She told him. She told him about Fucking Kelly and Gravioli—and the time they’d gone to the Grand Canyon on a family vacation, and their dad had sat in the rental car with a notebook and a Sharpie.
Her dad had worked on a lot of agricultural clients over the years, this being Nebraska, and Levi actually recognized a line he’d written for a fertilizer: Bigger yields, brighter fields—trust next year to Spurt.
“Your dad’s a Mad Man,” he said.
Cath laughed, and Levi looked sheepish. “That’s not what I meant.”
They ate at the dining room table, and by the middle of dinner, Cath felt like maybe she didn’t have to be so nervous. Levi had relaxed into a slightly more polite version of his usual everyone-must-love-me self, and her dad just seemed happy that Cath was home.
Her eggs were perfect.
The only sour note was when her dad asked about Wren. Cath shrugged and changed the subject. He didn’t seem to notice. He was a little twitchy and tappy tonight, a little distant, but Cath decided he was just lost in work. His color was good, and he told her he’d been jogging every morning. Every once in a while, he seemed to surface enough to give Levi an appraising look.
After dinner, Levi insisted on clearing the table and doing the dishes. As soon as he was in the kitchen, her dad leaned over. “Is that your boyfriend in there?” Cath rolled her eyes, but she nodded.
“For how long?”
“A month,” Cath said. “Sort of. Longer. I don’t know.”
“How old is he?”
“He looks older.…”
“It’s the hair.”
Her dad nodded. “He seems nice.”
“He’s the nicest,” Cath said as sincerely as she could, wanting him to believe her. “He’s a good guy, I swear.”
“I didn’t know you’d broken up with Abel.”
Once the dishes were done—Cath dried—she and Levi were going to watch a movie, but her dad winced when she started moving his papers off the couch.
“Do you guys mind watching TV upstairs? I promise, Cath, I’m all yours tomorrow. I just—”
“Sure,” she said. “Not too late, okay?”
He smiled, but he was already turning back to his notebook.
Cath looked at Levi and motioned her head toward the stairs. She felt him on the steps behind her, her stomach tightening all the way. When they got to the top, Levi touched the back of her arm, and she stepped away from him into her bedroom.
It looked like a kid’s room now that she was imagining it through his eyes. It was big, a half story, with a slanted roof, deep-pink carpet, and two matching, cream-colored canopy beds.
Every inch of the walls and ceiling was covered with posters and pictures; she and Wren never really took things down as they got older. They just put new things up. Shabby Simon Snow chic.
When Cath looked up at Levi, his eyes were sparkling, and he was biting his bottom lip. She pushed him and he burst into laughter.
“This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
She sighed. “Okay…”
“No, seriously. I feel like this room should be preserved so that people of the future know what it was like to be a teenage girl in the twenty-first century.”
“I get it—”
“Oh God,” Levi said, still giggling. “I can’t take it—” He started walking back down the stairs, and then, after a second, he walked back up and re-burst into laughter.
“Okay,” Cath said, walking over to her bed and sitting down against the headboard. Her comforter was pink and green plaid. She had Simon Snow pillowcases. There was a Sanrio mobile hanging over her head like a dream-catcher.
Levi strolled over to her bed and sat down in the middle. “You look so blindingly cute right now, I feel like I need to make a pinhole in a piece of paper just to look at you.”
She rolled her eyes, and Levi swung his feet up, pushing them through hers so their legs crossed at the shins. “I still can’t believe your dad sent me up to your room the first time he met me. All he knows about me is that I took you out into a blizzard.”
“He’s just like that,” Cath said. “He’s never kept us on much of a leash.”
“Never? Not even when you were kids?”
“Uh-uh.” She shook her head. “He trusts us. Plus, you saw him—his mind wanders.”
“Well, when you meet my parents, don’t expect my mom to let us out of her sight.”
“I’ll bet Reagan loved that.”
Levi’s eyes widened. “There is no love lost between my mom and Reagan, believe me. Reagan’s older sister got pregnant her senior year, and my mom was pretty sure it ran in families. She had her whole prayer circle working on us. When she found out we broke up, she actually raised her hands to heaven.”
Cath smiled uncomfortably and pulled a pillow into her lap, picking at the fabric.
“Does it bother you when I talk about Reagan?” he asked.
“I’m the one who brought her up.”
“A little,” Cath said. “Tell me more about your mom.”
“I finally get you up to a room, and now we’re talking about my ex-girlfriend and my mom.”
Cath smiled down at the pillow.
“Well…,” he said. “My mom grew up on a ranch. She quilts. She’s active in her church.”
“What’s her name?”
“Marlisse,” he said. “What’s your mom’s name?”
“What’s she like?”
Cath raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “She was an artist. I mean, maybe she still is. She and my dad met at an ad agency right out of college.”
He knocked one of his knees against hers. “And…”
Cath sighed. “And she didn’t want to get married or get pregnant or anything like that. They weren’t even dating seriously, she was trying to get a job in Minneapolis or Chicago.… But she got pregnant—I think it ran in her family, too, there were generations of pregnancies—so they got married.” Cath looked up at him. “And it was a disaster. She didn’t want one baby, so two was a nasty surprise.”
“How do you know all that? Did your dad tell you?”
“She told us. She thought we should know who she really was and how she’d ended up in such a lamentable situation, I guess so that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes.”
“What did she expect you to learn?”
“I don’t know,” Cath said. “Stay away from men? Maybe just ‘use a condom.’ Or ‘stay away from men who don’t know how to work a condom.’”
“You’re making me appreciate the prayer circle.”
Cath laughed for half a breath.
“When did she leave?” he asked. He already knew that her mom had left. Cath had told him once in a way that let him know she didn’t want to elaborate. But now …
“When we were eight,” she said.
“Did you see it coming?”
“No.” Cath looked up at him. “I don’t think anyone would ever see that coming. I mean, when you’re a kid, you don’t expect your mom to leave, no matter what, you know? Even if you think she doesn’t like you.”
“I’m sure she liked you.”
“She left,” Cath said, “and she never came back. Who does that?”
“I don’t know … someone who’s missing a piece.”
Cath felt tears in her eyes, and tried to blink them away.
“Do you miss her?” Levi asked.
“No,” Cath said quietly, “I couldn’t care less about her. I miss Wren.”
Levi pulled his legs back and leaned forward, crawling up Cath’s bed until he was sitting next to her. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his chest. “Okay?”
She nodded and leaned into him hesitantly, like she wasn’t sure how she’d fit. He traced circles on her shoulder with his thumb.
“You know,” he said, “I keep wanting to say that it’s like Simon Snow threw up in here … but it’s more like someone else ate Simon Snow—like somebody went to an all-you-care-to-eat Simon Snow buffet—and then threw up in here.”
Cath laughed. “I like it.”
“Never said I didn’t like it.”
* * *
As long as they were talking, it was easy. And Levi was always talking.
He told her about 4-H.
“What do the H’s stand for?”
“Head, heart, hands, health. They don’t have 4-H in South Omaha?”
“They do, but it stands for hard, hip-hop and Homey-don’t-play-that.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. You missed out on a lot of competitive rabbit breeding.”
“You raised rabbits?”
“Prize-winning rabbits,” he said. “And one year, a sow.”
“It’s like you grew up on a different planet.”
“Head, heart, hands, health … that’s really nice, don’t you think?”
“Are there photos of you somewhere with rabbits?”
“And blue ribbons,” he said.
“I might have to make a pinhole camera just to look at them.”
“Are you kidding? I was so cute, you’ll have to wear special glasses. Oh, hey, I just remembered the 4-H pledge—‘I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.’”
Cath closed her eyes. “Where are those glasses?”
Then he told her about the state fair—more rabbits, more sows, plus a year of serious brownie-making—and he showed her photos of his four blond sisters on his phone.
Cath couldn’t keep track of their names. They were all from the Bible. “Old Testament,” Levi said. He had one sister Cath’s age and one who was still in high school.
“Doesn’t this creep you out?”
“Dating someone as young as your little sister?”
“Dating my little sister would creep me out—”
“I’m still a teenager.”
He shrugged. “You’re legal.”
She shoved him.
“Cath, I’m only two and a half years older than you.”
“College years,” she said. “That’s like a decade.”
He rolled his eyes.
“My dad thought you were thirty.”
He pulled back his chin. “He did not.… Did he really?”
She giggled. “No.”
Levi saw that she had Simon Snow Scene It? and insisted that they play. Cath thought she’d cream him, but his memory was insane, and all the questions were about the movies, not the books.
“Too bad for you that there aren’t any questions about homosexual subtext,” Levi said. “I want you to make me a blue ribbon when I win this.”
At midnight, Cath started thinking about her dad downstairs and how he should really be getting some sleep.
“Are you tired?” she asked Levi.
“Do I get my own tent bed?”
“It’s called a canopy, and no. You get your own couch. If I tell my dad you’re tired, it’ll force him to stop working.”
“Do you need pajamas or something?”
“I can sleep in my clothes. It’s only one night.”
She found an extra toothbrush for him, dug out a clean sheet, and grabbed one of her pillows.
When they got downstairs, the papers had multiplied—but her dad gamely cleared off the couch and kissed Cath on the forehead. She made him promise not to keep working in his bedroom—“Don’t make me yell at you in front of company.” Cath made up the couch, and when Levi got out of the bathroom, his face and the front of his hair damp, she handed him the pillow. He set it on the couch and grinned at her.
“Do you need anything else?” she asked.
He shook his head. Cath took a step backwards and he caught her hand. She ran her fingers along his palm, pulling away.
“Good night,” she said.
“Good night, sweetheart.”
* * *
Cath woke up at three, her head too clear and her heart beating too fast.
She tiptoed down the stairs, but she knew they’d still creak.
She walked through the kitchen, made sure the stove was turned off, that the back door was locked, that everything was okay.…
Her dad’s door was open; she stood in the doorway until she could hear him breathe. Then she walked as quietly as she could past the couch. The front door was locked. The curtains were drawn. A snowplow was crawling up their street.
When she turned around, Levi had raised himself up on his elbow and was watching her.
He’d taken off his sweater and had on a loose white T-shirt. His hair was wild, and his lips and eyes were thick with sleep.
Head, heart, hands …
“What’s wrong?” he whispered.
Cath shook her head and hurried back upstairs.
* * *
Levi had to leave before breakfast; he had to get to Starbucks. Jim Flowers, her dad’s favorite weatherman, said that the roads were much better, but that everybody should “take it slow out there.”
Her dad said he’d drive Cath back to school on Sunday, but Levi looked at the snowed-in Honda and said it was no trouble to come back.
“So…,” her dad said. They were standing on the porch, watching Levi’s truck turn the corner. “That’s your new boyfriend.”
“Still dying to move home? Transfer to UNO? Spend your whole life taking care of your mentally unstable father?”
Cath pushed past him into the living room. “Breakfast?”