Chapter 49: Sandra

Sandra was aglow from their improv scene, then embarrassed. “I have to go…,” she said to David, “and pick up my teenage daughter.” She hoped “teenage” and “daughter” would scare off any interest David might have. What if David liked her? What if he didn’t? these conflicting thoughts sent Sandra right into overwhelm.

But David only nodded, “Hope to see you in improv again.”

Outside in the mid-afternoon daylight, she noticed a walking trail along the edge of the bay. She didn’t have to get Emily … yet.

Guilt, Sandra’s normal crony, reared up. She really should go pick up Emily. She’d left her alone with a family Sandra hadn’t met. What if something was wrong? What if Emily was grievously, emotionally wounded because she didn’t have her mom around on one Saturday. What if Drew found out?

Sandra wasn’t sure how long she walked, her thoughts tangling and untangling, worried about work, trying to let it go, worried about Emily, trying to remember she was fourteen, not four, then worried about seeing Drew this week, was it too much to hope …?

Some fragment of her hoped that this separation was a temporary interlude, a forced vacation, and at some point he’d see that … what? Sandra questioned herself. That I didn’t leave him? That he was to blame? If she wanted her husband back she’d have to admit the layer of lies starting with Parker being gay. Then deal with his reaction to his daughter living with a gay man, and that his wife didn’t really leave him for another man. That had to be good, right? Which was the worse offense? Adultery or homosexuality? She’d bet her future that homosexuality was worse to Drew, what if she was wrong?

She walked past the grassy strip of the Marina Green, watching the sailboats bob in the water with ease and grace. Didn’t Drew sail when he was younger?

She sighed. Why do all my thoughts rebound to Drew?

She checked her watch and turned around, heading to the bus stop. Maybe she could public transit her way to Emily without getting lost today. That would be a win.


Three buses, including one painted like an aquarium, and walking four blocks in the wrong direction, Sandra found the street. A cul-de-sac? In the middle of the city? How … incongruous?

She found a tidy two story house with red and pink geraniums growing outside. A metal barred gate blocked the entrance through a tunnel entry and to the stairs ahead, she pushed the buzzer, as a chime rang melodiously. The sound was nothing like the loud, metallic buzzer of Parker’s house.

“Come in, Sandra,” a cheerful voice announced through the speaker, a loud click unlocked the front gate.

The steps to the front door were clean, leading to a green wooden front door. Sandra was about to knock when the door opened, and a petite trim woman about her age, maybe a bit older than herself opened the door. “Come in, come in!” The woman smiled, opening the door wide and motioning to the living room. “I’m Barbara. The girls are out riding, and I put the kettle on for tea.”

Oh heavens, am I walking into June Cleaver’s house? Sandra thought, snidely, then looked around, feeling her buddy guilt, rear up again, bringing along envy.

Through the front door the living room was saturated with golden warm light. Rich chocolate brown furniture rested on a thick rug, patterned with olive greens and rustic reds, on top of a golden caramel wood parquet floor. A fireplace angled into the room from a close corner, and around the right side, a large dining table graced a room painted a matte olive green.

A small kitchen peeked out of a space between the rooms, juxtaposed between modern fixtures and original two-toned burgundy and pink tile square counters.

A pang of longing struck Sandra. This is a home. Parker’s flat is somewhere to live but there is so much love in this place. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream, but she held her tears and voice, and sat down on the chocolate sofa, and wished she could take a nap. This sofa would cradle her in a hug, unlike Parker’s Victorian torture couch. She glanced around the room, noticing the small details, photos of three smiling people on the walls, poses like ones that used to adorn her walls in Folsom. Did their home in Folsom ever feel this inviting?

“Would you like tea?” Barbara asked, walking into the room with a teapot and cups on a tray, “Or tour first?”

“Let’s have tea first,” Sandra said quickly. She wasn’t ready to see the rest of the house, it was hard enough to hold back tears and screaming.

Barbara poured tea from an antique floral teapot into mismatched teacups. “It’s the one thing I collect,” Barbara said, pointing to the teacups, “It started with the teapot I found at an estate sale, now I search for teacups and saucers. The one you’re holding is about fifty years old.”

Sandra fumbled and then recovered the cup quickly, tea sloshing into the saucer.

“But I bought that one for three dollars, so no need to be that cautious about using it,” Barbara said, “you get the best bargains on the the last day of estate sales.”

Sandra stirred her tea and glanced around the room, feeling like a child pretending to be a grown up. Get a grip, San, it’s just a house. There was no distinct aroma, like baked cookies, but it smelled warm, comfortable. No wonder Emily wanted to stay the night. Sandra wanted to move into their basement and live off the residual love and care.

“Oh!” Sandra said suddenly, “You might know the answer to this.”

“What?”

“Do you know anything about public high schools in the city? I’m trying to enroll Emily, but it’s … different.”

“The lottery?”

“Yes. I went down to the district and they told me about the lottery that happened six months ago. I picked a school in the Mission that had room? But Emily want’s to go to Livie’s school, and I don’t know what to do.”

“First, I’m sorry. The lottery is the most confusing method of getting a public school, and it’s not even guaranteed that you’d get a school, so maybe it’s good you missed that deadline.

Livie’s school is a public charter, which still means free, but it isn’t part of the lottery system and has it’s own application process. I’ll call on Monday and see if there’s space. It’s pretty new school so you have a good chance.”

“Does it have good programs? Emily was signed up for at least one AP class at the high school she would have gone too,” if we hadn’t moved, Sandra thought.

“Yes,” Barbara smiled, “and it’s a smaller school, around 500 kids instead of 1500.”

“Fifteen hundred?” Sandra gasped. “Well, actually, Emily’s school at home would have been close to that. It seems so big.”

“Where did you move from?”

“Folsom, out by Sacramento.”

“On our way to Tahoe we usually stop at the big Costco for gas. That’s Folsom, right?”

“Exactly,” Sandra waited for the inevitable question of what brought them here, but Barbara surprised her and changed the subject.

“Emily is a good kid, she helped with washing up last night with no complaints, even made her bed before they left.”

“Thanks,” Sandra smiled, pleased. “She didn’t want to move here, I’m glad she met Livie.” So much for avoiding the moving topic, Sandra thought, what is wrong with me?

“Well, she’s surviving my daughter’s crazy adventures and escapades, and didn’t seem too resistant to riding bikes through the park today.”

“Curious. She’s usually reluctant to trying new things. At home her activities were limited to going to her friends’ houses, going to the mall, or going to Starbucks,” Sandra said, “Since she met Livie, she’s been on bike rides, taken the bus across town by herself, and I hate to say she seems more happy, because she’d probably deny it.”

“I won’t tell,” Barbara said, grinning.

Sandra waited for the next series of inevitable questions about Emily’s father. She wasn’t sure if she was grateful, or sad, wanting someone’s opinion other than Parker’s on the state of her marriage. But she couldn’t dump that on the mother of Emily’s friend, that she’d just met. Sandra nodded when Barbara offered more tea, stirring in milk and sugar with a melody of chimes as the spoon touched the inside of the cup.

The front door flung open suddenly, and a girl a couple inches taller than Emily walked in wearing a purple tulle tutu over black bumblebee striped leggings, and a furry gray leopard spotted coat. The girl’s short hair was not black, as she’d first thought, but dark magenta.

She was suddenly glad she’d met Barabara before she met Livie, then felt more guilt for being so judgemental. Didn’t she move her to be around new, different people?

“Mom! What are you doing here?” Emily asked.

“I told you I’d come get you after my class,” Sandra said. She’d wait to tell Emily they had to take the bus home.

“Cool,” Emily said, “Mom, there are buffalo in the park, real, live buffalo with big furry heads. They’re not actually buffalo though, they’re called bison, but seriously there are buffalo in the middle of San Francisco!”

“Buffalo?” Who is this girl that looks like my daughter? Sandra wondered. Someone has replaced her with a girl that has enthusiasm?

“Yeah, buffalo! Or, bison, rather. And a windmill, a big one like in Dutch paintings, and ponds and funky buildings, and…” Emily paused, inhaling.

“Good ride then?” Sandra asked.

Great ride! Better than yesterday’s terrifying daredevil ride, thanks Liv,” Emily smiled at Livie, “We were going to have a picnic on the beach, but there was nowhere to lock the bikes.”

“I bet you were happy about that, Em?” Daredevil ride? Dare I ask? Sandra thought.

Emily sheepishly glanced at Livie, “Um, yeah.”

“What do you have against the beach? It was even sunny today? That never happens in the summer,” Livie joked.

“Um, literally, everything. Sand, dead fish smell, undertows, waves, water. Did I say sand?”

“Wish I’d known, I would have forced you to experience the beauty of the beach,” Livie grinned, “even if we had to roll the bikes across the sand.”

“Livie,” Barbara teased, smiling, “that’s one of my very few bike rules…”

“I know Mom, but the beach? How could someone not like the beach?”

Sandra wondered how impossible it was to get sand out of a tutu, but said nothing.

Barbara looked up at the clock, “Is it five already? I better start dinner. Ladies, would you like to stay?”

Sandra glanced at Emily, telling her without words Emily could decide.

“Mom, is that okay with you?” Emily asked.

“Yes,” Sandra replied, relieved, “it is.”

Chapter 50: Emily

The strangest thing about dinner, Emily thought, was the person missing from the table: her Dad. But then when had she ever had dinner with a friend’s family and her parents at the same time? There was a distinct do-not-mix line between her friends and her parents, and this commingling was weird, but good-weird in a way. She never thought about her mom having friends, did parents have friends? Like “dish on life” kind of friends? She didn’t think her mom had any, unless she counted Parker, which she didn’t.

It was odd, Emily thought, that her Mom didn’t even call Parker to let him know they wouldn’t be home for dinner. He hadn’t been around this week, not even in the mornings when she got up. Maybe he traveled like her Dad? She didn’t remember her mom saying that, like she would have with Dad. Her mom had her dad’s travel schedule memorized, didn’t even bother to write it on the calendar anymore.

“Earth to Emily!” Livie whispered, sitting next to her in the car on the way home. Barabara had insisted on driving them when she heard they would have to take two buses home, in the dark.

“What?” Emily asked, surprised.

“I think we’re almost at your house, is your mom’s boyfriend home?”

“I dunno?” Like she kept track of him or something. That was her mom’s job.

“It’s the white house on the left,” Sandra said. “How did you do that? I’ve never seen a parking space available in front before.”

“Mom always finds good parking spaces,” Livie interjected.

Barbara parallel parked the car on the first try without hitting the bumpers of the car in front or in back. Sandra shook her head.

Barbara looked at her and smiled, laugh lines crinkling the corners of her eyes, “I’ve lived here for over 20 years, and it took me the first five to master parallel parking. About the same amount of time before I stopped getting lost.”

Sandra smiled. She still felt stupid it took her five tries to parallel park her car.

“Or, just remember what the natives say.”

“What’s that?”

“Bumpers are for bumping!”

Sandra laughed nervously. “Do you want to come in? We’re staying with my friend until we find a place of her own.”

Boyfriend, Emily thought, why doesn’t she just say it?

“If you don’t mind? I love Victorians. Is it period or was it transformed in the seventies to something …” Barbara trailed off. “Never mind, I should hold my tongue and my opinions.”

They walked up the steps, the mothers in front, the girls in back, Emily sulking. As soon as they walked in they heard two men laughing, the noise echoing down the hallway. “Parker?” Sandra called. The laughing faded slowly.

“San-dee! Is that you, gorgeous?” Parker called from the kitchen.

“We are with friends, can I give them the tour?”

“No way, I give tours!”

Parker walked out with his hand resting on the shoulder of a second man.

“That’s your Mom’s boyfriend?” Livie whispered to Emily.

“Yes.”

“He can’t be. Em, my gay-dar would be sounding off louder than the Tuesday noon siren, even if he didn’t have that adorable man draped over him. He is so not your Mom’s boyfriend.”

Emily scrunched up her face, puzzled. “Gay-dar?”

“Em, your mom’s alleged boyfriend is gay.”

Emily studied Parker and Benjamin; watched how they flirted. She followed silently as Livie and her mom appreciated the details of the Victorian flat and Parker’s restoration stories.

The tour was over quickly, and Emily was still perplexed. Pieces of her mom’s relationship puzzle were unwilling to reconnect, as if she had two puzzles mixed together and wondered how a corner with blue sky fit into the puzzle with the colorful marbles. If Parker wasn’t her mom’s boyfriend, then what? That was what her Dad yelled, accused, and … assumed? She was suddenly more angry, more mad that her Mom didn’t fight back.

When they said goodbye to Livie and her Mom, and the door shut behind them, Emily turned to her mom, angrily, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Emily, why are you yelling at me? Say anything about what?”

“Parker isn’t your boyfriend!”

“What? You believed that too, did you?” Sandra yelled back, instead of being a customary punching bag and taking the strikes from Emily or her dad. “Since you’ve been here, living with the two of us, it just now occurred to you?”

Parker and Benjamin glanced at each other, then squeezed past Emily and Sandra in the hallway. “We’ll stay at Ben’s tonight,” Parker said, grabbing his coat and hurrying out the door, kiss-pecking Sandra on the cheek.

“Why didn’t you tell Dad? All that time you were yelling at each other, why didn’t you tell him? We moved for nothing! You annihilated our family for nothing!”

“It wasn’t for nothing,” Sandra said quietly. “It may look like that to you, and I chastise myself daily for not speaking up, and every day for the first week when all you did was shut yourself in the bedroom you call the dungeon and read the same books.” Emily looked at Sandra, surprised. “Yes, I noticed. How could I not, as I was trying to figure out how to pay for everything, when your Dad made most of the money, knowing how much you hated this house, this city, but there was no way back. Bearing the weight of your anger and resentment, then going to work in the morning hoping I’d still have a job the next day.”

Emily pursed her eyebrows. She never thought about her Mom’s job, it was just there, right, like her Dad’s?

“So no, I didn’t speak up, but you should know how hard it is to be heard when your Dad, who I still love, doesn’t want to hear something. When he makes up his mind. So yes, I failed in not yelling back, but believe me, I’m done being a goddam punching-bag-doormat, for you or your father.”

Emily was speechless. Her mom had never yelled at her before, never swore, she was always the reliable rock, picking her up from places, making her food, telling her to do her homework.

“What I tell myself every day, Emily, and hope it’s true, is that at least I’m showing you how not to be a doormat and that what you want matters too. Yes, I wanted to live in San Francisco, maybe not all of my life but for at least fourteen years, and it’s not exactly what I dreamed. But I see you, making a new friend, even if she has pink hair,” Emily grinned, “taking chances, and looking more alive than you ever looked in Folsom. Maybe it’s because I sheltered you too much before we moved, and now I can’t, but I see a new sparkle in your eyes.”

Emily felt the pattern of the red velvet swirls on her back as she leaned against the wall for support. “I want to go to my room,” Emily said quietly.

“Okay, but tonight I’m sleeping on the trundle; I gave you space before, but I want to leave Parker’s room for him in case they come back tonight, and that couch is torture.”

Emily walked into the dungeon room slowly, then turned back, looking directly at her mom. “Can we afford our own place?”

“I think so. Let’s start looking tomorrow.”

Emily shut the door quietly, then re-opened it, leaving it slightly ajar.


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