Early Thursday morning, Neil and Abigail pile into his car with luggage, camping equipment, and snacks for an extended road trip. Neil phones Jillian to let her and Trudy know they’re coming. The plan is to take I-5 and cover as many miles as possible each leg, then camp out or find a cheap motel as needed. Neil suggests not staying with his sister.
“After a couple of hours you’re going to want to get out of there, trust me,” he tells Abigail.
Once they have everything packed, he clips a big open bag of Goldfish to the car’s console, puts a cooler full of water and soft drinks behind the driver’s seat, and places a sack with other confections on the floorboard of the passenger side and they’re off.
They split the driving to optimize their time. As they travel, Neil fills in Abigail on the history of his family so she’ll know what to expect.
“When Danny was born, my parents were newly married and still had whatever spark had brought them together. When Jillian came along things weren’t great, but they were still trying to keep up some pretense of being happy together. By the time I got here, all that was over. Except for holidays, I rarely saw my parents together.”
“I’m surprised they had you if things were that bad.”
“I was Mom’s child. Danny and Jillian were for Dad. I’m named after her brother who died before Mom married.”
“And your father agreed to that?”
“Sure, why not? She controlled the purse strings. I once asked her if there was a chance Dad wasn’t really my father.”
“I can’t believe she took that well.”
“Believe me, I’ll never do that again.”
“I can’t imagine what that must have been like,” she says. “It was just me and Mom for most of my life. My family was extended a bit when my aunt and cousin moved in, but we always got along.”
“As bad as things were with my parents, Jillian was Dad’s biggest supporter. She practically worshipped the ground he walked on.”
“So she was Daddy’s girl, eh?”
“You could say that. I guess Dad was proud of her. He doted on her to the extent that he could. Danny was the golden boy Dad invested all his time in. Jillian was always the frilly girly girl. Dad spoiled her with gifts, scrutinized her dates — all the things the father of a daughter should do.”
“How did he respond to her being gay?”
“Dad didn’t know anything about that until she went to college. I accidentally walked in on her and one of her friends making out when I was eleven.”
“Yeah. They didn’t know I was at home. I didn’t realize what was going on until Jillian freaked out and ordered me not to tell anyone. I mean, I was old enough to figure out what it meant, but she and this friend had always been sort of close, so they could have been joking around. Jillian’s reaction told me it was more than that.”
“My Mom just sort of figured it out,” Abigail says. “She brought it up in the car one day when she taking me to school. She told me I was who I was and she loved me for it whoever that happened to be.”
“Your Mom sounds cool. I hope I get the chance to know her better someday.”
“I’m sure you will. Actually she’s looking forward to getting to know you, too.”
“Jillian was never a rebellious teen,” Neil continues. “After the incident with Trudy, all that changed. Danny and I can occasionally give Dad the benefit of the doubt. Not Jillian.”
“So, what should I expect?” Abigail says.
“Ever since she came face to face with Dad’s infidelity, she’s spent her time chronicling as much as she can. I’m willing to bet she knows more details about the circumstances of your birth than you do.”
“She doesn’t have anything better to do with her time?”
“I think it’s kind of a hobby. Some folks do needlepoint; some play chess. Jillian spends time investigating our father.”
“Your father said I was like her.”
“No. No one’s like Jillian. You can both be kind of forthcoming, but she takes it to the extreme. Trudy confided in me once that Jillian keeps a notebook filled with nasty things to say to Dad if she ever runs into him accidentally on the street.”
“Okay, that’s weird.”
“One thing, if she starts giving you crap, don’t back down from her. She’ll be on the attack once we get there. She’s going to try to push your buttons to see where you’re vulnerable. The less you give her, the more you’ll be able to shut her down.”
“I’ll do what I can to support you, but with Jillian, she attacks from multiple angles. It can be tough predicting where she’ll be coming from.”
“Does she take after either of your parents?”
“She kind of got the worst of both of them. Dad’s intensity with Mom’s determination. Since she cut Dad off, she’s added self-pity to the mix as well. She likes to lash out at those she’s closest to, so don’t be surprised if I catch a load from her. If Trudy’s there, she might be able to rein her in some, but sometimes having Trudy around just makes things worse.”
“Well, now I’m really looking forward to this,” Abigail says. “Anything else?”
“Don’t be polite. She’s not going to be polite to you, so don’t give her that courtesy. She doesn’t respond well to politeness, anyway. If you have something on your mind, it’s best to just say it.”
“Be an asshole, got it.”
They arrive in San Francisco in time to have a late supper, and spend the night in a motel outside town. The following morning they head over to Jillian’s.