CATCHY SNIPPET: What if you could change the flow of time? Mila Adams can do just that. An exhilarating adventure ensues when she meets a man with a very similar talent. Will they discover the source of...
Jessica gives an overview of the book:
If there were a ghost in the room, it would look like an eighteen-year-old girl, a girl just off to college. This ghost would be wearing a basketball uniform, one from the mid-seventies, nylon but not baggy, the shorts cut at the hamstrings. Unlike any other ghost that might be in the room, this ghost is laughing, pulling her red hair back with a rubber band, adjusting her socks, tying her shoes. Her arms, even as a ghost, are tan and long, the flesh full and round and muscular. Even now, her jaw is still pointed, angled sharp, decisive, though fuller and gentler than in life, certainly not enough to make you step back with horror at the sight of this apparition. In fact, you want to move in, run a finger down the side of the ghost's face, remember what you never saw, not in all your days. You might even marvel at the way this ghost's teeth shine, the way her flesh smells sweet, like Ivory soap and sunlight.
The ghost picks up a basketball, and you remember your friend, the one you and your friends tried to save. When she had the strength, you saw your friend like this, picking up a ball, laughing, arcing the ball up and into a net. You saw her dribble and turn, curve away from an opponent, sneak in and out, stop, and position herself to connect, and there it was, a score. This ghost knows nothing about these later games. This ghost is on her way to college, ready for her first practice as a USC Trojan. She is going to roll up her childhood and stuff it in the closet.
Just as the ghost turns to leave the room, you realize you would have had to have actually been there, here, back in 1975, back in this attic bedroom, in order to save your friend. You would have had to pull her arm, turn her toward you and say, "Don't go. Come with me." After this moment, no one could have done anything at all.
The ghost leaves, and you sit on the dusty bed in the attic bedroom of your friend's mother's house. Downstairs, everyone--including your two best friends--is eating rolled and sliced buffet food and talking quietly, leaning against doorjambs, dabbing at eyes. The afternoon sun shoots through the small window, the room a cave of early winter light. And you sit on the bed, and forgive yourself, despite everything.
"You're being ridiculous."
"I mean it," Felice said. "Don't go." She held onto the smooth wool of Sean's pants, just to the side of his thigh, feeling the warmth of his body under her fingers. They sat together at terminal 19 at San Francisco International Airport, huddled on two plastic chairs, their heads almost touching.
"I have to," Sean said, leaning back. "You know that. And anyway, the minute you leave here, you'll forget all about me. It'll be back to normal for you, the boys, James. You're really acting kind of weird."
"Excuse me?" Felice said.
"Well, you are. I told you not to come in. You didn't even have to drive me here. I mean, think of all the trips I've taken before."
Felice looked up into her oldest friend's eyes. For a moment, she realized why all of his UC Berkeley literature students fell madly in love with him, men and women both, students slumped against their office door, swooning even as he reminded them about late homework assignments or essay due dates. When Felice detailed the same information to her own students, they looked down at their notebooks, scribbling madly, and then stood up and left without even a smile. Sometimes, especially lately, Felice wondered if she should finally request her own office, needing space from Sean's happiness. But that was just as weird as moping about Sean leaving, which she knew she clearly was doing, when she hadn't moped once in the twenty years they'd known each other.
"What's wrong?" Sean asked.
Felice shrugged, feeling the answers push her shoulders back down. "I don't know. Everything. James."
"What did he do?" Sean asked, distracted, looking over his shoulder toward his gate. He's already left, thought Felice. He can't help me now.
"He's just pulling away. From me. From the boys, and that's what kills me the most. He's never there. Not for swimming. Not for open houses. This spring, he was like a ghost dad, a dad only in our imaginations. I barely see him anymore."
"Well, have you two talked about it?"
"Talked? It's more like I say something and he starts baring his teeth like . . . like a monster, and then I shut up. I swear sometimes I feel like leaving, but it's the boys. They love him, Sean. And I keep thinking maybe he'll go back to normal."
"Flight 650 to Heathrow will be boarding in five minutes." The tin voice of the attendant's voice pulsed through the terminal. Sean pushed his hair back from his face, and Felice closed her eyes, feeling the movement of her heart, the blood circulating in her chest, the tears just under her skin.
"Listen, you aren't working this summer. You guys should plan to go away. Maybe just the two of you. I mean, what about counseling? You've been together so long. You've been with James almost as long as you've been with me!" Sean smiled, and Felice pressed back against her chair, knowing that he was right. There was too much of her history in both men to ever let one of them go. They'd all met at Stanford as undergraduates, and the lines of their lives were placed right next to each other. Imagining one erased was impossible, and she knew she would fight for James if not for that, but for her boys. For Dylan and Brodie. For the family she and James had made.
The attendant called Sean's row, and he stood up, grabbing his briefcase that was filled with research on James Joyce, notes for his lecture series, and condoms for his probable adventures, all of which Felice was privy to. Over the years, she and James had gone to parties and dinners at Sean's Berkeley apartment, meeting Gwendolyn, Mary, Bryn, and Sue, woman after woman, each of whom Sean had initially claimed was "it," the one, his soulmate. And yet, here he was, twenty years past college, alone, flying off to Dublin to spend another summer searching for what he'd always imagined Felice and James had.
"You be good over there. Call me if anything happens."
"You call me," said Sean. "I've given you my numbers. Call me if anything exciting goes on."
"Nothing good is going to happen this summer," Felice said. "I can feel it in my bones."
Felice walked away from the terminal, into the dark tunnel leading to the parking garage, her eyes on the escalator, ground, escalator, the noise of travelers in her ears. She found her Dodge Caravan, her kid car, the car Sean called the vehicle from suburban hell, even though she lived in Oakland, far from the actual suburbs that bloomed on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. "But it may as well be the suburbs," Sean often said. "You drive this horrible thing, go to the club to swim and workout, and shop in the little cutesy Montclair shops. What's the difference?"
Felice put on her seat belt and looked out to the slat of open sky in front of her. Maybe that's Sean's plane, she thought, watching a jet pull skyward. She imagined being able to pull it down--safely, of course--and make him stay with her. Perhaps she should have flung herself down in front of him and had a tantrum. Would he have cancelled his trip? She thought about their one, awkward kiss years ago at Shakespeare's Wife, a coffee shop in Palo Alto. As his lips touched hers, slipping to an awkward angle on her lower lip, she realized that what should be there, that the fullness of air and heat that came with passion, that came with a kiss, was missing, gone. It was like watching a movie in black and white, all sharp angles and no warmth. Sean had pulled away, sensing it, too, and they'd stared at each other, finally smiling, and then went back to grading papers from the freshman composition classes they TA'd for. That was it.
Felice started the engine and drove the circles and loops until she reached the pay booth and then she slid out into the full sunlight. As she put on her sunglasses and accelerated onto the 101, she smiled, knowing that even if Sean were gone for the whole summer, she had her girls. She had Grace and Stella and Helen, her best friends. Every summer for over seven years, they'd sat together at the edge of the pool at Oakland View Swim and Tennis Club, watching their children learn to swim, slowly becoming friends, going out at night to movies, calling each other when a child was in trouble, when a husband or partner was completely unreasonable.
Felice stepped on the gas, knowing all she had to do was pick up the boys from school and then drive to the club and she would feel better about everything.
"Mom," said Brodie, clambering into the car, pulling his seatbelt across his body, his brother leaping in next to him. "I need to get a chicken."
"What?" Felice asked, pulling onto Thornhill Boulevard and then the freeway, heading south toward the club for the boys' swim workout.
"I need to mummify a chicken. With salt and bandages."
Felice grimaced. "Do you actually know how to mummify a chicken?"
"Of course I do," Brodie said, turning to her as if everyone mummified chickens on a regular basis. "Mrs. Dimond gave us instructions and everything. We have to cover it in salt and wrap it up and then dump more salt on it. Then we wait."
"Gross," Dylan said. "What if it comes alive and haunts us?"
"Don't be stupid," Brodie said. "It's for Egyptology week. The best chicken wins a prize."
"Ahhhh!" Dylan held out his arms in a mummy move. "Ahhhh . . . . ."
"Do you have to start it right away? God, I wonder what your father will say about this," she said, imagining James's disgust as he bent over the sink, saying, "What's this shit?"
Felice wondered if she could manage to tell him, "That's dinner," without laughing. She wondered if once he learned about the project, James would be able to say to Brodie, "That's interesting," and mean it. Felice wondered if James would notice anything at all.
"Of course I have to start it. It's not Egyptology month. It's Egyptology week," Brodie said.
"Ahhh!" murmured Dylan, his outstretched arms banging against Brodie's headrest. Felice looked in the rearview mirror and saw his eyes were closed under his brown bangs, a laugh on his lips.
"Fine," she said. "We'll stop at Safeway after swim workout. But . . . a chicken! How are you graded?"
"Well, the ones that are mummified best gets A's," Brodie said.
"How can you tell which chicken is mummified best?" she asked, trying to flick away the picture of chicken flesh, holding her breath in as if she already had a whiff of old meat and salt.
"Don't ask," Brodie said. "It's a long story."
"What are these teachers thinking?" Felice asked.
"Well, they can't assign us a human! Do you know what they did with the organs?"
"Yeah, yeah!" Dylan shouted, his eyes wide. "And the brain. They pulled it through their nostrils with a hook!"
"Dylan!" Felice said.
"That's what Mrs. Velasquez told us anyway."
Felice flicked on her turn signal and pulled off the freeway, turning left onto Cypress Road. "I'm glad it's only a week," she said, smiling at Brodie. "There's only so much about the brain I can handle."
Felice pulled into the club's driveway, and almost sighed. She could already see Helen and Stella sitting at the edge of the pool, Helen in her ratty Chevy's hat, Stella tan and slim and sexy in her black bangled bikini. Grace was undoubtedly working out in the gym, as she always did once or twice a day, her legs only muscle and bone, her arms wiry and strong. Felice parked the car, and the boys ran out, already forgetting about the mummy, ready to play in the water with the kids until swim team started, desperate to catch up to whatever Eric and Celia and Livie had already started. As she pulled out their gear--the towels, goggles, and fins--Felice knew that right here was where she should have been all day, the sun and warmth and her friends' voices lulling away all traces of the fights she'd been having with James, her sadness at Sean's departure, the gathering darkness in her chest.
"Hey, guys," she said, walking toward the end of the pool and the section of chaise lounges Helen and Stella had staked out for them. "What's going on?"
Helen looked toward Stella, and Stella stood up, walking toward Felice. Felice almost stopped, not liking how today was already different, how this afternoon no one had waved, beckoned her to hurry back, how no one was smiling or telling a joke. "What is it?" Felice asked.
Stella put her hand on Felice's arm. "Sit down."
"No," Felice said, not wanting any of it, imagining that her own dark feelings had created whatever she was going to hear from Stella. Maybe it would be possible to just walk backwards, off the pool deck, out of the club, gathering her boys as she went. She could go home, unplug the phone, and turn on the television. Maybe that would keep whatever it was away.
"Hon," Stella said. "I tried to call you all afternoon."
"I did, too," Helen agreed. "Where were you?"
Felice sat down on a chaise, Stella's sun-warm body beside her. "I took Sean to the airport. What is going on? You guys are scaring me."
"Listen," Stella said. "Hon, this isn't good. It's Grace."
"No," Felice said again, feeling how small that word was. It needed to be a bigger word, longer, something that had more force. Maybe that's why people tended to say it more than once, turning it into a NoNoNoNo, trying to build a fence around what they didn't want.
"Yeah," Helen said. "It's the cancer. It's come back."
"Oh, my God! No way!" Felice said, her words full of air.
"We can't believe it either," Helen said.
"But Grace always said it. . She was in remission. It isn't fair! Look how long she's survived!" Stella put her arm around Felice, and Felice shook her head. "I don't believe it."
Helen scooted to the edge of her chaise, and the three of them looked out toward the pool. "Who can? She's done so well since her first battle. What was that? Eight years ago? Just before we all met. But we've got to get organized."
"What do you mean?" Felice asked.
"Well, we've got to get some kind of plan together. You know, who's going to take care of Celia when Grace has appointments and treatments. Who's going to drive her to school. All that. Between the three of us, we could probably cover just about everything." Helen began searching through her large black purse for a pad of paper and pen. "I can make a schedule."
"Wait," Felice asked. "Where is Grace right now? Who brought Celia to workout?"
"Let's slow down," said Stella. "You haven't had time to even think about this. Grace called me in the early afternoon. She's at Stanford Medical Center having some tests run."
"So what do they know?" Felice asked, bringing her hand to her stomach and holding herself tight, wondering what it would feel like to discover lumps under the skin, pockets of cancer, disease right under the fingertips.
"I guess the cancer from before--the melanoma that was in her liver? or on her back or whatever--has metastasized into her lungs. There's a tumor. Or a lesion. Or something. Maybe more than one. I couldn't get it all straight when she called me. We had a really weird connection."
Felice bit her lip, thinking about Grace, her laughter that Felice could hear from the parking lot. Before she'd met Grace, she'd imagined that laugh belonging to a much more substantial person, heavy, tall, full of flesh. But then she'd met Grace, tall and lanky and pared as close to the bone as anyone Felice had met before. And Grace's laugh was like the rest of her, optimistic, interested in everything, even while all along, there was this disease lurking inside her, ready to swallow her up.
"So what does Kathleen want to do? What's her plan?" Felice asked. Stella and Helen gave each other a glance.
"Well," Helen said, brushing a gnat off her thigh.
"She's working out right now," Stella said. "We didn't get much of chance to talk with her. But Hon, we will."
"She's working out?" Felice asked.
"Yeah," Helen replied. "Working out. Pain in the ass."
Felice wanted to stand up and shake off these words like clothes, slipping out of the situation and pulling on another. Kathleen, Grace's partner of seven years, was working out while Grace endured tests at Stanford. No one was taking care of Grace at all.
"So wait. Is her mother coming up?"
"You know, Grace. She hasn't told anyone but us. So I'm thinking of calling Doris. If Kathleen isn't going to, and I know Grace won't, someone should. Doris needs to know."
No one said anything, and then the pool was full of noise, the children jumping in the pool for workout, Tony, the coach, blowing his whistle and barking out orders. Eric waved at Stella, and Livie pretended not to see Helen at all, but then laughed when Brodie and Dylan pushed her in the water. After listening to Tony, they all began to swim in orderly lines, their hands flinging in arcs around them, their kicks random fountains. Just like that, life went back to normal, thought Felice, the day smoothing itself out despite Grace's illness. Is there anything, she wondered, that could make it stop altogether?
"I'd be dead already," Helen said. "I know it. I'd already be flat on my back in bed, crying my eyes out and feeling sorry for myself. I'd already have redone my will and called in the troops to take care of my every need. All of you would already hate me by know."
Stella crossed her legs, swinging a tan foot back and forth. "I know. Me, too. But that's not Grace. Apparently during the last cancer, she took care of herself as long as possible. She called Doris only when it got really bad."
"So is remission a real word?" Felice asked. She turned to Stella, who shrugged. Felice could almost imagine Grace's cancer cells hiding behind organs and veins, waiting for a chance to jump out and attack, taking everything down with them.
"Shit," Helen said, finally finding a pen and a piece of paper. She quickly made a grid, marking the days and hours of the week. "So what are we going to do?"
"Will she let us do anything?" Stella asked.
"She can't do it like she did last time. I hate to say it . . . No, that's a lie. I want to say it. So here it is: Kathleen's not going to do what she needs to. Look at her now, inside on the Stairmaster. So we have to pick up the slack. And we can call some of Grace's Holy Names College friends. You know. The women in the basketball league? I've met one of them. Drew."
For a strange second, Felice felt herself prickle with anger, silly with jealousy that her friends hadn't decided to help her in the same way. Here she herself was, her husband angry and awful. Just this morning, she'd said, "Try not to forget to pick up your dry cleaning," and James had flung out a "Shut up" as he walked out the door. Didn't they want to save her? Wasn't she harboring a disease inside her home, too, something that needed resuscitation, badly?
She knew she was being ridiculous, but she almost wanted to pull on Stella and Helen as she had done on Sean that morning. She thought of another word that needed to be bigger, me. MeMeMeMe, a selfish fence Felice was building so she didn't have to really see that Grace, one of her best friends, was really sick. Dying maybe, and Felice leaned her hand into her palm and started to cry.
"Don't," Stella said. "Oh, Hon. Don't do that. I've been crying enough for everyone." But Felice kept crying, even as she felt their hands on her back. As she wept, all she could think about was Grace in her chaise lounge, smiling at her and then breathing in and laughing out loud, her head bent back, her happiness above them all.