“Gee, thanks.” Antonia can’t take much more of this. “Like I wanted it in the first place.”
She dares to look over her shoulder. Mr. Frye is watching the ceiling fan as though it were the most fascinating thing on earth. Antonia assumes this has to do with some sort of scientific study of speed or light, but in fact it’s directly related to the experiences of Ben Frye’s youth, when he went out to San Francisco to visit a friend and stayed for nearly ten years, during which time he worked for a rather well-known maker of LSD. Such was his introduction to science. It is also the reason why there are times when he has to slow the world down. That’s when he stops and stares, at things like ceiling fans and raindrops on window glass. That’s when he wonders what on earth he’s been doing with his life.
Now, as he watches the fan spin around, he is thinking about the woman he saw earlier that day, in Sally Owens’s backyard. He backed off, the way he always does, but it won’t happen a second time. If he ever sees her again he’s going to go right up to her and ask her to marry him, that’s what he’ll do. He’s sick of letting fate roll right past him. For years, he’s been a lot like this restaurant fan, spinning around and getting noplace. What, when it comes right down to it, is the difference between him and a mayfly, which lives a whole damned adult existence in twenty-four hours? The way Ben sees it, he’s just about passing by hour nineteen right now, given the statistics for a man’s longevity. If five more hours is what he’s got left, he might as well live, he might as well say to hell with it and, for once, just go out and do as he pleases.
Ben Frye is considering all this, as well as deciding whether or not to order a cappuccino, since it will mean he’ll be up half the night, when Gillian walks through the door. She’s wearing Antonia’s best white shirt and a pair of old blue jeans and she has the most beautiful smile on her face. Her smile could knock a dove right out of a tree. It could turn a grown man’s head so completely he might spill his beer and never even notice that a pool was spreading across the tablecloth and onto the floor.
“Get ready,” Gillian says, as she approaches the booth where three very unhappy customers with low blood sugar and no patience left whatsoever are waiting.
“We’ve been ready for forty-five minutes,” Sally tells her sister. “If you have got an excuse, it better be a good one.”
“Don’t you see?” Gillian says.
“We see you don’t think of anyone but yourself,” Antonia says.
“Oh, really?” Gillian, says. “Well, you sure would know about such things. You would know better than anyone.”
“Holy shit,” Gideon Barnes says.
At this moment he has forgotten his empty, growling stomach. He no longer cares that his legs are cramping from being squooshed into this booth for so long. Someone who looks a lot like Kylie is walking toward them, only this person is a knockout. This person has short blond hair and is thin, not in the way that storks are but in the style of women who can make you fall in love with them even when you’ve known them for what seems like forever though you aren’t much more than a kid yourself.
“Holy fucking shit,” Gideon says as this person gets closer. It is indeed Kylie. It must be, because when she grins Gideon can see the tooth she chipped last summer when she dove for the ball during soccer practice.
As soon as she notices the way they’re all staring at her, open-mouthed, like goldfish whose bowl she’s just been dropped into, Kylie feels something tingly which resembles embarrassment, or perhaps it’s regret. She slides into the booth next to Gideon.
“I’m famished,” she says. “Are we having pizza?”
Antonia has to take a drink of water, and still she feels as though she might faint. Something horrible has happened. Something has changed so intensely that the world doesn’t even seem to be spinning on the same axis anymore. Antonia can feel herself fade in the yellow lighting of Del Vecchio’s; she is already becoming Kylie Owens’s sister, the one with the too-red hair who works down at the ice cream parlor and has fallen arches and a bad shoulder that prevents her from playing tennis or pulling her own weight.
“Well, isn’t anybody going to say anything?” Gillian asks. “Isn’t anyone going to say, ‘Kylie! You look incredible! You’re gorgeous! Happy birthday’?”
“How could you do this?” Sally stands up to face her sister. She may have been drinking Chianti for nearly an hour, but she’s sober now. “Did you ever think of asking my permission? Did you ever think she might be too young to start dyeing her hair and wearing makeup and doing whatever the hell else will lead her on the same dreadful path you’ve been on your whole life? Did you ever think that I don’t want her to be like you, and if you had any brains you wouldn’t want that for her either, especially considering what you just went through, and you know exactly what I mean.” By now Sally is hysterical, and she’s not about to keep her voice down. “How could you?” she asks. “How dare you!” she cries.