"All right," I said. "I'm officially wary now."
"You might totally hate it," he admitted. "Or not. It might be the answer to all life's questions. That's the beauty of it. You know?"
I looked down at it again, studying the cover. "'Just Listen,'" I said.
"Yeah. Don't think, or judge. Just listen."
"And then what?"
"And then," he said, "you can make up your mind. Fair enough, right?"
This did seem fair to me, in fact. Whether it was a song, a person, or a story, there was a lot you couldn't know from just an excerpt, a glance, or part of a chorus. "Yeah," I said, sliding it back to the bottom the stack. "Okay."
"Grace," my father said, glancing at his watch again. "It's time to go."
"Andrew, I know. I'm almost ready." My mother bustled across the kitchen, picking up her purse and putting it over her shoulder. "Now, Annabel, I'm leaving money for pizza tonight, and tomorrow you girls can make whatever you want. I just went shopping, so there's plenty of food. Okay?" I nodded, as my dad shifted in the doorway. "Now," my mom said, "what did I do with my keys?"
"You don't need your keys," my father told her. "I'm driving."
"And I'm going to be in Charleston all day tomorrow and half of Monday while you're in meetings," she replied, putting her purse down again and starting to dig through it. "I might need to get out of the hotel for a while."
My father, who by my count had already been standing in the open door to the garage for a full twenty minutes, leaned against the doorjamb, exhaling loudly. It was Saturday mom-ing, and my parents were supposed to have left for South Carolina for the long weekend, and some big architecture conference, ages ago. "Then you can use mine," he told her, but she ignored him and began taking stuff out of her purse, laying her wallet, a pack of Kleenex, and her cell phone on the counter. "Grace. Come on." She didn't budge.
When my dad had first proposed this trip, he'd pitched it as a great getaway to one of their very favorite cities. When he was in meetings, she could shop and see the sights, and in the evenings, they'd eat at the best restaurants and enjoy some quality time together. It had sounded great to me, but my mother had hesitated, not sure she wanted to leave me and Whitney alone. Especially since Whitney had been in a worse mood than usual since the week before, when she'd started a new therapy group. Against her wishes. With, in her words, a "freak."
"Whitney, please," my mother had said one night at dinner, when the subject first came up. "Dr. Hammond thinks this group could really help you."
"Dr. Hammond is an idiot," Whitney replied. My father shot her a look, but if she saw this, she ignored it. "I know people who have worked with this woman, Mom. She's a nutcase."
"I find that hard to believe," my dad said.
"Believe it. She's not even a real psychiatrist. A lot of the doctors in my program think she's way out there. Her methods are really unorthodox."
"Unorthodox how?" he asked.
"Dr. Hammond," my mom said, and this time, Whitney rolled her eyes at his name, "says that this woman, Moira Bell, has had great success with many of his patients because she takes a different approach."
"I'm still not getting what's so different about this woman," my dad said.
"She does a lot of hands-on exercises," my mother told him. "It's not just sitting and talking."
"You want an example?" Whitney put down her fork. "Janet, this girl I know from the hospital? When she was in Moira Bell's group, she had to learn how to make fire."
My mother looked confused. "Make fire?"
"Yeah. Moira gave her two sticks, and her assignment was to rub them together until she made fire. Until she could make fire consistently, every time she did it."
"And what, exactly," my dad said, "was the purpose of this exercise?"
Whitney shrugged, picking up her fork again. "Janet said it was supposed to have something to do with being self-sufficient. She also said Moira Bell was crazy."
"That does sound different," my mother said. She looked worried, like she was picturing Whitney burning the entire house down.
"I'm just saying," Whitney said, "that it's going to be a waste of time."
"Give it a try," my dad told her. "Then make up your mind."
Her mind, though, had clearly already been made up, at least judging by how the rest of the night went—all her typical slamming, sighing, and sulking tacked up a notch. The next day, after attending the group as scheduled, she'd come back in one of the worst moods yet. Now, she'd been back twice, and while she hadn't yet burned down the house, my mother was still nervous. I kind of was as well, since I was the one stuck behind with her.
My dad, though, felt it was time to trust Whitney with more responsibility. She'd never be independent if my mother kept hovering, he said, and they'd only be gone for two days. He'd even called Dr. Hammond, who signed off on the arrangement. Still, my mother wasn't convinced, which was why she was stalling now, going through her purse contents yet again as my father glanced at his watch.
"I just don't understand," she said, opening the purse wider. "I had them last night, and I can't imagine where they've gotten to…"
Just then, I heard the front door shut. A moment later, Whitney came around the corner, wearing yoga pants, a T-shirt, and sneakers, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. In one hand, she was carrying a bag from Home & Garden. In the other, my mother's keys.
"Ah," my father said, walking over to my mom. "Mystery solved." He picked up the purse, pushing everything on the counter back into it. "Let's go. Before we lose anything else."
They went, finally, and I watched from the kitchen table as they backed up the driveway. The last glimpse I got of my mom, she was turning her head to look back at the house as they drove away.
Once they were gone, I pushed out my chair, standing up, then looked over Whitney, who was messing with whatever she'd bought at Home & Garden, her brow furrowed as she studied the bag's contents. "Well," I said. "I guess it's just the two of us."
"What?" she said, not looking up at me.
All around me, the house felt empty. Quiet. It was going to be a long weekend. "Nothing," I told her. "Never mind."
Luckily, I had other things to do besides be ignored by my sister. Well, one thing.