I turn around and walk toward the door.
I’m walking toward books and my family and that one day in spring when the sun feels like it will shine for you forever and the flowers will bloom for months. I am walking toward vegan cheddar grilled cheese and cat GIFs and “Piano Man.”
I am walking toward Sam.
I am walking home.
And just like the day I got my ears pierced, once the pain has come and gone, I’ve grown up.
My mother and father are both in the store. Before I’m even close enough to say hi to them, I hear children crying in the far corner.
“Are the girls here?” I ask the moment I hug my parents hello.
“With Marie in the children’s section,” my mom says.
“How are you? How did everything go?” my dad asks.
I start to answer but there’s so much to explain and I’m not up for getting into the details just yet. “I missed Sam,” I say. Actually, that might just cover all of it. Succinct and painless.
They look at each other and smile, as if they are part of a two-man club that knew this is what I’d do all along.
I hate the idea of being predictable, especially predictable to my parents. But, more than anything, I’m relieved that I seem to have made the right set of decisions. Because, after all, they are my parents. And when you get to be old enough, it’s finally OK to admit that they often do know best.
I can hear Marie trying to calm down Sophie and Ava. I come around the side of the register to get a better view. The two girls are crying, red faced. They are both holding opposite sides of their heads. I look back to my parents.
“Ava ran into Sophie and they hit each other in the head,” my mom says.
My father puts his finger to his ear, as if the sound of their screaming is going to burst his eardrum. “It’s been great for business.”
As the girls’ sobbing dies down, reduced to the far more quiet but equally theatrical gulping for breath and frowning, Marie spots me and comes walking over.
I turn to my parents. “By the way, we have to talk about Tina,” I say.
Neither of my parents look me in the eye directly. “We can talk about it another time,” my dad says. “When things aren’t so . . . dramatic.”
My mother averts her gaze, instantly focusing on straightening things underneath the register. My dad pretends as if he’s deeply engaged in the store calendar sitting on the counter. I have been their daughter for too long to fall for this kind of crap. They are hiding something.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “What are you two not saying?”
“Oh, honey, it’s nothing,” my mom says, and I almost believe her. But then I see the look on my dad’s face, a mixture of “Is she buying this?” and “Oh, God, we should just tell her.”
“We just have some, you know, ideas for the management of the store,” my dad says finally. “But we should talk about it later.”
When Marie makes her way to me and looks like she’s afraid to tell me she borrowed my favorite sweater, I know she’s in on it, too.
“C’mon, everybody, I’m dealing with too much stuff right now to have the patience for whatever this is.”
“It’s nothing,” Marie says. I frown at her to let her know I don’t believe it for a second. She folds like a cheap suit. “Fine. I want the job.”
“What job?” I ask.
“The assistant manager position.”
“Yeah, I want it. Mom and Dad think it’s a great idea, but obviously it’s up to you.”
“You want to work here?” I say, still disbelieving. “With me?”
“At this store?” I say.
“See? I knew it wasn’t the right time to talk about this.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m just surprised.”
“I know,” she says. “But this could be my something. Like we talked about. Something outside of the house that has nothing to do with potty training or hearing and deafness. I think this idea is better than writing, actually. I’m excited about it and it’s something with adults, you know? A reason to put on a nice pair of pants. Emma, I need a reason to put on pants.”
“OK . . .” I say.
“I can’t take on a full-time job but an assistant manager position could be really good. Especially because Mom and Dad could help fill in for me with the kids or here if need be. I guess what I’m saying is . . . Please hire me.”
“But you used to be the manager. I’d be your boss,” I say.
Marie puts both of her hands up, in mock surrender. “It’s your show. I know that I gave up the position and you’ve done a great job at it. I’m not trying to usurp anything. If, later on down the line, I decide that I want to take on more or be a more vocal participant in the store, that’s my problem and I’ll deal with it. I can always take on a manager job at one of Mike’s stores if it comes to that. But right now, what I really want is to spend my time here, with you.”
Marie has said her piece and now it’s up to me to respond. I can feel my sister’s, my father’s, and my mother’s eyes on me. Sophie and Ava, now calm, are pulling on Marie’s leg.
“So?” Marie says.
I start laughing. It’s all so absurd. All three of them start to worry, unsure what, exactly, I find so funny. So I get hold of myself in an effort to not keep them in suspense any longer.
It scares me, the idea of having Marie working under me. It makes me sort of uncomfortable and I’m slightly worried that it will undermine the good relationship we’ve started to build. But I also think that it could turn out to be great. I’d have someone to share this store with, someone who understands how important it is, who has a passion for not just books but this store’s history. And working together, spending more time with each other, could bring us even closer.
So I think this is a risk I’m willing to take.
I’m ready to bet on Marie and me.
“OK,” I say. “You’re hired.”
The smile that erupts across my father’s face is so wide and sincere that the teenage version of me would have threatened to barf. But I’m not a teenager anymore and it won’t kill me to give my father everything he’s ever dreamed of. “All right, Dad,” I say. “Your girls are running your store.”
For the first time in my entire life, I wonder if perhaps Marie and I might actually prove to be greater together than the sum of our parts.
Emma and Marie.
Our moment of celebration is interrupted by a man who tells my dad he is looking for a book for his wife. I overhear as my dad asks what it’s called. The man says, “I don’t know and I’m not sure who wrote it. I don’t remember what it’s about, but I do remember that the cover was blue.”
I watch my parents give each other a knowing glance and then both of them try to help him.
As they walk away, Marie looks at me. “So what happened in Maine? Are you going home to Sam?”
“I don’t know, exactly.”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“I know that I want to be with Sam, but he told me not to call him even if I’ve made a decision. He said that he would let me know when he was ready to talk. Not the other way around.”
Marie waves it off. “He just meant that if you were going to turn him down. He doesn’t mean that if you have good news you shouldn’t tell him.”
“I don’t know. I think he’s really upset.”
“Of course he’s upset. But that’s all the more reason to find him and talk to him.”
“I want to respect his wishes,” I say.
“Emma, listen to me. Go find him right now and tell him that you want to be with him.”
“You mean like go to his office at school?” I say.
“Yes!” Marie says. “Absolutely do that. I mean, don’t propose to him in front of band kids or whatever. But yes! Find him now.”
“Yeah,” I say, starting to build up the confidence. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”