Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Echo Prophecy Excerpt: Second Chapter


Chapter 2
Mom & Dad


I sat down beside my mom, curling my legs under me and relaxing into the couch with a satisfied sigh. My belly was full of the most delicious take-out Thai food the University District had to offer, my mom was with me and nearly as excited about the upcoming excavation as I was, and I had nothing but free time for weeks to come. Damn, life is good.

“Sweetie,” my mom began in a voice that instantly told me something was wrong. “I came out here for a reason . . . not just to surprise you.” She took a deep breath, either to calm her nerves or strengthen her resolve. “Your dad and I were talking the other night, and we decided that, well . . . Lex, haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?” she asked, gazing intently at the empty wine glass in her hand. Sickly yellow light from the kitchen reflected off its convex, crystalline surface.

What’s that supposed to mean? Tons of people don’t look much like their parents. Why would she ask me that? Unless . . . she can’t mean that . . . Dad’s not my
. . .

My mom had asked me a question. But her words . . . I couldn’t figure out what they meant. Deciphering the true, hidden meaning behind words was what I was best at, but I couldn’t decipher these words. They implied that there was something I should have noticed before, something that should have been obvious. But she can’t mean that Dad’s not my . . . not my . . .

Suddenly, I was more aware of the bite-sized living room than ever before. The bookcases set against the opposite wall were in serious need of dusting, and I had the urge to reorganize the hefty collection of historical fiction and romance books packed onto the shelves. The framed prints on the wall between the bookcases captivated me more than ever before. Dali’s Persistence of Memory stood out beyond all others. I felt a strange kinship with the melting pocket watches, like I, too, was losing form.

On my right hand, my grandpa’s ring became hypnotizing. Grandma Suse, his widow, gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday, and I’d had the wide, silver band resized to fit my slender ring finger. Its inky obsidian stone seemed to suck in the light rather than reflect it back to the waiting world. Was my greedy ring sucking in all of the air too? I couldn’t seem to draw a full breath.

Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?

It was true—I didn’t really resemble my dad. Had I noticed before? I looked so much like my mom that I’d figured I’d inherited less obvious characteristics from my dad—his laugh, the way he walked, his single-minded determination. But now, I realized those characteristics were undefinable as well. Truth stared me in the face, forcing me to see. She really means that Dad’s not my real dad.

But why tell me now? How did this happen? 

Possibilities, vile and corrosive, swirled around in my mind. Had my parents separated and been with other people before I was born? Had my mom had an affair? Had I been adopted? The last, I knew without a doubt, was wrong—other than differences in coloring, I was practically a physical clone of my mom. But an affair or separation was still a possibility. Is my happy family a lie?

Carefully, I reached for my wine glass with a trembling hand, hoping to numb myself with its contents. As my fingers touched the smooth stem, fear cleared my thoughts. Fear, and unexpected anger. If I was someone else’s daughter because my mom cheated on my dad . . .

“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, voice sharp and eyes narrowed. It felt like eons had passed since my mom initially asked the question, but my chaotic thought process had borne conclusions in less than a minute.

Hesitantly, my mom raised her warm brown eyes to search mine, and then she shifted them to focus on the wall behind the couch. “Grandma Betsy had a really hard time having kids. She was given certain drugs. At the time, doctors were giving specific hormones to women who were at risk of miscarrying. Betsy, well, she was one of the women treated that way.”

“So . . . ?” I prompted, impatient.

Suddenly my mom was looking at me, weariness in her eyes. She sighed. “The treatment had an unforeseen side effect on the children. They were sterile, Lex. Your dad couldn’t have children.”

Dad couldn’t have kids? That meant Mom never had an affair . . . they never separated . . .

Relief flooded my body. It began in my lungs as I involuntarily inhaled a delicious breath of air, and it flowed out toward my nerve endings. Mom and Dad were never separated . . . my family is real! I was ecstatic.

My mom furrowed her brow.

Abruptly, relief fled from my body. If Dad couldn’t have kids . . . “Then who’s my father?” This can’t be happening.

“We went to the best place, where the donors were all guaranteed to be intelligent, talented men with a healthy family history.”

But none of those intelligent, talented men were Joe Larson, my dad—or rather, the man I’d believed to be my dad until two minutes ago. Despite my best efforts to hold it together, my chin began to tremble. The quivering spread to my cheeks and then throughout my entire body, but I didn’t cry. I was too stunned to cry.

Watching my devastation, my mom said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you, but your dad thought . . .” Again, she sighed.

I pulled my legs up to my chest and fit my head between my knees. My mom tried to comfort me by rubbing my back, but I flinched at her touch. I stared down at the hardwood floor, trying to focus . . . trying to breathe.

Me, the very essence of my being, retreated inside, seeking the only haven available: solitude.

Thud-THUMP. Thud-THUMP. Thud-THUMP.

I focused on my heartbeat. It was still the same. It hadn’t changed in the last few minutes, unlike everything else I knew about myself . . . or thought I’d known.

I’m still me.

Right?

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