CHAPTER 7 ASG

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Metal on metal screeched from my father's studio. A grinder or a band saw.

He's not at work?

The ear slaughter got louder as I walked down the hall. Somehow my anxiety attack had brought on a new sense of calm—cathartic release, perhaps. Or maybe it was just the residual effect of Isaac's kisses.

The studio was open, which was rare; my father always kept the door closed as a courtesy, containing the screeching tools and harsh chemicals.

He's waiting for me to come home.

I grabbed a pair of earmuffs—he kept protective gear hanging in the hallway just outside the door—adjusted them to fit my head, and put on plastic eyewear before I went in. My father was a stickler for safety.

"Dad!" I yelled, waving my arm to get his attention.

"One second!" He turned off the saw. "Keep your muffs on!"

I nodded as he picked up a ball-peen hammer and slammed it into a large sheet of metal. He held up his hand, letting me know that he wasn't done.

It was too early in the process to guess at what he was making.

He whacked the metal again, the explosion of sound still intensely loud through the muffs.

Mac had two kinds of swings when it came to blacksmithing. The first had the careful precision of an artist; when he made those kinds of swings, you could almost see the end piece sitting in his head, each swing getting him one step closer. Other times, his pounding was more aggressive—yes, he was making art, but he was also working something out . . . something that had nothing to do with art. These were swings of the latter variety. A final swing squeezed a spark from the metal and a grunt from his throat. I could practically feel the reverberation through my fingertips.

He tossed aside the hammer.

Definitely of the latter variety. My father's love affair with metal really made me wonder sometimes . . .

"Are you okay?" he asked as I pulled off the goggles and earmuffs. "Where have you been?"

"Nowhere, really. I exhausted myself walking around and then got upset and fell asleep."

His eyebrow slanted.

"At the Borges'," I added. "Désirée's mom made me some tea; then Isaac found me and walked me home." It was mostly true. I tried to convince myself the lie was better than giving my dad a meltdown with "I fell asleep in an abandoned building."

"You didn't answer the question." He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. His eyes were heavy and a little pink, maybe from the air in the studio, more likely from going straight from a graveyard shift to the graveyard. "Are you okay?"

"My feet hurt," I said, but he just looked at me until I conceded. "I'm fine, Dad. I just . . . can't believe they're gone." I swallowed the lump in my throat. I wanted people to stop worrying about me.

"I can't either," he said, pulling a stool over and sitting down.

I looked at the pile of tools on the floor and back to him. "Dad, are you okay?" When was the last time someone asked him that?

"Yeah, sweetheart. I'm fine."

His stock answer was unconvincing. "You sure?"

"I'm sure. I'm just worried about you." He leaned down, picked the hammer back up, and flipped it around in his hand. "And . . . just a little surprised your mother didn't come to the funeral to support you, considering she's in town. That's all."

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