eady?” Cora asked Juliette.
The girl hoisted her suitcase and gave a wan smile.
Cora gave up. She would have guessed that Juliette would have been delighted to go back to France, but instead the girl had been sullen, even weepy, all week.
“Is there something wrong?” Cora asked. “Something you’re not telling me?”
Juliette shrugged and blinked harder against the tears that seemed always to be lingering in her eyes.
Cora sighed. She’d been so full of doubts leaving Paris and coming here, so wracked by misgivings through all the weeks of dealing with her brother and her father and George and the family business and especially with Juliette herself. But she never expected she’d feel just as conflicted — more conflicted — about going back.
“It’s time,” said Medhi.
Hugo took Juliette’s hand and led her toward the stairs.
“Did you say goodbye to your grandfather?” Cora asked.
Again, the only answer Cora got from her daughter was a shrug, though this time it was more understandable. Cora’s father, Juliette’s grandfather, sat dim-eyed on the sofa beside his girlfriend, Jimmie Sue.
“Goodbye, Pop,” Cora said, crossing the room to kiss her father’s grizzled cheek.
He looked up at her, confused. “Who are you?” he asked, sounding almost frightened.
Would this be the last time she’d see him? At least with Jimmie Sue here, she could be sure that he’d eat and not drink himself to death. But even without the bottle of bourbon each day, some light had gone out behind his eyes.
“Remember what I told you,” Jimmie Sue said.
Jimmie Sue had told Cora not to go. She’d laid out the cards the night before and advised against the trip, against Cora getting back together with Medhi, against taking Juliette across the ocean.
“Your destiny is here,” Jimmie Sue had said, talking about a man in Juliette’s future who could only be George.
But Cora couldn’t let herself make decisions as big as how to raise her daughter and whether to reunite with her husband of 20 years based on what some old cards said, could she? She might be impulsive, she might be ambivalent, but she wasn’t a complete fool.
“I’ll remember,” Cora said, patting Jimmie Sue’s arm. “Thanks for taking care of Pop.”
Where was Jamie? Cora had been shocked to find him cleaning out the cafe and pharmacy, working on putting the place back together. That, more than her father, more than George, had given Cora a pang. Reinventing the MAL would have been her chance to create the restaurant she wanted, to run her own show, rather than being an accessory to Medhi. And she was even excited at the prospect of running it with Jamie, who could be so much fun when he was halfway together, which he seemed miraculously to be now.
He must be down in the MAL. With one last look around the apartment, Cora went downstairs. Medhi, Hugo, Juliette were already in the car, the engine idling. Cora could hear music drifting out from the restaurant. She opened the door. There, dust flying, music blaring, Jamie was sanding a wall to be painted, mask covering his mouth and nose.
“Jamie,” Cora called. And then, more loudly, “Jamie!”
Finally, he looked up, turned down the music.
“We’re leaving,” she said.
He’d refused all week to talk to her about it, had even seemed to be picking fights with her, impatient for her to leave. But now, she saw, he looked utterly crushed.
“All right,” he said. He was blinking hard and she realized, with a start, that he was trying not to cry.
“Oh, Jamie,” she said, beginning to cross the dusty place toward him. “I’m sorry this didn’t work out, Maybe we’ll be….”
“Just go,” he said, turning his back to her and twisting the dial on the radio so that the music drowned out any possibility of a goodbye.
THANKS FOR VISITING HO SPRINGS. SEE Y’ALL IN A WHILE.