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Chapter Forty Five

Letter Rule #2: Never forget to tell your father that you love him. He needs to know this more than you think he does.

"That was the best vacation ever. Thanks."

"Thanks for taking care of her, J."

"Anytime," dad said.

Stefie waved at me. I smiled and waved back. Uncle Howito, as I so loved to call him, grabbed her bag.

"Paola here? I brought her something."

"She's out back by the pool."

Stefie made the 'call me' sign, winked, and headed out around back. Uncle Howito was getting ready to turn when dad leaned over mom.

"Hey D?"


Dad's eyes glittered mischievously. "Ask her about her new boyfriend."


"That was evil," I complained as dad pulled away from the rapidly-paling Latino.

"Last time I take Javen anywhere," Joe scowled. "He spent more time with her than anything."

"Such is love," mom said.

"Love is ga-ross," Brayden declared.

"Totally," Tristan confirmed.

I stared out the window at the emerald leaves of the palm trees.

For me, love wasn't gross.

It just seemed mysterious...and out of reach.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The time on my alarm read two-thirty. A.M. As in morning. I kicked at my offending covers, feeling warm all over. And itchy. I felt like a banana I was peeling so bad from my sunburn. I sat up and slid on my hearing apparatuses.

Quiet. It was a rare thing in the McLean house.

I padded into the hall and rounded down the stairs. My big toe had just hit the junction between living room and hall when I heard something. Voices were coming from the kitchen. I crept forward. The closer I got, the more I could distinguish. The sound of silverware hitting the sink. The water running.

Then quiet.

Curious, I squatted down and peered around the corner. I smiled. Dad turned from the sink, wiped his hands on a towel, and sat back down next to Joe.

"When are you going to tell her?" he asked. Dad's look of relaxation faded away. He stared down at the table.

"I don't know."

"She has a right to know."

"I just," dad paused. "I don't want her to blame herself."

"It's not her fault. He did it before the CD even got to him, right?"

The word CD sent a chill up and down my spine. I had sent a CD to Cole.

Were they talking about me?

"That's what I've heard."

"She was going to try to get a message to Krista for me," Joe said sadly.

"Joe, people like that...they carry a lot of emotional baggage."

"People like us carry a lot of emotional baggage," Joe argued.

Dad made a noise that sounded like agreement. "But that's exactly why you need someone less complicated."

"Hey dad?"


It was Joe's turn to make a noise. My fingers were pressed into the wall. I felt like a jack-in-the-box who hadn't been wound enough to pop out. I was in a state of limbo.

"Thanks for the vacation. It was fun."

"Thanks for watching after your sister. I was really proud of the way you handled the club incident."

"Yeah, uhm." There was the sound of the salt shaker being slid back and forth across the table. "Listen, I, uhm, just thought you should know that...it's been kind of rough lately, but...I mean, I don't agree with you all the time, but...I love you, okay?"

It wasn't eloquent. It ended with a question.

It was still an 'I Love You.'

"Joe," dad said, his voice barely a whisper. A chair scraped against the floor. I peeked around just enough to see dad wrap his arm around Joe's neck, pressing his mini-me into his chest. Dad's lips pressed against Joe's helter-skelter hair. It was a beautiful moment. A beautiful moment that seemed oddly blemished by the bad feeling building within myself.

"I've been waiting a long time to hear that again from you. Thank you."

Dad didn't let go of Joe right away. When he did, Joe looked embarrassed. "Yeah."

Dad sat down again. They slid the shaker back and forth for a couple minutes. As it flew back to Joe, he suddenly grabbed on for dear life.

"What do you think it's like to die?" he asked.

"I don't know," dad said honestly. "I like to think that it's a lot like just going to sleep. A nice long sleep."

"Don't you think being blind is already kind of like sleeping?"

An image of Cole sprang to mind. He had more living wisdom than anyone I knew.

"No, I think it was probably a curse and a blessing. I bet your sister would say the same thing about her hearing devices. She can tune us out when she needs to."

"Do you think he went to Heaven?"

"Of course."

"Even though he hung himself?"

"Shelby didn't know details. It could have been an accident."

"From a ceiling fan he couldn't even see? That's no accident."

I couldn't take it anymore. My mind had begun to conjure up the worst possible images. The sweat that had begun in my room had intensified. The back of my shirt clung to my skin. I stood up on shaky legs and took a couple steps forward. Joe sensed my presence before dad did. He turned around and looked. Dad's eyes met mine.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, my voice shaking.

"Ally," dad said gently. "How long have you--"

"What are you talking about? What happened?"

Dad looked pained. "I wanted to wait another day or two to tell you."

"Tell me what?" I snapped.

"Your friend Cole. He...he died."

Died. I felt slapped. "How?"

"No one knows for sure," dad said. "But--"

"He hung himself from a fan," Joe said. He let go of the shaker and made a fist.

"That place killed him. Just like it's going to kill Krista."

"Jonah," dad said. "Don't."

"What? It's true. Al? You don't look so good. Al?"

"When?" I asked. My voice sounded odd to my own ears. Dream-like.

"A couple days before we went on vacation," dad said.

"I didn't want it to ruin your trip."

"Oh," I said.

My hand left the wall. I heard the scrape of chairs.

Then nothing.