The Fake
You Took the Sunshine from New York
It seemed like my streak of bad timing was doomed to continue.
I missed lunch, which was probably a good thing since Piette cooked meatloaf on Saturdays and it turned out differently every time, and never well. Once enough time passed for the dishes to be in the dishwasher and the leftovers thrown out (Mom didn’t allow leftovers. If we kept them, she might eat them, and that would be a disaster), I ventured into the kitchen.
Halfway through a carrot, the front door slammed loud enough that I almost swallowed an unchewed chunk whole. Next came the clatter of keys meeting the wall, hitting the big vase on the rebound, and landing on the table.
Like a startled rabbit, I stood there, mouth full of unchewed carrot, staring in the direction of the front door. If I’d made a run for the back stairs, it would have been just fine. And I almost did, coming around fast enough to get my hand on the kitchen door outside, just as my father arrived in the kitchen.
“Did anyone save me lunch?” he asked.
I stared at door handle, silently cursing it for not being a couple of seconds closer to the counter. “I don’t know. I missed it.”
“I suppose Piette just threw it all out. Your mother’s fault, that. Like I’m working these obscene hours so we can throw out food.”
I let go of the handle and turned to face him. His skin had an almost purple tinge to it, like a heart attack waiting to happen. For second, just a second, I imagined what life would be like if he did have a heart attack. If he never came home one day. The hope of that thought washed over me for a second, then the guilt hit. It had to be awful karma to think things like that about a parent.
“Don’t just stand there! Find Piette, tell her I need food. I pay her enough.”
I had an option for escape. That sort of lucky break doesn’t come along often, so I took it and half-ran for the laundry where Piette usually headed after Saturday lunch was over.
Except she wasn’t there.
I tried the back yard where she had a little herb garden to supply the kitchen—not that the herbs helped. No Piette.
Frowning, and a little worried, I went from room to room in the house and finally found Piette in the library sitting on the leather sofa amongst the ceiling-tall bookshelves filled with pretentious titles no one ever read. In fact, I doubted my father had even been inside the library since it was decorated.
“What’s up?” I asked.
Her scarlet face gleamed with a fine sheen of sweat, and she held a hand to her temple. “I feel terrible.”
The gallant side of me wanted to go comfort her, help her to lie down, get her some tea and an aspirin or whatever it is you do for the probably contagious.
Instead, I offered the most mutually beneficial advice I could think of, “You should go home.”
Rolling her eyes at me, she sighed. “Such a hero you are, Andouille. Do you think you could manage to call me a cab?”
“Oh, sure. I can definitely do that.” I beamed, relieved to have something to do, and even more relieved that it didn’t involve actually touching her. “Dad wants lunch too.”
“Grayson! I am ill. Make him a sandwich or something.”
Not the answer I hoped for.
I pulled out my phone and ordered a cab. When I hung up, I asked, “Can you make it to the front door?” I prayed and prayed she’d say yes.
“No.” She must have seen the horror on my face, because she added, “But I will do it anyway.”
“I could maybe get you a glass of water or something?” I backed slowly toward the door, feeling the airborne viruses pushing toward me in an invisible cloud.
“I will be fine. Go, make your father a sandwich.”
Maybe I should have chosen the germs. They seemed less deadly. “Feel better.”
I moped back to the kitchen, but before I got there, I heard raised voices. To be more accurate, I heard one very raised voice that spoke in booms and thunder crashes, and one shrill, furious voice—Edie’s.
Ah, no.
I stood in the foyer with the kitchen on one side, and the stairs to freedom on the other.
With a sigh, I chose the kitchen.
“Where is Piette?” he demanded.
Edie shot me a glance that said a whole lot of things all at once: help, where were you, and run, you idiot.
“She’s in the library waiting for a cab. She’s sick,” I said.
“Terrific, I ate the lunch she cooked,” Edie said. It seemed to me that if she ate Piette’s meat loaf, she’d already accepted the possibility of an early demise and had no grounds for complaint.
Dad drew himself to his full height and turned on her again. “That is exactly what I was talking about! Selfish. You are a selfish, spoiled child with absolutely no appreciation for any one in your life or anything people have done for you. You have no idea how lucky you are! Selfish, lazy, useless. Both of you.”
He turned on me. “But your brother’s worse. Sauntering around this house like he paid for it. Spending money, wasting tuition. Selfishness is a disgusting trait, but laziness, that is the worst vice I could ever name.”
Part of me struggled to contain the anger that wanted to explode out of my mouth in return. This was fury on a grander scale than he usually managed. Something had to be wrong. Something had to be going on. Realizing that made biting my tongue essential. The only answer was to ride it out until the storm passed.
“I’ll go help Piette to the cab since I’m already infected,” Edie said. Her lower lip trembled and tears welled up in her eyes, but didn’t fall. The only thing our father hated more than selfishness and laziness was tears. And it wasn’t fair. Edie helped in the kitchen. She did her homework on the kitchen table to keep Piette company while she prepared our meals. She wasn’t a saint, but she definitely wasn’t selfish.
“I’ll make you a sandwich,” I said, instead of all the things I really wanted to say.
“Forget it. By the time you got it done, it’d be time for dinner. I’ll get take out.” He wrenched his phone from his vest pocket and stalked out to the dining room. “Hello?” he boomed the word into the phone with enough volume, Edie jumped a little as he passed her. Glancing up at me, she scurried out of the room and up the stairs.
Unsure if I should stay or go, I hung around for a minute. But once he started bellowing his order down the phone to the poor guy in the Thai place, I took off too.
I slammed my door behind me, which felt satisfying even though it would barely make a sound downstairs, and slumped into my chair.
Lazy. Lucky. Wasteful. I was all the things my father hated, and nothing I could do would ever make him proud or happy. Nothing I could do would ever equal the great the Garrison Bannister and we both knew it. Except I could prove myself in my own way. There were things I could do that he never could.
I needed those photos.
I needed to prove to Mr. Gallo that I could do it.
I needed to prove it to myself.
Except there was Claire. Sunshine-haired, smiley, Claire.
What Mr. Gallo wanted from me wasn’t right. I knew that. But it wasn’t stealing, not in the way sneaking money from an ATM was stealing. No one could be hurt. It might even help the Fosters. Maybe it would help them a lot.
Almost a day had passed since I kissed Claire. She said it was okay. But what did that mean, and why hadn’t she called me?
So, I texted. Again.
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