Her red pencil flew over the margin as she scribbled a note.
Mom, I feel like your dating a multiple personality. Is this Laura’s boyfriend from the club?The other guy Ryan?
Is this one story? You need some transitions I’m not following.
The more she gave voice to her frustrations, the more absent answers pricked beneath her skin. Jay tried to help with his story about Olivia, but she rubbed her head to nail down what he told her. It all floated in a sleepy, adrenaline charged haze. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to keep going. With the trip or the manuscript? Her subconscious prodded. Casting the errant thought aside she jotted another note in the margin.
Mystery creates urgency for the reader. Lack of clarity creates frustration.
I need more clarification on who and what is happening.
Your roommate is mean to her boyfriend, and what does that mean?
Who are you kissing? Is this dad or someone else?
Are we with you and Mike? How does this scene fit in with you trying to find love?
For a girl with a broken heart, you seem to be interacting with a lot of guys. Who are they?
The manuscript, shoved back in her bag taunted her for the rest of the afternoon. A part of her realized it was like a mosquito bite, taking her focus away from a festering infection. She used it to avoid Charles, she needed the problems of somebody Else to stay sane..
The solution to her turbulent lack of understanding could be fixed with a single phone call. but that would be a can of worms she didn’t feel steady enough to open. Instead, she took her time finding flannel pajama pants and a white t-shirt in her suitcase,. She paced, cleaned the tiny bathroom, washed the towels and silk robe and tidied the house. However, working her thoughts into an avalanche of awaiting arguments and hurt feelings made her head ache worse. This would be a painful conversation for both of them, of that she was certain
Alex finally collapsed on the edge of Jay’s bed laying her head on the crisp linen pillow case, and pulled her feet from the floor onto the quilt. She stared up at the ceiling, listening to the ringing at the other end of the phone.
Alex took a deep breath. “Hi mom,” she said, “It’s me.”“Are you alright, honey? You sound upset.”
Alex gritted her teeth and held back her desire to spill the whole awful tale of her trip
Her own jumble of expectations and disappointments over the last few days threatened to wash over her in a drenching flood. Nothing made sense. Not the manuscript, or this trip, or her feelings about…anything.
Taking a shuddered breath, Alex cleared her mind. “I’m lost, Mom. I need some help.”
The sharp intake of Tricia’s breath came over the phone. “Oh, baby. Where are you? Are you lost in New York City? Don’t panic, just call the police.”
Alex laughed. “No, mom. Not lost, like I can’t find my way home. Lost…confused…with your story.”
Tricia’s relieved giggles bubbled through the connection. Their brief sense of camaraderie linking them together. “Don’t scare me like that, Lexi. I was picturing you, alone on the streets of Manhattan. I know New York City is safer than when I lived there25 years ago, but you scared me half to death.”
Alex felt the tenuous smile she held slip away as her mind recalled her own fear when she realized she was abandoned in New York’s International Airport.”I think only Central Park is safer, Mom. I haven’t been there yet, but Jay told me its cleaner and better patrolled.”
“Well,” Tricia said, lengthening the word., “If you’re not in any physical danger, then is it Charles? Is everything all right with him?”
Alex rolled her eyes and ignored her mother’s less than subtle probing. “Physically, I’m fine. As far as your manuscript is concerned though, I need some help.”
Tricia made a hesitant sound, as if she wanted to avoid committing to the change in subject.
For a brief second Alex imagined her mother purposefully arranging the manuscript to be confusing. She tightened her grip on the phone and ignored the instinct. “I just need some clarification on a few things. First, why did you start off with Mike? Are any of these guys in your journal entries him?”
“Mike? Mike was out of my life. Well, at least as much as possible. I was trying to give you a reference for background and where I was. None of the journal entries are about Mike except the ones that talk about him.”
Alex picked up a careful tone in her mother’s voice. She remembered a day when she was six years old, watching the woman pluck every shred of olive off a pizza for her little girl. Now, it sounded like she used that same determined concentration in her response. “Okay, not Mike? Who else is there? Some of these guys I can totally picture being dad. Some of them though, I can’t tell. You don’t have any names and I can’t decide if you are dating someone, more than one, or just sneaking around behind your roommates back with her boyfriend.”
Alex pressed her hand to her mouth as the words escaped. She didn’t plan on accusing her mom of cheating. The painful silence that met the statement now stuck like a hot knife in her mind. “I just mean that it sounds like when your roommate is around, you and her boyfriend are…friendly. When she isn’t though, are you kissing him? Is that how you and Dad ended up together?”
This time Alex heard a gasp. she winced at the sound, knowing she’d said too much. I can’t care, she thought.
“Mom, before you freak out I’m just saying, if you and dad were cheating on your roommate—no matter how much she wanted to date other guys—you will need to cut that part out. Nobody wants their leading man to be a sneak or a liar.”
“Lexi,” Tricia scolded over the line. “You know your Dad far too well to be accusing him of cheating on his girlfriend.”
Alex gulped back the surge of emotions building for the last 24 hours. The stab of her mother’s words pushed her tears beyond her fragile grasp.. “Honey, Your father is not that kind of a man and I…” Tricia took a defeated breath over the line. “I would tell you that I would never do that either, but it wouldn’t be true.”.
A broken sob escaped Alex as she whispered, “So you were making out with her boyfriend all that time?”"
“No, I wasn’t making out with Laura’s boyfriend behind her back. She sighed again, “At least…not that time.”
“Not that time? What is that supposed to mean?”
An elongated pause reverberated once more and Alex glared at the dark blue curtains against the lighter shades..
“ I was a sophomore in college before I kissed anyone at all,””Tricia said. . “I had a friend, sort of a pen pal who I dated just once. We ended up making out and I never saw him again.”
“What are you talking about? Did this guy have a girlfriend?”
“No, but he, or I guess waiting so long, effected who I kissed after that.”
“you’re serious? You were like 19 or 20 before you kissed anyone?”
“I was 19 and kissing Danny just convinced me I should have started sooner.”
“How come you didn’t keep going out with this Danny, or at least making out with him?”
“He moved overseas, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to kiss everyone I could.”
“Super trashy Mom.”
Trisha heaved a sigh, “I know, but the real problem was I started making out with a lot of different guys I wasn’t even remotely interested in falling in love with. I was lonely and reeling from the loss of my father and I wanted someone, anyone, to want me. I was selfish and blind in my pursuit of affection and I made one of the worst mistakes of my life. I had one of these empty relationships with my best friend’s boyfriend behind her back.”
Alex choked, trying to sputter something which would sound supportive. “You were …young, and…desperate…and”-Flopping onto her back, Alex gave up-“trying to steal your best friend’s boyfriend, because you were lonely? Come on, Mom. That’s a stretch."“I didn’t want her boyfriend,” Tricia said. “I just wanted someone and he was willing…”
“That was your criteria? You just needed someone who was willing? Why didn’t you just go stand on the corner and hold up a sign?”
“Alexandra!” Tricia’s voice took on an edge, “Do you want me to finish the story or not?”
Alex bit off the remark burning her tongue. She hated it when her mother reprimanded her using her full name.
“Okay, Mom,.”just don’t call me Alexandra.
“The point is I was too caught up in my own pain to see what I was doing to my friend. The mistake I made caused me to lose the trust of my best friend. It was never about the boyfriend, I wasn’t even attracted to him. It was all about me, I was an idiot. When he couldn’t live with his own guilt anymore, he told her and I…Well, I hated myself.”
“Since the two of you were such good friends, the smart thing to do would be to laugh at him for being fat, bald, and alone after she dumped him.”
Tricia released a hollow chuckle. “No, honey, She married him. She loved him and he loved her. I was the one who deserved to be fat, bald, and alone. she didn’t even hate me, though I deserved that and so much more."
Alex gave a terse laugh as Tricia continued, “Unfortunately they were not the only relationships I was careless with. I behaved extraordinarily bad with a number of classless people until…”
A sob broke from Tricia’s throat and Alex swallowed hard.. “Until the night I got myself into a compromising situation with a guy who was much crueler than I had been, and I ended up…attacked.”
“You were raped Mom, Its been a long time. You can call it what it was.” Alex knew the night she was referring to. She remembered clearly one of Tricia’s earlier journals where she’d written of the night on campus when she was twenty. Alex’s mind fought to keep her thoughts away from the remembered details of that night.. Her chest burned and the more she resisted the picture forming in her mind, the clearer it became.
One of her mother’s friends, unwilling to stick with making out, pinned Tricia against a swatch of lawn outside The library. panic of that long ago night pulsed through Alex’s veins as she could almost see the guy using his body weight to imprison and force himself on her. A security guard walking the campus interrupted before the guy could follow through with his promise to show her how real men get what they want. However, it was too late. Her world was shattered, her soul broken from the sheer terror infesting her heart. Alex closed her eyes against the flashing images the written words left in her mind. She didn’t fully comprehend terror like that; Her own horrors were filed into easier categories. She could only imagine her mother’s feelings. she didn’t want to force Tricia to dwell on it for too long. The exact words from the journal entry came to mind. “I became caged by a paralyzing emptiness that worsened with the touch of each of his fingers against my skin. I was prey; my weakness gave him power with each of my struggles.
Back then, there was no such thing as sexual assault in the eyes of the law; there was raped or not raped. So I stumbled home, with no proof of anything except poor judgment and a heart full of self-condemnation.”
Alex shuddered, the ache in her chest a specter of her mother’s pain.
Tricia continued, “After the attack, I never put myself in any man’s arms for any reason until I fell in love with Mike. I had a few relationships, but none of them were physical. I let Mike break my heart, an experience nearly as traumatizing as the other guy breaking my body. So I never felt safe enough to share those things with anyone again.”
Alex pictured her Mom wiping her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip, along with the desire to flee from this phone call. The only thing that’ll make this worse is if you hang up on her. Her thoughts scolded.
“Part of the reason it took me so long to find your dad, was that I had careful rules about other people’s boyfriends and your dad always had some girl he was dating. Our paths didn’t even cross until we ended up …”
The break in conversation sheared Alex’s last few nerves. “Until what Mom? You’ve never told me how you met Dad?”
“Lexi, I’m sorry. I know that little girl that once believed I had all the answers is long gone, but there are some things about your mother’s own stupidity no child should ever have to know. I shouldn’t have asked you to live so intimately in my past. I just knew that I could count on you to be critical with my writing. I guess I wasn’t prepared for you to actually see my life in the same way.”
“What? What does that have to do with Dad?”
“Please Lexi. I made a lot of mistakes, and I live with the regret of them to this day. There are powerful lessons in them; lessons I can teach to other girls so they don’t have to go through the same thing, but I need your help with this.”
Alex rolled her eyes at her mother’s dramatics and her own growing confusion.
“Okay, Mom,” she surrendered. “but I need names for your characters. I can’t keep track. The guy with the old car, the guy who wanted to be best friends with benefits, the guy with the grapefruit juice, Laura’s boyfriend.” Alex ticked them off one by one on her fingers.
“Your love life was a soap opera.,”
“No, honey,” Tricia assured. “There were just two guysYour Dad, and the other one.
Alex took a shuddered breath and then sighed. “I still need names,” she said, “or people are going to think you’re hiding something, or dating Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.”
Tricia laughed easily now and Alex could here her contain her own tears.
“Okay honey, I’ll fix that when you bring it back.”
“Wait mom!! Tell me their names.”"
the silence of the dead connection was the only response. Did she just hang up on me?