A Family Secret
His view of the world narrowed as they travelled along rain streaked streets in darkness. The flashes of light in passing windows were glimpses into lives of strangers. Riding the bus all night, his thoughts were a confusing jumble and his eyes ached.
Hunching down inside his green canvas overcoat, he tried to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he replayed the moment over and over again. If he hadn’t been snooping around in the attic he would never have come across the
small bundle of letters, neatly tied in a package with red ribbon.
Lucie was going to freak when he told her.
But first, he had to actually see if his mother was with the guy. The logo on the letterhead was a big giveaway; when he saw it he realized that it was the same event company that was in town organizing the concert. So he went and talked to the guy in charge and got the address of the main office in Vancouver.
That’s when he decided to go to the city and see for himself. If he found her, he’d call Lucie and let her know, not before.
They were just about to turn off the freeway when a flatbed truck loaded with lumber crossed into their lane, cutting them off. The truck’s load broke loose and slid onto the highway in front of them.
The bus driver swung the wheel hard, missing the lumber but then the bus plowed into the guard rail and flipped on its side, sliding to a crunching grinding halt. Justin was thrown against the window with a crack, smashing his head.
Everything went black.
Head held high, wearing her best dress and shoes, she carefully walked down the narrow wooden stairs with a suitcase in each hand. He stood by the front door leaning slightly toward her, still needing her, yet knowing it was futile to hope. A picture of despair, he begged,” please don’t do this to our family. The children need you. We all need you. We can work it out, whatever it is.”
She smiled sadly and said,” It’s the only way, a clean break. It’ll be better for them in the long run. You know I only had kids because you wanted them, so you keep them. I’ve never been any good at being a mother. They’re both in school now, you’ll be ok.”
She placed her keys on the sideboard and walked out of their lives.
“Hey Lucie, how’s it going,” Mr. Taylor waved at the chair next to him; “Come sit with me for a minute.” He folded up the papers that he had been marking and pushed them into an old leather pouch. Straightening his faded cardigan, he took off his wire framed glasses and placed them on the well-worn table between them.
“Thanks,” Lucie replied, perching carefully on the edge of the chair. She took out her phone and thumbed the screen with a worried look on her face. Tucking it back into her purse, she looked at the intricate pattern of birds and flowers that her mother had stitched and wished she was here.
Most of the students were back in class. There was a loud burst of laughter from the ones playing cards at the far end of the brightly lit room.
“Any news?” Mr. Taylor asked, leaning forward in his chair. “What can I do?” Producing a wrinkled kleenex from his jeans pocket, he wiped at his glasses, smearing the dirt around. Replacing them on his face, he squinted at his watch.
“Nothing. It’s freaking me out. The police aren’t any help and I just know he’s in trouble.” Lucie’s face crumpled and there was a glint of tears in her eyes. Mr. Taylor handed her the kleenex.
She took it tentatively and wiped her eyes. “ I’m the one who usually keeps track of him. He tried to ask me something the other day and I was too busy. Now he’s missing and it’s my fault cause I didn’t listen.”
Mr. Taylor reached over and patted her arm softly. “They’ll find him,” he said gently. “The police are pretty good at what they do. I know you’re worried, it’ll be ok, hang in there.” He reached into the leather pouch and pulled out a package of butterscotch candy.
He held them out to her, “Want one?”
“No thanks,” she made a face, “too much sugar.” Lucie pulled a metal water bottle out of her purse and unscrewed the cap. She held it to her lips and took a long swallow. Mr. Taylor took the chance to look at her more closely. Her black eyeliner was smeared and there were dark circles under her eyes. Usually Lucie looked carefully made up and she stood out in a crowd, often just skirting the dress code. Today, she had on plain black pants and a hoodie, the hood covering her short spiky red and black hair.
He popped a butterscotch into his mouth. “Do you think Ryder went to see a friend or something? He has all those gamer friends, maybe…. did he go into the city?”
“I doubt it, but I’ve been asking around and one guy — Mason something — said Ryder was talking about going to see someone. I told the cops but they don’t think it’s anything. The last time I saw him was yesterday when he left for school. They say he skipped classes that day. He does that sometimes, but they don’t make a fuss cause his marks are so good.”
She pulled her phone out again checked it. “I wish I knew more of Ryder’s friends,” she said. She put the phone back into her purse along with the water bottle. “He’s really smart, but I worry about him, it’s not like him to go wandering off.”” She settled back in her chair and looked around the room.
“Oh, here I almost forgot.” Mr. Taylor rummaged in his bag and brought out a couple of tickets. “The extra concert tickets I said I had.”” said Mr. Taylor. “I can’t use them but I’m glad that someone can.”” She took the tickets and glanced at them.
“Thanks Mr. Taylor, it’s really nice of you. I really want to go but I’m not sure if I can now.” She looked at the tickets more closely. “Hey, this is interesting, this logo looks really familiar. I saw one just like it in Ryder’s room. He’s not into that kind of music. That’s weird.”
“Ryder is an artistic guy; maybe he just liked the design. Drawing is one of his best classes, isn’t it?” He glanced down at his watch. “I have to get going, I have a late meeting.””
“Yeah ok,’ Lucie replied, “I’ll ask Justin: they hang out sometimes.” Lucie stood up, leaned over and picked up her purse. “See you tomorrow.”
“Sure,” replied Mr. Taylor. “You take care of yourself. If there is anything I can do, remember, you can count on me to help.” He watched her walk out of the room. As she left, she glanced at her reflection in the window and caught him looking.
She smiled uncertainly.
Outside the school, Lucie walked to the bike rack and unlocked her beat up cruiser. Dropping her purse into the front basket, she swung her leg over the yellow frame and smiled. She had found it one day under a pile of lumber and metal roofing in the back yard. It was her mother’s bike, from when she was 16 and Lucie was excited to clean it up and give it a coat of new paint.
She slowly pedaled out of the parking lot and thought about where to find Justin. He didn’t have a phone and wouldn’t be at his parents’ house so she decided to check some of the places he usually hung out. She pedaled past the 7 Eleven and down the steep hill to the main street. Turning the corner, she arrived at the town square with the old wooden pavilion in the middle of the park.
Sometimes Justin hung out there with friends; it was a good place to see and be seen by the cars going up and down the main street. Sure enough, the guys were there, but Justin wasn’t, so she kept biking. Passing the train station, she slowed and peered between two rusted rail cars on a siding. Lifting her bike over the rail she walked down the tracks toward other abandoned cars.
Sure enough, he was sitting in the sunshine on the edge of a flat rail car, swinging his battered work boots to the tune on his ancient Walkman. As she came closer, Justin saw her and lifted a hand in greeting, taking out his ear buds and turning off the music.
“Hey little sister, what’s up with you?” he asked. He ran his hand through his long straggly hair, pushing it out of his dark eyes. “Any news of our bro?”
“None,” she sighed “and I’m really worried about him now.”She set her bike down and took out her phone to check it. Then she showed him the tickets. “I was wondering if you’d ever seen this logo before,” she asked.
“Sweet, where did you get these, they’re completely sold out,” he hopped down and reached out for the tickets. “These guys are the best.”
“Really?” Lucie’s eyebrows rose in disbelief. “I didn’t think they’d be your kind of band.”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter cause I couldn’t afford to go anyhow.”
“So, did Ryder like them too? I found the same logo on a paper in his room and wondered why he had it,” she said, putting the tickets back in her purse.
“Well, it’s not the band it’s the event organizer’s logo,”” replied Justin. “They’re out of Vancouver and put together concerts all over the province.”
“Oh,” Lucie said quietly, “That’s even more weird.””
“Maybe he was looking for work, I know they were looking for backstage help. There was a posting on the job board at school. Oh hey, I meant to tell you, I saw him the other day, talking to some old guy in the Walmart. It was just for a second and when I looked back they were gone.”
“Just before he disappeared? Did you tell the cops?” Lucie asked anxiously.
“Nah, I didn’t think about it until now, and I didn’t exactly want to admit I was there. I’m not supposed to go there since last spring when I got caught lifting stuff,” admitted Justin sheepishly.
“What did the guy look like? It might be important.”
“He was older, like I said, I just got a glance at him but I’m sure it was Ryder. I think the guy had glasses on.”
“Promise me you’ll go and report this, ok? Her phone buzzed and she had a look. “I have to go, my dad is texting me. “ Lucie turned and lifted her bike onto her shoulder. She started walking back over the rails and turned back to look at Justin. “Promise me,” she insisted.
“Ok ,” Justin answered, “I’ll do it now. See you around.”
She biked toward home lost in thought. One day she had gone to school and her mother was there. When she came home she was gone. No one told her what happened and when she asked her dad, he changed the subject. He’d taken good care of them but it wasn’t the same as having a mother, especially for a girl.
There were some things you just couldn’t talk to a dad about. Sometimes she imagined coming home and her mother would be waiting in the chair by the window like she used to. Over the years her dad worked more and more until it was like he had left them too. There had been a lot of nannies, but no one stayed for long.
Right now there was a housekeeper that sometimes made dinner, but it was Lucie that made sure they had groceries and clean clothes to wear to school. Frustration welled up inside her and she pushed it into the big hole in her chest.
It would be nice to have at least one parent, she thought.
“Hey Dad, I’m home, is there news?” called Lucie as she walked in the door, setting her purse on the sideboard in the dimly lit entry. She walked down the narrow hall to the kitchen at the back of the house.
“I’m up here,” he answered from Ryder’s room. She found him sitting on Ryder’s bed with his head in his hands. His face was strained, the lines in his forehead chiseled deep and his work uniform was crumpled and dirty. A bundle of letters tied with red ribbon sat on the bed beside him.
“What’s happened? Oh god, is it bad news?”
“It‘ll’ be ok,” he reassured her, pulling her into a big hug. “Ryder was digging in the attic and found something. I think he might be… “ He couldn’t finish his sentence. “ I think he went to the city to try and find your mother,” he breathed. “I just got a call from the hospital, there was an accident with the bus and he’s in emerg, we need to go.”
“What? Ryder is hurt? He was going to the city? You knew where she went and you didn’t tell us! You couldn’t think that we might want to……need to know where our mother went?” she pulled away from his arms. “What is wrong with you?”
“I know I should’ve told you guys, but she didn’t want me to say where she was. You were so small and I didn’t want to hurt you. She left with another guy, an old friend of mine. I was so angry, I wanted to punish her,” he said quietly with tears in his eyes. “She said she wanted a new start and they moved to the city. I didn’t even know these old letters existed. I guess he had been writing her for years.”
“I hate you, I really hate you,” she yelled and ran into the hallway. “You’re such a total jerk!” She was crying so hard she didn’t see the magazine on the stairs. When she stepped on it she went shooting out into the stairwell, flying and tumbling over and over to the bottom where she lay like a pile of laundry.
The emergency area was a jumble of white lights and metal windows as they wheeled her along. She was transferred to a bed in a small cubicle surrounded by blinking machines with monitors and wires. With limply hanging sheets giving an illusion of privacy, she felt naked, vulnerable, with only a thin sheet and blanket for warmth, shaking in shock.
Time here slowed to a trickle. She fingered the coarse blanket and listened to a deep persistent coughing, the soft murmur of voices, the phone ringing and a young patient down the hall crying. Her father spoke with the nurses and then turned to Lucie.
“They’re waiting to send you for an x-ray,” he said. “I’m so sorry about everything.” Lucie turned away and smelled the sharp tang of disinfectant, mingled with his Old Spice.
With a worried face, he came close for a hug and touched her free hand when she didn’t respond. “I’m going to go find Ryder,” he mumbled. “I’ll be right back.”
Realizing she had forgotten about Ryder, Lucie looked at her dad, “please let me know what’s going on as soon as you know, ok?” she pleaded.
He gave her a quick nod and left.
She lay back and stared at the ceiling, her thoughts twisting in circles; tears in her eyes. Worry about her brother, anger at her dad and frustration that she had a broken arm vied for her attention until her head hurt.
Seeing the package of letters on the table beside her, she picked one up. They were love letters from another man, imploring her mother to come with him, asking her to leave her family. He talked about how they met and how he was tired of lying to his best friend.
It occurred to Lucie that she had it wrong. It wasn’t her dad’s fault that her mother had left. It wasn’t anything any of them had done. It was just a sordid selfish love affair with another man that gave her a way to leave them. Her eyes narrowed and she realized she had been angry with the wrong person all this time.
“Great news, Ryder is going to be ok,” were his first words when he returned. She had been to the x-ray room and they were finishing the cast; she was covered in plaster from her wrist to her elbow. He sat in the chair beside her looking forlorn.
Lucie burst into tears of relief. “I’m so sorry for what I said before,” she said. “I don’t hate you, I love you so much. I know you do your best. Thanks for being my dad.”
He hugged her gingerly. “I know it’s hard to hear the truth about your mom,” he said. “”I’ll answer any questions that you have later, I promise. But first, let’s go get Ryder.”
They followed the red line on the floor to the end of the hallway and turned right. The third door on the left was the one. Ryder looked smaller than she remembered, and younger, his pale face against the white sheets. They sat and exchanged worried looks over his bed, listening to his heartbeat on the monitor.
“Ryder,” she whispered, “buddy, are you there? Please be alright, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you yesterday.”
There was a flutter and then he opened his eyes. The air in the room felt lighter and the two of them leaned in closer.
He looked at his dad and then smiled at Lucie. “Hey sis, nice cast, can I be the first to autograph it?”
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