Amy parks her rented BMW 1 Series coupe at a meter next to Starbucks and drops a few coins into the outdated machine. Two women in sports bras and shorts jog past, brandishing tanned abs. Amy enters the coffee shop, lifting her Chanel sunglasses from her pale face and setting them on her head. She gets in line behind a man in the startling orange vest of the county-employed. Amy stares at the nape of his neck, the worn skin beneath a thin sheen of sweat. He orders a large drip coffee. Her eyes follow him to the pick-up area.
“Excuse me.” The boy in the green apron clears his throat. “What can I get you?”
Amy realizes this is the second time he has asked the question. She says, “Oh, I’m sorry. Grande nonfat iced latte. With an extra shot, please.”
She retrieves her credit card and takes her place at the pick-up counter beside the man in the orange vest. He glances at her and freezes.
“Amy,” he says.
Her eyes search his weathered skin. She remembers the voice, deeper now but with the same gravelly undertone.
Behind the counter a salesperson sets a cup down, calls, “Dalton.”
They met at a house party in Providence twenty years ago. She was lounging against the wall by the fireplace, a red cup in the casual loop of one hand. With the fingertips of the other hand she picked at the gold embossing of a forgotten Valentine’s Day card on the mantle. He loitered beside the keg in a leather jacket about one size too big, the overlong sleeves bunching at the wrists, while a friend pumped their beers.
When their eyes met she smiled. Amy leaned in to her friend and whispered behind her hair.
The girl looked him up and down, whispered back. Amy laughed, lifted the red cup to her lips and sipped. When she pushed off the wall and headed toward the back door, he followed.
The chill air of fall in Providence slipped between Dalton’s skin and his jacket. Amy leaned against the white porch column, her elbow on her hip, a cigarette hanging from the loose grasp of her fingers. The thin snake of smoke was opaque against the dark trees of the backyard.
“Hi there,” she said, curving her lips at him. She took a drag, emitting the light rasp of air through the paper filter in her cigarette.
“Hey,” Dalton said. He leaned against the parallel porch support beside her.
“Autumn is my favorite season,” Amy said. She stared out into the black expanse. “You can’t see it in the dark but the leaves are beautiful.”
“Colored leaves are kind of a revelation for me,” Dalton said. The faint sound of metal teeth clinking together echoed as he zipped his jacket. He thrust his hands in the pockets. “We don’t have seasons in California.”
“I knew you weren’t from here.” She held out her hand to offer him a drag, while the rest of her body remained curved against the column. Dalton shook his head. She pulled the glowing cigarette back and replaced her elbow on her hip.
“Los Angeles.” Dalton licked his lips, his tongue warm against the skin turned cold in the East Coast air. “The trees stay green.”
She continued to stare into the backyard, her face in shadow. The light from the party glanced off the curls down her back. Amy tugged the edge of her scarf down over her shoulder, and Dalton noticed the gooseflesh standing out on her arm.
“Aren’t you cold? You could wear my jacket,” he said.
Amy met his gaze, then moved her eyes to his body. He was hunched inside his leather. “You need it more than I do, Los Angeles.” She laughed. “Don’t worry. Your blood will thicken.”
They stayed on the porch until Amy finished her cigarette and Dalton was shivering inside his clothes. She told him with an arched eyebrow that she was house-sitting across town. He told her he could drive.
Dappled lights hanging from the ceiling project faint circles on the tables below. Customers with laptops sit huddled in the seats near the electrical outlets, but in the morning rush most of the tables are empty.
“Do you… want to sit down?” Dalton gestures to a pair of empty seats. Amy nods. She joins him when her coffee is ready.
“So, what are you doing on my side of the country?” He removes the lid from his coffee and drinks straight from the cup.
“Funeral,” she says.
“That’s too bad,” says Dalton.
Amy brushes a strand of hair out of her face. She says, “Yes. Well. An older cousin. I didn’t know him very well.”
Dalton nods, staring at her.
Amy expects the service to be beautiful and brief. She will not attend the internment the following day. She has things she must tend to at home.
Her first funeral, which she attended at the age of eight, was magnificent. Wreaths of pale, white roses and vases of calla lilies filled the high-ceilinged church, in firm contrast to the varicolored stained glass. As if her father was trying to convince them both her mother was an angel.
“You look good,” Dalton says. He squints at her, assessing. “Your hair is short.”
Amy tries to suppress the warmth rising in her cheeks. She sips cold coffee from a green straw.
“You look… orange.”
He laughs. “Proud Caltrans employee, keeping our city clean one street at a time.”
“So you… didn’t finish your law degree?”
“Lost my scholarship.” He swigs from his cup.
She stirs her straw and looks down at the floating ice. “I’m sorry.”
Dalton traced circles in the pattern on the sheets in Amy’s bed. Amy knelt on the edge of the mattress, leaning toward him.
“Come back again next weekend,” she said. A heart-shaped locket hung from her neck on a gold chain, a key dangling beside it. Dalton grasped the key between his thumb and forefinger. The metal was warm from resting against her naked body.
“You hold the key to your own heart?” He grinned.
Amy plucked the locket from his fingertips. “I have to freshen up. Be right back.”
She disappeared into the bathroom, the door clicking closed behind her. Dalton got out of the bed. He wandered past the room’s familiar oversized armchair and the trunk with vines painted along the lower edge. His first time in the room alone several weeks before, he’d opened it. The chest was full of plush rabbits, collected over years of Easter egg hunts.
Dalton paused at Amy’s desk. The desk lamp lit framed photographs: a young Amy stood beside a man with similar features, except his eyebrows, drawn down, were bushy; girls in cocktail dresses, Amy among them, wrapped their arms around each other. A stack of fashion magazines sprawled beside a slim laptop.
Dalton’s eyes caught on a corner of pink cardstock, the edge gilt with golden swirls. He slid the paper out from between the magazines. The words were embossed in flowing script.
You are cordially invited… to celebrate the sweet sixteen… Amy Josephine Brandeis…
The bathroom door opened and Amy walked back into her bedroom. Dalton turned toward her.
“You said you were in college.”
“How many Amy Brandeises are there in the world? It’s got the date on it, Amy.”
Amy’s gaze slid to the formal invitation in his hand. Her shoulders tilted inward. Dalton closed his eyes.
“Dalton—I can explain—please—” Jumbled words cascaded from Amy’s lips. A low rumbling beneath the floor interrupted her pleading. Dalton opened his eyes.
“What is that?”
“The garage door. My father is home.”
Dalton rushed to collect his clothes while Amy wrestled with the window. She had pried it open only a few inches when footsteps sounded on the creaking hardwood just outside the door.
“Amy?” The deep voice of Jim Brandeis came from the other side of the oak. Amy stood frozen, one hand still on the edge of the window. Dalton buttoned his jeans.
Jim knocked. Amy flinched. She and Dalton watched the brass doorknob, which squeaked as it turned.
“Daddy, hi, hold on just a second—” The door opened and Jim’s large frame filled the doorway. Amy stopped speaking, and Dalton heard the rest of her wordless breath file out between her lips.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jim said. Dalton cleared his throat.
“Good evening, sir.” Dalton’s hand clenched into a fist around the thin cotton of his shirt. Jim stared at Dalton’s bare chest.
Amy inched toward the bed, one arm drawn across her breasts. With her free hand she grabbed the top sheet, the material slipping in her shaking fingers. She held the rose-dotted silk over her body with both hands.
“You.” Jim’s eyes skewered Dalton. “Come with me. Amy Josephine—I expect you in the living room, clothed, in five minutes.”
Dalton crossed the room and followed when the large man walked down the hall. Dalton drew his shirt over his head and tugged it down over his chilled skin in a few hurried movements.
“Mr. Brandeis,” Dalton said. Jim halted. The floor creaked under the slow rotation of his rigid form.
“You have nothing to say to me,” Jim said. A growl rasped from his throat underneath his words. “Your intentions regarding my daughter are plain.”
The rapid beat of Dalton’s heart had not slowed by the time they entered the living room. Jim turned, his bulk enhanced by comparison to the grand piano in the bay window behind him.
“Sit down, young man.”
“I prefer to stand, sir.”
Dalton’s toes curled into the Persian rug beneath his bare feet. Mr. Brandeis crossed his arms.
The light scent of peony, the perfume Jim had gifted his daughter on her fifteenth birthday, wafted into the room with Amy’s entrance. She had brushed her curls and wore a blouse buttoned up over her collarbone.
“Daddy… I’d like you to meet Dalton. Dalton, this is my father.”
Dalton’s jaw clenched as he held out his hand. Mr. Brandeis uncrossed his arms, the friction between the cloth layers of his suit jacket emitting a hiss. He did not take the boy’s hand.
“Where do you live… Dalton, is it?” Jim said. “I’ll call you a cab.”
As he exited the living room, Mr. Brandeis kept his gaze trained on Dalton. Amy and Dalton heard the sharp beeps of the phone from the kitchen as Mr. Brandeis dialed.
She traced one edge of her shirt’s collar with a fingertip. Amy reached toward Dalton, her touch on his arm soft.
“I’m sorry.” She wrapped her fingers about his arm in a light squeeze and then withdrew her hand as Jim re-entered the room.
“The cab will be here shortly. You may see yourself out.”
Dalton’s eyes focused on Amy’s face for a moment. His skin tingled as he passed within inches of her, but he kept his arms at his sides. A deep click sounded as the heavy front door shut behind him.
In the living room, Jim faced his daughter.
“Amy Josephine, I believe you have some explaining to do.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Amy said. She fell into the couch, the cushions hugging her body. The scent of peony flooded her nostrils as she brought her hands up to cover her face.
“Daddy, I didn’t know! He needed a place to stay…” The stilted sound of a forced hiccup disturbed the breath under her hands.
Jim’s stern expression faded. Amy bent her head further until her curls formed a barrier over her hands. She licked her thumb and drew the saliva from the corner of an eye down across her cheek. The moist line grew cool as she let her hands fall and tilted her face up toward her father. Amy shed the real tears alone, enveloped in the comforter on her empty bed.
“I wanted my first time to be special,” she whispered.
Jim sank into the cushions beside his daughter. He brushed his knuckle across Amy’s cheek and pulled her into a protective embrace, one large hand resting over her hair.
“Are you married? Do you have kids?” Amy asks. Dalton nods, pulls a faded photograph from his wallet.
“Your wife is beautiful,” she says, “your children, too.”
His eyes graze the fingers wrapped around her coffee.
“Oh, no. There was never anyone who—well. Not yet. I’ve been taking care of my father’s estate. He spends more time in bed than out, these days.”
Amy and her father don’t talk about how much, or how little, time he has left. Just as they’ve never talked about her mother.
Amy still has dreams about the day her mother died.
Amy returned from the hospital cafeteria with chocolate milk. Just outside her mother’s room, her father bore down on the thinner, smaller figure of her mother’s colleague. Her father crossed his arms. The colleague’s face distorted. He walked away.
Amy had seen the colleague several times before. He had come to visit her mother, and Amy was told to stay in the breakfast room and draw while they went upstairs. She disobeyed once.
The day of her mother’s car accident was the last time Amy saw the colleague. She hated that word for years, even after she understood it had nothing to do with what she had seen.
In the hospital, Amy’s father looked down the hallway. Their gazes met. Amy went to him, and they entered her mother’s room together.
“Too bad.” A muscle tics beneath Dalton’s eye. He gulps the last of his coffee, says, “Well, that was my fifteen minutes. Better get back to it.”
“Oh. Yes.” Amy looks at the petite silver watch on her slim wrist. “Yes, I should be going too. It was—good to see you.”
He holds the door for her. She watches his lanky form as he walks away, her eyes stinging, the orange fabric hanging from his shoulder blades.