The moment my Mama died changed my life. Not only did I inherit her secrets, but I inherited her best friend too. I inherited a stack of letters that had the power to change my life. I inherited the truth about my Father that allowed me to love him again and let go of the hate that stood between us. I inherited the beach house and along the way I found Junior. Penny had always promised me a summer romance and the summer my Mama died, the man I would grow old with walked into my life.
I spent my entire life worshipping my Mama and for good reason. Her letters reaffirmed my faith in her, and even after death Mama taught me lessons about life and about love. Mama handed me the power to forgive Father, accept Anna, like Maria, love Junior, and understand Penny. When Mama died, my life was turned upside down-- but fortunately that turned out to be right side up. Everything fell into place and I finally found my place in the world.
“Welcome to Harley’s Sidewalk Café!” A skinny teenager wearing converse all-stars met us at the door with a smile. We slid into the familiar booths and pulled out the menus that we didn’t need.
“I’ll have one Surprise Me Special!” I smiled, handing the unused menu back to my husband.
“Make that two.” Junior smiled.
“What would you like, honey?” I asked my five year old daughter, Julianna. We were on our way to the beach house for a weekend of relaxation. We were now the weekenders that we once laughed at.
“Is Surprise Me Special named after Grandma Hanks?” Julianna’s long brown pigtails framed her rosy cheeks.
“Yes, it is.” Junior nodded. He loved his little girl more than anything, and she loved him with every ounce of sweetness that her little body could hold. They reminded me of Father and I all those years ago.
“You’re Miss Penny’s daughter?” The waitress asked excitedly.
“Daughter in law.” I nodded, with a sense of pride.
“She’s famous around Harley’s!”
“I’ll have one Surprise Me Special, too!” Julianna announced with a smile.
“Three Surprise Me Specials coming right up!” she didn’t need her pad for that.
“On the house!” Gene the giant owner and cook called through the tiny window. “Tell Penny I said hello!”
“Will do!” Junior grinned. Even after six years of marriage, I loved him more and more everyday. As we sat and waited on our mystery meal, I looked across the table at the four big brown eyes that stared back at me. Mama set my life in motion and put me on the right course by telling me the truth. The truth about Mama’s secrets could have ruined me, but she knew that they would set me free. I made her secrets mine, and in the process found love.
I didn’t sleep a single wink! Junior was coming the next day, his Father was sleeping in the guest room, Penny was sleeping the bed beside me, and I again had nowhere to put my hate. I studied Penny’s face and couldn’t help but forgive her for her relationship with my Mama. How could you hate someone who gave up their dreams for a few fleeting moments with someone they loved? How could you put the weight of detest on the woman who mailed your keys to the beach just so that you wouldn’t head all the way home without healing? How could you loathe the woman who spoon fed you daily dose after daily dose of Mama’s knowledge? I couldn’t hate her. I didn’t even want to hate her anymore.
I thought about the life that Penny could have had were it not for Mama. She could have had a huge wedding, had tons of kids, and probably wouldn’t have ended up lonely when her best friend in the world died. She could have put herself first, but instead she hung around waiting for her moment with Mama. She loved her enough to wait and hide. She must have really loved Mama with all of her heart.
I had been so selfish. I hadn’t looked at the bigger picture. Penny had done nothing but loved me throughout the years. She gave freely of herself to me when I needed her most… She even had the foresight to get the hell out of my way before I read the letter that gave away her secret. There were only three people left in the world who knew Mama’s secret-- Me, Penny, and Junior. I realized that Mama and Penny’s secrets bonded me to him, and I realized that I had been so stupid to let him go.
I couldn’t wait to see Junior! I couldn’t wait to tell him how sorry I was and I hoped and prayed that he would understand. Junior had been hurt twice before, and this may be one hurt that he couldn’t find the strength to overcome. I spent my night wishing upon every star in the southern night sky. I had never wished upon a star before, I had always been far too sensible for that, but not now. I wished until finally I was out of stars. If that didn’t do the trick, I didn’t know what would.
Around six o’clock I headed down the stairs and out the door. The morning air was crisp and the grass beneath my feet was wet with dew. I didn’t know where I was heading, but I walked. I found myself in Mama’s garden. Hank was still tending to it, and it look beautiful in the soft morning light. “I miss you, Mama.” I whispered into the nothingness the surrounded me. “I love you….” No one was there to hear me. Mama would never hear me profess my love for her again. I wanted somewhere to put my love now-- I needed somewhere! I loved Father, I loved Anna, I loved Penny, I even loved Maria, but I still had love left over to give. I thought about Junior, his handsome face, radiant smile, warm brown eyes, and strong arms. I knew where my love belonged. It belonged with him.
I was nervous. Anna and Penny helped me get ready for Junior’s arrival. I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed. It was far too formal for an early morning meeting. I had on tons of blush, a big web of black lashes, and a shiny sequined dress that Penny had brought along. “I don’t think so!” I shook my honey blonde curls from side to side.
“Oh why not? You look like a beauty queen!” Penny beamed with pride.
“That wasn’t exactly what I was going for,” I confessed hesitantly.
“Lose the sequins?” Anna laughed.
“I think so.” I headed into my room and pulled out a pair of blue jeans, a tank top, and some brown sandals. I slid the clothes on and brushed the curls from my hair. I still looked silly. “The makeup has to go too, ladies.”
“No!” Penny insisted. A girl could never wear too much makeup in her opinion.
“I don’t want to look like, like this. I’m sorry.” I pulled a washrag from the drawer and lathered my face up with soap. The white cloth was pink, black, and brown by the time my face was clean. I stared at myself in the mirror, red from scrubbing. I wondered how in the world Junior could see beauty in such a messed up girl.
“Junior is here.” Maria reported excitedly. “He is muy caliente!”
We all laughed and I dried my face before heading down to see the man of my dreams. I smiled at the sight of him. There he stood in my house for the first time, looking more handsome than I remembered. “Hi.”
“Hey, Addy.” Junior looked shy, he reminded me of Joe Haynes on his first time coming to woo Anna. I suddenly felt a flush of guilt rush over me as I stood three steps from the bottom staring at him. I looked at the first lips that had ever met mine and wanted more than anything to feel his lips again.
“Want to go for a walk?” Going for walks seemed to be the way to make amends around here. I walked the same path that Father and I had walked. At first we didn’t talk, but eventually I heard myself begin to speak. “I made a mistake.”
“You made a lot of mistakes…” Junior smiled.
“Yeah, I did.” I nodded. He may have been joking, but I wasn’t. I had made more mistakes than the stars that I counted the night before. “I lost it. I couldn’t handle the truth about Mama and Penny, and I decided that I didn’t have the ability to truly love. But I’ve been thinking about it, Junior.”
“And?” Junior led me to the old tire swing.
“And I love you.” I did. I loved him! It was the second time that I had come to that conclusion, and hopefully was the last.
“Addy,” he began, “I don’t know. I can’t open myself up to be hurt again.”
His words were bullets and the ripped through my body. I wanted to run away, stay and beg, and curl up and die all at the same time. I didn’t know how to make him see that I was sorry. I didn’t know how normal people in relationships righted wrongs. “Junior, I don’t know what to say. You are the first man that I have ever kissed, ever made love to, ever loved. I can’t imagine hurting you again, but I am so messed up that I can’t promise I won’t. I don’t know how to protect you, but I also have no idea how to stay away.”
Junior looked at me. I knew I probably looked awful in my ripped jeans and white tank top, but if anybody could see past that I knew he could. “Addy,” he whispered. I couldn’t read the expression on his face. I braced myself, I knew that it was his turn to walk away from me. I had ruined my first and last chance at love. “I love you. I told myself that I wasn’t going to give in right away, but I can’t even for a second imagine my life without you in it.”
I fell into his arms, tears streaming down my face. He loved me! He wanted to be with me! Junior loved me! “I missed you!”
“I missed you, too.” Junior kissed me and I knew that everything was right in the world. Finally, I had someone to help me keep the secrets that haunted me. I didn’t have to carry Mama’s secrets alone as I had carried Father’s secrets alone for so many years. I didn’t have to let hate cripple me, because with a heart so full of love there was no room for hate!
“Let’s go inside and tell everybody!” I thought about Penny, and how excited she would be. I thought about Anna, who finally seemed to be in love with a good guy. I thought about Daddy, it finally felt right to call him Daddy again. I couldn’t contain my excitement! I pushed the empty tire swing as hard as I could and it came back and knocked us over. Junior pulled me on top of him and kissed me again.
“There is one thing left to do first,” he whispered pulling my white tank top off and freeing my hair from its pony tail. We made love in the meadow, surrounded by the familiar summer sounds that I spent my entire life getting used to. Everything about Junior was perfect, and I knew as I held him close and felt the rhythm of our love, that I would never let him go.
“Ready or not, here I come!” Anna’s voice was muffled and distant.
I giggled as I stood behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. I was six years old. Anna and I loved playing hide-and-go seek! Our house had an endless supply of places to hide, and when I couldn’t find Anna, Maria would give me a hint. It didn’t occur to me at the time that she probably gave Anna hints too!
I stood behind the shower curtain for what seemed like years. I could hear Anna out in the hall opening and closing doors, but she still hadn’t come close to the guest bathroom. Finally I sat down on the side of the tub and waited impatiently. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for hiding after all.
“Addy!” Anna said in a sing song voice. “Addy, where are you?”
I giggled as she turned the door knob and braced myself for being found. Maybe she wouldn’t check behind the curtain. The door knob rattled again and then I heard my little sister walk down the hall.
“I give up!” I heard her say. “Come out, Addy!”
Why hadn’t she come in? I climbed out of the cold porcelain tub and jiggled the door knob myself. It wouldn’t budge. I switched on the light and looked up at the top of the door, which stretched above my head for miles. The latch at the top of the door was locked. Who had locked it? I didn’t lock it! I couldn’t have.
I felt myself begin the panic. What if I was locked in the bathroom forever? What if I was in the bathroom until I was an old lady? What if I never ever got out?
“Addy?” I heard Maria call through the bathroom door. “You okay, senorita?”
“I’m stuck! It’s locked!” I cried banging on the wooden door with all of my might.
“Oh no!” Maria jiggled the knob. “Unlock it, bonita!”
“Found you!” Anna chimed in, not realizing the gravity of the situation at hand.
“I go get your Daddy.” Maria headed down the hall to find Father.
It took them what seemed like years to return to the door that stood between me and freedom.
“Addy?” Father called. “Can you reach the lock?”
“No! It is at the top, Daddy! I’m scared and I have to go pee-pee!”
“Go pee-pee then, honey! You’re in the bathroom. Go pee-pee and I’ll have you out of there in no time!” Father’s voice was reassuring. I scurried over to the toilet and hoisted myself up. Father jiggled the door knob and bumped into the door several times. I heard Mama’s voice in the hall ask what was going on.
“Mama!” I yelled frantically. I wanted out!
“How long has she been in there?” Mama asked. “Honey it is going to be okay!”
“Twenty minutes.” Maria said with sadness in her voice. Twenty minutes? I could have watched a whole episode of Andy Griffith in twenty minutes! I began to cry harder than I had before.
“Hang on baby, Daddy will get you out!”
I listened through tears as they concocted a plan. Father would take the door off of its hinges and free me. Maria hurried off for his tools and Mama assured me calmly that everything would be okay.
After a series of bangs and knocks, Father announced that it wouldn’t work. He couldn’t get the door off of its hinges. “Please get me out!” I cried beating on the door.
“Step back, Addy! I’m going to have to break the door down.” Father said confidently. “Go to the farthest corner of the bathroom!”
“Addy, go to the window. Get away from the door! It is going to be okay!” Mama said, I could hear the worry in her voice.
I ran across the cold tile floor and crouched down against the wall. I covered my head with my hands and hummed a Beatles song to block out the loud noises that were coming from the door. It was louder than anything I had ever heard. It took forever, but eventually Daddy came bursting through the broken door. I was rocking back and forth, humming, and crying.
Father took me in his arms and held me tight. Mama rushed in through the splintered wood and embraced us both. I was finally free. I was still humming “Eleanor Rigby” and didn’t even notice. “Shhh…” Mama consoled. “You’re okay now.”
I opened my eyes and looked around. The door was in a million pieces on the floor. I never played hide-and-go seek again.
I stood as Penny and her date came up the walk. I was going to be nice if it killed me. I realized suddenly that I recognized her date, and I could feel heat rising in me. “Mr. Hanks?”
“Hi, Addy!” Junior’s father gave me a warm hug.
“You’re Penny’s date?” I was so confused! He wasn’t a woman.
“I wouldn’t call it a date, but we’ve had dinner a few times.” Penny said, giving me a peck on the cheek like nothing was wrong.
“I’m a little confused.” I confessed, searching her face for answers. She looked pretty, as much as I hated to admit it. Why in the world was she pretending to like men? Was this all a show to throw Father and Anna off of her scent? I should have known she’d be too smart to bring a woman, but why Mr. Hanks?
“We’ll talk later.” Penny led me in the house and introduced Thomas Hanks, Sr. to my family. They all got a big laugh out of him being named Tom Hanks, and I couldn’t help but feel that Penny was stealing my thunder. That joke should have been reserved for my family’s first time meeting Junior. I was supposed to introduce him as Tom Hanks, Jr. Especially since Anna spent her childhood claiming that she would someday marry Tom Hanks.
“Tom is actually Addy’s friend Junior’s Dad.” Penny announced with a cheeky smile. How dare she mention Junior?
Maria served us all and we small talked the night away. I finally got over the fact that Penny was using Mr. Hanks as a decoy, and decided to just enjoy myself. No one thought it was strange that Penny brought a man around so soon after Mama’s death, which proved to me that I was the only person who knew her secret. I was the only one who had the bear the pain of the truth about them, and somehow I felt relieved.
Penny was her usual bubbly self, and everyone seemed glad to have her around. I looked at her and then at Mrs. Bailey and accidentally laughed out loud. She wasn’t Penny’s type. Father invited everyone out onto the deck for drinks after dinner, and Penny pulled me aside. “Want to go for a walk? Please?”
I begrudgingly agreed and followed her out the front door as everyone else headed out back. I didn’t know what to say. “Mr. Hanks?” I asked, taking special care to have a condescending tone.
“Yes, Mr. Hanks.” Penny studied my face.
“I just think it is crooked. Using that poor, sweet man as a decoy.” I didn’t hold anything back.
“Yes, to make sure Daddy and Anna don’t know about you and Mama. Of course you couldn’t bring a woman! That would make things obvious.” I felt like screaming, but lowered my voice instead.
“Addy.” Penny shook her head. “Let’s sit down.”
“Here?” I looked down at the grass.
“Yes.” Penny pulled me down, my dress fanned out as I plopped down in the grass. “You obviously don’t understand.”
“What is there to understand?”
“Addy, I’m not a lesbian.” Penny didn’t mince words.
“Aren’t a lesbian? Well then how do you explain you and Mama?” I was getting more and more frustrated by the second. How could she claim not to be a lesbian? She was with Mama for decades!
“I’m not. I’m not gay, I’m… Well, I’m Julianne.” Penny shook her head, probably wondering if it made sense. It did. It had never occurred to me that Mama and Penny weren’t lesbians or bisexuals. Penny didn’t like women, she liked Mama. I felt like my eyes were seeing Penny for the first time. Suddenly, she was hard to be mad at.
“Oh.” I couldn’t find any words, so I just listened.
“Addy, I dreamed of growing up and getting married just like all other little girls do. I wanted a big house, a bunch of kids, a handsome husband, and a picket fence. I had boyfriends, but then I met Julianne. It didn’t matter that she was a woman, what mattered was that we were kindred spirits. We made sense. We belonged together.” Penny’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke of Mama. “Your Mama started dating your Daddy soon after we discovered our feelings for each other. She loved him, and we put our feelings aside for many many years.”
“In college?” I asked.
“Yes,” Penny wiped away a tear. “She loved him so much and wanted a life that involved a man and children. She wanted to be with him, but after awhile we realized that what we had couldn’t be put aside any longer. We decided that we couldn’t just be best friends anymore and she asked Robert for an open marriage. To our surprise he agreed…”
“So you became lovers?”
“Yes, we became lovers again. I didn’t have the same capacity for loving two people, and so I put my dreams of having children and a husband aside. Your Mama was worth it, Addy.” Penny took my hand in hers’. I couldn’t believe my ears. Penny had sacrificed her chance at a normal life, at having children and being a wife, just so that she could be by Mama’s side.
“Oh, Penny!” I hugged her tighter than I had ever hugged her before. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what, honey? Don’t be sorry! I loved your Mama, she was worth it.” Penny whispered.
“You never got to have kids or a husband. You sat back and watched Mama and Daddy live the perfect life!” I couldn’t believe how drastically my opinion of Penny had changed.
“I had children, Addy. Why do you think I took you so many places and did so much for you? In my own way, I had two daughters.” Penny ran her hand through my hair.
“Thank you for telling me, Penny.”
“You’re welcome baby girl. I love you.” Penny smiled brightly, visibly relieved at getting the weight of my hate off of her shoulders. “And as for Mr. Hanks, I hope you don’t mind. We’re not dating yet, but I like him a lot.”
“I don’t mind at all.” I stood up and helped Penny to her feet. “Oh, and I love you too.”
“Do me a favor?” Penny and I walked back toward the sprawling estate that I called home.
“Okay, what?” I knew that I would literally do anything that she asked.
“When Junior gets here tomorrow, give him a chance.”
“Tomorrow? Junior’s coming tomorrow?” I felt my heart skip a beat.
“He is.” Penny nodded. “He’s hurting pretty bad, but I think I know just the girl to fix it.”
I stood frozen, peeking around the curtain at the audience. I was, as usual, the grand finale to Mrs. Smith’s annual piano recital. I hadn’t been nervous in front of an audience in years, but the fact that seat beside Father sat empty, made me antsy. Mama had never missed one of my performances, and I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t there.
I popped my fingers and listened to the first year piano student play staccato notes on a piece that was supposed to be legato. The choppy song resonated through the recital hall and put me even more on edge than I already was.
“You okay?” Mrs. Smith came and stood beside me. She was pregnant again, and her stomach looked like it was about to burst.
“I’m okay, just wondering where Mama is.” I confessed.
“Oh, she’ll be here.”
“I hope so.” I adjusted my dress and took a deep breath. The names on the program dwindled down to only two people left, and still no Mama. I had worked very hard on Stravinsky’s Petrushka Transciption, and knew that it would be a piece that took Mama’s breath away.
I looked out at Father, who had a pleasant look on his face, enjoying the final notes of the teenage girl’s piece. She smiled and bowed, and I knew that it was my turn. I tried to forget the fact that Mama hadn’t come, but was so disappointed that I could barely walk out and sit on the bench. I decided that she must have a good reason and put my hands on the black and white expanse of keys.
The piece was comprised of three movements. I blocked out the nagging disappointment and focused on the music that I was creating. The piece was originally written as a ballet and I could see the little tu-tus frantically scurrying around the stage in my imagination. My fingers danced across the keys skillfully, and I knew that I was wowing the audience once again. The anger poured out through my fingers as I banged out the frantic movement that piece called for. I felt the warmth of a tear escape my eye and tried to blink away the rest. Mama wasn’t there, she wasn’t hearing the fruit of my hard work. By the end of the first movement I was damp with tears, and I knew that there was nothing I could do to hide them. I had no choice but to finish.
After I played the final notes, I stood and bowed. My eyes, instead of seeing the smiling faces misted with tears, I saw the empty seat. I forced a smile and headed off stage. Mrs. Smith, who was already emotional from the pregnancy hormones, had mascara streaking down her cheeks. “Amazing!”
“Thank you.” I said, dodging her open arms. “Please tell my Father that I’ll be waiting in the car.”
After Father finally escaped the clutches of all the praise that people had for my piano playing, he came out and found me in the car. “You were wonderful!”
“Thanks.” I sighed, thankful that the car was finally moving. I needed to cry harder, but was too proud to do it in front of him. “Where was she?”
“Anna hurt her ankle at tennis practice. They are at the hospital.” Father explained, realizing that the tears were not tears of passion but that they were tears of pain.
“Oh.” I nodded. “I guess that is a good excuse.”
The article in the local newspaper the next day spoke of my amazing technical skills, but focused on the emotional connection that I had with Stravinsky’s work. It quoted Mrs. Smith as calling me a “piano virtuoso,” and had a black and white photograph of me hovering over the keys quietly sobbing. I slid the paper in the trash before Mama could see it, I didn’t want her knowing just how devastating the experience had been. I was starting to wonder if my reliance on Mama was healthy or not, but knew that it was too late to turn back the clock either way.
Anna made her way to the trash can on her crutches and pulled the unread paper out. “What are you doing?”
“Just embarrassed about being on the front page…” I lied.
“Mama will want to see it! I thought she was going to kill me for breaking my ankle.” Anna put it on the counter and hobbled out. I couldn’t help but smile, Mama wanted to be there. She didn’t abandon me after all.
After a day or two of reacquainting myself with my long lost Father, I began to come to terms with Mama’s secret. I was a mess of ups and downs. One minute I realized that Mama’s love life did not define her and that she was still the same Mama I had worshiped and adored, and the next minute I was angry and felt betrayed that Mama and Penny had risked ruining our lives for an affair. An affair-- was it really even an affair? Father knew that Mama had a lover, he knew exactly when she was heading out to be with her lover, and he accepted it. Mama still loved him, and he still loved her.
I was more confused than anything. I couldn’t help but wonder if Father would have still accepted Mama’s affair if he had known that it was with Penny. Would he have welcomed Penny into his home? Would he have allowed Penny to be a part of his daughters’ lives? I didn’t have answers and wouldn’t have answers. I could never breathe a word of Mama’s lover’s identity to him. I had a feeling it would crush him. He made a conscious decision not to find out who it was, and I intended to keep it that way.
Maria kept me well fed and I even left my bed unmade for her to take care of. It was almost like a little peace offering. She was much jollier than I had ever remembered, and I realized that I liked Maria a lot. It made sense that she had fallen like putty into Father’s arms all those years ago-- she had a husband who was never around and Father was a handsome nice man who was always kind to her. I was seeing Maria through completely new eyes.
I pulled Mama’s letters out and reread them. I knew good and well that the way I was treating Penny was the complete opposite of how I should act if I was taking heed to the lessons that Mama had written into her letters for me. I knew I was way off course, but I also knew that I wasn’t ready to forgive Penny yet. I needed to hold this against her.
I slid the letters under me as Father came out onto the porch and sat beside me on the swing. “Morning.”
“Good Morning, Daddy.” The morning fog was slowly burning away and letting sun through. The dew on the ground was shining in the sun’s gilded rays, and I saw certain beauty in Father’s estate that I hadn’t taken time to notice in years. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“It sure is. Anna and her boyfriend Ryan are coming tonight for dinner. I think they are brining Penny.” Father studied my face. “I don’t know what has happened between the two of you, but Penny has always gone out of her way for our family, and I don’t think that you should cut her off, Addy. I know how bad that can feel.”
I looked at him, he didn’t know half of it, finally I had found someone who deserved to be hated, and I couldn’t quite find the meanness inside of me to hate her. “I won’t cut her off, Daddy. I just don’t understand her.”
“She was only trying to help you by shipping you off to the beach house with your Mama’s letters. She cares about you, otherwise she wouldn’t have bothered.” Father made sense.
“True.” I sighed. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Penny, but at the same time I had to face her. I was only hurting myself by hating people anyway.
“I think she is bringing a date.” Father stood up and patted me on the leg before heading back inside. The screen door bounced shut behind him and I felt like screaming. My mind wandered back to Junior referring to Penny’s
“hot date” the week before, and I just couldn’t believe that Penny had already moved on. How could she already have someone else? God, what if seeing her with a woman put all of the pieces of the puzzle together in Father’s mind? What if he would realize that Penny had been Mama’s other man? I didn’t know what to do! Should I call and warn Penny not to make such a huge mistake? Should I call Anna? What could I do?
After awhile, I stopped debating my options and realized that my only real option was to be there for Father. I had to protect him from the pain that Penny had the potential to cause. If he suspected Mama and Penny, I would help him debunk his suspicions. I would prove to him that there was no way that his wife liked women. I could do this.
I climbed into the claw footed tub and sank into the scorching hot water. Steam danced in the air around me. I knew that our visitors would arrive within the next few hours, and I needed to relax and prepare myself for the emotional reunion. I didn’t know if I could face Penny. I was hurt and angry. No matter what Penny had done for me, I couldn’t ignore all of the bad things that she had done to me either. I would muster up all of my strength and put on a happy face, but I couldn’t imagine liking her ever again.
Wrapped in a towel I pulled out my makeup bag for the first time since arriving home. I wanted to erase the evidence of the tears that I had cried and the evidence of the piece of me that was missing. I missed Junior. I had ruined my chances with him, and was kicking myself for it. I knew that he would never want me back, and had decided not to even try. I would send apologies back to him through Penny, and wish him luck with the rest of his life. That would at least make Penny useful to me again.
After fixing my hair, putting on makeup, and sliding on the off the shoulder A-line number that I had worn on my first official date with Junior, I headed downstairs to see if Maria needed any help. “Can I help?”
Maria looked up from her stir fry and smiled. “You look beautiful.”
“Oh thank you. I guess you haven’t seen me fix up much.” I pulled an apron around my waist and took over stirring so that Maria could check on the salads.
“I like. You look nice.” Maria approved.
“Thanks.” I felt pretty for the first time in several days. Maybe I was getting over Junior already.
Father came in and gave me a peck on the cheek, “Lovely.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself.” I teased. He really did look handsome.
“Want to play hostess? I’m heading down to the basement to grab some wine, but I saw car lights coming down the drive."
“Sure.” I handed Maria her spoon, slid out of the apron, and smoothed my hair into place. I had to face Penny whether I was ready or not.
I smiled warmly as Anna, Ryan, and a woman I didn’t recognize climbed out of Anna’s Mercedes. So this was Penny’s lover? I studied her as she climbed the stairs to the porch, and I felt like vomiting. How could Penny go from Mama’s beauty to this woman’s plainness? Couldn’t she see how ordinary this red-headed, freckle-faced, buck-toothed lady was? Oh God.
“Where is Penny?” I asked the woman. She looked to Anna for the answer, without saying a word to me. She must have already been warned about me.
“Penny will be along in a little while. We left about twenty minutes before she did.” Anna gave me a look. Did she know about Penny and Mama? Wasn’t she surprised that Penny was a lesbian?
I smiled at Ryan and asked Penny’s new fling her name. “I’m Ellen Bailey. Ryan’s Mother.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, blushing. I couldn’t believe that I had almost snubbed Ryan, the dentist’s Mom! “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Bailey. I’m Anna’s sister Adeline.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” She smiled, I wondered why he didn’t do something about his own mother’s teeth, but was relieved that Penny hadn’t traded Mama in for a chubby red-head so soon after her death. Thank goodness I hadn’t said anything mean.
Anna took Mrs. Bailey by the arm and led her inside to meet Father. I sat on the porch and tried to recover. Apparently I wasn’t as mentally prepared for the evening as I thought I was. In less than twenty minutes, I would be facing my new arch nemesis. Penelope Quinn. The woman who had taken me under her wing and helped me discover who I had the potential of becoming. The woman who had bought me thousands of dollars worth of clothes. The woman who always made me giggle when I was a little girl. The woman who brought the best out in ordinary people like Beth the waitress. The woman who Mama obviously loved. Most people would adore Penny regardless, but I couldn’t help but loathe her. I inherited Mama’s secrets and Penny inherited my hate for Father. As her lights sped down the drive, I took a deep breath. Only a few more hours and I would be free of Penny forever. I could play nice until then.
“A yard sale? Are you kidding me?” Anna, who was at the height of her teenage popularity, couldn’t believe that we had tables lined up across our front lawn and gawdy signs posted around town. She was embarrassed to say the least.
“Yes, it is for charity.” I slid past her and put down a box of items from her room with a thud. She eyed the items and made a face before rushing inside. “I don’t understand your daughter.”
“Me either sometimes,” Mama shook her head. I was glad that she was seeing Anna’s true colors. “Hand me that piece of poster board.”
Father came out and handed me a box of books from his study. He didn’t bother saying much to me, but was glad to help out with my cause. I realized a few years earlier that I could take advantage of our rich contacts and raise money for charities around town. It was my first yard sale, but if it went well I was sure that it wouldn’t be my last. Mama had even managed to have it announced in the monthly newletter that the country club sent out.
“I’m so proud of you.” Mama put her arm around me as the first cars rolled down the drive.
“Thanks, Mama. Too bad Anna doesn’t want to help…” I wanted her to realize how selfish Anna was. Mama nodded, probably pondering the disappointment that she felt in her second born child over and over again.
Within two hours I had already sold around three hundred dollars worth, and we were just getting started good. Every time I turned around I saw Mama running in the house for more items to donate, Maria was passing around cookies, and Father taking people in the house to see large items that he would be willing to part with.
“Got any good movies to sell?” Penny pranced up to me wearing heels and a dress. She always got dolled up, even if she was just going to a Saturday morning yard sale.
“Hey Penny.” I pointed toward the crate with movies in it. “I’ll cut you a deal if you buy them all.”
“I just sold two chairs. Fifty bucks a piece.” Father reported.
“Great!” I smiled. I couldn’t wait to see the final total at the end of the day!
After lunch, a woman caught my eye. She wasn’t dressed up or made up like the socialites who were meandering around the tables for charity sake, but she was searching the tables for items that she needed. It was obvious that she was wearing hand me downs and it was obvious that she was not from my parents’ circle of friend. “Hi,” I headed over to greet her.
“Hi.” She nodded in my direction and looked back down at the table of shoes that she was sizing up.
“Most of them are size eights, but I think my Mama put in a few pairs and she wears a seven…” I knew that none of the high heel fancy shoes would be practical for this woman, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m looking for tennis shoes, but these red ones sure are nice. I wear an eight.” She ran her hand across the snakeskin stilettos. She was warming up to me a little.
“Oh! I’ve got a whole stack of tennis shoes inside that didn’t make it out, thanks for reminding me! Stay right here…” I ran into the house, straight up the stairs to my bedroom, and started digging through the shoes in my closet. I had a ton of athletic shoes, but really only wore one pair that was my favorite. I gathered boxes of unworn shoes, and headed back out. “Found them.”
She opened the boxes and her eyes grew wide. “These have never been worn?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to sell them.” I was a bit embarrassed that I had eight pairs of unworn sneakers. How selfish of me.
“I’ll give you all of these and the red pair of heels for five.” I hoped that wasn’t too much.
“Oh I just need one…” She looked at a white and pink pair of Nikes. “Maybe two. I could get a pair for my sister.”
“Take them all. You can give your sister a few and keep a few… Really. I insist.” I glanced down at her worn out canvas shoes.
“Well, I guess I could. Thank you!” She eyed the red heels again and smiled.
“I’ll help you carry them.” I took armloads of shoes to her beat up car. She had a car seat in the back and I asked her if she had a baby.
“I have four kids.”
“I’m Addy, what was your name?” I extended my hand, hoping she would come find more items that she needed.
“I’m Rachael.” she took my hand timidly and shook it.
“Let’s see if we have anything else you want to buy, Rachael.” I smiled and we headed back over to the tables. I wanted to give her everything, but I knew she wouldn’t accept any of it without paying. “We have pots and pans that have never even been opened.”
“Really… Want to look at them?” I asked, knowing that the fifty dollar price tag would never do. Suddenly I didn’t care about making money for charity, I cared about being charitable. I slid the price tag off and crumpled it up into my pocket before she could see it. “I think we are asking six dollars for these, if you’re interested."
“Oh I am! Do you have any blankets?” It was warm outside, but Rachael was practical enough to know that winter was on its way.
“We do! I saw a whole stack of them somewhere earlier!” I searched for the blankets while Rachael gathered up other items that she needed. By the end of the afternoon Rachael’s car was loaded up with items that she bought. She spent twenty nine dollars in all, and had no clue that I was making up prices as I went. Mama watched me in wonder, and Father brought out several items for her. She thanked us for our attention and headed down the drive with a smile.
“I’m proud of you.” Mama whispered as I wheeled and dealed with Aunt Elise over a pearl necklace.
“Thanks,” I smiled, turning my attention back to Elise. “Now you know these pearls are worth at least thirty.”
“Okay, I’ll do thirty…” Elise pulled out a fifty dollar bill. “For charity.”
By the end of the day I had sold eight hundred dollars for charity, Icould have easily reached my goal of one thousand had I not given Rachael three hundred dollars worth of merchandise for less than thirty, but I didn’t care. I was thankful to see the items actually go to the someone who needed them instead of being taken home to the yard sale pile in the corner of some rich person’s garage.
“Oh, I forgot to pay for my movies…” Penny had stayed behind to help us load the leftovers into the basement.
“Oh, take them!” I urged, she had been a big help.
“No, actually I counted them up and if I pay five dollars a piece, I owe you two hundred and ten dollars.” Penny whipped out her leopard print checkbook.
“Penny! You are not paying full price for those movies.” Mama shook her head.
“Let her,” Father smiled, pointing out that it would help me reach my goal.
“I insist.” Penny slid the folded check into my hand with a smile, put her shoes on top of the crate full of movies and headed off toward her fancy car.
“Thank you Penny!” I called behind her with a smile. I met my goal!
For the first time in many years, I looked at my Father with respect. He was kind, thoughtful, caring, and one of the most intelligent men I had ever met. We had dinner out on the back deck that over looked the pool, and enjoyed each others’ company very much. We reminisced about Mama and he told me again how much she loved me. He told me how important the letters were to her in her final days. Even when Mama could barely sit up, she asked for a paper and pen to write to me. I felt humbled and began to think about the whole situation differently.
“I’m so thankful that Penny took you under her wing.” Father sipped his sweet tea and looked at me. “She has always been such a good friend to your Mama, and now to you.”
I looked down and fiddled with the cloth napkin in my lap. I knew his words were true, but at the same time my stomach churned in repulsion at the thought of Mama in her arms. “Yes, she did help me a lot.” I couldn’t deny what Penny had done for me.
“Did she introduce you to Junior?” Father didn’t know me well enough anymore to know when I was uncomfortable with a subject. I was uncomfortable discussing Penny, and was painfully uncomfortable discussing Junior.
“Sort of.” I thought back to that afternoon on the beach when Junior approached us. I assumed he was interested in Anna and made myself scarce. Even now, I wondered what in the world he saw in me. I thought about the first night he came to the house, anyone in their right mind would have run at the sight of me stumbling half asleep down the stairs. I thought of our first kiss and pushed him out of my mind as fast as I could.
“She always promised to find you a summer romance.”
“That she did.” I felt like vomiting. The butterflies in my stomach at the mention of his name made me sick instead of excited like they had only a day or two before. I knew that I had hurt him, but I couldn’t fix it. I had to fix myself before apologizing to him. I was still quite confused about my feelings for Junior, and couldn’t face them yet. I had to get to know my Father again first.
“More tea?” Maria asked with a smile. She was prettier than I remembered. Her auburn hair had a nice wave to it, and I decided that her sister Consuela probably taught her how to style it. Maria's eyes were big and round, and I had never noticed the chocolatey brown warmth of them before. I realized in that instant that Maria wasn't the monster that I had molded her into in my mind, she wasn't a monster at all. She was just Maria.
“Yes, please.” I smiled, hoping that Father wouldn’t pick back up with the conversation about Penny after Maria went back inside.
“You look nice, Adeline. Tan.” Maria gave me the once over, I thanked her genuinely as she headed back through the French doors.
“How long has she worked for us?” I couldn’t remember life before Maria.
“Let me think.” Father wracked his brain and wiggled his fingers as he counted. “Twenty nine years… We hired her when your Mama was pregnant with you. She got too big to do much of anything.”
“I guess so with a ten pound baby in there!” I laughed, imagining Mama barefoot and pregnant.
“Yeah, she got spoiled. Maria was supposed to leave after you were a few weeks old, but here she is. Still cooking every meal and getting paid every month.” Father laughed heartily and I smiled. It had been a long time since I heard him laugh.
“You sure loved Mama.” I commented.
“Love. I love her.” He pulled his glasses down and intercepted a tear before it rolled down his face.
“I’m sorry for everything, Daddy.” I whispered, reaching across the table and holding his hand. I didn’t even realize that I had called him Daddy until he thanked me for it. I hadn’t called him that in sixteen years, but it felt right. He was still my Daddy. Even after everything I put him through, he forgave me and accepted me back.
Father took me on a walk after dinner and it felt great to wade our way through the humid summer night. The lightning bugs trembled in the distance and it felt good to coexist without feeling the need to start a one sided fight like I had done so many times before. With each step we took, we forgot a little more of the pain that used to hang between us.
“I want to know about this Junior fellow, Addy. I keep asking and you keep changing the subject…”
“I don’t really know what to tell you. What do you want to know?” I wasn’t ready to admit that my first attempt at love had only last a little while.
“Well, what does he do for a living?” he asked.
“He teaches high school English and coaches soccer.” I was ready for the conversation to be over after the first question.
“Ok, has he ever been married?”
“No!” I exclaimed, surprising myself by answering so passionately. “Junior is thirty one and has never been married. He is cautious when It come to love, like me.”
“Have you met his parents?”
“His Dad. He’s a great guy.” I smiled. “His Mother passed away when he was twelve.” I thought about the mix of sadness and love that flushed across Junior’s face when he spoke of her.
“And when do I get to meet him? Why didn’t he come?” Father was obviously interested in Junior.
“I, I don’t know. I don’t know when you’ll get to meet him.” I confessed. “I broke things off last night.”
“You what? I thought you were in love.” It was obvious that Penny had been giving him updates and I wondered why she hadn’t shared that information with him. Maybe she was selectively sharing the bits of the story that made her look good.
“I don’t know if I was in love or not. I thought I was, but I just got so confused after finding out that Mama…” I stopped myself from finishing the sentence.
“Oh Addy,” Father pulled me closer to him and I began to cry. I really didn’t know why I had broken things off with Junior without thinking it through first. “Your Mama loved me no matter what she did.”
“Did you ever wonder who her lover was?” I asked, wondering if he knew her secrets just like she had known his.
“We agreed not to ask questions. Sure, I wanted to know sometimes, but now I am thankful that I don’t.” Father took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. “It is better not to worry about things, and if I knew who it was I would always compare myself to him. It would have destroyed me.”
Him. There was no him, I thought. Father had no idea that his wife was in love with another woman and I intended to keep it that way. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“You didn’t do it. You have nothing to be sorry about, but you will if you don’t rethink the situation with Junior.” He looked at me, he was leveling with me and sharing his honest opinion.
His words echoed through my mind. Would I be sorry? Would I spend my life regretting letting Junior go? I didn’t know, but I couldn’t think about it. I had bigger things to think about. I had to internalize the truth about Mama and Penny so that Father wouldn’t have to feel the betrayal of it all. He didn’t deserve the agony of it, I wouldn’t wish the staggering pain I felt on anyone. I wouldn’t have even wished him that much pain back when I hated him. Junior would have to wait.
”Do I need bangs?” Mama folded her hair under and studied herself in the mirror.
“You look good without them, I wouldn‘t chance it.” I shrugged. I wasn’t much of a hair person and wasn’t sure if bangs would completely ruin her face or would add to its appeal.
We stood side by side in front of the mirror in Penny’s bathroom. Mama looked beautiful, as usual. She had on a simple navy gown that hugged her curves and highlighted her beautiful collar bones. It was Mama and Father’s thirtieth wedding anniversary, and Penny had arranged a huge party for them. She pulled out all the stops. The lights were low, servers wearing tuxes walked around with serving trays, a string quartet played, and all of my parents’ closest friends came bearing gifts.
“I want bangs.” Mama decided, shuffling through Penny’s bathroom drawers. She knew exactly where the scissors were.
“You came in without bangs, everyone at the party already saw you. Mama, don’t be silly! What if you hate them?” I had bad experiences with bangs in the past and hated to see her ruin her mood. I assumed that everyone there would have paid as much attention to Mama’s hair as I had, but the truth was that besides Penny and maybe Anna, no other guests would notice.
“Not short ones, just side ones.” Mama snipped away a panel of hair and smiled at her reflection, satisfied.
“Do you remember the time you cut your own bangs?” Mama teased, putting the scissors back into the drawer and playing with her silky smooth hair. She could easily be on a shampoo commercial.
“I do.” I stared at myself in the mirror and remembered…
“Addy! What in the world have you done to your hair?” Mama and Anna came into the kitchen where I sat on the counter with a pair of kitchen scissors and studied my reflection in the tiny compact that I had swiped from Mama’s makeup back.
“I look like Mama now.” I grinned, proud of my new hairdo. I managed to totally butcher my cute bangs that ran across my forehead, framing my face.
“What were you trying to do, honey?” Mama shook her head and Anna laughed at the sight of me.
“I wanted no bangs like you.” I had tiny little spikes standing up from my forehead.
“Honey,” Mama lifted herself on the counter beside me and took the scissor from me. “I didn’t cut my bangs off, I grew them out.” Mama pulled her hair forward and showed me that it was long, not short.
“Oh.” I pondered it for a minute, and then realized that I had made a big mistake.
Anna took the compact from me and headed out of the kitchen to study herself in the mirror, she was already vain even at three years old.
“Well, I think it looks pretty.” Mama gave me a squeeze. “It will grow back.”
“Mama, are you mad?” I felt my eyes fill with tears.
“No, beauty. Just don’t use the scissors again without asking.” Mama ran her hand along the prickly hairs and smiled. “Let’s go take a picture of you. This will be something to remember…”
“Is that why you about wet your pants at the thought of me cutting my bangs?” Mama teased.
“Probably so! But they look nice.” I smiled into the mirror and both faces in front of me smiled back. “It is not even noticeable.”
“Told ya! Well we’d better get back out there! I can’t wait for Robert to the see what I got him!”
“What did you get him?” I admitted the fact that thirty years was a long time, but it would have been more of an anniversary to celebrate if Father had spent those years being faithful to her.
“You’ll see!” Mama slid a plum colored lipstick across her lips and headed back out to the party. It was hard for me to smile and celebrate a marriage that was obviously a lie. Father held Mama close and kissed her after he opened his antique pocket watch, and I looked down at the floor. They really looked like they loved each other, but I wasn’t buying it. Maybe she loved him, but if he loved her he would have never strayed.
“Don’t you want to be just like them someday?” Anna swooned as Father took Mama into his arms for a dance. Anna was standing with Joe Haynes, her on again off again boyfriend, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Not really.” I rolled my eyes and headed out onto the deck for some air.
My ride home was very similar to the ride home to Mama’s funeral. The radio was off, my stomach was growling, and I felt like a zombie. My mind kept drifting to places that I didn’t want it to go. I kept seeing Junior’s face, he was so sad. I hated myself for hurting him, but I had no choice.
I thought about Penny, as much as I didn’t want to think about her, I couldn’t avoid it. I thought about our pedicures and manicures. I thought about all of the clothes that she had bought me. I thought about our endless days on the beach. Penny understood me. Penny took time out of her grief to help me handle my own grief. I still couldn’t believe that Mama and Penny were lovers. Why hadn’t I seen it before?
My stomach eventually won the battle and I pulled into the parking lot of Harley’s Sidewalk Café. It felt weird pulling in alone, but I longed for somewhere familiar. I slid into the booth and pulled out a menu.
“Where is Miss Penny?” Beth the waitress came up, obviously happy to see me.
“She’s not with me today…” I mumbled, pretending to read my menu. “I’ll have a bowl of potato soup and a water.”
Her face dropped. “Coming right up.”
I slid the menu back in its spot without reading it, and stared out the window.
“I’ll have one Surprise Me Special.” I heard a voice from behind me say. I turned around to see a complete stranger. What in the world?
“Coming right up!” Beth grinned and headed off toward the kitchen. I was confused.
She set my potato soup in front of me and smiled politely. “Did I hear someone order a Surprise Special?”
“Oh yes! We added it to the menu in honor of Miss Penny!” Beth pulled the menu out and showed me the big bold lettering. “It has been a huge hit!”
I smiled and nodded. I couldn’t escape Penny no matter how hard I tried. I spooned the soup into my body as quickly as I could and left a generous tip on the table. I wondered how long it would take Penny to find out about the impact she had made on Harley’s Sidewalk Café.
The sun was streaming in through the sunroof as I pulled back onto the road toward home. I couldn’t wait to see Father, which was a feeling that I never expected to experience. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was, and I wanted him to see me happy. I would pretend to be happy for him.
“Addy!” Father was sitting on the front porch when I pulled in. He smiled timidly, probably waiting for me to rush past him and ignore him as I had done so many times before.
“Hi.” He looked like a different man when I looked at him without hate clouding my view. His dark blonde hair had gray around the edges, his handsome face had lines that I hadn’t noticed before, and his eyes still held the sadness from years of being beaten and battered by the women in his life.
“Where is Junior?” Father asked, I had forgotten to come up with an excuse.
“He couldn’t come.” I lied.
“Oh, what a shame. I wanted to meet him.” Father and I headed inside together, still tense from years of not getting along.
“I got your letter…” I started.
“I’m sorry for that. I would have never written it if Julianne hadn’t been so adamant about it.” Father looked ashamed.
“No, I needed to know!” I really did.
“Her letters really made a change in you.” Father noticed, smiling slightly.
“They did. I’m a new girl.” I felt proud that he noticed the change that I had worked so hard to achieve.
“Well then, nice to meet you Adeline.” Father held out his right hand.
“It’s Addy.” I smiled, realizing that no matter how wounded my heart was that there was room in it for him.
Instead of shaking my hand, Father gave me a long lost hug. It had been years since I had accepted his embrace and it felt like home. I didn’t hate him anymore, but in the back of my mind I had the sneaky suspicion that I had found a new place for my hate. I hated Penny, someone who had done more for me in the last month than I could ever repay. She was now the unlucky recipient of Adeline Bank’s poisonous hate, but at least it made way for Father to finally have my love.
I handed Father the handmade valentine with a shy smile.
“For you!” I smiled bigger, revealing two gaping holes. My two front teeth had earned me two dollars a piece.
Father looked down at the construction paper heart and read it aloud. “To the best Daddy in the world! Will you marry me? I love you! Love, Addy.” Father took me in his arms and gave me a big squeeze.
“Well? Will you?” I had already asked him several times, and always got the same reply.
“I’m already married, honey. You can only have one wife, and even if I wasn’t married I couldn’t marry my own daughter!” Father consoled.
“Well, maybe someday I’ll find a man like you.” I could only imagine how hard it would be to find someone as handsome, funny, kind, and caring as my Daddy.
“Did you know that two women can marry each other?” I asked, still trying to wrap my brain around the idea.
“Well, it is not legal actually.” He probably wondered how I knew about homosexuality.
“Well, I saw it on TV. They were both wearing wedding dresses.” I thought about it and wondered why in the world two women would want to get married. How would they decide who got to have the baby?
“What a lovely valentine!” Mama came in and sat on the edge of the chair. “Did you make that for your Daddy?”
I smiled proudly. It was covered in glitter, markers, and stickers. “I did!”
“She was just telling me about a wedding with two brides.” Father explained, giving Mama a look that said I knew too much. Way more than other little girls my age.
Mama’s eyes grew big. “What?”
“They were having a wedding on the news, Mama.” I explained.
“Oh honey, you probably saw a double wedding. Sometimes sisters or best friends get married on the same day. There are two brides and two grooms…” Mama carefully explained.
“Oh,” I thought about it for a minute and it made sense. They were probably sisters. They both had brown hair. “Well, I still wish Daddy wasn’t married.”
Mama laughed and gave him a peck on the head. “He’s taken, sugar. Someday you’ll find Prince Charming!”
“I hope so.”
“Who was it that Anna wants to marry? The one from Turner and Hooch?” Father asked.
“Tom Hanks!” Mama laughed. “When I was a little girl I wanted to marry James Dean, and he turned out to be….” her voice trailed off.
Father cleared his throat and they both laughed.
“Is Maria making spaghetti for dinner like I asked?” I had just seen Lady and the Tramp and thought it was a very appropriate meal for February 14th.
“She is!” Mama smiled and handed Father the valentine.
“Good!” I slid out of Father’s lap and headed into the kitchen to bother Maria for awhile. If I was lucky, she would let me lick the spoon after she frosted the cupcakes that I talked her into making. Maybe Mama was right, maybe someday I would find a man like Daddy.
"Are you married?" Maria was stirring the sauce as is began to boil.
"Why don't you ever bring him over for supper? I bet he gets hungry!" I had never thought to ask Maria about her family at home.
"Your Mama let me take him leftovers. I see him on weekends." Maria went home around nine o'clock every night and was back by six o'clock. "He work in Tennesee." She struggled to get the word Tennesee out, and I laughed.
"Oh," I nodded, my mind shifting back to the cupcake icing that was on the counter. "Can I lick the spoon?"
"Not yet." Maria slid the bowl to the center of the island, beyond my reach.
"Have you ever seen Lady and the Tramp?" I asked, eyeing the noodles.
"Did you like it?" I inquired.
"I think so. I was just a little girl." Maria handed me a spoonful of steaming sauce to taste. "You like?"
"Go tell your family that supper is ready." Maria pulled the breadsticks from the oven and arranged them on a serving platter.
I ran out of the kitchen and did as I was told, hoping she would save me a spoon of icing.
After a two hour bath, I didn’t have anymore answers than I had before. I headed downstairs and found Junior, he was watching the news and muted the volume when he saw me. “Hey.”
“Hey.” My eyes were swollen from crying. “We need to talk.”
“Okay…” Junior’s bags were sitting by the front door, ready for our trip home to meet my Father. Poor Junior. He had no idea what he was getting into when he met me. It wasn’t fair to drag him through my issues.
“I can’t do this.” I sat beside him, knowing exactly what I had to say. “I can’t love you.”
“What? Addy, please.” Junior’s face filled with pain. “Let’s talk it over.”
“Junior, I can’t talk it over. I have to figure myself out before I bring someone else into the mix. I should have known before today. I was just being selfish before.” I believed every single word that escaped my lips. I had it all rationalized. I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I couldn’t love someone else when I hated life.
“Addy, I love you.” Junior’s eyes pleaded with mine, so I looked away.
“You don’t know me. I don’t even know me.”
“Addy.” Junior’s voice cracked as he said my name. “Do you want to know why I only had two girl friends before you? I only had two because when I love someone I love them with everything I have. Two times I was hurt. Two different girls broke my heart. I waited eight years for the right one to come along and out of nowhere I found you!”
I felt like covering my ears and singing a song at the top of my lungs, I didn’t need to hear this. I couldn’t hear it. “Please, that is why it is better if we part ways here.”
“But we, but you, oh God.” He looked at me and saw that I was serious. “You’re sure?”
“Yes.” And with that I headed back upstairs. Quick like a band aid. I did what I had to do.
Junior gathered his things and left quietly. I should have never tried to love someone when my heart was scarred from a lifetime of pain. I should have known better. I should have never listened to Penny. God, why had I let people in?
I would head home to Father, try and reclaim the shattered remains of what was left between us, and after I fixed that, I would call my boss in Boston and beg for my job back. I needed to go back to blending in and being alone. I longed for the comfort of being a nameless face, a twenty dollar bill under the mat, and a byline on an article. I could be happy alone. I would be happy alone. I didn’t need Junior. I didn’t need Penny. I didn’t need anybody but myself and my cats. Sooner or later I would forget Junior and I would come to terms with Mama’s secrets, sooner or later I would be numb enough to make it through.
I popped a microwave dinner in and pressed start. I looked around me at the beach house that had held so many happy memories, and couldn’t wait to escape its grip. All the times that Mama and Penny had taken us here, all the times that I assumed they shared a room because they were best friends, all the times that I longed for a friend like Penny, because Mama looked so happy. God, why did I ever read those letters?
That night, I climbed into bed and stared out at the black silhouette of trees against the moonlit sky. I wanted to cry, but was out of tears. I was lying in the very bed where Junior had taken me in his arms and made love to me. I was lying there alone, for the first time in many many nights. I shivered against the cold crisp sheets. I wasn’t the same girl that Junior fell in love with, so I had no choice but to push him away. He didn’t deserve that pain that came along with a wounded wife. I didn’t want to risk hurting him and hurting the children that we would have. I may not look like Mama, but I was certain that I was at risk for becoming her. I knew for a fact that Junior deserved so much more than I could offer him. He would get over it, and when he did I would be long gone.
I climbed into my car, hoping that I remembered how to drive. I took special care not to glance over at the ugly green cottage. I didn’t want to think about Penny, or even acknowledge the fact that she existed. Mama’s letters were hidden deep in the bottom of my duffel bag, I wasn’t sure yet whether I would burn them or keep them. It would be something that I could decide later, as long as Father didn’t find them.
I could feel any progress that I had made since Mama’s death slipping through my fingers. For the first time in my life, I had no urge to defend Mama. I felt like she had lied to me. I felt betrayed. I felt like she left me there with Penny of all people, hoping that we would bond and that I wouldn’t be angry about her final letter. But I was angry. I was angrier than I could have ever imagined being at Mama.
I spent my entire life hating Father, and he just sat back and took it! I blamed him for things that he never even had the courage to do! I was so lost. I was a million miles away from the girl who fell in love with Junior. I was a million miles away from the girl who played charades and made a fool of herself in front of thirty people. I was a million miles away from the girl who forgave her Mama for being unfaithful within a few days of finding out. I was a million miles away from anywhere I ever thought I’d be.
I looked straight ahead and drove in silence. How dare she steal my keys and mail them to the beach house? Why didn’t I just hitch hike to the airport and head straight for Boston? I was kicking myself for ever letting Penny sink her hooks in me.
I couldn’t wait to get home to Father. With any luck, we could pick back up where we left off all those years ago. I could see myself dancing around the living room in his arms, and forgetting the pain that life had thrown at me. I hoped and prayed that he would have me back.
“Paint me!” Mama came up behind me on the balcony. My canvas was empty and my paints sat untouched. I was searching for something to paint, but the dismal browns of winter did anything but inspire me. Mama began gathering my things, she didn’t wait for my reply. “Where should I set up?”
“How about in the downstairs living room? The sun is probably nice in there.” It had never occurred to me to paint Mama before. I doubted I could do her justice.
Mama sat patiently in a wing back chair beside the large floor length window. She watched me set up my easel and paints as if there was something interesting to see. “How should I sit?”
“Just like that.” Her natural elegance was evident as she crossed her legs, her silk robe falling open at the knee. I studied her for a moment before putting my brush to the canvas. She would be easy to paint, but hard to capture. There was something about Mama’s carefree beauty that would be impossible to recreate.
“You don’t have to be totally still…” She sat like a statue. I wasn’t even sure if she was breathing anymore.
“I don’t want to mess you up!” She smiled.
“You won’t.” I slid the tawny paint across the canvas and her hair appeared. The sun outlined her body, danced on the silk of her robe, and shimmered across her face. It was the perfect scenario for art.
I dabbed white in the pale blue paint, capturing the flicker in her eyes. I was finished. “All done?” The statue came back to life.
“Yes,” I nodded. “But I don’t want you seeing it.” I never knew whether my work was good or bad. I needed to study it for awhile. “Let’s let it dry.”
Mama agreed, and headed into the kitchen to check on dinner. Maria was making lasagna and the smell of garlic was already floating around the house. I sat and stared at my work. It looked like Mama, anyone could see that, but I still wasn’t sure if it embodied her.
“Beautiful.” Father stood behind me. I wondered how long he had been standing there.
“Thank you.” Those were the first two words that I had humored him with since I arrived home for Thanksgiving break.
“What did she think of it?”
“She hasn’t seen it yet.” I glanced back at him, he was still staring at the painting.
“She’ll love it.” He turned and began to walk away, but stopped. “I would like to have it in my study, if it doesn’t already have a home.”
I laughed. “I don’t think so.” I couldn’t believe that he had the gall to say that. I wondered if he knew how absurd it sounded.
Dinner was strained. Anna chatted away about her first semester of college, Mama listened attentively and asked lots of questions, but Father simply looked down at his plate and ate. I watched him, still trying to figure him out. If he loved Mama, why had he cheated on her? If he wanted her painting in his study, why had he tainted his study with extramarital sex?
“I thought of a perfect place for your painting, Addy!” Mama announced, once Anna finally ran out of things to say.
“Well, I auctioned the ship painting off for charity. The one in Daddy’s study. I think the portrait would go great in its place!’ Mama hadn’t even seen the painting yet, but had faith in my work.
I looked over at Father, he was still looking down. “It is your painting Mama, wherever you want it is fine.” Maybe having her looking down at him would keep him from chasing after Maria. Maybe Mama’s ice cold eyes would keep his hormones in check. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Great! I can’t wait to see it after dinner!” Mama smiled brightly.
“Addy, should paint me!” Anna was so vain.
“Adeline.” I reminded. “I go by Adeline now.”
“Well then, Adeline should paint me! I’m sure Joe would love to have my face on his wall.” She knew it would be a cold day in hell before I painted her.
“Joe has a camera doesn’t he?”
“Don’t give her any ideas!” Mama joked, lightening the mood. After dinner we headed into the living room together and she cried at the sight of herself. I watched as she studied her face, commented about how I had captured her likeness, and thanked me. I was proud of my work, no matter where she decided to hang it.
I ran as fast as I could up to Penny’s cottage. She answered the door and it was obvious that she was expecting me. “How could you?” I screamed at the top of my lungs, waving the letter in her tear stained face. “I’m sorry, Addy.” Penny left the door opened and went and sat down.
“Don’t walk away from me!” I was furious! Lovers? Penny and Mama had been lovers?
“Take it out on me, it is fine. I deserve it.” Penny’s voice trembled.
“I hate you, Penny. I never want to see you again.” I slammed the door and then kicked it with my bare feet, hurting myself far more than I hurt the door. My hate began to bubble over again. I could feel it building inside of me, the all too familiar feeling.
I didn’t know what to think! After taking it upon myself to forgive Mama for cheating, I found out that she had been sneaking around with Penny? I slung the door open again and rushed into Penny’s living room. She couldn’t meet my eyes. “Does Father know?”
Penny shook her head.
“He has no idea that you were Mama’s mistress? No idea?” I wanted the truth.
“No idea. He doesn’t know.” Penny still couldn’t look at me. She was ashamed.
After all the time that I spent protecting Mama from him, she was the one with something to hide. All the hate that I had wasted on him! All the pain that I caused him for her. I wanted to slap Penny, but instead I just walked out. I didn’t even bother shutting the door.
Junior was home and his face lit up when I stormed in. “Hey you!”
I burst into tears and ran up the stairs to my room. I couldn’t face him. I just couldn’t!
“Addy?” Junior knocked, he was concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Go away.” I left my bathing suit in a puddle on the floor. “Please, I’m not being mean, but I have to be alone.”
“I can help.” Junior knocked again.
My head was spinning. I hadn’t seen this coming. After all the years that Mama and Penny had been “best friends,” I just couldn’t imagine them together. My Mama was a lesbian? I was covered in sand, but climbed into bed anyway. I fully intended to stay in bed forever. This was the final blow.
“Adeline.” Junior wouldn’t give up. “Are you okay?”
“No!” I yelled. “No! I am not okay!” It felt good to scream.
“Then let me in, damn it!” Junior yelled. I had never heard him raise his voice.
I wrapped a sheet around me and unlocked the door. I looked at him, his face was red. He was angry and worried, but mostly worried. “I don’t know where to start…”
“The beginning.” Junior pulled me toward the bed and we sat down. I didn’t want Junior knowing about my crazy family. I didn’t want him knowing that after all the bragging I had done on Penny that I now had no choice but to hate her guts.
“I told you about how I spent my childhood hating my Father, but I didn’t tell you anything else. I didn’t want you knowing the details, but I can’t face this alone-- I just can’t.” I knew what I had to do. “Junior, when I was twelve years old I walked into Father’s study and he had Maria, our housekeeper, in his arms. She was half dressed. I was sure they were having sex.”
“Oh God.” Junior whispered.
“At that moment I knew what I had to do. I started protecting Mama from finding out about his affairs, but in the meantime I managed to completely block him out. I hated him. I still kind of hate him, even though I know now that he didn’t cheat on Mama.” I hoped it made sense.
“But what was he doing with Maria?”
“They were going to have sex, but I interrupted them. In the letters that Mama wrote me she explained that she asked Father for an open marriage so that she could be with her lover and still stay with him. He agreed to it, but he never actually cheated on her. I spent my entire lifetime idolizing Mama. I worshiped the ground she walked on. I mean literally worshiped!” I shook my head. Still unable to believe the new truth that I was faced with.
“You found this out today?” Junior still wasn’t totally understanding.
“No. I found out two letters ago. But today I read the final letter- it was a letter that Mama wrote Father when I was just a little girl. She didn’t finish it and never gave it to him. I found out today who her lover was.” I should have never opened that letter.
“It was someone you know?” Junior pushed a strand of hair out of my eyes.
“Penny.” I spit her name out and then burst into tears. Penny was Mama’s “other man.”
“Does your Father know?” Junior held me close to him, he hadn’t reacted much when I told him about Penny and Mama. I had expected him to lose it like me. After all, he knew Penny too!
“No, he has no idea.” I thought of Father. How would he react? He invited Penny into his home, trusted her with his wife, and cried on her shoulder about Mama’s passing. This would crush him. “I’m not going to tell him.”
“Let’s go over and talk to Penny.” Junior suggested. He had witnessed the strength of my relationship with Penny, knew how much we cared about each other, and was certain that we could work things out.
“I already went. I told her I never wanted to see her again.” I couldn’t imagine ever talking to Penny again. I didn’t want to see her face.
“Oh Addy. You and Penny are so close. This doesn’t change who Penny is, it just changes the amount of information you know about her. She is still the woman who helped you come to terms with your Mama’s death. She loves you!” Junior tried talking sense into me. He was saying all the things that I didn’t want to hear.
“God don’t say that. She has single handedly ruined my life.” I thought of the day that I accused her of sleeping with Father. She should have just admitted to it then! If she had told me before I wouldn’t have wasted any more time on her. I could feel myself slipping away from Junior with every kind word he said about her. God, Penny had introduced me to him. How could I ever kiss him or lie beneath him again? How could I be with someone that Penny had sent my way?
“What?” Junior felt me grow stiff. His hands were burning my skin, I didn’t want him touching me.
“I, I just need some time.” I stood up, still wrapped in the sheet. “I’m going to take a bath now.”
“Addy, everything will be okay. You’ve made it through so much… You can make it through this too.” His eyes showed that he hurt for me, but I closed the bathroom door without a reply. I had no idea who I was anymore. I had no idea who Junior was. Everything I had ever known to be fact was now floating in the air above me-- nothing was concrete anymore. Not even my love for Junior.
It was my twenty first birthday. Mama, Penny, Anna, and I were on a plane headed for Hawaii to celebrate. Mama wanted to invite Father, but I talked her into giving his ticket to Penny instead. After all, it was my birthday we were celebrating. I should be able to decide who came!
We arrived at Honolulu International Airport and easily found our hotel, Penny had stayed there a few times and took us straight to it. It was amazing! We had two tiny water bungalows that had to be waded to through the water. We decided that Anna and I would share one hut and that Mama and Penny would share the other. Mama and Penny had been best friends for over thirty years and still stayed up giggling half the night like school girls.
“You can legally drink!” Penny smiled as we all gathered around the bar. I felt uncomfortable, but tried not to let it show.
“I’m getting old…”
“Old?” Mama made a silly face at me. “Twenty one is just the beginning of your life!”
“She’s old.” Anna agreed. “We’re still supposed to be little girls.”
“Whatever you say.” Mama handed me a cocoanut shell filled with a tangy blend of pineapple juice, rum, and cocoanut milk.
“Mmmm.” I found a seat along the sideline where I could observe from afar. Mama and Penny came and sat with me, but Anna made her rounds among the young attractive people that were obviously tourists too.
“You’d think it was her birthday.”
“Anna doesn’t wait for birthdays to demand attention.” Penny was right.
“We don’t need Anna to party! We can have a good time, just the three of us!” Mama raised her glass and I hit it with my fuzzy drink.
The rest of the night was fun. We sat like three old hens, talking about how spirited the young folk were and laughing at the people who had a few too many. I had no urge to get out there and dance around like Anna, but I did wish that I had the ability to let loose and be twenty one.
“Do you mind staying in Mama and Penny’s hut tonight?” Anna was holding hands with one of the fire dancers, he was barefooted and barely dressed.
“I guess not.” I rolled my eyes. Some birthday.
“Thanks, sis.” Anna gave me a peck on the cheek and excitedly scurried off into the darkness toward our rooms.
Day two of our Hawaiian weekend went about the same way as the first afternoon and night. I was twenty-one years and one day old. Mama, Penny, and Anna wanted to sleep in before hitting the beach, and I wanted to explore the island. We were staying on the island of Oahu, and I headed off alone for a morning of exploring and learning.
My first stop was USS Arizona Memorial. I had always been fascinated with Pearl Harbor, and wanted to see the oil that still leaked to the surface of the water. I took a boat over, and was humbled at the thought of all the lost lives and all the families that had been changed after that day. I watched the black tears rise to the surface, after over sixty years, the ocean still wept.
Next I headed to the other local tourist attraction, alone. I saw Diamond Head, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii, and the Nu’uana Freshwater Fish Refuge. I had an amazing day, and knew good and well that they were probably just sipping mixed drinks by the ocean. I was so different from them!
“Have a good day, sweetie?” Mama had on a giant hat, was wearing a French cut black swimsuit, and as expected had a drink in her hand.
“I did!” I was still excited. “I spent a fortune, but I saw almost everything that I wanted!” I still wanted to see Aloha Tower, but decided to wait until dark to see it all lit up.
“I’m glad. You shouldn’t have snuck out, I would have gone too.” I didn’t believe her, but it was nice of her to say.
“Oh sorry.” I headed to my hut to change into a swimsuit. I still had a few hours left of sunshine, and was ready to relax. Anna was still in bed. “Why are you in bed?”
“I didn’t sleep much.” Anna looked like she was in love, but I knew that look and knew she wasn’t in love.
“Well I won’t bother you. I’m just putting on a swimsuit.” I tied the tropical print bikini that Mama had bought me for the trip and pulled my hair into a pony tail.
“Where have you been anyway?” Anna stretched.
“I did the tourist thing.” I didn’t feel like telling her details.
“Not at all! I loved it. I think lying in a bed all day is boring actually.” I snapped.
“I guess we all have different ideas about what a vacation is.” Anna slid on a swimsuit and followed me out into the knee deep water. “What is your problem anyway?”
“I don’t have a problem.” I kept my back to her. What was my problem? It was my birthday trip and she had barely said two words to me. She was too busy being popular and hung over.
“You mad because I brought Kekipi home with me last night?” Anna caught up with me.
“No. I don’t care who you bring home, Anna. I just have to keep reminding myself how very different we are.” I held my tongue, although I wanted to tell her that she was exactly like Father.
“I won’t party tonight… I’ll stay with you.” Anna sounded sorry, but I doubted it would last.
“Well, if you want to spend time with me tonight, I’m going to Aloha Tower.”
“The lighthouse?” Anna asked.
“Yes, it is supposed to be beautiful. I don’t really want to go alone.”
“I’d love to.” Anna grabbed my hand and we walked toward Mama and Penny.
By some strange twist of fate, Anna spent the rest of the vacation trying to cater to my wishes. She only brought her boyfriend around after making sure it was okay with me, and Kekipi was actually a really nice guy. He was much nicer than the guys she dated at home. Mama and Penny got all of their relaxing out, and the birthday vacation was a success! As we waded our way toward the shore with our luggage floating on a little wooden boat, I almost hated to go back to the real world. In Hawaii I felt like the pains and struggles of my life were miles and miles away, and that was where I liked them-- back home in South Carolina with Father!
I realized on Friday morning that Penny hadn’t been around much lately. I figured that she was trying to give me my space because of Junior, but missed her more than I thought I would. Penny and I had bonded, she was the catalyst that helped me change, and she was the one person who knew me as well as I knew myself. When I thought of Penny, happy memories of Mama flooded back. Mama’s mistakes didn’t matter, even if they were disappointing and eye opening, I was grown up enough to realize that we all make mistakes.
Had it not been for Penny, I would have read all of my daily doses in one sitting and over dosed. I wouldn’t have learned anything from them. If it hadn’t been for Penny, I would have headed back to Boston and picked right back up where I left up-- a lonely misanthrope who could barely function. I was thankful for her. She was Mama’s best friend, and my biggest ally.
“Want to head out and get our tan on?” I was armed and ready with my last letter in my pack. I had been to busy living to really pause and read the last letter, but I knew it was time to finish them.
“Sure.” Penny looked like she had cried for days and I set out the cheer her up. It was the least I could do. “Let me get changed.”
We headed out onto our favorite spot, and assumed our positions. Penny sat in her chair with a beer and I sprawled out on my towel. “I’ve missed this.”
“Me too, honey.” Penny reached down, grabbed my hand, and squeezed.
“You okay?” I was worried about her.
“I am, I think your Mama’s death has finally hit me. At first I was so busy making sure you were okay that I didn’t have to deal with it. Now that you’re Addy again, I’m slowing down and feeling.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. It must feel horrible losing your best friend. I literally had nothing to compare it to, but with as much time as they spent together, I knew that a piece of Penny must be missing.
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know how to help her or what to say.
“It’ll be okay. Grief will run its course.” Penny didn’t even sound like herself.
“Just don’t get fat like Aunt Elise.” I smiled, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Poor Elise.” Penny shook her head. I noticed that her white blonde hair was a mess, Penny always fixed her hair. Grief really had hit her hard.
“I’m heading home tomorrow morning… Taking Junior to meet Father.” I had mixed feelings-- some excitement, some fear.
“I’m glad. Your Mama would be so proud.”
“Yes she sure would. That reminds me! I have one last daily dose.” I reached into my bag.
“Not now, honey.” Penny had never told me not to read a daily dose.
“Why not? It is the letter she was writing to Father when I was seven. I saved their marriage by walking in and asking for paper. She said she never finished it…” I didn’t understand.
“Okay.” I slid it back in the bag, confused. “Maybe when I get back on Monday we can go get pedicures!”
“I don’t think so, Addy.” Penny let out a breath slowly. She wasn’t acting like herself. I wanted to help her but had no idea where to start.
“Penny you helped me cope and I’ll help you cope. If it means forcing you to go get your toenails painted or forcing you to shop, so be it!” I knew that she needed the same exact things that I had needed. “Maybe Anna can come next weekend and we’ll have a girls weekend!”
“We’ll see.” Penny gathered her things. “I love you sweetie. No matter what, I love you!”
“I love you too, Penny. It is going to be okay…”
“I hope so. Have a good weekend with Robert. I’m sure he’ll love Junior.” And with that she followed our footprints back up toward the houses. I was worried about her, but knew that she needed her space. I would have to go check on her before I left for the weekend.
I watched as the waves crashed upon the shore and instead of it feeling relaxing and calming like it usually did, it felt unnerving. The waves looked ominous and unruly. I felt like a storm was coming, but the sky was clear blue like Mama’s eyes.
I reached into my bag again, I needed to hear from Mama. I needed to see the letter that she would have given Father had it not been for me. I needed a daily dose now more than ever-- even if the letter wasn’t originally intended for me. I thought back to that day, twenty-one years ago. I remembered wishing that I could read cursive. I remembered writing the poem with hopes of making her smile, and with hopes of outshining Anna. I unfolded the letter-- thankfully I could read cursive now.
Dear Robert, I know that no matter how hard you try to forget about my lover that you can’t. I can see that I hurt you every time I leave, and I love you enough to not want this for your future. I have thought about this long and hard, and I have come to a heart breaking conclusion. I am leaving. I can’t keep hurting you. I can’t keep living a double life. I truly believe that there is another woman out there who can make you happy. A woman who will love you and only you. I have tried to be that woman, but there was a part of my heart that still belonged with someone else. I know we promised never to tell each other details about our affairs, but I feel that you should know. If we are going to stay in each other’s lives for the girls, you’ll have to know anyway. Although I love you, I am in love with Penelope Quinn. She has the other half of my heart and has since college. I am sorry-- mainly because I never told you before. Please don’t blame yourself, please don’t think that you’ve failed in any way, and please believe that I really do love you. I not leaving because I would rather be with Penny, I am leaving because I can’t keep hurting you. If it wasn’t for the pain that I see in your face every time I leave, I would spend my life going from your arms to hers’, but it isn’t right. You don’t deserve it. You shouldn’t have to share. Please forgive me, Robert. I am just trying to do what I feel is right. I pray that I am not making a mistake. I have spent the last several days waiting for a sign to stop me from leaving, and nothing has. I have every reason to believe that this is what is best for our family. I am sorry for
Mama’s writing stopped when I walked in. She had never finished the letter, and never given it to Father. Now I understood why Penny didn’t want me reading the letter in front of her. Now I understood why I felt a storm coming. Mama’s words swallowed me whole.
Anna hopped out of the car at the drive-in movies and ran off to find her friends. “Come back when the movie starts!” Mama called. It was a humid summer night and my clothes were sandwiched between my damp body and the leather seats of the car.
“This was a good idea, Addy.” Father was looking at me through the rear view mirror. “I haven’t been to a drive-in movie in years!”
“We come all the time.” I said smugly. He could have easily come with us before.
“Want some popcorn?” Mama unbuckled her seat belt and pulled cash from her purse in the floorboard.
“Sure.” Father nodded, ignoring my rude comment.
The sun was just a memory of golden light at the bottom of the horizon and the mosquitoes were preparing themselves for their evening feast. I waited silently in the backseat for Mama to return with our popcorn and drinks. I was tired of Father trying to talk to me, and slid to the other side of the car so that he couldn’t see me in his mirror.
Just as Mama’s head bobbed back between the sea of cars, Father said, “Addy, why can’t you try to like me?”
“Why should I?” I suddenly wished that I had a group of friends to run off with.
“I’m the only Daddy you’ll ever have.” Father’s voice sounded sad.
“Thank goodness for that.” I showed no mercy. “I couldn’t handle more than one.”
“Here take this!” Mama shoved popcorn in through the open window. “My hands are full.” Father took each item from her, handing me popcorn and a drink politely.
“Thanks.” I mumbled.
It was finally dark enough for the movie to start and Anna was nowhere to be found. Mama asked me to go find her and I begrudgingly did as I was told. It wasn’t easy being fifteen. I had more bad moods than good ones. I headed out, dodging people in lawn chairs, not meeting anyone’s eyes, and half-heartedly looking for my little sister.
“Addy!” Anna spotted me first. “Come over here!” She was sitting on picnic tables wrapped up in some teenage boy’s arms.
“Mama wants you to come back to the car.” I froze, not stepping any closer to the group.
“What if I say no?” she asked, the group collectively laughed.
“I don’t know.” I felt self-conscious.
“Tell them I said no.” Anna smiled brightly, she obviously felt cool. “I’ll watch the movie from here.”
“Okay.” I headed back, climbed in the car, and cried. Not only did I have a Father who I hated, but I had a sister who embarrassed me just for the hell of it.
“Where is Anna?” Father turned around in his seat.
I swiped a tear away and shrugged.
“I’ll go get her.” He returned not two minutes later with her, and even though I didn’t like him, I was glad to see that he had handled the situation.
Anna shot me a dirty look, leaned her head on the door, and went to sleep. She was a waste of a perfectly good movie ticket. I sat in silence as Mama leaned her head on Father’s shoulder and swooned over Harry Connick, Jr. in Hope Floats.
“Did you like the drive-in?” I asked Father as Mama headed through the crowd to use the bathroom before we headed home.
“I did. I haven’t been in years.” Father seemed surprised that I was talking to him.
“I like it too.” Something about watching a movie under the stars appealed to me.
“Next time we should bring lawn chairs.” Next time? I doubted he would go again, especially after realizing that we always picked chick flicks.
“Mosquitoes.” I reminded him. Mama didn’t just get mosquito bites like normal people, but she got bumps the size of quarters that didn't go away for weeks. For some reason they loved her, she blamed it on having sweet blood.
“Oh.” And with that we had said all we could say. It was the longest conversation we managed to have without fighting in three years. We waited in silence on Mama to return from the restroom.
I didn’t want him to think I liked him just because I had a conversation with him, so just before Mama climbed in, I said “Too bad Maria couldn’t come. I’m sure she’d love for you to take her sometime.” Father looked down, and I knew that I had gotten him good. He would spend the next thirteen years paying for his mistakes, I would make sure of it.
“Ahh much better!” Mama got back in the car and smiled back at me. I smiled at her too, I would take a million more low blows at Father if it meant making him pay for cheating on Mama. She was worth it.
“Who’s car?” Junior pulled the curtains aside. My BMW was parked in the driveway, it hadn’t been there the night before.
“Mine!” I smiled. The keys were sitting on the kitchen table, apparently Father had let himself in but hadn’t stayed. “Looks like I am about to be released from house arrest.”
“Looks like it.” he kissed me and then headed back upstairs for a shower.
I felt amazing. My life had never been better. Over the course of just a few weeks, I managed to bury my Mama, make peace in my own way with my sister, discover that my Father wasn’t the villain that I had made him out to be, learned that Mama was unfaithful for years, and still managed to fall in love with Junior. The old Addy would not have ever gotten past the truth that hit me in face, but the new Addy was okay. She realized that life was not predictable, and she sucked it up like a big girl.
It felt good to be free from the bondage of protecting Mama, and soon I would reconcile with Father. It was childish to prolong it any further really. Maybe I would take Junior to meet Father that weekend. It made me nervous, but also made me excited! A new life called for new and healthy relationships.
“Want to go meet my Father this weekend?” I asked as we sat across from each other in the Diner. I got a strange look from the waitress at first, but soon she realized that I wasn’t crazy anymore and warmed up to me.
“Sure,” his eyes grew big. “I guess I should take you to meet my Father too.”
“Yes, I would love to meet him!” Junior had told me stories about what a great Father he had. His Father was the reason that he decided to teach.
“Well, we’ll have to arrange that.” he sipped his coffee and told me to go ahead and tell Father that we were coming down. He would call his Dad and see if we could meet for dinner the next night. I couldn’t wait Before lunch time we had it all settled. Father sounded happy when I informed him of our visit, and Junior said that Tom Hanks, Sr. was excited about meeting me. Things were really falling into place.
I headed next door to see if Penny wanted to hit the beach with me. Junior was running errands and getting a haircut. I could tell that he was a little nervous about meeting Father, but I was beyond excited about meeting his. If anything made our relationship official, it was this!
“Mr. Hanks!” I smiled at the gray headed version of Junior that stood before me at the restaurant.
“Hi, you must be Adeline.” he held his hands out to me and gave me a warm hug.
“So nice to meet you!” I couldn’t stop smiling.
“Hi, Dad.” Junior patted him on the back and we took our seats.
“So you like my son, huh?” Mr. Hanks asked. I felt like I was sitting across from Junior in twenty or thirty years. Did I like his son? Not only did I like him, I loved him.
“I do!” I nodded, taking a sip of my water.
We talked, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company. Mr. Hanks’ face lit up when he talked about his late wife, and Junior’s face lit up when he shared little tidbits about me.
“Vera always said we were going to have six kids and we ended up with one." He remembered, “But it didn’t take us long to realize that one was plenty!”
“Was Junior bad?” I couldn’t imagine Junior being anything but perfect.
“Not bad, just painfully shy. We had to coax him into leaving the house for a few years there. Once we moved here he managed to come out of his shell.” Mr. Hanks was making Junior blush.
“I would love to see pictures of Junior as a child!” I realized that I hadn’t seen any yet.
“I would like to see pictures of you!” Junior smiled, probably imagining what I would look like.
“I hear you lost your Mother recently? I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Yes sir, she had leukemia. She was only sixty one.” I thought about Mama’s brilliant smile.
“I know that must be hard. If anybody can help you through it, Junior can.” Hearing this made me tear up, Junior had already helped me make it through more than he even realized.
The rest of the evening was wonderful! Meeting Junior’s Dad made me look forward to seeing my own even more. I had wasted so many years. I was more ready than ever to make amends. The weekend couldn’t come soon enough!