“Yes, they do. You’re the smartest girl on the planet,” I told her. She smiled real big and I swear to God I’ve never loved anything more than I did that little girl. Soon, my baby.
“You can do great big things with your life,” Jolene said.
I was moved by how earnest she was. I’d left my small town wanting to do great big things with my life but then … well … life happened. I used to want to do something to be remembered for, someone important. I wouldn’t even know where to start at this point.
“What about you?” I asked her. “What things do you want to do?”
She sat back in her chair and studied my face in a way that made me uncomfortable. She could flip a question, make it seem like your reaction to her answer told her something about you.
“Besides being a mom?”
“Is there more to life than being a mom?” she asked, the corner of her mouth lifting in a smile.
“Many people think so,” I said, half laughing.
“And what do you think?” she asked, folding her hands in her lap. Her eyes were drilling into me, two awful brown weapons.
“I think I don’t understand people who don’t want kids,” I said. “I think there’s something wrong with them.” She stared at me for a moment, that terrible resigned smile still holding her mouth.
“Well, Mercy is not all I do. I suppose there are things you still don’t know about me yet…” Her voice trailed off.
I glanced at Mercy who was too young to hear the tone in her mother’s voice. She was sipping water from the measuring cups, humming to herself. I wanted to tell her not to drink the water that her hands were playing in just seconds ago, but I refrained. Sometimes you just had to let kids be kids.
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Just things, Fig. We all have our little things.”
“Come on,” I urged. “We’re friends, aren’t we?” I rearranged my face to look hurt, but I’m afraid I couldn’t hide the eagerness. “I just told you I do a suicide dance with trains…” Guilt, guilt always worked with people. I gave something to you; now give something to me.
“I have hobbies.”
I thought about the tiny blue bead I’d found in her mail. A little jewelry business on Etsy! I’d go home and buy something right away—wear it so she could see. I liked to support small businesses, especially ones owned by friends.
Dutifully, I asked, “Hobbies? What kind of hobbies?”
It already looked like she thought she’d said too much. She pressed her lips together and frowned down at the mug in her hands. I noticed that her nails were painted a bright watermelon pink, shiny like little candies.
“I write,” she said, finally. She glanced at me unsure, it was something she didn’t care to talk about. I could see it in the way she was tensed up.
“Oh,” I said, disappointed. I had been looking forward to a new necklace.
“Have you ever had anything published?”
“Sure, yeah. A couple things.” She was digging through the cabinet under the sink now, possibly looking for her stainless steel cleaner.
“I write books under a pen name, and no one knows who I am.”
I gasped. Like a real gasp. Then I picked up my mug and sipped on cold tea. I was trying to picture her as an author, but all I saw was the long dark hair and tattoos. She looked more like a bartender.
“-Don’t ask,” she cut me off. “I’m mortified enough.”
“Okay,” I said, calmly. “Would I have read any of your books?”
I thought of my bookshelves at home. I hadn’t even unpacked my books yet. I’d been spending way too much time here.
“What do you write about?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Struggles … life … the women who experience them.”
“That’s not telling me very much,” I said, frowning.
“I’m trying not to.”
“Oh.” I suddenly felt hurt. I thought we were friends. I’d been working so hard at bonding with her, being the type of person she’d confide in. She wasn’t helping me here. I was trying to like her and she was keeping things from me. My hurt switched to anger, and I stood up. She couldn’t treat me this way. I wouldn’t allow it.
“I gotta go,” I said. “I forgot I have a roast in the oven…” I couldn’t look her in the eyes. She was a deceiver.
I kissed Mercy on top of her head and promised to see her soon then I headed for the door, passing Darius on the way out. I hadn’t even heard him come home.
“Hey, Fig,” he said, as I marched past him.
I threw a “Hi” over my shoulder and practically ran the rest of the way back to my house. He’d text to ask me what was wrong. I’d drag it out as long as I could. I liked it when people begged. Once I was locked inside I turned on my stereo and blasted the playlist I’d just recently put together. I called it The Blonde Spectator. As the music blasted, which I was sure they could hear over in the Avery house, I carefully unpacked my books, placing them in color-coded order like I’d seen on Pinterest. I studied the author photo on each one before placing them on the shelves. There were no pictures of Jolene. Surprise, surprise. An author … how could she not tell me? This was exactly the type of stunts women liked to pull. A power play, control. They wanted to build up their accomplishments then flaunt them at you when you were at your lowest. Now that I was thinking about it, she did sort of have an artist vibe going on. The tattoos, the dramatic black hair, the way she did up her house. I turned and looked around my own living room—some of it unpacked, some of it still in boxes. Most of my things were hand-me-downs from my mother. I liked to think my style was mid-century modern. She wasn’t better than me. I’d show her who she was dealing with. I pulled out my laptop and typed Pinterest in the search bar. I hadn’t used my account since I first signed up years ago when George and I moved to Washington. Sure enough, I found Jolene Avery, and her account wasn’t on private. I scrolled through her boards: Recipes, Birthday Parties, Wedding, Home. I clicked on that one and let all the inspiration come to me.