Annie received the phone call to return to New York on the same day her boyfriend Jason moved out of her house. It had been twelve years since Annie and her two best friends were selected at random by a photojournalist in the Mall of America for a spread in the New York Times Magazine about the everyday lives of teenagers. Her face lit up—she could actually feel the flush run through her cheeks—when she heard the photographer’s name and the reason for the call: a retrospective photo shoot to revisit the image of three thirteen-year-old girls from Edina, Minnesota, applying too much blush and lipstick with their hair straightener cords dangling from the light fixtures, getting ready for their school’s Sadie Hawkins dance.
She refused to not be there when her boyfriend moved out: it was her house, the down payment had been all hers, the mortgage payments had never been shared, and she sensed the possibility that he would take something of hers, accidentally or not, and this threat, however unfounded, felt like a horrible violation. But her thoughts were on New York—wearing Dior and reading Vogue and flashing a radiant smile at photographers and their assistants. Her suitcase was on the top shelf of the hall closet, and Annie wondered how many outfits she should pack for a three-day visit.
The email with a proposed itinerary was still open, the New York Times logo in the signature gleaming like a gold coin, when she sensed Jason hovering in the doorway. She set her laptop down on the coffee table and stood up, folding her arms across her chest. The friend that was helping him move out was not a familiar face, and he had smiled with embarrassment at her presence. She wondered if he was like Jason, the type of man to blame his girlfriend for the fact that he had been out of work for six months. She wondered too if he would decide to cope with this insecurity by cheating on his girlfriend with some slut across the river at Macalester.
“I’m all done,” Jason said.
“If I find anything of yours, I’ll set it aside and give you a call.” She looked out the window at his friend, leaning against the pickup truck, smoking, the sweat glistening off his forearms. “Are you staying with him? Or her?”
His jaw clenched, and his eyes focused at some point over her head.
“On his couch,” he said. “I told you, I’m not with her.”
“It doesn’t matter. You know there’s more to it than that.”
“I know,” he said sadly, and for a moment, she pitied him and how it must feel to have been laid off twice while Annie kept getting promoted. Then he said, “I just can’t believe you’re chucking me when I’m still looking for a job.”
“Are you serious?”
“Whatever.” And he turned and pushed open the storm door, which swung back rapidly, and right before it hit, the hydraulic held it in place, just for a moment, until the door’s weight eased, and it closed with a satisfying click. The truck backed out of the driveway, the items in the bed shifting perilously, and then they were heading up the street, and they were gone. She picked up her phone and dialed her brother.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Great. Can you come over now?”
In ten minutes, Joel and his wife, Bridget, were there. Annie pretended to listen as he explained to her what he was doing as he changed the locks. Instead, her enthusiasm for New York vanished at the mere presence of Bridget. Her sister-in-law had been married to Joel for two years, and she and Annie had never been close. Bridget was Nordic and solid and, while certainly not unpleasing, she was a remarkable switch from the effusive and buoyant type her brother used to date. Bridget smiled tightly at her and asked if she was okay, calling her dear in a condescending tone that made Annie irrationally furious, and remained across the living room, politely disinterested, as if she somehow disapproved of even being in Annie’s home. When Joel was done, he handed Annie the new key, and she wrapped her fingers around it into a tight fist until its grooves stabbed her palm.
“I’ll be right behind you guys,” she said. “I just need to pack a bag.”
“You’re staying at Mom’s?” Her brother’s expression coiled into a grimace, and she pictured what he was like when he was younger, bouncing bars in order to pay his way through school.
“He wouldn’t hurt me. I just don’t want to stay here tonight. That’s all.” His eyes softened, and he was her brother again: more teddy bear than grizzly.
In five minutes, she was packed, got in her car, and followed her brother on the short drive to their parents’ house. She assumed that her mother had told them everything about her relationship with Jason. What they didn’t know, what Annie still hadn’t decided whether or not to confide to anyone, was that she had followed Jason one night, trailing his car like something from a bad detective novel, and saw him leaving a bar with the girl. From across the street, Annie focused on her: tall and curvy, with dark wavy hair and a slim nose, moving with the athletic confidence of a funambulist. Despite everything wrong with their relationship—her budding career and his lack of one, their inability to communicate their fears, their deadening sex life as Jason gained weight from inactivity, the growing disapproval of her parents, her disbelief that anyone else wanted to be with an unemployed twenty-five-year-old like Jason—what hurt Annie more than anything else was this inarguable fact: this new girl was prettier than her.
During dinner with her parents, everyone left her alone, treating her silence as a stage of grief and reflection. All through dinner, Annie focused on those weeks in junior high after the original Times photo came out. With Hannah and Kaitlin, the three of them had walked down the hallways of their school like royalty and held the gaze of not just their c