Saving Phoebe Murrow: A Novel

BOOK: Saving Phoebe Murrow: A Novel
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


A tale of missed opportunities, conflicts of personalities, and misunderstandings leading to disaster, Herta Feely's
Saving Phoebe Murrow
is a compelling first rate domestic drama, a book to set on the shelf alongside Sue Miller's
The Good Mother
. Insightful, gripping, in the end thrilling. Most highly recommended.

— Wayne Johnson,

author of
The Devil You Know

When people talk about the fragility of adolescence, when they talk about social media and cyberbullying, when they talk about suicide among teenagers, they will talk about Herta Feely's novel,
Saving Phoebe Murrow

— Louise Farmer Smith,

author of
One Hundred Years of Marriage

Saving Phoebe Murrow
is a believable, gripping, heart-wrenching novel about how reality can be tragically manipulated in this age of social media. The wealthy, high-powered political milieu of Phoebe's parents echoes the social jostling of the teens. Phoebe's anguish as she tries to fit into the private-school social world is palpable. The intentions – good and otherwise – of a panoply of characters coalesce to a dramatic climax.

— Jyotsna Sreenivasan,

author of
And Laughter Fell From the Sky

Herta Feely deftly evokes the uncertain and fraught world of teenagers and their parents. In her novel, she confidently navigates this world with brio, candor, and a rigorously grounded and, at times, humorous style that immediately grabs the reader.

— Sandra Hunter,

author of
Losing Touch

In her debut novel,
Saving Phoebe Murrow
, Herta Feely masterfully draws us into a domestic world of petty hurts that morph into pain… Mothers and daughters beware!

— Ellen Bryson,

author of
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

HERTA FEELY is a writer and full-time editor. Her short stories and memoir have been published in anthologies and literary journals, including
The Sun, Lullwater Review, The Griffin, Provincetown Arts
, and
Big Muddy
. In the wake of the James Frey scandal, Feely edited and published the anthology,
Confessions: Fact or Fiction?
She was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Artist in Literature Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for
The Trials of Serra Blue
. She has also received an award from American Independent Writers for best published personal essay for a piece on immigration. In
Saving Phoebe Murrow
, Feely continues her commitment to activism on behalf of children. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University, Feely is the co-founder of Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to saving children from unintentional injuries, the leading killer of children in the United States. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and cats. (

Saving Phoebe Murrow

Saving Phoebe Murrow
a novel
Herta Feely

Copyright © 2016 by Herta Feely

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, events and incidents are
either the products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is
purely coincidental.

ISBN 978-0-9964395-6-5

Published in the United States by
Upper Hand Press
and in the United Kingdom by Twenty7 Books

P. O. Box 91179
Bexley, Ohio 43209


Interior design by Columbus Publishing Lab, Zanesville, Ohio

For the three points of light in my life:
Jim, Max and Jack

In memory
Megan Meier

Chapter One
Monday, November 10, 2008

At the end of the day, as Isabel stepped through the large glass doors of her law office, a strange thing happened. Outside in the cold, she suddenly felt trapped in a bright cone of light. As if some alien spaceship were training its eye on her.

Uneasily, she gazed into the dark November sky. There was the culprit. A smiling gibbous moon. Or was it smirking, maybe even mocking her? Yes, she thought, that would be more appropriate. Work had become insanely busy, though in its own strange way that kept her mind from dwelling on her recent topsy-turvy personal life.

Which included that awful teen party at Sandy Littleton's, an event that had ruined the weekend. Phoebe drunk, and when Isabel brought her home, Ron found their daughter's wobbly walk vaguely amusing. In front of Phoebe, they'd kept a united front. But later, in the bedroom, Ron told Isabel she was being too harsh on their daughter.

“She's thirteen, Ron.”

“Almost fourteen,” he'd said.

She really couldn't understand Ron's blasé attitude toward the drinking that Sandy had allowed, encouraged even, nor could she understand Phoebe's recent obsession with some boy named Shane. They'd met on Facebook, of all places, and he'd promised to show up at the party, then hadn't. Ron had attributed Phoebe's drinking to her disappointment over this no show, as if that made it okay. Not okay, definitely not.

Nor did she like the fact that Phoebe had never actually met this character Shane, that all of her communication with him had been online. Who was he anyway? Again, Ron thought it was no big deal! “That's the way kids communicate these days,” he'd said.

In the end, Isabel had caved, and Phoebe had received little more than a slap on the wrist. Mostly because she feared the possibility of the 9
grade kids teasing and taunting her as so many classmates had the previous year. Now, she was eager to get home to find out how Phoebe's school day had gone. She hoped there had been no fallout from the Saturday night fiasco, though of course Phoebe didn't know what she had done. Kids could be incredibly cruel.

Isabel strode hurriedly to the underground garage. The wind, gusting up Pennsylvania Avenue, tossed stray bits of paper into the air, bouncing them about inside tiny swirling tornadoes. She flipped up the collar of her raincoat.

Traffic seemed unusually heavy, though rush hour congestion in DC was routine, and cars were backed up as far down Pennsylvania as Isabel could see. As she inched along in her BMW, she mused on the few recent signs of behavior that Ron, her husband of sixteen years, had exhibited only once before. It had been two presidential campaigns ago, to be precise, after he'd been on the road for several weeks covering John McCain's bid for the GOP nomination. In early 2000. At home, Ron had turned sour, testy, distant. She'd attributed his mood to work. He'd wanted to be on George Bush's campaign trail, in the company of the sudden darling of the Republicans and his attendant court of megawatt reporters. Traipsing after McCain, Ron saw himself as nothing more than second string. She'd tried to soothe him, and he'd come around, at least a little.

But then she discovered the true source of his discontent. One night she picked up the phone to call her mother and stumbled on Ron speaking with a woman in an unmistakably amorous tone. Making plans. Her insides had grown watery. Their relationship suffered a blow. She'd been on the verge of calling it quits. If not for five-year-old Phoebe and their infant son, Jackson, she might have. No, she would have. She wouldn't suffer another betrayal. She'd made that clear. And Isabel was a woman of her word. Actions had consequences.

When Phoebe entered her Cleveland Park home, an elegant Victorian where she'd lived her entire short life, she could feel the void of human vibration. She hated coming home to an empty house. It depressed her. “Hagrid,” she called out. “Where are you, kitty?” At least their housekeeper, Milly, had left the light on in the foyer.

She'd had a tough day. Shortly before lunch, her once best friend Jessie had hissed accusingly, “Your mother called the cops on my parents, do you know that?” Followed by: “Do you get what a b-i-t-c-h she is?” Phoebe had stared at her mutely. Had her mother done that? It was true on Saturday there'd been drinking at Jessie's party, but afterward Phoebe had been with her mother and she hadn't heard her make such a call. It would completely suck if she had. So embarrassing. Not to mention that her relationship with Jessie had been on the precipice of a thaw.

Phoebe switched on all the lights in her path – “Hagrid, here kitty, kitty!” – and stopped in the kitchen. If Milly had been home, she would have offered her some cookies and milk, and they could have had a chat. She loved their housekeeper Milly, her reassuring grandmotherly manner. But it was probably best that she not have cookies. No, cookies were the enemy. Had her mother been home, which she rarely was at this time of day, she'd probably have given her carrots.

Phoebe rummaged through the fridge, found a couple of plastic-wrapped cheese sticks, grabbed those along with a small bottle of carrot juice and trudged up to the third-floor, her heavy backpack weighing her down. As she ascended, one thought brightened her mood. At last she'd be able to talk to Shane. Well, sort of talk. On Facebook.

She'd finally be able to ask him the question that had plagued her since Saturday night. Why hadn't he shown up at Jessie's party? He'd promised, and she'd waited. And waited. Then, on Sunday, because she'd been caught drinking, she was denied use of her computer, her phone, basically all forms of communication, and she hadn't been able to contact him.

Now, at last, she'd discover what had happened, and even more importantly she'd remind him of her birthday party, only five days away. She and Skyla were turning 14 and they'd invited the entire ninth grade, plus Shane, who lived…well, she didn't know exactly where he lived, but his handsome Facebook visage hovered in her mind. That mischievous dimpled smile that separated him from all the other boys she knew. Even Noah.

In her room, Phoebe flopped onto her bed, burrowing her back into a mad pile of pillows and favorite stuffed animals; she flipped on her computer, then logged onto Facebook. It had taken some doing, but her mother had finally agreed to let her invite Shane even though he went to Walter J High, a public school about twenty minutes away in Bethesda, and was only a Facebook friend. Phoebe knew she'd mostly agreed because there, at the party, her mother could oversee their encounter.

Still, excitement and relief descended on her at the thought that, finally, she'd meet the real live sophomore boy who'd picked her and
her. Who said he really liked her and was “dying to hook up” with her. Whom she'd set her sights on after several weeks of private chats on Facebook. He was the single bright spot in an otherwise bleak Monday.

Her eyes darted to her private messages on the lower right-hand side of her Facebook page. Five awaited her. And, yes!, one from Shane.

Eyes affixed to the screen, she read,
I don't want to see you. Ever
. Her hopeful smile faded into a frown.

Phoebe read the message a second and third time. What was Shane talking about? Her stomach dipped. She checked for the little green dot that indicated he was available to chat, but it wasn't lit. She stared at his name in the right-hand column of her Home page and prayed he would log on. Her mouth felt dry.
I don't want to see you. Ever. “Ever?
” Why was he saying that? What had she done? And her birthday party only a few days away.

Phoebe's glance zigzagged across the room, her attic hideaway, landing first on her childhood saddle and riding gear, then on her Victorian dollhouse with the hidden box cutter, and, finally, on the wall to her right, where the lime green and purple bulletin board hung chock full of photos and memories. She'd pinned Shane's Facebook photo in the middle of all the other memorabilia. He had gorgeous wavy hair and green eyes that blazed with self-confidence.

The green dot popped on next to his name. Her fingers typed as fast as they could:
Why are you saying that? You're joking, right?

She held her breath.

Not joking

A tiny gasp escaped her lips.
Shane, what are you talking about?
Again, she waited.

Your mother called the police on Jessie's parents…you tattled about the booze at the party. And then the Littletons got arrested

I did not tattle, she thought briefly, but that was replaced by the bitter realization that Jessie may have been right: her mother
called the police. Had she? Panicked, Phoebe wrote:
I didn't say anything to my mom, I swear

So why'd she go inside the Littletons?

I don't know, I guess she was looking for me.

That's so lame

Her thoughts swirled as she wrote.
You weren't even at the party, so how do you know all that stuff?

No response. She waited, barely breathing, then his reply appeared.
Don't you worry how I know. I just do

She was hardly paying attention to these strange words; she could only think how much she wanted to see him, talk to him, get him to kiss her, to understand this was all a terrible mistake. What should she say? Finally, she wrote:
Why didn't you come to Jessie's? You promised

I didn't because I heard you've been messing around with Dylan.

Who told you that?

Instead of private messages, his response now appeared on her Facebook Wall, where everyone could see what he was saying:
I don't tell on my friends

She wrote back a private message:
It has to be Jessie, but if it is, she's lying

Again he posted his message on her Wall:
You're calling Jessie a liar?

And now, to defend herself, Phoebe switched to making her responses public too:
No, I meant if she said that about me, she's not telling the truth. Why don't you believe me?

Again, several moments passed before an answer appeared:
I don't trust you. I heard you said Jessie was fat and no boy wants her, especially Dylan. That's bitchy. Nobody likes bitchy girls

Tears sprang to Phoebe's eyes. Why was he making things up?
That's not true
, she wrote.
I never said that!! Please let's talk. On the phone?
In the four weeks they'd been communicating, she'd never heard his voice. All their exchanges had happened right here, on Facebook. He'd suggested that hearing the sound of one another's voices would be a wonderful surprise when they finally met. And to save it for that special day.

But then this from Shane:
I get it, your mom hates Mrs. Littleton, so you hate Jessie

She stared at the words.
That's sooo not true. I swear
, she wrote. Though in fact she knew her mother didn't care for Jessie, and probably not Mrs. Littleton either. This was happening because of her mother. All because of her mother. She glanced at the dollhouse. Through the blur of tears, she saw Shane's green dot disappear.

Her gaze fixed on his name. If only she had his cell number. She began rubbing her arms, her fingers absently running over scars and recently healed wounds. “No, no,” she muttered softly. She typed a private message:
Shane, please believe me. I didn't say anything. Whoever told you I did was lying

She waited for him to respond, her breath catching. Her eyes flicked to the box cutter's hiding place and lingered there for several moments before returning to Shane's photo. He was the cutest boy who'd ever friended her, and a year and a half older than she. His dimpled smile grinned at her from the bulletin board. He looked amazingly like the guy in
, though without the ghostly pallor. Why didn't he believe her? Why would he believe Jessie? Had someone else said something? Yet, who could that be? Skyla? How could things get so messed up? Phoebe saw her dream of Shane as her boyfriend slip away.

Why had her mother called the police on Saturday night? This was all her fault. About to retrieve the blade from the dollhouse, she snatched her cell phone instead and angrily tapped her mother's number.

BOOK: Saving Phoebe Murrow: A Novel
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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