The Wrong Side of the River
Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat
Dad spent the weeks looking like a homeless guy in our backyard, but all that changed on our weekends together. This weekend he planned to take us for a day in the city. We went all the time with Mom when she visited the magazine’s office to check out clothes samples, mainly so we would get any freebies that were going.
The city with Dad was always an adventure.
First, we went for breakfast at the pancake place Southside, not far from the new park. Sage ordered a chocolate and banana one, which looked utterly delicious. But twelve-year-olds had to be a bit more responsible about their dietary choices, so I picked a buckwheat pancake with strawberries and yogurt.
“This is,” I said, swallowing hard, “Absolutely hideous.”
Dad laughed. “That’s what happens when you try to pretend you’re thirty. Have ice cream. Have chocolate sauce. Have a blast!”
The temptation almost beat me, but not quite. I screwed up my nose and tried just eating the strawberries and yogurt.
Sage held out a spoon loaded up with chocolate and banana. “Mmmm, Romy, yummy.”
I pressed my lips together and did my best to imagine the yogurt was whipped cream. It didn’t work. Sometimes I wished I was more like my dad.
After breakfast, we climbed back into Dad’s car. “Where now, Dad?” Sage asked, bouncing as if we might be headed to Hollywood or something.
“Water world!” he shouted.
Sage squealed so loud and long my ears kept ringing after she finished.
“But, I don’t have my bikini,” I said.
“Good, it’s too small for you anyway. I had Mom pack you guys your matching one-pieces.”
“Dad! I can’t match with Sage!” The city wasn’t so far from home. There would be people there who would know me. And worse, people who would not know me and their first impression would be of a girl with no fashion sense who dressed like her little sister. “I can’t, Dad.”
“You can. You will. And you will enjoy it.”
Sage forgot she was ten at the water park and turned into a crazed five-year-old. She ran from one activity to the next, squealing and shrieking the whole time. The bathing suit looked fine on her. Little kids look great with ruffles around their neckline and a built in skirt. I looked like a turn-of-the-century reject.
I sidled away from Dad and Sage, hoping that at least it would not be so obvious that my sister was dressed like my mini-me. My fashion crisis made it very hard to think, and I had a lot to think about. In fact, I was thinking so hard I didn’t notice Parry until he grabbed me and planted a kiss on my cheek.
I shoved him away and stared at him. “Parry! What are you doing here?”
“It’s my weekend with my dad.” he waved around at all the groups of fathers and kids. “I think it’s everyone’s weekend with their dad.”
It made a little bubble burst in my stomach looking at them all. Dads, dressed up in their baggy, goofy trunks, smearing sunscreen all over their kids. My dad looked just like them, with his big straw cowboy hat, covering Sage in colored sunscreen while she wriggled and squealed. I wanted to go back to them, even with the matching suits.
“Want to come hang with us?” Parry pointed over at his friends who were lying back in the sunshine on one of the grassy areas, laughing and telling jokes.
I glanced over at Dad and then back to the boys. “I should stay with my dad.”
Parry’s face darkened. “Or are you waiting for little Jules?”
Rolling your eyes was such a cliche thing to do, so I fought the urge as hard as I could. “He is a nice boy who I like talking to, and why exactly is it your business?”
Parry grinned and patted my cheek. “Because you’re my girl, that’s why.”
Before I could reply, he ran off back to the others.
His girl? Since when? And did I get a say in this?
I stared after him, watching as he jumped on top of one of the others and they rolled around on the grass wrestling. Parry’s girl? Seriously?
“What on earth are you wearing? Is it Halloween?”
I spun around to see the very last thing I wanted to see—Bethany and Charlotte, wearing super-cool extremely-trendy and non-matching bathing suits. Bethany had her towel wrapped around her waist, sarong-style, and Charlotte had hers slung around her neck like a boxer.
“Oh, guys, I didn’t know you were going to be at the pool today.” I fiddled with the skirt of my suit, trying to pull it tighter so it at least looked less like a ballerina’s tutu.
“We didn’t expect to see you either, but then, we don’t usually get invited to fancy dress parties.” Charlotte giggled at her own joke, and I felt my cheeks getting hot.
“It’s a bathing suit. People wear those at pools,” I said, scowling at them both so they’d know the joke had gone far enough.
Luckily it worked, but that might have been because they got distracted when Parry whistled and called out “Hey, you guys, come hang with us!”
Before I had a chance to protest, Bethany and Charlotte had me by an arm each and marched us all over to the patch of grass and the boys.
I looked back over at where Dad and Sage had been. She had run off to the waterslide, while Dad sat alone in the shade with all the other abandoned fathers. He saw me looking at him and put a little smile on his face and waved. I waved back, but Bethany dragged me into the conversation.
“Did you hear? There’s another town meeting coming up. They’re going to announce what the park design will be. I heard there’s going to be a lake you can actually swim and fish in, and paddleboats,” she nudged me with her pointy little elbow. “And a fake beach, Romy. We’ll be able to lie around all summer on an actual fake beach!” When I just grunted my reply, she flicked her heavy black hair over her shoulder and focused her attention on Parry. “What do you hope they’ll put in, Parry?”
He shrugged. “I could care less so long as it’s still going Southside. I wouldn’t step foot over there.”
One of his friends laughed. “Unless it’s to teach some lame Southsiders a lesson, anyway.”
I frowned. I had a pretty good idea who they wanted to teach that lesson to.
I glanced back over at my dad. But this time he wasn’t sitting watching me back. He was backed into a corner by a large woman in a bathing suit even worse than mine, covered in giant yellow flowers. She had her hand up near Dad’s face, waggling a finger at him. By the terrified expression on his face, she was winning.
Shrugging off Charlotte’s hand when she tried to stop me, I jumped up and ran over.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself. I hope you are satisfied!” the woman shouted at Dad.
All the other fathers were staring. Most of them were just interested in the argument, but a few wore frowny faces and waved a fist in agreement with the woman. I figured they were Northsiders too.
“It isn’t something I am p—proud of, or not,” Dad said. “I work for the Mayor. I—I do what I’m asked to do. Just like you do with your boss.” He held up a shaking hand. I moved to stand beside him but he shook his head. “Go and swim, honey. It’s fine. It’s all fine.”
My insides sank in disappointment. If Dad would just shout back at the woman. Or tell her off. Or give all the good reasons why the park should stay Southside. Or just be like Mom for one minute. But he couldn’t be like Mom. I didn’t really think I wanted him to be, either.
“It is not fine,” the woman snorted. “Not fine at all! And for your information. If my boss told me to do something so morally reprehensible, well, I would quit on the spot. On the spot!”
Dad held his chin a little higher. “Well, ma’am, I have a family to support and that comes ahead of anything else.”
I smiled, putting as much pride as I could into it so he would feel better, and keep doing the same thing.
Only, the woman laughed. It was the same sort of laugh I heard Mom use sometimes, and usually it came right after she told us something Dad did wrong. “Yes. Supporting them from your garage, I heard.”
My teeth gritted together to try and stop my mouth from letting out the sort of words that would get me banished from the pool forever. “Dad,” I hissed, grabbing his wrist and trying to yank him away from the horrible woman. “I need an ice cream, please. Now.”
This time, he let me lead him away and over to the pool where Sage was splashing. The woman didn’t follow, at least. Dad and I stood beside the pool. He ignored the stares, and I ignored my friends waving at me to go back to them.
“I’m sorry, Romy. I know that was embarrassing.” Dad sighed. “But this is probably going to get worse after the next meeting.”

Keep Reading

Chapter 11

They do consume the thing that feeds their fury Julian

Create an account

Create an account to get started. It’s free!

Sign up

or sign in with email below