“We’re moving to Florida, so we figured we might as well go all the way.” It’s an unfortunate turn of phrase, and Shelby’s dad must realize that from the look on her face. “You know what I mean. Make it legal. And the house is sold.”
“Is there anything else? Like Martians have invaded or I’m really adopted?”
“Shelby,” her dad says. He shakes his head, like he’s the put-upon party.
“No, seriously, what else are you going to spring on me?”
“You just can’t be happy for me,” Shelby’s dad says.
“Bingo,” Shelby says. “You’ve got that right. So she’s Mrs. Richmond now?”
“Shelby, it hasn’t been easy.”
“Especially for Mom,” Shelby reminds him. “She’s dead.”
Her dad ignores the dig. “I packed up some of your things. I added some of your mom’s belongings that I thought you would like. She had that teacup collection. You liked to play with it when you were little.”
“Does it look like I use teacups now?” Shelby lashes out. “You clearly don’t know the first thing about me.”
“I don’t know anything about you because you don’t tell me!”
“Did you ask?”
“You never want to talk to me.”
He’s got her there. Maybe it’s not all his fault. She hasn’t included him in anything since the accident. “I’m distracted. I got into vet school.”
Shelby’s dad’s face brightens. “Wow,” he says.
“Yeah. A really good one. In California.”
“We’re moving to Boca,” her father says. “We bought a condo.”
“I want to see the house before I leave,” Shelby says. “I want to say good-bye.” She feels about eight years old. “It was my house.”
“It was,” her dad says. He takes out an envelope and hands it to Shelby. She opens it, suspicious.
“This is too much,” Shelby says when she sees the check.
“You think I don’t love you,” her father says.
“Because you don’t.” Shelby lowers her head so he won’t see her tears.
“Shelby, I do. I loved your mother, too, I just wasn’t good at it.” Her father finds a tissue for her in his pocket. She blows her nose and hands it back to him and they both laugh. “I thought you might turn the money down,” he says.
“I’m not stupid,” she sniffs.
“You definitely are not,” her father agrees.
“Should I say thank you?”
“You should.” Her dad gets up to go. “But we both know you’re not going to.”
All the same, Shelby hugs him good-bye. “Good luck in Boca,” she says.
“Your mom always wanted to go to California. She’d be happy for you.”
Shelby’s dad pats her head as if she were a little girl, a flower in a garden, and then before she has time to change her mind and say thank you, he’s gone.
A few weeks later Shelby’s father’s new wife sends a change of address card, along with a nice note. Come and visit Florida sometime! We have a beautiful guest room! It’s June, and Shelby figures it’s likely hot as hell in Boca. Thanks, Shelby writes back, but I’ll soon be headed to the other coast. It happens to be perfect weather in New York on the day of Jasmine’s graduation party. It’s a sunny Saturday and the roses are blooming. Even Long Island looks great. Mrs. Diaz and her friends from the hospital have made all the food. Jasmine has dozens of friends, and they all appear to be guests, as hungry as they are excited. The school upstate has allowed Teddy to come home for the weekend festivities; he’s excelling in his classes, plus he never got caught making his great escape. Anyway, that’s all behind him now. He’s starting to realize that he’s in charge of his own future. His somber expression makes him seem older than he is.
Shelby gets teary when Maravelle makes a toast to the best daughter in the world. It makes her miss her mother even more than usual. Shelby’s graduation present for Jasmine is the watch her mother gave her when she got her high school diploma. It never really suited Shelby, and once she’s in school, she’ll be handling blood and vital organs. A plastic watch will suit her just fine.
“Seriously?” Jasmine says when she unwraps the gift. “Isn’t this too nice for me?”
They are standing beside the grapevine, which has come back despite Maravelle’s continuing attempts to kill it. Jasmine is wearing a white gossamer dress. She’s barefoot, and her hair, once upswept, has fallen down her back.
“Nothing is too nice for you,” Shelby tells her.
Later, when Shelby and Maravelle are setting out plates for cake, they stop to watch the kids dancing. Jasmine is the Queen of Valley Stream, exactly what Shelby told her would happen when she ran away and had to be convinced the move would be a positive change.
“You made it through,” Shelby tells Maravelle.
“So did you.” Maravelle hands Shelby a graduation present. Shelby graduated this week, too. James was in the audience cheering her on. When he took her home he ran the bath, which he had scrubbed clean—not an easy task—and they got into the tub together and drank strawberry milk shakes. It was the perfect way to celebrate.
“Your mom would have been proud of you,” Maravelle says now. “I know I am.” Her gift to Shelby is a photo of Jasmine, Teddy, and Dorian in a gold frame.
“Why were you ever friends with me in the first place?” Shelby asks. She was a bald, nasty loner who wore a red sweatshirt and combat boots, just in case the world crashed down on her and she had to kick her way out.
“I saw who you were,” Maravelle says.
“Who was I?”
“My best friend, stupid.”
“Yeah, well, I’m going to a state where there’s no winter,” Shelby says. “So who’s stupid now?”
They’re going to miss each other like crazy. Maravelle throws her arms around Shelby. “You’re always welcome here,” she tells her. “No matter what. No matter how far you go.”
Shelby hates good-byes, so she slips out mid-party and heads for the train station. Once there, she changes her mind. Instead of heading back to the city, she buys a ticket to Huntington. James has gone to see his mother, as he does most Saturdays, and Shelby can surprise him. But that’s not the real reason for her decision. She wants to see her house. She phones her new upstairs neighbors and asks Kyla, the one who wants to be a farmer and likes animals, to take her dogs for a walk.