The Last Thing He Told Me

3.3 The Never Dry, Part Two


The Never Dry is open now.
There is a mix of the after-work crowd, a few graduate students, and a couple
on a date—spiky green hair for him, tattoo sleeve for her—completely focused
on each other.
A young, sexy bartender in a vest and a tie holds court behind the bar,
pouring the couple matching manhattans. A woman in a jumpsuit eyes him,
tries to get his attention for another drink. She tries, simply, to get his attention.
And then there’s Charlie. He sits alone in his grandfather’s booth, drinking a
glass of whisky, the bottle resting beside it.
He runs his 􀏯nger along the glass, looking lost in thought. Maybe he’s playing
it back in his head, what happened between us earlier, what he could have done
di􀏦erently when he met this woman he didn’t know and his sister’s daughter
whom he only wanted to know again.
I walk up to his table. He doesn’t notice me standing there, at 􀏯rst. When he
does, instead of looking at me with anger, he looks at me in disbelief.
“What are you doing here?” he says.
“I need to talk to him,” I say.
“Who?” he says.
I don’t say anything else, because he doesn’t need me to clarify. He knows
exactly who I’m talking about. He knows who I’m angling to see.
“Come with me,” he says.
Then he stands up and steers me down a dark hallway, past the restrooms and
the electrical closet, to the kitchen.
Charlie pulls me into the kitchen, the door swinging closed behind us.
“Do you know how many cops have come in here tonight? They’re not
asking me anything yet, but they’re coming in so I can see them. So I’ll know
they’re here. They’re all over the place.”
“I don’t think they’re cops,” I say. “I think they’re U.S. marshals.”
“Do you think this is funny?” he says.
“None of it,” I say.
Then I meet his eyes.
“You had to tell him we were here, Charlie,” I say. “He’s your father. She’s
your niece. You’ve both been looking for her since the day he took her away. You
couldn’t keep that to yourself, even if you wanted to.”
Charlie pushes open the emergency door, which leads to a back staircase and
the alley below.
“You need to leave,” he says.
“I can’t do that,” I say.
“Why not?”
I shrug. “I have nowhere else to go.”
It’s true. In a way I’m uncomfortable acknowledging to myself—let alone to
him—Charlie is the only shot I have left to make this okay again.
Maybe he senses that because he pauses, and I see him falter in his resolve. He
lets the emergency door close.
“I need to talk to your father,” I say. “And I’m asking my husband’s friend to
help make that happen.”
“I’m not his friend.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” I say. “I had my friend Jules 􀏯nd Ethan’s will for
me.” Ethan, using that name. “His real will. And he put you in it. He put you in
it as a guardian for Bailey, along with me. He wanted her to have you if anything
ever happened to him. He wanted her to have me and he wanted her to have
He nods slowly, taking this in, and for a second I think he is going to start
crying. His eyes water, his hands move to his forehead, pulling on his eyebrows,
as if trying to stop the tears. These tears of relief that there is a window open to
his seeing his niece again—and tears of utter sadness that seeing her for the last
decade has been an impossibility.
“And what about my father?” he says.
“I don’t think he wants her to have anything to do with Nicholas,” I say. “But
the fact that Ethan put you in there lets me know that my husband trusted you,
even if you seem pretty con􀏲icted about that.”
He shakes his head, like he can’t believe this is his reality. It’s a feeling I can
relate to.
“This is an old battle,” he says. “And Ethan isn’t innocent. You think he is.
But you don’t know the whole story.”
“I know I don’t.”
“So what do you think? That you’re going to talk to my father and broker
some peace between him and Ethan? It doesn’t matter, nothing you say matters.
Ethan betrayed my father. He destroyed his life and ended my mother’s life in
the process. And if there’s nothing I can do to mend this, then there’s nothing
you can do either.”
Charlie is struggling. I see it. I see him struggling with what to tell me about
his father, what to tell me about Owen. If he o􀏦ers up too little, I won’t walk
away from him. Maybe I won’t walk away if he says too much either. And he
wants me to walk away. He thinks it’s better for everybody if I do. But I am
playing past that. Because I know there is only one way to make things better
“How long have you been married to him?” he says. “To Ethan?”
“Why does that matter?”
“He’s not who you think he is.”
“So I keep hearing,” I say.
“What has Ethan told you?” he says. “About my sister?”
Nothing, I want to say. Nothing I know to be true. She doesn’t, after all, have
􀏯erce red hair or love science. She didn’t go to college in New Jersey. She may
very well not know how to swim across a pool. I know now why he told us all
those things—why he made up such an elaborate backstory. It was so, on the o􀏦
chance the wrong person ever approached Bailey, if the wrong person ever
suspected Bailey of being who she actually was, she’d be able to look that person
in the eye and honestly deny it. My mother is a redheaded swimmer. My mother
is nothing like the person you think I belong to.
I meet Charlie’s eyes, answer honestly. “He hasn’t told me much. But he once
told me how much I would have liked her,” I say. “He told me we would have
liked each other.”
Charlie nods, but he stays quiet. And I can feel all the questions he has about
my life with Owen, all the questions about Bailey: about who she is now and
what she likes now and how she may still be a little like his lost sister, who he
clearly loved. But he can’t ask any of those questions, not without 􀏯elding
questions of his own, questions for which he doesn’t want to provide answers.
“Look,” he says, “if you want someone to tell you that there’s enough
goodwill because of Kristin that my father can get over what happened between
him and Ethan, that they can reach some kind of truth, they can’t. He won’t. It
doesn’t work like that. My father isn’t over it.”
“I know that too,” I say.
And I do know that. But I’m banking on the fact that Charlie wants to help
me anyway. Or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’d be having a
di􀏦erent conversation—a conversation neither of us wants to have about what
Owen has done to this family. And to me. We’d be having a conversation that
would break my heart wide open.
He looks at me more gently. “Did I scare you earlier?” he says.
“I should be asking you that.”
“I didn’t mean to come at you the way I did. It was just that you surprised the
hell out of me,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe how many people come here,
stirring up trouble for my father. All these crime junkies who saw the trial
coverage on Court TV, who think they know my father, who want autographs.
Even all these years later. I think we’re on some criminal enterprise tour of
Austin. Us and the Newton Gang…”
“That sounds awful,” I say.
“It is,” he says. “It’s all awful.”
Charlie looks at me, taking me in. “I don’t think you know what you’re
doing. I think you’re still hoping for a happy ending. But this story doesn’t end
well,” he says. “It can’t.”
“I know it can’t. I’m just hoping for something else.”
“What’s that?”
I pause. “That it doesn’t end here.”

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