“Thanks. I thought I’d take Mara with me.”
My mother turned her back to me and gave Daniel her full attention. Daniel made eye contact with me over her shoulder and shrugged, as if to say, It’s the least I can do.
My mother hesitated before saying, “It’s a school night.” Of course that only bothered her when I was the subject of the conversation.
“There’s no school tomorrow,” Daniel said.
“Where is it?”
“South Beach,” Daniel said.
“And you’re going to be there the whole time?”
“Yes. I won’t leave her alone.”
She turned to my father. “Marcus?”
“It’s fine with me,” my dad said.
My mother then looked at me carefully. She didn’t trust me for a hot minute, but she trusted her perfect eldest child. A conundrum.
“All right,” she said finally. “Be home by eleven, though. No excuses.”
It was an impressive display of Daniel’s influence, I’ll admit. Not quite enough to make me forget how irritated I was with our mother, but the prospect of getting out of the house and going somewhere that wasn’t school did lift my mood. Maybe tonight I could actually have fun.
I left the kitchen to shower. The hot water scalded my thin shoulder blades, and I slumped against the tile and let the water glide over my skin. I needed to think of a costume; I did not want to be the only person wearing the wrong thing again.
I stepped out of the shower and threw on a T-shirt and yoga pants before untangling my rat’s nest of wet hair. Rifling through my dresser would be hopeless. Same with my closet.
But my mother’s closet …
Most of the time, she wore suit pants or a skirt and a button-down shirt. Always professional, thoroughly American. But I knew she had a sari or two buried somewhere in that enormous, monochromatic wardrobe of hers. It could work.
I tiptoed to my parents’ room and cracked open the door. They were still in the kitchen. I began searching through my mother’s clothes, looking for something suitable.
Oops. I turned around. The stress was evident in my mother’s face, her skin taut over her high cheekbones.
“I was just looking for something to wear,” I said. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, Mara. I just wish we could—”
I inhaled slowly. “Can we do this later? Daniel said there’s going to be traffic and I have to figure out a costume.”
My mother’s forehead creased. I knew she wanted to say something but I hoped she’d let it go, just this once. I was surprised when a conspiratorial smile slowly transformed her face.
“It’s a costume party?” she asked.
“I think I might have something,” she said. She brushed past me and disappeared into the depths of her walk-in closet. After a few minutes, my mother emerged holding a garment bag that she cradled like a small child, and a pair of perilously high, strappy heels that dangled from her fingers. “This should fit you.”
I eyed the bag warily. “It’s not a wedding gown, is it?”
“No.” She smiled and handed it to me. “It’s a dress. One of my mother’s. Take my red lipstick and pin up your hair, and you can go as a vintage model.”
A smile spread across my face, matching my mother’s. “Thanks,” I said, and meant it.
“Just do me this one favor?”
I raised my eyebrows, waiting for the caveat.
“Stay with Daniel.”
Her voice was strained, and I felt guilty. Again. I nodded and thanked her again for the dress before I made my way back to my room to try it on. The firm plastic of the garment bag rustled as I unzipped it, and dark, emerald green silk shimmered from inside. I withdrew the dress from the bag and my breath caught in my throat. It was stunning. I hoped it fit.
I went to my bathroom to attempt to put on mascara without impaling my eyeball, but when I looked in the mirror, Claire stood behind my reflection.
She winked. “You two kids have fun.”
I SHOT OUT OF MY BATHROOM AND SAT ON MY BED, my mouth dry and my hands trembling. I wanted to scream, but I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe. Claire was dead. She was not in my bathroom, and there was nothing to be scared of. My mind was playing tricks on me. I was going to go to a party tonight, and I needed to get dressed. One thing at a time.
Makeup first. I made my way back to the mirror behind my bedroom door, but stopped. There was no one there. Just the PTSD.
But why risk it?
I padded down the hallway back to my parents’ bedroom. “Mom?” I asked, poking my head in the door. She sat in her bed, legs crossed, as she typed on her laptop. She looked up. “Will you do my makeup?” I asked her.
Her smile couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. She ushered me into her bathroom and sat me down on a chair in front of the vanity. I tilted away from the mirror, just in case.
I felt my mother line my eyes, but when she pulled out her lipstick, I stopped her. “Pass. It makes me feel like a clown.”
She nodded with mock seriousness and went back to work, twisting and pinning my hair behind my head so tightly that my face ached. When she was done, she told me to look in the mirror.
I smiled at her, the exact opposite of my internal reaction. “You know what? I trust you,” I said, and kissed her on the cheek before leaving the room.
“Wait a second,” my mother called after me. I stopped, and she opened her jewelry box. She withdrew a pair of earrings; a single emerald at the center of each stud, surrounded by diamonds.
“Oh my God,” I said, staring at them. They were incredible. “Mom, I can’t—”
“Just to borrow, not to keep,” she said with a smile. “Here, stand still.”
She fastened the studs to my ears. “There,” she said, her hands on my shoulders. “You look beautiful.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But don’t lose them, okay? They were my mother’s.”
I nodded, and went back to my room. It was time to deal with the dress. I withdrew it from its garment bag. Stepping into it would be safest—that way, I could stop if it threatened to tear. To my great surprise, it slid on easily. But it dipped dangerously low in front and dangerously low in back, exposing more skin than I was used to. Much more.
Too late now. A glance at the clock told me I had only five minutes before Daniel had to leave to meet his little nerdlet. I slipped on the shoes my mother had given me. They were slightly too tight but I ignored that and, balancing mostly on my toes, walked into the foyer. I met Joseph as he headed to his room.