When we got back from Cousins at the end of summer, I found the dress in my suitcase, wrapped in paper and packed neatly on top like it had always been there. Susannah had gone back and bought it for me. It was so like her to do that. Later, my mother must have seen it hanging up in my closet, but she never said anything.
Standing there in the foyer, listening, I felt like the spy Steven was always accusing me of being. But I couldn't help it.
I heard Susannah say, "Laurel, I'm a big girl now. I need you to stop trying to manage my life. I'm the one who gets to decide how I want to live it."
I didn't wait for my mother's response. I walked right in and said, "What's going on?" I looked at my mother when I said it, and I knew I sounded like I was blaming her, but I didn't care.
"Nothing. Everything's fine," my mother said, but her eyes looked red and tired.
"Then why were you fighting?"
"We weren't fighting, hon," Susannah assured me. She reached out and smoothed my shoulder, like she was ironing out wrinkled silk. "Everything really is fine."
"It didn't sound like it."
"Well, it is," Susannah told me.
"Promise?" I asked. I wanted to believe her.
"Promise," she said without hesitation.
My mother walked away from us, and I could see from the stiffness of her shoulders that everything was not fine, that she was still upset. But because I wanted to stay with Susannah, where everything really was fine, I didn't follow her. My mother was the kind of person who would rather be alone anyway. Just ask my father.
"What's the matter with her?" I whispered to Susannah.
"It's nothing. Tell me about your date with Cam," she said, leading me to the wicker couch in the sunroom.
I should have kept pressing her, should have tried to figure out what had really happened between the two of them, but my worry was already fading away. I wanted to tell her everything about Cam, everything. Susannah had that way about her, where you wanted to tell her all your secrets and everything in between.
She sat on the couch and patted her lap. I sat down next to her and put my head in her lap and she smoothed my hair away from my forehead. Everything felt safe and cozy, like that fight hadn't happened. And maybe it hadn't even been a fight, maybe I'd misread the whole thing. "Well, he's different from anyone I've ever met," I began. "How so?"
"He's just so smart, and he doesn't care what people think. And he's so good-looking. I can't even believe he pays me any attention."
Susannah shook her head. "Oh, please. Of course he should pay you attention. You're so lovely, darling. You've really blossomed this summer. People can't help but pay you attention."
"Ha," I said, but I felt flattered. She was so good at making people feel special. "I'm glad I have you to talk to about this kind of stuff."
"I am too. But you know, you could talk to your mother."
"She wouldn't be interested in any of it, not really. She'd pretend to care, but she wouldn't."
"Oh, Belly. That's not true. She would care. She does care." Susannah cradled my face in her hands. "Your mother is your biggest fan, next to me. She cares about everything you do. Don't shut her out."
I didn't want to talk about my mother anymore. I wanted to talk about Cam. "You'll never believe what Cam said to me tonight," I began.
Chapter twenty - six
Just like that, July turned into August. I guessed summer went by a lot faster when you had someone to spend it with. For me, that someone was Cam. Cam Cameron.
Mr. Fisher always came the first week of August. He'd bring Susannah's favorites from the city, almond croissants and lavender chocolates. And flowers, he always brought flowers. Susannah loved flowers. She said she needed them like air, to breathe. She had more vases than I could count, tall ones and fat ones and glass ones. They were all over the house, flowers in vases in every room. Her favorites were peonies. She kept them on her nightstand in her bedroom, so they were the first thing she saw in the morning.
Shells, too. She loved shells. She kept them in hurricane glasses. When she'd come back from a walk on the beach, she'd always come back with a handful of shells. She'd arrange them on the kitchen table, admire them first, say things like, "Doesn't this one look just like an ear?" Or, "Isn't this one the perfect shade of pink?" Then she'd put them in order from biggest to smallest. It was one of her rituals, something I loved to watch her do.
That week, right around when Mr. Fisher usually came, Susannah mentioned that he couldn't get away from work. There had been some sort of emergency at the bank. It would just be the five of us finishing out the summer. It would be the first year without Mr. Fisher and my brother.
After she went to bed, early, Conrad said to me, conversationally, "They're getting a divorce."
"Who?" I said.
"My parents. It's about time."
Jeremiah glared at him. "Shut up, Conrad."
Conrad shrugged. "Why? You know it's true. Belly's not surprised, are you, Belly?"
I was. I was really surprised. I said, to both of them, "I thought they seemed like they were really in love."
Whatever love was, I was sure they had it. I thought they had it a million times over. The way they gazed at each other at the dinner table, how excited Susannah got when he came to the summer house. I didn't think people like that got divorced. People like my parents got divorced. Not Susannah and Mr. Fisher.
"They were in love," Jeremiah told me. "I don't really know what happened."
"Dad's a dick. That's what happened," Conrad said, getting up. He sounded so blasé and matter-of-fact, but that didn't seem right. Not when I knew he adored his dad. I wondered if Mr. Fisher had a new girlfriend the way my father did. I wondered if he'd cheated on Susannah. But who would ever cheat on Susannah? It was impossible.
"Don't tell your mom you know," Jeremiah said suddenly. "Mom doesn't know we know."
"I won't," I said. I wondered how they'd found out. My parents had sat Steven and me down and told us everything, explained it all in detail.
As Conrad left, Jeremiah said to me, "Before we left, our dad had been sleeping in the guest room for weeks. He's already moved out most of his clothes. They think we're retarded or something, for us not to notice." His voice cracked at the last part.
I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. He was really hurting. I guessed maybe Conrad was too, even if he didn't show it. It all made sense, when I thought about it. The way Conrad had been acting, so different, so lost. So un-Conrad-like. He was suffering. And then there was Susannah. The way she'd been spending so much time in bed, the way she seemed so sad. She was hurting too.