Stay Close

Page 23


“Yeah,” Lorraine said, “talk. You’ve been gone for seventeen years. All of a sudden you need to find the truth?”
“Whoa, what are you talking about? You came to me, remember?”
“That’s not what I mean,” Lorraine said. Her voice grew gentle. “You were coming down here already, right?”
Megan shifted on the barstool. “One time.”
“Fine, one time. Why?”
A patron came over and placed an order. Lorraine served up a drink and a double entendre. The patron laughed and took his drink back to his table.
“What, sugar?”
“What’s the secret of happiness?”
“The little things.”
“Change the drapes. You won’t believe how far that goes.”
Megan looked doubtful.
“Oh, honey, I’m as messed up as the rest. I just learned not to care so much. You know? We fight wars for freedom, right, and then what do we do with that freedom? We tie ourselves down with possessions and debt and, well, other people. If I seem happy, it’s because I do what I want when I want.”
Megan finished the drink and signaled for another. “I’m happy,” Megan said. “I’m just feeling antsy.”
“That’s normal. I mean, who doesn’t? You got good kids, right?”
“The best,” Megan said, feeling herself light up despite herself. “I love them so much it hurts.”
“See? That’s great, but it wouldn’t be for me.”
Megan eyed the drink, enjoying the warmth of it. “You know what sucks about being a mother?”
“Well, yes. But I mean now. Now that they are older and more or less real human beings.”
“You live for their smile.”
Lorraine waited for her to say more. When she didn’t, Lorraine said, “Care to elaborate?”
“When something goes well for them—like with Kaylie, if she scores in her soccer game—I mean, when your child smiles, you well up. You are so damned happy, but then, well, see, when they don’t…”
“You’re unhappy,” Lorraine said.
“It’s a little more complicated, but yes. That’s what I hate: My happiness is totally dependent on their smiles. And I’m not one of those parents who live vicariously through their kids’ accomplishments. I just want them happy. But I used to be a functioning adult with my own emotions. Now, as a mother, my happiness seems solely dependent on their smiles. They know it too.”
“Interesting,” Lorraine said. “You know what it sounds like?”
“An abusive relationship. Like with my ex. You start to live to please them. They manipulate you with their moods.”
“That’s a little harsh.”
“Yeah, probably,” Lorraine said, clearly not buying it but not in the mood to argue the point. “So you still haven’t told me why you really came back down here. I mean, before my visit.”
The simple answer: Megan had missed it. She was about to tell Lorraine that, but Lorraine was staring off to her right. Megan followed her gaze. She frowned when she saw where Lorraine was looking.
“Ray’s table,” Megan said.
The table was empty now, but that had been his table—the corner where Ray used to sit. She had blocked on him. Man oh man, how she had blocked on him. Now, for just a second, she let Ray back in. Over the years, she had turned their relationship into something of a crush, a deep, hard summer romance that could never have survived the light of reality. But now, for a brief moment, she let herself remember the intense way Ray used to look at her, the electricity in his kiss, the late nights holding on to him for dear life, nearly out of breath with passion.
Lorraine was smiling now.
“Subtle,” Megan said to her.
“Do you know what happened to him?”
The smile fled. “You really want to know?”
“You opened this door.”
“No, sweetheart, you did. I’m just trying to help you close it.”
She had a point. “So help me. Is he okay?”
Lorraine again made herself busy with the glass cleaning.
“For a while—I mean, after you ran off—he came in here every night. He sat at that table and drank. During the day he’d hang out at your place. This went on for, I don’t know, a couple of months, I guess. Maybe a year. He just waited for you to come back.”
Megan said nothing.
“It got bad. Eventually he stopped coming in. He left Atlantic City. Moved to California, I think. Drank some more. Came back.” She shrugged.
Megan sat there, let it sink in. She had owed him better. She had been young and maybe stupid, but then again what were the alternatives? Lorraine was looking at her now. She wouldn’t ask but Megan could see the question in her eyes: Why didn’t you at least call him? She looked away so her eyes wouldn’t give away the answer: Because I wasn’t sure that he wasn’t a murderer.
Only now, of course, reality had shifted. Stewart Green might not be dead at all. And if Stewart Green wasn’t dead…
Lorraine had an odd look on her face.
“What?” Megan said.
“So where is Ray now?” Megan asked.
“He’s around, I guess.”
“You guess? Come on, Lorraine. Tell me what he’s doing. Is he still working as a photographer?”
Lorraine winced. “In a manner of speaking.”
“What? Oh, wait, he’s not into porn, is he?”
“No, honey, porn is way classier than what Ray’s doing.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? What’s he doing?”
“Look,” Lorraine said, “who am I to judge? You want to screw up your little life, fine, here.” She headed for the drawer and pulled out a long metal box. Megan almost smiled, remembering. Lorraine’s magic business-card file of contacts.
“You still keep that?” Megan asked.
“Of course. I even keep them in preference order. Let me see.… Ah, here it is.” She took out a card, turned it over, and scratched something on the back. Megan took the card. The logo was what looked like a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a camera in the middle. It read: