I sat down on my bed, looking out at the beach below. There were a lot of things about being here that I did not understand. And I was okay with that. But the wave machine? It drove me nuts.
Here we were, mere feet from the real, actual ocean, and yet Heidi was convinced that Thisbe could only sleep with the sound of manufactured waves – turned up to the highest setting, no less – supplied by her noise machine. Which meant that I had to hear them all night long as well. It probably would not have been that big a deal, if it hadn’t made it impossible to hear the real sea. So I was there, in a beachfront house, listening to a fake ocean, and this just seemed to sum up everything that was wrong with this situation from start to finish.
Outside, I heard footsteps again, then a door opening and shutting. A moment later, sure enough, the waves began. Fake, loud, and endless.
I stood up, grabbing my bag, and stepped out into the hallway, moving past Thisbe’s barely open door as quietly as I could. At the top of the stairs, I paused, looking into my dad’s study, the door to which he always kept slightly ajar. He was at his desk, facing the wall, as usual, a Diet Coke can and a whole apple next to him. So it had been a good day.
Like I said, I’d become versed in my dad’s habits. And by using my talents of observation, I’d figured out that he took an apple up to his office every day after lunch. If it was a good day, he always got too immersed in what he was doing and didn’t eat it. On a bad one, though, the core was bitten down to nothing, nibbled to death, sometimes even in two pieces. On a whole-apple day, he emerged at dinnertime cheerful and talkative. On an apple-core day – especially a two-piece core – you did best to steer clear, if he even came down at all.
Most days, though, I wasn’t around for dinner anyway, as I left at five or so to head to Clementine’s, where I grabbed a sandwich as I worked until closing. After that, I usually walked the boardwalk for an hour or so before coming home to get my car and taking off for another three or four.
I’d found one all-night place, called the Wheelhouse Diner, about thirty-five miles away, but it was no Ray’s. The booths were narrow and stank like bleach, and the coffee was watery. Plus, the waitresses all dirty-looked you if you stayed longer than it took to eat whatever you ordered, even though the place was usually deserted. So more often than not, I’d just stop at the Gas/Gro, the closest convenience store, buy a big travel cup of coffee, and sip it as I drove around. In just two weeks, I knew about every inch of Colby backward and forward, for all the good that would do me.
By the time I got to Clementine’s, it was almost six, and the shift was about to change. Which meant technically that Esther was done and Maggie was coming on, although more often than not – and for reasons I did not understand – whoever was leaving usually still hung around, unpaid, by choice. Then again, hanging around seemed to be all anyone did in Colby. The girls gathered at Clementine’s, crowding the register and gossiping, flipping though fashion magazines, while the boys were on the benches in front of the bike shop, gossiping and reading bike magazines. It was ridiculous. And yet it went on, every day, all day long.
‘Hey there,’ Esther, who was the friendliest of all of the girls, called out to me when I came in. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Good,’ I said, my standard reply. I’d long ago resolved to be cordial but not overly so, lest I be sucked into some conversation about what celebrity was in rehab or strap versus strapless dresses. ‘Any shipments in today?’
‘Just these.’ She picked up a couple of slips of paper, handing them off to me as I passed. ‘Oh, we got an extra roll of quarters at the bank today for some reason, and I put the deposit slip under the bear.’
A minute later, I was in the office, door shut, all alone. Just how I liked it. If only the walls had been a cool white, everything would have been perfect.
Usually, my focus on my work allowed me to tune out anything that was going on out in the store. But occasionally, as I switched tasks, I’d hear bits here and there. When Leah was working, she was always on her cell phone. Esther seemed to spend a lot of time humming and singing to herself. And Maggie: well, Maggie was always talking to the customers.
‘Oh, those look great,’ I heard her say around seven thirty as I started on the payroll for the week. ‘Petunia’s are the best jeans, I swear. I live in mine.’
‘I don’t know,’ a girl’s voice replied. ‘I like the pockets on these, but I’m not sure about the wash.’
‘It is a little dark.’ A pause. ‘But at the same time, I think it’s always good to have one pair of jeans you can always dress up, you know? And a dark wash guarantees that. Not all jeans look good with heels. But those will.’
‘Oh, totally. But if the wash worries you, we can pull a few other brands. The pockets on the Pink Slingbacks are great. And then there’s always the Courtney Amandas. They’re, like, magic for your butt.’
The girl laughed. ‘Then I definitely need to try them.’
‘Done. Let me just find your size…’
I rolled my eyes at no one, punching a few numbers into the calculator. Every time I overheard her going on in such detail about stuff like this, the nuances of different brands of flip-flops, or the pros and cons of boy shorts versus bikini bottoms, it seemed like such a waste. Here you had the capability to know so much about so many things, and you chose shoes and clothes. Leah at least seemed smart, while Esther, who clearly followed her own beat, was an individual. But Maggie was just… well, she was just like Heidi. A girl’s girl, all the way, all pink and fluff and frivolity. Even worse, she was happy about it.
‘Here they are!’ I heard her say now. ‘Oh, and I grabbed a pair of these great Dapper wedges we just got in, so you could see how they do with a bit more formal look.’
‘Thanks,’ the customer said. ‘These look great. I love shoes.’
‘Of course you do!’ Maggie replied. ‘You’re human, aren’t you?’
For God’s sake, I thought. Where was the wave machine when you really needed it?
A little while later, I heard the front door chime. A moment later, the music cranked up, this time a loud, thumping dance beat. I didn’t even have to look at my watch. By this point, I knew the nine o’clock dance when I heard it.