February 11, 2008


Emily always hated bringing people over to her house for the first time. They’d pull up in front of the large wrought-iron gate in her silver Mini-Cooper and, grimacing a little, the richest girl in school would mumble, “Well, we’re here.”

And her passenger would always look around at the other houses on the street, trying to decide where Emily lived. “Which one?”

“Uh, this one.”

The Mini would be parked in front of the Mercer Mansion, a white three-story estate that filled up the entire block. A wraparound porch surrounded the house on each level, and a hungry-looking Doberman paced the grounds. Though in the same style as the houses around it, Mercer Mansion was many times larger than its already-gigantic neighbors…it looked like a plantation house that lived on a steady diet of smaller and weaker plantation houses.

Emily’s companion would invariably look around. “This is a house? This is your house!? I didn’t know anyone lived here. I thought it was a museum or a courthouse or…I don’t know what.”

“It used to be a school.”

“Like a private school?”

Emily would wince. “A college. But a little one…a teacher’s college.”

“You live in a college!?”

By this point they’d be through the massive gate and Emily would be rubbing the belly of Gormenghast, the would-be guard dog. Far from a killer, the Doberman had a depressive streak and would mope around for days if Emily didn’t pet him every time she came home. “It’s not as big as it looks…it’s a U, hollow in the middle.”

This was true, but even then the house was enormous. After Mercer Teacher’s College merged with Tulane in the 50s and moved uptown, the mansion sat empty for years. The space was too large to live in, but too residential to be anything else. And there were too many weird details that made potential buyers wary. For example, there were over 75 rooms in the mansion, but since many of these had originally been classrooms, almost none of them were connected to each other…you had to walk outside to get to another room. After being abandoned for decades, however, a Swedish billionaire finally bought the house as a wedding gift for Belinda Bellecastle.

Belinda Bellecastle, Emily’s mother, had been just another student at Beaumonde Academy when, at 16, she snuck out of the house and went to see a rock concert at Lakeside Arena. The band was filming the show for a concert video, and as she was walking into the arena she was picked to stand in the front row with other pretty young girls. Just before the encore, a security guard asked her if she wanted to meet the band, and her life changed forever. Within six months she had changed her name to Bonnie Belle and left New Orleans behind.

Eventually, Bonnie Belle convinced herself that she was tired of the jet-set lifestyle, and moved back in with her scandalized-but-forgiving parents. A year later, even though she wasn’t quite sure she really had been tired of her lifestyle after all, she decided on a whim to sample the domestic world and married Erling Hammarskjöld, an international financier almost three times her age.

Their wedding was the social event of the season, which isn’t really saying too much, since again not a lot happens during a Louisiana summer. The guest list included the privileged aristocracy of both New Orleans and Stockholm, not to mention New York’s financial district. Erling’s ex-wife and adult children also attended, as did many of Bonnie Belle’s former boyfriends and their wives. The bride wore a Betsey Johnson bridal gown—cut roughly eleven inches above the knee—and Billy Joel played at the reception.

Erling Hammarskjöld, despite his wealth, had been living in a modest bachelor apartment a block away from his investment firm. However, once he was engaged, he knew he needed a decent place to bring his wife…she came from old money, after all, and not just any house would do. Almost as a joke, his real estate lawyer suggested the old Mercer campus, and Erling knew it was the only house that would suit his bride.

Actually, Erling’s plan had been a little less lovestruck than that. He had thought they would live in the front of the mansion, and use the two arms of the U as the New Orleans branch of his investment firm. After the wedding, he drove his new bride to the newly-renamed Mercer Mansion (“This is a house? This is our house!?”) and, in spite of his age, easily and proudly carried her across the threshold.

Almost immediately, Erling discovered that the Garden District Homeowner’s Group was serious about their whole “Mercer Mansion is zoned residential, not commercial” deal and were willing to challenge him in court to keep his company out. Erling could have eventually won the case—in a fight between tradition and money, always bet on money—but he didn’t want to be a bad neighbor. Besides, by this point his company had grown so big that they wouldn’t have comfortably fit in Mercer Mansion anyway, so Erling built a large flagship office across town. He used construction companies owned by his new neighbors, and all was forgiven.

For a few years, the couple, soon joined by a toddler named Emily, lived in only about ten rooms at the front of the house. However, Belinda Bellecastle slowly discovered that, like nature, a housewife abhors a vacuum. For example, having a room dedicated exclusively to storing Halloween decorations seems like a luxurious extravagance to you and I, and Belinda would wholeheartedly agree with us in theory. But when you have a bunch of rubber jack-o-lanterns and fake plastic cauldrons you need to store, and you also have this empty room on the third floor…

Emily spent her childhood at a boarding school in New York, and when her father brought her home at 14, it was decided that it might be more comfortable for everyone if she were given her space. In the bowl of the U-shape there was another, much smaller, house living in the shadow of Mercer Mansion, which had originally been the home of Mercer College’s headmaster. When Emily came back from New York, this cottage was cleaned out (Erling had kept his bicycles in it) and turned over to Emily. At first she didn’t like the idea, and stayed in the old bedroom where she’d spent her school holidays. But before too long—a night here, two nights there—she made the move into the cottage.

After being at home for a while, Emily discovered there were advantages to living in a house the size of Mercer Mansion. For example, 75 rooms meant that there were lots of places to hide from her mother, which she was currently doing on a Thursday afternoon.

At breakfast, her mother had suggested that the two of them have a Girl’s Day Out when she got back from running her errands. Manicures and martinis were suggested. Emily had given her bowl of Cheerios a non-committal grunt in response. She could feel her mom watching her, waiting for an answer, and she studied the Etro ad in the new Vogue very carefully.

Part of the problem with arguing with her mother was that Belinda Bellecastle was essentially a 17-year-old girl at heart, and would react as emotionally as Emily to any argument. “Fine, be a grump, see if I care,” her mother had finally said. “God forbid someone try to cheer you up.” She stalked off, her stiletto heels and oversized keychain clanking in a stuttering rhythm. The front door, which was solid oak and eight inches thick, was almost impossible to close, much less slam, but she did her best anyway.

Emily had heard the hurt tone in her mother’s voice and felt loathsome. She found a place to hide so that when her mom got home from her errands, Emily could postpone the apology part of the ongoing cycle they were engaged in. This time Emily hid out in the three-car garage, in the oversized backseat of an antique car. The other two slots were empty; her mother would park her spotless Audi convertible on the street until she was home for good, and her father had driven his 1987 Nissan Sentra to work. Besides, the 70-year-old sedan (an anniversary gift from her mom to her dad) was comfortable, with seats as cozy as any couch.

She sat cross-legged and barefoot on the brown leather, looking through a shoebox that was covered with stickers and full of Polaroids she’d taken of the Gang. She had four more similar shoeboxes on the floorboard, but this one had the most recent photos in it. Emily would take up a handful of pictures and slowly look at each one under the garage’s florescent lights, remembering a time that had only recently passed, but seemed impossibly long ago.

Here was a group shot of everyone except Emily (who was taking the picture) and Josephine (who’d melted away at the sight of a camera), hanging out in the Budds’ family room. Lillian and David were about to arm-wrestle, and Andre was pretending to take bets from the rest of The Gang, his glasses pushed up on his forehead.

Here was a close-up of Michael the night the girls had attacked him with their make-up bags, putting on eyeliner and mascara and curling his already-long eyelashes. Litta'Bit had said that it made him so hot that you could only look at him out of the corner of your eye, like a solar eclipse. (Robert, without looking up from the art book he was flipping through with Josephine: “That’s not how you look at a solar eclipse.”)

Here was another group shot—who was taking the picture?—at the Parent-Teacher Easter Brunch that Alexander had organized just two months before. The girls in white, the boys in white and pastel, everyone beautiful on a Saturday afternoon because Alexander hadn’t been able to convince the school to actually have the event on Easter. Josephine and Andre were missing, but Emily couldn’t remember where they’d been. Oh, right: Easter. Duh.

Emily’s cellphone chirped and she gave a little jump. She’d forgotten she’d tucked it into one of her empty shoes. Robert, of all people, had sent her a text message: I’m sorry about the other night.

Emily read the message a few times, then closed the phone. She looked at another picture—a fuzzy blur of a statue in someone’s backyard—but she was only thinking about the message, and what her response would be. She had been inclined to ignore it, but the message was so straightforward and, well, un-Robert-like, that it gave her pause. If he’d written it in his usual constipated prose, something like I regret any hurt feelings my actions may have caused when last we spoke, she probably wouldn’t have replied. He’d been a dick; the least he could do was call her.

But his message touched her slightly. She assumed Litta'Bit or maybe David was behind it, but still. She wrote back It’s OK, Robert.

Here was a candid picture of Josephine sitting by David’s pool, the first swimming day of the year. She was wearing a one-piece burgundy swimsuit with her lean muscled legs dangling in the water. Everyone else was upstairs, making fajitas with David’s dad, who was playing hooky from work. Emily had come back downstairs to get her camera so that she could get a picture of the chaos in the kitchen, but she caught Josephine sitting by herself, her hair tucked behind her ear, staring into the water. There was a leaf in the water, curved like the hull of a boat, and an undetectable spring breeze tried to push it towards the edge. Josephine would occasionally blow until the leaf drifted away, only to be pushed back towards her. When Emily had taken the picture, she expected Josephine to react in horror, but she’d just looked up and ducked her head, smiling shyly. Emily never showed anyone the picture, and Josephine hadn’t asked to see it. Later, Emily rescued the leaf and taped it to the bottom of the Polaroid, where it remained.

The cell phone chirped again. It’s not okay with me. LB is right: I was a jerk and I’m sorry.

Emily chewed her lip for a few minutes, then wrote back: Thank you, Robert. I really appreciate that. This is hard for all of us. She wasn’t happy with the stilted way it sounded, but sincerity was hard to convey when you were typing with your thumbs. Especially when your boyfriend forbade you and your friends to ever use any shorthand when writing text messages.

Here was a shot from one of the twins’ birthday parties. Since Alexander’s birth had taken so long, the twins were actually born a day apart and had different birthdays and, usually, two separate parties. Emily squinted at the picture, which was of everyone’s shoes lined up by the door. The Budds had gotten new carpet put down over the winter, and Anita Monroe-Budd had decided that hers would be one of those houses, where you have to take off your shoes before you come in. As she was leaving to run to the store with Litta'Bit, Emily noticed that their shoes were lined up in order of color, from David’s white leather loafers to Andre’s black Doc Martins. Emily was pretty sure the line of shoes had happened at Lillian’s party, which would have been on a Friday, but she couldn’t remember.

Another text message from Robert: Lunch soon? My treat. Please don’t make me cook.

Emily smiled and started to answer the message when the side door of the garage opened. Her mother came in and walked across the concrete floor, straight towards the car, as though she’d known all along where Emily was. Belinda got in behind the wheel and pretended to start the car up, looking at Emily in the rearview mirror. “Where will it be, bub?” she growled in a gruff voice.


“When you were little, sometimes the only way we could get you to sleep was to take you for a taxi ride. It had to be a taxi, I don’t know why. There was this one driver that Clyde would always beep—do you know what beepers were?—and they’d drive around for hours, whispering about sports. A hundred bucks a pop to get you to sleep. We probably put his kids through college.”

Emily had never heard this story before, actually. She was about to ask her mom about it when Belinda suddenly looked around the car, curiously. Emily had rolled down all the windows, of course, and her mom stuck her hand out of the car as though checking for rain.

“Hey, you know what’s weird? The garage is air-conditioned. Why?”

Emily looked around. “That is weird.”

“It never occurred to me until just now.” Belinda turned around in the front seat and peered over at Emily’s Polaroids. The last time she’d mentioned them, she’d called them ‘Emily’s little pictures,’ causing her daughter to storm off to her cottage. She didn’t say anything at all this time. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning, and I think I know what you need.”

“A manicure?”

Yes. It looks like Franz trims your nails with a weed whacker. But that’s not what I’m talking about.” She narrowed her eyes at her daughter. “You need an adventure.”

“Mom, no…” Emily groaned. Her mother, convinced that Emily was a sullen and uncreative teen, had proposed adventures before. Most of them had been ill-considered at best, like when she’d used peer pressure to convince her to shoplift a candy bar from the local supermarket, only to reveal later that she’d walked out of the store with an entire steak in her Fendi purse. Belinda Bellecastle wasn’t a bad parent, not really, but when she tried to teach her daughter a life lesson she usually got so caught up in the excitement that she forgot what wisdom she was trying to impart long before the “adventure” was over.

“No, hear me out. You’ve been so bummed out because Alexander’s gone, and I don’t blame you, it sucks, but you need to snap out of it. This is your last summer of high school. You should be out getting in trouble and worrying me sick. You need some adventure in your life.”

Emily sighed and continued looking at her pictures. “Mom, you don’t even know anything about it…”

“Fair enough, fair enough. But I know this: you can’t spend the summer out here in the garage. I’m not going to let you. So here’s the deal…I’m not going to tell you what to do, I’m not going to take you on mother-daughter shopping sprees, I’m going to leave you completely alone for one week. A week from today, if you still haven’t gotten your gypsy blood warmed up, then we’ll put our heads together and figure something else out. Deal?”

One year after their wedding, Belinda and Erling had adopted a two-year-old named Emily, who may have been the first toddler whose picture appeared in both Rolling Stone and Fortune. Some adopted kids are incredibly curious about their birth parents, and some couldn’t care less. Emily was mostly the latter.

The family joke for as long as she could remember was that they had bought her from a roving band of gypsies. Whenever she got into trouble as a kid, her parents always blamed it on her gypsy heritage showing through. Emily didn’t actually believe this, of course, but this had been the stand-in answer to the “Where did I come from?” question for so long that it no longer occurred to her that there was another, more real, answer. It wasn’t a lie that was better than the truth; it was a lie that made the truth unnecessary.

“Mom,” Emily said, “you don’t have to threaten to punish me with hanging out with you.”

“You’re seventeen; I can remember what that was like. It was only, what? Twelve years ago.” Belinda put her finger up to her lips and gave an exaggerated wink. “When I was your age I posed in just body paint in an Interview spread and almost got the photographer and editorial board arrested on child porn charges. And all because I didn’t want to go to shopping with your grandma…”

“Did that really happen?”

Belinda’s eyes widened. “I never told you about that? The ACLU got involved, there were free speech protests… it was a hoot! It really put a damper on my relationship with that photographer. I should have told him I was only seventeen, I guess, but those were different times. Oh, that totally reminds me…guess who’s coming to visit?”

When Belinda Bellecastle asked you to guess something, no matter how impossible it would be to actually guess, you were expected to make at least one attempt. It drove Emily crazy, but she was actually enjoying this conversation and didn’t want to ruin it.

“Uncle Francois?” Emily guessed, because he had a history of taking pictures of her mother without her clothes on.

“Oh god, thank you so much for saying that. I have to send his birthday present out tomorrow. Three weeks late is still okay…we can blame it on the merde-y French postal service.” Belinda paused, clearly backtracking the conversation in her head. “Oh, so guess who’s coming to visit…? Uncle Sammy! Isn’t that exciting?”

Neither Uncle Francois nor Uncle Sammy were Emily’s uncle. All of Emily’s “uncles” were actually Bonnie Belle’s former lovers of various degrees. She’d stayed friends with all of them, even after she’d given up on her own adventures and married Erling, and her ex-’s were part of Belinda Bellecastle’s coterie / fan club / extended family even today.

Uncle Francois was a photographer who had become famous shooting candid snapshots of rock musicians. Bonnie Belle knew a lot of musicians, and she had the uncanny ability to show up in the background of many of his published pictures. Eventually she followed him home and stayed around long enough to star in a series of “artistic nudes” (one of which still hung in her dressing room) before drifting back to one of her musicians.

Uncle Sammy was one of her musicians.

Emily smiled for her mother. She liked all her Uncles—and they loved her—but Uncle Sammy had always put her off. “What’s he doing in town?”

“A top secret project, apparently. He’s not talking. Did you know Laura has a new book out?” Laura, Sammy’s wife, was a model turned writer of inspirational books. “Oh, and they’re going to be on Larry King tonight. Set your TiVo.”

“What’s he going to be on Larry King for?” Emily asked, but her mom was looking past her, doing the ‘what were we talking about, again?’ face. It never took more than a couple of seconds—Belinda Bellecastle wasn’t nearly as dumb as she wanted you to think she was—and Emily found as she got older that the split-second gesture, which used to infuriate her, was becoming almost touching.

“Wait. Okay.” Belinda made a stern face at Emily. “One week. I’m serious. If you’re not at least on your way to an adventure by then, I’m taking over.” She brightened up. “Hey, we can get matching tattoos! Something ugly we’ll immediately regret. A daisy on my ankle.”

“Or one of those creepy photorealistic tattoos of Dad and Gormy.”

“Some sort of abstract design on the small of my back,” her mom suggested. “Slightly off-center.”

“Calvin peeing on something we don’t like.”

Belinda pointed at her daughter. “Yeah! Old people!”

“The words Deb Life on our bellies in gothic font.”

Her mom, still smiling, paused slightly. “I don’t get it.”

Emily was about to explain when Robert Johson walked into the garage and looked around, confused, until he finally saw the two women in the car. He was dressed like a newspaper editor from a black & white movie: trousers, matching vest, rolled-up sleeves.

Belinda saw Emily looking past her and turned around. “Oh, look, a hitch-hiker. Should we pick him up?” She took the wheel and pretended to be driving towards Robert. (“I hope he’s not one of those squeegee guys,” she whispered over her shoulder.

“Oh my god, Mom, that is so offensive.”

“What? Why…? Who’s Calvin?”)

Robert, for his part, seemed to understand what they wanted. He stood sideways, facing the side of the car, and shuffled to his right towards them, as though they were pulling up to a stop in front of him.

Belinda was delighted. “Robert’s funny,” she told her daughter, then turned around. “Hey, you’re funny.”

Robert leaned down and looked in the car window, as unsmiling and serious as always. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

“He is funny,” Belinda whispered to her daughter. Emily leaned forward over the seat and smiled at her friend.

“Were you sending me text messages from in front of my house?”

Robert nodded once, one side of his mouth sorta kinda smiling. “I was on your porch, actually. I came by to visit you, but when I knocked no one answered.”

“Yeah, that never works.”

“So I sat on the porch and sent you those text messages and petted your guard dog. He…he has problems, doesn’t he? When I was petting him he kept making this weird noise in his throat.”

Belinda nodded. “Yeah, he was trying to purr. The pet shrink says he must have been raised with a litter of kittens. Hey, you’re making me nervous, get in the car already. But don’t get any funny ideas, mister…you’re getting in the front with your chaperone.”

“Ignore her, Robert.”

But Robert had already walked around the car and was getting in the front seat. “So I sent you those messages but then your security guard came out and tried to run me away.”

Both of the girls laughed at that. “Our what?”

“The security guard? The German guy?”

“I’m so going to tell him you said he was German. That’s just our gardener. He’s Austrian.”

“Well, he was telling me to leave and shaking some kind of tool at me, so I started to get up, but the cook, I think, saw us and brought me inside. She told me you guys were out here for some reason. She also wanted me to tell you that Clyde has a late meeting, so dinner won’t be until eight.”

Belinda sighed. “Oh, let me go call him. We had a deal about late meetings.” For the last few years, she had been trying to convince her 71-year-old husband to go into a semi-retirement that meant only working fifty hours a week. But he loved his work and it kept him young, so she didn’t put her foot down very often. “I’ll see the two of you at dinner.”

Robert quickly glanced down at his watch and flicked his eyes back up. Emily guessed it must have been about three o’clock. “Oh, thank you, Ms. Bellecastle, but I can’t stay that long.”

Emily’s mother shut the heavy door of the car and leaned back in the open window. “Are you a vegetarian, too? I should tell Cindy now if you are. She’ll make you some of what Emily is having.”

“Mom, I’m not a vegetarian! I just don’t eat red meat. It’s gross.”

Ms. Bellecastle winked at Robert before walking off. “She’ll grow out of it.”

When her mom was safely out of earshot, Emily groaned loudly and put her forehead on the back of the front seat. “She’s driving me crazy, Robert.”

Robert shrugged. “I don’t know. I think she’s cute.”

“Of course you do. Everyone loves her. The twins come over just to hang out with her. Her and David gossip on the phone for an hour at a time. But none of you have to live with her.”

Emily still had her head down on the seat, and Robert allowed himself a sly smile. Then he looked around the car, admiring the pristine dashboard and authentic styling. “I didn’t know you guys had a Ford Deluxe Sedan stashed away in here. You should drive this to school instead.”

Emily had straightened up and brushed her bangs from her face. “I like my Mini, thank you.”

“Yeah, but this is a pretty sweet ride. As the kids would say.”

“Yeah, I don’t think the kids would say ‘pretty sweet ride,’ actually.”

Robert opened the glove compartment, which indeed really held a pair of lady’s gloves, and he grimaced approvingly. “What is this, a ’36? Earlier?”

“Robert, do you really think I know the answer to that question?”

He just shrugged again. Emily noticed he was making a big deal of acting casual—he even let out a low whistle when he looked at the odometer—but he clearly wasn’t comfortable with it. It was as though he’d Googled “how to act nonchalant in a car” and written a crib sheet on his palm.

She let him off the hook. “It really is okay, Robert. Everyone was out of their minds that night.”

Robert slowly turned all the way around and held Emily’s gaze for a few heartbeats before nodding gratefully once, closing his eyes on the way down. One thing that was nice about dealing with Robert, Emily knew, was that once you learned how to decipher him, everything was right on the surface. There was no game, no drama involved: he knew he’d messed up, so he’d apologized, and she’d accepted it, and they’d never mention it again.

“Who’s Clyde, anyway?” he asked.

Emily rolled her eyes at him. “Oh my god, I thought everyone knew this. It’s so dumb…it’s my mom’s pet name for my dad, basically. My mom’s nom-de-skank was Bonnie Belle, right? Well, she always hated the name Erling, so when they first started dating she just called him Clyde instead. You know, like Bonnie and Clyde…ha ha. I told you it was dumb.”

“Oh.” Robert jerked and looked around the interior of the antique car, as though he’d suddenly remembered something. “Oh! So the car…”

Please don’t make me explain about the car.”

“No, I get it. A gray 1934 Ford Deluxe Sedan…just like the Bonnie And Clyde death car.” Robert laughed loudly, to Emily’s surprise. “That’s really clever.”

“You think so? Really? They got it last year for their 15th wedding anniversary. They switch off: my dad does even years, my mom does the odd years. So she had Andre’s dad (or maybe just Andre? Are we talking about that?) reserve a theater and, after dinner, they watched the old Bonnie and Clyde movie in a private screening. And then, when they left the theater, someone—I don’t know who—had driven my dad’s car home and replaced it with the Ford.”

“Ah, that’s fantastic.” And already Robert was thinking: how can I do something like that for Litta'Bit? “What did your dad get her?”

“I don’t know. Another island, I guess.” Emily shrugged, then laughed at Robert’s stunned expression. “That was a joke. Hey, since when do you know so much about cars? And criminals?”

“Well, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in Louisiana. Not that far from my family’s summer home, actually. Every couple of years we’ll have a picnic and visit the site. My dad and Miranda are into that kind of thing.”

“But how did you know what kind of car this was?”

“I went through a car phase. Most boys do.” Robert kept his inscrutable mask on, but Emily saw through it.

“Really? Like drawing Corvettes in your Trapper Keeper, stuff like that?”

Robert turned away. “Of course not.”

You did. I didn’t know you went through phases…what phase are you in now? Asian fetish?”

Robert slid behind the steering wheel and studied the dashboard. Emily knew that, despite his outward stoicism, Robert was surprisingly easy to tease. Only after spending years around him did his true nature become apparent to those who knew how to read it. Robert Johnson’s impassive stare may have resembled the statues at Easter Island, but behind it lay the throbbing brain of a stuttering worrywart.

Neither of them talked for a few minutes. Robert inspected the car more closely, and found it comfortingly Proper. Emily looked at a couple more Polaroids.

“Have you seen anyone?” Robert finally asked. “I saw David on Sunday. He’s better, it seems. He molted, or whatever it is he does. And I see Litta'Bit, of course.” But as soon as Robert said it, he realized he hadn’t heard from her all week, not since she’d sent him that random text message on the way home Sunday night. Consider it done. What did that even mean? She probably meant to send it to someone else.

Emily didn’t answer, and Robert turned around. She offered him a Polaroid. “Remember this? When we all wore each other’s clothes?”

Robert looked at her for a second, then took the picture. “Look at this. Hilarious. Lillian looks so funny in Josephine’s clothes.”

“Yeah, but look at Josephine dressed as your girlfriend…”

Robert looked on the back of the picture, then flipped it back over. “Who took this?’

“Andre, remember? Because we all knew he wouldn’t fit in anyone else’s clothes but nobody wanted to say anything, and he finally volunteered to take the picture?”

“Oh yeah.”

“And remember how you threw a fit because you didn’t want you and Michael to wear each other’s clothes?” Emily laughed, but with affection, and even Robert chuckled himself.

“I’d hardly call it throwing a fit…”

Emily picked up another picture and squinted at it. “Oh. Ha…look at this one.”

Robert tried to peer at the blurry silver image but couldn’t make it out. “What is it?”

“It’s the monogrammed bracelets Alexander and Lillian got from their parents this year, on their birthdays. See…you can sort of make out the ALB here. And you’ll have to take my word for it, since this isn’t exactly my best work, but right here is the LAB.”

“No, I can sort of see it.” Robert looked in the shoebox and saw a picture of his girlfriend looking exceedingly odd. “What in the world is going on in that one?”

Emily laughed and held it up for Robert to stare at. Eventually he realized what he was seeing. It was a picture of Litta'Bit doing a handstand, but Emily was holding it upside down, so it looked like she was standing up. It was taken the afternoon before Prom, and Litta'Bit was letting her pedicure dry by standing on her head. Not shown in the picture was later, when Emily and Litta'Bit had to forcibly hold Josephine’s feet down—she claimed she was ticklish—while Lillian quickly daubed nail polish on her squirming toes.

That picture lead to another one, and that one lead to the next one. Before the two teenagers knew it, they had gone through two shoeboxes of pictures, and the garage door was rolling up for Erling Hammarskjöld’s beat-up Sentra. It was ten minutes to eight, almost dark out, and they were starving. Robert stayed for dinner after all.