When I pushed the door open, she was standing behind her desk, her back to me. And she was crying, her shoulders shaking. The sound of it immediately brought a lump to my throat, and I wanted to turn and run. But instead, I took a deep breath and stepped inside.
She didn’t turn around. I wasn’t even sure she knew I was there. But as I stood watching her, I realized how truly hard it was, really, to see someone you love change right before your eyes. Not only is it scary, it throws your balance off as well. This was how my mother felt, I realized, over the weeks I worked at Wish, as she began to not recognize me in small ways, day after day. It was no wonder she’d reacted by pulling me closer, forcibly narrowing my world back to fit inside her own. Even now, as I finally saw this as the truth it was, a part of me was wishing my mother would stand up straight, take command, be back in control. But all I’d wanted when she was tugging me closer was to be able to prove to her that the changes in me were good ones, ones she’d understand if she only gave them a chance. I had that chance now. And while it was scary, I was going to take it.
I crossed the room, coming up behind her. I had so many things I wanted to tell her. I just didn’t know where to begin.
Finally she turned around, one hand moving to her face, and for a second we just stood there, staring at each other. A million sentences kept starting in my head, then trailing off. This was the hard part, I thought. Whatever was said next started everything, so it had to be strong enough to carry the rest that would follow.
She took a breath. “I’m—”
But I didn’t let her finish. Instead, I took one step forward and slid my arms around her neck. She stiffened, at first, surprised, but I didn’t pull back, moving in even more and burying my face in her shoulder. At first I didn’t feel her own arms sliding around me, her body moving in to enclose mine. I could feel her breath in my hair, her heart against my chest. After all this time, it could have been awkward, all elbows and hipbones. But it wasn’t. It was perfect.
And as I held her, I kept thinking back to that night at the clearing, and what I’d told Wes. For once, I’d just let her know exactly how I feel, without thinking first. Finally, I had.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, down the hallway, I could hear Caroline’s voice. She was in the kitchen, explaining our crisis to Delia, detailing every little thing that had gone wrong. As she did so, my mother and I held tight, leaning into each other. It was like that part of the roller coaster where the click-clack-click stops as you reach the top of the hill, and you know for sure that the uphill part is finally behind you, and any minute you’ll begin that wild rush to the end.
I was ready. And I think she was, too. But if she wasn’t, I could get her through. The first step is always the hardest.
“Okay,” I heard Delia say. “Here’s what we’re going to do. . . .”
“Ho-ly shit,” Kristy said, shaking her head. “Now that’s some rain.”
“Kristy,” Delia said in her warning voice.
Caroline sighed. “No, she’s right,” she said. “It really is.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Monica added.
It was, indeed, still raining. Hard. So hard, in fact, that the lights had continued to flicker, although that could have been attributable to the wind, which was, yes, still blowing. Hard. A few minutes earlier, on the TV, our local weather girl, Lorna McPhail, had stood there in front of her Doppler map, eyes wide, as she explained that while a shower or two had been in the forecast, no one had expected this sort of incident.
“Incident?” Caroline had said as Lorna turned back to her map. “This isn’t an incident. This is the end of the world.”
“Nah,” Bert told her as he passed behind her with a trayful of wineglasses, “the end of the world would be much worse than this.”
Caroline looked at him. “You think?”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Absolutely.”
Now, it was seven sharp, and our first arrivals were still sitting in their cars, optimistically waiting for a break in the torrential downpour. In a minute, they’d get out, come up the walk, and step inside, where everything was ready. The canapés were warming in the oven, the bar was stocked with ice and beverages, the cake that said in red icing WILDFLOWER RIDGE-A NEW PHASE BEGINS! was displayed on the table, encircled by flowers and stacks of brightly colored napkins. Plus, the whole house smelled like meatballs. And everyone loves meatballs.
After Caroline detailed our situation, I’d listened to Delia do what she did best: move into action. Within fifteen minutes, several of the tables and chairs we’d rented had been brought inside and assembled throughout the house (“bistro-style,” she’d called it), then topped with thick vanilla-scented candles she’d had stashed in the van from a bridal shower weeks ago. The lights were dimmed in case they went out entirely—while making everything feel somehow cozy—and she’d put Bert and Monica to work doubling up on baking appetizers, reasoning that if people were well fed, they’d hardly notice that they barely had room to turn around. Caroline was sent to find a soap dish, and Kristy was stationed by the door with a tray of full wineglasses to offer up the minute people stepped inside (slightly buzzed people, Delia reasoned, would notice less as well).
Meanwhile, my mother and I were sitting on the edge of her desk, the Kleenex box between us, looking out at the rain.
“I wanted this party to be perfect,” she said, dabbing at her eyes.
“No such thing,” I told her.
She smiled ruefully, tossing a tissue into the garbage can. “It’s a total disaster,” she said with a sigh.
For a second, neither of us said anything.
“Well, in a way it’s good,” I said finally, remembering what Delia had said to me, at that first party, all those weeks ago. “We know where we stand. Now things can only get better. Right?”
She didn’t look convinced. But that was okay. So she didn’t fully get it yet. But I had a feeling she would. And if not, there was more than enough time, now that this had finally begun, for me to explain it to her.
When we came out into the kitchen a few minutes later, Delia was laying out crab cakes. She took one look at my mother and insisted that she go upstairs and take a hot shower and a few deep breaths. To my surprise, my mother went with no argument, disappearing for a full twenty minutes. When she came back down, hair damp and wearing fresh clothes, she looked more relaxed than I’d seen her in weeks. There is a certain relief in things getting as bad as they could be. Maybe this second time around my mother was beginning to see that.