Chapter 1

1.

Tap, tap, tap . . .

“Is this thing on? Ha! Just kidding folks.”

The newsman with the microphone grins and winks at me.

Mom, Dad, and I are perched on high stools across from him, my legs dangling in the air. The cameraman does this thing with his fingers where he counts down silently from five to . . . live.

“Goooood day, America! It’s a beautiful sunny day in Times Square this morning. I’m Josh Harmon, and I’m here with the Gellers. Now if you haven’t heard of Allan and Sarah Geller you’ve been living under a rock. Sarah was a top fashion model for many years, gracing runways from Paris to Milan with her tremendous beauty. She’s been a Vogue cover model, a spokesperson for Shinefree makeup, featured in ad campaigns too numerous to name, and in her latest incarnation she’s the proprietor of the Style Boutique in Westchester, NY. Welcome Sarah.”

Mom smiles and nods. Her eyes glow, and I think she is the most beautiful mother in the world.

“Allan Geller,” says the interviewer, turning to my Dad, “rose from humble beginnings to become the CEO of MoneyVision, which as you all know is one of the most successful businesses in the United States. I think it’s safe to say that this man is a financial genius, and if you’d like to learn more about him you can pick up this month’s issue of Business Today since he’s being honored as their Man of the Year. Congratulations, Allan.”

Dad beams, then nods humbly. I stare at him, thinking how cool he is.
“And this . . .” The interviewer turns to me. “This is their son Liam who is now . . . how old are you, Liam?”

“Nine.”

The interviewer smiles like we’re good buddies.

“You look exactly like your mom,” he says. “I bet people tell you that all the time, right?”

I nod and remember to smile. The interviewer grins back, but then he turns slyly, like he’s telling a joke.

“But are you good at math?”

Mom and Dad laugh, but I don’t get what’s so funny. I shake my head no, and the interviewer straightens in mock surprise.

“You mean you haven’t inherited the math genius gene from your father?”

I’m not sure exactly what this means, but when I look at Dad his smile is so fake I can see the corner of his mouth twitch slightly. I slide a little farther back on my stool, but the interviewer presses forward.

“Do you like school?” he asks. “Maybe there’s a subject you’re particularly good at?”
I’ve just gotten my report card so the memory of it is fresh in my mind. I think about what the media specialist said this morning, “The reporter won’t ask you any hard questions, Liam. Just be yourself and give them truthful answers that are short and to the point. And don’t forget to smile.

So I smile and say, “My grades are all very bad, and Dad yells at me a lot.”

Mom coughs loudly and has to take a drink of the water that sits by her chair. Dad shoots me a look that is so quick, I’m barely sure I’ve seen it. There’s loud laughter from the adults, but I know I’ve said the wrong thing.

The reporter can’t suppress his grin.

“I bet a lot of parents can relate to that,” he says, like he’s trying to be nice, but I can tell there’s something different about him now. It’s as if he was our friend before, happy to meet us, thanking us for doing this interview, but now he’s a shark that smells blood.

“It must be tough being parents with such busy schedules,” he says to Mom and Dad, only he doesn’t give them time to answer. “Do you miss seeing your parents when they’re busy?” he asks me.

This wasn’t a question the media specialist prepped me for.

“No,” I say. Then I think maybe that sounds bad, so I change my answer. “I mean yes.” Then I say, “I see Mom a lot, just not Dad because he’s always working.”

“Ooohhh,” says the interviewer.

Dad reaches out and takes my hand, squeezing hard.

“It’s true I don’t get to spend as much time with Liam as I’d like,” he says. “Running an international business -- which by the way, is one of the leading philanthropic businesses in the country -- is a lot of hard work, but Liam and I have fun together. We like to go swimming and we play ball whenever we can.”

This isn’t true. I stare at Dad, wondering why he’s lying on national television. Why would he say we play ball together when we don’t?

“And even though Liam hasn’t inherited my natural aptitude for math,” Dad continues, “he’s very . . . uh . . . very . . .”

Dad sputters. I’ve seen him do a million interviews and he has never sputtered even once. It’s like he’s lost his train of thought, and there’s a silence that stretches on forever.

Then Dad clears his throat.

“Liam is very social,” he says at last. “He’s Mr. Popularity. His mother and I always say, ‘just wait until he reaches high school. He’ll be giving us a run for our money by then!”

If you didn’t know Dad you’d think he’d said something nice, but if you know him, you’d recognize the tone he uses for people who are less than worthy. The name echoes in my ears. Mr. Popularity.

My face falls. I glance towards the door of the studio even though I know I shouldn’t, but the reporter turns to me . . . again. His eyes sparkle.

“Do you think you’ll grow up to be like your Dad or like your Mom?” he asks.

I look at mom sitting straight and tall with her long legs, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Then I look at Dad with his dark hair and short, compact body. His craggy face looks nothing like mine. Even though I’ve been told every day since birth that I look like my mother, now I think it like it’s a brand new thought. “I look just like my mother. Only like my mother”.

I think about my report card and the question about math, and my heart starts to pound. There’s something behind this question, and I’m surprised to realize that I now know what it is. It’s like I’ve gotten a decoder ring to the adult world and in the last few minutes I’ve figured out how to use it.

I bite my lip and clench my nine year old fists.

“My dad,” I say, defiantly. “Because even though I don’t look like him and I’m not smart like him, he’s still my dad.”

For a single second, my father’s chest swells. His eyes go from hard to soft. But then, before I have time to savor the moment, I screw up. And it’s not just any screw up. It’s the mother of all screw-ups.

“I know,” I tell the interviewer on national TV, “because they got the patermally test and everything. I heard Mom say it to my Nana. She said, if we hadn’t got the patermally test she never would have believed it.”

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