I wanted to point out that since this was what she was so sure of, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, I said, ‘So how are you doing?’
‘Me?’ A sigh. ‘Oh, the same old, same old. I’ve been asked to head up the committee rewriting the English core courses for next year, with all the attendant drama that will entail. And I have several articles expected by various journals, my trip to Stratford coming up, and, of course, entirely too many dissertations that clearly cannot be completed without a large amount of hand-holding.’
‘Sounds like quite a summer,’ I said, opening my window.
‘Tell me about it. These graduate students, I swear, it just never ends. They’re all so needy.’ She sighed again, and I thought of those black-rimmed glasses sitting on the counter-top. ‘I have half a mind to decamp to the coast, like you, and spend the summer on the beach without a care in the world.’
I looked out the window at the water, the white sand, the Tip just visible beyond. Yep, I wanted to say. That’s me exactly. ‘So,’ I said, thinking this, ‘have you heard from Hollis lately?’
‘Night before last,’ she said. Then she laughed. ‘He was telling me he met some Norwegians who were on their way to a convention in Amsterdam. They own some Internet start-up, and apparently they’re very interested in Hollis, think he’s really got his finger on the pulse of their American target audience, so he went along. He’s thinking it could pan out into a position of some sort…’
I rolled my eyes. Funny how my mom could see through me entirely, but Hollis takes off for Amsterdam with some people he just met, spins it into a career move, and she goes for it hook, line, and sinker. Honestly.
Just then, there was a knock on my door. When I opened it, I was surprised to see my dad standing there. ‘Hey,’ he said, smiling at me. ‘We’re heading out for some dinner, thought you might want to come along.’
‘Sure,’ I mouthed, hoping my mother, who was still talking about Hollis, wouldn’t hear.
‘Auden?’ No luck. Her voice was clear through the receiver, a fact made more apparent by the way my dad winced. ‘Are you still there?’
‘I am,’ I told her. ‘But Dad just came and invited me to dinner, so I better go.’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘so he’s done with the tightening for the day?’
‘I’ll call you later,’ I said quickly, shutting my phone and folding my hand around it.
My dad sighed. ‘And how is your mother?’
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Let’s go.’
Downstairs, Heidi was waiting for us, her own phone clamped to her ear, Thisbe strapped into her stroller. My dad opened the door, and she pushed the baby out as she kept talking. ‘But that doesn’t make sense! I did the payroll myself, and we had plenty of money in the account. It just… well, of course. The bank would know. I’m terribly sorry, Esther, this is so embarrassing. Look, we’re on our way down there right now. I’ll get some cash from the ATM and we’ll work all this out on Monday, okay?’
My dad took a deep breath as we stepped outside. ‘Gotta love that sea air!’ he said to me, patting his hands on his chest. ‘It’s great for the soul.’
‘You’re in a good mood,’ I said as Heidi, still talking, eased the stroller down the front steps, and we started toward the street.
‘Ah, well, that’s what a breakthrough can do for you,’ he replied, reaching over Heidi’s hands and taking the stroller handles from her. She smiled at him, stepping aside as he began to push Thisbe along. ‘I’d been really struggling with this middle chapter, just couldn’t find my groove. But then, today, suddenly… it came together.’ He snapped his fingers. ‘Just like that! It’s going to make all the ones to follow that much easier.’
I glanced at Heidi, who was now saying something about bank fees, a worried look on her face. ‘I thought you were mostly tightening,’ I said to my dad.
‘What?’ he said, nodding at a man who was jogging past, plugged into his iPod. ‘Oh, right. Well, it’s all just a matter of fitting things together. A few more days like today, and I’ll have this draft done by midsummer. At the latest.’
‘Wow,’ I said as Heidi shut her phone, then ran a hand through her hair. My dad reached over, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her closer, then planted a kiss on her cheek.
‘Isn’t this great?’ he said, smiling. ‘All of us together, going for Thisbe’s first trip to the Last Chance.’
‘It’s wonderful,’ Heidi agreed. ‘But I actually need to stop at the shop on the way. There’s apparently some problem with the payroll checks…’
‘It’s Friday night, honey!’ my dad said. ‘Just let it go. All that work stuff will still be there on Monday.’
‘Yes, but –’ Heidi replied as her phone rang again. She glanced at it, then put it to her ear. ‘Hello? Leah, yes, what’s… oh. No, I’m aware of it. Look, are you at the branch just down from the shop? Okay, then just walk over and I’ll meet you there. I’m remedying it as we speak.’
‘These girls she hires,’ my dad said, nodding at Heidi. ‘Typical teenagers. It’s always something.’
I nodded, as if I were not, in fact, a teenager myself. Then again, to my dad, I wasn’t.
‘Their paychecks bounced,’ Heidi told him. ‘It’s kind of a serious situation.’
‘Then call your accountant, let him deal with it,’ he replied, making a goofy face down at Thisbe, who was drifting off to sleep. ‘We’re having family time.’
‘He doesn’t do payroll, I do,’ Heidi said.
‘Well, then tell them to wait until we’ve finished dinner.’
‘I can’t do that, Robert. They deserve to be paid, and –’
‘Look,’ my dad said, annoyed, ‘weren’t you the one who said I wasn’t spending enough time with you and the baby and Auden? Who insisted that I stop working, and have a family dinner out?’
‘Yes,’ Heidi said as her phone rang again. ‘But –’
‘So I knock off early. On my best day yet, I might add,’ he continued as we rolled up onto the boardwalk, ‘and now you’re not willing to do the same thing.’
‘Robert, this is my business.’