Asha Greyjoy was twelve years old when she began working in her family’s seafood joint.
She’d never been prouder—not of anything—even though she was only showing the customers to their tables and telling them that their waiters would be along in a minute or two. She felt responsible, trusted, proud to pull on her black and gold Pyke’s Squid and Lobster t-shirt.
She still had the t-shirt tucked away in her dresser. It was slightly too small for her now. Her shoulders had gotten wider when she’d really begun going through puberty, and her torso was longer too. She’d cut the seams off the neckline, hem, and arms and it made a great shirt for going out in—faded and vintage and shit—but she had a different shirt for work now. They’d changed the design of it after Victarion had been packed off to prison and Dad had thought it would be a good idea to remove his name from the shirt for the time being.
And then Rodrik’s boat had been lost during a storm when Asha was thirteen and seeing his name on the Pyke’s shirts had made Mom cry, so they’d gotten them redesigned again. They were now a rather putrid shade of yellow, and Asha hated them. The squid that had decorated the old ones, elegant and many-armed and regal looking was now replaced with some doofy-looking cartoon thing that Maron’s ex had drawn for them while they’d been high one night. They’d also under-ordered on mediums, so Asha had to wear a large and tie a knot in the hem at her waist to make it not look like a shitty yellow bag that she’d decided to wear as a t-shirt for the day.
“Welcome to Pyke’s, a table for four?” she’d ask as she had every day since she was twelve, except days when she was sick or July Fourth when they closed so that they could go down to the shore and light a bonfire and some illegal firecrackers and drink themselves blind. “Please, right this way,” she’d say, making a note in her ledger, collecting menus and crossing the table to seat them in Tris’ section, because Tris was a better waiter than Qarl. “Can I get you anything to drink while you wait? Just water?” She’d cross to the bar and let Uncle Euron know before crossing back to the stand by the door to take note of the time, or any other drinks they might have ordered.
Sometimes, Tris would come by and ask her if she wanted any help.
She’d roll her eyes at him. “I’ve got this.” Always “I’ve got this,” never, “oh fuck off, will you, Tris?” because Tris was too nice to tell to fuck off just like that. He’d get all wounded and for all she’d know he’d go into the bathroom to cry again.
Sometimes, Qarl would pass and hint that they should go into the bathroom for a quickie—especially on slow nights—but she’d shake him off, because that wasn’t sanitary and they couldn’t fail an inspection again. They didn’t have enough money to get their license replaced for the second time this year.
“Oh, come on. Like the bathroom is what they’re going to care about. They’ll care more if Euron’s got piss in the glasses again,” he’d whisper, a hand slipping into her back pocket and pinching her ass.
“Later, Qarl. We’ll fuck in my truck after shut down,” she’d reply firmly. “They don’t need to find your cum on the bathroom walls.” He liked fucking in her truck. Hell, she liked fucking in her truck. The leather of the bench was soft, and the gearshift was behind the steering wheel, so they could really lie down properly. Qarl liked using the walls of the cab to support him so he could thrust faster and deeper.
Qarl would shrug, and go off to chat with Maron in the kitchen, usually about the Pats and how they were shaping up this season and Asha would probably go over and cover for him when his customers looked like they were ready to order because Qarl really was a fucking awful waiter and he really should be fired, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it because she liked fucking him in her truck after work, and she liked watching the way his shoulders would move underneath his hideous yellow t-shirt. And besides, he spent most of his tips on weed or bottles of Jack that he shared with her, so it wasn’t like it was precisely unfair that he got the tips that should rightfully go to her, right?
That was life.
That was life since she was twelve.
And it wasn’t going to change.
It was grey out.
Appropriate. “Grey like a Greyjoy,” her dad always used to say, expelling smoke out of his nostrils over his morning coffee. Asha stared out of the skylight in her room, wondering if it would rain. She hoped it wouldn’t but it was autumn, and you could never tell in autumn. Sometimes the clouds would fall into mist, sometimes they’d fade to blue, and sometimes they’d just hang around in the sky, low and silver and annoyingly not raining.
She reached for the box of Camels on her bedstand and pulled one into her mouth. Then she grabbed her lighter, flicked it, lit the tip of the cigarette, and inhaled. Warm dry smoke slid down her throat and the familiar taste of tobacco coated her tongue. Her dad had always smoked Camels. She didn’t know why she’d avoided them for so long. She’d insisted that Marlboros were better, but there was something comforting about the flavor of her dad’s cigarettes. Maybe she’d switch. Or maybe she would stop. Mom was always trying to convince all of them to stop smoking.
The summer before Theon had left for Princeton, he’d confessed that he’d started smoking during his senior year at Andover, and that he was scared to tell Mom. Asha had shrugged and passed him hers and said, “Smoke with me or Maron. You can pretend that it’s just being around us that makes your clothes smell.” He’d grinned and blown a ring and handed her back the cigarette.
She took the cigarette from her mouth and tapped it into the ashtray on the bedstand, then brought put it back between her lips.
Dad again. It tasted like Dad smelled. She’d smell like him today and fuck she wouldn’t cry or anything because if she cried, fucking Tris would place an arm around her and tell her everything was going to be ok, and hint that she should come round to his place and he’d make love to her, or some sentimental bullshit like that.
She finished the cigarette and killed the butt in the ashtray. Then pulled herself out of bed and went into the bathroom and stepped into the shower. The cold water didn’t wake her up more as well as coffee, but coffee had been the first thing she’d given up in favor of her savings and she wouldn’t be able to have any today, so a cold shower it was.
When clean, awake, and cold, she pulled out a black dress from her closet. She’d worn it clubbing in Boston three weeks before, when she’d met Alysane Mormont for the first time and they’d gone streaking through Harvard Yard at four in the morning because “Fuck the fucking Ivy League,” Alysane had shouted. Qarl had cheered and raised his beer, and Asha had only run faster because she couldn’t knock the Ivy League when they’d taken Theon. The dress was short, but it was the least slutty black thing that she owned that wasn’t a wife-beater or a pair of jeans, and she couldn’t wear those today. So she shrugged into a sweater, and found a pair of grey tights and hoped that Uncle Aeron wouldn’t say anything about it.
She checked her phone, and saw a message from Qarl. If you need a comfort fuck, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll see you there.
She didn’t reply, but tucked the phone into her purse, found a pair of heels and went down to the kitchen.
Mom was sitting at the table with Maron and Arianne. Mom was very pale, and not eating the English muffin that Maron had put in front of her. Her lips were pursed and there were red circles under her eyes. It was one of those times when she was glad she and Maron still lived at home. Mostly because neither of them could afford to move out, but right now, the concept of Mom in an empty house made Asha scared. There was a blankness to her face, and Asha wondered if she’d taken her pills that morning.
Arianne nodded at her when she came in, her lips painted very red and a fading hickey on her neck, covered by brown powder.
“Theon up yet?” Maron asked.
“Didn’t check,” Asha said.
Asha went and sat down next to Mom, and took her hand. “Did you sleep?” she whispered.
Mom didn’t respond. Instead she inhaled deeply, the air trembling in her throat.
A minute or two later, Theon came down the stairs, his dark hair tousled. He’d shaved off the ridiculous beginnings of his beard and he looked more like a boy than he had when Maron had driven him home from Portland at midnight last night.
“Morning,” he whispered tentatively.
Mom began to cry now, and Asha closed her eyes, letting the sound wash through her ears.
“Nine sons were born of the loins of Quellon Greyjoy. And yet only three remain. This is a sad day for Pyke. A sad day for those who knew and loved my brother Balon. A sad day for his family—his wife, Alannys, a good woman, a good mother. His son Maron, a loyal son, hardworking. His son Theon, who just started at Princeton. And Asha.”
Asha rolled her eyes, and Qarl squeezed her hand. She saw him biting his lip and knew that he was resisting muttering something obscene into her ear. Probably how she gave the best blowjobs in town, or something. But he seemed to be showing some mild form of restraint. They were in a church. And it was her father’s funeral.
Beside her, she felt Maron stiffen. That much, at least, she was glad for. But honestly, it wasn’t as though she was surprised.
“Balon loved his family,” Uncle Aeron continued, “Loved his brothers, his children,” she heard Theon’s throat click down the row, “his wife. But most of all, he saw us all as family.” He extended his arms dramatically. “He gave himself to Pyke, not least through our father’s restaurant, but to each and every one of you. He brought you all into his home, brought you all into his heart, fed you, listened to you, cared about you in his own way.”
“In his own way,” muttered Uncle Euron in the row behind, “Saw himself as Lord of the whole fucking town.”
“Shhh!” hissed someone next to him.
“Pyke lost a good man,” Uncle Aeron said loudly, “But God has gained an angel. And my brother won’t be alone in heaven. He’ll be with his five brothers, and his son Rodrik.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” sighed Uncle Rodrik.
Only then did Asha smile.
Uncle Rodrik was walking up ahead with Mom, one arm around her shoulder, the other holding up a black umbrella. It had started raining in the end, but Asha didn’t care. She’d tucked her cell phone into the underside of her bra so that her boob would protect it from the wet and just let the rain land in great heavy plops on her. The dirt over Dad’s coffin stung in her nose.
“Ready?” she asked Theon.
He was standing under an orange and black umbrella with a Princeton P on it, staring at the freshly filled hole in the ground.
“Yeah,” he said quietly. She took his hand in hers and he shifted the umbrella so that it covered her. “You’re all wet.”
She shrugged. “It seemed fitting.”
Theon nodded distractedly. “I keep expecting him to show up.” Maron had said something like that when Rodrik’s boat had gone under.
“It would be like him to show up to his own funeral,” she agreed, but the words felt hollow in her mouth somehow.
“Yeah.” Theon kicked at a rock on the pathway, sending it skittering a few feet away. “It’s weird. This is all weird.”
“Yep,” Asha agreed.
“Like, being home is always weird, but this is really weird.” He let out a bark of laughter that was distinctly humorless. “Like, he’s not here to make me feel shitty about how coming home feels shitty.”
Asha didn’t say anything. She just kept walking, her hand in Theon’s.
“Robb asked me if I wanted him to come,” Theon continued. “And I was like, no. It’s fine. Because Dad was the only one I’d need you here to support me for, and Dad’s fucking gone.”
“It would have made Mom upset too,” she pointed out.
“Hm?” Theon looked at her. She rolled her eyes.
“Dad’s big thing was how the Starks were more like your family than we were. And if Robb Stark showed up at Dad’s funeral, Mom would have freaked.”
“I never got that, to be honest.” He was lying. She could see it in his eyes, the way that he looked down at the ground to find another rock to kick instead of looking at her in the face.
“They are home for you,” she said. “You just said it. ‘Being home is always weird’. We’re not home. We’re family, but we’re not home, Theon. That’s how it’s been since you went off to school.”
“You are home,” mumbled Theon. “You and Maron and Mom.”
He didn’t get it. Didn’t get it at all. She grimaced and tugged open the door to her truck. pulling down the towel that she kept slung over the back of the driver’s seat for occasions like this. Then she climbed into the cab.
“Did you tell your Princeton friends?” she asked as he climbed in the other door.
“Well, yeah…I mean, I told my roommates that I was coming home for the weekend and everything.” He sounded confused, like he didn’t know why she was asking. “I mean, I couldn’t tell them everything, honestly. Like, the fuck, do I want to say that Dad was a chain smoker who smoked a pack a day for the past forty years and that his greasy spoon shitty as fuck restaurant was hosting the wake, even though no one actually likes the fucking restaurant anymore.”
She reached over and smacked him across the chest.
“Shut the fuck up, will you? Just shut up and stop it.”
“What’s your problem?” Theon demanded angrily, rubbing his chest where she’d hit him.
“Stop being an ass about the restaurant, ok?”
“What? It is shitty. You know that.”
“Oh stop being a fucking fuck, will you? I’m working on it. And besides. It’s all I’ve got at the moment. Not everyone here goes to college, ok?”
Theon stilled and looked at her out of the corner of her eyes.
“Are you running it now?”
“Like fuck is Euron going to. And since when does Maron ever do anything?” she snapped.
That was it. That was always it with Theon.
“Does she have to be here?” Mom hissed at Asha. Asha paused on her way to the back, the stack of dirty plates to go into the dishwasher balanced precariously on one hand as she reaches for the swinging door.
“Who?” she asked, confused.
“That girl. The one Maron’s seeing.”
“What’s wrong with Arianne?” Asha asked, confused.
Mom pursed her lips. “It’s—well, I mean to say—they only just started dating. You and Qarl have been, well…did he have to bring her?”
“It’s because she’s Latina, isn’t it?” Asha asked quietly.
Arianne was just on the other side of the door, helping Maron put the dishes into the washer.
Mom flushed. “No. I—of course not. That’s fine. Just fine!” she babbled. Asha raised her eyebrows and pushed open the door.
Arianne and Maron were kissing next to the washer, his hands on her ass. Asha left them be and begins putting the plates in a tray. The number of times that Maron hadn’t said a word when he’s seen used condom wrappers in their bathroom was too high for her to say anything.
It rained for all of the next week. Rained hard, every day, every night, great globs of water splattering on the skylight over her bed. It was soothing most of the time, the incessant pattering drumming every other thought from her head.
Some nights, she ended up at Qarl’s. She liked ending up at Qarl’s all right. He always woke her up by eating her out. Once he asked her to shave her vag for him, so he’d stop getting her hair stuck to his tongue. She’d told him to fuck off, but she’d trimmed and he’d stopped complaining. It was as close to a compromise as she’d ever get.
No one came in for the entire lunch shift. Not a soul. Qarl sat at the bar with Euron, talking about tits. She wished he wouldn’t. She knew he was talking about her tits, and really? Did he have to do that with her Uncle? Especially her creepy Uncle? Like, she knew he’d never do it with Aeron, but the only Uncle who wouldn’t judge was locked away in prison.
She didn’t go over and yell at them though. He’d look at her all wide-eyed and say “It’s not you!” and Euron would say “What? Similar?” with that horrible one-eyed leer of his.
To ignore them, she went and pushed open the door to the kitchen.
“Still no one?” Maron asked.
“Nope.” She leaned against the doorframe. Maron was looking at his phone, a dopey grin on his face. “Arianne?”
“Sending you nudies?”
“Does it have to be while you’re at work?” she teased.
“No one’s out there,” he replied. “Besides, I’m not sending her dick pics in response. I’m being a grown up.”
“Don’t contaminate my kitchen?” she replied, imitating Dad’s voice. It had been Dad’s mantra, she assumed a vestige of when his little brother Urrigon had run the kitchen, before he’d gone off in Desert Storm and gotten himself a festering wound that had ended up killing him. Maron barked a laugh, then frowned.
“You sound like him, you know,” he said.
“I have my moments.”
“More than moments. A lot of the time. I don’t even think you realize it.”
“It’s not a bad thing, is it?” she asked. “Dad was good at things. He was good at running this place. At holding us together.”
Maron looked up from his phone, his eyes boring into her with a glare that reminded her of Uncle Victarion. “You’re not going to hold us together, Asha. They’re not going to let you.”
He jerked his head out the door. “The uncles. Do you think Euron’s just going to let you take over without a fight? And, it’s not like Aeron will want to support him, but he sure as shit won’t support you and your sinning ways. So he’s shit out of choices, isn’t he?”
“Says the guy who’s getting nudies from his girl while at work,” Asha snorted.
“They’re good ones,” grinned Maron. He extended his phone. For a moment, Asha didn’t think she should look, but curiosity got the better of her. She saw large breasts, dark brown nipples, and a hand snaking down to a shaved pussy.
“Shit,” she replied.
“I mean shit, how did you get her?”
“OK Cupid,” grinned Maron.
“I wish I could get that lucky on OK Cupid,” sighed Asha.
Maron snorted and ran his fingers through his hair. “That’s precisely why Aeron will never support you. You’re a sinner and you lust for ladies.”
“They’re fucking hot. Jesus shit on a biscuit.”
Maron rolled his eyes. “Stop eyeballing my girl, will you?” He pulled his phone away from her and stuck it back into his pocket.
“You’re the one that showed me the picture,” she teased.
“Yeah,” he said sheepishly, “I really shouldn’t have done that.”
“Probably not. But I’ll be able to hold it over your head for the rest of your life. What happens if you marry her?”
Maron groaned and Asha began to laugh. Maron hated thinking about marriage. Mom or Uncle Aeron brought it up at least once a week for him—twice a week when he was dating someone.
“What did you come in here for, anyway?” demanded Maron.
“To say hello,” shrugged Asha. “Am I not allowed to do that?”
Maron rolled his eyes. “Go back to work.”
“Eat your girlfriend out tonight. She’s being good to you.”
Later that night, she regretted that command. Lying awake, watching the raindrops spatter, she hears Arianne’s moans of pleasure and can’t get her tits out of her mind.
She came home to find Uncle Rodrik sitting in the living room, reading a copy of Treasure Island that had been sitting on their coffee table since Theon had stopped reading it in the sixth grade.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, a smile creeping across her face.
“Came to check on Alannys,” he whispered. Asha glanced across the entryway. Mom always slept with her door open, but when the lights were out, it was impossible to tell if she was actually awake or not.
“How is she?” Asha breathed, doing her best not to let the words fill the room.
Uncle Rodrik grimaced. “Not great. But then again, her husband just died. It’s hard to know what’s normal grief and what’s just…Alannys.” He glanced at the doorway. “But she hasn’t been taking her meds. I got her to again, but you should be sure to check in with her every morning, all right? Because that’s not going to help anything.”
Asha thought back to the period after Rodrik had disappeared, when Mom had just gone dark, sitting around all day, staring at walls and bursting into tears whenever anyone said a word that was even remotely similar to Rodrik. She hadn’t even been able to call up her brother because hearing his voice reminded her too much of her lost son. But she hadn’t been doing that with Dad.
Maybe because with Dad she’d gotten to say goodbye.
“It’s late,” Asha said, glancing at her watch. “Don’t you have to be up at butt o’clock tomorrow?”
“Watch your language,” chided Uncle Rodrik gently, but he sighed and nodded. “Quarter to butt o’clock, actually. We’re taking them on a field trip and I need to get to school early to greet the bus.”
“Do you want a ride home?” Asha asked, but she didn’t need to see him shake his head to know he’d refuse.
“It’s a five minute walk, Asha. It would take longer to buckle in and wait for the signal on Main than it would be for me to just get myself out the door.” He smiled at her gently. “You’ll be ok?” He always disappeared during the school year. Sometimes she saw him—for the odd Sunday dinner, or maybe an afternoon stroll before she went to the evening shift at Pyke’s—but usually he was too busy with his real, respectable job.
“I think so,” she replied, forcing a resolute expression onto her face.
He kissed her cheek and departed. When the door clicked shut, she locked it and poked her head around the doorframe to her parents’ bedroom.
Her mother was curled up in the fetal position, her back to the door. She was breathing deeply, but Asha knew better than to take that as a sign that she was asleep.
Sometimes Theon sent her emails. Most of the time he didn’t, though. Most of her updates came from his facebook page, where she’d see pictures of him, arms slung over the shoulders of pearl bedecked-girls in tiny dresses. His eyes would be bloodshot, his hair a mess and sometimes there’s be a drink stain on his shirt.
On a Tuesday, she pulled into the parking lot of Pyke’s and found Maron sitting outside, a cigarette in his mouth. Maron usually got there before she did—to begin cooking for the breakfast crowd. The breakfast crowd, at least, was reliable, old weather-beaten men heading out to their boats and looking for a bacon egg and cheese. They were a surly bunch, not yet having had the cheap coffee that they found at Pyke’s. They, more than anyone, were to blame for the cigarette burns on the table and the ashes that needed to be vacuumed up from the carpet every night.
“What’s going on?” she asked, almost nervous.
“One of the pipes broke,” he said, smoke curling out of his mouth as he did.
Asha pushed open the door. The carpet squelched underneath her feet and she winced as some of it snuck through the canvas of her sneakers. There was a pipe hanging down from the ceiling, water still pouring through it and for a moment, she thought she would cry.
Instead, she pulled out her phone and called Uncle Euron.
“’Lo?” he mumbled into the phone.
“Who the fuck did you get to replace our pipes last time?” she snarled into the phone without so much as a greeting.
“When you said that you had a guy who would replace our pipe fittings last year. Who was it?”
“Why?” he sounded disgruntled. And, knowing her uncle, he was probably hung over, still balls deep in someone, or both.
“Because the pipe just broke and is spraying everywhere.”
He didn’t reply.
“Fuck you,” she hissed into the phone and hung up, so that she could call Tris and get the number of the plumber he used when they were installing a new toilet in his house.
Insurance didn’t cover the water damage. Not even close. It covered about fifty percent, and the claim agent laughed at Asha when she described the situation. Asha had the good sense not to tell the agent what kind of person her Uncle had hired to replace the pipe fittings. But that didn’t mean that the agent was unable to sniff out that Asha wasn’t telling the whole truth—no matter how well Asha tried to hide it.
“We’re fucked,” Maron breathed, staring at the estimates from the contractor and the plumber. “Fucked this time, Asha.”
“We’re not,” she replied. She wouldn’t let him believe it. Because it couldn’t be true.
“With what money are we going to pay this off?” Maron demanded. “With all the profits we make from all our customers?”
“I’ll give up my tip money, Asha. We all will,” said Tris.
“Fuck that,” said Euron. “You can shove your tip money up your ass for all I care but you’re not taking mine.” Then he started to laugh.
Asha hated when her uncle laughed. It was the sort of humorless laugh that sounded humorous, and on top of that, reminder her of the sort of noise someone would make when they saw someone else trip and break their teeth; but worse, it reminded her of her father. Uncle Rodrik had joked a long time ago that all Greyjoys laughed the same, as though they were trying to hack up tar and ash. Asha wasn’t that way, and Maron wasn’t yet, but her father certainly had laughed that way, and so did Uncle Euron.
“You’ll do as I tell you or you can get out. This is all your fault,” Asha snapped at him.
“Oh it’s my fault, is it?” Uncle Euron asked, still laughing, though his one eye glittered at her angrily. “And how do you suppose that is?”
“You’re the one that hired the damn person to fix our pipes.”
“I was trying to save us some money. As you might have noticed, we haven’t got a lot to spend these days.” He pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, reaching for his lighter. Asha tugged it from his mouth and stuck it behind her ear.
“And no smoking in here.”
“And who died and put you in charge?”
“Dad did,” she snapped.
Euron raised his eyebrows. “Did he?”
“Ok, then,” said Maron quickly. “Ok. Let’s all calm down some.” Asha glared at him. He raised his hands as if trying to ward off her rage. “I’m just saying. If there’s a solution, we should find it as calmly as possible.”
“You said so yourself, Maron. We’re fucked. And no matter how much Asha says otherwise, there’s no easy out.”
“Oh, I never said it would be easy,” Asha replied acidly. “It’s going to be fucking difficult. But we’re going to do it. And you’re going to help, or you can get out. I’m the manager here. Dad put me in charge before he died.”
“And the Restaurant is split between the four of us—you, me, Aeron and Maron. Don’t think I didn’t read that fucking will when whats-his-fuck Marwell showed up with it.”
“Six of us, actually,” Maron corrected quietly.
“Six of us?” Asha and Euron asked at the same time.
“Victarion and Theon.”
Euron began to laugh again, harder than he had before, clutching his belly and rocking back and forth and, after a span of time, hacking great coughs. “Victarion and Theon!” he howled, “Do you honestly think that Victarion’s going to phone in a vote from the joint? And Theon—like he gives a fuck now that he’s down in New Jersey, drunk as shit every night with preppy sluts on his arm? Like he’ll respond to that text message.”
“How would you know, Uncle?” Asha said quietly. “Hear from them a lot, do you?”
He looked at her, wiping tears of mirth from his eye. “You know that’s a technicality. Even if you could get hold of it, like they’d vote me off the Island. Not while Aeron’s around. He doesn’t want me, but he sure as fuck doesn’t want you in charge either.”
“You’re right,” Asha said evenly. “He wants Maron in charge. And so do I.”
Maron blinked at her. “What now?”
“You’re in charge. You’re the eldest.”
“But—but,” sputtered Maron in shock, “You’re the manager, Asha. I don’t know how the fuck to do anything that you do. I’m the line guy!”
“So I’m your manager,” she shrugged, “and I’m allowed to make staffing decisions.”
A flicker of recognition crossed Maron’s face. Then he smiled. “Yeah. You are.”
Euron glared at the pair of them. “You both think you’re so fucking clever, don’t you?”
“Yes, actually,” said Qarl quickly. “Very clever. Now, if you don’t mind, Asha, how do you propose we make money so that we can stay afloat after these renovations?”
Pyke’s shut down for three weeks. Harmund Sharp took on Qarl and Maron as subsidiary labor and they redid the floors and ceilings. Maron came home late at night, covered in dust, but smiling.
“I like it,” Arianne said over dinner. “My man, arms all big from working all day.”
Maron rolled his eyes. “My arms have always been big, Arianne.”
“I know. But…they’re…bigger.”
Asha saw Mom bite her lip. Mom’s room was below Theon’s empty one—she didn’t have to hear the way that Maron and Arianne fucked, yet she seemed to take it as a personal grievance that Arianne took any pleasure in her eldest son.
Not that he was the eldest, Mom would always mutter whenever someone called Maron that. “I had two sons before Asha was born. Or does everyone forget Rodrik?”
Asha didn’t forget Rodrik—she had barely known him. He had been eight years older than her, and had died when she’d been thirteen. She'd never gotten to know him the way she’d gotten to know Maron because Maron would babysit for her, because when she’d grown up and had to take care of Theon, Maron would laugh at her when she complained about it and tell her that she hadn’t exactly been a dream herself, and that he and Rodrik had had a fantastic time getting her into bed when Mom and Dad couldn’t be bothered.
No, not everyone forgot Rodrik—Maron certainly never had.
“Things look good though?” Asha asked through the silence.
“Yeah. Should be. There’s some dry rot, but we’re getting rid of it. And the new flooring is nice, even if it’s on the cheap end. We’ll have to get it replaced at some point.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Asha replied. “We need to make sure Pyke’s up and running soon.”
“Yeah. I can’t wait for it to reopen,” Arianne smiled. “It’ll look so lovely, especially now that Maron’s worked on it.”
Asha did her best not to roll her eyes at the way that Maron was now smiling like a stoned puppy up at Arianne. Maron had had girlfriends before. Sometimes more than one at the same time. But this was the first time that he’d ever looked at a girl this way. Part of her made her want to smile; a very different part of her almost felt sick.
It was strange not going to work. She tried very hard to keep herself busy, but she just didn’t have enough to do. There was only so often that she could look up different kinds of plates and glasses, and like fuck was she going to look at degree programs until she’d actually saved enough up for them. No point getting her hopes up yet.
No, it was all too strange. She found herself constantly clicking back to Facebook and seeing Theon’s new profile photos get a hundred and fifty likes in an hour, or the link that Robb Stark shared on his wall (a baby squid swimming but being unable to steer, with Robb’s added commentary of “It’s youuuuu!”). (Theon had replied with a photograph of a wolf faceplanting.) But that was a world away. Everything was a world away—even texts from Alysane, asking if she was planning on swinging through Boston again at any point soon.
“They’re opening a Red Lobster.”
“Tris, it’s eight in the morning,” Asha groaned into the phone.
“In Fairport. They’re opening a Red Lobster.”
“So? What does that matter?” Asha rubbed her forehead and scrunched her eyes against the pale blue overhead. “There are tons of seafood joints around here. What difference does a Red Lobster make?”
“The pricing, Asha. The pricing.”
It took Asha a moment—then she saw it.
On Sunday nights, the Greyjoys all had dinner together—regardless of wills. Mom, Asha, Maron, Uncle Aeron, Uncle Euron, and, on the rare occasion, Uncle Rodrik; the only ones with exemptions were the deceased, Theon, and Uncle Victarion. Sometimes, these dinners were nice, and nice was as good as they got. When they were polite, Euron was usually too drunk to be callous, but not drunk enough to be belligerent; Aeron kept his bible-thumping to a bare minimum; and, when he was there, Uncle Rodrik did not regale them with stories of the students he had had to kick out of class for misbehaving. Of course, when they weren’t polite…
“That girl you’re fucking,” Euron began, slurring his words as he turned to Maron, “The Mexican—“
“She’s Nicaraguan,” Maron corrected automatically, before realizing that he probably should have just kept quiet.
“Does it matter? They’re all farmers anyway,” snorted Euron.
“Arianne’s father runs a day care center.”
Asha would have kicked him under the table.
“Yeah, well, probably a pervert, isn’t he?”
“No more than you are,” snapped Asha.
“Asha,” intoned Mother.
“Be respectful of your Uncle.” Mom’s eyebrows were raised and her lips were pursed. She was thin—very thin, and her cheeks were hollow. She hadn’t touched her food.
“Your daughter has a great deal to learn when it comes to living her life in a godly way,” began Aeron and Asha closed her eyes, nostrils flaring. She could almost feel Euron’s eye smiling at her now.
“She’s not that bad,” tried Maron, but Aeron overrode him.
“She respects not her forebears, does not attend to God’s teachings, and does not keep her body pure.”
“He’s calling you a slut, Asha,” Euron translated.
“Euron,” Mom pleaded. “Is there really a need to—“
“Who wants more lasagna?” asked Uncle Rodrik loudly. “It really was delicious, Maron.”
Maron got the hint. “Thanks. I used Arianne’s uncle’s recipe.”
“That explains some of the spices. I quite like it.”
“Yeah, it’s good. I’ve been thinking about incorporating some of it into—“
“Are you just going to sit there and take that?” Euron asked. “You’ve pussied out since Balon died, Asha.”
Asha opened her eyes. “No,” she replied quietly, and even Maron’s and Uncle Rodrik’s forced conversation about what types of peppers Maron had included in the tomato sauce halted. “I just have a little respect for my mother and her desire to keep this dinner as civil as possible,” she glanced at Mom, whose face was twisted as though she were anticipating a bomb that was about to go off. Asha almost felt bad, “not, of course, that there’s anything I can say to it. What do you want from me, Uncle? I’m not going to deny what I do, and I’m certainly not going to apologize for it.” She wanted to cross her arms, but decided it would look childish. So instead, she tilted back in her chair so that it rested only on two feet. “A pity, really,” she murmured, “You wouldn’t have the balls to say all this when Dad was alive. Either of you.” She glared at them. They were seated next to each other, and yet they had both angled their chairs as far away from the other as possible. “I suppose extreme circumstances make strange bedfellows. I’d have thought that you wouldn’t want anything to do with each other after whole thing with—“
“That’s enough, Asha,” muttered Maron gruffly. He wasn’t look at her—he was looking at the lasagna, which he was carving up into seconds.
Asha extended her plate, and he served her another helping.
“Nice to know someone can cow the bitch,” Euron said under his breath.
“Euron, please,” Mom repeated.
Asha slammed her plate on the table. “It’s not actually that hard,” she snapped, “All it takes is a little respect.”
“You do not command respect,” Aeron raised his voice again. “There is no respect for harlots and ingrates like yourself.”
“Oh, I’m an ingrate now too, am I?”
“Ungrateful to those who would offer you help if you only asked, to those who would protect you and love you if you let them.”
“And what do you call yourself, Uncle Aeron? I would think you’d be a little more grateful that I’m doing my best to pull Pyke’s out of the dirt so you can take your share in the profits and survive since you make fuck-all biblethumping. I’d think you’d be a little more grateful that you’re even welcome in this house after the shit you put Victarion through.”
“Victarion is a murderer, and for all the love I bear him he has committed a grave sin against God and man.”
“Woman, more like,” said Asha. “He killed a woman, or don’t you remember? I seem to recall you were the one who performed that particular wedding ceremony.”
“She was a slut, too,” shrugged Euron, a smirk playing across his face, “I’m not saying that Victarion should have killed her, but he had to do something, didn’t he?”
“I always wondered who she slept with, or perhaps you know something I don’t, Uncle?” Asha shot back. Euron only smiled. He always smiled, her Uncle. He was like Theon that way. Smile when you’re happy, smile when you’re sad, smile when you’re furious as all fuck. Theon had loved uncle Euron when they’d been little. He’d thought the eyepatch was cool, or that Euron’s tattoos were fascinating, she’d never understood it herself. They were on the same page now, of course, but she wished to hell that Euron’s smiles didn’t remind her of Theon.
“No idea,” he shrugged, smirk still in place. “Must have been a large fellow. Victarion’s big everywhere, except where it counts.”
“I don’t want to know how you know that,” Maron said. “Now, seconds?”
“I’ll have some,” Euron handed his plate to his nephew, attention finally shifting away from Asha. “Which reminds me how this whole lovely side conversation got started. That girl of yours. The—Honduran did you say it was?”
“Nicaraguan,” Maron repeated.
“Yes. Right. Her. I think we’re all dying to know how serious it is.”
Maron snorted. “You’re worse than Mom is. She’s never even asked.”
“Well, you know me. Gossipy old fishwife and all,” Euron smiled and it was Theon charming the pants off of his headmaster at graduation, smiling everyone into submission so they would ignore the fact that Dad and Ned Stark had gotten into a very long argument that had drowned out a significant portion of the headmaster’s graduation speech.
“I don’t know,” Maron said, “It’s happening fast. I like her, though. And her family’s interesting. She’s got a big family.”
“These Latin families are all big,” Mom said.
“Mom,” Asha said, “you can’t say that!”
“What? It’s true. They all are. They’re Catholic and don’t believe in contraception.”
“You can’t say that either!”
“Is she a Catholic, this girl of yours?” asked Aeron.
“Uhh…yes. Yes she is.”
Everyone watched Aeron, breath bated. But he didn’t say a word. He reached for his glass of water, swallowing slowly, before asking, “She a god-fearing woman?”
Asha bit back the “Well, judging from what I hear while falling asleep, she takes the Lord’s name in vain rather a lot,” that was on the tip of her tongue. Instead, she busied herself with her lasagna and chewed loudly over Maron’s “She goes to church every Sunday.”
“Well, don’t we all,” sighed Euron loudly, his eye smiling at Asha again. Asha had missed the last two Sundays. She’d been blowing Qarl both times, and couldn’t say she regretted the choice. But then again, it didn’t take much to make her want to skip church these days. God had lost his meaning when Dad had died.
She didn’t know what it was about Greyjoy men, but no one seemed to like them.
Euron was callous and crude, with a cruel streak that wasn’t hard to find if you scratched the surface. Aeron was a pompous windbag. Theon tended to come off as an asshole because he was so scared that someone at his fancy schools would find out that he came from a shit family. Her father had been rough on his good days.
And Maron…well, Maron was likeable enough. Quiet, though.
And quiet seemed to be the last sort of thing that Arianne’s family wanted from him.
“Her Uncle just up and said that he didn’t like me. Who does that?” Maron asked over the sizzling of eggs on Thursday morning. The sun wasn’t up yet and the meteorologists were threatening the first snow of the season.
“Her Uncle, apparently. I mean, if it’s any consolation—“ Asha stopped short.
“Well, it’s not like Mom likes her too much.”
Maron rolled his eyes. “Thanks for that.”
“It’s true,” Asha yelped.
“I know. I just don’t like thinking about it.”
“More than fair,” shrugged Asha. She pulled out one of Dad’s Camels and stuck it under the pan to light it in the blue flames of the stove.
“Hey, quit that,” snapped Maron.
She put the cigarette in her mouth, inhaled and blew it straight in his face. He rolled his eyes. “I’m quitting when I’m done with Dad’s.”
“Saving every last penny.”
“For Pyke’s?” his brow was furrowed as he flipped the eggs.
“For me. I’m going to apply to a program of some sort. Or travel. I don’t now. Shake myself up.”
Maron nodded. “I’ve been saving up for years too,” he mumbled. “Still don’t know if I’ll ever get out.”
“If only we could all be as lucky as Theon. Good thing we had a ‘smart one’ in the family, or else we’d be even more fucked up. Someone had to make it out of here alive.”
“Yep. Of course, not everyone wants to make it out—sometimes they just die.”
Asha cocked her head, watching Maron. He shrugged. “Rod never would have left. He’d be here fixing the restaurant with his own two hands and fuck these contractors.”
Asha smiled fondly. She didn’t know what to say. Her best memory of Rodrik was of him putting on a Frankenstein Mask and telling Theon he’d tear him limb from limb, batter his dismembered body, and eat it for dinner. Theon had cried; Rodrik had laughed and Asha had headbutted him in the balls before taking Theon out of the room, Rod’s curses following them.
On Friday, they put in the dry wall and Asha stopped by to see them do it. It was relatively boring, she decided, apart from seeing Qarl covered in sweat, his shirt clinging to the muscles of his chest. She’d taken a shot of her damp underpants and texted them to him, knowing he wouldn’t see till later, when he would be too tired to move. He always seemed to be too tired to move these days.
She wondered if it would be recognizable. Euron had squawked and shouted when they’d taken out his bar and put it in a storage facility so they could really get at all of the dry rot. It was a rough wood, battered and scarred, with people who had drunkenly carved phone numbers or put initials in hearts (or, in one place, a penis). She talked about burning the thing, though mostly just to spite him. She actually liked the feel of it, old, and historical, and nautical.
Half of the paneling of the restaurant had been in similar state. Some of it had been replaced (notably after the fight a few years ago, which had resulted in man smashed beams and during which Victarion had split Euron’s lip and gone off to kill his wife). She wondered vaguely if it would be worth trying to capture some of that old piratey feel.
Or maybe they should be prim and polished like the Red Lobster.
Fucking Red Lobster.
Even as she thought about it, her phone rang. “Y’allo.”
“Asha? It’s Arianne.” She hadn’t realized that Arianne had her number. She knew how she would have gotten it, of course—that wasn’t hard to work out, but all the same…
“Hey. What’s going on?”
“Are you at home?”
“I’m at Pyke’s.”
“Oh. I thought I would stop by and tell you…well, it doesn’t matter. I can tell you now anyway.” She sounded excited, but maybe anxious as well. Sometimes it was hard to tell. At least, that was what Maron often said.
“Tell me what?”
“Do you know Maine Mag?”
“It’s an webzine that my cousin Alleras runs. It’s basically a web thing that goes around and does local publicity for Maine towns And I was thinking, it would be great if he did a piece on Pyke’s, don’t you think? And I know I can convince him to come over from Augusta at the end of December and do a bit on Pyke. I mean, especially after the renovation, you’ll need as much publicity as you can get, right?”
Asha’s mind went into overdrive—the restaurant crowded with families again, laughter and bright incandescent lights and the salty, meaty smell of seafood, mixed with garlic and tartar sauce; little children, tugging on their parents’ sleeves asking to buy a t-shirt and looking thoroughly disappointed, as though it was the biggest tragedy in the world, when the parent shook their head and said, “maybe next time”; seeing Maron looking sweaty and tired but laughing because they had enough business to hire him a kitchen hand so he wasn’t alone during restaurant hours; Euron inexplicably gone…
December. The word felt heavy and slow in Asha’s mind. It was so far off, and yet only a few months off.
“I really appreciate this.”
December. Asha usually liked the winter. She enjoyed having snowball fights with Qarl and Tris and whoever else they brought along. She liked the twinkle of lights on houses, the smell of pine, the warmth of fires in the fireplace. But she’d never been so nervous about the coming of winter in her entire life.
When Asha was younger, before she’d started waitressing for her Dad, she had always thought that Pyke’s was the best place in the world. Full of noise, people, the fatty-grilled-fish smell that you so often found at local seafood joints near the harbors. She would never have been able to imagine anything better.
Before the pipes had gone to shit, she’d wondered if there was any way of keeping them from going under at all. They weren’t a family establishment anymore—not since all the bad publicity surrounding Victarion’s murdering his wife. People had also begun noticing that there was something strange about Euron, and slowly, the tables had emptied, and Asha had done her best to batten down her stress, especially while her Dad was grumbling about stealing some of the clientele from Winterfell. (“Bad enough,” he would say, “that he thinks he can go and be a father to my son. Now he opens up a fucking chain in my town? I don’t fucking think so.”)
Asha didn’t dare hope to be optimistic that the renovation would help anything, especially not with the Red Lobster coming so close. But it didn’t stop her from looking at new plates and cutlery that they might use, and playing around with Uncle Rodrik’s expensive layout software to redesign the menus.
More out of boredom than anything else, Asha drove down to Boston to visit Alysane. She liked long drives, even if it did take her through the shitshow that was traffic around Boston. She liked feeling the engine grumbling through her body, and hunting for new radio stations, and passing through towns were people didn’t know who she was or why she was passing through. She wondered what would have happened if she’d been raised in one of these towns. Massachusetts public schools were good, weren’t they? Better than rural Maine ones. Maybe she would have had a college advisor who told her that not going to college wasn’t an option, instead of the one who balked under Balon’s glare and said that, college could happen whenever she wanted…
The last three times she had been in Boston, Qarl had been with her. They’d met Alysane the first of those three times, and had ended up having a threesome. (Well, two, technically, since they’d had one at three AM when they’d gotten in from the club, and then again at noon when they’d all woken up still naked and figured why not.) Alysane’s apartment was tiny, but it was hers alone and when Asha showed up on her doorstep, she grinned and tugged Asha inside.
It was nice, Asha thought as she tugged Alysane’s skirt down so that it pooled around her ankles and slid her hand into Alysane’s panties, squeezing her ass and slipping fingers down to find her pussy from behind, to have someone who was just in her life to fuck. Qarl was great, and fucking him was sometimes the only thing that kept her sane, but they did more than fuck—they worked together, she called him when she was tired, or he called her when he had found a new band she might enjoy. Nothing like that with Alysane.
Alysane knew precisely why she’d called and said she was driving down, and when they fell onto the bed, completely naked and fingers reaching as best they could for each others’ pussies, Asha felt fully distracted for the first time in ages. No thinking about the restaurant while she and Alysane grappled with one another (it was always a battle for dominance, between the two of them, for which one would straddle and fuck the other blind first. That’s what Qarl enjoyed about it, because he and Alysane could team up and hold Asha down and fuck her, and then he could watch lazily while Asha got Alysane off); and, when she had straddled Alysane and had three fingers inside her, there weren’t even any more thoughts of Qarl, just the way that Alysane’s breasts flushed and bobbed with the motion of Asha’s thrusting.
She didn’t have to think about anything else—and Alysane certainly didn’t want her to be thinking about anything else. Alysane wanted all of Asha’s attention, with her moans of “oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” until, with one well-timed flick of her clit, she clenched around Asha’s fingers and positively screamed. Her body pulsed for a full minute and she gasped for air, and Asha wondered what she’d done this time that was different, or if Alysane was maybe not bi, the way she’d said, and if having Qarl there was actually a bit of a turn-off.
Asha let her recover, keeping her fingers squarely inside her until she pulled off them and kissed Asha fiercely, biting her lip and reaching up to pinch her tits. Then she pushed Asha so she lay flat on her back and nipped her way down Asha’s chest and stomach until her lips were on Asha’s clit, sucking it as deep into her mouth as she could, before slipping her tongue out of her mouth and dragging it from the bottom of her vag to the tip of her clit and licking, circling, swirling until Asha felt the pulse in her neck pick up, and her stomach began to clench and then she was grunting and flying and every little thought left her head except how fucking good it felt to have lips between her legs.
It was a cold shower to find Tris waiting outside her house when she got home from Boston.
“What’s up?” she called as she pushed open the door to her truck while she gathered her bag. She’d done her best to cover up the hickies Alysane had given her—at least the ones that showed—while stopped at the red lights just off the highway. But she knew that Tris would still see them.
“Thought I’d stop by,” he said, getting up and strolling over. “Haven’t seen you in a while and I wanted to make sure—” he paused and stared at her hickie for a moment and clearly lost his train of thought. She got out of the truck and slammed the door. The sound of it jolted him back to speech. “Make sure that everything was all right, and that the renovations were on track. I know that they can get off schedule pretty easy.”
“Yeah, they’re fine,” she shrugged. “Should be done next week, I hope.”
“And then we’ll reopen?”
“Yeah. It’ll take us a few days to restock all our food and replace some of the furniture that was damaged, but yeah.”
“Great.” Tris didn’t sound as though it were great at all. Tris sounded miserable, actually. But what was he expecting, honestly? She’d always been clear about telling him no—but he couldn’t possibly be so deluded as to think that meant no sex at all for her, did he? At the very least, he knew that she boned Qarl, didn’t he? “Well,” he mumbled. “See you,” and he hurried away, back to the curb and his beaten up Impala.
“I don’t like it,” Euron growled. And you saying that makes me like it even more, Asha thought gleefully. They were standing in Pyke’s—newly finished. The wood was pale now, the walls a freshly painted white and the bar seemed too big and too dark for the room. They hadn’t moved the tables in yet—that was for tomorrow.
“Well, nothing to do about that,” Asha said dryly. “Here. Have a look at these.” She handed him the printouts of the new menus.
“What the fuck’s this?” he demanded. “Oh for the love of—you can’t just go changing everything.”
“We can, actually,” said Maron. “I’ve been meaning to change the menu for a while. So why not now. Which means new menus.”
“But these look like a fucking five year old designed them.”
“Really? And see here we were going for something that would appeal to your every sensibility, Uncle,” Asha replied.
“You’re just going to let her do this? Let her sweep in and do whatever the fuck she likes?” Euron glared at Maron.
“The menus were my idea,” Maron repeated. “Mine and Arianne’s.”
The opening was a small affair, but people came in. Faces that Asha had known her whole life showed up, making approving comments about the new light fixtures and asking after old favorites that no longer appeared on the menu.
Arianne’s entire family came—or most of them, anyway. She’d never seen them all together, and hadn’t realized just how many there were.
Arianne was the oldest of three siblings, but she had eight cousins. Not even all of them were there, but the ones who were present filled the space: Arianne’s father, her uncle, her uncle’s girlfriend, seven of her cousins, and one of her younger brothers. Already, they were the biggest party, talking loudly in Spanish and taking a very long time to order.
“You know,” said Arianne’s uncle, his eyes flitting between Asha’s hips and her tits, “I’ve never been in Pyke’s before. Never seemed like my kind of place.”
“Well, I’m glad that you decided to stop in,” Asha forced herself to say. Somehow, that didn’t surprise her.
“It’s never seemed like much of a family atmosphere,” said his girlfriend, her lips curling in what could only be described as a sultry smile. “But now…it’s much cleaner now, isn’t it.”
“Do the fish sticks have shapes?” asked one of Arianne’s little cousins. “Maron said the fish sticks had shapes.”
“You know, I’m not sure. But I can ask Maron to make sure yours do,” Asha said. The little girl beamed at her, and Arianne’s uncle rubbed her head, and his girlfriend nodded approvingly.
“Is he a good cook?” asked the uncle.
“We’d best hope so.”
The next day, there was a steady stream of patrons, all curious about Pyke’s new interior, new menu. Asha was careful to seat them as far away from the bar as she could manage.
It continued like that for several days, but Asha didn’t get her hopes up. She knew all it would take was one little mistake, one moment of Euron being Euron, before it all got fucked to shit.
“Do you ever think about what happens next?” she asked Qarl one night. She was curled up in his bed, her arms still tied above her head while he lazily toyed with one of her breasts.
“Well, we could have a second round, I suppose. If you think you’re up for it,” he replied with a grin.
“You’re lucky my hands are still tied,” she growled at him, and made a threatening half-kick with her foot, knowing that it wouldn’t reach him.
“Not really,” he replied more seriously. “I don’t want to think about that. What’s the point when things are good now?” he wasn’t looking at her, his eyes were fastened on her nipple, as though deciding whether or not he had actually been joking about a second round.
“Are they good now?” she asked him.
He didn’t reply. He just lowered his lips to her tits again.
She finished her father’s final pack of Camels on the Friday two weeks after they reopened Pyke’s. She looked almost forlornly at the empty cardboard as she smoked the cigarette right down to the filter.
Everything comes to an end, she supposed when she jabs the butt into the ashtray by her bed. Everything comes to an end.
Theon didn’t come home for Thanksgiving. He hadn’t been home for Thanksgiving for several years now, so Asha wasn’t surprised. He went to Andover, and the Starks’, and snowball fights with the little siblings he’d always wanted.
Theon hated being the youngest. Hated it. Hated Maron and Rodrik teasing him, and Asha coming to his defense—because he didn’t want to have someone come to his defense. He wanted to do the defending. So he did. With the Starks.
Arianne’s cousin Alleras was tall and has a light mustache growing above his lip. He was thin, a little bony for Asha’s taste, and he looked around Pyke’s with a quiet intensity that, more than the actual presence of a reporter, made Asha feel nervous.
“So—you redid the place?” he asked.
“Yeah. After my dad died, there was some internal plumbing problems…and everything was just kind of fucked—can I say fucked?”
His grin was catlike, “I’ll edit it out, if you like.”
“Fucked to shit,” she finished. Alleras’s grin grew wider. “So we kind of decided to just gut the place and rework it.”
“How long has the restaurant been in the family?” he asked.
“My grandfather bought it back in…what…1940? Something like that? We’ve been living off of it ever since.”
“How long have you worked here?”
“Since I was twelve.”
Alleras raised his eyebrows. “That’s a long time. You’re…twenty two now?”
“Half my life,” Asha nodded. “But it’s home. It’s our legacy, you know? It’s the family business. Someone’s got to do it.”
“You work here with your brother and your Uncle. Do you share duties?”
“It’s mostly me and my brother. Mostly me, really. Maron’s got a lot on his mind.”
“Like banging my cousin,” grinned Alleras.
Asha chuckled. “Yeah. Like that.”
“He’s good for her, I think.”
“He’s good generally. He’d be good at running the place if he’d step up.”
“But he didn’t?”
“Nah. It’s always been me,” she shrugged.
“Was rebuilding hard?”
“Yes—no—not really. Hard in that it was hard saying goodbye,” not that she meant that. But still, it wasn’t Dad’s restaurant anymore, not the place she’d gone to every day since she was twelve. It was similar—more like what she’d known as a child than anything else, but it was cleaner, happier, different. Sometimes, if she thought about it for long enough, that made her a little sad. But she didn’t usually think about it for that long. “But something had to give.”
“We weren’t doing well. So we needed to change. Or sell. So we changed. My uncle didn’t like it, but I think Dad’d rather we were still here.”
“That makes sense,” Alleras said. “Makes a lot of sense.”
Theon came home for Christmas, toting a bag of books larger than anything Asha had ever seen. He holed himself away and began studying for finals. Asha didn’t really understand that system. Who has finals after winter break? Something about that just seemed illogical.
“It gives them more time to study,” shrugged Uncle Rodrik when she mentioned it after dinner. She was at his house, and they were sitting in the living room, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Uncle Rodrik always had some sort of jigsaw puzzle started and ever since she’d been little, Asha had loved helping him finish them. There was something gratifying about watching pieces snap into place.
“Yeah—but you don’t need that much time, do you?” she asked.
“This,” Rodrik said, “is exactly why you were never much of an intellectual.”
“Hey! I’m plenty smart,” she snapped, putting another pair of pieces together. “I’m plenty smart.”
“You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, Asha. But you’re not an intellectual. There’s a difference.”
She glared at him. “And Theon is?”
“More than you. Theon likes thinking. To the point of overthinking, actually. You like acting. You always have. And that doesn’t make you stupid—it just means that you’re not an intellectual. It’s the difference between a Ravenclaw and a very smart student from another Hogwarts house.”
Uncle Rodrik would bring Hogwarts houses into this. She decided to ignore it. “And Theon is? An intellectual?”
“Don’t make this about what you aren’t and Theon is. There is plenty that he isn’t that you are. It’s not always a competition, Asha.” He sounded stern. He was the only uncle who’d ever pulled off stern. She supposed it was because he was a teacher.
“I know that,” she mumbled. “It’s just…I don’t know. Everyone’s always gone out of the way for Theon.”
“Yourself included,” Uncle Rodrik pointed out.
“Myself included,” she conceded.
“Theon’s a bright boy. A daring boy. And, leaving home for boarding school so young, a brave boy. You are bright, daring, and brave, too, Asha. Theon just carries it differently.”
“Because he went to his fancy prep school.”
“So why didn’t I get to go then?” she asked. She’d always wondered. Theon getting sent away was a victory, wasn’t it? She wasn’t any dumber. So why not her?
“You wouldn’t have liked it the way Theon did. And you know it. You’re smart. You’re able. You’re very good at what you do. But do you think you’d be happy coming home at winter break and studying for finals?” He was looking at her over the tops of his glasses, the sort of steely look that her mother had used to give her—when she’d come home drunk, or when she’d sassed Dad, or when she’d been a little bit too rude with the Greyjoy uncles. The sort of looks she hadn’t gotten in a while, since Dad died.
“I don’t think that Theon is particularly happy about that either.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. I do,” she sighed. “But I wish I’d had the chance.”
“And you should have had it. But that ship’s sailed. Now you’re going to have to make your own opportunities, Asha. You’re not a child anymore.”
The article in Maine Mag was good. Maron bought a cheap frame for it and put a printout of it in the window. Alleras had written about how she and Maron were trying to rebuild a thing that had fallen into disrepair over the years. There was even a photograph (which she imagined Arianne had provided) of her and Maron bent over ledgers and looking very businesslike—young and in charge.
To celebrate, they drove down to Boston—her, Qarl, Maron, Arianne, and Theon who they dragged away from his books for a little while to go clubbing. They drank and danced and laughed and met up with Alysane and two of her friends and it turned into one of those unforgettable nights that Asha couldn’t remember half of.
Asha was twenty-two years old when Pyke’s became what she remembered it being. There were patrons at tables, and laughter rising up to the rafters. The scent of fried cod and boiling vegetables and baked potatoes filled the air as she went from table to table, sometimes taking orders, sometimes clapping Will Humble on the shoulder and making some sort of off-color joke.
They had a regular crowd—people who came in on Wednesdays, people who came in for eggs and pancakes before work, young mothers who came in every Sunday because after a weekend with the whole family they just didn’t have the energy to cook anymore.
Once, her mother even came in, hovering just inside the door, refusing a table, food, drink—anything. She’d just stared around the building, drinking it in, looking neither happy nor sad—just there and Asha wanted her mother to say something, to show that she was proud, pleased, or even horrified that this place was different from the one she had helped Balon with the books for for thirty years.
Qarl was still a terrible waiter, but he was a little better now that there were actully people who came in. He would never be as good as Tris, but then again, Tris was made to be everyone’s darling, and Asha was sure he got the best tips of the house. She certainly put him with families who tended to tip well. Tris deserved good tips.
Things were what they were supposed to be, what they had been long before Dad had died, what they should have been before he had gotten sick, and before Victarion had been sent away, and Theon had gone off to boarding school.
Things were good.
So why did Asha still feel empty?
Asha couldn’t believe how quickly Christmas had rolled around. But roll around it did, and she found herself in the kitchen with her mother, making sure that the turkey that they had bought on sale after Thanksgiving and kept frozen in the cellar was cooking properly. She tried to ignore the fact that the last time she’d worn this dress was at Dad’s funeral, and that even as she crouched down, it smelled like Dad and Camels. She wished she hadn’t smoked them all so fast.
“Anything I can help with?” Theon asked, hovering. He hovered when he was home, as if not quite sure where to land.
“I think we’re all set,” Mom smiled, standing up and resting her hands on her hips. She was so thin, and when she smiled over at Theon, Asha saw the way her skin seemed to hang loose on her face.
She wondered if Theon noticed. He probably didn’t. He didn’t have much to compare it to.
“You sure?” he asked. Mom crossed the kitchen and rested her hand on Theon’s cheek. He smiled down at her, a broad grin with white teeth that she was sure had been bleached.
“Yes. You go on upstairs and keep studying. We don’t want you to fail your first exams,” Asha said.
Theon’s smile slipped for a moment, but then he nodded and slipped off.
“He deserves a break—he’s been working so hard,” said Mom.
“There’s nothing for him to do down here.”
“We all sit together. When was the last time we all just sat together?”
“Not since Dad died,” said Asha almost without thinking. Tears filled Mom’s eyes. “And that’s all right—we’ve just been busy!” Asha said quickly.
“Just because your father died doesn’t mean we aren’t a family,” said Mom.
“Of course not,” Asha said gently. “It’s just…we’re all growing up. We’re all moving in different directions and—that’s not a bad thing, Mom. We’re just…” But she didn’t know how to finish it. She didn’t know how to fix it, how to make it better. So she just wrapped her arms around her mother and they stood there for a few moments, her mother crying quietly into her shoulder.
“I sometimes feel like I hold you back,” her mother said once she had calmed somewhat.
“Don’t worry about that,” Asha laughed, “I do that just fine all on my own.”
“Where’s my little girl who wanted adventures? Where everything was a joke, or something to be conquered? My fearless girl?”
“She’s here. She’s just got responsibility,” sighed Asha.
“I miss taking care of you. When did you start taking care of me?”
“I don’t know,” Asha whispered. “I don’t need taking care of though, Mom.”
“Everyone needs to be taken care of,” her mother smiled wetly, then took a deep breath. “I am going to go wash my face, have a beer, and get ready for your uncles. If Rodrik calls, make sure he hasn’t forgotten the thirty-rack.”
“I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten,” Asha assured her. Asha watched her follow Theon out of the kitchen and she closed her eyes and leaned against the counter.
God, she could use a smoke—and the fact that her dress smelled like tobacco didn’t help anything at all. If anything, it made matters worse.
“Asha?” she hadn’t heard Maron come in.
“What’s up?” she opened her eyes and wished she hadn’t. Maron’s face was grey, and her first thought was oh god, who died now?
She and Maron each took a beer out of the fridge and went up to her bedroom.
“Pregnant?” she asked once the door was closed.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of situation where you are or you’re not, Asha,” he snapped.
“I meant how far along, dick brain,” Asha shot back at him.
“Two months. Maybe more? Maybe less. It’s not clear. She’s freaking out.”
“I can only imagine,” Asha said. She wondered what it would be like to have a baby growing inside her. She was glad she didn’t have to worry about that, at least. Thank god for hormonal birth control. “Wasn’t she on the pill?”
“No. Just condoms.”
“Go figure. 99.9% rate of preventing pregnancy my ass,” she said.
“I mean—we might have missed a night,” Maron mumbled.
He looked like a little boy—looked younger even than Theon, hunched over at the foot of her bed, a beer bottle in his hand and this lost expression on his face. When had Maron last looked younger than her? When Rodrik had died? Even then, she's barely gone through puberty yet and he had so he would look older than her no matter what.
“Fuck,” he said.
Asha had a light buzz by the time that she sat down to dinner. This, she decided, was a good thing.
“Nose in books?” Uncle Rodrik asked Theon, who grinned back at him.
“What are you studying?”
“Haven’t picked a major yet. Probably philosophy, I think. Though maybe comparative literature. There’s still time to decide. I’m just a little bit in love with Kierkegaard.”
“He does that.”
“Who’s-a-guard?” asked Uncle Euron, taking another sip of his beer. Uncle Rodrik had brought good beer—better beer than they usually had at dinner, but Asha supposed it was Christmas. She reached for another herself.
“Kierkegaard. He’s a Danish philosopher,” Theon answered quickly. “He’s like the father of Existentialism and has great things to say about finding meaning in life and—”
“And why the fuck does that matter?” Uncle Euron demanded. Theon recoiled as if he’d been slapped.
“Well, it’s…it’s useful when you think about…life and stuff.”
“Life and stuff—that’s what you learn in Princeton? I could teach you about life and stuff.”
“What, like how to ruin it?” Asha snapped.
Uncle Euron looked half-furious, half-impressed. “Woohoohoo. Little Asha’s throwing fire tonight. Where’s that fire been, Asha? Where have you been?”
Her heart stops for a moment, because that’s a damn good question. Just a moment, though, because like hell is she going to let him maker her back down—not now, not over Theon. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” She glared at him. Then turned back to Theon. She didn’t know who Kierkegaard was, she didn’t care. “What else are you studying?” she asked loudly.
“I’m in a math class,” he said, “Well—sort of math. It’s first order logic. But it’s good. I like it a lot.”
“Can’t no textbook teach you how to be logical,” said Uncle Euron loudly.
“Just as no textbook or philosopher can do what the good Lord’s word can’t and teach you how to be a moral person,” Uncle Aeron interjected.
Theon bit his lip, hitched another smile on his face, and said, “Well—I’m not sure I agree with that, but—“
Asha kicked him under the table and he yelped, but his yelp was drowned out by Uncle Aeron’s reply, “You would hear truth in the words of sinners over the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”
“I don’t think that was what he was saying,” interjected Uncle Rodrik. “I think he was trying to say—“
“I heard what he was trying to say. The boy is a foolish sinner like his sister, and his brother.”
Those words hung in the air and Mom looked like she wanted to sink through her chair because even at Christmas, they couldn’t behave. Theon was staring at his plate as though willing it to fill with food so that he could start distracting himself by eating, and Maron was staring at his phone, probably texting Arianne.
“Funny you should mention sinners,” Asha said at last, ignoring her Uncle’s wide eyes of Asha—no!, “when you’re sitting next to Uncle Euron. I’m surprised he hasn’t burst into flame every time he tries and sets foot into your church.”
Uncle Euron laughed, and Uncle Aeron stiffened. “Aeron knows better than to get on my bad side.”
“Yeah, look at what happened to Uncle Victarion,” Asha grumbled. Euron’s eye smiled at her.
“Precisely.” He yawned, stretching back in his chair so that it rested only on two feet before saying, “Besides—hard to throw words at one sinner when your own sins are still there. It’s calling the pot black, or whatever the damn phrase is. My sins don’t cancel out yours, Asha. I’m just more willing to work with them.”
“It’s oddly nihilistic, actually,” said Theon.
“If you’re going to talk, don’t talk down, boy,” snapped Uncle Aeron, “Using your big words like—“
“They aren’t big!” yelped Theon. “They’re words. Just words. Everyone can use them. Everyone does use them and—“
“Asha, will you check on the turkey?” Mother asked. Asha glanced at her and saw her hands gripping the table, her knuckles white.
“Yeah. Theon—come help,” she said, getting wobbily to her feet.
Theon was trembling when they went into the kitchen, his face pinched and his eyes bright. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, and it sounded like he was going to cry. “I didn’t mean to make it bad. I was just…I wanted to talk about Kierkegaard with Uncle Rodrik.”
“And he wanted to talk about it with you—next time, just steer clear of the other Uncles, ok?”
Theon nodded. The popper hadn’t popped up and Asha leaned against the stove, feeling the warmth of it on the back of her legs.
“Do you think they’ll care if I go have a smoke?” Theon asked, glancing at the doorway into the hallway.
“Come out with me?”
“I don’t smoke anymore,” she said automatically.
“How about company though?”
She shrugged, grabbed a sweater and together they went onto the back porch.
“Have Dad’s brothers always been such fuckers?” asked Theon, lighting his cigarette. He inhaled deeply and exhaled through his nostrils. Asha watched the way the smoke curled in the dark air.
“Yes. They definitely have been,” Asha said. “It just got worse after Dad died.”
“What did I ever do?” he asked. “What did I ever do to deserve that? I’m not a condescending asshole.” He sounded like he was whining, like Asha had just found him playing with toys that didn’t belong to him.
“You are a little bit,” she said, “But it doesn’t matter, honestly. Why shouldn’t you be? God knows we’re fucked up, so we might as well have you as you are instead of force you to be someone else.”
“I don’t mean to be,” he said, taking another drag.
“That doesn’t matter. You were doomed to it the minute you went off to Andover. It’ll always be who you are.”
“That doesn’t make me less a part of this family though. That doesn’t mean that I’m not—that I should be treated like an outsider every time I come home.”
Asha looked at him sideways. “Why do you come home?” she asked at last, and she had the distinct sense of déjà vu—of a soaking black dress and a grey sky and Theon looking miserable under his Princeton umbrella. And she knew how to say it this time.
“Why do you come home? You got out. Maron and I have been trying for years. Maron might never make it out. I’ve stopped smoking because I did the math and it saves me hundreds of dollars not to smoke, and maybe I’ll be able to afford some classes at some point and get my Associate’s Degree and maybe get the fuck away from here. But you—you had it handed to you. So why do you come home?”
“You’re my family,” Theon said.
“I am. Maron is. Mom is. But we can come visit you wherever you are. You don’t need to be near the damn uncles. And, to be honest, who are you closer to—Maron or Robb Stark?”
Theon bit his lip, and Asha knew the answer. Theon coughed and for a moment she thought he actually had started crying.
“We love you, Theon. But you don’t have to be what you think you need to be. Be who you are, ok? Because fuck knows I can’t pull that off.”
Christmas Day was quiet. Asha spent it curled up in her bed next to Theon, watching episodes of Arrested Development in their pajamas. They cackled together, wondering what would happen if they had to actually live in the same house as the Uncles.
Maron was having Christmas lunch with Arianne and her family, and when he came back, he looked like he wasn’t going to be sick for the first time in twenty-four hours. He flopped on the bed next to them.
“We’re going to get married,” he said. “Sometime after the kid is born, I think. Uncle Aeron’ll flip out, but Arianne doesn’t want a slap-dash thing, and wants to look hot in her wedding dress, so there we go.”
“And her father and uncle didn’t skin you?” Ash asked.
“Well, I know what to expect if I don’t do right by the kid,” said Maron, a brief expression of panic crossing his face, “And it’s not a pleasant option.”
Asha ruffled his hair.
“I can’t imagine being an Uncle,” Theon said.
“Just be a better one than this set of Greyjoy uncles. That’s all I’m asking,” grinned Maron.
It wasn’t until Theon had gone back to Princeton that Maron approached her. They were sitting in the kitchen at eleven o’clock at night. Maron was smoking a cigarette and Mom was washing some dishes, and for the first time in months, Asha felt as though the house was peaceful. Well—not quite peaceful. It would be peaceful if she felt peaceful, but she didn’t. Part of her wondered if she could feel peaceful—if that was something she was built for. Some days, she thought she went out of the way to find trouble when trouble didn’t come knocking on her door.
Maron sighed, breaking the quiet slightly as Mom began rubbing plates with a dishtowel. Then, he reached down into the bag next to his chair and handed her a wad of cash so thick that Asha wondered for half a second if he’d just robbed a bank.
“What’s this?” Asha asked him blankly.
“My stash,” he replied. “My saving up for adventures or some shit stash.” He stared at it for a moment, as though not quite believing that he was giving it to her. If anything, that made Asha want to push it back across the table at him.
“Take it. I’m giving it to you, so just take it, ok? Don’t make this harder for me. Go somewhere. Get out. Live and have adventures and do the things you always wanted to do but can’t because you’re fucking here. I’m stuck here. Well…not stuck. But not leaving.”
She stared at him, her jaw jutting out in a frown. “I can’t take this.”
“Yes you can.”
“You need this—you’re about to have a kid!” she yelped. “This could go to sending that thing to college, or getting yourself a house, or a car, or a something. I can’t just take it from you, Maron.”
“Arianne’s got money. And I’ll do fine. Besides, I figure I can pay myself a little more now that I’ll be doing managerial work at Pyke’s as well as cooking. So we’ll be fine. But you—Have an adventure, Asha.”
She glanced at her mother, whose hands had stilled as she oiled up a cast-iron pan. She looked so small, bent over the sink that way—but she didn’t look…she didn’t look frail anymore. She didn’t look defeated. If anything, she looked determined. Asha hadn’t seen her look that way in a long time, and she felt a flash of hope.
“You’ll be all right?” she asked.
Maron answered. “Yeah. She’ll be fine. I’m here. And she’ll have a grandkid to take care of soon, which I expect will occupy her.”
“And it’s not like I’ll never see you again,” Mother said. “Come back sometimes. Go be bold, my Asha.”
Asha didn’t go far—just far enough. She drove west for a few hours before stopping for the night in a small town in southern Vermont.
It was a town best described as snoozy, and in the dark, the lights in the houses glowed gold in a way that Asha had never noticed the ones in Pyke doing. She rented a room in a motel, and then drove into the center of town to find a place for dinner. She chose a diner, with colorful plastic lamps and pleather seating at the booths. There were families there, out for dinner on a snowy January evening, and there was a quiet rumble of sixties and seventies music on old speakers. It was nice—homey in a way, if a different sort of homey.
The diner offered seafood options, which made Asha laugh, because they were too far from the ocean to have anything worth her time. She ordered a steak instead, and watched as the manager dressed down one of his waiters because he’d gotten some orders mixed up.
She went back for breakfast the next morning and noticed a help wanted sign in the window. And for a moment, she was tempted.
“What position’s open?” she asked the manager as he led her to her seat. He was bald, with a beard and blue eyes that look like the sky and she wondered briefly what Dad would have made of him. He’d probably have hated him on principle, which made Asha smile at him as he said,
“A wait staff position. Opened last night.”
“You fired the kid, didn’t you?” she asked.
“He was incompetent,” replied the manger.
“Of course he was,” she said dryly. He shot her a glance, appraising her.
“What would you know about it?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said happily. “But you should hire me.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because you’re old and tired, and you’ve got a wife to spend time with,” she said, glancing at the wedding band on his left hand. “And I have run a restaurant before. Pretty well, too.”
“Better than you.”
He raised his eyebrows.
It was mid-May when they came to visit—Maron and Arianne and Theon and Mom drove west four hours to find her. They laughed a lot, and she drove them through town, showing them the general store where she bought most of her householdy things for the rental apartment she lived in behind a yoga studio. She showed them a craft store that Mom would like, and the bookstore, which had Theon’s eyes bugging out of his head with joy. And last, she took them to Storm’s End.
“What the hell kind of name is Storm’s End? They’re not even on the water?” Maron asked, resting his hand on Arianne’s belly as they sat down. She was huge now, and glowed happily as he rested his hand there.
“Snowstorms, Maron. Snowstorms,” Asha replied, deciding now would not be a good time to tell them about the time she’d almost driven into a tree because Route 11 was so icy, or how she and Justin Massey, one of the other waiters in the diner, had gotten drunk and gone cross country skiing in the middle of a blizzard. When they had gotten back to Justin’s house, they had stripped off their snow gear and fucked on the floor in front of a fire in a way that was thoroughly unromantic and which Asha still grinned thinking about.
“This is my family,” she said to Stannis when they entered. He glanced at them, and at the happy smile on her face, and jerked a nod and grunted a greeting.
“Table seven,” he shrugged, turning back to his ledger.
“He’s a talkative one,” Mom said dryly, a smirk twisting at her lips and Asha was so happy she could have kissed her.
“He gets things done,” Asha said instead, shrugging.
“Hello,” Shireen had come over to the table. She was thirteen years old, and wearing a black and yellow t-shirt that was a little too big for her frame, and a bright smile on her face, as though there was nothing in the world that could make her happier than waiting tables at her Dad’s diner. “Can I get you anything to drink while you think about your orders?”
“A coke please.”
“Do you have cherry pepsi?”
“I’ll have a coffee,” Asha said, smiling, leaning back in her chair, and feeling perfectly at ease.