I don't know where I’ll go now
and I don't really care who follows me there
but I’ll burn every bridge that I cross
— “Let’s Get Lost,” Elliott Smith
Nothing really changes after they get home, besides the fact Grandpa is dead and Frank finally gets his own room.
Dwayne still isn’t going to the Air Force Academy—he’s not really sure which parent to blame for the fucked up genetics that led to his color blindness, but Mom is here and Dad isn’t so she gets the brunt of his anger and blame—and Richard is still overbearing and annoying, and Mom is still a doormat, and Frank is still...
Well, Dwayne isn’t sure what Frank is.
Frank actually seems to be the only one in the family who doesn’t have their head stuck up their ass—excepting Dwayne, of course, and sometimes Olive.
Olive is okay. It’s not her fault. Neither of them asked to be born into this family.
Mom and Richard have been fighting more and more since they got back from California.
It’s really bad.
They must think he can’t hear because he’s in the basement or something, but the sound fucking carries. It maybe wouldn’t be so damn obvious if they weren’t standing right next to the vent, but whatever.
Right now, Dwayne wishes he had some white noise headphones that could drown out the low rumble of Mom and Richard’s latest row. Their angry voices sound faraway, hazy, like they’re coming out of speakers with the volume turned way down.
At least it’s not like that one night, at the motel, when he thought it might actually be the end.
Dwayne’s bedroom door creaks open and he doesn’t move. He keeps his eyes closed and holds himself rigidly, keeps his breathing even.
Dwayne opens his eyes. “What is it?”
Oliver stands in the doorway in a long, lacy white nightgown and her big, Coke bottle glasses. “Are Mom and Dad gonna get divorced?”
“Do you want them to,” Dwayne asks quietly.
“No... Well, I don’t think so,” Olive says, pushing the glasses up the bridge of her nose.
“They’ll be fine,” Dwayne says, even though he’s not really sure. He sits up and leans over to turn on the light by his bedside. “You wanna sleep with me tonight?”
Olive gives him a big nod, still clutching the doorknob in her tiny hand.
“Well, okay, then. Hop in.” Dwayne kicks the comforters down and waves an arm over the space next to him.
Olive breaks into a grin, bounds into his room, and leaps into the bed. “Thank you, Dwayne.” She wraps her arms around his neck and squeezes.
Dwayne pries her arms away from his neck. “Don’t mention it.”
Olive settles next to him and she’s out like a light practically before her head hits the pillow.
The next morning, Frank announces over breakfast that he’s thinking of looking at getting his own place in the area.
Richard looks overjoyed as he shovels a perfectly cut square of golden brown waffle into his mouth and Mom just sighs and stares into the coffee mug cupped in her hands.
“But Frank,” she says to the curls of steam rising from the mug, “what about what your doctor—”
“I’ve been feeling much better lately, Sheryl. I started looking at maybe... I don’t know, moving out, teaching an online French lit course at the local community college,” Frank says calmly, offering her a thin smile.
“Frank, that’s great!” Richard smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He gives Frank a too-hard pat on the back and Dwayne has to give Frank props for not pulling away.
“Uncle Frank, does this mean you’re leaving us?” Olive looks devastated.
“Maybe, Olive. I haven’t really decided yet,” Frank tells her.
“Where will you live?” Olive asks.
“I don’t know. I might take a look at some listings on Craigslist,” Frank tells her.
Olive frowns. “But what if you get serial killed?”
Mom lifts her head and her eyes widen. She presses a hand to her forehead like she might be faint. “What?”
“There was a thing on the news, about a girl who answered an ad on Craigslist. She got serial killed!” Olive says it like it’s the most scandalous thing ever.
Dwayne rolls his eyes and pushes his half-eaten waffles around on his plate with his fork and knife.
“No one’s going to serial kill me, Olive,” Frank says, with a quiet laugh.
“How do you know that? I bet that nanny didn’t think anyone was gonna serial kill her either!” Olive says, still looking scandalized.
Dwayne finally speaks up. “People don’t get serial killed, Olive.”
She looks at him, cocking her head like an inquisitive owl. An inquisitive owl in a fuzzy red headband and matching red jogging suit. “What?”
“That girl got murdered, not serial killed.”
“Dwayne, finish your waffles,” Mom snaps, lowering her hand. “Olive, your uncle Frank is not going to get serial killed.” Mom glances at Frank over Olive’s head. “He’s also not ready to move out yet.”
Frank and Mom have a silent conversation, with just their eyes and the downturned lines at their mouths. Dwayne is almost impressed.
The staring contest goes on for a couple more awkward, tension-filled minutes before Mom finally breaks the silence with forced cheer and Frank looks away.
“Olive, you look like you could use some more waffles. Here.” Mom aggressively scrapes a couple waffles onto Olive’s plate and practically drowns them in Mrs. Butterworth syrup.
Olive doesn’t question, just grins and digs in.
Richard moves out a few days later, while Mom is at work and Dwayne and Olive are at school.
(Mom asks Frank later why he didn’t stop Richard from leaving, and Frank just gives her this look that could peel paint off the walls.)
Olive sits in front of the TV and cries and cries and cries, and Mom tries to put on a brave face for her while she explains that sometimes even mommies and daddies who love each other very much have to throw in the towel.
Dwayne almost wants to tell Olive the truth, that she was a surprise pregnancy and Mom and Richard got married so Olive would have a dad on her birth certificate, but Richard just kind of... stayed longer than anyone expected.
But Dwayne doesn’t tell Olive any of that, because he really does like her, maybe even love her sometimes, when he’s feeling forgiving toward his family.
Olive’s a smart kid who deserves the truth, but not that much truth.
Dwayne walks in on Frank in Grandpa’s old bedroom, jerking it to a gay porno mag. There’s a box of Mom’s scented aloe vera Kleenex on the bed next to him.
“Oh. Shit.” Frank covers himself with the magazine, which really doesn’t do much to rectify the situation considering the images on the cover.
Dwayne shrugs, walks to Grandpa’s old walk-in closet and opens it.
“Um, Dwayne,” Frank says.
Dwayne turns on the light in the closet and pulls out a little wooden step stool, climbs aboard. “I’m not looking. You can finish, if you want.” There’s an old shoebox on the top of Grandpa’s closet, labeled FAMILY PHOTOS.
Dwayne’s pretty sure Grandpa stashed some pot in there.
“I don’t think I’m comfortable with that,” Frank says.
Dwayne grabs the shoebox, hops off the stool and turns off the light. Frank discreetly tucks himself back in his boxers and tugs up his pants.
“It’s okay,” Dwayne says, tucking the shoebox under his arm. He nods to Frank. “It’s not like I haven’t seen other guys’ junk before before.”
Frank looks away, reaches down and readjusts himself. “Well, this isn’t awkward at all.”
Dwayne is wrong about the shoebox. It really is just a shoebox full of old family photos.
He keeps it anyways.