Night Road

Page 8

Mia pushed the tangled blond hair out of her eyes, which were a little dazed looking, unfocused. A red scratch marred one pale cheek. Lexi had no idea how Mia had gotten the injury. No doubt Mia didn't either. "Man," she said. "I got roasted last night."
"You did." Lexi went back to the bed and climbed in beside her best friend.
Mia leaned against her. "Thanks for taking care of me. I swear I didn't drink that much." She banged her head back against the wall. "God, I hope my mom doesn't hear about this."
Lexi couldn't take it; the truth was corroding her from the inside out. She had to be a good friend to Mia. She had to be. "Speaking of last night. I did a really stup-"
Mia sat up suddenly. "Tyler asked me to the homecoming dance."
Lexi stopped. "What?" She and Mia usually hung out together on dance nights. Neither one of them had been asked to any of the dances last year. She felt vaguely jealous that this time she'd be sitting out the dance while Mia was having fun.
"You can come with us. Really. It'd be a blast. We could triple date with Amanda and Zach."
"Uh. No. And about Zach…"
"What about him?" Mia kicked back the covers and got out of bed. She stood there, a little unsteady on her feet, looking around the room for her pants.
"They're in the dryer. You puked on them last night."
"Gross." Mia padded out of the bedroom and headed down the hallway. The trailer shuddered at the weight of her steps.
Lexi followed Mia, stood in the hall while her friend slipped back into her jeans. She was about to bring up Zach again when Eva came out of her bedroom.
"Hey, Eva," Mia said with an obviously forced smile. "Thanks for letting me spend the night last night."
Eva said, "You're always welcome. Did you have fun last night?"
Mia smiled again, but it was ragged; her skin was a little gray. "We did. It was great." She put an arm around Lexi. "I don't know what I'd do without Lexi. She's the best friend ever."
Outside, a car horn honked.
"That'll be my mom," Mia said. "She texted me last night. We're going to visit my grandmother today. I better go."
Lexi followed Mia to the front door. In her mind, she blurted out her secret several times, and they laughed about it; in truth, she said nothing, just stared at Mia's long blond hair.
At the front door, Mia hugged her fiercely. "Thanks, Lexi. I mean it." She drew back, looking a little uncertain. "I'm sorry, you know. I shouldn't have lost it like that. You'll come to the dance with Ty and me, right?"
"Like I'm not lame enough already," Lexi said.
"Don't say that. We'll have a blast."
Outside, the car horn honked again.
"She's so OCD," Mia said, opening the door.
The white Mustang was parked out front, its engine purring, exhaust melting into the fog.
Zach got out of the car and stood there, staring at Lexi over the Mustang's white roof. Rain pelted his face, made him blink.
Mia flung her hoodie over her head and ran down to the car, getting in.
Lexi was certain she saw Zach shake his head slightly, as if to say, it never happened … it can't happen. Then he got back into his car.
Lexi watched them drive away, then went back into the trailer, closing the door behind her. He didn't want her to tell Mia. Was that what he'd meant?
Eva sat at the kitchen table, her hands cupped around her mug. "His car woke me up last night," she said, looking up. "So I went to the window. I din't expect you to come home."
Lexi tried to imagine the scene Eva had witnessed: Lexi practically carrying Mia up the stairs; Mia collapsing on the floor, singing. "I thought we'd be staying at the Farradays'."
"I'm pretty sure I know why you din't."
Lexi sat down across from Eva. "I'm sorry," she said, too ashamed to make eye contact. Aunt Eva would be disappointed in her now, maybe she'd even wonder if Lexi was like her mother after all.
"You want to talk about it?"
"I didn't drink anything, if that's what you think. I saw … my mom drink, so I'm…" She shrugged. There was no way to put all of that emotion into a few careful words. "I didn't drink anything."
Eva reached across the table and took hold of Lexi's hands. "I'm no warden, Alexa. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I remember what it's like to be young, and I know how the world works. A girl can get in real trouble when she's in that condition. She can make a bad decision. I would hate for you to get hurt."
"I know."
"I know you know. And one more thing: Mia and her brother aren't like you. Those two got choices you don't. They'll get breaks you won't. You understand me?"
Lexi knew that; she'd known it from the first time she walked in the Farraday house. Mia could afford to make mistakes. Lexi couldn't.
"I'll be careful."
"Good." Eva looked at her. "And about that boy. I seen the way he ran after you. You be careful there, too."
"He doesn't like me. You don't have to worry about that."
Eva studied her carefully. Lexi wondered what she saw. "You just be careful around him."
Jude loved her garden in October. It was a time of organization, of planning for the future. She lost herself in the work of planting bulbs, imagining how each choice would alter the garden next spring. And she needed that now, to find a kind of peace.
The past five days had been stressful for her, although she couldn't exactly say why. She hadn't wanted the kids to go to the party, but they had, and it had gone uneventfully. Zach had come home right on time, and she'd hugged him tightly (smelling his breath) and sent him to bed. She'd seen no evidence of drinking, and Mia had spent the night with Lexi and come home smiling the next day. Apparently, nothing had gone wrong. So why did she think something had? Maybe Miles was right, and she was seeing problems where none existed .
She sat back on her heels and clapped her hands together to release the dirt clinging to her gloves. Tiny black particles rained down, creating a lacy pattern on her thighs.
She was just about to reach for the clippers lying in the dirt beside her when she heard a car. She looked up, tented a gloved hand across her eyes, and saw sunlight glint off the silver hood of a brand new Mercedes.
"Crap," she muttered. She'd forgotten about the time.
The car pulled up in front of the low stone wall that outlined her front garden.
Jude pulled off her dirt-caked gloves and stood up as her mother got out of the car. "Hello, Mother."
Caroline Everson walked around her bullet car and into the vibrant garden with the bearing of an ice pick. She was dressed, as always, winter or summer, in a pair of black wool pants and a fitted blouse that showcased her toned, fit body. Her white hair was drawn back from her angular face; the severity of the style offset her bottle-green eyes to perfection. At seventy, she was still a beautiful woman. And successful; that was what mattered to Caro. Success. "Have you agreed to be on the garden tour yet?"
Jude wished she'd never revealed that little dream to her mother. "It's not ready yet. Soon, though."
"Not ready? It's beautiful."
Jude heard the derisiveness in her mother's tone and tried not to let it wound her. Caroline saw no point in hobbies. The end game was what mattered to her mother, and until Jude showed this garden on the island tour, she would somehow be a failure. "Come inside, Mother. Lunch is ready." Without waiting for a response, Jude led the way toward the front door. On the porch, she slipped out of her gardening clogs, brushed the dirt off her pants, and then went inside.
Sunlight poured through the home's twenty-foot-tall windows, made the exotic wood floors glow like burnished copper. An immense granite fireplace dominated the great room, which was decorated in soothing neutrals. The real star of this room was the view: soaring glass panels captured a swatch of emerald grass, a layer of steel blue Sound, and the distant Olympic Mountains.
"Can I get you a glass of wine?" Jude asked.
Her mother set down her purse so carefully it might have held explosives. "Of course. Chardonnay, if you have it."
Jude was glad for the excuse to leave the room. She passed through the dining area, created by a long bird's-eye maple table and ten chairs, to the open kitchen beyond. The only time she couldn't see her mother was when she opened the wood-paneled door of the Sub-Zero refrigerator.
When she returned to the great room, her mother was standing at the end of the sofa, looking up at the huge canvas that hung above the fireplace. It was a gorgeous, abstract work of art-swiping, curling streams of amber and red and black that somehow managed to convey a buoyant happiness. Mother had painted it decades ago, and Jude still had trouble reconciling the work's glorious optimism with the woman standing in front of it now.
"You should replace that piece. The gallery has some lovely work now," her mother said.
"I like it," Jude said simply, and it was true. This piece had been her father's favorite-she remembered standing with him as a little girl, her small hand tucked in his bear-paw grasp, watching Mother paint it. Look at the way she does that, it's magic, he'd said, and for a time Jude had believed it, believed there was a kind of magic in their home. "I remember watching you paint it."
"A lifetime ago," her mother said, turning her back on the painting. "Why don't you go clean up? I'll wait."
Jude handed her mother the glass of wine and then left the room. She took a quick shower and changed into a pair of comfortable jeans and a black V-necked sweater and returned to the great room, where her mother was seated on the sofa, her spine straight, sipping at the wine like a hummingbird.
Jude sat opposite her mother. A large stone coffee table separated them. "Lunch is ready anytime you're hungry," Jude said. "I've made us a Waldorf salad."
At that, they lapsed into their usual silence. Jude couldn't help wondering why they continued this pretense. Once a month, they met for a meal-trading locations back and forth as if it mattered where they were. During a lunch of healthy food and expensive wine, they pretended to have something to talk about, a relationship.
"Did you see the article in The Seattle Times? The one about the gallery?" her mother asked.
"Of course. You sent it to me. You said how important motherhood is to you."
"And it is."
"Nannies notwithstanding."
Mother sighed. "Oh, Judith Anne. Not that old whine again."
"I'm sorry. You're right," Jude said, and not because it was the only response that would end the conversation. It was true. Jude was forty-six years old. She should have forgiven her mother by now. Then again, her mother had never asked for forgiveness, never thought it necessary, even though she'd checked out of motherhood as if it had been a cheap motel. Fast and in the middle of the night. Jude had been seven years old and suddenly upended by grief, and yet, after her father's funeral, no one had thought to reach out for her, certainly not her own mother, who went back to work the very next day. In all the years that came after, her mother had never stopped working. She'd given up painting and become one of the most successful gallery owners in Seattle. She nurtured young artists while entrusting her daughter's care to one nanny after another. They'd had no relationship whatsoever until about five years ago, when Caroline had called and scheduled lunch. Now, once a month, they pretended. Jude didn't even know why.

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