‘So,’ Heidi said, pulling out a chair and sitting down at the table, ‘enough about me. What’s going on with you?’
I slid in opposite her, folding my hands on top of my bag. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it looks like I have a date to the prom.’
‘Really?’ She clapped her hands. ‘That’s great!’
‘Yeah. Jason just asked me.’
She blinked. ‘Jason…’
‘My friend from home,’ I said. She still looked quizzical, so I picked up my phone, flashing it at her. ‘The texter.’
‘Oh! The one who stood you up!’
‘Well. That’s very…’
‘Lame?’ I said.
‘I was going to say full circle, actually, or something to that effect,’ she said slowly. ‘What, you don’t want to go?’
‘No, I do.’ I looked down at my hands again. ‘I mean, it’s a second chance. I think I’d be stupid not to take it.’
‘True.’ She sat back, running a hand through her hair. ‘They don’t come around that often.’
I nodded, thinking of Jason at the Last Chance, how he’d been waiting for me in a booth and smiled broadly when I came in the door. Over burgers and onion rings, he’d gone on and on about the leadership conference, and how great it was going, and listening to him felt so familiar, but not in a bad way. It was like reversing, going back to the spring when we’d shared lunches and talked about school and classes. And when he cleared his throat and said he had something to ask me, that was familiar, too, and I’d agreed easily. It was just that simple.
Now, I looked at Heidi, who was staring out the window over the sink, and remembered how I’d once seen her based on her effervescent e-mails and girly clothes, all flash, no substance. I’d thought I knew so much when I’d arrived here, the smartest girl in the room. But I’d been wrong.
‘Hey,’ I said, ‘can I ask you something?’
She looked over at me. ‘Of course.’
‘A few weeks back,’ I began, ‘you said something about how my mom wasn’t a truly cold bitch. How she couldn’t be, because they always end up alone. Do you remember that?’
Heidi furrowed her brow, thinking. ‘Vaguely.’
‘And then you said you knew all about cold bitches, because you used to be one yourself.’
‘Right,’ she said. ‘So what’s your question?’
‘I guess…’ I stopped, taking a breath. ‘Were you really, though?’
‘A cold bitch?’ she asked.
‘Oh, yeah. Totally.’
‘I just can’t picture that,’ I said. ‘I mean, you that way.’
Heidi smiled. ‘Well, you didn’t know me before I came here and met your father. I was just out of business school, totally uptight. Ruthless, actually. I was killing myself gaining capital so I could open a boutique in New York. I had a business plan, and all these investor contacts, a loan, the whole deal. Nothing else mattered.’
‘I never knew you lived in New York.’
‘It was my plan, after I graduated,’ she said. ‘But then my mom got sick, and I had to come home here to Colby for the summer to take care of her. I’d known Isabel and Morgan since high school, so I got a job with them waiting tables, just to make some extra cash for my move.’
‘You worked at the Last Chance?’
‘That’s how I met your dad,’ she said. ‘He’d just had his faculty interview at Weymar and came in for lunch. It was slow, so we started talking. And it just went from there. At the end of the summer, my mom got better for a little while, so I said good-bye to your dad and left. But once I was in New York, it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t have the hunger for it anymore.’
She drew in a breath. ‘I’d come here planning to leave as soon as I could. It was a pit stop, not a destination. I had my whole life mapped out.’
‘So what happened?’
‘I guess that map didn’t turn out to be mine after all,’ she said. ‘So I left New York, married your dad, and used my money to open Clementine’s. And weird as it sounds, it felt perfectly right. Totally different, but perfectly right.’
I thought of her face when I’d come home that night, the sad way she’d told me about her talk with my dad. ‘Does it still? Feel right, I mean.’
She looked at me for a moment. Then she said, ‘Actually, yes. Of course, I wish things were different with your dad and me right now. But I have Thisbe, and my work… I have what I wanted, even if it isn’t perfect. If I’d stayed in New York, I would have always wondered if that was possible.’
‘No tinge,’ I said.
I shook my head. ‘Nothing.’
Heidi pushed her chair out, getting to her feet. ‘In the end, I went away for the summer, fell in love, and everything changed. It’s the oldest story in the world.’
The way she was looking at me as she said this made me suddenly uncomfortable, and I turned my attention back to my purse in my lap. ‘Yeah,’ I replied, pulling my phone out. ‘I guess I have heard that before.’
In response, she said nothing, instead just running a hand over the top of my head as she passed by me. ‘Good night, Auden,’ she said, stifling a yawn. ‘Sleep well.’
And the thing was, I knew I would. Sleep, that is, and maybe even well. That was one thing that had definitely changed for me in my time here. The love part, and everything else… that didn’t apply. But you never knew. I had a prom date, with it another chance to draw my own map. The summer wasn’t over yet, so maybe the story wasn’t either.
• • •
‘Okay,’ Leah said, hiking up her dress to examine the hem. ‘I am having major flashbacks right now. Didn’t we just do this?’
‘We did,’ Esther told her. ‘In May.’
‘And why are we doing it again?’
‘Because it’s the Beach Bash!’ Maggie said.
‘That’s a statement, not an explanation,’ Leah replied. ‘And it’s definitely not reason enough to go through all this again.’
We were in Heidi’s bedroom, where she’d sent us after hearing us complain, en masse, about not being able to find anything decent to wear to the Beach Bash Prom. My stepmother continued to surprise me. Not only was she a former cold bitch, but a shopaholic, as well. She had tons of dresses, in a variety of sizes, that she’d bought over the years. Vintage, classic, entirely eighties, you name it and it was there.