“I didn’t know,” I told her. Then, more softly, to myself, I said, “It’s so unfair.”
Kristy shook her head. “It’s tragical.”
“It’s time,” Delia said, nodding at the window. The rain had let up some, finally, and people were now starting to emerge from their cars, shutting doors and unfolding umbrellas. Regardless of everything else, the show had to go on. “Let’s get to work.”
Everyone started to move away from the window, toward their various tasks: Kristy picked up her tray of wineglasses, Bert and Delia headed toward the kitchen, and my mother moved to the mirror in the foyer, taking one last look at her face. Only Monica stayed where she was, staring out the window as I tried, hard, to comprehend everything that had just happened.
“I can’t believe this,” I said softly. “It’s too late.”
“It’s never too late,” she said.
For a second, I was sure I’d imagined it. After a summer of monotone, one-word answers or no answers at all, here, from Monica, was a complete sentence.
“But it is,” I told her, turning to look at her. “I don’t think I’d even know what to do if I did have another chance. I mean, what could I . . .”
She shook her head. “It’s just one of those things,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly level and clear. “You know, that just happen. You don’t think or plan. You just do it.”
There was something familiar about this, but it took me a second to realize where I’d heard it before. Then I remembered: it was what I’d said to her that night at the party, when I’d been trying to explain why I was holding Wes’s hand.
“Monica!” Kristy yelled from the living room. “There’s a tray of cheesepuffs in here with your name on it. Where are you?”
Monica turned from the window, starting across the foyer with her trademark slow shuffle. “Wait,” I said, and she looked over her shoulder, back at me. I didn’t know what to say. I was still in shock that she’d spoken at all, and wondered what other surprises she might have up her sleeve. “Thanks for that. I mean, I appreciate it.”
She nodded. “Um-hmm,” she said, and then she turned her back and walked away.
I’d catered enough jobs to know the signs of a good party. You had to have plenty of good food, for one. A crowd that was relaxed and laughing a lot, for another. But then there was that other thing, the indefinable buzz of people talking and eating and communing, a palpable energy that makes little things like shredded tents or pouring rain or even the end of the world hardly noticeable. An hour in, my mother’s party had all of these things, in spades. There was no question it was a success.
“Great party, Deborah!”
“Love the bistro idea!”
“These meatballs are divine!”
The compliments kept coming. My mother accepted each one gratefully, nodding and smiling as she moved among her guests. For the first time, it seemed to me that she was actually enjoying herself, not focusing on getting literature to every person or talking up the next phase, but instead just mingling with people, wineglass in hand. Every once in a while she’d pass behind me and I’d feel her hand on my back or my arm, but when I turned around to see if she needed me to do something, she’d have moved on, instead just glancing back over her shoulder to smile at me as she moved through the crowd.
My mother was okay. I was okay, too. Or I would be, eventually. I knew one night wouldn’t change everything between us, and that there was a lot—an entire year and a half’s worth, actually—for us to discuss. For now, though, I just tried to focus on the moment, as much as I could. Which was working fine, until I saw Jason.
He’d just come in and was standing in the foyer, in his rain jacket, looking around for me. “Macy,” he called out, and then he started over to me. I didn’t move, just stood there as he got closer, until he was right in front of me. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said. I took a second to look at him: the clean-cut haircut, the conservative polo shirt tucked into his khakis. He looked just the same as he had the day he left, and I wondered if I did, too. “How are you?”
There was a burst of laughter from a group of people nearby, and we both turned at the sound of it, letting it fill the silence that followed. Finally he said, “It’s really good to see you.”
He was just standing there, looking at me, and I felt hopelessly awkward, not sure what to say. He stepped a bit closer, lowering his head nearer to mine, and said, “Can we talk somewhere? ”
I nodded. “Sure.”
As we walked down the hallway to the kitchen, I was dimly aware that we were being watched. Sure that it was Kristy, glaring, or Monica, staring, I turned my head and was surprised to see my mother, standing by the buffet, her eyes following me as I passed. Jason glanced over and, seeing her, lifted his hand and waved. She nodded, smiling slightly, but kept her eyes on me, steady, until I rounded the corner and couldn’t see her anymore.
Once in the kitchen, I saw the back door was open. In all the commotion, I’d hadn’t even noticed the rain stopping. As we stepped outside, everything was dripping and kind of cool, but the sky had cleared. A few people were outside smoking, others clumped in groups talking, their voices rising and falling. Jason and I found a spot on the stairs, away from everyone, and I leaned back, feeling the dampness of the rail against my legs.
“So,” Jason said, glancing around. “This is quite a party.”
“You have no idea,” I told him. “It’s been crazy.” Over his head, I could see into the kitchen, where Delia was sliding another pan of crab cakes into the oven. Monica was leaning against the island, examining a split end, with her trademark bored expression.
“Crazy?” Jason said. “How?”
I took a breath, thinking I would try to explain, then stopped myself. Too much to tell, I thought. “Just a lot of disasters, ” I said finally. “But it’s all okay now.”
My sister stepped through the door to the deck. She was talking loudly, and a group of people were trailing along behind her, clutching drinks and canapés in their hands. “ . . . represents a real dichotomy of art and salvage,” she was saying in her Art History Major voice as she passed us on the stairs. “These pieces are really compelling. Now, as you’ll see in this first one, the angel is symbolic of the accessibility and limits of religion.”