“Macy,” Kristy would say, as we put the last of the night’s supplies back in Delia’s garage, “you coming out with us tonight?”
She always extended the invitation, even though I said no every time. Which I appreciated. It’s nice to have options, even if you can’t take them.
“I can’t,” I’d tell her. “I’m busy.”
“Okay,” she’d say, shrugging. “Maybe next time.”
It went like that, our own little routine, until one night when she squinted at me, curious. “What do you do every night, anyway? ” she’d asked.
“Just, you know, stuff for school,” I’d told her.
“Donneven,” Monica said, shaking her head.
“I’m prepping for the SATs,” I said, “and I work another job in the mornings.”
Kristy rolled her eyes. “It’s summertime,” she told me. “I mean, I know you’re a smarty-pants, but don’t you ever take a break? Life is long, you know.”
Maybe, I thought. Or maybe not. Out loud I said, “I just really, you know, have a lot of work to do.”
“Okay,” she’d said. “Have fun. Study for me, while you’re at it. God knows I need it.”
So while at home I was still fine-just-fine Macy, wiping up sink splatters immediately and ironing my clothes as soon as they got out of the dryer, the nights when I arrived home from catering, I was someone else, a girl with her hair mussed, a stained shirt, smelling of whatever had been spilled or smeared on me. It was like Cinderella in reverse: if I was a princess for my daylight hours, at night I let myself and my composure go, just until the stroke of midnight, when I turned back to princess again, just in time.
The ham disaster was, like all the others, eventually averted. Wes ran to the gourmet grocery where Delia was owed a favor, and Kristy and I just kept walking through with more appetizers, deflecting all queries about when dinner was being served with a bat of the eyelashes and a smile (her idea, of course). When the ham was finally served—forty-five minutes late—it was a hit, and everyone went home happy.
It was ten-thirty by the time I finally pulled into Wildflower Ridge, my headlights swinging across the town common and into our cul-de-sac, where I saw my house, my mailbox, everything as usual, and then something else.
My dad’s truck.
It was in the driveway, right where he’d always parked, in front of the garage, left-hand side. I pulled up behind it, sitting there for a second. It was his, no question: I would have known it anywhere. Same rusty bumper, same EAT ... SLEEP ... FISH bumper sticker, same chrome toolbox with the dent in the middle from where he’d dropped his chainsaw a few years earlier. I got out of my car and walked up to it, reaching out my finger to touch the license plate. For some reason I was surprised that it didn’t just vanish, like a bubble bursting, the minute I made contact. That was the way ghosts were supposed to be, after all.
But the metal handle felt real as I pulled open the driver’s side door, my heart beating fast in my chest. Immediately, I could smell that familiar mix of old leather, cigar smoke, and the lingering scent of ocean and sand you carry back with you from the beach that you always wish would last, but never does.
I loved that truck. It was the place my dad and I spent more time together than anywhere else, me on the passenger side, feet balanced on the dashboard, him with one elbow out the window, tapping the roof along with the beat on the radio. We went out early Saturday mornings to get biscuits and drive around checking on job sites, drove home from meets in the dark, me curled up in that perfect spot between the seat and window where I always fell asleep instantly. The air conditioner hadn’t worked for as long as I’d been alive, and the heat cranked enough to dehydrate you within minutes, but it didn’t matter. Like the beach house, the truck was dilapidated, familiar, with its own unique charm: it was my dad. And now it was back.
I eased the door shut, then went up to the front door of my house. It was unlocked, and as I stepped inside, kicking off my shoes as I always did, I could feel something beneath my feet. I crouched down, running my finger over the hardwood: it was sand.
“Hello?” I said, then listened to my voice bounce around our high ceilings back to me. Afterwards, nothing but silence.
My mother was at the sales office, had been there since five. I knew this because she’d left a message around ten on my cell phone, telling me. Which meant that either sometime in the last five hours my father’s truck had driven itself from the coast, or there was another explanation.
I went back down the hallway and looked up to the second floor. My bedroom door, which I always left closed to keep it either cooler or warmer, was open.
I wasn’t sure what to think as I climbed the stairs, remembering how many times I’d wished my dad would just turn up at the house one day, this whole thing one big misunderstanding we could all laugh about together. If only.
When I got to my room, I stopped in the open door and noticed, relieved, everything familiar: my computer, my closed closet door, my window. There was the SAT book on my bedside table, my shoes lined up by the wastebasket. All as it should be. But then I looked at the bed and saw the dark head against my pillow. Of course my father wasn’t back. But Caroline was.
She’d just stopped in for a visit. But already, she was making waves.
“Caroline,” my mother said. Her voice, once polite, then stern, was now bordering on snappy. “I’m not discussing this. This is not the place or time.”
“Maybe this isn’t the place,” Caroline told her, helping herself to another breadstick. “But Mom, really. It’s time.”
It was Monday, and we were all at Bella Luna, a fancy little bistro near the library. For once, I wasn’t eating lunch alone, instead taking my hour with my mother and sister. Now, though, I was realizing maybe I would have preferred to eat my regular sandwich on a bench alone, as it became increasingly clear that my sister had come with An Agenda.
“I just think,” she said now, glancing at our waitress as she passed, “that it’s not what Dad would have wanted. He loved that house. And it’s sitting there, rotting. You should see all the sand in the living room, and the way the steps to the beach are sagging. It’s horrible. Have you even been down to check on it since he died?”
I watched my mother’s face as she heard this, the way, despite her best efforts, she reacted to the various breaches of the conduct we’d long ago agreed on concerning my father and how he was mentioned. My mother and I preferred to focus on the future: this was the past. But my sister didn’t see it that way. From the minute she’d arrived—driving his truck because her Lexus had blown a gasket while at the beach—it was like she’d brought him with her as well.