For a moment, I relished the silence that fell over the group.
“I don’t know,” Miss Khaki said.
“Absolutely not,” Label Lover said.
“I’ll be there,” Mr. Eckhardt said. “Haven’t been to a party in a while.”
Miracle of miracles, he looked happy to be invited. Delighted, even.
The two older women glanced at each other. “I’ll be there, too,” they said simultaneously.
Label Lover downed the rest of her lemonade. “Will you refresh my glass, Bill?”
Mr. Eckhardt took her glass, and the one Miss Khaki had quickly emptied, and headed into his mystery kitchen. When he was out of earshot, Label Lover leaned over the fence and said, “Your backyard project is putting undue stress on our Bill. All that man asks for in this life is a little peace. Why must you disrupt it?”
I opened my mouth to defend myself and realized I didn’t quite know what to say. I didn’t have a clue about what Mr. Eckhardt wanted out of life. I didn’t know anything about him. “Maybe he’ll learn to get some enjoyment out of watching it grow,” I said lamely.
Label Lover raised one penciled eyebrow. “You think very highly of yourself, don’t you?”
“She should be proud of herself,” Mykia said, coming up behind me. “I’m sorry you can’t see that.”
Before Label Lover could hit back, Mr. Eckhardt returned with a tray of glasses filled to the brim with lemonade, enough for all of us. Simple as it was, I was touched by the gesture.
“Bill makes his lemonade from scratch,” Miss Khaki crowed. “How long has it been since you’ve had homemade?”
I’d made some the day before. “A long time,” I said, flashing a smile at an obviously embarrassed Mr. Eckhardt. “Too long. And this tastes great.”
Everything was set for the party.
But I couldn’t entirely take responsibility for it. Mykia, Glynnis, and Jackie pitched in. Mykia brought food, more than I could possibly feed to the small group attending. Glynnis helped set up a few card tables in between the rows of plants, topping them with tablecloths made from vintage sheets she’d been collecting since childhood. Jackie dragged folding chairs from my basement, hung twinkly lights, and gave me general emotional support.
In addition to Mr. Eckhardt and his harem, I’d invited everyone from Guh, including Lukas, the few women I knew from the neighborhood, and, of course, Trey and Colin, who actually said they might attend. Charlene called to say she would bring a seven-layer salad. Sean also said he would be coming, which led me to . . .
“What are you wearing?” Jackie asked while I tore around my bedroom, slapping deodorant under my arms and generally trying to make myself look human. She wore a jean miniskirt with a tight, iridescent-pink tank top. It was wholly inappropriate for a fiftysomething woman and 100 percent Jackie. I loved it. The only articles of clothing I felt comfortable in were my new garden clothes—shredded jean shorts and dirt-stained T-shirts. I had very few casual ensembles. Everything else fell into the category of dated professional attire or clothes reserved for weddings and funerals. I had nothing that said garden party.
Jackie sifted through my closet. “I would have thought you’d have more clothes. This is pretty sparse pickings.”
“I store my winter stuff away in the summer,” I said. “But it would still be more of the same. Boring. Gray, black, or navy. Blah, blah, blah.”
“What about this?” Jackie pulled a dry cleaning bag from where I’d half hidden it behind some of those gray-black-blue business suits. “Is this the one we found? You had it cleaned?”
On a whim, I’d brought the delicate shift dress we’d discovered to the cleaners with the rest of the previous week’s work clothes. I’d told the cleaner to be very careful with it, and it looked great—the fabric seemed almost new.
“You should wear this,” Jackie said, taking it out of the plastic covering. “It’s gorgeous.”
“You don’t think it has memory ghosts? Couldn’t it have bad vibes associated with it?” I was not one to talk about ghosts, or vibes for that matter, but the fact that the dress was white, and that we’d found it buried in the backyard, well, that added some unusual elements. Also, I was curious to see Mr. Eckhardt’s reaction when he spotted it. Would he recognize it or have no clue? I couldn’t wait to find out.
“Maybe it has some vibes,” Jackie admitted. “But how do you know they’re bad vibes? Maybe they’re good ones. The woman who wore this could have been happy.”
“Happy people don’t bury the things that made them happy.” After I’d said it, I realized that, yes, sometimes they did. I did.
Jackie went silent for a moment. She laid the dress out on the bed, and then rummaged through my closet until she found a pair of brown leather sandals with a wedge heel. I hadn’t worn them since Jesse and I’d had date nights.
I shrugged out of my T-shirt and jeans and guided the delicate dress over my head and shoulders. It fell a little loosely around my hips, but otherwise, it fit perfectly and offset the tan I’d acquired from working outside so much.
“You look beautiful,” Jackie said, and I could tell she meant it. “Don’t take it off. Give it some of your own memories.”
My own memories. For the past two years, I’d spent every waking hour trying to avoid making any. I’d pressed the “Pause” button on my life, and then lost the remote. “I don’t know if I even remember how to make memories.”
“Of course you do,” Jackie said. “You do it all the time. You just need to let the special moments happening around you register in your brain.” Her heavily mascaraed eyes filled with tears. “When you give something meaning, it’s worth remembering. We filter out the stuff that doesn’t touch our heart.”
“Do you have those memories . . . about Big Frank?”
“I do,” she said. “A treasure trove of them. He did so many good things worth remembering.”
Had I done anything worth remembering over the past two years? I got up every morning and somehow got out of bed. I’d managed to keep a roof over our heads. I’d dug a garden that I marveled at more every day.
“I wasn’t sure I could come up with a good enough reason to host a party, save for the fact that Mykia told me to,” I said. “I worried it wouldn’t mean anything. You know what? I shouldn’t have worried. This garden does mean something.”
“Then let’s party,” Jackie said, making a “rock-on” gesture with her hand.
“Yes,” I agreed, mimicking her hand gesture. “Let’s party. And let’s make sure it registers.”
I’d chosen some soft Spanish flamenco music to provide a soundtrack for the festivities, but Jackie had taken over DJ duties when we finally came downstairs, and Bon Jovi boomed through the speakers I’d set strategically throughout the garden. Not a single male had arrived yet, so the ladies, guzzling the strawberry margaritas I’d made, were loose and a little loud, giving Jon Bon some competition.
“I can’t believe they let you get away with this,” said Peggy, the dog walker from one block over. “I once accidentally left some poop on the sidewalk, and someone from the subdivision board showed up at my door, shitting a brick.”
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