Like he was food. Not a green pepper or an orange, but a big sticky Snickers bar. “You don’t even know him,” I said.
“That’s because you refuse to discuss him!” She wadded up her napkin and threw it down on her plate. “I have given you endless chances to prove me wrong here. I have tried to dialog—”
“I don’t want to dialog,’” I snapped. “You’ve already made up your mind anyway, you hate him. And this isn’t about him, anyway.”
“This is what I know,” she said, leaning closer to me. “He drives like a maniac. He’s not from Lakeview. And you are willing to do anything for him, including but probably not limited to lying to me and your father. What I don’t know is what you’re doing with him, how far things have gone—if there are drugs involved or God knows what else.”
“Drugs,” I repeated, and I laughed. “God, you always think everything is about drugs.”
She wasn’t laughing. “Your father and I,” she said, finally lowering her voice, “have discussed this thoroughly. And we’ve decided you cannot see him anymore.”
“What?” I said. “You can’t do that.” My stomach was tight and hot. “You can’t just decide that.”
“Well, Halley, with your actions lately you’ve given us no other choice.” She sat back in her chair, crossing her arms. This wasn’t going the way she wanted, I could tell. This wasn’t her office and I wasn’t a patient and she couldn’t just tell me what to do. But I didn’t know what she’d expected. That she was doing me a favor? “Halley, I don’t think you understand how easy it is to make a mistake that will cost you forever. All it takes is one wrong choice, and ...”
“You’re talking about Scarlett again,” I said, shaking my head. I was tired of this, tired of battling and putting up fronts, of having to think so hard about my next move.
“No,” she said. “I am talking about you falling in with the wrong crowd, getting influenced to do something you aren’t ready to do. That you don’t want to do. You don’t know what Macon’s involved in.”
I hated the way she kept saying his name.
“There’s a lot of dangerous stuff out there,” she said. “You’re inexperienced. And you’re like me, Halley. You have a tendency not to see people for what they really are.”
I sat there and looked at my mother, at the ease in her face as she told me how I felt, what I thought, everything. Like I was a puzzle, one she’d created, and she knew the solution every time. If she couldn’t keep me close to her, she’d force me to be where she could always find me.
“That’s not true,” I said to her slowly, and already I knew I’d say something ugly, something final, even as I stood up, pushing back my chair. “I’m not getting influenced, I’m not inexperienced, and I am not like you.”
It was the last thing that did it. Her face went blank, shocked, like I’d reached out and slapped her.
You wanted distance, I thought. There you go.
She sat back in her chair, keeping her voice low, and said, “Sit down, Halley. Now.”
I just stood there, thinking of running out the door, losing myself in Macon’s secret network of pizza parlors and arcades, side streets and alleys, riding up to that penthouse room and stowing away, forever.
“Sit down,” she said again. She was looking over my head, out to the parking lot. She was blinking, a lot, and I could hear her taking deep, deep breaths.
I sat down, pulling in my chair, while she dabbed at her mouth with a napkin and waved over the waiter. We got the check, paid, and went out to the car without a word between us. All the way home I stared out the window, watching the houses slip past and thinking back to the Grand Canyon, vast and uncrossable, like so many things were now.
When we pulled into our driveway we passed Steve, who was getting out of his Hyundai in front of Scarlett’s house. He was carrying flowers, his usual, and wearing yet another tweedish, threadbare jacket with patches on the elbows. But this time I didn’t need Scarlett to point out the newest sign of Vlad’s emergence: boots. Not just regular boots either, but big, leather, clunky boots with a thick heel and buckles that I imagined must be clanking loudly with each step, although my window was up and I couldn’t hear them. Warrior boots, poking out from beneath his pants leg as if they’d just walked over the heads of dead opponents. He waved cheerfully as we passed, and my mother, still irritated, lifted her hand with her fake neighborhood wave.
We still hadn’t said a word to each other as we came into the kitchen where my father was on the phone, his back to us. As he turned around, I could tell instantly something was wrong.
“Hold on,” he said into the receiver, then covered it with his hand. “Julie. It’s your mother.”
She put down her purse. “What? What is it?”
“She fell, in her house—she’s hurt bad, honey. The neighbors found her. She’d been there for a while.”
“She fell?” My mother’s voice was high, shaky.
“This is Dr. Robbins.” He handed her the phone, adding, “I’ll use the other phone and start calling about flights.”
She took the phone from him, taking a deep breath as he squeezed her shoulder and headed down the hall, toward her office. I stood in the open doorway and held my breath.
“Hello, this is Julie Cooke.... Yes. Yes, my husband said ... I see. Do you know when this happened? Right. Right, sure.”
All this time, each word she said, she was looking right at me. Not like she was even aware of it or could see me at all. Just her eyes on me, steady, as if I was the only thing holding her up.
“My husband is calling about flights right now, so I’ll be there as soon as I can. Is she in pain? ... Well, of course. So the surgery will be tomorrow at six, and I’ll just—I’ll get there as soon as I can. Okay. Thanks so much. Good-bye.” She hung up the phone, turning her back to me, and then just stood there, one hand still on the receiver. I could see her tense back, the shoulder blades poking out.
“Your grandmother’s hurt,” she said in a low voice, still not turning around. “She fell and broke several ribs, and she’ll have to have surgery on her hip in the morning. She was alone for a long time before anyone found her.” She choked on this last part, her voice wavering.