“You know what happens when someone dies?” Delia said suddenly, startling me a bit. I kept putting together my sandwich, though, not answering: I knew there was more. “It’s like, everything and everyone refracts, each person having a different reaction. Like me and Wes. After the divorce, he fell in with this bad crowd, got arrested, she hardly knew what to do with him. But then, when she got sick, he changed. Now he’s totally different, how he’s so protective of Bert and focused on his welding and the pieces he makes. It’s his way of handling it.”
“Wes does welding?” I asked, and then, suddenly, I thought of the sculpture. “Did he do—”
“The heart in hand,” she finished for me. “Yeah. He did. Pretty incredible, huh?”
“It is,” I said. “I had no idea. I was talking about it with him and he didn’t even tell me.”
“Well, he’ll never brag on it,” she said, pulling the mayonnaise over to her. “That’s how he is. His mom was the same way. Quiet and incredible. I really envy that.”
I watched her as she cut another two sandwiches down, the knife clapping against the cutting board. “I don’t know,” I said. “You seem to be pretty incredible. Running this business with a baby, and another on the way.”
“Nah.” She smiled. “I’m not. When Wish died, it just knocked the wind out of me. Truly. It’s like that stupid thing Bert and Wes do, the leaping out thing, trying to scare each other: it was the biggest gotcha in the world.” She looked down at the sandwiches. “I’d just assumed she’d be okay. It had never occurred to me she might actually just be . . . gone. You know?”
I nodded, just barely. I felt bad that I didn’t tell her about my dad, chime in with what I knew, how well I knew it. With Delia, though, I wasn’t that girl, the one whose dad had died. I wasn’t anybody. And I liked that. It was selfish but true.
“And then she was,” Delia said, her hand on the bread bag. “Gone. Gotcha. And suddenly I had these two boys to take care of, plus a newborn of my own. It was just this huge loss, this huge gap, you know.”
“I know,” I said softly.
“Some people,” she said, and I wasn’t even sure she’d heard me, “they can just move on, you know, mourn and cry and be done with it. Or at least seem to be. But for me . . . I don’t know. I didn’t want to fix it, to forget. It wasn’t something that was broken. It’s just . . . something that happened. And like that hole, I’m just finding ways, every day, of working around it. Respecting and remembering and getting on at the same time. You know?”
I nodded, but I didn’t know. I’d chosen instead to just change my route, go miles out of the way, as if avoiding it would make it go away once and for all. I envied Delia. At least she knew what she was up against. Maybe that’s what you got when you stood over your grief, facing it finally. A sense of its depths, its area, the distance across, and the way over or around it, whichever you chose in the end.
“Okay,” Wes said under his breath. “Watch and learn.”
“Right,” I said.
We were at the Lakeview Inn, finishing up appetizers for a retirement party, and Wes and I were in the coat closet, where he was teaching me the art of the gotcha. I’d been sent by a woman to hang up her wrap and found him there, perfectly positioned and silent, lying in wait.
“Wes?” I’d said, and he’d slid a finger to his lips, gesturing for me to come closer with his other hand. Which I’d done, unthinkingly, even as I felt that same fluttering in my stomach I always felt when I was around Wes. Even when we weren’t in an enclosed, small space together. Goodness.
In the next room, I could hear the party: the clinking of forks against plates, voices trilling in laughter, strains of the piped-in violin music that the Lakeview Inn had played at my sister’s wedding as well.
“Okay,” Wes said, his voice so low I would have leaned closer to hear him if we weren’t already about as close as we could get. “It’s all in the timing.”
An overcoat that smelled like perfume was hanging in my face: I pushed it aside as quietly as possible.
“Not now,” Wes was whispering. “Not now . . . not now . . .”
Then I heard it: footsteps. Muttering. Had to be Bert.
“Okay . . .” he said, and then he was moving, standing up, going forward, “now. Gotcha!”
Bert’s shriek, which was high pitched to the point of ear-splitting, was accompanied by him flailing backwards and losing his footing, then crashing into the wall behind him. “God!” he said, his face turning red, then redder as he saw me. I couldn’t really blame him: there was no way to be splayed on the floor and still look dignified. He said, sputtering, “That was—”
“Number six,” Wes finished for him. “By my count.”
Bert got to his feet, glaring at us. “I’m going to get you so good,” he said darkly, pointing a finger at Wes, then at me, then back at Wes. “Just you wait.”
“Leave her out of it,” Wes told him. “I was just demonstrating. ”
“Oh no,” Bert said. “She’s part of it now. She’s one of us. No more coddling for you, Macy.”
“Bert, you’ve already jumped out at her,” Wes pointed out.
“It’s on!” Bert shouted, ignoring this. Then he stalked down the hallway, again muttering, and disappeared into the main room, letting the door bang shut behind him. Wes watched him go, hardly bothered. In fact, he was smiling.
“Nice work,” I told him, as we started down the hallway to the kitchen.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “With enough practice, you too can pull a good gotcha someday.”
“Frankly,” I said, “I’m a little curious about the derivation of all this.”
“How it started.”
“I know what it means,” he said. For a second I was horrified, thinking I’d offended him, but he grinned at me. “It’s just such an SAT word. I’m impressed.”
“I’m working on my verbal,” I explained.
“I can tell,” he said, nodding at one of the Lakeview Inn valets as he passed. “Truthfully, it’s just this dumb thing we started about a year ago. It pretty much came from us living alone in the house after my mom died. It was really quiet, so it was easy to sneak around.”