by Linda Sillitoe
[p.278]He had eaten little for three days, his stomach anticipating this night. Not because he dreaded seeing his parents’ friends again after his absence; that wasn’t easy, but he’d come to terms with his own vulnerability. Boyd’s vulnerability and his parents’ were another matter. From the moment he watched Kerry scamper in her new crackly dress ahead of Robyn as he carried Danny, he was waiting for the video.
In a way anticipation made everything else easier. He shook hands, returned hugs, made small talk while uneasiness growled in his gut. Barbara, of course, was in her element, whirling everywhere at once, overseeing the table laden with food and drink, keeping a sharp eye on the children, greeting old neighbors and long lost Sunday school teachers with joyful vehemence, and hovering over Mom and Dad. Anyone would think she planned the whole thing, he mused, smiling wryly.
Now Caitlin, he thought, seemed just the opposite. She wore no bandages now and looked well enough in a dark green dress, but her eyes were shadowy and she seemed quiet. He caught Danny as he roared by chasing Barbara’s baby and swung him over his shoulder, moving closer to Caitlin. She was pale, he confirmed, and seemed to fade a degree as people shook her hand [p.279]and moved on. Marly, on the other hand, seemed effervescent, which struck Roger as ironic.
A seat opened up beside Caitlin and he dropped into it. Danny immediately held out his arms toward her, and she gave him a big hug and a smooch on the neck before turning him loose. He looked around for Barbara’s baby, Mindy.
“How you doing?” Roger murmured.
“Just a few aches. No big deal.”
She was watching Marly, too, he noticed. He caught her glance and they both shrugged and smiled for Marly seemed to glow in her own bubble of happiness.
Tonight Marly’s auburn hair trailed down her turquoise dress like fire, and her eyes sparked. Her dress was loose enough to cause a second look, except that a second look required thinking the unthinkable. Everyone had been nice to him, he admitted, not one mentioning his inconvenient and scandalous disappearance.
“What’s she going to do?” he asked Caitlin now.
“Nothing. Just keep living,” she said, turning her palms up but keeping her voice casual. Across the hall Barbara was instructing Marly on the order of the program.
Roger let out a long, low whistle.
“I agree,” Caitlin said. They leaned slightly toward each other so that their shoulders touched. “How are you doing?” Caitlin asked.
“Fine, just antsy about the video.” She nodded. “It’s not exactly cutting edge journalism, but then this is a sentimental crowd.”
Kerry danced over to them to report that she had managed to secure an extra éclair. She walked away, swishing her skirt.
[p.280]“That girl is going to be something,” Caitlin said.
“I know. I watch her, I watch crazy little Danny, I hold Robyn all night now if I can, and I think I can make everything work—everything fit. I focus on priorities.”
“Hmmm,” Caitlin said, and he followed her gaze toward her twins. Julie was wearing a simple black sheath that looked old for eleven but made her blond straight hair shine like gold. Heidi, in a low-waisted fuchsia dress, now had Danny by the hand and was apparently talking him into something, though Danny’s chubby legs dragged.
“I’m starting law classes summer quarter,” Roger said. “The legal angle is sounding pretty interesting to me, more so than juggling numbers anyway.”
Caitlin favored him with a long look from knowing eyes. “Sounds fun,” she said.
“So what’s on your horizon?” he asked idly, stretching his legs. He ought to go see what was going on with Danny, but Heidi was managing fine.
She turned her antique wedding ring straight; it spun on her finger, he noticed, so loose she easily could lose it. “I’m not sure. I’m no longer at the magazine. Not even Hubbard could keep it afloat, so Hal and Lana are moving it to Park City and making it a ski magazine.”
“You’re kidding. You’re out of a job?”
“Oh, I just moved my computer to the attic room at home. I have plenty of freelance work to keep me busy for a while. I’m not sure what I want to do really. If anything.”
Roger started to say, you sound like me right before I ran away, but the program was starting. He tried to relax through two musical numbers and a poem, but gave up once the video started. Overall Barbara had done a good job and the guests showed their appreciation. As for Boyd’s segment—it was a compromise. [p.281]Roger and Cait insisted on excluding anything untrue, but the truth wasn’t there either. Not the whole truth. And they’d ended with the black border around the photo, and the hymn fading even as tension rose throughout the hall. Everyone knows, Roger thought. Why can’t we just say it?
We managed fragments of truth, Roger comforted himself, fragments that quickly diffused with peppy music. Barbara, graduate and then bride, filled the screen. Then carne the grandchildren, more weddings, more grandchildren. At the front table Roger saw his parents holding hands, watching the pictures come and go on the screen. Their friends chuckled along with them as if in a conspiracy. Finally the closing scene—the chaos of a family party caught in a still-frame—stayed on the screen with the words superimposed, “And They All Lived Happily Ever After.”
Roger grinned and tried to catch Caitlin’s eye, but Jake had pulled up a chair on her other side and they were talking.
After the guests left, Robyn took most of the children home while the rest of them stayed for clean-up duty. Roger worked hard and fast, glad to use the energy that had accumulated in his muscles. Barbara and his mother were laughing in the kitchen, Dad flirting a little with them both. Fred and Jake were slamming the tables into place under the stage, and Marly was boxing centerpieces with the help of the twins. Propping the push broom beside a wall, Roger stretched and looked around for Cait.
Surprisingly, in all this hubbub she wasn’t doing anything, just staring out the small window over the parking lot. Moonlight shone through the glass, but Roger knew there was no view from that angle. What held her attention? Roger wondered. Why did Caitlin stand silent, staring intently at nothing—nothing at all?