“Worse.” I look up from the page. “A chilled shot glass.”

Nick grabs the shot glasses, gets up, then puts them in the freezer and slings the door shut. “Give it a minute.”

“Booooo,” Mom says, obviously drunk.

Really, we all are, well, except for Sarah. It’s the only thing that can explain why we’re willing to try banana-flavored schnapps. There’s no way it’s going to taste good. We munch on chips and salsa delivered by a bored teenager from the world’s best Mexican restaurant this side of the Hudson.

“So you really think I could carry off longer hair?” Mom asks Sarah, picking up the conversation they’d had ten minutes ago as if no time had passed at all. “I thought once I hit forty, I had to cut it all off.”

“No way.” Sarah shakes her head. “With your bone structure, you could do anything you want with your hair. Have you ever considered going auburn?”

“Red?” Mom blushes. “Oh no, I couldn’t. That’s very…in your face.”

“Come on, Mom, live a little.” I cheer her on. “You’re sixty-three, not dead! You can do whatever you want.”

“I can’t believe I left,” she says as she fiddles with the bent corner of the Drinking Buddy book. “I wonder if he sat at the dining table expecting dinner to magically appear in front of him.”

I sigh. “That is how it’s worked for the past forever.” True story. I don’t even know if he knows where the kitchen is in their house, but he definitely doesn’t know where to find the pots and pans.

“I have to make a confession.” Mom looks around at us, her gaze hazy as she weaves a bit in her chair. “I tossed out all the leftovers before I left, and you know how he abhors delivery food. He’ll have to make something from scratch or break his own rules and go out to eat by himself.”

We all stare at her in an impressed silence.

“Mrs. Martin,” Sarah says. “You are an evil genius.”

“Thank you, Sarah. Call me Elizabeth or Liz or Bet; that’s what my friends growing up called me because I always won everyone’s milk money when we played Jacks.”

Who would have thought that my mom was a grade-school hustler?

“Bet it is,” Nick says as he opens up the freezer and gets out the shot glasses. “Ready?”

“You bet,” the rest of us call out in one voice and then break into laughter.

Sarah pours the Banana Bombers out of the shaker and hands us each a shot glass.

“To fresh starts,” I say, my glass held aloft.

Nick, Mom, and I clink our shot glasses and Sarah adds her water glass.

I close my eyes, gird my taste buds, and throw back the shot. That’s when I know I’m really past the point of no return—because it tastes delicious. Oh shit. I’m definitely going to regret this in the morning.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

   I wake up with a hangover for the second time in a week—which is saying something, since it’s been more than a decade since my last one before this week. I really, really want to do nothing more than pull my pillow over my head and stay exactly where I am. Except now that I’m awake, it’s impossible to ignore how uncomfortable this couch is. And how much my neck hurts in my current position.

The first thing I’m going to do when the divorce is settled is burn this damn couch and buy another one. And when I do, I’m going to make sure it’s the most comfortable one on the market. If I have to spend the next God only knows how many nights on this couch, I freaking deserve it.

In the meantime, I’m going to get myself off this one and get dressed. It’s Sunday, which means…I have a lawn to mow.

I force myself to stand up. The room goes up, down, sideways, and then does some kind of undulating diagonal-wave thing. I flop back down and bury my head in my hands. Correction, I’m going to get myself off this couch as soon as my head doesn’t feel like the slightest move will make it shatter into a million pieces.

“Mallory?” my mom calls out from the kitchen. “Is that you, dear?”

“Yes, Mom.” Just getting those two words out makes me wince with pain—in part because all the brain cells I didn’t kill off yesterday are crying in agony and partly because my voice sounds like a frog has not only taken up residence in my throat but has actually died there.

Lucky frog.

“Well, come in here, then,” Mom says. “Sarah and I are making blueberry pancakes for breakfast.”

Shit. She sounded closer that time. I pry my hands away from my eyes and force myself to turn and look back toward the kitchen.

Sure enough, my mom is standing in the doorway between the kitchen and family room, dressed in her favorite apron and brandishing a spatula like a weapon. “You’re not going to get any better sitting there. I have hot coffee and Tylenol waiting on the table for you, and the pancakes and bacon will be ready in just a minute. We’ll get that hangover fixed up in no time.”

Then she disappears back into the kitchen.

And if I ever need—more—proof that my mother is an alien, today is definitely supplying it. She had way more to drink yesterday than I did, yet she’s acting like she’s perfectly fine. That isn’t human.

Still, I spent enough of my life under Elizabeth Martin’s thumb to know that the clock has started. If I don’t get my ass to her table—I mean, my table—in the next three minutes, she will come drag me there by the ear. And since my ears are part of the head that feels like it will shatter at any moment, it seems like a bad move to let that happen.

I make a quick stop in the half bath and splash water on my face and wind my totally unruly hair up into a topknot before I drag myself to the kitchen table. I shove the Tylenol my mom has waiting for me into my mouth, then swallow it down with scalding-hot coffee.

The shot of caffeine is totally worth the pain.

I take another long sip, then turn to look at my mom and Sarah, who are working the stove in perfect harmony. It’s a far cry from “you must be the mistake,” but apparently several rounds of Banana Bombers can cure anything.

Except this hangover.

As my mom drops a stack of blueberry pancakes on my plate, I get my first good look at her. I can’t believe it. Her hair is wild around her shoulders and her face is devoid of makeup. Considering my mom doesn’t even leave her room in the morning without being fully done up, this is one of the few times in my life I can remember seeing her like this.

Figuring it’s because she is devastated about leaving Dad, I brace myself for more tears. But instead of looking sad, she looks resolute. Not happy necessarily, but like she knows what she wants to do. And, more, is at peace with it.