From This Moment(9)


by Melanie Harlow

“Did she like her gifts?”

“Loved them. Put the dress on right away.”

She clucked her tongue. “God love her, did she really?”

“Mmhm.”

My mother set her magazine aside, got off the couch, and headed for the kitchen, her bare feet silent on the shiny wood floor. She pulled a big white casserole dish with a glass cover from the fridge. “Let me make you a plate.”

“Don’t bother, Mom. I ate at Hannah’s.”

“What?” She blinked at me like she must have misheard.

“I ate dinner at Hannah’s.” I braced myself for the icy wind about to blow through the house.

The casserole dish thunked on the granite counter. “Well…you didn’t tell me you were going to eat there.”

“I didn’t know. But she offered, and I was hungry. I’m sorry.” I tried to look as contrite as possible. “I’ll eat the mac and cheese for lunch tomorrow.”

Her chin jutted forward as she turned her back to me and slid the casserole back into the huge stainless fridge. “What did she make, pasta?”

I didn’t miss the snide note. I wondered how Drew had managed this—his mother’s obvious resentment of his wife. It was ridiculous, especially since Drew was gone. No wonder Hannah seemed reluctant to come over tomorrow. “Yes, pasta with tomato basil sauce. It was delicious.”

She didn’t say anything to that, just switched off the light in the kitchen and went back to her seat on the couch. “How’d the house look?” she asked, resettling on the couch. “Last time I was there it didn’t look too clean. But she works so much, I don’t know how she has time for housework, bless her heart.”

“The house looked fine.”

“What’s a six-letter word for ‘thinking only of oneself’?” my dad interjected.

M-o-t-h-e-r, I thought.

“Starts with a G,” he added. It was hard to tell if he was interrupting on purpose because he heard what my mother was doing, or if he was oblivious to our conversation. My dad could be wily sometimes.

“Greedy?” my mother suggested.

“Aha!” He pointed a finger in the air and filled in the squares with his pencil. “That’s gotta be it.”

“So Mom, how about having a cookout tomorrow on the beach? I invited Abby and Hannah to come over in the afternoon.”

“Did she say she’d come?”

“Yes. She works until two, but after that.”

My mother’s face brightened. “I could make sweet honey ribs. And salad with grilled peaches. Deviled eggs, and green goddess potato salad.”

“Don’t go to all that trouble. Really, I just wanted to cook some hot dogs and s’mores over a fire on the beach with Abby like Drew and I used to.”

“Oh.” She stiffened. “I guess if we’re not invited…”

I took a breath and counted to three. “Everyone is invited. I just didn’t want you to go to any trouble.”

“Since when is feeding my family any trouble?”

“I like hot dogs and s’mores,” my father put in without looking up from his crossword.

“There. See? We can just keep it casual.”

My mother sniffed. “Fine. Casual. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make a few things on the side.”

“That sounds great, Mom.” A compromise. I’d take it. “Thanks.”

“I also want to talk about your birthday dinner.”

“My birthday isn’t until October.”

“I like planning ahead. And you haven’t been around for your birthday in years. I want to make sure we celebrate it.”

I understood that she needed something fun to focus on for my birthday. Otherwise, it would just be another day to mourn the loss of Drew. It would have been his birthday, too. It was still strange to me that I was older than he would ever be. He’d been older than me for thirty-five years. “We can do whatever you want, Mom.”

She smiled. “So what are you up to the rest of the night?”

“I was thinking of giving Pete a call.” I hadn’t actually thought of it until right that minute, but despite the cathedral ceiling above me, the house was feeling a little stifling.

“Might as well.” She sighed and picked up her magazine again. “Since you already had dinner.”

I ignored that and wandered out through the sliding screen door onto the wooden deck that overlooked the lawn and, beyond it, the lake. Scrolling through my contacts, I checked to see if I still had a cell number for Pete. I did, so I shot him a quick text and he called me right away.

“Hello?”

“Hey! I heard you were back in town! Welcome home.”

“Thanks.”

“How are you? Is it good to be back?”

I thought about it. “Yes and no. Mostly yes, I guess.”

“It’s gotta be strange for you without Drew here.”

Looking out over the lawn, I saw a thousand games of catch and Frisbee and capture the flag with my brother and our friends. Nights just like this at the end of summer, August heat still hanging on even though it was September, the breeze warm, the temperature of the lake finally perfect. “It is.”

“Man, what a shock. I still can’t get over it.”

“Me neither.”

“Hey, I’m on kid duty tonight because Georgia is working, but want to come over for a beer?”

I slapped at a mosquito on my leg. “Yeah. I’d like that. My mother is driving me fucking crazy. I really need to move out.”

He laughed. “Come on over. Pull around the back of the inn and park in the drive. We live in an addition off the old part of the house.”

“Okay. See you in ten.”

“You’ve got a great place here,” I told Pete after he’d shown me around. “Whoever did your addition did a really good job staying true to the style of the old house.”

“Thanks. We like it.” He pulled two beers from the fridge and took off the caps. “Let’s go out back and sit on the deck. I can hear the monitor from there.”

Outside, he lit a few citronella candles to keep the bugs at bay, and their wicks sizzled in the dark. We sat in a couple Adirondack chairs that needed a new coat of paint, our legs stretched out in front of us.

“Have you seen Hannah yet?” Pete asked. “She works for us here.”

“I heard that.” I took a slow pull on my beer, not entirely comfortable with the way my heart beat a little faster at the sound of her name. “Yeah, I saw her earlier tonight, actually. I stopped by the house.”

“She’s had it rough.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“But it worked out really well hiring her. I had no idea how good she was in the kitchen. When Georgia came to me and suggested it, I wasn’t sure.”

“I knew she was pretty good. Does she still bake pies?”

Pete moaned. “Oh God, the pies.” He rubbed a hand over his stomach, which was slightly paunchy. “They kill me. But everything she makes is good.”

We drank in silence for a moment before Pete spoke again. “So what about you? Your dad’s retiring, I hear. You taking over the practice?”

“That’s the plan.”

“So you’re sticking around, then.”

“Yeah.”

Pete laughed. “You don’t sound too excited about it.”

“Sorry.” I took a long swallow before elaborating. “My mother is stressing me out.”

“Moms are good at that. I love mine, but most days I’m pretty glad she’s in Florida.”

“Exactly. I think I’ll like her better once I get my own place. I’m just feeling a little smothered. She was always easier to deal with when Drew was around.”

“You should talk to my brother, Brad. He sells real estate, and I bet he could find you a great place pretty quickly. Lots of people sell this time of year here.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll do that. How are your brothers? I hear Jack is remarried and has a baby?”

“Yep. So he’s exhausted, that’s how he is.” Pete laughed. “His wife is Margot, I’m not sure if you’ve met her. Their son James was born a few months ago. Brad’s the same. Still single, has his daughter with him every other week.”

“That’s great.” I tipped my beer back again. “I’m happy for you guys.”

“Thanks.”

We talked through another beer, getting caught up on family and friends and future plans. We laughed about the dumb things we did as kids and traded favorite memories involving Drew and all the dares he took.

“Oh, man, I thought for sure he’d break a leg when he jumped off that roof.” Pete laughed. “And I can’t believe he never got caught buying beer all those times.”

“It’s because there was always a female cashier,” I said. “He could talk a woman into anything.”

“Fuck yes, he could.” Pete took another sip. “I was actually surprised he got married first. I thought for sure you would.”