Ahead of the Curve
From the imagination of Chase Shivers
January 8, 2017
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Chapter 7: Fallout
Darren, Male, 53
- Narrator, retired, father of Gwen and Victoria (Vic)
- 5'11, beige skin, 195lbs, cropped greying brown hair
Audrey, Female, 15
- High school student, daughter of Duncan and Theresa
- 5'9, pale skin, 135lbs, light-green eyes, straight auburn hair over her shoulders
Joyce, Female, early-80s
- Wife of Herman, grandmother of Audrey, mother of Theresa
- 5'6, beige skin, 115lbs, bobbed salt-and-pepper hair
Herman, Male, early-80s
- Husband of Joyce, grandfather of Audrey, father of Theresa
- 6'0, beige-olive skin, 180lbs, thin short gray hair
Gwen, Female, 15
- High school student, daughter of Darren, sister of Victoria
- 5'5, beige skin, 130lbs, shoulder-length wavy black hair
Victoria (Vic), Female, 14
- Eighth-grade student, daughter of Darren, sister of Gwen
- 5'3, beige skin, 115lbs, wavy neck-length light-brown hair
I sat quietly on my couch, back home in Houston. Sunday had been a whirlwind of overwhelming emotions. Audrey and I made love in the morning, then comforted and held each other for long hours, finally making love again in the early afternoon before I hugged her parents and kissed my lover one last time. I tried not to let tears flow again as I drove off to the airport.
I called Audrey once I'd landed, then again during the drive home. I was burnt out in so many ways. I tried to think back to what my life had been like before Audrey had arrived two Fridays before. I couldn't even remember the man I was then. So much had happened. So much had changed. I sat, numb, staring at the digital clock which told me it was two minutes until midnight, and tried to relax my thoughts and prepare for another challenge.
My daughters would be home around noon on Monday. I still had no plan for how to bring up Audrey. I'd not mentioned a word to Gwen or Vic, and every time I tried to think of what to say, I found myself hating the words I chose, discarding them quickly and trying again. Each time, what I practiced saying to my daughters sounded trite and shallow.
I really didn't know what they would think. At best, I figured they would be weirded out. I know I would be if my father had revealed such a thing. Audrey was Gwen's age. She'd been their friend many summers over the years. The very nature of my own life had changed so much that I wondered if I would seem different to my girls. Could they even understand the complex emotions underlying those changes? I had no answers, only more questions.
- - -
I was up with the dawn, robotically tidying up the house as I always did before my daughters returned from a trip away from home. My mind was racing around the many things I'd pondered in the days previous. I sent Audrey a text, knowing the teen was likely already up and headed to school. She answered back immediately and sent her love. I felt empty without her presence. She'd grown so quickly on me that I felt vulnerable and dependent in an uncomfortable way.
I was excited, though, that Gwen and Vic would be back. Even though I wished to have Audrey with me, I missed my daughters whenever they were away, and this time was no different. I drove my car to the airport and parked, soon seeing Gwen wheeling her sister down the ramp into baggage claim. Vic's face suggested that Gwen hadn't exactly been taking it easy with her wheelchair.
“Dad!” Gwen shouted at me, pushing her sister in a rush. I saw an airline attendant running behind them carrying a backpack and a set of crutches.
I hugged Gwen quickly, the girl more tan than when she'd left, her bronzed-beige skin reminding so much of her mother in the summers. I embraced Victoria, the girl's cast-covered leg sticking out straight. The airline aide helped Vic to her feet and onto her crutches, then wheeled away the chair. “Missed you so much, Daddy!” Victoria told me as she hopped gently on one leg, bracing herself reasonably well.
“You two wait right here. I'll go get the car. Gwenny, grab your bags when they come in,” I told them. “And your sister's,” I added. I had long-ago learned that Gwen could be very literal when she decided to be silly or mean to her sister.
I left the girls and soon pulled up to the curb in front of baggage claim. I saw Gwen waving me over, so I parked and jumped out, opening the trunk so that she could throw the bags in the back, then I helped Vic carefully settle herself in the back seat where her leg would be able to rest most easily.
We were off for home a few minutes later. “So,” I said, Gwen in the passenger seat beside me, “what fun things did you do while you were there?”
“The water park was great,” Gwen answered, “and we swam with dolphins!”
“Don't forget the bar!” Vic called from the back.
“Uh,” I said, “'the bar'?”
The girls laughed. “We didn't get alcohol, Dad,” Gwen said as if I was the one being silly. “They just made us some cool, non-alcoholic drinks while we ate. Aunt Vivian got a little drunk.” I could see Victoria giggling in the review mirror.
“Virgin daiquiri, virgin pina coloda, virgin martini,” my younger daughter said.
“Virgin martini?” I asked, looking at her in the mirror, “how would you even do that?”
Vic shrugged. “I dunno. But I didn't like it as much as the others.”
“Why did they keep calling them 'virgin,' anyway?” Gwen asked.
“Uh,” I said again, “it just means without alcohol.”
“Yeah, but why 'virgin,' exactly?”
“I guess it's just a reference to something being related to youth, or innocence.”
“Oh. I guess,” Gwen replied.
Victoria was giggling again. “What?” I asked her.
“Gwen kissed a bo-oy. Gwen kissed a bo-oy.” Vic chanted.
“Oh?” I said, not as concerned as I might have been before my time with Audrey.
Gwen was blushing and said nothing.
“Who was he?”
“Just a guy, Dad,” Gwen replied, deflecting.
“Just a kiss?” I pressed.
“God, Dad! Yes, we just kissed!” Gwen said defensively.
I didn't know whether to believe her, but I dropped the subject. Gwen was fifteen. She was plenty old enough to kiss a boy. Hell, she was old enough that I should probably have put her on birth control. I'd been putting it off. After my week with Audrey, though, I knew what sort of urges and temptations a fifteen year old might face. Even at fourteen, Victoria was old enough, too. It made me cringe to think about my own daughters becoming sexual.
- - -
Even as happy I was to have the girls home, I was relieved that both had shut themselves in bedrooms almost as soon as we got in the house, texting and chatting with their friends in the city even though their pals were all in school at the time. I sat on the porch, sipping scotch in the early afternoon, grateful to be back where it was warm. Houston and Buffalo were just about opposites in terms of climate, and I much preferred the spring in the deep south to the cold flurries up near the northern lakes.
My phone vibrated on the table next to me and I sat down my scotch. It was Audrey.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Hey Darren. I miss you. Just got home from school.”
“How was it today?”
“Hard. I couldn't concentrate.”
“Give yourself a break. Give it time.”
“I wanted to call you all day,” Audrey told me.
“I know. I felt the same,” I changed the subject. “My girls got home okay. They're in the house, texting.”
“Oh. That's good. How is Victoria?”
“Fine. She's still on pain meds, probably will be for another couple of weeks.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “She's doing okay on the crutches already, so she doesn't need a wheelchair, at least.”
“That's good.” Audrey became quiet, then asked, “Tell them about us yet?”
“No, not yet. That time hasn't come. I will, though. Soon.”
“I hope it goes well.”
“Me too,” I told her. “I still don't really know how to start.”
“You'll think of something.”
“I'll come up with something,” I replied. I heard one of the girls coming out, so I told Audrey, “I, uh, I need to go. I'll call you later.”
“Okay,” Audrey's voice said she was disappointed, “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I disconnected and sat the phone aside. Gwen stood over me, her eyes narrowed. “Who was that? Aunt Vivian?”
“Uh, no... just... Say, hungry?” I tried to change the subject.
Gwen eyed me a moment, then nodded. “Can we order pizza?”
“Sure. You know what I like. Be sure to give the driver a good tip.”
“I will. Uh, I'll need your card. I don't have any on mine.” When the girls suggested takeout, I'd made them pay for it out of their allowance. Not all of it, I usually put most of it back in their prepaid accounts that night, but it taught them how to think about their available cash and how to plan for things they wanted but didn't need. I rarely bought it directly if I hadn't been the one to suggest it first.
“Spent all that extra? How was the dress, anyway?”
Gwen grinned. “I'll put it on some time. I look fab-u-lous!” She twirled dramatically.
I pulled out my card and handed it to her. Gwen disappeared inside and left me to my thoughts.
How was I going to tell them about Audrey? I wasn't sure I knew the right way, if such a thing even existed. Gwen had already grown suspicious from hearing the end of the phone call moments earlier, and I wasn't going to sneak around to talk to my fifteen-year old girlfriend, at least not in my own home. Whatever I would say, I knew it needed to happen sooner rather than later.
- - -
The pizza arrived on time and we shared a meal before the girls went to the pool. Gwen swam while Victoria texted at a hundred miles-per-hour. My phone rang again as I sat and stared at the shifting water. It was Joyce.
“Darren! Uh, good that you are home. Girls are home, too?” Joyce's voice was tentative. That wasn't normal.
“They are,” I replied, standing to step inside so that I could grab a drink.
“Thought I heard them in the pool.”
“Just Gwen. Victoria broke her leg in Aruba.”
“Oh, Dear! Hope she is healing well and fast! Listen, could you come over for a bit? Herman and I would like to talk to you about something important.”
I knew this was about Audrey. “Oh, uh... of course. Can you give me twenty minutes? I need to shower.”
“Naturally, naturally. Just come on in when you get here.”
She hung up and I tapped the screen to lock the phone. I poured myself a scotch and swallowed it in one gulp, pouring half of another and dropped a single ice cube into the glass, sipping it as I undressed in my bathroom.
After the shower, I finished my drink, then let the girls know I was going next door for a while. They called back something resembling an acknowledgement, then I walked the short distance to the home next to mine and let myself inside. “Hello folks,” I called once inside.
“Come in, Darren. Come in,” Joyce called back from the living room.
The couple was sitting close together on a couch, and I could see that they were upset.
“Please sit down,” Joyce told me, “but grab yourself a drink first if you would like.”
I was already buzzing slightly but I tapped a couple of fingers of brandy into a glass, along with an ice cube, then sat in the chair near the couch.
Joyce was holding Herbert's hand. I don't believe I'd ever seen the man upset. He clear was so, his eyes sunken and tight.
“We got a call from our daughter, and she told us about Duncan. Such a terrible thing!”
“Yeah,” I said, a lump already in my throat.
“Glad you could be there for her,” Herbert said evenly, “and them.”
I nodded, “I tried to be a help.”
“You were, you were,” Joyce assured me, “Audrey is taking it very hard.”
I started to wonder how much had been shared with the couple. “Yeah. I can't imagine what that must be like for her...”
“So, we understand there were some... additional unexpected things as well, while you were there,” Joyce continued. “Care to enlighten us?”
“Uh,” I paused, unsure where to start, “how did Theresa explain things?”
“She told us that Audrey was quite taken with you and that things had progressed much as they had when Theresa was fourteen and she started seeing Duncan.”
“I see,” I said quietly.
“She didn't tell us how this happened.”
I spilled what I felt I could, being honest about how Audrey and I had fallen in love almost overnight during her stay in Houston, and that it had only grown stronger during the days in Buffalo. “I don't know what else you want to know.”
“We also spoke with our granddaughter,” Herbert said, “the girl told us about her lies, that you'd convinced her to be honest with our daughter and son-in-law. She felt she needed to tell us the truth, also. She didn't say much about you, but she did say the things we'd heard about her were not true.”
“That's as I understand things, as well.”
“I appreciate you wanting her honesty, Darren,” Herbert continued, “and I want yours. What intentions do you have for the girl?”
“Intentions?” I knew what he wanted, but I stalled trying to formulate something which didn't sound so contrived.
“She is not going to move to Tokyo with her mother. She's coming to Houston. She found a high-tech high school to attend for her senior year. Just a few miles down the road.”
Herbert nodded. “That's the one. She wants to move here when my daughter moves to Japan. We're open to letting her. She didn't suggest, however, that she wanted to live with you, instead, but I could read between the lines.”
“It . . . came up once or twice. I don't know what you want me to say.”
“Is this something you want? To live with her?”
“Yes,” I answered honestly.
“And yet,” Joyce said, holding her husband's hand, “you are the father of two girls Audrey's age. How will that work, Darren? Do they even know?”
I shook my head, shamed. “Not yet. I will tell them very soon. They just got home earlier. I . . . I haven't found the moment, yet.”
“And you think this will make things better for you? To welcome my granddaughter into your home, to your bed, while your daughters live there, too?”
“I have no doubt it is what I want. I cannot make predictions about whether it is the best thing for all.”
“So,” Herbert growled, “you're thinking with your cock and not your mind!”
Joyce settled her husband with just a small grab of his upper arm. “What my husband is trying to say is that... you are asking your daughters to become conspirators. You'll be living with masks, you and our granddaughter, if this happens. Your daughters will have to keep your secrets. That is not fair to them, Darren. Not fair at all.”
“I know,” I replied weakly, feeling small and selfish. “You're not telling me something which hasn't already made me feel sick with confusion.”
“And yet . . . yet you still court my granddaughter,” Joyce said more gently.
“I love her.” I stated it as if it was a magic bullet. Three miraculous words which solved everything. I wasn't so stupid as to believe it was that easy. But nothing else seemed to answer her very justifiable concern.
There was silence a moment, then Herbert said evenly, “She'll come to live with us. That's the way it will be. If we're to take her in, then it is up to the two of us to decide what is best for her. Whether we bless this... this...”
“This relationship,” Joyce said, mercifully completing her husband's thought before he could call it something less savory.
“She's willful. Stubborn. She won't be kept back from what she wants to do even if I don't encourage her,” I told them, feeling more defiant. “And I can't promise I won't encourage her.”
I could tell Herbert was on the verge of becoming very angry, so I stood up and held out my hands to offer a truce. “Please. I didn't plan any of this, and I don't blame you for being upset. If this was Gwen, or Vic, who had done this, I wouldn't be as calm as you both are. I get it. As a father, I get it. All I ask... is time. It's only April. Let's talk. Let me tell my girls tonight or tomorrow. Please don't set your mind before we've had time.”
I started to leave, then said, “I really do love her, Herbert. When she comes here, even if we have to hide it from the rest of the world, I hope you'll let me... you'll let Audrey... show you how serious a thing this is.” I picked up my glass and swallowed the remains. “Thank you for the drink, and for your patience.”
Joyce nodded, but Herbert was still just barely restrained. I left before the man decided to yell his justifiable anger at the top of his lungs. I didn't think I'd enjoy being on the receiving end of that.
- - -
“Do I have to go to school tomorrow?” Gwen asked as the two of sat in the living room watching a movie and eating leftover pizza. “You're letting Vic stay home.”
“Victoria is on painkillers and has a doctor's permission to stay home this week.”
“You could break your leg if you're really set on staying home.”
Gwen glared at me, saying, “I might. Don't tempt me.”
“If you go that far to stay home, I'd consider that quite the dedication to getting your way. Maybe a rather silly hill to die on, but still . . .”
She stared at me minute, trying to look angry, but I knew my daughter well enough to see below her expression that she wasn't really that upset.
“Where is your sister, anyway?” I asked, not having seen her since I got back from next door.
“She's talking to Grant.” Gwen answered. When she saw the blank look on my face, she added, “a boy, Dad.”
“I got that part. Someone she likes?”
“Yeah,” Gwen grinned, “and he likes her.”
Gwen shrugged, “Yeah, think so. Vic's too shy to do more.”
“You'd be surprised.” The thought slipped out without my permission.
“Who was that earlier?” Gwen asked me.
“The person on the phone. You told them you loved them.”
“Oh... that's... That's something I need to talk to you about. You and Vickie.”
“Ohhhh,” Gwen said, drawing her lips into a dramatic O. “Dad's got a girlfriend?”
“Go get your sister and I'll explain.”
My daughter dashed off and I sat trying to steel my nerves. The moment had come. It needed to happen sooner and not later. I had to get it over with and start talking it out with my girls. It might make them very upset. Me, as well. I hoped things didn't go so badly that it made me pick between my daughters and Audrey. I would have picked Gwen and Victoria, I knew, but I admitted to myself the decision would not have been as easy as perhaps it should have been.
I heard crutches striking the wooden flooring and Vic came in wearing a nightshirt. I watched as she deftly pushed herself into a cushioned chair and propped her leg up on an ottoman. “Want some pizza? Or a drink?”
Victoria nodded, saying, “Sure. So, what's up?”
“In a moment. Waiting for your sister.”
“She's in the bathroom.”
“Oh,” I replied, going into the wet bar to pour a glass of lemonade for Vic, then brought it to her along with a slice of pepperoni.
Gwen came in shortly afterwards, and sat down. With her in a chair facing me, and Vic in its twin, I felt like I was facing an interrogation from the prosecution.
I looked from one to the other and pulled my breath in slowly.
“So... while you were visiting your aunt in Aruba, some things have changed in my life. I have a girlfriend now.”
I saw Gwen grinning immediately and knew that it wouldn't last long.
“It's someone you know,” I said slowly, “someone you've both known for a few years.”
“Is it Betsy?” Vic asked, guessing it was a woman who we saw often at the dance competitions that Gwen took part in.
I shook my head. “No, not her. It's...”
I couldn't say it a moment, my voice catching when I tried. The girls were on the edge of their seats.
They stared blankly at me a moment.
“Who?” Gwen asked, no longer smiling.
“Audrey. Joyce and Herbert's granddaughter.”
“Who?!” Gwen said, not asking this time.
I sat silently while I awaited the full reaction.
“Dad! She's... she's my age!” Gwen looked like she didn't believe her ears. I supposed I could understand that.
“And she's your girlfriend?!”
Victoria showed only surprise, unlike her sister. Gwen showed outrage. Vic asked, “Have you kissed her?”
Vic asked another, “And does she like you back?”
“Yes.” I was limited to one word answers, trying not to show how difficult it was to be honest with my daughters.
“Did you fuck her?” Gwen demanded.
“Gwendolyn!” I rarely used her full name. I didn't allow them to curse openly though they had heard me use such language often enough. I knew it was hypocritical, but I didn't want to get a call from the school asking where one or the other had heard the terms.
“Answer her,” Vic said firmly, deciding to join her sister's side in an argument. It didn't happen too often, and it usually wasn't pleasant for me when they were unified.
“I... Yes,” I confirmed meekly.
“Wow! Just... Wow!” Gwen stood up and stormed out of the room.
Her sister wasn't so quick to rise, and it wasn't just the broken leg. “Do you love her?”
“Yes, I love Audrey.”
Victoria stared down at her cast for a moment, then said quietly, “I think it's sweet.”
“Why do you love her?”
I decided to give a carefully-edited version of the truth, not lying about how Audrey and I had come to be together, but not giving all the details, either. It was enough of an explanation to lay out the basic timeline of how things had come to be. I could tell, as I explained, that Gwen was listening just on the other side of the wall. I saw her shadow flicker on the floor several times. I hadn't lost her completely. “And, after all that anguish... I think she needed me, and, after I'd been alone so long... I think I needed her, too...”
“I think that's sweet,” Vic repeated. She looked at me with a gentle smile. “It's nice.”
“Thank you,” I said again. “I know this isn't easy for you or Gwen.”
“It's fucking horrifying!” Gwen shouted from her hiding place, then I heard stomping and a slamming door which signaled my eldest daughter was finished listening to me.
I stared at my feet. I heard, then saw, Vic standing up on her crutches. She shuffled slowly over to where I sat on the couch and eased herself down next to me. She wrapped an arm around me and said, “It's okay dad. I like Audrey. I think it would be cool if she moved in with us.”
“That's a ways off, Vickie,” I told her. “But she will be moving in with Herbert and Joyce next door in late June, so... I don't know how that's going to go.”
“Are they mad?”
“Yes. That's why they called me over earlier. And they're right to be mad.”
“Because she's too young?” Victoria asked.
“Yes. It's illegal, too.”
“Hmm.” Vic seemed to ponder that a moment, then said, “can I text her? I haven't talked to her in weeks.”
“I suppose so. Just... we can't tell anyone else, Vickie. If anyone finds out... It would be really bad.”
“I won't tell.” I saw her glance towards where Gwen had been listening earlier. “I don't know about her.”
“I'll talk to her more.” I hugged Vic and kissed her forehead. “Thanks, Vickie. Thanks for listening. And understanding. I love you, and I'm glad you're home.”
“Love you, Daddy. It will be okay.”
“I hope you're right.”
Victoria stood and got back onto her crutches, shuffling off towards her bedroom. I started at my hands as they shook from anxiety and fear.
- - -
I tapped lightly on Gwen's door an hour later. I'd given her some time to try to calm down, hoping I could talk to her before things got any worse. “Go away!” came my daughter's voice from inside.
“Gwen, I just want to talk,”
“I said,” Gwen said, more strongly, “Go. Away!”
I debated pushing the issue, but I'd learned over the years when to push and when to back off. The older Gwen got, the harder it was to get her to give in when she'd set her mind to something. She was angry, probably hurt. Confused. I had wanted none of that for her, but I couldn't lie to myself and act like I didn't know that was likely to happen.
“Listen,” I said softly just outside her door, “you can stay home tomorrow. Just tomorrow. But you and I have to talk, okay?” I waited for a confirmation. “Okay?” I said more loudly.
It was enough for the night and I called it a win, retreating down the hall before I did something to destroy our temporary truce.
I poured myself a shot of scotch and pulled a diet soda from the fridge. I carried both out to the pool. I sipped my drinks and tried to figure out how to talk to Gwen.
Vickie had been easy, something I'd hoped for, though it was not a sure thing. She was a softy. Always was. I didn't know what might happen when she heard about Audrey, but she'd taken it well and hadn't had a visceral reaction the way her sister had. I could work with her over the weeks to prepare things for when Audrey came to live next door.
Gwen would be much harder, and I knew that going in. I'd hoped for mere anger, not outright disgust, but I had to accept her feelings were justified and that what I was doing with Audrey deserved such a response until I'd had a chance to talk in more concrete terms with my daughter.
I decided to swim. I often did slow laps almost as meditation. It calmed my mind and felt very relaxing. I went into my bedroom and changed into my trunks, then splashed into the water and started to swim.
By the time I finished a half-hour later, I did feel more calm, the magic of the warm water in the pool offering a measure of tranquility when I needed it most. As I pulled myself up over the edge, I realized I was not alone.
She growled. “Gwen. Gwen. Gwen! How many times do I have to tell you?!”
“Sorry,” I said quietly. “I'm trying. Gwen.”
My daughter said nothing, just glowering past me, staring at the submerged lights twinkling up through the water. I left her to her silence as I pulled out a thick towel and dried myself, then sat opposite her at the table, picking up my drink to sip my scotch.
I didn't dare say anything else. She'd made it clear she was done talking earlier, so I figured it was only right that she decide if we talked more that night or instead just sat in an uneasy peace.
I sipped and she stewed. I quickly glanced over from time to time, and I could see Gwen's angry face. I hated that I'd upset her so. I slid back in my chair and closed my eyes.
“So what happens now, then?” Gwen's voice broke into my self-pity. “You make me call her 'Mom?' I'm not calling her 'Mom.'”
“What? No, of course not,” I replied.
“Why, Dad? Why couldn't you find someone not my age? It's not fair!”
“What's not fair?” I asked, sure that I was missing her point.
“You tell me what to do, where to be, how to do it. She's my age, Dad! She's your girlfriend! Are you going to tell her what to do and where to go? Or is that just me?”
We'd had arguments many times, especially over the previous two years, about Gwen growing up and wanting to do things beyond what she was allowed. I made her earn my trust, and after the times she didn't live up to her promises, I wasn't soft on fulfilling whatever I'd set as the consequences. I knew this conversation was partly due to those previous ones, but this one was very different. She was asking why it was okay for Audrey to act like an adult when Gwen could not.
I didn't have a good answer at first. “You're my daughter,” I said, as if that was a logical way to answer her question.
“That's just 'because I said so,' and you know it!”
I'd taught my daughters early on that 'because I said so' was a lousy reason to give or be given. She hadn't missed that I'd basically given that same reason here.
I nodded slowly, “I know... I'm trying with you, Gwen. I really am. I want you to get to do more. I'm really trying. Its hard to have a daughter your age. I worry about... about everything.”
“Like me getting fucked by some old guy?” Gwen was scowling.
“Right?” she pressed.
“Yes, that. And lots of other things. Things you don't ever thing will happen to you because you're invincible, because you are too young to know better. I'm trying to keep you safe, Gwen, and I know that sucks to you. It feels like I'm holding you back. I'm really trying.”
“But you think Audrey is old enough to know better? You must if you think it's okay to fu—do it with her.” She barely caught herself. I didn't miss that it was a small concession on her part. “Why am I not old enough to do what she's doing?”
“What's she doing, Gwen? What's she doing that you think you should be doing?”
I'd caught her at a dead end in her argument. Or so I thought. She didn't answer at first, then said less firmly, “I dunno. Maybe I might want to find a guy. A rich guy. A guy who I can do it with. You would be so, so mad!”
“Yes, I would be.”
“So,” she said, turning around in her dead end and charging back in a new direction, “you admit you don't want me to do what Audrey is doing, yet you still think it is okay for you and her to do it and whatever else you're doing.”
I was quiet a moment. I felt myself calming, a memory from recent days fluttering into my mind. I spoke clearly, slowly. “The morning before the day I left Buffalo, I woke up after everyone else.” I could see Gwen squinting at me as if I was crazy, but I pushed on. “Audrey was making bacon and baking cinnamon-raisin bread. All because it was one of her father's favorite things in the world, that meal. He's very ill, Gwen. Very ill. He might be dead in a couple of weeks, or maybe a couple of months. Audrey made him a favorite meal. She got up around five, and she made, from scratch, the bread. She carefully cooked the bacon so that it was just the way her dad liked it, a bit chewy, a bit crunchy.”
I looked at my daughter and asked, “What did you do the day your sister broke her leg?”
“Did you do anything to help her? Or did you tease her like you do?”
She shrugged again, but she looked down, revealing the truth.
“What did you do for her today? Anything to help?”
Gwen didn't even bother to shrug.
I stared back at the pool. “The first night she stayed with me here, before anything had started between us, she made me pizza, from scratch. The next morning, still nothing between us, she made me coffee and muffins, just because she thought it was a nice thing to do. Gwen, when was the last time you thought about someone else like that?”
“I dunno,” she said, staring down, then she added, “so she can cook. So what?” Her tone was less venomous than I'm sure she wished it to be.
“When I found out Vic had broken her leg, Audrey told me to go to Aruba. She didn't think about herself, about how she wanted me to stay. She wanted me to go see Vic, to make sure she was okay. She's graduating high school next year, Gwen. Not just because she's smart, but because she works hard to learn. She plays softball, she's teaching herself to code software, and yes, she can cook.”
“So she's better and smarter than me. Thanks for the reminder.”
“I don't say all this to shame you, Gwen, nor to make you feel less than you are. You're smart and talented. You could dance yourself into a scholarship if you keep at it. You could make the dean's list every semester if you really tried. It's not about what you've got in your head. It's how you act on it. Audrey is beyond her years. She puts others first, Gwen. She puts her future first. When you start doing that... then you get to call me a hypocrite. But you know I'm right. You're fifteen. I don't expect perfection. But if you want to be treated like an adult, I expect you to earn it, just like you earn your extra cash and my trust to do new things. This conversation isn't really about Audrey, and you know it.”
Gwen huffed a couple of times, trying to formulate a response, then she stood and turned immediately on her heel. She was inside the house before anything more was said by either of us.
End of Chapter 7