There was nothing like summer two days after school had let out. The freedom! I could ride my bike all around Stoneybrook if I wanted to. I didn't actually want to, I was too busy for that, but if it wanted to I could.
I'm Kristy Thomas, and I just finished my sophomore year at Stoneybrook High School. I'm fifteen years old, just two months away from sixteen, and maybe not having to ride my bike everywhere. My two older brothers had to wait until they seventeen before they were allowed to drive, but I'd always been really responsible, and had been talking to Mom and my stepfather, Watson, about it. I think I was wearing them down, but in a responsible way.
I'd spent most of the second day of freedom baby-sitting for the Newtons and then I met up with my friends at Pizza Express.
"Sorry I'm late," I said as I slid into the empty chair between my best friend, Mary Anne Spier, and Cary Retlin, who was the source of all sorts of unexplained feelings.
From across the table, Claudia Kishi gave me a long hard stare, and I knew she was making fun of me. When we had been in the Baby-Sitters Club, I used to give anyone who was even a minute late a hard time. We didn't have the club anymore, but all of us still baby-sat all the time, especially in the summer.
Claudia hadn't hung out with us for a while. Things got weird when we started high school, but right after Christmas Stacey McGill moved back to her hometown, New York City, to live with her father and stepmother quite suddenly. Sometime after that, Claudia migrated back to our crowd.
"Our Crowd" was me, Mary Anne, Cary, Pete Black, Alan Gray, Mariah Shillaber, and Lauren Hoffman. And now Claudia, and Erica Blumberg, who had tagged along with Claudia when she changed groups.
"I was baby-sitting," I said pointedly, and Claudia laughed.
"Like that ever mattered!" she said. She pulled a Milky Way seemingly out of nowhere and took a bite. Who eats a candy bar in a pizza place? Claudia, that's who.
Cary stretched his arm out and rested his hand on the back of my chair. "I ordered you a Coke, and I'm not sure where that falls on the scale of being considerate or ordering your food for you."
"We all made fun of him loudly for ordering for you," Alan said.
I rolled my eyes. "It's fine," I said to Cary just as the waitress arrived with the drinks. Actually, I really appreciated it, because I was thirsty. There was an early hot streak happening this year and I was pretty sweaty after riding my bike. I drank almost half the Coke in one gulp.
We order our pizzas (one plain cheese, and another with pepperoni and pineapple), and that's when things got loud, everyone talking over each other. Claudia was talking about how she has to do summer school to Erica and Lauren, while Mary Anne and Pete were talking about some movie they'd seen that afternoon and Mariah was talking about how she loves the actor in it. Alan was sitting next to her making gagging noises.
"How was baby-sitting?" Cary asked me.
I shrugged. "The Newtons are easy. Jamie scraped his knees and his hands messing around on his skateboard, but that's just the territory of being a seven year old boy."
Cary laughed and I wondered when he got so interested in my life. Once upon a time, Cary and I were enemies, but things mellowed out over the last year or so and we became friends. And now... now I wasn't so sure of what we were.
I was about to ask him about his day, when my cell phone started to ring. I'd been putting off getting one, even when all my friends had them, but Mom and Watson had insisted, and got me a really nice one for Christmas. I looked at the screen and blinked.
"Kristy?" Cary asked. I must have looked really startled because he hardly ever called me by my first name, but instead referred to me as "Thomas". I don't know when that started, because he didn't always do that. In fact, he spent almost all of eighth grade calling me "Kristin", just to annoy me.
"I, uh, should take this outside," I said, grabbing the phone off the table and walking back out into the heat. "Hello?"
"Kristy? Hi," said my stepmother, Zoey.
Sometimes I forgot that I even had a stepmother. I mean, I knew she was there, but she and my father, Patrick, lived in California. I hadn't seen them since their wedding two years earlier. Zoey was pretty good about making sure we were sent birthday cards and Christmas presents, and sometimes she even emailed for no reason than just to check in.
Patrick wasn't very good at keeping in touch at all.
I had Zoey's number, but she'd never called me, and I'd never called her. That meant something was definitely going on.
"Hi, Zoey. What's up?" I asked, trying not to sound like I was panicking. Had Patrick been in some kind of accident? Was he dead? Or maybe he was in a coma. I'd obsessed over this stupid soap opera with Mary Anne all last summer and the main character had spent a week in a coma before he woke up and thought he was his own twin brother.
"Well, I was thinking that since school is out, you might like to come out to Sausalito for a few weeks," Zoey said. "When you have time, we can plan this anytime."
I sat down on the bench outside. "You want me to come visit?" That's all this was? It was a relief that Patrick wasn't dead or anything, but after getting myself all worked up it was sort of like emotional whiplash.
"I do, and so does your dad. I wasn't sure if that's something that Charlie or Sam would be interested in, but I knew I wanted to ask you. Because there is something else, and I've been meaning to tell you, and I'm sorry that I haven't, but... Kristy, I'm pregnant."
I was glad that I was sitting down. "Pregnant?" I repeated way too loudly. "I mean, uh, congratulations."
"I'm sorry I haven't told you sooner, but that's why I thought you should come visit. You know, before the baby's born."
"How far along are you?" I asked. I hoped I sounded interested and not like it was an accusation. But if she wanted me there soon, that had to mean she'd been keeping this to herself for a while.
"Twenty-one weeks," Zoey replied, sounding sheepish. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, Kristy, I really am."
"It's okay," I heard myself saying, but I was really calculating up how many months that was. She was over halfway through! I guess it was nice of her to call at all. I knew that I wouldn't have gotten that much out of Patrick. "Have you told Sam or Charlie?" Or David Michael, I thought to myself, but she'd never met David Michael.
"I'm calling them next," Zoey said. "And I'm serious about you coming to visit, Patrick and I would really like that."
"I'll have to talk to my mom about it, and figure out when I could do it."
"Just call me back or send an email when you get it sorted out, okay? We'll send you a plane ticket."
We shared a few more pleasantries, and I congratulated her on the baby one more time, and then we hung up. I didn't move from the bench. I just sat there with the phone in my hand. When I'd been in Sausalito for the wedding, Zoey and I had talked about her having kids with Patrick. She knew he'd left us, and she wanted to have a baby with him anyway.
"Kristy? Is everything all right?"
I looked up and there was Mary Anne in her khaki shorts and blue U4ME t-shirt. Her eyes were already brimming with tears at the mere prospect that something was wrong. She could come up with disasters even faster than I could.
"That was Zoey. You know, Patrick's wife? She's pregnant. She called to tell me that." I stuck my phone in my pocket. "And she wants me to come visit."
"Pregnant?" Mary Anne squeaked. She sat down next to me on the bench and took my hand. "Are you okay with that?"
I didn't cry a lot, and definitely not as much as Mary Anne, but even so, I felt my eyes start to burn with tears. I didn't even know why. I blinked them away and looked up at her with a smile, but I'd known Mary Anne since we were babies. I wasn't fooling her for a second. "I don't know, but I don't have a lot of choice, do I? I can sulk about it and be weird or I can be mature about it."
Mary Anne nodded and smiled. "That's really smart, Kristy. Do you want to visit them?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. I'll have to talk to Mom about it before I can do anything anyway."
"Do you want to come in and get some pizza before Alan eats it all?"
I grinned. "Definitely."
We went back inside and I should have realized that it wasn't Alan I actually needed to worry about eating everything, but Claudia. She had three slices of pizza stacked on top of each other and was trying to take a bit of all three at once. Alan and Erica were howling like this was the funniest thing they'd ever seen, and Lauren stared at her like she was crazy, while Mariah kept whispering loudly for them to quiet down, in case we got thrown out. Sometimes she could be worse than Mary Anne when it came to stuff like that.
I sat down next to Cary and grabbed a slice of the cheese pizza. He looked at me like he wanted to ask me about the phone call, but I just shook my head. It was one thing to talk to Mary Anne about it, but I didn't want to go through it again with Cary when I would just have to do it yet again with Mom and Watson.
Luckily, he got it. "You want to do something after this?" he asked. "That movie Mary Anne and Pete were talking about sounds awful." We liked to go to crappy movies and laugh into our popcorn at the cheesy dialogue and bad special effects.
"I need to get home after," I said. I took a big bite of my pizza and the shoved it all over into one corner of my mouth. "You can give me a ride home, though." Cary was already sixteen and had his license. His parents had bought him a used pick-up truck for his birthday and it was easy enough to throw my bike in the back of it.
"Attractive, Thomas," he said and handed me a napkin. "I can give you a ride, sure."
"Thanks, Cary," I said after I swallowed.
"Sauce is coming out of her nose!" Alan shouted as Claudia laughed with her mouth full, and that only made her laugh more. Not much had changed since we were thirteen. Not really.
Cary drove me home, and after he pulled into the driveway behind Watson's car, he got out of the truck to get my bike out of the back. I could have done it myself, but I knew he wanted to talk to me. We'd made some small talk on the drive, and I knew he still wanted to ask about the phone call, but what I liked about Cary is that he knew when to not push with me. He also knew how to push every button and drive me absolutely up the wall until I wished I could strangle him, but he used his powers for good and not evil, sometimes.
"Thanks," I said, taking the bike from him. "I'm baby-sitting tomorrow night, but you want to go see that movie in the afternoon?"
"That sounds good." He tilted his head and studied me for a moment, looking down at me. I was the shortest kid in the whole grade, and probably in all of SHS, and Cary was over six feet tall. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but you can," he said.
I punched his arm because I didn't know what else to do. "Jerk. When did you get so nice?"
"When I figured out that kissing you is more fun than stealing your watch," Cary replied with an infuriating grin, and then I realized he was going to kiss me right then. I was sweaty and smelled like Pizza Express and we were standing in my driveway in the middle of the day where any of my younger siblings could see, and he was going to kiss me.
We'd kissed before, but the last time was at the Queen of Hearts dance in February. I'd been wearing a dress and he was wearing a tie. People could do weird things when they were dressed in formal wear.
He did kiss me, and it wasn't quick. He even used a little bit of tongue which was less gross than I always thought it would be, even though I didn't know what to do in return with my tongue, so I didn't do anything about it.
"Whoohoo, Kristy! You go girl! Get you some of that!"
I pulled away from Cary, my face bright red. We hadn't been interrupted by my younger siblings, but by Abby Stevenson who lived across the street. She and I were friends, but we didn't hang out as much since she transferred to Stoneybrook Day School this year because their soccer team was so good. She was slightly worse than me at bad timing and a lack of tact.
I waved at her, just to get her to go away, and Cary laughed. Nothing embarrassed him. He touched my cheek for a second, brushing it with his fingers. "I'll see you tomorrow, Thomas. The movie at noon?"
I nodded, and backed away from the truck as he got in and pulled away. I put my bike away and went inside. It turned out Mom had been watching at the window. I could tell from the look she gave me over her cup of tea when I walked into the kitchen.
"Can we talk?" I asked. "You and Watson?"
Mom looked surprised, probably because she thought that when I started that we were going to have girl talk about me and Cary. But she didn't say anything about that. "Sure. Watson's up in his office. There should be some privacy there."
I nodded and followed her upstairs. Once we were settled, Watson behind his desk, and Mom and I together on the leather couch, I told them about Zoey's phone call. About her pregnancy and how she wanted me to visit.
Mom ran her fingers through my ponytail, and it was comforting. "Do you want to go?"
"I guess I should see what the guys are doing first. Zoey said she was going to call them, too. I doubt Charlie will go, but Sam might." Even if Charlie didn't totally resent Patrick for leaving us, which he did, he worked in the summers between his years at college. Watson had paid for the school, but Charlie didn't like asking him for money for his bills and food or anything extra he wanted to do, so he worked part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer.
"You didn't really answer the question," Watson pointed out gently.
I shrugged. "I like Zoey, and I told her when I was there the last time that I'd like to visit again, but I guess... it's weird that she was the one inviting me out there and not him."
Mom hmmed loudly and I could hear the disapproval in her tone. She'd always made a point not to bad mouth Patrick around us and let us form our own opinions.
"And I don't want to go through what we did last time with David Michael," I said. I could totally talk myself out of any little bit of me that thought it might be a good idea. He had only been seven then, and now he was close to ten, but when my older brothers and I had gone to the wedding, he had wanted to go so badly, but Patrick hadn't sent him a ticket or even asked about him. It was like he'd forgotten he even had a fourth kid.
"We can talk to David Michael," Watson said. He looked at Mom and they seemed to have a conversation with their eyes. She nodded, and he continued. "You're old enough to make your own decision about this. You should do what you want to do. Not what you think will make it easier on anyone else. You don't have to go if Sam wants to, or stay because he wants to stay."
I had been pushing how responsible I was. If I thought I could handle a car at sixteen, I guess I could handle making this choice on my own.
"I couldn't go anytime soon," I said. "The Krushers' season won't end until July, so I'm going to take some time to think about it."
"Good answer," Mom said, and she kissed the top of my head.
The problem with summer is that the days speed along and before you know it, the softball season is over and your team has won the World Series against your sort of ex-boyfriend's team.
"Good game," Bart said as he shook my hand.
"Yeah, it was," I agreed. "Because we won."
He laughed. "Your kids aren't two and a half anymore."
Most of the really good players I had when I started the team were playing Little League now, but some of the kids had stuck with me. Jackie Rodowsky wasn't as klutzy as he used to be, and managed to hit a run scoring double in the game. It might have been a triple if he hadn't tripped over second base.
"Come on, Kristy," David Michael hollered. "Mom said we can go out for ice cream!"
"I'll see you around," I said, giving Bart a wave as I sprinted toward my family. I wasn't going to pass up ice cream, especially victory ice cream.
It was fun going out with the whole family. The was the month Karen and Andrew were staying with us, so everyone was there. We were noisy and rowdy, and it was sort of like going out with my friends, except, possibly, with more screeching. And we were just giving these kids more sugar.
When we got home, Mom and Watson smartly encouraged the kids into the backyard. I moved to join them, just to keep an eye on things (while I don't think Karen believed our next door neighbor was a witch anymore, she still liked to tell stories, especially to Emily Michelle, who tended to believe her), but Mom rested a hand on my arm.
"Can we talk?" she asked.
I knew exactly what we were going to talk about. I nodded and followed her into Watson's office. He was sitting on the leather couch and I sat down next to him. Mom sat down on my other side and asked, "Have you made a decision about Sausalito?"
I'd been going back and forth on it in my head for days, knowing that the season was coming to an end. I hadn't firmly said yes, but I also made a point not to line up any baby-sitting clients or make any other commitments I wouldn't be able to keep if I was in California.
It made the choice pretty obvious, once I thought about it.
"I'd like to go."
As predicted, Charlie turned it down right away. Sam hemmed and hawed for a few days, but when he got a steady job for the summer, he took a pass on Zoey's offer, too.
Zoey's offer. At no point was this ever Patrick's offer. I had no idea what he even thought about it, even though Zoey sometimes referred to "your dad and I" or "we", but I hadn't spoken to him directly.
Mom nodded at my words. I think she knew I was going to go. "Just because you're going doesn't mean you have to stay the whole time," she said. "If you feel uncomfortable and want to come home, you can always call and we'll have you back here the next day."
I smiled. It was nice to know she was giving me a back-up plan. I'd spent a week with Patrick two years ago, but I'd had Sam and Charlie with me, and we were busy doing wedding stuff. This time I was going to be on my own.
"What about David Michael?" I asked. "I don't know if too young will work on him this time. What are you going to say to him?"
Mom didn't say anything for a moment. She looked rather pensive and then spoke slowly. "There's another thing we wanted to talk to you about."
I must have looked worried, because Mom laughed and rested a hand on my knee. "It's nothing bad. It would just be a change, that's all."
That wasn't comforting. I hated change. "What is it?"
Mom smiled. "Watson?"
I turned to my stepfather and he smiled. "This is something your mother and I have been discussing for a couple of months now, and... I would like to adopt you and David Michael."
I gaped at him. The thought had never crossed my mind. "What does that mean? I know what adoption means, but what would change?"
"It's mostly legal stuff," Mom said. "Watson would your legal father and he could make medical decisions for you in the case of an emergency, and things like that."
He wouldn't have been able to do that now? I trusted Watson to be able to make the call if I needed surgery or something, but a doctor wouldn't?
"Would I have to change my last name?" I asked.
"Not if you didn't want to," Watson said.
"What about Sam and Charlie?"
"We'll offer it to them, too," Mom said, "but at their ages, they may not want to. We feel pretty confident that David Michael will say yes, but... it's up to you, Kristy."
I'd been hearing that a lot lately.
"I don't have to decide right now, do I?" I hoped I wasn't hurting Watson's feelings by not saying yes right away, but when I looked at him, he was still smiling at me.
"You should go on your trip first," he said, and he sounded like he meant it.
Right. Spend a few weeks with Patrick before I decide if I want to totally renounce him as my father. I knew Watson had been more of a father to me in three years than Patrick had in fifteen, but I couldn't make myself just say yes. And to my relief, no one was expecting me to.
I nodded. "I'll call Zoey and she can set everything up."
Zoey didn't waste time. She bought my plane ticket on Saturday and it arrived in the mail on Tuesday. I was set to leave on Thursday.
I spent most of that Wednesday packing, carefully checking items off my list as I put them in my suitcase. I was going to be gone for three weeks, so doing laundry a couple times while I was there was definitely going to be in order. I didn't have to pack twenty-one shirts and pairs of underwear, but I didn't wan to be unprepared, either.
When everything except my toothbrush and deodorant, and clothes for the next day were packed, I called Cary to have him come pick me up. When I told my friends that I was going to be gone for so long, they decided to throw me a little going away party. Which was really just an excuse to have a party.
I changed out of my ratty t-shirt and into a red polo shirt. My jeans had a hole in one knee, but I'd seen jeans at the mall that came with holes in the knees, so this was fashion. I didn't think Claudia would agree, but we'd never seen eye to eye when it came to clothes.
I looked in the mirror and picked up my mascara that hadn't gone in the suitcase. I put some on, and then added some lip gloss that Mary Anne had given me. It had just a touch of a pink sheen to it, but it wasn't too much. I wasn't one for makeup, but since this was a special occasion and all, I made an exception.
"I'm heading out," I called as I ran down the stairs. "I'll be back by eleven!"
"Do you have your phone?" Mom called back to me from the kitchen.
I checked my pockets. Phone in one side, twenty dollar bill in the other. I couldn't imagine I'd need anything more. "I do!"
"I love you!" Mom replied. "Be careful!"
"I love you too!" I flung open the door and saw that Cary was already in the driveway waiting for me. I ran out to the truck and climbed in. "Hey! How long have you been sitting out here?"
"Just a couple minutes. I was debating if I should go to the door or not."
Mom had spotted us kissing in the driveway a couple of times over the summer, but she hadn't mentioned anything about Cary coming over for dinner or that she and Watson should meet him. She did try to start a safe sex conversation that I quickly shut down. I liked Cary, but I was in no way ready to even start thinking about having sex. There might have been girls my age who were, but I wasn't one of them. Thankfully, Mom believed me.
"You should try it next time. My parents don't bite," I said. I paused and then added, "But if my little sister Karen had opened the door, all bets are off."
"Then I'm glad I stayed in the car." He smiled at me. "You look nice."
I smiled, too. "Thanks."
Cary drove us to Erica's house because her parents were out of town at a wedding in Boston and decided to make it a long weekend. I had never realized how close to Claudia's house (and that meant my old house) Erica lived. She was just around the corner from Bradford Court.
It was a pretty calm get together. Just our crowd and a couple other people that had tagged along. There was Rodge Somerset, who I knew was a friend of Alan's. Mariah brought her twin sister, Miranda, and Malik Jaffrey, who was on the SHS basketball team. Julie Stern also showed up and I didn't know her at all, but I gathered that Erica was friends with her.
Erica and Claudia had taken a donation from everyone and gone as far out as they could on food. There were three large pizzas, a 7-layer dip (I could tell Claudia's handiwork when I saw it because not only was it junk food heaven, but she'd decorated the top with slices of red, yellow, and orange bell peppers and it was beautiful), pigs in a blanket, a cheese platter, and more kinds of soda than I knew existed. I heard something about a sundae bar, but at no point did I ever see ice cream. There were, however, cupcakes that Mariah had made and they were delicious.
For a while, Alan, Cary, Rodge, and Pete played video games because Erica's younger brother had some game they all wanted. It had zombies, and while I liked some video games, watching zombie heads explode wasn't my idea of a good time.
I sat in a corner with Mary Anne and Claudia. They were the only ones who really understood was me going to see Patrick was really like for me. Or at least they got it the closest. They were there when he left.
"You ready for this?" Mary Anne asked. Like me, she was dressed pretty casually in a pair of white khakis and a yellow long-sleeved button down with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
I licked the icing off of one of the cupcakes. "I don't know. It's not like I haven't had weeks to think about it, but I'm just going to try and take it as it comes."
"That doesn't sounds like you at all. Isn't this the time to schedule everything as much as you can?" Claudia laughed. Unlike Mary Anne and I, she took a party as a reason to dress up. She was wearing a silver spangled tank top over a pair of black short-shorts and red tights with a pair of Doc Marten boots. Her hair was down around her shoulders, but she had braided little sections of it with tinsel.
"My flight leaves at eleven and Patrick is supposed to pick me up from the airport. I can only hope that he remembers." I tried to make it like a joke, but it actually made me sad how much I wished Zoey could get me from the airport, or at least both of them. If I thought about it too much, I started to regret my decision to go.
Mary Anne rubbed my shoulder. "Zoey won't let him forget."
"I sure hope not." I took a big bite of the cupcake. I looked across the room to where Lauren was laughing at something Malik had said, while Miranda scowled at them.
"Did you talk to Dawn?" Claudia asked.
I nodded as I chewed on my cupcake. I swallowed. "Yeah, she and Sunny are going to come up and visit next week. Carol's letting her take the car, which even as a teenager who wants to see her friend, I think is kind of irresponsible."
"Sunny's coming, too?" Mary Anne asked. "That's going to be a wild couple of days. Remember when she came to Stoneybrook? That was two years ago, but... I don't know if Sunny's gotten better from the stories Dawn tells me."
"Yeah, hence the irresponsible." I shrugged. "Sunny's not my favorite person in the world, but I can't ask Dawn to drive six hours alone. It's nice of her to come up at all."
"She sounded excited to see you," Mary Anne replied. "And then you'll see her again when you get back."
I laughed. Dawn and her brother Jeff were going to be spending August in Stoneybrook. That made it even nicer that she was driving up to see me since she'd be seeing me two weeks later.
I thought about telling them about Watson's offer to adopt me, but I didn't. I guess I was afraid that it might seem simple. Yes, Watson had been more of a father to me than Patrick ever had been, I knew that. But that didn't make it a clear cut thing, either. It was just something I couldn't get my friends' advice on.
Mom and Watson had spoken with my brothers earlier in the week. They were right, that David Michael accepted the offer right away. I'd never seen such delight on Watson's face. I think what surprised them was that, like me, both Sam and Charlie told them that they would think about it and still hadn't given an answer.
"Kristy!" Claudia hissed in my ear, nudging me hard with her elbow.
"What?" I looked up at her, and she darted her gaze to the the side. I looked over and Cary was standing there.
"You want to take a walk?" he asked.
"Uhhh," I said stupidly. Was I just supposed to walk out on my friends? I'd always hated those girls who walked away with some boy when they were hanging out with their friends, but when I looked at Mary Anne and Claudia, they were smiling at me. I looked back to Cary. "Okay, I guess."
Boys made everything so weird.
Cary and I walked out onto the sidewalk and began walking toward Bradford Court. I loved the long days of summer. It was after seven and it was still light out. "How were the zombies?" I asked.
"They kicked my ass," he replied. "Point and shoots aren't really my thing. I'm better at strategy games. Are you ready for the trip?"
I shrugged. "I'm packed. I don't know if I'm ready to spend three weeks with my dad. I don't know why I agreed to a trip so long. Everything is so messed up with him all the time."
Cary kicked at a rock that had made it onto the sidewalk as we turned a corner. "I don't know what to say," he said. That's right, his parents were still together. He didn't even know what a divorce was like, let alone a parent walking out on his family.
"That's a first," I said, and he laughed. "What are you going to do while I'm gone?"
"Breathe," he replied with classic Cary sarcasm. "Sleep. Eat. My life doesn't revolve around you, you know."
"And yet you come to pick me up every time I call," I replied.
He grinned, and it was about as sheepish as Cary was capable of appearing. "I guess so. What am I going to do with all that free time? I might take up piano. I'll be an expert by the time you get back, with all the time I'll have to practice."
I laughed, and then I stopped in front of the Perkinses house. It looked dark and empty, and the car wasn't in the driveway. "I used to live here," I said. I pointed to the Hobart's house. "And Mary Anne lived there."
"Do you miss it?" he asked.
I had when we moved. I didn't want to live in a mansion, or not next door to Mary Anne. But I survived, and now I loved my life. I loved my house and my family. I wouldn't trade any of it to be back in this house that was always too small for my family, no matter how much I had loved it.
"Not anymore," I replied.
Cary put his arm around my shoulders. Crap. What was I supposed to do? How did all my friends seem to know how to deal with these things? How did Cary know what to do? Was I the only one who didn't get the "How To Date" handbook?
I swallowed loudly. "We should head back."
Cary nodded and pulled his arm away. He did hold my hand on the walk back to Erica's house, but that was okay. We talked about the Mets rotation, and that was more my speed. Even though Cary had grown up a White Sox fan, I'd talked him into the Mets, and he said it was fine as long as it wasn't the Yankees. I didn't hate the Yankees the way a lot of Mets fans did, but it was still something we could agree on.
We were walking up Erica's driveway, and Cary stopped. He didn't give me a chance to freak out or think about it too much, he just kissed me.
I still didn't know what all of this was, but it was definitely better than him stealing my watch.
Mom and Watson took me to the airport alone. It was kind of nice. Normally, we Thomas-Brewers traveled in a pack, but the older kids had plans with their friends and Nannie stayed home with Emily Michelle.
After we checked my suitcase, we walked to security where Mom and Watson would let me off.
Mom hugged me. "You call when you get there. And if you want to come home, you call then, too."
"I know," I said, hugging her tightly. Three weeks suddenly seemed like forever. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
I hugged Watson, and he also told me he loved me. My response wasn't "I love you, too," but instead I said, "I know." It was very Han Solo of me.
Going through security took longer than expected (it always does), and I waved at my parents one last time before I started my trek through the airport. The flight itself was uneventful, which is probably good for a flight, but I couldn't stop my mind from racing.
The closer to California I got, the more anxious I became. Why did I think this was a good idea? I'd probably be more likely to regret not doing something than doing it, but if I was spending the next three weeks in Stoneybrook, I would be baby-sitting, hanging out with my friends, and kissing Cary. That wouldn't have been all bad, but it wouldn't have been an adventure.
My stomach was so twisted with knots I even grabbed the barf bag, just in case. Thankfully, I didn't puke (the guy in the seat next to me looked pretty nervous about the prospect of me puking, too), but I felt a little better just holding onto it.
The last time I had spent three weeks with my father was nearly a decade ago. I guess it could have been worse, this could be the first time I'm seeing him in ten years and not two, but it was like he didn't exist unless I was standing in front of him. He was just this father-shaped hole in my life.
I finally relaxed and even watched a movie on the little screen in the back of the seat in front of me. It didn't have much of a plot, but that was exactly what I needed. I released my grip on the barf bag, and even put it away.
When I got off the plane, I turned my phone back on and checked to see if there were any messages from Patrick about what time he was going to be there, but there wasn't anything. I had a bad feeling about this, but maybe he was on his way.
I walked through the terminal and went to baggage claim to wait for my suitcase. I thought about calling Mom, but I didn't want her to worry about me being there alone, or that Patrick wouldn't show up. It would be a lot nicer to call her and tell her I was with him.
My suitcase was the third one out on the carousel and I grabbed it just as I heard someone call my name. I turned around and there was Patrick.
His hair was longer than it had been the last time I saw it. It was closer to the length I thought of when I pictured him in my mind. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a plaid button down shirt open over a blue t-shirt.
"Hi," I said and we stood there awkwardly for a few seconds. I probably should have hugged him, but I didn't. Maybe at the end of the trip. I grabbed the handle on my suitcase and started walking. That seemed to solve the issue. "I guess Zoey is trying to get as much work done before the baby comes."
Patrick nodded. "She had a meeting with an advertiser this morning."
"I didn't know fancy restaurants didn't advertising. I've never seen a commercial for one," I said, and we talked about that as the walked out to the garage where Patrick had parked his car.
I called Mom once we were out on the road, but I should have done it earlier because I had to shout over the whipping air while riding in Patrick's convertible.
"The Yankees are in town next weekend," he said after I got off the phone. "I got tickets for the game on Sunday. We always try to go when the Yankees are in town. They only come in once a year."
"I'm a Mets fan, but I guess I can root for the A's with Zoey," I replied.
"The Mets?" Patrick howled. "Oh come on. How many World Series have they won?"
"Two, but they haven't been around as long as the Yankees."
"You meant to say that's twenty-five less World Series titles than the Yankees," he said, laughing. "The Mets haven't won since the 80's!"
I rolled my eyes and decided I was going to wear my Mets shirt tomorrow just to be obtuse. "Being a fan when your team doesn't win is what it means to be a fan. If you were only a fan because of a team winning right now, why aren't you telling me I should be a Giants fan? You live here after all."
The Giants had won three World Series in recent years. He didn't have anything to say to that except, "I like the Giants, too."
I was quiet for a minute, but I didn't want to start off my trip with a weird conversation. "We should see the Giants, too. That series against the Cardinals looks like a good match-up."
We managed to have a civil conversation about baseball for the rest of the drive. Patrick pulled the car into the driveway and another car was already there.
"Zoey's home!" Patrick said, and was that relief in his voice? I couldn't tell, but I knew I was a little relieved. "She hoped she'd be back by the time we got home."
I grabbed my backpack and Patrick got my suitcase out of the trunk, and we walked up the plant-lined walkway to the back door. I could hear the sound of water from the waterfall that trickled off rocks into a reflecting pool.
"I forgot how nice it is here," I said. I thought about all the baseball history books in Patrick's study and could imagine myself sitting on the giant deck with a stack of books and a pitcher of lemonade. I was going to be here for a while, and Patrick and Zoey couldn't be expected to entertain me every second.
I opened the door and Zoey, who was washing some kind of leafy vegetable in the sink, turned to us and she grinned. "Kristy, hi!"
She looked so different than the last time I had seen her. Obviously, she was pregnant, now twenty-eight weeks along, and wearing a blue sundress that came to her knees. When I'd been there for the wedding, her hair had been super short, but like Patrick's, she'd grown it out, but hers was probably shoulder length and curly dyed a sort of reddish brown, and pulled back in a ponytail.
"Hi!" I said back to her as we hugged. It was weird, and maybe a little sad, that I was comfortable with Zoey when I didn't know if I should even hug my own father. But I didn't have emotional baggage with Zoey the way I did with Patrick.
"Look at you," Zoey said with a grin. "You look so grown up."
"Thanks. You look so..." Big was the word that was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn't know how that would go over. "Pregnant."
"Tell me about it." She placed her hands on his stomach. "You get settled. Lunch is almost ready, are you hungry?"
"Starving," I replied. I'd eaten breakfast that morning, but it was almost dinnertime in Stoneybrook and I'd be on east coast time for a few days until I caught up.
I took my suitcase to the same bedroom I'd stayed in last time, with the two twin beds. Instead of living out of my suitcase, I actually unpacked, stowing my t-shirts and underwear into the dresser, and hanging up my bathing suit and a pair of khakis that Mary Anne suggested I bring, just in case we went out somewhere nice.
The lunch was delicious, and I shouldn't have expected less from a chef and a restaurateur. We were about halfway through our very fancy chicken salad sandwiches when Patrick asked me when my friends were coming in.
"Monday," I replied, pleased that he had remembered. "They'll be here until Thursday. That's still okay, right?"
"The more the merrier," Zoey said.
"They're vegetarians," I warned her, like they were an army coming in to invade.
She laughed. "That won't be a problem. We cook a lot of vegetarian food."
"I can just eat vegetables for a couple of days, but I'm not touching tofu," I said. "I have limits."
Patrick laughed. "You've never had tofu the way I cook it. I fry it up in sesame oil and then serve it in a honey miso sauce with vegetables and noodles."
I wrinkled my nose. "I'll eat the vegetables and noodles. The sauce sounds good, though I've never had miso. I can give my tofu to Dawn."
"How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?" he asked. There was a little bit of an edge to his tone.
"I've tried tofu, believe me. It has a weird texture. It's gross."
"But there are a lot of different ways to cook it," Patrick pressed. "You can get different flavors in there."
"Patrick," Zoey said in a low voice. There was an edge to her voice, too.
He ignored her. "When your friends are here, I'll fix it. You just have to take one bite."
"I know what I like," I said. "I'm fifteen, Patrick. I'm not four."
He didn't respond right away. In fact, he looked stunned. What? Because I called him by his name? Did he expect me to call him "Dad"? We were definitely past that. Or maybe he thought I was calling him out on perhaps picturing me like the little kid he'd left behind. That wasn't how I meant it, but I guess it could be taken that way. He couldn't think I was that bitter. I was here, wasn't I?
"We have plenty of non-tofu vegetarian dishes," Zoey said, to break the weird silence that had fallen over the table. "Patrick makes a killer veggie lasagna."
"I like lasagna," I said, and we left it at that.
After lunch, while Patrick got ready for work, Zoey followed me back to my room. I remembered how she took me shopping two years ago, and asked for my advice on things like her wedding dress or what stockings she should wear. If she thought there would be girl talk now that I was two years older, she was definitely wrong.
Or maybe not, because the first question she asked after she lowered herself onto the second twin bed was, "So do you have a boyfriend? Or a girlfriend?"
"Boyfriend," I replied. "Sort of. Maybe? He's complicated. No, I'm complicated. It's all complicated."
Zoey laughed. "All relationships are. What's his name?"
"Like Cary Grant?"
Now it was my turn to laugh. "He's hardly Cary Grant. But he's cute and he's..." How to describe Cary to someone who'd never met him? "He's sarcastic and impossible and I know he wants to be my boyfriend because he's the romantic one. I don't know how to do that. I like him, but playing softball is so much easier."
Zoey nodded. "I was always that girl, too. I'd always rather be doing something on my own or with my friends than hanging out with some boy."
I remembered at the wedding, Zoey's mom telling me that she didn't think Zoey would ever get married because she was so independent. Would I be forty before I got married? It didn't sound so bad, and it had certainly worked out for her.
I was ready for a change of subject. "What did you do before you opened the Greenhouse?"
Zoey seemed a little surprised by the sudden question. "I worked in a lot of other restaurants, mostly. I'd gone to cooking school instead of regular college and I went to work as a sous chef in LA for a few years. I never liked staying in one place for too long. I even stopped cooking and did freelance photography for about five years so I could travel."
"Where did you go?"
"Oh, mostly I did photographs up the west coast, and even into Canada. I have them around here somewhere. I was thirty-five or so when I was ready to start settling down. I went back to school for business and combined that with my love of cooking to open the Greenhouse. I don't cook in there much these days, but that just means I get to enjoy cooking at home even more."
Whenever I thought of businesswomen, I imagined power suits and briefcases. I thought about going to college and getting a job right away, but that wasn't the only way to do it. I thought about Mom who had dropped out of college to get married to Patrick and then going back to school when she had to. Zoey hadn't even thought about traditional college until she was in her thirties.
"Do you still travel a lot?" I asked.
"Not as much as I'd like, but last summer, for our anniversary, Patrick and I went to Chicago. We saw a lot of baseball." Zoey laughed, and so did I. She placed her hands over her stomach. "We're not going anywhere this year, but maybe next year."
"If you ever go to New York, you should come out to Stoneybrook. It's only about an hour away on the train." I don't know why I said it. I couldn't imagine Zoey and Patrick with a baby at my house. But that was stupid, they wouldn't come to the house, I'd probably meet them somewhere for a meal or something.
Zoey smiled. "That'd be nice."
"Are you ready for the baby?" I asked. It was easier to feed her questions than to be asked about my life, though I knew that was inevitable. We may exchange emails, but seeing someone face-to-face was different. But I liked how easy it was with Zoey.
"Hardly," she replied with a laugh. "We've bought a car seat and I've picked up some clothes that I think are cute, and that's it. We just got the nursery painted, so we're out of excuses. I kept thinking, it's just a long time away, but now it's just twelve weeks. That's scary. I wanted kids, but I don't know a lot of babies."
"I can help you," I said without even thinking about it. "Obviously, I've never had a baby, but I've taken care of a bunch of them. I know what babies need."
"That would be great, thank you," Zoey said.
I opened my mouth to say something else, but I yawned instead. "Sorry," I said, covering my mouth. "I thought it was too early for the jet lag to set in."
"Traveling can be exhausting," Zoey replied. She scooted to the edge of the bed and stood up. "I'll let you take a nap."
"Thanks." I watched her walk toward the door. She was a step into the hallway when I asked, "Hey, Zoey?"
She poked her head back into the room. "Yeah?"
"Do you know what you're having? A boy or a girl?"
She smiled. "It's a girl."