Page 19 of Shug

She puts half of a chocolate pie on the table. There’s a mound of whipped cream in the middle, and chocolate shavings sprinkled on top.

“Hey there,” she says. “Who’s your friend, Jacky?” Her bangs look damp, and she runs her hand through them, fixing them till they fall right.

“Mom, this is Annemarie,” Jack mumbles. He barely looks up. “We’re studying for English.”

“Hi, Mrs. Connelly,” I say.

“Call me Trish, honey. Mrs. Connelly is my mother-in-law, and trust me, you don’t want to meet her in a dark alley.” She laughs. “Right, Jacky?”

He mutters, “She’s your ex-mother-in-law.”

“Right, right.” To me, she says, “So you’re brave enough to help out my boy, huh?”

“Yes, ma’am, I guess so,” I say.

She sits down next to Jack and smoothes his hair over to one side. He jerks away from her. “Would you kids like some pie?”

I’d love some pie, but before I can say so, Jack says, “No, Annemarie has to get home.”

Trish looks at me then, her eyes narrowing. “Annemarie, you look familiar. Wait a minute, you’re Grace and Billy’s little girl, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you look just like her.” She lights a cigarette and inhales deeply.

I hate it when people say I look like Mama. Mostly because it isn’t true. I look nothing like her.

Trish tugs at her collar and smiles at me tiredly. I can’t stop staring at those wrinkles around the corners of her eyes. She has such nice eyes too. Maybe if she used Mama’s kind of eye cream …

“If I’d have known we were having company, I’d have cleaned up the house a bit,” she says. “You sure you can’t stay for some pie?”

For a second, I consider saying yes. The pie looks good, and Jack looks like he’s in serious pain, which is a good thing. Anything to prolong his agony. But, I know what it feels like to be embarrassed by your mother, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Not even Jack. “No, ma’am, I’d better get going.” She protests, but I pack up my things quick as I can, and I hurry on home.

It’s a sad thing to feel sorry for an adult. There’s something wrong about it; you’re not supposed to feel sorry for the people who take care of you. They’re supposed to be older and wiser. But Jack’s mom just looks tired.

Chapter 21

My sister has cool friends. I guess it makes sense for her to have cool friends, because Celia herself is cool. My favorite friend is her best friend Margaret. Margaret has long reddish blond hair with a side part, and she has very slim wrists. She wears a gold heart-link bracelet every day, on her right wrist. I think her father must have given it to her. He died years ago, a heart attack while he was mowing the front lawn. Maybe that’s why Margaret has such slim wrists, so she can still wear the bracelet her father gave her all those years ago.

The other day, Margaret was over and they stayed up in Celia’s room forever, the way they always do. As soon as she and Celia get home from school, they rush upstairs and turn the music on and I can’t hear a thing. I even turned the TV down low.

They came down after a few hours though, and they just took over the whole TV room. Celia shoved my legs over and took two whole couch cushions for herself, and Margaret grabbed the remote control like she owned it. I didn’t really mind, though, because I like when Margaret and Celia hang out with me. Well, they weren’t really hanging out with me, but they were in the same room as me, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

We were watching a music video when Margaret said, “Hey Annemarie, you got a boyfriend yet or what?”

I said no, and Celia said, “Yeah right. Who’s gonna go out with her?” But she smiled when she said it, so I wasn’t mad.

And then Margaret winked at me and she said, “Cel’s just jealous, Annemarie, ’cause you’re way prettier than she was when she was your age.”

Celia threw a pillow at her, and we all laughed, but inside, I was dancing. I was spinning all around on my tippy-toes with my arms high in the sky, and all because Margaret said I was pretty. I know it isn’t true; I remember what Celia looked like when she was twelve, and it’s the same as she looks now. Beautiful. But I don’t care, because just for a minute, I believed it.

Sometimes I wish Margaret was my sister.

Chapter 22

Fall is my favorite time of the year. The air smells so good and clean. I like the falling leaves, the apple cider, but I love Halloween most of all. There’s a hush in the air on Halloween night; it’s practically religious. Waiting for night to finally appear. Rushing out into the neighborhood like a warrior. Feeling the weight of your pillowcase grow heavier and heavier with all things chocolaty, tart, and delicious. That sweet anticipation after you ring the doorbell—will you be lucky enough to get two pieces of candy if you smile and say “ma’am”? And then returning home with your bounty. Emptying your pillowcase and counting each piece so very carefully. And ah, November 1—Trading Day. What can be more thrilling than ripping somebody off by trading two lousy lollipops for a fun-size Nunko bar? Yes, the candy is exciting, but the costumes, those are the very best part. I will never get tired of dressing up. It’s fun to pretend to be someone else for just one day.

Celia thinks I’m too old to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating, and maybe I am. Maybe she’s right, maybe it is time to put away my pillowcase and give up chasing my old candy dreams. But I don’t want to. I said, “If I’m too old for dressing up, then what about all those adults that go to masquerade balls and costume parties? Are they too old too?”

Anyway, Celia won’t let Elaine and me go to Margaret’s Halloween party (where nobody’s gonna be dressing up, which sounds pointless to me), so what else are we gonna do? We’re twelve, so I think we can fly under the radar and trick-or-treat this one last time, just for kicks. That’s the case I made to Elaine, anyway. I said we’ll just go out for an hour or so, no one will even see us and we’ll get free candy. She caved, mostly because she never really got to go trick-or-treating in New York ’cause her parents thought it was too dangerous. She had to go to her school’s autumn fest, and that’s not how you celebrate Halloween. You’ve gotta be out on the streets.

Daddy’s home again. He and Mama are going to a Halloween party at the Honeycutts’. Jim Honeycutt works with Daddy, and he was transferred over to the Clementon offices not too long ago. The Honeycutts just moved here, and already they’re throwing parties. I can’t remember the last time Mama and Daddy had anybody over to the house. Mama grumbled about having to go to a Halloween party, but she sure spent some time thinking about her costume.