“My station is completely served.”
“How do you know they don’t need anything? They could need something while you’re outside in the hall, making personal calls.”
“The call lasted three minutes, maximum. I was just in the dining room and I can go back in right now.”
“Not the point. You broke the rules and you should know better. This is a warning, and if you do it again, you’re fired. And you were on more than three minutes. You were on four.”
“Are you serious?” Heather felt the anger burn brighter. “You timed my phone call?”
Emily didn’t bat an eye. “Yes, that’s my job.”
“No, your job is to make sure the luncheon is going well and the club members are happy, which they are, at my station. You’re just trying to catch me in a mistake because you have it out for me, from day one.”
“And you made a mistake. Because you’re not committed to this job.”
“Of course I am! I’ve been doing it for seventeen years. If you look up ‘committed’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of me in this stupid dirndl.”
Emily crossed her arms. “I don’t like your attitude.”
“I do. I love my attitude, and you know what, you don’t need to fire me. I quit.”
Emily’s eyes flared. “You better think about what you’re saying.”
“I have,” Heather said, though she hadn’t. She was tired, finally of waiting. For nothing. For everything. For her life to start. She found herself untying the back of the white apron that went over the dirndl, which wasn’t easy considering that she still had her cell phone in her hand.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m stripping in the freaking hallway.” Heather balled up the apron and threw it on the rug. “And if I could, I’d take off this effing dress, too.”
“Are you serious right now?” Emily asked, surprised.
“Abso-effing-lutely.” Heather didn’t know why she was using profanity. She never talked that way. Meanwhile, one of the new waitresses walked by, averting her eyes, and Heather thought that if this were a movie, people would clap, like at the end of Bridget Jones. But in the real world, people looked away. They didn’t want to see somebody jump off a bridge. “Take this job and shove it” was a song, not a career move.
“Fine then.” Emily snorted. “We’ll send your last check to your house.”
“Thank you.” Heather turned away, heading for the locker room, her eyes suddenly dry and her thoughts newly clear. She would get her purse and change into her clothes. She was going to a baseball game to watch her son pitch for varsity.
One of the Larkins was in the Winner’s Circle.
Susan slipped on her sunglasses and hurried through the parking lot to the baseball game. Thank God it was a sunny afternoon because she didn’t want anyone to see her puffy eyes. Everyone would know about Ryan’s arrest by now. She’d considered not going to the game, but she couldn’t sacrifice Raz for Ryan.
Susan prayed Raz was pitching today. He derived so much self-worth from being the pitcher, believing that his athletic skill was the only thing he had over his more academic older brother. Susan saw so much in Raz that he didn’t see in himself—his open heart, his carefree way of looking at life, his absolute joy in meeting people—all of it so much like Neil. But because those things came naturally to Raz, he didn’t value them, and nothing she could do would convince him.
You’re as smart as your brother, honey, Susan remembered saying to him when he brought home another borderline report card. You can get better grades, if you try.
Raz had laughed it off. I’m fine being a dumb jock, Mom. And I’m so much hotter than Ryan.
Susan squared her shoulders, putting the memories from her mind. She felt exhausted after the endless night at the police station. She’d called a lawyer who had negotiated a plea agreement. Ryan would be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to probation, a fine, and restitution. The lawyer had said this will go away, but Susan felt absolute mortification. She’d called her boss to apologize, Community Relations to make a general statement, and her assistant to let her know that she was taking a personal day. By noon, Ryan’s mug shot was on TV news. Her reliable son, who never gave her a moment’s worry until his face was above the red banner, ValleyCo Vandal.
She passed the high school, a massive redbrick complex with two new wings, their construction supported by developers like ValleyCo. Susan herself had arranged for the top ValleyCo brass to be at the ground-breaking, posing with shiny shovels. She used to feel proud she worked for ValleyCo, but now she felt guilty. She had to scale back. Something had to give.
She approached the crowd of parents clustered to the left of the dugout, watching the game. It seemed like a big crowd, maybe fifty people standing, sitting in blue-cloth sling chairs, or eating the food that covered a long picnic table against the dugout wall. Susan reached the fringe of the crowd, still not able to see the pitcher’s mound. She didn’t know any of the other parents, so she didn’t try to talk to them.
Joyful cheering came from the students hanging onto the cyclone fence, and Susan walked around the back of the crowd to home plate, behind the super-tall cyclone fence, angled down at the top. A player from the other team was at bat, and though Susan didn’t remember who they were, they had on bright red uniforms, so she could tell the difference. That meant the Musketeers were pitching.
Susan kept walking and got a view of the pitcher’s mound. Raz wasn’t pitching, and Jordan was, in his place. She felt terrible for Raz. The change to the lineup would’ve been another blow, when he was least able to deal with it. This morning before he’d left for school, he’d looked as exhausted, raw, and ragged as she had been. He’d skipped breakfast and left with his long hair dripping wet from the shower, making a soggy collar of his Musketeers baseball T-shirt, which he practically lived in.
Susan looked over at the dugout, and at this angle, she could see Raz silently watching the game from a folding chair behind the Musketeers cheering at the fence.
“Susan?” said a voice beside her.
Susan turned, but didn’t recognize the woman approaching her, a pretty, heavyset mom with a halo of blonde curls, bright blue eyes, and a sweet, if concerned, smile. She had on a Musketeers sweatshirt and jeans, which was obviously the right thing to wear at the game, because the other parents had on team logowear. Susan was wearing the black cable sweater and khakis she wore on casual Friday at work.