“No, it’s fine,” I said. “She won’t even notice I’m not there.”
Delia smiled. “Maybe not. But you should go anyway.”
I stepped back, out of the way, as she carried the tray over to the island. In her car seat, Lucy shifted slightly, mumbling to herself, then fell quiet again.
“So the library, huh?” she said, picking up her spatula. “That’s cool.”
“It’s just for the summer,” I told her. “I’m filling in for someone. ”
She started lifting crab cakes off the cookie sheet, arranging them on a tray. “Well, if it doesn’t work out, I’m in the book. I could always use someone who can take directions and walk in a straight line.”
As if to punctuate this, Monica slunk back in, blowing her bangs out of her face.
“Catering is an insane job, though,” Delia said. “I don’t know why you’d want to do it, when you have a peaceful, normal job. But if for some reason you’re craving chaos, call me. Okay?”
Bert came back in, breezing between us, his tray now empty. “Crab cakes!” he bellowed. “Keep ’em coming!”
“Bert,” Delia said, wincing, “I’m right here.”
I walked back to the door, stepping aside as Monica ambled past me, yawning widely. Bert stood by impatiently, waiting for his tray, while Delia asked Monica to God, please, try and pick up the pace a little, I’m begging you. They’d forgotten about me already, it seemed. But for some reason, I wanted to answer her anyway. “Yeah,” I said, out loud, hoping she could hear me. “Okay.”
The last person at the party, a slightly tipsy, very loud man in a golf sweater, left around nine-thirty. My mother locked the door behind him, took off her shoes, and, after kissing my forehead and thanking me, headed off to her office to assemble packets for people who had signed the YES! I WANT MORE INFO sheet she’d had on the front hall table. Contacts were everything, I’d learned. You had to get to people fast, or they’d slip away.
Thinking this, I went up to my room and checked my email. Jason had written me, as promised, but it was mostly about things that he wanted to remind me of concerning the info desk (make sure to keep track of all copier keys, they are very expensive to replace) or other things I was handling for him while he was away (remember, on Saturday, to send out the email to the Foreign Culture group about the featured speaker who is coming in to give that talk in August). At the very end, he said he was too tired to write more and he’d be in touch in a couple of days. Then just his name, no “love.” Not that I’d been expecting it. Jason wasn’t the type for displays of affection, either verbal or not. He was disgusted by couples that made out in the hallways between classes, and got annoyed at even the slightest sappy moments in movies. But I knew that he cared about me: he just conveyed it more subtly, as concise with expressing this emotion as he was with everything else. It was in the way he’d put his hand on the small of my back, for instance, or how he’d smile at me when I said something that surprised him. Once I might have wanted more, but I’d come around to his way of thinking in the time we’d been together. And we were together, all the time. So he didn’t have to do anything to prove how he felt about me. Like so much else, I should just know.
But this was the first time we were going to be apart for more than a weekend since we’d gotten together, and I was beginning to realize that the small reassurances I got in person would not transfer over to email. But he loved me, and I knew that. I’d just have to remember it now.
After I logged off, I opened my window and crawled out onto the roof, sitting against one of the shutters with my knees pulled up to my chest. I’d been out there for a little while, looking at the stars, when I heard voices coming up from the driveway. A car door shut, then another. Peering over the edge, I saw a few people moving around the Wish Catering van as they packed up the last of their things.
“. . . this other planet, that’s moving within the same trajectory as Earth. It’s only a matter of time before it hits us. I mean, they don’t talk about these things on the news. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
It was Bert talking. I recognized his voice, a bit high-pitched and anxious, before I made him out, standing by the back of the van. He was talking to someone who was sitting on the bumper smoking a cigarette, the tip of which was bright and red in the murky dark.
“Ummm-hmmm,” the person said slowly. Had to be Monica. “Really.”
“Bert, give it a rest,” another voice said, and Wes, the older guy, walked up, sliding something into the back of the van. I’d hardly seen him that night, as he’d worked the bar in the den.
“I’m just trying to help her be informed!” Bert said indignantly. “This is serious stuff, Wes. Just because you prefer to stay in the dark—”
“Are we ready to go?” Delia came down the driveway, her voice uneven, Lucy on her hip. She had the car seat dangling from one hand, and Wes walked up and took it from her. From where I was sitting, I could make out clearly the top of his head, the white of his shirt. Then, as if sensing this, he leaned his head back, glancing up. I slid back against the wall.
“Did we get paid?” Bert asked.
“Had to comp half,” she said. “The price of chaos. Probably should bother me, but frankly, I’m too pregnant and exhausted to care. Who has the keys?”
“I do,” Bert said. “I’ll drive.”
The silence that followed was long enough to make me want to peer over the edge of the roof again, but I stopped myself.
“I don’t think so,” Delia said finally.
“Don’t even,” Monica added.
“What?” Bert said. “Come on! I’ve had my permit for a year! I’m taking the test in a week! And I have to have some more practice before I get the Bertmobile.”
“You have,” Wes said, his voice low, “to stop calling it that.”
“Bert,” Delia said, sighing, “normally, I would love for you to drive. But it’s been a long night and right now I just want to get home, okay? Next time, it’s all you. But for now, just let your brother drive. Okay?”
Another silence. Someone coughed.
“Fine,” Bert said. “Just fine.”
I heard a car door slam, then another. I leaned back over to see Wes and Bert still standing at the back of the van. Bert was kicking at the ground, clearly sulking, while Wes stood by impassively.