Colette sprinted up the stairs and crammed into the hallway outside Mae’s kindergarten classroom along with all the other nannies and mothers who were already waiting to gather up lunch boxes and wrap kids in hats and scarves. She was right on time, but some of them gave her the “you’re late” look. East Village parents could be so liberal when it came to recreational drug use and politics, but parenting made puritans of them all. Even Colette seemed to have lost something she once had, and when the noisy, reckless wave of arms and legs and moving mouths poured into the hallway, Colette almost toppled over from its force.
“Mom, we made puppets,” Mae said.
“That’s great,” Colette answered, struggling to gather up her purse and Mae’s lunch box, jacket, backpack, and scooter.
“Mine’s a shark.” She attacked Colette with cardboard fangs.
“Mine too,” Mae’s friend Sasha said. Polly and David were out of town, and Colette had agreed to watch Sasha for the night.
“Ooooh, so scary.”
“No. Mom. Not scary. He’s hungry, and you are the food. It’s not scary. You get eaten—that’s all that happens.”
Colette felt the implied, you stupid idiot.
“Yeah. That’s all,” Sasha chimed in.
Colette sensed the beginning of her slow, painful death as Sasha and Mae grew into malevolent teenagers, hands on hips, scowling at her. Normally Andrew picked Mae up from school and took her to the park on Houston for a few hours then Colette met them after work, dragged Mae home for dinner and put her to bed. “You can’t count on that,” her mother said when she told her about Andrew’s duties as an afternoon dad. Ever since 911 she begged Colette to get out of the city. “Mae needs to be able to bike up and down the driveway.” A perfect example of why Colette would never leave the East Village.
“Look, Mom,” Mae said, thrusting her pointer finger in Colette’s face. “It hurts.”
Colette squatted down. A slice of nail crowned the top Mae’s tiny finger. Raw, pink skin peaked out. “It’s a hangnail. Let me cut off this ragged part.”
“Cut it off?” Mae snatched her hand back, knocking Colette to the floor and skipped away down the hall singing.
Colette dug through her purse, searching for her keys with the little pink pocketknife key chain. She dumped the contents of her handbag on the floor. Where were they? Had she left them somewhere? The orange elementary school walls seemed to close in on her. Probably at the dry cleaners. She stared at the shark puppet’s oily, white, pastel-crayon, cardboard fangs and exceptionally small, glued-on, bouncy, plastic eyeballs. Had she forgotten them at the cafe? She’d had a meeting with a possible patron for her dance company. To keep her NYU teaching gig, she had to continue producing avant-garde, Off-off-Broadway, experimental performance pieces. Her last reviews in The Times had been so disappointing that she now needed to prove that she was as brilliant as the critics had once thought she was, not a weird, stroke-of-luck, amateur, artistic fluke.
But she didn’t feel brilliant. She felt broke and tired. She needed to raise money and soon before Amex cut her off. If she didn’t get this project going, she would never be able to raise more money for other, experimental and possibly more lucrative projects. She’d get fired and have to move to a subdivision in Jersey and teach ballet to spoiled, pigeon-toed nose-pickers. She could ask Andrew for help, but the agreement was always that he would cover college and she would take care of everything else.
Mae and Sasha skipped back and circled her. “Ashes to ashes, we all fall down,” they sang and joined her on the floor. In the next breath, they were on their feet again.
Waiting in line at the dry cleaners, the kids made faces and stuck out their tongues then touched tongues. That was a new one. She couldn’t really imagine her daughter turning into a woman who kissed women, but if that were the case Colette would be an open-minded, supportive parent. “Well, you like women. That’s okay,” she imagined herself saying. “I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. It’s a common thing in college to go around kissing girls. Sure, I’d like to meet your girlfriend.” She pictured shaking hands with a butch lesbian, whom she would treat like a man. She would let this lesbian open doors for her and fix broken things. That’s probably how it would be. If that is, Mae turned out that way. Or Mae would be the butch one! More likely Mae would turn out like Colette, a desperate, hopeless romantic, who could not stay focused on one man at a time or keep the ones she wanted. Fortunately Colette had her books, wine, friends, television, art openings, and her work. She wasn’t in need, not in that way, except when she craved the physical part. Hence Trip.
Except now Trip was to blame for this mess. He occupied far too much space in her brain, so much space that there wasn’t room left for remembering her keys and balancing her checkbook. She thought of his smooth back and the way he had stood on the bed, turning for her, doing that impersonation. He was unusual and witty and far too young. Colette was pretty sure Trip woke up each morning looking energetic and handsome. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to wake up next to a five-year-old, snarled and tangled in a nest of stuffed animals and baby blankets.
As if he could feel her thinking about him, her phone vibrated. I want to open u up and eat u. Clearly not a poet, but he was direct. right now.
“No keys. Not here,” the man behind the counter said. “Sorry.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said, ushering the children out.
Are u ignoring me? Only makes me want u more. Come over later. Colette had to stop acting like a teenager, propping up pillows in her bed, leaving the TV on, locking, double locking the doors, and sneaking down to his apartment. It had to stop. Leaving Mae to creep off for a quickie made her a terrible mother.
Mae grabbed at her crotch. “I have to go,” she whined.
They could go to the Tompkins Street Library around the corner, but the homeless people showered in the sink. She once saw a man emerge from the ladies’ room, completely drenched, without his shirt. Starbucks was always filthy. Perhaps, they could pee at Life Café. She peeked through the window, hoping Clarissa—or was is Larissa?—was working. She was not. Well, Colette would have to walk them to the back, with purpose, as if she was looking for someone, and then scoot them out quickly when they were done. Colette kneeled so she was eye level with the girls. She wiped a booger off Mae’s nose, and Mae squirmed away.
“Okay, when we go in there, follow directly behind me.”
“Can we have milkshakes?” Mae asked. “Daddy lets me have a milkshake.”
“Yeah, well, then let Daddy be responsible for your sugar addiction.”
“I want one now. Pleeeeeeeese.”
“Darling, listen,” she said, exasperated. “Here’s why you can’t have a milkshake. Number one, you just had a sucker and a bagel. Number two, they’re expensive. Number three, too much milk gives you a monstrous stomach ache. Number four, they have no nutritional value, and so you’ll be eating loads of empty calories and though you’re young and will burn them off, someday you won’t and you’ll get fat.” Now she sounded just like Polly. She was losing their attention, but she held on as they squirmed. “I’m not done. Number five, we’re going to have a race as soon as we go in there and go to the bathroom, and you’ll lose, if you’re filled up from a fattening milkshake.”
“But you’re fat, and you don’t eat milkshakes.”
“Mommy is fat because she doesn’t exercise enough because she’s taking care of you.” She shouldn’t have said that last part. She shouldn’t blame her child. She shouldn’t have brought up fatness in the first place. She wasn’t actually fat. She complained about getting fat in order to prevent it from happening, as a reminder that at any moment she could become that way if she wasn’t careful. Or could Mae see something she could not?
“That lady is fat,” Sasha said, pointing at a woman in a big overcoat, waddling past them. Colette slapped her hand down, but it was too late.
“She’s not,” Colette said. The overweight woman glared at her. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes she is,” Mae whispered. At least she whispered it.
“Don’t be rude. Apologize right now.”
“Sorry,” Sasha said. She fondled the zipper of her jacket.
“Girls,” she began, “you never, ever, under any circumstances tell a woman she’s fat. It’s not nice. It’s like saying ugly. Women are sensitive. There could be a thousand reasons a woman is fat. She might be pregnant. Or have diabetes or bad genes. Or be in an unhappy relationship. Or have a tragic eating disorder. You just don’t know. So, do you get it? Women are not fat.”
They nodded in unison.
“Now, when we go inside please follow directly behind me. Do not speak to anyone. Pass go. Do not stop to collect two hundred dollars.”
“What? Two hundred dollars?” Sasha said, the little capitalist.
“It’s a joke. From Monopoly. Seriously, though, please not a word to anyone. We’re going in, and we’re going to use the bathroom. No talking to anyone, understood?”
The girls nodded. Perhaps they could feel the exhaustion in her voice. As she pushed the door, it jingled, and then she heard her name.
“Colette, is that you?” a man asked, rising to hold the door open for her. “Henry.”
“Oh, hi. Yes.”
“How are you? It’s been … you look great.”
She didn’t look great. He looked great, exactly the same as when they’d met a decade ago.
“You twins?” he asked. The girls held hands and covered their mouths.
“Oh, yes. No, not twins. This is Mae, my daughter, and her very best friend, Sasha. Say hello, girls,” she instructed, remembering that she’d just ordered them into silence. They shrugged, helplessly, giggling through their fingers.
“Say hi. Stop that no-talking rule for a minute. Please.”
“Hello, Mae. Hello, Sasha,” Henry said.
His dark hair and glasses made him look just as intelligent and mysterious as he had appeared to her the first time, many years ago, when they’d met at some recital on the Bowery. He was an aspiring musician, and she, well, an aspiring dancer, a bartender really. Or was she working in that health food store back then? She gave up on getting the girls to say hello.
“So what are you doing here?” she said, hoping that he was, perhaps, still a bachelor. “You live in the neighborhood?” She briefly entertained the thought of a reunion.
“No. Actually, we’re out in LA. I got married two years ago. Crazy, huh? We just bought a little place in the Hollywood Hills. Nothing extravagant, but the price was right. So many deals when the market fell out. I actually have a mortgage. Can you believe it?”
She said she couldn’t, and he went on about the good old days. Romanticizing their youth in that way was dangerous. Those nights were far more sinister than he made them sound; they drank, exchanged partners. Some exchanged needles. A whole group of them, all lost, trying to be something they’d never become, but it was fun, sure, if you distracted yourself from being poor and confused. They had all hated the establishment, and now they worked in it, for it, consumed by it. They’d grown up. Now, at least, her life had purpose. She had Mae to look after, and when everything else seemed chaotic, that responsibility grounded her.
As he spoke, she watched the girls play a silly game of zipping their mouths shut, then opening them for a split second to produce unintelligible sounds, before zipping them up again. They pretended to toss imaginary keys behind them, scamper around on the floor looking for them only to discover another set of invisible keys in each other’s pockets.
“Better for musicians out there, right?” Colette asked.
“Well, I’m producing now.”
“Good for you … Mae, stay near me, please. And your wife, what does she do?”
“Well, she’s pregnant. Actually.”
Being pregnant. What a great occupation.
“We love it out there. So much space and it’s sunny. I mean New York is great, but winter and subways and walk-ups . . . ” He sounded like her parents. He must have realized mid-sentence that he was backing himself into a corner and changed directions, quickly. “But you found a way to make it work. Tell me. What are you up to these days?”
“Doing choreography now. I have a company actually. And I teach. NYU.”
“Your husband must be a saint.”
She didn’t quite understand his meaning. Why would her husband be a saint? For marrying her? For taking Mae when she was at rehearsal? If he was her husband, wouldn’t that be his job?
“Oh, right,” Colette said. “Yes. Mae’s father is an angel.” She didn’t feel like getting into the whole story with Henry. Andrew wasn’t her husband, had never been her husband, and would never be her husband. Colette and Andrew were friends. They were purposely not together from the start. Eventually she would have to tell Mae that her existence had been carefully considered. Andrew had wanted a child. So had Colette. They’d decided they’d better hurry up and do it before she stopped producing eggs.
“Well,” she said. “These girls have to go.” Let Henry wonder why she didn’t wear a ring. Let him find out through the grapevine sooner or later. Made no difference. Mae grabbed her crotch again. The Michael Jackson move. This conversation could only be torture for a five-year-old. “So good to see you again.”
“You too.” Henry leaned in to give her a peck on the cheek and then another like the French, but she wasn’t prepared for the second kiss and turned her head the wrong way. His lips grazed hers and landed close to her mouth. She could smell his aftershave. He lingered for a moment too long. “I’m staying at the Soho Grand,” he whispered before he pulled away. He said it so quietly and looked so at ease, she thought she had imagined it. Both Mae and Sasha were uncharacteristically quiet, watching the awkward goodbye. Colette smiled. She felt her cheeks flush as Henry, calm as ever, sank into his seat to enjoy his newspaper and a cup of coffee. What a luxury.
In the bathroom, Mae wrapped her arms around Colette’s neck, and Colette squatted down, holding Mae’s little, pink thighs, so that Mae was suspended over the toilet seat. They waited for the tinkle.
“Mom, who was that?” Mae asked.
“An old friend from a long time ago.”
“Was he your boyfriend?”
Children could be so intelligent and intuitive when they felt like it.
“Yes. No. Not exactly. I don’t know. It was a long time ago.”
“So, why don’t you have him anymore?”
Colette wondered about this question. Mae was good like that. She got straight to the point. No easy questions. Oh, no. Why don’t the subways follow a schedule? Why are mean people mean? What color is vitamin C?
“Because your daddy’s my best friend.”
Mae’s question tugged at her. She never fully understood the real reason she and Henry had fallen apart. Maybe Henry, when he was dating Colette, had sought a diversion from the path his life should take just so that he could some day look back and reminisce, as he just had, about the days when they lived amongst drug addicts and punk rockers. They’d gotten along well and spent endless hours walking through Chinatown, Little Italy, the West Village, the East Village, with their arms linked, planning their impossible futures. His had turned out well. Although, not as he had hoped. He’d wanted to be a rock star, but probably, underneath it all, he always wanted to be the one behind the scenes. And hers had turned out well also. Though not as she’d planned. Or exactly as planned? Better than planned? She’d always wanted to be a dancer. But that was the thing about it—she’d never made a plan. Things came at her, and she took avoided them or confronted them. She’d been fun, but apparently not the kind you marry.
“Mom. Mom. I’m done.”
Colette realized that Mae had been pinching her neck.
“I think Daddy is my best friend,” Mae said.
“What about Sasha and me? That doesn’t make us feel very loved.”
“Well, you can be seconds. Daddy buys me milkshakes.”
She let it go. She let Sasha and Mae hash it out about best friends, the requirements, the privileges and duties of such a title. She was happy that they had each other, and she wasn’t going to worry about buying milkshakes. When she pulled down Sasha’s tights to hold her over the toilet seat, she realized that she was too late.
“Whoops. You had an accident.”
Sasha burst into tears. Colette kissed her forehead.
“It happens to all of us. Accidents happen. Even I had an accident today.”
“You did?” Sasha said.
“Well, I only went a wee bit in my panties, but I had to go sooooooo bad and someone made me so excited, and it just came out.”
Sasha felt better now. Colette could tell.
“But the really big accident I had today,” she said, as she tried her best to wrap wads of toilet paper around Sasha’s undies so she wouldn’t feel quite so uncomfortable, “was that I forgot the keys at home.”
“You did what?” Sasha said, as if trying to understand how someone could make such a mistake. She really was just like Polly. “I know,” she said, always a serious thinker, “let’s go to my house, and then we can check the message machine and see if my mom and dad called.”
“Only thing is. I forgot those keys too!” Colette smacked her own forehead like a clown and said, “Silly me!” This didn’t seem to make Sasha feel better.
“What are we going to do?”
“Don’t worry. I have a plan. In fact, I have a surprise,” she said. She had to say something. Sasha’s bottom lip quivered. “You must behave like little angels if you want to find out what it is.”
Why had she brought up any of this in the first place? The children didn’t need to know that she was worried about the keys. What had she done all day? Maybe she could make a few phone calls. She’d taken Mae to school, picked up her dress at the dry cleaners, grabbed a coffee, changed in the bathroom of the Starbucks, taken the subway from St. Marks up to 23rd, been fifteen minutes late to her meeting, lamented the lack of funding for the arts and the precarious position of modern dance, headed downtown to critique a student’s final project, eaten a late lunch at that falafel place in Soho, stopped by the studio, picked up tampons at the bodega, and walked over to Mae’s school. It was possible, she thought, that her keys could be home, inside the apartment. They had one of those doors now that locked automatically, and this morning had been hectic. She had her hands full. Yes. Most likely they were sitting on the kitchen counter.
While the girls climbed up and down the steps of someone’s brownstone, Colette sat on the stoop and made a few calls to confirm that she’d not left her keys at any one of those places that she’d been to earlier. She’d have to call a locksmith or the building manager. She’d scribbled down the new super’s name and stuck it on the fridge.
Lately, it seemed, that every day was like this, containing some sort of dramatic event: losing, finding, forgetting, bumping into or discovering something. There was none of the gentle lull that the summer had brought, where all the days were essentially the same, lazy and long, easy to understand. The world seemed to conspire against her, and she wished, briefly, that she had a little bungalow in West Hollywood, where she could put a key under a rock and know that she was always free to go home.
She really didn’t want to deal with her landlord, but she had no choice. She called him. No answer. He screened his calls. She was sure of it. Who else did she know in the building? Trip. Her salvation. She texted him before she could stop herself. She needed help. This would be the end of things for sure. In a bind! Do you have the number for the super?
He was always home at this time. Half of his apartment was devoted to his work. He photographed food. He spent all day adjusting lighting for a glass of milk or a chocolate chip cookie. Ridiculous! He was an artist, but this was how he made money, and now the money making part had taken over—it always did.
Trip knew that she had a child, but he didn’t really get it. She never talked about Mae. He never saw them together. As far as he was concerned, her daughter was a magnificent excuse for anything she did or didn’t want to do. This daughter made it impossible for them to have dinner dates. This daughter made her seem wise. This daughter ensured that nothing would ever become too serious. He liked this invisible daughter, but meeting her would change everything. Seeing her in person would make Colette a real mother with a real daughter. Colette would cease to be the mysterious dancer down the hall and become instead maternal, old, boring. Not to mention, how it might confuse Mae if Colette had Daddy as her best friend and this other man as her second best friend.
But Mae was only a child. She would get over that. Colette hardly remembered anything from age five. Trip wrote back: anything for you. Come and get it.
He was persistent. She liked that. And he had the number for the super.
Mae balanced on the third stair. Colette wanted to stop her but let her jump. When Mae scrambled back up to jump from the fourth one, Colette watched Mae swing her arms and rock onto her toes, drawing up courage and momentum. She flew, landed on her feet, and pitched forward onto the concrete, scraping her hands. When she stood, the knees of her tights were dirty. Colette pretended she hadn’t seen the fall. Sometimes if she didn’t react, Mae brushed herself off and continued playing. Not this time; she wailed and held out her hands. Colette held her until she calmed down.
“Come, girls, let’s walk home,” she said, thinking about surprises.
Colette heard the sound of running water, the shower, coming from the other room, but Trip had told her to walk right in, and so they did. Despite a little voice that told her not to, she entered, only to find Trip naked in the kitchen, talking on his cell phone, looking at a tiny magnet calendar on the fridge. His exposed, firm buttocks stared back at her. She quickly turned to cover Mae and Sasha’s eyes, but they’d already seen his nakedness.
As he swiveled around, holding up a finger over his lips to tease Colette and put her off for one more minute, they saw the rest of him, including his erect, now half-erect, penis.
“What the?” Trip said. He reached for a dishtowel to cover up.
“Oh no!” Colette said. “Girls, come.” She led them into the hallway. He disappeared into the bedroom.
“I think his thinger is bigger than my dad’s,” Mae said to Sasha.
“Why was he naked?” Sasha asked.
“What I want to know is why dads all have hairs on their butts.”
This should make her laugh. Later, she might laugh, but instead she felt a sickening tightening in her stomach: guilt about exposing her daughter and her friend’s daughter to Trip’s nudity. But why should she feel that way? Was nudity such a bad thing? Europe is full of nude beaches. She wished they lived in France where naked people could run free amongst children. She’d spent a year in Paris in her twenties. Perhaps Europe held the answers to all her problems: health care, education, sexual liberation. She and Mae should move to a villa in France.
What would she tell Polly? Nothing. Everything.
“Trip was about to take his shower,” she said. He probably thought that she was coming over to romp around before she ran off to pick up the children. It wasn’t such an insane gesture. She might have done the same. In fact, she was almost certain, that before Mae, she’d done the same thing. She should have told him that she was with the kids. “And then he got an important phone call and his phone was in the kitchen, so he didn’t have time to put on some clothes before he ran out to answer it.”
The simple explanation seemed reasonable enough.
“Then why did he buzz us in?” Sasha asked. Sometimes she was too smart for her own good. Colette didn’t have an answer. For some reason an image of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice came to mind, and she wanted nothing more than to be back in her old apartment with a big bowl of buttered popcorn watching the movie channel while Mae slept next to her.
“He must have thought it was the mailman dropping off a package downstairs.”
“But who is he?” Mae said. “Where’s his kids?”
“Where are his kids? He doesn’t have any.”
“Why not?” Sasha asked. This seemed to disturb her even more than his nudity.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. He’s just a neighbor, and he’s going to help us get into our apartment.”
Trip returned, wearing jeans. He seemed agitated but invited them into the living room, which looked very different than she remembered it. His bookshelves didn’t hold books but rather expensive camera equipment and a strange collection of super hero toys, while all of his large coffee table photography books lined up in a neat vertical stack against the exposed brick of the non-working fireplace between the windows. They were too neat to have been read.
“Don’t touch, anything,” Colette said. The girls sat in the high stools at the breakfast bar spinning left and right.
“Sorry. I’ve had a horrendous day,” she said. “Really. I ran into an old friend and I had this thing, this meeting. And the keys on top of all that.”
He nodded as he searched through his phone for the number of the superintendent of the building.
“I thought that, you know,” he said, raising an eyebrow in the direction of the girls, and continued, “that you were coming alone.”
He was not apologetic. He seemed irritated.
“I’m sorry,” Colette said.
Finally, he found the number and dialed for her. He handed her his phone and when the man answered she explained her situation, pacing around the room near the stack of books. She noticed that they were arranged alphabetically.
In the kitchen, Trip tried to make conversation, asking names, ages, basic information, and Mae answered quietly, while Sasha drew pictures with her finger on the counter top. Then she heard Mae ask, “You don’t have any girls like us?”
“I only want boys,” he said, laughing at his own joke. “Just kidding.”
But he didn’t answer the question, or if he did, Colette didn’t hear his response. She made plans to meet the super in an hour and prepared to take the girls elsewhere to wait, but Trip offered to make them a frozen pizza.
“If you don’t mind,” Colette said. Polly would kill her. Bagels for a snack. Pizza for dinner. At least she said no to the milkshake. He turned on the oven and opened a bottle of wine, poured a glass for himself and one for Colette. He fiddled around with his music and stepped into the other room to answer a call. A stale, burnt curry odor seeped from the oven.
There were only two stools so the girls sat while Colette leaned. Trip glided into the room and popped the pizza in the oven before it reached the preheated temperature. Colette restrained herself from commenting, and while they waited for the pizza to cook, Mae told the only joke she could tell.
“A duck walks into the store and says, ‘Got any gwapes?’” Mae began.
“And the owner says, nope,” Colette said, who loved the duck joke and had taught it to Mae. Watching Mae tell a joke was painful because Mae had to get every word right. She was reminded of that first time Mae had glided away on her scooter in the church parking lot. If Mae missed a beat, the punch line was ruined, and there was nothing Colette could do about it.
“I’m telling it,” Mae said, kicking her feet against the stool under the counter. “Then the duck goes back the next day, and he says, ‘Got any gwapes?’ and the owner is getting mad, and he says, ‘I told you yesterday, I ain’t got no grapes and if you ask me again I’ll nail your beak to the wall. So what do you think happens?” Mae said.
“Take a guess.”
Andrew always wanted Mae to postulate on how things might turn out.
“I don’t know. Maybe the duck asks for apples,” Trip said.
“Nope, you’re wrong. The duck goes back and says, ‘Got any nails?’, and the owner says, ‘nope,’ and so the duck says, ‘Got any gwapes?’”
They laughed. Colette sighed in relief.
“Get it?” Mae said. “If he doesn’t have any nails he can’t hammer his beak.”
The super was late, and they watched TV, sitting around like a family. Trip choked on his wine while doing Donald Duck impersonations, and it squirted through his nose, which the girls found hilarious. Colette hoped it would help them forget everything else from earlier. This, she thought, was how something sexual turned into something more. The roadrunner zoomed through the desert. She wanted to reach over and take Trip’s hand but didn’t. As they were leaving, Trip leaned over and whispered that he already knew the ending of the duck joke. “Thanks for pretending,” Colette said, squeezing his bicep as she stepped out into the hall.
The keys were on the counter, just as she’d suspected. They were all exhausted, but she stripped the kids down and forced herself to give them a bath, which took up a good part of the evening. They fell asleep after some whining and stories, and she was at last alone with her nightcap and her book. She wondered if Trip would text. He didn’t. Before she went to sleep, she sent him a message: you were gweat
But he never wrote back.
That Sunday when Polly and David returned and took Sasha home, Colette and Mae sprawled out in their urban emptiness. They devoted the afternoon to nothing. Mae had been wearing her pink tutu since Saturday morning and was still prancing about casting magic, happy-princess spells with her wand. Stretched out across the hard wood floor, Colette had dozed off underneath the “castle” of pillows and bed sheets, with an unread newspaper. The afternoon light blazed through the open window.
Mae slid under the sheets and into the fort next to Colette. She put her face so close that Colette could feel her hot, deep breaths. Colette opened her eyes, and Mae stared back.
“My stomach hurts,” Mae said, with great sincerity, and Colette opened her eyes wider, yawning, roused with concern.
“Like how? Where?”
“Here,” Mae said, pointing to her bellybutton and circling it. “I need a milkshake.”
“You do, do you? Would that make your stomach better?” Colette reached for Mae, wrecking the fort. “You’re full of it.” She blew a raspberry on Mae’s belly.
“Full of what?” Mae asked.
For dinner, they walked over to Avenue A, sat down in a booth at Odessa, and ordered a large chocolate milkshake with two straws.