“Well, that’s interesting,” Glynnis remarked. “Did you work there?”
Byron flicked his gaze at her. “Are you kidding?”
Glynnis didn’t skip a beat. “What about you, Paige?”
What about me? I hesitated, wondering if I should reveal too much of myself. What the hell, I decided. “I was named by a nurse at the hospital. My mother had a drug problem and took off as soon as she was physically able. It took a while for my grandmother to find me.”
Glynnis had no idea what to do with that, and neither did the others, their stares vacant, mouths slack. Even Byron dropped his vape pen onto the grass. He leaned over it, assessing me with new eyes. “Are you shitting me?”
I held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
“I didn’t know that,” Jackie said. She didn’t seem hurt, but perplexed. “Did Big Frank know that?”
He had, but I shrugged it off just as he did, unwilling to go down the path of uncomfortable explanations. “It’s not such a big deal.”
They longed for detail, begging for more, but I stayed silent. Reluctantly, they turned to Seth.
“I’m named after my uncle,” he said apologetically. “Not too exciting.”
“That’s nice,” Glynnis said.
Jackie checked her watch. “We need to get back.”
We cleaned up and rose to stretch our legs, moving briefly, as Petra Polly suggested, as one. Then Seth and Byron started goofing around on the grass while Rhiannon reapplied hot-pink lip gloss and Jackie fluffed up her hair.
“We’re forgetting something,” Seth said. “But I don’t know what it is.”
“Then it doesn’t matter,” Rhiannon snapped. “Let’s get back inside, do what we need to do, and get the hell out before Lukas announces that Petra thinks we should work weekends.”
I fell in step with Glynnis.
“I was named for a valley in Ireland,” she said, slowing her pace.
“We forgot your turn! I’m so sorry.” Impulsively, I reached out and tucked a stray lock of her strawberry-blonde hair behind her ear. “Your name is lovely.”
“But your story is better,” she said. We watched Byron and Seth jokingly fight over who held the door for Rhiannon. “I’m going to be one of the losers, aren’t I?” she continued.
“It’s impossible to say. It could be any of us.”
She shook her head. “Some things you just know.”
Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of male voices arguing. For a moment it was comforting—my house had been quiet for days—and I eased back into lounge mode, but then I heard my name rip through the relaxation. The voice was unmistakable.
Frantic, I leaped out of bed and scrambled for a bra. I ran a comb through my hair and managed to brush my teeth. The capri sweats that seemed so comfortable the night before made me look like a Walmart meme, and there was a large oily stain on the hem of my T-shirt, but they were gray, and he liked me in gray. My head was still fuzzy with sleep.
I ran full tilt down the hallway, and then stopped at the edge of the stairs. I’d been with Jesse long enough to know the edge to his voice meant he was annoyed, but that wasn’t why I hesitated.
I wanted to hear it again.
There. How many times does a married couple call out to each other during the course of twenty years? Thousands? I’d lived without it for two years now. Part of me knew it was fantasy, but I shoved that part off to the sidelines. I was like Trey—he’d give up sugar for weeks, but sometimes, sometimes you longed for a taste, even though you knew it wasn’t good for you. I’d find him in his room, surrounded by candy wrappers.
“Mom?” Trey sounded unsure.
They were outside, standing at the ragged patch of dirt I’d dug up. It was no longer the size of a grave, but round and approximately the size of an aboveground pool. I’d left the garden spade on the patio. Trails of dirt marked the concrete. The dandelions, dead and wilted, still lay in a pile. Trey took a seat next to the weeds, his eyes watchful.
The voice I’d heard was not Jesse’s but Mr. Eckhardt’s. I shook the remaining cloudiness from my brain and tried to focus, but grief pulsed in my throat so violently it brought tears to my eyes. Death was final, but grief wasn’t; it was a dirty street fighter who rose again and again even when I thought I had successfully knocked it to the ground. King of the sucker punches. Swallowing my emotions, I turned to Mr. Eckhardt. “What do you want?”
Mr. Eckhardt, his white crew cut standing with the same straight, unflinching posture as his spine, said, “Your son doesn’t believe you did this on purpose.”
Ignoring him, Trey took my appearance in for one agonizing moment, and then, puzzled, said, “Is everything okay?”
“Peachy,” I responded.
Trey studied the dirt pond, brain obviously scrambling for an acceptable explanation and coming up with nothing.
“You’ll need to get this resodded,” Mr. Eckhardt insisted.
“I’m not getting it resodded,” I said evenly. “I like it.”
Trey nodded, his reaction automatic. “Okay, Mom. Whatever. But what is it?”
“It’s . . .”
“Lunacy,” Mr. Eckhardt finished. “Utter lunacy.”
“It’s mine,” I said, curling my toes at the edge of the pit. “All mine.”
“Your mother isn’t thinking correctly,” Mr. Eckhardt said to Trey. “Now, you’re old enough to talk some sense into her. I won’t have this. She’s breaking the law.”
“Which law?” I interjected, forcing him to address me. “Is there a law about digging in your backyard?”
“Community standards,” Mr. Eckhardt retorted. “You’re violating them. We live in a gated subdivision. Buying property here means you agree to certain terms, one of which is not destroying the character of your portion of the land. Are you having trouble understanding what that means?”
Trey walked over to the older man, his movements uncertain. Jesse and I had impressed upon him the importance of being respectful to adults, and I could see him struggling with honoring those lessons. His fists clenched and unclenched, but before I could intervene, he said, “Thanks for your input, sir. My mom and I are going to have a private talk about it, inside. It’ll be taken care of, no doubt.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Mr. Eckhardt said. “Because if you don’t take care of it, I will.”
“So what’s going on, Mom?” Trey said while putting the teakettle on. “Are you digging your way to China?”
“No, just digging,” I said with a shrug. “It felt good to do it the other night. So I did it.”
“It’s . . . a weird thing to do. You know that, right?” Trey made himself busy around the kitchen, the constant movement a shield against any talk of Jesse. Trey only wanted to talk about his father when he could control all the possible routes the conversation might take. Any possibly dangerous emotional paths were to be avoided.
I shot him my best sane, motherly smile. “I don’t think it’s weird. It’s just . . . something different.”
“It’s irrational,” he said, sounding so much like Jesse the tears almost returned. “And that’s not like you. It’s a little crazy.” He moved to the far cabinet to grab the tea and stopped short. I’d left the two empty wine bottles in the corner because the recycling bin was full and I hadn’t had the time to empty it.