“I knew it,” Dave said angrily, his voice rising. Mingus lifted his head. “It always comes back to me. I can't keep a job, I can't bring home the money you need for La-?La Land. Well, Corinna, I'm sorry I'm such a failure to you. I guess your mom was right, huh?“ ”David, no,“ Corinna said, and her voice sounded choked. ”It's just that we'd do better if you could just“ ”You don't seem to have any trouble smoking the pot I get for you,“ Dave went on. I felt uncomfortable: I'd never heard him yell before. ”You take that with no problem. But you want me to go work at the Fast Fare for six bucks an hour before taxes just so you can take the damn dog to the vet?“ ”I don't want us to have to struggle so much,” Corinna said, and now I could tell she was crying. I remembered how they'd looked that day in the kitchen, dancing around the dog bowl, how happy she'd been. So in love, like I imagined Cass was. Like I wanted to be.
“Well, I'm sorry I can't give you everything you want,” Dave said, and I could tell he was coming closer even before he pushed the kitchen door open with a bang. I tried to step out of sight but he saw me, stopping suddenly in front of the TV. “Ohhey, Caitlin.”
“Hi,” I said, as Mingus wagged his tail beside me, thumping against the porch. “I was just” Corinna stepped out of the kitchen, her arms crossed against her chest. Her face was streaked with tears and she wouldn't look at me. “Caitlin,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear, “this isn't a good time, okay?” They were both just standing there, and I suddenly felt stupid and helpless, like I didn't belong anywhere. “Yeah,” I said. “Sure. I'll just, um, see you later.” I turned around and started down the steps, and Mingus followed me across the yard. He ran behind my car all the way down the bumpy dirt road, stopping to sit by the mailbox, as if he knew he couldn't go any farther. After I turned onto the highway I looked back and could barely make him out in the settling dust, watching me as I left him behind.
There were some timeswhen things got badthat I saw something flash across Rogerson's face, like he couldn't believe what he'd done. Like he'd just woken up and found himself standing over me, fist still clenched, looking down in disbelief at the place on my shoulderIarmIstomachIbackIleg where he'd just hit me. I wondered if he was thinking of his father, and the marks he'd left behind. And even as I felt the spot with my own fingers, knowing already what the bruise would look like, I felt sorry for him, like for that one second he was just as scared as I was. It was so strange. Sorry for him.
By the last weekend in March, preparations for my mother and Boo's annual Fool's Party were in full swing. They'd been throwing it since before I could remember, to celebrate the day that Boo and Stewart had moved in next door way back before I was even born. What had begun as an intimate, chips-?and-?dip, cheese-?and-?crackers sort of event had swelled with each year to include all of my parents' and Boo and Stewart's friends, as well as most of the neighborhood. The mix of academic types and yoga-?instructing New Agers guaranteed that the party, which always seemed to fall on the first warm weekend of spring, would be interesting. For a full week before, my mother and Boo were in serious cooking mode. Our freezer and fridge were packed with cheese balls and baklava, shrimp waiting to be peeled, bags upon bags of sliced cucumbers and radishes shaped like rosebuds. My mother handled the meat eaters, while Boo and Stewart made marinated tofu, tempeh salad, vegetarian gumbo, and vegan cookies (which tasted thick and dry, like eating straw). The food was politely segregated, ever since the episode a few years ago when one of Stewart's friends, a Buddhist vegan, accidentally mistook a crab puff for a wheat- free biscuit. There was a huge scene and no crab had crossed our threshold since. If my mother had been distracted before, the party took whatever was left of her attention. She was like a whirling dervish, zooming around the house with a dustrag in one hand and a bowl of seven-?layer dip in the other, while my father busied himself fixing up the yard and scraping the grill to prepare to make shish kebabs. It had always been Cass's and my job to stay out of the way and not eat any of the things made for the party in the days before, though she was an expert at picking a shrimp or snarking some dip without my mother noticing. The night of the party we collected coats, snuck a glass or two of champagne, and camped out in Cass's room, which had the best view of the backyard. From there we'd smuggle in food and take bets on the exact time my mother and Boo would get tipsy enough to start singing show tunes, accompanied by Stewart on his ukulele. We were never off by very much.
This year, I didn't even want to go to the party. I just concentrated on staying out of the way, dodging my mother as she vacuumed beneath my feet or asked me to taste the new and improved batch of her famous spinach-?artichoke dip. I just drifted through the house, my sleeves pulled tight, concentrating on becoming more and more invisible, fading to nothing. I knew that soon I could slip away and no one would noticeif they'd even known I was there to begin with.
The Thursday before the party, Rogerson and I were at McDonald's for lunch. It was beautiful out, finally warm, and I'd made it to meet him at the turnaround early. A good day. He had the hood popped on the BMW and I was sitting on the curb, my history book open in my lap, when I caught a whiff of the first spring breeze: the smell of pollen, and grass, and sunshine. I took a sip of my milkshake and looked up at Rogerson, just as that same breeze ruffled back his hair. He glanced up, smelling it too. Then he looked at me, lifting his chin, and smiled. “Hey, Rogerson,” I said, as he ducked his head back under the hood. “Yeah.” I glanced down at my book, then looked back at him, lifting a hand to block out the sun so I could see him clearly. “How long's an eon?” As he took a minute to answer, I thought back to how amazed I'd been, at the beginning of all of this, by how much he knew. Back then he was just a brilliant, good-?looking boy who liked me and made me feel special. We could have gone anywhere from there. But as I looked at my reflection in the chrome of the bumper in front of me, I saw myself as I was, now: skinny, long baggy shirt pulled tight over my wrists, jeans, and sunglasses. Fingers smelly from smoking, the topography of bruises across my skin and bones like a road map of all that had happened, every mile of the journey. “An eon,” Rogerson repeated, lifting his head up and looking at me again. There were moments when my heart ached for him: I loved him so much. It was strange. “A billion years,” he said. “Right?”