“Absolutely,” my mother replied. “Let’s bring it to the table and see how everyone responds.”
“Well, Macy,” Mrs. Burcock said to me. She was an older woman with a prim haircut. “Did you have a good evening?”
“I did,” I said. I could feel my mother watching me. “Did you?”
“Oh, it was just wonderful. We’ll have to start planning next year, right Deborah?”
My mother laughed. “Starting tomorrow,” she said. “First thing.”
Mrs. Burcock smiled, then waved and started across the Commons toward her house. My mother and I stood there for a second, not talking, as more neighbors passed on either side of us.
“So,” I said. “Did you get my message?”
She turned her head and looked at me, and I saw, in that one moment, that she was mad. Beyond mad. Furious. I couldn’t believe I’d missed it before.
“Not now,” she said, her lips hardly moving as she formed the words.
“We are not,” she said, and this time I could hear, clearly, the absolute rigidness in her voice, “going to discuss this now.”
“Great event, Deborah!” A man in khakis and a golf shirt called out as he passed us, a couple of kids in tow.
“Thanks, Ron,” my mother replied, smiling. “Glad you enjoyed it!”
“Mom, it wasn’t my fault,” I said. I took a breath: this wasn’t how I wanted this to go. “Delia went into labor, and I couldn’t—”
“Macy.” Never before had I flinched at the sound of my own name. But I did now. Big time. “I want you to go home, get changed, and get into bed. We’ll discuss this later.”
“Mom,” I said. “Just let me explain, you don’t understand. Tonight was—”
“Go.” When I didn’t, she just stared at me, then said, “Now.” And then she turned her back and walked away. Just walked away from me, her posture straight, crossing over to where her employees were waiting for her. I watched her as she listened to them, giving her full attention, nodding, all the things she hadn’t, for even one second, done for me.
I walked home, still in shock, and went up to my room. As I passed my mirror I stopped, seeing my shirt was untucked, my jeans had a barbeque sauce stain on them, my hair and face were all mussed and wild from crying. I looked different, absolutely: even if I hadn’t been able to explain it, all that had happened showed on my face, where my mother had seen it, instantly. Get changed, she said, which was ironic, because all I’d wanted to tell her was that I already had.
I was so screwed.
It wasn’t just that I hadn’t showed up for the picnic. It was also the fact that Jason, arriving at the info desk to find I’d quit, had immediately called my cell phone, then my house. Not finding me available, he discussed the situation with my mother, who had been trying to reach me ever since. I’d forgotten to turn my phone back on, then left it in the van, never checking it afterwards. Until late that night, when I finally pulled it out of my bag. I had ten messages.
Put plainly, I was in big trouble. Luckily, I had someone around who knew that area, could recognize the landmarks, and knew the best road out.
“When you first get down there, just let her talk,” Caroline said. She’d been unlucky enough to stop in that morning en route from the beach house, walking right into this maelstrom. Now we were in the bathroom, where I was devoting twice as much time as usual to brushing my teeth as I attempted to put off the inevitable. “Sit and listen. Don’t nod. Oh, and don’t smile. That really makes her mad.”
I rinsed, then spit. “Right.”
“You have to apologize, but don’t do it right off, because it seems really ungenuine. Let her blow it out of her system, and then say you’re sorry. Don’t make excuses, unless you have a really valid one. Do you?”
“I was at the hospital,” I said, picking up the bottle of mouthwash. If I was going down, at least I’d have nice breath. “My friend was giving birth.”
“Was there not a phone there?” she asked.
“I called her!” I said.
“An hour after you were supposed to be at the picnic,” she pointed out.
“God, Caroline. Whose side are you on?”
“Yours! That’s why I’m helping you, can’t you see?” She sighed impatiently. “The phone thing is so basic, she’ll go to that right off. Don’t even try to make an excuse; there isn’t one. You can always find a phone. Always.”
I took in a mouthful of Listerine, then glared at her.
“Tears help,” she continued, leaning against the doorjamb and examining her fingernails, “but only if they’re real. The fake cry only makes her more angry. Basically, you just have to ride it out. She’s always really harsh at first, but once she starts talking she calms down.”
“I’m not going to cry,” I told her, spitting.
“And, oh, whatever you do,” she said, “don’t interrupt her. That’s, like, lethal.”
She’d barely finished this sentence when my mother’s voice came from the bottom of the stairs. “Macy?” she said. “Could you come down here, please.”
It wasn’t a question. I looked at Caroline, who was biting her lip, as if experiencing some sort of post-traumatic flashback.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Take a deep breath. Remember everything I told you. And now—” she put her hands on my shoulders, squeezing them as she turned me around—“go.”
I went. My mother who was waiting at the kitchen table, already dressed in her work clothes, did not look up until I sat down. Uh-oh, I thought. I put my hands on the table, folding them over each other in what I hoped was a submissive pose, and waited.
“I’m extremely disappointed in you,” she said, her voice level. “Extremely.”
I felt this. In my gut, which burned. In my palms, which were sweating. It was what I had worked to avoid for so long. Now it was crashing over me like a wave, and all I could do was swim up toward the surface and hope there was air there.
“Macy,” she said now, and I felt myself blinking, “What happened last night was unacceptable.”
“I’m sorry,” I blurted, too early, but I couldn’t help it. I hated how my voice sounded, shaky, not like me. The night before I’d been so brave, ready to say all and everything. Now, all I could do was sit there.