Tuesday, October 3, 2017

29. Stephanie

Mimi took a chance and phoned New York City.  Her plan was to ask how he was, and then ask if he hated her, and then, if the answer to the second question was "no," ask if she could visit him if she somehow could scrape together enough money to get there.  The thought of going to New York was almost dizzying.  That it was Manhattan made phoning all the more frightening.  He could have found a less intimidating place to recuperate.

She had backup conversation ready.  She would tell him about the students, the ruby-crowned kinglets, and the other birds she had identified.  Her hands were shaking.

The phone rang twice and a young woman answered who sounded as though she were chewing brightly colored gum.  The young woman said, "Yello."  Mimi had not expected this, had been bracing for Derek, prepared to say, "Please listen.  Please don't hang up, I need to talk with you!"

"Um, hi, is Derek Coulter there?"

The young woman seemed surprised.  "Derek?  No.  He's not here.  He's at physiotherapy."

Physiotherapy.  Now there was a word.   Did 'physiotherapy' mean several hours of pain every day, or was it something he did for half an hour once or twice a week.  No, it was probably drawn out and awful.  She pictured him struggling, holding onto handrails, concentrating hard to put one foot in front of the other.  Mimi's heart sank and she said, "Oh."

"Who's this?" said the young woman.

"I, ah, know him," she fumbled.

"Is this Laura?" 

The question was startling enough to scare her off the line.  She hung up, put her face in her hands, fell over on the bed and hugged her pillow.
Three months had passed since Derek had shot anything to death, but he spent more time than ever fretting over being a murderer.  He died again and again, whenever he heard a backfire from below or saw a gun on television.  He was dismayed.  It was impossible to flip through channels for more than two or three minutes at any time of day or night before someone got shot, or was at least threatened with being shot.  He had never before noticed how many little black holes there were on television, holes that spat bullets.  So he became careful in his channel surfing.  He watched talk shows, sitcoms, and PBS, although even then there were guns.

His mind atrophied with his leg.  He couldn't muster the energy to work, to do science.  He couldn't or didn't want to write up his Tea Kettle Island data.  They were tainted, with painful issues among those sweated numbers.  He counted the water tanks again and again.  Still only thirty-two.  He wondered if a new building had popped up to block out part of the skyline since Peter last counted, or if four towers had toppled off their spindly legs, or if Peter simply couldn't count. One evening he was standing at the floor-length windows, carrying out another census when Stephanie said in his ear, "Ah, what are you doing?" 

He told her, and started again.

She laughed.  "Really?  God that's funny."

He didn't think it was funny.  He was a scientist, and there was an error in this measurement.  Error annoyed him.  He lost count when he became aware she was counting too.  He had to wait until she was done.  "Thirty-six," she said, right?  He couldn't believe it.  He was sure there were only thirty-two.  He staggered to the toffee sofa and fell onto it, then bounced up as she dropped onto the adjoining cushion.

"Can I talk to you?"

"Mm-mm," he said, and shifted his leg, which knocked his cane against her knee.  She took it and tried to spin it like a baton as if she'd once been a majorette, but the balance was wrong.  She handed it back to him.

"Do you think that Pete is happy?"

Pete? thought Derek.  "What do you mean?"

"He never seems to be all that happy.  He was so keen on you staying with us instead of in a hospital, and I thought for a while that it would make him happy, as if we would suddenly be like a family or something, because, I sometimes think, maybe he never has been happy, I mean, since your parents were killed..."

Peter's key clicked in the lock, and she quickly got up, squeezing Derek’s shoulder as she did.  She ran the length of the hall to meet her husband and Derek was unable to decipher their muffled affections, if that's what they were.  A few minutes later Peter appeared alone, threw his jacket over the back of one of the dining chairs, and asked Derek to have a look at a letter he had received.  He opened his briefcase.  He didn't seem particularly happy.

He was tired, not unhappy.  In fact, he was mildly pleased.  Derek's medical expenses had surpassed the horrifically huge sum of one hundred thousand dollars, which meant that apart from a one hundred and fifty dollar "deductible," the insurer would have to pay for every dollar of Derek's care, every penny.  Even Derek's cosmetic surgery, which Peter's doctor friends had carefully neglected to identify as such, was to be recompensed in full by the coal-hearted insurance company in Fairfax, Virginia.

"Good work," said Peter.  "In a way entirely your own, you've reamed out your first corporation."  Then he went to the kitchen.  His head popped out, and turned to check on Stephanie's whereabouts.  Sure the coast was clear, he led Derek onto one of the balconies and handed him a snifter of brandy.  They clinked glasses.

This near-progress fell apart several evenings later, as Derek watched an investigative news program about a large shoe company that did much of its manufacturing in Indonesia.  Peter was at the dining-room table with his laptop, going over the figures on some accounts, keeping track of the millions.  He was concerned about his cash-flow.  It seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

The shoe company paid the Indonesian workers less than the equivalent of four U.S. dollars per day, there were no health benefits or child-care, and workers were fired for lack of productivity, that is, slow or faulty seam-stitching.  This was not a problem for the company, because there was an inexhaustible workforce from which to hire replacements.

"How can people be so completely evil?" Derek asked.

Peter looked up.  “Why don’t you watch something else, or turn it off?  These kinds of stories always get you worked up.  It’s probably not good for your head.”

The company built its factory and flimsy housing for workers on land that for generations had been used for food production.  Those who would not or could not work at the factory were forced to move elsewhere, to much less viable land.  Self-sufficiency for the employed had disappeared beneath the foundation of the factory, and it was anticipated that when the company moved on to an area with a labor force even less resistant to exploitation — as it had done twice in the recent past — the ancient economy of the region would be left in shambles.

“So typical.”

“Derek, turn it off!”

He turned it off, and sat quietly for a while, then said, "You know what it's like?"

Peter rattled the space-bar. 

"It's like when a non-native predator is introduced to an island.  It just swallows up and destroys species that have been living there for eons, species with no defenses against it."

"Hmmm," said Peter, concentrating on the screen.  He said, carelessly, "Survival of the fittest."

Derek shouted that this was not an example of what was meant by 'survival of the fittest'.  That term referred to competition among members of the same group, all starting with the same background and weaponry.  It drove evolution, creatively — creating and sustaining new variants, not necessarily eliminating all those without the new, advantageous trait.  "This is not at all what happens with introduced species and international corporations!  All they do is destructive!  They crush unique forms of life and human cultures with all the conscience and compassion of an asteroid.  Was the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs fitter than the dinosaurs?"

Peter was surprised.  "All right, forget what I said," he pleaded.  "Can we stop this, okay?  Not all businesses and businesspeople are evil, and you know that.  Some do a lot of good in the world.  They create jobs for people who don't have the gumption to do anything but sit around and complain about those who do have gumption.  They also give a lot of money to the arts, sports, charities.  They provide funds for scientists too, you know.  Research grants so people like you can go traipsing all over the world."

"For tax cuts and self-aggrandizement, to have their name put on a building where people they would never want to even talk to work."

Peter gripped the sides of the computer as if he wanted to throw it, but then took a deep breath instead. 

Derek spoke in a pompous voice, "Here’s five million bucks, and make sure you spell my name right above the door.”

Peter stood, shut his computer and stuffed it into its travel case, which he zipped shut noisily.  Then he went to the hall closet, and, after removing his coat, slammed it shut, spun, and stormed out of the apartment, slamming that door louder still.

"At least you can slam things!"  Derek yelled at an abstract painting above the TV.  He glanced around, grabbed his cane and spoke to it.  "I hate you."   He was trying to bend it in half over his knee using his right hand and the crook of his left elbow when Stephanie came from her workroom.

"What the heck is going on?" she said. "Where's Peter?"  She snatched his cane away from him.  "Are you trying to wreck this?"

"I hate that thing," he said.

She asked, "What's going on with you two?"

They exchanged icy stares.  Derek's left eyebrow was now working more or less properly and his expressions meant what he wanted them to mean.  "Nothing," he said.

She again joined him on the sofa, but this time very close, swarming him with her breath.  "Really," she said.

They continued staring until she took advantage of his physical weakness.  She placed her hand on his face with her fingers spread among the regrown hairs on the sensitive side of his healing skull.  "Stop being so hard on Peter."

He wanted to shift away but was afraid of toppling.  A physical response in his lower body had just revealed to him that his libido had not been entirely walloped away after all.

“Get your hand off my head, okay?”

“Sorry,” she said.  She backed way, but kept looking at him, and said, "You two are practically the same, you know."  This was not something he had ever wanted to hear.  "You are both so focused on your own thing that you dismiss people who are different.  And you both seem to have a hard time forgiving.  Why can't you see?  Your brother is a good guy.  He's trying to help you."

"We're not at all the same."

"Yeah, well, you both drink too much.  At least he does.  I bet you would too, if I let you."

This was somewhat of a low blow.  It was also irrelevant, but at the same time true.  He hadn't expected this from her.  About the forgiving, that too was true, but there were reasons. 
“I have to get away from here,” he said.

"Where will you go?"

"I hate New York.  Everything here is so slow."

"That's because it isn't your milieu.  Most people find it quite fast, you know."

Five minutes later he decided to go find Peter in his milieu.  He knew where he would be, at Toby's, the bar a few blocks away.  He would be upstairs in a booth.  Derek stole away while Stephanie sat in the dark, turning colors, mesmerized by the television.

Peter was where he had predicted, the third booth along.  His computer was open on the table in front of him and he was talking on his phone.  Derek tried to sneak up, but was betrayed by his lurching gait.  Peter saw, rolled his eyes, and said to the phone, “He’s here.  He just walked in. Yes. Yes Steph, it’s okay, thanks.”           

"Hi," said Derek, as he fell into the booth.

 Peter said, "You freaked out Steph.  You should have told her you were going out.”

“Why?  It’s not like I have dementia.  I don’t need a minder.”

“You scared her.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“I know you're sick of being here."

Derek didn't argue.  "I'll try not to get angry about things," he said.  “But it’s hard, it’s frustrating, I worry I’m not going to get any better.”

"You did walk here alone."

Derek perked up.  "I did."  It was easily the farthest he had managed to walk by himself.

A waitress appeared with two beers that Derek had ordered.  He paid her with money Peter had given him.  Peter closed the computer and put it on the bench.

The brothers pretended to admire the artwork on the side wall.  There was a triptych of a large liner coming into port, so large it required three canvases.  It was exotic, with sails as well as smokestacks, probably from late last century or early this.  Swooping lines of flags were festooned across everything.  The liner was surrounded by smaller boats.  Derek guessed it was about soldiers returning from a war.

Peter said, "Of course there are unethical businessmen."  Derek nodded.  Peter admitted he didn't really mean what he said about the Filipinos the other night.  He said, "I was just...” and made a repetitive swirling gesture with his hand instead of verbalizing the rest of a sheepish thought.

Derek said he was sorry about asking Peter to name birds.

They both felt foolish.

Peter said, "But of course you can do good things with money.  You can buy happiness, or
at least make it easier to attain.”    

"I suppose," said Derek.  He was thinking again of Stephanie running her fingers through his hair, about Peter being happy, and how long he would be happy with a wife who ran her fingers through his younger brother's hair.
His birthday was in early November.  He received three surprises.  The first was a very generous present from Peter.  Knowing Derek wanted dearly to return to the Bay Area, but with no means of support there, Peter had bought and refinanced a small company based in San Francisco.  "Wild California," had made a weak attempt to cut into the trendy world of ecotourism.  It offered nature tours from a storefront on pricey Union Street, but had been floundering because the original owners had no background in ecology or natural history, so couldn't live up to their own billing, "Learn why you love Wild California!" 

 Poorly-trained, poorly-paid high school graduates or university undergraduates had been hired as tour guides to drive brand-new, twelve-seat minibuses to the seashore and mountains,- with the intention of entertaining passengers with simple yet accurate explanations of the history and ecology of northern California.  Unfortunately, the trips never rose above the level of casual drives in the country, because the drivers lacked the interpretive skills and range of experiences needed to provide information either interesting or educational.  Peter believed what the company needed was guidance from a qualified biologist, tour guides with more poise (and realistic salaries), and a good administrator-store manager.  Derek could supply the missing raw material, a knowledge of the biology of the region.  Peter also believed the company could make better use of the store in its glitzy, eclectic setting by selling eye-catching, high-quality science-related items, to overshadow the low-brow franchised nature stores that sold bird feeders, binoculars, field guides, other scientific paraphernalia and toys.  Wild California would sell a greater range of products, including the best brands, those Peter himself would buy if ever gripped by a hankering to go look at a bird.

Derek stared at the documentation as if it were a notice from Publisher's Clearing House.  His name was on it.  "What does this mean?" he asked.

"It means you have a chance to make a nice living, or you can sell it back to me and make a quick profit."

"Wow," said Derek.  "This is confusing."  What a dilemma.  What a horrible idea.  This was Eco-prostitution.  Derek would be an eco-pimp!  Besides, he knew nothing about running a business.  He doubted he could even handle a lemonade stand.  He also knew Peter would be hurt if he didn't at least agree to give it a try.

Peter said, "This is the secret to success, Bro'.  You have to learn to take advantage of your abilities.  You have skills and knowledge that are valued by many people.  You need only find an outlet for them."

Derek shuffled the pages worriedly as Peter slogged on, "A lot of money was invested in your education.  A lot of that came from tax dollars in one form or another, and not all those dollars came from filthy rich people like me.  So think of it this way: you can pass the knowledge you've gained back to the people who helped you obtain it.  Knowledge that they helped pay for.  Now they only need pay a little more to maintain the valued resource, you!"

Derek grunted.

"Education, right?  That's how to save the world?  Who's going to tell the people what needs to be saved if people like you, who know what's going on, aren't accessible to them?  It's up to you to show them."  It was a well-planned pitch.

"Oh man," said Derek.  Then, after more shuffling, "But I know nothing about running a business.  The whole idea of it scares the poop out of me."

"Don't worry," said Peter, “I know people in San Francisco who'll do the hiring, look after the financial side of things.  Payroll, insurance, taxes."

"But I would be management?"  Derek was incredulous.  "Do the workers get health coverage?"

"I'll look after everything."  

Peter's present was almost the last thing in the world he wanted.  However, in a rare instance of insight, Derek saw beyond the dubious gift to recognize what it also was.  He understood that his brother wasn't trying to turn him into anything; he truly wanted to help him, give him a way to be productive and useful, allow him to recover his self-esteem.  Peter, the money-man, was a bit twisted, not bad, and like himself had wanted badly for guidance.  For the first time, Derek considered how terrible it must have been for Peter when their parents were killed.  Peter was standing across the table, looking anxious and vulnerable, as Derek had never seen him.  Peter had done his best, and now was plainly afraid of what he might say.  Derek said, "For someone whose parents were swept away in a dust storm when he was nineteen, you turned out pretty well.  Even though they were hippy-dippy lefties, they’d be proud of you."

Derek had hoped to coax a small laugh, a chuckle, from his brother, but when he looked at him it seemed Peter was about to burst into tears.  Derek turned away and shuffled to the nearest sofa.  He reached for his cane, lay it across his knees and ran his hand back and forth along it.  It had never occurred to him that as much as he had desired Peter's approval, Peter had desired his.

The second surprise was a birthday card from Michael and Evie inside a large envelope.  Michael included a joyous letter, hand-written in big, loud, happy letters.  The words bellowed from the page,

Warn the United States, Derek-boy, there will soon be another Spencer living just off the coast!  That's right, Anna will soon have a sibling!  You see, Derek, every time there's a hurricane, well, something goes wild inside Evie.  Must have to do with the low air pressure!  And well, you know our Anna, you know the results.
If it’s a boy, I guess we'll know what his name will be.  Ho Ho Ho!  Look out world!  Anna was only a Category One!"

Evie is sick every day.  I think we're in for a big one.      

Derek could imagine the scolding.

What's wrong, Derek?  You have not phoned or written to the beautiful archeologist yet!  Shame on you!  She misses you, silly fellow.  I told her not to worry, brain damage takes a while to heal, but you'll come around.

Lots of love, hugs, and handshakes, and Happy Birthday,

Michael, Evie & Anna & ?

P.S.  Please, Derek - Please call the young lady.  You're breaking my heart!

Michael's entreaties on Mimi's behalf were difficult to take, but not as difficult as the third surprise.  Also inside the large envelope was a card from Mimi.  She had used Michael as a courier service.

It was simple, a painting of a chickadee on a branch, lacking a pre-printed greeting.  Receiving anything her hands had actually touched was disturbing.  Her handwriting, like her hands, or any other part of her, was small and pretty and powerful.  Her note said,

Dear Derek, I hope you're feeling better.  I often think about you.  I hope you think about me too.

He did.  Almost every morning, in the warmth of the shower, he found himself thinking about her.  He always found himself explaining to her why she wasn't worth thinking about any more, which, he knew, obviously meant she was.
Her note continued,

Please don't be angry at me, or hate me.  I think you want to talk to me, and I am praying that you will.  I think you'll be glad you did.  Happy Birthday, Derek.  Love, Mimi.

She wrote her phone number and an email address.

P.S.  Remember the last day, when you asked me why we both went to Bermuda and I didn't answer?

He spent an inordinate amount of time reading the blank spaces between the lines.  He memorized the note and read it again and again as he lay on the toffee sofa, staring at the ceiling.  What did "Love, Mimi" mean?  What did the postscript mean?

Stephanie loomed above him.  "It's her, right?'

"Who?" he said, alarmed.

"The one who forgives you."

Derek was not certain she knew what she was talking about. 

"Stop thinking about things so much.  Forgive her back, then phone her and tell her to come and see you.  Maybe she’ll cheer you up.  Or you go and see her.  Maybe magic will happen, and you won’t have to live in New York anymore."

"It's complicated," Derek said.

"Everything's complicated, Derek."  She walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.  "Hey, did you drink the last mineral water!"

"Not this complicated," Derek mumbled.


The next day he caught himself thinking of her again.  Stephanie had gone with him to the large bookstore on the next block, one of few New York retail establishments that interested him and was within easy walking distance.  She trotted to the calendars and magazines, "To check out the competition."  He limped toward the science and nature section, but was sidetracked by the language dictionaries in their bright primary colors.  This was where Stephanie surprised him this time, and his weak hand slipped from the binding when she said, "What are you looking at?"  It was an English-Tagalog Dictionary, which fell opened to the floor.  He bent against his cane, but she more quickly picked it up, looked at the cover, back and front, and at the creased page that had landed face down on the carpet.  "What's this for?” she asked.  "Planning a trip?"  He could feel himself blushing, and guessed she had seen the line he was repeating over and over again, trying to impress into his memory.  Foreign words were problematical, even with the dashes and accents to help with pronunciation.  She slid it among the others into the gap on the shelf.  "Come here," she said, "I want to show you something."

What she showed him was in the Medicine aisle.  It was an enormous blue volume with color-coded newsprint pages, The Physicians' Desk Reference.  He sat on a stool while she leafed.  "I wanted you to read about your pills," she said.  That she had thought to do this intrigued him.  The book was a series of indices, listings of drugs by brand name and manufacturer.  There were millions of them.  He had several times expressed concern over the side-effects of his seizure pills, but had not thought of a way to enquire about them.  Since taking them, he had periodically experienced nausea or dizziness, and sometimes had difficulty falling asleep.  He wasn't dreaming anymore either, which seemed wrong.  He wondered if the pills were causing that, or if his nocturnal movie house had been in the destroyed zone.  He knew for certain that his prescribed drug was a heavyweight, affecting brain and neural function.  As he read the section she had found he recognized other symptoms, dryness in his throat, constipation...the list went on.  This drug, like so many others, had scattergun effects that varied from person to person, from day to day, depending on an almost endless list of variables.  The message he got was, "We don't really know what this drug does or how it works, but it seems to help most people, with relatively few side-effects, most of the time."  Here then was more error, thought Derek-the-one-time scientist.  He wasn't pleased.  He was grateful to her for finding this and he told her so.

"Now do you see why I won't let you drink?  You think your body can handle these drugs, and alcohol on top of it?"  Derek wished she would speak a little softer. 

"Yes, I see," he said. "Let's go home."

"All right.  I just wanted you to know that I'm trying to look after you right."

"I know," he said.

On the elevator up to the apartment she suddenly said, "I just remembered something.  You got a phone call from somebody a couple of weeks back.  I think it was your ex-wife."


"I guess so.  She didn't say.  She hung up on me, which was pretty rude, actually."  The elevator doors opened and Derek was trying to keep up as she hustled down the hall, fishing for the keys in her bag.

"What makes you think it was Laura?  What did she sound like?  Did she have an accent?"

"She sounded young.  Is Laura young?  Or maybe it's the one who forgives you.  Does she have an accent?"

He was certain it was Mimi.
The first snowfall of the year came a few days later.  He hated snow, because it made walking very difficult, and if he slipped had no hope of reacting quickly enough to keep from falling.  By the time he arrived home from physiotherapy, he was in a bitter mood.  Despite countless repetitions of the arduous exercises, his leg was no longer improving.  The therapist, a young, thin man named Gary, had stopped making encouraging noises at the ends of sessions a few weeks back, and now was mostly quiet as he observed Derek going through his routine.  Derek sensed that Gary was resigning himself to his permanent disability.

He threw his keys on the hall table and dropped his coat while attempting to fit it onto a hanger.  He looked at it, kicked it weakly, and then crushed it in the closet door.  He left it there, a damp heap, and limped down the hall, plunked his cane into the umbrella stand and continued into the living room.  Peter was home early, on the plum sofa.  "Hi Bro'," he said.  "How'd it go today?"

Derek shrugged and twisted his mouth.

“Come, look what I found in our storage locker.”  A photo album was open on the coffee table.  “Here, sit.”  Peter shifted over.

At the top of the page was a picture of Derek, about ten or eleven, with his cousins, perched on the box of a pickup truck. Derek was in front, his legs swinging below the opened tailgate.

Peter asked, “Which is which?”

Derek pointed, “Lyle, Aaron, Martin and Susie.”

“Do you keep in touch with them?”

“Not much. Susie a bit. I never really belonged there.”

Stephanie came in and stood behind the sofa as Derek turned the page. The next picture was an eight by ten of their family, the last Christmas card picture before the accident. Derek and Peter were in their suits, and their mother’s hair was done up in more formal way than she usually wore it.

Stephanie said, “Your mother was pretty.  I can see Derek in her.”

Derek said, “I can smell her.  I can barely smell my food, or anything since I was injured, but I can smell Mom.”

“I don’t remember what she smelled like,” said Peter.

“Like Ivory soap. Like cookies. Like being safe.”  He reached to touch her.

Stephanie disappeared briefly, and then returned to drop a box of Kleenex between the brothers.  They turned to look at her, but she had gone.
The following day Derek was on the toffee sofa with the spade across his lap, debating whether or not to carve a notch for the Admiral, a necessity if the spade was to represent an accurate accounting of good and evil, which is what it had become.  He had wanted to do it as a final gesture, to provide closure of a sort.  He had attempted a notch several times previously, but each time lost his nerve and sharply snapped shut the knife.  There was the other voice in his head, telling him that anyone looking at the spade would understand exactly what the final notch meant.
He had to get to California, to be farther away from Bermuda.  Maybe then he would have the courage to phone Mimi.  If Bermuda could be diminished by distance, then perhaps the guilt would be similarly diminished, and he would find it possible to think of Mimi merely as the person he was in love with who had left him, instead of the person he was in love with who had left him and thus became a contributing factor in the murder.

But shifting three thousand miles west also had a downside.   She wouldn't be in the same time zone anymore.  She would be awake while he still slept, and would be asleep while he remained wide awake, imagining her sleeping.  There was something wrenching in that.  His thoughts went round and round.  He was wondering again if Bermuda had the Death Penalty when Stephanie said, "Derek."  The spade clonked to the floor.  Puzzled, never having understood Derek's attachment to the rusted tool, she handed him an envelope.  What he feared was another note from Mimi turned out to be a letter from his cat-sitting Berkeley neighbor Ida.  She reported that she was moving to a senior’s facility, and unfortunately couldn't take Roy with her.  She was very sad to give him up. "I love him like a son," she wrote in a looping script.  She asked if Derek knew anyone else in Berkeley who could take him.

When Peter came home, Derek said, “I have to go back to California.  I'm tired of being looked after.  I've been looked after for too long.  I should be looking after other people.  I should be looking after Roy."

Peter was concerned.  "The only person you have to look after is yourself.  You have to be able to do that first."

Derek nodded.  "It's time for me to try.  I'll cash in my life insurance policy, the one on which Laura is the beneficiary.  I'll have eight or nine thousand to keep me going until the company starts turning a decent profit."

"At least wait until after Christmas," said Peter.

"I can't," said Derek. 

By this time the fate of the course was settled.  Mimi had won.  That concern was behind her, which was good, because she a lot more to worry about, her whole future.  What made it harder was that she wasn’t certain which was the father.  She wished she hadn't seduced Adrian that one last time on the rampart the day after they arrived.  She had been overwhelmed by the soft air, the turquoise water, the white birds riding each other, sharing their language with her, and she had hoped Adrian was similarly affected.  It had been an attempt to get him to relax and be fun, the way fiancés were supposed to be.  She had been sure it wasn't her fertile time, but had thought the same thing every time with Derek too.  She supposed it could have happened that one last time with Adrian, but factoring in timing and probability, it was much more likely it had been Derek, one of those seventeen times.  She had kept count

She was looking through her closet, wondering what she could wear for now before she figured out how to share her secret, when Ruby came in complaining that she had left a wet towel on the bathroom floor and the counter in a mess.  Mimi dropped onto her bed and said nothing. 

Ruby said, "What's wrong with you?  Why are you just sitting there like that?  You've been like a robot for almost the past month, no, longer.  You've been weird since you got home.  Are you still upset about Adrian?  You're way better off without that guy."

She shook her head.

"So what is it?  What exactly happened in Bermuda?"

Mimi said, "Buntis ako," and she blurted, "I don't know what to do!"

After a few seconds Ruby sat next to her and pushed her hair from her face.  She asked, "Really?  Is it Adrian?"

Mimi shrugged.  “I’m not sure.”

Ruby said, "God, you're just like Mama."


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