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“Boyce, did your dad ever see another attorney? After he and I parted ways?”
I shrugged, shoulders objecting, feeling guilty for the appeal of the ice-cold beer waiting for me once I showered and met up with a couple of boys in town. Unlike my father, I would limit my intake. Unlike Mr. Amos, I wouldn’t get behind a wheel until I’d sobered up.
“Not that I know of, but he wasn’t exactly talkative about that sorta stuff.” Or anything else, except his opinion of what a fuckup I was. “Why?”
Mr. Amos shifted position but remained in the doorway, his eyes falling to the floor, looking even more uncomfortable than his natural state. “Have you browsed through his papers? Thoroughly?”
When people answer a question with a question, it’s never a good sign. “Legal papers, you mean? Not really. Why?” I asked again.
His crooked mouth turned up on one side in clear relief at my answer. “Ah, well then, I’d suggest you get to looking—the sooner the better. You’re gonna need documentation to have his effects—the deed to the trailer, the garage, and the contents thereof—legally transferred to you. As well as the business itself.”
I frowned. That made sense, but something about this needled, shoving his reasonable advice aside. “I’m his only remaining heir, so that’s just formality, right?”
“Well sure, sure. But the law is kinda particular about following formalities in how property is bequeathed after someone passes.”
“Okay. Well. What am I looking for in particular? A will, I guess?”
He nodded. “A will and any paperwork relating to the garage—business formation, tax forms, etcetera. Assuming it was still a sole proprietorship, you might have a few issues. Unless Bud incorporated formally in the past decade or so, then a new owner would have to reform it under his own name.”
Incorporated formally? Yeah. That didn’t sound like something Dad would have bothered doing. Since I’d turned eighteen, he’d paid me every week like I was an employee, tax forms and all—after he got a letter from the state or the IRS that put him in a three-day rage.
“And, uh, you might look for a divorce decree too? Maybe one from out of state?”
“Divorce decree… another formality?”
He nodded, eyes meandering over the lift, diagnostic equipment, and tools lining the walls. “As soon as you have everything, bring it by my office and we’ll get everything filed. Pro bono, of course—the least I can do.”
“Yessir.” I might not hold him responsible for my dad’s sobriety fail, but I also wasn’t gonna piss on free. “I’ll be by in a few days.” There was something he wasn’t saying, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I figured I’d find out soon enough.
My phone trilled, the screen displaying a days-old shot of Mom at graduation. My heart stuttered before answering. She never called when she knew I was driving.
“Aren’t you driving?” she asked as soon as I said hello. “I was going to leave you a voice mail. You shouldn’t answer your phone if you’re driving.”
I sighed, relieved at her tone, which told me nothing was seriously wrong, and annoyed with her tone, which presumed that I was still six years old. “Mama, you can’t call me when there’s a ninety-nine percent chance I’m driving and then tell me I shouldn’t answer when I’m driving.”
“You could have let it go to voice mail.”
“I hate voice mail. And you’re apparently calling to tell me something that can’t wait until I get home in”—I glanced at the clock—“a little over an hour? You raised me to fret first and ask questions later. Deal with it.”
She huffed a resigned sigh into the receiver. “Fine. Your father forgot about an AMA event in Houston—tonight. And he’s speaking at it.” Dr. Thomas Frank, MD, FAANS, FACS, wasn’t my real father. My biological father died before I was born, and Thomas married Mom when I was thirteen, adopting me soon after. I became Pearl Frank then, which sounded, as Melody Dover, my best friend from high school, would later say, like a total white-girl name—a thing Mama seemed all too happy about. I hadn’t asked her opinion before requesting that Pearl Torres Frank be printed on my official diploma. I loved my stepfather, but I wanted a certified acknowledgment of my heritage—of where I originated and who I might have been.
I heard Thomas’s good-natured mumble in the background, followed by Mama’s sputter of incredulity. “Introductions require preparation too, Thomas! And no, you cannot just wing it. Madre de Dios!” Her accent was more pronounced when she got riled—something my stepfather enjoyed provoking just to hear it. Full-on Spanish, though? Jackpot.
“So you won’t be home tonight,” I interrupted, too relieved at the one-night respite from my impending confession to feel rotten over being relieved. “No problem. I’ve got my key. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
• • • • • • • • • •
I was stuck in the back doorway while Tux, meowing his displeasure at my parents’ desertion, wound himself around my legs in a succession of figure eights. They’d only been gone a few hours, before which he was undoubtedly petted, cooed over, and fed a hand-chopped portion of fresh drum or whatever Thomas last caught when he took the boat out.
I patted Tux’s tubby flank and pulled my overnight bag through the door. “You aren’t fooling anybody with that I’m wasting away song of your people, cat. You’re the most over-indulged feline on this whole island.”
He was also the sweetest, which was why he was spoiled. He and Thomas had been living the ultimate bachelor life before Mama and I entered their lives seven years ago, but Tux had welcomed us as warmly as Thomas had—as though he’d just been waiting for some woman and her thirteen-year-old kid to move in and claim territory that had been his for years. He batted the zipper-pull on my bag while I called Melody, who’d just graduated from SMU and was home for two weeks before she moved back to Dallas to begin her new public relations job.
“Hey, girl!” she answered. “Home yet?”
“Just got in the door. My parents are out tonight. You busy?”
“Nope. Been home two days and I’ve had it up to here with Mom’s bitching about the million and one things I’m doing wrong with my life—from my clothes to my career to how I’ll never land a husband because I failed to find one in four years of college. It would serve her bony ass right if I just became a lesbian.”