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Perfect Couple


Page 64


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Granddad grinned-the first time I'd seen him smile in a long, long while. "In that case," he said, "I'll deliver the car to your house."
* * *
The next day at noon, I sat on a polished bench in the marble-lined foyer of the courthouse in Clearwater, holding Mom's hand and waiting for the divorce hearing. Her lawyer was there. My dad's lawyer sat across from us, but my dad hadn't shown. Mom whispered that maybe he wouldn't, and the proceedings could go on without him interrupting them this time.
Thunder rolled outside.
Ten minutes before we were scheduled to appear in court, the front doors of the courthouse opened, and my heart sank.
But it wasn't my dad. It was Granddad and Chantel under an enormous umbrella. Outside on the street, their taxi pulled away.
I looked over at Mom. Her mouth was wide open. I wasn't sure what surprised her more: that Granddad had come to support her, or that he was guiding a glamorous lady friend by the elbow.
Granddad folded the umbrella and propped it up by the entrance, then brought Chantel over. Mom was all smiles as they moved away from the bench to make introductions and talk quietly.
I wanted to give Mom time alone with them. And I was too nervous to make small talk. I watched the clock and crossed my fingers.
Five minutes before we were scheduled to appear, the front doors of the courthouse opened again, and my heart sank all the way to the floor. My dad walked in, wearing his Coast Guard dress uniform, dripping from the downpour. He looked like a handsome, upstanding family man. I knew better.
He glanced around the foyer. His eyes skimmed across his lawyer and Mom's, lingered on Mom and Granddad, and landed on me. "Harper," he said curtly, like an order. He pointed to his feet.
Without even looking at Mom, I jumped up out of habit. It was only when I'd already hurried halfway across the room to him that I realized I was acting like his dog. But he was my dad, and I still had to do what he said-for a few more months.
He stared down at me sternly, trying to scare me. It was working. I considered crossing my eyes at him, because the tension was ridiculous.
He seethed, "If you testify against me in this court today, you are dead to me. Do you understand? I will pay child support until you turn eighteen because the law requires it, but after that, you don't exist."
Suddenly I realized how cold it was in the courthouse. I crossed my arms to warm myself and told my dad, "You've been dead to me since last Wednesday, when you shouted at me. I'm glad we've got that straight." I turned on my heel and walked back toward the bench.
Mom and Granddad looked over their shoulders at me.
I stopped in the middle of the foyer. This is exactly what I'd done yesterday: dumped Brody and regretted it instantly. Taking charge of my life was one thing. It was another thing entirely to throw important parts of it away .
I walked right back to my dad and put my hands on my hips. His jaw was working back forth, and he was blinking back tears.
I said gently, "I didn't mean that. You'll never be dead to me, no matter what. You're my dad."
No matter how I acted, I was still furious for what he'd said to me just then, and how he'd treated Mom for years. But I thought of him taking me to Granddad's beach when I was tiny, before we left for Alaska, and twirling me around in the warm waves.
I stood on my tiptoes and kissed Dad on the cheek.
17
ONLY A FEW MINUTES LATER, I walked out of the courtroom as the daughter of soon-to-be-divorced parents, thank God. I hadn't even needed to testify after all. Dad hadn't contested the divorce this time or asked the judge to send my parents to counseling. Mom hugged me afterward and whispered that I deserved the credit. The way I felt, I expected a bright blue sky and a rainbow when I swung open the courthouse door.
Instead, the tropical storm had arrived. The rain was coming down so hard that an inch of water stood on the sidewalk. I opened my umbrella and waded back to Granddad's car.
Inside, I turned my phone on and checked my messages. I had a text from Brody, sent just a few minutes ago: Where are you? I hadn't told him or anyone in study hall that I would be absent.
He cared about me, in spite of everything. I felt myself flush, which meant I was very far gone.
I texted him back, Parents divorcing, hooray! Driving back from courthouse. I threw my phone into my purse and my purse into the back seat so I wouldn't be tempted to look at my phone again. Lately I'd been trying to embrace my daredevil side, but I wasn't dumb.
As I drove from Clearwater back home, I kept thinking I heard my phone beep with more texts. I suspected they were from Brody, and I was dying to know what they said. But I couldn't even be sure I'd heard the beeping. The rain was torrential, pounding on the car like a hundred high-pressure fire hoses. When I drove faster than thirty miles an hour, it was hard to keep the car on the road.
By the time I finally pulled into the school parking lot, the rain had stopped. I suspected the calm was only temporary, though. The air was thick with steam and the smells of rain and hot asphalt. The sky was light gray and swirling strangely.
Leaving all my stuff in my car except my camera and tripod, I hurried across the parking lot packed with cars but empty of people, into the football stadium. So quickly that my legs ached, I ran up the stairs to the highest point and looked over the guardrail.
Beyond the school campus stretched a residential section of town. Roofs peeked above the lush canopy of palm trees and live oaks. Then there was a thin strip of white beach, and the ocean: an endless stretch of angry gray waves.
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