Leah shot a glance at Jake, then at me. ‘Nonsense. Let’s at least –’
This thought was interrupted by the curly-headed guy, who suddenly rode up right beside us, braking to a stop with a screech. ‘Ladies,’ he said. Leah rolled her eyes. ‘Anyone want a ride to the jump park?’
‘Oh, God help us,’ Leah said. ‘Please, no more nights involving bicycles. What are we, twelve?’
‘They’re not just bicycles,’ the guy said, offended. ‘How can you even say that?’
‘Easily,’ she replied. ‘And anyway, Adam –’
‘I’ll go,’ Maggie said, interrupting her. Adam smiled, then sat back on his seat as she climbed onto the handlebars, arranging her purse in her lap. ‘What?’ she said to Leah, who sighed. ‘It’s better than some club.’
‘No,’ Leah said flatly, ‘it really isn’t.’
‘Oh, lighten up,’ Adam told her as he pushed off the boardwalk, starting to pedal. Maggie leaned back, closing her eyes, and then they were on their way, the other guys on bikes in front of the shop following behind them. Leah shook her head, annoyed, but allowed Esther to link her arm in hers as they brought up the rear on foot. Which left just me and Jake.
I tried to turn and start for home, but no luck. Two steps in and he was beside me. ‘So,’ he said, ‘what was all that about the other night, anyway? You took off awfully fast.’
He was too everything: too confident, standing too close, wanting too much. I said, ‘It wasn’t about anything.’
‘Oh,’ he said, his voice low, ‘I think it was. And could still be. You want to take a walk, or something?’
It was all I could do not to cringe. I’d already regretted what we’d done, and that was before he was Maggie’s ex and Eli’s brother. And how strange was it that I, who wanted to know as little as possible about anything here, now knew all this?
‘Look,’ I said to him. ‘What happened the other night was a mistake, okay?’
‘You’re calling me a mistake?’
‘I have to go,’ I told him, and started to walk away.
‘You’re messed up, you know that?’ he said as I ducked my head down, focusing on the end of the boardwalk. ‘Freaking tease!’
More steps, more space. I’d just stepped off the boardwalk onto the street, and finally let myself sort of relax, when I saw Eli up ahead, coming toward me. He was walking slowly behind a group of older women dressed for a night out, all of them too tan and wearing bright colors. I tried to make myself too small to be seen, but just as he passed me, he looked over. Please just move along, I thought, fixing my gaze tightly on the plaid shirt of the guy walking in front of me.
But Eli was clearly different from his brother, in that he took direction well. No words shouted, nothing said. In fact, he didn’t even look at me twice, just walked on.
‘Auden? Have you…’
I stopped. Listened. Waited. But, as usual, nothing followed this but silence.
Sighing, I put down my econ textbook, stood up, and opened my bedroom door. Sure enough, there was Heidi, Thisbe in her arms, looking at me with a perplexed expression.
‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ she said. ‘I had a concrete reason why I came up here! And now, I have no idea what it was. Can you even believe that?’
I could. In fact, Heidi’s forgetfulness had become as much a part of my routine as my morning coffee and late, late nights. I had done the best I could to keep myself segregated, my own life in Colby as separate from hers and my dad’s as possible, considering we were living under the same roof. But it was no use. Two weeks in, and I was hopelessly intertwined, whether I liked it or not.
Because of this, I was now fully aware of the fact that my dad’s mood depended entirely on how his writing went that day: a good morning, and he was cheerful the rest of the day, a bad one and he skulked around, sullen and muttering. I knew all the ups and downs of Heidi’s ongoing postpartum issues, such as the forgetfulness, insane mood swings, and how she worried on multiple, complex levels about every freaking thing the baby did, from sleeping to eating to pooping. I was even fully versed in Thisbe’s dayto-day life, from the crying (which was ongoing, it seemed) to her tendency to get the hiccups right when she was finally falling asleep. Maybe they were equally aware of me, as well, but I doubted it.
Because of all this, I’d actually come to kind of enjoy – sometimes even crave – the few hours I spent at Clementine’s every day. It was a chance to do something concrete, with a beginning, middle, and end. No wild emotional swings, no wondering aloud about someone else’s bathroom habits, and no hiccuping. The only thing that kept it from being perfect was its close proximity to Esther, Leah, and Maggie and all their various dramatics. But at least they left me alone when my door was shut.
Now, I looked at Heidi, who was still standing there, her brow furrowed as she tried to remember why she’d come upstairs. Thisbe, in her arms, was awake and staring up at the ceiling, most likely debating when she wanted to start screaming again. ‘Did it have something to do with work?’ I asked her, as I’d learned that a few prompts could sometimes trigger her memory.
‘No,’ she said, shifting Thisbe to her other arm. ‘I was downstairs, and thinking that I had to get the baby down for a nap soon, but it’s been so hard because she’s been switching it up so much, so no matter what I do she gets overtired…’
I tuned out and began mentally reviewing the periodic table, which usually kept me occupied during these soliloquies.
‘… so I was going to try to put her down, but then I didn’t, because…’ She snapped her fingers. ‘The wave machine! That’s what it was. I can’t find it. Have you seen it around?’
I was about to say no. Two weeks ago, when I’d first arrived, I would have, with no guilt or even a second thought. But thanks to the intertwining, I said, ‘I think it might be on that table by the front door.’
‘Oh! Wonderful.’ She sighed, looking down at Thisbe, who was yawning. ‘Well, I’ll just go grab it and we’ll hope for the best. I mean, yesterday I tried to put her down at this same time, she was clearly exhausted, but of course the minute I did she started up. I swear, it’s like…’
I began easing the door shut, slowly, slowly, until at last she got the hint, stepping back and turning toward the stairs. ‘… so wish us luck!’ she was saying, when I finally heard the knob click.