“We're all united by grief, and somehow divided by the same thing.”
“One day isn't your whole life. A day is just a day.”
“When everything goes to hell around you, the only way to go is forward.”
“Can I tell you one thing?” Melonhead says.
I swallow. “Sure.”
“One day isn’t your whole life, Murph.” He waits until I look at him. “A day is just a day.”
I scoff and slouch in the chair. “So what are you saying? That people shouldn’t judge me on one mistake? Tell that to Judge Ororos.”
He leans in against the table. “No, kid. I’m saying you shouldn’t judge yourself for it.”
“You want to know what I believe? I believe in fate, but I also believe in free will. Meaning, there's a path, but we're free to veer away from it. The only problem is that there's no way to know whose path we're following on any given moment. Our own? Our fate's? Other people are on their on paths, too. What happens when we intersect? What happens when someone else wipes our path clean, and we're left with no road to follow? Is that fate? Is that when free will kicks in? Is the path there, but invisible?
Who the hell knows?”
“I want to fall into him. I want to let someone else carry this weight, even if just for a little bit. But it's been too long.”
“We all have different capacities for failure.”
“I like you.”
“I like you, too.”
“I’ve liked you since the morning you ran into me.”
I giggle and try to shove him away, but he uses the motion to pull us closer. “You have not,” I say.
“I have,” he whispers, and now his lips brush against my cheek. “I remember thinking, ‘Nice job, dickhead. Add another girl to the list of people who hate you.’”
“I don’t hate you. I’ve never hated you.”
“Now, that’s reassuring,” he says, but I can hear the smile in his voice. He inhales along my cheekbone, and sparks flare through my abdomen. “You should write for Hallmark.”
“All my future love letters will start with ‘To whom it may concern.’”
“Are you going to send me future love letters?”
I flush, and I’m sure he can see it. Feel it.”
“Never is okay, you know,” he murmurs.
I draw back a bit. “What?”
“You said ‘not yet.’” He looks at me. “I’ll leave it up to you. But ‘never’ is okay, too, Jules. Never is always okay.”
“Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.' In other words, life has a solid right hook, but it's not going to take me down.”
“You can't make your own path with your eyes closed. (pg 388).”
“Wait!” Juliet pulls away from her father, and once again, she’s breathless and looking up at me. “Declan.”
I hold myself at a distance. The spell is broken. “Juliet.”
She closes that distance, though, and then does one better. She grabs the front of my shirt and pulls me forward. For half a second, my brain explodes because I think we’re going to have a movie moment and she’s going to kiss me. And then it’s going to be super awkward because of her father.
But no, she’s only pulling me close to whisper. Her breath is warm on my cheek, sweet and perfect.
“We were wrong,” she says. “You make your own path.”
Then she spins, grabs her father’s hand, and leaves me there in the middle of the cemetery.”
“I never wanted to fix things with them.” I pause, and my voice is very quiet. “I wanted out. I screwed up.”
“I don’t know, Murph.” We make the turn into the cemetery, and he hesitates, as if unsure of his next words. “I wonder if you’re just telling yourself that.”
I frown. “What?”
“I don’t think you wanted to kill yourself.”
I pull next to his car in the now-empty employee lot. “Didn’t you listen to everything I just told you?”
“Yeah. I did. Maybe you wanted to try to kill yourself, but I don’t think you wanted to actually do it.”
“What’s the difference?”
He opens the door and gets out, standing there, looking down at me. “You wore your seat belt.”
“How long are you going to wait for this guy?”
I’m thrown by his sudden shift. “Ah . . . I don’t know.”
“Give me your keys.”
“Give me your keys. I’m going to change your tire while we’re waiting.”
I fish in my purse and come up with a handful of keys. “You’re going to—”
“Stay in the car.” He grabs the keys and practically yanks them out of my fingers. Then he slams the door in my face.
I watch him in the path of his headlights, mystified. He opens my trunk, and, moments later, emerges with the spare tire. He lays it beside the car, then pulls something else from the darkened space. I’ve never changed a tire, so I have no idea what he’s doing. His movements are quick and efficient, though.
I shouldn’t be sitting here, just watching, but I can’t help myself. There’s something compelling about him. Dozens of cars have passed, but he was the only one to stop—and he’s helping me despite the fact that I’ve been less than kind to him all night.
He gets down on the pavement—on the wet pavement, in the rain—and slides something under the car. A hand brushes wet hair off his face.
I can’t sit here and watch him do this.
He doesn’t look at me when I approach. “I told you to wait in the car.”
“So you’re one of those guys? Thinks the ‘little woman’ should wait in the car?”
“When the little woman doesn’t know her tires are bald and her battery could barely power a stopwatch?” He attaches a steel bar to . . . something . . . and starts twisting it. “Yeah. I am.”
My pride flinches. “So what are you saying?” I ask, deadpan. “You don’t want my help?”
His smile is rueful. “You’re kind of funny when you’re not so busy being judgmental.”
“You’re lucky I’m not kicking you while you’re down there.”
He loses the smile but keeps his eyes on whatever he’s doing. “Try it, sister.”
“Where did this come from?”
I bristle at the question. “I wrote it right in front of you. I didn’t cheat.”
“I’m not accusing you of cheating. I’m asking why you were able to put together five hundred words about a poem, when I can rarely get more than a compound sentence out of you.”
“a picture wasn’t worth anything if it didn’t produce a reaction, that it takes talent to capture feeling with an image.”
“The hospital is as busy as it was yesterday. We go in through the main entrance, and people walk in every direction. The people in scrubs and white coats all walk a little bit faster. There’s a guy sleeping on one of the waiting room sofas, and a hugely pregnant woman leaning against the wall by the elevator. She’s swirling a drink in a plastic cup. That baby is giving her T-shirt a run for its money. A toddler is throwing a tantrum somewhere down the hallway. The shrieking echoes.
We move to the bank of elevators, too, and Melonhead isn’t one of those guys who insists on pressing a button that’s already lit. He smiles and says “Good afternoon” to the pregnant woman, but I can’t look away from her swollen belly.
My mother is going to look like that.
My mother is going to have a baby.
My brain still can’t process this.
Suddenly, the woman’s abdomen twitches and shifts. It’s startling, and my eyes flick up to find her face.
She laughs at my expression. “He’s trying to get comfortable.”
The elevator dings, and we all get on. Her stomach keeps moving.
I realize I’m being a freak, but it’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t stop staring.
She laughs again, softly, then comes closer. “Here. You can feel it.”
“It’s okay,” I say quickly.
Melonhead chuckles, and I scowl.
“Not too many people get to touch a baby before it’s born,” she says, her voice still teasing. “You don’t want to be one of the chosen few?”
“I’m not used to random women asking me to touch them,” I say.
“This is number five,” she says. “I’m completely over random people touching me. Here.” She takes my wrist and puts my hand right over the twitching.
Her belly is firmer than I expect, and we’re close enough that I can look right down her shirt. I’m torn between wanting to pull my hand back and not wanting to be rude.
Then the baby moves under my hand, something firm pushing right against my fingers. I gasp without meaning to.
“He says hi,” the woman says.
I can’t stop thinking of my mother. I try to imagine her looking like this, and I fail.
I try to imagine her encouraging me to touch the baby, and I fail.
The elevator dings.
“Come on, Murph,” says Melonhead.
I look at the pregnant lady. I have no idea what to say. Thanks?
“Be good,” she says, and takes a sip of her drink.
The elevator closes and she’s gone”
“He watches me eat for a moment. “Let me see it again.”
“Okay.” He pulls a can of carbonated water out of his backpack and pops the lid.
Sometimes I want to punch him. I find the letter and slide it across the table.
He reads it again. It makes me feel all jittery inside.
His eyes flick up. “She likes you.”
I shrug and steal his drink. It tastes like someone drowned an orange in a bottle of Perrier, and I cough.
Rev smiles. “You like her.”
“How can you drink this crap?”
His smile widens. “Is it making you crazy that she won’t reveal herself?”
“Seriously, Rev, do you have any regular water?”
He’s no fool. “What do you want to do?”
I take a long breath and blow it out. I run a hand through my hair. “I don’t know.”
“I want to stake out the grave. This waiting between letters is killing me.”
“She doesn’t want to tell me anything more than her age. She’s not going to give me her email address.”
“Maybe not her real email. But you could set up a private account and give her the address. See if she writes you.”
It’s so simple it’s brilliant. I hate that I didn’t think of it. “Rev, I could kiss you.”
“Brush your teeth first.” He reclaims his bizarre can of water.”
“We’re all united by grief, and somehow divided by the same thing. My”
“One day isn’t your whole life, Murph.” He waits until I look at him. “A day is just a day.”
“Dropping an f-bomb wouldn’t make me an idiot any more than saying “sesquipedalian” makes someone intelligent.”
“What is going on with you, Rev?”
He rubs his eyes. “I don’t know. I’m just tired.”
I think of how he sat in the hospital with me, saying nothing. His silence was more supportive than anything he could have said.
I don’t know how to do that in return. Maybe I can offer something else, though. I pull out my phone and do a quick search, then turn it around and slide it across the bed.
He doesn’t reach for it. “Did she send more?”
“No. It’s a poem I had to read for English. Read it.”
He looks up, and the expression on his face is exactly the one I’d wear if he suddenly said, Hey bro, read this poem. “What?”
“Just read it. I think you’ll like it.”
“Brandon starts pulling food out of the bag. He hasn’t said anything, but he’s making himself useful. I like that he’s avoiding the fact that I’m basically a train wreck wrapped up in a comforter.
Considering which, I should probably put on a bra.”
“Thinking about anything interesting?”
I shrug and force my brain to stay with safer topics. “I didn’t know you could feed a baby Thai food.”
Babydoll shovels a handful of shredded food into her mouth and swings her legs happily. She talks with her mouth full and half falls out. “Ah-da-da-da-da-da.” There’s a noodle in her hair, and Kristin reaches out to pull it free.
Geoff scoops some coconut rice onto his plate and tops it with a third serving of beef. “What do you think they feed babies in Thailand?”
I aim a chopstick in his direction. “Point.”
Rev smiles. “Some kid in Bangkok is probably watching his mom tear up a hamburger, saying ‘I didn’t know you could feed a baby American food.’”
“Well,” says Geoff. “Culturally—”
“It was a joke”
“I squirt toothpaste with a vengeance and attack my teeth, but that hurts, so I dial back on the fury”
“He pauses. “Maybe that letter was left for you.”
“No, she was pretty pissed that I wrote back.”
Now he hesitates. “I don’t mean that she left the letter for you.”
It takes me a second to figure out his tone. “Rev, if you start preaching at me, I’m going in the house.”
“I’m not preaching.”
No, he’s not. Yet.
He still has that old Bible I found him clutching in my closet. It was his mother’s. He’s read it about twenty times. He’ll debate theology with anyone who’s interested—and I’m not on that list. Geoff and Kristin used to take him to church, but he said he didn’t like that he couldn’t live by his own interpretation.
What he didn’t say was that looking up at a man in a pulpit reminded him too much of his father.
Rev doesn’t walk around quoting Bible verses or anything—usually—but his faith is rock solid. I once asked him how he can believe in a providential god when he barely survived living with his father.
He looked at me and said, “Because I did survive.”
And there’s no arguing that.”
“Rev is about as aggressive as an old golden retriever.”
“Hey, Murph! What gives, man?”
I jump and drop the letter. Melonhead, my “supervisor,” is standing at the crest of the hill, wiping a sweat-soaked handkerchief across his brow.
His last name isn’t really Melonhead, any more than mine is Murph. But if he’s going to take liberties with Murphy, I’m going to do the same with Melendez.
Only difference is that I don’t say it to his face.”
“What do you talk about?”...
“Nothing. Just . . . stuff.”
“Oh my god, Jules. You are blushing!”
This is appalling. She’s right. I can feel it. “I am not!”
She leans in and teases me. “Do you need a mirror? You’re bright red.”
“Stop it. It’s not like that. We talk about . . . heavy things.” I don’t want to say “death.” Even that much feels like breaking a confidence. “We’re not flirting.”
“So he hasn’t sent you a picture of his manhood yet?”
I burst out laughing. “Has Brandon sent you a picture of his?”
“No!” Now she’s blushing.
“Knowing him, it would be artfully framed, with perfect lighting and specifically placed shadows—”
“Shut up!” But she’s giggling.”
“Kristin comes down the stairs, and the pressure on my chest snaps. I take a moment to turn away, inhaling deeply, blinking away tears. She sets the plate on a table behind the couch, and half tiptoes back up the stairs.
Thank god. I don’t think I could have handled maternal attention right this second. My body feels like it’s on a hair trigger.
I need to get it together. This is why people avoid me. Someone asks if I want a drink and I have a panic attack.
“You’re okay.” Declan is beside me, and his voice is low and soft, the way it was in the foyer. He’s so hard all the time, and that softness takes me by surprise. I blink up at him.
“You’re okay,” he says again.
I like that, how he’s so sure. Not Are you okay? No question about it.
He lifts one shoulder in a half shrug. “But if you’re going to lose it, this is a pretty safe place to fall apart.” He takes two cookies from the plate, then holds one out to me. “Here. Eat your feelings.”
I’m about to turn him down, but then I look at the cookie. I was expecting something basic, like sugar or chocolate chip. This looks like a miniature pie, and sugar glistens across the top. “What . . . is that?”
“Pecan pie cookies,” says Rev. He’s taken about five of them, and I think he might have shoved two in his mouth at once. “I could live on them for days.”
I take the one Declan offered and nibble a bit from the side. It is awesome.
I peer up at him sideways. “How did you know?”
He hesitates, but he doesn’t ask me what I mean. “I know the signs.”
“I’m going to get some sodas,” Rev says slowly, deliberately. “I’m going to bring you one. Blink once if that’s okay.”
I smile, but it feels watery around the edges. He’s teasing me, but it’s gentle teasing. Friendly. I blink once.
This is okay. I’m okay. Declan was right.
“Take it out on the punching bag,” calls Rev. “That’s what I do.”
My eyes go wide. “Really?”
“Do whatever you want,” says Declan. “As soon as we do anything meaningful, the baby will wake up.”
Rev returns with three sodas. “We’re doing something meaningful right now.”
“We are?” I say.
He meets my eyes. “Every moment is meaningful.”
The words could be cheesy—should be cheesy, in fact—but he says them with enough weight that I know he means them. I think of The Dark and all our talk of paths and loss and guilt.
Declan sighs and pops the cap on his soda. “This is where Rev starts to freak people out.”
“No,” I say, feeling like this afternoon could not be more surreal. Something about Rev’s statement steals some of my earlier guilt, to think that being here could carry as much weight as paying respects to my mother. I wish I knew how to tell whether this is a path I’m supposed to be on. “No, I like it. Can I really punch the bag?”
Rev shrugs and takes a sip of his soda. “It’s either that or we can break out the Play-Doh”
“He didn’t like being the sensible one of the group. Everyone always made fun of the sensible one. He’d rather be the wild and crazy one. But, somehow, he always ended up sensible.”
“mendacity.” He then introduced his son to the President,”
“Don't let go now, Jay. One-by-one, place each piece of your soul back together, but this time, make it stronger. Close your eyes and do it.”
“You're a nonconformist.”
“That didn’t used to be a felony.”
“It is now. Live in the world around you.”
“For the pedant, dates are deities, worthy of worship, but for the true social historian, they are minutiae only, a shorthand, convenient reminders and no more. You do not ask a Titanic survivor, ‘Let me see now, just exactly when was that?’ You ask him this: ‘What was it like? How did you feel?’ And that is the job of the social historian: to make the past vibrant for the present; to emotionally involve those of us who were not there. And to make us understand.”
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