Frederick Trimburg (CWO4, US Army, retired) ambled from his back yard when he heard the automobile slow to pull into his driveway. He was not expecting visitors. Indeed most who would drop by were friends or family who lived nearby. They would not drive but walk or perhaps bike as Wendland was a small town and the weather currently mild and pleasant. Even those he knew that were older than his own seventy-two years tried to remain active. A three or four block stroll would be chalked up as a small but satisfactory victory against inevitable decline.
Fred's eyebrows crept up in mild surprise when he spied the occupants of the car, his niece by marriage Daria Wren, her husband Micah and their son who's name escaped him at the moment all of whom he met for the first time three days earlier at his late mother-in-law's viewing. A tiny smile creased his face as he watched Micah jump from the car moments after it stopped. He quickly opened the back door to aid his wife's egress. From his short acquaintance Fred formed a highly favorable opinion of the man but God bless him he was as ugly as homemade sin. A bulldog face fronted a balding head that rested on a short, squat, broad shouldered, well muscled body. If he were an actor he would be typecast as a menacing, moronic thug. A chance encounter on a dark street would send shivers of fear though many.
The briefest of familiarity dispelled any such notions. Engineering degrees from WPI and MIT demonstrated that he was far from stupid and any conversation revealed a kind, gentle man who adored his wife, doted on his son, and quietly served his faith.
Fred arrived at the SUV as Micah helped an very pregnant Daria slide ungainly from her seat.
"This is a most pleasant surprise. I didn't expect to see any of you again," Fred said.
"Surprise than," Micah said brightly over the top of the car.
"I'll get the boy if you like," Fred volunteered from the other side of the vehicle.
"Please," Daria said. "Sorry to show up unannounced."
"Family has an open invitation here," he replied while he unbuckled their son from his booster seat. "Hello, young man."
The boy looked over to his father before nodding gravely at Fred. "Hi, sir," he piped up in a shy but firm, clear voice.
"Hugh, right?" Fred lightly continued remembering the boy's name at last. "You're about two or three, I'm guessing. I have a couple grandchildren about your age."
"Thank you. I am three and a half," Hugh confirmed as he hopped from the car aided by Fred.
Bright kid he thought. Answered in a complete sentence without any hesitation. Polite, too. His parents were doing some good work raising him.
"You aren't planning on giving birth in my parlor, are you?" Fred joked eyeing Daria as she waddled awkwardly around the car.
She placed a hand on her ample belly. "If I could I would," she replied. "But despite appearances my due date is still another five weeks away."
"Simple visit?" asked Fred hopefully.
"I want to ask Aunt Mary some questions and her and Dad's childhood," replied Daria.
"And why the two of them don't speak to each other," Fred guessed the smile leaving his face.
"Please, let's head on in," Fred said gesturing toward the house. "But I can't promise that you'll get any answers from Mary."
Daria accepted her husband's help getting up the three steps to the front porch. She could have managed but understood that he was only trying to be stabilizing and protective. Like most men, he equated pregnant with fragile. Sweet if irritating at times but it came from a place of love so she acquiesced without comment.
"Mary, we have company," Fred called out as he held open the door. "It's Daria and her family."
Mary Trimburg was even more surprised by the Wrens visit than was her husband. She met her niece for the first time ever just days before and spoke scarcely more than a minute with Daria at the viewing and graveside. What possessed her to visit?
"Welcome to our home," Mary said quickly covering her amazement. "Please be sitting. Would you like some iced tea? Or would you prefer coffee?"
"Tea would be good but I need your restroom before anything," said Daria.
Mary smiled warmly. "Ah, the many joys of pregnancy," she said. "This way, dear."
"I think that the menfolk will head down to the basement," Fred said.
A glance between the old marrieds told Mary something was afoot. He was leaving her alone with her niece for a reason.
"A word of warning, Daria," Mary said breezily. "Don't let your husband get into model making."
"Too late," she replied. "Micah's profession and hobby is robotics."
"Welcome to the sisterhood than," Mary laughed. "Here's the lavatory. If you fellows will follow me into the kitchen, I'll get you something to drink before you disappear."
Mary watched her husband escort Micah and Hugh through the cellar door before returning to putting together a small snack plate. Her fingers worked on the hors d'oeuvres as her mind pondered how to handle Daria. It was impossible for her not to have known that her father and aunt had not spoken in decades but clearly seeing them ignore each other at their mother's funeral pushed her to seek answers. Doubtless she came armed with Jake's version. Understandably, as she was demonstrative intelligent, she wanted her view on events to compare.
Mary shook her head. Was it worth it? Could anything good come from delving into the past? Despite the chill between them she had no desire to harm Jake's relationship with his daughter. Could something she said do that? She closed her eyes and mumbled a quick prayer.
When Daria emerged from the restroom her aunt was sitting in the lounge upon a sofa. Two glasses of iced tea and a small plate of crackers, cheeses, and finger sandwiches sat on a low coffee table.
"I think that you'll find the rocking chair most comfortable," Mary said.
"At this stage its more a matter of degrees of discomfort," Daria replied.
"Three boys," Mary responded handing her a glass. "I know what you mean."
Daria accepted the drink while discretely studying her tall, lithe aunt. The long thick white hair that cascaded past her shoulders did not fool anyone as to her age but she remained at seventy a handsome woman. The few lines on her face added strength and character. Her deep green eyes shone with intelligence but a hint of severity flickered there also. A strong formidable woman with little patience for indolence, insolence, or idleness.
"Do you know if its a boy or girl?" Mary asked.
"Twin girls," replied Daria. "We've decided on Jane and Joan. Jane after my best friend and Joan partly for the alliteration and partly because Micah says that its a name that he likes. I suspect an old crush somewhere in the past but I've never pressed him on it because I like the name also."
"I've read all of your books," Mary said after a moment. "I've made certain that our library has two copies of each of them. Several of them have been a feature novel for the local book club. You have quite a following here in Wendland."
"Thank you," Daria replied. "I'm a little surprised that you know that I'm a writer as I use a pen name."
"Your grandmother would occasionally pass along tidbits about you and your sister although I didn't know that you were married until I read it on the jacket cover of your fourth novel," Mary said.
"Just married at that point," Daria replied.
"Fred chatted a bit with your husband at the viewing," Mary said. "He's an engineer apparently. Robotics you said."
"That's right," Daria confirmed. "But Micah has proven to be a bit of a writer himself. He has a book coming out in September."
"Really," Mary exclaimed. "A mystery like you write?"
Daria shook her head. "An alternative history."
"Lincoln ducked in time," Mary said. "The Vienna Art Academy accepted Hitler when he was a teen so everything changes. That sort of thing?"
"Yes," Daria replied. "My opinion might be a little biased but its a very good read."
"What's it about?"
"If you read the dust jackets you know that we live in Huntsville, Alabama," she replied then continued when her aunt nodded. "Micah developed an interest in local history. A point of historical fact is that at the Alabama Succession Convention in 1860 all of the delegates save one from the eighteen northernmost counties voted against it."
"I didn't know that," Mary admitted. "I just assumed that everyone down there were ardent rebels. I remember watching the television news back in the fifties and sixties. How those civil rights marchers were treated was horrible."
"So many clung to Jim Crow, a few still do but then as now opinion was far from monolithic," Daria said. "The POD in Micah's book is the eighteen counties refusing to leave the union."
"POD? Point of divergence, correct?"
Mary took a long sip of tea. "History is fascinating but the closer history is to you the more circumspect you need to be when pointing a spotlight into the shadows of the past."
"You spoke with your husband while I was in the restroom," she guessed.
"He said that this wasn't a social call," her aunt replied.
"Not entirely. I'd like...," Daria began before stopping.
Mary gave her the time to organized her thoughts. Abruptly she wanted to know her niece wanted her not to be just a photograph on a dust jacket but she likely would not like the answers to the questions she would ask.
"Family was never important to me growing up," Daria restarted. "I was a very self-centered girl who reveled in being a iconoclastic loner. I stayed so through grad school and for some time afterward."
"Can I be romantic and say then you met a charming young man and fell in love?" Mary asked.
Daria chuckled ruefully. "My teen-aged self would have gagged at the thought but that's what happened more or less. Prince Charming is more Prince Geek but he was the first man I ever loved. We eloped six months after our first meeting not even our first date mind you, our first meeting. Three years later, Hugh came along and now next month two more Wrens to someday spread their wings."
"You seem happy," Mary said. She did so. As she spoke of her husband and children her face softened, her bliss evident as a sunrise.
"Happier than I deserve," replied Daria.
"And how does that bring you here today?" her aunt asked.
"Now that I have a family, family has become important," Daria responded leaning forward for emphasis. "I'm ashamed that it took me thirty-five years to finally meet you, my father's only sister.
"I drove so many times between Maryland and Massachusetts when I was at Raft. It would have taken so little to detour up I-83 and visit with grandmother and you. I'm humbled to say that the thought literally did not occur to me at the time."
"I never made an effort to meet you, either," Mary reminded her.
"Why not?" Daria demanded. "How did things get so bad between you and Dad. You two sat side by side as they lowered your mother into her grave and you never once even so much as looked at each other. Even at such a time neither of you could put aside your animosity. I am dumbfounded that such hatred exists between siblings."
Mary sighed. Unconsciously she rubbed the crucifix that hung from her neck. The schism between her and Jake stabbed at her because she could not forgive him. The years rolled by yet the hostility remained.
"You're not Catholic, are you?" she asked.
"No," Daria replied.
"Any religious faith?" her aunt asked.
"Let's say that its in flux," Daria answered. "I'm still an agnostic but further from the atheist end then I was once. Micah's an Anglican and we attend church nearly every Sunday. I didn't object to having Hugh christened since it was important to Micah and the girls will be so also."
Mary nodded. That Daria was not raised Catholic did not surprise her. Jake turned his back on the Church as a teenager. Helen she did not know but if the invitation that they sent for their 'commitment ceremony' was any indication she was not any more religiously inclined than her husband.
"First, I hope that the Holy Spirit opens your heart to the Lord," Mary said. "Secondly I don't love Jake as much as I should but despite everything I don't hate him. He remains in my prayers but..."
Mary looked over to a painting of Madonna and Child that hung over the mantle for a long second before returning her attention to Daria. "I'm not certain that you can understand the pain it causes me not to be able to forgive him. I confess it with my other sins at every Reconciliation but I cannot let it go."
"I would have thought that being raised in an abusive home-"
"Abusive!" Mary harshly snapped. "Abusive! Is that what he told you?"
The deep shade of red that her aunt immediately turned frightened Daria. She fervently hoped that Mary did not have a heart condition or hypertension. The pen is mightier then than the sword but accidentally killing someone with a word would be difficult to handle.
Mary turned her eyes back to the painting as she struggled to calm herself. A volcanic temper was to her mind her greatest fault. Scores of colleagues in and out of the service witnessed or felt her wrath. Her husband and sons fell victim to eruptions also although Fred would always intervene immediately shielding the boys when they, more often than not inadvertently, set her off. Like a Rock he stood against the storm time and time again and yet never once lashed back at her.
Daria watched as slowly the dangerous crimson faded and Mary's breathing returned to normal. The hard glint in her eyes lingered however.
"What has your father told you about your grandfather?" she coldly asked at length.
Though nervous about upsetting her aunt even more she answered. "In a nutshell, Dad blames Mad Dog for everything wrong in his life. What's your side of the story?"
Mary took a long sip of tea before easing back onto the sofa.
"Yes, it was an abusive household," she replied after several moments. "Mom and Jake hounded Dad mercilessly. 'Mad Dog' is a good example of that. It was a disrespectful nickname that Jake invented to taunt Dad. Everyone else called him by his given name or 'Shorty' if they were old friends of his."
"Dad was only about 5'3. Made him about the perfect size to be the B-17 rear gunner that he was in World War Two."
Daria eyed her aunt's frame. Mary laughed quietly, her mood moderating somewhat. "I'm 5'10. One of those mysteries of genetics but, well, look at that photograph over there."
Daria glanced to where she pointed. A father and daughter captured for posterity within a wooden frame. Save for being a tall female, Mary was the spitting image of her father.
"No daddy's maybe," agreed Daria.
"And I'll admit to being a daddy's girl," Mary said.
"So granddad favored you over my dad," replied Daria.
"Yes but not how you're thinking," said Mary. "I wasn't the troublemaker that Jake was so naturally, as I gave Dad less grief and treated him with love and respect, he came to favor me. Besides, as you will soon learn fathers dote on daughters. They own him from the cradle forward."
"My dad has film showing him trying to learn to ride a bike," Daria countered. "He fell over and your father ignored his pain."
"Jake was a crybaby," replied Mary. "He passive aggressively used tears as clubs. Mom would rush to his side constantly and the two of them would turn on Dad when all that Dad wanted was for Jake to mature."
"Was that the excuse he used when he shipped Dad off to military school when all that he wanted was to go to tennis camp?" Daria asked more sharply than she intended.
"No," Mary replied calmly. "The excuse he used was Jake being expelled for setting fire to the junior high school after he didn't make the football team. And this was after he managed to get expelled from our parochial school two years earlier."
Daria blinked in surprise. This was a new story to her. She could not imagine her father doing such a thing. He was far too timid. Of course, how much courage did it take to be an arsonist?
"So you can't forgive him for setting a fire?" Daria asked.
"I'm a hard ass," Mary admitted. "Ask anyone on the staff of County General who worked with me over the years that I was a nurse there or those I served with during my twenty year army career but I'm not petty. A fire that hurt no one would not earn my lasting antipathy."
"So what did?"
Mary sighed. Her niece came seeking answers and she already decided to supply them but she did not like this exercise. Her mother's death and Jake's return to their little Pennsylvania hometown conjured enough ghosts on their own. She was not close to her mother and completely estranged from her brother but both were tied to her father whom she loved so deeply and still missed daily. Her solace was her faith that taught that she would see him again in Heaven.
"Daria, its three things," she began slowly. "Perhaps if was just one I could forgive. Maybe even two but the three together is simply too much for me and please believe that I have prayed about this thousands of times."
"I believe you but please tell me why," Daria requested even as regret for turning over the rock crept along the edges of her mind.
"Jake gave my father nothing but hell. If he didn't get what he wanted when he wanted it he went out of his way to make Dad miserable. I was so happy when he went away to Buxton Ridge," Mary said. "Mom whined constantly about missing her baby but I didn't. That made me a lousy sister I know but after years of nonstop tantrums, I welcomed the peace that enveloped the house. I got to enjoy my senior year."
"While you enjoyed school Dad was wretched," Daria said.
"I find it hard to be sympathetic. Buxton Ridge wasn't a choice that Dad wanted to make but Jake literally burnt all of his bridges locally," Mary countered. "He couldn't attend public schools here in Wendland and Sister Matilda refused to allow Jake to return to Saint Bruno. Buxton Ridge was the least expensive private school that would take him on such short notice and even that relatively low rate edged us to the brink of bankruptcy with all of the damages to Wendland Junior High that Dad had to pay. If I wasn't working myself we probably would have gone under."
"Didn't Ruth work outside of the home?" Daria asked.
"No," Mary replied shortly. "But that didn't stop her from being as much a spendthrift as Dad's paycheck allowed. He struggled to make ends meet often working two jobs but even with the financial pinch that she was well aware of Mom sided with Jake when he insisted on attending a private university once he graduated from Buxton Ridge. A state U wasn't good enough for mommy's little darling. She told Dad that he owed Jake a chance to go to Middleton for sending him away."
"According to that diploma on the wall there you attended a private university," Daria pointed out.
"Saint Francis," Mary confirmed. "On a full scholarship. What ever the grant did not cover, I did working almost full time so I woudn't add to Dad's burden. A job was something that Jake never bother to get while at college."
"I didn't work during the academic years either, only during summers," Daria countered. "University is tough or should be."
"It was for me also," Mary replied. "Especially when I had clinicals. I wouldn't have begrudged Jake for not working while attending classes but he didn't work over the summers either. Instead Mom would raid their bank account to give him money and he would hit the road with hippies and others of their ilk. Dad's finances never recovered."
"Young people can make bad choices," Daria weakly said.
"Yes, they can," agreed Mary. "Many older ones as well."
Daria was troubled. She loved her father but accepted that he like all others was not perfect. Flawed however was far from toxic and spiteful. Even accounting for her aunt's perception being colored by her own dislike it was a disturbing picture.
"I know that he never bothered your parents for money after college," Daria said trying for a positive point. "He and Mom said many times that it was a point of pride that neither of them did once they were grown."
"I'll grant you that," Mary conceded.
"Dad also said that neither you or your parents bothered to attend his wedding," Daria said. "That hurt him deeply."
Mary chuckled dryly but without mirth. "Did he mentioned that Fred and I were stationed in Germany at the time and that I was pregnant with my second son?"
"No, he didn't," Daria confessed.
"I was nearly eight months long. I couldn't have flown to California even if I wanted to."
"Dad said that his father used the excuse that their dog had a grooming appointment that day," Daria said.
"It may have, another extravagance that Mom insisted on, but if so that was just a coincidence," Mary replied. "They didn't go because they couldn't afford to travel all the way out to California especially on less then a week's notice. Jake was largely responsible for Dad's precarious pecuniary situation yet had the audacity to get angry at them for not attending his wedding. Dad was behind on mortgage and car payments, struggling to keep food on the table and the lights on but of course Jake laid all the blame not making it to the wedding on Dad's head."
"If I accept your version then it sounds to me that your father was the author of much of what happened by not having enough backbone," snapped Daria peevishly coming to her father's defense before she could stop herself. For a moment she thought that she went too far but her aunt surprised her.
"You said a mouthful, Dear," sighed Mary. "I begged him to rein in Mom so many times but he loved her to distraction. He simply could not bring himself to put his foot down. What truly angered me was that Mom became so frugal after Dad died. She lived modestly but comfortably for over thirty years on social security and the insurance money she received when Dad died."
The conversation lapsed for a few moments. Daria munching on cheese and crackers rocked gently for a few minutes as she digested what her aunt had told her. The father she knew was prone to emotional outbursts that could be construed as an attempt to control and manipulate, a pattern, if Mary was to be believed, that manifested itself early in life. His mother Ruth willingly enabled such behavior for reasons of her own. Perhaps she recognized that her daughter had a much stronger bond with her father than with her so she seized Jake as her own. In her effort to tie him to her she probably inadvertently reinforced negative behaviors and stunted normal maturation.
Much of his behavior might be seen as petty and self-centered but virtues were not totally absent. Aunt Mary's direct contact with Jake ended a long time ago so she could not know the Jake that Daria knew. He genuinely tried to be a good father and husband.
It stuck her suddenly that her own family dynamic was not dissimilar to her father's as a child although nowhere near as severe. She had a closer relationship with her dad than with her mother granting that it was not an either or between her parents. Quinn with her sunny outgoing personality was an easier child to handle so it was natural for the harried Helen to lean toward her. While there was never any outright favoritism as Helen felt keenly the sting of her mother favoring her sister Rita, she often allowed her frustration with the younger Daria's prickly persona to give her an excuse to distance herself somewhat from her eldest daughter a situation which Daria accepted full blame.
She thought on the years she and Quinn were at loggerheads. She acknowledged that, like her relationship with her mother, she was most at fault in creating the belligerent state. Looking back she was amazed that, after years of antagonism, Quinn responded positively if abet understandably tentative to Daria's weak attempts to bridge the gulf between sisters in their late teens. Now not having a close relationship to Quinn would be a large hole in her life.
"Did Ruth love your dad?" Daria curiously asked.
"I was born five months after their wedding which gives mute testimony as to why she married Dad but no, she did not love him," her aunt replied. "She admitted as much."
"Sad," Daria said.
"Yes," Mary agreed before she fell silent again.
"What's number two on your list?" Daria asked finally.
Instead of answering, Mary stood and walked across the room. She plucked a photograph from an end table and wordlessly handed it to her niece as she sat back down.
Daria looked at the picture. It was Jake dressed in a flight suit standing beside a jet fighter. Confused, she peered even closer. Something was slightly off kilter.
"And you thought that I looked like my father," Mary chuckled humorlessly.
Daria stared at the photograph for a few moments more before looking at her aunt. "Do you mean to tell me that..."
"Your brother, Bayard," Mary supplied.
Daria gazed at the picture for several heartbeats. "Okay," she stammered. "I want chapter and verse on this one."
"His name is Bayard Trimburg," Mary started.
"You and your husband adopted him?" Daria interrupted.
"No," answered Mary with a shake of her head. "We became his legal guardians shortly after his birth but he is our nephew, the son of Fred's younger sister Charlotte and, of course, your father."
"She got caught up in the whole sixties counter culture crap of drugs, sex, and rock and roll that Jake also embraced. They grew up together and their paths crossed again while on summer break from college. A little slap and tickle then boom Bayard since Charlotte used every drug but birth control pills."
"Jake denied that the child was his and as promiscuous as Charlotte was the odds were in his favor but, well, after a few years there was no doubt."
"Abandoned by Jake and ostrasized by my in-laws she asked Fred and me to take Bayard in so we formalized the arrangement and raised him with our brood. Charlotte, God have mercy on her, spun out of control afterwards. She OD'ed within two years. "
Daria rubbed a temple. An aunt that she never met but knew about and now a brother of whom she was completely ignorant. She expected for skeletons to leap from the closet but this was a bit much to absorb quickly.
"Do I have any other siblings?" she asked.
"None that I know of," Mary replied. "But you'll have to ask your parents."
"Great," Daria groaned.
Behind her Fred peeked around a corner. Mary just perceptively shook her head once. He nodded and silently disappeared.
Mary took another sip of tea. Daria, reminded of hers, did the same.
"So you blame Dad for what exactly?" she asked. "It doesn't sound like he forced himself on your sister-in-law."
"If anything it was likely the other way around," Mary replied. "But Jake turned his back completely on his son. He didn't want to deal with him so he, being selfish, didn't."
"Charlotte was a messed up kid but she really liked Jake and I cannot help but think if he had married her or, at the very least, acknowledged Bayard maybe she might have managed to get her demons exercised. Don't get me wrong, I do not blame Jake for her actions. He had no control over that but his son, he should have been there for him."
"Does mom know?" asked Daria.
"About Bayard, certainly," Mary replied crisply. "Whether or not she believed Jake about the paternity, I don't know."
Daria's mind raced. The idea of a brother staggered her. Did she want to contact him? Would he want anything to do with her if she did? How would her parents react? What would Quinn think? Damn.
"He was a pilot?" Daria asked.
"Still is," replied Mary. "He's a Colonel serving with the 53th Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle not too far from your home in Alabama although he has put in for retirement."
"Although he's nine years older than you he finally got married about the same time you did and has a three year-old son also; Conrad Morgendorffer Trimberg."
"Named for your father," Daria guessed.
"They were close," Mary said simply.
Daria thought for a few moments before speaking. "Would you pass along word that I'd like to meet him but I'll not press the issue. Like the rest of the world, I'm on Facebook so if he amiable that would be the easiest way to contact me. Daria Wren's page not my author page."
"You he will probably want meet," Mary said. "I know that he likes your books but your father I highly doubt."
Daria nodded. "His choice," she said.
"What is the third item in the big book of Jake's villainous deeds," Daria asked.
Mary's eyes tightened in umbrage but realized that her niece's flippancy likely masked confusion. Trying to reconcile two conflicting versions of the same events was unsettling and stressful especially when it concerned someone loved. Adding a newly discovered big brother on top of that was a lot.
"When Dad lay on his deathbed, I called Jake," Mary said. "His reply was that he hoped that our father whom I loved so, so much, died hard and rotted in hell. That was it for me. Since Jake wasn't at the funeral, it was the last time that I ever spoke to him."
Daria's jaw dropped. It was an unimaginatively horrible thing to say about a parent even one from whom you were alienated.
"I have no idea how to respond to that," she said feebly.
"There is nothing to say, Dear," Mary replied.
"No, there isn't," agreed Daria. "I wish that I could apologize for him but I can't."
"No," agreed Mary.
The two women sat silently for several minutes each alone with their thoughts. The sound of children playing tag in a nearby yard wafted through an open window though muted by the distance. Within the parlor only the hum of a ceiling fan intruded upon the hush until the cellar door opened.
Both women caught the slightly worried faces of their men when they entered the lounge. Both smiled reassuringly.
"Disquieting somewhat," Daria told her husband in answer to his unasked question. "My next conversation with Dad will be interesting."
"Dear, don't let anything that I said rupture your relationship with your father," Mary said. "It's not worth it, believe me."
"It won't," promised Daria.
"I'm hungry," Hugh announced innocent of the tensions about him.
"I have a remedy for that," his great aunt laughed extending the plate of snacks to him.
Fred and Mary had a conversation in a glance.
"Look, if you folks don't have any schedule you have to keep why don't you all stay here for at least the night. Plenty of room, Fred said. "We can throw an little something on the grill. Play some hearts, maybe."
Micah and Daria glanced at each other. "We would love to," she said a heartbeat later.