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Here's to Us(9)
Elin Hilderbrand

“Besides,” Joel said, “I want to take care of you.”

Joel wanted to “take care” of her—the words were like a narcotic. And just as he said this, their song came on: “Colder Weather,” by the Zac Brown Band. Angie had been endeavoring to keep one foot on the ground when it came to Joel. Men never actually left their wives; that was an urban myth. But with that one simple line—I want to take care of you—Joel Tersigni had executed a Karate Kid–like move and swept her leg. She fell. There was, she feared, no way back.

There were no parking spots on Seventy-Third Street.

“Should I drive around?” Joel asked. “And come up?”

Instinctively, Angie shook her head. She was leaving the next day for Nantucket. The whole family was gathering. They were going to spread Deacon’s ashes. Angie was going to spend three days under the same roof as her mother for the first time in a very, very long time. It was too much, all of a sudden.

“Should I forget about leaving her?” Joel asked. “Do you not love me?”

“Of course I love you,” Angie said quickly. She told Joel this all the time; she told him way too often. Belinda would have advised her to create some doubt, cultivate some mystery. But Angie operated without guile. She had waited a long time to find a friend of her heart, someone she could tell everything. “But it’s late, and I’m beat.”

“Sleep in tomorrow,” Joel said.

He never really listened unless she was saying exactly what he wanted to hear.

“I have to pack,” she said.

He gave her a blank look.

“I’m going to Nantucket?” she said. “Remember? I’ll be back Tuesday.”

“That’s even more reason why I should come up,” he said. “How am I going to last four days without your body?”

She wished he had said “you” instead of “your body.” But then she remembered back six weeks ago: As soon as Joel had learned that Deacon was dead, he drove into the city to see Angie. He had held her, absorbed her shaking; he had brought her a cognac; he had drawn her a bath and sat on the bathroom floor, holding her hand. He had answered her phone and the knocks of her concerned (nosy) neighbors, telling everyone kindly yet firmly that Angie wasn’t ready to see anyone. He had stood by as she snapped her precious collection of wooden spoons in half—some of them more than a hundred years old—until they lay on her kitchen floor like so much kindling, and then he swept the pieces up with a broom and dustpan. He went down to the corner store for cigarettes and then somehow managed to open the giant window that had been stuck since Angie moved in so that she could smoke without leaving the apartment. He watched her pull apart the loops of her whisk until it looked like some awful, postmodern flower. He didn’t tell her she was acting crazy, he didn’t tell her she should quit smoking, he didn’t ask why she wasn’t crying. Joel Tersigni had done everything right, every single thing, except he still went home to Dory each night. But now, that would end. He was leaving.

“Drive around,” Angie said. “I’ll wait for you upstairs.”

LAUREL

She had a long list of tasks to tackle before she flew to Nantucket in the morning, and yet she found herself distracted by the blushing-pink envelope sitting on top of her in-box. It was a birthday card from Deacon that had arrived promptly on May 2; despite the many ways he’d failed her, he always remembered her birthday. Laurel had been too busy to open it on May 2 or the days following, and then on May 6, Deacon was dead, and Laurel was afraid to open it because when she did, it would be the last time she heard from him, and she wasn’t ready for that.

She tore her eyes from the envelope; she would open it later today, she decided. Tomorrow, she was traveling back in time. She hadn’t been to Nantucket since she and Deacon had split so many years ago.

Across from Laurel sat a woman named Ursula, who had three school-aged grandchildren. Ursula and the kids were homeless and waiting for Laurel to find them a placement. Ursula’s daughter, Suzanne, the children’s mother, was a drug addict who had robbed Ursula of all her worldly goods and then forged her rent checks, getting them evicted from the Silverhead projects, which was virtually impossible.

Ursula picked up the framed photograph on Laurel’s desk.

“This your boyfriend?” Ursula asked.

The first time a client had asked Laurel this, she’d blanched, but it happened so often now that Laurel had grown used to it.

“My son, actually,” Laurel said. The photo was of her and Hayes on the floor of the Knicks game, a slice of Carmelo Anthony’s jersey and powerful arm visible in the frame.

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