“Hey,” he said, and I felt some part of me brace, preparing for what came next, “are you—”
“I’m fine,” I told him, my easy, knee-jerk answer. “It was nothing, just some stupid thing somebody said.”
“—gonna be able to grab that other tray?” he finished.
Then we both shut up, abruptly: it was one of those moments when you’re not sure what to respond to first, like a conversational photo finish where you’re still waiting for the judges to weigh in.
“Yeah.” I nodded at the tray behind him. “Go ahead, I’m right behind you.”
“All right,” he said. And then, for one second, he looked at me, as if maybe he should say more. But he didn’t. He just walked to the door, pushing it open with his free hand. “I’ll see you out there.”
As he disappeared into the living room I caught another quick, slicing glimpse of the party, not enough to see much, but then I didn’t have to, really. I knew Kristy was probably exacting the revenge she thought I was due, while Delia moved right behind her, making apologies and smoothing rough edges. Monica was most likely following her own path, either oblivious or deeply emotionally invested, depending on what you believed, while Wes worked the perimeter, always keeping an eye on everything. There was a whole other world out there, the Talbots’ world, where I didn’t belong now, if I ever had. But it was okay not to fit in everywhere, as long as you did somewhere. So I picked up my tray, careful to keep it level, and pushed through the door to join my friends.
“Delia,” Kristy said, “just go, would you please? Everything’s fine.”
Delia shook her head, pressing one finger to her temple. “I’m forgetting something, I just know it. What is it?”
Her husband, Pete, who was standing by his car with his keys in hand, said patiently, “Is it that our dinner reservations were for ten minutes ago?”
“No,” she snapped, shooting him a look. “It’s something else. God, think, Delia. Think.”
Beside me, Kristy yawned, then looked at her watch. It was eight-thirty and, finally done with the academic cocktail party, we were amassed in the client’s driveway, waiting to leave. We’d been all ready to go, and then Delia had that feeling.
“You know what I mean,” she said now, snapping her fingers, as if that action might cause some sort of molecular shift that would jog her memory. “When you just know you’re forgetting something?”
“Are you sure it’s not a pregnancy thing?” Kristy asked.
Delia glared at her. “Yes,” she said. “I’m sure.”
We all exchanged looks. The closer Delia got to her due date, the angrier she became when anyone attributed anything—loss of memory, mood swings, her conviction that every room was always too hot, even when everyone else’s teeth were chattering—to her condition.
“Honey,” Pete said gently, tentatively reaching to put his hand on her arm, “our sitter is costing us ten bucks an hour. Can we please go to dinner? Please?”
Delia closed her eyes, still trying to remember, then shook her head. “Fine,” she said, and with that one word, everyone began to scatter, Pete opening the door to their car, Kristy digging out her own keys, Wes starting toward the van, “but then I’ll remember in five minutes, and it will be too late.”
She was still muttering as she eased herself into the passenger seat of Pete’s car, then pulled the seat belt across her belly, struggling to make it reach. As I got into the van with Wes, I watched them pull out of the driveway, then start down the road. I wondered, as they reached the stop sign there, if she’d already remembered. Probably.
“When is that baby due?” Kristy called out as she and Monica pulled up beside us. About fifteen minutes earlier, when the van was packed and we’d been paid, she’d disappeared for a few minutes into the garage, emerging in an entirely different outfit: a short denim skirt, a blouse with ribboned sleeves, and high-heeled platform sandals, her hair held up in a high ponytail. Not only was she versatile, I’d marveled as she did a little spin, showing it off, but quick. Clark Kent becoming Superman had nothing on her, and he didn’t even have to worry about hair.
“July tenth,” Wes told her, cranking the van’s engine.
“Which leaves us,” she said, squinting as she attempted to do the math for a second before giving up, “entirely too long before she gets normal again.”
“Three weeks,” I said.
“Exactly.” She sighed, checking her reflection in the mirror. “Anyway, so listen. This party is in Lakeview. Take a right on Hillcrest, left on Willow, house at the end of the cul-de-sac. We’ll see you guys there. Hey, and Macy?”
She leaned farther out the window, as if we were sharing a confidence, even though there was a fair amount of space, not to mention Wes, between us. “I have it on good authority,” she said, her voice low, “that there will be extraordinary boys there. You know what I mean?”
Wes, beside me, was fiddling with his visor. “Um, no,” I said.
“Don’t worry.” She put her car in gear, then pointed at me. “By the end of the night, you will. See you there!” And then, in a cloud of dust, the radio blasting, she was gone, hardly slowing for the stop sign at the end of the road.
“Well,” Wes said, as we pulled out of the driveway with slightly less velocity, “to the party, then. Right?”
I tried, for the first five minutes or so of the drive, to come up with a witty conversation starter. Topics, from the inane to slightly promising, flitted through my brain as we moved along the quiet, mostly deserted country roads. Finally, when I couldn’t stand the silence anymore, I opened my mouth, not even knowing what I was going to say.
“So,” I began, but that was as far as I got. And, as it turned out, as far as we got.
The engine, which had been humming along merrily up until that point, suddenly began to cough. Then lurch. Then moan. And then: nothing. We were stopped dead in the middle of the road.
For a second, neither of us said anything. A bird flew by overhead, its shadow moving across the windshield.
“So,” Wes said, as if picking up where I’d left off, “that’s what Delia forgot.”
I looked at him. “What?”
He lifted his finger, pointing at the gas gauge, which was flat on the E. Empty. “Gas,” he said.