Page 16


Shelby wishes she could heal Blinkie herself, that she had the skill and knowledge to take away his pain.
Sue decides to pay for the surgery as Shelby’s Christmas gift. Shelby insists she’ll pay it back, she even signs an IOU, but Sue tears it up. “I’m just glad there’s something you want,” Sue says.
Shelby is taken aback. “Did someone tell you to say that to me?”
“You mean like your father? He said he’s not giving gifts this year. He says it’s commercializing the holidays. Meanwhile he’s still at the store.”
“No. I mean like Helene.” That sounds so crazy Shelby adds, “Or anybody.”
Sue links an arm through Shelby’s. “Sometimes I think my mother is talking to me in my dreams. Who’s to say the dead don’t still speak to us and guide us? Maybe Helene does, too.”
It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve with just the two of them in the dark house. Yet Shelby is glad to be home.
“What kinds of things does Grandma say when you dream about her?”
“She tells me to dump your dad.”
They both laugh.
“Anything else?”
“She says I’m lucky to be here with you and that I should get off my ass and start dinner.”
Shelby takes the dogs out. She sees a snow shovel and decides to make a path from the street to the house. By the time her dad’s car pulls up, she is more than halfway done.
“I usually hire the kid down the street to do that,” Dan Richmond says.
“I guess you forgot.” Shelby is so cold she no longer feels her fingers or toes. “Like you forgot this was Christmas Eve.”
Business is bad at Shelby’s dad’s menswear shop. People go to the mall or to some of the newer shops. It was his father’s store, and he’s always treated the inheritance like a curse.
“Yeah, well, some of us work,” he says.
They can see Sue at the window. She’s lighting a candle, the way she did when Shelby was little, an old tradition said to bring wanderers home.
“What made you fall in love with her?” Shelby asks her father.
“I’m not answering any trick questions,” Shelby’s dad says, and then Shelby knows her parents are married, but not really, and that her dad probably can no longer remember the reasons why. She wishes her mother had listened to the voice of her dead mother. People get divorced, they don’t have to stay together just because their stupid daughter had a car accident and a nervous breakdown and can’t seem to do anything right.
“Why don’t you just take off?” Shelby says to her father. “Close the store. Start a new life. Let her start one, too.”
Dan gives her a look. “My kind of person doesn’t do that sort of thing, Shelby.”
That’s the difference between them. Her kind of person does.
In the morning, Shelby is given her presents—a black sweater, a box of chocolate truffles, and unbeknownst to her father, a check for a thousand dollars so that Blinkie can have his surgery. She’s brought her parents a fondue pot. “I thought maybe you and Dad made fondue when you were first together.”
“I love fondue,” Sue says, hugging her.
When Ben comes to pick her up, he is carrying one of his mother’s apple-cranberry pies. He greets Shelby’s mom with a hug and accepts a cup of coffee. As usual, Shelby’s dad is MIA. “My mom had twenty-two people over last night and I think she had twenty-two turkeys,” Ben reports. “Not to mention all the pies.”
“You don’t celebrate Christmas,” Shelby reminds him. “You’re Jewish.” She has taken the postcard and slipped it into her coat pocket.
“But we celebrate eating,” Ben says. “Good food is part of a family get-together.”
At Shelby’s they’d had vegetarian lasagna and orange sherbet.
“Hey, Mr. Richmond,” Ben says cheerfully when Shelby’s father comes in from the garage, where he’s been sneaking a cigarette. “How’s business?”
“It sucks,” Shelby’s dad says.
“Dan!” Sue doesn’t approve of that kind of language in front of the kids, as she calls them.
“He asked! Do you want me to lie?”
“That’s the great thing about pharmaceuticals,” Ben says. “Business is always good. People always need drugs.”
“Well, Shelby would know about that,” Dan says darkly.
Shelby gives her father a cutting look. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Ben defends her. “Not anymore. She’s back in the Straight and Narrow Club.”
“I won’t go that far,” Shelby says.
“Shelby’s great,” Ben says. And they all look at him, a little surprised.
When it’s time to go, Shelby and Ben pile into the car with the dogs and the bags of presents. Ben’s mom has given him a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s books—even though he’s read Cat’s Cradle a dozen times—along with a cutting board that will never fit on their countertop and a coffeemaker they will never use. She sent along Jo Malone cologne for Shelby, a fresh grapefruit scent that Shelby will regift to her mom on Mother’s Day. Ben has to get the car back to the rental company before five and there’s bound to be traffic, so they get going even though ­Shelby’s mom keeps suggesting they spend the night.
“Your dad seems a little off,” Ben says.
“He’s unhappy. But instead of leaving he’s just making my mom’s life miserable. He thinks that’s more honorable.”
“They’ll work it out,” Ben says reasonably.
Shelby studies Ben as he drives. Maybe if she watches him closely enough she’ll understand what makes one person kind and another, herself for instance, mistrustful and hopeless. The more she thinks about her father the more she knows she and Ben are not meant for each other. They stumbled into each other’s lives one cold winter when they were both desperate for warmth, and if they stay together she will be the person who comes home late on Christmas Eve.
Chapter 3
Maravelle’s grandmother in Florida has fallen ill. Because she’s in her eighties and frail, Maravelle’s mother has already flown down to Orlando, and Maravelle hopes to join her, if Shelby will help her out.
“Fine, go,” Shelby says when Maravelle asks for time off. “I’ll find someone to cover for you. Take as much time as you need.” Shelby is known to be a soft touch when employees need time for personal reasons. Juan’s mother is getting radiation treatments, and Shelby lets him come in at noon every day so he can take his mom to the hospital.