27.5 | Take the Bait
It was three days before Christmas and Blythe was getting her braces off.
There had been an influx of appointments and the waiting room was full. Blythe sat in the car with mom and I, anticipating a text from the receptionist for when she was able to come inside. She must have been checking her phone every three seconds because every time I looked at her in the rearview mirror her head was down and she was distracted. As far as I knew she hadn’t told any of her friends from school because she wanted to surprise them. She was getting her braces off about half a year early—not that she was complaining.
Terrence wanted to take Blythe and I out for brunch following her braces removal. Blythe agreed wholeheartedly, having been craving chicken wings since getting her braces on. They had given her a long list of foods she couldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, eat with braces and Blythe had been exceptionally strict with it. Never once had she broken a bracket. She was going to have the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
Mom took the morning off of work for this. She was parked beside me but her and Blythe jumped in my car so we could all chat before she had to go in. I could tell Blythe was getting antsy but she was trying her best to remain patient. She hated wearing braces. Her mouth hurt all the time and her cheeks always got caught on the metal. Not to mention how uncomfortable it was to chew gum so she just didn’t. I was thankful I never needed braces. They seemed hellish.
We had a pack of juicy fruit gum waiting for her for when she came out and I knew that was something she was looking forward to as well. Blythe glanced at her phone and gasped.
“It’s time! I know it will be hard to recognize me when I’m leaving the office but I promise I’m still the same person,” she joked, ecstatic. “EEEEEK okay. Be back soon!”
Blythe got out of the car and ran as best as she could through the icy parking lot. At one point she almost slipped but she regained her footing, turning to face the car and giving us a thumbs up. We laughed hard as she entered the orthodontics office. She liked teasing the staff there—they thought she was funny and cute. You always knew when Blythe was in the back because you could hear lots of laughter and lighthearted jabs going on.
“I’m so excited for her,” mom said. “It’s all she’s been thinking about for weeks.”
“Oh, it is so exciting,” I agreed. “I’m so used to her with braces that it’s hard to predict what she will look like without them. All I can see is her new self with her old teeth and how unfortunate they were.”
And they were. She had poor jaw alignment and severe overcrowding. Blythe had been embarrassed of her teeth and never showed them for school pictures. Every yearbook photo before braces was a closed-mouth smile. Whenever she’d laugh she would cover her mouth with her hands. She had been excited for braces before getting them but as soon as they were on she was already done. I almost prefer these mangled chiclets of mine, she had said once the pain started setting in after a few hours.
“She’s going to be a heartbreaker with those pearly whites of hers,” mom chuckled. “She didn’t want to have her braces on when she goes to the mountains in the summer.”
“Oh,” I raised an eyebrow. Blythe hadn’t mentioned anything about the mountains since the day Terrence asked. I hadn’t brought it up to her because I knew she was staying silent about it for a reason: she was still deliberating. But I found it interesting how she had been communicating with mom about it and not Terrence or I. “Did she tell you she is going for sure?”
“Well, not exactly. I say ‘when’ because it sounds like she’s leaning more towards going than staying back. I could be wrong though so don’t quote me.”
“Did she tell you what is holding her back?”
“Well, yes and no. She has her theories. It would be better if you two discussed this,” mom glanced at me. “It has to do with her pride. I’ll say that much.”
“That makes sense,” I nodded in response. “She still thinks Terrence asked out of obligation since she can’t come to my bachelorette party. Ugh, that Blythe. She can be so stubborn at times! She doesn’t realize how much people enjoy being around her. She doesn’t realize, either, how much Terrence cares about her. He sees her as a little sister. He loves her like his own blood.”
“There’s a little more to it that I don’t think you two have talked about yet—"
“We’ll have to discuss it before we meet up with Terrence because he plans on mentioning it to her today. He’s going to lay out the plan and see if it’s palatable for her,” I sighed. “She’s not upset with me, is she? She hasn’t seemed upset with me at all. Did I upset her somehow?”
“She’s not upset,” mom shook her head. “Like I said, it’s her pride. I know you two will get it sorted. It will be water under the bridge in no time. I can guarantee that by the end of brunch Terrence will have his answer from her and it will be a yes. This is a good day for her. She’s getting her braces off. It’s all going to work out in the end. There is nothing that can be spoiled.”
I hoped she was right.
Blythe came out of the orthodontics office over half an hour later. She did not bare any teeth until she got in the car and then she smiled the biggest, most beautiful, most authentic smile I had ever seen. Her teeth were absolutely marvelous. Full pink lips stretched to reveal straight pearly whites. My jaw dropped. She was a vision. She wore only a thin layer of mascara yet she looked like she was made for the screen or the cover of a magazine. It should have been illegal to be as stunning as she was.
Mom got emotional and reached into the back seat to cup her cheeks. Blythe blushed a deep red, glowing like Tinkerbell. My little sister was ethereal and she didn’t even know it. I was speechless. At only sixteen and a half she was more beautiful than most women I had seen—not that it was a competition. Blythe was a woman’s woman.
Mom expressed regret at not being able to come to brunch with us. She forced Blythe to strike a smile for the camera on her phone. Blythe had always been camera-shy ever since she was in diapers. For being as beautiful as she was in person it was difficult to get a good photo of her. She was not the most photogenic of people out there. Something to do with her features—too cherubic, perhaps. Some features simply do not respond well in pictures. I always thought that it was the photos Blythe had seen of herself that prevented her from recognizing how mesmerizing she was.
Mom showed her the photo she took and Blythe grimaced, popping two sticks of juicy fruit in her mouth. Oh, hush! You look beautiful, mom scolded. Blythe rolled her eyes behind moms back and thanked her, dropping the subject. No amount of regaling could convince her it was a nice picture. When mom showed me I could see why Blythe couldn’t be convinced. Poor girl. Photos did her no justice—they did her dirty instead.
Mom eventually left to her vehicle and Blythe crawled in the passenger seat. I texted Terrence before we took off and I knew we would beat him to the restaurant which I was grateful for. It gave Blythe and I more time to talk. What mom said had me concerned. I didn’t think I stepped out of line by telling Terrence she couldn’t come to my party over the summer because, well, the proof was in the pudding. Seventeen was not the legal drinking age. That wasn’t a secret on any account.
“Mom mentioned you were relieved to get your braces off before summer,” I brought up casually, rubbing my lips together. I added, “Before potentially going to the mountains.”
“Oh, yes! I wanted them off before my birthday at least. My teeth feel so naked now, though...”
“They do look a little more bald,” I laughed and she giggled. I had to be more overt. “Just a fair word of warning that Terrence is going to bring up the mountains at dinner. He still doesn’t know if you’re coming or not so he figured this would be a good chance to let you decide. He’s going to tell you the game plan.”
“Oh okay,” I saw her nodding from my periphery. “Sounds good.”
She was being too quiet about this and it was unnerving. She was still debating because she was still under the impression that I had guilt-tripped Terrence into inviting her. It was frustrating. She had been walking on eggshells around me since last Christmas and I hated the change between us. It felt too filtered now—too sterile.
“What is it that’s holding you back from going, Blythe?” I asked blatantly. “I know you want to go but you keep holding yourself back. Why is that? Is it because I told Terrence you can’t make it to my party because you’re seventeen? If so, Blythe, it is not breaking news that seventeen is underage and—"
“You told him about dad, didn’t you?”
“I—oooh,” I tilted my head to the side, mouth slightly open. “Oh, I see. I think I understand. You think that’s why Terrence invited you now.”
“No, I told him about dad after he suggested taking you to the mountains with him and his brothers. I said it was a great idea since dad was supposed to take us when we were younger but then he got sick. Is that why you haven’t been saying anything to us about the invite?”
“How much did you tell him? What did you tell him?”
“I told him about how dad was with mom, how it was smoking that exacerbated the lung cancer, how he gravitated to you, how he had a six month sentence but only served three. You know, Blythe, he wasn’t—isn’t just your dad. He’s my dad too—"
“Did you tell Terrence about dads last day? What happened?”
I pursed my lips, exhaling a little too harshly through my nose. We pulled into the parking lot and I found a stall. Once stationed I undid my seatbelt and turned to Blythe who was doing the same thing I was. She was stern, mouth in a flat line. She knew she had me with those questions. I had crossed a line by telling Terrence. She never told anyone aside from her counsellor about dads last day.
“Yes, I did tell him. I know that isn’t mine to tell but I was there too, Blythe, and I saw all the same things that you did. It felt nice to finally talk to Terrence about it. I knew of his relationship with his parents yet I had never told him about dad until that point. Once I started it was hard to know when to stop. I’m sorry that I told him without you giving me the green light, but he doesn’t see you any differently—"
“Why do you always do that?” Blythe snapped, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I have never forgotten that you were there and you saw the same things I did. I’ve never forgotten that he’s our dad. Not once. You’re making me feel like the villain for being upset about you telling Terrence something I didn’t want anyone else outside of us knowing. I am allowed to be upset about that. And who’s to say he won’t tell Lawrence or—or Spencer? I don’t want Spencer of all people knowing that. If you were the one holding dads hand when he died then fine, tell Terrence, tell the whole world, I don’t care. But it was me and it’s not your place to tell anyone that part.”
“I didn’t do it to be malicious,” I gasped, eyes watering. Mom was wrong about her not being upset. She was upset because I had bruised her pride. “I—I am sorry—"
“I don’t know if I want to do brunch,” Blythe shook her head. “I just want to go home. I’ll even walk. You can text Terrence and tell him I’m feeling under the weather. You can tell him I’ll be a no-show for the mountains too.”
Blythe made a move to get out of the car but I grabbed her bicep. She turned to face me, defensive, her eyes cold and blue like the underbelly of an iceberg. I let her go only when she retracted her hand from the door.
“Blythe, I am sorry. I am very sorry,” I dabbed my eyes with the collar of my sweater under my jacket. “Listen, Terrence wouldn’t tell this to Spencer or Lawrence, okay? What I tell him stays between us. And in addition Terrence will never bring it up around you, nor will he ever treat you any different. As far as it goes, Terrence doesn’t know that you know that he knows and I am certain he’d like to keep it that way. I’m sure what I told him will be the last thing crossing his mind in the mountains.”
“Well I’m glad he doesn’t know that I know he knows,” she smiled faintly. “But still it’s just...I know that he knows. If I were to go, it would be crossing my mind here and there and it would take away from the experience and I don’t want that.”
“The mountains are like magic, I’ve heard,” I grinned. “Once you’re in them your problems no longer exist. All that crosses your mind is how magnificent the views are. I think it would be a good idea for you to go and I hope Terrence really sells his game-plan to you. You may not listen to what I say but I have a feeling you’ll listen to him. It would be a shame if you didn’t go.”
“We better hope that Terrence is a salesman on the side,” Blythe muttered.
We occupied a booth and ordered iced teas while we waited for Terrence. Blythe sat in contemplation and thus there was not a bevy of conversation between us. I mainly stirred my ice and people-watched. I was brought back to my fifth date with Terrence, smiling as I thought about the white lilies. They were the flower of choice for my wedding.
After we had been seated for fifteen minutes Terrence showed up. I greeted him with a hug and a kiss and Blythe stayed sitting. Him and I exchanged a look and I shrugged nonchalantly so he brushed off her lack of enthusiasm. Instead he was trying to coax a smile out of her which, after a few moments, worked. Terrence slid after me in the booth, his hand on my leg.
The waiter came by to ask Terrence if he wanted something to drink, so he ordered a coffee. The three of us made small talk although it was mostly Terrence and I talking while Blythe listened. When the waiter came with the coffee and a sugar and creamer set we ordered our meals; Blythe got a double order of hot wings. Then Terrence laid out the itinerary for what he had planned. It sounded like a lot of fun.
They were taking Lawrence’s truck so, naturally, Lawrence was driving. Lawrence would be spending the night before the trip at our place, ideally Blythe would be as well, and they’d be leaving by 5am the following morning. They’d drive straight to the mountain trail they intended to climb while it was still early, take a few hours to do that, then after they were finished they would head to the lake where they would go cliff diving. Once done at the lake they would check into both of the booked hotel rooms, get cleaned up, and go out for dinner downtown and walk the strip until they were ready to crash for the night. The next day they would go out for breakfast and walk another trail, one less brutal, that ended between two lakes—small but deep lakes with no cliffs, and go swimming again if they so chose. Last stop: home.
Blythe absorbed it, took it all in. He had sold the plan to her very well and I could tell by the way she rolled her tongue against her cheek that she did not, of all things, want to miss out on this opportunity. Blythe knew she’d have a blast with her soon-to-be brother-in-laws. They would be so busy that Blythe wouldn’t get the chance to be bothered by Terrence’s knowledge of dad. She didn’t want him to see her as vulnerable, that was all. She’d prove she was tough as nails on this trip. I think she felt the need to remind him of that. She wanted to restore her pride with him.
“Okay,” she nodded, taking a sip of iced tea. “Very compelling.”
“What do you say, Sunshine?” Terrence pressed. “We would love to have you in case we see a bear or two—we kinda’ need you there for that reason. Only you have a smile so bright it can ward one off.”
“This sounds an awful lot like a trap,” she said suspiciously, playfully. “The flattery helps but only a little bit.”
“Hey, every little bit counts,” Terrence winked.
Blythe smiled, looking over to me. I returned her smile, encouraging with mine. I could tell she wanted to go but there were still those seeds of doubt planted from earlier. Even if she said no now she had a few months to change her mind; but if she said no now it would likely stay a no even if she wanted to backtrack. She would commit to her answer whatever it was or however she felt leading up to the trip. It was fifty-fifty. I would be surprised if her answer was a yes, and I would be surprised if it were a no.
She turned her attention to Terrence who was staring at me. She traced the rim of her glass with her index finger as if trying to summon a sign in the dark liquid to indicate if she should stay or go. Once she stopped I knew she had come to her conclusion.
“Okay, I’ll take the bait,” Blythe relented and Terrence faced her right away. “But I have one stipulation.”
“Shoot,” he said, motioning for her to continue with his hand.
“I want to share a hotel room with Lawrence if he’s okay with it. If not, I’m hoping it can be you,” she licked her lips, eyes glued to her lap. “It’s nothing personal but I don’t feel comfortable sharing a room with Spencer. I know that sounds mean and I hope you’ll forgive me for how it’s coming across—"
“I understand,” Terrence nodded. He did. “I’ll call Lawrence when I get home then I’ll let you know.”
“Okay,” Blythe beamed. She seemed content, posture slack as she sat back in the booth. “Oh, Beth, by the way you have to take me back to the orthodontics office before you drop me off at moms. I have to pick up my retainer. I forgot to mention that earlier.”
“Of course,” I smiled. I was allayed. Mom was at least right that Blythe’s final answer would be a yes. “Anything for you, sister.”