Page 4 of 5
“Why don’t you just stay?” she said.
“You really should stay,” Linda said.
“We can fix a bed. It’s no problem. It won’t take a minute. Really.”
It was a pincer movement of sorts. Mother and daughter contriving to cut off her retreat. She stood in the hallway, the center of attention, toeing the seam at the edge of the foyer where the carpet met the hardwood.
Mr. Brubaker returned from upstairs. “I don’t know,” he said. “I couldn’t get it to work for me.”
“I don’t think she should leave tonight, anyway,” Mrs. Brubaker told him.
She was fine, she said.
“Really? With the wine?”
That had been hours ago.
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Brubaker said. “I think I would just feel so much better if the two of you stayed here tonight. It’s late. It’s dark. You’ve been drinking.”
Again, hours ago.
Linda looked towards Jonathan. She widened her eyes.
“It’s not just you, you know, that we’re concerned about.”
She smiled. She couldn’t help it. And then she had said it. A terrible thing to say. And to them of all people. Such a nice, lovely family. Such a generous, loving family. But there was a greediness to their kindness. She felt that she’d given them quite enough.
“No, really, I’m fine,” she had said. “Really. I actually drive better when I’m a little bit drunk.”
“Isn’t that right, Jonathan, honey?” He didn’t stir, asleep on her shoulder. “Ken, are you ready? I’m following you to the highway.”
Of course, it hadn’t been quite that easy. “Amy!” Mrs. Brubaker had gasped, watching her with shocked disapproval. “That isn’t funny,” Linda had said. “It isn’t cute, and it isn’t funny.” She had thanked them, though, and left. Apologized and thanked them and left, drawing a deep breath as she stepped out of the house into the cold—a crisp, clear night, the stars glimmering like knife points. Ken smiled lewdly. “I’ll drive slow,” he said, “to make sure you can keep up.”
They’d wound their way quietly through the dark curling streets, past flood-lit driveways and frost-bitten lawns out to the neighborhood’s entrance where Ken grazed the corner of the subdivision’s squat brick nameplate turning left onto the main road. He pulled off on the shoulder after the turn, craning his head out his rolled-down window to check his rear panel for damage. Satisfied, he flashed the thumbs-up sign, and they carried on their way.
He had been a concession. An absurd but briefly necessary concession. Signaling too early, forgetting to signal, sliding across lanes on even the mildest of curves; she nearly laughed aloud as he braked for a turn only to swerve back into the middle of the road as he realized it was the wrong direction. They were back there and she was here and he was useless. Entirely useless.