He laughs in the way that I remember and love, and I feel warm all the way down to my toes.
When we get back to my apartment, Judah insists on wheeling himself up the ramp and into the elevator of my building. I am embarrassed by the slight urine smell in the elevator, and then I am embarrassed by the empty sack of McDonald’s someone left outside the door of the elevator on the twelfth floor, sitting proud and stinking of fried oil. Judah doesn’t seem to notice any of it. When I open the door to my apartment, he waits for me to walk in first before wheeling himself behind me. He looks around my space like it’s the first time he’s seeing it. My teal walls, hung with prints of Seattle that I found at Pike Place Market. The striped black and white sofa that I bought from my neighbor when she moved to Baltimore. The flourishing potted plants that I stick on bookshelves and windowsills. His eyes linger longest on my books, piled everywhere in stacks of brightly colored dust jackets. He takes it all in and sighs a deeply satisfied sigh.
“What?” I ask him.
“I like where you live,” he says. “I like how you fix your space. It feels like a home.”
And I like that he notices. Johan never notices the things that make me a woman: the nesting and painted nails and the trimmed hair. But if I caught a big one on the glimmering fishing rod he bought me as a gift, oh boy!
“Do you like salmon?” I ask him. “I’m making it for dinner.”
“Sure.” He shrugs. “But I kinda wanted to take you out for dinner. Would your boyfriend be okay with that?”
I grin at Judah, suppressing a larger smile. “You are my oldest and dearest friend, Judah Grant. I don’t care what Johan thinks about that.”
We change our clothes and head to an Indian restaurant a few blocks away. I offer to grab a cab, but Judah shakes his head. “I like to see the city this way.”
They seat us outside, next to the hustle and bustle of the city. The air is rich with the scent of the red and green curries they carry out on large servers. I eat my beef curry too quickly, relieved to be having something other than seafood. We laugh and talk, Judah telling me stories of the school where he teaches in LA. When our dessert arrives—two silver goblets of rice pudding filled with raisins—Judah’s face becomes serious.
“Margo, I’m moving back to the Bone.”
I drop my spoon. It clatters onto the floor, and I bend to retrieve it.
“Judah … no.”
I say it with such finality it surprises me.
Judah raises his eyebrows in amusement, licking off his spoon and dipping it back in.
“Well, it’s not really your decision.” I don’t miss the laughter in his voice. He knew this declaration would mortify me. He timed it just right so it wouldn’t ruin my dinner.
“Why?” I ask. “We left there for good. We said we’d never go back.”
He says one word to me, and it chills my spine.
I feel the Bone like it is a flesh and blood person, looming behind me, waiting for my answer.
“I have the fancy education,” he says. “I can teach anywhere I want, but I’d rather give my gift back to the Bone. They need good teachers there, Margo. You remember.”
He says this as if to sway me, but it only makes me resent our former home even more. Judah is right. He can teach anywhere in the country. Why waste his life on the Bone and the worthless excuses who live there?
“Why not come here?” I exclaim. “Like we planned all those years ago.”
“So I can watch you and Johan live out your life?”
Why does his voice suddenly sound so bitter?
“Johan and I are not that serious, Judah. Eventually he will go back to South Africa.” And then, as if to make myself feel better, I add, “He’s on a work visa.”
“My mother has high blood pressure; the doctor has her on all kinds on medication. I don’t know how long she will be here. I want to spend time with her.”
I think of Delaney, and I immediately soften. If I had a mother like her, perhaps I never would have left the Bone.
“After the holidays,” he says. “I’ve already let my job know.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I know.” He reaches across the table and runs his fingertip along my knuckles.
“Come with me,” he says.
I jar. Both at the idea of it, and the fact that he’s asking. For a moment I wonder if perhaps his feelings for me have changed.
Before I can answer, my phone chimes from my purse. It’s the fifth time someone has called. It’s Johan.
“Hello,” I say after hitting the call button.
“Hey baby,” he says, the richness of his accent pooling through the phone. He doesn’t often call me baby. It was more Margie, Margo, and Mar, which I hate. I wonder if Judah’s presence is making him feel insecure.
“I was wondering if you wanted to bring your bud to the boat tonight. We can take her out and have some drinks, hey.”
I glance across the table at Judah, suddenly annoyed at the way Johan punctuates all of his sentences with hey.
Is it, hey?
We have to get some fresh ground pepper, hey.
Remember we have that dinner with my aunt tonight, hey.
“Not tonight, Johan. Judah is feeling a little under the weather.”
Johan sounds disappointed, but says he understands. When I hang up, Judah slouches in his seat and pretends to look ill.
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