By Lindsay Jamieson
“Don Julio silver on the rocks, please,” Hilary asked the bartender, who was already reaching for the squat, half-empty bottle. Through the hotel lobby’s three-story windows, palm trees wrapped with Christmas lights bent in the ocean wind. It was a nice hotel—one of the moms scored a deal. But the best part of this trip was that the game wasn’t till three the next day, which meant Hilary would gross twenty-four child-free hours. The shrine of bottles behind the bar blurred.
“Thanks. Charge it to room number—”
“I remember.” The bartender slid Hilary her glass. The bar was loud and crowded with lacrosse parents; the boys were staying with the coaches in a budget beach motel across town.
A TeamSnap alert flashed on Hilary’s phone, which looked like two phones or a hologram of a phone, because she’d hiked ocean cliffs and swam in that pool and hot-tubbed, dehydrating herself. She’d also gone out for Mexican food—aka tequila—with this party squad of team parents. “The game has been pushed,” Hilary announced even though everyone was reading the same alert.
“Oh no,” Hilary said to Cheryl, whose son was a year older than hers. “I told my daughter she could come home at five. But now we won’t be home till at least ten.”
Seeing double, Hilary blinked. “Thank God I took the liquor cabinet key.”
“How old is she?” Cheryl asked, eyelids drooping.
“Thirteen. I have the key. But this is bad.”
“Did you say thirteen?”
“I told Mia she could have her friend over, that I’d be home around eight. But we won’t now.” She’d found an empty beer can hidden at the bottom of the recycling bin last week, and another behind Mia’s bed she claimed was her “friend’s” the week before that. Hilary held her phone screen up, with the TeamSnap alert open, while she struggled to find her way back to her room.
Hilary woke up in her clothes at 7:00 a.m. Her phone’s screen was blank, void of texts. She should be used to no one checking in or making sure she’d made it back to her room, hadn’t drowned in the pool or fallen off the steep cliff edge she’d hiked. She checked the Life360 app: Mia was still at Vivian’s house in the Hollywood Hills, asleep at this hour for sure, safe; Aiden was a block from the ocean, sharing a room with three teammates, smelly, Hilary imagined, and cramped. She zoomed all the way in to Google Earth’s still ocean waves. Rick wasn’t included, even when she widened the map all the way to Canada. Ever since the map caught him lying, he’d refused to be tracked. So, Hilary’s Family Map, titled “Donovans,” included three little thumbnail-photos, not four.
Five hours of sleep were not enough, not after all that tequila. But Hilary was too hungry to try for more, so she ordered fried eggs and toast and hash browns and turned on the TV. She checked TeamSnap, hoping something had changed, but the game was still scheduled for 7:00 p.m. She did the math in her head: game, two hours plus driving, one to two hours depending on traffic. Shit.
Still, the eggs worked. She fell back to sleep with the TV off, the shades drawn, and the AC humming. When she woke, Hilary called Mia.
“Mommy.” Mia was crying.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
“Luke broke up with me.”
“Oh, Mia, sweetie. I’m sorry.”
Hilary sat up. She saw herself in the black TV screen, her messy blond hair, her bent arm.
“He doesn’t deserve me,” Mia cried.
“No, he doesn’t.”
Hilary listened to her daughter sob, over a hundred miles away, at a friend’s house in the hills. She couldn’t hold her or kiss her. She’d never been inside Vivian’s house, so all she could picture was her daughter’s cheeks, sticky with tears.
Off the phone, Hilary could have taken another hike, she could have worked, but she did neither. She tried to read on the balcony overlooking the pool and the golf course and the Pacific beyond, but she managed only one page. Her eyes hurt too much. Thinking about Mia hurt too much. So she got back in bed and triple screened: Words with Friends on her phone, Twitter on her computer, cooking shows on TV. She called for a late checkout and stayed in bed till one, then took a long shower and walked around naked and snacked on the cashews she’d packed.
On the Life360 Map, Aiden was on the move. If she could see the whole team, they’d be scrunched together, thirty-five little faces on the team bus. They headed twenty miles north and were again near the surf, maybe stopping at a diner to eat or at the beach for one final swim, digging holes in the sand like boys do, even when they’re sixteen.
Mia’s little face moved only a fraction of an inch—from Vivian’s bedroom to the kitchen maybe.
Hilary: Hi. How’s it going?
Mia: Better. He’s a dick.
Hilary: Total dick.
Mia: I’m over it.
Hilary: That’s great. But it’s okay if it hurts.
Mia: Fuck that duckface.
Hilary: Sometimes it hurts more than you expect.
Mia: I hate him. He can fuck himself.
Hilary: Okay, but sometimes it takes a while.
Mia: Gotta go.
Hilary: Kk. I think we might be home a little later than 5.
Hilary: Dunno. Will update.
Hilary: Will let you know.
Mia: Kk. I love you.
Hilary: I love you too.
The high school the boys were playing was north of Del Mar, closer to home in LA. After searching for a parking lot near the field, Hilary grabbed her Xavier stadium chair, water bottle, and her bag of extra layers—puffer jacket, blanket, wool hat—and started toward distant stadium lights. The sun was dropping, reddening the terra-cotta-roofed buildings, turning the green lawns gold.
“We missed you at Jimmy O’s,” Kyle’s dad said, catching up to her.
Hilary had skipped the parent pregame session even though it had been posted on TeamSnap. She had to drive home, so she couldn’t drink (what was the point?), and Aiden was one of only three sophomores on the team, so these parents weren’t her people. Most of their sons were seniors—after this season, she’d probably never see them again. So when she arrived at the field, she wasn’t already with a group and didn’t have a natural place to sit or another single mom or a BFF. Not wanting to be rude, she followed Kyle’s dad down into the stadium, where he was claimed by a senior-parent clique. Hilary shuffled to a lower bench alone, set up her chair near the thirty-yard line, wedged her bag beside her, and took pictures of the new turf field and the sun setting across the waxy palm fronds, their dangling tips shimmering in the slanty rays like tinsel. #laxmom #SoCalSunset #GoCubs.
Mia: When r you coming home?
Hilary: Game about to start.
Mia: But what time?
Hilary: Will text.
“Shit.” Hilary said, talking to herself in public. Again. “Shit.”
Then the stress of the game began. The whole first half of the season, Aiden had barely gotten any field time, so even if the team was winning—especially if the team was winning by several goals—watching him on the sidelines made the win feel like a loss.
“Go Aiden,” she yelled when he ran onto the field four minutes into the first quarter.
He was playing because a junior was concussed at the game the day before and, after the ambulance had taken him away, Aiden scored a goal. Now the concussed boy was on the bench, wearing sunglasses and a bucket hat. His father had shown the pictures of the hit at dinner. Right to the face. So brutal Hilary winced. But it meant Aiden was on the field with seniors who’d won the state championship the year before. Don’t drop it. Watch out for that D-pole. “Go Aiden! Go Aiden!” when they passed him the ball.
Hilary: Still at game. Will text on way home.
“Come on!” Hilary yelled when Aiden caught the ball.
The game was close. Xavier was up by three, then only two, then only one, then tied. Then up. Then tied. Then down. “Come on. Come on!” Hilary said.
Dads yelled: “Hit them in the fucking hands.” “Run.” “For fuck’s sake,” when a ball was dropped. With the stadium filled, Hilary was surrounded by the loudest dads. It was contagious. When they tied the game again at halftime, Hilary jumped to her feet and cheered and hollered and catcalled. Two dads leaned in for double high fives that stung her hands.
At halftime, Hilary checked the Map. She and Aiden canceled each other out somewhere south of Orange County; Mia was alone in their house in the Hollywood flats. Hilary zoomed in as if she could see through the roof and wished she had cameras in every room.
At the start of the second half, Xavier scored again: up one.
“We need another,” a dad yelled.
Aiden had the ball. “Oh my God.” He passed it around. “Good boy,” Hilary muttered. When it returned to him, he passed it again. But that player passed it back instead of around the net. And Aiden shot.
All the loud dads Hilary was sitting with jumped. (She didn’t have the nerve to move away from them during halftime; she was afraid to slight the fucking-fuck-fuck-squad.)
“Oh my God. Aiden! Aiden!”
Over the loudspeakers, the announcer boomed: “Goal for Xavier. Scored by midfielder, Aiden Donovan,” drawing out his name like this was the big time.
A dad of a senior who was headed to Yale in the fall, shouted up to her from the sidelines, “Thank you for giving birth to that boy!”
She pulled out her phone to text Rick.
Hilary: Aiden just scored a beauty!
It was 11:00 p.m. in Toronto, but it was Thursday, so she figured he was on set. When he was still on the Map, Hilary could see if he was in his hotel. And if he was, she could call. If not, it wasn’t worth bothering him at work. It would just go to voicemail or he would answer, “Rolling,” as if she should have known. But through the Map, after a few weeks on location, she’d get a sense of his schedule, where he lived, the main sets, his weekend routine. Maybe she was stalking. But holding that phone, zooming in on an image that was probably over a year old, made her less lonely, like they were together, at least a family on the Map. Then one Saturday night a year ago—or was it two?—she’d been out with her friends and even though it was three hours later in Georgia and already midnight in LA, she wanted to say hi, so she checked to see if Rick was awake. When she saw he wasn’t in his little roadside motel, she called.
“Hello?” He’d picked up after three rings.
“Hi. Where are you?”
“No you’re not. I can see you on the Map.”
The line went dead, and she watched his little face sneak out of the crowded city, onto dark country roads, and back to his motel. She couldn’t see his car or if someone was in it with him. But he wasn’t asleep—he was at a downtown Atlanta hotel instead, with an address easily searched, to which the app gave directions (one day, six hours, 2,180 miles). More searches and digging and hacking found a name and face and a phone number—the brassy producer of the TV movie he was shooting, two years younger than Hilary, a brunette who managed to show cleavage in every post. Hilary should have kicked Rick out, but she took him back. And when he removed himself from the Map, she acquiesced.
Rick: I saw the goal on the twitter feed. Was it a good shot?
Hilary: It was beautiful.
Rick: Who had the assist?
Hilary: I don’t remember.
Rick: Who fed him the ball?
Hilary: I know what an assist is.
Rick: Was it an outside shot?
Hilary: Yeah. Time and room.
She put away her phone to watch her son collect high fives and butt slaps and attaboys. Though she couldn’t see through his face mask, she was sure he was smiling a huge smile.
Xavier won the game by three goals. One of which, was scored by her son—after a season on the bench. It was chilly out, but while watching the boys shake hands with the defeated team, Hilary was warm. “Your son!” said the dad who’d thanked her for giving birth, on the way out.
It wasn’t even 9:00 p.m. when Hilary and Aiden, whose gear bag steamed the windows with stink, hit the road. Waze predicted a 10:30 p.m. arrival. Better than she’d expected. Maybe everything would be okay.
Hilary: On our way home.
“That was some goal. You must be stoked,” Hilary said to Aiden when she merged onto the 5.
“You should have seen the one against San Clemente yesterday.”
“I wish I’d been there. Sounds like you had a great trip.”
He told her about the teammates he’d bunked with and the big waves he bodysurfed and the Padres game. “Coaches got hammered,” he said.
She told him about the beautiful hike and the nice hotel and the funny parents at the bar.
“Yeah, that dude cracks me up,” Aiden said about one of the dads.
“A vegan who loves guns—that’s a new one.”
“He wears American flag Chubbies.”
“I know—kind of hard to miss that.”
She and Aiden had been traveling to games together for years. The rides home weren’t always this pleasant. Aiden wasn’t always calm and content. Neither was Hilary, even though it wasn’t her game and she knew better than to criticize. But she’d done it, badgered her own son. For playing, but not scoring. Or for dropping the damn ball. As if she could cradle a ball in that basket and run down the field. Rick always wanted a play-by-play better than the Twitter feed. He wanted to know if it was “trash goal” or “lucky” or “scored on lame D.” Was Aiden playing lazy? Did he look fast? And if he took a hit, did he get up quickly or did go down? “Kid’s got a glass jaw,” Rick once accused.
“I’m so happy for you. Must feel great to score like that,” Hilary said.
“Was Coach psyched?”
“I’m proud of you.” He was so large in the passenger seat of her car, scrolling through Instagram on his phone. “You really hung in there this season. And when you got called up, you rose to the occasion. That’s hard to do.”
“Thanks,” Aiden said.
The traffic thickened. Hilary looked at her phone, tethered to her dash. A red stripe stretched up the screen.
“Please text your sister. She hasn’t replied.”
It was 9:48 p.m.—ETA 10:33 p.m.—when the phone rang. Caller ID read: ANGIE, the mom of Mia’s carpool buddy, Justine.
“I hate to call so late,” Angela said over the Bluetooth.
“What is it?”
Aiden looked up from his phone.
“I hate to call like this.”
You said that already. Get to the point.
“Justine was on the phone with Mia, and I could hear them through the door. Please don’t tell Mia Justine told me. She’d be so mad.”
“Mia sounded really drunk.”
“Okay,” Hilary said. She glanced at her screen as if she could see Angie’s face, and the door through which she’d heard Mia crying, and Mia even, with a bottle in her hand.
“Do you want me to go to your house and check?” Angie asked.
“Not yet,” Hilary said, reading Waze. “We’ll be home in thirty-five minutes.”
“I can go over there. She’s with a friend I think.”
“Yeah, she is. I have to just process this for a minute. I’ll call if we get stuck. Thank you for letting me know.”
“Of course. Sorry to—”
“No, thank you. Really.”
Angela cut out and the music came back on in the car, loud and upbeat. Hilary shut it off. “Look at her account. Now,” she ordered Aiden. But he was already there. He showed her the video Mia had posted on her story.
“What did I do?” Mia cried. “Why did he stop loving me?” Hilary watched for a second, taking her eyes off the road—her daughter’s bedroom wall, the windows open, the Ficus tree leaves poking through. “Why?” Mia cried off screen. “Why?”
“Oh my God,” Hilary said. She called Mia via Bluetooth, but it went straight to voicemail. “Can you get that off of there?” she asked Aiden.
“I don’t know her password,” he said.
“Hack it. Come on, you have to hack in there and take that down.” All of Mia’s friends were probably watching now, reporting drunk-Mia to their moms.
Hilary swerved into the fast lane and leaned into the steering wheel. But there was too much traffic. Lane switching wouldn’t get them there faster, and if they were in an accident… She couldn’t let herself consider that possibility. Waze added two minutes to their ETA. “Why can’t you get that off the internet?” she said.
“It’s Snapchat. It’s already gone.”
“Fuck.” She dialed Mia again even though she knew it wouldn’t ring. And again.
“Mom, stop,” Aiden said.
“I locked all the liquor. What the hell?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged.
Then that calm that kicks in for Hilary in an emergency took over. She stopped swearing and focused, trying her best to change her Waze ETA, thankful that it wasn’t getting later, thankful Angela didn’t call again with more bad news. “Keep checking for another post,” she said, feeling sorry for Aiden because he’d finally gotten on the field and he’d scored, and before Angela had called, they were having a nice ride home.
“Turn off my Locations. And yours.”
“On the Map. I don’t want her to see us coming. I want to catch them,” Hilary said, picturing a party, loud music, rooms full of teens.
Aiden did as he was told.
“When we get there, I’ll get out in front and you drive around the block until I call you, okay?”
“Okay,” he said.
Hilary crossed several lanes to get onto the 10 where the traffic thinned and she could drive eighty. Still, her Waze ETA didn’t budge.
“So I’ll get out and you drive,” she said again once they were on surface streets, heading north toward their house. “I can sneak in.”
“Okay,” Aiden said. “But when should I come back?”
“I’ll call you.”
They turned into their neighborhood; their house was a block away. Hilary tasted adrenaline in her mouth, envisioned a get-back-at-Luke-for-being-a-dick party, a fuck-you-motherfucker-party she could bust, loud music, kids sprawled out on her lawn. But the house was quiet and dark.
“Go on,” Hilary whispered when Aiden got behind the wheel. Then she climbed up the steep lawn and sneaked around through the north gate to their backyard, listening for the sounds of teenagers drinking, but hearing only her uneven breath.
The kitchen was empty. But there was cherry juice on the counter and a few wedges of limes. That was all. No crushed solo cups, not even a mess. She crept through the living room and the TV room as if Mia might be hiding or ducking, but she wasn’t downstairs.
“Mia?” Hilary ran up the stairs, not worried about tipping them off now. Knowing it was worse because she’d fucking known the night before. Knowing like she’d fucking known.
The door to Mia’s room was ajar.
Vivian was on her back with vomit in her mouth and on her face, and on the floor around her, a puddle of red. “Vivian!” Hilary yelled.
Mia rolled on her bed—alive!
Hilary ran to Vivian. Vivian’s eyes were open and fixed, her limbs limp. “Vivian!”
She grabbed her and held her and breathed, because Vivian was warm, she responded, she was alive. “Come on, Vivian. Wake up, honey.”
“Mom,” Mia said.
“What did you drink? What did you do?”
“I…’’ was all Mia could muster. “Mom?” Bewildered, like Hilary was an apparition, there and then gone.
“What did you drink?” Hilary said. She pulled Vivian to her feet. “Come on, honey. Tell me.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t tell my dad,” Vivian managed. “He’s sober.”
“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” While Hilary carried this girl she remembered from the first year the girls danced Nutcracker together, smiling through the “Teddy Bear” dance in white, flouncy dresses with bows. They reached the bathroom in time for Vivian to throw up into the toilet. She took off Vivian’s soiled clothes, leaving on her bra and underwear, thinking about Aiden and how he would be back and how he’d need to help. She maneuvered Vivian into the shower and turned on the water and propped her in the corner so she wouldn’t fall, low to the floor so that even if she did, she wouldn’t get hurt. Then she returned to Mia.
Now Mia was on her back in a puddle of red cherry juice vomit, her green eyes open like Vivian’s had been. The face of a doll covered in puke.
“Mia!” For a split second she thought, I wish I could take a picture so they’d realize what they’d done, because it was the most horrifying thing she’d ever seen. But there wasn’t time. “Mia!”
Hilary grabbed Mia and held her. She was so little, only five-two, just over a hundred pounds. “What did you do? What did you do?”
Vivian had thrown up in the shower. And as soon as they reached the bathroom, Mia threw up in the toilet. Hilary’s phone rang.
“Mom, can I come home?”
It was Aiden. She’d forgotten to call.
She helped Mia out of her shirt and pants, slid her into the bathtub, and washed away the puke with the handheld shower. Mia’s eyes struggled to focus, then rolled away, exhausted by the attempt.
“I want to die.” Mia hung herself over the edge of the long porcelain tub, cool and deep like a sarcophagus, the same tub where Hilary would hide when Rick wouldn’t reply or after they’d fought and he’d walked out and there was nothing she could do but stare at her blank phone screen and sob. She knew that feeling. She’d cried in that tub and wanted to die, too.
“No,” Vivian said, her face on the shower floor, her mouth an inch from the drain. “I tried to do it once. It’s not good.”
There wasn’t time to say, Oh my God, Vivian or Dear Lord or Jesus fucking Christ, because Mia was puking again, and Hilary was on her knees, holding her head while vomit drenched her jeans.
“But he told me he loved me,” Mia said. “I let him touch my body. And he dumped me. I want to die.”
“I’m sorry, baby. I know it hurts.”
Finally, Hilary was able to call Vivian’s mother, but she didn’t pick up. She left a voice message: “This is Hilary. It’s an emergency. Call back.”
“Mom,” Aiden yelled from the bottom of the stairs.
He’d seen the vomit on his way to her bathroom. “Mom,” he said when he saw the girls. “Oh my God.”
“They’re alive,” Hilary said.
“Is that blood?” Aiden said, stricken.
“Juice. What did they mix it with? Do you know?” Hilary begged.
Vivian threw up again so Hilary held her. She said to Aiden, “Hold your sister’s head so she doesn’t hit it on the tub.” He did.
“I showed her a bottle of vodka Josh gave me so his mother wouldn’t find it,” Aiden confessed.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Hilary said while rinsing Vivian’s hair.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think she’d drink it. I hid it in my closet, but I told her where.”
“Why would you do that?”
Aiden didn’t respond. It didn’t matter. It was done. “Hold their heads so they don’t die.”
Hilary stalked out of the bathroom into the quiet of the rest of the house. Her two dogs loitered on the landing, their toenails clacking on the polished wood. Neither barked, and they were barkers. Four wet brown eyes watched Hilary survey the scene. Aiden’s door was open, his closet, too. She followed a trail: the girls entered his room, opened the closet, and slid his desk chair inside to reach the top shelf. There, behind a stack of board games they never played—Monopoly and Sorry and Candy Land—Hilary found the bottle of vodka. Half-empty.
“How much was in this?” She shook the bottle at her son. “How much?”
“That much. Honestly, it doesn’t look like they had any.”
Another truth sank around her like heavy gas. She unscrewed the top and took a sip. “It’s water.” She cried while doing the math, adding up the shots in her head. Half a bottle in these two girls.
Hilary tried to reach Vivian’s mother again.
“Vivian, honey, what’s your father’s number? Mia, what about her brother? Can we call him?”
“My mom drinks,” Vivian announced before slipping back into her drunken haze.