I get the feeling Logan isn’t too good with delegating.
“Why would I do that?” he asks, leaning against the wall, sliding his thumb across his phone screen. “I told you not to have a bloody party.”
Thank Zeus I did my homework right after school, in between filling orders in the kitchen. I have an exam fourth period tomorrow, but I can study at lunch. At the moment, I’m on my hands and knees, scraping and sweeping up the sticky, squashed pie pieces that are stuck to the floor. The recycling bins are filled to the brim with empties, the kitchen is clean and the tables are wiped down. The floor’s the last thing left.
“It would be the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“I’m not a gentleman and I don’t sweep fucking floors.”
He quirks his head to the side like he’s going to say something else, but before he can, my dad walks through the door.
After two full days.
He lumbers in, not quite staggering, but unsteady on his feet, looking straight ahead.
Like Logan, my dad’s tall—broad—and he’s handsome in a rough, working-man kind of way. The type of guy who showers after work, not before. Or, at least, he used to be.
Now, especially when he’s coming off a bender, he tends to hunch, making him look bent and older than he is. His flannel shirt is wrinkled and dirty and his black-gray hair hangs in his eyes.
“What’s this, Ellie?” he slurs.
And the weird thing is—I hope he yells at me. Grounds me. Takes away my phone. Like a normal parent would, a regular father . . . who actually cared.
“I, uh, had some people over. It got a little crazy. I’ll clean everything up before we open tomorrow.”
He doesn’t even glance my way. Just gives a small, short nod that I notice only because I’m watching so closely.
“I’m goin’ to bed. I’ll be up to help Marty when you leave for school.”
Then he clomps between the tables and through the swinging kitchen door, to the back steps that lead to our apartment upstairs.
I bow my head and go back to cleaning the floor.
A few minutes later without looking up, I tell Logan, “You don’t have to do that, you know.”
“Don’t have to do what?”
“Worry. You’re all tense, like you think he’s going to hurt me or something. He can barely exert the energy to speak to me—he’d never hit me.”
Logan looks down at me with those deep, dark eyes, like he can see straight through me, read my mind.
“It doesn’t have to be his fists. There’s all kinds of ways to hurt people. Isn’t there?”
Usually, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t let it. But the last few days haven’t been usual. And big, giant aching tears well in my eyes.
“He hates me,” I say simply. But then a sob rattles in my chest, shaking my shoulders. “My dad hates me.”
Logan’s brows draw close together, and after a moment, he takes a deep breath. Then, with a grace that’s surprising for a guy his size, he walks over and sinks down onto the floor next to me, legs bent, forearms resting on his knees, back against the wall.
He leans in close and whispers so gently, “I don’t think that’s true.”
I shake my head and swipe my cheeks. “You don’t understand. I was sick. The night my mom was killed, I had a sore throat, cough. I kept complaining about it. The pharmacy down the block was closed for renovations, so she took the subway.”
When you grow up in a city, your parents have the mugging talk with you at a young age. The one about how no amount of money or jewelry is worth your life. So, if someone wants those things, just hand them over. They can be replaced—you can’t.
“He wrote us a letter a few years ago from prison—the guy who did it. He said he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to shoot her, that the gun just . . . went off.”
I glance up to find Logan looking and listening intently.
“I don’t know why anyone thinks stuff like that is supposed to make people feel better. That he was sorry. That he didn’t mean to do what he did. It didn’t for us. If anything, it just proved that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that . . . if I didn’t exist, the love of my dad’s life would still be here. I’m not being dramatic—it’s just a fact. And that’s why he can’t even look at me.”
We’re quiet for a few minutes. Me, leaning back on my calves, Logan looking straight ahead.
Then he rubs his neck and asks, “You know how they say that New Jersey is the armpit of America?”
“I always thought that was shitty. I like Jersey.”
“Where I grew up—East Amboy—it’s like the taint of Wessco.”
A quick laugh busts out of my throat.
“There was this guy—Wino Willie—everyone called him that. He’d spend the whole day begging, walking the streets looking for loose change in the gutters. Then he’d buy the biggest, cheapest bottle of liquor he could get.”
The steady sound of Logan’s deep voice, the lilting accent, is calming. Soothing, like a dark lullaby.
“But he wasn’t always Wino Willie. Once, he was William. And William had a pretty wife, three little kids. They were poor, we were all poor, and they lived in a tiny, one-bedroom flat on the fourth floor of a building that was falling apart—but they were happy.”
His voice drops.
“William worked the night shift at the supermarket, unloading trucks, stocking shelves. And one night, he kissed his pretty wife goodbye, tucked his kids into bed and went off to work. And when he came home . . . everything that he loved, everything he lived for, was nothing but ash.”
I gasp, small and quiet.
“There’d been a fire, bad wires, and they all got trapped in that tiny flat and died. All except one. The oldest, Brady—he was about the same age as me. He was able to jump out a window before the smoke got to him. He broke bones up and down his leg, but he lived. Now, you’d think, having lost everything else, William would’ve held onto that lad with both hands. Never let him go, never let him out of his sight.”
Logan shrugs. “Instead, as soon as Brady was out of the hospital, William called social services, signed away his rights, and gave up his only living child.”
He shakes his head, his voice softening as he remembers.
“When they came to take him, it was the saddest thing I ever saw. Brady on the pavement, hoppin’ around on crutches, cryin’ and beggin his dad to let him stay. Willie never even turned around. Never said goodbye. Just walked on . . . and started lookin’ for change.”
“Why?” I demand, pissed off and hurt for a kid I never met. “Why would he do that?”
Logan looks into my eyes. “To punish himself—for not being there when the people he loved needed him. For failing them, not protecting them—it’s the worst sin a man can commit. If a man can’t keep those most precious to him safe . . . he doesn’t deserve them.”
“But it wasn’t his fault.”
“The way he saw it, it was.”
His voice is soft around the edges. Gentle.
“I’ve seen your dad’s face when you’re near, Ellie—he doesn’t hate you. Right or wrong, he hates himself. You remind him of everything precious that he didn’t keep safe. He’s drowning so deep in his own hurt, he can’t see yours or your sister’s, or how he’s adding to it. He’s weak and sad and focused on himself, but that’s on him—you know? It’s got nothing to do with you.”
It doesn’t fix things. It doesn’t make anything better. But hearing those words from someone on the outside—who’s got no skin in the game, no real reason to lie—makes it . . . not quite as hard.
And that’s when I feel the exhaustion. It hits me like rushing floodwaters—hard and fast and knocking me on my ass all at once. My bones feel like they’re seventy years old instead of seventeen. Well, at least what I imagine seventy will feel like.
I cover a yawn with the back of my hand.
“Go on up to bed, lass.” Logan stands, brushes off his pants and picks the broom up from the floor. “I’ll finish here.”