Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 3

“I'm so sorry about your date,” Jamie said as she stood in my kitchen and unpacked a bottle of wine, a package of brie and a loaf of French bread. It was our favorite get together snack, one that I knew I wouldn't enjoy. Not today. Last night had left me feeling shaken and defeated. I hadn't told Jamie the whole truth yet, wasn't sure if I wanted to. If I did, she'd blow it all out of proportion. Gary was sick. Maybe he was bipolar, maybe schizophrenic, I wasn't sure. I just needed to watch my back and carry my gun in my purse. That was it. Period. It was over. I was changing my phone number tomorrow and my e-mail address. I decided to glaze over the events that happened after Stuart had left. “So he just ditched you in the parking lot?”

“Yeah,” I said with a heavy sigh. “Gary just showed up and popped over to say hi and then Stuart was gone. He practically ran over my foot.” She sliced me a piece of bread and I grabbed it, using it to gesture at her like it was a pointer. “Don't ever set me up again. Your date choices are horrible.” Jamie sighed and poured us both a massive goblet of wine. They were huge, medieval looking even. I picked mine up and downed half. I had a right to.

“I wish Joel had a brother,” she said as she leaned her hip against the blue tiles of my countertop. “Then you'd marry him and we'd be sisters legally and not just spiritually.” I rolled my eyes and scooped a massive lump of brie onto my bread. I didn't even spread it around, just ate it as is.

“That would never happen,” I said as I tried my best to smile. “Because then I'd be obligated to go to those terrible MacMillan get-togethers.” Jamie rolled her eyes and spilled a massive amount of alcohol on her white blouse.

“You have no idea,” she said as we both laughed. “There were fifteen underage kids at my house yesterday and at least three balding, middle aged babies.” I chuckled. “The new sofa is just trashed and there's still a million plastic cups and paper plates scattered over the backyard.” She took a bite of bread and kept talking while she chewed. “That's not my job, just so you know. That's Joel's.” Jamie paused as the doorbell rang and raised her eyebrows at me. “Expecting someone?” she asked. I shook my head and moved across the kitchen and through the living room, pausing at the peephole to look out. It's not like I expected anything bad to happen, just that after what had happened last night, I wasn't taking any chances.

Standing outside on the porch was my daughter, Rhea.

With a squeal, I flung open the door and she threw herself in my arms. I saw Glen sitting in his car at the curb and gave him a little wave. He honked once, waved back, and was gone. That was the extent of our interactions nowadays. Deliver Rhea, confirm delivery, checkout.

“What are you doing back so early?” I asked as I held her by the shoulders and looked her over. “Did Winnie have another mommy temper tantrum?” Rhea giggled and shook her head, her straight, black hair flying around her small face.

“Angie fell off a rock at the beach and broke her leg.” I raised my eyebrows. Angie was Rhea's younger sister, Glen's biological daughter, only six years old. “She got a cast and we all signed it.” Rhea leaned in conspiratorially. “I even drew a penis on it with Sharpie.” I heard Jamie snort behind me and tried not to break out into a maniacal grin. God, I love this kid. “Winnie made us cover it with stickers, but she bought the wrong kind and Angie had a huge screaming tantrum in the airport. It was really fun.” I picked up her bag as she skipped into the house and went straight for her bedroom.

“I'm glad you had a good time,” I said as she disappeared around the corner into the hallway.

“I'll be right back!” she shouted as I tossed the black and yellow duffel bag onto the couch. Jamie grinned at me as I reentered the kitchen and leaned against the counter.

“What?” I asked as she shook her head.

“You two are too, too much,” she said as she set her wine glass on the counter.

“Hey,” I said as I gestured at the stack of books on the edge of the dining room table. “I am not the one that said it was time for 'The Talk.' That was you. You're the one that gave her the damn books and you're the one that's to blame for the subsequent drawing of penises, so just get over yourself, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” Jamie said, straightening her black A-line skirt and picking at her panty hose. “Do you have any sweats? I need to get out of this damn monkey suit.”

“Of course I do,” I said with a sigh as Jamie started to follow me down the hallway. “I have a whole drawer full of clothes just for you. Why don't you pack a bag when you know you're staying the night?”

“Mom.” I paused just outside my bedroom door and looked down the hallway towards the pale blue walls of Rhea's room.

“Yeah?”

“Come here for a second.” Something about her voice made me want to run. It sounded … forced. Rhea never sounded like that. She was always easy, calm, relaxed. I moved down the hallway briskly and paused in the doorway, fearing the worst. I was having Fatal Attraction flashbacks. Granted, we didn't own any pets so finding a dead animal in my daughter's room was a long shot, but Gary had freaked me out. I had a feeling it would be awhile before I was completely over last night.

“Where's the fire?” Jamie asked as she trailed behind me.

I turned the corner and nearly had a heart attack when Rhea screamed out, “Surprise!” In her small hands was a necklace made out of what looked to be small, black beads. She'd tied a ribbon around it and even attached a small card. “I was hiding it in my pocket and you didn't even see,” she said proudly as I took the gift in my own hands and examined it. There were little red and pink hearts painted on each bead. “It's a Kukui nut necklace,” she stated authoritatively. “And it has magic, too. It will bring you love.” She paused and giggled. “And penises.”

“Rhea!” I said, trying my best not to laugh. I put a hand on my hip and couldn't hold back a smile.

“Hey,” Jamie said, leaning against the door frame behind me. “Can't complain about that. I say, amen. Nice job, Rhea.” Rhea grinned and gestured at me wildly, feisty and colorful in her bright pink shirt and yellow spandex pants. What can I say, the girl had style.

“Put it on,” she whispered excitedly. I detached the card, smiled at the hastily scrawled 'I love you' and slipped off the eye of Horus necklace. I put the new necklace on in its place and did a ridiculous and completely embarrassing, wine inspired runway show.

I had just traded a symbol of protection for a symbol of love.

I should've worn both the necklaces.

***

Rhea spent the remainder of the afternoon in her bedroom playing video games while Jamie and I looked at magazines whose sole intention was to destroy a person's self image and sense of beauty.

“Jamie,” I said and I tried to keep my voice low so Rhea wouldn't hear. I mean, I could at least pretend that she wouldn't hear. How is it that little kids always manage to eavesdrop on the worst conversations? They were all natural-born sleuths, I swear it. “Have you ever had an … ” I stared at the article in my hand and fought through a lump in my throat to articulate my question. “An orgasm?” Jamie looked up suddenly, face horrified.

“You're not just bringing this up now, are you?” she asked, face locked into this terrible expression of dismay. She still looked pretty with her smoky eyes and red rouged lips, even in the baggy gray sweat suit she was wearing. I looked away and shrugged.

“I'm not saying I haven't had one. I'm just not … sure.” Jamie put her wine down, closed her magazine and took me by the hand.

“If you're not sure if you've had one, then you haven't had one. You would know.” I frowned and tried to peek around the corner without leaving my stool. Rhea already had penises on the brain. The last thing I needed was her running back to Glen's house and telling him that Mommy never had an orgasm. Wouldn't that be nice?

“Well, when … ” God, I can barely say his name. I shook myself of the fear and continued. “When Gary and I first got together, the sex was great, but – ” Jamie cut me off.

“But it wasn't orgasmic,” she said with a sigh. “Dear God.” Jamie stood up, opened the freezer and pulled out the bottle of Jäger. “We're going to need this,” she said as she retrieved a pair of glasses. “This is okay. This is normal.” I raised my eyebrows and swept a bit of stray hair from my forehead. It sounded more like Jamie was reassuring herself rather than me. “The average age for a woman's first orgasm is twenty-eight, so that means some are earlier and some are later. You're just on the … the later side.”

“Where did you read that fact?” I asked skeptically. “That doesn't sound right.” Jamie ignored me and gestured at the living room window with a raise of her chin.

“Can you please close those curtains?” she asked as she poured our drinks. “Some weirdo's driving up and down the street. I don't like to be stared at when I'm wearing the world's ugliest sweat suit.”

“You could've packed a bag,” I whispered as she started to talk over me.

“You do masturbate, right? Most women have their first orgasm while masturbating.”

“What's masturbation?” Rhea asked as she skipped into the kitchen and sniffed the glass of Jäger that was sitting in front of my abandoned magazine. “Gross, that smells like black licorice. I hate black licorice, but I like the red kind.”

I groaned and grabbed the blue and white curtains in one hand when I saw him.

Gary.

Gary was sitting in a white car that I'd never seen driving down the street in front of my house. His brown hair was clean and combed back and his face was pleasant and relaxed. He in no way looked the part of a stalker. But that's all I could think. Stalker. He turned the corner and disappeared around the block. I stood frozen in front of the window, certain that he'd come back around at any moment.

“Masturbation is when a person touches themselves to feel good,” Jamie said as Rhea stuck out her tongue and opened the refrigerator, obviously uninterested.

“She's nine,” I said to Jamie by way of explanation as I tried to keep the fear I was feeling out of my voice. It was just a coincidence. Had to be a coincidence. Gary had to make home visits for some of his clients. There was always the chance that he was just out here for a work thing and had decided to drive by. I noticed then that my hands were shaking.

“So what?” she asked. “Ray started masturbating when he was six months old.” I didn't respond, just waited to see if the white car would reappear. It didn't. Finally, Jamie came over and stood beside me, putting a hand to my forehead to see if I was okay.

“You don't look so good,” she told me as I finally got the strength to draw the curtains. I checked the front door next and then the back. The windows came next. Jamie waited until I was out of Rhea's sight and grabbed me by the upper arms. “What the hell is going on with you?” she asked, all serious now. She had her prosecutor face on. It's not something that can be argued with or ignored. Jamie demands attention when she's like that.

“Gary,” I said. She continued to stare at me, waiting for an explanation.

“Mom?” Rhea asked as she came around the corner and saw us standing there. “What are you doing?”

“Hey,” Jamie said and her face lit up for the briefest of moments as she stared my daughter's big brown eyes down. “Why don't you go pick us all a movie to watch? We'll make beds on the floor in the living room. It'll be fun.” Rhea nodded enthusiastically and disappeared again. When Jamie turned back to me, I slumped and let my guard down. There was no point in trying to hide it from her anymore. “What's going on?” I looked up and caught her gaze with mine.

“It's Gary,” I said. “And he's stalking me.”