Just after dusk on Sunday evening, Morde watched his father, Natan Wolff, steeping tea in the kitchen of his childhood home."How are you feeling, בן?" Natan asked. Morde, who was seated at the breakfast nook, shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know how to say he was feeling worse for wear without robbing himself of the credibility he would need to convince his father he'd been in his right mind when he'd married Alex — so, he lied. "Okay," he said. "Better." He was a terrible liar, but Natan didn't know him well enough to know that. "Good." "Yeah," Morde nodded, pretending to read the newspaper his father had left on the table so that he wouldn't have to make eye contact with him. "Thanks for checking in on me when I was low. I'm sorry for giving you shit." "אל תדאגו בקשר לזה," Natan replied, setting a mug of tea down in front of him. "I know you didn't mean it." Keeping his eyes down, Morde wrapped his hands around the mug, pressing his palms against the hot ceramic. "I'm sorry I haven't visited in a while." "It's not like you to apologize for that," Natan chuckled, raising an eyebrow at him before returning to the counter to steep his own tea. "You must not be well." Morde withdrew his hands from the mug only when he thought he might cry out, biting down on his lower lip while he examined his palms. "Dad?" "Yes, Abel?" He wanted to say: I went to Vegas with Alex and married her. I know you don't approve, but I don't care. I'm not telling you because I value your opinion, I just thought you should know. He could have said: I went to Vegas with Alex and married her. I know you don't approve, but please try to understand. I've spent all week fighting with people I love, and even though things are difficult between us on a good day, I don't think I could stand fighting with you without falling back into the hole I spent weeks digging myself out of. I know I say I don't need you, but I do need you. I need you to try. I need you to see me as I am — not as a reflection of Eliya, or you, just… as me. And I need you to be okay with that. I need you to be my dad. Instead, he asked: "Do you think Dr. Levin is still seeing patients?" "I would assume," Natan answered, stirring milk and sugar into his tea, spoon clinking against the inside of his mug like a ticking time bomb. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. "Would you like me to find out?" "Sure," Morde faltered. "What changed your mind?" Morde didn't answer. "That girl?" "Her name is Alex, Dad." "I know." There was a long pause, punctuated by the sound of stainless steel against ceramic, trapped with nowhere to go. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. When the sound became unbearable, Morde spoke up, at long last finding the courage to rip the Band-Aid off. "I didn't come over to apologize," he said, and — in light of his confession — he had to look up at his father, their eyes meeting for the first time since Natan had invited him in. "All right." "I didn't come over to talk about therapy, either," he added. "Though, I guess that's a conversation we should have sometime soon." "Why did you come over?" Natan asked, placing his spoon in the sink before joining Morde at the breakfast nook, mug in hand. "To talk about Alex." "Alex?" "Yes." Natan scoffed, setting his mug down in favor of the unread newspaper, flipping to the politics section. He always read the politics section first. "What sort of input could you possibly want from me in a conversation about her? You know I don't think she's good for you." "I married her, Dad." The silence that followed was agonizing, enough to make Morde wish Natan was still stirring his tea, or that Alex got so tired of waiting in the car that she let herself in through the front door, ready to come to his aid when his father told him how stupid he was. Finally: "You what?" "I married her," Morde repeated, clearing his throat. "Last week, in Las V—" Before he could finish his speaking, Natan swatted him in the back of the head. "טיפש! You stupid boy!" He cursed. "Do you have any idea what you've— Dear God, what have you done?" "I love her," Morde said. Pushing his tea aside, he stood up from his chair and turned his back to his father, folding his arms against his chest. If he angled himself just right, he could see down the hallway, catch a glimpse of his mother's grand piano in the foyer, the sight of which comforted him. "I married her because I love her. I love her, she loves me. It shouldn't be that difficult to grasp." A crinkling sound behind him suggested that Natan was putting down the newspaper. "Is she pregnant, Abel?" "No." "Are you lying to me?" "No." "Are you still taking your meds?" "I knew it," Morde breathed, his voice barely audible. "I knew you'd ask me that." "Answer me, Abel." "Yes," Morde growled, raising his voice as he spun around again. His blood was boiling hotter than the water Natan had used to steep their tea. "Yes, I'm fucking taking my meds. If I wasn't, don't you think I might've offed myself before I got the chance to propose to her?" "That isn't funny." "I'm not laughing." "How dare you?" Natan hissed, standing up, glaring at him. "How dare you speak to me like that after—" The small bit of humanity in him made it impossible for him to finish the thought. Morde dropped his gaze, unsure how to respond. He wanted to say: Go fuck yourself. He could have said: When you talk to me like I'm crazy, it hurts me just as much as it hurts you when I talk about killing myself. Instead, he mumbled: "Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you, okay?" He stared down at his shoes — worn, black Converse starkly contrasting polished, white linoleum. "But she's not Mom. Neither am I." "No," Natan agreed, "you're not your mother. But that doesn't mean you're any less of a stranger to me. Deferring from Columbia, squandering your potential, refusing to make smart career decisions, smoking, drinking, cursing, marrying a girl you won't care about a year from now. אלוהים יקר. You used to be so sensible. What happened to you?" "Luke died," Morde answered, looking up, his eyes narrowing. "And I grew up." "You're throwing your life away." Morde shook his head. "I knew you'd react like this. She told me not to come here. It was a mistake to come here." "It was a mistake to get married to a girl you've known for three months." "Okay, fuck you, Dad. I went to Vegas with Alex and married her. I know you don't approve, but I don't care. I'm not telling you because I value your opinion, I just thought you should know. And now that you do, I'm going." With that, Morde turned on his heel, making a beeline for the front door, past his mother's piano, an instrument most beloved. "Get back here! We are not finished talking about this!" Natan shouted, following him. "I mean it, Abel Mordecai! If you leave this house, don't even think about coming back!" Spinning around, Morde shouted: "Why would I want to?! What reason have you ever given me to want to stay?" Then, for a moment, he and his father stared at each other across the empty space standing between them. They couldn't have been more than a few feet away from one another, but they felt miles apart. They'd always been miles apart. "No wonder Mom left," Morde said, words escaping his lips without permission and spreading through the air like wildfire through underbrush. "In this family, it's not the BD that makes people want to kill themselves." He regretted saying it as soon as he let the front door slam behind him. The sound made him feel sick to his stomach — sharp, absolute, marking his banishment from another home. Several minutes passed before he remembered he'd left his coat on the piano bench.