The Upside of Unrequited Page 65

She lifts her chin slightly, gesturing to a point behind my back.

I turn my head, and my mouth falls open.

“Oh my God.”

Abby grins. “I know!”

“Did you know she’d be here?”

She shakes her head. “Should we go say hi? Can we leave you two dudes alone for a sec?”

Nick and Reid look at each other. “Um, sure.”

Our boyfriends.

I stand, smoothing my dress down. Abby takes my hand, and we walk across the lawn.

Aunt Karen’s sitting alone at a table, hands folded across her chest. She looks stiff and uncomfortable and, honestly, sort of miserable.

But she’s here.

Holy shit.

She lights up when she sees us. “Hey, babies!” she says. “Oh my goodness. Look at you two. You look beautiful. So grown-up.”

She hugs us both, and we settle into seats on either side of her.

“The backyard looks different. Was it landscaped?”

“Um, yeah. Like, two years ago,” I say.

Aunt Karen nods.

“So. Um. How are the dogs?”

She brightens a bit. “Oh, they’re good. They’re real good. They’re staying with my friend Madge, and her husband’s grilling steaks tonight. New York strips.”

“Um. For the dogs?” Abby asks.

“Mmmhmm. They love steak.”

“That is really special,” Abby says, cutting her eyes toward me.

Aunt Karen smiles. “They’re really special dogs. Abby, I was just telling your mom about my shepherd mix, Daisy, and she said—”

“Aunt Karen, I thought you weren’t coming,” I blurt.

There’s this beat of silence.

And then finally, she says, “Well, I guess I couldn’t miss it.”

“Does Nadine know you’re here?”

She purses her lips. “I assume so.”

“Do you . . . want me to go get her?”

“Oh no,” Aunt Karen says quickly. “It’ll just be . . . you know. This is her night. And Patty’s night,” she adds awkwardly.

As soon as she says it, I realize she’s never mentioned Patty by name before, ever.

“And I’m not here to complicate things,” she continues. “Deenie and I have a lot to talk about, obviously, and I owe her . . .” She trails off, shaking her head. “But not tonight. Tonight, I just wanted to be here.”

“Well, thanks for coming, I guess.”

“Is that you, mamaleh?”

I swivel to find Grandma Betty, holding one of the picture frame centerpieces—which she sets facedown on the table as she settles into the chair beside me.

Oh my goodness. Family overload.

“Hi, Grandma.”

I find I’m sucking in my stomach. I guess I feel self-conscious around her sometimes. For just a split second, I wish I’d worn Spanx.

“Have you met Aunt Karen?” I ask quickly. “I know you know Abby.”

“Of course. Lovely to see both of you again.”

I tap the edge of Grandma’s frame. “What picture is that?”

“It’s a very unflattering photograph of me. I want to know who picked this to be a centerpiece.” She shakes her head and smiles. “I’m lodging a formal complaint.”

That kind of throws me. I didn’t know old people still got self-conscious about that stuff. Now I totally want to see the picture, of course—and Abby must be thinking the exact same thing. “Betty, you have to show us! We won’t tell anyone.”

“If you show us, I’ll hide it for you,” I add.

Grandma grimaces but turns the frame over in her hands.

Abby gasps. “Oh my God, that’s a stunning picture.”

And it is. Holy shit. This photo. It’s black and white, and Patty’s just a baby, so it must be from the late sixties. But Grandma’s the one I can’t take my eyes off of. She’s in her twenties, smiling gently. Balancing Patty on her hip and looking straight at the camera.

She looks exactly like me, except old-timey and beautiful.

And she’s fat.

When I look up, she’s gazing at me with an expression I can’t quite read. “I’m hard on you, aren’t I?”

I blush. “I don’t know.”

“I hated being overweight. I gained seventy pounds when I was pregnant with your mother. I felt like I was living in a different person’s body.”

I pause. Inhale. “I get that.” Exhale. “But I don’t feel like that, you know?”

“I know, and that’s a good thing. I’m so sorry, mamaleh. I shouldn’t turn my issues into your issues.” She takes my hand and squeezes it. “You are absolutely beautiful.”

I feel my cheeks burn. Here’s the thing: I’m used to being told I have a pretty face. Or pretty hair, or pretty eyes. But it’s different, being called beautiful. Just beautiful, without conditions. And for some reason, it’s even stranger hearing it from Grandma Betty than from Reid.

It makes my eyes prickle.

Grandma clears her throat. “Anyway, wasn’t that just the loveliest ceremony?”

“It was,” Abby says.

Aunt Karen shrugs. “It was nice,” she says softly.

That shrug. The particular set of Aunt Karen’s shoulders. It’s as if that shrug contains forty years of secrets and fighting and road trips and bunk beds.

The thing is, it’s exactly how Nadine shrugs.

And suddenly, I can picture it: Cassie and me, twenty years from now. Married. To Mina. To Reid. Or not. Maybe we’ll marry people we haven’t even met yet. Maybe we’ll never marry at all. We might see each other every day. We might see each other once a year. Maybe it will ebb and flow and change with the decades. Maybe we’ll never pin it down.

I think every relationship is actually a million relationships.

I can’t decide if that’s a bad thing.

It’s better when the sun sets. I think it’s the twinkle lights. There’s something magical about twinkle lights on tree branches. A few people have gone home, but even more people are dancing, and Abby and Nick are right in the middle of it. I haven’t talked Reid into dancing yet. Right now, he’s primarily focused on being smug about the paper pennant cake topper.

Which, admittedly, was his idea.

Which, admittedly, turned out adorably.

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