‘Are you sure?’ Heidi asked. ‘Because you were such a help last night, I don’t want to ask you to –’
‘She’s offering, Heidi,’ my dad said. I still couldn’t see him, only hear his voice, booming down from sights unseen, like God. ‘Don’t be a martyr.’
Which was good advice, I was thinking ten minutes later, as I walked down the boardwalk, the checkbook – and some muffins for the girls! – in hand. Twenty-four hours in Colby and already I didn’t recognize myself. My mother would be disgusted, I thought. I knew I was.
When I walked into Clementine’s, the first thing I saw was the dark-haired girl from the night before standing by the counter talking to a UPS guy. ‘The thing is,’ she was saying, ‘I know it’s stupid that I’m still crying over him. But we went out for, like, two years. It wasn’t just a fling. We were serious, as serious as things like that can be. So some days, like today… it’s just hard.’
The UPS man, who looked decidedly uncomfortable, brightened at the sight of me. ‘Looks like your checkbook’s here,’ he said.
‘Oh!’ She turned to face me, then blinked, confused. ‘Is Heidi… are you… ?’
‘Her stepdaughter,’ I explained.
‘Really? That’s great. Are you here to help with the baby?’
‘I can’t wait to meet her,’ she said before I could finish. ‘And I love her name! It’s so unusual. Although I thought Heidi was naming her Isabel or Caroline? But maybe I was wrong…’
I handed over the checkbook, then the bag. When she glanced at it, quizzical, I added, ‘Muffins.’
‘Really?’ she said excitedly, opening the bag. ‘Oh, these smell delicious. Here, Ramon, you want one?’ She offered the bag to the UPS guy, who reached in and took one, then to me. I shook my head, and she helped herself. ‘Thanks so much. Here, I’ll just write the check quick and send it back with you, because I think Heidi needed it for some bill stuff, and I wouldn’t want you to have to make another trip. Although it is handy to have it here, but at the same time…’
I nodded – too much information, again – then walked over to a display of jeans, leaving her to chatter on. Behind the jeans, tucked away against a back wall, were some bathing suits on sale, so I started picking through them. I was checking out a red, boy-short bikini that wasn’t entirely hideous when I heard the front door chime.
‘I brought caffeine,’ a girl’s voice called out. ‘Double mocha, extra whip. Your favorite.’
‘And I,’ another chimed in, ‘have the very latest issue of Hollyworld. They just got dropped at the newsstand, like, ten minutes ago.’
‘You guys!’ Maggie squealed. I glanced over, but because of the rack of suits, my view was blocked: she was all I could see now, as Ramon had clearly left the building, lucky guy. ‘What’s the occasion?’
No one spoke for a moment, and I went back to my browsing. Then one of the girls said, ‘Well… the truth is, we have something we have to tell you.’
‘Tell me?’ Maggie said.
‘Yes,’ the other girl told her. There was a pause. Then, ‘Now, before we do, I want to stress that this is for your own good. Okay?’
‘Okay,’ Maggie said slowly. ‘But I don’t like the sound of –’
‘Jake hooked up with another girl last night,’ the first girl blurted out. ‘At the Tip.’
Oh, shit, I thought.
‘What?’ Maggie gasped.
‘Leah!’ one girl said. ‘Jesus. I thought we agreed we were going to break it to her gently.’
‘You wanted to break it to her gently,’ Leah replied. ‘I said we should just do it fast and all at once, like an eyebrow wax.’
‘Are you guys serious?’ Maggie’s voice was tight, high, and I shrank farther into the bathing suits, wondering if there was a back exit. ‘How do you know? Who was it? I mean, how…’
‘We were there,’ Leah said flatly. ‘We saw her show up and we saw them talking and then walk off to the dunes together.’
‘And you didn’t stop him?’ Maggie shrieked.
‘Hey,’ the other girl said. ‘Calm down, okay?’
‘Don’t tell me to calm down, okay, Esther? Who was she?’
Another silence. Stupid Heidi and her stupid checkbook, I thought, burying myself more deeply into the nearby one-pieces. ‘We don’t know,’ Leah said. ‘Some summer girl, a tourist.’
‘Well, what did she look like?’ Maggie demanded.
‘Does it really matter?’ Esther replied.
‘Of course it matters! It’s paramount.’
‘It is not,’ Leah said with a sigh, ‘paramount.’
‘Was she cuter than me?’ Maggie asked. ‘Taller? I bet she was a blonde. Was she a blonde?’
Silence. I peered out from behind the rack of suits, by this point not surprised at all to see the redhead and the girl in the pigtails from the bonfire. They exchanged a look before pigtails – Esther – said, ‘She had black hair and fair skin. Taller than you, but kind of bony.’
‘And her skin wasn’t that great,’ the redhead, who had to be Leah, added.
I felt myself flinch, hearing this. First, I was not bony. And okay, so I had a couple of zits, but they were temporary, not a condition. And anyway, who were they to say –
Suddenly, the bathing-suit rack before me parted right down the middle, like the Red Sea. And just like that, with a clattering of hangers, I found myself face to face with Maggie.
‘Did she,’ she said, narrowing her eyes at me, ‘look like this, maybe?’
‘Holy crap,’ Leah said. Beside her, Esther slapped a hand over her mouth.
‘I can’t believe this,’ Maggie said as I fought the urge to try to protect myself with a nearby bandeau. ‘Did you hook up with Jake last night?’
I swallowed, the sound seeming louder than a gunshot. ‘It wasn’t,’ I began, then realized my voice was wavering and stopped, taking a breath. ‘It was nothing.’
Maggie sucked in a breath, her cheeks hollowing. ‘Nothing,’ she repeated. Then she dropped her hands from the suits on the rack, letting them flop to her sides. ‘You hook up with the love of my life, the boy I wanted to marry –’
‘Oh, man,’ Leah said. ‘Here we go.’