Chapter Fourteen

Friday, March 4, 2005, 3:47 p.m. 
Dayton, Ohio

Somewhere deep down in the sun-deprived soil under the moss that had grown over his brain, there was an awareness that John was repeating the sins of his father. And the most irksome ones, at that. But the knowledge didn’t stop him.

‘You need a haircut,’ John said the second after his son unwound from hugging his Aunt June. ‘Your mother let you get on a plane dressed like that?’

‘Like you’re one to talk,’ his sister groaned, smacking John’s chest with a backhand and bending down to Jude’s eye level. ‘When he was your age he had a mullet and wore silk shirts.’

‘I didn’t have a mullet,’ John protests, rolling his eyes and waving his hand.

‘You looked like Steve Perry!’ She begins to laugh, and Jude joins the chorus, despite not knowing who Steve Perry is.

‘Fuck you,’ John says, sighing through his nose and rubbing a hand over his head, lips curling upward for a tic before he can will the facial muscles back down. ‘Your mother packed nice clothes in here for tonight, right?’ His tone turns authoritarian as he glares down at his son. Once Jude nods, the trio starts walking down the airport hallway.

‘Your aunt looked like Debbie Gibson,’ John says, rubbing his son’s hair. He smiles down at Jude and holds his hands outside of his head to demonstrate the hair’s volume. ‘Mall perm.’

‘Fuck you,’ she says with a grin, backhanding John’s chest again.

‘Don’t swear in front of the boy.’

Jude could tell that both of them were drunk. It was easy to tell with his dad, because he was almost always drunk. And his Aunt June was like this when he stayed at her place last Winter Break, after his plane to Dayton was grounded at O’Hare because of snow.

It was the night her boyfriend (now husband/his uncle) had talked her into letting Jude drink tequila with them and watch Trees Lounge on VHS. David made him eat the worm bobbing in the bottom of the bottle, telling Jude that it would ‘put hair on his chest’. He cackled with glee an hour later when Jude started puking in the toilet with cartoon-like bombastic heaves.

‘It’s not funny,’ his Aunt June had snarled through a clenched jaw, smacking a hand across David’s chest.

Jude didn’t mind that his aunt and dad were drunk. Actually, he kind of preferred it. They seemed happier this way. They seemed like they loved each other.

His father and aunt had always sniped back and forth, on a scale ranging from passive-aggressive to outright hostile. Their feuding caused many uncomfortable silences during holiday dinners, until Aunt June stopped showing up at Thanksgiving and Christmas altogether, the year after Jude’s mom had moved them to Texas.

‘Good show,’ Papa Jerry had muttered, waving his hand and rolling his eyes after Aunt June, furious with her brother, threw a wine glass at the wall and stormed out of the last family Thanksgiving dinner she ever attended.

That was the last time he could remember seeing the two of them together.

‘You dad wore a white leisure suit to prom,’ she whispers in Jude’s ear, bunching and pinching the skin over his collar bone, while John filled out paperwork for the rental car. ‘He looked like Tony Manero.’

She giggles, which makes Jude do the same, even though he doesn’t know who Tony Manero is.


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