‘No, no, there’s a couple of daily flights…’ There was the sound of keys clacking. ‘Sure. The timing couldn’t be better. I’ll bring the draft with me. Yes. Great! See you then.’
By the time I came down for coffee ten minutes later, he was in the kitchen, pacing back and forth. Heidi was at the table, looking bleary, with Isby in her arms.
‘… a great opportunity to get my name back out there,’ my dad was saying. ‘Lots of industry types, just the people I need to make contact with. It’s perfect.’
‘It’s tonight?’ Heidi asked. ‘Isn’t that kind of short notice?’
‘Does it matter? I’ll just book a flight, head up there for a night, and then come back.’
I pulled a mug out of the cupboard, watching Heidi as she processed this information. It took a while, but then everything did on the mornings after Isby was up crying, as she had been most of the night before. Sleep deprivation dulled all Heidi’s edges, but especially the cognitive ones.
‘When?’ she said finally.
In her arms, Isby squawked, and she winced, putting her over her shoulder. ‘When will you be back?’
‘Sometime tomorrow. Maybe in the evening,’ my dad replied. He was all jacked up, still moving around. ‘As long as I’m there, I might as well try to take some meetings. At least set up a lunch.’
Heidi swallowed, then looked down at Isby, who was snuffling into her shoulder. ‘I just,’ she began, then stopped. ‘I’m not sure this is a good time for you to go away.’
‘What?’ my dad said. ‘Why?’
I took a sip from my mug, making a point of keeping my back to all of this.
‘Well,’ Heidi said after a moment, ‘it’s just that the baby’s been really fussy lately. I haven’t slept in so long… I just don’t know if I can…’
My dad stopped walking. ‘You want me to stay.’
It was not a question. Heidi said, ‘Robert, I’m just wondering if you could wait a couple more weeks. Until we’re on more of a schedule.’
‘This party is tonight,’ he said slowly. ‘That’s the whole point.’
‘I know. But I just think –’
I grabbed the carafe, filling my cup again, even though I’d barely taken two sips of what I had.
‘No. I’ll just call Peter and tell him no, sorry, I can’t make it. I’m sure there will be another Writers’ Guild benefit in a few weeks.’
I didn’t want to be part of this. Not ever, but especially not today, which I’d started so happily on the floor of Tallyho, with Eli. So I made it a point not to look at Heidi or my dad as I slipped out of the kitchen and back upstairs to my room, where I pushed open my window and sat on the sill, letting the ocean drown out anything else I might have heard.
Still, I was not surprised when I came down a couple of hours later to see a small carry-on suitcase by the door. My dad might have made an effort to sound like he would compromise. But again, he had gotten his way.
By the time I left for work, he was already gone, and Heidi was in the pink room, rocking Isby in her chair. I paused outside the door, thinking I should probably check in with her, but then I stopped myself. It wasn’t like she’d asked me for help. And I was tired of always offering it anyway.
At Clementine’s, I busied myself in the office, trying to focus on Eli and the night ahead. Out on the floor, Maggie had a steady stream of customers, thanks to an outdoor concert that was going on at the boardwalk pavilion. Around nine thirty, she stuck her head in the office door.
‘Have you seen anything about a Barefoot special order?’
I glanced up at her, my head still swimming with numbers. ‘A what?’
‘Barefoot flip-flops?’ she said. ‘There’s someone here who said they set up a special order for, like, twenty pairs with Heidi ages ago. I can’t find a record of it anywhere.’
I shook my head. ‘Did you call her?’
‘I hate to bother her. The baby might be sleeping.’
‘Unlikely,’ I said. Then I handed her the phone, dialing it first.
She glanced back out at the floor, the receiver cocked between her ear and shoulder, as I turned back to the payroll. ‘Heidi? Hi, it’s Maggie. Look I just… are you okay?’
I pulled the calculator closer, clearing the screen. Outside, I could hear some girls squealing over the clearance rack.
‘No, it’s just, you sounded…’ Maggie paused. ‘What? Yeah, I can tell. She’s really crying, huh? Look, I’m so sorry I bothered you, but there’s this special order thing…’
Eli, I thought, punching in a number. Tonight. Hit the plus sign. Not my problem, subtotal, total. It took three different transactions, but finally, Maggie hung up.
‘She says they’re in the storeroom, in one of the jeans boxes,’ she reported, handing the phone back to me. ‘At least, I think that’s what she was saying. It was hard to tell with all the crying.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, clearing the screen again. ‘Isby can really let it rip.’
‘Not her,’ she replied. ‘It was Heidi. She sounds miserable. Is she all right?’
I turned, looking at her. ‘Heidi was crying?’
‘She acted like she wasn’t. But you can tell, you know?’ The door chimed again. ‘Crap. I gotta get back out there. Can you go look for that box for me?’
I nodded. Then I sat there for a second before pushing out my chair and heading into the storeroom, where I found the flip-flops right where Heidi said they’d be. I picked up the box, carrying it out to the floor, where Maggie shot me a grateful look as I slid it onto the counter. Then I pushed out the front door and turned toward home.
I actually would have felt better if I’d heard Isby’s familiar wailing as I stepped into the foyer, but instead it was quiet. I went down the dark hallway to the kitchen, where a single light was on over the sink. The living room was dark, so dark that at first I didn’t even see Heidi.
She was sitting on the couch, Isby in her arms, and she was crying. Not with gasps and shrieks, the kind I was used to, but a silent, constant weeping that gave me a chill up the back of my neck. It was such a raw, personal moment that I wanted to turn around and let her have it in peace. But I knew I couldn’t.