“You okay?” Brianna asks. “Like would you be okay if it turned out he really did die?” She is using another face Elkie can’t stand: a deep frown of concern.
Don did not die. Elkie’s conviction has grown in the last two hours. He might be hurt. He might have had an accident, or his wife might have thrown a fit, locked him in the basement. But he wouldn’t go and die on her. Each Sunday they meet at the Radisson, but in between, they text. They have to. She does text Brianna when her appointments are done, but she also texts Don. It’s Don who would check on her if anything went wrong, who would run to the Radisson or the Sheraton or wherever else in his tight jeans, shoulder down the door without caring if the maids or bellhops saw, loom tall over any threat in her hotel room, tell a violent man to hold his horses.
Don can’t just drop dead.
She’s about to explain this to Brianna, but then they hear knocking at the door. The Service Club. The conversation is tabled for later, for a whisper session on the green of the Oval, between classes. Or maybe tonight, after the shuffling noise of Elkie’s mother lifting Elkie’s grandmother into the bedroom. Sometime when they’re alone.
Elkie dreams, except the dream is something that really happened. The one time she and Don spent a whole night together. She had a cold with a sore throat and runny nose, but came to see Don anyway. He took one look at her and said, “Honey, why?” Then he swaddled her in the hotel bed. He had her call her mother to say she was spending the night in Brianna’s dorm.
Her dream flashes forward to last winter break. She spent most of her days holed up in the hotel with Don, who told his wife he had to travel for a work thing. Elkie was studying to place out of 100-level chem and bio. Don would ask her for a definition of Dalton’s Law or a chemical equation for methane, and when she got these wrong, he’d toss all her cards up in the air and tell her to take off her shirt. Sometimes she’d forget an answer on purpose.
They did not mention his wife once, not all week. They did go down to the hotel’s pool, the hot tub, the sauna, where the tan skin of Don’s legs turned a brick red. Where he called her his sweetheart, his darling girl.
Elkie dreams about Don because he’s fun, because she loves him in an uncomplicated way. She doesn’t dream about her mother, because supporting an adult human being is not fun, because it’s not uncomplicated loving someone who can’t bring herself to tell you you’re making way too much money for a barista, dressing way too nice to make coffee. She doesn’t dream about her grandmother, because her grandmother has always been so boring. Ever since Elkie was born, all her grandmother has done is read the newspaper front to back, then a magazine from the supermarket, Time or tawdry celebrity stuff or a specialist publication for builders of model cars, then another, then another. Toward the end of the month, she’d run out and read things over again.
After Elkie’s grandmother stopped speaking English, Elkie’s mother ordered some magazines in German. But Elkie’s grandmother didn’t like these. She summoned the last of her strength to throw them across the room.
איך װעל קײן מאָל ניט לײענען דײַטש
Elkie can’t think about this too hard, about her grandmother stranded in her chair with no reading material. She certainly can’t dream about it; she won’t let herself.