Fish Hook

Purness nods politely, then turns back to Sabrina. He’s looking at her as if he wants to say something but isn’t sure how to get her attention. Sabrina, in contrast to her sister, is quite tan, which is easy to see since she’s wearing a halter top and short shorts. Her dark hair is in a braid, and every now and then as she scrolls through her phone, she tosses the braid over her shoulder with a jerk of her head.

Haley tries again. “Who’s your favorite Doctor? Mine’s the 11th.”

Purness holds up a finger and a rounded fist, for the number 10. Then he clears his throat and taps Sabrina on the shoulder. She looks up and he goes through an elaborate pantomime: he points at an asphalt walking path leading off from the parking lot, points to Sabrina and then at himself, and then walks his index and middle finger across the palm of his hand.

Sabrina squints at him. “What?”

Blushing, Purness repeats the gesture, slower and more insistent this time.

Clyde chuckles. “I think he’s challenging you to a footrace. Y’all run track at school, dontcha? Looks like my boy’s feeling competitive today.”

Purness shoots an annoyed look at his father.

“Sorry,” Sabrina replies, her tone flat. “I don’t speak sign language. Anyway, I didn’t bring my running shoes.” She goes back to her phone.

Crestfallen, Purness looks down at his plate and starts pushing his food around. Sabrina’s face is impassive, but she scoots just a bit further down the bench, away from him. Watching the two of them, my stomach tightens as I begin to piece together what’s happening. But if I call attention to it, I’ll only make things worse.

“Sabrina,” I snap. “Put your phone away. You’re being rude.” I glance at Clyde. “You know, you could back me up here.”

“Your mom’s right,” he chimes in. “Ain’t polite to have phones out at the table.”

She heaves the kind of sigh that only a teenage girl who can feel adulthood just beyond her grasp is capable of. She puts the phone in her pocket and props her head in her hand, her expression now matching that of her stepbrother’s.

Clyde, his mustache drooping at the sight of his son’s unhappiness, forces a smile and clears his throat. “Hey, boy, how about you and me go fishing after this?”

Purness shrugs.

Haley, meanwhile, has been growing antsier. I can feel her practically bouncing in her seat next to me. Now she says, excitedly, “I’ll go for a walk with you, Purness.”

He looks up at her, smiles sadly, and shakes his head. Then he goes back to playing with his food.

Haley’s whole body goes rigid. She clamps her lips together and glares at Sabrina, who seems oblivious. Haley studies the spoonful of egg salad in her hand. “You’re a jerk,” she says. Then, before I can stop her, she flings the egg salad right in Sabrina’s face.

Sabrina bolts up from the table with a shriek, and the rest of us involuntarily come to our feet as well. A glob of egg drips from her face and lands in the grass, where Rock quickly licks it up. Haley grips the spoon, defiant, her eyes locked with her sister’s.

“What the hell!” Sabrina exclaims.

“Are we all having a food fight now?” Clyde asks.

I glare at him. “You’re not helping.” I whirl about and snatch the spoon from Haley’s hand. “God damn it, Haley! You’re too old for this crap! Now apologize.”

She backs away and points at Sabrina. “She’s the one being a stuck up bitch.”

Sabrina wipes off the rest of the egg salad with a napkin. “I hate you. I am so done with this.” Clenching her jaw, she throws the balled-up napkin down and walks away.

Purness watches her go, his hand moving toward her as if magnetized. She doesn’t even glance at him as she passes by, headed in the direction of the beach. After a moment, Purness puts his hands in his pockets and walks toward the edge of the lake.

Before she runs off in the opposite direction, Haley lingers for a moment and watches Purness go. In that moment, I realize, with horror, that she’s staring at his butt.


Clyde cracks open a beer and hands it to me, then pulls one out of the cooler for himself. We sit side by side, our backs to the table, and look out on the lake. We’ve cleared the table and given Rock a bone to chew on. From where I’m sitting, I can see both Haley and Purness sulking under separate trees.

I take a sip and press the cold, slick can to my forehead. “I should have seen this coming. It’s my own fault, really.”

Clyde crushes his now empty can and tosses it in the garbage. “Seen what coming?”

“This,” I say, throwing my hands up for want of a better description. “They’re teenagers. Hormones are flying everywhere. Thank god they’re not living in the same house.”

“Mmm, yep.”

“Does Purness ever talk to you about girls?”

He shrugs. “In a general sense, I s’pose.”


“Meaning, I’m as surprised as you that he’s got a thing for your daughter.”