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Here's to Us
Elin Hilderbrand


Deacon Thorpe is thirteen years old and still more a boy than a man when his father, Jack, tells Deacon they’re taking a day trip out of the city, just the two of them.

Deacon is intrigued by the idea of a day trip out of the city. They rarely have money for anything other than minute-to-minute survival. Jack works as a line chef at Sardi’s in Times Square, and he gets only three days off per month.

Deacon is even more excited about the phrase “just the two of us.” Jack is the king of Deacon’s world, primarily because he is rarely available. Deacon anticipates time with Jack the way astronomers anticipate a comet or an eclipse.

Jack wakes Deacon at four in the morning. They leave Deacon’s mother and his sister, Stephanie, asleep in the apartment. At Jack’s instruction, Deacon is wearing his swimming trunks, and Jack is wearing a bright-yellow collared shirt that Deacon has never seen before.

Jack plucks at the shirt with a smile of pride. “Bought it specially for today,” he says.

For the trip, Jack has rented an Oldsmobile Cutlass. Deacon didn’t even realize his father knew how to drive. They live in Stuy Town, and if they need to go somewhere—work, school, the park—they take the subway or the bus.

“Now this,” Jack says, “is one classy vehicle.”

His father is suddenly full of surprises.

Deacon naps for much of the drive, waking up only as they cross a bridge that looks as though it has been made from a giant erector set. Elton John is on the radio, singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Jack sings along, “Oh, honey, if I get restless…”

“Where are we?” Deacon asks.

“Cape Cod,” Jack says. Then he sings, “Whoa-ho, I gave you my heart!”

Cape Cod. It has a mythical ring to it, like Shangri-La.

Jack turns down the radio and says, “I want one perfect day with my son. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

By nine o’clock, they are sitting on the top deck of a ferry, drinking coffee. Deacon has never been allowed to drink coffee before; his mother believes it will stunt his growth. Jack doesn’t seem to think twice about ordering a cup for Deacon. He says, “You may want to add some cream and sugar to that, mellow it a little.” But Deacon chooses to take it black, like his father. Some of his Jewish friends at school have had their bar mitzvahs, and that’s how Deacon is viewing this day trip—as a rite of passage, in which he will learn some things about becoming a man.

The ferry delivers Deacon and Jack to a place called Nantucket Island. Jack insists they stand at the railing as soon as land comes into view. They pass a stone jetty where seals are sunbathing. Real seals! These are the first wild animals Deacon has seen outside a zoo. The ferry cruises into a harbor filled with sleek, elegant power yachts and sailboats with tall masts and elaborate rigging. Gulls circle overhead. Deacon sees two church steeples, one a white spire, one a gold dome, and clusters of gray-shingled buildings.

Jack says, “Today we are going to live the life on Nantucket.”

On the wharf, Jack rents another car—an army-drab Willys jeep, which is like nothing Deacon has ever seen in the city. It has no top, no windows, no doors, even. It is basically two seats and a gearshift, four tires and a motor. This is not a classy vehicle—it’s as far from the Cutlass as you can get—but Jack looks happier than Deacon has ever seen him.

“Hop in!” Jack says. “I’ll give you the grand tour.”

They drive over cobblestone streets, past a general store called Hardy’s, which has a charcoal grill and a lawn mower in the plate glass window with a male mannequin wearing a collared shirt just like Jack’s, standing between the two. He’ll cut the grass first, Deacon thinks, then grill up some burgers outside. It’s like a scene from The Brady Bunch.

They pass a pizza parlor, then a restaurant called the Opera House.

Jack points at the restaurant. “My old stomping ground,” he says. “There’s a real British phone booth in the dining room, where I used to kiss my French girlfriend, Claire.”

Deacon feels himself redden. He can’t imagine Jack Thorpe kissing anyone, not even Deacon’s mother.

They drive out a long road that twists and turns. They pass gray-shingled cottages draped with roses, they pass fields with horses grazing alongside split-rail fences. To the left, Deacon catches glimpses of the blue harbor. The sun is starting to get very hot, and Deacon’s stomach rumbles. All he has had to drink so far today is the coffee and there’s been nothing in the way of food.

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