“Is she gonna be okay?” Down the hall I could hear my father’s voice, asking questions about departures and arrivals, coach or first class, chances of standby. “Mom?”
I watched her shoulders fall and rise, one deep breath, before she turned around, her face composed and even. “I don’t know, honey. We’ll just have to see.”
“Mom—” I started, wanting to somehow fix this, whatever I’d opened between us by not wanting to share Macon with her. By not wanting to share me with her.
“Julie,” my father’s voice came booming from down the hall, always too loud for small spaces, “there’s a flight in an hour, but you have a long layover in Baltimore. It’s the best we can do, I think.”
“That’s fine,” she said evenly. “Go ahead and book it. I’ll throw a bag together.”
“Mom,” I said, “I just—”
“Honey, there’s no time,” she said quickly as she passed me, reaching to pat my shoulder, distracted. “I’ve got to go pack.”
So I sat on my bed, in my room, with my math homework in my lap and the door open. I heard the closet door opening and shutting, my mother packing, my father’s low, soothing voice. But it was the silences that were the worst, when I craned my neck, hoping for just one word or sound. Anything would have been better than imagining what was happening when everything was muffled, and I knew she had to be crying.
She came in and hugged me, ruffling my hair like she always had when I was little; she said not to worry, she’d call later, everything was okay. She’d forgotten about what I’d said, about what had happened at dinner. Just like that, with one phone call, she was a daughter again.
With my mother gone, it was like I’d been handed a Get Out of Jail Free card. My father’s morning show was still riding an Arbitron rating high, which meant he was busy almost every afternoon or evening with promotional events. In the past few months, he’d already lost an on-air bet with the traffic guy that resulted in him having to perform an embarrassing (and thank God, not complete) striptease at a local dance club, attended about a hundred contest-winner cocktail parties, and wrestled a man named the Dominator at the Hilton for charity. That one had left him bruised, battered, and with nose splints for a full week, which he’d loved. He’d discussed his drainage problems, complete with a million booger jokes, every morning while I cringed on the way to school.
The phone rang constantly, usually a nervous-sounding man named Lottie who organized my father’s every waking moment, lining up another trip to the mall, meeting, or Wacky Stunt. My father, who my mother insisted was too old and too educated for any of this nonsense, hardly even saw me, much less kept careful track of what I was doing. At most, we passed each other late at night, as I walked past his bedroom to brush my teeth. We came to an unspoken understanding: I’d behave, show up when I was supposed to, and he wouldn’t ask questions. It was only four days, after all.
Of course, I was always with Macon. Now he could pick me up for school and take me to work or home in the afternoons; Scarlett, who used to drive me, was as busy as my father. She was working extra shifts at Milton’s so she could buy baby clothes and nursery items; plus, she was spending a lot of time with Cameron, who made her laugh and rubbed her feet. Finally, our guidance counselor, Mrs. Bagbie, had convinced her to join a fledgling Teen Mothers Support Group that met at school two afternoons a week. She hadn’t wanted to go, but she said the other girls—some pregnant, some already with kids—made her feel a little less strange. And Scarlett, as I knew, could make friends anywhere.
Macon and I had fun. Monday we didn’t go to school at all, spending the entire time just driving around, eating at Mc-Donald’s, and hanging out by the river. When the school called that night my father wasn’t home, and I easily explained that I’d been sick and my mother was out of town. Macon had already mastered her signature, signing with a flourish every note I needed.
She called every night and asked me the basic questions about school and work, whether my father was remembering to feed me. She said she missed me, that Grandma Halley was going to be all right. She said she was sorry we’d argued, and she knew it was hard for me to break it off with Macon, but someday I would understand it was the right thing. At the other end of the line, phone in hand, I agreed and watched him back out of the driveway, lights moving across me, then heard him beep as he drove away. I told myself I shouldn’t feel guilty, that she’d played dirty, changing the rules to suit her. Sometimes it worked; sometimes not.
The night before my father and I were leaving to go to Buffalo for Thanksgiving, Macon brought me home from work. The house was dark when we pulled up.
“Where’s your dad?” he said as he cut off the engine.
“I don’t know.” I grabbed my backpack out of the back of the car and opened my door. “Doing radio stuff, probably.”
As I leaned over to kiss him good-bye, he pulled back a bit, his eyes still on my dark house. Across the street Scarlett’s front porch light was already on, and I could see Marion in front of the TV in the living room, her shoes off, feet up on the coffee table. In the kitchen Scarlett was standing at the stove, stirring something.
“Well,” I said to Macon, sliding my hand around his neck. “I guess I’ll see you when I get back.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me to come in?”
“In?” I drew back. He’d never asked before. “Do you want to?”
“Sure.” He reached down and opened his door, and just like that we were walking up the driveway, past my mother’s mums, to the front steps. The paper was on the porch and a few leaves were blowing around, making scraping noises. It was getting ready to rain.
I fished around in my backpack for my keys, then unlocked the door and pushed it open just as there was a loud rumbling overhead. Even without looking up I could feel the plane coming closer, the thin line of windowpanes on either side of the door already vibrating.
“Man,” Macon said. “That’s loud.”
“It’s bad around this time,” I told him. “There are lots of early evening flights.” The house was completely dark inside, and I felt across the wall for the light switch. Right as the light came on overhead there was a popping noise, a flash, and we were in the dark again.
“Hold on,” I said, dropping my backpack as he stepped in behind me, a few leaves blowing in across his feet. “I’ll find another light.”