Gaining Visibility(4)

By: Pamela Hearon

“We’d talked about him coming, but, yeah, there was a surprise.” Another weighty pause. “He brought Dawn with him.”

“Oh.” Julia swallowed the retort that appeared on her tongue—the one that would confirm Frank’s insensitivity. It left a bitter trail going down. “Was that . . . okay . . . with you, I mean?”

“It was okay.” Julia sensed the shrug that accompanied the answer. “He looked good. Brown as a biscuit. And I could tell he’s been working out.”

“Good for him.” A shallow answer, but it would suffice.

Another pause and then Melissa changed the subject, obviously not wanting to discuss her dad and his young girlfriend, which was fine with Julia. Preferable, even. “I went ahead and accepted that three-year offer, by the way.”

Julia’s breath left her in a rush. Three years. She tilted the phone up so Melissa wouldn’t hear the shocked gasp. “You did? That . . . that was quick. You were still just considering it the last time we talked.”

“Yeah, I know. But Michael’s got some cool stuff in the works, and Dad thought it sounded like a good deal, so I decided to grab it before somebody else did.”

The excitement in her daughter’s voice caused a tug-of-war in Julia’s conscience. She wanted Melissa to be happy—wanted her to be confident in her decision making—hoped the impetuous decision to follow Michael into the wild was the right one.

But committing to three years?

The nagging fear she was too far away to care for her daughter’s broken heart should the relationship go south never completely went away.

The remainder of their time was taken up with Melissa’s ongoing saga of life in Alaska with Michael, and Julia’s recently added details about her upcoming trip to Italy in July.

By the time the conversation ended and Julia sat alone with only the mosquitoes for company, the Far North seemed more familiar and real to her than ever . . . and farther from Paducah, Kentucky, than she could’ve ever imagined.


The following day, Julia sauntered into Room 187 at the Manor Hill Convalescent Center bearing a bouquet of sunflowers in one hand and a box of Godiva chocolates in the other. “I have nipples!” she announced.

At eighty-three, Hettie Berkwith still cut a fetching image in her pink silk gown with her silver braid of hair lying sleekly over one shoulder. “So do I,” she countered. “And I’d show them to you, but at present, they’re tucked snugly between my knees.” The stroke, which paralyzed the left side of Hettie’s body, might’ve made her grin one-sided, but it hadn’t slowed the speed of her one-liners.

Julia laughed and gave her mother-in-law’s cheek a peck before presenting her with the chocolates and arranging the flowers in the vase that always awaited them on Thursday.

“So, do I get to see them?” Hettie already had the cellophane off the box and sat poised to pounce on the foil-wrapped dark chocolate medallion.

Julia set the flowers on the bedside table and eased into the La-Z-Boy. “Not today. The bandages don’t come off for a few days, and then I have to keep them protected for a couple of weeks.”

Hettie cocked an eyebrow. “So that would mean no heavy sucking.”

“Not even if there were someone who wanted to.” Julia returned the look with a cocked brow of her own.

Hettie drew a long, dramatic breath. “Man, that just sucks.” She popped the medallion into her mouth and replaced the lid on the box. “So, what other news you got? Heard anything from my son, the prick?”

Julia had grown so used to Hettie’s “term of endearment” for Frank, it no longer fazed her. “Sort of.” She pulled the handle to raise the footrest a notch and tilted the recliner back a bit. “I talked to Melissa last night. She said he and his new friend Dawn flew up to see her for a few days. Apparently he looked tanned and fit.” Julia noted that whereas talking about Frank used to stir her anger, now it mostly made her tired. She stifled a yawn.

“Tan and fit, eh? I’d like to tan him. Guess that’s what Hawaii does for you.”

This was a day for celebration, not one to dwell on her ex, so Julia eased the conversation in a different direction. “Melissa and Alaska seem to be a good fit. She took that three-year offer they gave her.” She’d advised Melissa against the move—losing her “little girl” to adulthood, a man, and Alaska in one fell swoop was enough to make any mother retaliate. But talking to Melissa last night had loosened the hounds of contrition, and they were nipping at her heart. “I was wrong, trying to talk her out of going,” she admitted, more to herself than to Hettie. “But thank heavens she knew her own mind and didn’t listen to me. Following Michael to Alaska was the right choice for her.”

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