The Distance Between Us Page 2

She moans and throws her arm over her eyes. “What would I even study if I went to college?” If it were up to her, she’d work at the gift store forever, but college is important to her never-went-to-college-so-is-now-a-funeral-director father.


“Ha-ha.” She pushes herself to sitting. “What are you going to study when you go?”

No idea. “The long-term effects of philosophical wanderings.”

“How about the art of sarcasm?”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve already earned the equivalent of a master’s in that one.”

“No, but seriously, what are you going to study?”

I hear those words a lot: “No, but seriously” or “In all seriousness” or “But really.” Those are the words of someone who wants a real answer. And I don’t want to give one.

“I haven’t thought about it much. I guess I’ll be one of those ‘no major’ people for a while.”

She lies back down. “Yeah, maybe that’s what I’ll do, too. Maybe as we take classes our true path will come to us.” She sits up suddenly with a gasp.


“We should take classes together! Next year. You and me. That would be awesome!”

I’ve told her a million times I’m not taking college classes next year. My mother will fight this plan (which is why I haven’t told her), but I’m taking a year or two off so I can help full-time in the store. But Skye looks so happy that I just smile and give a noncommittal nod.

She starts singing a made-up song. “Me and Caymen takin’ classes together. Finding our true paths . . .” Her voice gets softer and turns into happy humming as she lowers herself back to the floor.

A couple of little girls who just left had touched everything. My mom insists that when people know a doll’s name, it’s easier to fall in love with it. So in front of every doll is a placard. Now those little name cards are completely messed up, switched around, lying flat. It’s really sad that I know Bethany’s name card is in front of Susie. Really. Really. Sad.

Skye’s phone rings. “Hello? . . . No. I’m at The Little Shop of Horrors.” That’s what she calls my store.

It’s quiet for a while before she says, “I didn’t realize you were coming by.” She stands and leans against the counter. “You did? When?” She twists a piece of hair around her finger. “Well, I am kind of spaced out during that show.” Skye’s voice matches her name, light and airy, which makes everything that comes out of her mouth sound sweet and innocent. “So are you still here?” She walks around doll cradles and blanket-draped tables to the front window and peers out. “I see you. . . . I’m next door at the doll store. Come over.” She pockets the phone.

“Who was that?”

“My boyfriend.”

“The boyfriend. So does this mean I finally get to meet him?”

She smiles. “Yes, you’re about to see why I said yes the second he asked me out last week.” She flings open the front door, and the bell practically swings off its hook. “Hey, baby.”

He wraps his arms around her and then she moves aside. “Caymen, this is Henry. Henry, Caymen.”

I don’t know if I’m not looking hard enough, but I definitely don’t see much of anything. He’s scrawny with long greasy hair and a pointy nose. A pair of sunglasses hangs off the collar of a band T-shirt, and a long chain attached to his belt buckle droops halfway down his leg before disappearing into his back pocket. Without meaning to I calculate how many steps it took him to get from Skye’s store to mine and how many times that chain must’ve hit him in the leg.

“S’up?” he says. Really. He said that.

“Um . . . nothing?”

Skye gives me a wide smile that says, See, I knew you’d love him. The girl can find redeeming qualities in a drowned rat, but I’m still trying to make sense of the match-up. Skye is beautiful. Not the conventional beautiful. In fact people usually stop to stare first because they’re stunned by her choppy blond hair with pink tips, the diamond stud in her chin, and her crazy clothes. But then they keep staring because she’s stunning, with her piercing blue eyes and the most beautiful bone structure ever.

Henry is now turning a circle, looking at all the dolls. “Whoa, trippy.”

“I know, right? It’s a little overwhelming the first time.”

I look around. It is a little overwhelming at first. Dolls cover nearly every inch of wall in an explosion of colors and expressions. All staring at us. Not only the walls, but the floor space is a maze of tables and cradles and strollers overflowing with dolls. In case of fire there is no clear exit to the door. I’d be pushing babies out of the way to escape. Fake babies, but still.

Henry walks up to a doll wearing a kilt. “Aislyn,” he says, reading her name card. “I have this outfit. I should get this doll and we can go on tour together.”

“Playing bagpipes?” I ask.

He gives me a funny look. “Nope. I’m the guitar player for Crusty Toads.”

Ah, and there it is. The reason Skye keeps him around. She has a soft spot for musicians. But she can do much better than a guy who looks like he was the inspiration for his band’s name.

“Die, you ready?”


Die? I’ll ask her about that later.

“See you later, Caveman,” he says with a guffaw like he’d been saving that up since the second we were introduced.

I wouldn’t need to ask about Die, after all. He’s one of those types: Assigner of Instant Nicknames.

“Bye”—Crusty Toad—“Henry.”

My mom walks in the back door as they walk out the front. She’s carrying two armloads of groceries. “Caymen, there are a few more bags; can you get them?” She heads straight for the stairs.

“You want me to leave the store?” It sounds like a lame question, but she’s really particular about leaving the sales floor. First, because dolls are expensive and if any of them ever got stolen that would be a Big Deal. We don’t have any type of video surveillance or alarm system on the store—too expensive to maintain. Second, my mom is huge about customer service. If someone walks in, I’m not supposed to let one second go by without a greeting.

“Yes. Please.” She sounds out of breath. My mom, the queen of yoga, is out of breath? Was she running laps?

“Okay.” I glance toward the front door to make sure no one is coming and then go out back and grab the rest of the groceries. When I take them upstairs I step over the bags she dropped off right inside the door and then set mine on the counter of our dollhouse-size kitchen. That’s really the theme of our lives. Dolls. We sell them. We live in their house . . . or at least the size equivalent: three tiny rooms, one bathroom, miniature kitchen. And I’m convinced the size is the main reason my mom and I are so close. I peer around the wall and see my mom sprawled out on the couch.

“You okay, Mom?”

She sits up but doesn’t stand. “Just exhausted. Got up extra early this morning.”

I begin to unload the groceries, putting the meat and frozen apple juice in the freezer. I once asked my mom if we could get bottled juice and she told me it was too expensive. I was six. That was the first time I realized we were poor. It definitely wasn’t the last.

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t worry about unloading. I’ll do that in a minute. Will you head back to the store?”

“Sure.” On my way out the door I move the bags she had abandoned on the floor to the counter as well, then leave. It takes my brain the whole trip down the stairs to remember that I saw my mom still in bed when I left for school this morning. How was that getting up “extra early”? I look over my shoulder, up the steep set of stairs, tempted to turn around and call her bluff. But I don’t. I take my place behind the register, pull out my English reading assignment, and don’t look up until the bell on the front door jingles.

Chapter 3

One of my favorite customers ever comes through the door. She’s older but sharp and funny. Her hair is a deep red, sometimes bordering on purple, depending on how recently she had it dyed. And she always wears a scarf no matter how hot it is outside. The autumn weather occasionally justifies a scarf these days, and today’s is bright orange with purple flowers.

“Caymen,” she says with a smile.

“Hi, Mrs. Dalton.”

“Is your mom in today, honey?”

“She’s upstairs. Do you want me to get her or is there something I can help you with?”

“I had a doll on special order and wondered if she arrived yet.”

“Let me check.” I pull out a binder from the drawer beneath the register that logs orders. I find Mrs. Dalton’s name fairly easily because there are only a few entries, and most of them are hers. “It looks like it’s scheduled to arrive tomorrow, but let me call on it for you so you don’t come down here for nothing.” I place a call and find out it will arrive after noon tomorrow.

“I’m sorry to bother you. Your mother did tell me that. I was just hoping.” She smiles. “This one’s for my granddaughter. Her birthday’s in a few weeks.”

“That’s cool. I’m sure she’ll love it. How old will the lucky little girl be?”


“Oh. The lucky . . . big girl.” I don’t know what else to say without sounding rude.

Mrs. Dalton laughs. “Don’t worry, Caymen, I have other presents for her. This gift is more to humor her grandma. I’ve gotten her a doll every year since she turned one. It’s hard for me to break a tradition no matter how old they get.”

“My mother thanks you for that.”

Mrs. Dalton laughs. She gets my jokes. Maybe because she’s a little dry herself.

“She’s the only girl so I spoil her rotten.”

“What tradition do you have for the boys?”

“A kick in the pants.”

“That’s a great tradition. I think you should get them dolls for their birthdays, too. They probably feel left out.”

She laughs. “I might have to try that.” She sad-eyes the binder on the counter like she wishes the date would magically change and her doll would be here now. She opens her purse and starts digging through it. “How’s Susan doing?”

I glance toward the back like my mom will come down the stairs at the mere mention of her name. “She’s good.”

She pulls out a little red book and starts flipping through it. “Tomorrow afternoon, you said?”

I nod.

“Oh no, that won’t do. I have a hair appointment.”

“That’s okay. We’ll hold it in the back until you come. You can get it Wednesday or really any day this week. Whatever works best.”

She picks up the black pen on the counter and writes something in her book. “Maybe I’ll send someone to get it for me. Would that work?”

“Of course.”

“His name is Alex.”

I write the name Alex next to the pickup line. “Sounds good.”

She grabs my hand and squeezes it with both of hers. “You’re such a good girl, Caymen. I’m glad you’re here for your mom.”

Sometimes I wonder just how much these ladies talk to my mom. What did they know about our history? Did they know about my father? As the spoiled kid of a wealthy family, he ran before my mom could finish saying, “I’m pregnant. What should we do?” His parents made her sign papers she didn’t understand that virtually said she could never go after him for child support. They gave her hush money that eventually became the start-up funds for the doll store. And this is why I have absolutely no desire to meet my gem of a father. Not that he’s tried.

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