“Girl, you can’t do it all in one night and you’ve got to eat. We live only ten minutes away—on the other side of the tracks.”

I give her a light shove. “Whatever, Jill.”

“Seriously, come on over.”  Jillian admires the leaf of a shrub with great intensity. “And I think Mama’s coming too.”

A jolt surges through my body. I find that interesting, that my body reacts before my mind. It wants to sit down. The involuntary shaking is a clue. I look around as if furniture appeared while my back was turned, and then I remember that it exists only in my little three-ring binder. My body doesn’t mind; it settles for the wide tiles of the loggia. Legs pulled to the chest, arms wrapped around the legs, head tucked inside, it is hoarding relief as best it can, waiting for my mind to catch up, decide what we should do. The spunk that endured all of two minutes is gone. Thanks to Jillian, the Grand Dame has made her entrance, bringing with her, as usual, tangible distress.

She is the reason I never wanted to return—Patsy Parker Campbell, whom I haven’t spoken to in three years and whom, long before that, I had banished to the outermost ring of my life. I hadn’t even processed yet what it means to be near her again. I thought I could put off consideration of that reality for weeks, maybe months. I couldn’t have guessed I’d be dealing with it the first night.

I lift my head and ask accusingly, “She knows I’m back?”

“Is it a secret?”

“I sure hadn’t told her.” 

“Well, I talk to her a little more than you do and it would have been unnatural for me to keep quiet about her daughter moving back to town.”

“You didn’t have to invite her to dinner. I have zero energy right now, and less for her. You know how she is.”  I tuck my head back down.

Jillian touches my shoulder, eases down next to me on the tiled ground, and sighs. “I’m sorry. She called this morning and I honestly wasn’t thinking I had to be guarded, so when she asked what I was doing I told her I was cleaning the house, getting ready for you all to come over. She was quiet—you know Mama doesn’t get quiet—and I felt bad and said, ‘You’re welcome to come, too, if you want.’”

I groan loudly, understanding fully. The invitation didn’t have to be, if only Jillian had had the guts to honor the status quo; lack of contact has worked quite well. But maybe Patsy didn’t say she was coming. Jillian said, I think Mama is coming. Hopeful, I lift my head again. “And she said?”

“She said, ‘Okay.’”

I stare at the pool, blankly at first, then with great interest. Its otherworldliness is inviting, and not just because it’s a hot August day. I want to dive in, let the water swallow me whole. I want to feel the smack of a change in circumstance, the rush you feel when you don’t dip toe-to-shin-to-waist-to-neck until you’re completely under, but you just take the plunge. When I do that, I glide near the bottom and swim until I need a breath. I can’t hear, can’t see what’s happening above, can’t be bothered. My leg rocks side to side. It likes the idea, wants to give me a running start. The ripples conspire too, rolling lazily with the faint breeze in a come-hither fashion, promising to shut out the world. That’s what I need, an escape.

Jillian knocks her leg against mine and playfully obstructs my view with her face. “Treva?”

“What.”

“This could be a good thing. Maybe it’s time for you to build a better relationship with Mama. Maybe you could begin to see her in a different light.”  Her earnest eyes fill my peripheral vision. “You’re a new person, Treva. God has given you the strength, you know.”