When other adults find out that my dad is a single father of three girls, they shake their heads in admiration, like How does he do it? How does he ever manage that all by himself? The answer is Margot. She’s been an organizer from the start, everything labeled and scheduled and arranged in neat, even rows.
Margot is a good girl, and I guess Kitty and I have followed her lead. I’ve never cheated or gotten drunk or smoked a cigarette or even had a boyfriend. We tease Daddy and say how lucky he is that we’re all so good, but the truth is, we’re the lucky ones. He’s a really good dad. And he tries hard. He doesn’t always understand us, but he tries, and that’s the important thing. We three Song girls have an unspoken pact: to make life as easy as possible for Daddy. But then again, maybe it’s not so unspoken, because how many times have I heard Margot say, “Shh, be quiet, Daddy’s taking a nap before he has to go back to the hospital,” or “Don’t bother Daddy with that; do it yourself”?
I’ve asked Margot what she thinks it would have been like if Mommy hadn’t died. Like would we spend more time with our Korean side of the family and not just on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? Or—
Margot doesn’t see the point in wondering. This is our life; there’s no use in asking what if. No one could ever give you the answers. I try, I really do, but it’s hard for me to accept this way of thinking. I’m always wondering about the what-ifs, about the road not taken.
* * *
Daddy and Kitty come downstairs at the same time. Margot pours Daddy a cup of coffee, black, and I pour milk in Kitty’s cereal bowl. I push it in front of her, and she turns her head away from me and gets a yogurt out of the fridge. She takes it into the living room to eat in front of the TV. So she’s still mad.
“I’m going to go to Costco later today, so you girls make a list for whatever you need,” Daddy asks, taking a big sip of coffee. “I think I’ll pick up some New York strips for dinner. We can grill out. Should I get one for Josh, too?”
My head whips in Margot’s direction. She opens her mouth and closes it. Then she says, “No, just get enough for the four of us, Daddy.”
I give her a reproving look, and she ignores me. I’ve never known Margot to chicken out before, but I suppose in matters of the heart, there’s no predicting how a person will or won’t behave.
SO NOW IT’S THE LAST days of summer and our last days with Margot. Maybe it’s not altogether such a bad thing that she broke up with Josh; this way we have more time with just us sisters. I’m sure she must have thought of that. I’m sure it was part of the plan.
We’re driving out of our neighborhood when we see Josh run past. He joined track last year, so now he’s always running. Kitty yells his name, but the windows are up, and it’s no use anyway—he pretends not to hear. “Turn around,” Kitty urges Margot. “Maybe he wants to come with us.”
“This is a Song-girls-only day,” I tell her.
We spend the rest of the morning at Target, picking up last minute things like Honey Nut Chex mix for the flight and deodorant and hair ties. We let Kitty push the cart so she can do that thing where she gets a running start and then rides the cart like she’s pushing a chariot. Margot only lets her do it a couple of times before she makes her stop, though, so as not to annoy other customers.
Next we go back home and make chicken salad with green grapes for lunch and then it’s nearly time for Kitty’s swim meet. We pack a picnic dinner of ham-and-cheese sandwiches and fruit salad and bring Margot’s laptop to watch movies on, because swim meets can go long into the night. We make a sign, too, that says Go Kitty Go! I draw a dog on it. Daddy ends up missing the swim meet because he is delivering a baby, and as far as excuses go, it’s a pretty good one. (It was a girl, and they named her Patricia Rose after her two grandmothers. Daddy always finds out the first and middle name for me. It’s the first thing I ask when he gets home from a delivery.)
Kitty’s so excited about winning two first-place ribbons and one second place that she forgets to ask where Josh is until we’re in the car driving back home. She’s in the backseat and she’s got her towel wrapped around her head like a turban and her ribbons dangling from her ears like earrings. She leans forward and says, “Hey! Why didn’t Josh come to my meet?”
I can see Margot hesitate, so I answer before she can. Maybe the only thing I’m better at than Margot is lying. “He had to work at the bookstore tonight. He really wanted to make it, though.” Margot reaches across the console and gives my hand a grateful squeeze.
Sticking out her lower lip, Kitty says, “That was the last regular meet! He promised he’d come watch me swim.”
“It was a last-minute thing,” I say. “He couldn’t get out of working the shift because one of his coworkers had an emergency.”
Kitty nods begrudgingly. Little as she is, she understands emergency shifts.
“Let’s get frozen custards,” Margot says suddenly.
Kitty lights up, and Josh and his imaginary emergency shift is forgotten. “Yeah! I want a waffle cone! Can I get a waffle cone with two scoops? I want mint chip and peanut brittle. No, rainbow sherbet and double fudge. No, wait—”
I twist around in my seat. “You can’t finish two scoops and a waffle cone,” I tell her. “Maybe you could finish two scoops in a cup, but not in a cone.”
“Yes, I can. Tonight I can. I’m starving.”
“Fine, but you better finish the whole thing.” I shake my finger at her and say it like a threat, which makes her roll her eyes and giggle. As for me, I’ll get what I always get—the cherry chocolate-chunk custard in a sugar cone.
Margot pulls into the drive-thru, and as we wait our turn, I say, “I bet they don’t have frozen custard in Scotland.”
“Probably not,” she says.
“You won’t have another one of these until Thanksgiving,” I say.
Margot looks straight ahead. “Christmas,” she says, correcting me. “Thanksgiving’s too short to fly all that way, remember?”
“Thanksgiving’s gonna suck.” Kitty pouts.
I’m silent. We’ve never had a Thanksgiving without Margot. She always does the turkey and the broccoli casserole and the creamed onions. I do the pies (pumpkin and pecan) and the mashed potatoes. Kitty is the taste tester and the table setter. I don’t know how to roast a turkey. And both of our grandmothers will be there, and Nana, Daddy’s mother, likes Margot best of all of us. She says Kitty drains her and I’m too dreamy-eyed.