A few drops of wine swirled in the bottom of my glass. I tapped my phone’s speaker icon to free my hands and refill the glass. Kacy’s voice filled my small rent controlled studio apartment - a tip from La Tige, my ex-boss and father figure in my life… “Girlie, how’d you land this fantastic new job?” Kacy and I spoke once a week, sometimes more. I found it refreshing to keep a friend while at the same time disturbing. I never kept relationships of any kind, except James. “His bulldog of a wife, she looks like a bulldog, jaw jowls, bent arms, the whole works. It met her during the annual Christmas party. She walked inside at the same time I walked outside for fresh air. The night air was warm for December in New York. She slammed into me and I flew backwards into the trash can. Thank God it was lidded or I would’ve been sitting in it.” “She didn’t! I woulda kicked her bulldog…” “I’m not done. She scowled on the way inside, never turning her head mind you, ‘I hope that orange mop isn’t natural, you’re a disgrace to the company’”. “I totally woulda chased her down and whooped on that rich bully ass.” The tension in her voice obvious. “I’m sure you would have, but I’m classier than that.” “Whatever! Miss-I-left-my-boyfriend without sayin’ a word.” I heard Kacy chuckling on the other end and detected a slight hesitation in her voice. “You told him, didn’t you?” My voice laced with angst over a man who wasn’t my boyfriend. At least we never voiced the words. Fetch was a play guy, simmering hot, but no life goals. I refilled my wine glass again and allowed the sweet red juice to drizzle down my throat. “I didn’t… You got me, I did. But only that you took a better job in New York. I didn’t give him your address or anything.” “Some best friend you are!” The two times Fetch called I ignored the rings, allowing the calls to go to voice mail, but he left none. “He’s like the hottest guy ever. He comes into the bar like a broken puppy, droopy eyes, no spark. I’m a sucker for puppies and I told.” Kacy was a sucker sometimes, but she hadn’t watched a boyfriend, my Einstein, get jolted across the road during a hit and run and die in front of her eyes or stood her next lover, Didier, up on the altar because she pretended to be something she wasn’t. No, that was me. A broken home led to my broken life which I desperately tried to fix. “I’d kick your butt if I was there.” Silence filled the air for thirty seconds before Kacy replied. “Sorry sweet. I think he’s in love with you. The two of you make the best couple I’ve ever seen.” “I know and I’m not angry. I… He never said the words. If I’m meant to be with Fetch it’ll work its way out, somehow, someday. If not, then we aren’t meant for each other.” “You are a romantic fool. Sometimes you gotta take life by the horns and just do it.” Sentiment crawled into each of Kacy’s words. Desperate to get off the Fetch topic I rerouted the conversation. “After bulldog slammed into me, William III unplastered me from the trash can. We talked. Would you believe his parents refused to let him watch movies like the Wizard of Oz or Oliver Twist when he was a kid?” “No freakin’ way!” The volume of her voice almost burst my ear drums. “Yes freakin’ way, according to him his parents said those movies were too scary and would give him nightmares. Instead, his parents forced him to watch the news or the stock market.” “No Sesame Street?” “None! I’m surprised he turned out so normal.” Not that I watched Sesame Street either but I wished I had. “My mind is blown. Poor deprived children. How many kids are there again?” “William III is the oldest Briggs child, then Patrice and last Candace.” “I’m shocked they made it to adulthood.” We both chuckled at her response. “Keep going babe, wanna hear the rest.” “I went home and Monday, when I arrived at work, I had an email from him to meet at Vinny’s New York Style Brick Oven Pizza House. He sent directions. “An unhappily married man wanting lunch with a receptionist. All kinds of thoughts and images went through my mind.” “Creeepy.” “Exactly. OK, we met for lunch. I was tense and ready to run thinking affair no way! Turns out he asked me to be his executive secretary. You already know I accepted. The best part, my pay has tripled!” “Luck finds you. Got no complaints. Love my bar, my bar is my life. No, that’s not true - Javier is my life.” “Incorrect, the bar is your life, Javier is secondary.” The chilly air brought scents of various cuisines into my apartment through the open sliver of my window. They mingled with the garlic smell from the Italian chicken I cooked for dinner. “He is not. He’s busy with school all the time and the bar… I love the bar, the people… its home.” She meant that as she grew up above the bar. During the time we lived together, I saw similarities in our lives, although hers was a lot more normal than mine. I lived in a shack with a junkie fake mom who went missing and turned up dead floating in the Bay just beyond the mouth of the Sacramento River. That life did a number on me and pushed me to grow up long before my time. Kacy grew up above a bar with a happy family, even so she grew up quick. “You’re hopeless. Javier will marry you one day and the two of you will stroll off into the wild blue yonder together, forgetting the rest of us.” “So not true. My bar will be the milk and bread of our marriage if it ever happens. At least until he gets a job that pays enough, and we can raise a family. And you’ll be the Maid of Honor at our wedding.” “Who is the hopeless romantic now?” I recognized how much she adored every millimeter of Javier. “I totally love you Shanna.” My body cringed at that name, not that I hadn’t gotten used to it but I wanted to be me, Cleo. Not Shanna or Justine or even my mom’s name for me, but Cleo - short for Cleopatra, as Einstein put it. I needed to face facts - I would always love the one I could never have. Slug ruined his life, our life. My love whom one day I would meet again if there was a heaven. I desired to tell Kacy everything. She was my best friend, only I didn’t understand the entire story yet. What would I say? At this point I understood the Briggs’ hired Slug as a ‘hit man’ and my kidnapper-fake-mom-junkie Perdy stole me to protect me from evil powerful people who hunted me. “Kacy, you are the best friend ever.” And one day I will tell you the entire story.
Since coming to New York, I changed my appearance choosing to be careful, more than ever, as my enemies lived close. To disguise my eye color I wore brown contacts. I paid a visit to a salon, and the beautician colored my hair a less obnoxious shade of orangey-yellow. I added fake nails and wore plenty of makeup. Between the makeup and nails I looked the part. I got much better insight to the entire Briggs family working for William III - he preferred Will. He was a thirty something good-looking, small built man with light blond thinning on top hair. He stood 5’9, maybe 5’10, slim, with fine features. His hazel eyes like a mood ring changed from brown to green. Green meant happy, carefree, and brown meant stress, trouble. His wife stopped by the office and called millions of times every day. He asked me to lie and use the ‘he’s in a meeting or with a client’ excuses. She was always rude and muttered ugly comments about me under her breath as she hung up the phone. He spent his days in his office with the door closed. I wasn’t sure what he did but his office stayed quiet and people didn’t come and go very often. I figured he earned the position in the family business because he was family. His job consisted of nothing, and he spent his work time sleeping. After all, there wasn’t anything for him to do because I did everything. His wife’s build and face reminded me of a bulldog. They were an unlikely couple with no children. I thought children might give her something to do rather than harass him 24/7. She stayed involved in charities and fundraisers, the country club, everything rich people do; somehow though, she didn’t stay busy enough. I liked Will, but I didn’t like his wife. Hate would be too strong a word to describe my dislike for her but disgust fit. Six weeks after accepting my new position I experienced the family. Will invited me to their beach mansion in the Hamptons for a family/business weekend. First I met William II, Will’s father, he was retirement age, 65 or so. His scalp bald on top, with wisps of dark hair framing his head. Unlike his son he had a large build. Like Will his hazel eyes displayed his moods. He could be gruff but well-mannered in social activities; intelligent, controlling and demanding. Nobody crossed him instead they treated him with respect. Daddy William II’s wife, Carol, was petite and quiet, but professional and all business. Candace, Will’s youngest sister, didn’t get involved in the family business. She spent her time cavorting with Will’s wife, planning and plotting social activities. Candace stood tall like her father but otherwise looked much like her mom. Her husband was a lawyer who worked for Mitchell Strat, the lawyer who always got Slug, Einstein’s killer, off the hook. I wondered if she knew what a scum sucking pig her husband worked for? Patrice took after William II, in a non-married female form, cunning, manipulative and meticulous. No doubt her IQ shot above the 130 plus range. She wanted the business and planned on running it like her dad - without scruples. She wore short, dark hair in a boy cut. Her build petite and her glare equivalent to my body being sawed in two pieces with a dull blade. I saw a resemblance in me to Patrice and William II - cunning and meticulous, minus the nasty attitude. I did the job Will paid me for and observed the behavior of his dysfunctional, powerful, rich family. Like a scientist I studied them analyzing the results and concluded I liked Will, but not the rest of the family. He treated others with respect, including his disgruntled bulldog wife. As much as possible I stole away from the mansion and walked the million-dollar-home beach. Will stayed occupied with his father and Patrice. After dinner the final night while I sat alone on a designer beach recliner listening to the waves William II joined me without an invitation. “Beautiful isn’t it? My children used to run in and out of the tide right here.” His eyes gazed upon the vast ocean before us. “Lucky kids.” “What about you? What’s your story?” Wisps of his thin hair blew over the top of his bald head. I assumed he was prying more than making conversation. I didn’t feel up to another story and wished he leave. His presence ruined the serenity the beach offered. “Don’t have one. Normal girl, normal life.” “Everyone has a story.” I smiled and sucked in a deep breath of fresh air. “It’d bore you.” To heck if I was going to make up another story to feed his meddlesome curiosity. “You’re the first secretary William’s had that is capable of the job.” A compliment? “Thank you, Will… William is easy to work for.” He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to continue the conversation when my phone rang. I swiped the talk button. “Hey sis, hold on one second.” I slid my phone away from my ear and apologized to Mr. Briggs. “My sister, I gotta go. Thanks for the weekend. Your home is gorgeous.” He munched his eyebrows into a V and punched his lips together as if upset by my actions. I figured not many people walked away from him. “Kacy, I’m back.” “Did I hear thanks for the weekend? You have a beautiful house. New guy?” “No! My boss’s father. Will brought me to the beach house this weekend for their annual family/business get-together...” Saved by Kacy.
I visited Einstein or rather his burial spot. On Sunday mornings, when everyone else went to church, I spent time with Einstein. Sometimes, I sat beside his grave and cried. I missed the chance to grieve his being taken from me by the ugly monster Slug (Frank Tomey). One Sunday I didn’t make it until late in the afternoon and his family was there. Or at least I suspected it was his family. The man and woman looked like older versions of Einstein. I saw them and sat on a bench a few feet away. They brought flowers and laid them on his grave. After a long time, they left. I finished my weekly visit and grabbed a coffee. I came by more often hoping to one day build up the courage to speak. On the day I least expected while visiting during the week, after work, I sat beside his grave deep in thought when a voice startled me out of my Einstein reverie. “Were you friends with my son?” I looked up from my solace to see his mother. Her hair the same shade of blond as Einstein’s only with streaks of white. The skin around her gentle eyes bore webs in the creases. She too was tall and thin. He looked much like her. “No, we never met, but I heard what happened. I think it… is heartbreaking… what happened. I had a friend who… I just wanted to visit and pay my respects.” My brain screamed to tell her ‘yes, I loved your son’ but I couldn’t force my mouth to form the words. Instead, I spun another tale. “My son was a very special young man. He wanted to do incredible things.” He did something incredible. Einstein loved and took care of me, but I didn’t say that. “Do you mind me asking…? Why he ran?” The questions streamed out of my mouth like water from a hose. I kicked myself mentally for being so insensitive. “That is not your business.” The pain in her eyes evident, although she didn’t ask me to leave. Maybe she needed to talk about it, wanted to talk about it. Every day my heart yearned for Einstein and I needed to talk about it and didn’t want her running off so I continued. “I’m sorry. I had a friend who ran and I don’t understand why kids leave a good home. You seem like such a nice woman, a good mother. My friend had a good family but still he ran.” I breathed a silent sigh of relief when she continued. “It seems ridiculous now. I can’t forgive myself. We didn’t always see eye to eye with Burke.” For a long time we stood there, saying nothing, each of us deep in our own sorrow for the same lost young man. The silence ended when she spoke. “His dreams that didn’t fit our plan, our goals for him. We mapped out his life. He couldn’t make a move without us. He dreamed of joining the FBI but we refused to let him follow those dreams. Instead we have a business and planned it on passing to him. I guess we tried to control his life too much.” Tears rolled down her cheeks, and I held her in my arms. At that moment I felt closer to her than I ever felt to Perdy. We stood there for what seemed like an eternity but in reality not more than a couple of minutes. He’d never mentioned he wanted to join the FBI. Einstein and I didn’t discuss our past lives only our current and future lives. Our dreams squashed by Slug. She regained composure and said, “Thank-you. I needed that.” “Would you like to join me for some coffee? Latte Latte is just a two blocks south?” She narrowed her eyes, as if deciphering whether to trust me. “Yes, yes. My treat.” We walked to the coffee shop and talked. I told her about my friend, Einstein, and she told me about Burke. We were two women grieving over the same unforgettable young man - my secret. My time spent with Mrs. Childrone gave me closure. His family wasn’t the nightmare family I thought they were. They made a mistake and had to live with it much like my mom, Perdy’s, mother Leila. I needed my encounter with Mrs. Childrone. The mystery of my existence wasn’t the only one in my life. I always wondered about his family and pictured them with drawn in frowny lips, hate filled eyes, and nasty demeanors. His mother’s sweet personality and motherly face gave me answers to at least one of my life’s stories. Mr. and Mrs. Childrone owned a large publishing house. She offered me a card when we parted and on it she wrote her personal email.