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"For Love or Money"
Dad's jokes are always dumb, but all the men in suits who stand near him all the time always laugh anyway. They show all their teeth and clap Dad on the back and Dad smiles the smile that's never on any of his movie posters.
Right now, while all of them are standing by the outdoor pool, now's his chance to warn her. He slips off his shoes and runs to her room. "Mom," he pants, bursting in.
"Happy birthday, honey. Can you zip Mommy up?" She takes tiny little steps to turn around, exposing her back to him. The mermaid costume is shiny, blue and green and purple pearly scales, and tight, so she can't walk right. She looks small, like she's ten years old too, and he knows that he can save her.
"Mom, it's just a joke. Dad was just kidding. We're not getting dressed up as our favorite animals. You don't have to do this."
"Honey, zip Mommy up," she says like she didn't hear him, taking a long sip of a honey-colored drink and then holding her breath like she's fat or something.
His fingers close around the tab of the zipper. "You don't have to dress up for him," he tries again. "Just say the dress didn't fit or something." Dad's out there with lots of friends in suits just waiting to laugh. But he doesn't want to laugh at her. He wants to hear her laugh when she brings out a birthday cake and cuddles him close and sings "Happy Birthday" loud and off-key and ignores the video camera.
"Logan?" She leans back from the mirror. Her eyelashes are thick with mascara, and she's holding three lipsticks. "Sweetie, what's the matter?"
He looks at her reflection. "I don't want him making fun of you," he says. He pulls his sleeves down over his wrists as he looks away from the bright shape in the mirror.
"Honey, you know how Mommy has to dress up for work, right?"
He rolls his eyes. "I'm not a baby, Mom. And it's called 'wardrobe.'"
"Sorry, kiddo," she smiles, and he can smell perfume on her warm skin when she cups his cheek. "Okay, so sometimes I have to dress up for work. And sometimes I dress up because I'm going somewhere nice, or because I feel like it. Right? Nothing wrong with liking pretty things, right?" She waves one hand around her bedroom like this is the first time all the lace and silk has become visible. The smile slips off her face and she does up the zipper herself. "But sometimes, baby, I dress up because it's what your father wants."
"But do you want it?" That's what he doesn't get. The way she's putting herself together today is like a knight putting on his armor. She swallows the rest of her drink.
"I want your father to be happy, Logan," she says, turning back around to the mirror and starting to apply the darkest lipstick. He hands her a tissue and she blots and leaves it crumpled on the vanity. She fluffs up her hair, steps into her heels, and faces him again, smiling the smile that's on all of her movie posters. "Now, how do I look?"
He looks up at her. "You look great, Mom," he whispers.