Carefully, Jess set the bath bombs on the counter. “I take an antidepressant every day,” she said with careful calm. “Guess that no-schedule theory isn’t a sure thing.”
Jamie ignored this to continue her perusal of the apartment, casually glancing at the spines of library books on the table, flipping through a few pages on one of Juno’s about horses. Thanksgiving was the last time Jess had seen her mother. Jess had transferred five hundred dollars into Jamie’s checking and hadn’t heard a word since. Jamie had been living in Santa Ana then. They’d met at a Denny’s—Jess paid—and Jamie lamented how her utilities had been shut off because the bank made an error. They’d taken the automatic withdrawal early, she’d insisted. Those fees had made other payments bounce, and it snowballed from there. But it hadn’t been her fault. It was never her fault.
“So, how are you?” Jess asked now, stifling a yawn as she sat on the couch. “How’s … John?”
As soon as the name was out, Jess winced. She thought his name was John. Might have been Jim.
“Oh,” Jamie said with a You are not going to believe this lean to the single word. “Yeah, he was married.”
Jess’s surprise was genuine. “Wait, really? How did you find out?”
“His wife called me.” Jamie tapped out a cigarette before remembering she couldn’t smoke in the apartment, and sort of toyed with it like that had been her intent all along. “Honestly I should have known. He had a job, good credit, and a prescription for Viagra. Of course he was married.”
Jess snorted out a laugh. “Are those the criteria these days?”
“Oh, honey. Don’t let the age of men with good circulation pass you by. Trust me.” She sat on the edge of the coffee table across from her daughter, resting a hand on Jess’s leg, and the whiff of genuine camaraderie made Jess’s heart lean forward. “How are you?” Jamie asked. “How’s your writer friend? She is so funny.”
“I’m fine. You know, working. And Fizzy,” Jess said with a small laugh. “Fizzy is always fine.”
“Are you dating anyone?”
Uninvited, River’s voice rammed into Jess’s mind.
And the timing couldn’t be better for launch.
“Definitely not dating.”
Jamie’s disappointment was palpable. “Are you just going to be single forever? I haven’t met a boyfriend of yours since Juno’s daddy. It’s your birthday. You should be out!”
“It’s a school night, and Juno is asleep down the hall.”
Jamie pointed like Jess might be catching on. “So she wouldn’t even know you were gone.”
Jess’s heart settled back into its familiar cramp, and she said with patient finality: “I don’t want to go out, Mom.”
Holding her hands up in defensive surrender, Jamie groaned out, “Fine, fine.”
Jess yawned again. “Listen, it’s l—”
“Did I tell you about my new gig?”
Her abruptly bright tone set off warning bells. “Your new what?”
“My new job.” Jamie sat up. “Okay … don’t say anything to your grandparents, because you know they’re old-fashioned and never understand how exciting these opportunities are, but you are looking at Skin Glow Incorporated’s newest team member.”
Jess searched her brain but no recognition flared. “Who are they?”
“You’re kidding.” Jamie shook her head in disbelief. “Their commercials are everywhere, Jess. They do in-home facials. God, I want to say it’s a good company, but it’s more than that, it’s a whole lifestyle. A way of empowering women. I get a cut of every facial I do and—”
Jess couldn’t keep the edge from her voice. “A cut?”
“Well, yeah—I mean, to start. Eventually I’ll have girls working for me and I’ll make some of everything they make, and the people they bring on board.”
“So, like a pyramid scheme.”
“Like an entrepreneur.” Jamie’s words were sharp with offense. “I am capable of more than waiting tables, you know.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, this is a really rare opportunity. Maureen said the lady who got her into it is already making six figures! And it’s only three hundred dollars to start.”
Of course. “You need money.”
“Just a loan.” Jamie waved a casual hand. “I’ll pay you back with my first paycheck.”
“Mom, no good job requires you to pay to get started.”
Jamie’s expression darkened. “Why do you always make me feel like this? Can’t I ever dig out of the hole with you?” She stood up and bent to grab her purse. “I’ve been clean for eighteen months!”
“It’s not about you— Wait.” Jess was on the verge of telling Jamie that she had her own money problems to worry about. Jamie sat back down on the couch, and the silence stretched between them. “Did you stop at Nana and Pops’s?” she asked instead. “They’re probably still up.”
Jamie half rolled her eyes, and Jess found herself wondering, again, when she’d become the parent and Jamie had become the child. “They don’t want to see me.”
“You know that’s not true. If you’ve got a new job and you’re clean, they’d love to see you. They love you, Mom.”
Jamie kept her eyes on the wall. “Well. They know where to find me.”
It was astonishing that someone like Jamie came from Joanne and Ronald Davis. At only three, Jess had been spending most nights over at Nana and Pops’s house. By the time she was six, Jamie had given up all pretense of trying, and Jess was permanently living with her grandparents. Jamie had been around, generally speaking, but she was never steady. Whereas Nana and Pops were involved in every aspect of Jess’s life from birth to this very moment, she learned early on that Jamie would pick drugs and men over family, every time.
As much as she tried not to repeat any of her mother’s patterns, Jess did take after her in one way: she’d gotten pregnant young. But hopefully that was where the similarities ended. Jess had graduated from college, gotten a job, and tried to save a little every time a check came. She took her kid to the dentist. She tried to put Juno first every day.
Jess tried to think what Jamie would do now if their positions were reversed. Would Jamie give me the money?
No. Jamie would tell her she needed to grow up, stop expecting handouts, and take responsibility for her own goddamned self.
Standing, Jess walked to the counter. She opened her phone’s bank app, wincing as she typed in $300 to transfer the money to Jamie’s account.
I am not my mother, she reminded herself. I am not my mother.
BRIGHT AND EARLY Monday morning, Fizzy walked into Twiggs. She marched to their usual table, set her laptop down, and even though she’d been told what she would see, still did a double take at Jess standing behind the counter.
“This new situation,” Fizzy said, dropping her purse onto her chair, “is going to take some getting used to.”