THE APARTMENT DOOR SWUNG OPEN, AND WE EXCHANGED terrified stares.
I recovered first, given that it was in fact my mom. Not held hostage with a knife to her neck, just Mom.
She, on the other hand, freaked out. She stared at me for a moment, then down at her keys, at the number on the apartment door, and then back at me.
The bag of groceries hit the floor, slumping to one side as its forgotten contents settled. She took a few steps forward, taking in my two-thousand-dollar black-tie splendor with her mouth wide open.
"Good God, Hunter, is that you? What happened?"
"I decided to go for a new look."
She blinked once in slow motion. "No shit!"
Having induced mom profanity, I had to chuckle.
She took a few more steps, shaking her head, and reached out to touch my platinum hair.
"Don't worry, Mom, it won't break."
"It looks pretty good. Actually, you look fabulous, but…"
My hand went to the bow tie. Had it already gone squiggly? "But what?"
"You hardly look like… you."
Her voice cracked on the last word, and in one awful moment my mother managed to go all the way from profanity to tears. Her eyes glistened, her lips trembled, and she actually sniffed.
I was appalled.
"I'm sorry." She rested one hand on my shoulder, the other covering her eyes. Her shoulders shook.
"What's wrong? What did I…?"
She looked up at me, and I realized she was laughing now, a deep sound that shook her whole body.
"I'm sorry, Hunter, you just look so damn different."
I took a deep, relieved breath. We were back in profanity territory.
"Yeah, I'm going to this party tonight," I explained. "And it's kind of formal, so Jen and I were hanging out and we figured it would be fun to… you know, dress up."
"Jen did that to your hair?"
"Well… well." She cleared her throat, just smiling now, though her eyes still glittered. "You look incredible. When did you learn to tie a bow tie?"
"Recently." I looked at the clock. "Sorry, Mom, but I've got to get to the party. It's way uptown."
"Of course." She nodded, the shock finally releasing its hold on her. Then she giggled. "I'm not going to tell your dad, though. Can't wait until tomorrow morning. Oh, hang on, I almost forgot." She reached into her bag. "This really nice guy—"
"Yeah, I know all about the nice guy."
My phone emerged, and I reached for it. The familiar shape slid into my hand, solid and gloriously real. "Thanks for getting it back for me. The nice guy, he didn't ask any weird questions or anything, did he?"
"Uh, no. He just said he found it in Chinatown."
"Was he a bald guy?"
Her eyes narrowed. "No. Why would he be?"
"Or a silver-haired woman with a big alien face right here?"
"Hunter, how exactly did you lose your phone?"
I shrugged, promising myself to explain everything later. "Just dropped it, I guess. Thanks. I'm glad you're okay."
"Of course I'm okay." She smiled, stepping back to take me in again. "I've survived worse things than you dyeing your hair blond."
I didn't tell her that wasn't what I'd meant, just hugged her.
"Have a good time, Hunter," she said as we pulled apart. "And tell Jen that I really, really want to meet her."
I smiled. "I will. I want you to meet her too."
The weird thing was, I really did.