Elle let out her breath. “She’s a teenager. Ally’s a teenager. Even if she’s trouble, Ally’s got to figure that out for herself.”
Wilson cupped some water in his hands, rubbed down his face and neck.
“She seemed nice enough to me,” Elle continued. “She’s a pretty one, jailbait for sure. I stopped by Ally’s game the other day and met her. I might be worried if she were 10 years older; if you were 10 years younger.”
“You went to her lacrosse game?”
“I did,” Elle said. “She asked me to. Is that a crime?”
Wilson thought about it. The idea of Elle alone with Ally had, until then, amounted to nothing more than a planned shopping trip. “Of course not,” he said.
“Well,” Wilson said, regrouping. “There’s just something about her I don’t like. She’s different from Tink.”
They drifted into a patch of sun and Elle dipped her face back. Wilson admired her tawny skin, unlike that of the other Japanese women he’d known. He traced her neckline down the sleek curve to her shoulder.
“So what if she is?” Elle said. “Different can be good.”
With only the sparse weekday traffic lazing by, Wilson had the urge to grab Elle and make love right there in the river. He started massaging her back and she let out a soft moan.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “I know a way you can keep the shop going.”
“That makes one of us,” Wilson said.
“It won’t be forever. Maybe it’ll only last you another few months, but I figure, who knows, maybe that’s all you’ll need.”
“Now that you’ve talked it up.”
“Let me loan you some money,” she said. “A little something to tide you over.”
“Absolutely not,” he said, and took his hands back, though he could not deny the thought had crossed his mind. He’d lain awake trying to calculate what it might take to stay afloat, whom he could ask (there certainly was no family fortune), but to hear it now, from Elle, rankled him.
“I’ve got money saved,” she said. “I’d rather invest it in you than anywhere else. You’re a bull compared to the market. Just don’t be a little boy about it.”
“I’m not,” he said. “But I won’t take your money.”
They listened to the sound of the cars, the parting water. In the square, the bell tower rang.
“Well, what if I moved in with you and Ally? My lease is up at the end of the month. I could pay you rent.” She splashed him. “Or do other things.”
“I don’t think it’s the best idea,” Wilson said. “Ally’s still young.” He remembered how private Ally had grown in the months after Jen left, how she had gathered every last item she owned into her room. “You’re the first woman since her mother.”
“She’s not so young.”
“I know what she is.”
Elle swung her legs around the side of the shell; a glint of sunlight caught her white sneakers. “I’m not trying to fight you,” she said.
On either side of them, two eight-mans flitted by. “Power 10,” one coxswain called. “Power 20,” the other called back. They listened to the voices alternate as the shells sped up the river calling back and forth, slowly converging as they shrank into the distance.
“I love you,” she said. “I love Ally. I’m just trying to help.”
Ally came in to the shop after school. She was wearing a baby-blue t-shirt and matching ballcap, both with the Blue Skies Creamery logo, a grinning cow atop a billowing white cloud. She was twisting her gum vacantly as she and Wilson worked the afternoon shift.
“Stop doing that,” he said. “You know how much bacteria are on your hands?”
“How much?” she said.
She looked at Wilson as she stretched the gum out, then balled up the pink glob and trashed it. “You win,” she said, and slipped her iPod from her back pocket.
“Tink,” he said. “What the hell are you doing?”
She dropped the device into a drawer and he recognized a shade of Jen in her cool indifference.
“Everything OK?” he asked.
She drummed lightly on the countertop, her bracelets chiming back-up.
“So what’s the story with this Lana character?”
“Didn’t I tell you already?” she said.
“I mean, where are you two maybe going?”
She stopped drumming. “Abortion clinic. No, city hall.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“You’re right,” she said. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll stop talking like that.”
“Who taught you to be such a smartass?”
They both smiled. Outside, it began to rain.
“I’ve been meaning to speak to you about something,” Wilson said.