“Have you heard dad’s new album?”
Kate smiled stiffly at her brother from across the white granite island as she took a sip of her champagne, her mouth instantly infused with bitterness. “You know I didn’t.”
Jason looked at her, bemused. “Why not? It’s your kind of music.”
Kate studied him—the boy who considered himself a man now just because he wore cologne and suits instead of lounge pants and jerseys. Just because he’d finally moved out of mom’s and into a north facing high rise. Just because his floor to ceiling bedroom windows showcased the sunrise over Lake Michigan every morning. And because he’d managed to snag a job straight out of college that could pay for weekly fade haircuts at the downstairs barber who served whiskey in leather flasks.
It had happened so fast—too fast. Once, he’d been sixteen and she’d been twenty-one. Grown up Kate, independent Kate. Cool older sister Kate who dropped by to take her little brother out for Sox games and impromptu house parties and rock concerts.
Somehow, inexplicably, she’d failed to imagine a future where Jason decided to grow up.
She took another sip of champagne. It paired perfectly with the pistachio-crusted scallops and she hated that he knew, that he’d figured out this inconsequential detail.
“Common, Kate, it’s been years. Loosen up,” Jason said with a shake of his head. As though she were being unreasonable.
“Loosen up?” She swallowed. “That man, he—”
“Yeah, yeah, walked out on all of us for a hot younger version of mom, I know. But I mean, what? You can’t be pissed off forever. The past is the past and life goes on, you know?”
For some, maybe. Life keeps accelerating forward, while others are left behind, getting trampled in their wake. Of course, she didn’t say this. She never would.
“He walked out on us for one of his high school students,” Kate corrected him as calmly as she could.
“Well, it wasn’t illegal or anything. She was already eighteen,” Jason huffed, taking a casual swig of champagne. And Kate suddenly realized something that should have been so obvious the moment Jason had invited her to one of his ‘hobbyist cooking nights’.
“You’ve kept in touch.”
It wasn’t a question. Jason shrugged, but even he didn’t have the decency to meet her gaze, instead cutting through a scallop, exposing the pale, tender flesh inside. “He called me one day and I picked up.”
He was lying, she knew. The twitch in his shoulder, the averted eyes. He’d never been good at it—even as boy, when he promised mom he definitely hadn’t drunken anything at his sister’s party.
“How long have you been trying to talk to him?” Kate asked. She could see it then. The frenzied calls sent to voicemail. The texting. The ghosting. The desperation. She felt almost sorry for him.
Jason had worked hard to keep his emotional side in check but he wasn’t about to fool Kate that he had managed to do so when it came to their dad.
When Jason didn’t reply, she pressed on. “How long was it until he called you back?”
Jason gave an irritated sigh, spearing a scallop half, and she knew that she was right. “It’s not like that, Kay. You know I was just as angry at him as you were.”
Except he wasn’t. Except he never was. Boys had a strange blindness for their fathers, a dazzlement, that no matter what their fathers did to them or to anyone else, their sons would find an excuse for it if it meant that they could just remain in their father’s limelight.
“You called me Kay,” Kate pointed out.
“So what?” Jason said, abandoning the scallop for his flute.
Kate shook her head. “You only ever call me Kay when you’re confessing something.”
“Jesus,” Jason exclaimed, slamming his glass down so hard Kate winced. “Stop playing shrink, Kate. For once in your life. Seriously.”
She couldn’t remember who had brought it up anymore. The subject of him. Forever dangling between them like an unspoken rule. Did it matter? It always ended the same way. Even in his absence, even gone, their dad was still managing to ruin their evening meals.
Kate picked up her fork and knife. At least she could pretend to have an appetite for both their sakes. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
“But that’s the problem, isn’t it?” Jason burst out, apparently this wasn’t over just yet. “You never want to talk about it.”
“Because it always ends up like this,” Kate said, gesturing between them like their anger were floating inanimate objects. “You end up defending him.”
“There are always two sides to every story,” Jason snapped. His blue eyes were shining with a kind of drunken fervor in the low hung wire lamps. “You should know that. Especially in your line of work.”
She was shaking her head even before he’d finished his sentence. “Not for him. He doesn’t get a side. Not after what he did.”
“People make mistakes.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Kate said, leaning forward in her chair. “It wasn’t a mistake at all.”
Jason downed his champagne. “Like I said—”
“You don’t know what it was like for mom, after,” Kate said, dropping her voice. She was afraid that if she kept yelling, she wouldn’t be able to control the tightness in her throat. “You were young. She didn’t want you to see anything.”
Jason pinched the bridge of his nose. She couldn’t tell if it was out of anger or frustration. Maybe both.
When he looked at her, his eyes were glassy, unfocused. He had drunk too much, too fast, she realized. Maybe they both had.
“He wrote a song for you, you know,” Jason told her. “It’s called Kate.”
She hadn’t expected that. She realized her flute was empty. Her scallops sat untouched in their cold corner of the plate and had taken on a sickly green color.
She grabbed her purse and stood up. “Goodnight, Jason.”
Then she saw the CD lying on the bar stool beside her. Her father’s face looked out at her, pale and morose, in a black t-shirt and a goth wristband. He was standing next to his other band members but she hardly paid them any attention. He had scribbled his signature on the cover. He had sent Jason an autographed copy.
She wanted to pick it up and crack it in half and throw it over the railing of the twenty-story balcony.
“Don’t go,” she heard Jason beg. “Please. He’ll be here any second.”
Then there was a knock on the door.