Lynn Kelly pulled up in front of the house, turned off the engine and waited. She took a deep breath, checking her appearance in the rearview mirror and delaying the inevitable as long as possible. Her anxiety level increased as she thought about spending the evening listening to her mother remind her of the shortfalls in her life, but she owed them an obligatory visit–and she loved them in spite of themselves.
She walked up the path toward the white, two-story colonial where she had grown up, and that had been home through her college years. Her younger sister, Josey, sat on the porch smoking a cigarette.
As Lynn approached, a smile filled Josey’s face, and then she stood to give Lynn a hug. “Hey, Sis, what’s shakin’?” she said warmly.
Lynn shook her head. “Hi, baby sister. What’s with the cigarette? I thought you said you quit that.”
Josey shrugged. “Some days I quit, some days I don’t. Besides, if you still lived with Mom, you’d smoke, too.”
It was hard to deny, so Lynn just laughed. Though seven years her junior, Josey reminded her of herself. At five feet seven inches tall, Josey was taller than her by an inch. They had the same, naturally curly blonde hair, but Josey wore hers below her shoulders, while Lynn’s was feathered and flipped slightly at her shoulders. They shared the same deep blue eyes, high cheek bones and sarcastic grin. There was no doubt that they came from the same gene pool. They were pretty, but more than that, there was an elegance to the way they carried themselves. People who didn’t know them well often mistook one of them for the other, and friends had periodically sworn they had seen one of the sisters in places the other had been. But Lynn knew that most of the similarity was physical. Josey was more confident and poised. At eighteen she seemed to have no doubts about herself or her place in the world. Lynn was still searching.
“What are they up to?” Lynn asked, nodding toward the house.
Josey furrowed her brow, then said, “Just chatting up how excited they are to see you. Gets a little nauseating.”
Lynn smiled. “I’m glad to be such an admirable role model for you.” She watched Josey throw the cigarette down and step on it. “You coming in?” she asked, taking hold of Josey’s arm.
“Shit yeah,” Josey said emphatically. “I love these prodigal daughter returning home scenes.”
“Funny,” Lynn said through a scowl. “Just wait. Your turn will come–in a few years when you move out.”
Josey looked at her incredulously. “A few years? I’m already eighteen and each day seems like a month. I don’t know how you made it to twenty-one before you escaped.”
Lynn shrugged. “College is expensive. That helps make the decision easy.” She pushed her long brown hair back and walked into the house. Josey followed.
As Lynn walked through the front door, her mother came at her with open arms. Marion Kelly, at five-three, was three inches shorter than Lynn. She was gray haired, slightly rotund, and her expression was as animated as ever. She held on to Lynn and rocked back and forth. Tonight, as always, her mother squeezed too hard, and held on too long. Lynn groaned inwardly, but silently endured the attack. It had been a week across town, not six months at sea.
After much too long, Marion took a step back, holding on to Lynn’s arms as she gave her a visual once over. “You’ve lost weight!”
Here we go, Lynn thought, rolling her eyes. “You could say hello first, Mom, and no I haven’t. I weigh the same as I have for the last six months.” Out of the corner of her eye, Lynn could see the twisted enjoyment on her sister’s face.
Marion furrowed her brow and shook her head to convey her doubt. “You look thinner. You taking care of yourself?”
Josey chuckled from behind Lynn. “Just think what this would be like if she were a Jewish mother.”
Marion turned and gave Josey a scornful look, then her expression became thoughtful as she looked back toward Lynn, doing her best to ignore her youngest. She said, “You sure you’re eating enough?”
Lynn shook her head. “Like a horse. Besides, I eat here almost every Wednesday and you feed me enough to bloat me for three days.”
There was deep laugh as her father walked into the room. “Tonight, we’re having spaghetti. Your mother made enough for the army of a small country.” He hugged Lynn. “Hi, sweetheart. Don’t listen to whatever your mother said, you look great.”
She grinned. “Thank you, Daddy. Maybe you can convince Mom I don’t have scurvy.”
He shook his head. “Not much chance of that. She thinks I have it too.” He gave her a wide grin and pushed a hand through his thick white hair. At sixty-one, he had the same good looks that filled the family photo albums. He also had the same sly grin he had on his face when he had pushed her on a swing, faster and higher than a four-year-old should go, while she giggled and her mother looked on in worry. It occurred to her that he had always looked the same to her. The gradual change of his hair color to white just underscored the poise and the warmth she had always seen.
Lynn’s attention was drawn by a bandage on the ring finger of her father’s left hand. “What happened to your hand, Dad?”
“Just a cut I gave myself working on jigsaw in the garage.” He shrugged. “It’ll heal.”
Her mother shook her head and frowned. “Just a cut he says. He almost cut his finger off. It went through part of the nail and there was blood everywhere.”
Lynn held up her hand in a halting motion. “Enough detail already. I’m hoping to be able to eat dinner soon.”
They sat down around the dining room table and looked into the open kitchen, where Marion checked the spaghetti sauce. She tasted the finished product and nodded in satisfaction, then she carried the sauce from the stove.
As her mother place the spaghetti and meat sauce in the middle of the table, Josey began grinning. “Hey, Lynn. This may look like spaghetti sauce, but it’s really just the juices from Dad’s problem with the jigsaw.”
“That’s really gross, little sister. Even for you.”
Josey grinned widely, and said, “Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Marion began serving the spaghetti, loading one plate then moving to the next. With the serving complete, she sat down and gave Lynn her full attention. “Anyone new in your life?” she asked gravely.
Here it comes, Lynn thought. Josey was grinning again. “No, no one new at the moment. I’m staying pretty busy at work.”
Her mother shook her head. “It’s time for you to get over him and move forward.”
Her father grimaced. “What would you have her do Marion, place an ad in the paper? Maybe recruit for a husband on college campuses? When the time’s right, there will be someone else. Lynn will know when, and who.”
Lynn was grateful for the assist from her father. She wondered how he had been able to deal with her mother all these years. “Mom, I have a good life. I’m concentrating on the job. Since I got promoted to general manager I’ve had a lot more responsibility. I have a feeling that I’m being groomed for a job at the top. I’m involved in the big decisions and it’s challenging–and I’m making good money.”
Josey wrinkled her face at Lynn. “How long have you been working on that little press release.”
“Shut up, Josey,” Lynn said. “You’re not helping my cause.” But Lynn recognized that Josey was right. Her words sounded scripted, as well as defensive, but she would have preferred it wasn’t so obvious.
Her mother, never to be side-tracked, ignored the exchange. “What about your personal life? It’s important too.”
Josey nodded. “Yeah, good point Mom.” She turned to Lynn. “Are you getting laid?”
“Josey!” Marion said indignantly. “Don’t talk like that.”
Josey shrugged. “Sometimes a girl has to get a little, even if it’s just a one-niter.”
Lynn shook her head. Josey was so damned uninhibited.
“No more, Josey. Don’t say such things. Tell her, Bill.”
Her father was grinning. “Quit torturing your mother, Josey.”
Josey smiled at Lynn, then turned to her mother. “She’s doing fine, Mom. She knows how to take care of herself. And who says that you have to have a man standing by to be happy, anyway?”
Marion put her hands on her hips and shook her head. She looked at her husband. “Whose daughter is she? I think there had to be some mix up at the hospital.”
Bill nodded thoughtfully. “Probably, but I wish you’d thought of it sooner. It’s too late to get a refund now.”
Marion smiled. “You think so?”
“Yeah, nothing comes with an eighteen-year warranty.”
At nine-thirty Lynn said goodbye at the door. Her mother hugged her for too long again, but it was okay.
Her father put his arm around her and walked her to the car. “If you need anything, you call us, okay sweetheart?” Lynn nodded and gave him a hug. “Money or to talk–whatever you need.”
“I will, Dad.” She saw the light that shined in his eyes whenever he spoke to or about her or Josey. He stood at the curb, waving as she drove off, while her mother stood beside him, a familiar troubled expression on her face. As she pulled away from the curb, Lynn caught a glimpse of Josey in her rear-view mirror, sitting on the steps and lighting a cigarette.
On the way home Lynn reflected about her life. Her mother drove her crazy, but she was right about Lynn’s lack of a life. Or maybe her mother drove her crazy because she was right about her lack of a life. The job was fun and kept her busy, but that’s really all there was. And she knew why. The walls she built to protect herself from a replay of life with Justin kept everyone out, but that’s the way it had to be, at least for now. She knew that the emotional scars from Justin’s verbal and physical abuse that she endured for fifteen months had long outlasted the bruises. As she thought about Justin, she took some satisfaction in the fact that she could do so without anger. In one of his drunken rages he had come after her with a hammer. It had only been the lamp that she broke across his head that had saved her–and ended the marriage. He had vowed to get her. Then, when he was sober, he had pleaded for one more chance. What had it been, his fifth “one more chance?” This time she had said no, and she had meant it. She remembered she had once been crazy in love with him, but he had gradually killed that love, and then there was nothing left but the abuse.
Her family had been there to see her through it. Her mother had provided uncharacteristically quiet support. Her father had gone to see Justin, but never spoke of what had happened. She had a pretty good idea though, and Justin had never called her again.
She was getting beyond the Justin era. Slowly. She could tell because for the longest time she had wanted to kill him. To inflict pain and torment, and then kill him. But the anger had gradually subsided, and now there was just pity. And one other residual–Since she and Justin had crashed and burned, she had maintained a safe distance from everyone. She had dated a couple of times over the past year and a half, but she could never bring herself to go out with a man more than once or twice. The risks were just too great. She would never live another nightmare like that. As she drove home she thought that she would try again. When the right man, who didn’t drink anything stronger than lemonade, appeared in her life. Until then, it was just her and Mona, her eight-year-old, overweight, tabby cat.
At least there was the job, she told herself in consolation. Overseeing operations at Prestige was challenging and demanding. There were more things to do than could reasonably be done, and because it engulfed her, she could put thoughts of her personal life on hold. She would stay busy until she could figure out when, or how, to take a chance again.
When Lynn got home, she was greeted by a howling Mona. She fed her starving companion, then got ready for bed. Within a few minutes, Mona climbed up on the pillow next to her and began to purr too loudly. Lynn drifted off to sleep wondering what life would be like in ten years. Her last thought before falling asleep was that there just had to be more. She had no idea how soon this life would be a distant memory, and how much she would wish to have her mundane life back.
Lynn finished blow drying her hair and put on a gray suit, the long, pleated skirt reaching mid-calf. The jacket’s wide lapels lay neatly over a navy blouse. Mona stood on the bed screaming for her breakfast. Lynn gave herself a final glance in the mirror, smoothed her jacket and gave her reflection a satisfied nod.
She made her way to the kitchen cupboard that was home to Mona’s food, and the screams got louder. “All right, all right,” Lynn said to her impatient companion. When she had the box in hand, Lynn pushed Mona’s head out of her food bowl long enough to fill it with dry food. She ran out the front door and climbed behind the wheel of her five-year-old Ford Taurus, which had once been called hunter blue, but was now a faded bluish-gray.
Lynn pulled into the Prestige Company parking lot at seven a.m. She unlocked the door and looked around the empty office, taking comfort in these familiar surroundings. As usual, she was the first to arrive, and would probably be one of the last to leave. She liked this early morning time, before the phone started to ring and the day’s problems surfaced. It was some of the most productive time in the day.
Lynn shivered in the forty-five-degree morning temperature, as she waited for the heat to kick in and the coffee to finish brewing. It was a cold one for San Diego, where the weather seldom left her fifty-five to eighty-degree comfort range. Lynn heard the clicking sounds of the fax machine, located next to the receptionist’s desk. She cupped her hands and blew smoke into them, then rubbed them together to encourage circulation. She walked over to the fax machine, which made a thumping sound as it spit out a finished page, and then a series of beeps to announce its readiness to start again.
Lynn picked up the fax. It was an airline form, confirming a flight to Mexico City for someone named Terry Shepherd. No one who worked at Prestige. She examined the sheet further. Shepherd was to leave Los Angeles International Airport tomorrow. She shook her head, feeling compelled to tell the airline they had blown it so that Terry Shepherd, whoever he might be, could actually receive his confirmation before he boarded his flight in twenty-four hours.
Lynn picked up the telephone on the receptionist’s desk and dialed the airline number on the fax cover sheet. It rang until a woman’s high-pitched voice perfunctorily recited, “American Airlines, this is Janice, how may I help you?” The tone suggested that this greeting was uttered by rote and without much real desire to help.