‘Hey,’ Maggie said, peering down at me from the top of our loft as I came in, shaking off my windbreaker. ‘I thought you’d already taken off.’
‘Not yet,’ I told her. ‘I had a couple of last things to do.’
She yawned, leaning back on her bed. ‘Oh, your phone was ringing,’ she said. ‘A couple of times, actually.’
I sat down on my bed, putting my coffee down on the milk crate I used as a bedside table. In addition to my alarm clock, it also held a stack of books and the contents of Heidi’s latest care package: two bath bombs, a lip gloss, and a brand-new pair of Pink Slingback jeans. I hadn’t had use for any of them yet, but still, I appreciated the gesture.
Also on my table was my THE BEST OF TIMES picture frame Hollis had given me, all those months ago. I’d forgotten about it until the day I was packing to leave for school, when I realized that I finally had something I could actually put in it. But I couldn’t decide if I should use a shot from the prom, or one of the several I’d taken with Maggie, Esther, and Leah in our last days in Colby. Maybe, I thought, I should use the one of me with Hollis and Laura, the day they officially announced their engagement. I had so many choices that in the end, I just chose to leave it empty until I was absolutely sure. Because maybe, the best of times were yet to come. You never knew.
There was one picture I did like to keep close at hand, but it wasn’t of me. Instead, I preferred Isby’s face to be the first one I saw when I rolled over in the morning. I’d been surprised by how hard it had been to leave her at the end of the summer. My last day, we’d sat together for over an hour, her asleep on my shoulder as we rocked in the chair in her room. Her warm skin, damp weight, that smell of milk and baby: I could still remember it so easily, as well as all the things I’d whispered in her ear about her, and me, and this world of girls and boys we were both just one small part of. Someday, she’d be able to tell me everything she knew, too. I couldn’t wait.
In the meantime, I had one other thing to remind me of her. I’d seen it at the local Park Mart during one of my first trips out after coming to school, and without even thinking I’d tossed it into my cart. I was lucky to have Maggie as a roommate for an endless number of reasons. But the fact that she could tolerate the sound of waves once in a while – especially fake ones – was at the top of the list.
Now, I picked up my phone, scrolling though my missed calls. Sure enough, there were two. One from my mom, who called regularly, presumably to discuss my studies, although we usually got onto other topics pretty quickly these days. Like Laura and Hollis’s wedding, which was making her insane – although she was trying to keep an open mind, she swore – or her slowly growing relationship with Finn, the graduate student with the black-rimmed glasses. He was sweet and funny, and adored my mother. How she felt about him was harder to say. Although I’d been working with her, so that when she was ready to talk about it, she’d be able to.
The second message was from my dad. He was back at home with Heidi, giving it another shot, a decision he’d made the night of the prom, when he elected not to catch his flight but come over to watch Isby instead. Something about finding my mother walking the floor, soothing her, struck a chord with him, the very image able to convey all the things that I hadn’t been able to. He’d sent my mom back to her hotel and sat with Isby until late that night, when Heidi arrived home, shoes in hand, all abuzz from the Beach Bash. While the baby slept, they talked. And talked.
He didn’t come home right away. It was a slow process, with a lot of negotiations, and things had changed. Heidi was back at the store part-time, and my dad had dropped to teaching only one course, so they could each work but still have time with the baby. The days neither of them could be home, Isby stayed with either Karen, Eli’s mom – who always liked a bit of baby time – or one of a few Weymar coeds who loved the extra perk of free clothes from Clementine’s. My dad was still trying to sell his novel, but in the meantime, he’d started a new book, one that was about the ‘dark underbelly of parenthood and suburbia’. He only had time to write late at night, but despite the less than nine hours, it seemed to suit him. Plus, he was always up for a chat if I was pulling an all-nighter as well.
I slid my phone into my pocket, then picked up my bag and coffee. ‘I’m out of here,’ I said to Maggie.
‘See you tomorrow,’ she replied. ‘Oh, wait, I won’t, actually. I’m going to Colby.’
‘Yeah. It’s the grand reopening, remember? Oh, I meant to tell you, Adam sent a T-shirt for you. It’s over on your bureau.’
I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten. Especially since whenever Adam had come to visit – at least every other weekend – it was all he could talk about. He’d taken over managing the shop in the fall, juggling it with his part-time class schedule at Weymar, and he was completely excited about how Clyde was letting him make changes, get in new stock, really spruce the place up. New signs, new specials, new everything. There had been one holdover from the previous manager though, one last thing he needed to do, which I saw when I picked up the shirt, unfolding it.
‘Abe’s Bikes,’ I read off the front. ‘It does have a nice ring to it.’
‘Don’t you think?’ she replied, sticking her head over the edge to look down at me again. ‘God, but Adam’s a nervous wreck. He’s freaking out that everything has to be perfect, and of course things keep going wrong. I’m afraid he’s going to have a nervous breakdown if anything else screws up.’
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘But if it does, just tell him I said to get back on the bike.’
I waved at her, then pulled my bag over my shoulder as I made my way down the hallway, then the stairs, to my car. It was just after five, and the sun was going down. By the time I got off the interstate two hours later and pulled into the parking lot of Ray’s, it had already been dark for a while.
I cut the engine, then sat there for a second, looking in at the bright lights and shiny tables. Ray’s was no Washroom, but the waitresses were nice, and you could sit as long as you wanted. Which was a good thing, when it was late and you had no other options, the way I had been when I’d first discovered it. Now, I had plenty, but one big reason to be here just the same.