“I’m a trauma doctor at SeaTac Medical.”
Mallory looked blank.
“Wow. That must be exciting.” She popped her gum.
I nodded toward her big belly. “Congratulations,” I said.
Once upon a time, Mallory and I could talk for hours, but that was a long time ago. Now it was just awkward. Life had definitely taken us down different paths.
“Thanks. This is baby number five.” She rubbed the bulge through her dress. “This one’s a girl, finally! I have four boys at home, can you imagine?”
“But me and Brody really wanted a girl this time.”
“Brody? As in Brody Meyers?”
She grinned. “Nabbed myself the quarterback.”
I nodded. “And five kids, that’s . . . awesome.”
“Oh, baby number one and three ain’t his,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Lloyd Peterson got me pregnant just after graduation. You remember, Lloyd?”
I did. He tried kissing me in fourth grade so I had kicked him in the shins and pushed him over.
“Lloyd didn’t stick around. He met some fancy girl in college. Then Brody started hanging around and that led to baby number two. But you know, we were young and he left for a bit, so I started dating this guy from outta town and he gave me boy number three.” She laughed again. “Then Brody came knocking on my door again, wanting to give things another go. My fourth boy came along nine months later. He’s only a year old now, can you believe that? And, well, my man just can’t keep his hands off me, and look where we are today.” She rubbed her belly again.
I smiled. Mallory seemed happy. Content. It was actually really refreshing.
“Boy, you look like you’ve been playing in the mud,” she said, noticing the mud and blood on my clothes. “Is that blood?”
“I came across an accident on the way into town,” I explained.
“Was anybody hurt?”
“Well, yeah . . . that’s where the blood came from.”
Her eyes went as round as saucers. “What happened?”
I waved it off, not wanting to rehash the story. “A motorcycle accident on the road into town. They’re okay.”
Mallory looked impressed. “I bet your life is real exciting. Being a doctor in the city and all.”
“I do okay.”
“You must come for dinner before you leave. We have a real nice double-wide at the park.”
“That sounds, you know . . . awesome. But I’m only here really briefly for my father’s funeral and then I’ll be leaving.” I handed my credit card over to the cashier. “But thanks for the offer.”
Mallory’s face fell, but she gave me a self-conscious smile. “Okay, then. Well, it was real nice seeing you again. Sorry about your daddy.”
When she wheeled her cart away, I felt bad for brushing her off. I was keen to get home, get cleaned up, and brace myself for when Cade and I finally came face to face. But Mallory deserved better than a shitty brush off.
“Hey Mallory,” I called out. She swung back to look at me. “Is that The Last Stop Holiday Park?”
She looked a little surprised. “Yeah. Van number six.”
I nodded. “Would it be okay if I dropped by before I left town?”
She smiled brightly. “I’d really like that.”
I smiled too. “Yeah, so would I.”
And I really meant it.
The house looked the same. Even after twelve years, it looked exactly the same. White timber. Dark navy shutters. Slate roof. Little porch.
I paid the cab driver and climbed out, but stood on the curb well after he drove away because being back was a giant mind fuck. I looked around me and clutched the strap of my handbag like it was the only thing standing between me and the horrible memories of my past. Mom’s Mercedes was in the driveway. On the next driveway over was Ronnie’s Mustang. They were home.
“Baby girl!” I looked up. My mom stood in the open doorway. “Did you find some clothes?”
I held up my McGovern’s bag and she pulled a face. “I haven’t been there for years. Can’t stand the place. Smells like stale popcorn.” She smiled across at me. “Well, come on, let’s get you inside. Ronnie and I are getting dinner sorted. We thought it would be nice for all of us to have dinner together, but I can fix you something to eat now if you’re hungry.”
I hadn’t eaten since breakfast but shook my head. My stomach was in knots. Dinner for all of us more than likely meant dinner with Cade, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. It had already been a long day.
“Come on, let’s at least get you a glass of wine.”
I closed the door behind me and followed her into the family room. For a moment I paused, letting the weirdness fill me and the goosebumps prickle along my skin. The smell. The feelings. They were all still here.