Flowers – Excerpt

When Lucas fell asleep, I turned from him and curled into a ball. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like to travel to Italy, to walk into a café, to order a cappuccino or a glass of wine. I envisioned the Tuscan countryside, groves of olives, stucco walls obscured by ivy. I squeezed my eyes shut and imagined the oil-drenched olives, the crusty loaves of bread, the pasta, and the seafood. And then I remembered the flight attendant escorting me off the last airplane I’d attempted to board.

At two in the morning, I slipped out of bed and went to the bathroom. I stared into the mirror, gawking at my reflection as if I had never seen myself before. Who the hell are you, Melissa Fletcher? I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, studied my makeup-less face, my plain-Jane features and childish peaches-and-cream complexion. I opened the drawer of the vanity and fluttered on three coats of black mascara. I lined my lips red and filled them in with a scarlet matte lipstick. I pulled black eyeliner across the rim of my lashes. Who the hell are you, Melissa Fletcher? Was it even possible to be someone different? I lifted my chin, puckered my lips, raised a flirty eyebrow. Maybe I could fool a few. Yet through the cake of heavy makeup, I could still see little me.

I crept into the kitchen for a sip of juice, then sat down at my computer and logged on to Facebook. I pulled up Joe’s profile. His younger daughter, Olivia, was hamming it up for the camera. In the background, I could see the older daughter cozy in a recliner, reading The Hobbit. She looked like me, back in the day, spending my time with characters in books instead of friends at sleepovers.

I started a pretend message to Joe, one written by the girl with red lipstick and heavy eyeliner. A message written by a girl who had another man in her bedroom. “I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. I loved everything about you. I still love you.” One character at a time, I backspaced until my message was deleted. Then I washed my face and curled up on the sofa.

I stayed awake until dawn. At five in the morning, I called the office and waited for the message machine. When Jenny’s sweet voice asked that I leave a message, I told her I would be out this week. I told her I needed some time to think things over. As an afterthought, I told her I was fine, no need to worry, and that I was sorry if I was harsh with her. When I hung up the receiver, I felt as light as a meringue. Then I returned to my bedroom.

At six o’clock, the alarm on Lucas’s phone trilled. He rolled over and kissed me. “Time to wake up,” he said. “Early bird gets the worm.”

“I’m not going in today,” I announced. “I’m staying home. I’m going to cook all day. Maybe take a nap. I might watch an Italian film later.”

Lucas looked at me as though I’d just announced my enlistment in the circus. “Why?”

I buried my face in the pillow. “I need some time to think things through.”

“Get up, Melissa!” he said with mock cheer. “Grab a shower, put on your power suit, pour a cup of coffee, and get to work. Nothing will make you feel better than adhering to your routine. Trust me.”

I pulled my face out of the pillow and looked at him. “I know you’re right,” I said. “But really, I’m not going in today.”

Lucas buttoned his shirt. “You need to defend what’s yours, Melissa. Trust me, don’t spend too much time wallowing.”

Just leave, I wanted to say. Please, just leave, and stop talking. “It’s not that simple,” I said, growing irritated. “Everything is different.”

Lucas reached under the bed for his loafer. “What’s different?”

I just shook my head, because what was different wasn’t the obvious—that Dad was dead, that he had left me a crappy You could do better! letter, that I had a choice in my future. What was different was the cauldron inside of me, brewing a potion of anger for my father that I had never once felt before, a fury that could singe metal. I had never rebelled as a teenager; I had never screamed the iconic, adolescent I hate you, Dad! I had never felt a teardrop of ill will toward the man who loved me so well. Until now. Now, at this moment, only weeks after his death, I was ready to scream horrible epithets at him. The I Hate Frank Fletcher Club was holding its inaugural meeting.

I slept until noon, and when I woke, my head was cloudy and uncertain; for a moment I felt like a child waking from a nap, and for an even briefer moment I remembered my mother lifting me from my bed and holding me against her chest. “There’s my girl, there’s my girl,” she sang.

With the nostalgia still clinging to me like shrink-wrap, I went into the shower and let the hot water and soap pull me into consciousness. With a towel wrapped around my body and another one around my head, I returned to my bedroom and slipped back into my bed. I pulled the towels from me and tossed them onto the floor, then covered myself with the down comforter, and shut my eyes. I padlocked my heart and tried to figure out if what I was doing today was merely a charade or if I was for real. Who the hell are you, Melissa Fletcher? I asked, and this time I needed an answer, because what I was thinking about doing required me to be bona fide, not just a pretender.