In response, he turned to face me. When he leaned in, kissing me once on the lips, then on the forehead, I felt safe enough to close my eyes.
At home, however, things were getting more and more strained. On Thursday, my parents would leave to spend the night at a hotel in Lincoln so they could attend Peyton’s ceremony the following morning. My mom was in overdrive, fielding phone calls and sending e-mails as she organized the reception she and a couple of the other family members had put together.
“I was thinking we could have dinner with the Biscoes the night before,” she’d told us one evening. “You know, Rogerson’s parents? I told you about him, he’s on Peyton’s hall? It might be really helpful to share our stories, get to know one another. I’ve found a good place that takes reservations—”
“Julie.” My father’s voice was gentle, even though it was obvious he was cutting her off. “Maybe we should hold off on that.”
She put down her fork. “Why?”
My dad looked so uncomfortable, I found myself shifting in my chair in sympathy, like it was me who’d chosen to walk out on this particular plank. “We’re going to an event at a prison,” he said finally. “Not a preschool.”
Instantly, her smile vanished. “You really think it’s necessary to point that out to me?”
“I didn’t before. But from the way you’re talking—”
“I,” she said, her voice wavering, rising, “am putting a positive spin on a bad situation. When life gets dark, you celebrate any light. This is my light. Let me enjoy it.”
It was a testimony to how black things had gotten that this event signified brightness. I was always aware of how things had changed. Times like this, though, it surprised me all over again.
I couldn’t talk to her about this, of course, or to my dad, either. But there was someone who did understand, or at least listen. Thank goodness.
“So, Sydney,” Mrs. Chatham said. “How are things at home?”
We were in their living room, with her in her chair, me on the couch, keeping my distance from the dogs. Mac was taking a break from deliveries to tinker with the truck’s still-stubborn starter, as he often had to, and I’d taken to visiting with his mom until he was finished or another order came in.
“The same,” I told her as the engine gurgled to life outside, then quickly died. “My parents are going to a graduation thing at the prison, and my mom’s completely obsessed with it. You’d think he was getting a diploma from Harvard, the way she’s acting.”
She smiled. “I felt the same way when Rosie finished her rehab. You take what you can get, I guess.”
We were both quiet a moment. Outside, I was pretty sure I heard Mac cursing.
“Layla tells me you bumped into that boy,” she said. “At SuperThrift.”
Just hearing this, I had a flash of those galoshes. “Yeah. It was the first time I’d seen him face-to-face.”
“I freaked.” At the other end of the couch, one of the dogs sighed loudly. “I couldn’t even speak.”
“Oh, honey.” She was quiet for a moment. “It’s not like it’s going to come easy, if it ever comes at all. You know that, right?”
“I just don’t know what I could say that would even make a difference. An apology won’t change anything.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t expect it to. For him, anyway.” She looked at me, her gaze kind as always. “But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help in some way for you. It could, you know, lift some of the weight.”
Again, she’d hit it dead-on. How the guilt felt so heavy on me, like ten of those drapes they put on you at the dentist before they take X-rays. More than enough to hold you down, no matter how you struggle to rise up.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t have to right now,” she told me. “You’re doing just fine.”
I wasn’t so sure about this. But hearing it was a comfort anyway. As was the sound of the truck starting up again outside, the engine revving a few times. Making stuff work. Somehow.
That afternoon I came home to find the house empty and the phone ringing. It was five forty-five, a time that Peyton often called. This time, though, I didn’t have that familiar sense of dread when the recording announced it was a call from Lincoln.
“Hey,” I said, once he was on the line. “How are you?”
“Okay.” A pause, voices in the background. “What’s up with you?”
I paused, wondering what I should tell him. It seemed weird to mention Mac or the Chathams, to talk about a world he was no part of, all my own. But then I remembered that day in the woods.
“I went out to the sinkhole with a friend of mine,” I said. “It had changed.”
I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. “I mean, it was the same, I guess. But the perspective was different. I remember it being so wide. Huge.”
“It looked even bigger when you were halfway across it,” he said.
We were both quiet a moment. Then he said, “So, it’s funny. That show you love, the one with those crazy women? I’ve been . . . watching it.”
I blinked, surprised. “You’re watching Big New York?”
He laughed. “And Los Angeles. Although I can’t believe I’m admitting it.”
“I thought you hated those shows,” I said, still in shock.