Authors: Brenda Hill
Maggie grabbed me. “Cry, Lisa, let it out. Dammit, cry!”
Through the haze, I could almost see her, but she was too far away to reach. I felt detached, as if I were in front of the TV, watching what was happening instead of being an active part of it.
“Oh, honey, honey, it’s all right.” Maggie got right in my face. “Cry it out, baby, let it go.”
Now I saw her, heard her words, felt her arms around me. Cry? I wished I could. Maybe it would help.
Still holding me, she walked me to the living room sofa, and we sat down together. She guided my head to her shoulder and slightly rocking, crooned to me as if I were her child. I held on to her, grasping a lifeline, hurt to the very depths of my soul.
My eyes burned, but I couldn’t cry.
After what seemed like an eternity, I began to breathe easier. The fog cleared and I raised my head. Maggie’s face held the most gentle, compassionate expression I’d ever seen. No wonder everyone loved her.
“Feel better?” she asked, handing me a tissue.
Even though I hadn’t wept, I took it. “Better,” I said.
“Honey, I’m no psychiatrist, but I think you need to see someone. You need to learn to let go.”
Suddenly irritated, I sat up. “That’s what Mac used to say.”
“Perhaps he was right.”
“Why does everyone always assume everything’s always my fault?”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just meant we all have problems, and when we can talk them out, we feel better. I know I do.”
I hiccupped. God, what was wrong with me? Maggie had never been anything but kind and loving to me. Why did I feel that sudden irrational sense of betrayal? Maybe she was right. Maybe I did need a shrink.
“Guess you’ll think twice about coming over here a
gain,” I said, trying to laugh.
“How about some hot tea?” Without waiting for an answer, she rose and headed for the kitchen. I trailed after her, reluct
ant to let her out of my sight.
Until Maggie had entered my life, I’d never realized how lonely I’d been. With her, I could relax and be myself, a luxury I
never allowed myself even with my husband and daughter. Oh, when Shanna was small, it had been different. We were truly close, and every day was a joy.
But as she grew older, our relationship changed. She adopted some of Mac’s teasing ways, always in fun, yet I gradually became aware that behind it all, she, like Mac, thought I was nice, but not very bright. After that I quietly doubled my efforts to
be self-sufficient and strong.
“Lisa?” Maggie said.
“Sorry. I was wool-gathering.” My mother's favorite expression popped out.
laughed. “While you’re at it, gather some for me, too. I need a new sweater.”
I laughed, suddenly at ease again. G
od, this woman was good for me.
“Want to talk about it?” she asked, taking tea bags from the canister.
I told her about Shanna’s call.
“She’s young,” Maggie said. “At that age, things are either black or white. Give her some time.”
“I just don’t know. I just don’t know anything anymore. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I should just go on out there instead of worrying about these bills.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
“I could live with them until I got a paycheck, see Kyle. Make up my expenses by babysitting. It wouldn’t be so bad.”
“I’ll help you pack.” Maggie poured tea into white mugs and brought them to the table. “Whatever you want to do, I’ll help. I’ll miss you, but I want you happy. Both Stan and I do.”
“I know, and I’m grateful.” I sighed. “It sounds so good, just like a dream.”
“You can make it happ
en. We’ll help.”
I sipped my tea before meeting Maggie’s eyes.
“I know that expression,” she said. “Okay, why won’t you go?”
“I can’t live off Shanna. I’d feel like shit. I’d get defensive and grouchy, and pretty soon they’d be wishing I’d leave. No, I just can’t do it.”
“We can help you—”
“Forget it. I’m already in debt to you so I’m certainly not going to take more. Besides, I owe too much to leave.”
Maggie patted my hand. “Honey, sometimes you have to decide what’s more important. I know it’d be hard at first, especially with your independent streak a mile wide. But Shanna wants you there. Sounds like she needs you.”
“I can’t risk it.”
“Why? What are you so afraid of?”
I thought about it. “I’m not sure I really know. I just feel panic at the thought of her ever looking at me in
“What way? You’re not making sense.”
I thought back to something that had happened years ago, something I’d tried all of my life to forget. I was about five and my mother had remarried and gone back to work. She’d left me with my new stepfather and I was terrified. I couldn’t remember exactly why, but I could remember sobbing. I must have turned to him because he recoiled
“Don’t come near me, you snotty-nosed kid.” His face was twisted with scorn. “Just look at you. Don’t you know how disgusting you are? Go clean yourself up, then I’ll see if I can stand to touch you.”
“No,” I said now to Maggie, “I can’t let her see me again in a weakened condition. I’ll wait until I’m strong.”
“But honey, she’s your daughter.”
“It doesn’t matter who it is. Shanna might be angry, but it’s better, in the long run, to wait. I have to stay here and get things under control.” I shook my head. “It’s just so damned ironic. And unfair.”
Maggie squeezed my hand. “What’s ironic?”
“All those years of budgeting, missing movies I really wanted to see, repairing my shoes yet again, just to help build our savings so I would never be in my mother’s situation. Now I’m a widow, and after working all my adult life, I don’t own a damn thing except for my car. Worse, I’m in debt—to the bank and to you.”
w Stan and I were glad to help.”
“I know and I appreciate it, but that’s not the point.” I rose and paced the floor. “I thought
I’d had such a good marriage, but my husband wound up taking every cent we had. Just like my step-father did to my mother.”
A new determination propelled me toward the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. “I have things to do.”
“And what do you have to do that’s so important?”
“Find out what Mac did with the money.”
I hadn’t realized until I’d said it aloud that I was going to look for the money, but I was suddenly determined to find out what my husband thought so important that he’d mortgaged our home, taken all of our savings
, and left me almost penniless.
That night I called Stan and talked to him about my plans, although I was sure Maggie had already told him.
Stan said nothing. The silence stretched on and I could hear a slight crackle on the line. Had we been disconnected?
“Are you there?”
“Doll, you know I’ll do anything I can for you,” he finally said, his voice sounding strained, “but you need to think this through. Sometimes it’s better to accept what’s happened and move on.”
Move on? I stared at the phone as if it would help me make sense of what he sa
“You can’t be serious,” I exclaimed. “You’d only say that if you did know something you’re not telling me.”
“Not true. I’m only thinking of you, the emotional chaos involved. How can you look to the future if you keep going over the past?”
“Then there’s the expense. You’d have to hire a PI, which isn’t cheap, and even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to find out anything.” He sighed. “But if you’re determined to do this, I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Taken aback by his attitude, I realized what a difficult position he was in. As Mac’s brother as well as his attorney, he couldn’t help but feel awkward. I resolved to do what I could on my own, without involving him any more than he already was.
But he was right about one thing. I needed money, an income. I had to get back to work.
I kept busy the next couple of days, being careful not to waste any more time moaning or groaning about my fate. I had to make plans. Maybe Stan was right. Maybe I couldn’t afford a formal investigation into the money, but I could make an appointment to find out.
But first, I had to secure my immediate future. The sooner I got back to work, the sooner I’d get things paid off so I could move.
If Shanna still wanted me.
I called the office and talked to Ben about coming back to work fulltime and was relieved when he sounded glad to have me. Then I called Stan. He said everything should be settled within the next month or two.
I worked out a budget, including a payment plan to him. I went through my clothes, pressing suits I hadn’t worn in a year. Finally, I cashed a hundred-dollar savings bond I’d stashed for emergencies and had my hair permed and styled, leaving the salon with a bag of cosmetics I was determined to learn to use. If I was going to be working with the public, my livelihood depending on the faith and trust from my clients, I needed to look successful. I’d learned years ago that wasn’t just a cliché—everyone seemed to have more faith in you if you looked the part.
I was going to look the part.
Early Thursday morning when I walked into the office for the new listings, Nina’s mouth dropped.
“Ben said you were coming back,” she said, her eyes wide, “but I didn’t expect to see you here, especially on a day you aren’t even scheduled.”
I smiled. Thank God she was back to her normal self, because I didn’t think I could stand another round of tears. “Thought I’d stop by. I might even do that once in awhile.”
Nina dramatically ran her hands across her forehead. “I don’t know if I can stand the shock!”
I made a face at her and walked on by.
“Better hide before Ben sees you,” she called to me. “Might be too much for him. He’s getting up in years, you know.”
“What a smartass,” I said to Ed, who, as usual, was sitting at his desk, wearing his faithful tan suit. He smiled, lo
oking genuinely glad to see me.
Across from him Andrea was thumbing through some files, every silvered hair in place, looking cool and comfortable in her million-dollar lavender suit. I’d always tried for that casual elegance, but never quite achieved it. Besides, I
loved the freedom of trousers.
“How’re you doing?” I asked, laying my purse and briefcase on my old desk behind Ed.
“A little slow, but I’m trying,” she said.
“Well, it takes time.” I dug through my purse for my pen, trying to ignore the pitiful helpless look on her face. After all, it wasn’t my job to train the world. Besides, she looked as if she could stand a dry period. My first concern was my own life.
Ed turned around. “Heard you were coming back. It’ll be nice to work with you again, although that must mean your plans for Minnesota didn’t work out.”
“No, they didn’t.” I avoided his eyes. Just talking about it made me weepy. “But, I haven’t given up.” I snapped open my briefcase and took out the brass nameplate Ben made for me six years ago. I’d taken it home last year and hadn’t ex
pected to use it again so soon.
Glad to be busy, I retrieved the book of current foreclosure listings from Nina and asked her to switch any calls to voice mail. Not that I expected any.
Although some people thought it distasteful, I’d always loved working with government-acquired homes. By the time the real estate offices receive the listings, the property had already gone through the lengthy foreclosure proceedings and was empty and ready to be resold. Often great deals were made, both to the government’s advantage and to the buyer’s.
I glanced over the current listings for a house to preview and select for an open house.
“Lisa,” Andrea began, “I hate to bother you, but...”
I held in a sigh
She flushed and asked something about the listings. But when I answered, she just kept looking at me. Obviously she wanted something else. I tried ignoring her, but I knew I couldn’t ignore that
lost soul expression for long. I’d worn it myself.
“So how do you like working in real estate?” I asked. I couldn’t just snap, ‘What do you want?’ Sure enough, she started telling
me about her change of careers.
“I’d really appreciate any help you could give,” she said. “I’ve been a school teacher all my working life and have no idea about selling. My husband...he left me for another woman, a younger woman. So I decided to start over in a job that would give me the chance to make some money. I need it.” She flushed and instantly I wanted to help—as if I were in a position to offer
advice to anyone.
Finally, she got around to
, the one everyone asks, although they seldom listen to the answer. “What advice would you give a newcomer?”