‘So,’ I said to Heidi, walking back over to her, ‘why didn’t you?’
She bit her lip, smoothing her hand over the baby’s back. ‘Your father wanted her to have a literary name,’ she said. ‘He said Isabel was too pedestrian, common, that with it, she’d never have a chance at greatness. But I worry Thisbe is just too unusual, too exotic. It’s got to be hard to have a name hardly anyone’s ever heard of, don’t you think?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘not necessarily.’
Her mouth dropped open. ‘Oh!
Auden! I wasn’t saying that yours –’
‘I know, I know,’ I said, holding up my hand to fend off this apology, which would likely have gone on for ages. ‘I’m just saying, from experience, it hasn’t really been a hindrance. That’s all.’
She nodded, then looked back down at Thisbe. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘I guess that is good to know.’
‘But if you don’t like it,’ I told her, ‘just call her Caroline. I mean –’
‘Who’s being called Caroline?’
I jumped, turning to see my dad, standing at the bottom of the stairs. Clearly, I was not the only one creeping around. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I was just saying it’s the baby’s middle name –’
‘Middle name,’ he repeated. ‘And only because her mother insisted. I wanted to name her Thisbe Andromeda.’
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Heidi wince. ‘Really?’ I said.
‘It’s powerful!’ he replied, pounding his chest for emphasis. ‘Memorable. And it can’t be shortened or cutified, which is how a name should be. If you were an Ashley or a Lisa, and not an Auden, do you think you’d be so special?’
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to answer this. Did he actually expect me to agree that it was his choice of name, and not all my hard work, that had gotten me where I was?
Luckily, it seemed to be a rhetorical question, as he was already en route to the fridge, where he pulled out a beer. ‘I think,’ Heidi said, glancing at me, ‘that while names are important, it’s the person who really defines themselves. So if Thisbe is a Thisbe, that’s great. But if she wants to be a Caroline, then she has that option.’
‘She is not,’ my dad said, popping his beer, ‘going to be a Caroline.’
I just looked at him, trying to figure out when, exactly, he’d gotten so pompous and impossible. He couldn’t have been like this my entire life. I would have remembered it. Wouldn’t I?
‘You know,’ Heidi said quickly, scooping the baby up and coming into the kitchen, ‘I don’t even know your middle name, Auden. What is it?’
I kept my eyes on my dad, steadily, as I said, ‘Penelope.’
‘See?’ said my dad to her, as if this proved something. ‘Strong. Literary. Unique.’
Embarrassing, I thought. Too long. Pretentious. ‘That’s lovely!’ Heidi said too enthusiastically. ‘I had no idea.’
I didn’t say anything, instead just downed the rest of my coffee and put the cup in the sink. I could feel Heidi watching me, though, even as my dad headed out onto the front deck with his beer. I heard her take in a breath, about to say something, but luckily, then my dad was calling her, asking what she wanted to do for dinner.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said, glancing at me as she put Thisbe in her bouncy seat, which was on the kitchen table. She fastened her in, then shot me an apologetic look as she stepped outside to join him. ‘What are you in the mood for?’
I stood there for a moment, watching them stand together, looking out at the water. My dad was drinking his beer, and as Heidi talked he looped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him, and she rested her head on his shoulder. You just couldn’t even begin to understand how some things worked, or so I was learning.
On the counter, the baby made a gurgling noise, waving her arms around, and I walked over, looking down at her. She couldn’t look you in the eye yet: instead, her gaze always found the center of your forehead.
Maybe she would be a Thisbe, after all, and never even consider Caroline. But it was the thought of my dad’s face, so sure, as he stated otherwise that made me lean in close to her ear and christen her anew. Part her given name, part the one Heidi had wanted, but all mine.
‘Hey, Isby,’ I whispered. ‘Aren’t you a pretty Isby girl.’
• • •
There’s something about living at the beach in the summer. You get so used to the sun and sand that it gets hard to remember what the rest of the world, and the year, is like. When I opened the front door to an outright downpour a couple of days later, I just stood there for a moment, realizing that I’d forgotten all about rainy days.
Since I had no rain jacket, I had to borrow one from Heidi, who offered me three colors: bright pink, light pink, and, in her words, ‘dusky pink’, whatever that meant. I picked the light one, yet still felt positively radioactive as I walked down the gray, wet sidewalk, boldly contrasting with everything around me.
At Clementine’s, Maggie was behind the counter, in a miniskirt, flip-flops, and a worn T-shirt that said CLYDE’S RIDES on it, bicycle wheels in both the Ds. She was bent over a magazine, most likely her beloved Hollyworld, and gave me a sleepy wave as I approached.
‘Still coming down out there, huh?’ she said, reaching into the register to hand me the day’s receipts.
‘Yup,’ I replied. ‘Any shipments?’
I nodded, and then she went back to her reading, turning a page. While Esther and Leah sometimes attempted more conversation with me, Maggie always kept it to a minimum, which I actually appreciated. It wasn’t like we needed to pretend we were friends, or had anything in common other than our employer. And while I had to admit to still being somewhat surprised by what I’d seen her do at the jump park, otherwise I figured I pretty much had her pegged, and knew she probably felt that exact same way about me.
I went to the office, which for some reason was freezing, so I kept Heidi’s jacket on as I got settled, pulling out the checkbook and finding my calculator. For the next hour or so, the store was pretty dead, aside from a couple of groups of girls coming in to pick through the clearance rack and moon over the shoes. Occasionally I’d hear Maggie’s phone beep as a text message came in, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. Then, at around six, the door chimed.