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Dirty Rowdy Thing: Chapter 14

Finn

I DID A LOT of things in San Diego that weren’t stereotypical Finn Roberts: sleeping in, watching TV, buying Starbucks coffee, not working a steady fifteen hours a day. But this—driving away as the sun sets over the water—is the first familiar feeling I’ve had in a long time.

Oliver came home while I was packing and watched me warily from the doorway. “You want some coffee for the road?” he’d asked.

“Yeah, that’d be good.”

Things had been the slightest bit tense between us, and I knew there were probably a hundred questions Oliver would ask if given the chance. In turn, he knew there were about a hundred reasons why I wouldn’t answer any of them, and so once my bag was closed, we walked to the kitchen, stood over the Keurig in silence, both of us watching the final drip drip drip of coffee into the cup below.

“You can’t have this one,” he said, turning away from me to spoon in more sugar than any human should probably consume in one sitting.

“Of course I can’t. It’s your Aqua Man mug, you think I want to lose an eye?”

He glanced up at me, smiling weakly. “No, you can’t take that one because yours will take a few minutes to brew and I wanted the chance to talk to you before you left.”

“Ah.”

“I know you have some stuff going on.” He let the sentence hang for a moment, suspended in the air while he walked to the fridge and retrieved a carton of half-and-half.

I felt a flash of panic, worried that Harlow had decided to get even with me after all, and told him everything. But she hadn’t; I knew this even without hearing what else he had to say. Harlow may be a lot of things—meddling, naïve, ­impulsive—but disloyal is absolutely not one of them.

He returned to the counter and opened up the carton, checking the date before continuing without missing a beat. Like we were just having a casual conversation after work, like he wasn’t giving me yet another chance to open up. Which of course, I didn’t.

“Just know that you can talk to me.”

“I know,” I said, grateful that Oliver never seemed to push. “Thanks.”

And that was it. He handed me my coffee, gave me a long hug that would have bordered on awkward even for Ansel, and I left.

I pulled out of his neighborhood and headed straight for the I-5, not glancing even once at the road behind me.

THIRTY-THREE HOURS AND one horrible, sleepless hotel night later, I’m home. I pull into my driveway—the sound of gravel crunching beneath my tires is like a lullaby—and see my house for the first time in weeks. It weird to be home and see how small and alien everything familiar looks after I’ve been out in the wide-open world for what feels like forever.

It’s in these moments I realize just how different my world is from Harlow’s. How much quieter. Instead of buildings crowding overhead, my view here is nothing but towering evergreens, crystal blue water and sky; color in stretches that seem to go on forever. I’m almost completely surrounded by forest, so much so that even the smell of the water on the back side of the house is eclipsed by the heavy scent of decaying trees and foliage out front. There’s no traffic, no noise, and it’s entirely possible to just start walking and go days without ever seeing another person.

The air feels wet—everything feels wet—and my boots squelch in the grass that needs mowing along the drive. After weeks in the California sun, the temperature takes me by surprise. By next month the storm season will be here, and in just the few weeks since I’ve been away, the leaves have started to change, the ground is littered with spikes of orange and red and brown. I climb up the porch and fish out my key, kicking away even more leaves that have gathered in little clumps around the mat. The lock opens easily and the door swings wide, the screen door closing with a creak and a groan at my back.

My house is a tiny two-bedroom, but it’s clean and comfortable, and just a few steps out the back door puts you right on the water. I managed to buy it in one of our better years, and I’m grateful now to Sensible Finn who thought ahead and bought a house, rather than dumbass Colton who bought a gas-guzzling Mustang and a condo all the way in Victoria.

It’s stale and musty inside, and so I set down my bag and walk from room to room, opening the windows to air the place out. It brings in the chill, but it’s worth it and almost instantly the house is filled with the scent of salt and pine. A set of glass doors along the back wall leads out onto a deck where the only view is miles of blue and green, the tree line so thick in some places it stretches clear down the bank to the water’s edge.

I leave the doors open and force myself to the kitchen to find something to eat, and quickly realize the mistake I made not grabbing something on my way through town. The fridge is practically empty but I manage to scrounge up a can of soup and some peaches I find in the pantry, and stave off starvation until I can make it to the store tomorrow.

Hours on the road, a head full of jumbled thoughts, and not enough sleep have taken their toll, and it’s almost more than I can do to make it into my room. Without closing the windows, I strip off my clothes and pull back the blankets, and for the first time in ages, climb gratefully into my own bed.

THE HOUSE IS freezing when I wake up. But it’s good—it’s life here, and the sharp air is exactly what I needed to get me back into the mindset of a day spent on the boat.

A full night of sleep gave my brain time to reboot after all the thinking I did on the drive up. I get out of bed and get ready, feeling good about where I’ve landed on the question of what to do about the business. It’s a relief to have made a decision, even if my stomach remains a little sour with nerves. I trust myself and my brothers enough to know we’ll land on our feet no matter what.

I just hope I’m not about to ruin our lives.

I’m on the dock before five. Salt air fills my lungs and my body moves on autopilot, my muscles remembering exactly what to do.

The boys have been busy. Planks of new decking have been laid where they replaced the wiring, and the controls in the engine room seem to be working just like they should. No equipment has been left out, nets have been repaired, and I feel a swell of pride for my brothers.

“Finn?” I hear, and turn to see my youngest brother, Levi, climbing on board.

“In here,” I call out.

He follows my voice and steps inside, cradling a steaming mug of coffee in his hands. He’s dressed in a heavy plaid jacket, a beanie pulled down over his curly hair. “Well, fuck,” he says, setting his cup down and pulling me into a giant hug. “Nice to have you back, stranger.”

Apparently, I’ve become a softie in San Diego, because I find myself pulling him back in when he pulls away, hugging him tighter. “Thanks,” I tell him. “Thanks for taking care of the boats. You guys did good.” I pull away but not before I snatch his cap off his head, messing up his pretty-boy blond hair.

His characteristic grin is in place. Levi has always been the smiling brother, the jokester, and he doesn’t let me down. “Colt’s just behind me but we could totally sneak off to paint each other’s nails if you’re feeling needy.”

“Fuck you,” I tell him, laughing as I toss his hat back in his direction.

Colton is there next, giant paper bag holding his lunch in one hand, an apple in the other. “Look who it is,” he says. He hugs me with every bit of force Levi did and it’s just like it always is, the Roberts boys on the boat, ready to start a new day. Except this day will start very differently.

“So, hey,” I begin, pulling off my baseball hat and rubbing my forehead. “I think we should stay docked today.”

Colton studies me for a moment. “Why?”

Looking down the dock, I still don’t see Dad heading down to the boat. “Dad still at home?”

“Probably be down later,” Colton says. “Especially since he knows you’re back.”

“What’s up, Finn?” Levi asks. “We’re not tossing nets today?”

I decide to go ahead and tell them, with or without our dad here. I slip my hat back on and look at each of my brothers in turn. “I think I’ve come around.”

Levi takes a step closer. “Meaning what?”

“Meaning, I think we should sign on.” I look over at Levi and laugh at his hopeful expression. “For the show.”

My brothers both let out enthusiastic whoops, and high-five each other before hugging me again.

“Fuck yes!” Colton yells, and his voice echoes down across the water. “Oh, this is good, Finn. I’m fucking stoked.”

“Can you imagine what people are going to say?” Levi asks, though his grin tells me he isn’t particularly worried. “They’re going to give us epic shit, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, well, they can give us all the shit they want,” I tell him. “You can wave at them from the water because our engines are working.”

“I’ll blow them a fucking kiss wearing nothing but my bank statement,” Colton adds.

Levi laughs. “I’m sure you would.”

There’s a moment where I just watch the two of them, measuring this Levi and Colton against the ones I left the day I headed to Oliver’s. Things were looking bad, and maybe I didn’t realize how bad they were until right now, seeing the contrast in them. They’re smiling and happy, young. Hopeful for the first time in years. Money can’t buy you happiness, but happiness sure is a hell of a lot easier to find when you’re not worried about where your next meal is coming from.

“Come on,” I tell them, reaching for a clipboard that hangs on a nail near the door, and thumb through the daily logs. “I need to take stock of everything so when we call, I can tell them what’s gotta be fixed.”

Levi follows me up into the wheelhouse. “So, tell us about California.”

“What he means is tell us about the pussy,” Colton interrupts.

“Check yourself, Colt,” I chide him quietly.

Colton looks at me with the most comical look of feigned innocence I’ve ever seen.

“It was good. Great to see Oliver and Ansel. See the new store.” I scribble a few notes on the charts, add today’s date, and start a list of repairs needed in order of priority. “I saw Harlow,” I add, and regret it almost immediately.

“Harlow,” Levi repeats with glee evident in his voice. “Harlow of the trench coat?” Of course Levi would remember that. Because karma has an incredible sense of humor, Levi just so happened to be pulling up to my house as Harlow climbed into her cab. He definitely enjoyed sharing that piece of information with my entire family.

I glare at him over the top of the clipboard. “Yes. That Harlow.”

“Well, damn, son. I wouldn’t have answered my phone calls, either.”

“Yeah, about that,” I say, but Levi is already shaking his head.

“We’re big boys, Finn, we can handle the load for a while. You deserved a break, man.”

“This,” Colton echos.

“Okay, well,” I say, a little overwhelmed and not exactly sure how to respond. “We have an engine to pull apart before we can make the big call, so let’s get to it.”

IT’S LIKE I never left. I work from sunup to sundown—taking a break only at lunch to call the producers with my brothers and my dad and tell them, finally, that we’re in—and it feels so damn good to wear myself out and work until I can hardly stand, too tired to worry or even think.

It’s only the middle of the night that the mental clarity goes to shit. I wake from a dream that was too real. It was Harlow, over me, laughing at something I said. Her bare skin was only half visible in the moonlight, and waking without that sight sends a spike right through my gut.

It’s easier to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling than risk going back to sleep, where I might dream about her again. I’m not sure whether Harlow cemented the impossibility of a relationship when she went behind my back to talk to Salvatore Marìn, or whether I did just today when I agreed to do this show, but however it happened, I have to accept the fact that there’s no future for us.

Despite what I thought, I know now that I’ve never loved someone before and I’m beginning to realize that I have no idea how to get over it. It’s terrifying to wonder if I’ll always have this carved-out feeling beneath my ribs, like I left something vital behind in California.

IT’S BEEN FOUR days since I’ve seen her, and anyone who says it gets easier with time can go fuck themselves. I’m not sleeping well, I’m not eating enough, and I’m working myself into the ground.

I’ve tied up the loose ends with Salvatore and put our smallest boat up for sale so we can focus on the two larger boats. The show is sending a crew of mechanics to get to work on the Linda in a week or so, but it’s impossible for me to be still and not try to tackle some of it on my own while I can. I’m the first one at the dock every morning and the last one to leave. By Wednesday, we’ve torn apart the entire engine and finally come to the conclusion that this particular problem is too big for us to handle on our own.

Colton spends the afternoon on the phone with the producers scheduling the repairs while I help Levi check the pulleys for wear. Dad is checking the nets and commenting on each and every repair, when I hear a familiar voice.

“Permission to board, Captain Wanker.”

I look over the side to see Oliver, smiling up at me.

“Holy shit,” I say. I wave him up and around the boat, watching as he climbs on board. “What the hell are you doing here?” My first reaction is joy, elation at seeing my friend, that he came all this way to see me.

A second, more physical emotion is fear. I came and left without giving him any reason, and never bothered to check in once I arrived back home. And now I’ve made a pretty monumental decision about our family business and still ­haven’t told my two best friends anything. “Is something wrong? Ansel? Harlow?”

He’s already shaking his head. “They’re fine,” he says. “I just wanted to talk to you.” He pulls me into a hug before stepping back, taking a minute to look around. “Never thought I’d step foot on one of these again,” he says. “Smells like fucking fish.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

We both turn to see a grinning Colton making his way toward us.

“Colton,” Oliver says, shaking my brother’s hand. Oliver glances from me to Colton and back again. “Looks like you’re going to be as ugly as this one here, you poor bastard. How are you?”

“Good. Great, actually. Did you hear about the show?”

Fuck.

“The . . . show.”

“Yeah, the Adventure Channel show,” Colton barrels on obliviously. “Two fucking seasons, Olls. Can you believe—”

“Colt,” I interrupt him, holding up a hand. “I was hoping to tell Oliver about this myself.”

Oliver turns his smile on me and I’ve known him long enough to know that this is not an I’m-so-happy-for-you smile. This is the condescending smile he gives to someone who confuses Star Trek with Buck Rogers, or doesn’t understand the dynamic behind the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops love triangle. “Good plan, Finn. I like hearing things directly from the source.”

I reach up to scratch the back of my neck, waiting while Colton and Oliver catch up. I only tune back in when I hear Colton ask how long he’ll be here.

“Heading back tomorrow morning.”

Colton groans. “Why such a short trip? We could use your help next week when the mechanics descend and Finn is banned from the boats.”

“Very funny.”

“Listen, I gotta get back to the engine room; make time for a beer tonight, yeah?” Colton asks, walking backward.

Oliver nods. “Definitely.”

“Cool. Good to see you, man, we’ll talk tonight.”

We watch Colton round the corner and disappear out of sight. Oliver is the first to speak. “I like your brothers,” he says.

“They’re good guys. Really held things together while I was gone.”

“You know who I don’t like right now?”

“Ansel?” I guess.

He laughs. “Walk with me, Finn.”

Oliver steps back onto the dock and after a moment of hesitation when I wonder whether I could actually swim back to my house, I follow. On the surface, Oliver is about as laid-back as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of those people who keeps everything in, letting their emotions out in small, measured pieces. The fact that he flew up here to check on me without even knowing about the show . . . I think I’m in for a world of hurt.

Despite the sun high overhead, there’s a distinct bite to the air. The wind whips through the boats and it gets even chillier the farther we walk. A ship’s horn cuts through the silence and Oliver turns to me.

“I’m assuming this whole show thing has something to do with why you left? And with what was bothering you the entire time?”

I pull my cap off and run a hand through my hair. “Harlow tell you anything?” There’s a part of me that almost wishes she had. If Harlow’s already told him then there’s no need for me to, no reason to spill my guts out and onto the dock.

I am not that lucky.

“No, actually she said it was your story to tell. And I agree.”

The sound of the water, small waves breaking against the base of the pier carry up to us, amplifying my silence. I should have told him. I should have told Ansel.

“Finn, I know you’re not a big sharer. I get that. Hell, after spending time with chatterbox Ansel, I even appreciate it at times. But I love you, you’re my best mate and I wouldn’t have given you so bloody many chances to confide in me if I didn’t actually care what was happening in your life. Talk to me.”

“I don’t like discussing things until I know what I’m going to do.”

“I get that,” Oliver says, nodding. “But seeing as how I came up here to make sure you were okay, and I find out just now from your brother that you’ve already signed on to do a television show . . .” He waves his hand forward, indicating he doesn’t really need to finish making his point.

I point to a bench at the end of the dock, and we walk there in stiff silence. We sit down, and Oliver stretches his arms across the back of the bench as I lean forward, elbows on my knees, staring down. The dock is old and weather-worn, but I swear I could draw the pattern of grain in the wood from every plank from memory.

“The last few months, things haven’t been good,” I tell him. “Fish counts are down, the cost of fuel is at a premium. People are losing everything left and right. Dad was going to take a loan out on the house. I was pretty sure I was going to have to, too. And you’ve seen my house, Olls. You know we’re not talking about a huge line of equity, okay? We were scraping the barrel.”

“Shit,” Oliver mumbles.

“So,” I continue, “a month ago we got a visit from a couple of suits at the Adventure Channel. They wanted to film on the boat, document our lives and what we go through. Document us. My first reaction was that they were totally fucking with us. My second reaction, when I realized they were for real, was to say no, because it’s clear that the goal of the show isn’t about fishing, it’s to show us and our lives.”

“The lives of four eligible, brawny blokes up in Canada, you mean.”

“Exactly,” I say, rubbing my face. “But the guys—my brothers and my dad—they thought we should hear them out. They’re tired of fighting so hard, you know?”

Beside me, Oliver nods.

“We talked, and it was decided that since I was the only holdout—and believe me, I was dead set against it—I’d be the one to go out to L.A. and meet with the production company, get all the details, and come back. We’d decide together.”

“Okay,” Oliver says. “Hence the visit.”

“The more I thought about it, the more I knew I didn’t want to do the show. Even as I was driving down to San Diego, I knew. I didn’t want to make light of what people are going through up here. I didn’t want us to be some kind of a joke. But then I got to California and . . . one of the engines threw a rod and it was one thing after another and pretty soon, it was either that or lose it all. No way would any loan help us dig out of the mess.”

“But you didn’t tell me. You didn’t tell Ansel.”

I shake my head. “I didn’t.”

“You did tell Harlow.”

I take a deep breath and look out over the horizon. A seagull circles overhead before it swoops down, dipping its beak into the ocean. “Yeah,” I say finally.

“Should I be mad that you told her but not me? You were in a relationship with her for, what, twelve hours?” Oliver says. “We’ve been friends for over six years.”

“You’re right. But you and Ansel, you’re a permanent part of my life. Harlow was temporary.” Oliver lifts a brow and I quickly add, “At first.”

“And that made it easier to talk to her? Someone you barely knew, rather than someone you’ve known most of your adult life?”

“You don’t think that makes sense? I didn’t want you to know what was happening until I knew what was happening. I didn’t want it to change how you saw me.”

“You are a stubborn, prideful idiot, Finn Roberts.”

I adjust my hat on my head. “I’ve heard that before.”

“So what I’m hearing is, you left when you found out Harlow was doing basically the same thing.”

I pull my brows together, not understanding.

“She didn’t want to talk about her mother with you, you didn’t want to talk about your boat problems with us. You both wanted to keep things separate.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. Realization sinks in. He thinks I split town because Harlow didn’t tell me about her mother. Jesus. Do I really come off as that callous? “I didn’t leave town because Harlow didn’t tell me about her mom, Oliver. For fuck’s sake. That stung because of my mom, and because I told Harlow everything about my problems, and the night before we’d basically confessed our undying love. But if that was the only thing that happened I wouldn’t have just bailed.”

“Okay, clearly there is a lot more going on, and Harlow is just as tight-lipped as you are.”

I rub a hand over my eyes. “I left town because I had to get back here. And . . .” I pause, looking up at him. “I left town because I was pissed at Harlow for trying to find a way to save my business without talking to me.”

Oliver pulls back, shaking his head to tell me he doesn’t understand. “What?”

I explain to him how Harlow approached Salvatore Marìn without talking to me first. How she discussed details about my life that weren’t hers to share. How she offered ­something—access to my boats for months—when she wasn’t even sure I could deliver.

“So she didn’t tell you because she wasn’t sure it would work out, right?” Oliver asks, and his voice is gentle and curious as if he simply wants to know, but I can feel his laser-sharp point lurking just behind. “She didn’t want to share it with you before it was a real possibility?”

“Yeah,” I say, wary. “That’s probably what she’d say.”

“Just like you didn’t want to tell us about what was happening with the television show before it was a real possibility?”

I see the point he’s making, but it just doesn’t add up. “Oliver, the whole situation is messed up. Yes, I should have told you out of courtesy because you’re my friend. But Harlow should have told me out of necessity because it’s my fucking livelihood. These two aren’t the same.”

He looks out at the water and seems to consider this for a long, quiet beat. “Yeah, I get that.”

There’s nothing else for me to say. “Let’s go get a fucking beer. I can fill you in on the details of the show.”

He nods, standing beside me and following me as I walk down the dock toward my truck. “Are you happy up here without her?” he asks. “You feel pretty good going home alone every night?”

Laughing humorlessly, I tell him, “Not so much.”

“You think she must be a real asshole, I guess, to try to ruin your business. What a twat.”

“Jesus, Olls, she wasn’t trying to ruin it,” I say, instinctively protective. “She was probably just trying to find a way for us—”

I stop, turning to look at Oliver’s giant shit-eating grin.

Groaning, I say, “Go fuck yourself, Aussie.”


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