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Three Legs Are Better than Two

Elise was early meeting her son Aaron, thirty-five, for lunch in Manhattan, but she could see through the diner window that he was already there. She was surprised that Susie, blonde and delicate-looking, was with him. They’d overlapped at Harvard and now lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, but as far as Elise knew, they’d never been friendly. She vaguely remembered that Susie had split up with her girlfriend several months before, at around the same time that Aaron’s boyfriend had moved out.

“I used to call it the famous diner,” Aaron was telling Susie as Elise sat down, “because it was where my parents met for lunch on their first date.”

Elise ordered blueberry pancakes, which her late husband had loved.

She asked Susie, a lawyer, about her job.

“Actually, I’m thinking about taking some time off to finish a novel.”

Elise vaguely remembered she had a trust fund.

Aaron looked tired. He’d recently been promoted to assistant director of media for his advertising firm.

“Everything’s going pretty well,” he said. He liked his new assistant.

But something about him.

“And how’s your quiet little suburban life, Mom?” he teased, because that was what she’d say when he’d suggest she move to the city.

“Actually, I have a new student.”

Several years before, she’d retired from teaching high school English and started her own business as a writing tutor.

“She’s—Julia’s—fine, but her dad, Bill, is one of those helicopter parents from hell.”

She smiled at Susie, but Susie seemed to be avoiding looking at her directly.

“Is he on the spectrum?” Aaron asked. “My mom thinks most people are on the spectrum,” he told Susie.

Elise smiled. “No. He’s just obnoxious.”

Aaron and Susie were looking at each other as if, Elise thought, they had some secret.

“Bill’s one of those finance types, a few years older than me, maybe early sixties. Slicked-back, graying hair. Polo shirts on even the coldest days. Not really fat, but tall and broad. He takes up a lot of space. Divorced, of course. Anyway, most parents just drop off their child and leave, but on the first day Bill announced he was staying.”

She worried she was talking too much.

“So Julia and I will be in the dining room and Bill’s in the living room, but there’s no door, so he can hear everything. Suddenly he’ll call out, ‘What’s your philosophy about using outlines, Elise?’ Or, ‘Elise? Does she need a thesaurus?’ It’s really annoying.”

“I would have been mortified if my dad had done something like that,” Susie murmured.

“Actually, Julia seems okay with him. She tends to be reserved, though. Of course, who wouldn’t be, with her dad sitting there eavesdropping.”

Aaron was looking at Susie.

“Just one more thing. I’ve told Bill—more than once—that he doesn’t have to pay me in cash, but every single time he makes me stand there while he slowly counts out the bills.”

“Maybe he likes you, Mom.”

“Believe me, I’m too old for him.”

At the end of the meal, although Susie said she loved the famous diner, she’d barely touched her salad. And Aaron, unusually for him, hadn’t wanted a bite of Elise’s blueberry pancakes.

Looking out the window on the train going home, Elise wondered what, if anything, had been going on. It was as if Aaron and Susie had some weird secret, like they were suddenly bisexual and were getting married.


Julia, twelve, had dark hair and a thin face that Elise thought would eventually be pretty. She had problems with spelling and with expanding her ideas. Elise found her quick to learn, easy to work with, and likable.

Bill stopped interrupting their sessions, but at the end of Julia’s hour, when she’d go to the bathroom (for so long that Elise suspected she was on her phone), he’d talk to Elise, blocking her path so she couldn’t escape to another room. After he found out that Aaron had gone to Harvard, he’d grill Elise about his courses and extra-curriculars. He’d comment on her furniture, asking where she’d bought something, as if he wanted to buy the same thing for himself.

At some point he’d always ask, “So what’s new?”

“Not much.”

He’d also ask more personal questions, like if she missed the classroom—“Not really”—or if she ever thought about moving to the city—“Nope.”

“When did your husband die?”

“It’s been a while.”

She found it amusing that she was as terse with him as Julia was in her writing.

It didn’t seem to bother him.

“I like that shade of blue,” he said about a sweater she was wearing.