“And for when she told that awful Mrs. Tucker to sit down and wait her turn…” Talinga said, her glass wobbling.
“And for the time she untangled the judge’s wife from the overhead dryer…” Amanda chimed in.
“And,” Lola said, louder than either of them, “for all the days she just wouldn’t put up with our mess…”
A pause. Talinga sniffled, then wiped her eye with one very long, bright red, perfectly shaped nail.
“… To Remy,” Lola finished, and we let our glasses knock together, champagne sloshing onto the floor. “Girl, we’re gonna miss you.”
We drank. It was all we’d been doing, toasting and drinking, since Lola had officially closed down the salon for appointments at four o’clock, two hours early, so we could celebrate my leaving in high style. It had hardly been a workday up until then, anyway. Talinga brought me a corsage, which she insisted I wear, so I’d spent the day answering the phone and looking as if I was waiting for my prom date to pull up in his father’s car. But it was a sweet gesture, as was the cake, the champagne, and the envelope that they’d given me, which held five hundred bucks, all mine.
“For incidentals,” Lola had said as she pressed it into my hand. “Important stuff.”
“Like manicures,” Amanda added. “And eyebrow waxing.”
It was almost enough to choke me up, but I knew that would only set them all off. Joie girls loved a good cry. But even more so, it reminded me that this was all really happening. Stanford. The end of the summer. The beginning of my real life. It was no longer just creeping up, peeking over the horizon, but instead lingering in plain sight.
The signs were everywhere. I was getting tons of stuff in the mail from school, forms and last-minute To Do lists, and my room was now lined with boxes, clearly labeled for what was going and what would stay behind. I did not entertain any notions about my mother keeping my room as some sort of a shrine to The Remy That Had Been. The minute my plane took off she’d be in there poking around, trying to figure out if the new bookshelves she’d been wanting to build a proper library around would fit within my walls. When I came home everything would be different. Especially me.
Everyone was getting ready to go. Lissa was the weepiest, even though her trip was only one across town, with the steeple of the church on her block visible from her dorm room window. Jess had a job lined up at the hospital, doing administrative stuff in the kids’ ward, and started night classes right after Labor Day. And Chloe was busy with her own boxes, buying new stuff to take on her trip to a school just far enough away to provide new boys who didn’t already know about her reputation as a pure-T heartbreaker. Our in-between time, which had once seemed to stretch into forever, was ending.
The night before, I’d dug out my CD Walkman from the back of my closet, then sat down on my bed with it, carefully removing my father’s CD from it and sliding it back into the case. The Walkman I was taking, but when I went to put the CD in the box with the others, something stopped me. Just because my father had left me a legacy of the expectation that men would let me down didn’t mean I had to accept it. Or carry a reminder of it across the country. So instead I put it in a drawer in my now empty desk. I hadn’t taped up the box yet, however, so there was still time to change my mind.
“Okay, ladies,” Lola said now, picking up the bottle of champagne, “who wants a refill?”
“Me,” Talinga said, handing over her glass. “And let’s have more cake.”
“You don’t need more cake,” Amanda told her.
“I don’t need more champagne, either,” Talinga replied. “But damned if that’s going to stop me.”
They all laughed, and then the phone rang and Lola scurried off, still holding the bottle, to answer it. I picked a rose off the top of the cake and popped it into my mouth, feeling the sugar melt on my tongue. I was supposed to be saving my appetite for the dinner my mother was having tonight, one of the final family celebrations before I left. The mood she’d picked up in Florida still seemed to be lingering, making her work extra hard at playing Don’s Wife. Her novel had clearly come to a lurching halt, and I wondered where Melanie was now. It wasn’t like my mother to walk away from a story, especially so close to the end. But each time I felt that anxious pull, I reminded myself that she would be okay. That she had to be.
I walked to the front window, sipping my champagne, and looked out at the parking lot. Across the way I could see the door to Flash Camera was open, and I was feeling the champagne as I leaned into the glass, pressing my forehead against it. Truth Squad had come back a couple of days earlier. I’d seen Lucas from a distance, eating a bag of potato chips in front of Mayor’s Market, but knew better than to go up and ask him how things had gone in D.C. Ever since the day I’d driven away from the yellow house, with them all out in the yard behind me, I’d felt more clearly than ever that their fate was in no way entwined with mine.
Still, I did keep thinking of Dexter. He was the one loose end that still remained, and I hated loose ends. Making things right wasn’t an emotional thing. It was more that I didn’t want to go across the country feeling like I had left the iron on or forgotten to turn off the coffeemaker. It was about my mental health, I told myself. As in, necessary.
Just as I thought this, I saw him move across the open doorway of Flash Camera, recognizing him immediately from his gangly, crooked walk. Well, I thought. Perfect timing. I downed the rest of my champagne then checked my lipstick. It would be a good feeling to deal with this one last thing and still be home on time for dinner.
“Where you going?” Talinga called after me as I opened the front door. She and Amanda had now turned on the stereo we kept in the shampoo room and were dancing around the empty salon, both of them barefooted, while Lola helped herself to more cake. “You need more champagne, Remy! This is a party, after all.”
“I’ll be back in a sec,” I said. “Pour me another glass, okay?”
She nodded, then poured herself one instead, while Amanda cackled, swaying her hips wide and bumping into a display of nail polishes. They all burst out laughing, the door falling shut on the sound when I walked out into the heat.
My head was buzzing as I crossed the parking lot to Flash Camera. When I came in, I saw Lucas behind the counter, working the developing machine. He glanced up at me and said, “Hey. When’s the prom?”