Variable Chapter 2

The world seemed unusually cheerful that mid-afternoon with the strong smell of freshly cut grass and the warmth of sunshine on skin. A smile crept across the woman’s face, and her eyes fluttered open. Above her the puffy, white clouds drifted in the sky—free. Just like her.

She laughed—a sudden, care-free laugh. It felt good to be happy.

“You better get some of the cheesecake before Blake eats it all,” she heard a voice saying.

She propped herself up on one arm and looked around. She had been lying in the grass at the edge of the backyard. People were milling around some tables set up on the patio. Smoke wandered skyward from the grill, and a golden retriever was profiting from the plate some poor, unsuspecting person had left behind for a minute.

The woman climbed to her feet and made her way across the grass.

“Where’s the cheesecake?” she asked the man who was grilling hamburgers.

He pointed to a table by the door.

The woman surveyed the table, suddenly hungry. She grabbed a plate and piled on the potato chips and French onion dip. Then she cut a rather large helping of the strawberry cheesecake for herself.

She made her way to a vacant chair and ate her cheesecake first—delicious.

“Can I sit here?”

The woman looked up. A younger woman, probably in her late twenties, stood beside the empty chair next to her.

“Go for it,” the woman said.

The younger woman took a seat. “I’m Daniela, by the way. I don’t think we’ve met.”

The woman smiled at Daniela and popped a potato chip into her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and dipped another chip in the French onion dip. “This is the best dip I’ve EVER had.”

“Oh, yes, that’s Aunt Jane’s recipe. She makes it from scratch. Really good stuff,” Daniela said. “So . . . do you have a name?”

The woman laughed, making wiggly lines in the dip. “Of course, I have a name. Everybody has a name.”

She bit into the chip and munched on it.

“Well . . . what is it?”

“My name?” The woman asked.

Daniela nodded.

The woman opened her mouth to speak, but closed it promptly. What was her name?

Alice? Bethany? Catherine? She ran through her mental catalog of female names. Debbie? Elizabeth? None of them sounded right.

“You okay?”

The woman laughed. “Yeah, just kind of distracted–so many people around, you know?”

Daniela nodded, sympathetic.

“Will you excuse me for a minute?” the woman said, standing up.

“Sure.”

The woman left her potato chips to the mercy of the golden retriever. She needed somewhere to think—a bathroom would be ideal. It wasn’t hard to find—through the sliding glass doors, around a corner, and straight to the end of the hall. She pulled the door shut behind her.

Her reflection met her in the full-length mirror on the bathroom wall. Messy hair, bloodshot, sparkling eyes, wrinkled clothes. Her smudged mascara like Goth war paint.

Rough morning, huh?” She laughed at herself, noting the tell-tale signs of a very long bout of tears. Funny, really, considering how happy she felt now.

Or had she cried because she was happy? That must have been it.

She studied her face—the familiar shape of her eyes, the curves of her nose and mouth, the lines that the wrinkle cream should have erased. Yes, it was most definitely her.

But who was she?

“What’s your name?” she asked herself.

No reply.

This was a silly predicament–not knowing her own name.

She shrugged. “Oh, well, who needs a name, anyway? A rose without a name would smell just as sweet.”

But it’s hard to talk about roses if they don’t have a name . . . 

True. So she did need a name. People like Daniela would want to call her something. No big deal. She could think up a name for herself. Couldn’t be that hard.

But first she had to do something about that mascara.

Roughly 10 minutes later, the woman emerged from the house, her hair rearranged and all traces of Goth war paint gone.

She saw Daniela standing next to a table, scooping ice-cream into a bowl.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” the woman said, approaching Daniela.

“No worries,” Daniela said. “Everybody has a bad day now and then. Trust me. I know. I have two-year-old twins.”

The woman almost corrected Daniela—today was a very good day—but thought better of it. “Well, you can call me Tara,” she said, beaming. She really rather liked the name she’d picked.

“Glad to meet you, Tara,” Daniela said. “Are you—oh, no. Excuse me. Alistair, you get down from there. Robbie, no. DO NOT push him.”

And Daniela was gone, running after a pair of little blonde boys.

Tara tasted all the food that afternoon—the hamburgers, the potato salad, the watermelon, the brownies, even the green bean casserole. She watched the kids darting back and forth across the lawn after the orange Frisbee. She chatted with an older man about the year’s crops—clearly, the drought was the government’s fault. She sat in the shade, feeling the cool breeze and letting the grass tickle her bare feet. It was perfect. . . though she didn’t know why.

As the sun began to cast long shadows across the lawn and, little by little, the people left in small groups, Tara concluded that she never remembered being more happy.

And then all the other guests were gone. A woman was clearing off the dishes and carrying them into the house while a man was folding and stacking chairs. A boy was playing with the dog.

“Jesse,” the man said. “Make sure you put your bike in the garage. It’s supposed to rain tonight.”

The boy gave the dog one last scratch behind his ears and headed for the bicycle lying in the grass. He picked it up and pushed it by the handlebars.

Tara saw the porch light reflecting off the shiny frame, gasped, and turned away. She told herself it was nothing—just a bike.

A blue bike.

Tara shivered at the strange feeling in her stomach and started walking away. She walked past the little white house, across the front lawn, down the middle of the street, toward the corn fields as the rain began to fall.

She was happy, she told herself. She was. Happier than she’d ever been.

She watched the raindrops fall and bounce against the street—like they were dancing. She tried to smile, tried to feel as young and as free as the raindrops playing all around her. Because she was. She knew that she was. She had to be.

The rain was falling harder now. She felt the cool droplets catch in her hair and soak her shirt. The water ran down her face, blurring her vision—just like tears. NO. Not tears.

“I am happy,” Tara said emphatically to the rain, and then more softly, “I am,” with a groan that rose from the ache of something gone . . .  and the image of a blue bicycle.

____________________________________________________________________________________________ Chapter 12

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