“That’s weird,” Grace said. “All mommies know how to drive.”
“I’ll get my license back,” Mommy said. “By first grade, I’ll be ready. Now, how about breakfast? I’m starving.”
Grace launched herself onto Daddy’s back, and Daddy carried her into the kitchen, plopping her down in her seat at the table.
All the time she was eating, she couldn’t help staring at her mommy. She could tell that Daddy couldn’t help himself either. It felt like being a family.
And Grace could think of a lot more to say to her mommy now. Through breakfast and out to the car, Grace talked. She told Mommy about how bendable Barbie was and how cool Hannah Montana and Cinderella were and how long she could hold her breath, and before she knew it, she said, “An I c’n waterski like Ashley Hamerow.”
They were in the car now, driving to school.
Mom turned in her seat and looked at Grace. “Is that true?”
“It could be.”
“But is it?”
Grace slumped in her car seat. “No.” It was hard to only tell the truth. How would anyone like her for who she really was?
At school, Dad pulled out of the carpool lane and parked under the big trees off to the side of the school.
“Can I walk you into class?” Mommy asked.
Grace got that fluttery feeling again. She smiled. “You could be my show and tell.”
Mommy smiled. “I’d like that.”
They walked through the crowd of children, and Grace started to feel sick. Mommy was gonna notice that she had no friends.
But all the way to the classroom door, Mommy held her hand, and when they got there, she knelt down and looked at Grace.
“You remember when I told you about my best friend, Mia?”
Grace nodded. She wanted to suck her thumb, but the kids would just make fun of her for that.
“I was so scared the day I met her. It was the first day of school, and no one liked me. I ran out of the lunchroom ’cause I couldn’t sit with anyone. And then I saw this other girl sitting all by herself. And I just went up to her and started talking. That’s how we became best friends. You have to take a chance, Grace. Talk to someone.”
Mommy pulled Grace into a fierce hug and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be here to pick you up when school’s over.”
“I promise,” her mommy said, and then she backed away.
Grace looked nervously into the classroom, where kids were busy doing all kinds of things. She saw Samantha standing by the cubbies, all by herself. “Ariel? Are you here? I need you.”
Grace looked down at her wrist; she saw a flash of yellow and heard a sound that was like laughing, or maybe like the waves in front of Nana’s house. “I’m scared,” she whispered. “What should I say?”
You know what to say. You don’t need me anymore, Gracerina.
“I do! Don’t go.” Grace started to panic. Her cheeks got hot. She was afraid she was gonna cry.
Go on, Gracerina. You have your mommy now. Trust her.
Grace looked at her mom one last time and then walked into the classroom.
Her heart was beating like crazy. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to Samantha and just stood there beside her. “My mommy came home last night,” she said finally.
Samantha turned to her. “The spy?”
“She’s not really a spy.”
“What is she?”
“You wanna sit by me today?” Grace said, biting her lip.
“Are you gonna punch me?”
“Do you like hopscotch?” Samantha finally said. “Cuz I do.”
“Yeah,” Grace said, smiling. It was a lie. Really, she didn’t know how to play hopscotch, but she wanted to learn. And anyway she didn’t think it was a bad lie. “I love hopscotch.”
* * *
The day woke Jude gently. She lay in bed with Miles, feeling his body along hers, hearing the catch in his breathing that meant he would soon start snoring.
She kissed his stubbly cheek and peeled back the covers to get out of bed. Through her bedroom windows, she saw a brilliant salmon-pink sky glowing above the steel blue Sound, and, for the first time in years, she went in search of a camera.
Standing outside in her terrycloth robe and bare feet, she took several pictures of the black cedar tree silhouetted against the pink sky. It looked new to her all of a sudden. Dew sparkled on the dense green lawn and on the stone patio. She thought about the parties they used to have in this backyard, the laughter that used to fill it, and she hungered for a time like that again. She’d bought that huge outdoor table for her future, assuming that she would have grandkids clustered around it one day. It hadn’t been used in years.
She walked purposefully outside and pulled the plastic covering off the table, exposing it to the sunlight again.
Then the garden caught her eye.
In bare feet, she walked across the dewy grass and stared down at her runaway garden. Everything was a mess; the rows she’d once clipped so carefully were impossible to distinguish in the riot of color. There were flowers everywhere—blooming in spite of her absence, their colorful blossoms tangling up with one another.
Before, she would have seen disorder here, plants that grew where they weren’t supposed to and bloomed with abandon. She would have gone in search of her tools—clippers and trowels and stakes—and set about the task of re-creation.
Now, though, on this bright morning, she saw what she hadn’t seen before. There was a beauty in chaos, a wildness that hinted at things gone wrong and mistakes overcome. She stood there a long time, looking down at her ruined and yet still beautiful garden. Finally, she knelt in the grass and began pulling up weeds. When she’d cleared a space, she got shakily to her feet. It was a start.
She went to her glass-sided greenhouse, where once she’d poured her heart and soul into trays filled with black soil. Things were forgotten in here now, draped in cobwebs. A watering system had kept everything alive; plants, like people, learned to grow in rocky terrain. Up on a high shelf in the back, she found what she was looking for: a small white packet of wildflower seeds. She’d bought them years ago, from a friend of Mia and Zach’s who’d been selling them outside of Safeway. For a trip somewhere, she thought. She’d never intended to plant them, not wildflowers that could sprout anywhere.
Taking the packet of seeds from the shelf, she walked out and stood in the center of her overgrown garden.
She poured the mismatched seeds into her palm and stared down at them, reminded of how small things were in the beginning. With a smile, she threw the seeds across the garden. Someday, she would be surprised by what would grow from these seeds. And soon, maybe tomorrow, she would plant a white rose right there, where Mia had lost her first tooth …
Returning to the house, she made a pot of coffee. The smoky, roasted scent of it filled the house, drew Miles stumbling into the kitchen with his hand outstretched, mumbling, “Coffee.”
She handed him a cup, black. “Here you go.”
“You’re an angel.”
“Speaking of that…”
“Speaking of what?”
Miles frowned. “You know I have trouble before coffee, but were we talking about angels?”
“I’m going to the cemetery today,” she said quietly. “I decided yesterday.”
“You want me to come with you?”
She loved him for asking. “This is something I need to do by myself.”
“Call me when you get home?”
“Afraid I’ll throw myself in some open hole?”
He kissed her and drew back. “Been there, done that. Not worried anymore. You’ve come back.”
“Call me Frodo.”
“Not Frodo. Sam. Sam came home and got married and had a life.”
“You’re right. I’m Sam.”
She stood by him in the kitchen for the next half hour, sipping coffee and talking. When he left her and headed for the shower, she was struck by the extraordinariness of it all: that they could stand around and talk about little things again. A potential dinner party. The newest coffee maker. A movie that was getting good reviews.
She had gone a whole hour without thinking about her heartache. That might not sound like much to some people, but to her it was monumental, like swimming the English Channel. It offered her a glimpse of something she’d given up on: the possibility of being herself again, of even someday being happy with her life. She knew she could never let go of her sadness, but maybe Harriet was right: maybe she could go on. Maybe time didn’t heal wounds exactly, but it gave you a kind of armor, or a new perspective. A way to remember with a smile instead of a sob. Maybe someday when a stranger asked how many children she had, she could simply say one and talk about Zach.
God, she hoped so.
She met Miles in the bathroom and went into the shower as he was coming out. He patted her bare butt, and she smiled and scooted out of his reach and ducked into the hot water. She was rinsing the conditioner out of her hair when the glass door opened.
“You sure you’re going to be okay?” Miles said again.
“I’m fine. Call Zach and remind them that we’re going to the aquarium tomorrow. Mom is meeting us there.”
Miles paused, and she knew him well enough to recognize that he was thinking about something.
“What?” she said, stepping out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her body.
“We had a pretty big anniversary a few years ago. We didn’t celebrate it. We didn’t celebrate any of them … after.”
“We’ll do better this year. Dinner at Canlis.”
He held out a familiar blue velvet box.
She was shaking as she reached out for the small, soft box. The velvet was worn on top; that was how often she’d held it, but she hadn’t touched it in years. Releasing a deep breath, she flipped open the lid. One a bed of stark white, Mia’s graduation ring stood up proudly, the gold glinting in the light. The once-empty prongs had been filled with a sparkling pink diamond.
Jude looked up at this man she loved, and the full power of that emotion, of their commitment, surged through her like a tide carrying her home. He knew her better than she knew herself; he knew that she needed this reminder of their daughter, something Jude could wear, see every day.
“I love you, Miles Farraday.”
He touched her face, smiling. “You’re a warrior. You know that?”
He kissed her again, whispered, “Tell her hi for me,” and then went back into the bedroom.
After he left the house, she dried her hair and dressed in a pair of old, comfortable jeans and a white hoodie. Ordinarily, she’d take the time to put on makeup, but today she didn’t feel the need to hide anything. She was who she was: a woman who’d survived a war of the heart and had the wrinkles to prove it.
She meant to leave right away, but somehow she couldn’t do it. She spent the next few hours doing chores, picking things up around the house, doing laundry, making a casserole for dinner.