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Authors: Karen Kingsbury

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BOOK: Where Yesterday Lives
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Joey ran toward his mother. “Mommmmm! That mouse pushed me.”

Jane had no idea who was playing Lucky that day but she hoped she would have a chance to thank him. She helped the children sit down and ten minutes later she had just served them cake and ice cream when she spotted Lucky making his way back toward their table.

“Look, boys and girls,” Jane said, grinning. “It’s Lucky come back to have some cake with us!”

Lucky tiptoed up to Joey’s birthday cake. Then, raising a single finger to his mouth, he picked up the leftover cake and acted as if he was going to leave with it.

“That mouse stole my cake!” Joey whined. “Mom, stop him! That’s my cake!”

“Don’t whine, Joey,” his mother said meekly.

Jane concealed a smile. “Yes, Joey, Lucky’s only teasing you. Right, Lucky?”

Upon hearing his name, Lucky turned and nodded, balancing the leftover cake in one hand and placing the other over his belly as he shook with mock laughter. He was three feet from Joey and he put one foot in that direction. Then suddenly he
tripped over something and lost his balance. Teetering back and forth, Lucky struggled to regain his grip on the cake, but he began to fall.

Momentum carried the great mouse the remaining two steps that separated him from the birthday boy. Suddenly what remained of the cake hit Joey square in the back of the head. Chocolate icing covered the child’s blond hair and cream-filled cake slid in gooey chunks down his back. Joey burst into tears.

Lucky brought both paws to his mouth and looked from Jane to Joey’s mother and back to Jane. She took the cue.

“Oh, dear! Lucky has had a bad fall, boys and girls. I hope he’s okay!”

Lucky nodded emphatically and puffed out his chest. Then he waved politely to Joey and shook the stunned mother’s hand. Raising a paw in the air he bid the party farewell and strode across the room the same way he’d come.

As Lucky left, Jane glanced at the spot where the mouse had tripped. There was nothing there.

Jane was doing her party paperwork later that afternoon when a boy with dark red hair and bright blue eyes approached her.

“Hope I didn’t cost you a tip on that party today.” He smiled.

Jane thought a moment and then her eyes flew open. “You were Lucky?”

“Yeah. I’m new. Troy Hudson.”

“Hi, Troy,” Jane grinned. “I’m Jane, and yes, you cost me the tip.”

“You’re not mad are you?”

“Are you kidding? It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I’d have paid you myself to get back at the brat. That cake thing was great.”

Troy’s eyes twinkled. “Yeah, well, it was just a little leftover
cake. Besides, accidents happen.” He paused. “Hey, if you’re not doing anything Friday night, want to go to the show? My dad’s letting me borrow his car.”

Jane considered him for a moment. “Sure. I guess you kind of owe me after treating my party to the psycho Lucky act.”

“Yeah, well look at this.” He lifted his pant leg to reveal a colorful bruise where Joey had kicked him. “Even a friendly mouse like Lucky can only take so much.”

Troy was the first boy Jane ever kissed. He was seventeen, funny and impetuous, and determined to remain unattached.

“It’s stupid for kids our age to get into these serious relationships,” he said during one of their walks home from the Pizza Parlor. “Don’t you think so?”

Not anymore
, Jane thought, but all she said was, “Of course. There’s plenty of time for that when we’re older.”

“Yeah, like thirty years older.” Troy laughed and Jane felt her heart lurch. She had never met anyone like Troy He liked her the way She was, regardless of whether she ever grew up to be like Ellen.

Summer ended a few weeks later and Troy quit his job at the Pizza Parlor so he could concentrate on senior prep classes at the private high school across town. His phone calls came less often and eventually stopped altogether.

“Someday, Jane, I’ll grow up and be ready for you,” he said during one of his last phone calls. “But I won’t ask you to wait for me. Life goes on. I understand that.”

Three years passed and circumstances caused both Jane and Troy to grow somewhat wise and worldly. At the end of that time, Troy finally called.

“Told you I’d call.”

Jane grinned madly on the other end. Life had not been kind to her since she’d last seen Troy but in an instant he infused hope into her heart. They were nineteen and twenty now and Jane believed they were plenty old enough. “Are you a grown-up now, Troy Hudson?”

“I was hoping you might want to go to dinner Friday night and see for yourself.”

They picked up where they left off and this time Troy had no aversion to being serious. They dated for the next three years and were married at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the spring of 1991.

Troy knew her like no one in her immediate family ever had. Except Ellen. But that had been when they were little girls. Before their father had let Jane down in a way that none of the others knew anything about. As time passed, Jane built her world around Troy. In the process, she willingly became something of a stranger to her family

“Ellen’s only interested in herself and everyone else has changed. None of us get along,” she complained to Troy. “I’d rather spend time with you and our friends than sit around a table listening to one of Aaron’s temper tantrums or hearing the latest great news about Ellen.”

Troy watched her silently for a moment. “You’re jealous of her.”

Jane looked at him, incredulous. “Of Ellen?”

Troy nodded thoughtfully.

“I’m not jealous, Troy, I’m disgusted. Everyone thinks she’s got her life so together but what they don’t see is how selfish she is. All she thinks about is herself.”

For the next two years Jane talked constantly about moving away from Michigan, out west.

“Just think, Troy, we could be done with winters and ice storms and snow-covered driveways.”

Jane’s enthusiasm was contagious and Troy, who was a high-level sales representative, began sending out resumes. Eventually he received a considerable offer to work as a senior sales representative for a stereo distributor based in Cottonwood, Arizona.

The other Barretts cried and hugged them both as they packed up their things and headed west. But Jane remained untouched by the event.

“I’m going to miss your dad’s barbecues,” Troy said idly as they drove across country

“Hmm.” Jane was staring out her window.

“They sure seemed sad to see you go.”

“That’s how people are supposed to act when someone moves away.”

Troy took his eyes off the road and for an instant turned to face her. “That’s not a very nice thing to say, Jane. Your family wasn’t putting on an act when we left. They’re really sad. They love you a lot.”

She huffed slightly and her eyes met his. “I’ve known my place in my family for years now, Troy I appreciate what you’re saying, but believe me, they aren’t going to miss me when I’m gone. We’re doing the best thing by moving away.”

His forehead creased, and she saw the concern reflected in his blue eyes. “As long as you’re not running away from something.”

“I’m not,” she lied.

Over the years, Jane and Troy built a home for themselves in central Arizona. They camped among the pine trees on Mingus Mountain and climbed rocks overlooking the Verde Valley. They hiked Sedona’s North Fork Trail and picked wild
blackberries along the Verde River. They swam in Oak Creek and marveled over the breathtaking red rocks that brought tourists from all over the world.

Over the next few years they raised a family and when the children were old enough Troy taught them how to avoid rattlesnakes. They found a local Christian church and Jane headed up the women’s group. On summer nights, when Troy wasn’t traveling, the two of them would sit on their back porch and watch dazzling sunsets as their children played in the yard.

Occasionally Jane and Ellen would call each other and spend half an hour on the telephone making small talk. Jane remembered once, after such a conversation, Troy had walked into the room and found her crying, her face buried in her hands.

“Honey what is it?” He was at her side, sliding his arm around her shoulders, holding her close.

Jane drew a ragged breath and shook her head. “It’s Ellen. She called.”

“Did you two get into it again?”

“No.” Jane was still crying, but she fought to regain her composure. “It’s just that she and my dad are so close and…I don’t know, maybe I am jealous of that.”

She fell silent, but she saw Troy studying her closely watching her face.

“You sure nothing else is bothering you, honey?”

“No, really. I’m fine.” Jane forced a smile and patted Troy’s hand. He seemed satisfied that she was telling him the truth and he got up and went back into their home office.

Jane remembered watching him go and feeling a stab of guilt. The rest of that evening she had wondered if she would ever have the strength to tell him the truth about that terrible, painful dark night. The night her life changed forever.

Five

T
he plane rumbled monotonously and Ellen drew a deep breath, fighting to clear her head. Nine years had passed since she had seen Jake Sadler. There was no reason why he should be making appearances in her current thoughts as if they’d only broken up yesterday.

The flight attendant arrived and handed her a tray of food which she ate absentmindedly When she finished she looked out the window.

Jake had been there for the good years, the times when her father was strong and healthy, and she and her sisters and brother got along with each other. Maybe that’s why he was on her mind now. Jake would understand what the years had stolen from her. He’d understand more than Mike ever could.

She leaned her head back wearily. Even Jake didn’t know about the early days, when the Barrett family was just beginning. Back then her father had worked for IBM, which everyone in the family always took to mean “I’ve Been Moved.” They lived in seven different cities in seven years and never had time to build relationships with anyone except the people who shared their breakfast table.

I wonder if Aaron and Jane and the others remember how good those times were?
Ellen squeezed her eyes tightly closed, freeing two errant teardrops. She knew what she needed to do…what she needed to allow.

She needed to remember.

The tears flowed freely now, and she was thankful for the dark glasses. Allowing the memories meant going to a place where her father still lived and laughed, where he still shared
his contagious enthusiasm for life. She was afraid that once she found that place, she would never want to leave.

Normally, Ellen did not believe anything good could come from wallowing in days gone by the way some people did, spending a decade recounting it and paying a stranger to analyze it. Still, just this once, as she hung thirty thousand feet in the air, suspended between her present and past, she would go back. She would allow herself to find that faraway place where families are born and love begins. Perhaps if she spent some time remembering her past she would find answers for today and tomorrow She closed her eyes and savored the moment, slipping slowly into a cavern of scenes from a hundred yesterdays, drifting back to a handful of cities across the country.

Fairfax, Detroit, Jamestown, Kansas City, Dallas, Livonia, and finally Ann Arbor. Ellen had been born in Fairfax; Jane and Megan, in Detroit. The three girls were barely school age when the Barrett family moved to Jamestown, a small country town in upper New York where there had been a hundred things for a child to do. Ellen kept her eyes closed until finally she could hear their voices….

“Ellen, look what I found!” A towheaded Jane, barely four years old, came bounding up the hillside, her small hands cupping the body of a bumpy, brown toad.

“Let’s find him a box.” Ellen motioned for Jane to follow and the two girls ran as fast as they could back to the house. Gasping for breath, Ellen ran inside and came back with a dilapidated cardboard container.

“Should we put grass in it to keep him happy?” Jane’s innocent blue eyes gazed admirably at her older sister.

“Okay.” Ellen helped Jane lower the toad into the box and grabbed fistfuls of grass. “I know he’s your toad, Jane. But let’s say we’re both his parents.”

“All right. That way hell have two people who love him.”

“Hey, what do you girls have there?” The voice was her father’s. Clear, strong, vibrantly alive. He walked toward them, his whole face smiling.

“A toad!” they shouted in unison.

Their father, a systems analyst and one of the most brilliant men to enter the booming new frontier of computers, stooped down and patted the homely creature.

“A fine toad, I might add.” He glanced around. “What if we find another one? So that this one will have a friend.”

Jane wrinkled her small nose. “No, Daddy. I think one’s enough.”

He sat back on the grass and looked at Jane thoughtfully “Well, now, you and Ellen are sisters, but you’re friends, too, right?”

Jane smiled at her big sister. “Right.”

“Think how you’d feel if someone put you in a box and took you away from Ellen.”

Jane’s face fell and she reached for Ellen’s hand. “I would be sad, Daddy.”

“That’s how your toad feels.” He stood up and swung Ellen onto his shoulders, taking Jane’s hand in his. “Come on, now. Let’s go find ourselves another toad so that the little fellow won’t be so lonely.”

The voices grew dim and Ellen opened her eyes slowly, staring vacantly into the sky, wishing she could remember whether they had ever found another toad. Instead, a different scene began taking shape.

Kansas City, late-afternoon. Their mother was seven months pregnant with Amy and had taken Ellen, Jane, and Megan outside their rented townhouse to wait for their father’s return from work. Dark clouds filled the sky and there was lightening in the distance. It was tornado season, and the weather bureau had warned that conditions were right for a twister.

Blissfully unaware of the weather, the girls giggled and sang silly songs, watching intently until finally they saw the green Ford sedan round the corner.

BOOK: Where Yesterday Lives
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