I walked back to the pink room, where Thisbe was still going full blast. Figuring at least this time I didn’t have to worry about waking her up, I knocked twice. After a second, it opened a crack, and Heidi looked out at me.
She looked more haggard than before, if that was even possible: the ponytail was gone, her hair now hanging limp in her face. “Hi,” I said, or rather shouted, over the screaming. “I’m going to get dinner. What would you like?”
“Dinner?” she repeated, her voice also raised. I nodded. “Is it dinnertime already?”
I looked at my watch, as if I needed to confirm this. “It’s about quarter to seven.”
“Oh, dear God.” She closed her eyes. “I was going to fix a big welcome dinner for you. I had it all planned, chicken and vegetables, and everything. But the baby’s been so fussy, and….”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m going to get burgers. Dad says there’s a good place right down the street.”
“Your father is here?” she asked, shifting Thisbe in her arms and peering over my shoulder, down the hallway. “I thought he went down to campus.”
“He’s working in his office,” I said. She leaned closer, clearly not having heard this. “He’s writing,” I repeated, more loudly. “So I’m going. What would you like?” Heidi just stood there, the baby screaming between us, looking down the hallway at the light spilling out from my dad’s barely open office door. She started to speak, then stopped herself, taking a deep breath. “Whatever you’re having is fine,” she said after a moment. “Thank you.”
I nodded, then stepped back as she pushed the door back shut between us. The last thing I saw was the baby’s red face, still howling.
Thankfully, outside the house it was much quieter. I could hear only the ocean and various neighborhood sounds—kids yelling, an occasional car radio, someone’s TV blaring out a back door—as I walked down the street to where the neighborhood ended and the business district began.
There was a narrow boardwalk, lined with various shops: a smoothie place, one of those beach-crap joints that sells cheap towels and shell clocks, a pizzeria. About halfway down, I passed a small boutique called Clementine’s, which had a bright orange awning. Taped to the front door was a piece of paper which read, in big block print, IT’S A GIRL! THISBE CAROLINE WEST, BORN JUNE 1, 6 LBS, 15 OZ. So this was Heidi’s store, I thought. There were racks of T-shirts and jeans, a makeup and body lotion section, and a dark-haired girl in a pink dress examining her fingernails behind the register, a cell phone clamped to her ear.
Up ahead, I could see what had to be the burger joint my dad mentioned— LAST CHANCE CAFÉ, BEST O RINGS ON THE BEACH!, said the sign. Just before it, there was one last store, a bike shop. A bunch of guys around my age were gathered on a battered wooden bench outside, talking and watching people pass by.
“The thing is,” one of them, who was stocky and sporting shorts and a chain wallet said, “the name has to have punch. Energy, you know?”
“It’s more important that it be clever,” another, who was taller and thinner with curly hair, a little dorky-looking, said. “Which is why you should go with my choice, The Crankshaft. It’s perfect.”
“It sounds like a car shop, not a bike place,” the short guy told him. “Bikes have cranks,” his friend pointed out. “And cars have shafts.”