Beautiful Darkness

Page 12


"Ethan?" My dad was standing in the hal , right outside of the kitchen door. "Can I talk to you for a second?" I had been dreading this, the part where he apologized for everything and tried to explain why he had ignored me for almost a year.
"Yeah, sure." But I didn't know if I wanted to hear it. I wasn't real y angry anymore. When I almost lost Lena, there was a part of me that understood why my dad had come completely unhinged. I couldn't imagine my life without Lena, and my dad had loved my mom for more than eighteen years.
I felt sorry for him now, but it stil hurt.
My dad ran his hand through his hair and edged closer to me. "I wanted to tel you how sorry I am." He paused, staring down at his feet. "I don't know what happened. One day, I was in there writing, and the next day al I could do was think about your mom -- sit in her chair, smel her books, imagine her reading over my shoulder." He studied his hands, as if he was talking to them instead of me. Maybe that was a trick they taught you at Blue Horizons. "It was the only place I felt close to her. I couldn't let her go."
He looked up at the old plaster ceiling, and a tear escaped from the corner of his eye, running slowly down the side of his face. My dad had lost the love of his life, and he had come unraveled like an old sweater. I'd watched, but I hadn't done anything about it. Maybe he wasn't the only one to blame. I knew I was supposed to smile now, but I didn't feel like it.
"I get it, Dad. I wish you'd said something. I missed her, too. You know?"
His voice was quiet when he final y spoke. "I didn't know what to say."
"It's okay." I didn't know if I meant it yet, but I could see relief spread across his face. He reached around and hugged me, squeezing my back with his fists for a second.
"I'm here now. Do you want to talk about it?"
"About what?"
"Things you need to know when you have a girlfriend."
There was nothing I wanted to talk about less. "Dad, we don't have to --"
"I have a lot of experience, you know. Your mother taught me a thing or two about women over the years."
I started planning my escape route.
"If you ever want to talk about, you know ..."
I could hurl myself through the study window and squeeze between the hedge and the house.
I almost laughed in his face. "What?"
"Amma says Lena's having a hard time with her uncle's passing. She's not acting like herself."
Lying on the ceiling. Refusing to go to school. Not opening up to me. Climbing water towers. "No, she's al right."
"Wel , women are a different species."
I nodded and tried not to look him in the eye. He had no idea how right he was.
"As much as I loved your mother, half the time I couldn't have told you what was going on in her head. Relationships are complicated. You know you can ask me anything."
What could I ask? What do you do when your heart almost stops beating every time you kiss? Are there times when you should and shouldn't read each other's minds? What are the early warning signs that your girlfriend is being Claimed for al time by good or evil?
He squeezed my shoulder one last time. I was stil trying to put together a sentence when he let go. He was staring down the hal , in the direction of the study.
The framed portrait of Ethan Carter Wate was hanging in the hal way. I stil wasn't used to seeing it, even though I was the one who had hung it there the day after Macon's funeral. It had been hidden under a sheet my whole life, which seemed wrong. Ethan Carter Wate had walked away from a war he didn't believe in and died trying to protect the Caster girl he loved.
So I had found a nail and hung the painting. It felt right. After that, I went into my dad's study and picked up the sheets of paper strewn al over the room. I looked at the scribbles and circles one last time, the evidence of how deep love can
run and how long loss can last. Then I cleaned up and threw the pages away. That felt right, too.
My dad walked over to the painting, studying it as if he was seeing it for the first time. "I haven't seen this guy in a long time."
I was so relieved we had moved on to a new subject, the words came tumbling out. "I hung it up. I hope it's okay. But it seemed like it belonged out here, instead of under some old sheet."
For a minute, my dad stared up at the portrait of the boy in the Confederate uniform, who didn't look much older than me. "This painting always had a sheet over it when I was a kid. My grandparents never said much about it, but they weren't about to hang a deserter on the wal . After I inherited this place, I found it covered up in the attic and brought it down to the study."
"Why didn't you hang it up?" I never imagined that my dad had stared at the same hidden outline when he was a kid.
"I don't know. Your mother wanted me to. She loved his story -- the way he walked away from the war, even though it ended up costing him his life. I meant to hang it. I was just so used to seeing it covered up. Before I got around to it, your mom died." He ran his hand along the bottom of the carved frame. "You know, you were named after him."
"I know."
My dad looked at me as if he was looking at me for the first time, too. "She was crazy about that painting. I'm glad you hung it up. It's where he belongs."
I didn't escape the fried chicken or Amma's guilt trip. So after dinner, I drove around the Sisters' neighborhood with Link looking for Lucil e. Link cal ed her name between bites of a chicken leg wrapped in an oily paper towel. Every time he ran his hand over his spiky blond hair, the shine got shinier from al the grease.