“She’s wrong,” Lennon says in a dismissive voice that’s so scratchy and deep, it sounds as though he’s speaking from inside a deep, dark well. That’s the other thing about Lennon that drives me nuts. He doesn’t just have a good voice; he has an attractive voice. It’s big and confident and rich, and entirely too sexy for comfort. He sounds like a villainous voice-over actor or some kind of satanic radio announcer. It makes goose bumps race over my skin, and I resent that he still has that effect on me.
“It’s Ozzy Osbourne,” he informs us.
“Ha! Told you,” Sunny says victoriously to Mac.
“I just picked one,” I tell Lennon, a little angrier than I intend.
“Well, you picked wrong,” he says, sounding bored.
I’m insulted. “Since when am I supposed to be an expert on the abuse of bats in rock music?”
That’s more his speed.
“It’s not arcane knowledge,” he says, sweeping artfully mussed-up hair away from one eye with a knuckle. “It’s pop culture.”
“Right. Vital information I’ll need to know in order to get into the university of my choice. I think I remember that question on the SAT exams.”
“Life is more than SAT exams.”
“At least I have friends,” I say.
“If you think Reagan and the rest of her clique are real friends, you’re sadly mistaken.”
“Jeez, you two,” Sunny mumbles. “Get a room.”
Heat washes over my face.
Um, no. This is not an I secretly like you fight. This is I secretly hate you. Sure, he’s all lips and hair and baritone voice, and I’m not blind: He’s attractive. But the only time our former friendship dared to risk one pinky toe over the line—a period of time we referred to as the Great Experiment—I ended up sobbing my eyes out at homecoming, wondering what went wrong.
I never found out. But I have a pretty good guess.
He gives his mom a long-suffering look, as if to say, You done now? and then turns to address Mac. “Ozzy’s bat story was exaggerated. Someone in the audience threw a dead bat onstage, and Ozzy thought it was plastic. When he bit the head off, he was completely shocked. Had to be taken to the hospital for a rabies shot after the show.”
Sunny bumps her hip against Mac. “Doesn’t matter. I’m still right, and you still owe me a cupcake. Coconut. Since we skipped breakfast this morning, I’ll take it now. Brunch.”
“That actually does sound good,” Mac says. “Zorie, you want one?”
I shake my head.
Mac turns to Lennon. “Baby, my baby,” she says in a coaxing, jovial voice. “Can you make a bakery run? Pretty please?”
“Mother, my mother. I have to be at work in thirty minutes,” he argues, and I hate how he can be so cold to me one second and warm to his parents the next. When he sets the book he’s carrying on the counter, I see what he’s cradling in the crook of his elbow: a red bearded dragon lizard about the length of my forearm. It’s on a leash connected to a black leather harness that wraps around its tiny front arms. “Got to put Ryuk back in his habitat before I go.”
Lennon is obsessed with reptiles, because of course. He has an entire wall of them in his room—snakes, lizards, and his only nonreptile pet, a tarantula. He works part-time at a Mission Street reptile store, where he can be creepy with other likeminded snake lovers.
Mac reaches over the counter to scratch the lizard on top of its scaly head and coos in a childlike voice, “Fine. Guess you win, Ryuk. Oh dear, you’re coming out of your harness.”
Lennon sets the bearded dragon atop his manga book. Ryuk tries to get away, nearly falling off the counter. “That’s an inefficient way to go,” Lennon dourly informs the lizard. “If you’re going to off yourself, better to overdose on reptile vitamins than jump.”
“Lennon,” Sunny scolds lightly.
A dark smile barely curls the corners of his full lips. “Sorry, Mama,” he says.
When we were younger, people used to taunt him mercilessly at school—How do you know which mom is which? To him, Sunny is Mama, Mac is Mum. And even though Mac gave birth to him, neither woman is more or less in his eyes.
Sunny twists her mouth and then smiles back. He’s forgiven. His parents forgive him for everything. He doesn’t deserve them.
“So, Zorie. What brings you by, love?” Mac says to me as Lennon adjusts his lizard’s tiny harness.
I’m forced to step to the side of Lennon in order to have a conversation that doesn’t involve me speaking at his back. When did he get so freakishly tall? “My mom’s looking for a FedEx package.”
Mac’s eyes shift toward Sunny’s. A subtle but sharp reaction is communicated between the two women.
“Something wrong?” I ask, suspicious.
Sunny clears her throat. “Nothing, sweetie.” She hesitates, indecisive for a moment. “We did get something, yes,” she says, reaching under the counter to pull out a manila mailing envelope, which she hands to me, apologetic. “I may have accidentally opened it by mistake. I didn’t read your mom’s mail, though. I noticed the address after I slit it open.”
“That’s fine,” I say. It’s happened before, which sends my dad’s blood pressure through the roof, but Mom won’t care. It’s just that Mac is now looking extremely uncomfortable. Even Lennon feels more distant than usual, his energy shifting from mildly chilly to arctic. Warning bells ding inside my head.
“Okay, well, gotta get back,” I say, pretending I don’t notice anything amiss.
“Give Joy our best,” Mac says. “If your mum ever wants to get coffee . . .” She trails off and gives me a tight smile. “Well, she knows where to find us.”
Sunny nods. “You too. Don’t be a stranger.”
Now I’m uncomfortable. I mean, more than usual, having to endure the humiliation that is this shop.
“Sure. Thanks for this.” I hold up the package in acknowledgment as I’m turning to leave and nearly knock over a display model of a giant blue vibrator sitting next to the register. I instinctively reach out to steady the wobbling piece of plastic before I’m fully aware of what I’m touching. Dear God.
Under a fan of black lashes, Lennon’s eyes shift to the floor, and he doesn’t lift his face.
Must get out. Now.
Nearly tripping over my own feet, I stride out of the shop and exhale a long breath when I’m back in the sunshine. I can’t get back into the clinic fast enough.
But when I’m settled behind the shield of the front desk, my eyes fix on the envelope the Mackenzies gave me. It’s from a PO Box in San Francisco and is, indeed, clearly addressed to Joy Everhart. Not sure how they missed that, but whatever.
After checking the back hallway and finding it clear, I peek into the envelope.
It’s a piece of paper with a handwritten note and a small book of personal photos. I recognize the photo book’s brand from online ads: upload your photos, and they send you a printed book a few days later. This one says Our Bahamas Trip on the cover in a frilly font.
I open the book to find a million sunny vacation photos. The ocean. The beach. My dad snorkeling. My dad with his arm around some woman in a bikini.
Flipping faster, I stare at glossy pages printed with more of the same. Dinner and tropical drinks. My dad smiling that dazzling smile of his. Only he’s not smiling at my mom but some stranger. A stranger with a gold ankle bracelet and long lash extensions. He’s got his arms wrapped around her, and—in one photo—is even kissing her neck.