‘It’s fine,’ I said, as always wanting to avoid a big emotional moment. ‘I’m just glad you feel better.’
‘I do,’ she said, looking down at Isby again. ‘I really do.’
Since then, she had seemed to be in better spirits, and Isby was sleeping a bit more, which was good for everyone. Still, Mrs. Stock had dropped by a couple more times, although I always seemed to miss her. When she’d visited, though, I could always tell. Heidi just seemed happier.
Unlike my mother, who was still going on about Laura and how she was sucking out my brother’s joie de vivre, one myelinated cell at a time. ‘I don’t know,’ I said to her now. ‘He seems to really like her.’
‘Your brother likes everyone!
That’s always been his fatal flaw.’ Another dark sigh. ‘You’ll see when you meet her, Auden. She’s just…’
I glanced back out my window, just in time to see a silver Honda pulling into the driveway. ‘Here,’ I finished for her. ‘I better go.’
‘God help you,’ she muttered. ‘Call me later.’
I told her I would, then closed my phone and walked out into the hallway just as my dad was yelling up to Heidi that Hollis had arrived.
‘Ready to go meet your brother?’ she said to Thisbe, bending down to unbuckle her from her seat. Together, we walked to the top of the stairs just as my dad opened the front door.
I could see Hollis getting out of the car, and even though it had been more than two years that he’d been gone, he looked pretty much the same. A little skinnier, his hair somewhat shaggier. When Laura stepped out of the passenger side, she, too, looked awfully familiar, although at first I couldn’t figure out why. Then Heidi gasped.
‘Oh, my God,’ she said. ‘Laura looks just like your mother!’
She was right. Same long dark hair, same dark clothes, same pale, pale skin. Laura was a little shorter and curvier, but still, the resemblance was striking. The closer they got, the more it freaked me out.
‘There he is!’ my dad said, pulling Hollis in for a hug as he stepped over the threshold. ‘The world traveler returns!’
‘Look at you, proud papa!
Where’s that baby girl?’ Hollis said, grinning.
‘Right here,’ Heidi said, starting down the stairs. I made myself follow her, even as Laura came in the door, taking off her sunglasses and folding them. Her eyes were dark, too. ‘This is Thisbe.’
Hollis immediately reached for the baby, lifting her up high over his head. She looked down at him, as if trying to make up her mind whether to start crying or not. ‘Oh, boy,’ he said. ‘You’re gonna be trouble. I can just tell!’
My dad and Heidi laughed, but I kept my eyes on Laura, who was standing just off to the side, still holding her sunglasses, watching this scene with a somewhat clinical expression. After a moment of Hollis making googly faces at the baby, she very quietly – but pointedly – cleared her throat.
‘Oh, babe, sorry!’ Hollis handed Thisbe off to my dad, then reached an arm over Laura’s shoulders, pulling her in closer to everyone else. ‘Everyone, this is my fiancée, Laura.’
‘Fiancée?’ my dad said. ‘You didn’t mention that in your phone call. When did you…’
Laura smiled, showing no teeth. ‘We didn’t,’ she said. ‘Hollis is just…’
‘Confident,’ my brother finished for her. ‘And ready. Even if she isn’t.’
‘I keep telling Hollis that marriage is serious,’ Laura said. Her voice was very even and clear, like she was used to having the room’s attention. ‘You can’t just jump into it like an airplane.’
Dad and Heidi and I just stood there, not sure what to make of this, but Hollis just laughed. ‘That’s my girl! She’ll break my impulsive streak yet.’
‘Oh, don’t do that,’ my dad said to Laura, clapping Hollis on the shoulder again. ‘We love that about this guy.’
‘Impulsiveness can be charming,’ she agreed. ‘But deliberation can have an appeal, as well.’
My dad raised his eyebrows. ‘Actually,’ he said, his tone a bit sharper than before, ‘I –’
‘You must be exhausted from your trip!’ Heidi said, reaching to take Thisbe from my father. ‘Let’s go and have a cold drink. We’ve got lemonade, beer, wine…’
She turned, starting for the kitchen, and Hollis and my dad immediately fell in behind her, leaving me with Laura. I watched as she examined her sunglasses, then took a corner of her black shirt, slowly rubbing a spot on one lens clean before again folding them shut. Then she looked up at me, as if surprised to find me still standing there.
‘It’s really nice to meet you,’ I said, for lack of anything better. ‘Hollis seems… he’s very happy.’
She nodded. ‘He’s a very happy person,’ she said, although from her tone, I couldn’t tell if she thought this was an asset or not.
‘Babe!’ my brother yelled. ‘Get in here! You gotta see this view!’
Laura gave me another tight smile, then walked into the living room. I waited a beat or two, then followed her, stopping in the kitchen, where my dad and Heidi were huddled together by the sink, pouring lemonade into glasses.
‘… her first time meeting us,’ Heidi was saying. ‘She’s probably just nervous.’
‘Nervous? You call that nervous?’ my dad replied.
Heidi said something else, but I didn’t hear her, having turned my attention to my brother and Laura. They were standing in front of the open glass doors, the ocean a wide, clear blue in front of them. Hollis had his arm around her shoulders, gesturing with one hand as he said something about the horizon, but even from the back I could tell Laura was not particularly impressed. It was something about the posture, the way her head was slightly tilted to the side. Sure, she was a stranger. But I’d seen it before.
‘So you don’t like her.’
I looked over at Eli. ‘I didn’t say that.’
‘You didn’t have to.’
He pulled a container of milk off the shelf, sticking it in the cart. It was one thirty A.M., and we were at Park Mart, doing a little shopping. As it was a Monday night, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, and the quiet was just what I’d needed, having earlier endured a two-hour family dinner that had basically devolved into an argument between my dad and Laura about capital punishment. This followed their spirited discussion about university funding (liberal arts versus sciences) over cocktails, which had come after a protracted debate about environmental policy during lunch. For me, it was like watching an adaptation of the last couple of years of my parents’ marriage, just with someone else playing the role of My Mom.