Stay Close

Page 5


It was Jordan. “Yes, honey.”
“Mrs. Freedman says you didn’t sign the permission slip for the class trip.”
“I’ll send her an e-mail.”
“She said it was due on Friday.”
“Don’t worry about it, honey, okay?”
It took Jordan another moment or two but eventually he was placated.
Megan knew that she should be grateful. Girls die young in her old life. Every emotion, every second in that world, is almost too intense—life raised to the tenth power—and that doesn’t jibe with longevity. You get burned out. You get strung out. There is a heady quality to that kind of action. There is also an inherent danger. When it finally spun out of control, when Megan’s very life was suddenly in jeopardy, she had not only found a way to escape but to start over completely anew, reborn if you will, with a loving husband, beautiful children, a home with four bedrooms, and a pool in the yard.
Somehow, almost by accident really, Megan Pierce had stumbled from the depths of what some might call a seedy cesspool into the ultimate American dream. She had, in order to save herself, played it straight and almost talked herself into believing that this was the best possible world. And why not? For her entire life, in movies and on television, Megan, like the rest of us, had been inundated with images claiming that her old life was wrong, immoral, wouldn’t last—while this family life, the house and picket fence, was enviable, appropriate, celestial.
But here was the truth: Megan missed her old life. She was not supposed to. She was supposed to be grateful and thrilled that she of all people, with the destructive route she’d taken, had ended up with what every little girl dreams of. But the truth was, a truth it had taken her years to admit to herself, she still longed for those dark rooms; the lustful, hungry stares from strangers; the pounding, pulsating music; the crazy lights; the adrenaline spikes.
And now?
Dave flipping stations: “So you don’t mind driving? Because the game is on.”
Kaylie looking through her gym bag: “Mom, where’s my uniform? Did you wash it like I asked?”
Jordan opening the Sub-Zero: “Can you make me a grilled cheese in the panini maker? And not with that whole grain bread.”
She loved them. She did. But there were times, like today, when she realized that after a youth of skating along slippery surfaces she had now settled into a domestic rut of dazzling sameness, each day forced to perform the same show with the same players as the day before, just each player one day older. Megan wondered why it had to be this way, why we are forced to choose one life. Why do we insist that there can only be one “us,” one life that makes us up in our entirety? Why can’t we have more than one identity? And why do we have to destroy one life in order to create another? We claim to long for the “well rounded,” the Renaissance man or woman inside all of us, yet our only variety is cosmetic. In reality we do all we can to smother that spirit out, to make us conform, to define us as one thing and one thing only.
Dave flipped back to the fallen movie star. “This guy,” Dave said with a shake of head. But just hearing that famous manic voice brought Megan back—his hand twined in her thong, his face pressed against her back, scruffy and wet from tears.
“You’re the only one who understands me, Cassie.…”
Yes, she missed it. Was that really so horrible?
She didn’t think so, but it kept haunting her. Had she made a mistake? These memories, the life of Cassie because no one uses a real name in that world, had been kept locked up in a small back room in her head all these years. And then, a few days ago, she had unbolted the door and let it open just a crack. She had quickly slammed it closed and locked it back up. But just that crack, just letting Cassie have a quick gaze into the world between Maygin and Megan—why was she so sure that there would be repercussions?
Dave rolled off the couch and headed for the bathroom, the newspaper tucked under his armpit. Megan warmed up the panini maker and searched for the white bread. As she opened the drawer, the phone rang, giving off an electronic chirp. Kaylie stood next to the phone, ignoring it, texting.
“You want to answer that?” Megan asked.
“It’s not for me.”
Kaylie could pull out and answer her own mobile phone with a speed that would have intimidated Wyatt Earp, but the home phone, with a number unknown to the Kasselton teenage community, held absolutely no interest to her.
“Pick it up, please.”
“What’s the point? I’d just have to hand it to you.”
Jordan, who at the tender age of eleven always wanted to keep the peace, grabbed it. “Hello?”
He listened for a moment and then said, “You have the wrong number.” And then Jordan added something that chilled Megan: “There’s no one here named Cassie.”
Making up some excuse about the delivery people always getting her name wrong—and knowing that her children were so wonderfully self-involved that they wouldn’t question it anyway—Megan took the phone from her son and vanished into the other room.
She put the receiver to her ear, and a voice she hadn’t heard in seventeen years said, “I’m sorry to call you like this, but I think we need to meet.”
She was, considering the bombshell call, fairly calm and serene. She put the car in park and turned to her daughter, dewy-eyed.
Kaylie said, “What?”
“Nothing. What time does practice end?”
“I don’t know. I might go out with Gabi and Chuckie afterward.”
Might meaning will. “Where?”
Shrug. “Town.”
The nice vague teenage answer. “Where in town?”
“I don’t know, Mom,” she said, allowing a little annoyance in. Kaylie wanted to move this along, but she didn’t want to piss off her mother and not be allowed to go. “We’re just going to hang out, okay?”
“Did you do all your homework?”
Megan hated herself the moment she asked the question. Such a Mom moment. She put her hand up and said to her daughter, “Forget that. Just go. Have fun.”
Kaylie looked at her mother as though a small arm had suddenly sprouted out of her forehead. Then she shrugged, got out of the car, and ran off. Megan watched. Always. It didn’t matter that she was old enough to enter a field by herself. Megan had to watch until she was sure that her daughter was safe.