My mother wasn’t worried, even if I was. There were other, bigger concerns on her mind now. And they all had to do with the gala reception.
It had started with Rathka quitting, but that was only the beginning. In the six days since, it seemed like everything that could go wrong had done just that. When the landscapers came to work on the yard, one of their riding mowers went haywire, ripping up huge clumps of grass and taking out a few shrubs in the process. They did their best to fix it, but the topography remained uneven. Just crossing from the garage to the steps felt like walking over little mountains and valleys. Half of the invitations we’d mailed came back due to some postal error, which meant I had to drive around one hot afternoon, hand delivering them to mailbox after mailbox. The next day, the string quartet cancelled, as three of the four had come down with food poisoning at an outdoor wedding.
The night before the party, however, my mother’s luck seemed to be changing. The guys from the party rental place arrived early to assemble the tent. We stood and watched as they put it up and set up the chairs and tables beneath it, both of us braced for some sort of crisis. But everything went according to plan.
“Wonderful,” she said to the tent guy, handing him his check. “I wasn’t even sure we’d need a tent, but it just makes everything look that much nicer.”
“And also,” he told her, “if it rains, you’re covered.”
She just looked at him. “It is not,” she said, firmly, as if there was no room for negotiation, “going to rain.”
The only other good news my mother had gotten was that Delia, to my surprise, had agreed to take the gala job. It wouldn’t be lamb on fine china, my mother had sighed, but she’d be glad for anything at this point, even if it was chicken on a stick and meatballs.
“Everyone loves meatballs,” I’d told her, but she’d just looked at me before moving on to the next crisis at hand.
In a way, I was kind of grateful for all the various crises, if only because they kept me so busy. I didn’t have time to worry about things, such as the awkwardness of seeing Wes after all this time, or handling Jason, who was now planning to drop by to say hello at some point during the evening. I’d just deal with it when it happened, I told myself, and that would be soon enough.
Now, as the tent guys drove off, I heard a car pull into the driveway. I glanced around the side of the house to see my sister getting out of a truck with a long, wide bed, which was packed with what I first assumed was metal patio furniture or some sort of construction refuse from the beach house. She parked and got out just as another car, which I recognized as belonging to one of my mother’s salesmen, pulled up behind her.
“What on earth has she got there?” my mother asked me as we walked around the side of the house, and suddenly I realized it was Wes’s stuff. Six pieces, at least, although they were stacked in such a way it was hard to tell. By the time we got up to the truck, Caroline had the tailgate down and she and the salesman were pulling a few pieces out, leaning them against the back bumper. I could see a big angel with a barbed-wire halo, as well as a whirligig that had been out at his house the last day I’d been there. It was made up of a series of bicycle wheels—from big ones to the tiny training kind—welded to a twisted piece of rebar.
“Caroline,” my mother called out, her voice forced and cheery. “Hello.”
Caroline didn’t reply at first, but the salesman waved as they continued pulling pieces out and putting them in the driveway: a smaller angel with a stained-glass halo, another whirligig fashioned out of hubcaps and interlocking gears.
“We can just set them up on the grass,” she said to the salesman. “Anywhere’s fine, really.”
“Caroline?” my mother said, as he began pulling the angel onto the lawn, dragging it over the bumpy terrain. I could tell she was concerned, but also trying to be careful to avoid another snit. In fact, she didn’t say anything else, even as the angel dug up more grass in a path behind itself.
“Don’t worry,” Caroline said finally, wiping a hand across her face. She was in shorts and a T-shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. “I’m only stopping for a second. I need to take some shots of these and email them to Wally so we can decide which to take to the mountain house, and which I should just bring home with me.”
“Well,” my mother said, as Caroline and the salesman began to pull the larger angel onto the front lawn, positioning it for a second before going back to grab one of the smaller ones, “that’s fine. Just fine.”
None of us said anything for a few minutes as the pieces were assembled on the lawn. People kept driving past the house, then slowing, staring. My mother kept offering up her Good Neighbor wave and smile, but I could tell she wasn’t happy.
By the time Caroline and the salesman were done, there were seven pieces on the lawn: two big angels, two small, a large square piece, and two sculptures, one with the hubcaps and another made out of gears and wheels of various sizes. The salesman stepped back, wiping a hand over his face. “You sure you don’t want me to stick around to help you put them back in?”
“No, it’s okay,” Caroline said to him. “I’ll get one of the neighbor kids to help or something. I just wasn’t sure anyone would be here. But thanks.”
“No problem,” he said cheerfully. “Anything to help the cause. Deborah, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Right,” my mother replied, nodding. “See you then.”
As he left, my sister moved around the front yard, adjusting the pieces this way or that. After a second she looked down at the grass, as if just noticing the state it was in, then said, “What’s wrong with the lawn?”
I shook my head, glancing at my mother.
“Nothing,” my mother said evenly, as she walked up to the larger angel and peered at it more closely. “Well. These are certainly interesting. Where did you get them?”
“Macy’s friend Wes,” Caroline told her, wiping a smudge off one of the bicycle wheels. To me she said, “You know, he’s really something.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking at the angel with the barbed-wire halo. Away from the farmer’s market, and Wes’s workshop, the pieces seemed that much more impressive. Even my mother noticed. I could tell by the way she was still studying the angel’s face. “I know.”
“Wes?” my mother said. “The boy who drove you home that night?”