"Congrats, Mom," he said to her and pecked her on the cheek. There was a bit of a bristle to his chin. "This has been a long time coming."
He was beaming at her, though he barely knew Tom. A handful of hellos at the door, that was all. They celebrated with cookies and cider. She filled the glasses, passed the plate, but still she was somewhere apart from her body, and this moment was somehow apart from the rest of her life. Again and again she felt they were practicing, all three of them, and each time she smiled at Tom or Peter, she felt they were acknowledging that, too.
She walked Tom out to his car. She hoped that this would serve as their date, that she could have the rest of the evening to herself to finish her work. But he hugged her again and said he'd pick her up at seven.
He got into his car, then leapt out. "I almost forgot." He reached into the backseat. "A little engagement present."
It was a blue box with his insignia on it, Belou Clothiers. He had been that certain she'd say yes.
"When I was a very little boy," he said, leaning against the car and pulling her toward him in a gesture of familiarity that was probably familiar only to his wife in the grave, "my grandfather made a dress for a customer, a very simple dress. A few weeks later a friend of hers came in the shop and ordered the exact same dress. She said her friend had told her it was a magic dress. After that he got another request, and another. My grandfather must have made twenty-five of those dresses. I forgot all about them and then when I saw you I remembered. I remembered the dress exactly, right down to the pearl buttons. I don't know why."
She lifted off the top. It was yellow, a color she never wore. She was relieved that it was a summer dress with tiny capped sleeves: it would be at least eight months before she'd be expected to wear it.
"It's lovely," she said, holding it up to herself. Dear God, what had she done?
"It's magic." He kissed her again. The kisses were different nowfirmer, possessive.
Tom the Tailor made me a dress, she imagined telling Carol, though she knew she wouldn't.
She watched his car turn off her gravel road and onto the paved school avenue, which carried him past the mansion and all its new limbs, then the tennis bubble, then the hockey rink, in a long arc before finally setting him back on the main road. She would have to leave this campus, this haven of fifteen years, if she actually married him.
"Aren't you freezing?" Peter called to her from the front door. There was a thrill, a wildness, in his voice she'd never heard before. She opened the trunk of her car and tossed the box in. What's in the box, he'd ask when she got a little closer. He was going to have so many questions this afternoon. She stopped on the path to the house and lit a cigarette to buy herself some more time.
From The English Teacher by Lily King. Copyright Lily King 2005. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press.
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