Somewhere in the background, people are cheering and toasting while a gaggle of kids swear like tiny, tuxedo-clad sailors and all Ally can do in between kissing him is stare up at Colin with a stupid grin on her face.
"You know," he says, "I'm going to have to get back on stage after they're done with the toasts." Then he's kissing her again, soft and slow.
Holy shit. She actually did it. This is really happening.
"In that case," she replies, "got any plans after the wedding?"
He runs a finger across her collarbone. "Getting you out of that dress."
"Yeah? And after that?"
"Well, after some hopefully mind-blowing sex, I was thinking we could burn it," he says, and gives her a cheeky grin, the kind she's realizing now just how much she'd missed. "Even by the low standards of bridesmaid dresses, it's a monstrosity."
"Mom picked them out. It used to be worse but I tore off the ruffle and bow on my way here. I would have torn off more, but it's all I've got on and I really didn't have time to get arrested for streaking." She pauses. She did a lot of things on her way here. Some of which could still get her arrested. "I also may have stolen a car. Holy shit, I stole a car. And then I told some pizza delivery guy he could take it when I stole his bike."
"Oh, Ally." Colin bursts out laughing, loudly enough that a few well-dressed heads turn their way. She really likes his laugh. "Ally, Ally, Ally. Wow. I love you. Okay, new plan: we find the car before I have to borrow bail money from my bass player and then we get you out of that dress."
"Sounds great." She's still grinning and he's still laughing. That's probably a good sign.
"Don't worry about it. I can make a few calls and find out where it is now. You'll probably have to pay the impound fee and come up with one hell of a good story, though. Whose car did you steal, anyway?"
"No clue. It was the first set of keys I grabbed and I just kind of went for it."
"Do you even know what type of car it is? That'd really come in handy."
"A blue one?"
"Blue car. I think we're going to need a little more to go on."
"Small? Had one of those evil eye things hanging from the rearview mirror? It was either a Honda or a Hyundai. Or maybe it was a Toyota. Oh! I'm pretty sure it was a hatchback."
It is a Honda and she does have to pay the impound fee, but it turns out that the car is Sheila's so at least Colin doesn't have to post bail. Ally does promise to buy her a bottle of tequila. It's the least she can do.
"I risked jail for you," she says when they finally get back to their building. She's somewhere between giddy and punchy. And still winded. Really winded. She drove, biked, and ran through every corner of Boston and she still has to make it up the remaining four flights of stairs.
"Well, I hope I'm worth it."
"Good thing you've got the rest of the night to prove it."
It's also a good thing when, two flights later, he hoists her up on the landing just outside 4d, easing her legs around his hips as he kisses her. Behind the door, she can hear Bandit whining.
"Hang on tight." Colin kisses her again. Ally obediently wraps her arms around his neck and crosses her ankles over his butt, trying to keep her high heels from digging into it. "You look like you're about to collapse and you've still got that dress on."
"I don't suppose you're the one who put the out of order sign on the elevator because too many people were using it?" Ally asks. She can hope.
"Sadly, no. It really is broken. And I swear it's not actually my fault."
Colin sets her down as soon as they make it to the top of the stairs. "Your place or mine?" he asks. He's sounding a little winded now too, but that's not enough to stop him from kissing her before she can answer.
When they finally come up for air, she says, "Your choice."
"Then how about yours? I haven't changed my sheets in a while and I've got some ideas about what we could do with your headboard."
That sounds amazing but—"Shit! My keys are at Mom's."
"That's okay." Colin pulls his keys out of his jacket pocket. "You never asked me for my copy back and I never took it off my key chain."
"I can't decide if that's cute or creepy."
He grins at her and unlocks her door, admitting, "To be honest, it's probably about nine parts me being lazy."
They kiss their way to the bedroom, stumbling over each other's feet until they hit the edge of her bed. Colin has one hand under her hiked-up skirt and the other one on her back, going for her zipper.
"Wow, you weren't lying. That dress really is all you have on." The hand under her skirt has made its way to her butt.
"And the heels." Ally kicks them off. "And now it's just the dress. I think you said something about getting me out of it?"
His fingertips are ticklish against her back. They're rough with guitar calluses and damn, she really wants to feel them on her nipples. "Sadly, your zipper's stuck."
"You could just rip it open."
"Or…we could leave it on and I could debauch you while you're still in it."
"Only if you leave on the tie."
He laughs against her neck. "Just the tie?"
"All of it, buddy. I've already seen you naked."
"It's really cold in the Harbor. I wasn't at my best, so don't hold that against me."
Ally unzips his pants and palms his erection through his boxers. "You're right. Your penis is much more impressive now. How about you hold it against me?"
"How about I hold it in you?"
"You better do more than just hold it; the condoms are in the top right drawer."
"Good, because I've stopped carrying them on me. Though I guess now I've got a good reason to start up again."
"They're under my vibrator." The one that works, not the one she needs to throw out. They're on top of that one. She burned it out going slow with Jake Adams.
Her skirt ends up bunched around her waist, a trapped edge of torn tulle at the back scratching her butt with every thrust. Somehow, that doesn't take anything away from the experience.
When they're done, he rolls off her and they lie there panting and laughing. He's still got his shoes on.
"Next time," Colin says, turning his head to look at her, "we're doing this naked. I can't afford too many dry cleaning bills. So, did I make it into the top ten?"
Ally rolls over and rests her chin on his chest. One of his shirt buttons is digging into her chin, but at least the tulle's no longer digging into her butt. "You're definitely in the top twenty. Maybe even the top ten." Honestly, he's in the top five. Easy.
"Guess I'll just have to make my way up the charts."
She grins at him and starts undoing his tie. "I guess you will. Now get me out of this dress."
The dress is even more of a wreck by the end of the night. Colin's right that they should probably burn it. Instead, she shoves it into the back of her closet after he falls asleep. She'll keep it for the sentimental value. Maybe she can learn how to quilt.
"Hey, so I thought you said you weren't that kind of band," she says the next morning. They've been awake for about an hour and still haven't made it out of the bed for anything longer than a bathroom break.
"We're not. Well, that band's not. Last night's band is that kind of a band."
"You have different bands?"
"I have the cover band that pays the bills and the actual band that plays the rooftop. They have the same bass player, though." Colin kisses her shoulder. "I keep trying to quit the first one, but it pays the rent."
"What does your real band sound like?"
"Nothing like Dropkick Murphys, no matter what my sister claims. Why don't you come up to the rooftop tomorrow night and find out? Tonight's another big wedding, and, having seen their requests, Richie and I will definitely need something to cleanse our musical palates."
"Maybe. Are you sure you want me there?"
"Absolutely. Just don't forget you promised him a bottle of rum in exchange for driving us around last night."
"Don't worry, Richie has crappy taste. He'll be happy with a bottle of Malibu. In fact, you can regift him the bottle he gave me for Christmas last year. My tastes may be cheap, but even I draw the line at drinking alcoholic sunscreen."
Her response to that is pure, stupid reflex. Because honestly, she likes Malibu Rum, especially with pineapple juice. But even though there's no reason to, even though she's pretty sure Colin would just make a grossed-out face and wonder how someone could hate mustard and like coconut rum, something inside Ally still makes her say, "Gross, right? But the 'shit' was for tomorrow night. I can't make it. Jamie arranged a post-wedding girl's night out for the bridal party."
"Well, we practice up there a lot, so you can just catch us next time. This is nice," he says. He smiles at her and runs a hand up her leg. Damn, his eyelashes are so long it's not fair. "Just staying in bed with you. We should stay in bed all day. I think that sounds awesome."
"Awesome as that sounds, don't you think we should probably get something to eat soon?"
"I could eat you, does that count?"
"Tempting, but I was thinking more along the lines of bacon and eggs. My stomach is about five minutes away from staging a revolt and eating itself in protest."
"Do you have bacon and eggs?"
"No, but I do have cereal. Shit. But no milk. Leftover pizza? It's probably still good."
"How's this sound: I grab the milk from my apartment, we each have a bowl of cereal, and then we go back to bed?"
"Kinda like a plan." She's grinning again. She can't help it.
She's just so ridiculously, stupidly, improbably happy right now that not even the inevitable prospect of dealing with her mom is making a dent in it. She'll have to, even assuming Daisy didn't spill the beans about exactly why she ran off in the first place. Just not yet.
The first time Colin meets Ally's mother, he and Ally have been together for a little less than two weeks and Colin hasn't slept in his own bed since day three. Ally is out, off having lunch with her dad. Colin's messing around with the wiring for her sculptures again—he thinks he's figured out where he went wrong last time—when someone starts pounding on the door knocker in a way he can only describe as strident.
Naturally, as Daisy's still on her honeymoon, he assumes it's Ally.
"You forget your keys again?" he says as he opens the door. To someone decidedly not Ally. Someone clearly related to Ally, though, and, if he had to make a bet, he'd put his money on it being her mother. From her hair and the way she's dressed, Ally's obsession with tracking down Jake Adams suddenly makes a lot more sense. He's not sure what he pictured her mother looking like, but it sure as hell wasn't like this.
The woman raises her carefully sculpted eyebrows and looks him up and down with apparent disbelief. Colin's wearing a pair of novelty boxer shorts because he keeps forgetting to do laundry, his hair is a mess, and he's pretty sure Ally left a few hickeys on his neck when they woke up this morning as revenge for using her toothbrush last night.
She purses her lips, sighs, and pulls her cellphone out of her purse. There's no doubt in his mind who she's calling.
"Ally," she says. Her voice says money every bit as much as her hair and clothing. Maybe more. "Are you aware there's a strange man in your apartment."
He can hear Ally on the other end. "Ask him to check the couch cushions for my keys."
"I knew she'd forget them," he mutters. He finds them wedged between the arm and the seat, right where she put her purse the night before.
"He appears to have found them," Ally's probably-mother says in a voice cold enough to make his balls shrink up in self-defense.
"Mom, be nice to Colin. I'll be home in about fifteen."
Which means she'll be home in half an hour at the earliest.
As her—confirmed—mom slides her phone back into her purse, he smiles so as not to show fear and asks, "Hi, Ally's Mom. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
She sits down gracefully in a chair, legs crossed at the ankles. "So how do you know Ally? I'm surprised she didn't mention to me that she was seeing anyone."
He has no idea how to answer that.
Once Ally's home, Colin kisses her hello and goodbye and uses his overdue laundry as his excuse to leave her with her mother. Who didn't know about him. Who was surprised that she didn't know about him, which makes two of them.
Ally didn't tell her mom about him and he's surprisingly not okay with that.
Really, really not okay with that. So not okay with that, in fact, that this stings almost as much as when she'd rejected him and, he'll admit, for reasons one-hundred percent related to how and why she'd rejected him. He doesn't do his laundry. He just sits on his bed staring blankly at the wall and wondering what to do next. He's pretty sure he's been someone's dirty little secret before. No, he's absolutely sure and he'd actually liked it. It's a hell of a lot different if that's the last thing you want to be.
The knock on his door is frantic, not strident. It's so obvious that it's Ally that, just for a minute, he considers not answering so he doesn't have to talk until he's feeling a little less like this will turn into a fight that there's no way to actually win.
Because it's Ally, he answers it anyway. He's so completely and totally screwed.
"I didn't know she was coming," she says, standing awkwardly in his doorway with a guilty look on her face.
"Or else you'd have told her about me?" This is not going to be the kind of conversation they should be having in the hallway. No way he's the only nosy neighbor in the building. He steers her in by the arms and shuts the door behind them. "You ran out of your sister's reception to find me. What the hell did she think you were doing?"
"I don't know. She'd had a lot of champagne and then Daisy told her about the baby and, honestly, I haven't talked to her for more than five minutes since then, so I haven't had a chance to tell her about us specifically. Usually, when she calls, I just say my cell signal's cutting out and hang up while she's in the middle of lecturing me. Clearly, she knew something was up or else she wouldn't have ambushed me."
"Really?" It comes out flatter than he'd intended.
She blows an out of place strand of hair somehow even further out of place. "Yeah. Sorry. No one should have to meet Mom unprepared." Then she frowns a little. It's cute the way it makes her nose wrinkle. So, so screwed. "Come to think of it, that's probably why I've avoided having her meet my boyfriends if I could help it."
"She seemed surprised you hadn't said anything." He watches her carefully to see how she responds.
"Well, that's Mom for you." It's just a little too perky, the same kind of perky that tends to mean she's not being totally honest. She just hasn't used it on him before.
"What did she want anyway?"
"Beats me. I think she just wanted to stand around and disapprove of my choices in person."
Because he can't, apparently, leave well enough alone, he answers, "Like me. That is, like me if she'd known about me. Specifically."
"More like my lack of a job, like me dumping Jake, like my hair. That's just what she does."
She throws up her hands and goes and sits down on his couch. "Okay, fine. Maybe I was being an asshole again. I hadn't specifically told her about us and I'm sorry. I just didn't want her being Mom about something as important to me as you are, okay? I wanted to enjoy it for a while without having to listen to her criticizing me. If it helps, I told Dad today. It's why we had lunch."
Colin looks at her face, honest and remorseful and, god help him, adorable, and gives up. He sits down next to her and slings an arm around her shoulders. "You're not really an asshole, Ally."
"I am, but it's not you, it's me. I lived with Donald for six months and not only did no one ever meet him, I didn't even tell Daisy about him until he dumped me. I told Donald my parents were in Europe and my sister was doing a semester abroad when she'd already graduated and was living about a mile away from our apartment and Mom still doesn't know he exists unless Daisy told her and didn't tell me."
"You never told me that." And yet, it actually makes perfect sense in an Ally sort of way. In fact, it's kind of a relief.
"Well, now you know." She frowns, her nose wrinkling again. "Wait. Does this mean you've already told your parents about me?"
"I may have told Dad when we were trying to find the car you stole so I could convince him pull a few strings with his buddies and, even though they've been divorced since I was twelve, my mom called me the next day to grill me. I think she's already making a list of names to suggest for our hypothetical future children."
A smile teases at the corners of her mouth. "That seems kinda premature of her."
"To be fair, I'm pretty sure everyone in my family thought I was a lost cause. Also, Mom really loves grandkids and was sure she wouldn't get any more of them after the last one. She'd love to meet you, by the way. When she comes back from Florida, that is."
"How long is she there for?"
"Usually until right before Thanksgiving. She moved to Miami with her girlfriend a couple of years ago. Says the cold winters are too hard on her knees. And you've already met my nephew. Well, one of my nephews."
"How many do you have?"
"Four. And one niece. But that's it for now at least. Though Katie said she was done after she had Jody and then had Jacob a few years later, so despite what Mom thinks, I feel like it's a number that's subject to change."
Her eyes go wide. That's cute, too. She kind of reminds him of a muppet and he probably shouldn't tell her that. "Wow," she says.
"Don't worry, I only want two, tops. Being outnumbered is a horrible thing. I should know, I was the youngest of three."
The second time he meets her mother, two days later, at least he's wearing a shirt and he's not by himself in the apartment.
"I felt I should meet your young man properly," she tells Ally.
"Mom, this is Colin. Colin, this is Mom." Ally's wearing a shirt. It's his, it's inside out, and she spilled strawberry margarita all over it the night before, but it's more than she was wearing when her mom called from outside the front door.
Her mom wrinkles her nose the same way Ally does, only on her, it looks like she's just smelled something unpleasant. "Call me Ava, please."
"Hi, Ava. Pleased to meet you." After a moment, he thrusts out his hand.
Despite her claim of, "Likewise," the feeling does not appear to be mutual. The furtive glances at Ally make that clear.
Or maybe they're not about him at all, because Ava picks up a strand of Ally's hair and frowns. "Oh, Ally. Tell me you're not still going to the same hairdresser."
"I'm still going to the same hairdresser. I've been going to the same hairdresser for the last five years."
"The one who convinced you that bangs were a good idea?"
"The bangs were my idea, Mom. Nigel had nothing to do with it. He tried to talk me out of them, even."
Time for a save. "Hey, Ally, don't you have that meeting this morning?"
"Oh, yeah. That meeting. Yes. Absolutely."
"And what meeting might that be?" Ava asks, eyebrows raised.
"About setting up her sculpture business."
The brows go up another notch. "You're setting up a business, Ally?"
"Yep. Gonna sell my freaky little sculptures."
"That's hardly a career. What about the position Bob Ambrose told me about?"
"Mom, the position Bob Ambrose told you about isn't a position I'm qualified for, even if I wanted to work in marketing again. Which I don't. Anyhow, Colin's right. Great to see you, Mom, but I've gotta go get dressed and go."
"I suppose Colin and I will just have to get to know each other without you," Ava replies. "I'll make lunch reservations. He doesn't look like he's busy."
The save goes to Ally this time. "Mom, that's so great of you! But Colin's coming along, too. Aren't you, Colin?"
"Yeah, he introduced me to my business consultant, so"—Ally gives her mom a wide, apologetic smile that's fake enough Stevie Wonder could see through it—"he has to be there. Hey, aren't you supposed to be picking Daisy and Eddie up from the airport today, anyway?"
"Another time then, I suppose." Ava looks at him, sharp-eyed, and smiles as falsely as Ally. "I want to know everything there is to know about the man Allyson gave up Jake Adams to date."
"Wow," Ally says, "that'll be great. We'll let you know when we're free. Bye, Mom!"
After she leaves, Colin exhales loudly and eyes the bottle of tequila that's still on the kitchen counter. "Okay. I'm beginning to see why you don't tell her about the people you're seeing."
"I didn't even tell her about Jake. She found out when she saw a picture of us in a magazine."
That's impressive. No wonder Ally assured him he didn't need to take it personally.
Thanks mostly to Daisy and her rapidly expanding belly, Ally manages to stave off a maternal assault for three full weeks after the initial ambushes. She's just starting to think she'll be able to avoid it until after Daisy gives birth when Mom calls her and she's dumb enough to pick up the phone. Ally's making noises she thinks are appropriate responses to whatever Mom's saying, only half-listening while she's busy putting the finishing touches on her first real custom sale, so it takes her a while before the reason for the call finally registers.
"Mom, I don't want to housesit for you for the week, and anyhow, don't you have someone you hire for that?"
"Oh, Ally, you know I haven't been able to trust a housesitter since I went to Paris and half my plants died." The dramatic sigh that goes along with it triggers a reflexive eye-roll.
"It was one plant, Mom, and it was already half-dead before you left." Which was actually Ally's fault; she accidentally dumped a glass of wine in it.
"I would have asked Daisy, but she's a newlywed with a job and a baby on the way. You, Ally, don't have anything you need to do."
She really shouldn't have told her mom she was a jobless whore. Not if she didn't want it to come back to haunt her. "I have a new business to run and a new boyfriend I like to spend time with."
"You can bring Calum if it will convince you."
"Colin. You have a mind like a steel trap, so stop pretending you don't know his name." Ally switches the phone to her other ear and represses a sigh. "Fine. I'll think about it."
"I'll put together my itinerary and a list of all the things that you'll need to look after while you're at the house. We can go over it before I leave. Why don't I have you and Colin over for dinner so we can discuss it?"
"I said I'd think about it."
"Thursday at six, Ally." Then she hangs up, leaving Ally to stare in consternation at her phone.
"I'm not ready for this," she mutters.
She texts Colin Pls tell me you have plans Thurs.
Can you invent some?
The phone starts ringing a second later. "What about your mom?" Colin asks before she even gets out a hello.
"She wants us to have dinner with her. And she wants me to housesit for a week while she's in London."
"What's she doing in London?"
"Shopping, going to the theatre, probably resting up to find more ways to disapprove of me when she gets back. I know she loves me, but with her, it's a blood sport."
"Might as well rip off the band-aid, Ally. At least if we know when we're facing her, we'll have time to put clothes on."
"She wants us to have dinner at her house."
"Ouch, home field advantage."
"How long until you're back from wherever it is you are?" She'd idly kissed him goodbye when he left that morning but forgot to ask him where he was going.
"Band meeting, and I'm about a block away. I picked up sandwiches."
A few minutes later, she's opening the door and taking the sandwich Colin hands her.
"Thanks," she says from around a mouthful of pastrami on rye. "I forgot to eat lunch."
He heads to the fridge and pulls them each out a bottle of beer. "You always forget to eat lunch when you're working. That's why I got us sandwiches."
"God, you're amazing. This sandwich is amazing."
"As amazing as me?"
Ally takes another bite. "Pretty close." Then she says, "Mom wants us there at six o'clock."
Colin takes a sip of his beer and asks, "What's more likely to throw her off her game: early or late?"
"Either, but early's less likely to make her start in on the disappointment before the first plate. She'll still be distracted by cooking and setting the table."
"What's the dress code?"
"For meeting my mom?"
"For not not impressing your mom."
She thinks about it seriously for a minute. "Dress shirt and slacks, maybe a nice jacket. But no tie."
"Right," he says. "Obviously, a tie would be trying too hard."
"It would. She's already seen you in your natural habitat."
"I was kidding."
"I'm not. Trust me," she says glumly. "I've known her my whole life."
On the way to her mom's, Colin swears he can feel Ally growing tenser with each click on the cab's meter. By the time they get there, she's practically vibrating. It doesn't help that they were late getting to the train and it's already 6:13 by the time they pull into the gravel driveway.
Ava's house is imposingly huge from the outside. Maybe it's not so bad inside, although somehow, he doubts that.
He's right to do so. It's actually worse.
"Wow, you grew up here?" The living room looks like it came straight out of a magazine shoot. It's also enormous. About three times the size of the place he grew up. Maybe four.
"From kindergarten to college," Ally says. She's looking around furtively, kind of like she expects her mom to pop out at any moment.
Good call. Ava glides into the room, also looking straight out of a magazine shoot.
"Ally, there you are. And Colin." The smile is as ball-shrivelingly terrifying as he remembers. "Welcome to my home."
Ally's return smile is huge and overly apologetic. "Sorry we're late, Mom, but you know how trains are."
The dining room is pure Martha Stewart Living as well, or it would be if there were more than just three place settings at the absurdly long table. Each one has some impressive napkin origami going on to make up for it. Ava sits at the head, leaving Colin and Ally to sit across from each other. He's suddenly glad Grandma Shea insisted on drilling him on which utensils to use.
"Ally hasn't told me what it is that you do, Colin," Ava says, passing him a serving dish containing something green. Dutifully, he scoops some on to his plate and passes it along to Ally.
"I'm a musician."
"Another musician!" The way she manages to combine fake enthusiasm with a note of Ally-directed pity is impressive. "What sort?"
"I play guitar and I sing."
"And where do you play?"
"Weddings, mostly. Also bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, birthday parties, anything where you need a band. We played at a wake once. That was fun." Well, not really, but apparently, the request was in the will and the bereaved had paid them through the nose. Compared to this, though, it had been a blast.
"He's really good," Ally says. "You should hear him play sometime."
Her mom makes a noncommittal humming sound around a tight smile. "College?"
"I studied music at UMass Lowell." He sensibly doesn't mention that he dropped out three years into it and is still paying off his student loans.
"What about your family? What do your parents do?"
It feels like he's stuck in a job interview. No, more like he's been taken in for questioning. "They're both retired. Dad was a cop, Mom was a teacher, then a housewife, then she was a teacher again after the divorce."
Colin cuts off a bite of bland, slightly dry chicken breast—Martha Stewart would not approve—and gamely chews at it before washing it down with what's most likely a really good white wine, not that he can actually tell. He'll drink it, but despite his sister's best efforts to change it, he'd rather just have a beer.
"Hey, how did the wedding pictures turn out, Mom?" Ally says, clearly trying to change the subject. "Daisy said the proofs came back."
It works. "Oh, they look lovely," her mom replies, "Didn't Daisy email you them?"
"Nope, not yet," says Ally, when the truth is, not only has Daisy emailed them to her, Ally's shown them to him so he could see the full horror of the bridesmaid dresses. "Why don't you tell me about your favorites?"
"Would anyone like more petits pois à la Française?" Ava asks, serving herself another small spoonful of the something green he's been pushing around his plate and that Ally's hidden under her chicken. So that's what they're supposed to be. It's the first time he's heard her sound uncertain about anything; it makes her seem almost human.
"Ooh, gosh, you know, dinner's really great, Mom, and these peas are amazing, but we had a huge lunch. Why don't we just take some leftovers?"
"Well, please tell me you've at least left room for coffee and dessert. I ordered chocolate eclairs especially for you."
Ally perks up. "I love eclairs."
The eclairs are arranged on tiny dessert plates with a sprig of mint and two raspberries each. Ava, he notices, doesn't seem interested in actually eating hers. She's missing out: they're really good eclairs.
The coffee's good, too. Even Ava's drinking it.
Gently, she sets her cup down in the saucer. Unlike Ally, she's somehow avoided leaving lipstick smudges on the rim. "I'll go get that list we need to discuss and we can go over it together," she says, standing.
"Haven't said yes yet, Mom," Ally calls to her as she's walking away.
Ava waves a dismissive hand just before she disappears around the corner. "Oh, Ally, don't be ridiculous. Of course you will!"
More to herself than to him, Ally mutters, "Of course I will. God, I hate that she's right."
When Ava returns, she's holding three sheets of paper. She hands one to Ally and one to him and then sits back down.
"I leave a week from next Wednesday and return the following Tuesday," she says. "Everything you'll need to look after is on this list. The housekeeper comes on Thursdays and Tuesdays, so you'll have to make sure you're here to keep an eye on her on both days. My flight doesn't get in until late afternoon."
"Mom, you've had the same housekeeper for at least a decade. I think you can trust her at this point."
Ava ignores her and keeps going. "Now, the African violets may need watering. If so, remember, Ally: you put them in the tray and water them from below."
"I know how to water your plants, Mom. I did it all through high school, remember?"
"Saturday is when the gardeners come by, but of course you don't need to be here for that."
"Of course." And that's the sound of Ally talking through gritted teeth.
Colin zones out at that point and waits for the point-by-point review to stop. It's a long list: it's probably going to take a while.
In fact, it seems like it takes forever until Ava finally finishes with them. She hasn't spoken to him much since the initial inquisition. Mostly, he thinks he was there to be observed. Kind of like a zoo animal.
"Thank you so much, Ally." She gives her daughter an air kiss on each cheek. "You've no idea what a relief it is to have you look after things while I'm away."
"Oh, I think I have some idea," Ally says, eyeing the approaching taxi with obvious relief of her own. "Bye, Mom. I guess I'll see you at the airport a week from Wednesday."
He gets a fingertip handshake, not air kisses. "It was so lovely to finally, properly meet you, Colin. It's not often Ally allows me to meet her young men." She smiles pityingly at Ally. "Oh, Ally, do consider going to my hairdresser next time. Janine can work miracles with hair like yours."
"Sorry about Mom," Ally tells him. She's leaning up against him in the back of the cab, the leftovers he's pretty sure they won't be eating sitting in a bag at her feet.
"I can't say you didn't warn me."
"You don't actually have to stay there with me if you're busy."
"We have gigs Friday and Saturday, but I'll come out after those if you want me to."
"Why wouldn't I want you to?"
"I can't think of any reasons, but that doesn't mean you don't have some. Of course, they wouldn't be good reasons."
"Does my hair really look that bad?" Ally picks up a strand and frowns at it.
"Your hair looks great."
"Maybe I should get bangs."
"Maybe we should, once we get back home, get some pizza and watch a movie and you can sleep on the idea of bangs. I've got Blues Brothers."
"Chinese?" she asks. "We just had pizza."
"Chinese and Blues Brothers?"
"Chinese and Blues Brothers. Oh, and Milk Duds."
"Deal," he says.
"God, I wish she hadn't put the leftovers in glass containers. I'd throw them out at the station if she'd put them in bags like a normal person. Now I'll have to lug them home, then throw them out, then wash them, then lug them back."
"Is her cooking usually that bad?"
"Actually, she's improved a lot. Dad was always the chef in the family."
Colin remembers his dad struggling and failing with anything more complicated than spaghetti after the divorce and actually feels a reluctant twinge of sympathy for Ava. Still…"Next time, we should offer to bring takeout."
Ally snuggles a little closer. "Unless it's something where she's hired caterers, that's always a good plan."
The Monday before her mom leaves for London, Colin's band gets a last-minute replacement booking for a Thursday night high school reunion. It doesn't make sense for him to come out for one night and then go right back in morning, so Ally spends the first half of the week alone in the house. Teenage her would have killed for the opportunity. Present-day her is bored out of her skull and missing Colin. Connecting by phone just isn't the same, though she gets some really impressive photos sent via text out of it and sends a few in return. Probably should have packed her vibrator.
Plus, her room smells disconcertingly like a B&B. Mom's put out at least three bowls of potpourri that she can see. Honestly, it probably smells better now than when she lived here. Back then, the room had a seemingly-permanent funk of Tommy Girl and Aqua Net Extra Super Hold going on. Not that that makes the B&B atmosphere in any way less disconcerting.
By the time Sunday rolls around, Ally's so bored, she's pretty much crawling out of her skin. When her phone starts playing Lionel Richie while she's washing her hands, she nearly drops it into the toilet in her haste to see Colin's text.
Be there in ten. Brought you something.
Colin arrives with a gym bag slung over his shoulder and a pastry box in hand. "I brought cannoli," he says, handing it to her. "And an eclair. And a few donuts. I wasn't sure which you'd want."
The answer to that is all of the above, but the food is going to have to wait. "I want you first, then we can talk food."
Half an hour later, they're on her bed, satisfyingly naked and sweaty. They didn't even make it under the decorative bedspread. She'll probably need to get it dry cleaned. The ceiling of her childhood bedroom hasn't changed much, even though Ally suspects her mom's had it painted at least once. She's had a lot of sex under that ceiling and she's pretty sure there used to be a stain a little to the right of her headboard.
"Did you know that this is the very first place I had sex? Number one, right in this bed."
"And with Gerry Perry, the sad puppet man. I feel like I'm visiting a national monument to your poor life choices. And defiling it."
She elbows him. "So who'd you lose your virginity to and where? Or was that so long ago that you don't remember?"
"Come on, Ally. You of all people should know you never forget your first, even if it's so horrifically embarrassing that you—and, in my case, the other party—probably wish you could. I guess you could say I was someone's Gerry Perry."
"Oh yeah? Spill."
"Her name was Sarah Hardiman, I was 19, she was 22 and a friend of my sister's. It was at her place and I think she felt sorry for me. Before and after. Especially after."
She looks over at him in disbelief. "Nineteen. You?"
"Trust me, I was a late bloomer. When you meet my family, I am painfully certain they'll show you the evidence. Braces and everything."
"Yeah, still can't quite believe it."
"Believe it. Not only was I a late bloomer, I was a huge band geek, and let me tell you, it was nothing like the American Pie movies."
"Band camp was a bust?"
"Band camp more than a bust. Band camp was chicken pox and quarantine."
"All over? Holy shit."
"Everywhere. I couldn't even take a leak without crying and I was probably the only 16-year-old boy alive who knew what it was like to go a month without masturbating. I still get phantom pains when I think about it."
"I don't even have a penis and I'm getting phantom pains thinking about it. Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
"I wouldn't say no, but there are cannoli waiting downstairs and I haven't actually eaten yet, so why don't I take a rain check?"
Ally'd eaten some of Mom's yogurt after waking up, but apparently, she's still pretty hungry because she ends up eating the eclair, two cannoli, and half of Colin's donut. After they've eaten and gone back upstairs, after she's gone down on her knees on her bedroom floor and he's returned the favor and gone down on her on the bed, Colin looks around her room, clearly cataloging each and every item in it. "Does your mom really have every ribbon, certificate, and award you've every gotten up on your walls still?"
"Mom's left our rooms just like they were. Well, pretty much. There used to be more posters and magazine covers and stuff all over the place." Pretty much everything that gave the room enough personality to overcome the Laura Ashley wallpaper and matching bedding has been removed, including her art, though she's the one who took that down. "And fewer potpourri bowls."
Come to think of it, the room's not really hers anymore. It belongs to whatever ideal Ally Darling Mom wishes she was. Jake Adams would go well with this room. Colin sticks out in it like a stupidly sexy sore thumb. He fits in at her place, though, which is the important part. Jake—obviously—did not. God, why does being back at Mom's make her feel like she's regressing? She shouldn't even be thinking like this.
"Want to go for a walk?" she asks, a little more desperately than she'd intended for the words to come out.
"Sure, just let me wash off my face."
It's nice out. Well, no, it's overcast and kind of muggy out. It's more like it's nice to be out of the house. It would be even nicer if she could somehow have managed to bring a bubble of the air conditioning with them, 'cause she's sweating through her tank top and she forgot to put on deodorant. Not that it would have done much about the fact that they didn't shower after either of the times they had sex.
Ally slips her hand into Colin's and starts walking. She realizes a few steps into it that she's planned on taking him on their old trick or treating route, just skipping the part where they knock on doors and get candy.
"And that's the Perry residence," she says, pointing to the house next door with her free hand and edging closer to him.
"Nice house," says Colin.
"Mom hates it. She claims Mrs Perry stole all her interior decor ideas from her."
"And did she?"
"You know, I really couldn't tell you. I haven't seen the inside since before you-know-what happened with you-know-who. But I think they used the same decorator. Mom was so angry that she redid most of the house with a different decorator. That's how I got my couch. In fact, Mom redecorating is how I got a lot of my furniture." Couch, bed, dresser. Bookshelves. "She redecorated again after the divorce. I think it's her version of getting bangs."
"At yet, she never redoes your rooms."
"Nope. She never does."
"My folks would have changed them the moment we were out of the house. As a matter of fact, they did change them the moment we were out of the house, which turned out to be kinda awkward when I had to move back home after I dropped out of college."
"That's why I ended up at Mom's and not Dad's. At least she'd just changed it into a spare bedroom. He'd changed it into an office."
Across the street, Ally sees the curtains on Mrs Herman's front window twitching. The old busybody is no doubt taking notes to take to her bridge club with her. Or it could be she's planning to call the cops if she hasn't recognized Ally. She probably thinks they look like they're casing the neighborhood.
"That's where the Prescotts lived," she tells him, pointing to the house next to Mrs Herman's. "They gave out full-sized Snickers every year until they divorced and had to sell the house. The Gibsons only gave out Sweet Tarts. Mrs Perry was mini Twizzlers."
He starts laughing. "Wait, are you taking me on your trick or treating route?"
"Yes?" she says. "To be fair, it's the neighborhood walk I know best. Mrs Herman over there always kept her porch light off."
"What'd your parents give out?"
"Those assorted Hershey's minis. Until the Prescotts started with the Snickers and Mom moved to full-sized Three Musketeers to keep up. What about yours?"
"Tootsie Roll Pops."
Daisy and Eddie come by Monday night, which Ally wasn't expecting.
"Colin, this is Eddie. Eddie, this is Colin," Ally says. To Daisy, she says, "I didn't know you were coming over."
"They're painting the nursery," Daisy explains. "I didn't want to be around the fumes and Mom's not home." She smiles. It's deceptively sweet. Ally's knows that means she's up to something. "I took the chance that you'd be wearing clothes."
"Well, I'm not exactly going to wander around Mom's naked," says Ally, although she actually has been.
Daisy smiles again. "That was directed at Colin. Eddie, remember that neighbor of Ally's I told you about who was playing the guitar mostly naked on her couch?"
"Let me go out on a limb and guess it was you," Eddie says, shaking Colin's hand. "You kind of made an interesting first impression on Daisy."
Colin raises his eyebrows. "So I'm gathering."
"You came over here to inspect my boyfriend, didn't you?" At least Colin looks amused. Ally's not.
"I came over here to avoid volatile organic compounds," Daisy says, primly. Then she grins. "And to inspect your boyfriend."
"You could have just gone over to my place," says Ally. "It's empty and you have a spare key."
Daisy orders pizza. A lot of pizza. "I'm eating for two," she says, shoving another slice of pepperoni in her face. "Pass me a slice of the sausage and pepperoncini. My stomach's in the way and I can't reach it."
"You're going to wind up with heartburn again," Eddie says. He passes her a slice anyway.
"I end up with heartburn no matter what I eat."
"So did my sister," says Colin. "So, at least according to her, you might as well eat what you like."
Daisy smiles. "Thank you. See, Eddie?"
"Hey, Ally," Eddie says. "Daisy said I should tell you, Mike really liked the cake topper you made for us. He has a boutique and is looking for consignments. I gave him your card."
"Groomsman Mike or basketball Mike?" Both of them were at the wedding.
Thank god. Basketball Mike was only a technical foul away from making her list. She wonders for a moment if he's done anything about his premature ejaculation problem and decides that she'd really rather not know.
Ally corners Daisy outside the hall bathroom the fifth time her sister makes a trip to it.
"What are you doing?"
"Going pee. The baby's squishing my bladder. Also, you should let me go and do that before I pee myself."
"I'm coming in with you," says Ally.
"The bathroom's the size of a closet."
Daisy narrows her eyes. "Fine. Upstairs, but hurry. I'm serious about peeing myself."
"Why does the wallpaper in here match your bedroom, not mine?" Ally asks. She's sitting on the edge of the bathtub, staring at the walls while Daisy's using the toilet.
"I don't know, maybe because it's attached to my bedroom? Pass me a roll of toilet paper. Someone used the last one and didn't replace it."
Ally pulls a fresh roll out from under the vanity and holds it captive. "We weren't expecting company and Colin knows where Mom keeps it. Tell you what, I'll pass you the Charmin if you tell me what you're doing."
Daisy gapes at her and narrows her eyes. "That's not fair."
"Neither is ambushing me and my boyfriend."
"If I hadn't come by, you never would have let me meet him. You disappeared into the boyfriend vortex after my wedding."
Ally squeezes the toilet paper and tosses it Daisy's way. "You've already met him."
"But he wasn't your boyfriend when I met him." Daisy wipes and flushes and is in the process of standing up when she swears and sits back down. "Damn it, I have to pee again."
"Do you have to pee this much all the time? It sounds like someone opened up a fire hydrant."
Her sister sighs and admits, "No, but I made Eddie stop at 7-Eleven because I wanted a Slurpee and then I drank most of his Big Gulp because I was still thirsty."
"Enough about pee. How's the sex?"
"Daisy!" Ally laughs. "Fine, if you must know, really, really good. Like, really good. What do you think of him?"
"I think you seem happy."
"That's not really an answer."
"You'll just have to wait until I get to know him as your boyfriend. Let's go back down before Eddie starts to wonder if I fell in."
Ally pushes down her frustration. Daisy's right, she doesn't have enough to go on, but Ally still doesn't want to wait for her seal of approval. She wants it now so she can shove Mom's voice out of her head about this once and for all.