Night Road

Page 15

"Of course." Mother's smile was as brittle as old bones. "I thought we could eat outside today. It's so unexpectedly lovely." Without waiting for a response, she led Jude through the gallery and up to the rooftop patio that overlooked Alaskan Way. From here, the view of Elliott Bay and Pine Island sparkled in the pale autumn sunlight. Large sculpted evergreens grew from huge terra-cotta pots. A table had been set with silver and crystal. Everything was perfect, as usual. Lovely, as her mother would have said.
Jude sat down, scooting in close.
Mother poured two glasses of wine and then sat down across from Jude. "So," she said, lifting a silver lid and serving up the salad niçoise, "what are you doing with yourself these days?"
"The kids are seniors in high school. That keeps me pretty busy."
"Of course. What will you do when they go to college?"
The remark was unsettling. "I saw a master gardener class that looked interesting," she said, hearing-and hating-the anemic tone in her voice. Lately, she'd begun to wonder exactly the same thing. What would she do when her children were gone?
Her mother looked at her. "Would you ever consider managing JACE?"
"The gallery. I'm getting older. Most of my friends retired long ago. You've a good eye for talent."
"But … the gallery is your life."
"Is it?" Her mother sipped her wine. "I suppose. Why couldn't it be yours as well?"
Jude considered that. She had watched her mother work this gallery for years, giving up everything else in her life. She'd even given up painting. Nothing mattered to her mother except the artists she chose and their work. It was an empty existence. And then there was the real problem: her mother would never quit, and the idea of working together was horrifying. They hadn't had an honest conversation in thirty-some years. "I don't think so."
Mother put down her wine. "May I ask why not?"
"I can't see us working well together. And I certainly can't see you actually retiring, Mother. What would you do?"
Her mother glanced away, looked out at the bay, where a boat was pulling up to the marina. "I don't know."
For the first time in years, Jude felt a kind of kinship with her mother. Both of them were facing changes in life, the natural consequences of aging. The difference between them was that Jude had people she loved around her. In that way, her mother was a cautionary tale. "You'll never quit," she said.
"You're right, of course. Now, let's eat. I only have forty minutes left. Really, Judith, you should try to be on time for our lunches…"
They spent the next forty-four minutes making agonizing small talk; neither one really listened to the other. Long silences punctuated every comment, and in the quiet, Jude all too often recalled her lonely childhood. Years she'd spent waiting for a kind word from this woman. When it was finally over, Jude said good-bye and left the gallery.
Outside, she stood on the street, unexpectedly unsettled. Her mother had struck a nerve with that what will you do? sentence, and it irritated Jude that she even cared. She walked down the busy street toward her car. She was almost there when she glanced in a window and stopped.
There, in a glass display case, was a gorgeous gold ring.
She went inside, looked closer. It was stunning: a perfect combination of edgy and sophisticated, modern and timeless. The shape was slightly asymmetrical, with a triangular flap on the top edge. The artist must have somehow wrapped heated metal around a form and then twisted it just enough to give the wide band a fun little tail. The empty jewel prong was also slightly off center.
Jude looked up. In response, an elegantly coifed older woman made almost no noise as she crossed the store and stepped gracefully behind the counter. "Have you found something?"
Jude pointed at the ring.
"Ah. Exquisite." The saleswoman unlocked the glass case and withdrew the piece. "It's a Bazrah. One of a kind." She offered it to Jude, who slipped it on her forefinger.
"It would make a beautiful graduation gift for my daughter. What stone would you suggest setting in it?"
The woman frowned in concentration. "You know, I don't have children, but if I were buying my daughter a ring like this, I think I'd want to extend the experience. Perhaps you could choose the stone together."
Jude loved the idea. "How much is it?"
"Six hundred and fifty dollars," the saleswoman answered.
"Maybe you'd like to look at something less-"
"No. This is the ring I want. And could you show me some watches? For my son…"
Jude spent another thirty minutes in the store, waiting for the inscriptions to be finished, then paid for her purchases and left.
She drove down to the waterfront and caught the three o'clock ferry. At just before four, she was back on Pine Island, turning onto Night Road.
At home, she found Mia seated at the dining room table, with her laptop open, watching something on the screen.
"I overacted in Our Town," Mia said miserably. "Why didn't anyone tell me? USC will hate this."
Jude went to Mia, stood beside her. "Go to that scene in Streetcar, when you were on the balcony. That'll blow them away."
Mia took out one CD and put in another.
"How was school today?"
Mia shrugged . "Mrs. Rondle gave us a pop quiz. So lame. And they announced the winter play. Romeo and Juliet, set during the Vietnam War. I can get the lead, which is cool. Zach is gonna take Lexi home after practice, but he'll be home for dinner."
Jude rubbed Mia's back. "What do you think about Zach and Lexi being together?"
"I bet it's killed you not to ask me that before."
Jude smiled. "A little."
Mia looked up. "It's scary … and sorta cool, I guess."
Jude thought about Mia before Lexi, when her daughter had been like a scared, fragile turtle with her head tucked deep inside her shell. Mia's only friends had been fictional. Lexi had changed all that. "Whatever happens between them, you and Lexi have to stay honest with each other. You have to stay friends."
"After Zach breaks up with her. That's what you mean."
"I'm just saying…"
"I've thought of it myself, believe me. But … I think he really likes her. He talks about her all the time."
Jude stood there a minute longer, trying to figure out how to best bring up the other thing on her mind. Finally, she decided to just do it. "There's one other thing…"
"What? You want to ask me again if Tyler and I are doing it? We're not." Mia laughed.
"I remember the first time I fell in love. Keith Corcoran. Senior year of high school. Just like you. I didn't know until Keith kissed me how falling in love could be like riding a waterfall into warm water." She shrugged. "No one talked to me about it. Grandma is a pretty buttoned-up woman. All she ever said to me about love was that it derailed a woman. So I learned on my own and, like everyone, I made some mistakes. And the world is more dangerous now. I don't want you to sleep with Tyler-you're too young-but…" She went over to the second drawer beside the stove, opened it. She took out a small brown bag and handed it to Mia. "These are for you. Just in case."
Mia peered into the bag and saw the word condom printed on a brightly colored box. She gasped and clamped a hand over the bag. "Mo-om. Gross. We haven't done anything."
"I'm not saying you'll need them. In fact, I hope you don't, but you know me. And I can see that you think you do love him."
"I don't need these," Mia mumbled. "But thanks."
Jude looked down at her daughter. Touching her chin, she forced Mia to look up at her. "Sex changes everything, Mia. It can be great for a relationship when you're ready-older-but it can be napalm when you're not ready. And baby, you're not ready. Just so you know."
* * *
By mid-November, every kid in the senior class was stressed out. The high school hallways were filled now with kids talking about colleges. Families spent weekends on the road, visiting campuses and talking to admissions counselors and trying to find the perfect fit.
Lexi's concerns-and stresses-were less complex. She didn't have some endless bank account from which to draw money, so her choices were limited to state schools. And sadly, since she'd fallen in love, her grades had dropped. It wasn't much, just a tenth of a point, but in the dog-eat-dog world of college admissions, that was appreciable. Lately, when she was at the Farradays' or out with Zach and Mia and Tyler, she felt like some visitor from another country, unable to really comprehend their conversations. They all talked about USC and Loyola and NYU as if they were shoes you could point to and purchase.
Lexi could hardly comprehend that kind of confidence.
She stared down at the paperwork in front of her. Columns of calculations taunted her. No matter how hard she tried, there wasn't going to be enough money. Not for a four-year school. If she didn't get a governor's full-ride scholarship, she was out of the race.
Down the hall, a door opened.
Lexi looked up, saw Eva coming her way. "You've been at that a long time."
"College is expensive," Lexi said with a sigh.
"I wish…"
"How did I get to be this age with no money? I hate that I can't help you more."
Lexi felt a rush of affection for this woman who had changed her life, given her a place to belong. "Don't say that, Eva. You've given me everything that matters."
Eva looked down at her. She looked worried; the wrinkles around her mouth compressed into deep grooves. "I talked to Barbara today."
"How is your sister? Still knitting enough blankets for a third world country?"
Eva sat down across from Lexi. "She wants me to move to Florida with her-after you graduate, of course. I wouldn't even think of it, but … this weather is hell on my knees. We were thinking maybe you could come, too. There's a beauty school right down the road. That's a good trade. People always need their hair cut."
Lexi tried to smile. She wanted to, but couldn't quite find the strength. The idea of being without Eva was frightening, but Florida was so far away. How would she ever see Mia and Zach if she lived in Florida? And would she really have to choose between the people she loved? Was that part of growing up?
"I guess you're thinking of your young man. You goin' to school together, then?"
"No. We'll see each other on vacations, though. I'll be in Seattle and he'll come home to see his parents."
"So you got it all worked out."

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