I went back to my desk and sat down, swiveling in my chair, and punched a few keys, calling up my own email account. While working for my mother kept me busier than the info desk ever had, there was the occasional bit of downtime. It was then that I always seemed to find myself staring at another email from Jason.
The night I’d seen Wes, I’d come home to find Jason’s message still on my screen. While my first thought was to just delete and ignore it, I reconsidered. So I sat down, my fingers poised over the keyboard. Being pushed back to this life was one thing. Now at least I felt like I was choosing it. And it wasn’t like I had other options, anyway.
I wrote to Jason that I hated the info desk, that I just felt like it wasn’t the job for me, and I probably should have quit right away instead of staying. I told him how his other email, announcing our break, had hurt me, and how I wasn’t sure how I felt about us getting back together at the end of the summer, or ever. But I also told him I was sorry about his grandmother, and that if he needed to talk, I was here. It was the least I could do, I figured. I wasn’t going to turn my back on someone in their moment of weakness.
So now we were in contact, if you could call it that. Our emails were short and to the point: he talked about Brain Camp, how it was stimulating but a lot of work, and I wrote about my mother and how stressed out she was. I didn’t worry so much about what he thought of what I wrote, what he might read between the lines. I didn’t race to answer him either, sometimes letting a day or two go before I replied, letting the words come at their own pace. When they did, I’d just type them up and hit Send, trying not to overthink. He always wrote back faster than I did, and had even started hinting about us seeing each other the day he got back, the seventh, which was also the day of the gala. The more I pulled back, the more he seemed to move forward. I wondered if it was really because he cared about me, or if now I was just another challenge.
I still thought about Wes a lot. It had been about two weeks now, and we hadn’t talked. The first few days afterwards he tried to call me on my cell phone, but when I saw his number pop up on the screen I just slid it aside, letting it ring, and eventually turned it off entirely. I knew what he’d think: we’d just been friends, after all, and we’d always talked about Becky and Jason before, so why not now? I didn’t know the answer to this, just as I didn’t know why it had bothered me so much to see him with Becky. She’d come back to him, just like Jason had come back to me, and I knew he was probably happy about that. I should have been happy, too, but I just wasn’t.
Occasionally I heard from Kristy, who had in this interim gone from smitten with Baxter to positively lovesick. “Oh, Macy,” she’d sigh in my ear, sounding so wistful and happy I could have hated her, if I hadn’t thought she so deserved it. “He’s just extraordinary. Truly extraordinary.”
I kept waiting for her to bring up Becky, and her and Wes being back together, but she never did, knowing, probably, that it was a sore subject. She did, however, say that Wes had been asking about me, and she wondered if something had happened between us. “Is that what he said?” I asked her.
“No,” she’d replied, switching the phone to her other ear. “It’s Wes. He never says anything.”
Once he had, I thought. Once he’d said a lot, to me. “It’s nothing,” I told her. “We just, you know, don’t have that much in common.” And maybe this was true, after all.
It was a Friday, which was supposed to be a good thing. For me, though, and the concrete guy in my mother’s office, things were just going from bad to worse.
“. . . and I will not be paying any overtime for a job that was guaranteed to be done over a week ago!” I could hear my mother say. This was the fourth meeting she’d had with a subcontractor today, and they’d all gone pretty much the same way. As in, not well.
“The weather,” the concrete guy inside said, “was—”
“The weather,” my mother shot back, interrupting him, “is something that you, as a professional who deals with it as a factor in all jobs, should take into consideration when submitting a bid for work. This is summer. It rains!”
My mother’s voice, so brittle and shrill these days, sent a chill down my spine. I could only imagine how the concrete guy felt.
There was a bit more back and forth, and then their voices dropped, which meant this meeting was almost over. Sure enough, a second later the door opened, and the concrete guy, heavyset and irritated-looking, mumbled past my desk and slammed out of the office, the windows rattling in his wake.
My phone buzzed, and I picked it up. “Macy,” my mother said. She sounded exhausted. “Could you bring me a water, please?”
I reached into the small fridge beside my desk to get one, then pushed out my chair and walked to her door. For once, my mother was not on the phone or staring at the computer screen. Instead, she was sitting back in her desk chair, looking out the window at the sign across the street advertising the townhouses. There was a truck parked in front of it, so you could see only the last part: AVAILABLE AUGUST 8TH. SIGN UP FOR YOURS NOW!
I twisted the cap off the water, then slid it across the desk to her. I watched her take a sip, closing her eyes, then said, “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, automatically, unthinkingly. “It’s always like this at the end of a project. It was like this with the houses, and the apartments. It doesn’t matter if it’s fifty million-dollar townhouses or one spec house. Everything always gets crazy at the end. You just have to keep going, regardless of how awful it gets. So that’s what I do.” She sipped at her water again. “Even on days like this, when I’m sure it’s going to kill me.”
“Mom,” I said. “Don’t even say that.”
She smiled again, a tired smile, the only smile I ever saw from her lately. “It’s just an expression,” she said, but I still felt uneasy. “I’m fine.”
For the rest of the afternoon, I busied myself with the gala guest list. At four forty-five, I sat back in my chair, grateful I only had fourteen minutes and counting before I got to escape. Then, though, two things happened. The phone rang, and my sister walked in.
“Wildflower Ridge Sales,” I said, waving at her as she shut the door behind her and walked up to my desk.
“Meez Queensh pleeze es Raffka,” the voice on the other end said. Rathka, besides having an accent that made him almost completely incomprehensible, always seemed to talk with his mouth pressed right up to the receiver.