Tim must still have custody of Nan’s cell, because this is what I get when I call:
“Listen, Heidi, it’s really not a good idea to for us to hang out together again.”
“It’s Samantha. Where’s Nan?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake. You do know we’re not Siamese twins, right? Why do you keep asking me this shit?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you keep answering her cell. Is she home?”
“I think so. Probably. Or not,” Tim says.
I hang up. The landline is busy and the Masons don’t have call waiting (“Just an electronic way to be rude,” according to Mrs. Mason), so I decide to bike to Nan’s house.
Tracy and Flip have moved to the living room couch, and there’s much giggling and murmuring. As I get to the hallway, I hear Flip whisper, all urgent, “Oh baby, what you do to me.” Gag.
“You make me feel so good insiiiiide,” I sing back.
“Beat it,” calls Tracy.
It’s high tide, and hot, which means the salty smell of the sound is especially strong, nearly overcoming the marshy scent of the river. The two sides of town. I love them both. I love how you can tell the season and the time of day just by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. I shut my eyes now, inhaling the thick warm air, then hear a startled screech and look just in time to swerve around a woman wearing a pink visor and socks under her sandals. Stony Bay’s on a little peninsula at the mouth of the Connecticut River. We have a wide harbor, so tourists like our town. It’s three times as crowded in the summer, so I guess I should know better than to bike with my eyes closed.
Nan opens the door when I knock, house phone to her ear. She smiles, then puts her index finger to her lips, jerking her chin toward the living room as she says into the phone, “Well, you are my first choice, so I really want to get a jump on the application.”
I always have the same feeling when I walk through the Masons’ front door. There are happy-faced Hummel figurines all over the place, and little wall plaques with Irish blessings on them, and doilies sprinkled on top of all the armchairs and even the television. When you go to the bathroom, the toilet paper is hidden underneath the puffy pink crocheted hoopskirt of a blank-eyed doll.
No books in the bookshelves, just more figurines and photographs of Nan and Tim, very twinnish, in their early years. I study them for the millionth time as Nan spells out her address. Baby Nan and Tim dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Toddler Nan and Tim, fluffy-haired and round-eyed, as chicks for Easter. Preschool Nan and Tim in a dirndl and lederhosen. The pictures stop abruptly when they turn about eight. If I remember correctly, they were dressed as Uncle Sam and Betsy Ross for the Fourth of July that year, and Tim bit the photographer.
In the pictures they look much more alike than they do now. They’re both redheaded and freckled. But, because life is unfair, Nan’s hair is a pale, washed-out strawberry blond, and she has freckles everywhere and blond eyelashes. Tim’s got only a few stipples of freckles across his nose, and his brows and lashes are dark, while his hair is a deep russet. He’d be a knockout, if he weren’t always so out of it.
“I’m on hold with Columbia—getting my application,” Nan whispers. “I’m glad you came by. I’ve been totally sidetracked.”
“I called your cell but got Tim, and he wouldn’t look for you.”
“That’s where it is! God. He’s used up all his minutes and now he’s after mine. I’m going to kill him.”
“Couldn’t you just go to Columbia’s website and order the application?” I whisper, even though I know the answer. Nan’s hopeless with her computer—she keeps so many windows open at the same time and never shuts them—her laptop’s constantly crashing.
“My laptop’s in surgery with Macho Mitch again.” Mitch is the incredibly good-looking, if vaguely sinister, computer repair guy who makes house calls on Nan’s PC. Nan thinks he looks like Steve McQueen, her idol. I think he looks sulky and annoyed because he’s constantly fixing the same problems.
“Thanks—yes, and when will this be sent out?” Nan says into the phone just as Tim wanders into the room, hair sticking up in all directions, wearing a ratty pair of tartan flannel pj bottoms and an Ellery Prep Lacrosse T-shirt. He doesn’t look at us, just roams over to the Hummel Noah’s Ark display on the window seat and rearranges the figures in obscene combinations.
He’s just finished putting Mrs. Noah and a camel into a compromising and anatomically difficult position when Nan hangs up.
“I kept meaning to call you,” she says. “When do you start lifeguarding? I’ll be at the gift shop starting next week.”
Tim yawns loudly, scratches his chest, and places a couple of monkeys and a rhino in an unlikely threesome. I can smell him from where I sit—weed and beer.
“You could at least say hi to Samantha, Timmy.”
“Heyyyyy kid. I feel as if we spoke only a few brief moments ago. Oh, that’s right. We did. Sorry. Don’t know where the f**k my manners are. They haven’t been the same since they shrunk at the dry cleaner. Want some?” He pulls a vial of Visine from his back pocket and offers it to me.
“Thanks, no, I’m trying to cut down,” I say. Tim’s gray eyes are in need of the Visine. I hate it, watching someone smart and perceptive spend all their time getting blurry and stupid. He collapses on his back on the couch with a groan, draping one hand over his eyes. It’s hard to remember what he was like before he started auditioning for Betty Ford.
When we were little, our families spent a lot of summer weekends together at Stony Bay Beach. Back then, I was actually closer to Tim than Nan. Nan and Tracy would read and sunbathe, dabble their toes in the water, but Tim was never afraid to wade out and pull me with him into the biggest waves. He was also the one who discovered the riptide in the creek, the one that zoomed you down and whipped you out to sea.
“So, babe—gettin’ any these days?” He wiggles his eyebrows at me from his supine position. “Charley was going nuts because you wouldn’t go for his nuts, if ya know what I mean.”
“Hilarious, Timmy. You can stop talking now,” Nan says.
“No, really—it’s a good thing you broke up with Charley, Samantha. He was an ass**le. I’m not friends with him anymore either because, strangely enough, he thought I was the ass**le.”