Apparently, conflict was contagious, or at least in the air. When I left my room about twenty minutes later to head to work, Thisbe’s waves had stopped, and another steady noise was coming from her room: the sound of bickering.
‘Of course you deserve a night out,’ my father was saying. ‘I’m just not sure tonight is the right one, is all I’m saying.’
‘Why not?’ Heidi asked. I could hear Thisbe making noises in the background. ‘I’ll be back for the nine o’clock feeding, the baby’s just had a nap…’
It’s only five thirty right now!’
‘Robert, we’re having cocktails and dinner.’
‘Where? Istanbul?’ my dad said. ‘There’s no way that will take three and a half hours.’
There was a prolonged silence. I didn’t have to peek inside to imagine the look on Heidi’s face. Finally my dad said, ‘Honey, I want you to go have fun. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been alone with a newborn for that long, and I just…’
‘She’s not a newborn. She’s your daughter.’ Thisbe sputtered, as if agreeing with this. ‘You’ve raised two lovely children. You can do this. Now go ahead and take her so I can go finish getting ready.’
I heard my dad start to say something, but then the door was opening, and I darted out of sight. Not fast enough, though.
‘Auden?’ he called out. ‘Could you –’
‘No, she can’t,’ Heidi said over her shoulder. Then she nudged me forward. ‘Keep walking. He’s fine.’
When we got to the stairs, I turned to look at her. Instead of the Heidi I’d gotten used to seeing, clad in sweats and a ponytail, dark circles perennially under her eyes, this was a different woman entirely. Her hair was sleek, her makeup done, and she was wearing dark jeans, heels, and a fitted black top, a silver necklace with a key studded with red stones around her neck. This I recognized: we’d just gotten them in at the store the previous week, and they were already selling like hotcakes.
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘You look great.’
‘You think?’ She glanced down at herself. ‘It’s been so long since I could wear this stuff I didn’t even know if it would fit. I guess stress does burn a lot of calories, after all.’
Down the hall, I could hear Thisbe beginning to fuss. Heidi looked over, then turned on her heel, walking to her bedroom. I followed her to the doorway, leaning against it as she picked up her purse from the bed.
‘So I have to say,’ I said as she rummaged around, finally pulling out a lip gloss, ‘you sure seem different all of a sudden. And it’s not just the clothes.’
Thisbe was really crying now. Heidi bit her lip, then uncapped the gloss, putting some on. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘I just… I’ve realized over the last couple of weeks that I needed to take some time for myself. We’ve talked about it a lot, actually.’
‘You and Dad?’
‘Me and Karen.’
‘Really,’ I said.
She nodded, dropping the gloss back in the bag. ‘Ever since the baby was born I’ve been so hesitant to ask your dad for any help. I’m so used to doing everything myself, and it wasn’t like he was really offering much.’
‘Or any,’ I said.
‘But Karen kept pointing out that you and your brother were just fine, and he was your dad as well. She said it takes two to make a baby, and at least that many to raise one well. Usually more.’ She smiled. ‘She made me promise her that I’d set up that girls’ night my friends have been wanting forever. I was dragging my feet, though, until Laura came. When she said pretty much the same thing, I figured they had to be onto something.’
I watched as she checked her hair in the mirror, adjusting a piece in front. ‘I didn’t realize you and Laura talked when she was here.’
‘Oh, we didn’t at first,’ she replied, picking up her purse. ‘To be honest, she kind of scared the crap out of me. Not exactly the warmest person, you know?’
I nodded. ‘No kidding.’
‘But then the night before they left, I was up late with Thisbe, and she came down for a glass of water. At first she was just sitting there, watching us, and eventually I asked her if she wanted to hold her. She said yes, so I handed her over, and then we just started talking. There’s a lot more to her than it seems at first glance.’
‘You should tell my mother that,’ I said. ‘She hates her.’
‘Of course she does,’ she said. ‘It’s because they’re so similar. They both have that whole cold, bitchy, wary-ofall-other-women thing going on. It’s like two magnets repelling each other.’
I thought of my mother just moments earlier on the phone, her voice so sharp and dismissive. If I wasn’t like her, she didn’t care to know who I was. ‘So you think my mom has more to her than that, as well?’
‘Of course she does. She has to.’
She looked at me. ‘Because she raised you. And Hollis. And she was in love with your father for a very long time. Truly cold bitches don’t do that.’
‘What do they do?’
‘They end up alone.’
I raised my eyebrows. ‘You sound awfully sure about that.’
‘I am,’ she said. ‘Because I was one.’
‘You?’ I said. ‘No way.’
She smiled. ‘Someday I’ll tell you all about it. But now, I’ve got to run and kiss my daughter and then try to leave without having a breakdown. Okay?’
I nodded and was still standing there, trying to process this, as she started into the hallway. When she passed me, she paused, bending down to quickly kiss my forehead before moving on, the smell of her perfume lingering behind her. Maybe it was to prove her point. Or just instinct. Either way, it was surprising. But not as much as the fact that I didn’t really mind it, not at all.
Later that night, I was walking to the Gas/Gro after work when I heard a car coming up behind me. A moment later, a newspaper landed with a slap at my feet.
I looked at it, then at Eli, who was now pulling up beside me. ‘So you have a paper route now?’
‘Technically,’ he replied as I picked up the paper, noticing the stacks of others piled up in the back of the truck, ‘my friend Roger has a paper route. But he also has the flu, so I’m helping him out. Plus, I thought it might apply to your quest.’