“Daddy. People are going to think I’m sent off because I’m actually in a fix. Did this not occur to anyone?”
He slid out of the booth and walked toward the counter, and she could tell by his posture and gait how strained he was, by travel in part but mostly by circumstance. She read this like she could read her own name. She wished she could resent whatever pain or exhaustion or judgment he felt, because she was the one with no say in the matter, and no power. But the fire seemed to have gone out of her.
He came back with a fresh newspaper and laid down the front page for her to see: earhart is off around the globe.
She looked up at him. “That could be me. Someday.”
“I believe you.”
“This whole thing is a vast waste of my time. I’ve already started soloing, and now all this.”
He eased into the booth again. “I’m aware.”
Something else had occurred to her, too, a subject she hadn’t dared broach with her mother around. But she was pretty sure she was right. And as a lawyer and a Christian, wasn’t he obligated to tell her the truth? “Is this even legal?”
She saw him blink and knew she had him. “That’s a bit of a . . . gray area, let’s say.”
“But if I’d really put my foot down? Refused to go along with this? You’d have done what, kick me out to the street?”
“Lord, of course not.”
“But that’s the only real recourse you could have had. Am I right?”
He rubbed his bloodshot eyes with fingers and thumb, probably, she imagined, to avoid having to face her. She was yet again in no mood for mercy.
“I became a legal adult clear back in November, didn’t I? On my eighteenth birthday. California’s one of those states, isn’t it?”
“You are . . . not entirely wrong. It’s one of those states. One of those few states . . . Most are a, ah, sensible twenty-one.”
“And now you’re sending me to one of them, against my adult will.” Her stinger was coming up by the second, her scorpion’s defense. “By the standards of the state in which I actually reside. Do I have this right?”
He shook his head at the ceiling, let out a breath. Gotcha.
“Because that’s the way it appears. Are you actually breaking the law with this?”
He was still looking at the ceiling. “Not one that any prosecutor would argue before a judge. Or that any judge would enforce, for that matter.”
“Why? Because I happen to still be in high school and under your roof?”
“Something like that, yes. Sure. Like I said, gray area.”
“And when you wanted to have the doctor examine me against my own free will? Would that have been a gray area, too?”
People at other tables were definitely looking now, and he knew it, too, and she didn’t give one solitary fig.
“It never got to that point, Annie.”
“That’s not the question.”
“No, you’re right. That would have been wrong. Maybe criminal.”
He managed to look at her again without blinking, as though the actual logistics of this punitive circus were finally dawning and he realized he’d better hold her with his eyes while he still had the chance. “Frankly, it probably would’ve gone better where your mother’s concerned if you’d come totally clean and given her a name.”
Her one nearly Pyrrhic triumph. Bleary or not, she felt her ire rise even more. “She couldn’t beat it out of me. I don’t expect you to sympathize.”
His own bleary gaze didn’t waver. “All right, then. If I can give you one bit of advice beyond that? Going forward, the parole board generally favors model behavior.”
A little later he kissed her stiff cheek on the platform and put her back on the train. A little after that the train lurched forward, and with the station falling away, she rummaged in her satchel and found the travel kit she’d put together. Toothbrush, toothpaste. Napkins. A perfectly white and perfectly innocent pair of spare underpants, which she unfolded now inside the satchel.
She took out Blix’s flight watch, which he’d jokingly let her steal from his wrist that last time. “Careful, now,” he’d told her while she undid the buckle. “That’s where I get my magic powers.”
She let the watch sway in front of him, baited a swipe from his hand, which she neatly dodged. “I’m Delilah,” she’d said. She teased and twirled the watch back into his reach, danced a little with her shoulders and neck like a cat about to pounce.
He shook his head, approval in reverse and she knew it. “You’re trouble, is what you are.”
She held the watch now in her palm, studied again the mysterious dials, the arcane calibrations and elegant blue hands. Blix himself had little practical use for it, outside the few times a year he flew down into Mexico, but he always wore it anyway, as a token. Or a talisman.
She wondered if he regretted letting her take it home on her own wrist that night. Surely he must. She had promised to return it at her next lesson two days later, before fate and her mother elbowed in. Now she tried to tell herself that fate as well had entrusted her to keep it, until finally she could navigate her way back to its rightful place. To her own rightful place.
She thought again of A.E., likely in the air at this very instant and just as likely wearing her own second-setting Longines flight watch. She’d left out of Oakland bound for Honolulu, so hers would be set to the same originating time as the one Anneliese held now. She took some comfort in this even though they were heading in opposite directions. In more ways than one.
She buckled the ticking device in place, the enormous face of the thing feeling more like a clock than a watch against the slim circumference of her wrist. Maybe it could be her talisman, too.
He bounced down the washboard above the river and felt the tremor in the motor in the floorboards, distinct somehow from the shake of the road. A prewar Lizzie at least ten years older than Huck himself, all tired springs and tired drive bands and probably tired compression to boot. He hadn’t driven far enough to know.
He levered the throttle and felt the wind lift, thumbed the dust off the speedometer. The needle jumped like a live wire between thirty-five and forty. Could that be right? He looked up again and saw the edge of the flat, the road tilting off the plateau and down to the river bottom. He had a moment’s distraction at the green blaze along the bank, bright as springtime against winter’s remnant brown. He tipped over the lip of the grade and realized he wasn’t very dang sure of the brake band, either.
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