Did I Mention I Love You(2)

By: Estelle Maskame


“It’s still pretty hot,” says Dad, shrugging almost apologetically on behalf of the weather. When I glance sideways at him, I can see his growing exasperation as he racks his brain for something to say. There is nothing to talk about besides the uncomfortable reality of the situation.

He draws my suitcase to a halt by a black Lexus, and I stare dubiously at the polished paintwork. Before the divorce, he and my mom shared a crappy Volvo that broke down every four weeks. And that’s if we were lucky. Either his new job pays extremely well or he just chose not to splurge on us before. Perhaps we weren’t worth spending money on.

“It’s open,” he tells me, nodding at the vehicle as he pops the trunk and throws my suitcase inside.

I move around to the right side of the car and slide my backpack off my shoulder, opening the door and getting in. The leather is scorching hot against my bare thighs. I wait in silence for a few moments before Dad edges in behind the wheel.

“So, did you have a nice flight?” he asks, engaging me in a generic conversation as he starts up the engine and backs out of the spot.

“Yeah, it was okay.” I tug my seat belt over my body and click it into place, staring blankly out the windshield while holding my backpack on my lap. The sun is blinding, so I open up the front compartment of my bag and pull out my shades, slipping them over my eyes. I heave a sigh.

I almost hear my dad gulp as he takes a deep breath and asks, “How’s your mom?”

“She’s great,” I say, almost too enthusiastically as I try my hardest to emphasize just how well she’s getting on without him. This is not entirely the truth though. She’s doing okay. Not great, but not bad. She’s spent the past few years trying to convince herself that the divorce is an experience that she can learn from. She wants to think that it’s given her a life-affirming message or filled her with wisdom, but honestly, the only thing it’s done is make her despise men. “Never been better.”

Dad nods then, gripping the steering wheel firmly as the car peels out of the airport grounds and onto the boulevard. There are numerous lanes, cars racing down each one, the traffic heavy but moving quickly. The landscape here is open. The buildings are not leaning, towering skyscrapers like those in New York, nor are there rows of trees like the ones back home in Portland. The only satisfying thing I discover is that palm trees do really exist. Part of me always wondered if they were a myth.

We pass under a collection of road signs, one above each lane, outlining the surrounding cities and neighborhoods. The words are nothing more than a blur as we speed under them. A new silence is forming, so Dad quickly clears his throat and makes a second attempt at holding a conversation with me.

“You’re going to love Santa Monica,” he says, smiling only briefly. “It’s a great city.”

“Yeah, I looked it up,” I say, propping my arm up against the window and staring out onto the boulevard. So far, LA doesn’t look as glamorous as it does in all those images I saw on the Internet. “It’s the one with that pier thingy, right?”

“Yes, Pacific Park.” A glint of sunlight catches the gold wedding band around my dad’s finger where his hands grip the steering wheel. I groan. He notices. “Ella can’t wait to meet you,” he tells me.

“And I her.” This is a lie.

Ella, my dad informed me recently, is his new wife. A replacement for my mom: something new, something better. And this is something that I can’t understand. What does this Ella woman have that my mom doesn’t? A better dish-scrubbing technique? Better meat loaf?

“I hope the two of you can get along,” Dad says after a moment of suffocating silence. He merges into the farthest right lane. “I really want this to work.”

Dad might really want this to work, but I, on the other hand, am still not completely sold on the whole reconstituted-family-model idea. The thought of having a stepmom does not appeal to me. I want a nuclear family, a cereal box family made up of my mom, my dad, and myself. I don’t like adjustments. I don’t like change.

“How many kids does she have again?” I ask, my tone contemptuous. Not only have I been blessed with a lovely stepmother, I have also been graced with stepbrothers.

“Three,” Dad shoots back. He is growing irritated by my obvious negativity. “Tyler, Jamie, and Chase.”

“Okay,” I say. “How old are they?”

He talks as he focuses on the stop sign only yards ahead and slows the car down. “Tyler just turned seventeen, Jamie’s fourteen, and Chase—Chase is eleven. Try to get along with them, honey.” Out of the corner of his hazel eyes, he fixes me with a pleading stare.

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