Suddenly, the holidays were upon me again. Glynnis and Marshall were going to Acapulco with Marshall’s brother, his second wife, and the children of his first marriage.
“I feel so bad leaving you, honey,” Glynnis said.
I’d been with them for Thanksgiving, sitting around their big oval table while Ramsey, the puppy Marshall bought Glynnis for her birthday, rammed my legs with his damp black nose. When Marshall caught me feeding him bits of barbecued turkey breast, he said, “This dog is going to be the mooch of all time.”
Glynnis cleared her throat. “Amy, we have a surprise for you. Since we’re not going to be here for Christmas, we want to give you your present now.”
“You can leave me out of this one,” Marshall said.
“Marshall. Anyway, here it is.” She slid a long white envelope across the varnished surface of the dark wood. Inside was a first-class, round-trip ticket to Florida, good for six months.
“I told her, ‘Glynnis, you’re completely, totally wrong to do this. It’s up to her.’ ”
“Go see him, honey. You can enjoy the sun.”
“I can’t believe you did this,” I said.
“You see?” Marshall said. “Why should she see him if she doesn’t want to? It’s her life.”
“What about family unity? What about forgiveness?” she asked.
“Hey, the circumstances are a little bit tricky here,” Marshall said. “I feel for the guy, Glynnis, I really do, but he left the kid in the lurch. Why should she be in any hurry? Let the moment happen.”
“Maybe she could use a little time off.”
Little did she suspect: given the opportunity, I’d work through the entire holiday season, including both Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“This kid thrives on work,” Marshall said.
Before the argument progressed, I spoke. “I can’t accept this.” I pushed my gold-rimmed plate away and tossed my napkin beside it.
Glynnis waved her long fingers. “It’s non-refundable,” she sang. “Marshall, are you ready for pie?”
Then there was Jack. “I’ve got to go home,” he said. “Rhea’s bringing the baby. My parents will die if I don’t come.”
“Die,” he repeated.
We were lying in bed on a Sunday afternoon, the scrolled and painted radiators hissing throughout his apartment. The bare windows were filled with gray light. I could hear the faint bleating of traffic two stories below. Jack sat up, rubbed his hair, and yawned. He had a few black beauty marks spattered like melted fudge against the golden skin of his back.
“Why don’t you come with me?”
“Fox Hollow is the last place I want to go,” I said. “You know that.”
“Amy, why don’t you get over this? We’d have fun. You could meet my parents.”
“I’m sure your mother would be thrilled with my company,” I said, swinging myself out of bed. My clothes lay in a trail on the brown carpet.
“You have really low expectations of people, you know that?”
“My expectations are on par with my experiences,” I answered.
“Then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t you think that my having chosen you would affect her perceptions?”
My sweatshirt made a cone of warmth as I pulled it over my head, the fleece soft against my breasts.
“Jack, I don’t want to start from behind, and that’s always where I’ll be in Fox Hollow.”
He was quiet a moment, standing naked in the dim light, purple shadows on his penis.
“Then what are you doing with me?” he asked.
I slumped on the messy, faintly reeking sheets. “I don’t know.”
He crouched before me, the soft sack of his scrotum swinging. “But you are here, and it’s good, right?”
I scratched at a flaky patch near my elbow in silence.
“Well, what if my mom is rude, which she won’t be, but what if? I mean, so what? You can handle her. It’s not like anything that happened is even your fault!” He gave a little laugh.
“I think it cast a reflection,” I said. “There was this cloud or something around me. It was like everyone thought, ‘What kind of girl would this happen to?’ I mean, everyone, even my friends, stopped talking to me.”
“What if I asked you to come with me as a favor?” he asked. “Would you do it then? If it didn’t work out we could leave right away. I’d want to leave if they were rude. I really think this is a good time, though. They’re distracted with the baby, anyhow. Let’s hit ‘em all at once.”
I smiled. “You’re really milking this Rhea thing, you know.”
“Tell me. ‘Strike while the iron is hot,’ blah, blah, blah.” He cleared his throat. “Will you try it, for us?”
“Don’t put it like that.”
“I have to, or else you won’t go. Please?” He squeezed my knee.
I stood. “I don’t want to go to Michigan, I don’t want to go to Florida. I don’t want to do anything but work.”
“Fine. Stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. It’s your problem,” Jack said.
“I asked a guy at work, I said, ‘What do you do for the holidays, Donny?’ He said, ‘I go to my mother’s and pretend to enjoy myself, and I count the hours ‘til I can leave, that’s what,’ he told me.”
“Okay! Live with your stinking bitterness! ‘Oh, poor Amy, her family’s messed up, boo-hoo.’ God! You think you’re the only one things happened to in Fox Hollow? Remember Tonya Litvak? Her dad was caught embezzling last year, and her little sister, the one who was so good in track? Always running, even at night? She’s anorexic. They had to put her in the hospital twice in three months. You’re old news, Amy. Old news.” He turned away and reached for his jeans.
“Are they leaving?” I asked. “They might as well. No one will ever speak to them again.”
He snorted. “You’re just a broken record. No, they’re not leaving. Why should they? Some people will drop them, some people won’t, life goes on!”
“I bet they won’t last a year,” I said.
“They already have! You couldn’t last. Your father couldn’t last. But other people do. Figure it out.”
“I had to leave. Bev gave me a deadline. I flew out a few hours after graduation.”
“Look, I’m sure you did what was best. But it’s different for everyone. You’re not a pariah, okay? No one cares that much. People have their own problems.” Shirtless, he faced me. A lofty cloud of black hair rose from his crotch, tapering into an ascending line toward his navel.
I sat on the floor, my back against a fake wood paneled wall.
“I want to believe you, I really do. I think about it there all the time, how beautiful it was, how safe I felt before everything happened. But what if you’re wrong? What if your mom treats me like dirt? What if I go back and it’s horrible?”
He kneeled at my feet and held my toes, warming them between his big fingers. “What if I talk to her in advance?” he asked.
“No. No way. It’s too shabby.”
“Amy, come with me. Give it a try. We’re never going to make it if we don’t face this.”
“If I don’t face this. If I refuse.”
“We’ll do it together. It’ll all work out. Trust me.”
“ ‘Trust you.’ ”
“I already made the reservations,” he said.