I was fidgety, wiping my hands on my legs. I always did that when I was nervous. "I'll do the talking," I said to Kale as we approached the door. "Let me explain why we're late. Why I'm late." Then it dawned on me who I was talking to. Soldier wouldn't have a problem being quiet.
We walked into the kitchen, which was filled with the aroma of honey and cinnamon, and what might have been ham. It smelled like a holiday.
"Sorry I'm late," I said. "I had to stay behind a little at work, um ... and then I was helping Elodie's friend." I turned behind me to introduce Kale.
My dad was seated at the head of the table when we came in. No reading the paper, no listening to the radio. Just waiting. I looked at him sitting there with his craggy face and his sparse white hair. It was really thinning now. So was his papery skin. Everyone on my dad's side turned to snow early. It looked beautiful on the women—at least it did in photographs—but I always hoped I would take after my mom. I guess we'd see.
My dad moved his eyes off me and looked at Kale, who took a step back. Instinct or nervousness—who knew? Despite being just a tad over five feet tall, my dad was intimidating. He could be soft when he wanted to. And when he didn't want to, he could cut life a knife.
"Martin, nice to—"
My dad shook Kale's hand. I was waiting for the fall-out about being late when Estelle walked into the kitchen, carrying a bowl with a big wooden spoon sticking out of it.
"Hey!" She greeted me like she usually did. Excited. Fake.
Estelle always wore slightly different versions of the same outfit: jeans with a little flare at the bottom and a buttoned-down shirt with a pattern. Always. Today's top was striped blue and red. Like all of the others, this one had darts at the waist and bust to, as she put it, "create a streamlined silhouette." I couldn't be less interested in the fit of Estelle's clothes—or anything about her for that matter—but she told me one day how she liked to buy these fitted shirts because of the way they flattered her shape. She twisted her torso like a model when she said it, as if she was having fun bonding with her then-boyfriend's daughter. It had been excruciating.
It was weird that Estelle never changed her style. I loved consistency, but not from her. I didn't want anything from her.
"Oh, well ... hey. Hi! I'm Estelle." She wasn't doing the best job at hiding her surprise over the extra body in the room.
Kale waited for her to put the dish down before extending his hand.
"So, um, Kale is Elodie's husband's friend. He just got back from deployment yesterday." I avoided looking at my dad. "He's going to eat with us, ok? He's locked out of his car."
Estelle motioned for Kale to sit next to my dad in his King chair, but I sat there first so Kale could sit beside me. No need for him to occupy the hot seat.
"I'm assuming you've heard from your brother?" my dad asked.
I pulled out my phone. "I missed a call from him."
"He's on his way."
My dad took a long, slow drink of water.
"He was arrested last night."
I stood up from my chair. "What? For what?"
My dad's eyes were a carbon copy of my brother's. He was like him. I was like her. We had heard it all our lives. That didn't mean it was true. Example: this arrest.