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“Natalie caught her husband cheating,” Bad Mommy said quietly. “That’s probably what we’re going to be talking about all night.”

She didn’t say it in a judgmental way, it was more matter-of-fact, and I liked that she included me in something so private. I smiled appreciatively, eyeing the necklace that hung in the hollow of her clavicle. It was a small, blue stone on a silver chain. My eyes almost popped out of my head. She saw me looking and reached up to touch it.

“A gift,” she said. “From Darius. I was planning on having a similar stone set into a watch for him for our anniversary. I ordered it but I think it got lost in the mail.”

My stomach somersaulted. I thought of the little velvet box tucked away safe in the kitchen drawer. I wanted to touch it, look at it again now that I knew its intent.

I looked at Bad Mommy, feeling suddenly lighter than I had all night. She looked nice. She was wearing a black strapless jumper and red flats. I noticed the tattoos for the first time and frowned. What type of example was that for Mercy? People scribbling all over their skin. The last person she introduced me to was Gail. Being the friendliest of the bunch, she immediately hugged me, asked who I voted for in the last election, said she was kidding, and hugged me again. I didn’t think she was kidding. She walked me over to the martini shaker everyone was worshipping and asked if she could pour me a drink.

“I’ll just have one at the restaurant,” I said. “I don’t want to drink and drive.”

“We had to cancel our reservation.” Bad Mommy frowned. “Darius is tied up at the office, so we’re just going to hang here for the night.” I saw a flash of disappointment in her eyes then it was gone.

“We ordered sushi!” Gail said, changing the subject. “You do eat sushi, don’t you?” she asked.

I nodded my head and smiled. I hated sushi.

I let Gail make me a drink, while Bad Mommy brought Mercy into the kitchen to say goodnight.

“I can put her to bed if you want to hang out here,” I said. I knew I was probably overstepping a line, but I desperately wanted to hold her.

“I read three stories before putting little girls to bed,” I told Mercy. “I bet you don’t like that many stories.”

She held out her arms to me and my insides thrilled.

Bad Mommy looked unsure.

“You take a break. You need it,” I told her. I smiled reassuringly. “I’ll get you when our stories are done and you can come kiss her goodnight.”

That seemed to relax her. She glanced past me into the kitchen where the girls had started playing a drinking game then reluctantly relinquished her hold on Mercy, who jumped enthusiastically into my arms.

“Okay,” I said. “You have to show me where your bedroom is.” She squirmed to get down and then ran ahead of me down the hall. I followed her to the last door on the left and paused in the doorway while she ran straight for the bookcase.

It was marvelous. That was the only word I could think of for the little room she’d created for Mercy.

“Mercy. This is the best bedroom I’ve ever seen,” I told her. I stepped inside, sinking into the plush carpet. It looked like crayons had been stuck to the ceiling and then melted down the walls. The four posts of Mercy’s bed were lollipops, and there were stuffed animals perched on every available surface. Before I had time to really look around, Mercy was pushing me toward the bed, three books in her hand. I smiled, wishing I’d seen her count out the books. When we were snuggled next to each other, I put my arm around her and picked up Goodnight, Stinky Face. Was this what it would have been like? I’d decorated the nursery the week I’d found out I was pregnant, chose bedding with teddy bears on it, and bought a mobile of the planets to hang above the crib. When I lost my daughter I packed it all up and dropped it off at the Goodwill. All my dreams stuffed into a box with cans of chicken noodle soup on the outside. Mercy’s eyelids started drooping halfway through Goodnight Moon. I didn’t want her to go to sleep, I wanted to stay here with her and read all of the books on her bookshelf. I stayed and read her the third book even though she was fast asleep beside me. I always kept my promises. Then I lifted the covers to her chin, kissed her softly on the cheek, and padded out of the room.

When I walked back into the kitchen, everyone stopped what they were doing to look at me. I glanced down at my pants to make sure I hadn’t gotten my red early. That happened once in high school and it was still painful to think about.

“She fell asleep,” I said. “Before I finished the second book.” Gail saluted me with a shot glass of Fireball, and everyone cheered. I grinned despite myself.

Bad Mommy’s hair had come undone and was hanging in waves around her face. She pushed back from the counter where she’d been standing with Amanda and came over to put an arm around my shoulders. She handed me a shot glass and held her own above her head.

“To Fig, the baby whisperer,” she said.

“To Fig,” everyone repeated. And there was the pouring of cinnamon flavored fire down my throat, and a spasm of coughing, as everyone laughed like it was the best thing in the world to let alcohol hurt you this badly.

“That’s terrible,” I said, handing back my shot glass. I pressed the back of my hand to my lips, waiting for the burning to stop.

“Did you guys hear that?” Bad Mommy said. “Fig says she wants another!”

There was more cheering, more pouring, more coughing. My eyes were watering and I was feeling warm around the collar when Darius arrived with the sushi. I straightened up as soon as I saw him, tucking my hair behind my ears.


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