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       Forgotten, p.8

           Catherine McKenzie
 

  “True.”

  His eyes wander to a stack of boxes in the corner. “Speaking of which, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

  “You do? Really?”

  “I need a few minutes to set it up.”

  “What is it?”

  He smiles. “If I told you what it was, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Why don’t you go try on your new clothes, and come back in twenty minutes.”

  I try to protest, but he shoos me out. I unpack my bags in my room. I bought mostly suits, but I managed to find a couple of pairs of jeans I liked too. I slip on a roomy, boyfriend-cut pair and top it with a light-blue turtleneck. As I gather Dominic’s clothes into a pile, I hear a loud thunk! in the living room. Dominic seems to be moving heavy things around. Like the couch, and possibly a lamp.

  “What the hell are you doing in there?” I yell.

  “You’ll see,” he calls back.

  “You’ve got five minutes.”

  “Nice try! I have at least eight.”

  I brush my hair with my new hairbrush and check my cell phone for what feels like the millionth time. Still no callback from Stephanie. If I don’t hear from her soon, I’m going to file a missing-person report. The irony of this is not lost on me.

  I slip the phone into my pocket and go to Dominic’s room to take a better look at the framed pictures sitting on the floor. They’re black-and-white shots of a sharp mountain range in a desert. The frame is made of dense wood that’s so dark it’s almost black. When I look more closely at the base of the mountains, I realize there’s a cityscape full of familiar skylines hidden in the shadows. Paris, and possibly Seattle. Mahoney, 2010, Las Vegas is scratched into the lower right-hand corner.

  “You can come in!”

  I walk into the living room filled with curiosity. Dominic’s standing proudly in front of a tall Christmas tree strewn with small twinkling white lights and sparkly ornaments.

  “How did you do this?”

  “It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”

  “It’s amazing.”

  I walk closer, and now I can see that it’s not a real tree, just a really good fake. I reach out and rub a few needles between my fingers. “How come I’m smelling pine?”

  He grins. “I wondered if you’d notice. A couple of the ornaments are actually those car air fresheners.”

  “I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Dominic.”

  “You think I put this up for you? Nah. This is what I was supposed to be doing the night you fell at my feet.”

  “Thank you anyway.”

  I step toward him and kiss him on the cheek. Dominic starts as my lips touch his skin, and we step away from each other.

  I open my mouth to say something—I’m not sure what—when my phone starts to ring, its sound muffled by the fabric of my brand-new jeans.

  “You should get that,” he says.

  “It might be Stephanie,” I say at the same time.

  I pull out my phone. “Hello?”

  “Is this Emma Tupper?”

  Disappointed again.

  “Yes?”

  “This is Carrie. From Cathy Keeler’s show?”

  I walk into the hall. “Oh, hi. How did you get this number?”

  “Mr. Stuart gave it to us.”

  “Right. Of course.”

  “I just wanted to tell you that we are so excited you’ll be doing the show tomorrow.”

  That makes one of us.

  “Stories like yours are so inspiring, especially this close to Christmas. Our audience just loves happy endings.”

  Somebody thinks my story has a happy ending?

  “Uh-huh.”

  She tells me where they’re located. “We’ll need you to be at the studio by three for hair and makeup. And, of course, we’ll be doing a preinterview and a walk-through. Is that good for you?”

  “I guess.”

  “Great! See you then. And call me if you have any questions.”

  I close the phone and through a supreme act of will avoid throwing it at the wall. Of all the things I’ve let Matt talk me into over the years, this has to be the worst.

  I walk back to the living room. Dominic’s started the gas fire and is sitting on the couch, watching the hockey game with the volume turned low.

  His eyes leave the screen. They’re dark, troubled. “Was it Stephanie?”

  “No.”

  We stare at each other awkwardly, an odd current in the air.

  I break the silence. “Anyway, I’m feeling pretty tired. I think I’m going to turn in early.”

  “All right.”

  “Thanks for the tree.”

  “Anytime.”

  Chapter 8: Meet the Press

  I wake up the next morning with a restless feeling in my heart. It’s still pitch-dark outside, a blackness that doesn’t reveal whether it’s closer to midnight or dawn. I toss and turn, but I can’t fall back asleep. I’m going to be interviewed today by a woman who relishes confrontation. Another me, only with better hair and makeup, and a much larger audience.

  Matt is going to owe me big-time.

  When I realize sleep isn’t coming back, I go to the kitchen to start the coffee brewing. A half-empty bottle of my favorite wine is sitting on the counter, a reminder of better times. Craig and I bought it on a trip we took a year and a half ago to Sonoma. We spent our days wine tasting and our nights eating enormous meals in cozy restaurants with candles on the table.

  Nothing felt like it was missing that week.

  I called Craig last night after I left Dominic to his hockey game. He was in a meeting, and I knew thirty seconds in that the call was a mistake. I didn’t know what I wanted to say to him, and I think he could sense my ambivalence. Which led him back to questioning why I’d been out of touch for so long, whether it had really been impossible to call or email him for all those months. How I must’ve known he’d be out of his mind with worry. All I could do was apologize and apologize, but he’d already heard that and it didn’t seem to be enough. Like the night before I left, it wasn’t the time for a serious conversation, but we could both sense it coming.

  Thoughts like these don’t quell my restlessness, and a few moments later, I find myself prying open the door to the dank basement. A bare lightbulb illuminates a set of furnaces and hot-water heaters for my apartment and the one above. Two little rooms have been built at the back to serve as storage lockers. Mine is on the right, locked tight with a lock I don’t recognize. Dominic must have the combination, that twice-to-the-right-once-to-the-left-and-back-to-the-last-number pattern that might unlock a part of my past. But he told me it was empty except for the wine and the posters I don’t need to see. Why am I down here?

  I walk over to the long workbench that never used to hold any tools. Some of Dominic’s photography equipment is stacked on it, along with a black portfolio case. I unzip it and flip slowly through the pages. It contains eight-by-ten versions of the photographs in his room and others from the same series. One page must’ve been shot in Ireland. It’s of a rolling field filled with flowers—heather, maybe—and even though it’s in black and white, it’s so vivid it feels like the green grass of Ireland is just beneath the surface. It would only take a scratch to reveal it.

  The talent on the page blows me away, and I stare at it for a few minutes before I hear the beep of the coffee machine above my head. I realize I’m shivering in the cold, damp room, and I trip up the stairs, shutting the door firmly behind me.

  A cup of coffee later brings a sleepy-headed Dominic to the kitchen. His mood is the same as it was yesterday morning, and he happily serves eggs sunny-side up with large glasses of orange juice. While he’s cooking, he tells me funny stories about when he worked as a line cook to pay his way through art school.

  “Did you think about staying on, becoming a chef?”

  “I did. But I had all these massive student loans, and a chef’s life is pretty brutal.”

  “And you had landscapes to shoot,” I say, smiling.
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  “I did.”

  After breakfast, I wash the pans while Dominic loads the dishwasher. And then I make a beeline for the one man I’ve never had complicated feelings about—my hairdresser, Antoine.

  Forty, French, and fabulous, Antoine greats me with genuine happiness. His skin is milk chocolate, and his black hair is cropped so short it looks like a five o’clock shadow. He’s wearing low-slung jeans that look like they were painted on and a black T-shirt with a decal of a spangly Christmas tree on it. A Lady Gaga song blares from the sound system. The air smells like a mixture of raspberry and hair spray.

  When Antoine releases me from a tight hug, I give him the CliffsNotes version of the last six months, filling in the gaps from what he read in the newspaper as he leads me through the busy salon toward his station.

  “You know, chérie, you look fabulous. Thin, tanned. This aventure you had, it agreed with you.”

  “Antoine, you can’t be serious.”

  “But I am. Here, look.” He sits me down in his barber’s chair and spins me toward the large mirror that’s framed by bright round lights. “You see. La dernière fois I saw you, your skin it was so pale, and les cercles, you know, the circles under your eyes, they were black.”

  I peer into the mirror, trying to see what he sees. While I still see all the defects I noticed yesterday, he is right about one thing: The semipermanent dark circles under my eyes are gone.

  What does it say about my job that six months in an earthquake-ravaged country was what I needed to look rested?

  “Well, maybe. But you can’t think my hair is fabulous.”

  He makes a face. “Non, that is true. Your hairs, they are terrible.”

  “Can you do something for me?”

  He picks up a chunk of my too-long, split-ended hair, folding it through his tapered, manicured fingers. He gets a faraway look in his eyes. “Oh, yes. I can see it now. We will cut it short, yes, with layers, and perhaps a spiky toupette.”

  I scan through my high school French. “A toupette, you mean bangs?”

  “Oui.”

  “Non. No big changes, Antoine. I’m going on television and I want to look like me, only better.”

  “Mais pourquoi?”

  “Apparently Cathy Keeler thinks my story makes a good Christmas fable.”

  His brown eyes widen. “Cathy Keeler? Mon dieu, she’s a . . . a cat, a tiger.”

  “Antoine, that is not helping my confidence.”

  He picks up his sharp stainless steel scissors, snip, snipping next to my ear. “Don’t worry, chérie, I will give you all the confidence you will need.”

  I arrive at the TV studio at 3 P.M. with a garment bag containing several potential outfits and my hair looking, well, fabulous. Antoine cut off just enough to showcase my cheekbones, and talked me into a compromise on the bangs that I’m happy with. My hair feels silky and touchable. Now, if only Antoine could’ve done something about my booming heart.

  The lobby of the ultramodern building looks like it was inspired by the starship Enterprise, with walls of white, glossy Formica and lighting so bright I wish I had shades. I give my name to the squat, overweight receptionist sitting behind a command-central desk made out of the same material. She calls Carrie to tell her I’m here, then leads me to my dressing room. As we walk down the brightly lit hall, I can’t help but notice the familiar names on the closed dressing room doors. Big names. Famous names.

  Why, oh why, did I let Matt talk me into this?

  We stop at a door marked GUEST inside a yellow star. The room looks like a small hotel suite, with rich cream fabric on the walls and a squashy white couch. There’s a frosted-glass coffee table in front of it holding a fruit plate covered in clingy plastic film.

  “Carrie will be with you shortly,” the receptionist says, already halfway down the hall.

  I set my garment bag down on the couch and mentally scroll through the outfits I brought. I eventually decide on a pair of gray wool pants with a subtle check and a cobalt-blue cashmere sweater.

  There’s a gentle knock on the door and a tiny woman with black hair cut like a pixie pokes her head into the room. She’s wearing cuffed tweed trousers and a crisp white business shirt. Several coats of mascara frame her caramel eyes. Her eyebrows are plucked into a thin, dark line.

  “Hi, Emma. Is it okay if I come in?”

  “Of course.”

  She extends her hand. “I’m Carrie. I’m so pleased to meet you.”

  We shake. Her fingers feel delicate, breakable.

  “Such a good choice on your outfit,” she says.

  “Oh, uh, thanks.”

  “Rich colors look much better on-screen. Are you feeling nervous?”

  Nervous? No. Like I might throw up? Yes.

  “A little.”

  She shows me her tiny teeth. “That’s totally normal. But don’t worry, we’ll go through everything when you’re in makeup.”

  “Sounds good.”

  I follow her to the makeup room. She runs through the topics Cathy Keeler will be covering. No surprise, it’s all about how I got lost and found. I test out my answers as I give myself over to the makeup lady. When she’s done, the angles in my face have been augmented and defined in a way that makes me almost unrecognizable.

  I peel off the white paper towel around my neck, and Carrie leads me toward the studio. The room seems smaller than it does on television. Most of it is taken up by the stadium seating that climbs toward the back of the room. The chairs are filled with fifty chattering audience members. I scan the crowd quickly. It looks like the usual mix of housewives and students.

  “Who’s that girl?” I hear one of the women say loudly to the woman next to her.

  “I think it’s the one who got lost in Africa. That lawyer girl, you know.”

  “Dang. I was sure today was going to be Christmas giveaways. I never have any luck.”

  Join the club, lady.

  I turn away from the audience. There are two small orange armchairs facing each other on a raised dais under a circle of bright lights. The last time I watched this show, a former presidential candidate was admitting he’d fathered an illegitimate child. Freaky.

  Carrie speaks behind me. “Emma, this is Cathy.”

  I turn and come face-to-face with Cathy Keeler. Her hair is bright-red-from-a-bottle, and it falls straight to her chin from a sharp center part. Her skin is ghostly white, and the dark frames of her glasses focus the intelligent look in her pale blue eyes. She’s wearing a black pin-striped suit that looks handmade and large square diamonds in her ears.

  “Hi, Emma, thanks for agreeing to do the show,” she says in her modulated broadcaster voice. Her cadence is perfectly timed for reading a script off a teleprompter. “Carrie filled you in on the subjects we’ll be covering?”

  “I think so.”

  “Good. Take a seat and make yourself comfortable. We’ll begin in about five minutes.”

  Making myself comfortable seems out of the question, but I sit down in the armchair she points to anyway. I smooth out the wrinkles in my pants while a guy in his early twenties with a mod haircut slips a tiny microphone under my sweater. It happens so quickly I barely have time to be embarrassed, though I’m pretty sure he caught an eyeful of . . . well, not much, really.

  Cathy Keeler sits across from me with a nonchalance born of years of experience. She flips through a set of index cards, muttering to herself. I take several sips from the water glass sitting on a small table next to me, surveying the sea of faces watching us. The most common expression is one of disappointment. I guess a lot of people thought they were getting Christmas giveaways today.

  The cameramen turn on their lights. I blink slowly in their glare as another guy in a headset darts toward Cathy and takes her notes. She squares her shoulders as a voice yells, “Quiet on set,” and the familiar, slightly bombastic theme music for In Progress fills the room. When it stops, Cathy looks into the camera over my left shoulder.

  “Good
evening. Tonight I’ll be talking to Emma Tupper. For those of you not yet familiar with her story . . .”

  She continues for several minutes, outlining the facts. When she’s done, she asks me some easy questions about how it feels to be home, and what I’m going to do now. I stick to the script I worked on earlier: It’s amazing to be home; I’m going back to work in the new year, can’t wait. I feel like Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham following Crash Davis’s instructions when he gets to the Show. I’m lucky to be here; it’s such an amazing opportunity.

  Cathy smiles and nods, and leads me along smoothly until I’ve just about relaxed.

  My mistake.

  “Ms. Tupper, I have to say, your story doesn’t really add up.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, for instance, why would the tour company leave you in the middle of nowhere?”

  “I was sick.”

  “Shouldn’t they have taken you to a hospital?”

  “We were days away from one.”

  She raises her right eyebrow. “So they left you in a remote village instead?”

  Why is that tone familiar? Oh, right. She sounds like me when I’m in the middle of cross-examining someone.

  My throat goes dry. I take a sip of water as she waits for my answer. I put the glass down and measure out my words carefully. “When I got sick, we were in the middle of a wildlife preserve. It took us two days to drive there, and the ‘road’ was just a dirt track full of bumps and ruts and mud. Every second on it was excruciating, like someone was trying to jackhammer my body into a thousand pieces. I was kind of out of it, but I’m pretty sure I begged them to leave me by the side of the road. Instead, they took me to a village where they knew there were NGO workers who had good medical supplies. And that’s where they left me.”

  “Why didn’t the tour company come back to get you?”

  “You’d have to ask them that.”

  Great. Now I sound like someone I’ve been cross-examining. Defensive. Like I have something to hide. Like I might start to cry any second.

  “And you really couldn’t get a message home for six whole months?”

  “No.”

  “I see.”

 
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