Annie got married in her size ten, more like a size nine and a half, wedding dress and had a big gala event on a snowless evening. Dean and Marcus were married in their home, catered by someone Annie recommended highly but didn’t use for her own wedding. Annie went on to graduate with a post graduate degree and become a well known expert in eating disorders, traveling all over the world to give speeches at conferences. She is a terrific speaker. I graduated, and landed a plum teaching position at City University of Seattle. I had a small studio apartment downtown and on a cool November evening literally had a run in with my future husband while pulling into the parking garage as he was backing out of his space. Furious, I had stood glaring at him, pointing to the dent in the door of my new Prius. He had squatted down, looking intently at it, then smiled at me. “It really won’t affect the aerodynamics .”
“Effect,” I snarled. “And it will be fixed.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Certainly. A minor affectation.”
With this exchange came other offers of dinners, movies, a hike to Cedar Falls in the North Cascades where Aaron proposed. When I was five months pregnant we bought a starter house within walking distance of where my Mom and Dad lived.
“What’s your latest project, Mother? AS if I didn’t know.” I scrunched myself down onto the chair at my place at the kitchen island.
“A bab-y quilt,” intoned with a smile that would light up New York.
“Well, I’m sure she’ll just love it,” I replied with a smile.
“A girl! Any names yet?”
My goodness, was she really doing her happy dance? “Mother, you’re going to wear yourself out. I’ve got four months to go.” I sipped my cranberry juice. “What do you think of Tinker? Kind of catchy with the last name of Bell, don’t you think?”
She looked stricken, then tried to recover. “Tinker. She’ll love you for that.”
“Maybe just call her Baby? That was Aaron’s idea.” She looked truly distressed. I laughed and shook my head. “Seriously, I like Zoey. Short and sweet.”
Which brought back her smile until she answered the phone. “It’s for you. Frank Freeman.”
“Fran, this is Frank. Freeman.”
“Yes?” I tried to sound detached. I let him do all the talking.
“Fran! I’m calling because I need to make amends and I wanted you to know that I have been clean and sober for two years. I’m married with a family and I want to let Elizabeth know that I’ve really changed, you know? I want to see my son. I want to get hold of her.”
“Frank, I don’t know where she is. I have not seen or heard from her since that last time in the hospital, when she lost her baby girl.” Instinctively, I put my hand over my baby bump.
“Fran, I know it was an awful thing. I live with regrets. I want to tell her how sorry I am I hurt her.”
“Frank, what you did to Dusty hurt us all. Her friends—-me, Annie, Dean.”
“Well, like I care about that…guy.”
Like I care about you, Frankenstein? “In the unlikely event that I should see her, I’ll tell her you called and left information, in case she wants to talk to you. But, Frank, don’t hold your breath.” I hung up, thinking that maybe he should hold his breath.
I should have asked my mother for a catcher’s mitt, to take the curve ball that came next.
I needed supplies from a college bookstore for my upcoming classes. While I was browsing in the UW bookstore, I happened to glance up to see a young woman close to me, so close I could see her dark eyes. She was talking to a salesperson when a young brown haired boy, nine or ten years old, came up to her, “Mom! Mom!”, chattering excitedly. Calmly, she laid her hand on top of his head, finished her discussion with the clerk, and turned to her boy, her baby bump obvious.
I stood staring at her. No, it could not be Dusty. This woman had dark, cropped, straight hair, and brown eyes. She was muscular and had what appeared a very bad burn on her arm. But as blood calls to blood, bonded by love, and you just know who you know, I knew it was Dusty. She recognized me the moment I said her name.
“Fran! It is you!”
The hug was awkward, both of our baby bumps, well bumping, but we managed to get our arms around each other. “What? Where have you been? Oh, my, what now?”
We walked to a near-by restaurant.
And so we talked over lunch, poor William bored to fidgets. They had gone underground, that day she left her mother’s, courtesy of a woman’s network for abused women and children.
“And, Fran, I went to college, Central Washington University in Ellensburg and got my degree in Fine Arts. You know, “ she looked at me sheepishly, “I would ‘discuss’ ideas and projects with you, like you were my imaginary friend sitting beside me. Thank God, Fran, you were not imaginary!” Like quick fire, she changed the subject. “In fact,” she leaned back in her chair and laughed, “I earned my tuition by painting. House painting!”
“Well, you’ve obviously done a lot more than that, Dusty.” I pointed to her belly and her arm.
“”Yes, and Richard is wonderful. This,” she held her arm up, “is from a careless act of welding. I do metal sculpture and what can I say? I got distracted and paid for it.” Her eyes lit up and even her words had a smile in them. “I actually sold the last piece, Holding onto Faith, a bronze sculpture of Atlas. I sold it to a private collector.” She looked pointedly at me. “I have to say that my faith paid off!”
Teddy interrupted by blurting out, “Mommy! Why does she call you ‘Dusty’? Your name’s Juliet.”
“Because, sweetheart, that was my nickname when I first met Fran. We’ve been friends for a long time.” She leaned close to her son and rubbed noses with him. “Longer than ten years.”
“Juliet?” I raised an eyebrow. I would never think of Frankenstein as Romeo.
“Elsa seemed too obvious. And I needed to be reminded that blind romanticism can be costly. ”
I put down my napkin and pushed away my plate. “Frank called me. He wanted information about you.” I took a sip of water. “Of course, I had none.”
She leaned over and lowered her voice. “I’m not surprised. He’s contacted everyone in my previous life.”
“But you do have an order of protection, right?”
“It’s only a piece of paper. There’s no magic in it.” She touched her shoulder to mine, laying her hand over mine. “Fran, I know that it is hard to understand, but I do not hate Frank. Oh, I did for a long time,” she removed her hand and rooted in her purse for a handful of coupons that she gave to William, ”sort these by color, sweetheart,“ with an aside to me,”I’m Queen of Coupons.”
With William distracted, she continued, “Fran, I was so lonely, so alone. But,” she sat back and carefully considered her words, “I had plenty of time to think about how my life had been like a see-saw. I’d just been sitting on one end of the teeter-totter, letting events be the heavier weight on the other end. Looking at the my situation from another perspective, I had been given a chance to change from being someone who always reacted, to someone who is a strong person in her own right. We all have choices, and I have made some bad ones. But, isn’t it all about the learning? Finding our way? Although some of us,” she sighed, “have a steeper learning curve than others.”
This woman sitting beside me definitely has a sense of self, I thought. The strength to let go, forgive and go on with her life, on her terms. “You once said you envied me, Dusty. Now I have to say I admire you. You’ve come out the other side a whole person, able to forgive and be loving. I don’t know that I would have been able to do that.”
We had a brief moment between us of silence but it felt like we were re-tying the broken ribbons of our friendship.
“Mom! Look! I got them all done!”
Dusty smiled at her son, then tried swiping at William’s, aka Teddy’s, mouth for the spot of jelly. “Fran, I have to run. Do you remember where my father’s house is? Can you come by tomorrow?”
I nodded. “I’m free after 10.”
“Meet me there at 11.” She hugged me, I hugged her again before she gathered her purse and purchases, and hustled herself and Teddy out to her car.
The next morning was balmy, with high clouds scudding across sunny blue skies. It seemed birds were everywhere, twittering loudly in the oak tree in the front of Connors’ house. Different paint on the outside, but still the same immaculate green lawn. I pulled up to park at the curb in time to see Teddy bolt from Dusty’s car. Teddy ran to Sylvia, who did not look any worse for wear after all this time, and threw himself into her arms. Dusty waited for a few minutes, then embraced Sylvia. I sat there, in my car, seeing this and wondering what else did I not understand; how many worlds do we exist in simultaneously?
I tucked the envelope with money that was to be given to Dusty that Sylvia had given me so very long ago, deep into my purse and approached the happy group on the lawn. Sylvia smiled warmly at me, offering her open arms for a welcoming hug. “Oh, my, it is so good to see you! Come in, come in! Let’s have coffee. Or tea. Whatever you ladies would like.”
I turned to Dusty; her eyes were green again. “You’re looking more like your former self! Except for the hair.”
“Contacts, and I am so glad to be rid of them!” She touched her hair. “It’s going to be ugly, but I’ll be so happy to have my color and curls back!” she laughed, with sparkling eyes and dimples. “To think that I used to want straight hair!!”
Once inside the house, the air filled with delicious scent of chocolate, I turned to Sylvia. “I think I owe you an apology. I thought you didn’t care. I never figured it out.” I took out the envelope with the fifteen hundred dollars in it and handed it to her. “I guess if you want, you can give it to her yourself.”
“Oh, Fran, I never expected it back. But I’m not surprised.” She leaned over and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “I so wanted to tell you, but you do understand that no one, not even Elizabeth’s father, knew that I had anything to do with it. That’s why we call it an underground operation.” She flicked the envelope on my shoulder as she headed for the kitchen.
Sylvia’s daughter, Sophia, dressed in jeans and black and white t shirt with “#1 Aunt” printed in glitter on it, came out of her bedroom into the living room. She motioned to William to come beside her and hugged him. “Hi ya, Teddy Bear. Want to help me make some more chocolate chip cookies?”
“You betcha!” Teddy grabbed Sophia’s hand and pulled her along into the kitchen.
Dusty and I moved to the couch and I turned to her. “But how can you be sure it’s safe to come out from hiding? Frank could show up and what if he went ballistic?”
“I’m told he’s in Michigan, and remarried. You said he said he was clean and sober. It’s a chance, a chance I’m willing to take.”
“He hasn’t changed, though, Dusty. Believe me.”
“But I have.” She locked eyes with me. “I won’t be with him alone and I won’t argue with him. Believe me, I’ve thought this through. And if I know Frank, he’ll want to see Teddy for a time or two, then he’ll fade away. Christmas, birthdays, is not something he will remember.” She looked from to Sylvia, to Teddy, back to me. “I have to get my life back. It’s time.”
And fortunately for all of us she was right. Frank made a grand show of the reformed father with presents for his son and flowers for Dusty when he came to her father’s house. He stayed a week at a near-by hotel, but after all the promises, never contacted Teddy or Dusty again.
I have a newer photograph beside the older ones on my desk that my husband took at one of our backyard parties. When I pick it up and look at it, I am reminded of that perfect summer day before time would unravel the threads of our relationships. In the background of the photo is my mother and father, my mother burping my baby girl, Zoey, and William behind my mother’s shoulder peering intently at her; Sylvia cradling Dusty’s daughter, Theia,—named after the Titan goddess who birthed Helios, the sun, Selene, the moon and Eos, dawn—Sophia holding Theia’s tiny hand, with Jon, Richard, Mr. Connor and Marcus beside them. In the forefront, I am on the outside, then Dusty, and Annie; Dean is behind us with his arms splayed across our shoulders, his head resting on my left shoulder. We are all in t-shirts and shorts, and similar sandals—-I am the only one wearing a necklace that reflects the light in a starburst. We are all smiling, the three of us together, like we have not a care in the world, captured in that twinkling forever.