The Birthday Girl

07/22/2009 4:00 AM |

“They’re getting married,” Justin says.

This takes a moment to sink in. When it does, I wonder why he’s been
here for ten days and only now decided to tell me. I ask him, exactly

“I don’t know,” Justin says. He keeps his eyes careful on the TV,
where the cheerleaders are trying to balance on big rubber balls, like
six feet tall. He says, “I just thought you wouldn’t like it much. Plus
I thought Mom ought to be the one to tell you.”

“Is that why she was coming to pick you up?”

Justin shrugs, but I know I’m right, and I know I should have seen
it coming months ago, when this plan started. It didn’t make sense even
then. Fifteen years old, he could fly on his own, as he did on the way
up. I knew this all along. I hoped all along that she wanted to talk,
though I didn’t know about what. Something to say to me. Not this.

Justin says, “I just don’t think she’s going to make it in

“No, you’re right.”

“I bet I end up meeting her in Salt Lake tomorrow.”

“When’s the wedding?”

“June,” he says.

“At the Coronado.”

“Good guess.”

“It wasn’t a guess,” I tell him. “She’s wanted to get married at a
place like that her whole life. She likes it fancy. I guess Del can
afford fancy.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Outside is wild wind and windblown snow. Eleven o’clock on a
Saturday night and there’s nobody on the street, nobody, not a car and
not a walker — except, now that I look, a single old man in a
red-and-black plaid jacket is making his way into the wind, inching
forward under the brim of his hat. He walks slowly and with
determination. I am suddenly and for no good reason heartbroken to look
at him. Alone and out in the weather, on a night when nobody ought to
be out. Really, I know he’s probably just another mean drunk, walking
home from the bar because he’s got too many DUIs to drive anymore. But
looking at him, alone and small, I find something giving way inside

When I turn back from the window, I catch Justin studying me. He
whips his eyes back to the TV but too late. I can see he’s been
watching, trying to see how I’ll react to his little bit of news. Not
that there’s anything wrong with that. Of course he’s curious.

“You can go down to the bar if you want,” he says. “I’m just going
to watch TV for a while. I can come get you if she calls or

I don’t say anything.