2016 - Lucy
Deep in Lucy McGee’s purse, a ringing and vibrating phone jolted her back to the present. She groped around the cavernous bag and pulled out her cell, hurrying toward her car for a meeting across town.
Lucy glanced at the call display and recognized the country code from France, followed by a string of numbers. Puzzled, she stared at the phone, neither answering it nor sending it to voicemail.
The fifth ring demanded action.
When she said hello, she heard a woman’s unmistakable voice: accented, yet exquisitely polished, conveying that English was one of many languages spoken. Worse, Lucy thought she sounded calm–over calm if there was such a thing. She shaped each word with chilling precision, sending Lucy’s vitals into a frenzy. Maybe Lucy was reading too much into her tone, but the woman rattled her.
“Lu-ceee?” said the woman in a velvety French accent, emphasizing the final syllable.
Lucy wished she could rewind thirty seconds and send her to voicemail. This was the last person she wanted to speak to. They had never met in person, yet this woman and her husband had turned Lucy’s life on its head twenty-seven years ago. If she hung up, Lucy knew she would call back, or worse, show up on her doorstep. She had already learned the hard way that Elise’s gale-force will was fearless, mowing down anything in her path.
“Who’s calling, please?” Lucy said, yet she knew who was calling. She was buying time as she cursed herself for answering the call. There was a slight pause, as if the woman were choosing her words carefully. “It’s Elise… Elise Morin,” she added.
“Yes, I remember your name from the custody documents,” said Lucy, unable to stop the sarcasm from sneaking out of her mouth. As she arrived at her car, Lucy climbed into the driver’s seat and closed the door to protect passersby from a potentially heated conversation. She was curious about why Elise would be in touch after decades of silence. Lucy clung to grudges, stashing them in a corner of her brain–yet ready for recall in an eye blink. This was the oldest and biggest in her slagheap of grudges, and she recalled every stinking detail. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s about my son,” said Elise.
“You mean my son,” said Lucy, squeezing the words through her taut vocal cords.
“Yes. My son, your son… perhaps we say our son, non?”
“Okay. What about Daniel?” Anger churned inside Lucy as she recalled the cruel injustice of the past, with little chance to defend herself at twenty-one. Lucy thought she knew a lot more about life than she did. She recalled the legal wrangling, the intense shame and sorrow, with everything over in a flash. Elise and Jacques got custody of her little boy. The rest was a blur. It was as if these decades-old memories had happened ten minutes ago. She neither forgave, nor forgot. Instead, she gradually admitted defeat and moved on with her life by hiding the fiasco.
“He goes by Max now… Max Daniel Morin,” said Elise.
Well, bully for her. Lucy wasn’t ready to call him Max just because Elise decreed it so. In her mind, he was still the sweet little baby Daniel that Lucy held in her arms. Now in her fifties, she had learned how to present persuasive arguments without giving in to her emotions. Over the years she had rehearsed obsessively what she would say to this woman and her husband if given the chance. She knew it by heart, like a fine Shakespearean soliloquy ready to move a rapt audience.
As a trained but non-practicing lawyer, she had mastered the art of staying calm as she described the injustice heaped on her when she was young and vulnerable. The speech was so moving, she knew it would rouse listeners to a standing ovation. Lucy opened her mouth… and froze. Damn it! She couldn’t recall a single syllable. What happened to her earth-moving speech of the century? Why did this woman have such an effect on her? “What is it, Elise?” she asked.
“Max has a life-threatening medical condition,” Elise stated.
“What do you mean?” said Lucy, suddenly gripped with fear. As Elise launched into her story and impassioned plea for help, Lucy learned there was a medical crisis that ‘only she could solve’ as Elise put it. At first, Lucy’s cynical mind wondered if Elise was manipulating the situation–this woman was capable of such deeds. Yet Lucy sensed this was different. Instead of venting three decades of angst at Elise, she listened to what the woman had to say.
When Elise finished, they ended the call without a resolution. Daniel’s situation shocked Lucy; it was not at all what she expected. After making her case, Elise begged her to say yes on the spot. Lucy said she needed time to consider such an enormous request.
Lucy’s mind zigzagged with thoughts. There were implications, enormous implications. Besides helping Daniel, she also realized she could atone for her act of poor judgment at twenty-one that denied her a lifetime of inner peace. There were major physical risks to consider and numerous medical tests to go through before it was a possibility. But she was strong and mostly healthy, so she could handle curveballs. Hell… life’s curveballs were her specialty. Yet, there was a catch. There was always a damned catch: she hadn’t told her husband or children about Daniel and the unwed mother chapter early in her life. Her heart sank as she thought about the domino effect. Revealing the story would spark enormous chaos in her daily family life and not revealing it could set off even bigger problems, possibly catastrophic. Either way, she’d lose.
As she stared at the dashboard of blinking lights in the car, she thought about earlier that morning when she was reading a self-help book, one of many stockpiled on her shelves. She read them dutifully, full of hope to improve her life, yet found they never yielded the desired results (or maybe she didn’t follow instructions). This time, she had read a quote that hovered in her head all day, refusing to shove off: “If you keep on doing what you’re doing, you’re going to get what you get.” It sounded like a simple homespun homily, yet it summed up her entire life.
Her chest pounded with the same discomfort she felt at her weekly spin class from hell. She took a deep breath and counted to four as the air went in, then released it in three counts to slow it down. When things settled, she thought about what she needed and boiled it down to two things: a fail-proof plan and a trusted friend to help her. There were only three people who knew her past story. Her two parents–fueled by her mother’s religious outrage about the situation–were a no-go, she knew. While her father supported Lucy when her mother was out of earshot, he wasn’t the right one to help now.
That left only one person who had stood by her through the mess. Joanne Cambridge was her oldest friend, and Lucy cringed for letting their friendship lag in the past few years, but it would not stop her from asking for help. That’s why she loved her non-judgmental friend. In this situation, it was Joanne’s ability to think and plan before making a decision that would help her most. Lucy needed time to consider how to respond to the earlier conversation with Elise, and what she would do about it. If she was going ahead, she needed Joanne by her side. There was way too much to think about, and her thoughts swirled around until they collapsed in a big heap.
A meeting reminder on her cell jolted her out of her thoughts. Either it was giving her a fifteen-minute reminder of a start time, or the meeting was now starting. Cringing, she checked the car clock, which always ran seven minutes fast (she secretly wondered if that clinched the deal when her husband was buying the car). All fired up, she tried to calculate the timing: was she running seven minutes late, or seven minutes early? She was never early, but she lived in hope. Whatever. She sighed, pushing the ignition button and easing into the morning traffic. What a way to start the day.