I went closer, to the edge of her bassinette, and peered down at her. For a moment, she kept kicking, intent on the ceiling, but then she suddenly looked at me. Her face relaxed, changing entirely into something new, something amazing. A smile.
‘I didn’t even want to call you,’ I heard Heidi say. ‘I was sure you’d just tell me you told me so.’
For three hours I’d been up in my room, trying to fall back asleep, but with no luck. Instead, I’d just lain there, remembering it all again: waking up so happy with Eli, my walk home, and then being blindsided by my dad’s departure, take two. But of all these images, it was Isby’s smile, so sweet and unexpected, that had stuck with me the most. Whenever I closed my eyes to try and sleep, it was all I could see.
‘No, not really,’ Heidi continued. ‘But I wouldn’t blame you. It’s just such a mess. I still can’t believe any of this is happening.’
I walked past the table, where she was sitting, the baby in her arms, and headed to the cupboard to get myself a mug. Outside, it was another bright and sunny day, gorgeous like all the others.
‘Hey,’ Heidi said suddenly, glancing at me, ‘let me call you back. No, I will. Okay, then you call me. Ten minutes. All right. Bye.’
She hung up, and I could feel her watching me as I poured myself a cup of coffee. Finally she said, ‘So, Auden. Can you sit down a sec? I… I have to talk to you about something.’
She sounded so sad and worried I could barely stand it. ‘It’s okay, I already know,’ I said, turning around. ‘I talked to Dad.’
‘Oh.’ She swallowed, looking down at the baby again. ‘Well, that’s good. What did he…’
Isby suddenly let out a little squawk. Instead of crying, though, she just buried her face in Heidi’s chest, closing her eyes.
‘He said you guys had some stuff to work out,’ I said. ‘And that he was staying at the Condor for a while.’
She nodded, her face looking pained. ‘So,’ she said, ‘are you doing okay?’
‘Me?’ I said. ‘I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘Well, this is kind of unsettling, I’m sure,’ she said. ‘I just… you can talk to me anytime, all right? If you have questions, or concerns…’
‘I’m fine,’ I said again. ‘Really.’
Just then, I heard a buzzing noise: Heidi’s phone. She glanced at it, then sighed, putting it to her ear. ‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Hi, Elaine. No, no, I got your messages, I just… How are you? Right. Of course. Well, to be honest, I haven’t had much of a chance to think about the Bash yet…’
She stood, shifting Isby in her arms, and walked over to the glass doors, still talking. I sat there, thinking of how I watched my dad driving away earlier, the way it felt like another do-over, but with the same outcome. Maybe some things could never change, or be fixed, even with time.
A moment later, Heidi returned to the kitchen, putting her phone down on the counter. ‘That was Elaine, the chair of the Colby Visitors’ Council,’ she said in a flat voice. ‘She wants a theme for the Beach Bash, and she wants it now.’
‘The Beach Bash?’ I said.
‘It’s this annual event we have at the end of every summer,’ she explained, sitting down again. ‘It’s in the hall on the boardwalk. We sell tickets, all the merchants participate, it’s the last big thing of the summer. And for some reason, I always volunteer to organize it.’
‘It’s total masochism.’ She shook her head. ‘Anyway, last year, I did a pirate theme, which was kind of cute. The year before, we did a whole Renaissance thing. But this year… I mean, what am I going to do? I’m not exactly in a festive place right now.’
I watched her as she ran a hand over Isby’s cheek, then tucked the blanket more tightly around her. ‘You’ll think of something.’
Just then, her phone rang again. She picked it up, settling it between her ear and shoulder. ‘Hi, Morgan. No, it’s fine. I was just talking to Elaine.’ She sighed, shaking her head. ‘I know. And I appreciate that. But it’s just… I can’t believe this, you know? Last year at this time, all I wanted was for Robert and me to get pregnant, and now…’
She gulped, then moved a hand to cover her face, even as I heard whoever was on the other end start talking, their voice low and soothing. I pushed out my chair, then put my cup in the sink as once again, I found myself on the outside, watching something I’d never really known and didn’t understand. Most perplexing of all, though, was the tightness of my own throat and the sudden lump I felt there. I pushed back my chair, slipping out of the room, into the foyer, thinking again of my dad walking out that same door, bag in hand. It was terrible and awful when someone left you. You could move on, do the best you could, but like Eli had said, an ending was an ending. No matter how many pages of sentences and paragraphs of great stories led up to it, it would always have the last word.
By the time I left the house two hours later, Heidi and the baby were both sleeping. The house seemed almost peaceful, if you didn’t know better.
I, however, felt entirely unsettled, which made no sense, because first, Heidi was not my mother, and second, when this had happened with my parents, years earlier, I’d been just fine. Sure, I was disappointed and a little sad, but from what I remembered, I’d adapted pretty quickly to the new arrangements. Aside from the whole not-sleeping thing, of course, but that had been going on already. What I didn’t remember was the weird, panicky feeling, now still lingering, that had come over me watching my dad drive away from the house earlier. It was the way I usually felt around midnight, knowing that so much of the night was still to come and I had to find a way to fill it, the certainty of time passing so slowly until daylight.
Thank God I had work to do. I’d actually never been so happy to walk into Clementine’s, which was bustling with customers in a late afternoon rush. Maggie, consulting with a mother and daughter on some jean shorts, waved as I passed, grabbing the receipts and invoices on my way to the office. Once inside, I shut the door, flicked on the light, and prepared myself to buckle down into the numbers until closing. I’d just managed to lose myself in the check register when my phone rang.
MOM, the caller ID said. I watched the screen, the little phone jumping up and down as it logged one ring, then another. For a moment, I considered answering and telling her everything. Then, just as quickly, I realized that this was the worst possible idea ever. It would be like Christmas and her birthday rolled into one, the satisfaction she’d get, and I just couldn’t take her smugness. And besides, she’d hung up on me the day before, making it more than clear that she didn’t want to know me. Now it was my right to distance myself, as long as I wanted.