“We just got here.” I watched as she came into the room, sliding the file onto the counter. “I invited everyone in to watch this show. I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course it is,” she said. Her voice sounded up, cheery, forced. Fake. “I’ve been wanting to meet your new friends.”
Hearing this, Kristy lifted up her head, sitting up straighter. “Kristy Palmetto,” she said, sticking out her hand.
My mother, businesswoman that she was, reached for the hand first. Then she took her first good look at Kristy’s face and saw the scars. “Oh . . . hello,” she said, stumbling slightly on the second word. She recovered quickly, though, as I knew she would, and the next thing she said was smooth, absolutely not affected. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Macy. It’s so nice to meet you.”
“You have a beautiful home,” Kristy told her. She patted the island. “I especially love this Coreal.”
“Corian,” Wes corrected from behind her.
“Right.” Kristy smiled at my mother, who was doing that thing where you try to look everywhere but where your eyes are drawn naturally. Luckily, Kristy, in her black velvet shirt and short skirt, wearing full makeup, with her hair piled up on her head, offered plenty of other options. “It’s just gorgeous. Anyway, I told Macy if she’s not careful I’m moving in here. I heard you have extra bedrooms.”
My mother laughed politely, then glanced at me. I smiled, noting how forced it felt, like my lips weren’t covering my teeth enough. This was the way I always used to smile, I thought. When I had to work at it.
“Mom,” I said, nodding toward Wes as he turned around from the glass doors, “this is Wes.”
“Hi,” Wes said.
“And you know Delia,” I said, gesturing to where she was sitting on the couch.
“Of course! How are you?” my mother said.
"Very pregnant,” Delia called back, smiling. “But other than that, fine.”
“She’s due any second,” I explained, and when my mother looked slightly alarmed I added, “I mean, any day. And that’s Bert, and next to him is Monica.”
“Hello,” my mother called out, as Bert and Monica waved hello, “nice to meet you.”
“Have you heard,” the announcer on the TV bellowed, “the Big Buzz?”
“Bert really wanted to watch this show,” I explained. “It’s, um, about theories.”
“Crackpot theories,” Kristy said.
“These are backed up by science!” Bert yelled.
“Bert,” Wes said, walking over to the living room, “inside voice.”
“By science,” Bert repeated, more quietly. “The end of the world is no joke. It’s not a matter of if. It’s when.”
I looked at my mother. Something told me that the expression on her face—confusion, curiosity, maybe even shock—was not unlike the one I probably had the first day I’d been introduced to these people. But seeing it there, I had a feeling this wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Macy,” she said to me after a second, “can I talk to you in my office for a moment?”
“Um, sure,” I said.
“Can you believe this?” Kristy asked me, holding up the magazine to show me a living room full of wicker furniture. “Have you ever seen a more uncomfortable looking couch?”
I shook my head, then followed my mother down the short hallway to her office. She shut the door behind us, then crossed to her desk and stood behind it. “It’s after ten,” she said, her voice low. “Don’t you think it’s a little late to have people over?”
“Bert really wanted to see this show,” I said. “It’s only a half hour. Plus, I thought you were at that meeting.”
“You have to work in the morning, Macy,” she said, as if I didn’t know this. “And we’ve got a big day tomorrow as well, with the Fourth of July picnic, and you working the welcome booth. It’s not a good night for company.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “They’ll be gone soon.”
She looked down at her desk, riffling through some papers, but her disapproval was palpable. I could feel it all around me, settling, taste it in the air.
There was a burst of laughter from the living room, and I glanced at the door. “I should go back out there,” I said. “I don’t want to seem rude.”
She nodded, running a hand through her hair. I stood up and started toward the door.
“What happened to Kristy?” she asked, just as I was about to push it open.
I had a flash of Kristy, just moments earlier, extending her hand to my mother so cheerfully. “She was in a car accident when she was eleven.”
“Poor thing,” she said, shaking her head as she pulled a pencil out of the holder on her desk. “It’s must be just horrible for her.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked. Truthfully, I hardly noticed Kristy’s scars at all anymore. They were just part of her face, part of who she was. Her outfits garnered more of my attention, maybe because they at least were always changing.
She looked at me. “Well,” she said, “only because of the disfigurement. It’s hard enough being that age, without a handicap to deal with.”
“She’s not handicapped, Mom,” I said. “She just has a few scars.”
“It’s just so unfortunate.” She sighed, picking up a folder, moving it to the other side of the desk. “She’d be a pretty girl, otherwise.”
Then she started writing, opening the folder and jotting something down. Like I was already gone, this was the end of it, there could be no rebuttal, no other side. Of course Kristy wasn’t beautiful: her flaws were right there, where anyone could see. Of course we were over my dad’s passing: just look around, we were successful, good in school, fine just fine. I’d never spoken up to say otherwise, so I had no one to blame but myself.
Thinking this, I went back into the kitchen, where I found Wes now sitting next to Kristy, both of them looking at Southern Living.
“See, this stuff isn’t nearly as good as yours,” Kristy was saying, pointing at a page. “I mean, what is that supposed to be, anyway?”
“An iron heron,” he said, glancing at me. “I think.”
“A what?” Kristy said, squinting at it again.
“No way,” I said, coming over to look for myself. Sure enough, there was an iron heron, just like my sister had been talking about.