One time like a million years ago, all eighty or whatever of us were at the zoo, me and J.R. and Mom and Mama and Ben and Michael and Dad and Justin. J.R. was little, like four or five maybe, and she was running around screaming about all the animals like we wouldn't know they were there if she didn't tell us, and Michael was overreacting by acting like it was the cutest thing he'd ever seen and Dad was overreacting by acting like he was going to throw himself into the wolf exhibit. I was sharing this big thing of popcorn with Mom and Justin. He must have not been totally Deaf then because he was wearing a hearing aid and we weren't signing, and that's so weird for me to think about because I always like, insert signing into all my old memories with Justin even though I know it's not right, but it's just so weird to think about Justin being hearing. It just doesn't fit him at all.
Anyway, Dad was antsy and whining about everything, and J.R. was freaking out because we were about to get to the big cats and that was what she'd wanted to see the most all day, and she was all, “Justin, we're going to see the lions!” and Dad took a handful of Justin's shirt and yanked him backwards and said, “Nnnnno. Justin and I are going to go find the back room.”
“What?” I said, and Mom rolled her eyes in that don't ask way she's always doing with Dad.
Justin said, “No, come on, I want to see the cheetahs.” Dad bared his teeth and growled at him, and Justin rolled his eyes. “Fine, I guess you deserve a break. We'll catch up with you guys later?” he said, handing the popcorn over to me, as Dad kept pulling at his shirt.
Mom rolled her eyes after they walked away. “Yet again...”
“Don't start,” Mama said.
Michael said, “What?”
Mom shrugged and tossed a piece of popcorn into her mouth. “Brian pushes him around. I was just telling Lindz this morning—”
“Yes, and I told you to leave it alone,” Mama said.
Michael said, “Leave what alone?”
Mom rolled her eyes and gave Mom some 'I'm sorry' smile. “Brian says jump, Justin says how high.”
Michael shrugged and linked arms with Ben. “That's how love is.”
“Sure, if it's both ways,” Mom said. “But Brian pushes him around. Brian calls the shots. What Brian wants, Brian gets.”
“It's what works for them,” Mama said. “They've made it this way how long without a hitch now?”
“Eh,” Mom said. “Justin deserves better.”
Mama looked at me and J.R. and said “Mel...”
“All right, all right, I'm dropping it. It's dropped. Consider it dropped!”
I thought about that all the time, though.
Three days before Christmas when I was eleven, I called a hiatus on me and J.R.'s epic Mario Kart battle and went downstairs to make a sandwich, and Moms were immediately all over me asking if I'd cleaned my room and were my first semester grades up and was I going to the mall with Grandma Jen today or tomorrow and blah blah blah blah blah.
“Tomorrow, God,” I said, when they finally let me get a word in.
“Good, then you can help us clean up this place today,” Mom said. “You know your father's getting here tomorrow night.”
I said, “Are they staying here or with Grandma?”
“Here, it's just Dad.”
I stuffed a handful of chips into my mouth. “Justin's not coming?”
Mama kissed the top of my head on her way out to the living room. “No.”
“But it's Christmas,” I said to Mom. Mom and and J.R. and I are Jewish, but basically everyone else in this enormous family isn't, so Christmas has always been a huge deal around here. It's all right. Nobody gets too churchy about it, and I ignore the big felt Jesus painting Debbie puts up—I mean, most of us do, that thing is creepy. “He said he was gonna try to come.”
“He did try. It didn't work. Don't put that fucking filthy knife on my nice clean countertops, put it in the sink, c'mon.”
“He can't miss Christmas.”
“Christmas happens in California too.”
“Not when you're all by yourself.”
“Maybe even wash that knife! What an adventure that would be.”
I ignored her and took my sandwich upstairs and continued kicking J.R.'s ass even though I was one handed, and I kind of forgot about the whole Justin and Christmas thing until he called me later that night.
Before he moved to LA, I used to call him and Dad once a week on Sunday nights, and they'd sit in front of the computer and talk to me together. Now I had to do separate calls with them, and look, it's fine and I love them and all, but meant twice as much time on the phone and it's not like either of them ever had anything that interesting going on in their lives, and they just wanted to hear about how home was and home was boring and for me to repeat the same stories about school that I'd already told Moms. They were good if I needed advice but, you know, I have my life under control most of the time, and it's not like there weren't fifty billion adults here already all up in my case telling me what to do all the damn time.
Hey, I said. So what's the deal with you not coming home for Christmas? You don't actually have to work on Christmas, do you? Just come for the day or something.
He shook his head. God, you need to take an actual sign language class. Your grammar is a nightmare.
Yeah, so you keep telling me, but you understand me, so...
Don't ever tell any Deaf people you know me. I'll just be embarrassed.
Whatever, it's not like I knew any other Deaf people, besides Derek and Emily and Luke, and they loved me. And could understand me, thank you very much.
Justin said, And listen, I am coming home for Christmas. That's why I called.
Moms said you weren't.
Moms don't know. It's a surprise.
Why's it a surprise?
To torment your father.
I sat up. Dad doesn't know? Okay, this was getting minorly interesting.
No, he's the point of the the surprise. He's always pulling shit over on me, he's due. But I need your help, okay?
Grandma knows because she's picking me up at the airport, and Debbie knows because...well, it's Debbie, and she was calling me every five minutes crying about how I wasn't coming for Christmas otherwise.
Yeah, that sounds like her.
Right, and blabbing all of this to your father also sounds like her. That's why I need you.
What am I supposed to do, gag her?
He laughed. Your dad's coming down with Molly and Daphne tomorrow. What did I tell you? A hundred adults in my life. But I'm not getting there until the next night. So you have to play bodyguard for me, all right? Grandma or Debbie comes near him, you do whatever on earth it takes to keep them from spilling the beans.
So gag her.
Sure. And do me a favor and really ham it up, all right? How sad you are that poor Justin can't make it home for Christmas. Make him really miserable about it.
You two are a mess.
Yeah, yeah. See you soon! Merry Christmas!
Dad was already at the house when Grandma Jen and I got home from the mall the next day, so my bodyguard duties started right away. I hugged him and supervised Grandma asking him about his flight and showing him a sweater we'd bought for Justin and asking Dad if Justin would like it, and it was such a shame he wouldn't be there to open it on Christmas morning. She was real smooth.
Dad got super mopey as soon as Justin was mentioned and was all I don't know, how do I know what he likes, in sign language, because he slips into sign language a lot when he's talking about Justin, and then he sat on the couch and pouted and made J.R.'s dolls either make out or fight each other. Mama came over and snatched them away from him. “Are you going to sulk this whole time you're here?” she asked him.
“Maybe.” He picked at the couch. “Yes.”
“I'm so glad you decided to stay here!”
“Speaking of,” Grandma said, with a kiss to Dad's cheek. “I should get home and see Molly. We'll see you all tomorrow!” She gave me a squeeze. “Bye, sweetie.”
Once she was gone, Dad sighed and kind of prowled around the living room, and I said, “It doesn't feel right not having him here.”
He gave me a look.
“I mean, have you ever done Christmas without him?”
“Christmas is stupid,” he said.
“Do you at least get to see him for New Year's?” I'm so evil.
“Gus,” he said.
“All right, all right, jeez.” But I couldn't resist. “Does he even have anyone to spend Christmas with? I mean, he's not going to be all alone, right?”
Okay, I figured I probably should let it go before he drove himself to the airport and flew out to LA right as Justin was leaving. “Well, come see what I got him, at least.”
That brightened him up, even though he tried to hide it with, “I don't care what you got him. What did you get me?” There's no better way to distract him than by bringing up shopping. My dad is a stereotype.
Before long Mama had dinner ready, and we lit candles and sang the blessing because it was the third night of Hanukkah. Moms gave me this thing of M&Ms with Gs on them and Dad gave me and J.R. both cash, which was fine by me but he and Mom got into some argument about it, and before I knew it I'd gotten through the first day of Dad's visit without blowing Justin's cover. I texted him an all clear once I was in bed.
tomorrow's where the real work begins, Justin said.
I can handle it.
I heard my dad's phone ring in the guest room a little while later, and when I went to the bathroom to get some water, ages later, I could still hear him signing when I walked by. He laughed a little as I passed his door.
It was dicey first thing when Dad asked me if I wanted to go to the diner for breakfast. Grandma Jen keeping her mouth shut around Dad was one thing. Debbie was a whole different matter.
“I was just there like two days ago,” I said.
“Michael says he's going to be there,” he said.
I said, “You realize I see Michael like all the time, right?”
“Hunter's here. You don't see him all the time. And I want to see the baby.”
“We're going to see them all tonight,” I said. “We can save money if we eat here.”
“Save money? Who the fuck are you?” Dad said.
J.R. appeared from nowhere and betrayed me all, “I want to see Ivy!” She's obsessed. It's easy to love your little sister if you don't have to live with her, I imagine. “Can I come?” As if Dad would say to no to her. She has him wrapped around her finger.
Dad drummed on her shoulders and said, “Who else? Gus? Women?”
Moms said they had to stay home and get started on the cookies they said they'd bring tonight, and I couldn't exactly let Dad be around Debbie without me when I'd promised Justin I was his bodyguard. So we trekked over to the diner, where Hunter ruffled my hair and J.R. skipped off to sit with her dads, and Dad kissed Michael and the baby and was about to slide in across from me when Debbie saw him and crushed him in a hug.
“Good Lord,” he said.
She pulled him away and held him at arms' length and gave him this look like he was dying or something. “Honey. How are you?”
“I'm fine, mother.” He freed himself and got into the booth.
“It's just not right,” she said. “Seeing you here without Sunshine. Like salt with no pepper.”
“He's got a life,” Dad said, picking up the menu. “Got a job. Busy busy.”
“Still, you'd think he'd find some way to be here...I don't know, maybe he'll—”
I caught her eye and made a slashing moment across my throat.
Dad saw me but, thankfully, misinterpreted. “You don't need to protect me,” he said. “I'm not going to burst into tears at the sound of his name.”
“Whose name?” Michael said, coming back from the counter with a stack of napkins.
Dad tapped one finger next to his mouth, Justin's sign name, while he scanned the menu like it might have changed sometime in the past million years.
“How's he liking the job?” Michael said.
“He loves it,” Dad said flatly. “Loves the parties, love she sun, loves getting to actually paint instead of doing a bunch of administrative crap all the time.”
“Bet it's nice to be there this time of year,” Ben said.
Dad said, “Yeah, he doesn't like the cold,” softly.
“When did you get to see him last?” Ben asked.
Dad shrugged. “He was sick in November.”
“Has he been back to New York since he left?”
Dad shook his head and scratched the surface of the table.
I said, “All right, enough of the third degree. Are we eating, or what?”
We ordered, and Dad reached across the table and tapped his fork against mine. He looked so damn depressed that I swear I almost caved and told him right there. I tried to focus on how happy he was going to be in eight more hours. We just had to make it eight more hours.
We made it seven before Dad figured it out. After all of that! What a letdown.
I mean, he was like a fucking detective or something! After we lit the candles for Hanukkah we went to Debbie's house for Christmas Eve dinner, and everyone was hugging Dad and Hunter because the rest of us see each other all the time, but Dad's eyes were all narrow and he said, “Something's wrong here.”
“Yeah, I know,” Debbie said. “Ivy broke one of my reindeer. How's Santa gonna find the house without Rudolph?” She picked Ivy up and kissed her.
“No, it...” Dad looked around the room. “Doesn't smell like Christmas.”
“The gingerbread's not out of the oven,” Carl said. “We put little hats on 'em this year!”
Emmett's eyes lit up. “Hats, you say!”
Dad shook his head. “It's not...it's the tree. That's a fake tree.” He looked at Debbie. “Why is there a fake tree?”
“It's better for the environment!” Debbie said.
“Bullshit. You fucking love real trees.”
“Watch your fucking language in front of the k-i-d-s,” Debbie called over her shoulder on the way to the kitchen.
“There is only one reason there would be a fake tree,” Dad said. He looked around the room, studying our faces, and since Grandma was at the airport getting Justin as we spoke and Debbie had bailed the hell out of there, he settled on me. “You. You know something.”
“I don't know anything!”
“Gus Abraham Peterson-Marcus—”
“Oh my God, Dad.”
He pointed at me. “You can't lie on Christmas. Haven't you seen Love Actually?”
“Why have you seen Love Actually?” Emmett wondered, picking through the fruit salad.
“Because my boyfriend's a fucking sap. And he's coming, isn't he?”
Ted said, “Bri...”
Dad kept staring at me, and I broke.
“Can you at least act surprised?” I said.
Everyone started “Oh my God”ing and “Wait, what”ing and “Did he just say”ing all on top of each other, and Dad just shook his head in the middle of it all. “That fucker, thinking he can pull something over on me,” he said. “The fuck does he get off...”
“I didn't ruin it!” Debbie called from the kitchen. “I want it on record.”
That brought on a whole 'nother stream of “Ma, you knew?” and “Good for you, Deb!” and “Wait, who else knew?” and Dad was still the eye of the hurricane, all calm, still shaking is head.
“That asshole,” he said. “He's going to pay for this shit.”
“That's not exactly in the Christmas spirit, Dad.”
“You're Jewish, what the fuck do you care?”
“Can't you just be happy that he's coming?” I pleaded.
“I'm always happiest when Justin's regretting the day he was born,” Dad said, and he laughed maniacally and bit a cookie in half.
I was in the kitchen with Dad, who'd already looked up Justin's flight and was checking his watch every thirty seconds, when we heard the front door open and there was a whole flurry of noise, Emmett and Blake and everyone exclaiming as Justin came in with Molly and Grandma. I gave Dad a look like, “Well?” but he ignored me and sipped his drink like he had no idea what was going on, even though his ears were pricked up like a cat's, so I rolled my eyes and went over and gave Justin a hug.
He kissed the top of my head and then swatted my cheek. You told him.
Ow. I did not.
Justin gestured to the kitchen and gave me a look.
He figured it out, it's not my fault!
Justin groaned and went over to the kitchen and stood behind Dad. I followed him—hell, all of us followed him, we all wanted to see the big reunion—but Dad just stayed where he was, facing away from Justin.
Justin cleared his throat loudly. Dad didn't react. Justin reached next to Dad and got a cookie off the table, his arm practically against Dad's cheek, and still Dad ignored him, and after a minute he got up and went into the living room without even glancing at Justin.
Justin shook his head, looking after him. Two can play this game, asshole, he said.
The funny thing was that the whole time Dad was pretending Justin wasn't there, he was still signing, because Dad never, ever speaks in front of Justin. It's kind of sweet.
Of course, the stuff he was saying was entirely, one hundred percent to piss off Justin.
I went to this exhibit at MoMa the other day, he was telling Blake.
You know Gertrude Abercrombie?
No, I don't think so.
Oh, she's just this artist. Dad sipped his drink. I don't think she's actually very good.
Justin glared at him from across the room.
“Does anyone need another drink?” Justin asked at one point.
Everyone told him they were fine and looked at Dad rolling his empty glass between his hands.
“Rrrreally?” Justin said, drawing out the R, which he doesn't pronounce that well to begin with. “Nobody needs another drrrrink? Okay then.”
I will murder him, Dad signed after Justin looked away.
Justin planted himself in front of the fridge when Dad caved and went to get himself his own drink. Dad tried to maneuver around him, but Justin wouldn't budge, and finally Dad signed excuse me, without looking at him and faked to one side and grabbed the fridge door when Justin went to block him.
That counts! That counts as talking to me!
Dad just sipped his drink on his way out of the kitchen.
You have to stop this, I said. This is traumatizing.
You'll survive, Dad said.
You can't do this to me. I'm the child of a broken home.
You are not from a broken home.
Are my parents married? Broken home.
He coughed and waved his wedding ring in my face.
That's not what...and it doesn't even count because you won't talk to him.
He's going to break first.
This is painful.
Who raised you to be no fucking fun? He looked up as Justin came out of the bathroom, then said to me, It's kind of hot in here, isn't it?
I said, No, it's not at all hot in here.
No, I think it is, Dad said, and he pulled his sweater over his head, excruciatingly slowly, so he was just standing there in this white t-shirt. Is he looking?
Traumatized. Traumatized for life.
Everyone was clearing plates after dinner except for Dad and Molly and I, who were sitting on the couch hiding out from doing work, and Justin, who wandered out and said, Finally, I've been waiting for a spot on this couch to be free all night, before he sat right on top of Dad like he wasn't there, and Dad had to cover his mouth to keep from busting up laughing. Molly smacked Justin on the back of the head, but he ignored her too, as well as half the people cleaning up who stopped and came out into the living room because the Brian and Justin show was a lot more interesting than the dishes.
Justin and I had a whole conversation while he wiggled around on Dad's lap, and Dad tilted his head back and didn't lay a hand on him.
This is child abuse, I said.
Hunter put some music on after the dishes were done, and Justin got this look in his eye and tugged on Emmett's hand. Can I borrow your husband? he said to Drew, and Drew nodded all “go ahead” and Justin tugged Emmett out to the middle of the floor. He let Emmett show him the beat and then started dancing all up on him, his arms around Emmett's neck and Emmett's hands on his waist. He whispered something in Emmett's ear, and Emmett laughed and slipped his hands into Justin's back pockets. Thank God Grandma had gone home already.
Dad watched, drumming his fingers on his glass, looking like a spring about to...spring.
Justin stretched his arms up over his head, eyes closed, and Emmett ran his fingers through Justin's hair. Justin leaned into him and arched his back.
Dad gnawed on the inside of his cheek. All our heads were going back and forth between them like we were watching a tennis match.
Justin—Good Lord—put his lips on Emmett's neck.
Dad drained his glass, stood up, and crossed the room in a split second, and then he had Justin gripped by the biceps and pinned against the wall, his feet a couple inches off the ground, and he slammed their mouths together. Justin banged on the wall behind him, laughing, and the rest of us clapped and cheered and stomped our feet on the floor.
Okay, that's enough, I said eventually. This is a different kind of child abuse now.
Aw, let them, Mom said, not that they were paying any attention to us anyway.
Dad detached himself from Justin's face and they both panted for a few seconds, and then Dad said, You're a fucking tease, you know that?
Teases don't follow through.
Dad put him down and chased him up the stairs, and Emmett held his arms up like, “Tada.”
I don't know when they got home or how they got there, because they were still upstairs when we left and I didn't see them get back to Moms' house, but the next morning they waltzed down for breakfast all Merry Christmas. Dad poured coffee while Justin hung onto the back of his shirt with his forehead against his back. Dad was making that smarmy face he does when he's trying not to smile.
J.R. hopped up and down. Come on, I want to go!
Justin yawned, and Dad pulled him in under his arm. Presents at Debbie's?
Mama kissed her cheek. “Go get dressed.” Dad and I both interpreted for Justin.
“I want to go in pajamas!” J.R. said.
Dad tangled his fingers in Justin's hair. You want to stay here? he said, small.
No, I want to do presents.
I don't have a present for you. I didn't think you were coming.
I want to see the kids open theirs! And I have something for you.
I'm cold, he said, and Dad wrapped his arms all the way around him.
Maybe go get dressed? Mom said.
Dad nodded and nudged Justin towards the stairs. Sweater. Go go go.
Mom gave Mama a look as they went up the stairs. “See? Some things never change.”
It wasn't the whole crowd from last night, just us and the Novotny-Bruckners. Carl and Hunter made huge stacks of blueberry pancakes and Ivy, J.R. and I ripped into our presents while Moms took pictures and kissed under the mistletoe and Ben and Michael cuddled on the couch. Dad and Justin were splitting the armchair, Dad in it with Justin perched on the arm. Justin was wearing Dad's sweater because he didn't have cold weather clothes to bring with him from LA, and Dad kept smacking his hands when he pulled it over his knees and bunched up the sleeves and bitched at him about stretching it out, so at first when I looked over and they were arguing in small signs between the two of them, I thought it was just that, until I looked a little closer.
I can't believe we're talking about this, Dad was saying.
We're not, Justin said. God. It was a passing remark.
I told you I'm not leaving. We have roots...we have a life.
I know. It's fine.
Christ, I put my foot down about one fucking thing, and you just needle at me, with this passive-aggressive—
Cut it out. You're ruining Christmas.
I'm ruining Christmas. I want to stay with our family, and I'm ruining Christmas.
Justin rolled his eyes and put on a smile and said, “J.R., that one's from me.”
I absentmindedly braided Ivy's hair and pretended I hadn't been watching.
I cornered Mom in the kitchen a little while later, when she was throwing away wrapping paper. She made a face at me. “Seven hours until Hanukkah.”
“Ha. Yeah. Mom?”
“Do you know if Dad and Justin are...talking about moving back here?”
She stopped and turned around, leaning against the counter. “Not that I know of. Why?”
“I don't know, I just...”
She sighed. “I know you miss having them close, honey. I do too. But this isn't...this isn't the right place for them. I don't know if it ever really was, but especially now. You know the kind of memories this place has for Justin, what he's been through here. And the kind of opportunities he has in New York with his art, and to be with other Deaf people...”
“And hey. It's an excuse to visit New York, right?” She kissed my forehead.
“Yeah, totally. I wouldn't...I wouldn't ask Justin to move back here.”
“And that,” she said. “Is what makes you such a good boy. Come on! You've still got Nana and Grandpa's present to open. They put, like, double the amount of postage on it they needed, so I bet it's good.”
I laughed a little and said, “Okay, I'm coming.” She tweaked me on the nose and went back into the living room, but I stayed where I was for a minute and watched Dad and Justin look pissed at each other in the armchair.
I would never ask Justin to move back to Pittsburgh.
So why the hell was Dad?
I got to ask him about it a little later, when he went out for a cigarette after another sign-whispered argument with Justin, and I followed him and sat down next to him on the freezing cold porch. He raised an eyebrow at me and ran his hand briskly up and down my back to warm me up.
No point beating around the bush when it was zero fucking degrees out here. “You shouldn't make Justin move back here,” I said.
He took a drag on his cigarette and didn't say anything.
“He wasn't happy when he was here,” I said. “I remember. All this...bad stuff happened to him here, and he's this big artist in New York.”
“He sure is.”
“And I know you think that we like...that we need you or whatever. But we're fine here. I mean, I have Moms and Michael and Ben and I can always come see you and you can always come here...like I miss you and all, Dad, but we're not like...suffering. Everyone's doing fine. You don't have to come here and rescue us.”
Dad looked at me through all of that and then said, “Gus, my darling, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“I saw you guys arguing about moving.”
Dad shook his head. “Well, it's a good thing you don't need us, because nobody's coming back to Pittsburgh. That's not even on the table.”
“He loves LA,” Dad said. “He said, would you ever consider moving to LA, and maybe I overreacted a little, but I've seen this coming for four fucking months, I told him not to fall in love with it, and...” He sighed and sucked on his cigarette.
“I don't want you to move to LA,” I said.
“I don't either.”
“Okay, then you won't.”
He laughed a little.
“What?” I said. “If you don't want to do something it won't happen. Mom's always going on about how you push Justin around.”
“Well, that doesn't surprise me,” he said, but he shook his head. “Justin's the one who leads, I just...God, if I was pushing Justin around I'd get us both goddamn killed. He knows where he's going. He always does.”
“So what, he calls the shots? No way.”
“You're fooled by the hair and the smile,” he said. “It happens. But trust me, if he...” He stopped and looked at me. “None of this leaves this fucking room, by the way. Porch. Whatever.”
“Okay, well what about that time at the zoo?”
“Gus, again, what the fuck—”
“That's when Mom said it the first time,” I said. “He wanted to see the lions, you said no and pulled him away.”
Dad groaned. “I wanted to see the lions. He's allergic to cats. None of you people know how to pay any goddamn attention...”
The back door opened before I could respond to that and Justin came and sat down on Dad's other side. You shouldn't be out here, Dad said. You don't even have a coat.
Dad rolled his eyes and started to take his coat off.
Stop. I'm fine. He reached into the pocket of Dad's coat and got a cigarette. “Gus, let me talk to your dad for a minute?”
Yeah, okay. I went back inside, and I know I shouldn't have, but I ended up watching them through the kitchen window. It's just way, way too easy to spy on people signing, if you have a good angle. And I had a good angle, and I'd been working so hard at my signing!
I have...I have done a lot for you, Dad was saying.
I know you have.
New York...look, I'm not trying to pull some bullshit about how I didn't want to be there, but that was for you. I wanted to be there mostly because I knew it would be amazing for you.
And now we have this life and these people...
Justin said, And I love those people. You know I do.
So what's the problem?
My life, he said. My life is the problem. I think about going back to what I was doing there and I just...LA was lifechanging. I was important. I was wanted. I've learned so fucking much, and I can't just go back to what I was doing and pretend I'm the same person. I lived on my own for four months with a fucking head full of epilepsy and I made it work. I can't pretend I'm not a person who knows how fucking...how much I can do.
I'm not asking you to, Justin, Christ.
I know you're not, but...but that's what it's going to be like, if I go back and everything's exactly how it was. I'm going to forget everything I can do.
Dad said, I will do this, if you ask me to. I will pick up everything and I will move to LA if you ask me to. But please. Please do not ask me to.
I won't, Justin said. I'm not.
Okay, Dad said, and they kissed for a little while. Dad took his coat off and put it around Justin when they were done, and this time Justin let him.
Justin said, I just get so goddamn depressed when I think about going right back to where I was.
So quit your fucking job, Justin.
Don't go straight back to being Marie's lackey. Quit your job.
And do what?
I don't make enough—
Enough for what, us to grow our bank account at the exact same rate we have been? We're fine, Sunshine. Quit your job.
He shook his head a little. I can't.
Dad tugged on his hands. You took that job because you needed proof that you could be Deaf and work a regular job, he said. Can you even like...imagine needing that now, thinking that that possibly isn't true? You're so fucking far past that. At some point don't we get to stop proving how fucking ordinary you can be and let you be brilliant? We have this safety net. Use it.
Justin watched him. I could quit my job.
You can quit your job, Dad said, and he pulled Justin into his arms.
Morning turned to afternoon, and we had lunch and Ivy fell asleep surrounded by toys and J.R. curled up with her new video game. “Is that all of them?” Debbie asked, checking under the tree. Dad interpreted.
One more, Justin said, and he took an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Dad.
The fuck is this? Dad said, and everyone pounced on him about his language. Justin just shrugged.
Dad opened it and took out a picture, and he stared at it for a second, then up at Justin, then back at the picture and up at Justin again.
What is it, what is it? J.R. said.
Dad said, Is this...
Justin nodded, and Dad grabbed him into a hug while Justin laughed.
Now we were all going, What is it, what is it?
Dad cleared his throat and ran his hand over his mouth. It's his mural, he said, and he held out the picture so we could see it. It's finished.
I'm coming home, Justin said, and Dad hid his face in his neck, and he beamed.