I sigh, wondering what Purness hasn’t told his father, and what my daughters haven’t told me. I haven’t been asking them the questions I should be asking them. I respect their privacy, just as my mother respected mine when I was a teenager. But I didn’t have the things that my daughters have, the smartphones and the expensive purses, the kind I would never buy for them even if I could afford them. Roman may not be here, but he’s certainly made his influence known.
Clyde puts an arm around me and draws me close. “Look, Rose, I know you’re upset, but maybe it just ain’t as big a deal as you’re making it.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You’re telling me you’re okay with our kids having sexual feelings for each other?”
“I ain’t saying I’m okay with it, I’m just saying … well, it ain’t like they’re related. Long as they don’t do nothing, I figure it’ll work itself out eventually.”
“And what if it doesn’t? You want every family gathering to end up like this?”
“Well….” He strokes the back of his head, where his nut brown hair is thinning. “Maybe we just don’t have any family gatherings for a while.”
I pull away from his grasp, so I can turn and face him fully. “You’re just going to give up on this? Just like that?”
Stroking his mustache, he stares into space for a moment before sighing and rising from the table. “I’m sorry, Rose. I ain’t got any answers for you.”
He moves around the table and begins to assemble his fishing rod. It’s an old green rod, nothing fancy about it. I mean, I have no idea what a fancy fishing rod looks like. But I know it’s not this. The reel, its nuts and bolts rusted, reminds me of those old mechanical pencil sharpeners that used to hang on the wall of every classroom.
With surprisingly dexterous fingers, he ties a feathered lure to his line. “It ain’t like I don’t care. It’s just, I don’t know the first thing about teenage girls. Your daughters, quite frankly … they terrify me.”
“They terrify me too sometimes.” I move to his side and rub his back. Now he’s assembling the second rod. “You’re doing fine, Clyde. I just wish you would be a little more assertive. Just because they’re not your kids doesn’t mean they won’t listen to you.”
“Yeah,” he says, without confidence. “Tell me, how would old Ed Hardy handle this?”
That’s what Clyde calls Roman, even though Roman’s tattoos look nothing like Ed Hardy’s. I don’t think Clyde would even recognize an Ed Hardy piece if he saw one. My own tattoos are nothing more than faded reminders of a life that happened to someone else.
“I don’t know. Roman never met a problem he couldn’t solve by throwing money at it.”
“Seems to me like too much money is Roman’s problem.”
“I wish we had that problem,” I say, reaching for another beer. “Parenting is so much easier when you can just buy your kids’ affection.”
Clyde turns around, puts his hands on my shoulders, and gazes into my eyes. It’s enough to remind me why I love him. He may not have a flat stomach or a full head of hair, but he’s got something that Roman does not: kind eyes. It might not seem like much, but if you’re going to be married to someone, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking into his eyes.
“Maybe I ain’t got all the answers,” he says, “but I do know this. This family’s like an egg right now. The harder you hold it, the more likely it’s gonna break.”
Clyde is smart, much smarter than anyone gives him credit for. Not smart in the way Purness is, or even in the way I am, but in a way that makes him a good hunter. He knows how to set traps. He knows how to read signs that others would miss. And he knows how to outsmart creatures that rely on instinct alone. I think that’s why my dog likes him more than he likes me.
Four years ago, when my divorce from Roman was finalized, Rock was all I brought with me when I left. And I do mean left. When the girls chose to live with their father instead of me, I knew I couldn’t stay in Knoxville. Never mind that Roman cheated on me. My daughters could only see the fact that I was leaving, rather than the fact that things would be so much worse if I stayed.
So I left. I took Rock and my money from the settlement and I traveled, with no destination in sight, just as Roman and I had done back when we were skinny art students with few possessions and even fewer attachments. That was before Roman’s trust fund had run out, and he learned the difference between pretending to be poor and actually being poor. That was all before we had Sabrina, before Roman cut his hair and traded his crust punk vest for a polo shirt, his wallet chain for a money clip, his combat boots for boat shoes. That was the beginning of the end for us, but it would take another 12 years to realize it. I resented Roman for giving up his dreams, and he resented me for holding on to mine.
The money bought me time and an extended vacation and opportunities to focus on my painting. Opportunities that I wasted on drinks and parties and men whose names were nothing more than temporary tattoos. It turns out that uprooting your whole life in the aftermath of an emotional trauma is actually not conducive to making good art.
I thought I would do the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, find an exotic man who would sweep me off my feet and let me live with him in his villa, where I would paint breathtaking landscapes of the Caspian Sea or the Himalayan mountainside. Instead, I ran out of money and came back to the one place in the world where anyone truly cared if I lived or died. And that’s when I met Clyde.