‘You just walk over there and into the office and say, “Hey, be my prom date,”’ he said. ‘It’s that simple.’
I wanted to tell him that nothing concerning me and Eli was simple, especially lately. Instead, I said, ‘What makes you think I want to go with him?’
‘Because,’ he said, ‘you’re sitting here going on about spending high school alone, never going to prom at all… It was kind of obvious who you were talking about.’
‘Maggie. I was talking about Maggie.’
He crossed his arms over his chest. ‘Sure you were.’
I just looked at him for a second. Then I said, ‘Well, what about you?’
I nodded. ‘When are you planning to ask her?’
‘Ask her what?’
I rolled my eyes.
‘Oh, no. We’re just friends.’
‘Right.’ I opened up the box again and started flipping through the pictures, taking out the one of her on the bike, and walking, and laughing, and in front of the mirror, laying them on the desk side by side. ‘Because, of course, you took this many pictures of all your friends.’
He glanced at the shots, then swallowed. ‘Actually,’ he said stiffly, ‘I do have a lot of shots of Wallace.’
‘Adam. Come on.’
I watched as, defeated, he slumped into the chair, folding his arms behind his head. For a moment we just sat there, neither of us saying anything. Outside, I could hear Maggie chattering on the pros and cons of one-piece bathing suits. ‘The thing is,’ he said finally, ‘I’ve made it this far, you know? We start college in a matter of weeks.’
‘So,’ he continued, ‘I just don’t know if I want that tinge on the summer. Not to mention our friendship. An awkward tinge, that will then color everything else.’
‘You’re assuming she’ll say no.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m assuming she’ll say yes, because she’ll figure it’ll be fun. And then I’ll work it up to be this big deal, like it’s a real date, which is not how she’ll see it, which will become crushingly obvious at the prom itself when she abandons me to dance, and then leave, and eventually marry some other guy.’
Outside, Maggie laughed, the sound light and cheery, like music.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘At least you haven’t put much thought into it.’
He gave me a wry smile. ‘Just like you haven’t thought about asking Eli, right?’
He rolled his eyes.
‘No, really. We had a falling-out… We’re not even talking right now.’
‘Well, then. You know what you need to do.’
I said, ‘I do?’
‘Yep.’ He pushed himself to his feet. ‘Get back on that bike.’
I just looked at him. ‘It’s not that simple.’
‘Sure it is,’ he said. ‘Just takes one more time. Remember?’
I considered this as he started for the door, sliding his hands in his pockets. ‘On the same note,’ I said, ‘there’s a worse thing than an awkward tinge.’
‘Always wondering if it might have gone the other way.’ I nodded at the prom shots, still laid out in front of me. ‘That is a lot of pictures. You know?’
He glanced at them, then back at me. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I guess it is.’
My phone beeped then, and I glanced down at it. Jason.
Are you free for lunch? I’m en route to the Last
Chance, have an hour.
‘Gotta go,’ Adam said. Then he pointed at the scab on my knee. ‘Remember. Back on the bike!’
‘Right,’ I replied. ‘Got it.’
He flashed me a thumbs-up, then was gone, whistling – always so damn cheery, how was that? – as he headed back toward the front of the store. I looked down at Maggie’s pictures, end to end, and then at my phone, where Jason’s text was still on the screen. I knew I’d really screwed up with Eli, turning away from him the way I had, but perhaps it wasn’t too late to have a tinge of my own. Maybe good, maybe bad, but at least it would add some color, somewhere. So I picked up my phone and gave Jason his answer.
Okay. On my way.
When I got home that evening, Heidi was on the back deck, looking out at the water. Even from a distance and through the sliding glass door, I recognized the tenseness in her shoulders, the way her head leaned a little sadly to the side, and so was not surprised when she turned, hearing me, to see her eyes were red and puffy.
‘Auden,’ she said, reaching to brush back her hair, taking a breath. ‘I didn’t think you’d be home until later.’
‘I finished up early.’ I slid my keys into my bag. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine.’ She came inside, shutting the door behind her. ‘Just doing some thinking.’
We stood there for a moment, neither of us saying anything. Upstairs, I could hear Thisbe’s waves, crashing. ‘So… how did it go?’
‘Good.’ She swallowed, biting her lip. ‘We did a lot of talking.’
‘And,’ she said, ‘we agreed that for the time being, it’s better if we keep things as they are.’
‘With him at the Condor,’ I said, clarifying. She nodded. ‘So he didn’t want to come back.’
She walked over to me, putting her hands on my shoulders. ‘Your father… he thinks he’d be a hindrance more than a help right now. That maybe, until the Beach Bash and summer is over, it’s better if I just focus on me and Thisbe.’
‘How could that be better?’ I asked. ‘You’re his family.’
She bit her lip again, then looked down at her hands. ‘I know it doesn’t sound like it makes sense.’
‘But I understand what he’s saying,’ she continued. ‘Your father and I… we had a whirlwind courtship and marriage, and I got pregnant so fast. We just need to slow down a bit.’
I put my purse down on the table. ‘So this is a slowing. Not a full stop.’
Heidi nodded. ‘Absolutely.’
To be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced. I knew my dad and how he operated: if things got complicated, he extricated himself, somehow managing to make it seem like it was the most selfless of gestures, instead of just the opposite. He wasn’t abandoning Heidi and Thisbe: he was simplifying their lives. He hadn’t left my mom over professional envy: he’d stepped aside to give her the spotlight she needed. And he certainly hadn’t basically ignored the fact that I was his child all those years: he was just teaching me to be independent and a grown-up in a world in which most people were too infantile. My dad never got back on the bike. He never even let himself crash. One wobble, or even the hint of one, and he pulled over to the side, abandoning the ride altogether.