“Is she here yet?”
“No, Mom. That was just Dad on the porch.”
“Has he got the hot tub running? Remind him, Wendy, Okay?”
She slouched off into the backyard. Her parents loved that hot tub. They thought of it as some sort of family ritual. For Wendy it was just one more way for her mom to embarrass her about her body. A sort of belated hippie, she wanted her daughter not to have any hang-ups about sex.
“Maybe you should give her a call,” her mom suggested as she brooded in the doorway.
“She’s not even late yet, Mom.”
“I don’t understand why you won’t wear the new suit I got you.”
“Mom,” she groaned. “It’s too skimpy. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that.”
“I just want you to have a positive body image, sweetheart. You’d look great in that suit. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Emily doesn’t mind wearing it, and you’re at least as pretty as she is.”
“She’s like oblivious, Mom. She wouldn’t notice if she was naked.” Her mom sighed.
“I’m not saying you should go around naked. You should just feel a little more confident about yourself.” Wendy’s mother had intensified her campaign on this topic ever since she had given up her goth style a few weeks ago. She thought the change had something to do with her new friend, and she wasn’t wrong. But she would be astounded, perhaps even appalled to discover what exactly it was about Emily that had brought her daughter around.
The sound of a dirtbike crunching up the gravel drive was a welcome relief. Wendy skittered out of the kitchen and on to the front porch just as Emily was hanging her helmet from the handlebars.
“Oh, thank God. Take me away. Please!”
“I bet your mom would love that, us bugging out just before dinner.”
“Em, she’s driving me batty.”
“Well, then, let’s go annoy Teddy. What’s he up to?”
“He’s probably watching football with Dad. And no, I don’t want to throw a ball with them in the backyard.”
“Ya know, Wendy, you’ve got to get some new hobbies.”
“Let’s just go down to my room.”
After dinner they all went out to the hot tub. Emily wore the bikini and Wendy wore the one-piece. Teddy was all excited about football and chattered about the team. He found his big sister’s new friends fascinating. Danny and Billy were seniors starting on the varsity squad. They were way cooler than the Goths she used to hang out with. It grew old fast, but Wendy preferred it to what her parents wanted to talk about: college applications.
“Where are you applying, Emily?”
, for sure… maybe a couple of places out of state. I haven’t figured it all out yet.” That was a diplomatic answer. She knew Wendy was putting off making decisions. Her scores were good, but her grades were only so-so. By contrast, Emily was a straight-A student with perfect scores. She could pretty much go wherever she wanted. Charlottesville
“Did you hear that, dear? Emily’s been doing her applications.”
“Thanks a lot, Em,” she harrumphed. Emily shrugged. At least she hadn’t mentioned Stanford, Yale and Berkeley.
“I’m just saying…,” her mom needled.
“Is there any more pie,” Wendy growled as she hauled herself out of the hot tub.
“Have you heard anything from your dad, sweetheart? He must be missing you,” Wendy’s mom asked innocently. The question put Emily in a quandary. She didn’t want to say yes since it was bound to come out eventually that her father was already dead. But saying no would seem bizarre. A surreptitious life was full of mine fields like this.
“Not for a little while,” she offered ambiguously.
“He’s in the
, right? I guess the phone service isn’t very good.” Philippines
“I guess so.” She looked oppressed by the question. Wendy’s mother looked like she was ready to let the matter drop. But her husband was intrigued.
“A friend of mine told me that he isn’t really your dad. Is that true?”
“Honey, don’t plague her with that stuff.”
“No, it’s okay. My father died when I was a toddler. I’ve lived with my uncle ever since. I guess he’s the only dad I’ve got.” The air seemed to hang a little thicker around the hot tub.
“What about your mom,” Teddy piped up curiously. This was a much more worrisome question. The story she had been told as a child about her mom she now knew to be false. But she didn’t have a safer one to tell under the circumstances.
“I never knew my mother. She left when I was an infant.” Teddy fell silent.
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Williams gasped.
“Don’t be. My uncle has been an excellent father. And Yuki, she’s the cook at the estate, well she’s been like a mom to me for as long as I can remember.”
“I think I’ve seen her around town. Is she the little Japanese lady with long black hair,” Mr. Williams asked.
“Oh, yes. I know who you mean. She has such a forbidding expression. Is that your mom?”
“Yeah, that’s Yuki. I used to think of her as the homework enforcer. She never let me get away with anything in that department.”
“Was karate her idea?”
“No, actually not. She’s always been opposed. Sensei’s an old friend of my dad. Martial arts was really their idea.”
Wendy wandered back out from the kitchen, licking cherry pie remains off her fingers. She saw right away that the conversation had taken a turn for the somber. What exactly were her parents up to?
“What are you going to do for Christmas,” her mom asked. “I’d hate to think you’ll be on your own.” It was kindly meant, but still it was another treacherous topic. Emily hadn’t given this any thought yet.
“I don’t really know. I haven’t made any plans yet.”
“You could spend Christmas with us. Right, Mom?” Wendy clearly enjoyed this prospect, and there was probably a little pleasure at her mother’s discomfort mixed in.
“I have cousins in
I might visit.” In the back of her mind, Emily was musing on Christmas with Yuki and Michael in the mountains of northern Kansas . It felt like a frivolous wish, given her concern about drawing attention to her mother’s hiding place. New Mexico
“Hey, guys. I think you’ve grilled her long enough. Let’s go change, Em. Maybe we can go for a walk before it gets too dark.”
Downstairs, the girls changed out of their suits while Wendy snarked about how nosy her parents were.
“Ya know, Wendy, I don’t mind a little nosing. I kinda miss it.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that, Em.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
“Oh, and thanks for downplaying the college stuff.”
“Wanna go for a ride?”
“Do I? You bet! I’ll go tell my mom.”
Teddy watched enviously a few minutes later as the gravel flew off the back tire and the bike tore down the drive. Wendy let out a little shriek as Emily shifted gears and spun out onto the road. They rode together down darkening country lanes for the next hour letting the autumn air blow through them. Emily’s sleep was troubled by thoughts of Christmas. The peculiarity of her circumstances would be difficult to conceal if she didn’t appear to have plans for the holiday.