She waits until we’re driving over the bridge to tell me. This is a strategic move. Wait until your temperamental daughter is suspended over the Atlantic Ocean to drop the bomb, thereby decreasing the chance that she’ll fling open the car door and hurl herself over the edge.
My mother is many things. Beautiful. Annoyingly affectionate after a few drinks and mean as a starving snake after several. Quick-witted and hilarious when her latest boyfriend isn’t turning her into some sycophantic sorority girl. But a fool?
My mother is no fool.
She swerves to pass a car that’s already going at least ten over the speed limit. The ocean, a dark sapphire blue, swings out of my vision and back in. I grip the handle above the window, shifting my gaze over to Mom to make sure her I forgot this silly thing again seat belt is securely fastened.
“What did you say?” I ask. Because I must have misheard her. Surely, my subconscious anticipated returning home to some catastrophe after leaving Mom on her own for the past two weeks, and it conjured up something totally absurd to lessen the blow.
“Grace, don’t make a big deal out of this. It’s just an address,” Mom says, and I bite back a bitter laugh. She loves that word. Just. Everything is just. It’s just one drink, Grace. A birthday is just a day, Grace. It’s just sex, Grace. My entire life is one gigantic just.
Well, I’m just about to lose my shit if you’re serious, Mom.
How’s that for a freaking just?
She steers with her knee for a few terrifying seconds while she digs a cigarette out of her purse and sparks it up. She blows out a silver stream of smoke through the open window, and I watch her fingers. Long and elegant, her short nails perfectly manicured and glossed eggplant purple, like always. She used to press our fingers together, kissing the joined tips and making a silly wish on each one. I would measure my hand against hers, eagerly waiting for the day when mine was the same size. I thought that the older I got, the older she would get and the less I’d have to worry about her.
“Pete’s place is really nice,” Mom says. “It’s so unique. Wait till you see it.”
“Pete. Who the hell is Pete?”
She glances at me and frowns, flicking ash out the window as we exit the bridge and drive onto the road that leads into town. “I started seeing him before you left for Boston. I told you about him, right? I’m sure I . . .” She trails off, like not being able to finish a sentence automatically releases her from any obligations.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” I ask, struggling to keep my voice even.
She laughs. “Of course, baby. This is a good thing. Our lease was up and that dickhead of a landlord wouldn’t renew it because he claimed I still owed him three months’ rent for that dump he called a beach house. And things with Pete were going so well. He’d just moved and needed a woman’s touch.” She giggles and snicks the cigarette butt out the window. “That’s what he said. A woman’s touch. Such a gentleman.”
Oh Jesus. I recognize that tone, that girly giggle, that glassy look in her eyes. I can almost mouth the next words along with her, reciting the lines of a painfully familiar play. I’ve been off-book for this shit show for a long time.
Cue Mom’s dreamy sigh.
Three . . . two . . . one . . .
“He might be the one, baby.”
My fingers curl into fists on my bare legs, leaving red nail marks along my skin. When I left a couple weeks ago, I swear to hell Mom didn’t have a boyfriend. I would’ve remembered. I always remember, because half the time, I’m the one who reminds her of the asshole-of-the-month’s name. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but I really thought she’d run out of options.
Cape Katherine—?Cape Katie to locals—?is a tiny spit of land jutting into the Atlantic with about three thousand residents, a quaint downtown with lots of local shops and restaurants, and an ancient lighthouse on the north end that’s still maintained by a real-life lighthouse keeper. We moved here when I was three, and in the fourteen years since, I’ve lost count of how many guys Mom has “dated.”
And the whole lot of them has had the honor of being The One for about ten minutes.
Mom turns onto Cape Katherine Road. The Atlantic rises up on our left, flanked by rocks and gravelly beach. Early-afternoon sun spills coppery sparkles on its surface, and I take a few deep breaths. I’d like nothing better than to jump ship, streak down the beach, and throw myself under its waves, letting it roll over me. Let it have me for a few minutes, curling my body this way and that, transforming me into something free and weightless.
But I can’t do that.
For one, it’s cold as hell this early in the summer.
And whatever knot my mother’s woven herself into with He-Might-Be-The-One-Pete, I’m the only one here to untangle it.
“Okay,” I say, pushing my hair out of my face. “Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. In the twelve days since I’ve been in Boston, you moved everything we own into a new house I’ve never seen to live with some guy I’ve never met?”
“Oh, for god’s sake. You make it sound like I’m dragging you into some disease-ridden jungle. I’m telling you, you will love Pete’s house.”
I don’t really give two shits about Pete’s house.
I’m more concerned about Pete.
Mom flips on the radio while I try to decide if I want to vomit, scream, or cry. I think it’s some awful combination of all three.
“Mom, can we please talk about—?”
“Oh, baby, hang on.” She turns up the volume on Cape Katie’s one and only radio show, hosted by Cape Katie’s one and only radio host, Bethany Butler. It’s on every morning and evening, and people call in and tell Bethany sob stories about their missing cat or how their coffee burned their taste buds off or something equally inane and irrelevant. Mom freaking loves it. She’s a total sucker for anything potentially tragic and unrelated to her own life.
“You heard it here first, Cape Katians, so keep an eye out for Penny. She was la...