answered, his ill-matching outfit enhanced by the dark socks sticking out of his sandals. Dad remained quiet. “Otherwise he’ll have to listen to all of you ladies prattle on about who knows what.”
“I’ll join you, Russell,” Dad answered, putting his hand on Russell’s shoulder, allowing him to lead him out to the deck.
My aunt walked over and gave me a hug. “How are you, my dear?”
“Fine.” My tone was flat, but so was my mood.
“That’s it? Just fine?” She held my shoulders and bent down to look directly in my eyes.
“It’s been a long day. So yes, ‘just fine’ about sums it up.”
She hesitated a moment longer, an uncertainty crossing over her eyes before she said, “I’m almost done in the kitchen and then I will come join you girls.”
“Do you need any help?” I asked, hoping to avoid a painful dose of Summer’s vomit of the mouth.
“No, no. I’m about done. You sit and enjoy yourself.” She walked back to the kitchen, which was only separated from the room by a breakfast bar with four stools sitting in front of it.
I dropped down on the couch and Summer pounced down next to me. Autumn was already curled up in an oversized chair with her nose in a book.
“So,” Summer hummed with a gleam in her eye. “Who is he?”
“Who’s who?” I asked, having no idea what she was talking about.
“The guy? The dark haired guy?”
The tempo of my heart picked up. She couldn’t know. There’s no way she could know. “What dark haired guy are you talking about?” I asked again, trying to play it cool, praying none of this conversation was floating out of the room. “There are so many, after all.”
“Summer, lay off,” Autumn said from behind her book. “If she wants you to know, she’ll tell you.”
Ignoring her sister, Summer went on. “Natalie McDonald said she saw you hanging out with some dark haired guy she didn’t recognize down at Point Robinson Lighthouse.”
How did I not see Natalie? I don’t remember seeing anyone. I hate small towns and small islands. My mind was spinning for a plausible answer to divert Summer from her current track of thinking. “Oh, him,” I said as casually as I could make my voice sound. “He was some photography student asking about other parks on the island.”
“Does he go to Vashon High?”
she probed relentlessly, her eyes hoping for something juicy.
“No,” I said, glancing up at Autumn, whose attention was caught by something behind me. “He’s a student over in Seattle.”
“Who’s a student in Seattle?” Aunt Lucy’s voice floated by. I turned my head, cringing inside.
“A photography student that CeeCee was hanging out with last weekend at Point Robinson Lighthouse,” Summer graciously answered.
“I wasn’t hanging out with him,” trying to clarify over the heavy pounding in my chest. “He just came up to me and asked for directions.”
“Mmm,” Aunt Lucy breathed before saying, “Girls, could you please finish setting the table? Dinner is almost ready.”
“I can help,” I said, standing up.
“No, they can take care of it.” She gestured for me to sit back down next to her on the couch.
“A Seattle student?” she asked, resting her arm on the back of the coach. “Anyone you might dress up for to do homework with?”
“I really don’t know him.” I stared off, unable to look her in the eyes. “Summer jumped to the wrong conclusion. I ran into him while I was down at the park and he asked about other places to shoot photos of long, dark shadows.”
She placed her fingers under my chin and lifted until her intense gaze held mine. “If there was someone you were dressing up for, you could tell me,” she said gently. “I know I’m not Gretta, but I’m pretty good at boy talk.”
“There’s no one.” The first of my words that weren’t a lie.
“Dinner is off the grill,” Uncle Russell bellowed from the kitchen. I worked hard to contain my sigh of relief.
I was about to stand, when Aunt Lucy said, “The girls and I are planning a trip into the city on Sunday. Would you have any interest in joining us?”
My brain hurt. I couldn’t come up with an excuse fast enough to get out of going. “Okay.”
“Wonderful.” She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and led me toward the kitchen. “We’ll be glad to have your company.”
“Too much?” Grace asked turning back and forth in front of her mirror, admiring the fifth top she’d tried on. Currently, a blue silk blouse over a mini-skirt.
“I thought this was a casual Homecoming dance?” I questioned, looking down at my jeans and t-shirt. “Are you really going to wear silk to a football game? It’s supposed to rain tonight.”
“Hey, girlfriend, don’t go ‘disn’ on my attempt to bring a little style to this desolate place.” She turned around, her hand landing on her hip, as she gave me a once over. “You could at least pretend you’re the tiniest bit excited. You’ve put about as much effort into that outfit as your cousin is putting into her daily appearance these days. Maybe it’s in the blood.”
“Who, Summer?” I asked.
I hadn’t seen either one since our painful afternoon in Seattle. I’d spent the entire time looking over my shoulder, expecting Quentin to appear out of nowhere. But he didn’t. And he hasn’t. Not since he showed up three weeks ago and sent deafening waves through the quiet at our house. Twenty-one days of Dad’s sudden need to know where I’m going and whom I’ll be with. Never asking the question he really wants the answer to — but it doesn’t matter. I haven’t seen him.
“No, the other one,” Grace replied as she returned to her closet for another round. “Unless the Rasta look is what she’s going for, because that unwashed hair of hers will be dreads soon.”
I was trying to picture Autumn on our trip to Seattle. She was quieter than her usual brooding self, but I was so focused on what might be behind me, I couldn’t for the life of me remember if she looked more sullen than usual. “When did you see her?”
“How do you not see their beacons of red hair roaming the halls?” She moved back to the mirror and held a black sweater up in front of her. “Too bad you got the watered down version.”
I grabbed my watered down mess of kinks and attempted to knot it together on the back of my head. “Well, thanks for that.”
“Your strawberry blond locks aren’t awful, they’re just no match against the ebony goodness,” she boasted, swooshing her hand around her black afro.
My hair came cascading down as I pushed myself up off the floor. “Can we please go and get this over with?”
“Girlfriend, you know you’re going to enjoy yourself even if it kills you.”
“It just might.”