Jason and I stepped back as her group followed along behind her, nodding and murmuring as their lesson began. When they disappeared around the side of the house, he said, “Did she make those or something?”
I smiled. “No,” I said. “She’s just a big fan.”
He leaned back, peering around the house at the angel, which Caroline and her people were now encircling. “They are interesting,” he said, “but I don’t know about symbolic. They just seem like yard art to me.”
“Well, they are,” I said. “Sort of. But they also have meaning, in their own way. At least Caroline thinks so.”
He looked at the angel again. “I don’t think the medium works well for the message,” he said. “It’s sort of distracting, actually. I mean, regardless of the loftiness of the vision, in the end it’s just junk, right?”
I just looked at him, not sure what to say to this. “Well,” I said. “It guess it depends on how you look at it.”
He smiled at me. “Macy,” he said, in a tone that for some reason made something prick at the back of my neck, “junk is junk.”
I felt myself take a breath. He doesn’t know, I told myself. He has no idea, he’s just making conversation. “So,” I said, “you wanted to talk about something?”
“Oh. Right. Yes, I did.”
I stood there, waiting. Inside, the kitchen was empty now except for Bert, who was traying up a pan of meatballs, popping the occasional one in his mouth. He looked up, saw me watching him, and smiled, sort of embarrassed. I smiled back, and Jason turned his head, looking behind him.
“Sorry,” I said. “You were saying?”
He looked down at his hands. “I just,” he began, then stopped, as if he’d thought of another, better way to phrase this thought. “I know I handled things badly at the beginning of the summer, suggesting that break. But I’d really like for us to begin a conversation about our relationship and what, if we do decide to continue it, each of us would like to see it evolve into in the coming year.”
I was listening. I really was. But even so, my mind kept picking up other things: the laughter from inside, the damp coolness of the air on the back of my neck, my sister’s voice still talking about form and function and contrast.
“Well,” I said. “I don’t know, really.”
“That’s okay,” Jason replied, nodding, as if this conversation was going exactly how he’d expected it to. “I’m not entirely sure either. But I think that’s where this dialogue should begin, really. With how we each feel, and what limits we feel need to be put in place before we make another commitment.”
“. . . a real sense of perspective,” Caroline was saying, “with the artist making a clear commentary on the events that happen within the frame, and how the frame affects them.”
“What I was thinking,” Jason continued, apparently not as distracted by this as I was, “was that we could each draw up a list of what we really want in a relationship. What we expect, what’s important. And then, at a predetermined time, we’ll sit down and go through them, seeing what corresponds.”
“A list,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “a list. That way, I figure, we’ll have a written record of what we’ve agreed upon as our goals for our relationship. So if problems arise, we’ll be able to consult the lists, see which issue it corresponds to, and work out a solution from there.”
I could still hear my sister talking, but her voice was fading as she led her group around the house. I said, “But what if that doesn’t work?”
Jason blinked at me. Then he said, “Why wouldn’t it?”
“Because,” I said.
He just looked at me. “Because . . .”
“Because,” I repeated, as a breeze blew over us, “sometimes things just happen. That aren’t expected. Or on the list.”
“Such as?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, frustrated. “That’s the point. It would be out of the blue, taking us by surprise. Something we might not be prepared for.”
“But we will be prepared,” he said, confused. “We’ll have the list.”
I rolled my eyes. “Jason,” I said.
“Macy, I’m sorry.” He stepped back, looking at me. “I just don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
And then it hit me: he didn’t. He had no idea. And this thought was so ludicrous, so completely unreal, that I knew it just had to be true. For Jason, there was no unexpected, no surprises. His whole life was outlined carefully, in lists and sublists, just like the ones I’d helped him go through all those weeks ago.
“It’s just . . .” I said, then stopped, shaking my head.
“It’s just what?” He was waiting, genuinely wanting to know. “Explain it to me.”
But I couldn’t. I’d had to learn it my own way, and so had my mother. Jason would eventually, as well. No one could tell you: you just had to go through it on your own. If you were lucky, you came out on the other side and understood. If you didn’t, you kept getting thrust back, retracing those steps, until you finally got it right.
“Macy?” he said. “Please. Explain it to me.”
I took in a breath, trying to figure out a way to say there was just no way, but then, over his head, coming into the kitchen through the side door, I saw Wes. And I let out that breath and just looked at him.
He was running a hand through his hair, glancing around at the people grouped in the living room and on the other side of the island. As I watched, Delia came bustling in, carrying a trayful of empty glasses. She put it down, kissing his cheek, and they talked for a second, both of them surveying the party. He said something, and she shrugged, gesturing toward the living room. You sure? I saw him ask and she nodded, then squeezed his arm and turned to the oven door, pulling it open. Then he glanced outside, and saw me. And Jason. I tried to keep my eyes on him, willing him to just stay there for another minute, but he turned around and went out the side door, and I watched it fall shut behind him.
“Macy?” Caroline came around the side of the house. “Can you come here a second?”
“Macy,” Jason asked. “What—”
“Hold on,” I told him. I started across the deck, dodging around groups of people, and went down the other steps, coming out right by the side door. I could see Wes at the end of the driveway.