For the next two hours, I immersed myself in Heidi’s books, more grateful than ever for the dependability and static nature of numbers and calculations. When I finished the register and the payroll, I turned my attention to the desk, which had been cluttered since the day I started. I could almost feel my blood pressure dropping, bit by bit, as I organized Heidi’s pens, throwing out the ones that didn’t work and making sure the rest had caps snugly on and were all facing upright in the pink mug where they lived. Then I moved on to the top drawer, sorting little scraps of paper, stacking random business cards into neat piles, and collecting all the paper clips into an empty Band-Aid box I found lying nearby. I was just about to tackle the next one, when there was a tap on the door and Maggie stuck her head in.
‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Esther’s going to Beach Beans, you want anything?’
I reached into my pocket, pulling out my wallet. ‘Large triple-shot mocha.’
Her eyes widened. ‘Wow. You pulling an all-nighter, or something?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m just… kind of tired.’
She nodded, running a hand through her hair. ‘I hear you. My mom started in on me first thing this morning about my roommate forms. Apparently she wants me to fast track my pick because she’s worried otherwise we won’t have enough time to properly coordinate our linens. As if anyone else cares about that.’
I had a flash of my own mother, her clipped tone when I dared to question her choice of the Pembleton Program. ‘That’s what she’s worried about?’
‘She’s worried about everything,’ Maggie said, flipping her hand. ‘In her mind, if I don’t have the perfect college experience, it will be an unparalleled tragedy.’
‘That’s not such a bad thing, though,’ I said, ‘is it?’
She sighed. ‘You don’t know my mother. I’m never, you know, enough for her.’
‘Girly enough,’ she explained, ‘because I was so into dirt bikes. Social enough, because I only had one boyfriend all through high school and didn’t “play the field”. Now I’m not embracing college enough. And it hasn’t even started yet!’
‘Tell me about it,’ I said. ‘My mom’s riding me about the roommate thing, too. Except she wants me to enroll in some program where you do nothing but study twenty-four/seven and fun is not allowed under any circumstances.’
‘I should sign up for that. My mom would lose her mind.’
I smiled. Then the front door chime sounded, and she looked down at the money in her hand. ‘Large triple-shot mocha,’ she said. I nodded. ‘I’ll let Esther know.’
The door shut back with a click, and I pulled open the second desk drawer. Inside was a stack of old checkbook registers, topped with a couple of yellow legal pads, covered with scribbles. As I pulled them out, I glanced at the writing, which was clearly Heidi’s. There were lists for inventory, various phone numbers, and a few pages in, this:
Caroline Isabel West
Isabel Caroline West
Emily Caroline West
Ainsley Isabel West
Each was written carefully: you could almost feel her deliberation as she added them, one by one. I thought back to the day she’d admitted her dislike of the name Thisbe, and how I – and my mother – had judged her for giving in to it anyway. My father was selfish. He got what he wanted, and even then, it wasn’t enough.
I closed the pad, pushing it aside and digging down deeper into the drawer. There were various invoices, which I set aside to file properly, a flyer for the previous year’s Annual Colby Beach Bash – Ahoy, Mateys! – and, at the very bottom, a stack of pictures. Here was Heidi, with a paintbrush dabbed with pink paint, standing with a wide smile in front of a white wall. Heidi again, posing before the front door, the CLEMENTINE’S sign arcing over her head. And finally, at the very bottom, a shot of her with my dad. They were on the boardwalk, her in a white dress, her belly round and full, him with his arm around her. The date stamp was early May, just a few weeks before Isby was born.
I jumped. Somehow Esther had managed to slip in the door right behind me. ‘Oh,’ I said, looking down at the drawer, the contents spread across the desk, ‘I was just –’
‘Your caffeine,’ she said. She was holding out the cup to me when suddenly, something blurred past behind her. Something red, which then crashed against the end of the hallway with a loud, bouncy bang.
‘Hey!’ Esther yelled out the door. ‘What the hell was that?’
‘What do you think?’ I heard a male voice – Adam, I thought – yell back.
She opened the door wide, just as a red rubber ball rolled slowly past in the opposite direction, heading back toward the sales floor. ‘Oh, man. Seriously?’
‘That’s right,’ Adam hollered. ‘Kickball. Tonight. Get ready to get wet.’
‘And who,’ I heard Maggie say, ‘decided this?’
‘Who do you think?’
Esther stepped out into the hallway, picking up the ball. ‘Not Eli.’
‘Yup.’ I heard footsteps, and then Adam came into view, holding out his hands. Esther handed over the ball, and he nodded at me. ‘Came in late today, with this under his arm. He actually seemed cheerful.’
‘Yup. We were all totally freaked out.’ He gave the ball a bounce. ‘But he was serious. First game of the season, tonight after closing. Drawing for second base commences sharply at ten oh five.’
‘Oh, God.’ Maggie groaned, joining them in the hallway. ‘If I have to be second base, I’m not playing.’
‘That,’ Adam said, pointing at her, ‘is a quitter attitude.’
‘Last time I got totally soaked!’ she protested.
‘Last time was over a year ago. Come on! Eli’s finally pulling out of this thing. The least you can do is get a little wet.’
‘It is pretty major that he’s up for it,’ Esther said to her. ‘I wonder what changed.’
I started to turn back to the desk, taking another sip of my drink. But not before I saw Maggie look right at me.
‘Who knows?’ Adam said. ‘Let’s just be glad and get on with it. See you at ten!’
And with that, he was gone, bouncing the ball as he went. Esther sighed, then followed him, but I could feel Maggie’s eyes still on me as I carefully stacked everything back in the drawer, stuffing the pictures in on top. ‘Hey,’ she said. ‘You all right?’