“I flew, of course,” Tess snapped. Her astonished mother stared back at her, mouth agape. Glaring pointedly at Steve, Tess added, “Your husband sent me to bring you home.”
A pink flush rose to Melissa’s cheeks. Turning to Steve, she said, “Steve, this is my daughter, Tess. Tess, this is Steve Fisher. I’ve been helping him look for…”
“…His missing girlfriend. I know,” she interrupted. “But now Jake’s getting ready for school and dad’s getting sick of living alone, so it’s time for you to come home.”
Steve shifted his weight and glanced at the bank of elevators. “Melissa, why don’t I give you two some privacy?”
“Good idea,” Tess agreed at once.
Melissa glared at her. “Thanks, Steve,” she said her eyes still fixed on her daughter. “I’ll see you later.”
Once Steve was out of earshot, Melissa rounded on Tess. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Do you have any idea what that poor man’s been going through?”
“Do you have any idea what my poor father’s been going through?”
For a split second, Melissa’s expression softened. “Why? What’d he say?”
“That the house is a mess, he can’t find his blue suit, and he’s been eating take-out for three weeks straight.” Tess stood glaring at her mother, arms crossed tight over her chest. “How do you expect him to live like that? You should be home taking care of your own man instead of hanging around here babysitting someone else’s.”
Melissa’s jaw locked tight and her face flushed red. She began to pace back and forth in front of her daughter like a drill sergeant preparing to berate a new recruit. “Look, princess,” she began, “I need a lecture from you like I need a damned hole in my head. If you were so concerned about your father’s well-being, why didn’t you just save him the airfare and clean the damned house yourself? You claim to be a grown woman. I’m sure you could have cooked him a meal and helped him find his blue suit.”
From the look on the younger woman’s face, she had not expected this retaliatory strike. “It’s not my job. I’m not his wife. You should be home with him instead of down here chasing after some grieving, young…whatever.”
Melissa paused as an elderly couple passed by, whispering to each other and shooting curious glances up at them both. “Upstairs” she said through clenched teeth.
“So you can pack?”
“So we can speak privately.”
With her arms still wrapped tightly across her chest, Tess followed her mother to the room. Once inside, she pulled a suitcase onto the bed and started throwing things into it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Melissa demanded.
“I told you, dad sent me to bring you home.”
“I’m not a child. I don’t need a chaperone to tell me where to go and what to do.”
Tess sighed heavily. “Mom, look, I’m not blind. I can tell you and dad have been having…problems lately, but you can’t keep hiding out here, pretending it’s all about this missing woman.”
Stung, Melissa attempted to mount a protest, “I’m not…”
But Tess held up a hand to silence her. “It’s time to come home. If not for dad, then for Jake. He needs your help getting his things together. He’s worried about you.” She hesitated a moment before adding, “I’m worried about you.”
There was the sound of knocking and Tess turned to look at the door. Melissa, on the other hand, looked at her cell phone. Only then did Tess realize that the knock she’d heard wasn’t actually a knock at all, but rather a ringtone on her mother’s phone. She watched as Melissa glanced at it, then set it aside.
“I didn’t get a return flight,” Tess explained. “It was a one way ticket, so I’ll need for you to drive us…” But Melissa’s eyes had already returned to her phone. “Mom, are you even listening to me?”
Melissa glanced up quickly.
“Is that him? Is he texting you?”
“So what if he is? He’s a friend and he needs my help now.”
“Mom, your family needs your help now. Please come home.”
Melissa stared back at her beautiful, young daughter. Tess had always been close to her father, and Melissa knew that she had no idea of his misdeeds. She thought about Jake, who was on the verge of leaving home and starting an exciting, new chapter in his own life. She knew he deserved his mother’s support at such an important time. She thought about Marc and their disastrous second honeymoon. She thought about Angie-young, willing, and naïve-everything she herself had once been. At last, she took a deep breath and said, “Okay, we’ll go home, but it’s too late today. Stay with me here tonight, and we’ll get started in the morning.”
Tess nodded her agreement.
A moment later a knock filled the room again, but this time they both looked at the door. Melissa crossed the room to answer it.
“Hi,” Steve began, looking first at Melissa, then at Tess, and back again. “I’m really sorry, it’s just…we’d talked about dinner at 7:00 and you didn’t…”
Melissa glanced at her watch. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot.”
“No, of course, I know you’re busy. I just thought…well, I mean, you have to eat, right?”
“Right, of course. Tess?” She glanced at her daughter, who stood at the far end of the room, rolling back and forth on the balls of her feet, her arms still wrapped tight across her chest. Finally, Tess nodded and followed them out of the room and down to the restaurant on the first floor. As her mother and Steve discussed the day’s events, Tess prodded her steak around the plate with the tip of her fork, but said nothing.
After dinner, Melissa convinced Tess to return to the room, leaving her alone with Steve in the lobby.
“I get the sense she doesn’t like me much,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“She’s her father’s daughter,” Melissa explained. “Lord only knows what he’s been telling her. He’s got her convinced I’m neglecting him and shirking my responsibilities as a mother.”
“So you’re going home?” he asked.
She couldn’t bring herself to look at him. His eyes had a way of capturing her, of holding her, and she knew she’d never be able to leave if she looked into them at that moment. “I think I should, not for Marc, but for Jake. He’s getting ready to go to school and…”
“You don’t have to explain. I understand. I knew you’d have to get back soon, for Jake. It was kind of you to stay this long. I really appreciate it. I had no right to so much of your time.”
She was overcome by an almost uncontrollable urge to look into those mesmerizing eyes, to get lost in them, and to stay right where she was.
“I know Ana would thank you too, if she were here,” he added.
Melissa swallowed hard and continued looking down at her feet. “I know you’re going to find her,” she lied. “I’ll say a prayer for her-for you both-every night. If there’s ever anything I can do for you…”
“Go home. Take care of your family. I’ll be fine, really.”
Her hair fell down onto her face. He slipped his index finger into a lock of it, tucked it back behind her ear, and then pulled her into an embrace. She lingered there for a moment, struggling with her own frustration and with the overwhelming guilt of abandoning him when he needed her most, before pushing him away and turning back toward the elevator that would take her to Tess.
Bright and early the next morning, the two women loaded the car and began the long drive back to Michigan. Melissa drove the first shift, and Tess couldn’t help but notice her mother’s new found fascination with silver pick-up trucks.
“Honestly, mother, do you think they’re still driving around in that same silver pick-up? They probably dumped it that same day. Isn’t it time you accepted the truth? She’s gone. The cops have lost the scent, and she’s gone. Your friend will have to get used to life without her.” She glanced at her mother’s profile before adding, “And you will have to get used to life without your friend.”
Melissa felt the hot rush of tears filling her eyes and looked away.