Bethany House Publishing
Part I : Kathleen and Joelle, 2004
This wouldn't be the first time Kathleen Seymour left home and never returned. But after the day she'd had, she was sorely tempted to pack all her clothes, climb into her Lexus, and drive as far away as a tank of gas would take her. Judging by what little she knew of her ancestors, it was almost a family tradition to leave home when things got rough and start life all over again in a new town. In fact, if the bigwigs who ran the federal Witness Protection Program wanted a few pointers on creating a new identity in a new location, they could consult Kathleen's family. They were experts.
"I'm leaving home and never coming back!" Her sixteen-year-old daughter, Joelle, yelled, echoing Kathleen's thoughts. Joelle stomped dramatically up the stairs to her bedroom, but the thick carpeting muffled the impact of her tantrum.
"Don't bother!" Kathleen called up to her. "I'll leave first!"
Joelle slammed her bedroom door in reply, rattling the teacups on the dining room shelf below her room.
"You know, I've had about all I can take, Joelle," Kathleen shouted, then clapped her hand over her mouth. She'd used the same phrase, in the same tone of voice, that her own mother had always used. When had Kathleen turned into her mother?
She sank down at the kitchen table, her legs too unsteady to hold her any longer. They had begun to tremble during the confrontation with her boss a few hours ago and had barely been strong enough to carry her out to the parking lot as she'd stormed from her office building. It was a good thing that she'd been sitting down in her car, removing her high heels, when the police called on her cell phone. She might have collapsed on the spot.
"Mrs. Seymour? This is Officer Marks of the city police department. We have your daughter, Joelle Marie Seymour ... in custody...."
Kathleen couldn't remember much after that. Somehow she'd driven to the mall, found the security office, and sweated through an agonizing meeting with Officer Marks and the undercover cop who had caught Joelle shoplifting a seven-dollar tube of lipstick from the cosmetics counter. It had seemed like a bad dream, especially Joelle's reaction to it all. She had shown no remorse as she'd slouched in the chair with her arms folded, refusing to make eye contact and coolly swinging her foot--beautiful Joelle, with the cinnamon-colored hair that reminded Kathleen so much of her own father's. But the last thing Kathleen needed in this situation was to be reminded of her father.
Thankfully, she was able to persuade the store manager not to press charges since it was Joelle's first offense, but she would be banned from shopping at the mall for one year and a second offense would earn her a trip to the police station and a juvenile record. Kathleen had practically kissed Officer Marks on both cheeks.
"Where are your friends?" Kathleen asked Joelle when the police finally allowed them to leave. "Didn't you come to the mall with Colleen and Stacey?"
Joelle shrugged. "They ditched me when I got caught."
"Can you drop me off at Colleen's house?" Joelle asked when they reached the car.
Kathleen stared at her in disbelief. "Are you out of your mind?"
Joelle sank into the passenger's seat and slammed the door, ignoring her seat belt and the annoying ping of the warning bell. When she reached to crank up the volume on the car radio, Kathleen shoved aside her hand.
"Leave that off--and put your seat belt on!"
"Like you care what happens to me!"
Kathleen felt herself losing control. She started the engine and pulled out of the mall parking lot, tires squealing. "Why would you do such a stupid thing, Joelle? What were you thinking? I give you fifty dollars a week for your allowance--what would possess you to steal a seven-dollar lipstick?"
Joelle shrugged. "It's no big deal. They let me go."
After that the ride home degenerated into a screaming match, ending with Joelle's threat to leave home and never return. Kathleen had made the very same threat--how many years ago? But she had followed through on it.
Kathleen's hands were still trembling as she reached across the kitchen table for the portable phone to call her husband. Thankfully, she got Mike himself instead of his voice mail. "What's up, Kath?"
"You need to come home," she said, her voice breaking.
"Can you tell me more than that? I'm kinda busy--"
"Joelle was arrested for shoplifting." Her tears started to fall then, tears of rage and incomprehension and grief. At first she made no sound as they trickled down her face, but when she glanced up at the refrigerator door and saw the note reminding her that Joelle needed to bring a snack to the youth group meeting at church tonight, she began to sob.
"I'll be right home," Mike said quietly.
He arrived in time to stop Joelle as she dragged her backpack and an overstuffed suitcase down the stairs. "I'm not letting you run away, sweetie," he soothed. "Let's go upstairs and talk about this."
Kathleen wondered if Mike would have tried to stop her if she'd been the one with the suitcase instead of Joelle. She listened to their voices drifting down from upstairs, envying the relationship they had, aware that she had blown it once again. She and Joelle fought just like Kathleen and her own mother used to fight--maybe more. Kathleen kept promising herself that she would try harder to be a better, more caring mother, but she didn't know how or where to begin.
She reached for the framed snapshot--taken last winter on their skiing trip to Colorado--that she kept on her desk in the kitchen. All three of them were smiling as they squinted in the glare of winter sun, their faces scrunched together in a rare moment of bonding, a picture-perfect family. Mike's habitual worry lines were relaxed into smile lines, and his bristly, steel-gray hair was hidden beneath a ski cap, making him look younger than his fifty-eight years. Kathleen herself was used to being told that she didn't look fifty-four--thanks to regular workouts at the health club and a creative hairdresser who kept Kathleen's light-brown hair fashionably styled and free from encroaching gray. She had been thirty-eight when Joelle was born, after years of medical procedures and countless prayers. She'd vowed to stay young looking for her daughter's sake, but today she felt like the wicked old crone in a bad fairy tale.
In the photograph Joelle's reddish-brown hair was a mass of natural curls, framing a face that still held a child's softness and innocence, yet hinted at the promise of womanly beauty and sensuality. "Lord, help us," Kathleen breathed, closing her eyes. Joelle was only sixteen and already in trouble--God only knew what lay ahead.
"I've got her settled down," Mike said when he came downstairs an hour later. He had loosened his tie and rolled up the sleeves of his starched, white shirt. "But I think you should go up and talk to her. Let her know you still love her."
"I'm very, very angry with her right now," Kathleen said in a tight voice. She had finally summoned the energy to push her chair away from the table and start heating up leftovers in the microwave for their supper--although the last thing she felt like doing was eating. She hadn't taken off her suit coat or her shoes and panty hose, as if still toying with the idea of leaving home.
"We've given her everything she could ever want, Mike, yet she's so ungrateful. I longed for a life like hers when I was her age. I can't believe she'd toss it all away for a stupid tube of lipstick. Why would she do such a dumb thing? We give her an enormous allowance. She could buy a dozen lipsticks."
"Maybe she's trying to get your attention."
His words felt like a slap in the face. "How dare you say that to me? You're away from home for weeks at a time! I'm the one who has always been here for her!" She yanked her purse off the table, fishing out her car keys as she headed for the back door.
"Don't walk out, Kathleen. This is one problem that you'd better not run away from."
She whirled to face him. "I'm not running away--although I'll admit I'm tempted! I'm just going outside for some air!"
He snatched the keys from her hands. "Don't get behind the wheel. You're in no condition to drive."
She stalked down to the end of the block, then back again, her high heels too painful to take her any farther. The upscale neighborhood was quiet, not at all the sort of place where children rode their bikes or played stickball in the street on a warm summer night. She didn't have to worry about nosy neighbors overhearing her screaming match with Joelle or wondering why she was stomping up and down the street in her business suit. The houses sat isolated from each other on their half-acre lots, shielded behind bushes and trees, all outside noises muffled by the whir of air-conditioners and the hum of swimming-pool filters.
Kathleen stopped at her mailbox on the way back to the house and pulled out a wad of catalogues, flyers, and junk mail. Finding a handwritten letter among the junk was such a rare occurrence these days that the lone envelope seemed to jump out at her. She looked at the return address and saw her sister's name and an address in Riverside, New York, where they had grown up. Why was Annie writing? Kathleen tore open the envelope.
Inside she found a gaudy invitation decorated with balloons and party hats. It looked as though it had come from a dollar store. She scanned the details, then read them again to make sure she hadn't misunderstood: Her sister was throwing a party for their father. Please try to come, Kathy, she had printed across the bottom. It would mean so much to Daddy.
"This is the last straw," Kathleen muttered. She strode up the driveway and into the house, trying not to picture her father's infectious grin, trying not to remember the happiness she felt every time he scooped her up in his freckled arms and called her "my Kathy." Happy-go-lucky Daddy with his cinnamon-colored hair. For all she knew, he could be bald by now. After all, it had been thirty-five years since she'd seen him.
But she couldn't go home--not now, not ever. Just the thought of returning to Riverside made her want to cover her head in shame. She would have to drive past her old high school, where she'd spent four years walking around with her head down, hoping no one would notice her, hoping no one would call her "Cootie Kathy" or, worse, "Kathy the Commie." No, she'd run away once before and would never go back ... least of all for her father.
Kathleen threw the invitation into the trash can beneath the sink and tossed the rest of the mail onto the table in front of Mike. He was digging into a plate of leftover Chinese takeout and reading the Washington Post. "I'm going to bed," she told him. "I want to forget that today ever happened."
"Hey, hey, wait a minute, Kath. Don't you want to eat something, first?"
"I'm not hungry." She walked as far as the kitchen door, then turned around to add, "By the way, I had a fight with my boss this afternoon--before the incident with Joelle. I walked out on him. I think I might be unemployed."
She didn't wait for Mike's response but continued upstairs to their master suite and took a long hot shower. This was much worse than just a bad day. Kathleen's carefully constructed life was falling apart all around her, and she didn't know how to fix it. She thought of the Bible character, Job, who'd lamented that the thing he'd feared the most had come upon him. Kathleen's greatest fear was much the same as his: that everything she'd worked for, everyone she loved, would be snatched away from her.
She let her tears fall freely as she showered. When she came out, Mike was sitting on their bed. "I found this in the garbage," he said, waving the balloon-covered invitation. "Did you mean to throw it away?"
She exhaled. "I would have run it through a paper shredder if we had one."