Authors: Donna Fasano
Tags: #General Fiction
Her smile was lopsided, her attempt at humor failing. “Are you kidding? No way. We didn’t go in for that kind of stuff.”
Once they’d become friends, they avoided fellow classmates. After they’d started dating, they were careful not to be seen in public together. Dances, any school functions, really, were out of the question. Tensions grew quickly in mixed crowds.
“Sounds like you two were pretty boring.”
The burst of laughter that shot from her w Kot >
After a moment or two, Zach must have realized that was all she was going to offer. He ran up the first three steps of the bleachers and back down again. “So what’s next? I know you said there wasn’t much here, but if this is where you grew up, there has to be more to see, right?”
They piled into the car and Tyne drove him to the river, the steep road snaking downward to the rocky bank. The wide open view was spectacular, full of cool, lush greenery and churning water. And she spent an hour teaching him to skip stones across the surface of the river. He caught on pretty quickly and seemed to understand the need to search for smooth, flat rocks without having to be told.
“You’re a natural,” she told him when he’d made a rock skip several times before it plunked beneath the surface.
He scanned the ground for another stone and when he found one, he smoothed his thumb across it. “This is a really big river.”
“The Susquehanna is the largest river on the Eastern Shore. When I was in school, some of the kids tried to convince me that the name meant ‘mile wide and foot deep,’ and I even saw that listed in a visitor’s brochure.” She released a stone and it
without making a single skip. “But Jasper told me it’s an Algonquian word that means ‘muddy current.’”
“Uncle Jasper’s pretty cool, don’t you think?”
She nodded. It seemed there was more her son wanted to say, but he only flung the stone he’d found and grinned when it hopped too many times to count.
“Show off.” She laughed.
“I’m thirsty,” he told her, dusting his palms on his shorts. “Can we stop someplace for a soda?”
They headed back to the car and when she jabbed the key into the ignition, she asked, “Are you hungry?”
Zach shook his head. “Nah. Not yet. Just thirsty.”
They made their way to a convenience mart on the outskirts of town. Tyne had successfully evaded Main Street and the town square up until then. Zach hadn’t asked about her childhood home, and she had no idea what she’d say or do if he did.
The store shelves were only chest-high, so she could see her son standing at the glass door of a refrigerated section of teas, sodas, and juices. She’d brought him out today to talk about his anger toward her, but she had no idea how to broach the subject without just coming right out with it. It felt awkward, and because she couldn’t begin to guess how he might react, she hadn’t even tried to raise the subject.
Having paid for her bottle of water and his peach Snapple, she headed out the door. Zach paused by the stack of newspapers sitting by the door.
“Hey, Mom—” he jogged across the parking lot after her “—look at this.”
She stopped at the driver’s side door, her hand on the latch.
“The town paper. It’s okay. I didn’t steal it. Says right here it’s free. But look.”
Tyne slid behind the steering whee
l and Zach got in beside her.
“It’s an article about the Mayor.” Excitement sparked his tone as he read, “
’Mayor Richard Whitlock cut the ribbon of the Sheer Elegance Hair Salon on Third Avenue this past Saturday
How cool is that? The Mayor has our last name. You know him?”
ime. It’s what she
was in desperate need of. Time for her heart to stop pounding. Time to figure out what the hell to tell her son. She uns Not > n’crewed the top of her bottle of water and tipped it up for a
“Wow,” she said at last, swiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “That’s cold. And delicious. Just what I needed. I was thirstier than I realized. How’s your tea?” Misdirection failure. Even as she asked the question, she knew he wasn’t going to fall for it.
The bottle sat, unopened, where her son had tucked it between his thighs. Zach was too busy staring at the paper.
“Do you know this guy?”
His expression was curious, so guileless, in fact, that she was forced to look away. Her first instinct was to lie. Brazenly. But she couldn’t. She respected her son too much to do that.
She looked him in the eye and said, “He’s my father, Zach.”
A tiny frown bit deep into the space between his brows. “Your father is the mayor of Oak Mills?” His voice had gone pliant.
“Yes. My parents live here, son. Lucas told you I grew up here.”
He gazed down at the newspaper in his lap, then out the front window at the people coming and going through the door of the convenience store, back at her, then down at the paper.
“How come you never told me? How come you never brought me here? How come they never visited us?”
His tone intensified with each question until it seemed the last one was hurled at her rather than spoken. Her heart palpitated and she felt light-headed. She twisted the key and started the car, flipping on the air conditioner the instant the engine purred to life. Cold air blasted from the vent and she pointed it directly at her face and chest.
“Zach, can we try to stay calm,” she began. “Can we try to talk about this without getting upset? I just don’t think I could take it if you—”
There didn’t seem to be an ounce of joy in the revelation. The words he fired off were crammed with angry accusation.
“I have grandparents I’ve never met.” He shoved at the paper and the newsprint tumbled to the floor around his feet.
“Cut it out, Zach,” she scolded. “You’re going to smudge ink on Lucas’s car seats.”
“I don’t give a shit about the car seats.”
“Watch your mouth, young man.”
“I won’t.” He glared at her. “I’ll say whatever the hell I want.” He shifted away from her, closer to the passenger side door.
Tyne shoved the car into gear and glanced behind her before pulling out of the space, fearful that he might leave the car before she could get moving. Seeing the street was empty, she put her foot on the gas.
done for my
.” The paper crinkled when he moved his leg. “Whatever the hell you want. You don’t think of anyone but yourself.”
“What are you talking about?” The interior of the car suddenly seemed too hot to support life, so she reached for the knob on the air conditioner and turned the fan up a notch. Logic and experience told her that defending herself by pointing out all the things she’d done for him, all the times she’d put his wants and needs before her own, wouldn’t assuage his anger at this moment.
“Zach,” she began, then whatever words she meant to say jammed in her throat along with a big knot.
He faced the passenger side window, his body a tight ball of muscle. “Every year at school we had Grandparents Day. Everyone invited their family for lunch.”
She wasn’t going to let him go there. “Ms. Josephine went with you several years in a row, Zach.”
“Ms Jo.,” he spit out contemptuously. “She was my babysitter, Mom. My babysitter.”
“She loved you very much. She was hap S. SMpy to stand in—”
He turned on her, his gaze fierce. “I’m just now learning that I didn’t
a stand in. I have the real thing. I just never knew it. Thanks to
Tyne’s jaw clenched at the same time that her hands grew white-knuckled on the steering wheel, her gaze latched onto the road ahead.
“I want to meet them. I want you to take me to their house. I want you to take me there right now.”
“No.” She didn’t take her eyes off the road. “No, I can’t do that.”
She didn’t have to look at him to know his coal-black eyes were staring a hole right through her skull.
“You have to trust me on this, Zach,” she said. “When you’ve calmed down—when we’ve both calmed down—we’ll talk about it.”
The BMW flew fifty-five in a thirty mile per hour zone, but she didn’t ease up on the gas pedal one iota. She knew exactly what she was doing. Knew exactly where she was heading. To Wikweko. To Lucas. He was the only person on the face of this earth who could help her explain this to her son.
• • •
Something was…off. Lucas’s gut
told him so. It wasn’t anything his uncle had said or done. Intuition alone alerted Lucas that something wasn’t quite right between him and Jasper.
Tyne had warned him of this and he’d scoffed at the idea. But the strange electricity tingling along his arms and the back of his neck every time there was a short lull in the conversation made him realize he should have heeded Tyne’s warning.
He’d come to the apartment over the gallery where his uncle lived this morning looking for information, but this awkward air bothered him, so much so that the questions he’d wanted to ask about his mother went unasked.
The kettle had been heating on the stove when he’d arrived, so he accepted his uncle’s offer of tea. Although Jasper’s kitchenette was compact, it had all the necessary conveniences. The two men sat opposite each other at the small, round table, another silence stretching out long, tentacle-like fingers, and Lucas could barely resist the urge to rub his palm over the prickling sensation at his nape. He was just about to point out the huge elephant that seemed to be sharing the small space with them when Jasper spoke.
“There was a fish,” his uncle said, “that lived in a tiny cove.”
Lucas went still. He knew that tone. It was the one Jasper used when he recounted Lenape myth. As a boy, Lucas had been mesmerized by the stories his uncle told, spending hours going over them in his head so he wouldn’t miss a single nuance of wisdom they contained. However, today his Uncle’s profundity was ill-timed and less than welcome. He rolled his eyes, and under his breath he mumbled, “Here we go.”
“The fish swam in a school with other fish just like him. Brothers. Sisters.” There was a dramatic pause before he added, “
. He grew and was happy. One day he heard about a place. A wondrous place called the ocean, and the fish decided he no longer wanted to live in the cove with his own kind.” Jasper set down the mug of fragrant herbal tea. “He wanted to experience new things, to be amazed and astounded by those things he had not yet seen but had only heard of. So he left his family. He began a long journey to the ocean.”
Even just half-listening, understanding dawned on Lucas, and he sat forward in his chair to focus on his Uncle’s words. He’d moved away. He hadn’t been home in years. He’d neglected his duties as a nephew. The path this story was taking was plain. He deserved a lecture; he’d sit here quietly and take it like a man. At least the cause of this stiffness between them would Sen ain. no longer be a mystery.
“The fish swam into deeper water, following the swift current.” Jasper’s gaze never wavered from Lucas’s face. “The water became so deep the sunlight could not penetrate, so the fish had trouble seeing. He wondered if he should turn back, but ambition to see different things—to
different—urged him on. He was not used to the strong undercurrent. He was tossed and flipped and flung, the jagged rocks and brightly colored coral ripping at his tender flesh. The loss of scales made him weak.”
“A storm arose,” Jasper continued, “and churned the water, capturing the fish in a dangerous eddy that tore at his fins. The fish rested by a pristine clam shell only to be nearly devoured by a barracuda.”
“Stop.” Lucas stood and took a couple of steps to stand at the kitchen’s narrow window. The scent of smoky bacon wafted on the breeze. One of the other artists on the street must be having a late breakfast.
He turned to look at Jasper. “I thought I knew what was going on. Thought I’d figured out the moral of your story. But you’ve lost me.” Lucas tugged on his earlobe and shook his head. Then he stood up straighter. “I’m not a kid, Uncle Jasper. If you have something you want to say to me, just say it.”
Jasper listened and then looked down to study his mug. “You used to hang on my every word.” The older man lifted his gaze. “But you are a man, and you want to be treated like a man. I understand.”
The turn the story had taken had unsettled Lucas. He wasn’t weak; he wasn’t torn or tattered. He crossed his arms over his chest.
His uncle seemed to be measuring his thoughts. Finally, he said, “Ambition is a hungry master. It feeds on pieces of its servant until—”
They stared at one another.
“I don’t want you to lose sight of who you are, Lucas. Of where you came from.”
“I know who I am. I am Lenape. And I know where I came from.”
There was no judgment in Jasper’s expression. So why did Lucas sense that his uncle was dubious of his claims?
Any lawyer with two brain cells to rub together knew not to argue a point without preparation. Well thought-out logic and reason must be used if one was to make a winning case. He decided it would be best to leave this argument for another day.
“Uncle Jasper—” he went back to the table and sat down “—I came here to ask you some questions.”
Jasper’s calm demeanor never changed.
“I want to know about my mother.” He took a breath, licked his lips. “If she died when I was born, where is she buried? What was her name? Why are there no photos of her anywhere?”
The questions disrupted his uncle’s peace. Jasper tried to hold Lucas’s gaze, but he failed. Finally, he simply shifted in the chair so he was no longer facing his nephew.
“I need some answers,” Lucas pressed. “I feel as if I have this gaping hole in my life. I’d like to fill it in. I need closure. I want to know who she was. I want to visit her grave. Honor her memory with a gift. Please. Tell me where I can find her.”
Jasper issued a deep, soulful sigh.
“I’m sorry.” A frown creased Lucas’s brow. “I know it’s a subject no one ever wanted to talk about. I felt that the whole time I was growing up. Sensed it. So much so, that I put her completely out of my mind. But not knowing who my mother was…well, it’s just not normal. You have to see that.”
His uncle’s expression grew more troubled with each passing second.
“What?” Lucas was becoming agitated. “What is it? Is it something bad? Was
bad? Is that it?” Frustration got t Stra
Jasper barked his name sharply.
He lifted his hands, palms up, in a quick, short, jerky motion to emphasize his apology. “I didn’t mean to speak ill of the dead.”
“She isn’t dead, Lucas.”
He couldn’t have been more stunned had his uncle swung out and cuffed him on the jaw.
Jasper shifted so they were face to face. “She didn’t die giving birth to you.”
“But someone told me that.” His voice was barely a whisper. Somewhere in the back of his brain he registered that greasy smell of bacon. “Someone.” He shook his head. “Told me.”
“It wasn’t me. And it wasn’t your father.” Jasper’s chest expanded when he took a deep breath. “Ruth Yoder was alive the last time I saw her. And that was the day she placed you in your father’s arms…and walked away. We knew we would never hear from her again. And we promised Ruth and her father we would never contact her.”
His mother’s name was Ruth. Lucas let the name echo in his head.
Jasper rested his elbows on the table, clasping his hands lightly below chin level. “Your father promised, Lucas. You should uphold the promise.”
Lucas sat for moment, searching his uncle’s face. “Traditions like that caused our people a world of hurt. Generations holding onto promises made
Jasper’s shoulders sagged and he looked away. With his eyes focused on something across the kitchen, he said, “Your mother was of The Plain People. Her father was a bishop in one of the religion’s most conservative sects.” He shook his head. “I don’t remember the name of the church. Don’t know that he ever told us.
“Bishop Yoder used to drive his horse and buggy here to Wikweko,” his uncle continued. “He bought horse liniment from an herbalist here. And resold it to the Amish farmers.”
Lucas was silent, taking it all in.
Jasper looked him in the eye. “You must leave things be.”
He felt as if he were moving in slow motion, shaking his head, pursing his lips. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
Jasper sighed. “She’d be only a few years younger than me. She could have crossed over due to some illness or other. If she’s still alive—” He shook his head, leaving the rest of his sentence unspoken. “You really need to think about this, Lucas. Your father made a promise.”
“Don’t worry.” His stomach churned. “I will.”
Birdsong floated in on the summer breeze, a chirpy, jarring noise.
“Lucas, I want you to remember that things are not always as they seem.
.” Once their eyes met, Jasper continued, “I want you to remember that a Lenape always acts honorably.”
His uncle closed his eyes, his throat convulsing with a difficult swallow. He looked down then, sliding his mug closer to him and lacing his fingers around the white ceramic.
“I would rather you leave this alone. But if you cannot…whatever you find, whatever you learn, you must never forget that you are enjoying life because this woman gave birth to you. Do not cause her harm.”
Somewhere at the periphery of Lucas’s consciousness, he heard his uncle’s odd warning. But he couldn’t take in any more, couldn’t digest anything else; he was too overwhelmed with the idea that the woman who had abandoned him might still be alive.