Page 30

In honor of Kylie’s birthday, Sally has fixed pancakes and fresh orange juice and fruit salad topped with coconut and raisins. Earlier in the morning, before the birds were awake, she went out to the rear of the yard and cut some of the lilacs, which she’s arranged in a crystal vase. The flowers seem to glow, as if each petal emitted a plum-colored ray of light. They’re hypnotizing, if you look too long. Sally sat at the table staring at them, and before she knew it she had tears in her eyes and her first batch of pancakes had burned on the griddle.

Last night, Sally dreamed the ground beneath the lilacs turned red as blood, and the grass made a crying sound when the wind rose. She dreamed that the swans that haunt her on restless nights were pulling out their white feathers, one by one; they were building a nest large enough for a man. Sally awoke to find that her sheets were damp with sweat; her forehead felt as though it had been locked in a vise. But that was nothing compared to the night before, when she dreamed there was a dead man here at her table, and he wasn’t pleased with what she’d served him for dinner, which was vegetarian lasagna. With one fierce breath he blew every dish off the table; in an instant there was broken china everywhere, a sharp and savage carpet, strewn across the floor.

She’s been dreaming about Jimmy so much, seeing his cold, clear eyes, that sometimes she can’t think of anything else. She’s carrying this guy around with her, when she never even knew him in the first place, and it just doesn’t seem fair. The awful thing is, her relationship with this dead man is deeper than anything she’s had with any other man in the past ten years, and that’s frightening.

This morning Sally isn’t certain if she’s shaky from her dreams of Jimmy, or if it’s the coffee she’s already had that’s affecting her, or if it’s simply because her baby has now turned thirteen. It may be the potency of all three factors combined. Well, thirteen is still young, it doesn’t mean Kylie is all grown. At least that’s what Sally’s telling herself. But when Kylie and Gillian come in for breakfast, their arms looped around each other, Sally bursts into tears. There’s one factor she forgot to figure into her anxiety equation, and that’s jealousy.

“Well, good morning to you, too,” Gillian says.

“Happy birthday,” Sally says to Kylie, but she sounds downright gloomy.

“Emphasis on the ‘happy,’” Gillian reminds Sally as she pours herself a huge cup of coffee.

Gillian spies her reflection in the toaster; this is not a good hour for her. She smooths out the skin near her eyes. From now on she will not get out of bed until nine or ten at the earliest, although sometime after noon would be preferable.

Sally hands Kylie a small box, wrapped with pink ribbon. Sally has been especially careful, monitoring her grocery spending and avoiding restaurants in order to afford this gold heart on a chain. She can’t help but notice that before Kylie allows herself a reaction, she looks over at Gillian.

“Nice.” Gillian nods. “Real gold?” she asks.

Sally can feel something hot and red begin to move across her chest and her throat. What if Gillian had said the locket was a piece of junk; what would Kylie have done then?

“Thanks, Mom,” Kylie says. “It’s really nice.”

“Which is amazing, since your mom usually has no taste when it comes to jewelry. But this is really good.” Gillian holds the chain up to her neck and lets the heart dangle above her breasts. Kylie has begun to pile pancakes onto a plate. “You’re going to eat those?” Gillian asks. “All those carbohydrates?”

“She’s thirteen. A pancake won’t kill her.” Sally would like to strangle her sister. “She’s much too young to be thinking about carbohydrates.”

“Fine,” Gillian says. “She can think about it when she’s thirty. After it’s too late.”

Kylie goes for the fruit salad. Unless Sally is mistaken, she’s wearing Gillian’s blue pencil streaked beneath her eyes. Kylie carefully scoops two measly spoonfuls of fruit into a bowl and takes teeny, tiny bites, even though she’s nearly six feet tall and weighs only a hundred and eighteen pounds.

Gillian takes a bowl of fruit for herself. “Come by the Hamburger Shack at six. That will give us some time before dinner.”

“Great,” Kylie says.

Sally’s back is way up. “Time for what?”

“Nothing,” Kylie says, sullen as a full-fledged teenager.

“Girl talk.” Gillian shrugs. “Hey,” she says, reaching into the pocket of her jeans. “I almost forgot.”