‘Hey!’ a voice bellowed from the smoking section. ‘Careful there!’
I felt my face flush, totally embarrassed, as the ball rolled to the end of the lane, disappearing behind the pins. A moment later, there was a thunk, and Eli appeared back beside me, holding it out to me.
‘I think I’d better not,’ I said. ‘Clearly, this is not my strong suit.’
‘It was your first shot,’ he replied. ‘What, you thought you’d get a strike or something?’
I swallowed. In fact, this was exactly what I’d thought. Or at least hoped for. ‘I just…’ I said. ‘I’m not good at this kind of thing.’
‘Because you’ve never done it.’ He reached over, taking my hands, and put the ball in it. ‘Try again. And this time, let go earlier.’
He went back to the bench, and I forced myself to take a deep breath. It’s just a game, I told myself. Not so important. Then, with this still in mind, I stepped forward and released the ball. It wasn’t pretty – wobbling crookedly, and very slowly – but I took out two pins on the right. Which was…
‘Not bad,’ Eli called out as the machine reset itself. ‘Not bad at all.’
We’d played two full games, during which he bowled constant strikes and spares, and I focused on staying out of the gutter. Still, I managed a couple of good frames, which I surprised myself by actually being kind of happy about. So much so that as we left, I plucked the score sheet from the trash can where he’d tossed it, folding it down to little square. When I looked up, I realized Eli was watching me.
‘Documentation,’ I explained. ‘It’s important.’
‘Right,’ he said, keeping his eyes on me as I slipped it into my pocket. ‘Of course.’
Outside, we walked across the rain-slicked parking lot to my car, leaving the blinking BOWL neon sign behind us. ‘So now you’ve done bowling, breaking curfew, almost getting your ass kicked at a party,’ he said. ‘What else is on the list?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘What else did you do for your first eighteen years?’
‘Like I said,’ he said as I unlocked the car, ‘I’m not so sure that you should go by my example.’
‘Because I have regrets,’ he said. ‘Also, I’m a guy. And guys do different stuff.’
‘Like ride bikes?’ I said.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Like have food fights. And break stuff. And set off firecrackers on people’s front porches. And…’
‘Girls can’t set off firecrackers on people’s front porches?’
‘They can,’ he said as I cranked the engine. ‘But they’re smart enough not to. That’s the difference.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I think food fights and breaking stuff are equal-opportunity activities.’
‘Fine. But if you’re going to do the firecracker thing, you’re on your own. That’s all I’m saying.’
‘What,’ I said, ‘you afraid or something?’
‘Nope.’ He sat back. ‘Just been there, done that. Done the getting hauled down to the police station thing because of it, too. I appreciate your quest and everything, but I have to draw the line somewhere.’
‘Wait,’ I said, holding up my hand. ‘My quest?’
He turned to look at me. We were at a red light, no other cars anywhere in sight. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘You know, like in Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars. You’re searching for something you lost or need. It’s a quest.’
I just looked at him.
‘Maybe it’s a guy thing,’ he said. ‘Fine, don’t call it a quest. Call it chicken salad, I don’t care. My point is, I’m in, but within reason. That’s all I’m saying.’
Here I’d thought we were just hanging out. Killing time. But gender specific or not, I kind of liked the idea of searching for something you’d lost or needed. Or both.
The light finally changed, dropping down to green, but I didn’t hit the gas. Instead I said, ‘Chicken salad?’
‘What? You never said that as a kid?’
‘“Call it chicken salad”?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Um, no?’
‘Wow.’ He shook his head. ‘What have you been doing all your life?’
As soon as he said this, a million answers popped into my head, each of them true and legitimate. There were endless ways to spend your days, I knew that, none of them right or wrong. But given the chance for a real do-over, another way around, who would say no? Not me. Not then. Call it crazy, or just chicken salad. But within reason, or even without it, I was in, too.
‘Well,’ Maggie said, ‘that’s an interesting outfit.’
We all looked down at Thisbe, who was strapped in her stroller, still in the trance she’d fallen into as soon as I wheeled her down the driveway, eyes wide open, fully silent. ‘Interesting,’ I repeated. ‘What’s your point?’
‘Did Heidi put this on her?’ Leah said, crouching down so she was at Thisbe’s eye level.
‘No. I did.’ Leah looked at Maggie, who raised her eyebrows. ‘What? I think she looks cute.’
‘She’s wearing black,’ Maggie said.
‘So how often do you see infants in black?’
I looked down at the baby again. When my dad went to go get ready for dinner, I’d realized she, too, probably needed a change, so I went to her bureau to find a fresh Onesie. Since everything was pink, or had pink incorporated somewhere, I’d decided to be contrary, digging in the very bottom drawer until I found a plain black Onesie and some bright green pants. I thought she looked kind of rock and roll, personally, but judging by the looks I was getting now – not to mention the odd expression Heidi had given me as we said good-bye – maybe I was wrong.
‘You know,’ I said, ‘just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you have to wear pink.’
‘No,’ Leah agreed, ‘but you don’t have to dress like a truck driver, either.’
‘She doesn’t look like a truck driver,’ I said. ‘God.’
Leah cocked her head to the side. ‘You’re right. She looks like a farmer. Or maybe a construction worker.’
‘Because she’s not in pink?’
‘She’s a baby,’ Maggie told me. ‘Babies wear pastels.’