We pushed the door open, all of us shooting outside. We hurried up the street, running over the bridge suspended above the Kennedy Expressway. When we got to the other side, my father stopped us. We tried to catch our breaths, tried to focus our minds on what was happening.
“Where can we go?” my dad said.
I thought of Theo and his text from that morning. “Saint Pat’s Block Party.”
My father looked completely confused.
“It’s lots of people,” Charlie said. “About ten blocks long.”
We turned and took off jogging down Lake Street, cutting over to Madison and then continuing west.
We got to the entrance of the block party.
Behind the gates, people were packed on the street, the crowd stretching back block after block after block. Beer and food tents lined the sides of the streets. A huge music stage stood on the right, and a band was going through sound check. Everyone was in a giddy mood, laughing and drinking and milling around in the sun.
I reached in my skirt pockets and found them empty. “I don’t have any money.”
My mother whipped out her purse and paid for all of us to get in. I wondered why Dez hadn’t taken it. He’d underestimated her and that had been a mistake.
The ticket taker frowned at us before she let us through the gate. “Do you need security?” she asked.
For a second, we all stopped and looked at each other. Charlie’s face was swollen, his blood was on my mother’s shirt, and my father’s shirt was torn so that a flap hung down from the shoulder, exposing his chest. I looked down at my own shirt and recoiled. A few drops of Ransom’s blood were clearly visible.
Make something up, Izzy.
“We’re fine,” I said. “We drove four hours just for this street fair. We got into a little car accident, but we’ve been treated and we just want to go in and enjoy ourselves.”
The ticket taker didn’t move, frowned more. A badge on the chest of her green T-shirt read Volunteer.
I looked around, pointed at a T-shirt stand. “We’re going to get T-shirts.” I gestured at the volunteer. “Just like that one.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother raise an eyebrow. She was never one for uniforms or group dressing.
At last, the ticket taker shrugged and stood back for us to enter.
Once inside, we pushed past people to the stand and purchased four green T-shirts that screamed World’s Largest Block Party!
My father accepted the T-shirt silently, his head swiveling around, appearing like a lost fish dumped into a big foreign pond. An intoxicated couple, walking while making out and sloshing beer at the same time, bumped into him and he glared at them.
Meanwhile, my mother was glaring at her T-shirt with a look of distaste. But gamely she said, “Now, where should we change?”
“The Porta-Johns.” Charlie pointed.
My mother frowned.
“Mom,” I said, “have you ever been in a Porta Potti?”
She looked at me blandly. “What do you think?” She turned to the bathrooms. “There’s a first time for everything.” My mother marched toward the Porta Potti, her T-shirt in hand.
The lines for the women’s bathrooms were at least ten feet deep with women holding beers or talking to their friends behind them.
“Hurry if you can,” my dad said to us. “And when we’re done, we need to pick a spot to meet.”
“How about the back entrance to the stage?” Charlie pointed to the area where the band was still sound-checking.
“Great,” my dad said. “Let’s go.”
I turned and followed my mother to the ladies’ lines, but instead of getting in one, my mother marched toward the front.
“Mom,” I said, “no one is going to let you in. People get downright territorial with these lines.”
“They’ll let me in.” She walked up to the very first person. “Hello. Is there any possible way I could utilize the restroom ahead of you?”
The woman was already wearing an irritated look that said she’d been in that line for a while. She opened her mouth, clearly about to reject my mother’s suggestion.
But my mother opened her mouth faster. “I’m having a terrible hot flash. Menopause, you know. I need to give myself an anti-hormone shot.” She gestured at me. “And I need my daughter to help me.”
The woman blinked and held up her hand in front of her face as if to say, That was more information than I needed, and then she pointed at the door, which opened right at that minute.
My mother and I went inside.
“My God,” she said. “It’s truly horrible in here. This is why I’ve never been in one of these.” She smashed her back against the locked door to give me room. “You change first.”
I took off my shirt and pulled the green T-shirt over my head. “How did you know that woman would let us in? Are you really having a hot flash?”
My mother tsked and unbuttoned her blouse. “Of course not. And if I was, I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone. But the thing is, you young women are so afraid of menopause. You don’t even want to be around someone having a hot flash.”
My mother pulled the green T-shirt over her head.
I started to laugh.
“What?” she said.
“I’ve never seen you wearing anything like that.”
“Well, like I said, there’s a first time for everything.” She tucked the ends into her slacks. “Izzy, I have to tell you something, but let’s get out of here first.”
A few seconds later, we spilled from the Porta Potti, gasping in the relatively fresh air of the block party.
My mother pulled me over to the side of a beer tent. “Izzy,” she said, looking me in the eyes, her hand on my shoulder. “Before we find them, I just want to tell you that I’m proud of you.”
“Today, I feared losing both you and Charlie, and I realized that I never tell you enough how much you mean to me.”
“Sure you do.” I got jostled from behind by a pack of guys walking by. But then I thought about it. My mother was right. She rarely said anything about us or her attachment to us. “Thanks, Mom.” I gave her a hug. She hugged me back tighter than I ever remember her doing before.
I pulled back. “How are you about this…this whole thing?”
She shook her head. “I’ll think about it later.” Now, this was the mom I knew.
I glanced at the stage. No sign of Charlie or my dad yet. Then I glanced around some more. The place was packed. “There are almost too many people here to help us with an alibi,” I said to my mom. “We need to make sure we talk to people who will remember later if we need them to.”
I thought about it for a second. Theo was here. I pulled out my phone and sent him a text. Then I thought, Who else might be here?
“I got it!” I said. Grady, my friend, always went to Old St. Pat’s. I texted him, too, telling him where we were standing.
Not even a minute went by before I heard, “Iz!”
I turned around.
Grady Fisher and I had been raised as a brother and sister at the law firm of Baltimore & Brown. After Sam disappeared, we dated for a while, and I’d been the one to end it. Since I didn’t have the job any longer, I rarely saw Grady. And I missed him.
A happy smile spread across his face now. “I’m so glad you texted. I haven’t seen you forever.”
“I know.” I gestured toward my mother. “You know my mom, Victoria.”
“Sure, sure.” Grady gave my mom a happy shake of his hand.
“How are you, Grady?” She had always liked him.
“Great!” Grady went on to talk about the law firm, how things were going well for him. He was getting clients on his own now, he said. He was finally getting the hang of work. He seemed happy and lighthearted and at ease in his professional life, which made me realize it was something I sorely lacked.
He seemed to sense my unease. He looked at me. “How are you doing, Iz?”
I raised my hands, and in the grand tradition of Italy and my aunt Elena, I gave an exaggerated shrug. “I don’t even know.”
Grady gave me a glance, then he looked at my mom and I wearing the same T-shirts and his expression grew confused. He knew my mother and I weren’t the type to wear matching clothes.
“I’ll explain some other time,” I said, but then I realized I would never explain. Not entirely. I wouldn’t tell him that my father had killed someone, that my aunt had, too. It made me feel heavy, as if I’d literally added weights to my body along with the secrets.
One of Grady’s buddies called from behind him, raising a beer. “You want one?” the buddy yelled.
“Yeah, yeah,” Grady said, raising his almost-empty beer in response. He looked back at me. “I guess we’re going to see a band on the other side.”
I felt envious of Grady then, of his happy afternoon filled with decisions like what bands to see, whether to have another beer. He stepped forward and gave me a quick hug, patting me on the back. It was a buddies’ pat. We were back to that. I patted him back exactly the same way.
“See you,” he said.
“See you,” I answered.
I glanced at my phone. Nothing from Theo yet.
My mom and I made our way through the crowd to the side of the stage. Charlie was there, talking to a friend, gesturing at his swollen face. “Yeah, dude, I just got jacked. Came out of nowhere.” He made it sound as if the punch had just happened, inside the street fair.
“Dude, you gotta get that looked at,” his friend said.
“Yeah, I will,” Charlie said. He glanced at my father, who stood next to him, uncomfortably shifting back and forth, his eyes scanning the crowds.
Charlie looked back at his friend, a weak smile on his face, and I saw in that instant that Charlie had been weighted, too. Carefree Charlie would walk around with secrets now, too, and I didn’t know how he would handle them.
My mother and I exchanged concerned glances, then I saw someone familiar out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head and saw him behind the stage, staring at me. Theo.
I broke into a smile. So did he. He gestured me toward him.
I met him where the bouncers were taking backstage passes.
“Can you let her in?” Theo pointed to me and the rest of my green T-shirt crew. “And her friends.”
The bouncer looked annoyed, but after a second, he did as Theo asked.
“Who’s the band?” Charlie said when we were in, gesturing toward the stage.
“Poi Dog Pondering,” Theo answered.
“That’s the name of a band?” my mother said.
“Sweet,” Charlie said. “I love these guys.” He started telling my mom about the band, leaving me standing with Theo and my father.
Theo glanced at me as if to say, Is this who I think it is?
I nodded. “Theo, this is-”
Before I could finish, Theo reached out his hand and shook my father’s. “Good to meet you,” he said. He put his hands in his back pocket and kept looking at my dad. “I have to tell you your daughter is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.”
My dad seemed not to know what to do or say. Finally, he said, “I had nothing to do with what a wonderful person Izzy is. But thank you.”
Just then my mother stepped up to us, too. “Theo, this is my mom and my brother, Charlie.”
They all shook hands with him. I saw my mom send a little questioning glance at his long hair and the tattoo. Definitely not her type. But soon, as they chatted, the two of them somehow stumbled into talking about the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark home where my mother happened to be a docent. I had no idea Theo even knew who Frank Lloyd Wright was. And then Theo and my brother were discussing the band that was about to take the stage-Theo knew them and sometimes helped them out-and another band they both liked.
When my mother asked, “How do you know him?” I found myself answering immediately. “He’s the guy I’m dating.”
The band started a bouncy, happy summer song, causing the crowd in front of them to cheer and dance. Get out of your head, and into your heart, they sang.
A guy came running up to Theo. “We blew an amp. There’s another one in the van.” He held out a set of keys. “Can you grab it?”
Theo took them. “Sure, no problem.” He turned to me. “I’m going to help these guys out, if it’s okay with you.”
“Of course, go.”
“This might take a bit, and if we lose each other, I’ll see you soon, right?”
“Definitely,” I said. “But I’m not going to lose you.”
He leaned down, his long soft hair brushing my face, and he kissed me.
When he’d walked away, I turned back to the group and saw them watching me.
“Is he someone important to you?”my dad asked.
My mother raised her eyebrows as if waiting, interested, for my answer. Charlie smiled a little.
Finally I spoke. “Yeah. He is important to me.”
I looked at the three of them. My mother was shooting glances at my dad, but she seemed to have adjusted at least momentarily to him being there. To him being alive. Charlie, despite his dinged-up face and a split lip, looked at the two of them in wonder.
I stepped forward and took Charlie’s hand, then my mother’s, and moved them so that we stood in a little circle with my dad. “I’m not trying to be all kumbaya or anything,” I said, “but I think we need to have a moment for Aunt Elena. She’s a different person than we thought we knew, but she saved us today.”
“What’s going to happen to her?” Charlie said.
“I’m sure she’ll go back to Italy,” my father said. “Back to her life.”
Just then the sound of a huge explosion came from behind us.
Someone in the crowd screamed. My mother gasped.
We turned toward the Loop and saw a red orb of fire rising into the sky.
“Oh my God,” my mother said.
My father closed his eyes shut, then opened them and looked at us again. None of us seemed to know what to do.
Charlie squeezed my hand tighter. “Is she okay?” he asked.
My father stared at the red sky. He nodded, whether to reassure himself or answer Charlie’s question I didn’t know. “For Elena,” my dad said, squeezing our hands.
“For Elena,” I echoed, squeezing back.
Another explosion sounded and people started to scream “Fire!” “It’s a bomb!” “Call the police!” There were murmurs of terrorism, word spreading fast. Soon people were running in every direction, the world’s largest block party thinning out quickly.
I saw Charlie reach out his other hand and take my mom’s. And then the oddest thing happened. My mother lifted her free hand and took hold of my father’s.
As the four of us stood there, I thought back to my conversation with Q and Maggie a few weeks ago. I’d said that all I wanted for my thirtieth birthday was to be around family and friends.
I looked around at the four of us, at my…
Finally, I allowed myself to say it in my head…at my family.
That was true, whether or not my father stuck around. That was true whether or not the four of us would ever be together again. They were my family. And, yes, my friends. I squeezed their hands. I smiled at them all. And they smiled back.