Blood Tied I Tale
He’s from the best family in town ... How do I tell him I came from a test
1998, Durban, Connecticut
“Looking good,” my best friend Sabby Wescott said. “Hey, is that a new dress?”
“Not really. Do you like it?”
Who was I kidding? I’d bought the dress yesterday during my lunch hour.
But admitting to Sabby just how hard I was trying to be someone a guy like Jordan would want to hang with permanently wasn’t something I could do.
Walk This Way was one of the few clothing stores in Brock Mall that wouldn’t let you buy on layaway. The store’s customers were all young like me, but the owner didn’t like anyone under the age of thirty.
A lot of the girls from my former school thought it was smart to wear an outfit once or twice and then return it to get their money back. And they were kind of thoughtless, too. They’d put clothes on layaway and never bother to tell the store later that they’d changed their mind. It always seemed to be the rich kids who did stuff like that. The ones who weren’t rich, like me, were too conscious of being poor to be jerks.
I’d already spent all I could afford on makeup by the time I had spotted the dress. I’d had to wait another two anxious weeks to buy it. I’d wanted the dress so much that I dropped into the store to visit it every few days (and to check to see if it was still hidden in the size sixteen section at the back of the rack). Someone did put it back in the size four section on the weekend, but I had moved it again. There was only one like it and I had been determined to get it.
“It’s killer,” Sabby said now. She was leaned against the counter, swinging her purse. “That green looks great on you, Louise. Every guy in this bank is staring at you. I’m glad Dylan doesn’t work here or I’d be jealous.”
“I don’t care about the other guys in this place. How about Jordan? Do you see him looking over here at all?”
Sabby, true friend that she was, casually looked over in the direction of the loans department for me. She pulled her sunglasses off and pretended to re-insert a lens that had popped out. I was getting impatient when she suddenly grinned. With a flourish, she perched the glasses back on her nose. “He looks like he’s studying those papers on his desk, but he keeps snatching looks over here.”
That made me happy. The dress had cost a lot, but it was worth it if Jordan liked it. I passed Sabby her bank book and she went to sit down in a chair, waiting for me to get off work.
I’d noticed Jordan Hammond III right away when we’d moved to Durban. I couldn’t get near him at school, though. There were too many popular girls after him for me to think of competing. I was just a nerdy loner who happened to be good at math. It wasn’t until he started working at the bank that I’d finally gotten to know him. It was 1998 and internet banking had yet to become standard. People still went to the bank in person to withdraw money or make a deposit in those days. I liked my job. I’d been out of school for two years and I was no longer easy prey for anyone to gang up on. I’d changed a lot and so far as I was concerned, it was for the better.
There was something about his dark hair, warm blue eyes and secretive smile that attracted me in a way that none of the other boys I’d dated ever had. Jordan had been a year ahead of me in school. But he had only been at the bank for six months longer than me. It was an okay job for me, but it was serious business to Jordan: his family owned part of the First Savings National Bank. I mean, what else could you expect from a guy with numerals in his name? I’d thought at first that he was trying to make me laugh when he’d told me.
I appreciated how smart he was being about it all, though. His reasoning was that he should spend a year working at the bank so he would have a good grasp of what he really needed to know to be successful at banking. Then he’d go to university. I was working at the bank for a different reason. I wanted to eventually go on in school, too, but I was going to have to earn my own way.
Jordan was quiet and the boys I’d gone out with were loud and boisterous. They were forever doing stupid things like sticking straws up their noses or horsing around in a pool. I didn’t have to do much to get their attention and I never dated them for long. Jordan was different. He was so caught up in his work that I was afraid he’d never get around to noticing me. Happily, since that first occasion when he had shyly asked if I wanted to go to lunch, things had changed for the better. We had gradually become a steady thing and we were talking seriously about the future.
“Young woman, I’ve been waiting here for two minutes and you have yet to notice you have a customer.”
I started and looked up to see a well-dressed woman standing in front of me. I sneezed as the aroma of expensive perfume drifted over to me. “Sorry, ma’am. I don’t know what I was thinking. May I help you?”
“Well, of course you can. Why else would I be waiting? I’d like to make a deposit.”
With one perfectly manicured hand—the nails were like claws—she pushed her bank book through to me along with a stack of cheques. She hadn’t filled out a deposit slip. I guess she figured that kind of work was for menial minions like me. The woman had already made me so nervous that I made a mistake when I tallied up the deposit. She stretched her mouth in a mean smile and corrected me.
“Don’t you know how to add? The bank should be more careful about who they hire.”
The other tellers stiffened in a way that let me know they were absorbing every word that passed between us. Sabby had been watching, too. She was currently trying to roll her eyes and give me a sympathetic look at the same time. She looked so odd that I suddenly felt like laughing. I couldn’t help smiling and the nasty customer gave me a dirty look. What a horrible woman, I thought. And why does she wear so much perfume? She really reeks.
I finally got things straightened out. When I returned her bank book, she took it and left without a backward glance. Some of her stayed behind, in the form of the overpowering perfume she was wearing.
“What a witch,” Sabby whispered to me.
I didn’t answer her. I was too absorbed in watching the woman. She headed straight for the loans counter after leaving my window and I was appalled. Was she going to complain to the bank manager about me? But instead, she pulled up the leaf and let herself through the counter, waking directly up to Jordan. When she kissed him on the cheek, my mouth fell open.
Brittney Goertz, who was working at the station nearest to Sabby’s chair, leaned over the counter and stage-whispered something to her. She was three years older than us and I didn’t know her well, but she lived next door to Sabby. “Brittney says that’s his mother,” she hissed. I suddenly felt my heart drop down to somewhere in the region of the new sandals that I’d bought to go with my dress.
“I’ve never seen her before,” I said and tried to ignore the sinking feeling. “I thought she was still in Europe.”
Sabby hastily conferred with Brittney and turned back to me. “Looks like the Hammonds cut their vacation short. Brittney’s brother saw them driving back from the airport last night.”
I watched as Mrs. Hammond spoke with Jordan. She put her hand possessively on his shoulder and looked over once in my direction while she was talking. After a couple of minutes, Jordan got up and politely escorted his mother out of the bank. Jordan grinned at me over her head, but it wasn’t enough reassurance to keep me from being in a foul temper for the rest of the morning.
Good going, I kept telling myself. You meet his mother for the first time and now she hates you.
I wished I could talk to Jordan. But I knew he had to attend a business meeting and we wouldn’t be meeting for lunch at our usual bench in the park. I liked that park: it was so private—so cool and shadowy under the spreading trees and big flowering bushes. It was always full of people, though some of them thought the privacy Jordan and I enjoyed so much was dangerous. It was our favorite place.
I was still upset when Jana Whitehead, recently married and as happy as a kitten, came over a few minutes later to relieve me for lunch. Don’t let Mrs. Hammond bother you,” she said breezily. “She treats everyone like dirt. We were all relieved she went to you today instead of one of us.”
“How does she get away with treating people like that?”
The petite bank teller shrugged. “Easily. Between her family and her husband’s family, they must own half the property in this town as well as a good chunk of this bank. The Hammonds go way back here and I guess they figure they’re like royalty.”
“Well, I have to admit she is a royal pain.”
Jana laughed. “Yeah, well when you marry a guy, you marry his family, too.” She proudly stuck her finger out to display her new rings for the hundredth time.
Brody and I have to go over to his parents’ house for Sunday dinner every week. I’ve tried every excuse I can think of, but we can’t seem to get out of it for even one weekend. We both work fulltime and I’d give anything to have him all to myself for a change.”
“What’s so hard about just telling them you want some time alone?”
Jana ignored my question and instead gave me a speculative look. “At least my in-laws are easy to get along with, Louise. The Hammonds would be something else again. They’re the biggest snobs in town.”
“Jana, I may not have blue blood, but there’s nothing wrong with my family.”
“The Hammonds will find something,” Jana said. “They always do.”
I was still upset when I swung my beat-up little Honda into the driveway that afternoon. I kept thinking about Jana’s hints. I knew Jordan had dated other girls in high school, but I didn’t know why had broken up. Had Jordan decided they weren’t good enough for him? I’d never thought he was that kind of a guy.
Slamming the battered door of my Honda didn’t do anything to improve its beat-up appearance, but it did make me feel better. Especially when I remembered that I’d already told Jordan about my background and he hadn’t said anything negative.
I’m not from a rich family or anything, but I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, I thought. My father, a doctor, had died in a car accident shortly before my birth. My mother had moved us out from Chicago three years ago and supported us both by continuing to work as a nurse. She said a small town in Connecticut was a much better place to raise a teenager.
I sort of admired my mom. She said my dad was so great that she was never willing to re-marry and settle for second best. It’s not every woman who has that kind of standard and I respected her for it.
But I’d missed having a dad. Even when I was little, I tried to keep those thoughts to myself. I knew my mom was doing her best to raise me on her own. Secretly, I still wished I had gotten a chance to know my dad. My mother always said I took after him, not her. With her freckles and petite size, my mother looks as Irish as a leprechaun. I’m tall and slim. We don’t have the same coloring either. I have dark brown hair and eyes. My mother has red hair and green eyes.
“Mom! I’m home!”
“My mother poked her wiry-haired head out of the spare bedroom and smiled. “Hi, honey,” she called. “Time to get ready for your big date?”
“I guess,” I said. My mood improved more. “You finished yet?”
My mother sighed dramatically. “I’m getting there. Here I thought it’d take me one day, not four. I can’t believe how much junk we’ve accumulated. But there’s just a few more cartons to go, and then I think I’ll finally be ready to have a garage sale."
I was enough of an adult not to remind my mother why we had so much junk. She was one of those unfortunates who simply could not pass a garage sale without stopping. She’d picked up a few good things over the years, but not enough to make up for mistakes like the concrete bird bath that refused to stand upright. It lay half-buried in the small garden plot behind our condo, looking like a fallen Greek ruin.
“My date’s not till eight, Mom. Why don’t I finish up while you get something to eat? You’ve got to get to work soon.” I wasn’t really being nice—I wanted to make sure my mother was not repacking useless stuff to keep instead of setting it aside to sell.
My mother was currently on night shift and happy to accept help. She promptly took me up on my offer. “You want anything?” she called back as she went out the door.
“No, thanks,” I shouted. “Jordan’s taking me to Chelsea’s and then we’re going to the park.”
“Oh ho, big spender. Better hang onto this one.”
Sorting through the remaining junk was interesting at first. I discovered a box of my old toys. My mother was serious about her promise to get rid of all the junk this time, I was relieved to note. Last time, she had held onto almost all of it for “sentimental reasons.” And we could really use the space in our cramped condo.
I held on possessively to one of my old bears for a moment and then dropped it back in the box. What did I need that old teddy bear for? A little kid would be happy to buy it for a quarter. I opened another one of the dusty cartons my mother had dragged out and discovered picture albums mixed in with a jumble of loose photographs.
I couldn’t believe she wanted to get rid of these—then I remembered her saying that she planned to make a special photo album for me so I’d have copies of all of our pictures. I smiled with satisfaction, thinking that she was taking my dating Jordan as seriously as I was—she must have realized I’d be leaving the nest she’d made for me soon.
Curious, I sat down on the bed and began to sort through the box. I smiled at the familiar baby pictures and dug down to the bottom, thinking to pick out some of my favorites.
I fished out a faded photo album and opened it. I was surprised to see it was full of newspaper clippings. I couldn’t remember ever seeing this particular album before. Puzzled, I leafed through the pages. The newspaper stories dated back to 1978. All of them were about test-tube babies. I read about Louise Brown, an English baby who was the first test-tube baby ever born. How odd, I thought. She has the same name as me. I read on, feeling oddly uneasy. Louise Brown’s mother had been unable to have children in the ordinary way. But by mixing her mother’s ovum and her father’s sperm in a nutrient medium, doctors had managed to come up with a fertilized egg and successfully implanted it in the mother’s womb.
It was interesting, I guessed, but I wondered why my mother had saved the clippings. Had she been involved in such work when she was nursing in Chicago? Had she named me after this baby? My unease grew as I worked my way to the back of the photo album. The last stories were from Chicago newspapers. They were about the first test-tube babies born at a hospital there. A story accompanied by a photograph was titled: Miracle Births. In the picture was a group of ten mothers. They were smiling and holding their miracle babies up for the camera. I felt my heart skip a beat and almost dropped the album. The third woman from the left was my mother! And the baby she was so proudly holding up to the photographer, bowed legs and all, was me!
I stared at that picture for what seemed an eternity. There was no doubt about it, I decided. I had been born with a shock of black hair and that’s what the newborn baby in the picture had, too. My mother had tied a red ribbon around it for the picture. I even thought I recognized the fancy ribbon. I dimly remembered other family photos of me as a newborn, wearing a red ribbon in my hair.
Feeling numb, I read the names of the lucky mothers. There it was: Gwendolyn Pender, my mother. There were other stories from different Chicago newspapers about the same event and every one of them mentioned my mother’s name.
Something suddenly struck me and I read through the stories again. I looked again at the lists of names that included my mother’s and I studied the dates of the stories. A memory rose up of the tales my mother had told me about a tall and gentle man who liked to collect coins and go for long walks with my mother. Someone who, my mother had said, was looking forward with great excitement to the birth of his first child. That was the man I thought was my father. But I’d never thought to add up the dates before. Wayne Pender had died a full year before the stories were published! My mind caught at a fleeting hope and rejected it. They could not have used his sperm. My birth had occurred well before they had such things as sperm banks.
I felt sickened as I thought of the stories I had never grown tired of hearing when I was small. I had gone to go to sleep at night, comforted by my mother telling me about my dad. It had consoled me then to know that I had been wanted—by both my parents.
My mother bustled into the room, wearing her nurse’s uniform. As always, she smelled of crisp linen and no-nonsense efficiency. “Louise, I’ve got to get off to work now. When you finish with the—”
Her voice broke off and her smile disappeared when she saw what I was looking at. “Oh.”
“Oh, yes,” I said. Angry tears rose in my eyes. “I just want to know one thing,” I sobbed. “Did I even have a father?”
She flew to my side, looking more upset than I had ever seen her. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry you saw those clippings. I should have burned those years ago.”
She pulled the box away from me.
“Why? So I’d never know I wasn’t normal?”
“Louise, don’t say that. You ARE normal. You were a healthy, bright baby and how you were conceived isn’t going to change that.”
“It changes everything! I shouted. “So tell me and tell me now. Who was my father?”
When she told me, I didn’t feel any better. My mother didn’t know who my father was!
“I was working at a blood clinic in Chicago when I heard that women who could not conceive in the ordinary way were being sought for a new program.” She looked at me, her eyes desperate for understanding. “I was married and my husband was a doctor. Everything I’ve told you about him was mostly true, Louise, though not the car accident. We got lost in the woods for two weeks when we were hiking and there was nothing to eat. But Wayne wasn’t your father, anyway.”
“I don’t understand,” I sobbed.
“I wanted you, Louise. You’ll never know how much I wanted you. Wayne and I had tried to have a baby for years. But then we found out my fallopian tubes were blocked. I couldn’t have a child. I was almost forty when this chance came and it was like a miracle. The program stipulated that you had to have a marriage licence and I did. At first, they tried to argue that because my husband was dead, I didn’t qualify. But then the doctors got excited about using an outside donor and . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“Who was my real fath—the donor?”
“I’m sorry, honey,” she said gently. “But I told you . . . I don’t know. I even had to sign a paper stating that I would never try to find out who he was. I suppose it was to ensure I could never involve him or the hospital in a paternity suit.”
“How could you do it?” I roared. “You even gave me the same name as . . . her.” I stabbed a finger at the story about the Brown baby. “I’m nothing but a . . . a freak.”
My mother laughed. “What an exaggeration. You were a miracle, that’s what you were, and that’s why I named you after the first little girl born this way. You’re my child and I love you very much.”
My mother tried to hug me, but I ducked away from her. Looking distressed at last, she began backing out of the room. “I know this has been a shock to you. You’ll feel better about it once you’ve had a chance to realize how little it means.”
I said nothing. What could I say? All I knew was that this was the worst day of my life. Everything I’d always believed about myself was a lie. I wasn’t a miracle—I was a monster. My life was ruined and it was all my mother’s fault.
When I heard her car leaving, I went to phone Sabby. Hearing her cheery voice only depressed me further, but there was something I had to know.
“Sabby, have you ever heard anything about Jordan’s other girlfriends?”
“I know he went out with Karen Cabot when he was in high school. I think he dated Selena Gauthier, too.”
“How come he broke up with them?”
“I dunno. You’re not worried, are you? You shouldn’t be, Louise. Jordan’s crazy about you.”
I hesitated, wanting to tell Sabby what I had just learned. But I was still trying to work my way around to it, when she cut the conversation short.
“I gotta go, Louise,” she said, her words running together. “Dylan’s at the door and we’re already late. ‘Bye.”
I held the phone receiver a moment longer and sighed. If I couldn’t bring myself to tell my best friend, then how would I ever be able to tell Jordan?
“You haven’t said much.”
I tried to smile at Jordan and continued to swirl the wine around in my glass. With the glow of candles and the sound of soft music playing, it should have been a romantic evening, but my mood was spoiling it. “I’m sorry, Jordan. I guess I just don’t feel like talking.”
“You don’t want to go to the park later?”
“Jordan, I’m just not hungry. Leave me alone, okay?”
“Okay.” He paused for a moment. “How’s your mom doing?” he said finally.
I had the feeling he had been going to say something else. “She’s fine,” I said in a flat voice. “She’s working nights this week.”
“I really like your mother. You’re a lot like her.”
Well, that’s just what I need to hear. “I’m not a bit like her!” I snapped.
“Gee, don’t bite my head off. I don’t mean your looks or anything.”
He doesn’t have a clue why I’m upset, I thought.
He took a monstrous gulp of his wine and gave me a serious look. “There’s someone I want you to meet tonight, Louise—two someones, actually.”
“I heard your parents were back in town,” I said stiffly. “You never talk about them, you know.”
“I know. There’s a reason. Some people find my parents . . . a bit hard to take.”
After my run-in with his mother, that was easy enough to understand. But I was already so upset over my discovery that I had come close to breaking my date with Jordan. It was only my fear that I’d start crying and blurt out the truth that had stopped me from phoning him. “Not tonight.”
What excuse could I make? The thought of meeting Jordan’s mother now put me in a panic. I remembered the look in her eyes as she had put her hand on Jordan’s shoulder. I figured Mrs. Hammond was capable of doing anything to keep me away from Jordan. “She doesn’t like me.”
“How can you say that? She doesn’t even know you.”
Hesitating, I told Jordan about how she had treated me at the bank. I was watching him carefully and I saw his eyebrows dip together in an angry line. “Not this time,” he said, half to himself.
“What did you say?”
“Jordan, can’t I meet them next week?” I pleaded. “I really don’t think I can handle this tonight.”
“There’s a reason why I’d like you to meet them tonight.” He dug into the front pocket of his jacket and removed something. Then he pulled my hand forward and perched it on my palm.
I gasped. It was a small blue velvet box. I opened it and found a diamond solitaire ring nestled against the cloth.
“I was hoping we could tell them about our engagement tonight,” he told me softly. “Do you like it?”
Like it? I loved it! But I felt torn between happiness and anguish. I saw the puzzlement in Jordan’s blue eyes and cringed. How could I tell him what I had been thinking from the moment I had made that awful discovery in the spare bedroom?
Jordan came from the best family in town—and I came from a test tube. Another thought struck me and I winced. Would Jordan think I had been lying before? I had already told him about my father—or, at least, about who I had mistakenly believed my father to be. Could I keep the truth from him for the rest of my life?
“Isn’t it what you wanted?”
“It’s beautiful,” I stammered. “But maybe . . . maybe we’re going too fast.”
“What’s got into you, Louise? I thought you knew this was coming.”
I couldn’t stand it suddenly. It was so unfair. Why should I suffer because of something my mother had done? I fixed a smile on my face and reached for Jordan. “It’s just pre-wedding jitters,” I lied as I hugged him. “I love it and I can hardly wait to meet your parents.”
A look of relief spread across his face though he must have known I was exaggerating about being eager to meet his family. He kissed me and I didn’t even care that everyone in the restaurant was watching us.
What did I have to be embarrassed about? Jordan was mine and nothing, not even the unfortunate circumstances of my real origins, could change that.
The Hammonds’ place was intimidating, a huge brick house with white pillars and crouching lions at the entryway. The ivy creeping up the sides looked as if it had been trying to eat the house for generations. Jordan must have noticed the look of distress on my face because he took one hand off the steering wheel and put it around my shoulder.
“Jordan,” I said in a small voice. “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s go back to town.”
“Don’t be scared, Louise.” His arm tightened around my shoulder. “My mother can’t hurt you. You’ve got me with you, remember.”
Jordan lived in an apartment complex not far from the bank. I had never been to his parents’ place before. Jordan had said it had been shut up for months while they travelled in Europe. I have to admit I was curious. And I was relieved to find Jordan’s father, a tall grey-haired man with twinkling eyes, to be friendly enough when he met us at the door.
“So, this is the girl I’ve been hearing about,” he said and gave me a broad wink.
“This is the one,” Jordan said with determined cheerfulness.
I sneezed. Jordan’s father was wearing an outrageously strong cologne. Was overdoing it with scent a habit they had both picked up in Europe? I knew they travelled there regularly.
“Jordan, darling, how good to see you.”
My nose took notice of her ahead of my eyes. Mrs. Hammond, elegant in a velvet dress and pearls, came into the hall from the living room. She pointedly ignored me.
“Did you get that information I wanted on the Sancor murals?”
“It’s at my place, mother,” Jordan replied, his voice tightening. “But that charity art auction isn’t for another month. I thought we agreed that tonight was for other things.”
“Not that again,” she said and tossed her head with impatience. “I told you—you’re being too impulsive. Why, you haven’t been at the bank for a year yet. You’re in no position to make any big changes in your life. By the way, I wish you’d listen to me and give up that silly apartment. It makes no sense to be paying rent when you could be living here.”
“It has basement parking,” he retorted.
As I listened to them quarrel, I began to feel afraid again. I felt frozen, in fact. How could I have let Jordan talk me into this? But then I felt Jordan reaching down to my side. He brought my left arm up and waved my hand at her. Victoriously, I thought. When Mrs. Hammond caught sight of the ring, it was her turn to freeze.
“Well, well,” Jordan’s dad said uncertainly. “Does anyone feel like a drink?” Nobody answered. “I’ll just get a glass of wine, then, Lydia,” he said, as if his wife had just spoken. He fled the room.
“My father hates scenes,” Jordan whispered to me.
I felt the obligation to say something—anything—to smooth things over. Maybe it was the same impulse that sent hunted buffalo stampeding over a cliff to their deaths. “Jordan and I are both working,” I said with all the seriousness I could muster. “Mrs. Hammond, there’s no reason we can’t marry now.”
“Working!” she snorted. “The only thing the tellers in that bank do is gossip with each other and ignore their customers.”
Jordan’s mouth opened and then closed. He grabbed me by the hand and spun me around, in the direction of the door.
Jordan! Don’t you dare leave until I finish speaking to you!”
“You don’t understand, mother. We’ve finished speaking with YOU.”
I turned to Jordan once we were safely back in the car and grinned. “You were great.”
“Well, what did you think I was going to do? Let her use you for a punching bag?” He pulled me to him and kissed me. Hard.
“Is that what she did with your other girlfriends?” I asked without thinking.
Jordan didn’t answer. He started the car up instead. “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
We were almost back to town before Jordan spoke again. “I did go out with a couple of girls in high school,” he said shortly. Jordan—my quiet Jordan—suddenly slammed his hand down on the wheel, sending the car wavering over the white line.
I looked at him, alarmed.
“Sorry, Louise. She just makes me so angry. I thought she understood how important you were to me.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Now we plan our wedding,” he said with a crooked smile. “Maybe she’ll change once she realizes I’m serious this time.”
My mother and I had fallen into an uneasy truce, but the faith I had always had in her was badly shaken. She had tried to talk with me a few times about what I had learned, but I refused to discuss it.
She had been delighted at first when I had shown her my engagement ring. But there had been an unspoken question in her eyes and I had known what it was.
“No, I haven’t told him.”
“Louise . . . maybe you should.”
“Why should I?”
“Because it was such a shock to you when you found out. I was wrong to keep it from you all these years. I just didn’t think it was a big deal. To be on the safe side you should probably tell—”
“No.” And that’s all I would say. I never wanted to talk about it—or think about it—again.
In the next weeks, it seemed like Father Time himself knew how eager Jordan and I were to get married and was obligingly speeding things up. It was a happy time as I busied myself with preparations for the wedding.
When I got up yawning on that last Saturday before my big day, I was sure things were going to work out fine. It was beautiful weather and my last weekend as a free woman. My girlfriends had thrown me a stag party the night before and boy, had I ever partied. The few hours of fun before the more serious business of settling down had made my upcoming wedding even more precious to me. Jordan and I were getting married, I kept telling myself with sheer wonderment. I was so happy.
I had just treated myself to an herbal bath, when the doorbell rang.
“Mom!” I shouted “Would you get that?”
She didn’t answer. I stuck my head out the bedroom window and saw that my mother’s car was not in the driveway. I realized she must be gone already on her weekend scout of the neighborhood garage sales. There was an unfamiliar sports car parked at the street curb, a foreign import of some kind, and it looked expensive.
I hurriedly put my wet hair up in a towel and pulled my bathrobe tighter around me. When I opened the door, I took two steps backwards. It was Mrs. Hammond.
She was immaculately clothed as always. And stank like a bottle of perfume someone had knocked over. I hadn’t seen her since the night Jordan and I had announced our engagement. Or, I reminded myself, tried to announce our engagement. The Hammonds still hadn’t responded to our wedding invitation. Somehow, I didn’t think that was why she was here.
“A late riser, too, I see,” Mrs. Hammond said. “Aren’t you going to ask me in?” Having established that I was lazy as well as rude, she smiled.
“Come in, then,” I said without enthusiasm. I couldn’t help shrinking away as she passed me. There was something about her that instinctively set me on edge. And I was in no mood for her insults on such a beautiful day. I watched as Jordan’s mother sat down gingerly on the edge of a couch my mother had “discovered” at a garage sale. She had gone to great trouble to reupholster it, but one of its springs still stuck out.
Mrs. Hammond dug through the large file of papers she was carrying. “Let’s get right down to business, shall we?”
I watched in amazement as she withdrew a folder. I had been expecting her to say that she had decided to attend the wedding. Instead, she opened the folder and fanned its contents out on the coffee table. I blinked and then blinked again. What was this?
“I hired a private detective,” she said bluntly. “I KNEW you weren’t good enough for my Jordan. And look what he found. Here—” She held out a document “—this is a copy of your so-called father’s death certificate. And here—look at these newspaper clippings.”
They were all too familiar. I felt like I was going to be sick. “What—what kind of a mother are you?” I stammered. Don’t you care about Jordan at all?”
She gave me a look of loathing. “Of course I care about my son. He means the world to me. I care more than enough to make sure he doesn’t end up marrying a—an experiment.”
Her expression changed and I fled the room. Seconds later, from behind a locked bathroom door, I heard the front door slam as Mrs. Hammond triumphantly left the house. When I returned to the living room, I saw that she had taken the papers with her. Would she be showing them to Jordan next? Of course she would.
I imagined the look of horror on his face. A freak—a monster—that’s what his mother would be revealing to the man I had thought to marry.
I had never felt so completely alone in my life. I couldn’t turn to my mother. I didn’t want to—she was responsible for ruining my life in the first place. As I dressed, I realized that my chance at happiness was over.
I forced myself to get into my car and drive to the bank. I didn’t work Saturdays and thank God, neither did Jordan. Brittney was surprised at first when I asked to withdraw all the money from my chequing account and close my savings account as well. Then her manner changed as she assumed Jordan and I must be opening joint accounts after the wedding. At least, she didn’t ask me any questions.
When I got home, I packed my clothes. I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote my mother a note informing her that I felt my only choice was to leave. I asked her to tell Jordan that I had gone and to give him the envelope I was leaving on the counter. Then came the hard part—I took off the beautiful ring he had given me and put it inside the envelope. Ironically, it was a leftover one from the stationery set I had used for our wedding invitations.
I drove to Bridgeport, some fifty miles away, and started looking for a job. As soon as I found a teller vacancy, I applied for the position. When I knew I had it, I went searching for a furnished apartment.
I was so lonely. And I found it impossible to make new friends. I wanted people so much—but at the same time, I couldn’t stand to let them get close to me. Every time someone was nice to me, I worried about what they would think if they knew I was a freak. After two months, I was desperate. I finally phoned Sabby and told her the whole story. I was surprised by her reaction. She wasn’t horrified at all to learn I was a test-tube baby. In fact, she thought it was sort of neat. She said she was mad that I hadn’t told her before.
“Louise, why don’t you come back? I miss you. We all miss you.”
“And face everyone? Sabby, I couldn’t. I’m sure Mrs. Hammond has told everyone in town by now.”
“I never heard a word of this until you told me, Louise. All we knew was what your mother said—that the wedding had been temporarily delayed.”
“Delayed? Who is my mother trying to kid?”
“Well, that’s what she said. Don’t think the rumors haven’t been flying—but not about what you just told me,” she added hastily. “You know how people are here. Some gossips were saying you were pregnant and had secretly gone off to have the baby, but I told everyone you were as flat as a board when you left.”
“Sabby, thanks for your loyalty, but listen. You’ve got to promise that you won’t tell anyone where I am.”
“I mean it. You have to promise.”
“Oh, all right,” she said. “But I think it’s stupid.”
It lifted my spirits considerably just to know that Sabby was coming on the weekend. She didn’t drive, but she said she would take the bus and come out to see me. On Saturday morning, I made a big batch of Sabby’s favorite chili. I decided it was the least I could do for her before . . . well, you know.
I answered the door quickly when I heard a knock that afternoon, eager to clasp my friend in my arms. It would be so good to see her, I thought with rising excitement. But it was Jordan.
“Now don’t be mad at Sabby,” he said quickly. “She figured it was for a good cause.”
I put my head down. I was too ashamed to look at him and I could feel the tears coming. Why couldn’t he leave me alone? Hadn’t his mother already told him enough? And drat it all, I had really, really wanted to see Sabby.
“Louise, your mother told me the whole story.”
“But I thought YOUR mother had already taken care of that.”
He hesitated. “Louise, it doesn’t matter.” He looked at me and tried to take my hand, but I pulled it away. “Do you remember when you asked about those girls I used to date and I wouldn’t answer you?”
I looked quickly at Jordan. He seemed embarrassed. Now it was coming, I thought unhappily. He was going to tell me I was just like the others—not good enough for him.
“You were right—my mother did interfere before. I just didn’t want to admit it to you—that I could let her get away with doing that to me. Karen was a second-generation American and my mother treated her like a second-class citizen behind my back. Selena came from a single-parent home like you and I found out later that mother had done everything but call her a bastard.”
My breath caught in my throat. “Didn’t your father do anything?” I asked at last.
“He always backs her up,” Jordan said with scorn. “That’s the Hammond way. But everyone figured it was my fault when they disappeared from town. Do you know what they started calling me in school? They used to call me Hammond the Nerd. After that, it was Hammond the Turd. So much for the respect for my family heritage that my parents were always trying to drill into me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said lamely. “I always thought that sort of thing only happened to kids like me.”
“It happens to everyone,” Jordan said. “It just feels like you’re the only one.”
We looked at each other suddenly and then fell into each other’s arms.
The wedding was over, and I was relieved that nothing had gone wrong. It was a shame that Sabby and some of my other friends hadn’t been around since the stag party, but I knew they would have approved of how things had turned out. Especially Sabby.
Mrs. Hammond had been on her best behavior throughout the wedding, too. I couldn’t even smell her dreadful perfume because the odor of the lilies decorating the ballroom of the big house were overpowering her usual scent.
Tomorrow we would join the rest of the family in the bank vault, but for tonight we were by ourselves in the Hammonds’ cellar, and Jordan was holding me in his arms. I thought for a moment of my mother sleeping all alone in the trunk of her Volvo and wondered if she missed me. But I was married now and things had changed forever. What an exciting day it had been!
His lip curled and a hint of upper canine showed like a promise of things to come.
“How did you know?” I asked him, stroking his hair. “At first, I mean.”
“Well, you were such a loner. That was my first clue. And your friends . . . .”
“What about my friends?”
“I noticed they were never around for very long. They had a habit of ending up as runaways. Though Sabby did us both a good turn before she . . . went away.” His tongue unfurled and he lapped at my left ear. “And you . . . how did you know about me?”
“Easy,” I said. “There are so many people who go missing in this town. It’s a trend that dates back for at least a hundred years, too. I checked everything out in the library as well as I could and got hold of the caretaker records for this place. Then I made a spreadsheet. The disappearances never occurred unless one or more of the Hammonds were in town.”
Jordan propped himself up on one elbow and smiled more broadly. “You really are a little math whiz, aren’t you?”
“You bet I am.” I grinned, showing a bit of tooth in return. “My mother always said I could add faster than I could suck the blood out of an IV bag when I was a baby.”
“I’ll bet you were a real handful when you were little.”
“Yeah. I have to give my mother credit. Being a single parent vampire couldn’t have been easy.”
Just one more month and she’ll be sixteen. My sigh is a mixture of nostalgia and pride as I study my daughter Klea. She’s modeling the formal dress I picked up from the tailor’s this afternoon. It’s six inches shorter now and just the right length for her. Even if she is my own daughter, I have to admit she looks good enough to eat. How has the time gone by so quickly? Klea is almost a woman—she’s as red-headed and independent as her maternal grandmother—and she is already mature enough to be hunting, too.
Klea is bringing her date for the spring prom home tomorrow night and we are all excited. Especially my mother-in-law. Nothing attracts her more than youth. Whenever her grandmother is in the room, I make sure to supervise Klea carefully though Jordan thinks I’m being a bit silly. Still . . . I think it’s better to err on the side of caution, don’t you? Especially after that incident in the nursery.
The years haven’t changed Mrs. Hammond one bit. She is a bit smellier, I think, but in all the essential ways she’s just the same as she’s ever been. Well-dressed and stinking. My mother-in-law has always been coy about her age, but I soon understood why she drenches herself in so much perfume and why her husband uses such excessive amounts of cologne. After all, they are getting on for five hundred years old. A bit of dry rot is only to be expected in day walkers that old.
Eventually, no matter what we do, all of us end up smelling like week-old road kill. If you aren’t careful to sleep in absolute darkness at night, you stink even worse, too. The smell is the trade-off for being able to get around during the day. It’s a chemical reaction to sunlight and it worsens over time.
My mother still manages to disguise her own scent with a strong antiseptic—people typically assume she’s been over-zealous in bleaching her white nurse’s uniform—but she won’t be able to get away with that ruse forever. I have recently become self-conscious enough to start using the odd dab of Chanel No. 5 myself.
There are worse things and living with the Hammonds has been mostly okay. Caressing the pop-veined arm of the pensioner Jordan took from the park, I look up and first glare in warning at my mother-in-law—it’s not her turn—and then smile with appreciation at them all before I bite in.
My family. You know, when you get right down to it, it’s really the most important thing. But I’ve taught the Hammonds one new truth, I think: that it doesn’t really matter where you come from.
The important thing is to stick together.