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minutes it takes Olly’s dad to begin yelling after he arrived home last night:
8complaints about the goddamn roast beef
being overcooked again:
4times Olly’s mom apologized
6times Olly’s dad called Kara a goddamn freak for wearing black nail polish:
2minutes it takes Olly’s mom to remove Kara’s nail polish:
3times Olly’s dad mentions that he knows someone had been drinking his goddamn whisky:
5that he’s the smartest guy in the house:
2that no one should forget that he makes all the money:
2pun-filled jokes it takes to get Olly feeling marginally better when he IMs at 3 AM:
5times he writes “it doesn’t matter” during our IM conversation:
7hours of sleep I got last night:
0cigarettes Kara buried in the garden this morning:
4visible bruises on Olly’s mom:
Uncertainhours until I see Olly again:
He’s not on the wall when I see him again the next day. Instead he’s in what I’ve begun to think of as his resting position: bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet with his hands tucked into his pockets.
“Hi,” I say from the door, waiting for my stomach to complete its crazy Olly dance.
“Hey yourself.” His voice is low and a little rough, sleep deprived.
“Thanks for chatting last night,” he says, eyes tracking me all the way to the couch.
“Anytime.” My own voice is husky and low as well. He looks paler than usual today and his shoulders are slumped forward a little, but still he’s moving.
“Sometimes I wish I could just disappear and leave them,” he confesses, ashamed.
I want to say something, not just something, but the perfect thing to comfort him, to make him forget his family for a few minutes, but I can’t think of it. This is why people touch. Sometimes words are just not enough.
Our eyes meet and, since I can’t hug him, I wrap my arms around my own waist, holding on tight.
His eyes drift across my face as if he’s trying to remember something. “Why do I feel like I’ve always known you?” he asks.
I don’t know but I feel it, too. He stops moving, having come to whatever decision he needed to.
He says your world can change in a single moment.
He says no one is innocent, except maybe you, Madeline Whittier.
He says that his dad wasn’t always this way.
Ten-year-old Olly and his dad are at the breakfast bar in their old penthouse apartment in New York City. It’s Christmastime, so maybe it’s snowing outside, or maybe it just stopped snowing. This is a memory, so the details are a bit uncertain.
His dad has made fresh hot chocolate. He’s a connoisseur and prides himself on making it from scratch. He melts actual bars of baking chocolate and uses whole “one hundred percent of the fat” milk. He takes Olly’s favorite mug, pours in a layer of chocolate and adds six ounces of hot milk heated to almost boiling on the stove—never in the microwave. Olly stirs the milk and chocolate together while his dad gets the whipped cream, also freshly made, from the fridge. The cream is just lightly sweetened, the kind of sweet that makes you want more. He spoons one dollop, maybe two into Olly’s mug.
Olly raises his cup and blows on the already melting whipped cream. It slides across the surface like a miniature iceberg. He eyes his dad over the top of the mug, trying to gauge what kind of mood he’s in.
Lately the moods have been bad, worse than normal.
“Newton was wrong,” his dad says now. “The universe is not deterministic.”
Olly kicks his legs. He loves when his dad talks to him like this, “mano a mano,” like he’s a grown-up, even though he doesn’t always understand what he’s saying. They’d been having more of these conversations since his dad’s suspension from work.
“What does that mean?” Olly asks.
His dad always waits for Olly to ask before explaining anything.
“It means one thing doesn’t always lead to another,” he says, and takes a slurp of hot chocolate. Somehow his dad never blows on the hot liquid first. He just dives right in. “It means you can do every goddamn thing right, and your life can still turn to shit.”
Olly holds his sip of hot chocolate in his mouth and stares at his mug.
A few weeks ago Olly’s mom had explained that his dad was going to be home for a while until things were fixed at his work. She wouldn’t say what was wrong, but Olly had overheard words like “fraud” and “investigation.” He wasn’t quite sure what any of it meant, only that his dad seemed to love Olly and Kara and his mom a little less than he did before. And the less he seemed to love them, the more they tried to become more lovable.
The phone rings and his dad strides over to it.
Olly swallows his mouthful of hot chocolate and listens.
At first his dad uses his work voice, the one that’s angry and relaxed at the same time. Eventually, though, his voice just turns to angry. “You’re firing me? You just said those assholes were clearing me.”
Olly finds himself getting angry, too, on behalf of his dad. He puts his mug down and slips off his stool.
His dad paces the length of the room. His face is a storm.
“I don’t care about the goddamn money. Don’t do this, Phil. If you fire me everyone’s going to think—”
He stops moving and holds the phone away from his ear. He doesn’t say anything for a long minute.