At around eleven thirty, I pass off the information to nurse Deborah—how much Dad ate, what meds he’s had, how much he walked today, and any other relevant information—before heading out. It’s not even that physically demanding to be with him all day, but it is emotionally draining, and my feet feel like they’re blocked in concrete.
I’ve become acutely aware that we don’t have decades left with Dad; I can’t believe I almost let that time just slide away from me.
After a short drive, I step into the rental house and am overwhelmed by the scent of garlic, salmon, and . . . sulfur?
Dropping my bag in the living room, I round into the small dining room to find Monopoly already spread out on the table.
My smile wilts.
“Are you kidding me?” I ask.
Three sets of eyes swing up to me, and three grins spread wide.
“Come on,” Alex needles, “we’ve been up here with you guys for almost a week and haven’t played once. We’re all getting sick of Pegs and Jokers.”
Reid reaches his arms wide, invitingly, and I shuffle over, settling onto his lap before kicking my shoes off. “Okay, but let’s at least play with the weapons from Clue. I get to be the rope.”
Ed catches this just as he walks in from the back porch where, I can only assume, he was having his nightly phone call with his new—and adorable—girlfriend, Shaylene. “You’re sure you don’t have a murder kink?” he asks.
“ . . . It’s possible.”
Reid goes still beneath me, and I turn around to boop his nose. “Just kidding.”
Chris pushes back from the table to stand. “Your girlfriend is weird, Reid.”
“So is yours,” I fire back.
Alex stifles a whimper. He swears he doesn’t want to settle down with one woman, but I’m not so sure. Someday—someday—he will no longer be emotionally eviscerated by the ball of adorable that is Chris and Rayme in a room together.
“Weird,” Reid agrees, “but awesome.”
He kisses the back of my neck, and for the millionth time I think: This man is a saint. Not only for being here for a month, but for sharing me during the day with Dad, and in the evenings with a revolving door of friends and family who want a place to stay in Seattle. His parents came to visit a couple of weeks back for a spontaneous getaway weekend, and thankfully we were spared any extramarital angst (Marla, as it turns out, is a lesbian and Reid’s father’s interest in her extended only to the extent that he could sample her soil—not a euphemism—for regional comparison purposes). Elly’s twins have done a few sleepovers. And I even let Avery stay in a spare bedroom for a few nights when she came up to visit Elly.
I can report that I don’t like her any more than I used to.
So I’m sure it’s nice for Reid to have the guys up for the week to do more exciting things than local vineyard reconnaissance, gossiping, or This Little Piggy.
I lift Reid’s beer and take a long drink. “What’d you guys do today?”
“Chris had to work on his grant,” Reid says, “so after you left we weren’t allowed back in the house until three. We went for a hike, and then were all so dead, we found a new brewery and got pretty hammered.”
“You do smell a little beery.” I lift his wrist, looking at his watch. “And you’re all still awake and drinking at midnight? My heroes.”
These adorable men, taking vacation to be in Seattle with their hopeless, emotionally stunted friend, Millie. Of all the things that we’ve done as a team—cornhole tournaments, online dating, renting a limo and going together to listen to and share the same air as Barack Obama—this week of my trip has been the best by far. I get family redemption time; they get to deeply explore the Seattle beer scene.
Chris has moved to the kitchen to grab something from the oven. He returns and places a plate of food in front of me: grilled salmon, roasted brussels sprouts, and wild rice.
While he’s here, everyone assumes he’ll cook—because Chris is a better cook than all of us combined. Each night I come home to find that he’s saved me a plate, knowing that I’m never hungry when my dad eats at four thirty. I might have to reward him with a rooster-themed golf club set at the end of this trip. “You. Are. Awesome.”
He tilts his chin to me in acknowledgment. “I know.”
“I thought it smelled like farts when I walked in.” I poke at a brussels sprout. “I assumed it was Ed.”
Ed starts to argue with this, but seems to decide it isn’t worth it.
I recognize the warmth spreading in my chest, and am not such an emotional idiot that I don’t know it’s gratitude, but I’m also working on being more vocal about these things. Expectant silence spreads through the room.
“Thanks for dinner,” I tell Chris. “As usual, it’s super yummy.”
He nods in acknowledgment, but the silence remains. We all know the quiet wasn’t about my dinner gratitude, anyway.
“So, I brought it up with Dad today,” I begin, “about feeling like I wanted to be closer to him.”
“And?” Reid asks. He knows how nervous I’ve been about broaching these heavier conversations with my dad.
“He knew what I was going to say, immediately.” I lean back into Reid, taking comfort in the broad weight of him behind me, the way his arms are banded firmly around my middle. “He talked—super openly—about what it was like for him when Mom died. It was hard, sort of, because I realized what a burden we were? Not that he ever said that. But, I mean, he was just broken, and on top of that, he knew he was failing us.” I press my hand to my cheek. “I don’t think I ever really thought about it like that before. But I told him, ‘Look at Elly. Look at me. We are fine. We’re successful, and happy, and not murderers.’ ”
“See?” Ed interjects. “Murder kink.”
“Anyway, he seemed to get it,” I say. “I think he is relieved to see that I really am okay, and not a nutcase.”
Alex clears his throat.
“Okay, not a complete nutcase.”
Reid speaks quietly against the side of my head. “The craziest thing about parenting must be that it’s this huge experiment and you have no idea whether it’s successful until, like, decades later.”
I turn around and kiss him. “You are so sublimely dorky.”
After this, everyone is quiet for a few seconds. I realize how weird it must be for them to see me going through this, and I think I should probably say something about how much I love that they’re here or what it means to have a family like this for the first time in my life. But then Alex rips an enormous, stinky burp, and Chris groans and stands up to open a window, and Ed starts pretending to beat Alex with the tiny lead pipe, and I think, These idiots.
Reid spreads his hands across my rib cage, with a quiet meaning. I love when he does that, when he spreads his hands wide like he wants to cover as much of me as he can. Heat pools low in my belly even though the rest of the room seems to be breaking into twelve-year-old-boy chaos of belching full sentences and jokes about lead pipes.
“I’m proud of you,” he says quietly.
“I’m proud of me, too,” I say. “And I really like that you’re here.”
“Do you think we can sneak out of here unnoticed?” he asks, lips pressed gently to my ear. “I’d like to go have sex now.”
I nod. “On the count of three.”
“One,” he says.
“Two,” I say.
We stand, slowly backing away from the table. Alex has Ed in a headlock. Chris is leaning out the window, trying to reach the shoe that Alex just launched outside.
Reid and I manage to tiptoe all the way down the hall to the master bedroom before our absence is noticed.
“Don’t think we didn’t see that!” Alex yells.
“We’re turning the music up tonight!” Ed says. “Don’t be weird!”
“We’ll do our best!” I call back.
Last night, I barked like a dog just to freak them out.
Tonight, we might make a lot of fake spanking noises.