“I can answer it,” Bethany said solidly, so confidently. Amanda, beside her, nodded, seconding this.
“Really, it’s fine,” he said, then looked at me again. He raised his eyebrows, and I just shrugged. “Okay, so—”
“She’s only a trainee, she won’t know the answer,” Bethany told him, pushing her chair over closer to where he was, her voice too loud, bossy even. “It’s better if you ask me. Or ask us.”
Then, and only then, did I see the tiniest flicker of annoyance on Wes’s face. “You know,” Wes said, “I think she’ll know it.”
“She won’t. Ask me.”
Now it wasn’t just a flicker. Wes looked at me, narrowing his eyes, and for a second I just stared back. Whatever happens, I thought, happens. For the first time, time at the info desk was flying.
“Okay,” he said slowly, moving down the counter. He leaned on his elbows, closer to Bethany, and she sat up even straighter, readying herself, like someone on Jeopardy awaiting the Daily Double. “So here’s my question.”
Amanda picked up a pen, as if there might be a written portion.
“Last night,” Wes said, his voice serious, “when the supplies were being packed up, what happened to the big tongs?”
The sick part was that Bethany, for a second, looked as if she was actually flipping through her mental Rolodex for the answer. I watched her swallow, then purse her lips. “Well,” she said. But that was all.
I could feel myself smiling. A real smile.
Wes looked at Amanda. “Do you know?”
Amanda shook her head slowly.
“All right,” he said, turning back to look at me. “Better ask the trainee, then. Macy?”
I could feel Amanda and Bethany looking at me. “They’re in the bottom of that cart with the broken back wheel, under the aprons,” I said. “There wasn’t room for them with the other serving stuff.”
Wes smiled at me. “Oh,” he said, shaking his head like this was just so obvious. “Of course.”
I could hear wheels squeaking as Bethany and Amanda pushed themselves farther down the counter. Wes watched them go, hardly bothered, then leaned over the counter and looked down at me.
“Nice co-workers,” he said under his breath.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, not as quietly. “They hate me.”
The chairs stopped moving. Silence. Oh, well, I thought. It’s not like it was a secret.
“So anyway,” I asked him. “What’s going on?”
“Typical Wish chaos,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “Delia’s freaking out because one of the coolers broke last night and everything in it’s gone bad. Kristy and Monica are at the beach, so now she and Bert and I have to make five more gallons of potato salad on the fly and work this job with just three of us. Then, I’m on my way back from a mayonnaise run when Delia calls up, hysterical, saying we have no tongs and I should come here and ask you.” He took a deep breath, then said, “So how’s your day so far?”
“Don’t ask,” I said.
“Has the boyfriend shown up yet?”
So he did hear, I thought. I shook my head. “Nope. Not yet.”
“Well, just think, it could be worse,” he said. “You could be having to make potato salad. Just imagine being up to your elbows in mayonnaise.”
I made a face. He was right, this wasn’t a pretty picture.
“The point is, we could really use you,” Wes said, running a hand over the counter between us. “It’s too bad you can’t get out of here.”
A moment passed, during which all I could hear was the silence of the library. The ticking of the clock. The slight squeak of Bethany’s chair. And after everything that had happened, from the first day until the last five minutes, that was the last straw.
“Well,” I said. “Maybe I can.”
I turned around and looked at Bethany and Amanda, who were pretending to be huddled over some periodical while listening to every word we were saying. “Hey,” I called out, and they looked up, in tandem, like a creature with two heads. “You know, I think I’m going to go.”
A moment passed as this sunk in.
Amanda’s eyes widened. “But you don’t get off for another hour,” she said.
“Your shift,” Bethany added, “ends at one.”
“Well,” I said, picking up my purse. “Something tells me you’re not really going to miss me.”
I stood up and pushed in my chair. Wes was watching me, curious, his hands in his pockets, as I took one last look around my pitiful little workstation. This could be a big mistake, I thought, but it was already happening. I was not a girl with all the information, but I knew one thing. If this was my forever, I didn’t want to spend another second of it here.
“If you leave now,” Bethany said under her breath, “you can’t come back.”
“You’re right,” I told her. And I was so glad that she was. Right, that is. “I can’t.”
I started to walk toward the swinging door, but, as usual, her chair was in my way. And beyond that was Amanda’s. It had been so hard to come in here that first day, and every day since. I figured that by now, I’d earned a clear path out.
So I picked up my purse and tossed it over the desk. It hit the carpet with a thud, right by Wes’s feet. Then, in a fashion my sister the rebel would have appreciated, I hoisted myself up, throwing one leg over, and jumped the counter, while Bethany and Amanda watched, stunned.
“Wow,” Wes said, raising his eyebrows as I picked up my purse. “Nice dismount.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Macy,” Bethany hissed at me. “What are you doing?”
But I didn’t answer her, didn’t even look back as we started across the library, everyone staring, to the exit. This felt right. Not just leaving, but how I was doing it. Without regret, without second guessing. And with Wes right there, holding the door open for me as I walked out into the light.
Lucy picked up a crayon, gripping it in her short, chubby fingers. When she put it to the paper she pressed hard, as if only by doing so would the color transfer. “Tree,” she announced, as a squiggle emerged, stretching from one end of the paper to the other.
“Tree,” I repeated, glancing at Wes. Even now, a full hour after I’d jumped the info desk, he was still looking at me the way he had the entire ride back to Sweetbud Drive, with an expression that was half impressed, half outright incredulous. “Stop it,” I said to him.