Alison Jennings hit the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge going seventy-five and banging on her steering wheel.
Seven thirty in the morning, the day after Christmas, and she was supposed to be getting ready to go to Astro’s mother’s house for their traditional Christmas breakfast. (Because everyone had different obligations on Christmas day, she’d told Ally at Thanksgiving, so it was just easier if she had it the next day. She’d grinned and added, “Plus, then you can just put your leftovers on fresh plates.”)
But Astro had this funny look on his face when she’d come back from her shower. Which is when he told her not to bother, he thought they should probably stop seeing each other, and could she maybe give him a ride over to his brother’s house? He’d be by to pick up his stuff later.
“That fucking sonofabitch asshole motherfucker!” She kept replaying it in her head and hitting the steering wheel again. The car swerved dangerously close to the guardrail—and the bay below—and she wrestled it back into the center of the lane and tried to take deep breaths. Astro was a jerk, yeah, but definitely not worth driving off the bridge for. Plus, he’d probably write a song about it and that would be the big break he was always talking about; he’d get famous off her presumed-suicide following him breaking up with her, and the trade magazines would all carry that fucking terrible picture he liked so much, the one where he’s “teaching her guitar,” but mostly looking down her shirt.
She forced her hands to stay at ten and three, even though she really wanted to beat the wheel again.
“Fucking fucker bastard asshole,” she muttered. All of which was true (well, except for the bastard thing; his parents were still married, like hers, even though he didn’t think they liked each other very much).
Asshole Astro. Dammit. Also, now she was crying again, like she cared, which she didn’t. Except she just bought herself a cute dress for his show on New Years and now where was she gonna wear it?
Oh god. This so sucked.
So instead of being an adult, with an adult relationship (well, on her side anyway), going with her committed boyfriend to his mom’s house for a family holiday (which she’d been stressing about for weeks, even though they’d seemed to like her at Thanksgiving; being one of two white people in a room full of black people was weird, but also good, like yeah, I can do this, I’m a grown up, and not a racist, and this is an okay thing, dating a black guy, being serious about him…not serious enough to invite him back to meet her parents, but almost that serious), instead of all that, there was this: driving back to Truman’s, where she’d been just last night, with stupid Astro, having Christmas dinner with Truman and Hugh.
She probably should have called or something, but she was so pissed after she dropped Astro off (his brother had come out on the front porch and half-waved before getting this look on his face like he already knew what happened), she’d just kept driving in the direction of the bridge without really thinking about it. She definitely wasn’t gonna call while swerving all over the road, because that would be stupid, and also might get her killed, which would lead to Astro’s fame and fortune, so screw that.
By the time she pulled up outside Truman’s house, she was calmer, and sadder, and crying pretty steadily. And there was some asshole parked in the driveway, which was where she was planning to park.
“Arrrrrhhhh!” She pounded her fists down on the dash and yelled again. No fucking parking spots, cars everywhere, probably full of happy couples going to happy places, and Ally hated all of them.
Uh oh. She squinted out the passenger side window, where Hugh was leaning down. Mom always told her she should control her emotions better, and now she was having a temper tantrum in front of Truman’s totally-uber-controlled husband.
She rolled the window down. “Sorry, I—I was trying to park—but this guy—”
“I know.” Hugh held his hand up, with papers fluttering around in it. “I was just about to leave him—or her—a threatening note. Unlock the door. You can park in the driveway of the Dyleski’s, I’ll show you. They’re gone until January.” Hugh climbed in beside her and gestured up the street.
“I’m sorry I’m just showing up like this. I, um—left Astro.” I left Astro had a much better ring to it than Astro waited until a few minutes before we were supposed to leave for his parents’ house to tell me we shouldn’t see each other anymore.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hugh said, like he was picking his words deliberately. “Right here, on the right. Thank goodness Truman gets to know the neighbors.” He smiled in her direction, though she couldn’t look over yet, still trying to make the lie feel more real than the truth. “Have you had coffee?”
She shook her head.
“All right. I hope you have a jacket, Alison. It’s cold out.”
A jacket? She didn’t have a jacket. She barely had shoes. “I’ll be okay. I don’t mind the cold.”
“And we’re only right up the street.”
She locked the car and walked with Hugh back to the house, facing down the wind, shivering and wondering what horrifying things it was doing to her hair. Hugh walked straight in, and she could hear Truman say, “I was wondering how long it took to leave a note—Ally?”
Truman was the best brother, the good one, the one who kissed her scrapes when she was little. (Brian had been the cause of a lot of her scrapes when she was little, come to think of it.) She walked forward and leaned into his shoulder, starting to cry again.
“Oh, Ally, shh, it’s okay.” Truman held her up, smelling like himself and coffee, arms strong and warm around her back.
“I’m going to go knock next door, see if someone will come out to move that car before we have to leave,” Hugh said.
Truman nodded and kissed her forehead, his funny new whiskers tickling her skin. “Come and get some breakfast, Ally. We’ve got pastries and coffee. And fruit, of course.”
She let him lead her into the kitchen. Which is when she noticed two reusable bags on the floor, full of food, and two suitcases. “Are you guys—oh. The beach house. I forgot.”
They were going to the ocean for the week, with their friends. She rubbed her eyes violently, trying not to have a fit again, in the kitchen, with pastries.
“Did you decide you wanted to come with us after all? I told you, Hugh’s car can more than fit all three of us and Will and Molly are driving separately.”
Ally looked up at Truman, waiting for questions, or an acknowledgement of how bad she looked. But he’d gone back to packing food into bags and wasn’t looking at her. “Um. Are you sure? I mean, I didn’t—I didn’t pack, or anything. I, uh, I don’t even have a jacket.”
“You can borrow one of mine. Or we can see if any of Cordelia’s things fit you.”
“Cordelia? You mean, Hugh’s dead mom?”
“Well, it sounds like Lucy inherited her clothes and uses her bedroom as an extended walk-in closet, somewhat inconveniently located. Though you might be too tall.” He glanced over. “We’ll just stop at your apartment, Al, it’s not a problem. You can grab whatever you need for the week. If you want to come with us. If you don’t, it’s fine. You can probably stay here, though I should make sure with Hugh before I offer.”
She shivered again. “No thanks. I mean, yes, the beach house, that would be—better than being at home.” Ally liked Truman’s house enough, except it always creeped her out a little, too. For one, Hugh’s mom and grandparents had, like, died there. Maybe not there-there. They probably died at the hospital. But they’d all been dying there, and that was worse than just randomly not waking up one morning. Like they’d suffered in this house, and sometimes Ally thought she could almost feel that suffering when she was the only person in the room for a minute. She definitely did not want to be the only person in the house for longer than the time it took to run upstairs to the bathroom when everyone else was eating dinner on the back patio.
“Good. Come with us. Plus, now Jase will be even more mad he’s not going to be there.” He flashed a smile. “In fact, you should text him. Make him feel really guilty.”
The front door opened and Hugh came back in to stand in the kitchen doorway. “I take back all the rotten things I said.”
“Really?” Truman asked, grinning.
“Oh, shut up. I guess the car belongs to the great-uncle or something, and he was under the impression this was the niece’s house. As I was introducing myself, someone was standing there, about to move the car anyway. Alison, if you give me your keys, I can shift your car over here so we don’t have to move it later. I assume you’re coming to the coast with us?”
“She is. I told her we could stop by her place on the way, to pick up a few things.”
“Um, okay.” She got up and handed over her keys. “Thanks. I’m—uh—going to the bathroom.” Or hiding. Whichever works.
As she was walking down the hall, she heard Hugh say, “I let Will know the new developments—”
Was that her? Was Ally the “new development”? She should probably be an adult, and go home, and not crash Truman’s holiday with his friends. Except that would mean just sitting there, obsessing over Astro, which was so not a good idea. (And Astro wasn’t worth obsessing over, which she knew, just as clearly as she knew she’d do it anyway.)
This would be so much more fun with Jase. She pulled out her phone and sent a text to say she was going with Truman and Hugh to the beach house. He sent back, immediately, Whoa, nellie. Intense. Good luck, sweetheart. Call me with gossip!
Truman was still in the kitchen, staring into his packed bags. “It’s just that grocery stores are pretty thin on the ground in the town we’re going, so we wanted to bring everything in with us. I don’t know, I guess we can always find a store. It’s not like we’re going that far.”
“Are you—sure it’s okay I’m coming with you?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?” But he didn’t look over as he said it.
“I don’t know. Just. I mean, you know, maybe you wanted to get away, and I’m—intruding, or something. I don’t know.”
He put the roll of paper towels down on the counter (one already poked out the top of the bag), and turned toward her. “Al, really, of course it’s okay. You already know everyone. You love Lucy and her boys, and Will and Molly, and you’ve at least met Nick and Bernie. Plus, we invited you before, didn’t we?”
“Yeah. Just. I don’t know.”
He gave her another hug. “I found us a better family than the one we had before,” he said. “Though you’ll probably want to fix your hair or something, because I can’t promise they’ll forgive you for showing up with one big rat’s nest on your head.”
She socked him hard in the arm. “Hey!”
“What? I’m giving you wise older brother counsel.”
“You’re mean, Truman.”
The front door opened again. “I’m back! Are we ready to go?”
“The food is officially ready to go,” Truman said, keeping one arm over her shoulders. “We can still get out with Ally’s car in the driveway?”
“It’s over to the side.” Hugh paused, then said, “I’ll pack the last of our stuff if you guys want to start loading the car.”
“Sure. C’mon, mule. Carry some bags.”
“I’m not a mule.”
“Well, with that hair—”
She socked him again and turned away, but not before she saw Hugh heading down the hall to the guest room with a strange looking case in his hand, almost like an instrument case, hard-sided, not as big as a suitcase and longer.
Weird. Plus, there wasn’t any stuff in the guest room. Was there? She couldn’t picture it, except it always looked like a hotel room to her.
“Ally! Get your butt moving, we’re already late.”
“Shut up, Truman!”
She picked up the grocery bags and followed him downstairs to the garage.