It was so noisy I could barely make out a word he said, my head was swimming, but I gathered my old cross country teammate JB must’ve hit the jackpot at Putnam, Fidelity, or some money factory like that, because the party to inaugurate his big deal Seaport District water view condo was flowing with Macallan 12, and wherever I turned there were silvery platters of king crab claws sweating on crushed ice.“What’s wrong, Zackie?” he asked, clapping me on the back when he’d finished bragging. “What are you staring at, guy?”

The place was buzzing with a biblical plague of finance geeks in shiny bespoke suits, so I mumbled about wine sales tanking, pulled my sweatshirt hood up, slunk back on the couch, then ducked out JB’s front door after two more shots, just as the red headed angel of my dreams emerged from the elevator. Jacqueline Eskin, glowing, in grey suede high heel ankle boots.

“Uh-oh,” I said, pointing, as we locked eyes, facing off across the cold, shadowy hallway. “No way!”

“Hey stranger, is it really you, under that hood?” She tossed her hair, rushed forward and we clinched arms around each other. “I had my fingers crossed you might make it.”

“My God,” I said, “you do exist.”

She giggled in my ear and said, “Someone’s been hitting the Bourbon.”

We traipsed back in holding hands, and bang, it was 2009 revisited, my pulse firing haywire again.

Pretend you still got this, I warned myself. Focus!

My Southern belle attracted open mouthed stares. She was put together, with tapered eyebrows, pearls, spotless white jeans, and a pumpkin colored off-the-shoulder sweater that made her eyes glitter.
“You’re sweating,” she said. “What’s the matter?”

Could I admit what a zombie I’d been since the day I turned twenty-nine, not sleeping, numbed out half the time? Could I tell her nothing had gone according to plan, or that I had a thing about her still, almost a fetish, after all these years? That I thought about her at least once every day, and more often in freckle season?

“My ex came after me with a frying pan,” I said.

“Whoa, we’ve got quite a lot in common,” she said. Then she told me all about the marriage from hell she’d recently survived.

“Things don’t always happen the way they’re supposed to,” I said, “do they?”

She emitted this puff from deep in her throat and swayed so close I inhaled her scent, like a warm cinnamon bun.

“Who knows?” she said, tearing up, searching my eyes. “Maybe there are second chances in life.”

We’d hooked up in our senior seminar on the phenomenology of perception at Boston University, hung out one night after class, then rendezvoused eight or ten times in those panicky few months before everyone scattered into the Great Recession. We were officially both in “more serious” relationships, so it was a given that there would be no loose ends to tie up once it, whatever “it” was, ended. No undue stress. None of our friends suspected we were even doing a thing, much less the firepower blazing between us.

“Let’s just let it happen,” she’d said, and we did.

The night before she left town though, our last time together, we both almost freaked.

“So, you ready for life?” I’d asked.

“I’ll never forget you, darlin,’” she’d promised. “Sometimes I wish,” then she shook her head and broke off, leaving me lost in her eyes still, seven years later.

I reminded her of that conversation, we intertwined fingers, she returned my squeeze, and we just sat there in silence, surrounded by chatter. When JB tried to bull in between us to throw down some moves, she winked at me and suggested he go fetch us some drinks like a good host so the two of us could catch up.

“Dismissed,” I said, once he slunk off toward the kitchen.

“He is still such a cliché,” she said. “The bad tan, that tight shirt. So, tell me you’re writing the great American novel.”

“Short stories,” I told her. “After a seven-year hiatus.”

Her knuckles grazed my cheek. “Good boy,” she whispered. “I’m partial to stories.”

Big picture: could all these ups and downs since college have just been one long detour?

Inside of a breathless hour, the unimaginable happened, and we turned back the hands of time atop my rumpled gray sheets.

Jackie managed the East Coast market from New York for a rising regional craft brewer, while I did battle on the streets of downtown Boston repping a boutique wine portfolio. Not only were we newly single, we’d both ended up peddling hooch.

Our lives quickly settled into a rhythm: I’d shuttle down late Friday afternoon, she’d fly up Saturday morning, or we’d race to some crumbling motel near New Haven or Hartford, where our first order of business involved wearing the mattress out, after which we’d emerge from seclusion only for short foraging breaks. On our Wednesday night check-ins, she’d tell me, “I can’t wait to throw my arms around you, sugar,” and so, with the weekends never too far distant, I eased back to the realm of the living. It was a beautiful, dream-like feeling.

“Zackie and Jackie,” she’d sung, the first Saturday we spent traversing midtown Manhattan, rolling from restaurant to apartment to museum and back. “You like the ring? Or is it weird and icky?”

“Sounds legit,” I said, rising to light a cigarette. “Jay and Zee, like twas meant to be.”

“Wait, so why’s your hand trembling?”

“It’s all you, Dixie.” I called her that sometimes. “So miraculous, the sound of your voice, the vibe you give off, just being around you, I get nervous.”

“You believe in miracles, Zee-man?” she asked.

“Now, I do. I believe in you.”

“Slow down, bro, it’s been six weeks,” my customer and best buddy Dennis, the jacked-to-the-max Sommelier, cautioned me when I caught him up over an epic bottle of bronze-colored old Savennieres. “Didn’t you just extricate your skinny ass out of a mess? I mean, I dig how stoked you are, bro, I get it, but that glazed look is a tad freaky.”

“What’s freaky is me and her getting after it.”

“Woo-WOO!” Dennis pounded the table, two fisted. “Order in the court, now!”

“Hey, electricity don’t lie. She’s got the aura, big guy. Protons and electrons.”
He leaned forward and laid the back of his hand on my forehead. “Check yourself, son. It’s Phase One, the honeymoon. Don’t be confusing one thing for another. Didn’t you hear, anything too good to be true usually is?”

“No, I’m good.” We clinked glasses.

“I mean, opposites attract, that’s the theory. Yin and yang. You sure about coupling up with a female clone of Zachary Berger?”

“I’m a smooth twenty-nine, dude, I know what’s real. All I can say, the ex and me were fire and ice, and it was one continuous shit fight. Jackie’s about peace in the valley, but we do have our actual points of difference.”

“Such as?”

“She’s a rebel, I’m a Yankee. She knows tons of shit, I don’t. About life.”

“That,” he said, “is weak.”

Dennis’ comments didn’t sit right, and I began interrogating the mirror daily. What’s up? Am I deluding myself? It had happened before.

Before her next Boston jaunt, I got Jackie all fired up to meet the big guy and Dominika, his latest. Unfortunately, five minutes into drinks at the low-lit Franco-Mexican dive I picked off of Mass Ave, any enthusiasm she had died. First, Dominika’s kittenish “girlie girl” act froze the smile right off Jackie’s feminista face. Then, as Dominika’s effervescence fizzled, Jackie turned moody, and the few instances she tried extending herself, girl-to-girl, Dennis launched a side conversation with me about the Pats game or malolactic fermentation. Plus, he kept trashing the joint’s crappo wine list and couldn’t get past the fixation. To ice everything, Dominika started stretching her arms overhead, yawning.

“Ooh, wasn’t that fun?” Jackie said, slamming my car door. “You didn’t mention your crush on that pretentious airhead.”

“What? I guarantee you, peroxide blondes are not my deal.”

“No, him! Your man crush.”

I tore west down the Pike. “Bad idea, I guess. Sorry, Dixie.”

“Well, it was eye opening.”

“What?”

“How you tend to parrot whoever you’re around. No offense.”

“Parrot?” I almost swerved into an embankment.

“Oh, my God, really? Your intonations, hand gestures, everything, just like that dum-dum wine hack. Ultra-macho and hipsterish, ‘Bro,’ this and “Dude,’ that. And, ‘This Cab is the business!’ High-fiving. You became him.”

“Okay, right,” I said, “I’m just a wannabe Somm.”

“Oh, my sweet clueless Zackie.” She cracked up. “Space shot number one.”

“Hey!” I grabbed her wrist. “Don’t ever say that. Never.”

Maybe I twisted a little hard, but you could’ve cut the vibe change with a razor, and speeding home, there ensued ten minutes of awkward throat-clearing silence. Except, that is, for the SUV I came close enough to clipping that he leaned on his horn and flipped me off.

“So,” I finally said, easing onto the exit ramp, “that chick’s obviously not your jam, but you’re not down with my boy Dennis either?”

“Please! Getting cocky you know a little something about a little something’s a total joke. I mean, seriously? Fermented grape juice?”

“Oh, but craft beer is more intellectual. Guzzling out of aluminum cans.”

“At least it’s relevant,” she said, as I parked. “Look, you’re not stupid, so why emulate some ­potato-­head loser who is?”

Emulate. Got it, thanks. Nice vocabulary.”

Later, after an hour plus of mayhem in the sack, after multiple shots of Cuervo Gold, after I’d begun littering revisions across my latest masterpiece and she’d started kicking the sheets, Jackie opened fire again, with renewed vengeance.

“That’s what sales people do,” she insisted, pounding her pillow. “They talk like other people. In New York, no matter where they’re from, Dey tawk like dis: Hullo Mista Kawfman. They try to ingratiate themselves by aping mannerisms and rhythms of speech. You’re a natural at it, a real chameleon. Tell me it’s not conscious.”

“Parrot, chameleon, the truth is, I like making people smile. Especially you, my pet.” I put the pen down, slung my arm around her, and whispered, “Is that some kind of felony?”

“Have you considered a career in acting?” She snuggled into me. “You’ve got those Hollywood pretty boy looks. Except for the hook nose.”

“Come on now, don’t hold back, salesmen are phony baloneys, right? Management though, you’re upstanding pros.”

Entering Phase Two, I told myself. Complications. Normally yours truly would’ve chalked it up, and said “See ya,” being down on my own failings enough not to need reminders, but the voltage we generated gave me pause. Or, was it just the big Three-Oh looming, not hitting sales quotas at work, being on the bubble again, no accomplishments and no road map in life, except clinging to her in the holy name of love?

Dennis would only say, “Good luck, guy. You’re going to need it.”


We continued plugging in every weekend for eight months, and even with Jackie’s sporadic rants on the many deficiencies of Zachary Adam Berger, picturing her still got me juiced. Did it all come down to chemistry? The dazzling beauty she radiated made me wobbly. But despite my sales numbers turning positive, she kept taking shots, joking how I’m either just a sales weasel, a lost soul, or a lazy bum.

“You are relentless,” I told her. “Pick one flaw and go with it, will you?”

I was in a constant state of fear that my expiration date was fast approaching, that Jackie’d realize what I was really made of, decide What did I see in him? and just boogie. But I was being paranoid, right? Why?

One night, she jarred me awake, gagging, gripping my arm. Unable to speak, a sound like steam hissed from her throat.

“What?” I switched on the light. “What’s the matter? Need some water?”

Gasping, her eyes rolled back, she stiffened, let go, and drifted into unconsciousness while I stayed up watching for hours, jittery she might choke. In the morning, she laughed it off.

“Must’ve been some nightmare you had,” she said. “I never wake up, doll-face. I sleep very soundly.”

“Okay,” I said, “but that’s not actually in fact what happened.”

Her reply? “You never have a thing in your refrigerator.”

Our ground rules prohibited addressing the future, or Phase Three, let’s call it. She seemed good thinking present tense, “letting it happen,” except for the occasional cry of anguish while asleep.

Meanwhile, I kept hearing a loud ticking sound, trying to decipher what she wanted out of this, desperate to know what lurked inside her secret heart. Assuming she even knew.

It was Jackie’s good-bye one drizzly Sunday in October that set off my panic alarm.

“I get the feeling this is not going to last,” she said over her shoulder, on the heels of a deep urgent kiss. She hovered at the threshold of the cheesy, sour-smelling West Hartford hotel room door, her bag in tow, eyes tearing, while I stared up from the bed, rigid as a spooked animal.

“Well, farewell then,” I said, clearing my throat. “Safe travels. Peace.”

She groaned in exasperation and left without turning around.

The bizarre aspect was that we’d crushed it all weekend, the vibe never better, with no fingers pointed, same as in Phase One. Did she have a premonition standing in the doorway?

The week before Jackie’d broached “taking it to the next level,” in an offhand joking manner, and my comeback, about wine and beer not mixing, fell flat. She shaded her eyes and remarked how that was a comment worthy of Ray, the jazz guitarist she’d divorced.

“He exuded charm too,” she’d told me, “ultra-hip and totally vague, but so hard core before the haze lifted he put me through hell.” I imagined gambling sprees, shooting drugs, and chasing women. My heart leapt out to her.

But, propped up in bed in the Connecticut hotel room that Sunday after the door slammed, with Jackie’s pronouncement echoing (this is not going to last), I began to shiver. Did I actually utter the word “farewell?” Shouldn’t I call? She must be on to me, though—how I’m trying to glide by on a smile, with zero ambition.

Suddenly, picturing Jackie in the lobby caffeine-loading for the ride, or speeding to the city already buzzed, I was flooded with questions: What’s your mother’s name? Do you have brothers or sisters? Why’d your marriage really implode? What’s the name of your high school? Your best friend? Do you believe in God?

Almost everything about her remained unknown. We’d get it on three or four times some nights, then top things off in the morning, but even after all those months of intimacy, her passion came across as generic, as though a force of nature kept driving her, and those turbo-charged lovemaking squeals didn’t specifically have to do with me. Was she just biding time? If not, why throw her lot in with Mr. Chameleon, as she’d taken to calling me? We’d ease from drinks, to dinner, to a few laughs, to bitching about business, to rollicking around, pretty much as in college. All else remained verboten. So, maybe I knew the exact spots she liked to be touched, but by every other measure, Jackie remained a blank to me, and I felt like sending her a survey. Question number one: Do you love me?
But, yeah, I couldn’t even bring myself to re-initiate contact, and she apparently didn’t care to either.

“It’s so freakin’ weird,” I told Dennis. “We didn’t fight really. Nothing.”

“Trust me,” he said, “you’re better off. This chick is trying to mold you into her little puppet. Look, you’re a laid-back dude, Zack, you got sensitivities, and she is wound so tight, she’s bound to go psycho on you if she don’t get everything strictly her way.”

After two plus weeks weighing pros and cons, though, Googling “How to tell if she loves you?” and coming up empty, I reverted to staring in space, imagining Jackie already with someone. No way I would crack first though. No way! Trudging across the Public Garden on a windy Wednesday morning hauling a bag full of wine over my shoulder, I pictured her soaring at 30 thousand feet for a market visit to Atlanta, eating peanuts, tapping numbers into a spread sheet, some random businessman ogling her knee, the plane started bucking, she gripped her arm rests, it began whistling downwards, she’s shrieking Zack? Honey!, and by the time I emerged into the crowd swarming across Boylston Street, I’d snapped into full curse out mode. What are you, stupid, man? Wake up!

She answered the first ring.

“Miss me?” she murmured, her voice oozing honey.

“Night and day,” I told her. “All the time.”

I couldn’t kick the logic of an instant hard on, didn’t try, and simple as that, we locked into three weekends solid of sweet talk, melting gazes, and frenzied awe-inspiring make-up sex, but the question wouldn’t disappear: who is she?

“It’s too soon,” she told me, when I asked about her family, before boarding my flight. She pressed a finger to my lips and whispered, “Shhh. Next weekend. Maybe.”

“Okay,” I said, the following Saturday, as the waitress re-poured glasses of sparkling Rose, “there’s a lot neither of us have talked about yet.”

Jackie heaved a deep breath, her eyes on the rice she was pushing around her dinner plate. “Such as? Our favorite ice cream flavor?”

“Everything. Our childhoods.”

“God. Must we go there?”

“I need to understand you better. It’s been ten months.”

“Well, see if you grasp this, sweetness. I don’t believe in navel gazing. I’m from the South, remember? Not the Deep South,” and she turned on her seldom used, devastating Scarlett O’Hara accent, “but Nawth Ca’line-a, honey. Where we don’t over-analyze ev’ry little thing, like you Yankees all do. Watchoo see is watchoo get. You like watchoo see, darlin’?”

“What was your mother like? Born in North Carolina?”

“I’d rather not discuss the past,” Jackie said, sniffing her glass. She beamed at the woman clearing our plates. “This adorable boy may corrupt me into being a wine drinker yet. I do like the bubbly.” The waitress laughed.

“And once upon a time, she was so hoppy with beer,” I said.

The women groaned, traded knowing eye rolls, and then the waitress left.

“It’s okay if we don’t reveal every petty detail of our CVs,” Jackie said, still smiling. “A little mystery’s good. You want to kiss me, or kill this?”

“Are your parents still alive? Why can’t you open up to me?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I do not need therapy from you, or anyone else, Zachary. The shoe might be on the other foot. Who’s the one that smokes and still tends to drink a bit much? Who’s the one drifting?”
“Okay, for real. I just, I need to know you better.”

She smiled out the window at an office tower across Boylston. “My mother is grossly fat,” she whispered. “And emotionally ill. She twitches. It’s really really embarrassing. She moved to North Carolina from the Bronx, and she never fit in at all. She’s the epitome of a misfit. Plus, she was a single mom. And her boyfriends were all scum buckets.”

“Well, she obviously did something right,” I said, squeezing Jackie’s limp hand, as she sat clenching her jaw. “With me, it was my dad. Almost fifty when I came along. And my mother? Twenty-three. You believe it? People stared.”

“I’m sorry.” A tear rolled down her cheek. She struggled to stop another, threw her head back and composed a shiny smile, sniffing and blinking. “So, is that sufficient? You satisfied now that our deep dark secrets are out? Now that my mascara’s smudged?”

“Can we please lose the attitude?”

She started rummaging in her bag.

“How did it actually affect you? Your mother being overweight?”

“Oh, God. Same way it did you, I suspect, having a young hottie mom and a sugar daddy pop. Wanted to disappear. To become invisible.”

“Exactly,” I said. “I wanted to hide. Wouldn’t invite anyone over. As you said: embarrassed. To the point I developed some serious defense mechanisms. Real doozies.”

Wah-wah,” she said, glancing up from her hand mirror. “Oh, woe is us. We’re turning thirty, we’re healthy, gainfully employed, we enjoy each other’s company. Can we put this ancient history behind us? You’ve heard the expression, ‘Don’t look back’? Personally, I decided a long time ago to just suck it up, think positive thoughts and move on.”

“And I escaped into my imagination,” I told her. “Writing stories, making stuff up. Daydreaming.”

“Wallowing?”

“All right, maybe. So, we both got married young. Why aren’t we still?”

She bit her lip and glared, her eyes narrowed in contempt.

“I called my ex ‘Slum Goddess.’ We were two kids playing house,” I told her, “but she’d pull these 180s at the drop of a hat, crying then laughing hysterically through her tears. She’d throw heavy objects at me until one day I woke up like, what have I got myself into?”

“Must you destroy this?” Jackie tossed her crumpled white cloth napkin onto the table. She took another gulp of wine, then started weeping, and the misery disfiguring her features touched me to the point I backed off. When she visited the rest room, I got the check and couldn’t help but wonder, Does this mean we’re out of limbo? Is this full on Phase Three? Or, should I just shut up? She came back, still seething. We split for my place and had a marathon session that started in the car.

The next day was red cheeks weather, but sunny. After zigzagging past the brownstones of Back Bay and over the bridge into Cambridge admiring all the monumental architecture, we trekked hand in glove along the windy Charles, back to the North End, sipped espressos, and then re-crossed the river into Charlestown. We huddled together there on a bench facing downtown, late afternoon light gleaming off the glazed windows of its empty skyscrapers.

“You know what,” she said, “you want to discuss the past, love, I’d rather look at where we’re headed. I really don’t think it’s helpful to dwell. In fact, it’s dangerous.”

“I’m down with that too. I want to look forward, but you are what you are,” I said. “You can’t wish it away.”

She looked me in the eye. “I have to be with someone who takes life by the horns. Do you have the ability to do that? The desire?”

“By the horns?”

“You’re so elusive,” she said, her tone calm and even. “Almost not present. How could you survive in sales? Do you sell anything ever?”

“You got no faith in me, Jackson? I told you before: I’m a relationship builder. I do hand to hand combat, in the trenches.”

“So, customers say, ‘Zack’s a good shit, he’s hustling, let’s throw him a bone?’”

“I come to play every day.” I rose from the bench and turned my back. “To help my accounts improve their business.”

“Wine geeks?”

“Who, like Dennis?” I said, wheeling to face her. “He’s a muscle bound six-three martial arts expert.”

“Still a geek. Doesn’t fool me.”

“There’s no margin of error with you, is there? No forgiveness.”

I took a deep breath, gazed across at the jagged skyline. Do I want to keep peddling vino forever?

“So?” she said, as if reading my mind. “You’re collecting overdue checks, hanging at bars till late, dusting shelves, and bringing retailers coffee and donuts. You like that? You like building case stack displays and delivering a script old school?”

“Enough,” I said. A chill of fear gripped me: thirty, soon turning forty.

“So, do something about it,” she said.

“Such as?”

“You want to write, set some goals. Stop watching sports online and start reading.”

Back at my apartment building, we started on the staircase, then finished up in the shower.

“Tell me about your stories,” she asked, brushing tangles from her hair, just before leaving for Logan.

“I’ll send you one making the rounds at five or six magazines. So, when do I meet your mother, babe?”

She thrust her lower lip out.

“I’m serious, I want to meet her.”

“No! She’s a crazy woman, I told you. I mean, whatever, okay. What about me meeting your parents?”

“They haven’t been married for years. So, it’ll be two meetings. Double the fun.”

“What a surprise! The hottie mom turned out to be a gold digger.”

“Hardly. A flower child Dad couldn’t stop cheating on, with women actually more age appropriate. Women with whom he proclaimed he shared a freer intellectual and spiritual connection. Mom was one of his starry-eyed undergrads. They dropped acid together and ended up a month later in some barefoot tribal wedding ceremony. According to his last book, I was conceived after they peaked, on the downward slope of that trip. My poor Grandma almost slit her wrists; she was younger than her son-in-law. I basically raised myself.”

“And I thought my background was the height of fucked-upness,” she said.


“Cheerful,” is the first comment Jackie made on our Wednesday night call, when I asked her take on the piece I’d sent. “So, this one’s about me?”

“God, no! Only in the most tangential and superficial way. What city are you in?”

“D.C. Well, the main character, the one who’ll end up committing suicide, because that’s obvious from the last paragraph, she’s in craft beer, isn’t she? She’s from the South. She’s divorced. She’s a Jew who never talks about it. She has no relationship with her family, she doesn’t like to ‘look at her feelings.’ Oh my God, is that how you see me, a ticking time bomb?”

“Don’t raise your voice,” I said. “It’s not you. It’s a personification of existential angst. Writers borrow from their own experience.”

“Bull!” she said. “You changed North Carolina to Georgia, so you expect me to believe it’s not me?”

“It’s not,” I said. “That’s not how literature works.”

“Can you call it literature if . . . oh, never mind. Just shoot me another damn story, so I get these creepy characters off my mind.”

“Okay, but I’m psyched you actually felt something. That’s half the battle. Next one I bet you’ll like better. It’s light hearted entertainment.”


When I de-planed at LaGuardia on Friday, she was camped outside security, holding several sheets of paper.

“Those could be the absolute sexiest red shoes ever,” I told her, pointing. “You sure they’re legal to wear in public?”

She jerked her head back as I leaned forward to kiss her. She shook the papers at me. “Is this all I am to you? Research?”

“Jackie, I would never write about you,” I said, trying to take her arm. People hurrying around us paused to glance at the little scene starting to develop. “I might take some details and adapt them to fictional characters. In a subtle way. Composites, characters I’ve dreamt up. Everything’s related. But if I were ever going to actually write about you, wouldn’t I at least have the smarts to change your name?”

“Would you?” she said, stamping her foot. She started strutting fast, talking over her shoulder. “I’m not sure you’re even imaginative enough!”

“That’s how it may appear, my love, but this story ‘Facts Of Life’ I sent you with the main character named Jacqueline, the command-and-control freak, it’s a comedy, it’s light, and believe me, it was finished over a year ago, before we re-connected at JB Rizzo’s party and I had concrete knowledge you even still existed.”

She screeched to a halt. “But a woman named Jacqueline was in your memory bank, was she not? You picked the name for a reason. I’m appalled that’s how you see me, a pathetic laughable mess. Some kind of nympho dominatrix. And, if not, why didn’t you at least have the decency to change the name?”

“I don’t have to explain my fucking story!” I shouted, aware now of passersby staring. “It speaks for itself. Damn you, who the hell do you think you are?”

Two security guards came rushing over. “Everything okay here, ma’am?” the older one asked, turning to me. “You can’t raise your voice like that and cause a commotion in the terminal.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but she’s all bent out of shape I used her name in a story. Coincidentally.”

“Nothing’s coincidental,” Jackie said, “according to Freud.” Then she winked at the guards, both of whom stood arms crossed, shaking their heads.

“Well, hallelujah,” she said, once they retreated a few steps. “Role reversal mode. Finally!”

“Finally, what?”

“Mr. Chill stops being vague and expresses some real-time emotion. At LaGuardia Airport at 6:53 p.m. Two weeks before the big surprise he’s about to get. For his big milestone birthday.”

What?” I asked, suddenly aware we’d transitioned to Phase Four. “What surprise?”

“Nuh-uh,” she said, shaking her finger. “All good things come to those who wait.”