“I need to warn you about the worms,” Crosby said to me as he put an old coffee can next to me.
I sat on the top step of the porch and felt the summer heat blanket me.
It was one of those days that just felt hot and hazy when you woke up and only got worse as the day went on.
Of course today was the day Dad wanted me to go fishing with him.
“Don’t mess with me, Crosby,” I said.
“I’m not,” he said. “There’s different kinds of worms. How long and thick they are. Usually you want the thicker ones for fishing. The fish can see them better and it looks like a tastier snack.”
“Okay. That’s… whatever.”
“But in this can,” Crosby said, flicking the coffee can full of dirt and worms, “there’s a few special ones. Ones that bite.”
“Worms bite, Mila.”
“How hard can they bite?”
“These ones are dangerous,” Crosby said. “I know you want to be tough and all that in front of Dad. But just be careful. They’re an all-black worm. And if you see the tip, you’ll see the teeth.”
I tilted my head. “Okay, Crosby.”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“I said okay. Why aren’t you going fishing?”
“I have better things to do,” he said. “I’ll be fishing for something else.”
Crosby put his hand to the top of my head and messed with my hair as he laughed.
I punched his hands away.
I rolled my eyes because I hated his stupid jokes.
Everything was about girls. All he ever wanted to do was find girls and have a new girlfriend each week.
“Don’t be too afraid, Mila.”
“I’m not afraid at all.”
“I can see it on your face. You’re scared.”
I wasn’t scared of the worms or fishing. I was just thinking about-
The door opened behind me and out came Tyler.
He was tall and strong, my oldest brother who looked more like our father by the day.
“Dad’s taking Mila fishing,” Crosby said. “I was just warning her about the worms.”
“The ones that bite?” Tyler asked.
That’s when I jumped up to get away from the coffee can. “That’s real?”
“Of course it is,” Crosby said. “I wasn’t lying to you.”
“Watch their teeth, Mila,” Tyler said. “They can take a fingertip off if you’re not careful.”
I looked at the coffee can and cringed.
If Dad wanted fish that bad, why not just go to the grocery store?
“You know, you can put a worm on the hook yourself,” Dad said to me with a caring smile.
“Let me guess, you’re afraid of hurting the worm?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Sometimes it’s hard to look at things like that,” Dad said. “Not that I want you to be scared or traumatized, but you have to appreciate where your food comes from. All of your food. From a tomato to a piece of fish. An apple to a burger. Makes you feel grateful for each bite you take.”
Dad stuck his already dirty fingertips into the coffee can and started to dig around.
I watched him carefully, my heart racing.
“You know they make fancy lures and all that?” Dad asked me. “All kinds of shapes and colors. Little pieces that wiggle and move and do all kinds of stuff. For me, I can’t go wrong with a worm. Maybe it’s just the fish here. But I just-”
I grabbed Dad’s wrist and pulled his hand from the can.
I stared at him.
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“You’re digging so much… what about the ones that bite?”
“The ones that bite?” Dad asked.
I gasped and released my hold on his wrist.
I kicked at the ground and slid back from the riverbank and got to my feet.
As I ran, Dad yelled for me.
The first tree I saw, I grabbed for and leaned against it.
Tears filled my eyes.
“Mila,” Dad said as he caught up. “Hey…” I felt his hand touch my back. He sighed. “Let me guess. Your brothers told you there were worms that bite you.”
I looked back at Dad and nodded.
“Damn them,” Dad said. “Your grandfather told them that when they were younger. To mess with them. Now it looks like they did the same to you.” He smiled. “You know, we can get them back. Maybe some worms in their beds. We can think of something.”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“It’s not about worms.”
“Then what’s it about?”
“I saw something about Lily.”
Dad’s mouth closed tight for a moment. Then he asked, “And you have questions?”