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Chapter 1

I lie in the flower field staring at the sky. My head peacefully rests on my hands. The sun, which at first I barely felt due to the cool breeze, is beginning to burn my ankles and face, the only part of my body that remains uncovered. I stare at a cloud, and I can’t decide if it reminds me of a unicorn or a horse-drawn carriage. I gaze at the clouds, and I wonder why I never did this activity as a child. I lie there debating on the cloud shape when I hear an “Ann come on, its time to go”. It is my husband’s voice, booming from the car. His voice bounces against the white flowers, hits my ears, and moves on with the breeze. Perhaps it is a unicorn drawn carriage, I decide while looking at the cloud. I don’t know why in movies it is only children who play this game, because I could lie here and stare at the sky forever.

I am twenty-eight years of age, married for five years, and an accountant for six. When did this happen? I’ve accomplished most of my goals, but I can’t remember the accomplishment process. I try to recall the first steps of my road to success. Perhaps it had been when I got accepted to college, or maybe when I got that scholarship. Perhaps it had been when I met Charlie, my husband. If I really want to be literal, I suppose my road to success started when I traveled down the birth canal, although I played a rather small part in that process.

Maybe the cloud is actually a lady wearing a beautiful bonnet, perhaps the kind Audrey Hepburn wore in My Fair Lady. I could watch that movie a million times; in fact I think I have. Charlie used to offer to watch that movie with me when he wronged me in some way; we rarely watched that movie together. In fact, after the past two years, I owe him more movies than I care to count.

“Annabelle” Charlie’s voice resonates across the field, sticking to my ears. He only uses my full name when he is irritated. We had left Boston to visit his parents over the weekend, a three-hour excursion. I had asked him to stop on the side of the road. “Annabelle”. I know that tone. In a minute he’ll get out of the car, and in less than sixty seconds my peaceful calm will be ruined. I use my hands to push up from the ground, and I reluctantly drag my body towards the car. “Sorry” I mumble, “I spaced out”. I say this to ease his grimaced face. Charlie is silent. I owe him another movie.

      &&&

We are eating at his parent’s house. Charlie’s mom is telling us about a recent wedding she has been too. Elaine Statten, is a kind friendly woman, whose mouth never rests. When I first met her, I used to wonder how it was possible for her to have an hour long monologue about a vase she saw in an antique store ten years ago. However today, I am grateful for her gabbing ability, because it means I can sit here absorbed in my own thoughts.

Elaine is slightly overweight, wearing a yellow house dress, which contrasts sharply with her bright red dyed hair. Every time I see Elaine, her hair is a different color. Last time it been black, the time before that blonde, and if I remember correctly, the time before that it was a shade of purple. Charlie and I used to make bets about what color her hair was going to be. When he guessed right I would accuse of him asking his parents ahead of time, “Mom doesn’t discuss such things with me, and you know dad doesn’t talk about such trivialities”, was always his reply.

Don, Charlie’s dad, sits silently eating his spaghetti, and I wonder if he is also grateful for his wife’s talking ability. Don enjoys talking the way most people enjoy pumping toilets. He avoids words when he can, and when certain situations force him to converse, he keeps his words to a minimum. Sometimes I wonder if the reason for Elaine’s incessant talking is to balance out her husband’s silence. Supposedly Don used to spin entertaining stories, and Elaine used to discourse about politics, religion, and the absurdity of modern art. This was before the death of their eldest son Tim.

When Charlie was three years old, his eldest brother Tim, died in a car accident. Tim had been eighteen years old. He left behind two grieving parents, two grieving brothers, and Charlie, who only has one memory of Tim. Charlie’s other brothers, Sam and Al, had been seventeen and sixteen at the time. After Tim’s death, Don began an affair with a woman who attended the Statten’s church. The affair unfortunately became public. Elaine forgave Don, however, his sons did not share their mother’s ability to forgive. They both left for California, Sam to attend college, and Al to work in a seafood restaurant. For a while , all contact between children and parents had ceased, and when they regained contact , Elaine and Don had become completely different people. According to Sam, Don always had a joke or an anecdote at the dinner table. Sam’s favorite was about his dad’s colleague , who started a pipe collection to impress a woman, only to find out the woman was kidding when she said she liked pipes. “Dad’s stories were always great conversation starters”, Sam told Charlie once. “Any time I had an awkward moment on a date, I’d tell one of dad’s jokes, and the conversation would flow from there”. Last time I saw Al, he told me about the time his mom battled against the high school library because they got rid of certain books. She started a petition, got 500 signatures, and managed to get the school board to put those books back into the library. But these people were strangers to my husband. Charlie grew up with a silent father, and a mother whose biggest concern was finding a place in the house to store her excess silverware.

“Does everything taste good ?”, Elaine asks me. “Delicious”, I reply. Elaine chuckles lightly. “What’s so funny ?” I ask. “Oh nothing”, Elaine answers. “It’s just that I asked you this question about four times. I was beginning to think I’d never get an answer.” Charlie walks towards the kitchen,” I’m going to get the ice cream, come help me ma” he says as he walks through the swinging door. Even though I cannot hear them, I know they are talking about me in the kitchen. I know this with the same certainty I know the Eiffel Tower is still standing in Paris. I could probably even figure out what they are saying. Elaine would start “So there is still no change?”

“No.”

“I think she has gotten worse.”

“No she hasn’t, she just hasn’t gotten better.”

“Maybe you should take her to see some one .”

“She’ll be fine , it’s just phase she’s going though.”

“Phases don’t go on this long…”

“Ma leave it alone, everything will be fine.”

“Charlie, maybe you should consider -”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“All I’m saying is -”

“Ma !!”

“Ok.”

The kitchen door swings open, and Charlie and Elaine reappear in the dining room, carrying greens bowls filled with chocolate ice cream. I enjoy my ice cream, barely listening to Elaine describe the floral arrangement at the wedding.

The next morning, my in-laws walk us out to the car. It is time for the good-bye ritual. Elaine hugs me, and gives Charlie a chaste kiss on the cheek. Don and Charlie shake hands, Don’s eyes are strained, so I know he is about to say something.” “Drive safe”, he orders us. His eyes are still strained, and I know that is not what he wanted to tell us. They stand in the driveway, watching our little black car drive away.

On the drive back home, Charlie tries to have a conversation with me. A task that has been quite difficult for him these last couple of months. “I think red really suits mom”, he says. “Much better than black anyway”.

“Yeah I suppose.”

“Dad is going to start growing tomatoes in the garden. Next time they visit, we’ll have ourselves some organic vegetables.”

“That’s nice.”

“I think we should see that new Will Smith movie that came out. I don’t remember the name, it’s a drama movie, got excellent reviews. I think you’ll like it.”

“If you want to.”

“Did, I tell you that John (Sam’s son) got into UCLA.”

“Good for him.”

Charlie gives up, closes his mouth, and pops a Beatles CD into the car stereo. We drive the rest of the way home in silence, listening to love songs

 

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Chapter 2

I lie in bed staring at the ceiling. The smoothness of the white paint is very mesmerizing. For the past year, my weekdays have been very monotonous. Wake up, drink strong coffee, make small talk at work, gobble up dinner as fast as I can, hide in the bedroom from Charlie, and go to sleep.

When I started retreating into the bedroom, I used to watch movies or read books, as Charlie watched the TV in the living room. But lately, I can’t seem to concentrate on anything except my drab ceiling. The only change in my routine is Charlie’s reaction when he comes into the bedroom at night. Sometimes (the good days), he says goodnight, turns off the light, and crawls quietly into bed. However, there are days, when he attempts to interact with me, sometimes with words, sometimes with caresses, trying to prove to himself that he still has a wife.

He comes into the room smiling, “they were showing Pretty Woman on TV tonight, it’s actually not as bad as I remember it being. I actually liked it a little, maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’ve developed a crush on Julia Roberts”. He chuckles. Today he is going to try to interact with me.

He sits on the bed, his back leaning against the wall. “I forgot to mention during dinner, I got the promotion. It’s not official yet, but Andrew (Charlie’s boss) told me that I’m the only candidate left. You know what that means, an extra 10,000 a year.”

“That’s great.”

“We could take a nice Caribbean cruise this summer. It would be so nice, lying on the beach during the day, staring at the stars from the deck at night . What do you think?”

“You sound like a commercial.”

“Whatever it takes to get you interested.” He smiles, leans down, and kisses me on the lips.

“Don’t”

“You know it’s been more than two months since we…”

“Well you always talk about having children right. If I have a child, we won’t be able to have sex during the last month of pregnancy, or the first month afterward. This is good practice.”

“I know it’s been a while since you took a biology course, but sex is needed to make a child.”

“I’m just not in the mood, maybe tomorrow.”

Charlie sits up, leans against the wall again. “I love you”, he says. Every neuron in my brain is telling me what I should say. All he wants is to hear is “I love you too, Charlie”. That’s not that difficult. A few words, and he is reassured, at least for tonight. He’ll turn off the light, go to sleep, and it will be at least twenty-four hours before he brings up such subjects as sex and cruises. I feel his eyes watching me, he needs a response. I open my mouth , and let the words spill out naturally. “Good for you”. Those were not the words he wanted to hear.

“You know I can only take so much. I have nothing against divorce.”

“Two seconds ago you love me, and now you want to divorce me.”

“I don’t want to fight.”

“Than don’t.”

He gets up from the bed, grabs his pillow, and heads for the living room. “Aren’t you going to turn off the lights?”, I yell at him. “Turn off your own damn lights” he replies, slamming the bedroom door as he leaves the room.

He uttered the unspeakable word. Divorce. I know it’s been thought of before, and possibly mentioned during conversations he’s had with his mother. However, this is the first time he’s said it front of me. I’m not certain how to feel about that.

I remember the day Charlie and I met. I had lain in the university park, reading a humdrum textbook about the modern history of Asia, when a large foot stepped on my book. “Sorry I didn’t see you”, said the owner of the foot. His sneaker had left a muddy smudge on a photograph of a Buddhist temple. “Let me make up for my rudeness, how about a cup of coffee.”

“You’re very forward.”

He laughs. “So what do you say?”

“I don’t’ even know your name.”

“My name is Charlie Statton. Problem solved ?”

“You don’t know my name.”

“What is your name ?”

“Annabelle Burle.”

“Problem solved again. So what do you say ?”

“I’m sorry, I’m just not interested”

“Well maybe if you got to know me over some coffee you would be interested.”

I laugh. “You’re not going to stop are you ?”

“Oh, I’ll stop eventually”, he looks at his watch.” I have a test in 5 hours.”

I laugh again. “Ok, I’ll have a cup of coffee with you”

“Mission complete.” That was the day Charlie and I started dating.

A year later, Charlie confessed to me, that he had purposely stepped on my book, because he needed an excuse to talk to me. “You were so beautiful , just lying there in the grass, I needed a noble reason to approach you. Since I couldn’t find one, I stepped on your book .” I’m not sure I believe his confession, but I enjoyed listening to him tell me this.

When I called to tell my best friend about Charlie , the first question she asked was “Is he good-looking ?”. That has always been a difficult question for me to answer. Every time I see his picture, I think wow, I married a decent looking guy. But in life, Charlie wears his charisma like a mask around his face. Everyone is attracted to Charlie. He has this spark that captivates people, the way the light captivates flies. He can make something as uninteresting as geology, sound exciting. I used to tell him he should have become a politician or a teacher instead of an engineer. “You’re wasting your oration skills in that office” I’d tell him. It was his charisma that hooked me. He brought exhilaration and luster into my dull life. Every date we did something different. He took me rock climbing, roller-skating, paint-balling, wind surfing, he took me on nature walks, to impressionism art galleries, restaurants that most people didn’t know existed, and to each of these outings he brought along his never-ending energy. Sometimes I wondered if he took me on all these atypical outings because he worried I’d get bored. Truthfully, I would have been just as happy watching a movie and eating hamburgers.

Sometimes I wondered what he saw in me. Perhaps, he wanted an audience. I did my share of talking, but more often than not, I’d let him manipulate the conversation, and I would sit there soaking up his words, and enjoying his company.

I remember the disastrous dinner, when I brought him home to meet my parents and brother. My brother bombarded him with condescending questions. “So you’re going to be engineer, they don’t make much do they?” Mark, my brother, asked Charlie. “I’d make enough.”

“But would you make enough for Annabelle?”

“I don’t need anybody to support me.”

“Anna, don’t talk back to your brother” my dad said, always siding with Mark. My mom tried to smooth over the situation. She had lots of practice. “An engineer is a very respectable job”, my mom interjected. “And there is no shame in spending your life in debt”, my brother adds. Mark was on a warpath that day, there was no stopping him. Charlie sat quietly chewing his food. He is a pacifist when it comes to family battles.

I must have apologized ten times after that dinner. “It’s ok”, Charlie tried to reassure me. “They are evil, I can’t stand them”, I inform him. “This is why I never wanted you to meet them.”

“Everybody is embarrassed by their family. Mine isn’t exactly perfect.”

“At least your parents are nice.”

“That’s not always a good thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing.” Charlie replied and he quickly changed the subject.

Sometimes I wonder why I married Charlie. We have different temperament and interests. He was not the guy I imagined myself ending up with. I always imagined my husband to be a moody intellectual, the type who lurks in coffee shops, and always carries a copy of Plato’s republic. A man of complex emotions, who enjoys watching foreign movies, and who always seems a bit displeased with the world. Charlie is the antithesis of this. His idea of a foreign movie is Rocky in Spanish. I often found Charlie’s happiness irritating. I once heard a joke, that the way to make a man happy, is to show up naked with beer. Well Charlie doesn’t even need the beer. Sometimes I think I married Charlie because it was the way our relationship was moving. We had been dating for three years, and if I didn’t marry him, I’d have to break up with him. I was not ready to do that. When I met Charlie, I was at a stand still, and he was this force of perpetual movement. I let myself get pulled along, and before I realized what had happened, I was traveling alongside Charlie. But constant movement can get tiring, and lately I’ve been feeling exhausted.

The exhaustion started sixteen months ago, the day after my mom’s funeral. It crept up slowly at first, unnoticed by Charlie or I. But before I knew it, I was spending my evenings hiding in the bedroom and staring at the ceiling. I wonder how long I can refuse Charlie before he finds somebody else. Maybe he already started having an affair. I imagine him with another woman, over her, under her, to the side of her. Strangely, these images don’t bother me. The frightening part though, is that Charlie knows I wouldn’t care if he had a mistress, and I’m not ready to lose Charlie.

&&&

I prepared beef stew tonight. I never cook, unless you count the microwave dinners I have made. Although I somehow managed to burn those. Something about microwave power. Charlie sits at the table grinning while I tell him about my day. At this point, he would be happy to eat fried dirt, if it means that I will continue talking to him. I even bring up the cruise.

Charlie gets quiet all of a sudden. “Listen Ann’, he says. “I didn’t mean what I said yesterday, I was just -.” “I know”, I interrupt him. “It’s ok.” I start talking about the cruise again, as I clear the plates off the table. I stroll back over to the table, give Charlie a kiss, take his hand, and lead him towards the bedroom. Time to mark sex off the to-do list.

Dinner. Conversation. Sex. This is all it takes to keep my husband happy. I can do this. I used to do this. Well all except the dinner, but judging from Charlie’s reluctance to devour my stew, my dinner making skills will not be missed. Conversation and sex, they used to be a big part of my life, there is no reason I can’t continue doing them. The only difference between the past and the present is that I used to enjoy these activities.

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Chapter 3

“Have you heard the news”, Callie, my coworker, asks me, as she taps her perfectly manicured nails against my desk.

“What news?”

Well, rumor has it, that you, Tom, and I, are going to be sent to work in the Auburn office for two weeks.”

“My in-laws live there.”

“You could save the company money and live with them.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I know what you mean; I hate my future in-laws too.”

“I don’t hate them, I just wouldn’t want to live with them for two weeks.” These last words however, fall on deaf ears, because Callie has left my cubicle.

Every company has an office gossip, and in our company that person is Callie. She makes rounds a couple of times a day, stopping uninvited in cubicles, and sucking information out of people. She is always the first to know company news. On one occasion, she even knew about a project, before our boss was aware of it. I’m not sure I want to know how she got that information.

Callie is twenty-five and she looks like a supermodel. She has stylish short blonde hair, a pretty face, a perfect figure, and alabaster skin. On her left hand, she wears an enormously gaudy diamond ring, a symbol of her engagement to a hot-shot lawyer, who is twelve years her senior. Every time she walks into my cubicle, she is all smiles, giving me the headline news about my fellow coworkers, or when it is a slow day, she talks about her impending wedding. Her happiness reminds me of Charlie, sometimes I wonder if her cheerfulness is genuine, or if it’s just a façade.

Callie’s news turns out to be true. During a lunch meeting, my boss announces, that Callie, Tom, and I, within the next month, will be sent to Auburn for two weeks. Callie is ecstatic. Her fiancé is away on a three-month business trip, and this short stint in Auburn will curb her boredom. Tom, however, does not share Callie’s sentiments. Tom is forty-two, married, and his wife gave birth to their fifth child last year. He has no desire to be parted from his family. “It’s only two weeks”, Callie says trying to cheer him up. “You can drive home on the weekends.” As for me, I’m excited to be leaving. The past few weeks, Charlie has been happier, but I’ve just been wearied. Auburn will be a perfect place to rest.

      &&&

      It is my third day working in Auburn. Every evening, after work, I tell Tom and Callie that I have to go have dinner with the in-laws. Than I call Charlie, and apologetically explain that I could not get out of dinner with my co-workers, and I ask him to pass this information on to his mom. This is an excuse that Charlie understands. I than proceed to spend the evening wandering around Auburn. Not that there are many places to wander.

Today I wander into a used book store. I stand in the nature aisle, skimming though a book about eagles. I’m not particularly interested in eagles, or any birds for that matter, but this book contains beautiful pictures, and I absent-mindedly stare at them. “Excuse me mam”, an employee of the store says to me. “Can I help you with anything?” “No thanks, just looking,” I reply as I watch the employee walk back to the cash register. He is a gorgeous man. He has brown hair and blue eyes, and the type of face that makes me want to swoon. I glance at my book, and decide that I might later obtain an interest in eagles; therefore I should defiantly buy this book. I walk up to the cash register and hand the book to the employee. I watch him ring up the book, as I enjoy his attractiveness.

I am sitting in my hotel room. I glance at my wedding and engagement ring. My engagement ring is beautiful, although nowhere near as extravagant as Callie’s. I sit in the armchair remembering the day I received this ring.

It had been a Saturday afternoon, and Charlie and I were strolling through the park where we met. All of the sudden Charlie stops walking, “I forgot to give you something”, he informs me. I wonder what he is talking about, since he’s not carrying any bags with him. Charlie slides his hand in his pocket, and takes out a little black box. He hands it to me. I slowly open the box, and I’m shocked to see a diamond ring. The sun had been at a perfect angle that day, and its rays hit the diamond, causing it to infuse my eyes with a multitude of colors. I had no reason to be shocked. We had been dating for three years, and marriage was often mentioned seriously in our conversations. But I still could not believe that Charlie was actually proposing. Except he was not proposing, Charlie just stood there smiling, watching me admire my ring. “I suppose I’ll have to marry you for this”, I say, as I slip the diamond ring on my finger. “Nah”, Charlie replies. “You’ll just have to watch all the Rocky films with me.” I laugh. “If those are my choices, I rather marry you”, I tell him, as I lean in to give him a kiss. I don’t remember the rest of that conversation, although I remember that it was long and pleasant. However, what I do recall; is my ring glimmering under the sun, how Charlie’s face beamed, and how for the first time in my life, I felt that everything had fallen into place.

I take off my wedding and engagement ring, and I place them on a nearby table. I stare at my naked hand. I walk around the room, feeling the air hit the place of my finger that had been covered for over five years. I brush my hair with my left hand, as I admire my bare finger in the mirror. My hand feels light and unburdened, and I hate it. I quickly put my rings back on. However; it’s too late, because Amy Miller’s face pops into my head.

Anytime I feel guilty about anything, I always think of Amy. She had been my best friend the second half of high school. I met her the summer before my junior year while working for Target. Within weeks after meeting, we were inseparable.

“Annabellalalala”, Amy’s voice sings in my head. “Are you going to Jeff’s party tonight?” Amy asked me, one day after work. I had only known her two weeks at the time. Although we had many mutual friends, we never hung out outside of work.

“I can’t go, I’m sorry.”

“You have to go, Alex is going to be there, and I need a buffer.”

“I’d really like to go, but I can’t. My parents are too strict, and there’s no way they’d let me out that late.”

“Have your brother cover for you.”

“He is even stricter than my parents.”

“You should sneak out than.”

“They’d hear me.”

“Are you allowed to walk around the house?”

“Of course!”

“Just do a lot of walking around tonight. Than when you actually sneak out, your parents won’t suspect that those noises are you leaving the house.”

“You’re quite the expert at this.”

“Let’s just say, I have a lot of practice.”

I followed Amy’s plan that night. I spent the night making a lot of noise in the kitchen. . My brother yelled at me my five times, my dad yelled at me four times, and my mom scolded me twice. By the time I snuck out, nobody suspected anything.

Amy and I arrived at the party at one in the morning. By the time we arrived, everybody was already wasted. To make matters worse, Alex was not there. “Sorry I dragged you this party”, Amy tells me earnestly. “Well since we’re here, we might as well have some fun”, I reply. We got ourselves some punch spiked with ever clear, and looked for a place to sit down. “There’s a tree house in the backyard, want to go there”, Amy asks. “Sure, I love tree houses.”

We sat in the tree house, sipping our drinks and discussing life. We talked about our strict parents, the horrible fashion mistakes of celebrities, and how the best dessert is pudding. By three in the morning we’re drunk, and cracking up at corny jokes. “I have a secret to tell you”, I whisper to Amy.

“What is it?”

“When I was a kid you know who I always dreamed about being?”

“Who?”

“Have you read the snow queen?”

“Oh my god, did you want to be the robber girl?”

“How did you know?”

“That’s who I always wanted to be. Think of the crazy adventures she would have had.”

“This is astronomical!” We both start laughing hysterically, even though nothing funny has been uttered. After that night we became friends.

If it is possible to have a female soul mate, Amy would have been it. Over the next year and half, she became my diary. I would share all my queer thoughts with her. She completely understood when I told her that my shoes didn’t match my lipstick. She even helped me find a pair that matched. I was probably the only person in the world who thought her butter jokes were funny. In high school we were practically conjoined twins. She would probably still be my best friend, if she hadn’t tried to kill herself in the middle of senior year.

      Her suicide attempt came as a complete surprise to everyone. “You must have known”, people would tell me. I had no idea. She had buried her unhappiness so deep, that the only way to express it was to cut her wrists. He parents committed her to a mental home for two months. The first time I came to visit Amy; the sight of her sobered me into reality. Her hair was unwashed, she was wearing pajamas, and her wrists were covered with white bandages. Luckily for me, she did not want to talk about her problems; she had a plethora of psychiatrists, with various degrees, to help her in that department. All she wanted from me was the gossip from school, and some light chitchat about pop culture. I visited her approximately once every four days, and I felt guilty for not coming more often. When she was released, I distanced myself from her, constantly making excuses to why I could not hang out with her. “I’m busy with school/work/scholarship applications”, I would tell her. These were all viable excuses, but deep down I knew I was avoiding her. I wanted to concentrate on my future and enjoy my bubbled life; I was not ready to deal with those kinds of problems. Whenever we did hang out, my actions discouraged her from wanting to see me again. I treated her the way a person treats distant relatives, friendly but aloof. By the time we graduated high school, we were barely acquaintances.

I always liked to pretend that I was extraordinary in some way. That I stood apart from the crowd. I was never the smartest, prettiest, or funniest. But I liked to believe that I had this incredible soul, that in a moment of adversity, I would act abnormally kind, or brave, or whatever trait the situation called for. However, after Amy tried to kill herself, I did not stand apart from the crowd, and I behaved towards her, the same way everybody else did. I realized that there was nothing extraordinary in me. I was average, normal, and not a very good best friend. In regards to Amy, I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I didn’t do anything right either.

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Chapter 4

Although my depression started after my mom’s death, it was not fueled by grief. My mom and I were never close, although I was closer to her than my other relatives. What activated my depression was the realization that my mom’s life had been unfulfilled for her. As I stood amid the few people who came to my mom’s funeral, I could recall only a few moments when she was happy. Instead of pity, my heart filled with fear that I would end up like her, living a despondent life that was futile and unhappy.

My earliest memory is one of my parents fighting. They stood in the diagonal corners of the dining room screaming at each other.

I can’t trust you to do anything” my dad roars, “you’re completely worthless.”

And all you ever do is insult me.”

I ask you to do one thing and you screw it up.”

I break a dish, and you act like I burned down the house.”

It’s a miracle that hasn’t happened yet.”

My parents continue screaming at each other, while Mark and I sit on the couch, holding our hands against our ears.

My dad is against physical violence. Growing up, Mark and I were the only children of our generation who did not get spanked. However, my father is a veteran of verbal violence. His words are bullets, and he always fires them with precise range, hitting Mom, Mark, and I in our most vulnerable places, and leaving scars that last longer than physical ones. During my childhood, my mom used to fight back with guns of her own, although her ammunition was less painful and precise. As I got older, my mom stopped fighting back, and when my father started his verbal abuse, she would hide behind a worn out shield, waiting for the attack to be over.

My parents got married when my mom was eighteen, and my dad was twenty-eight. He was already working as a doctor, and a couple of years after the marriage, my mom got a job as a paralegal. My mom gave birth to Mark when she was nineteen, and I was born two years later. It was no secret who wore the pants in my family. My dad made all the decisions, and my mom never opposed them, no matter how unfair or unjust they were. I remember on prom night my dad enforced an 11 pm curfew, even though the dance started at 10 pm. I remember pleading with my mom to take my side, but she just replied wearily “your father knows best.”

My dad was a strict parent, although with Mark the rules were laxer, and he was more willing to bend them. I had homework time, phone time, and a ridiculously early curfew. If I broke the rules, my punishment always included at least a month of house arrest. If Mark caught me breaking a rule, he would exaggerate the story to my dad, and would not be satisfied until I was severely disciplined. I always resented my brother’s actions, because unlike my dad who truly believed his rules would benefit me in the future, my brother’s strictness came from malice.

The day I left for college, my parents had driven me to the airport, and my dad was giving me plenty of last-minute advice. “There is no such thing as studying too much, don’t party, don’t trust men, don’t drink, don’t eat too much or you’ll get the freshman fifteen, and get plenty of sleep. Don’t become an insomniac like your mom.” “Mom is an insomniac?” I asked surprised. “Yeah, your mom doesn’t sleep most nights. That’s how I knew you never snuck out of the house, because every night she’d wake up around three, and couldn’t go back to sleep until the sun came out.” I remembered all the times I’d come home at four in the morning, although I tried to do it quietly, I made enough noise for an awake person to hear. I looked in the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of my mom’s face, and I’m not sure what I wanted to see there, but her face only showed the expected sadness of a mother about to become an owner of an empty nest. I wished I could thank her for never turning me in, but my mom and I did not have that kind of relationship.

My mom’s life was a complete mystery to me. It’s not that I was particularly fluent in my dad’s life, but I knew certain facts. Although my dad rarely talked about the past, sometimes little tidbits would slip out. I knew my dad had been in boy scouts, I knew he had the same best friend since he was six, I knew various stories from his days in medical school, and I knew my dad collected rocks as a kid. From my grandparents I knew that my dad had wrecked his first car after only a month of driving it, that he had been scared to death of Santa, and before my mom he dated a red-headed lawyer for two years. However; when it came to my mom’s life, I knew nothing. I didn’t know any of my mom’s relatives, I didn’t know where she had gone to school or who her friends were before my dad, I had no idea how my parents met or when my dad popped the question, and I often felt that mom’s life began the day she married my dad. Whenever I asked my mom about her life, she always told me to leave her alone. “Stop pestering your mother”, my dad would always add. During the few moments in my life when Mark and I got along, I asked him if he didn’t think it’s strange that we knew nothing about our mom. “Yeah, it’s a little strange, but why do you care so much. The past is the past, it doesn’t matter.”

When I was ten, I spent hours pestering my grandma for information about my other grandparents, and finally she informed me that my mom had been in and out of foster homes since she was twelve.” Your mom had a really bad life before she met your dad, it’s a good thing Jake married her and rescued her from it.” That had been all the information I had been able to get out of her, but the way she emphasized my dad rescuing my mom, led me to a better understanding of my dad’s treatment towards her.

When I was fifteen we moved to a new house, and for the first couple of weeks it had been cluttered with boxes. One day I noticed a doll in a funky rainbow dress sticking out of a cardboard box. I walked over to examine it, and I found the box to be filled with objects I’ve never seen. There was a little wooden jewelry box, a Beatles t-shirt, a small bag of different colored seashells, and at the bottom was a thick black leather book. I opened the book, and the first page had a photo of three fifteen year old girls posing in fancy dresses. As I got a closer look at the photo, I realized the girl in the middle was my mom. I slowly turned the page, only to find another photo of my mom, this time she was in a back yard playing with a dog. I continued turning each page, while cautiously eyeing my mom, who sat on the couch watching TV. I was afraid she would notice me glimpsing through her scrapbook, and that she would take away my treasure. Each page filled me with more exhilaration, as I leafed though the moments of her life. The photos in the book included a photo of her standing next to a little blonde boy, a photo of her leaning against a tree, numerous baby photos, a photo of her standing next an old lady, and an eighth grade class picture. As exciting as it had been to look through my mom’s scrapbook, I realized that this book resembled a foreign film without subtitles, because none of the photos had any captions under them. Finally I reached the last page, but there was no photo on it. Instead there were twenty rose petals taped down in no particular design. My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to my mom and asked “what’s this?” My mom looked at what I was holding and replied “you’ve never seen rose petals before”, her voice was sarcastic, but her tone was kind.

Did dad give these to you?”

No.”

Than, who did?”

Nobody important, just a friend.” My mom turned her attention back to the TV, but she was smiling and her eyes were sparkling.

My mom died of an aneurism in her sleep. At her funeral I stood amid the flowers, and I remembered the rose petals. I imagined her getting the bouquet of roses, taking the most beautiful and radiant rose, and giving it an early death to preserve it for eternity. Sometimes I imagine another scenario, where my mom keeps all the roses in the vase, watching them wilt with time, and when only one rose remains, that’s the one she puts in her scrapbook. No matter which method she chose, I enjoy imagining that the rose she picked, was more superior to other roses.

I also enjoy envisaging the person who gave her this rose. I like to pretend that he had been her soul mate, but life separated them. Perhaps he had to leave on a secret mission to Africa to save children, and my mom thought he was dead, so she ended up marrying my dad. Perhaps he did die, and my mom secretly mourned the loss of her soul mate. Perhaps, and this is my least favorite scenario, they broke up because of some foolish reasons, and my mom spent her life regretting it.

Of course there is a chance that all my scenarios are wrong. The rose could have been given to her by a girlfriend or an insignificant date, and she just happened to save it in the scrapbook because she thought it was pretty. But I like to imagine that it was given to her by someone special, because I want to believe that somewhere in her bad life, there had been a person that made her blissful.

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Chapter 5

 

Since when are you interested in eagles”, Charlie asks, as he gazes through my eagle book.

It is the weekend, and Charlie has driven to Auburn to spend it with me. I had been getting ready to go out to dinner, and Charlie had paced around the hotel room. His eyes had spotted the book on my drawer, and now he is standing next to my bed admiring the photos of different eagles. “I guess you don’t know everything about me”, I reply.

You know what is an interesting fact about bald eagles? Even if they have a mate, a pair of eagles may choose not to reproduce, because there aren’t enough resources to have babies. That’s similar to the way many Americans think, and the bald eagle is a symbol of America.”

Since when are you an expert on eagles?”

Well, how do you think I spent my days before I met you?”

Apparently learning bird facts to seduce women.”

Don’t scoff. Knowledge, and form of knowledge, is a great seducing tool.”

Really!?”

Oh yes. It doesn’t matter how prosaic the topic is, but if a person is an expert on a specific subject, they have the same advantage as a poet.”

So you’re saying that if a man talks knowledgeably about plumbing, he has the same advantage as a man reading a Shakespearean sonnet?”

If he presents it correctly, presentation is key.”

Since when have you become an expert on the art of seduction?”

What makes you think you know everything about me”, Charlie asks coyly, as he walks up to me, and gives me a kiss on the cheek.

&&&

We are at a restaurant, eating dinner with Charlie’s parents. Elaine is talking about Al’s current girlfriend. “She’s really nice and sweet, but she reminds me of his first wife, and we all remember how that turned out.” As Elaine talks, I become immersed in my own thoughts.

Although raised differently, Sam, Al, and Charlie have very similar personalities. It really makes me want to support nature, in the nature vs. nurture debate. Don and Elaine favor Sam over Al. Even Charlie, who only talks to his brothers on birthdays and holidays, admires Sam more.” He’s such a good role model; I always regretted that we weren’t closer. But Al, well Al is Al”, Charlie told me once. I, however, prefer Al.

Sam is forty-two, a successful computer programmer, married for twenty years, and has three lovely children. He’s the type of guy who wins man of the year award. Al is forty-one, and although he recently got a job managing a restaurant, he spent the majority of his life working minimum wage jobs. His track record includes four divorces, two children, and a total of six months in rehab facilities. Al is my favorite brother-in-law, because despite the fact that life has thrown him against the ground plenty of times, he still has the same cheerful deposition as his brothers.

I watch Charlie talk to his mom. I am all of a sudden struck by a realization that I had not missed him the past week. I am glad that he came to visit, although most of my gladness stems from the fact that he is leaving tomorrow.

Do you think there is a limit to the amount of times a person can get married in a lifetime”, Charlie ponders out loud.

I don’t think he’ll marry this one, at most she’ll become a live in girlfriend”, Elaine says.

Having five wives, that’s quite a talent”, Charlie adds.

Maybe that’s his expertise”, I say.

Or maybe, single women at that age are desperate”, Charlie replies.

The only women who are desperate at that age, are the ones who are married”, I reply back.

Everybody is desperate, some people just hide it better than others”, Don says, and his statement forces all of us into a moment of silence.

&&&

It’s Thursday, and I am visiting the used bookstore for the fourth time. The gorgeous cashier observes me, as I wander through the aisles. “I’ve been seeing you a lot here lately”, he says.

Don’t worry, I don’t live in Auburn, I just happened to be here for work, and I’m leaving soon.”

I am not complaining, just making an observation.” He takes out a box of chicken nuggets from under the counter.

I should probably offer my most frequent customer some chicken”

Isn’t it against the rules to eat next to the cash register?”

It might me, but since I’m the owner of the store, whose going to reprimand me.”

You own this store?”

Yup, I inherited it from my dad. So, you want some chicken?”

No thanks.”

My name’s Mike Caulden, what’s yours?”

Annabel Statton”

What your profession?”

I’m an accountant.”

Wow, so do you like numbers?”

Do you like books?”

You put me in a really bad spot with that question; because any answer I give I come out unintelligent. If I say that I like books, it proves that I asked you a stupid question. However, if I say I don’t like books, well that doesn’t make me sound smart either. So, I’m in a bind.”

Are you trying to flirt with me?”

Yes, and apparently I’m horrible at it. Why don’t I take you out on a formal date, that way I can show you some of my more advanced flirting skills.”

I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Well you’re here now.”

I’m married.” I lift up my left hand to offer proof.

I’m sorry I didn’t notice.”

It’s ok, most of the time, I forget I’m married.”

Really”, he asks curiously.

No”

I almost got married once.”

What happened?”

My fiancé got a job in Texas. I didn’t want to leave my store behind, so we split up.”

Do you regret it?”

Sometimes, but most days I think that if I truly loved her, I would have followed her to Texas. So maybe the job offer was a blessing in disguise.”

I don’t understand how a person can have that strong of an attachment to a place.”

Maybe that was just an excuse, maybe the real reason is that I don’t like change.”

Than you’re going to hate growing old.”

Who doesn’t hate growing old?”

I have to go, it was nice meeting you.”

If you’re ever in town again, we should have lunch, as friends. I promise no inappropriate behavior.”

According to Harry and Sally men and women can’t be friends.”

Well, we’re going to have to prove that theory wrong.”

My cell phone rings. I wave goodbye to Mike, as I walk outside to answer it. “Are you done with dinner” Charlie’s voice asks from inside the phone. “Yeah”, I answer. “I’m driving towards the hotel .” I drive back to my hotel, chatting with Charlie, and Amy Miller’s face is flashing before my eyes.

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Chapter 6

Charlie is making breakfast. He is wearing boxers and a faded “kiss me I’m Irish” t-shirt, as he flips hash browns on the pan, while whistling a familiar tune. The sun streams though the window, filling our kitchen with light. It is a beautiful day, both inside and outside the house. However; my entire body senses that somehow this morning will be ruined. I feel the way animals do before an earthquake; when on a seemingly ordinary day, they are able to sniff out the invisible components of the upcoming catastrophe. Charlie walks to the table, places some hash browns on my plate, and says “when do you think would be a good time to start having kids”. The first tremor has struck.

To say that Charlie loves children would be an understatement. His happiest memory of adolescence was being a counselor at a kid’s camp. When his eight year old niece butchered Jingle Bells beyond recognition last Christmas, Charlie called it adorable. When we started dating, long before marriage became a serious topic of conversation, Charlie would tell me about the way he planned on raising his kids. As for me, children are a side effect from unprotected sex, similar to a STD.

My thoughts must have become visible on my face because Charlie says “relax Annabelle, I’m not talking about impregnating you today”.

So why bring it up?”

You always said that when we were settled, we could have kids. Well our finances are good, we have a house, we’re in a good place with our careers, don’t you think we should start discussing children.”

How do I tell Charlie that the idea of having kids twists my stomach into a knot, suffocates my lungs, and causes sensations in my chest that resemble a heart attack. I need time to get used the idea. I need to stall. “Let’s have kids in a year, next summer would be a good time to start a family”, I say. “That’s what you always say”, Charlie replies, as he stares at his plate, not eating. The morning is ruined!

Why did you have to start this conversation anyway? It was such a beautiful morning, and you know every time we discuss procreation, you end up in a bad mood.”

It is a beautiful morning, and I thought how much better it could be, if we had some children to share it with. “

We’ll have children when I’m ready to have children.” I reply, my voice slightly raised.

I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have brought it up. Let’s change the topic. Did you hear about the guy who lit himself on fire, and proposed to his wife…”

As Charlie tells me the story, I realize that whoever said “the qualities we admire in people we love, are the same qualities we later despise” was a genius. What attracted me to Charlie during our courtship and early marriage, was how he always refused to fight. Anytime an argument got too heated, Charlie would gracefully bow out. I spent my childhood fighting with my dad, and the lack of verbal altercations in my marriage was pleasant. Lately however; Charlie’s avoidance of conflict has become annoying. Anytime I start to scream at him, he sits silently, with a look of a child who’s getting beaten, and is patiently waiting for it to end. This makes it impossible for me to express any emotion, and nothing ever gets resolved.

&&&

I’m helping Claire shop for shoes that will match her new dress. Claire is a good friend that I have known since college. I have been present at all the major events in her life, her marriage, the birth of her child, and her divorce. Today I am helping her find shoes, which she plans on wearing to an important company dinner, which could lead to a promotion.

Did you have any affairs towards the end of your marriage”, I casually ask her.

You know I didn’t. The divorce was messy enough, why complicate it. Why are you asking, are you planning on cheating on Charlie?”

Of course not! I was just making conversation.”

Claire gives me a peculiar look. “If you are planning on having an affair, I’d advise against it. Charlie is a good find, and you don’t throw something like that away.”

Number one, I’m not planning on having an affair. Number two, since when are you such an avid Charlie fan?”

I’m not an “avid Charlie fan”. But whatever problems the two of you have or not have, Charlie is a good man, and those are a rarity. All I’m saying is that if you plan on sleeping with someone else, do it because you’re not interested in Charlie anymore, and are ready to find someone else. Do not have an affair because you are stressed, bored, or having an early midlife crises. It’s not worth the consequences.”

I’m not planning on having an affair. How was your cousin’s wedding?”

It was good. You’ll never believe who I saw there, Meg Tillman. She was some distant relative of the groom.”

Is that the red-headed feminist who was in our lit class, the one who didn’t shave?”

Yup, except at the wedding she was shaved, and plucked. She was wearing make up, her hair had grown to shoulder length, and she wore a dress that accentuated her breasts. She looked pretty. I didn’t recognize her, but she comes up to me and says ‘Claire is that you, what have you been up to’, so I gave her the three-minute synopsis of my life and asked her for the same. Well she’s still trying to make it as an actress, but she’s married to some rich guy, and he supports her financially while she tries to make her dream come true.”

She actually got married, remember how she used to rant that marriage was an archaic institution created by men to suppress women?”

Yeah, I actually asked her what made her change her radical ways, and she explains to me ‘well I was trying to make it as an actress, and I was working as a waitress every night to pay the bills, when I met a man who was willing to give me a lifestyle, where I could spend all my free time on acting. Real life is hard, and it helps to have a benefactor’”

I cannot believe she said the word benefactor. Do you think she actually loves this man? I find it amazing that she went from a radical to a gold digger.”

I don’t find it amazing at all. People sell out all the time.”

Maybe she didn’t sell out. Maybe she always wanted to marry really rich, but was afraid she wouldn’t achieve that goal. So the feminism was an act, that way if she couldn’t find a husband, nobody would know she failed.”

Or, maybe she realized she had no talent as an actress. She was not ready to give that up, and get a normal dull job. So the only way she could continue living in her imaginary world, a world where she actually had a chance of achieving fame, was to marry a rich man who would support her.”

That is a very bitter way of looking at it.”

Well what can I say, getting divorced and becoming a single mom has made me bitter.”

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Chapter 7

My dad is coming to town tomorrow to introduce me to his fiancé. For eight months he’s been dating an executive named Ellen, whose fifteen years his junior. Last month they decided to get married. I always thought I’d be bothered if my dad found somebody else, but I’m actually happy for him. However, I am a bit apprehensive about meeting her.

I glance at my brother’s number in my cell phone, and I am tempted to call him. I haven’t seen or spoken to Mark since my mom’s funeral, nearly two years ago. The only reason his number remains in my phone is because it seems unnatural to delete a blood relative’s phone number. All the information I know about him comes from my dad. For instance, I know he’s met Ellen at least three times. I wish I could put aside my resentments for one night, and call him to discuss our future step mom. I wonder if he feels the same way.

&&&

I enjoy Ellen’s company. She is one of those workaholic woman who’ve never married because they were to busy having a career. She’s outspoken, and she spins tales from her life like an experienced weaver. I find it surprising that she is the antithesis of my mom.

My dad, Ellen, Charlie, and I are sitting on the couch, chatting pleasantly. “The strangest manager I had was this guy in 95, his name was Charlie too”, Ellen tells us.

He did not understand office etiquette, and kept asking me out, despite my refusal. Now normally I would never date my boss, but he was a looker, so eventually I relented and said yes. Well we went out for dinner which would be followed by a movie, and on the way from the restaurant to the theater, he informs me that he needs to stop and pick something up from his mom’s place. I find this rather strange, but I don’t say anything. When we get there, he asks me to come up with them. ‘I’d rather wait in the car’ I tell him, but he insists that I come up. Well we’re in his mom’s apartment for about ten minutes, and she is this frail woman, the phrase disappearing into thin air comes to mind. She just stares at me the whole time, doesn’t say a word. Anyway the next day at work, Charlie informs me that his mom didn’t like me, and although we can sleep together if I want, I can never be his significant other. Of course I refuse, but the strangest part is what I found out later. Don’t ask me how I know this, but apparently Charlie took every date on a ten minute excursion to meet his mom. Than he would tell them that he can’t date them because the mom didn’t approve. He figured that was a more formidable, than telling the woman he was only interested in sex, and not in a relationship.”

I feel sorry for the mother”, Charlie says. “That’s probably why she was so frail, all those visits sucked the energy out of her.”

If that was my son, I’d dead bolt the door and would not let him in”, I say. What I wanted to say was that my mom would do that to Mark, but I did not know if it was polite to discuss my mom in front of Ellen. My dad must have read my mind because he says “your mom would never have allowed Mark to act that way.” I give my dad a smile of gratitude.

Since college my relationship with my dad has changed. Although we haven’t grown closer, since graduation he has begun to treat me as an equal He no longer talks to me in an imperious tone, but instead addresses me with the same respect he would address a colleague. Now when I spend time with my dad, just like with any adult he respects, my dad is always polite and makes sure that I am comfortable.

The next morning, while Charlie showered and Ellen packed, my dad and I had a private conversation in the kitchen. “So, what do you think of Ellen”, my dad asks me. “I like her, she seems nice”, I reply. “Listen dad, do you remember mom’s photo album, the one that had all those photos and no captions, I was wondering if I could have it.”

I don’t know what album you’re talking about, but next time you visit, you’re welcome to any photo album you find in the house. I’m glad you like Ellen, because I got the distinct feeling that Mark couldn’t stand her.”

He probably feels you’re replacing mom. I don’t feel that way though, Ellen has nothing in common with mom.”

My dad smiles. “No, she does not.” His smile irritates me.

&&&

Charlie and I are lying in bed discussing Ellen. “She’s this ball of merriment”, Charlie says. “I liked her, she actually reminds me of you, except you’re less chatty.

I spent my whole life making sure I would not become like my mom. According to you, I’m similar to a woman who has nothing in common with my mom. I guess I don’t have to worry anymore.”

You are soooooo cliché. Every woman I know, real or fictional, worries about turning into her mother.”

You’re the exact same way. You worry that you’ll turn into your dad.”

False. I have no problem becoming like my dad, I just worry that if a tragedy occurs, I’ll have the same reaction as he did.”

Well you don’t have to worry about that. I think it’s scientifically impossible for you to be silent.”

Just for that, I’m going to be silent all day tomorrow.”

I laugh. “I would never allow you to suffer that much.”

Yes, you would”, Charlie replies smiling. He kisses me goodnight, and turns off the light.

I lie in the dark, my eyes trying to adjust to the lack of light. I ponder over Charlie’s comment about women not wanting to be like their mothers. He’s right, I’m not original in my thoughts, but few women actually sought out to be different.

When I was a child, every time I noticed I was copying a mannerism of my mom, I would force myself to stop. At twelve I began to condition myself against my mom’s traits. I wore a rubber band on my wrist, and when I caught myself saying a similar expression, or doing a similar walk, I would snap the rubber band against my wrist. If my mother told me that she enjoyed a certain movie, I would convince myself that the movie had detestable dialogue, or atrocious acting, or a stodgy storyline filled with many plot holes. I even decided to go to school in Boston because my mom, after a short vacation in Boston, said she found the east coast people dreadful, and would hate to live in any New England State.

I have achieved my goal of becoming a completely different person than my mom, but I don’t feel happy about it.

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Chapter 8

I’m sitting at my desk at work, in the Auburn office. Tom, Callie, and I had been sent to this tiny city again, but only for a week this time. Tom is unhappy that he is sent away from his kids. This time Callie is unhappy too, her hot-shot fiancé is back in town, and she doesn’t appreciate spending time away from him. I realize I left my fruit snacks in my car, and I go to the parking lot to retrieve them. In the parking lot a shrill voice punctures my ear, and I see Callie from far away angrily talking on the phone. She sees me, her tone changes, and she says to her caller “sweetie I’ll call you back.” She gives me a smiling nod, and walks across the street.

Apparently her relationship with her intended isn’t as smooth as I imagined. She hides her troubles behind jokes and office gossip. The scene makes me realize that I know nothing about Callie, or Tom for that matter, and they know nothing about me. All we know about each other’s lives are basic facts, such as the names of significant others and children, and perhaps certain restaurants or movies we’ve gone too. We spend forty hours a week working together, exchanging dialogue, and yet we remain complete strangers to each other.

&&&

I’ve been good all week, and I’ve stayed away from Mike’s book shop. It’s Thursday night, and the used book store draws me in like a magnet, after all there is nothing wrong with wanting to a buy a used book, I’m saving money.

I walk into the store at 9 pm, and Mike is getting ready to close the store. “My most frequent customer has returned”, He announces.

I thought I’d stop by and say hello.”

Hello”

We silently look at each other. “Would you like to get some ice-cream, there’s a café, down the street”, Mike asks. I nod my head. “I see you’re not hiding behind you electric fence today”, he says, eyeing my wedding ring. “Not today”, I reply , as we walk over to the ice cream shop.

I eat raspberry ice cream with chocolate sprinkles as Mike and I politely chat about our lives. “So, are you having marital problems”, he asks.

Of course not.”

Well, than why are you here on a date with me?”

First of all this isn’t a date, we’re just hanging out as friends remember. Not to mention, I could make assumptions about you too. The fact that you went out with a married lady, could mean that you have commitment issues, because you know a relationship cannot result from any interactions with me.”

My track record would support your theory. I’ve never felt that I’ve met the right woman, well until today that is.”

I thought you promised me decent flirting skills.”

Well it’s been a while. I’m a little rusty. So where are you from?”

I live in Boston, but I grew up in Chicago. I’m different from you though, I don’t have strong attachments to either place.”

Well this place is a museum of my family’s history. We’ve lived here for over a century.  I can show you the tree under which my parents had their first kiss. I can show you the church where my grandparents got married. Even the bookstore is filled with history. Twenty-five years ago it was a restaurant, and before that it was a china shop.”

Yeah, my family is from all over. My dad also grew up in Chicago, but his mom grew up in Texas. I’m not sure where my grandpa grew up, I never asked him. As for my mom, I know nothing about her past or her relatives.”

That must be strange. I like knowing my family’s history; it gives me a sense of identity. I know that thought is very unoriginal and corny.”

I like the way it sounds though.”

Do you have any children?”

No, my immorality level isn’t that high. How about you?”

As far I know, no children. But when you’re a man, you can’t know for certain.”

Well there has to be some advantage to being a woman.”

There’s plenty of advantage, for instance if you were a man, I probably would not be spending this evening with you.”

I laugh politely. We continue talking until the ice cream shop closes, and then he walks me to my car. “Would you like to come back to my place for some coffee”, Mike asks me. I do not know what to say. Although a part of me wants to say yes, a million thoughts in my brain are reminding me of the consequences. This behavior feels unnatural to me. I’ve never had one night stands. I’ve only slept with one other person besides Charlie, and he too had been a boyfriend. As for dating, most twelve year-olds have more experience than me. I know I should decline. I want to decline. However, I want to decline in a way which allows me to change my mind in the future. “I can’t. I have an early morning tomorrow, and I have to drive back to Boston tomorrow night. Can I take a rain check?”

No problem,” Mike replies. He gives me a kiss. My excuse has worked. I reciprocate the kiss. Mike and I stand in the darkened parking lot kissing, as I try to suppress the memory of the look in Amy Miller’s eyes, when she signed my yearbook at graduation.  

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Chapter 9

Charlie and I are sitting and gabbing at my dad’s wedding. Well it’s actually the reception, my dad and Ellen married in court last week. Ellen had never been married before, so she wanted a party, and Charlie and I had flown to Chicago to attend.

I spy on my brother, whose dancing with his date Lucy, on the other side of the reception hall. My dad never mentioned Lucy, which means he is not in a relationship with her. Although my brother is successful professionally, as far as I know, he never had a girlfriend last more than two months. Aside from a few obligatory words, Mark and I had not spoken during the reception.

I watch as Mark whispers something to Lucy, and strolls over to where Charlie and I are sitting. “Good party”, he says. I nod in agreement. He continues to talk.

You know I couldn’t stand Ellen when I met her, but now, well I still can’t stand her, but I do think she’s good for dad.”

I think she’s great.”

Mark smirks at me. “Well you’ve always had bad taste in people.”

My blood starts boil. Charlie takes my hand and asks Mark, “so where did you find Lucy”.

She works with me. Lucy has an obsession with weddings, so I asked her to come with me. Give a woman what she wants, and you get rewarded.”

Well, when you are married, if you don’t give a woman what she wants, you get punished.”

I glare at Charlie. “Relax Ann, it’s just a joke”, he says.

Mark watches us with interest. “I seem to have caused trouble in paradise”, he says gleefully. “I better get back to Lucy, she’s getting lonely.” He strides away from the table.

I hate him”, I declare to Charlie.

I know.”

I wish I was an only child.”

I know.”

He always ruins my mood.”

I know, but you shouldn’t let him. Come on lets dance.” Charlie’s grabs my wrist, and pulls me on the dance floor. We dance as the Beatles sing “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

      &&&

      Charlie and I spent the night in my dad’s house. I got up at 2 in the morning, to search for my moms scrap-book. I finally found it in a dusty box, which had been placed on the bottom shelf of the pantry.

My dad gets up every morning at 7 to have his coffee. On this particular morning, I corner him in the kitchen, as he brews his coffee. “I found the scrapbook”, I say. I show him the evidence, and I ask him if he could tell me about the people in the photos. My dad looks through the album, and he stops at a photo of my mom standing next to a brunette. “I met her once”, my dad says. “Her name was Jen or Jane, I don’t remember. She was a good friend of your mom’s.”

What happened to her?”

I don’t know.”

What about the photos of where she’s standing next to people who look like they might be her relatives. Do you know who they are?”

No, although I would assume they are probably members of her foster family’s, the ones she got along with.”

Where did you and mom meet?”

On a train. I’m glad you found the photo album you were looking for. I’m sorry I can’t give you any information about the photos, but your mom hated talking about the past, and I never wanted to push her.”

When a child asks an adult a question, and the adult doesn’t want to answer, they can refuse in many ways. They can tell the child “you’re too young to know this”, or they can say “it’s none of your business”, or they can just flatly refuse to answer. When an adult doesn’t want to answer a question that another adult asks, any one of those techniques would be extremely rude. So instead the adult will reply with false information, or they will say that they don’t know. In my dad’s case, he even apologizes for not being able to provide the information asked for. This helps make the lie more believable.

      &&&

      Charlie and I are waiting in the airport for our plane to arrive. “Do you find it strange that I know nothing of my mom’s past?”

A little bit, but most families are weird.”

I wish I could find out more information about her.”

I hope you don’t plan on making this your obsession.”

Why not, I have a right to know my family’s history.”

Did you ever think that maybe there is a reason your mom’s past has been kept secret. Whatever the reason may be, let me assure you it is not because your mom was the clandestine heir to the throne of England. Whatever happened in her past, is unpleasant, and knowing what it is, is not going to improve your life. It won’t change the memories you have of your childhood. It won’t change who you are today. It won’t solve any of your problems. All it will do is fill you head with horrible facts.”

You have no right to tell me my mom’s history is useless. You know everything about your family.”

A lot of good that does me. It doesn’t impact the man I am today. It’s just pointless facts, which take up space in my brain, where more useful information could be stored.”

And what is this more ‘useful information’?”

Well I wish I knew the way to get you to stop obsessing about your mom’s life.”

The conversation is interrupted by a boarding call for our plane. We stand in line to board our plane, choosing not to air our argument to the public. I used to love flying on planes. I remember my first plane trip, I was ten years old, and we flew on a family vacation to San Francisco. Mark and I had been coerced into a temporary truce, by the excitement of the impending trip. Every facet of the plane ride thrilled me. I felt important as I passed my bags through the metal detector. The cinnamon pretzel I ate as I waited for the plane made the anticipation of the trip even more enjoyable. I remember sitting by the window on the plane, and watching the houses turn into little matchboxes, the roads turn into faint lines that cut the city into neat squares, and flying above the clouds which had begun to seem like fluffy pillows on which a person could sit and view the land below them. The plane trip had been etched into my memory, while San Francisco had been forgotten. As I became an adult, and plane trips became part of my life, the magical feeling associated with them had disappeared. The feeling had been replaced with boredom, and flying became just another tedious chore. I felt that way now about my marriage. When I first married Charlie; I enjoyed discussing any random thought that entered my mind, and I was earnestly interested in his output. Now I am stuck in a marriage where my husband cannot seem to comprehend any simple thought that I have.

The plane has taken off, and I impatiently wait for its landing in Boston. “My dad never took me fishing”, Charlie says breaking the silence. “He took my brothers fishing all the time. They would sit in the middle of nowhere, have pointless conversations, and cook fresh trout for dinner. Sam always said those were his fondest memories of dad.  Of course by the time I was old enough to be taken fishing, my dad lost all interest in it. Well one day when I was twelve, after much harping from mom, he agreed to take me. I was excited because I had never been fishing. We arrive at the lake, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but fishing with my dad was indistinguishable from spending time with him at home. He showed me how to get my reel ready, and then he stood in the water without uttering a word. At home I at least had the TV or my mom to distract me from his lack of communication. Well at the end of the day, when we caught a couple of fish, he actually opened his mouth to tell me a story about his dad. My grandpa died before I was born, and aside from a few basic facts, I knew nothing about the guy. My dad divulges to me that grandpa was an amazing fisherman, and that he spent every weekend fishing. One time he caught a four-foot fish. I was grateful for the story, but I would have been just as grateful if dad had discussed a TV show, or the way opium was made. That was the first and last fishing trip I took with my dad. And although I never had any desire to go fishing with him again, that trip remains a fond memory for me.”

Are you insinuating that the only point of family history is to be a conversation starter?”

No, what I’m saying is that stories about a family’s past should be a form of entertainment, and if they are unable to serve that purpose, than they have no use.”

I don’t agree.”

Charlie shakes his head sadly at me, he gives up the argument, puts his head against the window, and goes to sleep.

The plane lands around 6pm. As Charlie drives us home from the airport, I ask him a question that every wife has asked her husband during their marriage. “Why did you ask me to marry you?”

Don’t you know why?”

No, that’s why I’m asking?”

Because there was nothing good on TV.” Charlie smiles at me and continues driving. 

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Chapter 10

Claire and her three-year old daughter Melanie came over for dinner. Melanie sits in the living room, watching Bambi, which Claire brought for her. The grownups sit in the kitchen drinking wine and chatting. 

This is her fifteenth time watching Bambi; she’s obsessed.”

You’re not worried that your daughter is obsessed with a movie where the main character’s mom dies”, I ask Claire.

Do not put Freudian theories and Disney movies together. If you do that you’ll get very disturbing results.”

This conversation is getting too intellectual for me”, Charlie says. “Why don’t you tell us about your new beau.”

Well he is a handsome man, and he also happens to be a very successful computer programmer. But he is a bit on the dull side, so I don’t think he’s a keeper.”

A good looking man with a steady job is a good catch, and if you find a man like that you should grab him and not let go”, Charlie says.

If you like him so much, why don’t you date him”, I interject.

I would never steal a boyfriend from Claire.”

I don’t mind”, Claire adds. “You can have him.”

Well I would never do anything to make Ann jealous.”

Don’t worry about me; I am not one to stand in the way of true love.”

I think we have him cornered”, Claire pronounces.

No you do not. If I was to change teams and date a man, I would want an unstable one who is a challenge. I’m not interested in someone perfect.”

I’d advise against that,” Claire states.” That’s how I ended up with my first husband.”

I once read a very peculiar story in the news”, Charlie declares. “Three men were carrying a huge ball of cheese. I think it was mozzarella cheese but I’m not sure.  Well some cracked out woman saw them, and she thought they were carrying a ball of coke.

So she hired a hit man to kill them. Luckily for the cheese lovers, the police found out and intervened, so there were no casualties. But those men would have been killed over cheese. That’s a bit pathetic isn’t it?”

My mother was French”, Claire says. “And my grandmother would have killed for a good nice slice of Gouda cheese.”

I’d only kill in self-defense” Charlie proclaims, “or for a cool glass of chardonnay.”

I once thought about killing my ex husband, but he wouldn’t be worth the jail sentence.”

I once had a dream I killed somebody”, I add.

Let’s psychoanalyze Annabelle”, Claire exclaims. “Tell us about your dream, who were you trying to kill and why?”

Well I was walking in a park at night, and I see this faceless man sitting on a bench. And by faceless I mean that his face resembled a mannequin with no facial features, the type that kind of looks like an alien. Well I walk up to him, and ask him what time it is. As he bends down to check his watch, I take a butcher knife out of my pocket and start stabbing him repeatedly. Than I woke up.”

You were killing me in your dream, weren’t you,” Charlie asks me.

No, because you were the person who drove me to the park, so you couldn’t have been the faceless man”, I reply.  What I don’t tell Charlie or Claire, is that after I woke up, I stared at Charlie sleeping in bed next to me, and I felt relived that he was alive.

&&&

      “You were very presumptuous this evening”, I tell Charlie after Claire and Melanie have left.

How was I ‘Presumptuous’?”

When you informed Claire that she should continue dating a man she found boring, just because he had a stable job.”

Are you going to give me a feminist rant? All I meant was that there are so many creeps out there, that if she found a man who is stable, she should give him a chance, even if his banter is bit dry.”

What about love, and finding your soul mate? What about romance and endless passion?”

You’re the one who always says how miserable Claire is. How she hates being single, and having to raise her kid by herself. How she’s become so cynical that her jokes, instead of being funny, have become unbearable.”

And you think the cure for that is to settle for the first decent guy that comes along?”

Marriage isn’t about undying love. It’s a commitment that takes work, and that work involves very few passionate romantic gestures and passionate conversations. Marriage is about compromise and supporting your spouse.”

So you don’t think our marriage is based on love?”

Don’t do that. Don’t relate every conversation we have to our marriage. We have enough problems as it is, without adding new ones.”

You think we have problems?”

Yes, but they can be solved.”

What are they?”

Tonight is not the night to discuss them; we need something to fight about in the morning.”

I have been unhappy with my marriage for sometime, but I assumed Charlie thought our marital problems had been fixed. Perhaps he felt restless too. Maybe while I was in Auburn he thought of having flings with local business owners. If these thoughts are true; I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony.

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Chapter 11

When I was in college I took an ethics class. The professor would start every class by telling a story. Each story outlined our class discussion of the day. My favorite was about an old man who seeks nostalgia by climbing a mountain. It went like this:

An old weary man sits in a rocking chair. He remembers how vigorous he had been in his youth; how he would climb a mountain every day to spend time with a beautiful woman who lived on the very top. That woman later bore his children, who bore his grandchildren, who bore his great-grandchildren. This man was very old. The woman no longer graced his life, or anyone’s life on this planet, and he rocks in the chair remembering the exhilaration he felt at the end of each climb, when the woman smiled upon him. He misses that feeling. Nostalgia fills his veins as he yearns to climb that mountain again. Although his children and grandchildren strongly disapprove of his plan, he decides to hike up that mountain again. They tell him he’s too old to partake in such a difficult hike, and that because of his weak heart, death might be eminent, but he ignores them. When he arrives at the base of the mountain, the smell of pine trees in his nostrils ignites his memory. He remembers the eagerness he felt before each climb, and he feels twenty years younger. However his body, unlike his mind, is unable to shed the years. His limbs ache with every step he takes. His lungs gasp for oxygen, which is limited at such high altitudes. His blurry vision, too busy making sure he doesn’t trip over any rocks, ignores the bright yellow wildflowers that grow there. He finally reaches the top, and he’s in pain and barely breathing. He remembers that the woman he was climbing for has descended into the next world. Without her smile he feels no exhilaration. He sits on the fresh moist earth, amid the yellow wildflowers, and looks over the edge. In his youth he had been too busy courting the woman to notice the view below him. Now he looks down and sees many storybook villages. The clouds, also below him, hover over the villages, shielding them from the bright yellow sun. A forest surrounds the mountain, and every tree stands proudly displaying their sturdy branches that are covered with green leaves, and glistening under the sun. The old man closes his eyes and dies. 

This story split the class into two points of view. Half the class said that the old man was foolish to climb that mountain. He wasn’t able to relive his exhilaration, and because of his selfish desire, his family was forced to suffer because of his death. They felt he represented the foolish choices people make.  The other half of the class said the old man made the right decision, and even though he died in the end, he took a risk for a chance to feel the happiness he felt in his youth. They felt he represented the purpose of life. Although I did not share my opinion with the class; I had a completely different thought on the subject. He had climbed the mountain with the purpose of enjoying the smile of the woman. Although he didn’t achieve that goal, because he climbed the mountain he was able to take pleasure in a beautiful view, a view he never noticed because the woman’s smile blocked it. I felt that the story warned us if we put all our focus on one desire, we might miss many opportunities that could have brought us greater amounts of happiness.   

      &&&

      I am in Auburn again. This time I volunteered to go. I was ordered to spend a month here running the office, and Charlie had been upset that I would be away for so long.

I don’t understand why you have to go”, Charlie complained.

This is a good career opportunity for me.”

I think you just want to get away from me.”

Don’t be so melodramatic!”

I still don’t understand why you have to go.”

In the end Charlie relented; mainly because he had no choice.

I have been in Auburn for two weeks, and this time I had fulfilled my wifely duties, and ate dinner with my in-laws. After dinner I would have a drink or ice cream with Mike. We talked about our lives, flirted inappropriately, and kissed at the end of night.  Although I was close to the edge, I haven’t jumped off the cliff yet.

Earlier today I had shown him my mom’s scrapbook. “I wish there was someway I could find out who these people are”, I told Mike.

Maybe you can.”

I’ve tried to question my dad, but he won’t tell me anything.”

People often write captions on the backs of photographs. Did you ever think about looking there?”

Now I sit alone in the hotel room, holding the black leather scrapbook. The idea of dismembering this book makes me uneasy, but it’s the only chance I have of finding answers. I carefully take out the first photograph, and am disappointed to find a blank back. I reassure myself by remembering that I have fifty-nine more photographs to go through. I go through forty more photos, and each time I see a white back, I feel more hopeless. I take out ten more photos, and they all give me the same result. I am on the fifty-fourth photo, which happens to be a photo of my mom hugging a red-headed friend of hers, and as I turn it over, the black ink on the white background hits my eye. “Kelly Myers 801-223-4562” I read the name and numbers to myself over and over. I tell myself I need to focus and look at the rest of the photos. I take out the other six photos, and they all remain blank on the back. However I no longer care, because when I saw “Kelly Myers 801-223-4562” I had struck oil.

I pick up my phone to call Mike. My fingers have an urge to dial Charlie’s number because he had always been the person I called when a major event happened in my life. I imagine what Charlie would say if I called him now. “You are crazy Annabel, go to sleep, and let the past sleep too.” No, Charlie is definitely not the person I want to call. I consciously force my fingers to dial Mike’s number.

Hello”, Mile answers groggily. I tell him how I discovered the name and phone number, and within seconds Mike is sitting at his computer. He googles the area code and says “it’s in Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course it would make no sense to search the number, because it’s been so many years, and the number probably doesn’t exist anymore. Searching the name won’t help you either, because since Kelly Myers is obviously a teenage girl, the house she lived in would be under her mom or dad’s name. However what you could do is going to a library in Salt Lake City, and look through the yellow pages that were issued thirty years ago. Search all the Myers until you find one with that number.”

He continues to talk about what I could do once I find the address where Kelly Myers lived. I listen intently, although everything he says I’ve already figured out in my head. However, I want him to feel important and essential, because I’m afraid without his help, I’ll take Charlie’s imagined advice, and “let the past sleep”.

      &&&

      I am at work, but I cannot concentrate on my assignment. I spent the entire morning concocting a way I could go to go to Salt Lake City without Charlie knowing the reason. I could go to Utah and tell Charlie I went somewhere else, but the probability of getting caught would be too great. I could tell Charlie that I have to go to Utah for work, but Charlie knows my company doesn’t have any offices there. I could tell him that I have to do training there, but that reason could ignite Charlie’s curiosity, and all my answers to his questions would sound dubious. I wonder if Mike would accompany me on my trip. Since all this planning prevents my ability to work, I decide to go into the kitchen for a snack.

In the kitchen I see Jessica, our receptionist, munching on some cheese. She is barely out of her teens, and her voice reminds me of a buzzing beehive. She is always talking; usually about trivial matters such as the weather, her boyfriend, or the latest Paris Hilton scandal. She sees me, and her eyes light up at the prospect of a chatting companion. 

Ann, how’s life?”

Good”, I reply. And then to make her day, I add, “how’s your life”.

Decent. My sis and her husband bought a beautiful house on the lake. It has wooden floors, a homely looking porch, and an apple tree in the front yard. There is plenty of land for their dog, Chompers, to run on. They treat that dog as if he was their kid. I don’t know why sis doesn’t have kids, maybe she’s barren, but unfortunately we’re not close enough to discuss that.”

How long has she been married? Maybe she wants to get used to her marriage before she adds children too her family.”

Well she’s only been married two years, but she got married when she was thirty-two. She doesn’t have time to get used to her marriage. My parents were afraid she’d end up an old maid, but along came Ben, and he rescued my sister from our mom’s pitying glances and our dad’s mournful sighs.”

It’s weird that your sister is in her thirties and has only been married for two years. I’m not even thirty, and I’ve been married for almost six years.”

You’ve been married for six years! I can’t imagine being married that long. I’ve never even had a boyfriend last longer than six months. I think I am going to be one of those women who changes husbands every couple of years. Although I have been told that when you fall in love all the rules change. Is that true?”

She stares at me with hopeful eyes. I can sense that she wants me to tell her a story about how I dated hundreds of men, and that I could never imagine settling down with only one of them. However, the second I saw my husband everything became different. I realized he was my soul-mate, and the idea of being with another man made me nauseous. She wanted me to tell her that although I might have minor fights in my marriage; every morning I wake up grateful that I have been lucky enough to find the love of my life. I am not about to indulge her with such a ludicrous fairytale, but I’m not about to slap her with reality either. “Yes it’s true”, I reply. And this answer seems to satisfy her.

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Chapter 12

Charlie and I sit on the hotel bed while we watch TV. He came up for my last weekend in Auburn, and of course we had to have dinner with his parents. Charlie and Elaine discussed Al’s plans to marry a fifth time, while Don’s strained eyes observed their faces. I added a few words on Al’s behalf, but I was alone in my opinion. After we left their house, I remembered the first time I had dinner with the Stattons.

Although Charlie assured me I had nothing to worry about, I was nervous about meeting his parents. I spent hours agonizing about what I would wear, and I finally settled on a lengthy red skirt, a black button down top, and black boots. I prepared answers to questions I imaged Charlie’s parents would ask. I wanted to prove to them that I was a valuable addition to his life. However, I never got a chance to answer the questions I visualized them asking. The whole time I was there, Elaine talked about how the quality in house building has changed. She complained that houses these days looked generic, that they had shoddy craftsmanship, and that nobody built shutters anymore. Charlie tried to veer the conversation towards me, he kept interrupting his mom with phrases such as “Ann’s an accounting major” or “Ann loves Broadway”. Whenever he would utter these words, Elaine would give me a smiling nod and say “that’s wonderful dear”, and continue her architectural rant. During the visit, Don only said six words to me. When Charlie and I were getting ready to leave, he shook my hand and told me “it was nice to meet you”.

My family had a completely different reaction to visitors. My dad would bombard my guest with questions every minute, and if he happened to be in a foul mood, it would be two questions a minute. Charlie, similar to his parents, also lacked natural curiosity. Although he often inquired about my day, he always accepted whatever answer I gave him, no matter how absurd it sounded. During my stint in Auburn, I would tell him that I wanted to read a book or watch TV every night, while I spent the evening with Mike. He accepted my reasons without any questions or accusations. His lack of suspicion obliterated my guilt. I felt his silence condoned my actions.

Do you notice how there is nothing good on TV anymore”, Charlie’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

You just noticed that?”

Well I have heard people complaining about TV. And most of the new shows make me wonder if the producers were on crack. But I choose to believe that one day, an amazing new show will be on TV; a show that will make me want to cry, laugh, and cheer all in one episode.”

You are such an optimist. You know that’s never going to happen.”

Well I have to be an optimist since you’re a pessimist. You always perceive everything so negatively.”

I am not a pessimist. I am a realist. There is just nothing positive in the world.  ”

You’re wrong. There are plenty of positive things in the world. You just have to know where to look.

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Chapter 13

I am 20 miles away from the salt lake city library,but I might as well be 20,000 miles away. Charlie and I are sitting in the Salt Lake City airport, waiting for our connecting flight back to Boston. I stare at the rain which trickles down the thick airport windows while Charlie flips the pages of a random magazine. We had been invited by Charlie’s brothers to spend a week with them in California, and now we are flying back from our family infused vacation. I usually enjoyed Statten brother get-togethers because his brothers were always laughing and joking, and Sam’s wife, Marissa, felt it was her personal goal to make our souls feel invigorated. Her medicine of choice for this task was fudge covered in icing. However, this trip, which started out enjoyable, left me feeling unnerved.

On the third day of our trip, I was sitting in the living room watching Al’s daughter yank out Barbie heads for the gruesome game dubbed bowling for Barbie’s body, while the rest of the family members were scattered somewhere in the house. All of the sudden Al, who had somehow crept into the living room, sat down on the couch next to me.

“What’s wrong Ann,” he asked.

“Nothing, why do you ask.”

“ I dunno, you just kind of seem preoccupied this trip.”

I wondered if Al, who is no stranger to extramarital affairs, could sense my desire to start a full-blown affair. The way wolves can smell if another wolf is nearby.

“Why do you think I’m preoccupied,” I asked.

“Well for one thing, when we play bowling for Barbie’s body, you usually complain about how demonic this game is.”

“Perhaps I am just used to it,” I replied. I tried to keep my voice light and jovial, but I must have done a bad job to hide my irritation because Al said, “listen Ann, I’m sorry I asked. I must be imagining things. Perhaps some of those drugs I almost overdosed with never left my system. So who do you think will win tonight’s barbie bowling competition?”

“The kid who has no soul,” I replied with a laugh. Al and I continued to chat, and he never brought up my strange behavior during the rest of the trip. However, afterwords, during every conversation with Al, I could not help but wonder if the reason Al asked me that question was because he was perceptive, or because my inner thoughts had been written on my face. I feared the latter.

“Charlie do I seem preoccupied to you,” I ask my husband.

“No more than usual,” he replies, as he continues to flip through his magazine.

“What do you mean?”

Charlie opens his mouth to reply, but the airport loud-speaker interrupts him. The announcement mentions that the flight back to Boston is overbooked, and whoever is willing to give up their seat, will be given a night in a hotel, and they will also be able to fly back first class tomorrow. If I was the type of person who believed in signs, this would be defiantly be a sign. I try to hide my excitement as I say to Charlie, “ lets fly back tomorrow so that we can fly first class.”

“I can’t. You know I have an important meeting at work tomorrow.”

“Well I can. You know how much I hate flying coach.”

Charlie senses my excitement and tells me that when he married me he vowed never to get in the way of any of my dreams, even if my dream was for my butt to sit comfortably for 5 hours. “So, you don’t mind,” I ask.

“Go for it,” He replies. I rush to the place where I can exchange my ticket, and as I stand in line I remember how Amy Miller and I pledged to be friends for life.

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Chapter 14

I am lying in a soft hotel bed as I stare at a digital clock on my night stand. The numbers say 8:58, and at 9:00 my plane is supposed to take off. I wait until the clock says 9:05, and I pick up the phone to call Charlie.

“Hey,” Charlie says, and his tone is mixed with happiness and confusion.

“I missed my plane.”

“Jesus Ann,” he grumbles. I can feel his head shake. “What are you going to do?”

“Well I already talked to the airplane company, and I booked a flight that leaves at 4 pm. All the earlier planes were full.” This is partly true, I did have a flight booked, but I have no idea how many people were on the earlier planes.

There is silence on the other end of the phone. I feel annoyed with Charlie because if I had really missed the plane, as Charlie thinks, he would have no right to judge me. I have to remind myself that I am the one who is in the wrong, and having a fight with Charlie is not the best way to get rid of my guilt. However, if I sound too apologetic he might get suspicious, so I say “ I’m sorry but it’s not the end of the world. You’ll see me tonight.”

“Your right, your right,” Charlie says. “It is just so irresponsible, but never mind. I guess give me a call when you are at the airport, and please try not to miss this plane.” I can feel Charlie shake his head again.

“Okay , bye” I say, and I hang up the phone before Charlie can say anything else. I get out of bed and walk towards the shower. The hot shower steam always relaxes my mind and allows me to think, and today is no exception. I contemplate my plan as the burning hot water rolls down my face. I need to take a taxi to the public library. I need to find a phone book that is at least thirty years old. I need to cross my fingers. Even though Mike had warned me that Kelly Myers’ number probably does not exist anymore, I still called it; and I felt incredibly stupid when an automated message told me it was disconnected. I begin to visualize what I will do once I find the address, but the water turns cold before I can finish my thought.

&&&

I am standing in front of the Salt Lake City Library, staring at the wooden doors, and wondering if I should go in. If I don’t go in, my mom’s life will forever remain a mystery, but if I actually step inside this library, I might discover something horrible. These wooden doors remind of the doors in the psychiatric hospital that Amy was at, and I remember also being scared to cross the threshold.

I was shocked when Amy tried to commit suicide. This was bubbly Amy, the same girl who enjoyed people watching and chewing her gum loudly. Out of the two us, most people would assume that it would be moody Annabelle who would try to exit life early. However, now that I am older (and have seen many lifetime movies), I realize the there had been signs of Amy’s depression. I remember we were sitting in my room, on a Wednesday afternoon, three months before her suicide attempt. Amy was flipping through a magazine, and all of a sudden she asked me, “do you ever feel empty?”

“You mean hungry,” I asked.

“No empty.”

“Are you sure you’re not hungry?”

“Ann, I’m being serious. Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel absolutely no desire to get out of bed. As if someone had come in while you were asleep, and stolen all of your energy?”

“Yes, and then I eat an omelet, and I feel better.”

“I’m not talking about food.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“I dunno, maybe I am talking about food. I sure am hungry. You have anything to eat in your house?”

When I recall that conversation I wonder if I really didn’t comprehend what Amy was trying to say, or if I had purposely misunderstood her. In a psychology class that I took, I learned that it’s impossible to stop a person if they truly want to commit suicide. However, those words have never made me feel better.

I call Mike. “Should I go in,” I ask.

“Yes. Mainly because I’m afraid if you stand there much longer, people might think you’re a stalker.”

“Do you think I’ll find anything?”

“I dunno.”

“But you own a bookstore, you should know how these things end.”

“That’s right, I own books, but I don’t write them. I enjoy hearing about adventures, but I can’t predict how they will end.”

“You really think people will think I’m a stalker?”

Mike laughs and says, “Just go in already.”

“Okay, I’m going in,” I say, and hang up the phone. I sigh, and just as I had done more than ten years ago, I stare at the ground and walk through the big wooden doors.

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Chapter 15

I am sitting in the library with a dusty old phone book in front of me. This book is over thirty years old, and ironically there are thirty people with the last name Myers in the book. I am checking each Myers to see if the number next to it matches Kelly’s phone number. I do not have to refer to a piece of paper to see Kelly’s phone number. To say I have memorized it is an understatement. I live, breathe, and dream that phone number. When I close my eyes, those numbers are etched in bright red under my eyelids; and a week ago while I was filling out a form, I almost wrote Kelly’s phone number instead of my own.

Before I look at each Myers, I take a big breath in preparation for the disappointment I will feel when the numbers do not match. I have gone through ten Myers, and I have yet to find a match. I still feel hopeful, and I take a deep breath and look at the eleventh Myers. The phone number that has haunted my life is written neatly before me in graying black ink. I pick up my phone to call Mike, but something stops me. I have never been especially superstitious, but I feel telling him that I have an address, before I know what I’ll find out at that address, could somehow change the outcome of this trip.

I remember a story my mom used to tell me when I was young. It was about a duck and a penguin who were best friends. The penguin bragged to the duck how he was the best swimmer in the world, because he could swim in freezing water under sheets of ice. One day the penguin went for a swim, and he was in the water too long. When he tried to reach the surface, the entire ocean had become covered in ice. The penguin was not able to reach the surface and he drowned. However, his last thoughts were not about his impending death, but about how the duck would probably laugh at him. I always promised myself that I would never be the penguin, and I see no reason to break that promise today.

&&&

I’m in a cab which is heading towards a house that Kelly Myers once called home. The cab pulls in beautiful but decaying neighborhood. It is one of those neighborhoods, that when it was new was a lovely place to live, but now the houses are beginning to look worn down, and the trees have begun to die. The cabbie pulls up next to a one story house, which had fared better than most of its neighbors. There are blue flowers and metal swans in the front yard, and a pair of wind chimes hang in the doorway. I tell the cab driver to wait for me, and I get out of the cab.

As I walk towards the house, I wonder if my mom ever played in this yard. If she ever climbed the oak tree at the corner of the street, or rode her bike on the concrete sidewalk. I knock on the door, and a woman with a blond hair on her head and a baby in her arms, answers the door. She looks younger than I am. “Are you selling something,” she asks annoyed.

“No,” I reply. “I’m actually trying to locate an old friend who used to live here, Kelly Myers.” I show the woman the picture of Kelly.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,” the woman replies. “We only moved to this house two years ago, and we were told this house had stood empty for ten years.”

“Thanks for taking the time to talk me,” I say, and I turn around quickly so this stranger will not be able to read the immense disappointment on my face.

“Wait Miss,” the lady yells when my hand reaches for the door of the cab. “The old couple who lives across the street, have lived here for over thirty years. Perhaps they will be able to help you.”

I thank the woman and walk towards the house she is pointing at. The cab driver is reading a magazine, and he does not notice any of my strange actions. When I get to the house, I knock on the door, and an old woman, covered with grey hair and wrinkles, answers the door. “I am looking for an old friend of mine,” I say for the second time. “Her name is Kelly Myers, and she used to live in that house over there.” I point at the house with the metal swans and wind chimes.

“You know, I remember the Myers,” the old lady says with a smile. “They moved shortly after Bill and I moved into the neighborhood.”

“Do you remember where they moved to?”

“You know whats strange, I do. It was a long time ago, but I will never forget the city that they moved to, because that is the city where I met my husband Bill. I met him in a small french restaurant, where he was the waiter. I think it’s the most romantic city on earth, although many people probably disagree.”

“So what is the most romantic city one earth?”

“Why Chicago, Illinois of course.”

Chicago. It is the city where my dad lives; the city that I can visit without rousing anybody’s suspicion. For the first time in my life, I begin to believe in fate.

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Chapter 16

Since my trip to Salt Lake City, I have been having nightmares. Every night I wake up to Charlie shaking me. “Ann, are you alright? You were screaming in your sleep,” my husband whispers to me. I nod yes, that I am okay, and I try to go back to sleep. However, the dream which causes my husband to treat me like a rattle, haunts my mind until morning.

I am on a train with my mom and Mark. We are going somewhere mundane, a store or perhaps a park, and Mom stares at the window while Mark and I play the pinching game. All of a sudden the train stops with a jerk, and Mark pinches me by digging his nails into my soft skin. “Aaah,” I yell, and Mom turns her head to look at us. “Stop messing with her Mark,” she says. I must be about three, and I feel happy that I have an adult defender. Mom is still looking at us, and her eyes shift a little to the door of the train. A man with dark curly hair and sunglasses gets on, and he smiles at my mom before he begins to search for an empty seat.

My mom jumps up and grabs my hand. “We need to get off the train,” she says, and her voice is filled with panic. She grabs Mark with her other hand, and both of us are dragged off the train. The next thing I know I am running up and down staircases, through hallways, through streets with flower filled bushes, and I can’t seem to understand what is forcing my mom to act like a maniac. I am only three years old, but I know this running had not been planned. Around the time I have this thought, Charlie wakes me up.

I analyze the dream. I do not understand why it is scary. Nobody is chasing us while we run, and when I was three a jog through the city was more entertaining than going shopping or playing in a park. Yet I am shaking with fear when Charlie wakes me up. After I have this dream for the 10th night in a row, I realize why this dream fills me fear. This dream is not a figment of my imagination, but it is a memory.

&&&

I know the only person who can help me solve this mystery, but I do not want to call him. However, after I have this dream for the 15th night in a row, I decide to bite the bullet and call the person I hate the most. I find Mark in my contact list, and I press the green button on my phone.

“Annabelle,” Mark’s voice says, but it sounds more like a question than a statement. The shock of hearing my voice on the other end of the line, seems to have killed my any snide remark my brother could have said.

“Yes, it’s me. I’m calling because I’ve been having this strange memory. We are on a train and Mom freaks out because she sees a stranger. Do you remember an incident like that?”

“I don’t know if I remember the specific incident you’re referring too,” my brother replies. “But Mom did that a lot. She would freak out in trains, buses, and grocery stores. Once she freaked out in the zoo, and we almost ended up in the elephant habitat. Around the time I was six she stopped running from the imaginary boogeyman. I guess you were too young to remember most of this.”

“Do you know why she ran?”

“I dunno, Mom was…” Mark is silent for a moment. I want to finish the sentence for him. Mom was crazy, strange,and enigma, I think. “Mom was..Mom,” Mark says, and his description of our mother is better than mine.

“Well thanks for your help,” I say, and Mark says “Bye”. I hang up the phone, but my thoughts are not about my mom. I think about my brother, and how this is the first time in ten years that we were able to have a conversation that was not hostile. I always blamed Mark for our bad relationship, but now I wonder if the reason he always makes horrible comments to me, is because he senses the horrible thoughts I think about him.

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Chapter 17

Charlie and I are driving to his parents house to celebrate an unpleasant Statten holiday. Charlie stares silently at the road ahead, and this is the one day out of the year ( except for the days that I aggravate him), that he is bitter. I stare straight ahead too, and I watch the green trees become blurry every time I turn my eyes to the right. The trees remind me of aliens in a cartoon show I watched as a kid and of the basil that covered my steak the night before.

Yesterday, after I had told Charlie the most unoriginal excuse ( that I had to work late), I met with Mike at a romantic restaurant. He listened to me intently as I talked about my next step in solving the mystery of my mom’s past, and I felt a warm feeling of camaraderie towards him. He was my accomplice in this crime, although crime was probably too strong of a word to describe my quest. He was my partner in mischief. I would have preferred to dig up my mom ‘s secrets with my brother ( not Mark, but an imaginary brother who I had a terrific relationship with), but since that was not possible, having an almost lover as an accomplice seemed like the next best thing.

In truth it was not morality but fear that kept me from consummating my relationship with Mike. I had been moved by a video I had seen in health class over ten years ago. In this movie a girl not only got pregnant from having sex only once, but she also got aids. It made an impact on me(which would have probably made my health teacher proud), and I was terrified of giving Charlie HIV.

Mike had sat across the table, and he held my hand as I rattled on about what I thought I would discover about my mom, and what I was afraid I would discover.  At one point, when I needed to freshen my parched throat with water, my almost lover said to me “Ann, I think I’m falling on love with you.” I had replied with the first thing that popped into my head: “I will not leave my husband for you.”

The rest of the dinner continued as if these truths had not been uttered, but I felt guilt for being so callous. I couldn’t take it back because I meant it, but I wished I had simply kept my mouth shut. Amy Miller always accused me of having bad social skills. When a boy I had a crush on asked me to a late night movie in high school, I had responded by telling him I had a an early curfew. “Your not supposed to say that,” Amy had said to me. I had argued with her by explaining that I had said the truth, I really did have an early curfew. “It doesn’t matter,” Amy responded, “when you said that it sounded like a rejection.” Towards the end of my friendship with her, it had taken me eight days to return a phone call. When I apologized to her, knowing that I deserved a stern lecture, she simply replied, “it’s okay Ann, I know you have bad social skills.”

I look at Charlie and I know for once his thoughts are not about me. I feel guilty for feeling relief about this, because I know how upset this day makes my husband. “I really hate this day,” he says, confirming my thoughts.

“I know,” I reply.

“I guess this day is important to Mom, Dad, and my brothers, but I always feel like such an imposter on this day. I don’t feel sad, and I can’t mourn someone I don’t remember.”

I have heard this speech many times, but I let Charlie rant. After all, everybody should be allowed to be upset on the day they celebrate their dead brother’s birthday.

&&&

The dinner rituals are similar to the rituals of the years before. Elaine has cooked Tim’s favorite meal; a ritual I think is morbid, but which my brothers-in-law think is endearing. Elaine talks about the details of Tim’s life: The piercing sound he made when he cried for the first time, how happy and proud he was when he lost his first tooth, how straight and clean his hair looked before he went on his first date, and how fresh and ironed his clothes were when he lay in the coffin. While Elaine talks about her dead son’s life, her other son stares at his plate without eating. When Charlie finally puts a morsel of food in his mouth, Don mentions how the happiest years in his life was when he could tell people he had four sons, and Charlie almost chokes on a piece of meat.

Sam and Al call, and Elaine puts them on speaker phone. After they finish sharing memories about their brother, my mother-in-law starts praying out loud. I lower my head in respect, but I have never been religious. Most religions that I know state that a higher power knows each person’s fate, and I always figured if somebody out there already knows everything about me, I’ll let them worry about my beliefs. Still, I can’t help but think that if Tim’s spirit is in this room, he would feel happy to know that his birthday is still remembered twenty-five years after he died.

When the prayer is finished, and Sam and Al say their goodbyes, Elaine goes into the kitchen to prepare dessert. Charlie excuses himself to use the bathroom, and Don and I are left alone at the dining room table.

‘You know it was hard to keep my affair a secret in a small town,” Don says to me. I stare at him with my mouth wide open. Don rarely talks, and he never talks about his former extramarital activities. “I used to make up all sorts of different lies,” He continues. “Some were small and insignificant, others were quite clever, and every now and then I would say an absurdly silly lie. I think my favorite lie was one of the last ones I used to hide my affair. I had pretended to miss my flight so that I could have a day alone with my mistress.”

He doesn’t look at me as he says this, and before I have a chance to reply, Charlie comes back from the bathroom.

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Chapter 18

Charlie is lying in the same bed he had slept during his childhood. His hands are resting underneath his head, one of his legs is bent, and he is staring at the ceiling lost in thought. I flick his big toe before I lie down on the bed next to him. He turns to look at me as if he is expecting me to say something, and although I had no intention of conversing with him tonight, his look makes me ask the question I had been pondering about all evening.

“How did you feel when you found out about your dad’s infidelity?”

“As you know I was very young when that happened. I barely understood what was going on. I remember I asked Al why Mom was mad at Dad, and he told me that Mom was upset because Dad made a new friend. I felt this was unjust because I had several friends, and I did not understand why Dad could not do the same. Plus if Mom felt that she was being ignored, I did not understand why my dad could not play with my mom and his new friend at the same time.”

“A parental menage a trois,” I say with a laugh. “But what about when you were old enough to understand your dad’s actions.”

“Well I don’t approve of my what my dad did, but I mean, well….A tragedy occurred. People don’t make the best decisions when they are upset.”

“So you feel cheating is acceptable at times.”

“Of course not. However, when a person suffers a loss, I believe they start acting like a chicken with it’s head cut off. A headless chicken without eyes or brains might injure a mouse by stepping on it. Once the tragedy subsides, and it gets its head back, it now has to deal with the consequences of its actions. However, can we really blame a chicken for injuring a mouse while it had been decapitated? It would be a different story if the chicken searched the fields for a mouse, and maliciously injured it with its feet.”

“So cheating in cold blood is unforgivable,” I ask, trying not sound too invested in the question.

“I didn’t say that. Of course it’s forgivable. Most things are forgivable, but you shouldn’t confuse forgiveness with acceptance.” Charlie picks up my hand and begins to play with it. “Why are you so interested in cheating all of a sudden. Are you worried I’m being unfaithful, or perhaps you have a guilty secret you wish to share with me,” he asks with a coy smile.

“Do you think I have a guilty secret,” I ask, trying to replicate his smile.

“To be honest Ann, I think that if you wanted to have an affair, you would not go to the trouble of hiding it,” he replies, and he gives my hand a small kiss.

I giggle at his statement and kiss him on the mouth.

&&&

As Charlie is driving us back to Boston, he bobs his head to the music and taps his fingers on the steering wheel. We had said good-bye to his parents earlier that day, and I avoided Don’s eyes when he told us to drive safe. My husband’s favorite song begins to play on the radio, and he starts to sing along. His good mood is contagious, and although I usually don’t sing, I can’t help but start a duet when the chorus rolls around. The ringing sound of my phone interrupts our singing. I pick up and Charlie turns down the volume on the radio.

“Hey Ann, it’s me Ellen,” My stepmom informs me as I hold the phone to my ear. “I’m planning on throwing a birthday party for your dad. Now I know your dad would never admit this, but he would simply love for you to be there. I found the perfect restaurant. It’s this Italian place that has mountain frescoes on the wall, and on top of each mountain painting there is a framed photograph of that mountain hanging there. It’s just a beautiful place, and your dad would be so happy if you can make it. It’s going to be in three weeks.”

“I can probably come; I just need to talk to Charlie about it.”

“Well don’t take too long, I need to make a reservation,” Ellen tells me before she says goodbye. I tell Charlie about the party, and I ask him if we should go.

“Sure, why not. Sounds like a cool place,” he says.

“I didn’t know you enjoyed my family so much.”

“Yes its true, spending time with your family is not my favorite activity. But there is nothing like celebrating your brother’s death that makes one realize how important family is. Besides,” he adds with a wink, “spending time with family seems to have a good influence on you.”

“You just want to go so you can get free Italian food.”

“You might be right,” Charlie replies with a laugh as he turns the radio back on. I stare through the side window, and I notice how the trees seem to have tuned into a brown green blur. They have stopped resembling nature and have begun to look more like abstract paintings. I remember how over a decade ago I had stared at a similar blur while my mom had driven me to the dentist.

“So why do you think Amy tried to end her life,” My mom asked me.

“I dunno,” I said, annoyed at the question. “I do not understand why everyone thinks I could read Amy’s mind.”

“You two are so close. I saw her so often I felt as if she lived with us.”

“We talked about what boys we want to date, not about what razors would be most effective to slash a wrist with.”

“I understand that she never told you about her plan, but couldn’t you read it in her body language. It’s hard to hide that kind of turmoil.”

“Amy is very good at hiding her emotions.”

“That’s true,” my mom agreed. “Perhaps that had something to do with her suicide attempt.”

“You think Amy tried to off herself because she kept all her feelings inside ?”

“I dunno Ann. However, I do know that keeping her feelings a secret did not help the situation.”

As I recall the conversation, I wonder if my mom ever had suicidal thoughts. I turn my head so I can stare out the front window, and the trees are no longer blurry. Each tree is very detailed now. I can see the brown bark, the long branches with leaves at the tips, and dirt they are standing in. I decide to tell Charlie that I will fly to Chicago a few days before the weekend so that I can spend some more time with my dad. My dad does not think having visitors is a good enough excuse to skip work, and my days alone will give me the perfect opportunity to visit with Kelly Myers’ parents.

 

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Chapter 19

It is 5 pm on a Tuesday, and I am putting things in my purse because I am about to leave the office. Before I am able to make my exit, Callie finds me. “Hey Ann,” she says, “remember that tomorrow..”

I won’t be here tomorrow,” I reply, feeling a little too gleeful for having a good reason to interrupt Callie. I don’t especially enjoy talking to her, but I usually feel it would be rude to end our conversations early.

Oh, that’s right,” she replies. “You’re going to visit family tomorrow. I heard you’re going without the hubs.”

He has to work. He’ll join me on the weekend.”

Well I think it’s great you and your husband understand the importance of time apart. Joe and I….” I zone Callie out. I focus on packing my purse, while I hear bits about arguments, broken plates, and mother-in-laws. Ever since she got married two months ago, Callie has been dispensing marriage advise to anyone who’ll listen. She knows what fights are worth fighting, what fights should be ignored, and when the spouse is being unreasonable. In her two months of matrimony, she knows more about marriage than the veterans of marriages that lasted for more than a decade. I look at Callie, wondering how it would feel to be that self confidant, and when she finishes talking, I nod and smile so that I can appear like a person who had been engrossed in her tale. She opens her mouth to say something else, but before she has a chance to utter a sound, I interrupt again with a small white lie: “Listen Callie, I’d love to chat, but I have nail appointment I have to get to.” She looks at my uneven nails, and than glances at her perfectly manicured ones, and she says with a smile , “Of course, see you next week. Have a safe trip.”

When I make it to my car, I get my cell phone, and I give Claire a call. I had only meant to call her back (she had called me the night before), but when she picks up the phone, I hear myself confessing all my devious deeds from the previous months. Well, almost all my devious deeds, I don’t mention Mike because I would not have been able to withstand the judgment in her voice while she said, “It’s your decision.” After I finish my story, I hear silence on the other line. Then a few seconds later, Claire says “Wow”.

Claire had been my first roommate in college. She was a quiet introvert, like me, and while she made an excellent roommate, she did not make a great friend. During our first few months as roommates, we peacefully coexisted in silence. Then one night, feeling I needed to fully experience college life and to do something my mother would disprove of, I decided to go to a fraternity party. Not wanting to go alone, I invited Claire with me. “No thanks,” Claire had relied. “It’s not really my scene. Besides, I have big plans with a Julia Roberts movie.” I had always been a Julia Roberts fan, and the party wasn’t going to start for another hour, so I decided to watch the beginning with Claire. I ended up watching the whole movie and missing the party, but by the end of the movie (and our many conversations during it), Claire had stopped being just my roommate, but had become my friend.

Since that night, I have also always turned to Claire for practical advise. Claire could always see the big picture, without pesky emotions getting in the way. She was the one who told me I should marry Charlie when I was having doubts, and she was also the one who encouraged me to go to my first job interview. I felt that by telling Claire about my search, she could help me put all my worries in their proper perspective.

That’s quite a story,” Claire’s voice says on the other end of the line. “You shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re not doing anything wrong, well except about the part where you’re lying to Charlie.”

I can’t tell Charlie. He won’t understand. He doesn’t understand my need for closure. He knows everything about his family. He’ll tell me to stop.”

He’ll advise you to stop. There’s a difference. Charlie isn’t the type of man who will order you stop.”

Yes, your right, but his advice will feel like an order.”

Just think about telling him. The longer you keep this a secret, the harder it will be to share. Not telling him will probably cause more damage to your marriage.”

I know, your right. I’ll tell him soon,” I say, lying about the last part of my statement.

It’s kind of exciting though. You have an actual mystery to solve. My biggest mystery is figuring out where the socks keep disappearing too.”

That’s not your only mystery. Don’t forget the mysterious looking gunk that appears on your daughter’s hands at least once a week.”

Claire laughs and says, “that’s not a mystery I want to know the answer to.”

I have to go, I just got home,” I tell Claire, as I pull my car in the drive way.

Okay have a safe trip, and good luck.”

&&&

The next morning Charlie is driving me to the airport. “You’re not going to miss any planes this trip?” he asks, but his voice is friendly.

Of course not. Your going to be flying out with me anyway. I’ll let you be in charge of not missing planes.”

So what will you do in Chicago while your dad is working?”

I dunno, I was thinking about seeing the bean. You know I have never seen it.”

You have never seen the bean!! But you grew up in chicago.”

I know, but I always figured I’d have plenty of time to see it. Then I moved to Boston. A lot of people have never seen the tourist attractions in their own town.”

Well, I wouldn’t know about that. The only famous attraction in Auburn was a huge Oak tree, and I have sat beneath that oak many times. The shade from that tree was better than the shade from other trees, because a famous person once enjoyed that shade.”

Maybe even two famous people enjoyed that shade!”

Nah,” Charlie replies. “It wasn’t that famous.”

I look at my husband. He’s tapping his hands on the steering wheel, while chewing some gum. Talking with him, about anything, even dubiously famous trees, has always been so easy. This was the reason I had married him. I begin to have a thought that has been going though my mind several times this past week: why did I ever start an affair with Mike?

Charlie notices me staring at him, and asks, “do I have something on my face?”

No,” I reply. “ I thought I saw a bug, but I must have imagined it.”

 

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Chapter 20

I am lying in my old bedroom, under a fuzzy pink blanket, which I always hated, waiting to hear the front door bang; so that I will know my father and step mom are out of the house. Flashbacks of lying under this same blanket, and waiting for my parents to leave, are flashing in my head. This was how I used to spend Saturday morning, because I hated wasting my weekends hearing my dad’s grumpy voice, and watching my mom’s melancholy face. However it is a Thursday morning today, and I need my dad to leave, so that I can be free to try to figure out why my mom always had a melancholy expression. My step mom had offered to drive my dad to work so that I could use his car to “explore” Chicago, and I have big plans for this day.

The day before I had googled all the the Myers in Chicago, and found 10 matches. The first three people I called did not pick up the phone, and the two people after that did not have any daughters named Kelly. When I called the 6th person, an old woman picked up, I could even hear the sound of her wrinkles on the other end of the line, and when I asked if she had a daughter named Kelly, she informed me that her Kelly had died 5 years ago due to cancer. I had hung up the phone, and immediately felt foolish. What could I hope to accomplish by such juvenile behavior? I decided that I would go  visit her today.

I get up, too anxious to eat, and I brush my teeth, throw on some clothes, and get in my dad’s car. As the gps leads me to the house where Kelly’s parents live, I go over in my head all the lies that I plan on telling them. The night before, after a brief talk with Mike, I had decided to tell the Myers that my mom Pamela was actually my aunt who had Alzheimer’s, and that I was doing a special project to help her memory. I hope I will be believed.

I pull my car in front of a cozy looking house, take a deep breath, straighten my hair, and get out of the car. I knock on the door, and an old man with no hair on his head answers. When I tell him my well rehearsed lie, he smiles and says, “let me get my wife.”

Marie,” he yells, and an old lady comes to the door. “This lady here wants to know about Kelly.”

The lady looks at me sharply. “Are you the young woman who called yesterday,” she asks. “Yes,” I reply. “I’m sorry for hanging up, but you see….” I stop in mid sentence. Something about this woman’s look makes it difficult to lie. She does not look sad or annoyed, just suspicious and tired. Her face seems to say to me, “I have had a difficult life and I’m not in the mood to be lied to.” I take a deep breath and spill the entire story of my life. About how I always felt distant from my mom, about the red rose, and about how I have been trying to solve the mystery of her life. When I am finished with my monologue, the old couple’s faces have changed, and they are both looking at me with kindness and understanding. “Come in,” the old woman says, “let’s see if we can help.”

I walk in, and the old lady, whose husband calls her Marie, asks me to sit down. I sit on the couch with Danny, her husband, and Marie serves me a cup of tea. I show them the picture of my mom, and Danny and Marie are delighted to see a photo of their daughter. “I remember this girl,” Danny says. “Kelly and her were best friends for years, and she was always sleeping over at our house.”

They were friends all through middle school,” Marie adds. “You say her name was Pamela. I had forgotten her name. They were so close. I remember how sad Kelly was when Pamela moved away. All the way across America. I remember they wrote to each other for a year or so, but it is difficult for 15 year old girls to maintain a long distance friendship, and the letters became fewer and fewer until they stopped completely.”

You mean she moved with her foster family,” I ask. I have always thought that foster families could not move across state lines. “Oh no,” Marie answers. “She did not have a foster family. She lived with her family and like 5 or 6 younger brothers.”

She had a lot of brothers,” Danny adds.

Are you sure they were her parents. It was a long time ago, and if you forgot her name, perhaps you have forgotten that detail too?” Although I am aware that I have been lied to about my mom, it is hard for me to believe that the fact that my mom was a foster kid, the only concrete thing I know about her, is also a lie.

Oh I’m definitely sure those were her real parents,” Marie continues. “ I remember that once when I was dropping her off after a sleep over, her mom invited me in. Right at the front of the house was a picture of her when she was just born, still covered in blood. ‘That my first baby’s first minute on earth,’ her mom exclaimed proudly when she saw me looking at it. I was so grossed out by that photo, that I have remembered that moment my whole life.”

Plus she was a carbon copy of her mom,” Danny adds.

Do you remember where she moved to,” I ask.

It was somewhere on the east coast, New York or Jersey,” Danny replies.

No it was Boston,” Marie replies looking as if she was deep in thought. “Remember how Kelly used to beg us to go to Boston after her friend moved, how she used to say, ‘I just want to see what Harvard looks like.'”

She did get to see Harvard, from the inside even,” Danny adds, bragging about his deceased daughter.”However, by then she had forgotten all about her friend.”

Boston. My mom hated Boston. She told us it was because she had a bad experience when she visited that city, and I could tell by her eyes that she was disappointed when I decided to go to college there. She was always reluctant to visit me, and she would usually get sick around the time of her visit, and would spend the whole visit in my apartment, and later house, saying that she needed to be inside to avoid the cold. I always wondered what it was about Boston that my mom hated, and now her hate makes much more sense. She wanted to hide from the city of her youth.”

Do you have any of the letters she sent Kelly,” I ask. “Anything that could give me an address or a last name.”

I have a box of Kelly’s old things in the basement,” Marie says. “She had lots of friends, and that box is filled with letters. I”ll look through it tonight, and if you come back tomorrow, I’ll show you anything I find that could be useful.”

Thank you so much,” I say.  At this moment, if I could have amputated my arm to bring their daughter back, I would have.

&&&

The next day I come back to their house. Marie meets me at the front door, with a postcard. It not only has my mom’s maiden name, but it also has the address she used to live at. “ Thank you so much,” I repeat again, thinking that I must sound like a parrot.

Before you go, there’s something I want to say,” Marie tells me. “ Whatever secret your mom took to her grave, she probably does not want you to know about it. If she did, she would have left you a posthumous letter, or your dad would have mentioned something to you. Your mom’s secret will not be something pleasant; you are not going to find out that you are the rightful heir to the throne of England. It will be something horrible and awful, and you are probably better off not knowing. You should not pursue this.”

‘If you feel this way, why are you giving me this postcard?”

I have lived a long time. I also know that when a stubborn person sets their mind to something, no warning and advice will stop that person, even if the person knows his actions can ruin his life. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, not matter the cost.”

Have you ever done something like this,” I ask Marie, and for the first time I think of her as a person, and not just a vessel to aid me in my search.

Let’s just say I have lived a long time, and I have many regrets,” she says with a smile that is full of wisdom, and she wishes me luck on my search.

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Chapter 21

I am sitting at a table, at my dad’s birthday party, and I’m playing with my salad while Charlie is attempting to digest a very chewy steak. Ellen had picked a good venue. The walls are covered in frescoes, the lights are dim, there’s a large floor to dance on, and the food, aside from the steak, is very tasty. My husband, my brother, his date, and I are the only people here under the age of 45. As I look around the restaurant, I see about 25 couples who have hair die and make up to conceal old age, dancing and having a good time. The most surprising fact about my dad’s merry guests is that several of them are his friends from the hospital. Growing up, the only people who came to our house, were our grandparents.

When I was young, and my dad would scream at me, his face filled with rage, I always assumed that the reason he never had people over, is that nobody liked him enough to be his friend. As I got older, I realized an adult could be perfectly pleasant with his peers, while still screaming at his kids any chance he got. So I decided that the reason our house was always void of guests, was because my dad didn’t enjoy social functions. After all, most of my friends’ parents had stopped having friends long ago. Something about marriage and kids kills friendships, or at least puts them on the back burner. Except for the occasional dinner with Claire, even Charlie an I never had anyone over. However, regardless of the reason my parents never entertained guests, I always assumed it was my dad’s idea. My mom always seemed like a small bumper sticker, and my dad seemed like the loud truck that carried her during their marriage. I never thought of my mom as making any important decisions, but now I wonder if it was at my mom’s insistence to hide from the world, that my dad gave up his social life.

My wondering eyes fall on my brother,who is standing next to the bar, and I watch him whisper something into his date’s ear and walk into the hallway. Assuming he probably went to the bathroom, I tell charlie, whose mouth is still full of steak, that I need to freshen up, and my husband nods his head and gives me half a wave.

Once I’m in the hall, I wait for Mark to leave the bathroom, feeling a little awkward at this bizarre situation. Once Mark finally walks out, his eyes show surprise and annoyance at seeing me.

Ann,” he says, and stops as if unsure of what to say next.

Listen Mark,” I say, “I have been investigating Mom’s life. I’m not going to go into all the details, but I found out she didn’t have foster or adoptive parents. She had a normal family.”

Of course she didn’t grow up with foster parents, Annabelle,” Mark says angrily.

You knew? Did Mom tell you? Or Dad, or maybe Grand…..”

No one told me anything. It was so obvious. Even if Mom had a hard life, as Grandma liked to imply, surely she would have had at least a few decent moments. A good foster mom, a best friend, a fun afternoon with a puppy! It was as if Mom had no childhood; as is she was born on the day she married Dad. Of course everyone was lying to us. Something about Mom’s family had to be hidden, or maybe she had to to be hidden from them, either way she was definitely not some orphan kid from an after school special who who sang it’s A Hard Knock Life. It was so obvious; how could you not see it? I thought accountants were supposed to be smart! Next year I’m going to do the taxes myself.”

Don’t you want to know why she kept her life a secret from us.”

No I don’t. If both our parents were this adamant about us not knowing the truth, it means it was something awful.”

Marie’s voice resonates in my head, “you are not going to find out that you are the rightful heir to the throne of England.”

Besides,” Mark continues, “What good would this information be to you now. Mom is dead.”

I need to know why she acted the way she did. I need to make sure I don’t become like her.”

Mark scoffs, “You act exactly like Dad. Mom would have been smart enough to let the past sleep.”

It was one of the few times Mark has ever said anything kind about Mom. I start to smile, but before my smile reaches my eyes, Mark says, “I know I can’t tell you to stop. You are too dumb and stubborn to listen to me. Always were. However, whatever information you find out about Mom, keep it to yourself. I don’t want to know!”

He shakes his head at me one more time, and then he walks back into the dining and dancing room, presumably to join his date. I stare at his back as he walks further and further away from me, and I wonder how could he not want to know. How could he not be curious. But then I remember Amy Miller, and how I did not want to know the truth.

&&&

Shortly after my mom died, I decided to call Amy. At one point in our lives we were best friends, and I felt a strong desire to rekindle our relationship. I picked up the phone to call her parents, a number I still knew by heart, so that I could get Amy’s contact information. However, a mind numbing fear stopped me.

It wasn’t that I was afraid Amy would refuse to talk to me. In fact, a small part of me hoped she would. After all, when Amy needed me the most, instead of showing her kindness, or at the very least anger and disapproval, I had been indifferent. With every part of my body, I had shown her I didn’t care. I deserved her silence. I was also not afraid that Amy would still have issues, but that she would still want to be my friend. College classes and dorm life had taught me quite a bit about psychosis, and I was willing to lend her a sympathetic ear; something I had not been able to do in my teens.

My fear ran much deeper. I was afraid, that in the years I had blissfully ignored Amy’s existence, she had killed herself. When someone close to you commits suicide, everyone always tells you it wasn’t your fault, and that you could not have prevented it. However, those platitudes would not ease the guilt I would feel if Amy was dead. So I would stare at the phone, and sometimes even touch the dial pad, but I would never call the number that my fingers had dialed millions of times. Eventually I stopped staring at the phone, because I realized I didn’t want to know if Amy had died. I had no desire to know the truth.

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Chapter 22

I have been back in Boston for two weeks, but I cannot seem to force myself to continue investigating my mother. Oh I had done all the preliminary work. I have found out the addresses and phone numbers of my mother’s parents and brothers, I knew all of their ages and marital statuses, and I even knew her parents had a rose bush that grew in front of their house because I had driven near that house several times. However my courage, which had propelled me during the last several months, seemed to have vanished and had been replaced with enormous dread which filled my body every time I thought of contacting my mother’s relatives. It seemed that my life had turned into knocking on old people’s doors, and I was too scared to knock on the next door alone. I decide to call Claire and ask her to come with me.

There are many reasons I would prefer to call Claire instead of Mike. For one thing, when two women show up at a stranger’s door, it is much less scary than if it is a man and a woman. I would certainly be less inclined to answer a door to strangers if one of them was a man. Secondly, I had been trying to cut Mike out of my life, and although I am not ready to go cold turkey, I certainly do not want to add any more emotional ties. Plus if I go with Claire I won’t even have to lie my husband. Well, at least not lie in any way that would make me feel guilty. I will tell him that Claire and I are going shoe shopping, which would be almost the truth. I might even decide to go to a shoe store after I find out the truth about my mother. If I find out the truth about my mother. I take a deep breath reminding myself that this door might lead to a dead end, a permanent dead end. I pick up the phone and call Claire.

Claire tells me that she can easily get a sitter, and that she is available to go with me tomorrow. I can hear excitement in her voice. Claire had wanted to be a journalist, but her parents convinced to switch to a less competitive profession. However, Claire still enjoyed uncovering secrets and asking lots of questions. I had not expected for Claire to available so soon, and I decide to wash the dishes to calm my shaking hands. Charlie will be pleased that the dishes are washed, so at very least all my lying will benefit him in some way. I watch the hot water roll down the dirty plate and I wonder what I’ll find out tomorrow.

&&&

The next day Claire drives us to the house with the rose bush in the front. My brown tennis shoes make me feel very under dressed when they walk next to Claire’s red heels towards dark blue door. I ring the door bell. A woman who I know is seventy-two, but who looks fifty-two, answers the door. “I’m not interested in buying anything today,” she says rather coldly. Through the cracked door I can see a silver cross hanging in the living room, and coldness of her voice convinces me to stick to my lie this time.

“I’m sorry to bother you Mam, but I am doing research for my aunt. I want to surprise her by finding a lot of her old friends and collecting memories from them. I usually call, but since I happen to live in Boston, I decided to make it a house call. My aunt’s name is Kelly Myers, and she used to be really good friends with Pamela Dactylic. This is the last known address I could find.”

I show her the photo of my mom and Kelly. “Yes that is my Pamela,” the lady replies, “although I don’t remember this Kelly person. I’m afraid Pamela’s address is St. John’s cemetery. My daughter had been walking with Jesus for over thirty years.”

“I am so sorry for your loss, can I ask what happened?”

“Thank you, but it was a long time ago. And I have six sons who have helped me in my grief. No one can replace Pamela, but the heart gets used to everything. She died in a car accident.”

I am at a loss for words, but Claire’s journalistic instinct kicks in and she asks, “was it an open casket funeral?”

“No, my daughter’s body was burned beyond recognition. The only reason we knew it was our Pamela was because of dental records.”

“You never worried that the doctor could have made a mistake,” Claire asks with a disinterested tone, as if she’s doing research on a college paper.

“Oh no, the doctor who called us, to inform us of this death, was a family friend. Well not quite a family friend, but he had been very helpful during an unpleasant incident that Pamela had been involved in less than a year before her death. He was very young, fresh out of med school, but he was very devoted to our daughter. He was the one who saw her turned over car and called the ambulance, and he comforted her during her last living moments. She made it to the hospital alive, but she died shortly after.”

“Does he still work at the hospital,” Claire asks.

“Oh no. One of my sons broke his leg six months later, and when we went to the hospital we asked for him. Turns out he had transferred after Pamela’s death. The death traumatized him. He cared about our a daughter quite a bit; he even went to her funeral. I remember when the minister said we would all see Pamela in our next life, a tiny smile had crept on his face, and he seemed to breathe with relief.”

“Doesn’t it seem strange that a doctor would be that involved with a patient,” I ask, and though I try to keep my voice calm, both Claire and the lady give me a dumbstruck stare.

“He acted the way a good doctor should act. I’m so sick of these doctors today that treat you a like an object with a bank account instead of a person. The doctors in my day cared about you, they called on your birthday, and remembered your symptoms without the help of a chart. Dr. John Smith was a great doctor who cared about his patients, to suggest otherwise would be inappropriate.”

My eyes become wide and my mouth hangs open. The lady notices the look on my face, and she must assume that I don’t believe her words because she adds, “ a good doctor cures the patient not the symptom.”

I continue to stand silently, not because I disagree with her, but because John Smith, aside from being the most generic name in the world, happens to be the name of my father.

“Of course it is important for the doctor to care for the patient,” Claire says, and then she adds, “do you mind telling us how Pamela was during the last year of her life?”

“She wasn’t as good as she could have been. She had lost her way and was going against the teachings of Jesus. But luckily she still remained a believer, and Jesus forgives all sins. She is in heaven now, thanks to Jesus and his forgiving heart.”

“Thank you,” Claire says, “for answering our questions, and I’m sorry for your loss.”

Claire and I drive back in silence, and after five minutes I realize that Claire is not driving back to her house.

“Where are you going,” I ask.

“St. John’s cemetery,” she replies.

“That Lady was scary,” I say.

Claire laughs, “You do realize that was your grandmother.”

A cold chill sweeps across my body. We arrive to the cemetery, and I am thankful that I am wearing tennis shoes and not heels as I walk past the tombstones. I see the tombstone with my mother’s name, and I walk over to it. I touch the cold smooth granite, and I think about the cold smooth granite that my mother’s other tombstone is also made out of. Nobody but me had been to both her grave sites. Except I realize that’s not true. My father had also been to both of her grave sites, and he had listened to two eulogies that featured my mother’s name.

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Chapter 23

Claire wants to keep investigating.  “We’re on such a roll,” she says. “Let’s drive down to the nearby hospital, where your father used to work.”

“Let’s call it a day,” I say. “This day was productive enough, plus my father has not worked there for over thirty years. I doubt anyone there will remember him.”

“If you stop now, you will procrastinate this for weeks. Let’s just get it over with.”

“Okay, “ I agree, because Claire always gives good advice.

We arrive at the hospital and park the car in the visitor parking lot. We walk towards the automatic doors, and when they open, we are greeted by noisy chaos. Children are crying, women are yelling at their husbands, men are breathing heavily, and amid this sickness people dressed in blue and green scrubs are running around. A receptionist, who is in her mid-thirties, sits at the front desk and chews gum loudly.

I walk directly to her and ask, “are there any old people who work here Mam?”

Her eyes lazily move toward my face, and she replies with irritation, “what kind of question is that?”

Claire comes to my rescue and says, “I’m sorry Mam. You see we want to find out information about a doctor who quit abruptly thirty years ago. We were hoping that perhaps someone who worked in this hospital a long time ago might help us.  We would really appreciate it if you could help us find such a person.”

“Listen, I have more important things to do than to help you find old people to bother. I have patients dying in the waiting room. This is why people hire private investigators.” She is about to say something else, but a nurse demands her attention, and she turns away from us. I glare at Claire, but she mirrors my expression.

“Are there any old people who work here Mam,” She mimics. “Really Ann, did you get autism on the way here. What kind of reaction did you think she was going to have? “

“I just found out my mom faked her own death and my dad helped. You could show some sympathy,” I tell Claire in an angry whisper because the probing eyes of an old lady in a wheel chair are staring at me.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Claire says. Her expression softens and then she adds, “maybe we should hire a private investigator.”

“Excuse me ladies,” the old lady in the wheel chair calls to us as we began to walk away.  Claire and I stop walking; Claire smiles, and she asks the lady if she needs any help.

“It’s I who might help you ,” she says. “ I couldn’t help but over hear, and I know it’s none of my business, but were the two of you talking about Dr. John Smith by any chance?”

“Yes, how did you know,” Claire asks.

“Well he used to be my doctor. He was such a good doctor. I was born with this genetic disease that causes me to visit the hospital every couple of months. The thing is I was constantly misdiagnosed until I was twenty-four, and I spent my entire childhood going through uncomfortable tests and being constantly told to tell my parents goodbye.  Dr. Smith correctly diagnosed me. He changed my life! You don’t forget your savior. Not to mention he was an amazing doctor, too good for this hospital to tell you the truth. Then, one day, when I came to the hospital for an appointment I had made with him a month before, the receptionist tells me he quit. ‘Why,’ I asked. I was nosy even then. ‘I have no idea,’ the receptionist had replied. ‘It’s the strangest thing, he was about to get a promotion, and he was so excited about it, and then he just quits. Everyone was surprised. He did not even give us a two-week notice’”

“So no one knew why he quit,” I ask.

“Well, a nurse told me he was saddened by the death of one of his patients, so the theory around the hospital was that he had a nervous breakdown, and had to take some time off. But I don’t think that’s the reason.  I mean if it was, wouldn’t he have come back? I have a theory; it’s a bit of a conspiracy theory though.”

“I would love to hear it,” Claire says.

“The day after I found out Dr. Smith quit, I was watching TV with my parents. There was a news story about a man found murdered in the woods. This wasn’t an ordinary man. He was the brother of a known leader of a vicious gang at the time. They never did find the murderer, and many suspected that the gang leader killed him to avenge his brother’s death. Even If he didn’t kill him, he was probably looking for him. You know how it is with gangs. It’s all about reputation! Anyway, you might say this is a coincidence, but I find it strange that Dr. Smith disappeared around the time this body was found. Gang members need doctors to take care of all those illegal wounds they get, and although Dr. Smith was an amazing physician, he was quite young, and he might have been working for the gang. Perhaps he was somehow involved with this murder, and he fled to hide from them. That’s my theory anyway. I hope they didn’t find him.”

“Thank you for telling us this,” I say.

“Oh, no problem. Thank you for listening! May I ask why you ladies are interested in Dr. Smith?

“He used to date my mother,” I reply automatically. “She always wondered what happened to him, and I’ve been trying to help her find him.”

“Do you happen to know anything about his patient who died?” Claire adds.

“Oh, I don’t know about any of his other patients. He never talked about them; he was very professional. Good luck with your search.”

“Thank you,” I say, as Claire and I wave good-bye and walk out of the hospital.

“Do you think your parents were involved with the gang,” Claire asks me when we are back in her car.

“I don’t know. I want to say ‘no that’s crazy’, but I found out today that my parents faked my mom’s death so anything is possible.”

“I mean I’ve met your parents, and I would even be shocked if I found out they were part of the neighborhood watch. But you’re right. After what we found out today, anything is possible. Will you be visiting you grandparents again?”

“No,” I reply. “Not my grandparents.  I ‘m going to visit my uncles. “

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