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.”