By the time they got home, blue afternoon shadows crawled across the overgrown field that surrounded the house. Aaron was fast asleep as they rumbled up the driveway. Bobby let his mind drift to the memory of his fingers cradled on the frets of his guitar. The melody from earlier had come floating back into his head, as if the rough edges of it had been polished smooth and clean as marble.
From the chaos of his mind, a new song was forming. Bobby knew immediately.
The song was for Gabe.
“Crap,” he said out loud. He was in some deep, deep shit.
“Huh?” Aaron yawned in the back seat. “Your head okay now, Bobby?”
“My head’s just fine, A-man.”
Bobby’s stomach flip-flopped at the memory from earlier that day. The red blindness and strange visions had taken him down twice. By sheer force of his stubborn nature, he couldn’t let it happen again—wouldn’t let it happen again.
“Do me a favor, bro,” he said, swiveling around in his seat. “Don’t tell none of it to Dad? About the girl, the head thing and all? I don’t want him to get his panties in an uproar, you know?”
Aaron nodded stiffly. “Panties in an uproar” was their code for drunken temper tantrums. Whatever objects could be reached from a sitting position went flying. Once, Dad had grabbed a saucepan of boiling water off the stove and thrown it at Bobby’s head, narrowly missing scalding him with it. After he’d sobered up, he’d apologized for days.
Bobby and Aaron kept a lot of things quiet between them. It was best that way.
Aaron loped into the house. Bobby lingered, tossing a stick with Pete. He just needed a few more minutes to think before he let the four walls close in on him. He took Pete around back and slumped onto his guitar-playing stump beside the logs he’d split earlier.
Gabriella Friend. The name floated through his head like a string of notes, merging with the song he’d already half-written.
One wrong move and he could lose his job. Hands off. Keep out. Private property. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He’d have to travel too far to find a new job, and then his earnings would be eaten up by the gas-guzzling truck. Bobby stood to go in the house, Pete trotting behind him. No Gabe, he vowed.
While Aaron played a noisy video game, Bobby threw together a quick dinner of spaghetti and red sauce. Dad eyed him blearily from his chair. He’d already polished off his fourth can of beer and was clearly feeling little pain.
“A-man tells me his team is going to the playoffs, thanks to his fearsome pitching. Something for the Pendells to celebrate tonight, eh, Bobby?”
Bobby shared a grin with Aaron. “You should have seen that last inning, Dad,” he said, careful to keep his tone even. It took only the slightest spark to set him off when he was like this.
“Wish I could have, but the wheelchair don’t run too good over grass.” Dad went silent for a beat, then added, his voice hoarse. “Too bad there’s no fish tonight to mark the occasion. Too bad alls we got is spaghetti. Why’s that so, Bobby? Why’s there no fish on the night of such an auspicious day?”
Aaron flashed Bobby a look and quietly slipped into their room, closing the door softly behind him.
“I told you, Dad. Fish weren’t biting today.”
“That so?” Sam Pendell paused, his gaze pinned on Bobby. “Heard the Bartley boys caught their fill on the far side of Scratch Lake. Hank called to offer me the extras, but I said you’d bring us our own. Then Jerry said Joe Wilkins saw you at the ball field with your boss’ kid. Hot-looking blonde. That true, Bobby?”
Bobby nearly dropped the jar of sauce. He should have known. Dad’s spy network had the means to track his every move. There were no secrets in Graxton.
“Jeez, Dad. She hurt her foot and I gave her a ride. And that was this afternoon. I was at the lake this morning. You know that.” Bobby stirred the pasta as it came to a boil, his anger simmering along with the water in the pot.
“Do I? Is that right—puttin’ your own needs over the family’s?”
Bobby clutched the edge of the Formica countertop. Breathe and count. Breathe and count. It will pass. The man was a cripple. An angry drunk cripple. Suck it in. Suck it deep in.
“Have you ever seen her, Dad?” he blurted.
“Can’t say I have. Don’t get out much, you know.”
“Well, if you had, you’d know,” he heard his voice begin to rise, “that there’s no way in hell a girl like that would want a lump of shit like me!” Bobby’s voice bounced around the small living room, surprising him.
But it worked. He’d managed to shock Dad into silence.
After a pause, Dad raised an eyebrow. “Touched a nerve, didn’t I? The lady doth protest too much, eh?”
Bobby hurled the wooden spoon from the kitchen alcove clear across the living room. It landed with a soft thud on the carpet in front of the TV in a blotch of red sauce.
“Fuck you. Make your own damn dinner tonight. I’m done here. I’m gonna go do the laundry.”
Bobby whistled for Pete, swooped up the hamper, grabbed a jar of peanut butter and the last of the loaf of bread, and called for Aaron, his heart thumping. He’d never mouthed off to Dad like that. Out in the truck, he pounded the steering wheel with both fists. He was unraveling faster than an old sweater. How long until he came completely undone?