“Let’s go, Ringo!” Lola yelled from the door.
He jumped, grinning, then leaned a little closer and said to me, “You know, he’s still talking about you.”
Of course. Just my luck. He’s not just in a band, he’s in that band. “Why?” I said. “He doesn’t even know me.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, shrugging. “You’re officially a challenge. He’ll never give up now.”
I just sat there, shaking my head. Ridiculous.
He didn’t seem to notice, instead just patted his hand on the desk, as if we’d made a deal or something, before walking over to Lola.
Once they’d left, Talinga looked at me and said, “You know him?”
“No,” I said, grabbing the phone as it rang again. Small world, small town. It was just a coincidence. “I don’t.”
In the week since Jonathan and I had split, I’d hardly thought about him or Dexter the musician or anything else other than my mother’s wedding. It was a distraction I needed, not that I’d ever have admitted it aloud.
Jonathan had called a bunch, at first, but after a while he just stopped, knowing I’d never get back to him. Chloe pointed out that I’d gotten what I wanted, really: my freedom. Just not exactly the way I wanted it. But it still burned at me that I’d been cheated on. It was the kind of thing that woke me up at night, pissed, unable to remember anything I’d been dreaming.
Luckily, I had Lissa to deal with too. She’d spent the last week completely in denial, sure Adam would change his mind. It was all we could do to thwart her calling/driving by/going to his work impulse, which we all knew never led to any good in a dumping situation. If he wanted to see her, he’d find her. If he wanted to get back together, she should make him work for it. And so on.
And now, the wedding was here. I got off work early, at five, and drove home to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. As I walked up to the front door, I realized the house was just as I’d left it. In chaos.
“But there’s just no way they’ll get here in time!” my mother was shrieking as I walked in and dropped my keys on the table. “They’re supposed to be here in an hour or we won’t be able to make the dinner!”
“Mom,” I called out, instantly recognizing her close-to-meltdown voice. “Calm down.”
“I understand that,” she said, her voice still shrill. “But this is my wedding!”
I glanced into the living room, which was empty except for Jennifer Anne, already dressed for the dinner, sitting on the couch reading a book entitled Making Plans, Making Dreams, which had a picture of a woman looking pensive on its cover. She glanced up at me, turning a page.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“The limo service is having some problems.” She fluffed her hair. “It seems one of their cars was in an accident and the other is stuck in traffic.”
“That’s just not acceptable! ” my mother yelled.
She looked up at the ceiling. “In his room,” she said. “Apparently, there’s been some sort of hatching.” Then she made a face and went back to her book.
My brother bred lizards. Upstairs, next to his room in what had once been a walk-in closet, he kept a row of aquariums in which he raised monitor lizards. They were hard to describe: smaller than iguanas, bigger than geckos. They had snakelike tongues and ate tiny crickets that were forever getting loose in the house, bouncing down the stairs and chirping from where they hid in shoes in the closets. He even had an incubator, which he kept on the floor of his room. When he had eggs in it, it ran in cycles all day, softly clicking to maintain the temperature needed to bring the babies to maturity.
Jennifer Anne hated the lizards. They were, in fact, the one sticking point of her transformation of Chris, the one thing he would not give up for her. As a result, she refused to go anywhere near his room, instead spending her time at our house on the couch, or at the kitchen table, usually reading some motiva tional self-help book and sighing loud enough for everyone-except Chris, who was usually upstairs, tending to his animals-to hear her.
But now, I had bigger problems.
“I understand that,” my mother said, her voice now wavering close to tears, “but what you’re not hearing is that I have a hundred people that are going to be waiting for me at the Hilton and I will not be there!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, coming up behind her and gently closing my hand over the phone. “Mom. Let me talk to them.”
“It’s just ludicrous!” she sputtered, but she let me take it. “It’s-”
“Mom,” I said quietly, “go finish getting dressed. I’ll handle this. Okay?”
She just stood there for a second, blinking. She already had on her dress and was carrying her pantyhose in her hand. No makeup, no jewelry. Which meant another good twenty-five minutes if we were lucky.
“Well, okay,” she said, as if she were doing me a favor. “I’ll be upstairs.”
“Right.” I watched as she walked out of the room, brushing her fingers through her hair. When she was gone, I put the phone to my ear. “Is this Albert?”
“No,” the voice said, warily. “This is Thomas.”
“Is Albert there?”
“Hold on.” There was a muffled noise, someone’s hand covering the receiver. Then, “Hello, Albert speaking.”
“Albert, this is Remy Starr.”
“Hey, Remy! Look, this thing with the cars is just messed up, okay?”
“My mother is approaching meltdown, Albert.”
“I know, I know. But look, this is what Thomas was trying to tell her. What we’ll do is…”
Five minutes later, I went up the stairs and knocked on my mother’s door. When I came in, she was sitting in front of her vanity. She looked no different except that she had changed her dress and now sat dabbing at her face with a makeup brush. Ah, progress.
“All fixed,” I told her. “A car will be here at six. It’s a Town Car, not a limo, but we’re set for tomorrow and that’s what really matters. Okay?”
She sighed, placing one hand over her chest, as if this, finally, calmed her racing heart. “Wonderful. Thank you.”
I sat down on her bed, kicking off my shoes, and glanced at the clock. It was five-fifteen. I could be ready in eighteen minutes flat, including drying my hair, so I lay back and closed my eyes. I could hear my mother making her getting-ready noises: perfume bottles clinking, brushes dabbing, small containers of face cream and eye gel being moved around on the mirrored tabletop in front of her. My mother was glamorous long before she had reason to be. She’d always been small and wiry, full of energy and prone to dramatic outbursts: she liked to wear lots of bangle bracelets that clanked as she waved her arms around, sweeping the air as she talked. Even when she taught at the community college and most of her students were half asleep after working full days, she dressed for class, with full makeup and perfume and her trademark swishy outfits in bright colors. She kept her hair dyed jet black now that it was graying, and wore it in a short, blunt cut with thick bangs cut straight across. With her long, flowing skirts and the hair she almost could have been a geisha, except that she was way too noisy.