“Caroline,” I said, because I felt like I had to, someone had to.
“It’s okay,” she said to me, as if she was sure. No question. I envied her that, too. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Even though I scarfed down my linguini pesto in record time and ran the two blocks back to the library, it was one-twenty by the time I got back to work. Amanda, seated in her chair with her arms crossed over her chest, narrowed her eyes at me as I let myself behind the desk and, as I always did, battled around their thrones to reach my crummy little station in the back.
“Lunch ends at one,” she said, enunciating each word carefully as if my tardiness was due to a basic lack of comprehension. Beside her, Bethany smiled, just barely, before lifting a hand to cover her mouth.
“I know, I’m sorry,” I said. “It was unavoidable.”
“Nothing is unavoidable,” she said snippily before turning back to her computer monitor. I felt my face turn red, that deep burning kind of shame, as I sat down.
Then, about a year and half too late, it hit me. I was never going to be perfect. And what had all my efforts gotten me, really, in the end? A boyfriend who pushed me away the minute I cracked, making the mistake of being human. Great grades that would still never be good enough for girls who Knew Everything. A quiet, still life, free of any risks, and so many sleepless nights to spend within it, my heart heavy, keeping secrets my sister had empowered herself by telling. This life was fleeting, and I was still searching for the way I wanted to spend it that would make me happy, full, okay again. I didn’t know what it was, not yet. But something told me I wouldn’t find it here.
So a few days later, back at Delia’s after working a late-afternoon bridal shower (in a log-cabin lodge, no less, very woody) and encountering another disaster of sorts (soda water dispenser explosion during toasts), I’d made it through another day with Wish that was pretty much like all the others. Until now.
“Hey Macy,” Kristy said, wiping something off the hem of her black fringed skirt, part of the gypsy look she was sporting, “You coming out with us tonight?”
It was our routine now, how she always asked me. As much part of the schedule as everything in my other life was, dependable, just like clockwork. We both knew our parts. But this time, I left the script, took that leap, and improvised.
“Yeah,” I said. “I am.”
“Cool,” she said, smiling at me as she hitched her purse over her shoulder. The weird thing was how she didn’t even seem surprised. Like she knew, somehow, that eventually I’d come around. “Come on.”
“Oh, man,” Kristy said, carefully guiding another section of my hair over the roller, “Just wait. This is going to be great.”
Personally, I wasn’t so sure. If I’d known that going out with Kristy meant subjecting myself to a makeover, I probably would have thought twice before saying yes. Now, though, it was too late.
I’d had my first reservations when she’d insisted I shed my work clothes and put on a pair of jeans she was absolutely sure would fit me (she was right) and a tank top that she swore would not show off too much cleavage (she was wrong). Of course, I couldn’t really verify either of these things completely, as the only objective view was the mirror on the back of the closet door, which was now facing the wall so that, in her words, I wouldn’t see myself until I was “done.” All I had to go on was Monica, who was sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, smoking a cigarette she had dangling out the window and making occasional ummm-hmm noises whenever Kristy needed a second opinion.
Clearly, this was a different sort of Friday night than I was used to. But then, everything was different here.
Kristy and Monica’s house wasn’t a house at all but a trailer, although, as we approached it, Kristy explained that she preferred to call it a “doublewide,” as there was less redneck association with that moniker. To me, it looked like something out of a fairy tale, a small structure painted cobalt blue with a big sprawling garden beside it. There her grandmother Stella, whom I’d met the night I was lost, grew the flowers and produce she sold at her stand and to local restaurants. I’d seen lots of gardens before, even fancy ones in my neighborhood. But this one was incredible.
Green and lush, it grew up and around the doublewide, making the structure, with its bright cobalt color and red door, look like one more exotic bloom. Along the front, sunflowers moved lazily in the breeze, brushing a side window: beneath them were a row of rosebushes, their perfumelike scent permeating the air. From there, the greenery spread sideways. I saw a collection of cacti, all different shapes and sizes, poking out from between two pear trees. There were blueberry bushes beside zinnias and daisies and coneflowers, woolly lamb’s ear up against bright purple lilies and red hot pokers. Instead of set rows, the plots were laid out along narrow paths, circling and encircling. Bamboo framed a row of flowering trees, which led into one small garden plot with tiny lettuces poking up through the dirt, followed by pecan trees next to geraniums, and beside them a huge clump of purple irises. And then there was the smell: of fruit and flowers, fresh dirt and earthworms. It was incredible, and I found myself just breathing it in, the smell lingering on me long after we’d gone inside.
Now Kristy slid another bobby pin over a curler, smoothing with her hand to catch a stray piece of hair that was hanging over my eyes.
“You know,” I said, warily, “I’m not really a big hair person.”
“Oh, God, me neither.” She picked up another roller. “But this is going to be wavy, not big. Just trust me, okay? I’m really good with hair. It was, like, an obsession with me when I was bald.”
Because she was behind me, fussing with the rollers, I couldn’t see her face as she said this. I had no idea if her expression was flippant or grave or what. I looked at Monica, who was flipping through a magazine, not even listening. Finally I said, “You were bald?”
“Yup. When I was twelve. I had to have a bunch of surgeries, including one on the back of my head, so they had to shave all my hair off,” she said, brushing out a few of the loose tendrils around my face. “I was in a car accident. That’s how I got my scars.”
“Oh,” I said, and suddenly I was worried I had been staring at them too much, or she wouldn’t have brought it up. “I didn’t—”
“I know,” she said easily, hardly bothered. “But it’s hard to miss them, right? Usually people ask, but you didn’t. Still, I figured you were probably wondering. You’d be surprised how many people just walk right up and ask, point-blank, like they’re asking what time it is.”