Rosie and her father sat at a picnic table facing a man-made pond in Tee Winkle Park. Earlier, he’d watched her tennis match at the high school and she still wore her uniform. The ducks waddled to the pond, dunked their feet, and then floated across the water’s surface, creating ripples. This safe, generic park was his preferred site for Big Talks.

    “Your body is a temple,” he said, leaning forward with his hands pressed together, fingers creating a steeple; she thought he looked sincere. They were polite and reserved in each other’s company. “And your job is to stay a virgin for that one special man you will marry.” His face came up, punctuating his declaration with a steady gaze. She read the look of disappointment in his eyes, and he must’ve seen it in hers—they both looked away. Two Sundays ago, after a church service, he’d given her a painfully comprehensive version of this same monologue, complete with Bible passages endorsing his position, and he appeared to be making one last abbreviated attempt.

    Rosie was fifteen, and her sexual experience consisted of kissing and fondling (buffered by clothing), but she was on fire with curiosity. She’d learned about sex through word of mouth and the occasional Playboy.  As a child, she’d invented “Baby,” whereby she’d powdered and diapered—with a dishtowel—a fellow male playmate’s “private area” and then the procedure was reciprocated. When she got her period at twelve, her mother had a sketchy “sex talk” with her, because she was “officially a woman.” And although she was aware of the shame and disgrace that her mother’s affair had wrought, she was also aware of the payoffs: “Sex can be wonderful,” her mother had told her, “if it’s with the right person.” But in her observation, men had power, and it appeared that the most power women had was through their ability to obtain men.

    And how could she be made for just one man? She wanted options. Grandma Dot had been married forever to Grandpa, and all that did was ensure her a life of cooking, cleaning, and serving. Grandma Dot, while ironing one of Grandpa’s shirts, had even said, “Don’t ever be like me.”

    Her father extracted a cracker package from the side pocket of his jacket. He fiddled with the wrapper, breaking a saltine and throwing the pieces on the grass near his feet. “Why does everything have to change,” he said in an uncharacteristic flare of self-pity, shaking his head, “when all I want is for things to stay the same?”

    A wave of tenderness swept over her: he would often tell her nostalgic stories about the fifties, and she knew that what he craved was simplicity, clear answers, what she imagined as men coming home from work wearing pressed slacks and ties, briefcases at their sides, their wives in flowered dresses with aprons, cocktails in their hands, waiting by the front doors. Qualities that he had successfully spent his life burying were already beginning to bloom in her, namely defiance.

    “It’s okay,” she said.

    The ducks approached cautiously, waddling in a roundabout way to the cracker pieces, eyeing them, making grunting noises—not quack quack—more like unngh unngh. In the distance, people walked dogs and rode bicycles. There was the pong sound of tennis balls from nearby courts.

    She saw an old wisp of a man stooped in a wheelchair, blanket across his lap. A brown-skinned woman stood behind him with her hands at the wheelchair. They were on the other side of the pond, but she could see the man was smoking a fat cigar—puffs of hazy smoke.

    “What a shame,” her father said, squinting in the same direction. “He shouldn’t be smoking.” He looked at Rosie for confirmation, but she imagined the caretaker allowing the man this final indulgence, and her father stared down at his topsiders.

    She had a sinking feeling. If only she could be like Kristen Johnson. It was a recurring yearning, but a fundamental impossibility. And besides, she didn’t really want to be Kristen Johnson; she just longed to please her father. The Johnsons were her father’s friends. Kristen Johnson was demure with blonde hair and blue eyes, near Rosie’s age, and her father always compared Kristen to her—i.e. Kristen Johnson is a cheerleader. Kristen Johnson is in the church choir. Kristen Johnson is saving herself for marriage. Kristen Johnson is the leader of her Bible study group. Her father would point Kristen out in the choir. “There’s Kristen. Do you see her?” “I see her,” she would say, watching Kristen’s pink mouth open in song, hands crossed modestly at her front, and she would hate Kristen for being the daughter her father would never have.

Rosie had once been Daddy’s little princess. Before the divorce, her father had slept in the guest room on the foldout sofa bed. Above the sofa was a crudely drawn picture of ice skaters. Her room was next to this room, and often her father would climb into her bed, on top of her beige silk comforter.

    He would fall asleep easily. She never got accustomed to having her father’s adult-size body in her bed, and she would not sleep. It made her feel weird, as if she was the wife and not the daughter, but she would let him stay because she knew he was desperately lonely.

    She would become hyper-aware of his breathing, the way it would develop into a snore, counting the seconds between her breaths and his long breaths. She would try to time her breaths to his, but she could not.

    He had hair on his arms; his lips parted when he fell asleep; a scar divided his left eyebrow; his mustache brushed against his top lip; his face relaxed. Eventually, he would stir and turn, curling into a fetal position. She would move her body if his arm or leg touched.

    Always, he would wake, startled by one of his more resonant snores, or for no predictable reason. She would pretend to be asleep. She didn’t want him to feel guilty about keeping her awake.

    Sometimes, smelling of moist sleep, his lips would touch her cheek, his mustache brushing against her skin. He always returned to the sofa bed. She would feel relief when he left, although she would curl into the warm spot his body had created on her bed, and finally drift to sleep.

The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” played at low volume on the car stereo, and Rosie knew that her father wasn’t changing the station because she liked the song. The first time he’d heard it, he’d said to the radio, “You should go!,” and she half-expected him to repeat this, because he’d made her laugh; but he was silent, their goodbye tinged with resignation and sorrow. When they arrived at her house, he got out of his Buick to come around and hug her. She knew he was anxious, hoping not to see her mother and Will, since Will was the man her mother had The Affair with and he hated them both.

    “I still have to pack,” she said, to distract him.

     “How do you pack for a yacht?” he said, with his fake British accent. Rosie had been invited for a weekend trip to Catalina Island with her friend Isabella and Isabella’s parents on their yacht, The Golden Eagle.

    When they hugged, they were conscious of her breasts. It was difficult to hug without letting her breasts touch him. She rounded her upper back so that her breasts caved inward. She noticed that he hunched his back as well. 

    While her father pretended her breasts did not exist, when she and her friend Chris hung out at the Peninsula or at the beach, other men offered vocal confirmation of their existence—whistles and hoots and pleas to just let them see. Recently, a Marine had bought them a twelve-pack of Michelob—all they had to do was lift their tops; she’d followed Chris’s lead, but hadn’t ventured further the way Chris had, by pulling up her bra as well. Breasts, she believed, were powerful tools. 

    She stopped hugging her father first, hands dropping to her sides. His cheerfulness was usually tinged with hostility, but this time his smile was covered in grief, and she smiled back, exactly the same.

“Come on,” Isabella said, when Rosie arrived. “I made chocolate chip cookies.” Rosie followed her to the kitchen, where Isabella held a cookie to her nostril and inhaled noisily. Isabella was pretty—long brown hair, round face, mooneyes, and gentle features—but in a way not recognized by Newport Beach standards. Her body was naturally inclined towards softness and curves, and she was at war with it. Rosie was used to Isabella denying herself the satisfaction of consumption, instead cooking and smelling forbidden food products: brownies, cakes, cookies, fudge.

    Whenever Rosie came over, she rode the elevator because Isabella had an elevator in her house. There were antique vases, chandeliers, and Isabella’s mom, Mrs. Leer, lurked about, noticing lint on the carpet, a lamp not in place, a painting improperly slanted. Rosie pressed a button, and they rode to the third floor. The doors opened—she pressed another button, the doors closed, and they descended.

    Mrs. Leer waited at the bottom floor so that when the mirrored doors opened, she said, “That’s enough,” in her French accent, her foot against the door. When any type of heightened emotion engaged Mrs. Leer, she spoke French. “Allons-y,” she said.

    Isabella apologized. She was keen on pleasing her mother, and Rosie was sorry for her: pleasing Mrs. Leer was on par with walking on the moon. Mr. Leer—a squat man who didn’t talk much—walked past them toward the sliding glass doors, Rosie’s suitcase tucked under his arm.

    Isabella had a younger half-brother and half-sister, but Mr. Leer gave money to keep the children away, and Isabella had only seen them once, accidentally. She had told Rosie about it in a hushed voice, even though they were the only ones in Isabella’s bedroom: “They were waiting in a car, I saw them from my window…a little girl and a little boy…so cute. Daddy wrote a check to a woman...”

    Isabella’s willingness to toe the line came from her understanding that her legitimacy was a matter of luck; she didn’t want to fuck up her good fortune and be Daddy-less; although Rosie’s secret belief was that it wasn’t purely luck: Mr. Leer was afraid of Mrs. Leer—he watched his wife closely, taking his cues from her.

The motor of The Golden Eagle rumbled and the air smelled of gasoline. Mr. Leer untied the ropes from the dock outside their house and then jumped on to the boat. Mrs. Leer had set out wood bowls of pretzels and mixed nuts on the yacht’s dining table. Mr. Leer wore a captain’s hat, his hands on the spokes of a large steering wheel, guiding the boat out of the dock. Isabella sniffed a pretzel, then inserted it in her mouth and chewed. When Mrs. Leer was looking out the window, Rosie saw Isabella spit the gooey mass into a star-spangled bar napkin and throw it away.

    Rosie and Isabella changed into their bathing suits in the master bedroom. They climbed steps that went to the top of the boat, Isabella wearing a blue one-piece. She had a pear-shaped body and wore a towel around her hips when ambulatory, to keep her lower half hidden. Rosie wore her new red bikini; she enjoyed the way she looked when she wore it, the bottom half tied at her hips. She liked her stomach when she sucked it in.

    They lay on their towels and watched The Golden Eagle’s wake slicing through the ocean. Seagulls and pelicans swooped and glided with the wind; the ocean looked like brushed dark velvet. They played checkers, read magazines—pages flapping in the wind—and talked about boys.

    After two hours, Catalina came into focus: they could see individual bushes and trees. The water was aqua-colored and the island was hilly and rock laden. Mr. Leer drove past Avalon Bay and anchored The Golden Eagle among the other yachts, near an unpopulated portion of the island. The people on the yachts knew each other; there were welcoming hand waves and hollering hellos. Most came from Newport Beach or Santa Barbara, the cities etched underneath the boats’ names. One yacht was larger than the others and it was anchored near The Golden Eagle: Big Orange. Men wearing T-shirts with the yacht’s name across the back polished wood and hosed the deck.

Rosie and Isabella dove into the water from the deck of The Golden Eagle. They jumped; they cannonballed; they made crazy gestures—this is a crazy person running—midair. After some time had passed, Rosie noticed a man reclined on a lounge chair on the deck of Big Orange, one knee up, wearing blue swim trunks, and watching her with binoculars, an empty drink on the table next to him with what appeared to be a celery stalk in the glass.

    He saw that she was looking at him, and he set the binoculars down so that they rested on his chest from a band around his neck. His legs swung to the side, in a sitting position. He waved, although she could see that he was not smiling.

    “Who is that?” she asked.

    Isabella put both her hands to her forehead, shielding her face from the sun. “Rod likes you,” she said.

    They were quiet, staring at Rod while he stared back.

    “He’s old,” Isabella said, but she said it like it was a good thing. “His mom and dad let him take the yacht.”

    Rod continued to watch them, although Rosie knew that he was really looking at her.

    “Do something,” Isabella said.

    Rosie stood in her bikini. She did a mock hula dance: hands gesturing, hips swinging. Isabella’s hand was at her mouth, laughing.

    “Watch,” Rosie said. She walked to the edge of the deck, toes tipping over. She sucked in her stomach, and her hands went above her head, fingers together—an upside down V.

    She dove—a rush of air—body alert and toes pointed. She caught glimpses: blue sky, the hull of the boat. The salt water stung her eyes, but she opened them anyway, hull bobbing in the water, dream-like. She went deeper, the water progressively cooler and darker. Her lungs hurt from holding her breath. She somersaulted, kicking her legs so that she was pointed the other direction. She swam toward the surface and the sun made wavy white lines through the water.

    She liked the sensation of her head breaking through ocean and coming into air. The water looked bright and sparkly, and she took a deep, appreciative breath, her hair slicked back. She dog-paddled to stay afloat and turned in the direction of Big Orange: Rod was standing near the edge of the deck, as she had hoped, his binoculars right on her.

The Leers were invited to a party/barbeque on the shore, close to the beach, a location with two outdoor barbeque pits and six picnic tables. All the yachts were invited. It was to last all day into the late evening. People drove their small motorboats to the pier and unloaded. Other dinghies docked along the sand.

    Rosie and Isabella snuck Coronas from a cooler, hiding them in their shorts’ pockets, T-shirts untucked and covering them, and found a shaded place to drink, underneath a pier that no one used—white paint peeling off the wood, cracked and falling apart; not too far from the picnic tables, but far enough so that they wouldn’t get caught. But they couldn’t figure out how to get the bottles open. “I thought these twisted off,” Rosie said.

    “Oh my God,” Isabella whispered.

    Rod approached, two fingers hooked under the plastic of a six-pack of Budweiser. He stooped under the pier. “Thought I might find you,” he said. He wore his blue swim trunks, the ends reached past his knees. A circle of dark hair ringed each nipple, a diamond of hair was at the center of his chest, and he had a slight paunch. He folded his legs to sit with them on the ocean-hardened sand. Attached to his swim trunks was a key ring with a bottle opener. “La cerveza mas fina,” he said, opening the Corona bottles and passing them over. Rosie thought he was handsome: a man, not a teenager. His forehead, cheeks, and nose were sunburned, and because he’d been wearing sunglasses, the paler skin around his eyes gave him a startled look. He ignored Isabella, but she didn’t mind. “What’s your name?” he asked.

    She told him.

    “Rosie, Rosie, Rosie,” he said. She lit up with the sound of her name in his voice. He asked questions—Where do you live? What classes do you like? How old are you? And she answered as cleverly as possible: I don’t like school and I’d quit if I could. How old do you think I am? She showed him her sunburn and he peeled skin from her shoulder.

    Twenty minutes later, Rod walked with them to the picnic tables from the pier because Isabella didn’t want her parents to worry about her. Everything was arranged buffet-style on two picnic tables underneath an awning: plastic bowls of potato chips and tortilla chips; a stainless-steel bowl filled with strawberries and another with pineapple slices; plastic trays with cupcakes and cookies. The barbeques were large and made of stone, and the men took their grilling duties seriously. Fold out chairs stuck out from the sand at the beach. Somebody’s golden retriever fetched a tennis ball from the water: back and forth, back and forth, tail wagging. The tide was low, small waves lapping the sand. 

    When Rosie had to go to the bathroom, Rod said he would take her. “That’s what happens when you drink beer, young lady,” he said in a mock-stern tone. She ran ahead, kicking water at him, and he laughed. “You’re so cute,” he said. Her face warmed even though she wasn’t facing him. The bathrooms were a concrete affair, steel toilet rims, flies circling, no mirrors. He waited outside. As they walked back, he held her hand briefly and she was awed.

    Mr. Leer sat with the others, eating a hot dog. He wore a ridiculous straw hat with a wide brim and it made Rosie fond of him. Isabella was next to her father, glowing with belonging. Rosie would have felt left out, but she didn’t mind because of Rod. He sat next to her, his arm touching hers, and she felt like her throat was being tickled.

    The sun was sinking, shadows and coolness, and the sand on the beach looked silvery-gray. People pulled on windbreakers and sweatshirts. It smelled like campfire, ocean, and burnt hamburger. Rod poured Heineken into a plastic cup for her, and no one asked what she was drinking. Conversations revolved around real estate, golf, and yacht-maintenance, and Isabella played cards with her father. Mrs. Leer drank red wine from a plastic cup, making hand gestures when she spoke. “We plan on visiting Europe this summer for a month or two, with a week in Venice,” she said. “No one should stay long in Venice.”

    Rod hid his face with his arm, rolling his eyes so that only Rosie could see. He pulled on a blue hooded sweatshirt that ruffled his hair, as if someone had slapped it to one side. He asked if she wanted to see his boat. She nodded, heart thumping, glancing at Isabella, who was completely occupied with her card game; she knew Isabella wouldn’t mind.

    And then she glanced at Mrs. Leer sitting at the other side of the picnic table. Rod leaned in and whispered, “Trust me: I’ve gone to these parties for years. They’re just going to get more fucked up, no one cares. They’ll forget where you went.” The sun was gone, sky dark with purples, oranges, and reds. 

    Mrs. Leer had a slight flush from her wine, setting her hand on Rosie’s forearm. “How exciting,” she said, eyes sparkling, when Rosie told her she was going to see Rod’s yacht.

“Careful,” Rod said, taking Rosie’s hand to help her aboard his dinghy. He pulled on the starter, his back to her, arm yanking three times, until the engine sputtered to life. The motor hummed as they made their way from the barbeque, winding around the anchored boats. He asked her to hold the flashlight, even though there was a full moon and the dinghy had a light at the front. She lay on the bow with the flashlight tucked in her arm, a small beam of light bouncing on the water. It was dark and beautiful, the stars blinking. She felt like her insides were on the outside, like the world was wide open.

    He killed the motor and they floated, away from the yachts, where the current was a little rougher. He opened a wood panel. Underneath a life preserver was a small bottle. “Un tequila reserva especial,” he said, with a bad accent, twisting the cap off. “Muy especial.” He took a long drag from the bottle, and when he pulled it away, his mouth was twisted, and he shook his head as he swallowed.

    He handed her the bottle and she took a sip. It tasted like fire and her insides melted. He leaned over and kissed her, his fingers sliding down her forearm to take the bottle. She was lost in the kiss, eyes closed, body swirling, his tongue moving around her mouth, blurring with her mouth. He tasted like salt and tequila, and she felt wetness on her bathing suit bottoms. He pulled away and watched her.

    “You’re alone,” he said, staring at her broodingly. She wasn’t sure what he meant but was eager to understand; and kissing him she’d felt a connection—a thousand times more than she did with Isabella, Isabella’s parents, and even her own father and mother.

    “Like me,” he said, looking away and taking another pull from the tequila.

    They took turns sipping from the bottle, passing it back and forth. The boat rocked—the current sucked and slapped against the wood—and faint voices from the party carried across the water. There was a soft breeze and the tequila hummed inside her.

    “I don’t know who I am,” he said. There was a pause and she watched his face, wondering if he was done, but it turned out he was only mulling things over. He told her that he was a trained paramedic and that he had loved his job, but that his parents were making him go back to law school, now that he was older. He told her stories about dead bodies: how they can still move after death because their synapses continue to fire away. She thought he was authentic because he spoke of death. He said that he once had to lift a lady who had jumped off a building; he held her underneath her armpits, since they were hauling her dead body. Her head fell back and a long audible gasp of air came out of her mouth.

    “I was so scared, I dropped her on the ground,” he said.

    When he talked about being a paramedic, his voice was animated, but when he talked about himself, his tone was derisive and condescending, especially when he spoke of law school and his family’s business. She thought perhaps this was characteristic of worldly adults.

    “Once, before I got kicked out of law school,” he said, shifting on the wood plank seat, “I hated it so much that I got drunk and laid down in the middle of an intersection near the parking lot, just to see if the cars would stop.”

    “That’s crazy,” she said, and she laughed even though she wasn’t sure why.

    “When people get run over by cars,” he said, ignoring her, “it almost always knocks their bodies clean out of their shoes, no matter how tightly their laces are tied. You can find their shoes at the accident site while their bodies have been dragged or thrown. Sometimes, the shoes are tipped to the side, but there they are.”

    Rosie was conscious that she smiled for him, laughed when appropriate, and frowned often. But she didn’t mind, because she was drunk, a wonderful sensation, as if she would never be troubled by anything again.

    “And rip currents,” he said. “I’ve seen drowned bodies.” Her father had warned her about rip currents, ocean a lighter color, calmer; she knew not to swim against one, but rather to swim parallel to the shoreline or float until the current moved away. 

    When they finished the tequila, he tipped his hand over the side of the boat and filled the bottle with seawater, put the cap back on, and then dropped the bottle. It sank into the dark water, softly. He started the motor and drove back, to where they wove between the yachts. 

    He tied the motorboat to the side of Big Orange and they climbed a ladder to get onboard. She leaned against him because she was losing her balance, and he held her hand while he showed her the kitchen, the dining area, the bedrooms, the living room, ending at the master bedroom. His finger went to his lips, warning her to be quiet, but his eyes laughed. The men she’d seen wearing Big Orange T-shirts slept on a different section of the boat, reserved for staff. The boat rocked, and she wondered if she would be sick. He took his sandals off and she noticed patches of hair on his toes. She took her tennis shoes off without unlacing them, spilling a little sand; she wasn’t wearing socks—her feet were cool against the wood floor. She told herself that no matter what, she must try to remain upright.

    “Rosie,” he said huskily and he slid his hand under her shirt and bathing suit top. He leaned into her, her back against the wall. His body was dark and strong, his breathing heavy. The wall seemed to be moving, and then she was pulled to the floor, the back of her head hitting the ground, the ceiling vibrating in a jolt of light. He tugged down her shorts and her bathing suit bottoms. When he spread her legs, instantly she knew that he was going to have sex with her, and she was terrified; but she couldn’t control it, like a child slammed down by a wave. A heat moved inside her, a ripping sensation, and she wanted to explain that this wasn’t what she wanted, even if she had wanted to see what came next. Please, she said, no, oh God, oh please. In time with his knee knocking against the wood, her head thumped against the wall.

    When it was over, she went to the bathroom where she put herself through the motions of urinating—a horrible stinging, a small amount of blood coiling in the toilet bowl; she gently wiped toilet paper against the moist numbness (not looking at the toilet paper)—afterwards washing her face and hands. She thought briefly of her father and mother, but she felt as separate and distant from her parents as she’d ever imagined. She listened momentarily to the beating of blood in her eardrums, but avoided her face in the mirror. When she walked back to the bedroom, she bumped into the wall. She had the sensation that her body was made of vapor, that Rod could put his hand right through her.

    They climbed back on the motorboat to make their way to shore. The lights from the party were tinkling in the distance. She tilted her head back and the sky spun: stars whirled and the full moon swayed. Her throat was slippery, and she knew that if the sky did not stop sliding, she would be sick.

    She leaned against the side of the boat, vomiting beer, tequila, potato salad, half of a cheeseburger. Afterwards, nothing left in her stomach, she used a life preserver for a pillow, and an oar pressed against her back. Her entire body was damp with sweat, and she wiped the back of her hand against her mouth. When she saw that he was watching her, she looked away, dunking her hand in the ocean to wash it. She watched the water break around her wrist and a light from the boat flickered across the current. Weariness sank into her, filled her with a deadening weight, and she heard herself making a whimpering noise.

    When the boat bumped softly against the dock, he killed the motor, held on to a rope, and jumped ashore, the boat dipping with the loss of his weight. The front end swung around before he tied that side. There was a space between the dock and the water looked black. The motorboat wobbled; the dock swayed; there was an instant—as she jumped—when she thought she could make it, but then she was in the water. She was scared and she gasped, but she didn’t scream, even though she thought of eels and sharks.

    He held his hand out, and she grabbed hold of his forearm. He pulled her to the dock and she felt the pinch of a splinter in her knee. They looked at each other and she said something about being cold, but her words were garbled and sounded like they were coming from far away. The water was dripping off her and she was shivering.

    The coldness sobered her like hard slaps, along with the vomiting, so that she felt it when he pulled her in the bushes near the old pier and took off her clothes. Between the leaves, in and out of focus, she saw the red fire pits from the party, so she closed her eyes. When she listened closely, she heard laughter. He moved on top of her, his breath on her neck. Because she was wet, the dirt stuck to her legs and back. She bit the tip of her tongue, tasted blood; a rock scraped against her back.

    His body clenched and he fell on top of her with all his weight as if he’d been shot dead. At first, she thought he might have fallen asleep, but then she realized he was only catching his breath. She squirmed underneath him, feeling disgrace and disappointment, the cold reality of humiliation. This was sex?

    “Sorry,” he said, and moved to give her room. She wiped the dirt from her legs with her shirt, and he handed her his sweatshirt. It was long, reaching her knees. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening. For a second, she couldn’t even remember where she was and had to wait for the word “Catalina” to come to her. And then the word wouldn’t leave: Catalina, Catalina, Catalina.

    He drove her in the dinghy back to The Golden Eagle and she could sense him climbing onboard after her. She took a shower in the tricking hot water from the showerhead, hoping that he would leave. There was a cut on her back from the rock, and she tried to reach it with the small oval of soap. And while she showered, she let herself evaporate into a non-reality, a tolerable disbelief. She changed into sweat pants and a T-shirt in the bathroom, flooded with steam. She brushed her teeth three times, the back of her head tender from where she’d hit it on the floor, tiny scratches on her arms from the thorny bush leaves. When she opened the door, she saw that he was still there, and that he’d put her wet clothes in a plastic baggie. She had the sensation of not being able to keep her eyes open while reading. He gave her a questioning look when she handed him his sweatshirt. 

    “Let’s get you to sleep,” he said.

    She was lying in bed with her eyes closed and could feel him staring down at her. Finally, she heard his footsteps moving across the floor. His motorboat started and she listened as the motor faded. She wanted sleep to temporarily black out her existence.

She stayed in bed the next morning. Isabella couldn’t get her to do anything. She was a wet blanket, a party pooper—no fun. Mrs. Leer came into the bedroom.

    “You need to get up,” she said. “You can’t sleep all day. We’re going water skiing.”

    When she did get up, she refused to wear her red bikini. Instead, she wore her jeans. The insides of her thighs were bruised.

That night, Rosie and Isabella ate dinner at the dining table on the boat with Isabella’s parents. Mrs. Leer had made tater tots and scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, Isabella’s favorite meal. There wasn’t much talk, and the silverware clanked against the plates. The cut on Rosie’s tongue was swollen, making it difficult to chew. Isabella drenched her food in ketchup and Mrs. Leer gave her a disdainful look.

    Rosie didn’t want to watch Isabella try to please her mother anymore. She was angry with Isabella and didn’t know why. Isabella sensed it and left her alone. The four of them were going to play Spades—the girls against Mr. and Mrs. Leer—but the sound of Mr. Leer shuffling the cards made Rosie sleepy. Mrs. Leer complained that they would be left with an odd number, but Rosie excused herself and went to bed anyway.

Isabella was asleep next to Rosie, snoring softly, her body warm. The boat made creaking noises; the ocean lapped. Rosie’s hands were outside the blanket and she stared around her. She’d gone to bed early, only to wake up—alert—with everyone asleep. She moved her tongue to the side of her mouth, touched the cut against her teeth. The ocean made wavy shadows on the walls. It was a full moon; the night had a lit-up darkness.

    She heard the hum of a motorboat, and that was when she knew: Rod didn’t get enough the first and second time and he wanted more. She sat up in bed, her motion waking Isabella.

    “What is it?” Isabella asked, rising to a sitting position. She rubbed at her eyes and yawned.

    There was a thump against the boat and steps above them coming closer.

    “Dad,” Isabella called. “Dad. There’s someone on the boat.”

    They heard Mr. Leer getting out of bed, cursing.

    Then they heard voices.

    “What are you doing Rod?” Mr. Leer: angry, exasperated, inconvenienced.

    “I’m here for Rosie.” He was drunk, slurring his words.

    “Rod. She’s fourteen.” She was fifteen, the same age as his daughter.

    “I don’t care.”

    “You’re going to have to leave, Rod. This looks bad.”

    Mrs. Leer’s voice joined—“What’s going on?”

    “Nothing, sweetheart. Go back to bed.”

    “I’m here for Rosie.”

    “Oh, Rod. You’re drunk.” Mrs. Leer’s voice was sympathetic.

    Rod began crying—they could hear him. Isabella’s eyes widened.

    “Jesus,” Mr. Leer said.

    There was a shuffling sound.  She knew that Rod was trying to get past Mr. Leer, but Mr. Leer was blocking him. They heard more shuffling. Someone fell.

    More weeping, childlike.

    “Rosie,” Rod said. “Rosie.”

    Isabella’s eyes searched her face. She could hear Rod moving.

    There was a hand pressed on the window between the curtains, like a pink sea urchin. Then she saw Rod’s face, but it was quick, a flash of one eye, frantic. She didn’t think he saw her.

    She could see him rising, his leg between the part of the curtains. He kicked the side of the boat softly. Thump.

    She heard stumbling footsteps. He was getting back into his motorboat—she could feel it. The engine sputtered, the sound of the motorboat faded.

Rosie went to Maritime Church with her father two Sundays later. She sat in the pew and watched the Perry Como-like pastor. The church offered a brand of Christianity where monetary success was considered a good thing, brought on by Jesus’ favor. During the service, she had the urge to shout, Okay, Jesus died for my sins! Can we move on to something else? And she knew this was very wrong. She saw Kristen Johnson standing in the front row of the choir, her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

    When Rosie was a child, her father would hold her hand and squeeze a certain number of times, and she would squeeze back the same number. She would concentrate because sometimes he would squeeze up to twenty times and she wanted to get the number right. No one else knew, and it would make her think he was paying attention to her, that they had a connection, and that she was special. 

    She remembered this as she let him hold her hand. His hand was moist and they rose. He began singing with the others, the words on a screen for everyone to follow, his eyes brimming with tears of faith or joy or whatever it was that he felt, whatever it was that she was unable to grasp. To her, he looked naïve.

                            All I need is You

All I Need is You Lord Jesus

Is You Lord Jesus

    She sang out of an inherent desire to please her father, to make their estrangement bearable, but her body was hot with shame, holding on to secrets, aware that more would follow. Her father looked at her—he was proud, misty-eyed—as if mistaking her emotion as inspired by the church service. But she was mourning their relationship, aware that she was lost to him, that even as he stood there holding her hand and watching her, she was strangely invisible. 

Many times after, she imagined accidental meetings with Rod—in restaurants, at the beach—their shared looks of shame, because she would confront him about what had happened; he was the only one who knew. But she had a feeling that she would never see him again. He had left her with a surreptitious desire, a longing for danger, a readiness and need.

    She would comprehend that she had been defrauded of dignity, and her anger would rise, but she would direct it at herself. She would feel the futility of any attempt to articulate her sadness or to salvage her innocence—most of all the impossibility of finding her place in the world; and these times scared her the most, leading, as they did, to periods of inconsolable loneliness and grief.

Victoria Patterson is the author of Drift, a collection of interlinked short stories, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various literary journals, including the Southern Review, Santa Monica Review, and the Florida Review.

Back to Freight Stories No. 5


Victoria Patterson

The First and Second Time