Dirty Scoundrel(8)

By: Jessica Clare


My back goes up. “I don’t think there’s anything to say,” I tell him icily.

“So it’s true, then? You’re gonna go off to Stanford?”

He sounds pissed. Good, I’m pissed, too. I’m hurt and angry that he’d think my opinion matters so little that he could decide my future for me. “I just might,” I say lightly. “What, you think I should stay here and marry you?”

The moment I say it, it feels like a mistake. The knot in my throat increases, and I can see him visibly flinch as the words come out. And I’m surprised, because it seems like for the first time, Clay looks vulnerable.

“No,” he says softly. “I guess not.” He puts a pair of fingers to his forehead and gives me a mock salute. “Have a nice life. I’m heading to West Texas with my pop.”

“Bye,” I tell him in a flat tone. “I’m going to Stanford.” And I turn around and slam the door behind me.

The moment I do, I burst into tears again.

* * *

Hours later, I’m all cried out. I realize we’ve both been acting childish and I want to talk to him. Maybe we can work things out. Maybe I can make him see that my education is important, and what I want is just as important as what he wants. Maybe we can still get married and I can go to college part-time while we make a home together. Sniffling, I pick up my phone to text him even though it’s late.

All I know is that I love him and I don’t want this to be the end between us.

Before I can hit the “Send” button, there’s an urgent knock at my bedroom door. “Natalie?” It’s not Jenny, but my stepmom, Johanna. “Natalie, open up! It’s your father! There’s something wrong with him!”

My father? Oh no. He’s old, but he’s still so vibrant that it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever age like normal people. This can’t be happening. I rush to the door to find Johanna’s teary face. “What is it?” I blurt out, racing past her toward their bedroom.

“I think he’s having a heart attack!” she wails in my ear.

Texting Clay is completely forgotten.





Chapter Three



Present



Natalie

I know it’s going to be a bad day when I wake up to find my dad standing over my bed.

I sit up, rubbing my eyes, and glance at the alarm clock. Five in the morning. “Dad?”

“Where’s the cat?” he asks. “I heard it meowing.”

Biting back my sigh, I get out of bed and put on my slippers. “There’s no cat, Dad.”

“Of course there’s a cat, Jenny. I gave it to you for Christmas. Remember? You said you wanted a cat and I paid one of Frankie’s friends to bring you one.”

“Right,” I say, since it’s better than arguing with Dad. I’m not Jenny, first of all—that’s the maid we had who retired over six years ago. And I’m betting “Frankie” was Frank Sinatra. At any rate, there’s never been a cat in all of my twenty-five years. “I’ll go find it. You go back to bed, okay?”

My father continues to argue with “Jenny” about the cat as I take him gently by the arm and lead him back to his room. Even though he protests, I help him back into his bed and tuck the covers around him like he’s a child. This is a typical “bad” morning for us, though lately they’ve been becoming more the norm. He holds my hand, mumbling about the cat for a bit longer until he falls back asleep, and then I’m able to tiptoe away . . .

Right into a warm puddle on the floor.

Oh no. Because that’s how I wanted to start the day—stepping in pee.

But my father can’t help it. He’s eighty-seven now and his Hollywood looks have gone. His shoulders are hunched, part of his face is still slack after his stroke, and his dementia has been worse every year. It’s a long fall for someone as proud as Chap Weston, so I do my best to make things easy for him. Not that he knows who I am most of the time. He’s lost in memories, and I can’t hold it against him if he can’t hold his bladder. So I get towels and clean it up, then wash my feet before getting dressed and heading downstairs to start the day. I’m not going to let this morning’s episode with my father depress me, even though it’s obvious he’s getting worse.

One crisis at a time.

I make myself a cup of coffee in a Chap Weston souvenir mug, choke down a cold Pop-Tart, and gaze at one of the posters on the wall as I eat breakfast. This one’s from one of my dad’s biggest hits in 1952—a musical about sailors in a submarine. His handsome, strong form is in the center of the photo, with a cute girl clinging to his arm. No wonder my dad likes to live in the past.

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