CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (18)

You give Bob the merest nod and focus past him. You’ll get to him later. You walk a brief semicircle around the rough grouping of Bob, Joan, the crewman, and the peripheral teenagers and approach Drew. His back is to you. You feel Joan’s eyes on your back and you are not interested in hearing what she has to say right now—probably just another admonition that you admit to whichever crime she’s now decided you must be guilty of.

‘Drew,’ you say.

He swivels on one heel and looks at you. He looks at your old shorts and your new flip-flops, the cheap rubber already discoloring. ‘What are you, some kind of cop?’

You half-smile. ‘No,’ you say.

‘Do you know them?’ he asks you and it takes a moment before you realize that he’s referring to the group behind you, laughing and talking on the open-air deck.

‘No,’ you say again.

‘I wonder what they talk about. What do adults talk about?’

You shrug. ‘The same kinds of things, I guess,’ you say.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘They must.’

You look again at the two sun-faded American flags jutting out from the back of the boat, the one hanging from its single grommet. It twists and flies in the salty Pacific breeze like an old handkerchief. ‘Pauline said you’re having a problem with your parents,’ you say. Far off in the distance you can see a couple of white specks near the dark brown lump of Catalina Island. They are probably sailboats.

‘Oh,’ Drew says. He stares out across the ocean. ‘Did you ever go whale watching?’

‘Me?’ you ask.

‘I went whale watching with my grandpa once. It was in the spring, so it was still cold, you know? Like whenever the boat turned and you were in a shadow you had to move and go sit somewhere else. The whole day was like that, just moving around. He was this Navy pilot, my grandpa, and real quiet and never talked much, especially when his wife was around—she talked for him. So we just sat on that boat the whole day and didn’t say anything and kept having to move to keep in the sun.’

‘Did you see any whales?’

‘Of course not.’

You shield your eyes with one hand and look up toward the sun.

‘My parents got divorced last year,’ Drew says.

Okay. ‘That sucks,’ you say. ‘But listen—’

‘No, but that’s not it,’ he continues. He twists the skin of one index finger around the knuckle a bit, distractedly. ‘They got divorced last year and it was this big fucking mess, my sisters are married and they were calling me all the time because I’m still at home and they wanted me to say shit to my parents or to tell them what shit my parents’d said next. And it was really… I don’t know, it was really hard, you know?’

You nod without looking at him.

‘But anyway now after they did all that with the lawyers and fighting over the house and throwing things and he’s an alcoholic and then a week ago I was having dinner with my mom and she told me that she’s dating someone, that she had a date that weekend and she wouldn’t be home.’

‘That’s hard,’ you say.

‘No, but it was my dad,’ he says. ‘She didn’t tell me right then but she had a date with my dad. And now they’re dating, my parents. They put us through all that divorce shit last year and now they’re dating and staying out late and doing all that… I don’t know, all that “My place or yours?” bullshit. And my dad—he’s, like, this big fat—this big fat guy, and he called me the other day and said, “Drew, your old man has a chance with the ladies now.”’ Drew does a falsely husky voice when he imitates his father. ‘And what am I supposed to say? “Go get ’em Tiger?” I don’t know. I mean, Jesus.’

Another round of laughter erupts from the group behind you and you look back over your shoulder at Joan and see Bob with one hand up over his head like a crest and shouting repetitions of a punchline. The crewman alongside Joan is standing a little quietly with a grin on his face, looking like he’s in the process of realizing that he’s a third wheel and hasn’t yet decided how to extricate himself from the circle. One of the four teenage boys—the same one who earlier was pretending to fall overboard—has his hand atop his own head in imitation of Bob.

You look at Drew. He’s staring out at the uncapped waves. The boat rocks gently beneath you.

‘That’s rough,’ you say, after perhaps too long.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘It’s just—I would hope that by a certain age all that high school shit is behind you.’

Eric and Lavinia are sitting down for lunch, listening to Don Ho or the soundtrack to an Elvis movie played out of discreet speakers near the ceiling of a hotel bar. Eric is rolling his eyes at the mention of you, Lavinia is taking half-hearted attempts to defend your character but as she is speaking she is realizing that her justifications are based on what she knew about you years ago. She is sighing and pulling a credit card out of her tiny clutch to cover the mimosas and brioche French toast or sandwiches with rye bread and avocado. She is thinking of different uses for the word responsibility.

You look again at Bob, with his back to you, who is telling some story that involves a sweeping gesture with his hand that is reminiscent of an airplane landing. You see the tanned brown of the back of his neck above the coral Hawaiian shirt.

‘I don’t think it ever is,’ you say.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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