This is a work of fiction.
As I approached the door, I felt nervous.
What if somebody, either the man who would later be accused of killing Lisa, or some other guest, took a dislike to one of the kids? I could hardly protect them.
I told myself not to be silly.
I knocked on the door.
It opened, and I saw a marble floor, a high ceiling, and a smiling woman wearing a purple gown and a lot of makeup.
“I’m Cynthia,” she said. “Are you here for the party?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said.
“Perfect. Could you sign the guest book please?”
She pointed to a table that was covered by a blue cloth, upon which a large leather book lay open.
“Of course,” I said. I walked over, and the children followed me.
I picked up the pen, but before I started to write, I realized we shouldn’t sign our real names. The guest book would be a source of information if anything happened, and I didn’t want the police to learn our names.
How could I tell Lydia, Freckles, and Curly not to write their real names with Cynthia standing right there?
There wasn’t much time; I could write slowly, but I couldn’t stand there for more than a few seconds longer than necessary.
Tanya. That was the name I’d use. It was the name my husband and I had agreed we’d use if we ever had more children.
After I finished, I quickly checked the page, but didn’t see Adelle, Roger, Simon, or Sammy.
I wanted to flip back to make sure Sammy was there, but it was time to let the kids sign.
As I handed the pen to Lydia, I hoped she wouldn’t ask who Tanya Baker was.
She bent her head over the book and a phone started ringing.
“I’ll get it,” Cynthia said.
She went to another table, which was across the large room, and I took my chance.
“Pssst,” I whispered.
“What?” Curly said.
I motioned for them to lean toward me.
“It’s important. Don’t write your real names.”
“Why?” Freckles said.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said, as Cynthia hung up.
Lydia looked at me blankly.
I needed a way to suggest a name, but Cynthia was right there.
“Want me to write your name for you?” Curly asked.
He took the pen and wrote.
As he was finishing, the phone rang again. Curly took the initiative and whispered something to Freckles, who nodded, took the pen, and wrote in the book.
Cynthia put down the phone just as we all stepped away from the table.
“The living room’s there,” she said, pointing to the only other door in the room. “If the kids prefer, there are a couple rooms with games and one with a TV.”
“Can I see the diving board?” Freckles said, just as the door to the living room opened.
“You sure can.”
It was Lisa. In real life, she was even more beautiful than in her pictures. She was wearing a blue dress, white sandals, and her long, rose gold hair was tied in a ponytail.
“Really?” Freckles said.
“For real,” Lisa said.
“Can I dive?”
I was about to tell him not to push his luck, but Lisa nodded.
We followed her through the living room and into a huge dining room. There was a bar, and I saw Adelle, Roger, Simon, and Sammy.
Adelle saw Lisa and bolted out of her chair.
“Lisa,” she gushed in a sickly-sweet voice. “I’m so delighted to meet you. This is Roger, and this is Simon. I’m Adelle.”
Then she saw us and her smile sort of teetered, but she caught it and plastered it back onto her makeup-covered face.
“Hey champ!” Roger said to Freckles.
“Oh, you know each other?” Lisa said.
“Yeah,” Simon said. “He dives like a fat little kid falling off a trampoline!”
Roger and Sammy burst out laughing, and Adelle nodded.
Sammy swigged from a can, and I wondered how many Cokes he’d guzzled under Adelle’s careless supervision.
“I fell off a trampoline once,” Lisa said. “I got right back up and started jumping again.” She smiled at Freckles, walked to a wall, pulled something, and a curtain moved aside to reveal a sliding patio door. Beyond it was a deck, a diving board, and the Pacific ocean.
The sun was just about to set, and I wished my husband were still alive to see this place.