Money can’t buy you love.
When Cassie and I arrived back at the Barclays she went into the kitchen to get a drink and I went to find Anne to tell her we were home. But when I walked into the family room instead of Anne I found Jay reading Sports Illustrated on the couch.
“Is Anne around?” I asked him.
Jay barely looked up to acknowledge me standing beside the sofa. “She’s upstairs sleeping.”
“What happened?” Cassie stomped into the room holding a miniature glass teapot in her hand. She held up both hands, each one holding fractured pieces of porcelain. “It’s broken.”
“You left it on the hallway floor and I didn’t see it,” Jay answered. “You shouldn’t leave your toys lying around.”
There wasn’t even a hint of remorse in his tone.
Cassie handed me the teapot, which was smashed into three pieces. “Look.”
It was broken, alright. The spout had snapped off and the handle, which was decorated with small, pink hand painted rosebuds, was no longer attached to the pot.
“Just throw it out,” Jay told her. “I’m sure your mom will buy you a new one.”
Cassie reached out and took the pieces from my hand. “Where’s mom?” Cassie asked me, not her brother.
I kneeled down on the floor so that Cassie and I were eye level. “Why don’t you tip toe upstairs and knock lightly on her bedroom door, that way if she’s asleep you don’t wake her up. Okay?”
Cassie nodded and disappeared silently down the hallway.
“The least you could have done is apologize,” I told Jay once I was sure Cassie had gone out of ear shot.
“She left it right in the middle of the floor. And if you’re actually worried that Cassie won’t have any toys for tea time, I’m sure there are plenty where that came from.”
“That’s hardly the point.” I stood there waiting for him to say he was wrong, but he didn’t.
“So what’s Winnie short for?” Jay asked, still not looking up from the magazine. I was surprised that someone so totally self absorbed had actually remembered my name.
“Winifred,” I answered, my tone clipped. He wasn’t going to make me forget about the teapot that easily. “I was named after my grandmother.”
Jay nodded, laid the magazine face down across his lap and looked up at me. “I see.”
I assumed Jay put down the magazine in an attempt to engage me in conversation. “You’re here for the summer?”
“Is that what Anne told you?” he asked, as if he knew there would be more to the story.
“That’s all,” I lied, figuring my allegiance to Anne was more important than attempting to make friends with her step son. “Why, is there something else I should know?”
Jay didn’t answer, instead he watched me intently, his head cocked to the left like he was trying to assess whether or not he should tell me something.
“Nah.” He shook his head and went back to reading, officially ending our first conversation.
The whole way home on the bus I couldn’t stop thinking about Jay and the way he’d looked at me, like he was sizing me up, trying to figure out whose team I was on. I’d obviously failed the test because when I passed the family room on my way out he didn’t even bother to look up to say goodbye.
“Cassie has a brother,” I told Jessie. Nash had some sort of sailing instructor meeting so Jess had offered to meet me at my house after work. We were in my room, where I was ironing my Oceanview shirt. Maybe cutting the sleeve off of one of my shirts wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all. Now I only had three left, which meant making sure I didn’t forget to do a wash almost every other day.
“He’s old enough to be potty trained, I hope.” Jessie was laying on my bed picking at a callous on the palm of her left hand. Even after only two weeks of tennis lessons she had plenty to choose from.
I set the iron down on the ironing board and went to retrieve the garbage can beside my desk, bringing it over to Jessie.
“He’s nineteen,” I said, placing the can next to the bed just in time to catch the flap of skin she’d flicked toward the carpet.
“Oh, that makes it a little more interesting.” Jess turned over onto her side to face me. “How come you didn’t know about him before?”
“He was supposed to be away for the summer but he showed up here instead.”
“And?” Jess asked, knowing there had to be more to the story.
“And I don’t know. Anne mentioned something about having a bad first year at college, but she didn’t share any of the specifics.”
Jess had obviously wanted more information than I could provide, because as soon as she learned I wasn’t going to get into the sordid details she went to work on her right hand. “Maybe there are no specifics. Maybe he just had a bad year at school, it happens, you know. Not all of us are academically inclined.”
Jess hated to ask for help, but when it came to school she knew it was either let me explain the difference between inverse trig derivatives and arctrig functions or sit out a season of tennis. And she couldn’t afford to do that if she was going to get a scholarship to UNC, which she was counting on, even though I hadn’t seen her wear the UNC Tar Heels t-shirt she got for her birthday sophomore year ever since she’d traded in Tar Heel blue for UVM green. It was a good thing Jess had tennis because she definitely wasn’t getting into UNC for her grades.
“I got the feeling it had to do with more than just academics.”
“I sure hope so, it would make him more interesting at least.”
“The way Anne talks about him there’s definitely more to the story. And he’s not the nicest person in the world.” I told Jess about the teapot and the cereal bowl.
“Okay, I might give you the teapot thing, even though the kid shouldn’t be leaving her stuff in the middle of the hallway. But a cereal bowl on the counter? You’re going to condemn the guy because he didn’t feel like washing his breakfast dishes?”
When she put it like that, I saw her point. Maybe it wasn’t so much what Jay did as how he did it. Even though he kept himself scarce, Jay’s presence hung over every room. “I don’t think he likes Anne.”
“You’ve known the woman for two days,” she reminded me. “Maybe he knows her better than you do.”
Jessie wasn’t getting it. I debated whether or not to tell her about a conversation I’d overheard that day between Anne and Jay, an exchange that left me feeling like I’d glimpsed a part of the Barclays I shouldn’t have, and almost wished I wouldn’t have. The whole thing had left me with a weird feeling, like I knew more about them than I was supposed to.