“It’s under control,” he said, waving his hand. “They’ll be there. Tell your mother not to worry.”
I smiled at this, because he expected me to, but we both knew she wasn’t worrying at all about this wedding. She’d picked out her dress, decided on flowers, and then pushed the rest off on me, claiming she needed absolutely every free second to work on her latest book. But the truth was, my mother hated details. She loved to plunge into projects, tackle them for about ten minutes, and then lose interest. All around our house were little piles of things that had once held her attention: aromatherapy kits, family tree software, stacks of Japanese cookbooks, an aquarium with four sides covered in algae and one sole survivor, a fat white fish who had eaten all the others.
Most people put off my mother’s erratic behavior to the fact that she was a writer, as if that explained everything. To me that was just an excuse. I mean, brain surgeons can be crazy too, but no one says it’s all right. Fortunately for my mother, I am alone in this opinion.
“… is so soon!” Don said, tapping his finger on the calendar. “Can you believe it?”
“No,” I said, wondering what the first part of his sentence had been. I added, “It’s just amazing.”
He smiled at me, then glanced back down at the calendar, where I now saw the wedding day, June 10, was circled several times in different colors of pen. I guess you couldn’t blame him for being excited. Before he met my mother, Don was at the age where most of his friends had given up on him ever getting married. For the last fifteen years he’d lived alone in a condo right off the highway, spending most of his waking hours selling more Toyotas than anyone else in the state. Now, in nine days, he would get not only Barbara Starr, romance novelist extraordi naire, but also, in a package deal, my brother Chris and me. And he was happy about it. It was amazing.
Just then the intercom on his desk buzzed, loudly, and a woman’s voice came on. “Don, Jason has an eight fifty-seven on deck, needs your input. Should I send them in?”
Don glanced at me, then pushed down the button and said, “Sure. Give me five seconds.”
“Eight fifty-seven?” I asked.
“Just dealership lingo,” he said easily, standing up. He smoothed down his hair, covering the small bald spot I only noticed when he was seated. Behind him, on the other side of the window, a ruddy-faced salesman was handing a woman with a toddler the keys to her new car: she took them as the kid tugged on her skirt, trying to get her attention. She didn’t seem to notice. “Hate to push you out, but-”
“I’m done,” I told him, tucking the list back in my pocket.
“I really appreciate all you’re doing for us, Remy,” he said as he came around the desk. He put one hand on my shoulder, Dad-style, and I tried not to remember all the stepfathers before him that had done the same thing, that same weight, carrying the same meaning. They all thought they were permanent too.
“No problem,” I said as he moved his hand and opened the door for me. Waiting for us out in the hallway was a salesman, standing with what had to be that eight fifty-seven-code for an on-the-fence customer, I assumed-a short woman who was clutching her handbag and wearing a sweatshirt with an ap pliquéd kitten on it.
“Don,” the salesman said smoothly, “this is Ruth, and we’re trying our hardest to get her into a new Corolla today.”
Ruth looked nervously from Don to me, then back to Don. “I just-” she sputtered.
“Ruth, Ruth,” Don said soothingly. “Let’s just all sit down for a minute and talk about what we can do for you. Okay?”
“That’s right,” the salesman echoed, gently prodding her forward. “We’ll just talk.”
“Okay,” Ruth said, somewhat uncertainly, and started into Don’s office. As she passed she glanced at me, as if I were part of this, and it was all I could do not to tell her to run, fast, and not look back.
“Remy,” Don said, quietly, as if he’d noticed this, “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Okay,” I told them, then watched as Ruth made her way inside. The salesman steered her to the uncomfortable chair, facing the window. Now, an Asian couple was climbing into their new truck. Both of them were smiling as they adjusted the seats, admired the interior: the woman flipped down the visor, checking her reflection in the mirror there. They were both breathing deep, taking in that new-car smell, as the husband stuck the key in the ignition. Then they drove off, waving to their salesman as they went. Cue that sunset.
“Now Ruth,” Don said, settling into his chair. The door was closing on them, and I could barely see his face now. “What can I do to make you happy?”
I was halfway across the showroom when I remembered that my mother had asked me to please, please remind Don about cocktails tonight. Her new editor was in town for the evening, ostensibly just passing through from Atlanta and wanting to stop in and be social. Her true motivation, however, was that my mother owed her publisher a novel, and everyone was starting to get a little antsy about it.
I turned around and walked back down the hallway to Don’s office. The door was still closed, and I could hear voices murmuring behind it.
The clock on the opposite wall was the school kind, with big black numbers and a wobbly second hand. It was already one-fifteen. The day after my high school graduation and here I was, not beach bound or sleeping off a hangover like everyone else. I was running wedding errands, like a paid employee, while my mother lay in her king-size Sealy Posturepedic, with the shades drawn tight, getting the sleep she claimed was crucial to her creative process.
And that was all it took to feel it. That slow, simmering burn in my stomach that I always felt when I let myself see how far the scale had tipped in her favor. It was either resentment or what was left of my ulcer, or maybe both. The Muzak overhead was growing louder, as if someone was fiddling with the volume, so that now I was getting blasted with a rendition of some Barbra Streisand song. I crossed one leg over the other and closed my eyes, pressing my fingers into the arms of my chair. Just a few weeks of this, I told myself, and I’m gone.
Just then, someone plopped down hard into the chair on my left, knocking me sideways into the wall; it was jarring, and I hit my elbow on the molding there, right in the funny bone, which sent a tingly zap all the way up to my fingers. And suddenly, just like that, I was pissed. Really pissed. It’s amazing how all it takes is one shove to make you furious.