The Six Rules of Maybe: Excerpt
You could tell something was different about Juliet the moment she stepped out of that truck. She was wearing a yellow summer dress and her hair was pulled back so that you could see her cheekbones and her straight nose and the blazing eyes that used to make all the boys crazy in high school. I don’t know how to explain it, but she seemed smug in some way I’d never seen before. Like she had this satisfying little secret. Like something had been decided by her and her alone. She held her head as if she were the period at the end of her own sentence.
We knew Juliet was coming home; we just didn’t know she’d be bringing someone else with her, or several someone elses, depending on how you counted. Hayden’s dog, Zeus—he was one of those people-like dogs; he listened hard and looked at you with knowing in his eyes, even if two minutes later he’d decide to zip around the living room, slightly crazed, ears pinned back, taking the corners around the furniture like he was in his own private race with lesser dogs.
When the truck door slammed outside, Mom looked out the window and gave a little It’s her! squeal and we hurried outside. The afternoon was just right warm—a May day that could have been a role model for all May days, and the air smelled wet and grassy because Mrs. Saint George across the street had turned her sprinkler on. The truck was one of those old kinds with the big wide front that could slam into a tree and still come out smiling its chrome smile. Juliet stepped out and she was all sunbeams in that dress. She was wet grass, and summer, and sunbeams, same as that day was. The thing about sunbeams, though . . .
Well, it might sound unkind. You’ve got to know that I loved my sister very much even if our relationship was complicated (and, anyway, aren’t love and complications basically words partnered forever, like salt and pepper and husband and wife?). But a straight shot of sun directed at a mirror can set things on fire. Juliet and I had learned this ourselves when we were kids one August day on the sidewalk in front of our house. When I was seven (and, honestly, nine and twelve and fourteen), I’d have held that mirror toward the sun for days even if nothing had happened, just because she’d told me to.
Mom ran across the lawn to hug Juliet like she hadn’t seen her in years even though it had only been five months since she’d been home last, three since Mom and I had gone down to Portland, Oregon, where Juliet had gotten her big break singing four nights a week at the Fireside Room at the Grosvenor Hotel.
When you saw her onstage in that sapphire gown, her head tilted back to show her long throat, smoke from some man’s cigarette circling around her like a thin wisp of fog in some old detective movie, you’d never have thought she’d come from tiny Parrish Island. Tiny and inconsequential Parrish Island, where the only important visitors were the pods of Orca whales that came every summer. You’d never have thought Juliet was a regular girl who had graduated from Parrish Island High School only the year before. Barely graduated, I might add, almost flunking Algebra II had it not been for the tutoring of her younger sister, thank you, although Mom would say Juliet had never been a regular girl.
The driver’s side door opened, and that’s when Hayden got out. I thought he was having a nice stretch before he got back in and went home, a friend doing a friend-favor, maybe. He was about twenty-three or -four, tall, with easy, tousled brown hair. He wore Levi’s with a tucked-in white T-shirt, and his jeans had a big wet spot on the leg, spilled coffee was my guess, which he was blotting with napkins.
And then he looked up at us. Or at me, because Mom didn’t even notice him. Usually I was the invisible one in any group, but he was invisible along with me then. Mom was clutching Juliet to her and then holding her away again so that Juliet’s fiery eyes could meet Mom’s blazing ones. So his eyes met only mine, and mine his, and right then my heart shifted, the way it does when something unexpected begins. There are those moments, probably few in a life, where before and after split off from each other forevermore in your mind. That was one of those moments, although I wouldn’t realize it for a long time afterward. I saw something very simple and clear there, in his eyes—that was the thing. Honesty. But with the kind of hope that was just this side of heartbreak.
He smiled at me, went around to the back of the truck. I guess anyone would have noticed the way he looked in those jeans. Of course I did. In the open pickup bed there was a big dog waiting to be let out. He was the sort of large, energetic dog that made Mom nervous. A sudden dog, and Mom didn’t like sudden things. She mistrusted squirrels and birds and men and anything that had the capacity to surprise. If she ever got a dog, she’d say, it was going to be one of those white and fluffy ones, like Ginger, the Martinellis’ dog, who looked the same as the slippers Mrs. Martinelli wore when she went to get the mail. You could put a dog like that into your purse like a lipstick and take it anywhere you wanted it to go, like women did in New York or Paris. A lipstick with a heartbeat that might pee on your checkbook, in my opinion, but this was Mom’s dream, not mine. I liked a dog you could lean against.
The dog jumped down and made a galloping leap toward Mom, and the guy in the Levi’s lunged for his collar and said, “Zeus!” in a way that was both emphatic and desperate. Zeus, it would turn out, was actually a very well-trained dog—he’d do anything for Hayden. Zeus would look at Hayden in the complete and adoring way you privately wished and wished and wished that someone, someday, might look at you. But Hayden was a good dog father and knew his boy’s limits—meeting new people turned Zeus into a toddler in the toy aisle, with the kind of joy and want that turned into manic jumping. Zeus leaped up on Mom, who was horrified to be suddenly looking at him eye to eye, and she held him off with a palm to his tan furry chest. She looked down at her clothes as if he might have made her muddy, although the ground was dry and she was only in her old cargo pants and a tank top, her hair in a sort-of bun stuck up with a pair of chopsticks.
It was then that Mom realized that Juliet had not descended alone from the heavens. She looked surprised at the unexpected visitors and the facts in front of her: this truck, not Juliet’s ancient Fiat convertible; this lanky, excited dog; this lanky, somewhat tousled and tangled guy grabbing his collar . . .
And that’s when we saw it. We both did, at the same moment. It caught the sun, so shiny and new was the gold. A wedding band. On the guy’s finger. We both did the same thing next, Mom and me. We looked at Juliet’s left hand. And, yes, there was one there, too. That same gold band.
My mother put her hand to her chest. I heard her gasp. And then she breathed out those two words, the ones I was feeling right then too, that multipurpose, universal expression of shock and despair.
“Oh fuck,” my mother said.