My Mother's Daughter
Summary: We aren't always the people we wish to be. We don't always live the lives we wish to live. Pre-BFF.
Rating: Teen for mild language and adult situations.
Author's Note: Certainly everyone saw this title and thought, "Oooh! A story about Anna!" The disappointment...how it stings.
This story takes place the summer before BFF and MLTS. It should serve to better explain some of the events in both stories.
I've only been back from Fiji for nine hours when the telephone rings, waking me from a wonderful, welcome deep sleep. I don't even raise my face from the pillow. I leave it there, buried in the down and reach my arm over to the night table where the telephone sits. I fumble with the receiver and bring it to my ear.
"This better be an emergency," I grumble.
"It is," comes Julie's voice, distinctive in its rich huskiness. "I'm bored."
"And I was on a plane for two hundred hours," I reply, finally opening my eyes. I reach over and turn the alarm clock around. It's not even ten-thirty! "Do you know what time it is?" I demand. "It's ten in the morning, Julie Stern. Ten in the morning during summer vacation! My parents and I didn't get home until midnight, you know."
"I did not know that, Miss Blume. You only told me you'd be home on June ninth. It's June ninth, so I called. It could have been worse. I've been awake and dressed since seven. I had to feed the Bernsteins' cats."
I roll over onto my back and rub my eyes. "Have Emily and her parents left on their so-called vacation then?" I ask. The Bernsteins, being the adventurous and thrill-seeking people they are, decided to spend their annual summer vacation driving Emily all over the East Coast, visiting every college she intends to apply to in the fall. If I were Emily, I'd feel gipped. Last summer, her parents took her to Austria. At least that was a real vacation. I wouldn't want to spend a week trapped in a car with Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein. Actually, I wouldn't want to spend a week trapped in a car with Emily either.
"Yes, they left three days ago. They'll be back sometime next week. In the meantime, I'm feeding their cats, except I think the cats are depressed. I think they miss the Bernsteins and - "
"Julie, the Bernsteins have five cats," I interrupt her. "The cats are not lonely or depressed. And why are the Bernsteins letting you in their house unsupervised? Didn't you and Paul change their answering machine message when they went to Atlanta over spring break?"
"We promised not to do that again. Mr. Bernstein's mother didn't find our Passover jingle amusing. Personally, I thought it was very informative."
"Yeah, you know a lot about Passover," I agree. I rub my eyes again. "Were you calling for a reason?"
"Certainly. I wanted to tell you that I really missed your pool. Oh, yeah, I missed you, too."
"Thanks ever so much."
"You're ever so welcome," Julie replies, cheerfully. "Do you want to come over? I'm bored."
I glance over at the clock and sigh. I'm already awake. "Yes. I'll come over," I agree, grudgingly. "I need at least an hour and a half to get ready."
"An hour and a half!" Julie shrieks. "You're worse than Emily!"
"How long does it take you to get ready?"
"Oh, fifteen minutes. Twenty, if I wash my hair."
"That explains a lot."
"Oh! Thanks ever so much! I'll see you at noon. Ta-ta, Miss Blume!"
"Don't call me..." I begin to snap, but Julie's already hung up. I roll my eyes and replace the phone on its hook. I sigh again and slowly swing my long legs over the side of the bed. I yawn and stretch. I begin my morning routine. I never miss it. No matter where I am, no matter how late I wake up. One hundred crunches followed by one hundred push-ups. By the end of the summer, I should be up to one-fifty of each. It's important to stay fit. It's important to look your best.
When I finish, I head downstairs to the kitchen. My parents have already left for work. They commute to New York and catch the six a.m. train every day. They're always gone before I wake up. Sometimes, they're not home until I'm getting ready for bed. And sometimes, they don't come home at all. It's always been like this, my entire life. It's just the way things are. Downstairs, I find a note taped to the fridge. It's in my mother's hurried, partially illegible handwriting. It reads:
Grace! Please do the following -
1) Buy stamps and post bills on the counter by the bread box.
2) Have my prescription refilled by those awful people.
3) Take clothes to the dry cleaner. Clothes are still in suitcases. Check tags for 'dry clean only'. Please tell me you can manage to do this! (It's not that hard!)
4) I forgot number four.
- Your mother
I roll my eyes and tape the note back on the fridge. The wit of my mother's notes astounds me. I open the fridge and remove the orange juice and a carton of strawberry yogurt. Our housekeeper, Marta, restocked the fridge and pantry before we returned from Fiji. Marta comes five days a week, usually in the early afternoons. She comes and goes as she pleases. A lot like me.
I lean against the counter while I eat my yogurt. It's quiet in the house, which isn't unusual. It's always quiet unless I personally fill it with noise. I would like to spend the day alone, swimming laps in the pool, and decompressing. But that's basically what I've done for the last six days. In March, my parents said, "Where do you want to go for summer vacation?" And I said, "Fiji" because it was the first place that popped into my head. So, my mother called the travel agent, who booked two bungalows at a resort on the Coral Coast. Vacations with my parents are always extravagant, but they're never very fun. My parents don't quite grasp the full concept of a vacation. To them, a vacation means banging away on their laptops in a new location. There's a lot of sitting around involved during vacations with my parents. And since they swear the moment I step outside Stoneybrook without an adult, I'll be promptly mugged, raped, and murdered, there isn't much freedom during vacations either.
So, it's time to start the real vacation. Summer vacation. And I intend to jump in feet first.
I toss my empty yogurt carton into the trash can and finish the rest of my orange juice. Then I take the telephone off the hook on the wall and dial my grandmother's phone number. Gran is my mother's mother. They hate each other.
"It's Grace," I say when Gran answers.
"Grace!" she cries, breathlessly. "I was waiting until noon to call. I figured you'd still be asleep."
"I would be," I reply. "But I'm awake now. What are you doing? Have you been taping General Hospital for me?"
"Of course and I won't even spoil any of the scandalous secrets for you. As for what I'm doing, I'm not doing anything. What are you doing? Would you like to come for a late lunch?"
"Sure," I say and check the wall clock. It's almost ten forty-five. "I have to run errands for Mom though and I promised to go over to my friend Julie's house. Is two o' clock good for you?"
"It's perfect. I'll see you then. I'm looking forward to hearing all about Fiji."
"All right. I'll see you at two."
I hang up and run upstairs to take a shower. I shower in less time than usual. Twenty minutes at the most. Leisurely showers are one of life's greatest pleasures. How Julie Stern thinks five minutes is a substantial amount of shower time is totally beyond me. Of course, Julie Stern also occasionally wears her brother's clothes to school, so nothing she does should surprise me. It takes another thirty minutes to do my hair and make-up. I have to dry my hair completely and I have a lot of hair. It's thick and dark red and falls halfway down my back. It's one of the things I like most about myself. That and my complexion, which is creamy white and clear. I never get pimples. When my hair is dry, I pull it back in a ponytail and roll my hair in hot curlers. They weigh the back of my head down and it's a struggle to balance correctly to put on my make-up. I decide on light lilac-colored eyeshadow for today. I trace my eyelids carefully and steadily with the eyeshadow crayon, then trace under my eyes with black liquid liner. I select a carnation pink lipstick. When everything is done and perfect, in straight lines and arches, I unroll my hair from the curlers and shake the new curls before running gently through them with a comb.
My hair looks fabulous.
In my bedroom, I decide on a pair of white shorts and new white sandals I bought in Fiji. They have string thin straps and low heels and buckle at the back of the ankle. Then I pull on a sleeveless lilac-colored blouse that matches my eyeshadow almost precisely. The blouse is a v-neck with lilac-colored buttons running down the sides. Stacey McGill and I found the blouse at Lear's department store in May and fought over who got to buy it. I won. I'm sure Stacey's over the sting of that disappointment by now.
My father telephones just as I'm about to walk out the front door. My parents call sporadically throughout the day. They never really have anything to say.
"You're awake," Dad says without a greeting. He sounds surprised. "Aren't you jet-lagged?"
"Extremely so," I answer. "Aren't you?"
"No. I'm too busy to be jet-lagged. This place is a mess. I leave for less than a week and the entire department falls apart. And your mother's upstairs throwing some kind of fit, apparently. Lorraine from accounting called to tell me."
"Why is she throwing a fit?" I ask. It isn't much of a shock. My mother's often in a snit about something or someone.
"Her assistant quit while we were away."
"Made a clean getaway?"
Dad chuckles. "Yes. I don't know why she's so upset. She claimed that assistant was an idiot and a whore just like all her other assistants."
I roll my eyes. According to my mother, every female in a secretarial position is either a whore or desires to become someone's whore. That is why my father's assistant is male. "Have you been up there?" I ask Dad.
"No. I'm not crazy."
I laugh and then there's silence. We've run out of things to say.
"Well...I'm going over to Julie's," I finally tell him.
"Have fun, Grace."
Dad and I hang up. I leave through the kitchen into the garage, where my white Corvette is parked. My parents bought the car for my sixteenth birthday last year. They asked, "What kind of car do you want" and I said "A Corvette". So, we drove to New Haven and I picked one out. It's white with black interior. It's the best looking car at Stoneybrook High. Everyone's envious. It's not conceited to admit that. It's simply the truth.
First, I drive downtown and drop off my parents' dry cleaning, which I was perfectly capable of sorting myself. Then I stop off at the post office to buy stamps from Mr. Stern and afterward, walk across the street to the Bernsteins' pharmacy. Mr. Malkowski, who is usually just the weekend pharmacist and older than the state of Connecticut, is there. Even if he is impossibly old and still thinks my name is Lorelei after all these years, being helped by him is much more pleasant than having to deal with either of the Bernsteins. Mr. Bernstein's a nag and Mrs. Bernstein's a bitch. Emily will probably grow up to be just like her mother. It's unfortunate.
It takes Mr. Malkowski almost fifteen minutes to fill my mother's prescription. The Bernsteins are much faster. I'll give them credit there. Of course, you have to stand around and talk to them, which really cancels out any benefit of their efficiency.
When Mr. Malkowski is finally through with moving at the pace of a dying turtle, I leave the pharmacy with my mother's pills. My mother has epilepsy. Hardly anyone knows. We never talk about it. It embarrasses her. I think it must make her feel flawed and defective, an imperfection she cannot fix. There are many things we don't talk about at our house. My mother's epilepsy is just one on a long list.
Julie lives only a few blocks from downtown Stoneybrook on Rosedale Road. I drive past Emily's house and count three of her five cats skulking around the front yard. Why anyone needs five cats is lost on me. Emily used to have seven and that was just ridiculous.
Paul Stern, Julie's idiot brother, is mowing the lawn when I pull into the Sterns' driveway. Paul is almost sixteen and will be a junior at Stoneybrook High in the fall. Julie and I will be seniors. Despite his lower social status and general uselessness, Paul harbors many delusions about me. Mainly about me and him and our supposed future life together. His life plan is to marry Emily Bernstein because she's smart and will someday make a lot of money. He will then divorce her and take all her money and marry me. I'll be his trophy wife and we'll move to Oahu. He intends to call himself Paul Bernstein-Blume. I, honestly, suspect Paul Stern may be mentally impaired in some way.
"Hello, darling!" Paul calls to me over the noise of the lawn mower.
I slam the car door and completely ignore him. Julie's sitting on the front steps, drinking a glass of lemonade. Julie looks exactly as she always looks. That is, like she doesn't care much about how she looks. Today she's dressed in jean shorts and a dark brown tank top. Her blonde hair's pulled back in its usual ponytail and she isn't wearing any make-up. It's not that Julie's hideous or anything, but she'd be so much more attractive if she took care of herself.
"What are you doing?" I ask her.
Julie looks up at me and shields her eyes. She squints. "Watching Paul do something I don't have to do," she answers, simply.
Julie smiles and stands. "Come inside. It's too hot out here anyway. Paul's probably going to keel over from heatstroke. Oh, well. I'll finally get my own room."
Julie's house is a mess. As we pass through by the living room, I see unfolded laundry piled on the couch and in the kitchen, dirty dishes are stacked in the sink. I glance around and wrinkle my nose.
"Yeah, I know," Julie says, opening the fridge door. She takes out the lemonade jug. "I was supposed to clean the kitchen yesterday, but I got busy. Well, I wasn't really busy. I was watching t.v." Julie pours herself another glass of lemonade and then a glass for me. "It's been so boring around here with you and Emily gone. Stacey and Mary Anne are always busy. They're working at that Kid Center every afternoon, punishing themselves or something. And then, all morning, Stacey's at her summer school classes at Stoneybrook University and Mary Anne joined some kind of quilting bee. Fun stuff." Julie sets the glass in front of me and sips from her own. "Oh, Mary Anne's living with the McGill's now. She's in a tizzy because her stepsister's home for the summer. They're fighting or something."
"Already? What a lovely summer this will be," I comment, dryly. Mary Anne's nice and all - I mean, she is one of my closest friends, but she can be such a drama queen.
"Yeah, really," Julie agrees.
Paul comes into the kitchen, his face and shirt soaked with sweat.
I wave my hand in front of my face. "You smell like manual labor, Paul."
"You know you like it, darling," he replies and opens the fridge. He takes out a carton of fat-free milk and drinks straight from it.
"Oh, don't get grossed out," Julie tells me, seeing my disgusted face. "He's the only one who drinks the fat-free milk." She kicks Paul in the butt. "Embarrassing me in front of my guest! And did you mow the Bernsteins' lawn yet? I think not!"
"The Bernsteins aren't even home!" Paul cries.
"Mom said you had to do it anyway! Just like any other week! If the Bernsteins come home early and their lawn isn't cut, you know they'll freak the hell out. Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein will have simultaneous coronaries or something."
"Are you vacuuming their house every day like you're supposed to?"
"No," Julie scoffs. "No one can see inside their house and the cats don't care if there's cat hair all over the furniture."
I roll my eyes. If the Bernsteins are so concerned about excessive cat hair, then they shouldn't let Emily keep every stray cat she drags home.
"Oh, hey, I got you something in Fiji," I tell Julie, thankful to bring the stimulating conversation about Emily, her cats, and her parents' OCD to an close.
"You did? Fabulous!" Julie holds out her hands, expectantly.
I open the shopping bag I brought with me. I hand Julie the obligatory tourist t-shirt and several bars of coconut soap. I also give her a beaded bracelet that coils five times around the wrist. All the beads are in pinks, reds, and silver.
"Cool," Julie says and pulls the t-shirt over her head. Then she coils the bracelet around her right wrist. She extends her arm outward to admire it.
"I know you like pink," I say and that detail never fails to shock me. "I got one for Emily, Stacey, and Mary Anne, too. And for myself, of course. Mine's in purples and silver. Emily's is yellow and blue, Stacey's blue and white, and Mary Anne's green, silver, and black. Neat, aren't they?"
"Yep," Julie with a nod and shakes her wrist.
"Where's mine?" Paul asks. "I like purple, too."
I roll my eyes and reach into the shopping bag. I throw a Fiji t-shirt at him. "Here. I got you that," I say, testily. Then I go back to ignoring him.
"Thank you, darling. I'll sleep in it every night and think of you."
Julie laughs. Julie would.
The front door bangs open and a few seconds later, Mrs. Stern appears in the doorway to the kitchen. She's dressed in her usual work clothes - a floral-print silk skirt and a blazer. Today she's in navy blue. Mrs. Stern is the manager at the Strathmoore Inn in downtown Stoneybrook. I like Mrs. Stern. Everybody does, even if she is a bit strange. But then, she's a Stern and can't really help it.
"Well, if it isn't the Fiji Mermaid!" Mrs. Stern exclaims when she sees me. She smiles. Mrs. Stern is always smiling. "Swam back ashore, did you?"
I have yet to figure out why the Sterns have insisted on calling me the Fiji Mermaid for the past month.
"We got home last night," I reply.
"And how was Fiji?" Mrs. Stern asks. Mrs. Stern has a very odd voice. It's loud and clear and projects from her abdomen. It's rather snobbish, too, like Connecticut high society, like debutantes are taught to speak at their boarding schools. It doesn't fit Mrs. Stern.
"Fiji was great. I went snorkeling and learned how to scuba dive. I got certified and everything. It was a lot of fun," I answer. And those things were fun. Mostly. Even though I had to do them alone. Although my father watched from the dock when he looked up from his laptop long enough. It didn't really matter. I was underwater anyway.
"My parents took me to Fiji when I was in high school," Mrs. Stern tells me. "We went to the Mamanucas. Our first night there, I got drunk and threw up on some guy's surfboard."
All of Mrs. Stern's stories typically end with her getting drunk and throwing up or having a bad trip on LSD. I don't think most of the stories are even true.
"Why are you home?" Julie asks her mother.
Mrs. Stern raises a blonde eyebrow. "Well, gee, are you not happy to see me? Don't hide your true feelings, Juliebean. Is it, perhaps, that you've not yet done the dishes or weeded the flower beds or folded any of the laundry like you were supposed to?"
Julie waves her hand. "Those are all Paul and Rachel's clothes anyway. Who cares if they're wrinkled?"
"I don't," Paul pipes up.
"You'll care tomorrow," Mrs. Stern says. "And you can't run across the street and get Marian to iron your clothes for you. You know I don't like you doing that. You're old enough to iron your own clothes." Mrs. Stern puts her hands on her hips and glances around. "Now...why did I come home?"
"That's what we'd all like to know," Julie replies.
Mrs. Stern rolls her eyes. "Oh, right! I forgot to take my estrogen!" she cries and crosses to the cabinet above the sink. She takes out a white bottle and pops two pills in her mouth. "In another hour or so, I think people were going to start to complain."
"I'm already complaining," Julie says, leaning her elbows back against the counter.
"Well, you need to shut up then."
"Come over here and make me, old lady."
I stand up. "Well, I think I better go now," I announce. Really, there's only so much a person can take of the Sterns.
When I leave, Mrs. Stern's strangling Julie and Julie's pretending to die slowly.
I drive across town to the Bainbridge Estates, where Gran lives. She's lived there for fifty-one years, ever since she married my grandfather. He's dead now. He died before I was born. He and Mom hated each other, too. My aunt Corinne - that's Mom's younger sister - told me. Mom and Aunt Corinne also hate each other.
I turn onto Bertrand Drive and park in Gran's driveway. Gran comes out the front door just as I'm getting out of the car. She never fails to appear delighted to see me. Gran isn't like most grandmothers, all shriveled and gray. She's tall and willowy and isn't so old for a grandmother. She's only seventy-two, but looks younger. Probably because she doesn't have any wrinkles. She's had a face lift, even though she refuses to admit it. Gran is a redhead like my mother and I. Of course, Gran colors her hair now. She won't admit that either.
"Hello, dear!" Gran greets me, walking briskly down the front steps. She's dressed in a white pantsuit. She smiles, broadly, as she crosses the yard toward me and waves. Her cheeks have their usual rosy flush. "I thought you'd be tan!" she exclaims and hugs me.
"I am a slightly darker shade of pale," I reply.
Gran laughs. "Did that wicked daughter of mine even let you out in the sun?" Gran asks.
"Of course," I answer.
"And did she ever once step foot in the sun herself?"
"Of course," I say and it's technically not a lie. Mom did leave the resort for most meals, although she left under a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat. Sunlight causes wrinkles and - after no longer being a perfect size four - Mom's greatest fear is wrinkles.
"I'm uncertain if I believe you," Gran says and puts an arm around my shoulders as we walk into the house. "Vain, vain, vain," Gran whispers in my ear. "I should have named her that instead of Fay."
"She isn't that vain," I remark with a hint of irritation.
"Of course she is," Gran says and shuts the front door behind us. She strides ahead of me through the foyer and the living room.
I follow behind, dropping my purse and shopping bag on the couch. Gran's house has a mostly stiff, unlived in feel. It's strange considering that she's lived her almost her entire life. None of the furniture looks used. Every room on the ground floor reminds me of a display from a furniture store. Gran spends all her time outside in her garden or in her library. Every other room seems distant and cold. Even the living room, which should be the most welcoming room in the house. Instead, it holds the same sense of cold falseness as the rest of the house, even with all the pictures set out on the coffee table and mantle. Mostly photos of myself and my little cousins, who actually aren't so little anymore. They're eleven, eight, and seven. There are quite a few photos of Aunt Corinne. She and Gran get along just fine. There are photos of my mother as well, of her and her other sister. Old photos from when my mother was my age and younger. She never looks happy. She's always staring straight into the camera, hand on one hip, and a contemptuous scowl on her face, as if daring the person behind the camera to request that she smile.
"You look so much like your mother," Gran comments when she notices me gazing at one of the photos. "Lucky you aren't anything like her. Fay is impossible. Come along now, Grace." Gran leads me out onto the back porch. Gran's backyard is large and lush green. There's a swimming pool and spa and behind those a tennis court. Gran and I play tennis a lot. She's pretty good. But I'm better.
"Why are there four places set?" I ask, glancing down at the patio table.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Gran says with a chuckle. "I invited a friend to join us for lunch and she's bringing her granddaughter."
I narrow my eyes suspiciously. Gran didn't forget. Gran never forgets anything.
"Why?" I ask.
"Well, last summer all you did was complain about being bored. Your friends were always baby-sitting and going off to summer camp. So, I thought, you can make a new friend!" My cheeks grow warm. I do not need my grandmother setting up play dates for me like I'm a maladjusted five year old. I have plenty of friends. I'm very popular. Last summer was boring a lot of the time, that is true. But it wasn't because I don't have enough friends. They were just busy. I wasn't busy because I don't have to work and summer camp seems dirty and buggy.
A door slams inside the house.
Gran glances at her silver and diamond wristwatch. "Right on time!" she announces and beams at me.
The sliding glass door opens and a woman with short white hair appears in the doorway. She smiles, pleasantly. "Hello, Allison. Hello, Grace," she greets us and steps through onto the back porch.
"Hello, Mrs. McCracken. Hello, Grace," a second voice calls from inside the house. The girl steps out after her grandmother. Her long blonde hair hangs straight down her back. She wears faded jean shorts and a baggy pink and white-striped t-shirt.
I raise my chin and cast my eyes down at her.