San Diego, CA
The ringing of Frankie’s cell startled her puppy Max, who vaulted off her body and bolted out the bedroom barking as if something big and scary were chasing after him. Shaking her head, she rolled slightly to pull her phone out of her back pocket, and sighed when she saw the caller ID. Swiping a finger across the screen, she answered.
“Frances, why on earth did you cancel yet another date with that lovely Dr. Guerrero?”
Flopping back on the bed, she covered her eyes with the crook of her left elbow as she submitted to her mother’s inquisition. Eleanor Wibbley prided herself on knowing everything about anything, especially when it came to her one and only child. “What, do you have my office bugged or something? I only canceled on him an hour ago.”
“Of course not!” Eleanor denied, although Frankie wondered if she’d now just put the idea in her mother’s head. “He and I talk, that’s all.”
“You ‘talk’? What does that mean, exactly? He’s just a co-worker.”
“Well, he could be more than that if you wanted.”
“But I don’t want, Mother. I’m not interested in him like that, and I’ve told you this before. Often, in fact.”
“I know, I know.” Even with her eyes covered, she had no problem visualizing her mother waving a hand in the air as if to wipe her words away. “He’s just such a nice boy, I don’t know why you insist on keeping things casual between you. It’s been two years, Frances. You need to move on.”
“I know how long it’s been, Mother,” she said sharply, shoving off the bed. They’d had this conversation too many times for her not to know that she’d soon have a headache. Crossing to the bathroom, she tucked the phone under her chin and searched for some ibuprofen, swallowing them dry. “I’m not like you, and you know that. I was with Greg a long time. No matter how much you want me to, it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of dates with some guy I don’t even really like to move past the fact that my husband, my college sweetheart, survived two tours in Afghanistan only to be killed after returning home while he was out getting groceries by some drunk idiot who crossed three lanes of traffic!”
By the time Frankie paused, she was struggling to keep her temper from getting worse. She vaguely heard her mother’s rote apology as Max started barking in response to the doorbell chiming. Telling her mother to hold on, that someone was at the door, she walked back to the living room, trying not to trip over her dog in the process. She found her postman waiting with an official looking packet in his hands. Pressing the mute button on her phone, she juggled it and the mailer along with the pen she was handed as she signed for whatever it was. Thanking him, she closed the door with a hip and switched from mute to speaker.
She absently answered her mother’s questions as she inspected the envelope, her pulse kicking up when she read the return address. It had been years since she’d gone back home to Kilcavan, and even longer since she’d kept in touch with anyone in the Kitteridge clan other than Liv, so her hands shook a little as she broke the seal and pulled out the small stack of papers secured with a blue paper clip. Before she had finished reading the first sentence, her legs had given out beneath her and she collapsed to the floor, her phone clattering as it fell with her. She could hear her mother calling her name, but her voice sounded muffled. Her hand shook as she felt around for the device, and her voice trembled just as much as she finally managed to speak.
“Mom, I just got a letter from a lawyer in Kilcavan.” That quieted her mother instantly, and she could practically feel the tension crackling over the line. “Did you know that Daddy died a week ago?” The silence intensified, and her anger spiked. “Why in the world would you not tell me that? I know you hated him but he was still my father. How could you keep something that important to yourself?”
What she got instead of an answer was a dial tone as her mother hung up on her.