Happy Fourth of July!

Bittersweet Homecoming


I smile when I push the door open and hear the tiny bell jingle above my head. Simply by walking into my dad’s store, my senses are assaulted with memories. Part hardware store, part service center, the shelves of the small shop are stacked with basic tools and home improvement accessories. Emily and I had once played Supermarket Sweep with my dad’s inventory; we’d spent the good part of a week putting everything we’d dumped into our shopping carts back on the shelves.

Grand Marais is too small and too remote to ever attract a big chain store that could put my dad out of business, but even if people do the bulk of their shopping in distant Duluth, they still require my dad’s expertise whenever something breaks. He does it all—plumbing, electrical, construction, even fixing the small motors on things like lawnmowers, weed whackers, and the occasional snow blower.

 My dad’s just coming out of the back room that serves as his office when I enter.

“Hey, Dad.”

He wipes greasy hands, heavily calloused but with no signs of arthritis, on an already dirty rag. “Hey, kid. You come down for the parade?”

“They still do that?”

“Like clockwork.”

“So why are you open? It’s the Fourth of July.”

“Just working on a project for Emma Bernstein. You remember her, right?”

“Works at the bank?”

I pause and reflect on what I’ve just said. It’s strange being from such a small town. Nothing gets a proper noun name except for a few restaurants and hotels—the only businesses we have more than one of.

“Why don’t you grab a Popsicle from the freezer, and I’ll meet you out there?” my dad suggests.

In addition to hammers and nails, he also stocks a few candy bars and summer treats. In the winter months he uses the giant icebox to store hunks of venison, purchased from local hunters. My California friends would probably be horrified to know he stores deer meat next to the popsicles and ice cream drumsticks. I grab a green Popsicle—sure to turn my tongue an interesting color—from the freezer and go outside.

I sit down on the curb in front of my dad’s store and wait for the parade to start. The sidewalks are crowded with similarly minded people sitting on coolers and lawn chairs. The tornado whistle goes off, indicating the parade is about to begin. With so much water surrounding the town, tornadoes are rare. The warning siren is only ever used to announce the beginning of town-wide events like the Fourth of July parade or to proclaim that it’s noon on a Sunday.

Kids cover their ears when the slow rolling police, ambulance, and fire trucks blast their sirens. The volunteer firefighters are dressed like clowns. Local politicians up for re-election in the coming months toss candy from floats, and gangs of children run into the street to claim the Tootsie Rolls and Blow Pops.

My dad makes a noise as he eases himself down to sit beside me on the curb. “Where’s your sister?” he grunts.

“At the house.” I pull my legs up and rest my chin on my bare knees. I had knocked a few times on her bedroom door before heading out, but she’d only yelled at me to leave her alone.

He stares straight ahead. “This used to be her favorite holiday.”

I pat his knee. “It still could be.”

+ + +

“Time to get up,” I crow.

Emily pulls the quilt over her head in response.

I tug at the bottom of the handmade cover, but she holds fast to her end. “Come on, Em!” I practically whine. “You have to come with me to the Firemen’s Picnic.”

“Why?” Her voice is muffled by the comforter over her head.

“Because it’s tradition!” I exclaim. “You already missed the parade, but there’s still time to catch the potato sack and the three-legged races.”

“You should go without me.”

“But, Em,” I pout, “I want to go with my sister. I haven’t been to the picnic in like twenty years.” It hasn’t been that long, but it might as well have.

This time when I pull on the blanket, she doesn’t immediately tug it back over her head and hide. Her face is red and sweaty, and her hair is slightly out of control. “Everyone’s going to look at me.”

“Let them. You’ve gotta get outside. You’ve gotta spend some time with the living.” As soon as I say the L-word I know I’ve made a mistake. Emily’s eyes water up, and I’m sure I’ve just set her back a few weeks.

“Does the volunteer fire department still host the picnic?” I ask, trying to change the subject.

She nods, and I can hear the affirming words get caught in the back of her throat.

“Hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches?”

She nods again. “And orange drink,” she manages to choke out.

“The most watered-down orange drink in the state,” I say. I can practically taste the powdered drink mix on my tongue. “See? Now you have to come with. You need your annual dosage of orange drink. It’s good for the soul. Keeps you young.”

She manages a watery smile. Victory is within my reach.

I grab her hand. Her skin is cold to the touch, and I intertwine my warmer fingers with her icy digits. “C’mon, Em,” I coax. “Come just for a little bit.”

She exhales noisily through her nose. It rattles, and I’m on the lookout for tissues. “Okay.”

+ + +

Like much of my hometown, the city park looks untouched by time. There’s a new jungle-gym in the center of the playground, brightly painted in red and blue and surrounded by shredded tires so if kids fall while playing, they’ll bounce. The old classics are still there though—the wooden see-saw, the deathtrap merry-go-round, the hanging tire swing on a rusted chain. I feel the need to get a tetanus booster shot just looking at them.

In an empty green space no bigger than a football field, the kids’ foot races are being held. From where we stand I can hear the supportive cheers coming from the surrounding crowd. I competed in those foot races every summer growing up, but always came in fourth place, trailing behind the more popular girls, never placing high enough to have my name printed in the newspaper.

A sizeable line has formed near the cluster of grills as people queue up to get their complimentary Fourth of July hot dog. I can sense Emily’s discomfort; if we stand in that line she’ll be surrounded by sympathetic glances without any place to hide.

“Want to go sit over there until the line gets shorter?” I ask, pointing to a vacant wooden bench. Emily nods, looking visibly relieved.

There are far fewer people in this section of the park. Most people are either at the kids’ races or waiting for a hot dog.

“Not so bad, right?”

Emily makes a noncommittal noise beside me. She’s always had a hard time admitting when I’m right. I’m sure it’s a sister thing.

I close my eyes behind the tinted lenses of my sunglasses. It’s a beautiful day, but with my sister sitting beside me, still perceptively sniffling, I feel guilty for enjoying the sun on my skin. It never really gets above the mid-70’s around here, which is something I do miss about my hometown. LA is too hot for me. LA is too much of just about everything for me.

“Amelia, not so high.”

I open my eyes at the sound of a vaguely familiar voice.

A little blonde cherub, pale skin despite the summer season, and a pile of curls on top of her head, scrambles down a giant wooden playground structure. I remember playing on it myself in my youth. It looks like a giant ladder made out of telephone poles.

“Is this okay?” the little girl asks. She looks around five or six years old, but I can’t be sure. I know very little about kids. Her hair is an ephemeral swirl of light blonde hair. It’s wild and unruly, like a delicate puff of cotton candy, or like a mound of soap bubbles that might scatter with one stiff breeze.

The woman from the bar, Charlotte, shields her eyes from the sun with her hands. “Much better,” she approves.

I can’t help but stare at her in profile. She’s even more beautiful beneath the high afternoon sun. She splits her attention between the paperback on her lap and the jungle gym. Long, thick eyelashes curl up when she checks on the young girl. She’s wearing a sleeveless sundress and strappy sandals. It’s a little dressed up for a day at the city park, but she looks great. The skirt hits just above her knee, revealing tan, toned calves. The top of the dress dips low enough to show off that defined collarbone I’d been privately admiring when she first waited on me, but it’s modest enough to not show off cleavage. The shoulder straps of her sundress sink seamlessly into round shoulders. Her arms are what really draw my attention—long and lean with definition in her triceps.

“Hey, Em?”

My sister makes a humming noise beside me. “Yeah?”

“Do you remember Charlotte Johansson?” Her last name suddenly comes to me.

“Uh huh. We graduated together. She’s still around town, I think.”

“Yeah, I saw her working at Roundtree’s the other day.”

“What about her?”

“Who’s that kid with her?” I nod my head in their direction as unobtrusively as possible.

“I think it’s hers.”

“Really? Is she married?”

“I don’t think she and the kid’s father ever got married. I hear he was a real asshole to her.”

“You hear a lot of things, don’t you?”

She shrugs, nonplussed. “It’s a small town. People like to talk. You know how it is.”

I nod. People certainly do like to talk. It’s one of the major reasons I had to get out of this place. Being gay in a small town is front-page news. I’m just lucky that I didn’t figure it out until I was away at college so I didn’t have to face these people every day.

“Why do you ask?” Emily questions.

“Asking for a friend.” I’m well aware of how distracted my voice sounds. You can’t blame me though—the woman’s got killer legs that I hadn’t seen before because they’d been hidden behind the bar.

“How’s Kambria?”

The mention of my girlfriend’s name is what’s able to pull my attention away from Charlotte Johansson’s legs. My sister looks at me with what I can only describe as a smug smile on her face. I know she’s judging me and my wandering eyes, but I’ll take the smugness from her any day; it’s the first time I’ve seen anything remotely resembling a smile on her face since I got to town.

“You’re horrible,” Emily scolds me. “As a feminist, shouldn’t you be above ogling?”

I return my gaze to the leggy blonde. “What can I tell you? I’m a bad feminist.”

“How’s your writing going?” Emily asks.

“Slow. But that’s the glamorous lifestyle I chose for myself.”

Emily’s always been supportive of my creative goals and my passion for writing for the stage, but I know she’s never quite approved of it being my sole income. It’s too risky, too unconventional of a profession for her. But even I had worried about that; could I continue to be prolific and productive for the rest of my working life?

“Ever think you’ll write for TV or maybe write a movie screenplay?”

“I’d never say never, but so far writing for the stage has been good to me.”

“Why do you live in LA?” she asks me.

“What do you mean?”

“LA and television; LA and movies, sure. But I don’t see the connection between Los Angeles and plays. Shouldn’t you be in New York?”

“I have no aspirations to write a Broadway play if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“Why not?” she presses. “Don’t you want more?”

“More what? Money?” I shake my head. “I like my life. More money or fame or whatever isn’t going to make me happier.”

“But I still don’t get it. Why LA?”

“I like the weather,” I quickly dismiss. “Are you hungry?”

She sighs quietly. “Not really.”

“I’m sure there’s a hot dog-shaped space in your stomach.” I pat her leg before I stand up. “I’ll be right back.”

The scent of charcoal is heavy in the air. I juggle two hot dogs and their condiments in one hand and two small Dixie cups filled with orange drink in the other.

“You need some help with that?” I hear someone ask.

“No, thanks. I’ve got it.”

I’m admittedly not watching where I’m going; I’m too focused on not dropping the orange drink, which is exactly what I do. One of the wax Dixie cups slips from my grip and hits the grass. The liquid splashes on the ground and some clings to my bare ankles.

“I guess I don’t have it.” I look up from the spilled cup to see Charlotte Johansson smiling at me.


“Oh, uh, hi.”

“Charlotte,” she says. “From the bar the other day?”

I nod vigorously. “I remember.” As if I could have forgotten.

“Just making sure,” she smiles affably. She bends to retrieve the disposable cup and tosses it into a nearby garbage can. “People tell me I look different when I’m not covered in fryer grease and Jack Daniels.”

“I recognize you,” I say. “I mean, you look cleaner and less sweaty, but still the same.”

Her mouth twitches and her nose crinkles. “Didn’t you tell me you’re a writer?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Shouldn’t you—I don’t know—be better with words?”

“Oh,” I exclaim in understanding, “I’ve always been good with a pen and paper, but not so much with my mouth.” I grimace as soon as the words hit my ears. “That came out all wrong.”

“When’s the last time you came to one of these?” Her question is meant to save me from my awkward response, and for that I like her just a little bit more.

“The firemen’s picnic?” I breathe out. “God, it’s been years. At least a decade, probably longer.”

“I bet it’s exactly as you remember it,” she muses.

I nod in agreement. “Everyone’s hair looks more grey, wrinkles more pronounced, but other than that everything looks the same.”

She flips her long hair over one bronzed shoulder. “God, I hope you haven’t lumped me into that category,” she laughs.

“Oh! No, you look great,” I insist.

“Yeah,” she slyly grins, “maybe you should stick to pen and paper.”

She eats the rest of her hot dog in small, precise bites, and throws away the paper coffee filter that had been wrapped around the bun. I don’t want her to catch me staring, so I stare into the bottom of my orange drink instead. There’s a black speck floating in the watered-down mixture, and I can’t tell if it’s dirt or a bug. Either way, I’m done drinking it.

“Tut, tut.” Charlotte looks towards the sky. “Looks like rain.”

I hold my arm out, palm up, as the first few sprinkles hit my skin. The gentle patter exponentially worsens, forcing the picnickers to run for shelter. Charlotte grabs my hand and tugs me towards the closest covered patio. It’s a cement slab that serves as a platform for wooden picnic tables. Everyone else has the same idea until we’re all squished together beneath the open-air canopy. I can still feel a few stray raindrops through the cracks in the shelter’s roof, but it’s better than standing in the pouring rain.

The rain doesn’t seem to bother the children, however. If anything, it’s re-energized them. While we adults are crammed beneath the roofed shelter, the party continues for them beyond the shelter’s reach.

Charlotte still holds my hand even after we’ve reached the shelter. She feels solid and warm despite how the unforeseen rain has lowered the air temperature. I had expected her hands to be rough—calloused from opening so many beer bottles—but they’re soft and smooth like I imagine the rest of her being.

She drops my hand and laughs. “Sorry. Mom instincts,” she explains.

I’m too stunned to do anything but smile in return.

Fingers that had grasped my hand so tightly now rake through slightly damp hair. When I’d seen her at the bar, her hair had been up in a loose bun, messy but attractive in an effortless kind of way. Now that her hair is damp, it’s begun to curl at her temples from the humidity.

“So much for that blow out,” she complains.

“You still look great,” I vocalize. She’s more than great; she’s breathtaking. The rain has caused her clothes to cling to her figure a little more.

Her fingers stop their futile task and her hands fall to her sides. “Thanks.”

A shrill, high-pitched shriek snaps my attention away from the lovely bartender. Children run in zigzagging patterns around the city park with their arms stretched out as if they might sprout wings and take flight. I watch Charlotte’s daughter stomp barefoot in pools of standing water.

“Do you remember ever being like that?” Charlotte speaks beside me.

“It feels like a million years ago,” I admit. “Was it supposed to rain today?”

“I’m a bartender; not the local weather girl.”

I tentatively stretch my foot beyond the protective covering. The light rain is cool on my sun-baked toes. I wiggle painted toenails and watch the water bead up on my skin.

Before I can step out fully into the rain, Charlotte is speaking again: “I’d better grab my kid and bring her home to dry out. Amelia,” she calls out sharply. “Time to go.”

I expect her daughter to put up a fight, but after one more good stomp that produces an impressive splash, she’s chasing after her mom, darting between raindrops to reach their parked car. They join hands, and I hear the joyful, high-pitched shrieks and yelps.

“Are you done being a bad feminist?” Emily, looking slightly damper than the last time I saw her, is suddenly at my side.

“Where have you been?” I ask, ignoring her question.

“Taking shelter like everyone else. You and Charlotte Johansson looked cozy,” she coyly observes.

“We were talking about the weather,” I insist.

“You owe me a hot dog.”

+ + +

I had been hopeful that maybe Emily was starting to come out of her deep depression, but as soon as we return to my dad’s house after the picnic, she retreats back to her bedroom. Lying on my bed in my room across the hallway, I can hear the floor creak and groan with my sister’s periodic footsteps, but beyond her haunted gait, the house is silent. There’s nothing on TV and there’s no wireless Internet. There’s a computer downstairs in the den with dial-up Internet, but I no longer possess the patience for the slow-crawl of buffering Internet connections.

My cell phone rotates between no service and limited bars of reception. Kambria and I haven’t spoken since I left Los Angeles. I sent her a text when my plane landed in Minneapolis and when I’d arrived in Grand Marais. She’s sent a few texts of her own, but neither of us has attempted to actually call each other. It’s the first time we’ve been in different area codes since we met.

With the time difference, it’s still early in California. Even though it’s a holiday, Kambria should just be getting off of work and probably getting ready to go out. She’s an administrative assistant by day, but at night the skirt gets shorter and the makeup more dramatic. Everyone has more than one career in Hollywood. Most people I meet are some combination of waitress/model/aspiring celebrity.

During a longer stretch of connectivity, I call her number, and on the third ring, she picks up.


“Kami?” There’s unexpected loud music playing in the background, and I can’t tell if it’s even her voice because of all the noise.

“Hey, babe,” she greets affably. “How is everything?”

I sigh heavily into the phone. “A mess. My sister is a wreck, not that I blame her. I managed to get her to leave the house today for the first time since the funeral though, so I guess that’s a good sign.”

“Abs, I can’t really hear you.”

I stick a finger to the ear not pressed against my phone. “Can’t you go someplace where it’s not so loud?” I’m having a hard time hearing her, too, even though it’s silent in my bedroom.

“I’m out with some people from work. I don’t want to be rude.”

Well, you’re being rude to me. I swallow down my annoyance.

“I’m sorry, Abs. I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

We hang up, and I toss my phone on my bed. Instead of her voice calming me or reassuring me that everything is going to be okay, it’s only succeeded in aggravating me.

My relationship with Kambria isn’t much different than those I’ve been in before, and I can almost predict what’s going to happen next. Everything burns fast and hot in the beginning, but once the gestalt has worn off and someone inevitably gets bored, the relationship comes to a crash-and-burn finale. This is probably the beginning of the end.

I snap my eyes towards my bedroom door when I hear the knock. “What?” I say with probably too much heat.

My dad pokes his salt-and-peppered head inside. “I’m going down to the fireworks,” he says almost apologetically. “You want to come?”

I don’t feel like being social, but any excuse to get out of this house is welcomed.

I take a long, calming breath. “Yeah.”

+ + + 

With the town boundaries hugging Lake Superior, there are few spots where you can’t see the Fourth of July fireworks. The most popular place for viewing the fireworks has always been a grass-covered bluff a few hundred yards from the shoreline. It’s probably the highest point in town and therefore the best spot from which to watch the fireworks. Normally the hill is overrun with wild flowers and weeds, but the city mows the lot in the last days of June in preparation of the holiday.

By the time my dad and I show up that evening in the moments before dusk, the hilltop is crawling with families. People have already staked their claim across the grassy hill with folding chairs and blankets. Children run around with sparklers that shower bright gold flecks. A few of the older kids have roman candles that they point and shoot into the sky.

I stay close to my dad as we make our way through the concentrated crowds. He stops every few feet to talk to someone he knows, and I linger in the background, smiling and silent. Small talk with people who’ve known me all my life makes me even more anxious than Hollywood parties. Regardless of my other accomplishments, without a diamond ring on my finger or a wallet full of pictures of my kids, I’ll never feel like a real adult in this city.

“I’ve got to talk to Fred Patterson about a job,” my dad says. “Why don’t you scope out a place for us to sit?”

I nod, thankful for the task, but also dread being on my own. I do my best to survey the grassy hill for decent seats, but it’s made more difficult when I’m trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone.

“Abigail Henry,” a voice calls out.

It takes me a moment to scan the crowd for the owner of the lower-registered feminine voice, but then I see her sitting on a blanket in the grass. She’s changed out of her sundress from earlier that day and has opted for skinny jeans and a plaid button-up shirt that’s rolled up to her elbows.

I take a few steps in her direction. “Charlotte Johansson,” I respond with an easy smile. “We meet again.”

“I’m glad to see you didn’t drown in the rain,” Charlotte remarks.

“I’m resilient like that.”

“No Emily tonight?” she asks.

“Nope,” I say, shaking my head. “I was happy enough to get her out of the house for the picnic though. Baby steps.”

Charlotte pats the space beside her. “Want to sit?”

I look around at the immediate area. Nearly all of the ground space has already been claimed, and anything left is quickly being gobbled up by families with oversized blankets. “Thanks. My dad and I didn’t really come prepared.”

“I’ve got plenty of blanket,” she assures me. “And there’s no way Amelia will sit still until the fireworks start, so you’re both in luck.”

I take up an empty spot on the blanket. “How old is she?”


I whistle under my breath. “You have a six year old? Did you have her when you were twelve?”

“Funny,” she rolls her eyes.

I do the mental math. Charlotte’s the same age as my sister, which means she was around twenty-one or twenty-two when Amelia was born. To an outsider that might seem like a young age to be having children, but in my hometown, teenage births are the norm. Approaching my thirtieth birthday, I’m practically a spinster.

“Do you have any kids?”

“Me?” I’m not expecting the question. “No. I’m gay.”

She doesn’t blink. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have kids.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“The fireworks are supposed to be really good tonight,” she notes. “Last Fourth of July the company the city hired screwed up, so they promised a show to bring down the house this year.”

“How do you screw up fireworks?” I question.

“You light off the grand finale first.”

A loud laugh bubbles up my throat and Charlotte looks particularly pleased at my reaction.

I’m not sure how to continue the conversation, so in the absence of having something to do, I take out my phone. I’ve got full reception up on the bluff, but no messages or missed calls from Kambria. There’s a texted image from Anthony, however. He’s set up stuffed animals among my houseplants. There’s a lion and a zebra and a giraffe. I quietly laugh, but not quiet enough.

“What’s that?” Charlotte asks.

“Oh, my friend Anthony is house sitting for me, and he sent a picture. We’ve got a running joke that my houseplants are a jungle.”

She leans closer to see the screen of my phone, and the ends of her hair tickle against my bare kneecap. It’s hard to smell anything over the scent of freshly cut grass, but I can make out the sweet scent of her soap.

“Cute,” she remarks before sitting up again.

The sun has sunk deeper into the horizon, and the evening sky is darker. My dad has disappeared on me, but because of my current company, I’m strangely okay with that. I take a deep breath and exhale, feeling my stress escape with the long breath.

Tiny fireflies hover in the air, making their own fireworks display. The ones we have in Minnesota look like helicopters or Inspector Gadget buzzing through the air with that propeller coming out of his hat. I open my hand, palm facing the sky, and a firefly lands to take a break. It periodically glows and slowly opens and closes its wings as it perches on my hand.

“Isn’t it hot?”

I look up from my cupped hand to see Charlotte’s daughter, Amelia, standing in front of me. “Hot?” I repeat, not quite understanding the question.

“The bug,” the young girl clarifies, “isn’t it burning your hands?”

“Oh. No. The fire’s inside its belly,” I say.

She crouches down for a closer look. My hands remain gently curled around the insect, and its yellow-green light flashes against my skin. “Why do they light up like that?” she asks.

“It’s how they talk to each other.” I’m no entomologist, but fireflies had been a part of my childhood. I also know that male fireflies light up to attract females for mating and that some species are actually cannibals. I’m not about to try to explain that to a six year old though.

Amelia peers hard at my still cupped hands. When I carefully open them, the tiny bug doesn’t fly away.

“What is it saying?” She speaks quietly as though afraid any loud noise might cause the insect to flee.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “What do you think it’s saying?”

She tilts her ear towards my hands. ”I think it’s trying to find someone. Like a friend, maybe.”

“I should probably let it go so it can keep looking, huh?”

She nods solemnly. She looks too serious for her young age.

I open my hands the rest of the way, and the insect hovers above my palms briefly before jetting off into the night sky.

“I hope you find your friend, firefly,” Amelia calls out. We both stare up into the inky black sky, which is dotted with tiny sparks of light.

“Amelia, baby, why don’t you have a seat?” Charlotte suggests. “The fireworks are going to start soon.”

“Can I do another sparkler?” she asks.

One more and then you have to sit.”

Charlotte lights the end of a metal sparkler rod and hands it to her daughter. Amelia holds it out in front of her and stares unblinking at the golden shower of sparks.

“Do you want one?” Charlotte holds the open box of sparklers in my direction.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

“You’re kind of a natural,” she observes. “Are you sure you don’t have kids?”

I’m usually even more awkward around children than I am with their parents, but like dogs that seem to sense who is allergic to them, children tend to flock to me despite my ineptitude. Sometimes I feel like I have more in common with children than I do adults.

“I’m pretty sure I would have remembered something like that.”

Once the fireworks begin, Amelia obediently sits in her mom’s lap, oohing and aahing at the fireworks as they explode overhead. It brings a smile to my face; I remember being that young and thinking Grand Marais’s fireworks were the brightest and biggest and loudest in the world. Around me people start to cheer and clap their hands when the grand finale begins. Amelia covers her hands over her ears, but her smile isn’t shaken. I periodically sneak glances at Charlotte’s profile, lit up by the glow of multicolored fireworks. They have the same smile.

The cheering and applause heightens when the sky is choked with smoke and the last of the fireworks has sputtered out, and I can’t help but join along. At the end, people around us begin to stand and gather their belongings. I stand up on legs made stiff from inactivity. I haven’t seen my dad in a while, but I’m sure he’s somewhere in the crowd, probably talking to someone about plumbing or electrical outlets.

Charlotte picks up the blanket we’ve been sitting on, and I help her fold it.

“It’s not Los Angeles,” she remarks, “but I like it.”

I shake my head. “I didn’t say anything.”

“I know. But you were thinking it.” She gives me a wistful smile that almost makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong. “Have a nice night, Abby. And Happy Fourth of July.”