Chapter 22: Martin
Well, today’s the day.
I need to make sure Melanie doesn’t see the paper.
One of us normally gets it and puts it in the living room.
I have to work, and it’s my turn to make breakfast.
I won’t have time to sit and read the paper, so I can’t take out the relevant page and hide it before I go to work.
This means I need to come up with a way to keep her too busy to read the paper until I come home.
She sits at the table while I crack eggs.
“What are you doing today?”
“Oh, I thought I’d go see Mom. Can you join us after work?”
This is perfect.
“I have a little bit of reading to do, but I can come around four. Will that work?”
“Sure. Joseph’s making his famous spaghetti and meatballs.”
“Um, he is?”
“Yeah. Have I never mentioned that he makes the best?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, make sure you finish your reading in time, because I’m not saving you any!”
“I’m being serious.”
Everything goes well until lunch time.
It starts with a strange look from Rick.
I ignore him and go to get something to eat.
After lunch, I check my schedule.
Frank is coming at one.
I leave my office and go into the waiting room.
He’s not smiling like he usually does.
“Hello,” I say.
His tone is stiff and formal.
“How are you?”
“I’m well, thank you, and you?”
He never talks like this.
His expression becomes almost angry.
“She is well, thank you. I would prefer to complete my exercise program, rather than engaging with you in small talk.”
What the heck is wrong with him?
He does his HIIT workout as usual. He follows my directions to the letter, but doesn’t talk to me during the recovery intervals.
At the end, he says, “This is the end of your status as my personal trainer.”
“You’re finished as my trainer. I’m going to ask to work with somebody else.”
Tim is there, but isn’t listening to us.
“Can we go into my office and talk about this?”
“There’s nothing to discuss. I saw the paper. What you’ve done to Susan is just plain mean.”
My stomach falls down a long elevator shaft.
“I couldn’t locate her, and printing the summons in the newspaper was the only way to get her attention. She just disappeared.”
“For all you know, she could be dead or being abused by crooks.”
“She’s not dead.”
“It doesn’t matter. Divorce is a sin.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to keep religion out of this conversation.”
“Well, I don’t. However, this conversation is at an end. I’ll pray for both of you, but I don’t trust you anymore.”
With that, he gets up and leaves the gym.
Tim hasn’t heard us I don’t think, but he must have seen something in my face.
He walks over.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. Frank doesn’t want to be my client anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. He’s been your client for a long time and it must be rough. Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes, be his trainer.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that.”
I have to go and cry about losing Frank’s friendship. I try not to get emotionally invested in my clients, but I just couldn’t prevent that with Frank.
Nor with Melanie.
With most of the others, I can switch on and off.
Another exception to this is Matthew. I don’t know what it is about him, but something about his determination just makes me like him.
He’ll make a great husband for some lucky woman.
I don’t know anything about his family, but he’s never mentioned a wife or kids, so I’m assuming he doesn’t have either.
He’s laser-focused when he’s in the gym. It’s so intense, it’s almost in the air.
If he’s not careful, he’ll end up stronger than me.
He’s also one heck of a sprinter.
I’m seeing him tomorrow at ten.
I hope he hasn’t read the paper.
When I walk into the living room, I expect to see the paper open to the page with the summons, but it’s exactly as I left it this morning.
Melanie won’t ever read it.
I throw the whole paper away, once I check to make sure the summons is there.
Now all I need to do is wait for Susan to respond.
According to my lawyer, she has thirty days in which to do so.
I go to visit Melanie’s family and taste Joseph’s spaghetti and meatballs.
She’s right. They’re the best.
I see Matthew. He either hasn’t read the paper, or he doesn’t care.
Thirty days pass, and the only client I lose is Frank. A few give me some odd looks, and two of them ask me about Susan, but they accept that my marriage has nothing to do with my job.
She never contacts me or my lawyer. The court grants me a divorce, and on my terms.
I’m free to marry Melanie!
She’s becoming very pregnant.
It’s a good thing I managed to give away all the things Susan and I bought for the baby we never had.
By the time Melanie saw the room, it was empty.
In the early months, Melanie didn’t talk much about buying baby things, but once she learned she was having twins, we started talking about whether they each needed their own room.
“I think they should have their own rooms,” she said.
We were sitting at the kitchen table with pens, notepads, and my laptop.
“It doesn’t matter so much if they’re both girls or both boys, but if we end up with one of each, then they should have their own rooms.”
“Yeah, maybe, but it doesn’t matter until they’re four or something, right? And if we have more kids, then what?”
“Let’s worry about more kids if and when that happens. For now, we have our twins to prepare for.”
“Yeah, okay. Why don’t we set up two cribs in the same room for now. We can always move one if the twins need their own rooms.”
“No, let’s do two rooms. They’ll wake each other up crying if they’re together.”
“Won’t they comfort each other? I know when I was a boy, I wouldn’t have minded a brother to keep me company.”
“That can work when they’re older, but not for little babies. There’s no reason we couldn’t move them into the same room if they decide they want to share when they’re four or something.”
The way Melanie and I talk is so much different from how Susan and I did. We never sat and talked about our opinions about things. I guess that’s why we’re divorced now.
I hope Frank’s wrong. I hope she’s okay. I do wish she’d call me and let me know she’s not dead or being abused by crooks.
Maybe she just couldn’t handle dealing with her dad being sick. Maybe she isn’t heartless.
Melanie and I still haven’t agreed on what to do. We don’t have names for them, nor do we have the room or rooms set up.
We also haven’t bought clothes, toys, or even diapers for them.
It’s the beginning of November now, and Melanie hasn’t been in a good mood for a couple of days now.
“I want these stupid babies out of me right now!”
It’s the middle of the night, and she’s struggling to turn over.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.”
“It’s okay. Do you need any help?”
“We don’t even have the rooms set up yet.”
“Or the room.”
“Are you okay?”
“I think so. Do you mind if I turn on the light?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Sorry. I know you have work tomorrow. Ugh. Today.”
“Yeah, but that’s okay.”
The light on the nightstand comes on.
“I can’t even remember what day it is. I used to have a brain.”
“You still do, and it’s a very big one, too.”
“Liar! What day is it?”
“Monday, November 2.”
“Thanks, but just Monday would have been enough. I think I’m gonna get up.”
I try to see the clock, but can’t.
“What time is it?”
“Let’s try to get some more sleep.”
“I can’t, but I’ll sit in the living room, so you can turn the light off.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“I don’t know. I feel . . . jitter and I had a cramp a minute ago.”
“A cramp? Maybe you ate something that didn’t agree with you. Probably my bad cooking.”
“It’s not that kind of cramp. Anyway, I’m going to the living room now. Wait until I’m gone before you turn off the light.”
I lie awake, listening to her moving around in the living room.
At four, I give up and get up.
It’s Melanie’s turn to make breakfast today, but I think I’ll offer to do it. Maybe that’ll make her feel better.
I walk into the living room.
She’s sitting on the couch, leafing through a magazine.
“How are you?”
“Okay,” she says. “Ready for breakfast?”
“I was thinking I could make breakfast today. What would you like?”
“I’m not really hungry, so maybe just . . . ouch. These cramps are getting stronger and closer together. Oh my gosh! I think I might be in labor.”
“Yes. So here’s what we do. You go to work, and I’ll stay here with my phone right beside me. When the contractions really get to me, I’ll go to the hospital.”
“The hospital? How will you get there?”
“Not an ambulance?”
“No, a taxi is fine. I’d call Mom, but she’s doing something today.”
“What about my mom?”
“Oh, okay, I’ll call your mom.”
“And me. No matter what time it is before two, call the front desk and tell whoever’s there to get me.”
“I will if it’s urgent, but this could take until tomorrow. I’ll probably still be sitting here when you get home.”
She smiles at me.
“Come sit beside me until you have to go to work.”
“Okay. Can I make us some toast?”
“You can make yourself some toast, but I’m just having water, please.”
The day is gonna be endless. For some reason, I don’t want to talk to my coworkers about Melanie, and they don’t even know we’re a couple, let alone that she’s about to have twins.
At 8:30, I have to do intake for a new client.
Her name’s Beatrice. I imagine a lady in her forties or even fifties.
The woman I see is no older than Melanie, and she’s tiny.
She’s also beautiful.
Stop it, I tell myself. Melanie’s in labor, and you shouldn’t be thinking about other women.
“What are your exercise goals?”
“To get fit so I can run with my aunt and cousins.”
“Do they sprint or run long distances?”
“They can run for hours. She’s sixty, and she’s faster than me. It’s starting to make me feel like a total loser.”
“Do you have any other goals?”
She shakes her head.
Her phone beeps, and she reads a text.
I ask her a few more questions, and then we go into the gym.
Frank is there with Tim.
They’re using a treadmill for his HIIT.
The one beside it is available, and Beatrice steps onto it.
“How does this thing work?”
She looks at Frank, who’s just starting an intense interval.
“Wow! You run even faster than my aunt.”
He smiles at her and acts like I’m not even in the room.
“Can you teach me to do that?” she asks me.
“Yes, but you’d need to work up to the speed he’s at.”
“If I can do that, I’ll blow my aunt away.”
“You will, but it’s not long distance running.”
“That’s okay. Can we do both?”
“Yes. We can do one HIIT workout per week, and two long distance ones.”
Frank goes into a recovery interval and looks over at Beatrice with a serious expression.
“Be careful of him. His wife disappeared, and instead of looking high and low for her, he published a divorce summons in the paper.”
“Some people disappear of their own free will,” Tim says. “Ready?”
Beatrice doesn’t comment on what Frank said until we’re out of the gym.
She looks around and then whispers, “Wanna go out for dinner?”
“No thanks. I have a girlfriend.”
“That’s too bad. Is she nice?”
“Can she run?”
“When she needs to, but she prefers bikes.”
“Does she come here?”
By two, I’m almost sick with worry about Melanie.
In fact, I’m so worried, I start driving a little too fast.
Okay, a lot too fast.
A police car comes after me, and I pull over.
I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve never gotten a speeeding ticket, not once.
The female officer is about thirty and beautiful.
Why do I keep meeting pretty women today?
The male officer is in his twenties.
I don’t tell them about Melanie, but accept their stern words and the speeding ticket.
Chapter 23: Melanie
I hear Martin’s car in the garage, and then he comes into the house.
“Hi,” I call.
He comes into the living room. He’s pale.
“Are you okay?”
“I feel like a criminal.”
“In a way, I am one. I just got a speeding ticket.”
“Joseph gets those sometimes. Mom yells at him, but I won’t yell at you. I’m guessing you were hurrying home.”
“Okay, but there’s no need, and don’t do it again, please.”
“I won’t. I thought I was gonna cry in front of them.”
“I’m sure they’ve seen worse.”
“How’s your labor going?”
“It’s pretty much stopped. Mom called around nine. Her plans got canceled, and I told her about maybe being in labor. She said to call her any time. I told her I would, but I’d call your mom for the ride because she can just leave her house and lives closer. Mom likes that plan. I called your mom and she likes the plan, so we’re all set. Can you run and buy what we need?”
“What we need?”
“Yes. Two cribs, two carseats, a stroller that can fit two, and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve been making a list.”
I hand it to him.
“That isn’t gonna fit in my car.”
“My dad would like to help by offering his truck for transportation and his hands for setting things up.”
“But we have a few days to figure all that stuff out. We don’t need to run out and buy everything now, do we? I thought you said labor stopped.”
“I said it mostly stopped. For now, anyway. It could start any minute, and we need to be ready. They won’t keep me in the hospital for long. I might only be there for a day after they’re born. When I come home-”
A strong contraction grips me.
“I think it’s starting again.”
I reach for my phone.
“Are you calling an ambulance?”
“No, I’m calling your mom. I think I’ll ask her to come over so we can just leave for the hospital when it’s time.”
Once his mom arrives, Martin calls my dad and he comes in the truck.
Grace and I sit and chat for a couple of hours, and then my contractions start to become a problem, so she drives me to the hospital.
My mom meets us there.
An hour later, I’m fully dilated.
Martin and Dad are probably at home setting things up.
I wonder how many rooms they’re using.
Everything is a bit of a blur as I push and shove my babies out into the world.
Somewhere between the first and second twin, I hear the words, “You have a boy!”
The second one is a girl.
I hold both of them.
“Please get a picture,” I say.
Mom takes my phone and snaps a few of me holding my twins.
They’re so tiny.
I count their toes and fingers.
“I did that with Martin,” his mom says.
“I did that with you,” Mom says to me.”
The boy cries.
“Oh, I think he wants to meet his grandma.” I hand him over to Martin’s mom. “This is George.”
“Oh, thank you. Hi George. Nice to meet you.”
The little girl cries.
“Ready to meet Grandma?”
I hand her to Mom.
“This is Catherine, but we’ll call her Cat or something else so it doesn’t get confusing when Martin calls either of you.”
“Thanks Mel,” Mom says. “Hi Cat, it’s nice to meet you.”
I get my phone and text Martin.
Melanie: Hi Dad.
Martin: You’ve got the wrong person.
I burst out laughing.
“What?” both moms ask in unison.
“I called Martin Dad, and he told me I had the wrong number!”
Both of our moms cry laughing.
Then they exchange grandchildren.
“Hi Cat,” Martin’s mom says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Hi George,” Mom says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“I wish my husband were here,” Martin’s mom says. “He’d love what just happened with the messages. Have you answered him yet?”
Melanie: You are a dad now. We have a boy and a girl. They’re George and Catherine, but we’ve been calling her Cat.
His one-word reaction says it all.
I text Dad.
Melanie: Hi Grandpa!
He replies with a heart emoji.
Another simple but true reaction.
We all heart each other in the wow.
Is that supposed to be poetic or something?
We all wow each other in the heart.
I must be tired.
I text everyone else on my contacts list.
Martin and Dad come to visit.
Then the rest of my family and a bunch of my friends come by.
I’m surrounded by people, and I’m tired. I also need to learn some things, and I’d rather not have too many people around while I do that.
Somebody understands, and the crowd melts away, until just Martin is left.
He looks as tired as I feel.
“I’ll just learn how to feed them, and then I’m out for the night. I know you’re tired, and I don’t mind if you go home to sleep in a real bed. How many rooms are we using?”
“You’ll see that tomorrow.”
The next day, Martin comes early.
“Once you’re allowed to go home, your dad’s gonna bring the truck so we can all take you and the kids home.”
“You mean your mom and mine too?”
“Right. I’ve taken the rest of the year off.”
“Yeah, but that’s only two months.”
“Oh, right. I keep forgetting what day it is.”
Later that evening, Dad drives us home.
We get out, and Mom hands Cat to me, and Martin’s mom hands George to Martin.
“We’d better go,” Dad says. “Have a quiet first night.”
“No,” Mom says. “Not a quiet night.”
“No? Oh, is it a silent night?”
“No. Break a leg. Have a noisy first night.”
We all laugh, wave goodbye, and then Martin and I carry our kids into the house.
There’s just one crib in each room.
“You texted just in time. Your dad was thinking twins were the same sex, so he was going to put them in the same room. When I read your message, I asked him to put the second crib in the other room since they would eventually need their own rooms anyway.”
“It’s not that, it’s so they don’t wake each other up.”
“Oh, well. The rooms are ready now, so can you show me how to put these two into their cribs?”
Chapter 24: Susan
It’s November 25, and I still haven’t decided what to do about tomorrow.
I do have to work, but I’m considering quitting my job. The smell of the cleaners is starting to make me feel sick, and the pay’s been cut to less than minimum wage.
I really don’t like the kind of jobs I can get.
I miss Tina.
I almost wish I hadn’t left my computer behind.
I have my knitting and sewing to keep me busy, but I need a way to earn a living.
“Where did you get those socks?” I hear Matthew asking me as I climbed the stairs. They were red, white, and blue.
He wanted a pair.
Maybe I can sell what I make instead of just keeping it.
But is it any good?
And how can I sell things without an address and phone number?
I might be able to use the Intternet, but I don’t have a computer.
Well, maybe Matthew will let me use his address.
I can phone him and ask, but maybe I should go to his party tomorrow and ask him in person.
I’d kind of like to see his farmhouse.
Maybe I can go early and leave before all the other guests come.
I call him, being careful to block my number.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hey! Are you coming tomorrow?”
“Great. Can you come early?”
“Sure. What time?”
“How about nine.”
“I’ll be there.”
He gives me the address.
The next morning, I load my car with everthing I’ve made over the months. I also add an overnight bag, just in case.
At 8:45, I’m driving down a gravel road.
It becomes a driveway. The house appears smaller than it is because of the big, wide-open landscape.
I knock on the door.
It opens, and Matthew steps out and kisses me.
“Welcome,” he says, “to my farm. I’m so happy you’re here.”
He shows me around.
There are four bedrooms.
I leave my overnight bag in one of them.
The living room is full of leather furniture.
I spot the chair we used at his apartment.
“You know how I make things?” I say, after he’s shown me everything and we’re sitting at the kitchen table with milkshakes that taste a thousand times better than McDonald’s ones.
“Yes, you make really cool things.”
“I’ve quit my job and am thinking about trying to sell what I make.”
“Can I be your first customer and help you run the store?”
I open my purse, and take out the socks I’ve made for him.
“Oh, I love those socks!”
I hand them to him.
“I can’t use my address or phone number.”
“I just bought a couple of computers, so you can use one for your business.”
“Are they laptops?”
“Yes, so you can even take one home.”
“I don’t have Internet.”
“Oh, well, you can come here whenever you want.”
He’s so generous, and I feel lousy for only giving him a pair of socks. Maybe I should just move in with him.
“Wanna set up the computer now?”
“Sure, but don’t you have to start making dinner?”
“Yes, I do. I’ll grab the computer and you can get your business going while I mix things.”
“Don’t you have a rule about everyone helping?”
“Oh, yes. Can you make the drinks?”
“What kind of drinks?”
“Coffee, with or without pumpkin spice, hot chocolate, and milkshakes.”
“I don’t know how to make milkshakes very well.”
“You will once you have my secret recipe. But it’s just us for now, and there’s still coffee from breakfast, so you only need to make anything if you’re thirsty.”
I’m happy with my milkshake, so he goes and gets a computer.
It’s a MacBook Pro and still in its box.
“You weren’t kidding when you said this was a new computer.”
“I use my PC, but Beth’s into these. I got two so I could figure it out and keep tabs on her.”
I open the package and remove the gleaming thing.
“Nice,” Matthew says. “Francis has one, but it’s not so shiny anymore.”
I plug it in and start it up.
I breeze through setup until it asks me about an Apple ID.
Every place wants ID.
“It wants some kind of ID. I don’t want it to know anything about me.”
“It’s not that kind of ID and you can skip that part if you don’t want to use it. You should create one. It lets you use a bunch of things like FaceTime.”
“Yeah. It lets you video chat with people.”
“I know. Mom uses it. Will she see my address if I use it?”
“She’ll see your e-mail address, but that won’t tell her where you live.”
I create an Apple ID.
I log into FaceTime.
I enter Mom’s e-mail address and then press the button to call her.
She answers, and her dear face fills the screen.
“Where on God’s green earth have you been?! We’ve been sick with worry all these months.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I say. “I’ve missed you, but I couldn’t call you until today.”
The doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it,” Matthew says.
“Who’s that?” Mom asks more quietly.
“That’s Matthew, my boyfriend. I’m at his farmhouse. I don’t have Internet where I live, but he does.”
“What’s going on over there?” Mom says.
“I think Matthew’s guests are starting to arrive. I’ll carry this computer and go to the door and see who they are. I don’t think I’ve met any of them.”
I lift up the computer and then notice it’s plugged in. I unplug it.
I walk into the entry way and see a girl and a woman whom I take to be Beth and Francis.
I introduce myself and Mom.
“Cool,” Beth says. “Maybe Dad’ll get out of like, the dark ages.”
“Can you carry me back into the kitchen?” Mom says, and Beth bursts out laughing.
“I can,” she says.
I hand the computer to her.
“What do I call you?” Beth asks Mom.
“You can call me Sheila.”
“Cool. My full name is Bethesda, but that’s my special name. Hey, are you excited about being a grandma?”
“A grandma?” Mom says.
Beth puts the computer down on the table and sits facing Mom.
“Dad says Susan’s having a baby.”
He said what?!
Francis says, “Um, Beth, I don’t think-”
“It’s true,” I say.
“Congratulations,” Mom says. “When are you due?”
“Uh, some time in March. Um, does anybody want a milkshake?”
“I’d love one,” Mom says.
Beth laughs loudly.
“You’re on the computer!”
“Oops, I forgot. I’ll have to make myself one, but I don’t think we have any ice cream.”
“What did you forget?” Dad asks in the background.
“Honey, come over here. It’s Susan and her friends.”
“Is that your dad?” Beth asks.
“Yes. His name’s Nick.”
“Are you my grandma and grandpa?” she asks.
“Pardon me?” Mom says.
“I think so,” Matthew says. “Sheila and Nick are Susan’s parents, and I’m your dad, so that makes them your grandparents.”
“Can I call you Grandma and Grandpa?”
Dad sits beside Mom and smiles at the camera.
“Who’s calling me Grandpa?”
I explain and introduce everyone to him.
Then I say, “I’m having a baby some time next March. Matthew has invited me to live with him, and I’m going to move in as soon as I can pack.”
Matthew smiles at me.
“I’m starting a business,” I say.
“What kind of a business?” Mom says.
“Selling things I sew and knit.”
“Awesome,” Beth says. “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s mom does that.”
“Were you following that, honey?” Dad says to Mom.
“No,” she says. “Were you?”
“She means Melanie,” Matthew says. “She’s joining this party soon.”
“No, I mean Grace,” Beth says. “Melanie is the sister, not the boyfriend’s mom.”
“Oh, I never get that stuff right.”
“Is she teaching you how to sew and knit?” I ask.
Before she can answer, two things happen.
The doorbell rings, and my heart turns over in my chest.
Martin’s mom’s name is Grace.
It’s a common name. There are a million Graces running around the state, right?
“I’ll get it,” I hear Beth say.
“No, I will, but you can come with me,” Matthew says.
She’s not talking about Martin’s mom. The name is a coincidence.
“I want to go to the door please,” Mom says.
I pick up the laptop.
“Put me down!” Dad says. “Where are you taking me?”
I can’t even laugh at him as I carry the computer toward the front door.
I walk into the entry way and there he is.
He’s carrying what looks like a baby, and the young woman beside him is also holding one.
Grace is there, a couple, a girl about Beth’s age, and a couple with a boy who looks about eight or nine. There’s also a man and another couple crowding in behind the others.
Martin’s staring at me, open-mouthed.
Matthew is acting like he has no idea what he’s done.
“Everybody into the living room. We have guests on FaceTime as well, and introductions are in order.”
I try to hand the computer to Beth so I can run away, but she’s hugging the other girl.
I carry the computer into the living room and put it down on the coffee table. Now to make my escape.
There are people blocking the door.
“Come sit down,” Matthew says to me.
Does he really not know? Or did he set this all up?
“Guess what?” Beth says to Grace.
“What’s that, dear?”
“I’m gonna be a sister! Susan’s having a baby.”
“I’m hungry,” the little boy says.
“Me too,” Matthew says. “Can you tell us your name?”
“I’m Connie,” one of the women says. “Albert is my son, and this is my partner, Luke.”
“Connie works with me,” Martin says. “This is Rick, and this is his partner, Karin.”
The single man says, “I’m Tim. I also work with Martin.”
Martin says, “This is my girlfriend, Melanie. These are our babies, Cat and George. My mom’s Grace.”
Melanie says, “This is my mom, Catherine, and my dad, Peter. Where’s Joseph?”
The doorbell rings.
Matthew goes to answer it.
He comes back with a man in his early twenties.
“Sorry I’m late. I got a little lost.”
Martin and Melanie repeat the first part of the introductions.
Then Melanie says, “This is Joseph, my brother. This is Cecilia, my sister.”
It can’t be her, but it must be. She hasn’t said much, but I know it’s the girl who called my radio show that first day. We talked about racing games.
“I’m Matthew, and this is my girlfriend, Susan. We’re expecting a baby in March. This is my daughter, Beth, and her mom, Francis.”
I say, “These are my parents, Sheila and Nick on FaceTime in Detroit.”
Cecilia stares at me, and too late, I realize she knows my voice.
“You sound like Tina.”
There’s dead silence, or should I say, dead air.
“Everybody sounds like Tina to you,” Beth says.
“No, this time, I mean it.”
The doorbell rings again.
“Who else are you expecting?” Francis says.
“My girlfriend,” Joseph says.
“What?” Melanie says. “I didn’t know you had one.”
“I haven’t told you about her yet.”
“I’ll let her in,” Matthew says.
A minute later, a young woman comes in.
Matthew repeats all our names.
“Hi,” she says, and my blood freezes. “I’m Joseph’s girlfriend, Fiona.”
“What a party,” Dad says.
Martin is looking at me, but hasn’t said anything to me yet.
“I bet she’s Tina,” Cecilia says.
“I bet she isn’t,” Beth says.
“Who’s Tina?” Mom says.
“The best author in the world,” Cecilia says.
“Yeah,” Beth says, “but it’s not Susan.”
“That’s an interesting coincidence,” Mom says. “I like to read an author named Tina. She has nine books. How do you know what she sounds like?”
“She had a radio show,” Beth says.
Fiona says, “Somebody called and said her real name was Susan.”
“It was me who did that,” Martin says.
“You?” Cecilia says. “Why?”
“Because we were having problems in our marriage.”
“Well, I think you owe her an apology,” Melanie says, and Grace nods.
“Oh my gosh, you really are Tina?” Beth says to me.
“Susan,” Martin says, “I’m sorry.”
“I meant a public apology,” Melanie says.
“I don’t know how to get on the raido,” he says.
“You can put it on YouTube,” Beth says.
Cecilia and Fiona nod vigorously.
“Dad, can I have the other computer?”
Matthew nods and goes to get it.
“Tina?” Cecilia says.
“I wrote the story.”
“About the racecar driver?”
“Tina?” Mom says.
“When can I read your next book?”
Matthew comes back with the computer.
Beth grabs it and starts it up.
“She’s already better with computers than I am,” Francis says.
“I know,” Beth says.
A few minutes later, the camera is rolling.
“Hello,” Martin says. “My name is Martin. I used to be married to Tina, and I’m the one who called into the radio show and told everyone her real name.”
He looks from the camera to me.
“Thank you, Martin. I’ve decided to publish my next book using the name Martin told you. Book ten needs to be edited. Does anybody here know any editors?”
Francis says, “Matthews and I are both editors.”
So he’s an editor, not a businessman.
“Thank you, Francis. I’d like to hire both of you. Now, I need a story. Would anybody like me to read one?”
“I would, please. I’m Cecilia.”
She takes some papers out of her bag and hands them to me.
“Why are we all saying our names?” Francis asks.
Beth says, “We’re on YouTube, and our audience doesn’t know our names.”
“Oh, sorry. Did I ruin everything?”
“No. So Cecilia, you have a story for us?”
“Yeah. Beth and me made a promise we’d write together and read each other’s stuff. We showed it to Miss Harding, our English teacher. She’s good at grammar and, like, punctuation.”
I check to make sure I’m looking at the first page.
It’s a story about a girl named Melanie who wants to become a racecar driver.
Everyone listens as I read.
Melanie’s scared, but really wants to go a zillion miles an hour, so she finds a girl named Fiona to teach her, and on her first wild ride, she almost crashes into another car.
When the ride ends, she finds out that the driver of the car she almost collided with is a man named Steve, who also wants to become a racecar driver.
Fiona likes Steve, and she and Melanie fight over him.
Steve solves the problem by telling them both he just wants to be friends.
The story ends with a vivid description of Melanie winning her first competitive race against another girl who’s never lost a race in her career.
“If anybody else would like to send me stories, please e-mail them here.”
I recite the e-mail address I created for my Apple ID.
I invite people to like, share, and leave comments.
“Happy Thanksgiving. This is Susan, and I’ll be back every Saturday morning at nine like before.”
I end the recording and upload the video, with Beth’s help.
We all go into the kitchen and help Matthew.
Mom even helps by reading recipes, and Dad entertains us with funny stories about his cochlear implant.
At one point, Martin pulls me aside.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I mean about Tina, but also about yelling at you to make dinner and stuff. Melanie taught me how to cook. Does Matthew make you dinner now, or is this just because it’s Thanksgiving at his new house?”
“He has a rule that everybody helps. How do you know him? Just through Melanie?”
“He’s a client. I want you to know something else. We bought new stuff for our babies. We’re not using the stuff you and I bought. I donated it. Melanie didn’t even know about you until today.”
“That’s false,” Melanie says.
“I saw the summons in the paper when I went to my parents’ house that day. You had a few too many root canals and doctor’s appointments, so I wondered before that, but hadn’t figured out how to handle it. Now I don’t have to. Can we all be friends?”
“Yes,” I say.
“How are you gonna get your book files?” Martin asks. “I um . . . erased your computer and gave it away.”
“I have everything in Dropbox, so that’s okay.”
“Oh good. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m sorry, too.”
“Thank you. Let’s go get something to eat.”
As we’re all finishing dessert later that evening, Tim says, “I read something wonderful in the paper yesterday.”
He looks at Martin.
I turn the computer so Mom and Dad can see them better.
“Do you remember Natasha?”
“No, who’s that?”
“She broke her ankle stepping out of the gym.”
“Oh, I do remember her. I went in the ambulance with her. What was in the paper?”
“She’s married to Dr. Hammersmith.”
“The ER doctor?”
“Yep. And you know what else?”
“There was a picture of her. I wouldn’t have recognized her except for the little blurb about how they met. She looks stunning. She’s slim and healthy, but I mean her expression. It used to be sort of pinched, you know?”
“Like she was always uncomfortable?”
“But in that picture, she was smiling.”