“Pass,” he said.
For a second I was sure I’d heard wrong. “What?”
He cleared his throat. “I said, I pass.”
He turned his head and looked at me. “Because.”
“Because I just do.”
“You know what this means, right?” I said, and he nodded. “You know how the game works?”
“You have to answer whatever question I ask next,” he said. “And if you do, you win.”
“Exactly.” I sat up straighter, bracing myself. “Okay. Go ahead.”
He drew in a breath, and I waited, ready. But all he said was, “No.”
“No?” I said, incredulous. “What do you mean, no?”
“I mean,” he repeated, as if I were slow, “no.”
“You have to ask a question,” I told him.
“Not immediately,” he replied, flicking a bug off his arm. “For a question this important, a question that carries the outcome of the game, you can take as long as you want.”
I could not believe this. “Says who?”
“Says the rules.”
“We have more than covered the rules,” I told him. “That is not one of them.”
“I’m making an amendment,” he explained.
I was truly stumped. In fact, everything that had happened in the last five minutes, from me calling him extraordinary, to that one moment I felt something shift, to this, felt like some sort of out-of-body experience.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “But you can’t just take forever.”
“I don’t need that long,” he said.
“Considerably less than forever.” I waited. Finally he said, “Maybe a week. You can’t bug me about it, either. That will nullify the entire thing. It has to just happen when it happens.”
“Another new rule,” I said clarifying.
He nodded. “Yup.”
I just looked at him, still processing this, when suddenly there was a burst of light from the other end of the street as a car came over the hill. We both squinted, and I put my hand to my face, then lowered it as I realized it was my mother. She was on the phone—of course—and didn’t seem to see us at first as she passed, pulling into the driveway and up to the garage. It was only when she got out of the car, the phone still between her ear and shoulder, that she looked over at us, squinting slightly.
“Macy?” she said. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m coming in, right now.”
She went back to her conversation, still walking, but not before taking another glance at me and at Wes’s truck before climbing the stairs, finding her keys, and letting herself inside. A second later, the foyer light came on, followed by the ones in the kitchen and back hall as she moved toward her office.
“Well,” I said to Wes, hopping down from the tailgate. “Thanks for a truly exciting evening. Even if you are leaving me hanging.”
“I think you can handle it,” he said as he walked around to the driver’s side, climbing behind the wheel.
“All I’m saying,” I said, “is that when this is all over, I’m going to submit, like, twenty amendments. You won’t even recognize the rules once I’m done with them.”
He laughed out loud, shaking his head, and I felt myself smile. What I wouldn’t have admitted to him, not then, maybe not ever, was that I was actually happy to have to wait awhile. The game had become important to me. I didn’t want it to end at all, much less right that second. Not that he had to know that. Especially since he hadn’t asked.
“You know,” I told him, “after all this buildup, it had better be a good question.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, sounding sure of himself, as always. “It will be.”
“Goodness,” my mother said, tracing her finger down one side of the picture on the table in front of her. “It’s really coming along.”
My sister beamed. “Isn’t it? The plumber’s coming tomorrow to install the new toilet, and the skylights are in. We’ve just got to decide on paint colors and then they can start on the walls. It’s going to be just gorgeous.”
I’d never thought it was possible for someone to be so enthusiastic about going over paint chips that, to my eye anyway, looked exactly alike. But Caroline had completely thrown herself into the beach house project. And while there were new window treatments and skylights, the moose head was still over the fireplace (although it had been cleaned by a professional— hard to believe someone actually did such things for a living), and the same splintery Adirondack chairs remained on the back deck, where they’d be joined by a new wrought-iron bench and a row of decorative flowerpots. All the things we loved about the beach house, she said, would still be there. It was, she said, what my dad would have wanted.
“What I’m thinking,” Caroline said now, as my mother moved on to another picture, squinting at it, “is that once the kitchen is all painted, I can do some tiling along the molding. Kind of a southwestern look, with different patterns. I have it in here somewhere, hold on.”
I watched my mother as she looked through the latest round of pictures, picking up one showing the new sliding glass doors to examine it more closely. I could tell her mind was wandering to other houses, other paint chips, other fixtures: the ones in the townhouses, which were progressing on a parallel timeline to Caroline’s project. I knew that to her, the beach house was distant, past, while her projects were present and future, close enough to see from the top of our driveway, rising up over the next hill. Maybe you could go backwards and forwards at the same time, but it wasn’t easy. You had to want to. My sister, her mind dancing with images of plantation shutters and smooth blue kitchen tiles, might not have been able to see this. But I could. I only hoped that eventually, my mother would come around.
A few nights later, I worked a fiftieth birthday party with Wish in the neighborhood right next to Wildflower Ridge. They picked me up on their way there, and afterwards, dropping me off, Delia asked a favor.
“I so have to pee,” she said. “Would it be all right if I came in for a second?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Delia!” Bert said, looking at his watch. “We’re in a hurry here!”
“And I’m pregnant and about to pee all over myself,” she replied, opening her door and swinging one leg out. “I’ll only be a second.”