‘Is Eli coming?’ Esther asked.
‘He’s invited,’ Adam said. ‘So we’ll see.’
Maggie turned to me, saying, ‘The hot-dog party was one of Abe’s big traditions. He used to have them every Saturday at Eli’s and his place. Hot dogs, baked beans…’
‘… potato chips for the vegetable,’ Leah said.
‘And Popsicles for dessert. He called it the perfect summer meal.’ Maggie reached up, twisting one of her curls around her finger. ‘He and Eli always bought all the stuff in bulk at Park Mart, so they could have one at a moment’s notice.’
‘IHDP,’ Esther said. When I raised my eyebrows, she added, ‘Impromptu Hot-Dog Party.’
‘Right,’ I said. My knees were starting to hurt, so I stopped the elevator, shifting Thisbe across my right arm. Adam came closer, making a googly face at her.
‘You might be too young for an HDP,’ he said, poking her tummy before turning toward the door. ‘As for the rest of you, I expect to see you with condiments, at Wallace’s, after closing. No excuses.’
‘You know,’ Leah said, ‘I liked you better when you were selling candy bars.’
‘See you later!’ he replied. This time, he got the door right, disappearing out onto the boardwalk as the chime sounded overhead.
Leah looked at Maggie. ‘Great,’ she muttered. ‘He’s got the hots for you, and now we all have to eat wieners because of it.’
‘He does not have the hots for me,’ Maggie said, walking over to the earring display and adjusting a couple of pairs.
‘Well, I’m not going,’ Leah said, pushing a button on the register. The drawer slid open, and she picked up some bills, straightening them. ‘The summer is almost half over, and the only guys I’ve hung out with are the ones I’ve known since grade school. This is getting ridiculous.’
‘There might be new boys at the hot-dog party,’ Esther suggested.
‘Oh, please,’ Leah said.
‘Hey, they have tofu dogs. Anything is possible.’
But it wasn’t new boys I was interested in as I sat in the office for the next hour, my foot locked around the back wheels of Thisbe’s stroller, pushing her back and forth as I paged through the day’s receipts. It was just one boy, that same boy I always started to think about more and more as the hours passed.
Despite my best efforts, it was hard, as the hour got later, not to look ahead, wondering what the night might hold for me and Eli. This was something I’d missed out on thus far, the sense of expectation when it came to someone else. So while a hot-dog party sounded fun and all – and might even have qualified for part of my quest, actually – if Eli wasn’t going to be there, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be, either. Even if there were tofu dogs.
At around eight thirty, my dad and Heidi showed up to pick up the baby. Their arrival was heralded by a burst of squealing from the sales floor.
‘Oh, my God, you look so good!’ Maggie said. ‘You’re super skinny already!’
‘Please,’ Heidi said. ‘I could not wear a single thing in this store right now. Not even the ponchos.’
‘Stop it,’ Esther told her. ‘You’re gorgeous.’
‘And so is Thisbe,’ Leah added. ‘We love her name, by the way.’
‘See?’ I heard my dad say. ‘I told you. It’s a powerful name! It has presence.’
‘Although,’ Maggie said, ‘the story of Thisbe is kind of tragic, really. Dying for her lover, and her soul blooming in the mulberry tree.’
Even with the door shut between us, and no visual on this interaction, I could literally feel how impressed my dad was as he said, ‘You know the story of Thisbe?’
‘We read it in my classics class, when we were studying myth and women,’ Maggie replied.
‘I thought it was from Shakespeare,’ Heidi said.
‘It was reprised in Shakespeare, in a farcical way,’ my dad told her. ‘But this young lady is right. The true story is actually quite sad.’
‘That’s our Maggie,’ Leah said. ‘Expert on all things tragic.’
‘Is Auden in back?’ I heard Heidi say. A moment later, she tapped on the door, sticking her head in. When she saw Thisbe, dozing in the stroller, she smiled. ‘Look at that. And here I was worried she was screaming her head off the entire time.’
‘Not the entire time,’ I said. ‘How was dinner?’
‘Lovely,’ she said. Then she yawned, putting her hand over her mouth. ‘It was good that we went and celebrated. This is a great accomplishment for your father. He’s worked so hard these last few weeks.’
I looked down at Thisbe. ‘So have you,’ I said.
‘Oh, well.’ She waved this off, then stepped forward, easing the stroller out the door. ‘I can’t thank you enough, Auden, really. I can’t remember the last time we got out alone, together.’
‘It was no problem,’ I said.
‘Still. I appreciate it.’ She glanced out at the sales floor. ‘I’d better get your father out of here while he’s still cheerful. He claims this place gives him a headache. Too much pink. Can you even imagine?’
I could. But I didn’t say anything, instead just nodding as she wheeled Thisbe down the hallway, waving to me over her shoulder.
For the next two hours, I focused on my work, taking only passing notice of the customers that came and went (there was a run on flip-flops), the nine o’clock dance (Elvis this time, from his rockabilly days), and the ongoing debate about attending the hot-dog party (Maggie was in, Leah out, Esther on the fence). At ten on the dot, I locked the safe, shut the door, and went out to join them as they headed out onto the boardwalk, still in discussion. All of this was part of my routine now, as was what came next: making my excuses, and going to find Eli.
‘We could just go for a little while,’ Maggie was saying. ‘To make an appearance.’
Leah turned to me. ‘What about you, Auden? Are you in or out?’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Actually, I think I’m going to just…’
I was going to use one of my standards, like ‘go home’, or ‘go run some errands’, but just then, I looked over Maggie’s shoulder to the bike shop, and there was Eli, sitting on the bench, the shop locked up and dark behind him. No searching for once, so simple. Or it would have been, except that he wasn’t alone.