Heaven and Other Zip Codes by Mathieu Cailler follows the complicated relationships between a lonely, thirty-something-year-old mother Searcy, her awkward preadolescent son Theo, cheating husband and disingenuous stepfather Hoit, and young, painter-turned-tutor Emerson. Below is an exclusive excerpt from the contemporary novel.
Searcy waited in the foyer. It was ten minutes before Mr. Toffler and Theo’s first session together. There wasn’t homework—Theo had made sure to tell her this four times now—but Searcy had vetoed her boy’s idea of canceling the tutoring session, thinking that there was always work that could be done, always something that could be previewed or reviewed. Even if it was just Mr. Toffler and Theo getting to know one another, that would be something.
She inspected herself in the reflection of a nearby grandfather clock. Her top was a tad low-cut, exposing a hint of cleavage, so she plucked a shawl from a hook near the front door and wrapped it around her neck. Hoit had purchased this stole for her in Milan on their honeymoon some three years ago, almost to the month.
Maybe it was best to wait outside for Mr. Toffler, where she could offer a wave and let him know he was on the right street, though she wasn’t sure what to look for. She had found his flyer on the community board at church and had scrawled the info on her hand. His rate was fair, Theo’s grades weren’t strong, and she found it strained their relationship to complete homework with her boy.
As she sauntered along the brick walkway, she heard a leaf crunch behind her. Theo had been upstairs, soaking in as much computer time as possible. “Here we are,” she said, scanning Theo from top to bottom. Each night, she prayed hard that her boy would find his way, become popular and happy, and flourish as a late bloomer. She had tried her best to make a nice life for him, a comfortable one. It wasn’t fair that he’d lost his real dad at only three years old. “Theo, it’s chilly and you’re not wearing shoes. Go inside before you catch cold.”
“I just want to see what kind of car he has.”
He had always had an interest in cars, passed along from his dad, Keith. “You can look from the window.”
“Come on, Mom! I’ll run inside as soon as he pulls up.”
Just then, three minutes late, an old, orange car rumbled up the road. Searcy knew it was him. This was a cul-de-sac, and she would’ve remembered a car like this. She waved, and the car slowed down.
“What is that?” Theo said.
“Orange with a black top. The perfect Halloween car.”
Searcy reminded Theo that he was supposed to get inside as soon as he got a look at the car but realized, after she’d done so, that he was already gone, his body blurring through the first-story windows.
“Sorry I’m late,” Mr. Toffler said, getting out of the car, starting up the driveway. His voice was lower in person that it had been on the phone. “I’ll be sure to make up the time. I left early. Made a wrong turn, and for some reason they’re very ‘anti-U-turn’ around these parts.”
“That’s why I stood out here. I’m not a nut or anything.” Searcy’s eyes brushed over his body. He was probably about ten years her junior, maybe in his mid-to-late twenties, and he wore a white shirt, a gray tweed blazer, and black pants. His cropped beard wasn’t the same shade as his dark hair, but a lighter brown, and his skin was tanned, probably from his convertible. A bag that looked like it belonged to a house-call doctor, with high-slanting tops, hung from his hand. He was another one of these L.A. hipsters. A man who looked like a boy, or maybe a boy that was trying to look like a man—she wasn’t sure.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Toffler,” Searcy said.
“Call me Emerson,” he said.
He extended his hand and they shook. His grip was hard, and his fingers were speckled with paint. They started up the brick path, side by side, and entered the warm house.
Related: Read an interview with Mathieu Cailler, author of Heaven and Other Zip Codes
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