Page 23 of Together

‘I missed you, Mom. Was it good to see your family?’

‘It . . . was good, in a way. I’ll tell you about it later.’ She reached over and ruffled his hair. ‘My sweet boy.’

‘Don’t blame William,’ he said for at least the dozenth time. ‘Dad does, doesn’t he?’

‘Dad and William will sort it out.’ She wasn’t as sure as she sounded. She kissed him on the forehead and went downstairs.

It wasn’t so cold today; the snow was melting off the roof of the house and dripping down the eaves. William was sitting outside on the front porch steps smoking. She had no idea where he got all of the cigarettes; maybe Adam had given him enough money for a carton, or maybe he had a stash in his truck. She sat down beside him on the step, in a place where she wouldn’t be caught by the drips.

‘I’m glad you’re still here,’ she said, though she wasn’t entirely certain that she was. Robbie was tense and had barely said anything at breakfast, and William had done little more than glower over his coffee.

‘I don’t have much choice, do I?’

‘Robbie told me you’d lost your apartment,’ she said. ‘And I know he’s angry at you right now for what happened with you and Adam, but he meant what he said about you staying here as long as you like.’

‘I don’t mean that. I mean my truck is running on fumes and I can’t afford to fill it up.’

‘Oh. Well, I don’t much feel like driving. How about after lunch you give Adam a ride to the boatyard and we can fill up your truck on the way?’

‘Surprised you trust me.’

‘Trust has to start somewhere.’

‘Your husband doesn’t seem to think so. He won’t even lend me ten bucks.’

‘My husband – your father – doesn’t want to give you money to drink. And that’s nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with experience.’

‘Because I fucked up with Adam.’

‘Because Robbie used to be a drinker and he understands the mentality. And his father used to be a drinker, too. His father didn’t stop. Robbie says it runs in the family.’ She grimaced. ‘I don’t blame him for not wanting to finance your drinking. I want better for you than that.’

‘Why should you care?’

‘I’d want better than that for anyone. But I care about you in particular because Robbie loves you.’

‘Like fuck he does.’

She sighed. ‘Do you want to give Adam a lift, and fill up your truck? Because I was lying; I really don’t mind driving at all, if you’d rather stay here and sulk.’

He grunted. She stood and turned to go back into the house, but then she glanced back at him. She remembered Robbie all those years ago, standing near a palm tree on South Beach next to his bicycle, smoking a cigarette and waiting for her as if everything depended on it, because it did. Robbie, more muted and silent than she had known him before, holding within him a silent world of pain.

‘I’m going to tell you something,’ she said, ‘because Robbie never will, not if he’s angry. Every month since you were born he’s put money aside for you in an account. He didn’t stop doing it when he left; he’s put in part of his pay check, or his profit, every single month. He does exactly the same thing, the same amount, for Adam.’

‘Fat lot of good it’s done me. I’ve never seen a penny of it.’

‘I know. We get the statements. But your mother knows about the account, William. Robbie opened it when he was still with her, and he’s had a duplicate statement sent to your grandparents’ address, or at least the address he knew of.’

William sucked on his cigarette. He didn’t say anything.

‘He does it so that you can have a down payment on a house, or a car, or to start up your business, or to go to college. Something to help you make your life better. So when you’re ready to do any of those things, it’s there for you.’ She opened the screen door, and paused again. ‘He thinks about you every day. He doesn’t talk about you every day, but sometimes we don’t talk about the most important things to us. Sometimes we can’t.’

She left him there, smoking, on their doorstep, surrounded by melting snow.

Adam usually bounded down the stairs two or three at a time. He came down slowly, and at the bottom he looked at Emily from under his gold-blond fringe, in the way he’d been doing since he was a toddler and was in trouble for breaking a rule.

He was fine, thank God. There was no damage done, and no one had reported him to the police for underage drinking – nor William for supplying alcohol to a minor. Adam had a two-day hangover and he was a little pale, but he’d be all right. It was going to take Emily longer to get over the fear she’d felt in the ambulance, holding his hand.

‘Ready to go?’ she said, reaching for her car keys in the bowl. The front door opened and William came in.

‘I’ll drive,’ he said. ‘Hey, Adam.’

The two hadn’t seen each other since Adam had left in the back of an ambulance. Adam’s pale face flushed. ‘Hey, William,’ he said. He didn’t quite seem able to look at his brother.

‘How you doing?’ William asked.

‘I’m OK.’

‘I’m sorry, man.’

‘No, I was a lightweight.’ Adam glanced at his mother and blushed a little more.

‘No, I was a dick.’ William put out his hand and Adam shook it. The two of them smiled at each other.

Emily swallowed, hard. She put her car keys back in the bowl. ‘Well, let’s get going, then.’

William’s truck was battered and the ashtray was full. An exhausted pine-tree air freshener hung from the rear-view mirror. Adam sat in the middle, his long legs crowding Emily’s, and Emily looked out the window while the two of them talked about soccer.

She knew from experience that this was what healed; this was what made up real life. Not the moments of drama, but all the everyday, boring stuff. The time spent together.

She thought about all the time she hadn’t spent with her mother and had to bite the inside of her lip.

When they got to the gas station, she gave her credit card to Adam and he hopped out to swipe it and fill up the truck. The cab was quiet with just the two of them in it. She pressed her luck. ‘Robbie would love it if you gave him a hand at the boatyard, too. I can find something to do there if you want to stay with Adam.’

William shook his head. Adam climbed back into the truck and Emily scooted to the middle seat, where she kept quiet while Adam started up the conversation he’d interrupted to pump petrol. Sitting next to William, even though she wasn’t touching him, she could feel his tension and how it relaxed when Adam spoke to him. She heard him laugh: he sounded just like Robbie.

All that time never spent together. She thought of her mother’s coffin and Polly, in the graveyard, smoking cigarettes as if they gave her oxygen. As a little girl, Polly had been so eager to please. She had been like Adam, that way.

Brandon’s Boatyard had a white wooden sign in front of it, with the name painted in grey-blue letters the same shade as the bay. Emily felt William looking at the new workshop, the dry-docked shrink-wrapped boats, the large hydraulic lift to take boats out of the water, like a giant’s doorway to the sea. He stopped the truck to let Adam out.