It was impossible. Stacy couldn’t be the woman I’d run into in the park. Aside from the color of her eyes, her features were all wrong. Delicate, with high cheek bones and soft, full lips, she looked nothing like the shriveled apple of a person I’d met. Besides, last I heard, she’d married that lawyer who nearly put Richards Construction out of business after the condominium fire. They lived in Connecticut, or somewhere equally as pretentiously posh, with the expected two and a half kids, golden retriever, and white picket fence. She couldn’t possibly have ended up homeless in Portland, aged far beyond her years. Could she?
As I leaned in closer, she blinked.
“Holy shit!” I yelped, falling backward and cracking my elbow on the nightstand.
Chaos unleashed as the room suddenly came back to life. Stacy shrieked, clutching at the sheets and scrambling to the far side of the bed. Young-Derek hurled profanities a sailor would have been proud of, turning and running back downstairs, yelling something about “my eyes.”
Dad hurried to get out of the bed, calling after the young me as he grabbed for his boxers.
“Oh, God,” I said, quickly shielding my eyes as Dad stood. I’d already gotten a view I’d never forget; I didn’t need another one. I waited until he had exited the bedroom, fully covered by pants, before I pulled myself up from the floor.
Stacy was gathering her things on the far side of the room. Alone, or so she thought, she let the sheet drop as she reached for her clothes. Ok, maybe being dead wasn’t all bad. I tilted my head to better appreciate the display as she bent to retrieve a fallen shoe.
The sound of a slamming door ricocheted through the ceiling, and I jumped.
Right. Stacy’s ass probably wasn’t the thing I was supposed to be learning about. Sighing, I turned and headed down to the commotion below before I was forced to the way I’d been dragged up here earlier.
“Derek, please,” Dad pleaded as I walked into the living room. Young-Derek stood across from him, looking like a deer poised to run. The tension between them was palpable, pulling at me like a dense fog as I crossed to the sofa and made myself comfortable. I remembered how this played out, and wondered vaguely if it would be as uncomfortable the second time.
“No,” Young-Derek snapped, his eyebrows drawn into my signature scowl. Huh, was this where I had picked that up? “You swore the last time that you were done. That you’d break it off with her and tell Mom. So, what? That was all a big lie?”
Seventeen-year-old-me was spirited, I’d give him that. Standing there, cloaked in the righteous anger that only teenagers can wield, I couldn’t help but feel oddly proud of my former self. He was calling the old man out on his shit.
“Derek . . .” Dad started. He actually had the decency to look ashamed, running a hand along the back of his neck as his shoulders slumped. Still, it was hard to empathize with a man who was still half-naked and wearing the distinct sheen of extra-marital activities. Even now, I felt the pain of betrayal and disappointment lance through me.
“Don’t bother,” Young-Derek spat. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. She has cancer, Dad. Cancer. How could you do this to her?”
Dad’s eyes widened, and he looked like Young-Derek had kicked him in the stomach. I didn’t remember seeing that before. But there was no mistaking the shocked, crestfallen expression on his face — he hadn’t known. I leaned forward, placing my hands on my knees.
“What?” he said quietly.
Stacy made her entrance right then, rushing down the stairs and into the living room. She was dressed for the most part, but the disheveled appearance of her blouse and pencil skirt left little doubt that she’d put them on in a hurry. The green blouse wasn’t even buttoned properly, dangling lopsided and untucked behind the bundle of panty-hose, shoes and jacket she clutched to her chest.
“Amateur,” I scoffed, leaning back against the dark leather. Whatever revelation I’d been on the verge of discovering was ruined now.
“Stacy, wait,” Dad said, grabbing her elbow as she rushed past him.
Across the room, Young-Derek rolled his eyes and turned away, heading through the arch into the foyer. He pointedly opened the front door and stood, glaring back toward us. He couldn’t see me, of course, but that didn’t keep my skin from crawling under his rage.
“It’s fine,” Stacy muttered, pulling away from Dad and scurrying toward the waiting door. I stood and followed her. Dad turned back toward the interior of the house, dragging his hands through his hair, a pained expression distorting his features. For a brief second, I felt pity for him. I knew the expression he wore well — it was the expression of a man on the brink of losing everything. But the difference between him and I was that he’d created his own mess. I’d had no control over my undoing.
Stacy paused when she reached my angry younger self. She couldn’t look at him, mumbling, “I’m sorry,” to her feet.
Young-Derek’s jaw twitched — he was clenching his teeth. I smiled as I came to stand beside him. I still did that when I was angry.
“Get out,” Young-Derek said coldly. Stacy didn’t argue, but I saw the shimmer of tears on her lashes as she fled the house.
She dropped something halfway down the walk. Not noticing, she ran toward her car like Cinderella fleeing the ball. Young-Derek saw the glimmering object as clearly as I did and ventured out to retrieve it. I followed him, shadowing him as he crouched over the thing. I already knew what it was, but as he reached for the necklace, I watched for anything spectacular. Some kind of clue. The necklace had to be important, I just didn’t understand how.
He looked up as the click of high heels sounded on the sidewalk. Quickly pocketing the necklace, he stood and said: