I WAS STILL feeling no pain as I got home. There were streamers and a hallway full of balloons. An extra-large Carvel sheet cake was defrosting in the fridge. Seamus, master of ceremonies for MC’s surprise bash, held court in the kitchen, directing the decorating and food prep.
“But, Grandpa, if this is a party, who’s going to DJ?” Shawna said.
“Who do you think?” Seamus said, offended. “Sister Sheilah doesn’t call me ‘Father Two Turntables and a Microphone’ for nothing, you know.”
“What about the clown, Grandpa?” Chrissy, our baby, wanted to know. “And I don’t see any balloon animals.”
“It’s on the list, child. Please, have ye no faith?” Seamus said, lifting his clipboard. “Now, Julia. How close are we with the pigs in a blanket?”
When everything was ready, I called upstairs to Mary Catherine’s cell phone.
“Mary, I just got a call into work, and Seamus is nowhere to be found. Could you come down for emergency babysitting?”
“Give me five minutes, Mike,” she said sadly.
She was there in three.
“Hello?” Mary Catherine said as she stepped slowly into the darkened apartment.
I hit the lights.
“Surprise!” we yelled.
Mary Catherine started crying as all the kids lined up and handed her their gifts with a hug. There were a lot of Starbucks cards and World’s Best Teacher mugs. When Hallmark starts its World’s Best Nanny line, we’ll be the first customers. I thought MC was going to need resuscitation when Chrissy handed over her present: a homemade salt-dough doll of Chrissy herself.
“How old are you now?” I said when I caught Mary alone in the kitchen.
“That’s a rude question to ask a lady,” Mary Catherine said.
“Nineteen?” I guessed. “No, wait. Twenty-two?”
“I’m thirty, Mike. So there. Are you happy?”
I was genuinely surprised. MC looked like a college kid. So that explained it, her nuttiness. Turning thirty. Women didn’t like that or something, right?
“Well, at least you’re calling me Mike again instead of Mr. Bennett. I must have done something right. Saints preserve us.”
I produced the gift I had gotten on the way home from Emily’s hotel. Striemer Jewelers on 47th was actually closed when I arrived, but the owner, Marvin, who was working late, owed me a favor.
“If this is about our, eh, collision, all is forgiven, Mike,” she said, staring at the small box. “I’ve already forgotten it.”
She did. Inside was an amethyst pendant on a white gold chain, her birthstone.
“But,” she said. “This is… How can we…”
“You tell me,” I said into her ear as I put the necklace on her. “I don’t know a damn thing about anything.”
An aching expression of sadness was in Mary Catherine’s face as her eyes went from the sparkling pendant to me.
“We’ll talk after all that champagne wears off, Mike,” she said as she started to leave. I tried to grab her arm on the way out, but I missed, and she was gone. Second time tonight, I thought. Way to go, Mr. Smooth.
“Check me out!” Seamus yelled from the living room. I lifted my cake as the sound of an electric guitar started up. What now?
Seamus was standing in front of the TV. In his hands was the plastic guitar from the kids’ Guitar Hero game. His eyes were closed, and he was biting his lip as he wailed the “Welcome to the Jungle” solo. I don’t know what was louder, his Slash impression, the kids’ shrieks of laughter, or my own.
“Well, what do you know?” I said, gleefully atomic-dropping down onto the couch in the middle of my guys for a front-row seat. “The clown showed up to the party after all.”