“My dad bought all that stuff,” I told him. “He couldn’t help himself. It was like an addiction.”
“I’ve always wanted to order that coin machine that sorts things automatically,” he said wistfully.
“Got it,” I told him.
I nodded. “Anyway, after he died, the company kept sending them. I mean, every month a new one shows up. But for awhile, I was convinced it meant something. Like my dad was somehow getting them to me, like they were supposed to mean something. ”
“Well,” Wes said now, “you never know. Maybe they do.”
I looked at him. “Do what?”
“Mean something,” he said.
I looked out the window, where car lights were blurring past distantly on the highway. It was after midnight, and I wondered where so many people were going. “I keep them,” I said softly, “just in case. I can’t bear to throw them out. You know?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”
We stayed there for another hour. In that time, customers came and went all around us. We saw families with sleeping babies, truckers stopping in before the next leg, one young couple who sat in the booth across from us with a map spread out between them, tracing with their fingers the route that would take them to wherever they were going next. All the while, Wes and I just sat there, talking about anything and everything. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked so much, really talked. Maybe I never had.
Still, I beat Kristy to Stella’s by about ten minutes. I’d just waved good-bye to Wes and slipped inside, past where Stella was still sleeping, when the guys dropped her and Monica off in the driveway. By the time she got to her room, carrying her shoes, I’d already spread the sleeping bag she’d pulled out for me earlier on the floor next to her bed and changed into my pajamas. She looked entirely unsurprised to see me.
“Good night?” I asked, as she pulled off her skirt and top, exchanging them for a T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts.
“No.” She sat down on the bed, pulled a container of cold cream out of the bedside table, and began smearing it all over her face. When it was half covered, she said, “Let me just say this: Sherman, even though he was passed out the entire time, was the best of the lot.”
She nodded, screwing the cap back on the container. “Those boys wished they were even ordinary. I mean, it’s so disappointing. What’s worse than ordinary? I feel like I’m working backwards now.”
“Oh, that’s not true,” I told her. “It was just one bad night.”
“Maybe so.” She stood up and went to the door. “But a girl could lose heart in this world. That’s all I’m saying, you know?”
As she went to the bathroom to wash her face, I stretched out on the sleeping bag. If I looked up through the window behind me, I could see the garden and the moon above it. Soon, though, I was too tired to do even that, instead just closing my eyes, only aware of Kristy returning by the sound of the door sliding shut and the loud sigh she emitted as she crawled into her bed.
“It just sucks,” she said, yawning, “when a night is over and you have not one damn thing to show for it. Don’t you hate that?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
She harrumphed again, turning over and fluffing her pillow. “Good night, Macy,” she said after a second of quiet. Her voice sounded sleepy. “Sweet dreams.”
“You too. Good night.”
A minute later I could hear her breathing grow steady: she fell asleep that fast. I just lay there for a few minutes, staring up at that moon behind my head, then reached beside the sleeping bag for my purse, rummaging around until I found what I was looking for. Then, in the dark, I wrapped my fingers more tightly around what I had to show for my evening—a pencil that smelled like sugar and syrup. In the morning, when I woke up with the sun spilling over me, it was still in my hand.
“Macy? Is that you?”
I put my shoes down on the bottom step of the landing, laying my purse beside them. My mother was usually up first thing on weekend mornings, leaving soon after for the model home to greet potential homeowners. Now, though, it was almost ten, and I could see her in the recliner by the window, drinking a cup of coffee and reading a real estate magazine. She looked idle and still, which she never was. Ever. So she had to be waiting for me.
“Um, yeah,” I said. As I walked across the foyer, I instinctively tucked in my shirt, then reached up to smooth my hair, running a finger down the part. “Kristy made breakfast, so I stayed longer than I planned. What are you doing home?”
“Oh, I just decided to take an hour or so to get caught up here.” She put her magazine on the table beside her. “Plus I just feel like it’s been ages since we’ve had a chance to talk. Come sit down, tell me what’s going on.”
I had a flashback, suddenly, to being at the top of the stairs and watching Caroline come down after a night out, then have to make her way to the living room, where my mom was always waiting to begin a “discussion.” It was always a bit tense, that feeling of certain friction to come in the air. Kind of like this.
I came over and sat down on the couch. The sunlight was slanting through the window, bright and piercing, and in it I felt especially exposed, as if every little flaw, from my mussed hair to my chipped toenail polish, was especially noticeable. I wanted to scoot over to the chair or the ottoman, but thought this would attract even more attention. So I stayed where I was.
“So,” my mother said, “how was work yesterday?”
“Good.” She was looking at me, waiting for more, so I said, “Fun. It was a prewedding thing, which means everyone’s either all hung over from the rehearsal dinner or freaking out about last-minute details. This time, it was both. So it was a little crazy. And then, you know, we had this whole thing with the crepes catching on fire, but that really wasn’t our fault. Entirely.”
My mother was looking at me with an expression of polite but detached interest, as if I were describing the culture of a foreign country she would never visit in a million years. “Well,” she said, “you certainly have been putting in a lot of hours catering lately.”
“Not that many,” I said. Then, realizing I sounded defensive—did I sound defensive?—I added, “I mean, it’s just been busy the last couple of weeks because Delia’s booked a lot of jobs before the baby comes. Pretty soon I won’t have anything to do, probably.”