She knocked on the big mahogany front door.
It was only a moment before David answered. So quickly, in fact, she thought perhaps he’d been waiting at the window.
"You’re late," he said, smiling slowly. He pulled her into his arms, right there in the open doorway where all the neighbors could see. She wanted to tell him to wait, to close the door, but once he kissed her, she forgot everything else. He’d always had that effect on her. At night, when she was in bed, alone and thinking about him, missing him, she wondered about her odd amnesia. Her only explanation for it was love; what else could make a perfectly sane girl think that without her boyfriend’s touch, the sun might slip out of the sky and leave the world cold and dark?
She looped her arms around his neck and smiled up at him. Their night hadn’t even really begun and already her chest felt tight with anticipation.
"It’s so cool that you can just be here. I’d have to tell my mom a dozen lies to get a night with you if they were in town."
Lauren tried to imagine a life like that, one where someone–a mom–was waiting for you, worrying about you.
No lies were needed in the Ribido apartment. Mom had spoken to Lauren about sex when she turned twelve. You’ll get talked into it, she’d said, lighting up a cigarette. It’ll seem like a good idea at the time. Still smoking, she’d tossed a box of condoms on the coffee table.
After that, Mom had let Lauren make her own decisions, as if handing out condoms were a mother’s only responsibility. Lauren had been setting her own curfews since childhood; if she didn’t come home at all, that was all right, too.
Lauren knew that if she told her friends this, they’d ooh and aah and tell her how lucky she was, but she would have traded all that freedom for a single bedtime kiss.
He stepped back, smiling, and took hold of her hand. "I have a surprise for you."
She followed him down the wide hallway. Her heels clicked on the creamy marble tiles. If his parents had been home, she would have tiptoed in silence; with only the two of them here she could be herself.
He turned, walked through the creamy stone archway that separated the hallway from the formal dining room.
It looked like a movie set. A long, brilliant wooden table flanked by sixteen ornately carved wooden chairs. In the center of the table was a huge arrangement of white roses, white lilies, and greenery.
On one end there were two place settings. Beautiful, translucent bone china rimmed in gold sat on ivory silk placemats. Gold flatware glinted in the light of a single candle.
She looked up at David, who was smiling so brightly he looked like a kid on the last day of school. "It took me forever to find all that shit. My mom has it all buried in all these blue covers."
He led her to her seat, pulled out her chair. When she sat down, he poured sparkling cider into her wineglass. "I was going to raid the old man’s wine room, but I knew you’d bitch at me and worry about getting caught."
"I love you," she said, embarrassed by the tears that stung her eyes.
"I love you, too." He grinned again. "And I’d like to formally ask you to go to the homecoming dance with me."
She laughed at that. "I’d be honored." They’d gone to every high school dance together. This would be their last homecoming. At the thought, her smile faded. Suddenly she was thinking of next year and the chance that they’d be separated. She looked up at him; she needed to convince him that they should be together at school. He believed their love could survive a separation. She wasn’t willing to take that chance. He was the only person who’d ever told her I love you. She didn’t want to live without that. Without him. "David, I–"
The doorbell rang.
She gasped. "Is it your parents? Oh, God–"
"Relax. They called from New York an hour ago. My dad was pissed off because the limo was five minutes late." He started for the door.
"Don’t answer it." She didn’t want anything to ruin this night for them. What if Jared and the guys had heard about the Hayneses’ business trip? That was all the seed that was needed; a high school party could blossom in a second.
David laughed. "Just stay here."
She heard him walk down the hallway and open the door. Then she heard voices. A bit of laughter. The door clicked shut.
A minute later, David walked into the formal dining room, holding a pizza box. Dressed in his low-slung, baggy jeans and Don’t Be Jealous, Not Everyone Can Be Me T-shirt, he was so handsome she had trouble breathing.
He came to the table, set the box down. "I wanted to cook for you," he said, losing his smile for just a second. "I burned the shit out of everything."
Lauren stood up slowly, moved in close to him. "This is perfect."
She heard the neediness in his voice and it touched her heart in a deep, deep place. She knew how that felt, wanting to please someone. "Really," she answered, pressing onto her toes to kiss him.
He pulled her into his arms, held her so close she couldn’t breathe.
By the time they ate the pizza, it was cold.
LIVVY’S NEW HOUSE WAS A 1970S-STYLE SPLIT-LEVEL on a big corner lot in one of the nicer subdivisions in town. Some of the homes–the really expensive ones– looked out over the ocean. The rest had access to a kidney-shaped swimming pool and a community center that proudly offered kitchen facilities. When Angie had been in school, Havenwood had been The Place to live. She remembered sitting around the pool in the summers with her friends, watching the mothers. Most of them were in lounge chairs, wearing sexy one-piece swimming suits and wide brimmed hats; cigarettes and gin and tonics were in every adult hand. She’d thought they were so sophisticated, those white-bread suburban women. Nothing like her spicy Italian mother who had never spent a day lounging beside a community pool.
Her sister must have looked on this place with the same adolescent longing to belong.
She parked in Livvy’s circular driveway behind the Subaru wagon and got out of the car. At the front door, she paused.
This had to be done carefully. Surgeon-doing-openheart-work carefully. Angie had been awake most of last night thinking about it. Well, about that and other things. It had been another bad night in her lonely bed, and while she’d lain there, remembering what she’d longed to forget and worrying about her future, one thing had come clear: She had to get Livvy back to work. Angie had no idea how to run the restaurant by herself and no desire to do it for long.
I’m sorry, Liv.
Those were clearly the opening words. After that, she’d eat a little humble pie and cajole her sister with compliments. Whatever would work. Livvy had to return to the restaurant. Angie hadn’t wanted to work here for life, after all; just for a month or two until she could sleep alone in her bed again.
She knocked on the door.
Finally Livvy opened the door. She wore a tight pink velour sweat suit with J. Lo emblazoned across her chest. "I figured you’d show up. Come on in." She backed up and turned around. There wasn’t really room for both of them in the postage stamp-sized entry. Livvy went up the carpeted stairs to the formal living room, where a plastic runner lay over the carpet, showing the preferred footpath.
Pale blue velvet sofas faced each other, separated by a glossy wood table. The accent chairs were ornately gilt; the fabric was pink and blue flowers. The sculpted carpet was orange.
"We haven’t gotten new carpeting yet," Livvy said. "The furniture is awesome, though. Don’t you think?"
Angie noticed the taupe-colored Naugahyde La-Z-Boy, still in plastic. "Beautiful. Did you decorate yourself?"
Livvy’s plank chest seemed to expand. "I did. I was going to use a decorator, but Sal said I was as good as any of those gals down at Rick’s Sofa World."
"I’m sure you are."
"I was thinking maybe I’d even get a job down there. Have a seat. Coffee?"
"Sure." Angie sat down on a sofa.
Livvy went into the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with two cups of coffee. She handed one to Angie, then sat down across from her.
Angie stared into her coffee. There was no point in putting it off. "You know why I’m here."
"I’m sorry, Livvy. I didn’t mean to insult you or criticize you or hurt your feelings."
"I know that. You’ve always done it accidentally."
"I’m different from you and Mira, as you’ve pointed out so often. Sometimes I can be too … focused."
"Is that what they call it in the big city? Us small-town girls say bitchy. Or obsessive-compulsive." Livvy smiled. "We watch Oprah, too, you know."
"Come on, Liv. You’re killing me here. Accept my apology and say you’ll come back to work. I need your help. I think we can really help Mama out."
Livvy took a deep breath. "Here’s the thing. I’ve been helping Mama out. For five years, I’ve worked at that damn restaurant and listened to her opinion on everything from my haircut to my shoes. No wonder it took me so long to meet a decent guy." She leaned forward. "Now I’m a wife. I have a husband who loves me. I don’t want to blow it. It’s time for me to stop being a DeSaria first and everything else second. Sal deserves that."
Angie wanted to be angry at Livvy, to bend her sister to her will; instead, she had a fleeting, painful thought about her own marriage: Maybe at some point she should have made it more important than children. She sighed. It was too late now. "You want a new start," she said quietly, feeling an unexpected connection to her sister. They had this in common.
"You’re doing the right thing. I should have–"
"Don’t go there, Angie. I know you flip me shit about my other husbands but I learned something from them. Life keeps going. You think it’ll stop, wait for you to be done crying, but it just keeps moving. Don’t spend your time looking back. You don’t want to miss what’s ahead."
"I guess this is what’s ahead for me right now. Thanks a lot." She tried to smile. "Could you see your way to helping me, at least? Maybe give me some advice?"
"You’re asking me for advice?"
"Just this once, and I probably won’t follow it." She reached into her purse for her notepad.
Livvy laughed. "Read me your list."
"How did you know–"
"You started making lists in third grade. Remember how they used to disappear?"
"I flushed them down the toilet. They made me crazy. All those things you wanted to accomplish." She smiled. "I should have made a few lists of my own."
It was as close to a compliment as Angie had ever gotten from her sister. She handed her the notepad. The list was three pages long.
Livvy flipped it open. Her lips moved as she read. A smile started, slowly at first. By the time she looked up, she was close to laughing. "You want to do all this?"
"What’s wrong with it?"
"Have you met our mother? You know, the woman who has put exactly the same ornaments on her Christmas tree for more than three decades? Why? Because she likes the tree the way it is."
Angie winced. It was true. Mama was a generous, loving, giving woman … as long as things went exactly the way she wanted them to go. These changes would not be welcomed.