A Sprauling Family Saga

By Hank All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Mystery

(Part Three) Chapter 19

Though vindicated at having proven his point, Everett nonetheless felt relieved when Jeremy decided to rent a car two weeks into his visit. His older brother had lasted a week longer than their original wager. Moreover, Everett had earned his brother’s respect, for perhaps the first time in their lives. And Jeremy had refused to collect his hundred dollars.

“You’ve taught me a valuable lesson,” he said. “That’s worth more than money.”

Still, Everett wanted his apartment back. Corinne had been hinting that he should maybe move in with her; it would save him money, she said, and they could sleep together every night. So far he had managed to deflect these hints and avoid a serious discussion of the matter. He liked living alone. He also liked a woman he’d met at the University, a feisty redhead named Dana who worked in the food court, with whom he had finessed a couple of dates on nights Corinne had been on call. Nothing had happened yet, but she seemed interested, and Everett wanted to keep his options open.

They had done okay, though, the two brothers who had been strangers most of their lives. Jeremy had bought groceries, and he wasn’t stingy about springing for beers when they went out together. His older brother was a lot easier to get along with than Everett remembered. It helped that he had Corinne’s place as a refuge, but on the nights he was home, they sat out on the deck and talked. Jeremy told him about Elliott Sprauling and the times he had spent with his father as a child. Everett found himself hungry for these stories. Jeremy told him of the annual summer trips to Maine, when his parents spread blankets in the backs of two station wagons and they left Pennsylvania at night, their father driving one car and their mother driving the other, the kids divvied up between the vehicles. He talked about sailing with his father, how the two of them would sometimes go out for a night or two, anchoring in some secluded cove or island harbor, buying lobsters from the local fishermen. He reminisced about tossing a baseball around with his dad and attending football games at the school in Philadelphia where one of his father’s friends was the head coach. Everett, born late, had missed all that, but Jeremy made it come alive for him.

The talk of the father he had never known made Everett think of his own son, and prompted him one morning to call the boy’s mother to arrange a visit. Billy was nine now, and living with his mother in Belfast, where she worked in a clothing store and sang in an all-girl band. Everett didn’t know or care if Jasmine was seeing anybody. For all he knew she had tired of men and taken up with one of her band mates. They played Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge covers, dressed all in black, and did nothing to discourage the rumors that they were all lesbians.

Though they talked on the phone occasionally, he hadn’t set eyes on his son since March, when Jasmine had driven up with Billy and he had taken them out to lunch, a magnanimous gesture that had backfired when his credit card was refused and she had had to pay. The kid still called him “Daddy,” though, and liked it when Everett played his guitar and sang to him. The last overnight visit had been over the holidays, some five months ago. Jasmine wasn’t enthusiastic about driving Billy up to Bangor to see his father, and she refused to put the kid on the bus.

“If you’re going to rent a car,” he said to Jeremy on the deck one evening, “we can go down to the coast and bring him back up here for a few days. He’s a good kid. You’ll like him.”

“I haven’t seen him since he was little,” Jeremy said. “Is he tall like you?”

“He’s getting there,” Everett said. “He looks like a Sprauling, even though officially he isn’t one. I guess maybe I should have married that girl, if only so my kid could’ve had his father’s last name.”

“He can always change it when he gets older, if he wants to.”

“He usually sleeps on the couch when he’s here,” Everett said. “But I’ve got a bedroll for camping that he can use.”

“Gretchen’s got a couple spare rooms,” Jeremy said. “I can go stay with her for awhile. I’d be closer to Ma, and you could have some time with your son. You know what they say about fish and guests.”

“Well, we’ll play it by ear,” Everett said. How many times in his life had he uttered that tired phrase, rooted in music but describing with fair accuracy the way he navigated his day-to-day existence? He was careful not to say it around Gretchen, who took the opposite approach.

Jasmine asked him for money, of course, and Everett said he would throw her a couple hundred dollars when they picked Billy up. She agreed that Everett could take the kid for Memorial Day weekend, from Friday afternoon through Monday evening. He was supposed to back a friend on guitar for a Saturday night gig, which would earn him fifty dollars toward the informal child-support payment, and how was he going to swing that? Maybe Corinne could watch Billy while he played. If everything else failed, he could take the kid to the bar, but the bar’s owner might not be cool with that, and Jasmine would be pissed if she found out. Did he have any other friends he could lean on for free babysitting? He tried to think even as he had Jasmine on the phone. He could back out of the gig – his circle of friends in Bangor boasted plenty of rhythm guitar players who could fill in for him – but he could use the fifty bucks.

“My whole life is a juggling act,” he said to Jeremy, as they sat out on the deck, sipping beers and enjoying the long May evening. Jeremy had gone to the airport that day and taken possession of a new Ford Taurus with fewer than 5,000 miles on the odometer. They planned to go down to Belfast the next day to pick up the boy. “I wish I’d been a better father,” Everett said.

“They don’t give out a manual,” Jeremy replied. “At least you’re still in his life. Enjoy it while you can.”

“You ever see your kid?”

“Not often.” Everett had met Andi – her real name was Andromeda, after the galaxy – a couple of times, once in California and once in Maine. The girl had her mother’s dark hair but brown eyes like her father. She also had something of her mother’s high-strung nature, Everett thought, though he had not known Bonnie well, and only in his youth.

Everett decided to put off a decision about Saturday night until the last possible moment. If he called Corinne in advance, she might well tell him that she hadn’t embarked on this relationship to be his babysitter of convenience, but if he presented Billy’s presence as a last-minute done deal, an unexpected emergency, she would more likely let herself be pressed into service. The brothers set off for Belfast in the rental car the next day at noon to pick up Billy when he got home from school. “There’s a good pub on the waterfront where we can have lunch,” Everett said. “My treat this time, in exchange for driving.”

Content to watch the houses roll by on a road he had driven more times than he cared to remember, Everett gave his brother directions and filled him in on the years he had spent in Belfast, when town had experienced a brief renaissance and looked, for a time, like a promising place for a musician. He recounted the all-night jams in an old building called the Hat Factory, and the flowering of the arts that had followed the cleanup of the harbor after the chicken plant closed.

“I was there at the right time,” he told Jeremy. “They tore down the chicken plant and created this big park in the center of town, overlooking the harbor. And then this credit card company came in, and dumped all kinds of money into the town, and suddenly there were jobs, and the harbor didn’t smell like chicken guts.”

“I remember that factory,” Jeremy said. “We’d drive past Belfast as fast as we could, holding our noses.”

“Not any more,” Everett said. “The credit card company came in, leveled the factory and turned into a park. And they gave everybody in town who wanted one a job. Even me.”

Jeremy laughed. “Somehow I don’t see you working for a credit card company,” he said.

“Well, I still have lousy credit,” Everett admitted.

“What did you do for them?”

“I talked people into moving money around,” Everett said. “I had computer access to people’s credit card accounts, and I’d try to coerce them into making a balance transfer, or taking out a cash advance, and of course the company had a fee for all those transactions, and I’d get a commission. I had all their financial information on a screen in front of me. They’d give me the routing number to one of their accounts, and I’d zap the money to them. It amazed me that this company made billions of dollars doing this. There was no product – not even a song. All they did was manipulate money. They’re not there any more. They got bought out by Bank of America.”

“How long did you work there?”

“Almost a year,” Everett said. “I got pretty good at it. Telemarketing, I mean. I was among the team leaders in commissions every month. Had money for diapers, baby food, doctor’s appointments... even a car.” Everett grinned at his brother. “It’s an odious thing to be good at, I know. But I figured out that it was mostly acting. I played this suave guy on the phone, with all kinds of money and financial savvy. And the audience ate it up.”

“Why’d you quit?”

“I didn’t quit, Jeremy. I was fired.”

“Oh.”

“Remember the trouble I got into in Ellsworth?”

Jeremy glanced at him across the seat. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”

Everett laughed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. You missed most of it. You were already in California by then. Remember that accident I was in?”

“Which one?”

“The one I had in high school. Jesus, Jeremy, you’re making me feel worse about my checkered past by the minute. They found pot in the vehicle. I got off with a fine, but it went on my record since I was 18. You’re supposed to report that sort of stuff when you apply for the job. I didn’t, and ten months later the company found out about it, and even after making all that money for them, I was escorted out of the building that day. A guy stood over me and watched me clean out my desk.”

“So you did a great job for ten months, they discovered a ten-year-old arrest for weed, and canned you on the spot?”

“Yep. That’s pretty much how it went.”

“Man. That’s worse than the JPL layoffs after Neptune,” Jeremy said.

“What?”

“Never mind. It isn’t comparable.”

Everett let it go, since he had no idea what Jeremy was talking about.

They spoke sporadically the rest of the way into Belfast, until Jeremy guided the car over the high bridge and Everett pointed out the new shipyard where the old sardine cannery had once stood. A few motorboats and sailboats occupied moorings near the harbor mouth, but not many, for the pleasure boating season would not begin in earnest for another month. Some citizens in shirtsleeves strolled on the footbridge far below them.

“Anyway,” he said, “I have to give them credit.” He laughed. “Give a credit card company credit. But I do. They did a lot for this town while they were here.

I gotta tell you, though, the job was supremely boring. Who can stay interested in balance transfers and interest rates? The crazy thing was, during breaks, people wouldn’t talk about sports, or books, or music or movies – most of ’em would talk about how much money they were moving around.”

“You’re kidding.”

“God’s honest truth,” Everett said. “All but this one guy, from New York, a little younger than me. Smart, good on the phone, had the patter. He wanted to be a television broadcaster, but he also did some acting with the local theater. He had the same attitude about the job that I did. Good guy. One day he came up to me and said, ‘Everett, how long do you think you can do this? Aren’t you bored out of your mind?’ We were friends after that. I found out later he was a musician, too.”

“What happened to him?” Jeremy asked. “Did you stay in touch?”

“Nah, I lost track of him after I got fired. He probably didn’t stay in Maine, though. Nobody with any real talent does.”

Jeremy steered the car into downtown Belfast; Everett directed him toward the waterfront and the pub. They parked next to a dilapidated theater building and a couple of large power yachts on jack stands. The new shipyard was gradually taking over this part of the waterfront; the cannery was gone, and the abandoned theater building in which Everett had once performed would likely be next.

The pub was shoehorned in among the boats and buildings. It looked small from the outside, but the bar extended back from the street toward a spacious room with tables and large windows that framed the inner harbor. The tables were empty. Half a dozen patrons sat at the bar, some with plates of food in front of them. “Sit anywhere you like,” called the blonde woman behind the bar. Her hair was braided down her back; she wore a Dustin Pedroia shirt that she filled out nicely, and her face bore the lines of at least four decades of hard living. Not pretty, Everett thought, but not entirely unattractive, either.

He turned to his brother. “Want to sit at a table?” But Jeremy’s attention had been drawn to a poster on the wall just inside the door. Everett looked at the poster and laughed. Stella Weaver’s face stared back at them. Everett thought she didn’t need the eye make-up, but it was a glam shot, with dangly earrings and a flower in her hair. She was looking over one bare shoulder, her blue eyes staring boldly into the camera, her lips pursed in a sly, Mona Lisa smile.

“She’s playing here next Saturday,” Jeremy said. “Want to go?”

“Man, you’re obsessed,” Everett said. “She plays in Bangor all the frigging time, and she works at the Thai restaurant. You don’t have to drive all the way to Belfast to see her.”

“No, but I would,” Jeremy said. “It’s not that far.”

“About a mile for every year of difference in your ages,” Everett quipped. “You want to burn gas chasing some impossible woman, you go right ahead. I’m for a beer, and some lunch.”

They had two beers each, and shared a seafood platter at the table closest to the windows. Everett flirted with the blonde waitress while Jeremy watched the goings-on in the harbor. Several more people entered the pub for late lunches or an early start on happy hour. The tables began to fill up. Everett recognized a burly, bearded man in a plaid flannel shirt that was mostly green. The beard was mostly gray, but the mop of hair atop his head had retained its brownish hue. He was with another man and two women, but when he saw Everett, he ambled over to their table and held out his hand.

“Well, by God, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen you in these parts. You still playing that guitar?”

Everett stood and accepted the handshake. “Still trying,” he said. “How you been, Dennis? They couldn’t get you to repair that old theater? It looks like it’s about to fall down.”

“Damn thing should fall down,” Dennis growled. “Then they could hire me to build ’em another one from the ground up.”

“Dennis is a carpenter,” he said to Jeremy. “And a damn good one, too. He built half the sets for the Belfast Players. He’s a pretty good actor, too.”

“In a small pond,” the bearded man demurred. “They got a new venue, the Players. This thing,” he nodded over his shoulder, ”will probably get absorbed by the shipyard sooner or later. They’ll put in a parking lot or something. Good riddance.”

“You doing any shows lately?”

“Nah. Been working too much. Nora’s in college now. I gotta get serious.”

“Come on,” Everett said. “Life is serious but art is fun.”

“Art don’t pay the bills,” Dennis said.

“Nora in college,” Everett marveled. “Time marches on, doesn’t it?”

“How’s your kid? I see his mom sometimes. He must be what, ten by now?”

“Nine,” Everett said. “I’m picking him up in about an hour. This is my brother Jeremy. He’s out here from California.”

“Nice to meet you.” Jeremy stood and the two men shook hands. “What part of California you from?”

“Well. I’m from Maine, actually, by way of Philadelphia. But I’ve lived in San Diego for thirty years.”

“You must like it out there, then.”

“Can’t beat the weather,” Jeremy said.

“I was out there when I was in the Navy,” the bearded man said. “But I imagine it’s changed a lot since then.”

Everett half-listened as Jeremy and Dennis talked about places in California he did not recognize. Seven years had passed since he’d moved to Bangor, but he still couldn’t come to Belfast without running into someone he knew. Maine was like that. People stayed put, and had long memories.

It was past two-thirty by the time they finished eating and Everett paid the bill. He had arranged to pick up Billy at three. “I’ve got to stop in at the co-op and get some black-eyed peas and a few spices,” he said.

“Let’s do it,” Jeremy said.

“Ordinarily I’d walk, since it’s not that far,” Everett said. “But seeing as how you’ve got the car…”

“Don’t mention it,” Jeremy said.

Everett had let his co-op membership expire when he moved to Bangor, but that didn’t much matter, for the place served everyone, from near and far. It also served as the unofficial gathering spot in downtown Belfast. The clientele skewed old hippie. Ponytails predominated on both male and female customers. A bulletin board at the entrance was crammed with notices for everything from bands needing drummers to tai chi classes to bicycles and boats for sale. Inside, Everett headed for the bulk foods section, decided to pick up some long-grain rice as well as the peas, then measured out and weighed small amounts of turmeric, cumin, mustard, basil and oregano into small plastic pill bottles. “This is the only way to buy spices,” he told Jeremy. “It’s way cheaper than the supermarket. It’s a good thing I’m a decent cook, ’cause Corinne can’t cook to save her life.”

They were in the checkout line when Everett heard his name. He looked up to see Gretchen and Joanie waving to him from the small dining area adjacent to the food service counter. “Holy smokes,” he said. “What are you two doing here? You’re way out of context.”

“Where the heck is Context?” Joanie said.

“Somewhere near the Mountains of Ignorance, isn’t it?” Jeremy said.

“Just beyond the Valley of Sound,” Gretchen put in.

The four siblings congregated by the front windows. “So what’s up?” he said.

“Jam deliveries,” Joanie replied. “Today’s the day to do this side of the bay. Gretchen took the day off to come with me.”

“Come have a cup of coffee,” Gretchen said. “There’s news about Mom.”

Everett looked at his watch as the young man rang up his purchases. “I’m supposed to pick up Billy in a few minutes,” he said.

“A few minutes is all it’ll take,” Joanie said.

He didn’t want coffee, and the co-op didn’t have a license to serve beer on premises, but the least he could do was be sociable. He and Jeremy joined their sisters at their table. The café was mostly empty at this time of day, though a few older customers lingered over colorful ceramic coffee mugs. The girls had been in the middle of a late lunch. Joanie’s plate contained the remnants of what had once been a sandwich; Gretchen had emptied a cup of soup. Both had coffees going. Everett grabbed a root beer from the cooler and asked Jeremy if he wanted anything.

“Better not,” Jeremy said drily. “I’m driving.”

Gretchen laughed. “You broke down and got a car,” she said.

“Afraid so,” Jeremy replied. “I’m too much of a Californian, I guess.”

Her eyes shifted to Everett. “So now you’ve got a live-in chauffer,” she said.

“Well, I was going to talk with you about that, Gretchen,” Jeremy said. “You’ve got two spare rooms, right?”

She nodded. “And both beds are more comfortable than Everett’s couch.”

“Now don’t be dissing my couch,” Everett interjected. “I haven’t heard any complaints, have I, Jeremy?”

“It’s a nice couch,” Jeremy allowed.

“Still, you’re welcome to come stay,” Gretchen said. “When Mom doesn’t want you down at the point, that is.”

“It’s not like you to skip work, Gretchen,” Everett said. “What happened, you get fired or something?”

“Ha ha ha. I’m working the whole holiday weekend, so my boss said I could Friday off. Besides, Joanie wanted some company.”

“We drove down to Port Clyde first thing this morning, and we’ve been working our way back this way since,” Joanie said. “Lot of stores between here and there. And we’ve still got to hit Searsport and Bucksport on the way home.”

“What’s the news about Ma?” Jeremy wanted to know.

“They’re talking about letting her go home,” Gretchen said.

“Really? When?”

“They want her to do another week of physical therapy,” Gretchen said, “and then they’re going to evaluate her next Friday. If everything’s good, they’ll send her home Saturday, a week from tomorrow. I’m glad you’re coming over, Jeremy, because Mom’s been talking about you. She’d love to have you there when she goes home, just for the first day or two. Paul can’t do everything. Everett, you too, if you can come.”

Everett almost burst out laughing when he saw the expression on Jeremy’s face. “Well, so much for seeing your heartthrob,” he said.

“What?” Gretchen said.

“Nothing,” Jeremy said quickly. “It’s nothing. Of course I’ll come. I’m glad they’re finally letting her out.”

“They’re maybe letting her out,” Gretchen cautioned. “She hasn’t managed to do stairs on her own yet. That’s the big benchmark. And I guess they want to make sure the infection’s completely gone.”

Everett glanced at his watch. Even if they left now, he would be late picking up Billy. He hoped Jasmine didn’t give him an attitude about it. Fishing two dollars from his wallet, he handed them to Gretchen across the table. “For the root beer,” he said. “I don’t have time to wait in line to pay for it. I’ll be in touch about Mom. But right now I gotta go fetch my kid.”

“What kid?” said a voice from behind them. Everett turned in his seat to see Carrie Goetting set down a coffee mug and a piece of some kind of vegetable pie on a nearby table. She was tall, with frizzy, shoulder length auburn hair, and Everett had once tried to get her to sleep with him. He had made the suggestion when Jasmine was pregnant with Billy, and Carrie was one of Jasmine’s best friends. Nine years later, both women still carried a grudge about it.

“Hi, Carrie,” he said, as cheerily as he could. “Haven’t seen you in a long time. How’ve you been?”

“You haven’t seen your kid in a long time, either, have you Everett? I’m fine, and so are Jasmine and Billy. Not that you care. Much,” she qualified at the end.

“As a matter of fact, I’m going to pick him up right now. I was just leaving. These are my sisters, by the way, Gretchen and Joanie, and my brother Jeremy.”

The willowy woman managed a smile. “Hello,” she said.

The Sprauling siblings nodded and muttered greetings. “You’re a friend from Everett’s Belfast days, I take it,” Gretchen said. Everett laughed.

“I think ‘friend’ is maybe too strong a word,” Carrie said.

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Everett said, and stood up. “I’m late already. You ready, Jeremy?”

“I’ll call you guys,” Gretchen said. She turned to Carrie. “Nice to meet you.”

“Uh-huh,” Carrie said. “Nice to meet all of you, too. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a whole family by one cad.” She sat down at her table with her coffee and pie, facing away from them.

“Let’s get out of here,” Everett said to his brother. Jesus, every time he came to Belfast he ran into reminders of his unforgotten indiscretions. The past, as Dylan sang, was always close behind, and whenever he showed his face here he seemed to get tangled up in it.

In the parking lot, as they got into the car, Jeremy said, “That was interesting. You’ve broken a few hearts in this town, I take it.”

“Long story short, she’s a friend of Jasmine’s. Shoulder to cry on when we split, someone to tell her what assholes men are. She hates me. Turn left at the light and go up the hill.”

Everett directed his brother to the home of his son’s mother, five miles out of town on the Poors Mill Road. Jasmine was out on the front porch when they pulled into the driveway. Everett saw that she was dressed for a gig: black shorts, black tights, a black top spangled with glitter and cut low to accentuate her cleavage. She came right up to Everett’s rolled-down window. “Billy’s out back,” she said. She had not yet put on her signature eye make-up or spiked her short-cropped hair, now dyed black for the stage. “You’re late, by the way.”

“Ran into a couple of sisters and one of your friends,” Everett said. “You ever meet my brother Jeremy?”

“I don’t think so.” Jasmine looked past him across the seat. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” Jeremy said back.

“Where’s the gig tonight?” Everett asked.

“Augusta. I’m meeting the girls at four. Good thing you finally made it.”

He ignored this dig at his lateness. If she didn’t expect it by now, she didn’t know him very well. He tried to be on time, he really did. But something always seemed to get in the way.

She cupped her hands and called “Billy! Your father’s here.”

When the kid failed to appear, Everett got out of the car. “I’ll go get him,” he said. Jasmine had a large back yard that sloped down to a stream; she had moved here several years ago with a man, who was no longer in the picture. Everett had been here many times. There had even been a month-long period when neither had been in a relationship, and they had talked of re-kindling theirs. But Everett had been living in Bangor by then, and much as he liked spending time with his kid, he had known it wouldn’t work out. Too many hurts and misunderstandings from the past loomed just beneath the surface, available ammunition in any argument.

He walked around the edge of the porch into the back yard. Billy was down by the stream, poking at something on the ground with a stick. Everett called his name and the kid looked up. His blond hair stood atop his head in inch-long spikes, a fashion statement maybe inspired by his musical mother, Everett thought, or maybe spikes were in vogue among fourth graders these days. He didn’t know. He’d never met Billy’s teachers, or very many of his friends, for that matter, and he felt the familiar guilt at being largely uninvolved in his son’s life. “You ready for a weekend in the city?” Everett asked him.

The boy shrugged. “We’ve got a groundhog,” he said, looking down again. “I keep finding new holes, but I’ve never seen him.” Everett saw that Billy had been working the stick into a small hole, widening it as he probed.

“Be fun to throw a firecracker in there and see what happened,” Everett said.

“Dad, that’d be mean,” Billy said. “How would you like it if someone threw a smoke bomb into your apartment?”

“I’m not a groundhog,” he said, trying to keep it light. Jeez, where had the kid picked up such a sensitive streak? Surely not from either of his parents.

“Billy!” Jasmine shouted from up by the driveway. “Go get your stuff. Mama’s got to get going.”

“Come on,” Everett said. “You remember your Uncle Jeremy? He’s in the car.”

Billy shrugged again. But he dropped the stick and began walking slowly up the hill with his father. One thing the kid had inherited from him was his laid-back approach to time, which Jasmine said exasperated his teachers. He did well in school without really trying, she had told him, but she was forever driving him to school on mornings when he missed the bus.

“Dad?” the kid said, as they made their way back up the hill.

“Yeah?” Everett answered over his shoulder.

“Can we go fishing?”

“Fishing? Where?”

“I dunno,” the boy said. “There must be a lake or a stream around Bangor somewhere.”

Fishing? Everett didn’t turn around. He didn’t want his son to see his face. Everett hadn’t been fishing since probably high school, on Paul Bremerton’s boat. “You got a pole?” he asked his son.

“Uh-huh. Mom bought me one. So far all I’ve been able to catch is an eel.”

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to ask your Uncle Jeremy,” Everett said. “He’s the one with the car.”

“Cool.”

Jasmine stood with her arms folded across her chest, waiting for them, while Jeremy remained behind the wheel. Couldn’t he have at least made small talk with her? Maybe he had tried. He smiled at Jasmine and she glowered at him. “Billy, go get your things,” she said.

“Can I take my fishing stuff? Dad said we could go fishing.”

“Only if you promise not to lose it. Now go on, get ready. Mom’s got a gig.”

Billy disappeared into the house. Jasmine turned to him.

“You bring any money?”

“Oh. Oh, yeah.” Everett reached for his wallet.

“Oh, yeah, like that isn’t the only reason I’m letting you take him,” Jasmine said, her voice flat. “What do you got? A hundred bucks?

“A hundred and fifty,” Everett said, handing her the bills. “I’ll try to make it more next month, but summer’s gonna be lean, what with the University job on hiatus.”

“Uh-huh.” Jasmine didn’t seem impressed. “You know, if I didn’t have to report my band income, I’d turn you in to the state and you’d be paying me a hell of a lot more than a hundred and fifty bucks whenever you feel like it.”

It was a threat he’d heard many times. “Best I can do, right now, Jasmine,” he said.

“I know. It’s always the best you can do.”

Everett glanced toward the house. “Hurry up, Billy,” he called. “You don’t want to make your mom late for her show.”

“Nice try,” Jasmine said. “Mister late-for-everything. You should have been here half an hour ago.”

Christ almighty, where was that kid? He didn’t want to stand here and listen to this a moment longer than he had to.

Finally, Billy emerged, juggling a knapsack and a small green plastic tackle box, the fishing pole under one arm, the other in the sleeve of a light jacket that trailed behind him. His mother scooped up the jacket, took the fishing pole from him, and opened the back seat of the rental car. “Hi Billy,” Jeremy said, as the kid got in. “You remember me?”

“Sure. You’re Uncle Jeremy.” The kid recited it like an answer to a question on a chemistry test.

Jasmine passed him the pole and the jacket, then straightened and turned to Everett. “You’ll have him back Monday at five, right? It’s a school night.”

“Let’s make it six,” Everett suggested. It is a holiday weekend, after all.”

“Let’s not,” Jasmine replied. “Because six to you means seven, and then who knows what all could come up on your way down here. If I tell you five, you’ll at least make an effort to have him home at a reasonable hour.”

Everett suppressed a sigh and smiled. Give the kid the appearance of his parents getting along, anyway. “Okay,” he said. “Five it is. Of course it depends on Jeremy. It’s his car.”

“Good,” Jasmine said, with a quick look at his older brother. “Maybe you’ll be on time, then.”

He supposed a hug was pushing it, but he placed both hands on her shoulders. “Good luck with the gig tonight.”

She placed one of his hands briefly over his. “Thanks,” she said. Then she leaned in toward Billy. “Be good, kiddo. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Bye, Mom,” Billy said.

Everett got into the car and closed the door. “Let’s go,” he said to Jeremy. Jasmine was already in the house before Jeremy backed the car out of the driveway. Everett allowed himself a real sigh. He looked over at his brother. “You do much fishing out in California?”

“None,” Jeremy said.

“Me, either,” Everett said. “But I think you need a license.”

“I don’t,” Billy spoke up from the back.

“You don’t?” Everett said.

“Nope. I’m a kid.”

“Oh, well, okay, that makes it easier, then. Now all we gotta do is find a place to fish. And get Jeremy to drive us there.” He grinned across the seat at his brother.

“Sure, no problem,” Jeremy said.

“How’s Gram?” Billy asked suddenly, after a few seconds of silence. Everett knew Annabelle communicated regularly with the boy – more regularly than he did, in fact – remembering occasions such as birthdays and the first day of school with cards and e-mails and sometimes a phone call. She doted on him in a way she had not done with her much older grandchildren, now all young adults. Everett had told Billy about Annabelle’s hospitalization, but he had not taken him to see her, an omission for which he felt a little guilty.

“She’s getting better,” Everett said. “In fact, it looks like she’s going to be able to go home next weekend. We’ll go see her down at the point. She wants to have a big party.”

“Want to swing by and see her now?” Jeremy suggested. “It’s not that far out of the way.”

Everett could not think of much he would less like to do at the moment than visit his mother. She would fuss over Billy and ask Jeremy some inane questions about space, and he would stand around. “Jeremy, it’s way out of the way,” he said.

“It’s not even four o’clock,” Jeremy said. “There’s plenty of day left.”

“It’s two sides of an equilateral triangle,” Everett argued, trying to appeal to his brother’s mathematical bent. “Belfast to Ellsworth, Ellsworth to Bangor. It’s a frivolous waste of gasoline.” He looked into the back seat at his son. Billy’s face was impassive.

“Besides,” he said, “I’ve had enough female interaction for one day. Let’s go home and burn some burgers and watch an action movie. That sound good to you, Billy?”

“Sure, Dad,” said his son.

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