“Nate, you really do look awful.”
“Thanks, Linh, you look great.” Her long black hair in a ponytail, a few strands dangled around her high cheekbones.
“I’m sorry.” She put her hand on my shoulder as we were getting in Kyle’s car. “Oh, I just realized it’s your dad’s birthday.” She closed her eyes and hugged me.
“It’s not that, really.”
“How old would he have been?” Kyle asked as he got in the driver’s seat and slid a cigarette in his mouth. He never lit it, but whenever he drove or worked on his computer, he usually held one in his lips; he said it reminded him of his dad. We had that in common, losing our fathers. It was part of our bond.
“Forty-seven today but— ”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Linh said.
“I killed him Linh. Whatever you say or think doesn’t change it.”
“Nate, you’re the only one who believes that.”
“Really? Ask my mom why she can hardly look at me, why she works around the clock so she doesn’t have to be around me.”
“Your mom and dad built that restaurant together. She’s just trying to keep it going.”
“Linh, I know you like my mom, but let’s get real. The Station is one of the most successful restaurants in town.”
“How would you know? You never even let us go,” Kyle said. “Have you even been back in the four years since the funeral?” He shot me one of his stern looks, peering over his mirrored shades. His mop of coal-black hair, shaggy and unkempt, combined with the cigarette to give him a tough guy image.
Kyle began the short drive to his house.
“It wasn’t like I lost just my dad. The whole family was obliterated that day.” My voice cracked. “I was only twelve, and all Mom cared about was me not making a scene at her perfect funeral.”
“She was grieving too, Nate,” Linh said.
“She’s always been so practical and driven; get better grades, haircuts and manners.”
“At least she makes the best brownies,” Linh said.
“Yeah, well you eat them. I want my dad back. He was the gentle one. He was always encouraging me, more like a friend. Everyone loved him. Two hundred and twenty people jammed the restaurant for the funeral . . . and they all knew he was dead because of me.”
“No,” Kyle said.
“You weren’t there. The only one who understood was Dustin. Some lady said that my mother was never going to be able to handle two teenage boys on her own. She nailed that. It started right then: Mom and I got into a huge fight, in front of everyone.”
“What about?” Linh asked.
“I don’t even remember. Dustin swooped in and told Mom our aunt Rose was looking for her. A minute later, he and I were outside laughing. I can still see his funny dunce expression when he called the funeral another episode of The Ryder Family In Crisis reality show.” Dustin had always taken care of me like that. I smiled just talking about
I tried not to think of the funeral, but that day replayed regularly in my head. It was a line that marked the end of my childhood, of my family. The ever-growing chasm between Mom and me started then. It was the last day we were allowed to see Aunt Rose, Dad’s sister. And, it began the brutal march toward the loss of Dustin. In truth, I’d been a basket case ever since the funeral. The Outviews were just the final piece to shove me over the edge.
Something else happened at the funeral, something that would make going on without my dad and even the Outviews seem trivial. Of the more than two hundred guests listening to eulogies that day, two were destined to impact my life like colliding comets. One would attempt to kill me many times, and the other would try equally hard to save me . . . but I didn’t know any of that then. I was just a kid trying to get through my shock and guilt.