Chapter 1: Tuesday November 23rd
So this is my third journal. I can't believe I've filled up two books in three weeks. Now that I look back through the second journal, I realize that for an entire week and a half absolutely nothing happened. I filled up an entire book with my description of nothing. I feel a bit bad for having made you read all of it. You said my first journal was a bit exciting with everything that happened. Well I must have crammed a whole year's worth of stuff into that week because my life went back to being ordinary after the fallout from Little Miss Hand Grenade died down.
What do you think, Doctor K? Is it weird that I can ramble on and on so much when nothing was actually happening to me? Or is it another thing like you were saying, where it's pretty normal but it just seems weird because it's happening to me. You didn't say it, Doctor K, but I got the impression that me thinking everything is weird when it's actually normal is just another type of craziness.
So anyway, nothing happened. Oh sure, I went to school, I did some drawing, I started a new painting, I did all the usual stuff. But nothing special happened. Nothing worth making a fuss about.
Nothing apart from getting into college, that is. I haven't been to a class yet, but I have the letter. They said I can start next week if I want to — how awesome is that? I thought it was going to be harder than that. Just one interview with Arbena Satiri — the artist who runs the class I'm interested in. There was a nervous time while she flipped through my folio of drawings — including photos of the two paintings on my closet doors. There was another official from the college at the interview, but all he did was flip through my school reports and ask a couple of questions about transportation. Then Dad was signing some papers and they told me the letter would be in the mail (which it was) and that was that. Like I said — awesome!
Today's counseling session was a bit confusing. We seemed to spend most of the time talking about what is normal. Half the time you seemed to be saying there's no such thing as normal. The other half of the time you seemed to be saying that a lot of what I've been going through is normal for someone my age. You can't have it both ways, Doctor K. I know you're trying to help me. I know I came to you asking for help. But if you keep going back on the things you say, I don't know how much help you're going to be.
As I was leaving from your office I waved at Joseph Edmond Philips who was just arriving for his session. We differently brained types need to stick together. I didn't stop to talk though, I wanted to get out of that hospital — it still makes me feel all creepy. Joseph actually smiled when he saw me. Actually he smiled when he saw my shoes — I don't think he looked at the rest of me.
Mom was waiting in the car — she'd done some shopping while I was in my session — and I talked to her about my session while she drove. We stopped at the DiMartino house on the way home to collect Melissa. Of course, we had to speak into the little box to get the gate opened. Mom drove around to the front door where Melissa was already waiting beside the new housekeeper. I forget her name, but Melissa says she's a bit of a Nazi. I think Mr DiMartino deliberately hired someone a bit strict after the last one let Laura get away with so much.
Frederick, the older of Melissa's two younger brothers, came running out the door just as we stopped. He abruptly halted and stood a bit behind Melissa — looking awkward and uncertain.
I jumped out of the car and opened the back door for Melissa. I smiled and called out hello to Frederick but that just made him blush and stare at the ground. I don't know who was more embarrassed — Frederick because I'd spoken to him or me because he's behaving all love-struck around me. I don't know what to do about Frederick. If I tell him I'm not interested in him — not in that way, anyway — he will be crushed. He's only eight years old and ... well, eeew, but I don't want to hurt him.
The housekeeper spoke to Mom to make sure Melissa would be returned by nine. She seemed determined to explain to Mom that tomorrow was a school day and that late nights before a school day were unacceptable — as if Mom didn't already know that. After the housekeeper started to explain it for the third time, I saw a half-smile start to appear on Mom's face that told me she was getting angry. Mom interrupted with a curt comment about needing to get moving. She hustled the two of us into the back seat and got back behind the wheel.
I think the housekeeper wanted to start again on the 'have her back by nine' speech but as soon as she started pointing at the watch on her wrist, Mom smiled at her and drove us away down the drive. Fortunately the gates open automatically or we probably would have bashed right through them.
Melissa wanted to talk to me but I reached out with my hand and hushed her. We sat silently in the car as Mom drove.
Melissa leaned over and whispered into my ear, "Why are we being quiet?"
I bit my lip as I figured out what I should say and then I leaned back to her.
"Mom's mad at your new housekeeper right now," I whispered into her ear. "Mom doesn't much enjoy being treated like an idiot. If we sit back here and do the 'brainless teen chat' thing, she might redirect her mad in our direction and we don't want that."
Melissa looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then leaned close to me.
"Brainless teen chat?"
I rolled my eyes. "I'm quoting from last time Mom got mad at Tara and me for being so thoughtless as to sit in the same room as Mom and talk to each other when she was busy being mad at someone."
Melissa nodded at me. "Would it help if we discussed something brainy like the political and economic differences between the U.S. and England?"
That made me giggle, and Melissa giggled too. That was unfortunate because it made Mom turn around and snarl at us.
"For heaven's sake! Must you whisper and giggle like a stereotypical pair of idiot schoolgirls?"
I sat back in the seat and hung my head a bit. "Sorry, Mom."
"Sorry, Mrs Freeman," added Melissa.
We sat in silence for the last few minutes of the drive to our house. Mom parked the car and everyone clambered out. Looking at Mom's face, I decided the storm was nearly over and it was safe to start trying to patch things up.
"Mom, did I tell you that Melissa learns dance?"
"Oh, really? What type of dance do you do?"
Mom and Melissa walked up the drive talking about dance styles. I followed, smiling to myself.
Inside the house, I was hit by another storm in the form of Angie. She took a flying leap into my arms so hard that I staggered back into the edge of the door.
"Save me, Becky, save me."
"Who am I saving you from?"
"Tara! Tara's tickling me."
"Oh, really? We'll have to do something about that. Let's go."
I let her slide down to the floor and together we set off hunting for Tara. Mom disappeared towards the kitchen, so we were free to search around through the living room. Melissa followed the two of us with a smile on her face. Tara wasn't there, but I made a big deal about looking under the cushions and behind the paintings. Melissa joined in by looking behind the curtains. Angie liked that game and started looking under the sofas and behind the chairs. After that game was exhausted, I pointed towards the hallway and we crept on tippy-toes towards the doorway.
At that point, Tara launched a surprise attack from the rear. She had gone out into the hallway, around through the kitchen and back via the entrance into the living room. Tara came running up behind us, grabbed Angie up under the arms and lifted her high in the air. Angie squealed in that half-delighted, half-terrorized sort of way. The rest of us were squealing too. Tara lifting Angie up in the air like that left her ribs exposed. I reached out and dug my fingers into her ribs.
Tara squeaked and dropped Angie. Angie screamed as she found herself falling. All three of us lunged forward to catch Angie before she hit the floor. We ended up in a pile. I guess you could say we succeeded because Angie landed more or less on top of the pile. The rest of us weren't quite so fortunate. I bashed my head on someone's elbow and someone else's knee was sticking into my lower back. Angie just lay spread over the top of the pile and kept screaming.
Mom appeared suddenly, glowering down at us.
"What did you do to Angela?" she demanded.
We lay in our tangled heap and looked up at Mom. Nobody answered her. I was about to confess that I'd caused it by tickling Tara when Angie's screaming cut off with a hiccup and she started giggling up at Mom. Mom scowled at us.
"Look after your sister!"
She turned and stalked away back towards the kitchen.
There were a few ouches interspersed with giggles as we untangled ourselves. The four of us ended up sitting cross-legged on the floor in a tight circle. I introduced Melissa to Angie and they said "hi" to each other. Tara and Melissa already knew each other — at least well enough to recognise each other, anyway.
"Angie and I have been cooking. Dinner is in the oven. It will be ready in about half an hour," said Tara.
"Awesome!" I replied. "Dealing with an angry mother really builds up the appetite."
"Our new housekeeper, the Nazi, was explaining to your mother that I have to be back home by nine," explained Melissa. "Your mother didn't seem to appreciate being told the same thing three times."
"Yup! That would do it."
I looked at Tara and caught her eye. "I have to show Melissa something." I flicked my eyes towards my bedroom and then back to her. "Can you keep Angie with you for a bit?"
Tara looked at Melissa then back at me. "Sure. We better get back to the kitchen. We might not have cleaned up as well as we should have, and with Mom stewing..."
Tara scrambled to her feet and took a few steps towards the kitchen before calling for Angie. Our little angel had been sitting quietly in her place in the circle. I think she was pleased that she was being treated as one of the girls. Now she bounced up and raced after Tara towards the kitchen.
I stayed sitting and looked at Melissa, trying to carefully word what I was about to say. Melissa looked back at me and after a moment, she raised her hands as if to say, "Weren't you going to show me something?"
"I'm going to show you something, but you can't talk about it — apart from with my family, that is. I think you'll realize why when you see it. It's not bad — not really. It's just that some people wouldn't understand and my family could get into a lot of trouble. I'm trusting you not to tell people. You can talk to Liz about it, obviously — she knows everything about me."
Melissa's eyes went a bit wide. "Now you have me fascinated. What is it that could get your family into trouble when it's not really bad?"
I stood and held my hand out for Melissa. She took my hand and stood up smoothly — her years of dancing make her every move seem like a glide. As I led her towards my bedroom, my mind raced over the pitfalls of making new friends. It had seemed so easy two weeks ago when I had announced to Liz that Melissa was going to be our new friend and Liz had just agreed. I'm not very experienced at making friends. It hadn't occurred to me at the time that having a new friend would mean having someone new that I would have to share a whole lot of secrets with.
The closer I got to my bedroom, the more I started to worry. It was like I was wading through a deep bog — a swamp made of worries instead of mud. They just kept piling up in front of me as I tried to push through them. What if Melissa didn't understand? What if she hated the pictures? What if she were offended? What if she told her father? What if she told her sister? Laura would make my life miserable if she found out about this.
None of these worries were new. I'd already spent more than one sleepless night wandering around the house as I worried about what to do. In the end I just decided I had to show Melissa and find out how she reacted. That was pretty much the reason I'd invited her over for dinner this evening. If she didn't like it, then that just meant I wouldn't invite her around for a sleepover anytime soon.
I took a deep breath, opened my door and turned on the light.
"This is my bedroom!"
I ushered Melissa into the room. Everything seemed to pause. I stopped breathing. My heart stopped beating. The entire house seemed to go silent. Melissa was standing in the doorway — her eyes flicking around all the paintings on the walls. I think I saw a faint blush appear in her cheeks as she realized that the paintings were all of a naked girl — or maybe she was realizing they were all pictures of a naked me.
I steered Melissa further into the room and stood her in front of the first picture we came to. It was the picture of me standing beside the mirror — life-sized, full frontal, naked me. It's not the real me, of course. It's Mom's idealized version of me — a beautiful, strong, confident, defiant version of me that doesn't really exist except in Mom's head, and maybe a little bit in mine. I'm not really that beautiful. I'm definitely not that confident. I hope that one day I will be that strong.
I gently pushed Melissa past my desk to the next picture of me. This was the picture of me in the middle of a jump shot, throwing a basket with the ball above my head. Again it's an idealized version of me, only this time it's an energetic, athletic, lively version of me that's actually a bit more realistic. Except, of course, that I have never — and will never — played basketball without any clothes on. I gestured at the image of a nude Liz sitting on the floor with her back against my bookshelf and a book in her hand as she watched me play basketball. Melissa's cheeks tinted again as she saw a picture of someone else she knew without any clothes on.
"Did you paint all of these?"
"I wish I was that good. Mom did these. I'll show you the ones I painted in a minute."
"I always thought you were shy. I don't know how you could have stood there and modelled for these."
"I didn't! Not really. Mom doesn't use models. She just sees an image in her head and paints it. She did get me to model a little bit for this one so she could get the muscles looking right. That was embarrassing."
As I talked, I pointed out the detail from my shoulders, down my back, across my butt and down my legs. I'm still impressed at how well Mom had done that. My skin looks smooth and tight and clear, but everywhere there's a hint of muscles rippling just under my skin.
I gestured at the image of Liz. "Liz saw all this happening and said Mom could do her as well. Liz didn't have to model at all for that, but it looks perfectly like her."
The next painting I showed her was the one above my bed of me sitting on a flying carpet, holding on tight and clearly flying fast because you could see my hair flowing out behind me and the look of sheer joy on my face. Near that was the rear view of Liz and me sitting on a wall and leaning against each other, looking out into an English garden. I pointed out to Melissa the theme running through all these paintings.
"These aren't really me as I am now. They all show different parts of what I could be like in the future. The one next to the mirror is me if I were more confident. It shows me being strong — defiant even. The basketball one is about me being athletic, the flying carpet painting is me having fun, the one with Liz is about me having friends and being a caring and loving person."
Melissa turned and looked between the paintings. She smiled and nodded.
"On the closet doors are the two that I have done so far. The one with me in a prom dress is kind of the same theme because it's about me looking elegant and grown up. Except I put myself behind the mirror because that's the only way I get to see myself. I often feel like the girl behind the mirror isn't really me — especially when she looks like that."
"It's a gorgeous dress."
"It's based on a real dress I saw in a shop. I tried it on and everything."
"You should have bought it. It looks awesome on you."
I shrugged. "We can't afford it."
Melissa blinked a couple of times as if she had to adjust her thinking and then nodded.
"I can see this painting looks different from the other paintings."
"I'm just a beginner compared to Mom. I still have a lot to learn." I guess I thought she was criticizing it, but now that I think about it, she wasn't really.
"I don't mean it's no good, I just mean it's different."
"Oh! Um! Okay!" I had to force my brain away from that thought and make it think about something else.
"I think you saw the drawing I did when I was worried about what would happen if I couldn't turn into the person — the one of me trapped behind the mirror."
"Well the painting on the other closet door is about me breaking through and climbing out of the mirror."
"I get that. And I can see breaking through the mirror has like a cost for doing that. The pretty dress gets all torn and you get cut on the glass. That's kind of deep. I like it."
Up to this point, I had been carefully steering Melissa around the room so that she wouldn't see the naughtiest (and most embarrassing) painting until last. I gently turned her to face the wall with the door in it and there it was. The painting showed me naked and draped over a red-velvet couch. The position of my hand and the look on my face clearly showed that I was touching myself — and liking it.
"Continuing the same theme as the rest of the room, this one is about that part of me that is growing up and becoming a woman."
Melissa's eyes went wider and she took a half step back. "Oh!"
"Yeah! It's a bit like that, isn't it?
I could see Melissa's cheeks going red.
"I still can't get over how Mom took plain little me and made me look so sexy." I was trying to play down the painting a bit. Treat it as casually as I could so that Melissa wouldn't think it was too big a deal.
Her eyes flicked sideways to me and then back up to the painting.
"You aren't plain. You might not be as sexy as that, but you aren't plain."
I licked my lips while I tried to figure out how to respond to that.
"I see why you said I shouldn't tell people about this. I don't think this is very normal for a teenager's bedroom."
I hid a smile, thinking of the long discussion about what is and isn't normal that I'd just had in my counselling session.
"I think you're right. But I like it. It makes me feel good to come in here and see all these pictures. They remind me of who I want to be."
"I don't think I could sleep every night in a room covered in paintings of me."
I shrugged. "It only took me a few nights to get used to them. They disappear when I turn the light off. I know they're there but I can't see them."
Finally I showed her the back of my bedroom door, where I've started my latest painting. Angie had seen my room and demanded I do one of her. I have it sketched out in pencil on the back of the door and I've just started blocking in the background. It looks like an archway through the wall but instead of opening out into the hallway, this one opens out onto a city park with green lawn and scattered trees. In the foreground, the penciled outline of Angie stands right in the doorway, one hand holding onto the doorjamb, the other hand waving. I'm pretty happy with my pencil sketch. I think I really captured Angie's energy and bubbling enthusiasm. I'm a bit nervous about whether I can do the same with paint.
By then it was nearly time for dinner so we went into the kitchen and sat down. Since Dan was at work, Tara could sit in his place, leaving her usual seat next to me free for Melissa.
Tara was bustling around doing the last of the dinner preparation, so we waited quietly for everyone to arrive. Once the whole family was ready, we stood in a circle — shoulder to shoulder — and did our welcome ritual for Melissa. It's so much easier for me to do that now my family has learned to make sure they don't look at me when I'm talking. I managed to introduce Melissa in a nice clear voice. I'm quite proud of how well I did. Mom and Dad said their bit to welcome Melissa as a guest in the house.
Finally it was time for dinner. I guess it was a fairly typical dinner for us — a sort of controlled chaos. Tara had cooked pasta and a bolognaise sauce for us and there was freshly made bread and a bowl full of garden salad to go with it. As always, we helped ourselves from the various plates of food in the center of the table. We made sure Melissa went first so she had her plate full of food and was sitting watching the rest of us serve ourselves.
I leaned over to her and whispered in her ear.
"We don't normally say grace or anything like that before we eat. But we will wait for you to say something if you want us to."
I could see Melissa hesitating, unsure of what to say, so I made the decision for her.
"Dad, Melissa's family usually says grace before they eat. Can we please wait for a moment while Melissa says something?"
Dad nodded at me and got everyone to sit still once they'd finished serving themselves. We waited while Melissa ducked her head and her lips moved in a silent prayer. The prayer was a short one and we did not have to wait long before Melissa looked up and nodded to us. Everyone started talking at once and we all started eating.
Mom and Dad caught up with each of us — including Melissa — about our day at school. It hadn't been a very exciting day so that didn't take long. Dad had found a new set of brain teasers on the internet so for most of dinner he challenged us to solve them. Melissa joined Tara and me in some fairly lively arguments as we tried to figure out each one. There was a fair bit of laughter as different people threw out silly ideas in between the sensible suggestions. Even Mom joined in with a couple of ideas. As well as the table-wide attempts to solve Dad's puzzles, there was never less than one other conversation going on, often there were two and sometimes three.
In other words, dinner was noisy, cheerful and friendly. I'm sure Melissa was a little nervous at first, but I could almost see her relax as she realized that everyone was being friendly and accepting her without any trouble.
I was also pleased to see that Melissa was easily able to contribute to Dad's brain game. I always thought she was pretty smart. Her brain seems to work differently from mine — more like Tara's in a way. My brain tends to jump around from one idea to another like a beetle jumping randomly from leaf to leaf. Melissa's brain seems to be more like a stream of ants. She started at the trunk and then split up and followed each branch in turn until she found the leaf we were looking for.
Dad didn't announce that he was satisfied we had solved all his puzzles until after we'd finished dessert and had worked our way through a pot of tea. We even got Melissa to try a cup of tea — she didn't hate it but I don't think we converted her. It was nice to just sit around the table like that, we do it sometimes and it always feels good just to be together as a family.
Mom and Dad volunteered to do the dishwashing for me, and they volunteered Tara to get Angie ready for bed, so that I could spend more time with Melissa.
Back in my bedroom, we relaxed on my bed and chatted. Melissa gushed a little about how much fun dinner had been. I think she was comparing it to the stiff and formal dinners at her house. After a bit, Melissa made the comment that Tara had been really friendly to her this evening.
"It's almost like she's a different person from the one we see at school."
I shrugged. "She is. I don't much like the version of Tara that shows up at school. I think it's a thing about the way Tara is. She likes to be among the popular people — people like your sister. It's almost like she's addicted to it. I think she behaves like that at school because that's what she thinks she has to do for her to stay in with that group."
Melissa nodded. "Laura probably encourages her. When they're all together, they act like complete bitches — and Laura's the worst."
"I think they've been better since that business with the party two weeks ago. They're all back to hanging out with each other around school and ignoring us but at least they're being a bit nicer to everyone else."
"I agree. I think that's because Laura isn't so much in charge any more. Tracey and the others don't seem to follow my sister as blindly as they used to. That's one good thing that came out of that whole mess."
We kept chatting about that for a while, mostly repeating what we'd already said and swapping stories of things our sisters had gotten up to at school. Then the conversation came back to Mom's paintings — I suppose that wasn't too surprising, we were sitting in my room where we were surrounded by paintings, after all. Melissa asked if there were any other paintings by my mother that she could look at.
I took her back out into the living room and showed her Mom's family portraits that hang at each end of that room. Then back through the hallway where some smaller paintings hang, plus some prints of paintings that she's sold over the years. That reminded me to take Melissa into The Parents' room and show her the collection of prints that hang in there, including the one of my dad wearing just jeans and holding a very young and very naked version of me. Mom always said it was a study in the differences of skin tone between Dad and me. Up until Mom did all those paintings in my bedroom, all I could see was my naked bum which features in the middle of the painting, much to my embarrassment.
Melissa was taking her time and looking carefully at all of the paintings. That made me stop and look more carefully at them as well — more closely than I had looked at them for ages. Melissa asked some questions about the stories behind the various paintings, but I was a bit distracted because I was starting to notice a pattern — something I hadn't really noticed before.
I did answer when Melissa asked if Dad was really as rugged with his shirt off as Mom had painted him. I told her that as far as I could remember, I've never seen Dad with his shirt off. Our family just doesn't walk around half-dressed and Dad doesn't swim, so he even keeps his shirt on at the beach. I think that Melissa might have said that Dad looked hot but by then I was kind of absorbed in checking out if my theory was correct.
My brain was racing as my eyes swapped from one print to the next. In my brain, I compared them to the ones in the hall and then finally back to the two big ones in living room. I could almost see myself standing in front of Mom's family portrait and staring at it in shock. I had just made an amazing discovery — something that had been right under my nose all the time. I guess when you see something every day you stop noticing it and it just becomes part of the background.
Artists change their style from time to time. They start using new techniques. They focus on different subjects. The mood of their art changes to reflect changes in their lives. It wasn't a surprise that Mom's style in her older paintings was quite different from her current style. What was surprising was that Mom had changed her style suddenly — almost overnight. At the same time she had changed her painting technique — even the brush strokes looked different. Even more surprising was that she had totally changed her signature at exactly the same time. Why would an artist suddenly change her style, her technique and even her signature all at once? I could only think of one reason.
What's more, I could identify exactly when it had happened. Every painting she had done back in England was in the old style and was signed Louise S — carefully printed and easy to read. The very first painting Mom had done after arriving in the U.S. had the entirely different style and was signed LFreeman — except that most of the name was just an illegible scrawl so it looked more like LF____.
Why would an artist moving to a new country suddenly change her style, her technique and even her signature all at once? I could only think of one reason. She didn't want anyone to know that she was the same artist as the painter back in England called Louise S.
In fact, as far as I know, the only copies in America of Mom's old paintings hang in The Parents' room or at the far end of our hallway where only members of the family would see them. She's never put them on show in America. She's never tried to sell her old paintings since we arrived here. Mom was — and is — deliberately hiding for some reason. I don't know why.
But there's more...
My thoughts were interrupted by a blast of cold air. Dad was leading me by the hand out through the front door of the house. It was dark outside and a light, misty rain was falling. I didn't resist as Dad led me to the back door of the car and pushed me in. He leaned in through the door and clipped the seat belt around me before backing out and shutting the door. Melissa was already sitting in the seat next to me and I think she said something to Dad, but I don't know what.
My brain circled back around to my new discovery. I decided that if Mom was deliberately hiding then she would have needed to change her style like she had done. Paintings by even a relatively unknown artist like Mom tend to circle around the world as they get bought in one place and then a few years later they get sold somewhere else. Also buyers for galleries tend to travel long distances to look for work to add to their collections. And these days, with the internet, photos of paintings can be seen from anywhere around the world in a matter of seconds. That means in these days if an artist wants to hide, moving countries just isn't going to do the trick. They also have to either stop doing art altogether or they have to completely change their style, their technique and their signature — just like Mom had done.
And, of course, they have to change their name...
A screech of brakes and a blast on a car horn right next to my window made me jump. I blinked and looked around. We were nearly back to the DiMartino house. I looked over at Melissa who was looking out the window at the passing traffic.
"Thanks for coming over to dinner," I said. "I hope you had a good time."
She looked at me and smiled. "I did. Thanks for inviting me."
She hesitated. "You suddenly blanked out. You were staring at the paintings and then suddenly it was like you were a zombie — just standing there and blinking. I was a bit worried so I went and got Tara but she said not to worry."
Melissa leaned over and whispered, "She also said you were just being a freak, but I don't think she was serious."
Then she was back to using her normal voice. "Was that the thing you got Liz to tell me all about — the brain thing you have?"
"Not really, I was just thinking! ... well, yeah, sort of. I guess."
I looked away from her — out through the window at the roads glistening in the rain. "Sometimes my brain goes a bit weird. Sorry about that."
It was easier to say that without looking at her. I didn't want to see the expression on her face. My brain was busy making her look all sorry for me or something and I didn't want to see that.
Dad pulled into the DiMartino driveway and wound down his window so that he could speak into the little box. The gates opened and we drove through and up the driveway in silence.
When Dad stopped the car outside the front door, Melissa leaned over and took a hold of my arm — almost forcing me to look at her.
"Thanks again for inviting me over. I really did have a good time. Your family is nice. I'll see you tomorrow at school, okay?"
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yaay!" I echoed. A half-day at school is always worth a cheer.
Dad looked at his watch. "We're actually four minutes and twenty seconds early. You can sit and talk for a few minutes more if you want to. In fact, I'm tempted to let you sit and talk for ten minutes, just to annoy a certain housekeeper, but I suppose I shouldn't."
"That's okay, Mr Freeman," said Melissa as she undid her seatbelt and opened the door. "We'll see each other tomorrow. Thanks for having me over, Mr Freeman. Thanks for bringing me home."
Without waiting for a reply, she closed the door and dashed up the steps and into the house.
I sat in silence and stared at Dad's profile as he drove us back home. I was trying to remember something that happened way back when I was six. Way back when we were travelling from England to America to start a new life in a new country. I hadn't thought about it for ages but back then, our name wasn't Freeman.
Now that I thought about it, I had a clear memory of sitting in a railway carriage — a little enclosed one, with just us inside. Dad had leaned back and casually said, "Oh, by the way, since we're going to a new country, it seems right for us to have a new name. From now on, we're going to be the Freeman family."
My little six year old brain hadn't found anything strange about that. After all, the whole thing about moving to a new country was an exciting adventure. Changing names seemed to be just a natural part of that.
For the last six and a half years of my life, I've been Bec Freeman and until that moment in the car, I've never questioned that. But when I was born, and for the first six years of my life, my name was Rebecca Stone — Rebecca Louise Stone.
I have no idea why we changed our name. I have no idea why Mom worked so hard to hide herself — and us. I always believed that we had moved to the U.S. because of Dad's job, but now I'm starting to doubt that.
I sat in the back of the car and stared at the profile of Dad's face — lit up by the passing traffic as he drove.
It's a mystery. Why did we change our name and travel half way across the world to start a new life? Did something happen that we ran away from? Why is our whole family hiding? Because it's not just us — it's Aunt Penny and Aunt Ally and Nana as well.
I have no doubt that Mom and Dad are deliberately keeping it a secret. I wonder what the truth is. I wonder why they feel the need to keep it secret from me. I'm kind of worried. They've kept big secrets from me before. The last secret they kept from me was that my cousin, Sam, is really my half-brother — that was a big surprise. The other big secret they kept from me was Lambrecht's Syndrome. Finding out about Mom's condition — and mine — just about blew my mind apart. Is it going to be as devastating when I find out the truth this time? I hope not — because I will find out.
What is the real reason we came to America? And why are they keeping it a secret from me?
It's a mystery.
It's a mystery and I'm determined to solve it.
I only hope I survive the experience.