“Honey, you look tired,” she said, after we’d been sitting in silence for a few minutes. I’d felt her glancing at me, but hadn’t looked back. “Did you not sleep well?”
My I’m fine was poised on my lips, about to come automatically. But then, I stopped myself. I’m not fine, I thought. So instead I said, “No. I didn’t. I had bad dreams.”
Behind us, someone honked.
“Really,” she said. “What about?”
“Actually,” I said, “Dad.”
I was watching her carefully as I said this, saw her fingers, curled around the steering wheel, pulse white at the tips, then relax. I had that twinge in my stomach, like I was doing something wrong.
“Really,” she said, not taking her eyes off the road as the traffic began to pick up.
“Yeah,” I said slowly. “It was scary. He was driving this car, and—”
“Your room was probably too hot,” she said, reaching forward and adjusting her vent. “And you do have an awful lot of blankets on your bed. Whenever you get hot, you have night-mares. ”
I knew what this was: a conversational nudge, her way of easing me back between the lines.
“It’s weird,” I made myself say, “because right after he died, I had a lot of dreams about him, but I haven’t lately. Which is why last night was so disturbing. He was in trouble, and I couldn’t save him. It scared me.”
These four sentences, blurted out too fast, were the most I had said to my mother about my dad since he died. The very fact they had been spoken, were able to bridge the gap from my mind to the open air, was akin to a miracle, and I waited for what would come next, partly scared, partly exhilarated.
My mother took in a breath, and I curled my fingers into my palms.
“Well,” she said finally, “it was only a dream.”
And that was it. All this buildup to a great leap, and I didn’t fall or fly. Instead I found myself back on the edge of the cliff, blinking, wondering if I’d ever jumped at all. It’s not supposed to be like this, I thought. My mother was looking straight ahead, her eyes focused on the road.
As she pulled up to the library, I got my purse and opened the door, feeling the already thick heat hit my face as I stepped out onto the curb.
“Can you find a way home?” she asked me. “Or should I pick you up?”
“I’ll get a ride,” I said.
“If I don’t hear from you,” she told me, “be at the Commons at six sharp. Okay?”
I nodded, then shut my door. As she drove off, I just stood there watching her go, realizing how similar my dream had been to this, me standing in this exact spot, a car moving away. Like I’d never woken up at all, and soon I’d open my eyes to another morning, another way of all this happening. But as my mother pulled out onto the street, she wasn’t looking back at me scared, or needing me. She was fine. Just fine.
I walked into the library at exactly 9:12. Bethany and Amanda both looked up from the info desk. Bethany turned her head slightly, eyeing the clock over her head, then looked back at me.
“There was a big traffic jam on Cloverdale,” I said, pushing open the swinging door and immediately whacking my knee on the back of her chair. I waited for her to slide sideways, so I could pass, but she didn’t, so I had to step around her, which put me in a direct line with Amanda’s chair. Of course.
“I come that way,” she said coolly, pushing herself a bit more in my path, the wheels squeaking. “I didn’t hit any holdups this morning.”
I moved around her, having to sidestep the garbage can in the process, and put my bag on the floor next to my seat, which was piled high with periodicals. I moved them onto the table beside my computer, then sat down. I had been putting up with this for weeks. Weeks. Why? Because I had an obligation? To whom? Not to Jason, who’d shed his commitment to me as easily as a second, ill-fitting skin. And certainly not my mother, who, for all the time I’d suffered here, still thought I wasn’t dedicated enough.
It just wasn’t worth it. Not even close.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who’d been alerted to Jason’s homecoming visit. All morning long, Bethany and Amanda bustled and chattered as they updated the database and organized the invoices for all the periodicals that had come in during his absence. I, however, was exiled to the back room to organize mildewed magazines. I had about two full hours to think about Jason and what I would say to him once he arrived. But as much as I tried to focus on formulating a plan, my mind kept slipping back to Wish and Wes and everything that had happened in the last few weeks. The night Jason had announced our break, all I could think about was how to fix things between us. But now, I wasn’t sure what I wanted.
After the magazines were done, I sat facing the wall outside my window, knowing that the time was ticking down to his arriving. Any minute now, I kept thinking, that door will open and something will happen. I just didn’t know what.
Beside me, Amanda and Bethany were busy practicing their conversational French for a school club trip they were taking at the end of the summer. All those guttural sounds on top of my anxious mood were about to drive me crazy. Which was probably why, when they finally, abruptly, shut up, I noticed.
Oh, God, I thought. Here we go. One moment Amanda was saying something about the Champs Élysées, and the next, they were both staring at the library’s front entrance, speechless.
I looked up, already picturing Jason in my mind. But it wasn’t him. It was Wes.
He’d just come in and was standing by the front door, looking around as if getting his bearings. Then he saw me and started toward the desk with that slow, loping walk that I knew so well.
As he approached, I could hear the wheels of Bethany and Amanda’s chairs moving; they were pushing up closer, arranging their postures. But he came right to me.
“Hey,” he said.
I had never been so happy to see anyone in my entire life. “Hey.”
“So look,” he began, leaning over the desk, “I was—”
“Excuse me?” Bethany said. Her voice was loud, even.
Wes turned and looked at her. As he did so, I watched his profile, his arm, that little bit of the heart in hand peeking out from his sleeve.
“We can help you over here,” Bethany said to him. “Did you have a question?”
“Um, sort of,” Wes said, glancing at me, a mild smile on his face. “But—”