Life and Other Inconveniences Page 2



My reflection in the glass showed me for what I was—not a discerning consumer, not a fashionable woman, just an ordinary-looking person with her dark blond hair pinned up in a graceless bun, wearing dark pants and a dark shirt, both polyester. This morning, I thought I looked nice. Crisp. Professional.

Right now, I looked droopy, hot and . . . scared.

This was not how Genevieve would’ve crafted me.

For years, I’d done a bang-up job of forgetting that Genevieve London was my grandmother and had raised me from the age of eight to eighteen. It was easy, considering we hadn’t spoken for seventeen years.

Riley would see this, of course. She knew her great-grandmother was that Genevieve London, though they’d never met. Some of her friends had Genevieve London purses and shoes. The arrival of one of her shops in Chicago would not be good news. Riley, being sixteen, was bound to have strong feelings about this one way or another. Bad feelings, probably, given the black rain cloud she’d been living under for the past few months.

Coming soon.

At least I’d had this warning. God! Imagine walking past this store’s grand opening and seeing the Gorgon after all these years. I could use the drive home today to figure out what to say to Riley and how to head off any expectations she might have . . . like the idea that Genevieve might want to see us.

Riley’s friends hung out on Michigan Avenue all the time, now that they were sixteen, and someone was bound to see the store and tell her . . . and Riley was sure to tell them she was Genevieve’s great-granddaughter. Would her friends even believe her? Genevieve London was an international brand. Riley and Pop and I . . . we were just regular folks.

I hurried up, walking briskly to my car, sweat streaming down my back. I’d dressed up today to look the part, but I regretted it now. My left heel was rubbing in the unfamiliar pump.

All these years without a Genevieve London boutique in Chicago. Sure, Genevieve’s stuff was in all the high-end department stores, but a dedicated store . . . ugh. I’d been naive enough to imagine she’d stayed out of Chicago because she knew we were here. But no. Her empire was expanding still.

I didn’t want to assume this would bother Riley . . . and I didn’t want to assume that it wouldn’t. I didn’t want her to think I was upset. I didn’t want her to feel rejected, and I didn’t want her to get her hopes up, and I didn’t want her to sublimate any of those feelings if she had them, and I didn’t want her to feel she couldn’t tell me about them if she had them, and I didn’t want her to feel that she had to tell me about them if she didn’t want to.

Being a single mother and a therapist was very complicated.

A few years ago, I’d told Riley the facts: Genevieve London of the adorable purses was my grandmother, and I’d lived with her for ten years after my mother died because my father couldn’t take care of me. I explained that Genevieve wasn’t the nicest person, so we didn’t talk anymore. Since my father never came to visit, it was easy not to say anything more about the London side of the family.

I only told Riley because my grandfather (on my mother’s side, clearly) had recommended it, and Pop was seldom wrong. Can’t hide the truth forever, he said. I’d answered that I didn’t want to hide it as much as ignore it, which he said was the same thing.

To the best of my knowledge, Riley didn’t tell her friends about her link to Genevieve; the girls never mentioned it or asked me questions when they came over, the same three girls Riley had been friends with for ages.

But sixteen was the age when you tried to impress your friends, after all, and how many girls had great-grandmothers who designed handbags owned by Adele, the First Lady and Oprah, or had a two-page ad spread in the spring edition of Vogue? I pictured Riley and her friends going into the store, a snooty manager giving my precious daughter a cool once-over before cutting her down with a razor-sharp comment. Because if I knew my grandmother, she’d have instructed her manager to do just that. She would’ve written it herself and told her staff to practice it. “Ms. London doesn’t have a great-granddaughter,” the manager might say. “Is there something I can show you?”

My grandmother had eviscerated me; I didn’t want her near my child.

Traffic on 290 West made the trip home longer, and the midwestern heat pulsed down through the windshield, daring my Honda’s AC to keep up. By the time I pulled up to Pop’s humble house in Downers Grove, my skin felt hot and tight, and the rearview mirror showed my blond hair flattened by heat, a clenched jaw, red cheeks, and worry making my brown eyes look too wide. Overall, a little on the crazy side.

I took a deep breath. “Hi, honey,” I said, practicing. Smiled. “Hey, baby. No, not baby. Hey, sweetheart, how are you? Did you have a good day?”

My grandfather wasn’t home; though he’d retired last year from his job as an elevator mechanic, he still did electrical work on the side. My other grandmother—the nice one—had died when I was seventeen, just a year and change before I came out to live with Pop.

Riley’s shoes, the kelly-green Converse high-tops, were in the middle of the living room, and there was a glass next to the sink that hadn’t been there this morning when I left for the city. “Hi, honey!” I called. “I’m home!”

No answer. I listened and heard nothing but quiet.

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