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Mystery Selves Part 8: Secret Kept

Nicole Jeffords 8 months ago

The cops were a different pair from the two of that afternoon. Since it was a small community and they knew Julie’s father, they didn’t bother writing up a ticket for Diana who theoretically could have had her license suspended. After they left, the two mothers closed in. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I saw the car was gone,” Mona yelled. Her red-brown hair stood up in spikes and she wore a robe of Gail’s that was way too large.

Gail herself sat on the couch with an air of exhaustion. The blue-eyed dog was draped over her lap. “I know it’s very disturbing to see a dead person,” she said. “But you could have woken me up to talk about it instead of running off into the night like that.”

“That’s right!” Mona exclaimed. “You’re usually so responsible, Diana! Wait till your father hears about this.”

Three hours later they were on their way back to Saratoga Springs. It was seven­ thirty in the morning, Sunday, and Diana’s life was as empty as the road ahead of them. “You can just kiss that sweet car of yours goodbye,” Mona said for the hundredth time.

“I can never have it back?” Diana asked, ready to punch her.

“Not for a long time,” Mona said. She had combed her hair and was wearing one of her revealing camisoles, but tiny little lines of worry had sprouted at the comers of her mouth. Who was the man who had kissed that mouth? Diana wondered. She thought of her father, a rumpled presence forever hidden behind the newspaper, and said without planning to: “I know you’re having an affair.”

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Mona’s driving instantly became erratic. Her cheeks flushed violently and her pretty hands in their pretty rings tightened on the wheel, but she didn’t deny the allegation. Instead she jerked the car across two lanes of traffic to the side of the road. “What makes you think that?” she said, switching off the engine.

“I overheard you talking to Gail.”

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A hawk swooped overhead. Mona stared out the window at it. The little worry lines at the comers of her mouth had deepened and her breasts rose and fell rapidly. She turned to Diana. “You’re way too young to understand, sweetheart.”

“Don’t tell me that,” Diana snapped. “You’re married to my father. You’re not supposed to have affairs.” Despite herself she began crying. Mona reached out to touch her, but Diana pushed her hand away. “Are you going to divorce him?”

Mona’s face filled with grief. “No, I’m not going to divorce him. At least I don’t think I am.” She was silent a moment. Diana wiped furiously at her eyes. “He doesn’t know about this, Diana.”

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They looked at each other cautiously, a long, slow, measuring look devoid, in that moment, of love or animosity or any emotion at all.

“I don’t think I should have my car taken away,” Diana said finally. “I’ve been punished enough.”

A truck roared past, causing the Nissan to rattle and shake as if it would burst apart. Belatedly, Mona switched on the hazard lights. “Okay,” she said.

Diana’s eyes filled again. “There’s something else I have to tell you.” She remembered the comfort of her mother’s arms, the soft, sweet, tolerant way she’d had through the years of piecing Diana’s world together. All those years they’d been like one. Now they were separate and it made Diana want to cry her heart out. “I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone this,” she said, gasping a little. “So you have to swear, too.”

“All right,” Mona said. “I won’t tell anyone. You can trust me.”

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Diana took a deep breath. “Julie was going out with this guy who made her hide cocaine in the kitchen of that house in the woods.”

Mona stared out at the lazily circling hawk. “You’re putting me in a bad position here, Diana.”

“You said I could trust you.”

“All right. Go on.”

***

Mona kept her word: she never told anyone. After that, the two pulled close again. Mona stopped her affair a few weeks later, though she continued to have passionate friendships with other men. Diana flew in and out of the house as she pleased, a trusted young woman now. The following summer she lost her virginity, but she didn’t tell her mother — or anyone — about the desolation that swept over her the first time she was with the boy, about how, as his arms closed around her, it all came rushing back: the dead man toppled on the kitchen floor, the sound of cello music and her mother’s voice rising above the babbling brook as she talked about the morality of love. Feeling cursed, Diana squeezed her eyes shut, opened her mouth to the boy, and dove in.

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***

Julie spent the month she was grounded daydreaming about Leo — how she’d feel if he showed up again, what would happen if she confessed the truth to the cops, what she would do if she found out she was pregnant. When she got her period, she felt oddly empty and disappointed. She went into the woods and smoked a cigarette and had one last fantasy about using the money she’d worked so hard to earn earlier in the summer to fly to Barcelona. Then she ground out the cigarette and thought about the dead man, whose name was Jose Cruz and whose only family in the United States was a brother who rode racehorses for a living. She decided that once she was allowed to use the computer again, she’d find out the brother’s address and send him a letter of condolence.

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But she never did. When she regained privileges, it was time to go back to school and then she was too busy for anything except her studies and lacrosse and the little bit of socializing her parents allowed her. Eventually she started going out with another boy, a senior named John William Hayden III who showed every sign of liking her as much as she liked him. She got rid of her old, baggy clothes and Gail drove her down to Boston to buy expensive new ones. Leo was completely forgotten. She lay with John in the back seat of his car and in the woods and in the houses of various friends. When she discovered she was pregnant, she didn’t tell John or her parents or anyone else. She waited till the last possible moment, thinking of her real mother, some strange Korean lady who ate different food than she did and would have been horribly embarrassed if Julie showed up on her doorstep. Then she made a secret trip to Boston and used her own hard-earned money to pay for an abortion.