Page 20 of Together

‘All my clothes are in my truck.’

‘You can borrow some of mine. I’m not taking you back to your truck until I know you’re sober.’

‘Who the fuck made you such an asshole?’

He watched his son storm out the room, anger and defensiveness in the line of his shoulders, the stiffness of his neck. His clothes would fit William. Physically, he was the spit of Robbie at that age.

Robbie had no illusions. He knew that he had caused William to be the man he was now. That Robbie’s actions as well as his genes were responsible for this anger and this loss.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said to the empty room, because he couldn’t yet say it to his son.

William was outside smoking a cigarette when Adam came home. Robbie was at the stove, in the middle of cooking bacon. He recalled from his own experience that there was a time in a hangover when bacon transformed from something nauseating to the very thing that was the perfect cure. He didn’t know if this was the right time for William, but there wasn’t much else he could do. He saw the car pull up at the end of the drive and he took the pan off the heat. It was Luca’s mom’s car; Adam had asked for a lift instead of taking the bus, which was slower.

He got out of the car, backpack slung over his shoulder, and waved briefly at Mrs DiConzo before running up the driveway towards the house. Robbie saw the exact moment when he spotted his brother because he changed course and his strides got even faster, puppyish. William threw his cigarette butt on the ground and watched Adam as he almost skidded to a halt in front of him.

Adam was tall for his age, and he wasn’t much shorter than William. He was fair to his brother’s dark, and thinner, with a boy’s build rather than a man’s. Robbie couldn’t hear from inside the house but he saw Adam’s mouth moving, and he saw Adam stick out his hand for his brother to shake.

He didn’t know what William would do. They’d had no more words since the ones they’d exchanged over coffee. He hoped that William wouldn’t offer hostility to his brother, but he wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He knew he couldn’t go out there and mediate. Emily might have been able to say something to ease the introduction, but she wasn’t there. It was between them: his two children.

Don’t break his heart, he told his older son, silently, through the glass.

William took his hand out of the pocket of his borrowed coat and shook Adam’s hand. Adam’s face was wide-eyed and open, full of excitement and wonder. He was talking quickly, gesturing with his hands in the way he’d learned from Emily, and William was watching him. One son who had been protected from every possible care, who’d barely spent any time separated from his parents; and one son who’d been abandoned by his father at age four, moved around God knew where, who fought and drank and walked in loneliness.

How was William going to feel about this person, this happy person, being his brother?

Bella barked at the door to go out and meet Adam. Robbie swore that dogs had an innate sense of time; this one always knew when school was over. He let her out and she ran to Adam, jumping up on him and wagging her tail. Adam greeted her and said something to William, who shrugged. The two of them walked with the dog towards the woods at the side of the house, wading through snow, out of sight of the window. Robbie guessed they were looking for a stick for Bella to chase. Adam and chasing sticks were two of the only things that could keep that dog out in the cold.

He put the bacon in the oven to keep warm.

When they came back in, they both had rosy cheeks and the dog was caked with snow. ‘Sunny side up, or over easy?’ Robbie asked them.

‘I’ll have mine the same as William,’ said Adam cheerfully, brushing snow off Bella.

‘Over easy,’ said William in the manner of someone who’d been trapped into accepting.

‘Wash your hands, they’ll be ten minutes.’ Robbie got the eggs out of the fridge and watched the two of them out of the corner of his eye as they hung up coats, took off boots, washed hands in the kitchen sink.

‘I’ll show you my room after,’ said Adam. ‘I’ve got a load of pictures of Romário, who I was telling you about. Dad, William likes soccer too, isn’t that a coincidence?’

‘I’ve watched a couple of games.’

‘I totally think Brazil is gonna win the World Cup. What do you think, William?’

William shrugged. Adam took out plates and cutlery and started setting the table for three. It had been his job since he was about eight years old. Robbie glanced over and saw William observing this easy domestic routine with the trace of a frown on his face.

‘Where did you live before Maine?’ Adam asked his brother.

‘I was in Charleston for a couple of years. I grew up all over. Oregon, mostly.’

‘Wow, all the way on the other side of the country. What’s Oregon like?’

‘It’s sort of like here. A lot of trees and coastline.’

And nearly as far away as you could get within the continental United States from Florida. Marie had made a real effort to get away. Robbie wondered if Oregon was where William had picked up boatbuilding, but he didn’t ask. It was safer to listen. He flipped the eggs carefully, not breaking the yolks, and after a few seconds slid them on to a plate.

‘I want to travel some day,’ said Adam. ‘Dad travelled all over, didn’t you, Dad? All over the world. And Mom’s from England. But I’ve only ever been to Florida, which was where I was born, and Maine and New Hampshire and Massachusetts and Vermont and New York once. The soccer team might go to France next year on an exchange and if I make Varsity I can go.’

‘I was born in Florida too.’

‘You were?’ Adam grinned as he tackled his bacon and eggs. ‘I don’t remember anything about it at all; we came up here when I was a baby. What was it like?’

‘I don’t remember much of it, except it was hot and there were lizards.’

‘I’d like to see the lizards.’

‘They were fast.’

William used to chase them in the back yard and he could never catch them. As soon as they saw him coming the lizards darted out of sight under rocks, fast as thought. Robbie put toast on the table, poured orange juice and coffee, and sat down with them to eat. He kept his mouth shut and listened to the conversation. Adam kept up a steady stream of comments and questions, which William answered with as few words as he could. The meal got eaten, the coffee got drunk. William looked less grey. Less sullen. Emily would be proud of Adam.

‘I’ll do the dishes,’ he told them both. He wanted to try to call Emily again. William got up from the table and started putting his boots back on.

‘You’re not going, are you?’ said Adam in dismay.

‘I can’t go anywhere. Your fath—I mean, I haven’t been taken to get my truck yet.’

‘We can do that as soon as I’ve finished the dishes, if you want,’ said Robbie.

‘But even when you’ve got your truck, you’re going to come back here, right? I mean you’re staying with us for a little while, aren’t you?’

William looked from Adam to Robbie. Robbie said, ‘The offer’s open.’

‘Please?’

Robbie saw him weighing it up. No job, no money, no home, no friends. Versus a warm house with a person he hated and a kid who clearly hero-worshipped him. Robbie thought that if William had any money for booze, he wouldn’t be thinking so hard about his options.

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