“I’m sorry I’m late. It took longer to register today than it’s ever taken. I’m taking 21 hours and argued with my advisor about such a heavy load.” Laura apologized breathlessly. “He finally succumbed –I don’t know whether to credit the heat in his office or the force of my argument.”
Las Vegas sweltered with a continual heat wave. University of Nevada Las Vegas turned the air conditioner off in offices and classrooms over the weekend to conserve energy. Like a car sitting in sun with the windows rolled up, the west-facing windows of Laura’s advisor’s office reached triple digit degrees on the weekend. The air conditioner, set to 72 cool degrees; struggled to dissipate residual heat from the weekend, and dueled with the daily heat emanating from his large west windows. His tiny office, crammed full of books and literary items, was uncomfortably hot during their late afternoon meeting.
“What do you need me to do?” Laura slung her full backpack, and purse into her assigned locker, and twisted the combination lock closed. “You rarely ask for my help during the week.”
“Please prepare a tea tray, ice tea of course, for three with leftover petit fours and tea sandwiches from yesterday’s bridal show. Make up a nice tray and then bring it to the director’s office.” Sister Mary Margaret revealed her nervous state in her short request. She gave terse directions to two other staff members and then entered her office, closing the door behind her. The closed door was alien to the staff, everyone always laughed that Sister Mary Margaret was approachable because of her open-door policy – open door to the mission at all times, open door to her office at all times. Everyone glanced nervously at the closed door and went about their tasks.
“What’s up?” Laura whispered to one of the workers.
“Big donor – and not someone from Second Harvest or the City. It’s a lady,” one of the workers whispered.
“Lady?” Laura raised her eyebrows in a pert manner.
“Lady -- in gloves and a hat! Sister Mary Margaret greeted her like an old friend before whisking her away.” The staff member whispered back. “I’ve never seen her in church before either!”
Laura quickly assembled an attractive tea tray from the leftover goodies, napkins and paper plates. She wished for a small nosegay or floral arrangement, but there was no time to scrounge one. She hoped the tea tray would impress their donor. Sister Mary Margaret had a perpetual wish list – new paint, equipment upgrades, more space for the community gardens, etc.
Laura observed the visitor when Sister Mary Margaret opened the door and motioned for her to put the tray on the table. A lavender and purple summer dress topped with an impressive Victorian picture hat of white with lavender and purple plumes and flowers matched lavender gloves, a clutch purse and pumps.
“Will you pour?” Sister Mary Margaret indicated Laura should occupy the empty chair at the table.
“Of course,” Laura settled in the empty chair. When she offered a glass of tea and a plate of treats to the guest, she knew why she was included in the meeting. Without registering surprise, Laura made tea and a plate of treats for Sister Mary Margaret and then one for herself. She handed a napkin to the guest, and then one to Sister Mary Margaret.
“So, I’ll bet you’re wondering why I asked you to stay.” Sister Mary Margaret began.
“No,” Laura said evenly. “I know why.” She unfolded a napkin on her lap, keeping her shaking hands below the table top. “I recognize the face, having looked at a reasonable facsimile of it for the past 21 years.”
“Laura, this is your biological mother, Maura Leigh Thompson Borland.” Sister Mary Margaret’s introduction was quick and nervous.
Laura laughed. “I always thought Gene Hunt was a pun. So I gather my biological father’s name isn’t Chase Coach either.”
The visitor laughed, despite her desperation to arrange this meeting. “I apologize I’ve made your search for me impossible by lying on your birth certificate. When I decided to name you after my favorite movie character, Laura Hunt, the rest of the false identities fell into place. Even now when I use the People Search on the Internet, I cannot find anyone named Chase Coach, and I can only find men named Gene Hunt. The names seem silly now, but at the time I thought I was being witty. Chase Coach, the perfect description of the events surrounding your father and stepmother. When I thought about genetics, and what genes you would inherit from Wyeth…and what you would inherit from me… I became Gene Hunt; for Gene Tierney from the movie Laura, and of course Gene for genetics. It will be a genetics hunt when you get our DNA tested. Your biological father’s real name was Wyeth Daniel Williams.”
“Was?” Laura slowed her breathing and expended nervous energy by scrunching her toes in her sneakers. She had to maintain calm. This meeting was obviously not easy for Sister Mary Margaret and Laura would not do anything to stress her. It was embarrassing to admit the kitchen staff was wrong. It wasn’t a generous benefactor they let into their midst, but a liar…a deceiver. Laura felt betrayed; not for herself, but for Sister Mary Margaret who worked so hard to make life easier for hundreds of people.
“I’m here because your paternal grandmother, Ella Forrest Williams, called your maternal grandmother, Grace Macklin Thompson. Wyeth, your father, died in March from an inoperable brain tumor. Ella Williams, your paternal grandmother has cancer.”
“It’s now almost September,” Laura chided her.
“I know. I had to finish a round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I have lung cancer. When I regained my strength, I told my family about you. Then I told Wyeth’s family about you. I hired a private detective to find you. My chemotherapy didn’t have the effect the doctor or I sought. I knew if I didn’t act fast, you would lose a father, grandmother and mother before you had a chance to find us.”
“It wasn’t necessary to hire a private detective.” Laura took a sip of her tea. “I haven’t strayed far from the fold.”
“So Sister Mary Margaret told me.” Maura set her tea down with a shaky hand. “I’m sure you have questions.”
“Let’s start with easy and obvious ones…” Laura twisted her napkin beneath the table to release unexpected fury. “Like, why did you give me up? According to my birth certificate, you were in your late 20s when I was born… it’s not like you were a scared 14-year-old girl who had no clue about how I was conceived or what to do with me.”Start writing here ...