Harvest House Publishers
Two years earlier
It started with a pimple. A pimple, of all things. It sounds stupid now. Who would think a tiny, red mound on Emily’s arm would start a downward spiral that almost was my undoing? Well, it really wasn’t that tiny, and the pimple was just the straw that broke this mother’s back.
“Mom! Come here! This is gross!” Emily’s voice echoed from the hall bathroom.
I knew enough not to run. With Emily, everything was gross or putrid—or awesome. No in-betweens with Emily. The bathroom was a cloud of bath gel, lotion, hair spray, and any other potion sixteen-year-old girls need for their existence these days.
“Good grief, Emily, open the window. You’re going to get lung cancer.” I waved a hand in front of my face, trying to clear the air. Emily stood in front of the mirror wrapped in a bath towel, her makeup flawless, every light brown hair sprayed into perfect messiness, her eyes focused squarely on the small lump on her arm.
“Mom, look at this! It’s so gross! What am I going to do?” Emily was pointing to a small red bump on her upper arm. Her nose was wrinkled in disgust. “I’m going to die if I have to go to the homecoming dance with a pimple on my arm!”
I ran my finger over the bump, feeling the larger core that lay beneath the skin. Squeezing it five minutes before her date was to arrive seemed like a bad idea. “Let’s just put a Band-Aid over it for tonight and take care of it tomorrow.”
“A Band-Aid!?” You’d thought I’d suggested we cut off her arm. “Mom, do you know what that will look like? I’m wearing a sleeveless dress!”
I bit my tongue. I knew reminding her that I thought a sleeveless dress was too cold for a late-September dance in North Dakota would do no good now. We’d gone over all that in Marshall Field’s dressing room. I lost. I’d learned that with Emily, some battles aren’t worth the effort. Let her shiver all night.
“Here, let’s try this.” I grabbed her makeup bottle, dabbing a spot on her red mark. I topped it with a dab of concealer and finished my handiwork with a press of powder. “Take a look.” I stepped away, pointing to the mirror.
Emily inspected her arm, relaxed, and sighed, “Mom, you’re awesome!”
“Emily,” my husband, Bob, called up the stairs, “Mike’s here.”“Mike’s here?” Emily whispered, wide-eyed, as if she hadn’t expected him until tomorrow. “Already?”
“Right on time,” I replied tapping on my watch, trying to keep any hint of accusation out of my tone. Her perpetual lateness was another battle I seemed to be losing. “I’ll let him know you’ll be down in a minute.” I closed the bathroom door, wondering how Emily would ever be ready to go to college in a year and a half.
I walked downstairs. Mike Anderson, Emily’s—well, I didn’t know what to call him—was standing by the front door talking to Bob. According to Emily, they weren’t going out, they were simply hanging out. They’d been hanging out a lot since school had started. He seemed like a good kid.
“Hi, Mike.” I suppressed a grin as the smell of cologne hit me full force. He was obviously out to impress someone tonight. As was Emily. I was glad I was long past playing that angst-filled game. “You look nice tonight.” He did, in his khakis and white shirt, the sleeves carefully rolled back. Black tie, black shoes. Nice. “How’s your job going?”
“Great! Did you hear me on air this afternoon? I got to broadcast until we went off the air tonight. Got to do the football game last night, too.” He swiped a hand through his hair, his blond stubble short enough that his gesture did nothing but telegraph his nervousness. His lanky build left him off the roster when it came to the Brewster Badgers’ football team, but his gift for gab had landed him a job at Brewster’s small country radio station, KBRS.
“No, I didn’t, but I’ve heard you before, and you do a wonderful job. Emily will be down in a minute. Who’s playing for the dance tonight?”
“He’s a DJ out of Carlton. Blue Smoke or something like that.”“Oh, that’s right,” I murmured, pretending I’d known. My age showed. I kept forgetting no one hired bands for dances anymore. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why the school paid as much to hire a kid to play records—okay, CDs—as we used to pay for a live band back when I attended Brewster High.
“How’s school? How are your folks?” Bob asked, working his way through the standard list of questions to ask while waiting for your daughter to descend the stairs.
“Fine. They’re fine,” Mike answered, trying to fill the time as well. “Dad and I got our deer licenses, so we’ll be going hunting in—whoa, Emily!” He stopped speaking.
All eyes turned as Emily sauntered down the steps, measured nonchalance in her every move. I didn’t remember her dress being quite that red or quite that grown-up the day we went shopping in Carlton. But after four stores and what had to be twenty dresses, with tears, who could blame a mother for saying, “We’ll take that one,” when her daughter finally said, “This one isn’t so bad”?
Apparently Mike didn’t think it was too bad, either. “Wow,” was all his disc-jockey vocabulary could muster.
It was enough for Emily. She smiled, a look on her face I hadn’t seen before. A look I wasn’t so sure I was ready to see. “Let me take a picture,” I said, my voice high-pitched and unnatural. What did I have to feel nervous about? Emily rolled her eyes but moved toward the fireplace, the standard background for most photos in our family.
They stood stiffly, side by side. I stepped close and threaded Emily’s arm through Mike’s as if they were mannequins. “Smile,” I commanded. A nervous muscle twitched one corner of Mike’s mouth as the shutter snapped.
“Don’t drive too fast,” Bob cautioned as Emily and Mike headed toward the door.
“Have fun,” I added, reaching out to touch Emily’s shoulder, trying to keep her close a few moments more. My hand slid down her arm as she walked past, releasing the fragrance she’d so carefully layered, touching skin so soft it reminded me of the day Bob and I brought her home from the hospital. Our baby—going out the door practically grown. When had that happened? Emily paused for a split second, adjusting the spaghetti strap on her dress, giving my hand just enough time to pause on her arm, on the small, now hidden pimple. A chill ran through me.
“Are you sure you don’t need a sweater?” I asked, holding out a crocheted white silk sweater I usually saved for banking conventions with Bob.
“Mo-om.” Emily rolled her eyes, determined to be independent, but threw the sweater over her arm.
As she moved away her arm slid beneath my hand, the small hard lump once again beneath my fingers. “Don’t forget your curfew,” I reminded automatically.
“We won’t,” Mike called as they ran down the steps to his freshly washed pickup.
Bob closed the door. “Is it my imagination, or did Emily grow up overnight?”
“It must have been last night,” I replied, the image of her gliding down the steps in her red dress still in my mind. “I think I’ll wait up.”
“Me, too,” Bob added, heading for his recliner.I walked into the kitchen. Maybe I’d get a casserole ready for supper tomorrow night. I glanced at the clock on the wall. Emily wouldn’t return for several hours. I might even have time to do a little writing, adding a few pages to the book I’d finally started. The book I’d dreamt of writing most of my life but hadn’t started until my best friend, Anne, had commanded, “Put it in the book.” Then she died. She’d spent a year battling breast cancer. The best and worst year of my entire life.
Well, I wasn’t going to think about that now. I pulled a pound of hamburger from the fridge and a frying pan from the cupboard. I’d get this hot dish put together and then head to the computer. It would be a good way to pass the time while I waited for Emily. I’d already forgotten all about the pimple on her arm. I shouldn’t have.
Excerpted from Becoming Olivia by Roxanne Henke. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.