Pella leaned closer to the bureau mirror, planting her elbows as she forced a silver earring—bought by her dad this afternoon—through the thin slit where her piercing used to be. She hadn’t bothered to wear earrings in many months or to bring any with her from San Francisco. A minim of bright blood cradled the edge of the slit and then subsided. She felt almost lovely, in her new lilac-colored dress, which was scoop-necked and sleeveless, and hung very simply and straight. She’d been admiring it this afternoon, at a little shop in Door County; her dad offered to pay for it, a sweet gesture marred only by the shame Pella felt at her own utter lack of resources. She needed to figure out how to fend for herself. Still, she felt pretty good. The eggplant bags beneath her eyes were shrinking. Her hair shone in the lamplight and, freshly washed, felt soft against her neck.
Her father’s face appeared beside hers in the mirror, as if they were posing for a family portrait, except that the elder Affenlight looked distinctly agitated. “Is this tie okay?” he asked, fiddling with the flat taper of his half Windsor. The familiar burnt apple butter scent of his cologne filled the room.
“Sure,” Pella said. “All of your ties are nice.”
Affenlight frowned and continued improving the already perfect knot. “But maybe I have a nicer one. Look”—he lifted the tie with a spindled finger so its silver-and-burgundy stripes hung beside his face—“see how the color brings out these capillaries in my cheeks? I look like a washed-up alcoholic.”
“Oh, you do not.” Pella forced the second post through and turned to eye her dad directly. “You have the skin of a ten-year-old. Not to mention the brain. Since when are you quite this vain?”
Affenlight pretended to pout. “I’m an emissary of the college. It’s my duty to make a good impression on the tuition-paying parents.”
“Mm-hm. Single female parents in particular.”
Before he could respond, his phone trilled. He pulled it from his pocket and two-stepped into the hallway. “Genevieve, hello!”
Pella went back to the mirror. David would return from Seattle tonight. How long would it take him to figure out where she was? Not long—she had no friends, no other relatives, just these two looming figures, her dad and David, to bounce between. David’s first impulse would be to think that she had run off with someone her own age, just as he’d always believed she would do, and he’d ransack the loft for clues. But there were no clues. When he picked up the phone to find her, there would be only one number to dial.
She could hear her dad on the phone in the hall, bantering. Ten to one when this Genevieve showed up she’d be a lot hotter than your average mom of a twenty-one-year-old. Pella wasn’t sure why she had to be dragged along on what seemed like a double date, but she wanted to indulge her dad, to prove that they could be friends again. Plus, of course, he’d bought her this dress.
Affenlight, looking more agitated than ever, poked his silver-gray head around the jamb of Pella’s door. “Change of plans!” he said. “Make drinks!” The head vanished.
The head reappeared. “Drinks!” it added.
Pella smoothed her dress, allowed herself one last approving glance in the mirror, and went to the study to pour two scotches, one with ice and one without. She delivered the former to the kitchen, where her father was dicing chives with manic staccato knife strokes. “What’s going on?” she asked. “When did you change your tie?”
Affenlight looked down at his baby-blue tie. “You don’t like it?” he said with childlike disappointment.
“I like it,” Pella said. “But I think you’re very strange.”
Affenlight nodded distractedly and resumed hacking at the chives with one hand. Meanwhile he grabbed his scotch with the other and belted back two-thirds of what had been a very full tumbler. A bright matrix of pinpricked sweat stood out against his flushed mahogany forehead. “What’s going on?” Pella asked.
“Owen’s won the Trowell.”
“The Trowell. It’s a fellowship. He’ll be studying in Tokyo next year.”
“Well, that sounds good. Right?”
“Fantastic.” Affenlight grabbed a tomato from the wooden bowl beside the sink and halved it with a powerful thwack. “Many of our students have applied,” he said as he speedily minced the tomato to a pulp, “but none have won. It’s a very prestigious fellowship. Imagine—Owen gone to Tokyo!”
“What are you making, there?” Pella gestured toward the red puree blooming across the cutting board.
“I thought we were going out to dinner.”
“Owen’s not up to it. Poor fellow, he’s been through a lot these past few days. Genevieve thought a restaurant might be too hectic for him. She suggested she and I have dinner, just the two of us, but I thought that wouldn’t be fitting, seeing as how we have Owen’s news to celebrate. So I invited them here.”
“For hors d’oeuvres.”
“Right.” Affenlight drained his drink and sank down on one of the stools that flanked the little kitchen’s butcher-block island. He gazed around the room with plangent, uncomprehending eyes. He looked, for a moment, wildly old—a decade older than his literal age, two decades older than his usual self. “Tokyo,” he murmured. Pella took the knife from his hand and laid it on the counter. She peeked into the refrigerator: limes, butter, and pert white bags of coffee beans. “I’ll walk over to the dining hall,” she said. “Maybe they can whip us up something.”