CHAPTER 7: JAKE
The caramel liquid swirls in tandem with my thoughts and I admire the warm color and the smell of it as I lift the glass to my lips. The sun had sunk only minutes ago, leaving its usual streak of pink and orange memories across the sky. From my balcony, I see hotel guests packing their blankets and coolers from where they’d been watching the sunset, their feet sinking into the sand as they scramble toward the hotel lobby. No doubt they'd be dining at the hotel as most of our guests did. I flick my wrist to catch the time—Cesar will have the dining room open in under an hour. I’d already had a preview of tonight’s dishes—my plates scraped clean, stacked on a serving cart outside my room.
I lean my head against the deck chair, the image of a twelve-year-old me lying on my stomach on the bottom shelf of a hotel cart making me smile. Cesar had wheeled me around the unoccupied penthouse hallway like he was being chased by his mama as I yelled, “faster!” at the top of my lungs, my extended arms and legs swinging wildly as we flew. We’d both received a mild chiding from the housekeeping staff that time because we’d run into a potted palm tree, cracking the container when it hit the uncarpeted part of the tiled floor. As usual, my father had been left out of it.
Cesar and I learned early that we could get away with murder if we smiled and apologized enough. Our only penance was to clean our messes, which we did gladly because maintenance was often called. We loved following the handymen in and out of the restricted areas of the hotel. Even today, the smell of WD-40 and chlorine make me think of the good times Cesar and I had as kids.
The subtle ding of my doorbell signifies that my father has arrived. I feel my body tense but will myself to relax. I know he’ll let himself in, pour a glass of scotch on his way through the sliding doors to meet me.
I hear the chime of crystal on crystal, turn, as my father eases his six-foot-two frame into the balcony chair next to mine, his knees jutting up toward his chest, his tie loose around his neck, his silvery hair mussed just right. My mother had begun teasing me about my luck in inheriting my father’s full head of hair and his height, “since you’re going to need your looks as long as possible. With that head of hair, you’ll be fine even if you don’t find a girl by the time you’re in your forties. Whether I will be fine with you by then or not, remains to be seen but…”
“It’s your fault for setting the bar so high, mother,” I’d say, kissing her on the top of her head. And that was that.
“Hello, son,” my father says, his eyes sparkling with interest. “What’s this thing that couldn’t wait until family dinner tomorrow night? Must be pretty tricky if you want to talk to me before you tell your mother about it.”
It’s nearly dark now, but the lamps from the boardwalk flicker on beside the hotel casting an orange light. It wasn’t that I was afraid to speak to my pops about the trip I was about to take, but the confidence that is my constant companion flags a bit as the weight of what I’m about to tell him settles around me like a shroud.
Thanks for the empire you built, but no thanks? I’ll be back to reclaim my future at a time that’s more convenient for me?
“Jake? What’s on your mind?”
The start of so many conversations over the years, but this one could alter everything. I take a bracing sip of my drink, look into a face that’s a lined reflection of my own. “Pops, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’ve been thinking about seeing someone else.”
My father’s eyebrow raises ever so slightly, the concern swiftly replaced with something akin to a lion on the alert for other predators. “Anyone, I know?”
I quickly shake my head. “No one remotely resembling our competition. I’d never do that.”
When my father slaps his knee, his face breaking into a giant grin, I realize that he still knows me better than I sometimes know myself. “I knew this day would come. A part of me hoped it wouldn’t but hearing you say the words… I think I was rooting for you to do it more than not.”
I’m speechless. “Pops… how…”
He chuckles, waves his hand in the air, the gold band on his ring finger glinting in the light. “You’re a Hurst man. We take our own risks, in our own way. I should have known with the number of trips you’ve been taking out to Judd’s that you were feeling a bit confined here...”
All the tension I’d told myself to release had evidently been piling up in my body anyway because with these words I liquify in my chair.
My father leans over, places his hand heavily on my shoulder and says, “tell me about this adventure you’re planning." And the rest of his words come out in a near growl. "And how much is it going to cost me?”