‘So nice to finally meet you!’ Morgan said. ‘Heidi just raves about you. Raves!’
‘Did you get my messages?’ Heidi asked as she lifted Isby out of her stroller. ‘I tried to let you know we were coming, but your mailbox was full.’
‘Wow,’ Leah said, raising her eyebrows. ‘Someone’s popular.’
‘Actually,’ I said as Esther upended a bag onto the table, spilling out a pile of little picture frames, ‘I’m making a bunch of calls right now.’
‘Oh. Well, when you’re done, then.’ Heidi reached over, taking the beer that Isabel was offering her as Morgan put the chips on the table. ‘We’ll be here, I’m sure. We’ve got at least three hundred favors to make.’
‘Three hundred?’ Leah said. She narrowed her eyes at Maggie. ‘You said…’
‘I said it would be fun, and it will be,’ Maggie replied. ‘What else were you going to do tonight, anyway?’
‘A lot of things! It’s Ladies’ Night at Tallyho.’
‘No, no, no to Tallyho,’ Esther said, picking up a picture frame.
‘Amen to that,’ Isabel agreed. ‘That place gives me the skeevies.’
Back in my room, I picked up my pen again and tried to immerse myself in the politics of global currency. After a few bursts of laughter from downstairs, I got up and shut the door. I could still hear the music through the floor, though, the beat insistent and distracting. Finally, I picked up my phone, flipping it open and dialing into my mailbox.
Heidi was right: it was full, mostly with old messages from my parents I’d never gotten around to really listening to. I worked my way through them, one by one, my eyes on the dark ocean outside.
‘Auden, hello, it’s your mother. I’ll try you again later, I suppose.’
‘Hi, honey, it’s your dad. Just taking a break from doing some revisions, thought I’d give you a call. I’ll be here in the room all day if you want to call or drop by. I’ll keep an eye out for you.’
‘Auden, this is your mother. Your brother is now working at a bank. I hope you are adequately horrified. Goodbye.’
‘Hi, Auden, Dad here again. Wondering if you might want to meet at the Last Chance, I’m getting a little sick of room service. Give me a call, okay?’
‘Auden. I am getting tired of your voice mail. I will not be calling again until I hear from you.’
‘Honey, Dad again. I guess I’ll call the house number, maybe you’re not answering this one anymore?’
They just went on and on, endlessly, and yet I felt nothing as I kept hitting the same button, erasing them. Until I got to this one.
‘Oh, Auden. You are clearly avoiding me.’ There was a sigh, as familiar to me as my own face. Then, though, she said, ‘I suppose this is what I deserve? As always, I seem to be especially adept at alienating the few people I actually want to talk to. I don’t know why that is. Maybe you’ve figured it out, in your summer of transformation? I wonder…’
I pulled the phone away, looking down at it. This message was from two days ago, at around five P.M. Where had I been, when she’d left it? Probably alone as well, in the office at Clementine’s, here in my room, or somewhere in between.
I thought of my mother, sitting at her kitchen table, with Hollis off working at a bank, and me, for all she knew, riding in a car with boys while wearing a pink bikini. How different we had to be from what she had expected, or planned, all those days when, like Heidi, she rocked us and carried us and cared for us. It was so easy to disown what you couldn’t recognize, to keep yourself apart from things that were foreign and unsettling. The only person you can be sure to control, always, is yourself. Which is a lot to be sure of, but at the same time, not enough.
Now, as there was another round of laughter from downstairs, I hit number one on my speed dial, and waited.
‘Mom, it’s me.’
A pause. Then, ‘Auden. How are you?’
‘I’m okay,’ I said. It felt strange, talking to her after all this time. ‘How are you?’
‘Well,’ she said. ‘I suppose I am okay, also.’
My mother was not the touchy-feely type. Never had been. But there was something in her voice, in that message, that gave me the courage to say what I did next.
‘Mom? Can I ask you something?’
I could hear her hesitate before she said, ‘Yes. Of course.’
‘When you and Dad decided to split up, was that… did you do it right away? Or did you, like, try and work it out for a long time first?’
I don’t know what she’d been expecting me to ask. But based on the long silence that followed, it wasn’t this. Finally she said, ‘We tried very hard to stay together. The divorce was not a decision we made lightly, if that’s what you’re asking. Is that what you’re asking?’
‘I don’t know.’ I looked down at my book, my pad lined up beside it. ‘I guess… forget it. I’m sorry.’
‘No, no, it’s all right.’ Her voice was closer to the phone now, filling my ear. ‘Auden, what’s going on? Why are you thinking about this now?’
I was embarrassed, suddenly, to realize that I had a lump in my throat. God, what was wrong with me? I swallowed, then said, ‘It’s just… Dad and Heidi are having problems.’
‘Problems,’ she repeated. ‘What kind of problems?’
From downstairs, I heard another round of laughter. I said, ‘He moved out a couple of weeks ago.’
She exhaled slowly, the kind of sound someone makes as they watch a baseball fly over a fence, way, way gone. ‘Oh, my. I’m sorry to hear that.’
I said this without really realizing it, and instantly regretted how surprised I sounded. Her tone was a bit sharper as she said, ‘Well, of course. One never likes to see a marriage in trouble, especially when a child is involved.’
And just like that, I was crying. The tears just came, filling my eyes and spilling over, and I sucked in a breath in an attempt to maintain my composure.
‘Auden? Are you all right?’
I looked out my window at the ocean again, so steady and vast, seemingly never changing and yet always in flux. ‘I guess I just wish,’ I said, my voice wavering, ‘that I’d done some things differently.’