That leaves me out here with my mother—exactly where I don’t want to be.
“I have to say, I don’t really like what you’ve done with the place.” She looks around. “I know you’ve never been a fastidious housekeeper, but really, this is pretty bad even for you.”
“Yes, well, maybe if I’d known you were coming, I could have made more of an effort,” I answer, tongue totally in cheek. Because, seriously, what else have I been doing for the last week and a half but busting my ass on this damn house?
“A lady’s house should always be prepared for company.” She wipes a finger over a window ledge, then wrinkles her nose at the dust on it.
“Yeah, and a lady’s husband probably shouldn’t father offspring with another woman, but we’re pretty much oh and two for that, aren’t we?” The words pop out before I knew I was going to say them, but as my mother’s spine stiffens and her eyes widen, I can’t say I’m sorry.
I’ve spent my entire life tiptoeing around her feelings while she shredded mine, which—now that I think about it—is exactly what I did with Karl as well. It felt good standing up to him the other night, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some satisfaction at standing up to my mother as well. I’m sick to death of always worrying about everyone else’s feelings when they never worry about mine.
“I don’t know why you insist on being so crude,” Mom snaps at me right before she marches into the kitchen with her nose in the air.
Part of me is tempted to just let her stew for a few minutes, but Sarah and Nick are in the kitchen and neither of them is prepared for prolonged exposure to Elizabeth Martin when she is in a snit. And while I’m annoyed as fuck at my mother right now, it isn’t fair to leave them alone with her.
By the time I make it to the kitchen, Mom is sitting at the table while Nick makes coffee. Sarah is leaning against the counter on her phone—as far from my mom as she can get and be in the same room. Not that I blame her. That’s pretty much how I’ve spent my entire adult life.
But since that’s not an option now, I sit down next to my mom. Nick plops cups of coffee in front of both of us and I’m impressed he’s remembered that I like mine with cream. Then I take a sip and nearly choke on the burn making its way down my esophagus. Nick must have figured out where Aunt Maggie kept her alcohol because there is a whole lot of whiskey in this coffee. I turn toward him, gasping for breath.
He just shrugs. “It seemed like coffee by itself wasn’t going to cut it for the two of you right now.”
Truer words have probably never been spoken. I swear, if my mother weren’t here, I would kiss him for that alone.
Then again, if my mother weren’t here, I wouldn’t need to be drinking whiskey anyway…
Speaking of, my mother is drinking her spiked coffee with nary a peep, but that just might be because she’s too busy staring at my sister to notice. Sarah, on the other hand, is doing her best to pretend my mother doesn’t exist.
And she almost pulls it off. But she makes a rookie mistake when dealing with Mom—she looks up from her phone and makes eye contact.
Which is pretty much a declaration of war in my mom’s book—and always has been.
“So you’re staying here now?” my mother asks in the snootiest tone I’ve ever heard come out of her mouth—which is saying a lot.
I drain my coffee and hand the mug back to Nick with a low, “Can I have another, please? Hold the coffee this time.”
Sarah must be getting sick of Mom’s rudeness, though, because she stands up straight and gives Mom a very impressive fuck-you glare. “Yeah, I am. What of it?”
And just like that, my strong, indomitable, never-show-weakness mother crumbles. She drops her head on the kitchen table and starts to cry as if her heart is breaking wide open.
“One more coffee, please.” I shove her mug at Nick, too.
He responds by plunking the whiskey bottle down in the middle of the table along with three glasses. Then he settles into the chair on the other side of my mom and gives her a hug. And he never even winces when she lets loose with a tortured wail and buries her face in his shoulder and cries and cries and cries.
I grab the whiskey bottle and pour us all a stiff drink. We’re going to need it before this day is over, of that I’m sure.
Mom sets down her now-empty shot glass. “After he finally came clean to me and told me about Sarah, I told him that he did you girls a great disservice.” She looks from me to Sarah. “To never let you know each other when you’re family. It was the last straw. I packed up and left while he sat there in his chair by the big front window doing his damn crossword puzzle.”
“This calls for a drink.” Nick gathers the shot glasses from in front of him, Mom, and me.
“Another one?” Sarah asks from her spot at the head of the kitchen table, the only sober one in a room full of adults having a much-needed medicinal moment.
“Yes,” Mom agrees. “Page sixteen.”
I thumb through Aunt Maggie’s My Drinking Buddy book that was tucked into the cabinet with the liquor. We’ve been playing this game for the past hour, ever since Mom apologized to Sarah for their initial meeting. One of us would call out a page number and someone else would pick a drink to try from that page.
“Banana Bombers.” I concentrate on the letters in the middle of the row of three in my immediate vision. “Triple sec, grenadine, and banana-flavored schnapps.”
Nick scoots his chair closer to mine and looks over my shoulder at the page. “Who has banana-flavored schnapps?”
Sarah gets up and goes to the built-in liquor cabinet, hunting around for a minute before crowing in triumph and turning, holding a bottle aloft. “Aunt Maggie!”
Mom throws both her arms up in the air and lets out a loud “wooooooo.” My mom is a woo girl; who would have thought.
“I might regret this later,” she says. “But I’m beginning to think that old bat was onto something with this hoarding thing.”
“Come on,” she says. “Margaret would have laughed at that and you know it.”
It’s true. She would have. Aunt Maggie loved to laugh at herself and everyone else.
“Ready, bartender?” I ask Sarah.
She nods. “Ready.”
“One ounce of schnapps, three-fourths ounce triple sec, splash of grenadine. Shake it like a Polaroid picture and put it in a— Oh shit.”
“What?” Nick asks, his words a little slower than usual like the rest of us—well, except Sarah. “Do we have to put it in a pineapple or something?”