The Last Goodbye
My dad had been the only family I’ve known my entire life. He was my hero, the one person I could look up to and rely upon.
I never knew my mother… only old photos in a scrapbook he kept from their highschool years. Bryant Deveau and Kathline Barrett met during the first year of high school in San Diego, California. It was love at first sight for my dad, well at least the way he told it. He instantly fell in love with her fiery red hair and emerald green eyes.
She fell pregnant during their senior year and as high school legend goes, during prom night. How cliché.
Aunt Kate says she always knew Kathline wasn’t cut out to be a mother, even when she agreed to marry dad and raise me together. Kathline packed up her life and fled, leaving only a note.
“Bryant, this is not what my life was meant to be. I know you’ll understand. Xoxo, K”
He kept the note, in the back of the scrapbook, along with all the memories of the girl he loved in high school.
She left us when I was two years old. And to be honest, it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I had more than enough parent in my dad.
So to stand here watching as his body gets lowered into a ground, hidden in a plain caskat… only myself, Aunt Kate and the priest, and a couple of grave diggers. There were tons of people at the service but they all had better things to do the afternoon we laid my dad to rest.
The funeral felt so sad, and cold. So empty. Like me.
My name is Avery Deveau and I just buried the only person who really loved me in this world. Everyone dies, I get that. But my dad was in his early thirties and I had just finished high school. He still had so much to offer and I still had so much to learn from him.
And now he was gone and I was all alone.
He wasn’t sick or anything like that. He just collapsed clutching at his head. Turned out dad had a brain tumor the size of a melon. All I could think about when I heard the news was ‘How does something like that go unnoticed’
Aunt Kate and I dealt with the influx of relatives; friends and colleagues as their condolences came flooding through our front door.
Aunt Kate was dad’s younger sister, his only sister. She wasn’t one of those cool aunts that let you sneak out on a school night or buy you tickets for a concert you’d been dying to see.
But she loved me and she loved dad, and that’s all that mattered. And I could confide in her about girl stuff.
I stood in dad’s room. We hadn’t packed any of his things up. Everything was still the same as the day he left the house that fateful day. I could feel the tear run down my cheek, but I was scared to wipe it away. I hadn’t cried all this time and I had no intention of balling my eyes out right now.
I stared out the window at the row of cars parked outside and let out an audible sigh.
A set of warm hands gently gripped my exposed shoulders. I turn to face the pure blue eyes I had ignored for a solid week now.
Ian Clarke was my best friend and my very handsome boyfriend. Up until a week ago I had every intention of attending Stanford with him after dad agreed that I could have a gap year, but now everything has changed.
He runs his hand lovingly across my cheek.
“How’re you holding up?”
“Haven’t heard from you in a while”
“Not much to say”, I turn to face the street again. He wraps his arms around my waist.
“I miss you Ave”
“I know it was tough losing your dad… but I wish you wouldn’t shut me out”
I angrily whip around and scowl at him. I wasn’t even that angry, but I felt like I needed a scene to prelude what I was about to do.
“You know nothing about losing a parent Ian!”
“I know…” he reaches out to me, but I jerk away “Babe, relax…”
“No Ian! I can’t relax… I can’t do this”
“What are you talking about?”
I felt bad, but I knew I had to go through with this. I no longer wanted to be in a relationship with Ian. I no longer wanted to live in this house. I no longer wanted to live in San Diego. And be reminded of my dad every day. I wanted out.
“We’re over” my words clung to the air.
I shake my head, acting confused but my decision was premeditated and well thought through.
“How did we get from not speaking for a week to you wanting to break up?”
I shrug my shoulders, “I just need time”
“Avery… what is this? Where is this coming from? I thought you loved me just as much as I loved you”
“We’re eighteen Ian! We don’t know what love is.”
“Ian… I’ve decided; don’t make this any harder than it already is”
“It doesn’t seem that hard to me. You decided that you no longer like your life here and you’re bolting the first chance you get”
He knew me better than I knew myself at times.
“I always figured a girl like you would grow tired of a boring, safe guy like me. But what I never banked on Ave… is you pulling this at your dad’s funeral.”
He shakes his head and turns to leave.
“You know I would’ve stuck by you through anything Ave.”
There was so much hurt in his blue eyes. A tear escaped down his cheek. I hated seeing Ian like this.
“Goodbye Avery, I hope you find what you’re looking for”
And then he left.
After all the guests had left, I helped Aunt Kate clean up, chucking paper plates and plastic cups into a blackbag.
“Hmmm” she doesn’t look up from packing the leftovers in the freezer.
“My mom… she still lives out in Myrtle Beach right?”
She comes upright and looks at me through guarded eyes. “Why?”
I shrug, trying on my best innocent face. “I was just wondering. Well… last year there was this school project about family trees and stuff. And it got me thinking about my heritage…”
“And a year later you’re bringing it up because?”
I shrug my shoulders.
“Oh honey, if you’re planning on approaching Kathline for any info… rather not kid. Your mom probably doesn’t even remember your name, let alone the fact that you’re her daughter.”
“I know… I just want to know about my Barrett lineage… I have no desire to look her up”
I could feel my nose getting longer.
“Oh… well okay then. Yeah, last I ran into her parents… they said she lives out in Myrtle Beach with some rich guy.”
“Do you know his name?”
“William Lackey… Ave… this is just for research right?”
“Of course” I lie again.
“Okay…” she continues to pack the Tupperware into the freezer.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the black dress I was forced to wear. I was much more comfortable in my grey sweatpants and t-shirt.
I lock the door and crash onto the chair at my desk, staring at the computer screen. There he was, William Lackey, the prominent hotel owner of Myrtle Beach. The picture of the happy couple looked stiff and posed.
All I needed was her new last name and I could track down Kathline. Before I knew it I had used all my savings to book a one-way flight to Myrtle Beach.
I pulled my luggage down from the top shelf inside my closet and packed any clothing item I deemed non-negotiable. A couple pairs of jeans, some t-shirts, underwear, toiletry bag.
The photo frame on my bedside cabinet caught my eye. I grabbed it and chucked it into the suitcase. It lay there, exposed, long enough for me to remember the day we took it.
Dad loved taking me to baseball games. It was one of those fun-filled excursions. The ones where you eat all the hotdogs and candy floss you can manage, and feel sick to your stomach afterward. But dad was cool like that. He gave me one day every month where we could pig out and just be kids. The rest of the days we’d both struggle through our greens and cut down on our coffee intake.
I think he enjoyed our excusions and cheat days more than I did sometimes.
I must’ve been about nine years old in the photograph. Dad had his arms wrapped around me, with his chin buried in my hair. He wore his favorite baseball hat, back-to-front of course.
He had the biggest, brightest smile I had ever seen. He was always smiling.
A tear dripped onto the glass of the frame, my tear.
I closed the flap of the suitcase and zipped it shut.
I pushed the now-full suitcase under my bed, switched off my PC and got into bed. Tomorrow I would get up at the crack of dawn, leave Aunt Kate a note and board a plane to meet my mother for the first time in sixteen years.
I had a plan.
I took a cab to the San Diego airport, made my way to Terminal 2 and waited for Flight 975 on US Airways to board.
I stood in line, my ticket in hand and my bookbag slung over my shoulder. I was nervous, but probably not as nervous as I would be once I got to the Lackeys doorstep.
I had to do this. Kathline was my only living parent. I had to know who she is. She had to know who I was.
The thought never occurred to me that she might frown upon my sudden arrival. I could feel my stomach doing flips and my heart slam against my chest. It was too late to back out now.
The lady at the counter took my ticket and passport with a smile. My trembling hand took the stub and my passport back from her, still smiling.
I just made it to my seat before my legs gave way under me. Thank God, a window seat.
The lady in the seat next to me was way too engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey she tried to hide from my eyeline on her Kindle, to hold an unwarranted conversation all throughout the flight.
I looked out the window and soon my eyelids started to droop. Getting up early was only for those motivational, energizer bunnies wanting to catch the worm… or something to that effect.
When I reopened my eyes we had landed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Christian Grey fan gently nudged my arm and smiled.
“We’re in Myrtle Beach darling”
I smiled back and ran my hand through my messy hair.
Getting off the plane wasn’t the mission it always is. I guess early birds are well behaved and strict on their time.
As soon as I collected my luggage from the baggage claim, I located a payphone to call home.
I knew Aunt Kate was going to be pissed, but I couldn’t disclose my plans to her. I knew she would try to talk me out of it.
“Where the hell are you?!” her voice shrieked on the other side of the receiver.
“Avery Maddison Deveau you had better fess up right now or…”
“Ave… what is going on?”
I could hear her manage her breathing on the other side of the line. Everytime Aunt Kate was about to lose her cool she’d practice her meditating crap she’d learnt from her ex, River Gold. We all had serious reservations about the validity of his name, but kept our opinions to ourselves around Aunt Kate. River was a Yoga instructor slash Buddist slash pot-smoking freeloader.
“I’m at Myrtle Beach airport”
I could imagine her head exploding right now.
“What are you doing in Myrtle Beach?”
“I’m going to meet my mother”
I sounded so matter-of-fact and self-assured, like someone who had all the answers. I clearly had none.
“Ave… we talked about this…”
“I know… and I get that Kathline is not mother material… but… you know”
“Avery, have you even spoken to Kathline?”
“Well I could only string together Mama the last I saw her…”
“Kid, this is not good”
“I know what I’m doing”
“Really? Well can you shed some light for me?”
I clear my throat, “I want to know her. And I want for her to know me.”
“Please just let me do this. And if it blows up in my face, you get to say I told you so.”
“Do you think that that’s what I want? If I thought it were a good idea for you and Kathline to meet, I would’ve done it years ago. But nothing good can come of this Avery. She doesn’t want you in her life kid”
“Aunt Kate… dad is dead…” I could feel the tears threatening, the lump rising in my throat, the same feeling of emptiness I had been suppressing since the day dad died.
I interrupt her before she could say anything.
“She is my mom… and that means something to me. And if it really means nothing to her, then… well, at least I tried to get to know her”
There was a deafening silence at the other end of the line. Not even breathing.
“Well, let me know when you get there… at her house I mean. And I’m not even gonna ask how you got her address.”
I smiled as I hear the smirk in her voice. “It’s called Google Aunt Kate”
“Okay smartass… just check in with me every now and again”
“How long do you think this Elizabeth-Gilbert-Eat-Pray-Love road to selfdiscovery is gonna last?”
I snort at the comment. “I’m not sure… as long as it takes…or at least the summer.”
“Or if she gets a restraining order”
We both laugh.
“If she gets agitated with you, move her stuff around. It annoys the living daylights out of her”
“Aunt Kate… why aren’t you on the next flight out here?”
“Because you’ve lost enough to last you a million lifetimes… and I want you to know, that you still have me and you won’t lose me too. And if you can finally make Queen Kathline get her head out of her ass long enough to notice what an absolutely amazing kid she missed out on… well I’m onboard that train.”
“I love you Aunt Kate”
“I love you to the ends of the earth and back Ave”
I hang up the phone, pressing my forehead to the receiver.
I walk outside and get the attention of a cabdriver. He helps me load my luggage in the trunk of his car.
“Where to young lady?”
“Uhm…” I remove a folded sheet of paper from the back pocket of my well-worn jeans “516 Ocean Boulevard… Surfside beach”
He nods as he opens the door for me. I smile and slide into the backseat.
I take in all the sights. The ocean seemed to stretch for miles on end. According to Eddie, the cabby, Grand Strand stretches for more than sixty miles along the Atlantic Coast. He also did the touristy pointing toward the two hundred foot skywheel, in the direction of the amusement park and shopping malls. He literally couldn’t stop gushing over his hometown.
It did have pretty spectacular scenery though. And for a splitsecond I forgot that I wasn’t here on summer vacation and just enjoyed the tour.
The boardwalk seemed like heaps of fun. My thoughts drifted to Ian and how much he would’ve enjoyed the beach and the amusement park. He loved stuff like that, carnivals and festivals.
I had planned on calling him right after I hung up from my call to Aunt Kate, but then decided against it. Besides, what could I possibly say that would make him feel better?
I take my phone from my bookbag and slide my thumb across the face to unlock the screen. There we were, the happy couple, staring back at me from my mobile’s wallpaper. I sigh as I look at myself with Ian, so happy and in love.
Eddie announces that we’re only minutes away from my destination. My heart almost leaps from my chest. I slip my mobile back into my bookbag and lean forward.
The houses down the street were all colossal; it seemed that every one of them had the beach in their backyard.
“This is our version of Beverly Hills” he chuckles at his own observation.
I notice the picture of two nerdy teenage boys stuck to the dashboard. Must be his kids. They must find his sense of humor funny.
Eddie was sweet and endearing, in small doses.
He pulls over in front of number 516. He gets out and heads to the back to retrieve my luggage.
I slowly make my way out of the cab, shielding my eyes as I take in the gigantic house.
Eddie joins me, standing next to me and staring at the house.
“I know it’s pretty big, but I’m sure it doesn’t bite”
Cue his bellowing laughter.
I shrug and force a smile. It wasn’t his fault that someone once told him that he was a funny man.
“Want me to walk you up to the door?”
He seemed sincere enough, but I needed to do this on my own. I shake my head and pull at the handle of my luggage.
“Thanks anyway Eddie… it was great meeting you.”
“You too Avery. Have a good stay in Myrtle Beach. I’m sure you’ll enjoy all it has to offer, including the fantastic weather” he winks as he gets back into his cab.
Eddie honks as he drives off.