Gone for Good Page 3

Without looking up, Sheila gave a half-smile and said, “Cut it out.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

She finally looked up and saw the expression on my face. “What?” she asked.

I shrugged. “You’re my world,” I said simply.

“You’re pretty hot stuff yourself.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, that’s true.”

She feigned a slap in my direction. “I love you, you know.”

“What’s not to love?”

She rolled her eyes. Then her gaze fell back onto the side of my mother’s bed. Her face quieted.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“Your mother.” Sheila smiled. “I really liked her.”

“I wish you had known her before.”

“Me too.”

We started going through the laminated yellow clippings. Birth announcements—Melissa’s, Ken’s, mine. There were articles on Ken’s tennis exploits. His trophies, all those bronze men in miniature in mid-serve, still swarmed his old bedroom. There were photographs, mostly old ones from before the murder. Sunny. It had been my mother’s nickname since childhood. It suited her. I found a photo of her as PTA president. I don’t know what she was doing, but she was onstage and wearing a goofy hat and all the other mothers were cracking up. There was another one of her running the school fair. She was dressed in a clown suit. Sunny was the favorite grown-up among my friends. They liked when she drove the carpool. They wanted the class picnic at our house. Sunny was parental cool without being cloying, just “off” enough, a little crazy perhaps, so that you never knew exactly what she would do next. There had always been an excitement—a crackle if you will—around my mother.

We kept it up for more than two hours. Sheila took her time, looking thoughtfully at every picture. When she stopped at one in particular, her eyes narrowed. “Who’s that?”

She handed me the photograph. On the left was my mother in a semi-obscene yellow bikini, I’d say, 1972ish, looking very curvy. She had her arm around a short man with a dark mustache and happy smile.

“King Hussein,” I said.

“Pardon me?”

I nodded.

“As in the kingdom of Jordan?”

“Yep. Mom and Dad saw him at the Fontainebleau in Miami.”


“Mom asked him if he’d pose for a picture.”

“You’re kidding.”

“There’s the proof.”

“Didn’t he have guards or something?”

“I guess she didn’t look armed.”

Sheila laughed. I remember Mom telling me about the incident. Her posing with King Hussein, Dad’s camera not working, his muttering under his breath, his trying to fix it, her glaring at him to hurry, the king standing patiently, his chief of security checking the camera, finding the problem, fixing it, handing it back to Dad.

My mom, Sunny.

“She was so lovely,” Sheila said.

It’s an awful cliché to say that a part of her died when they found Julie Miller’s body, but the thing about clichés is that they’re often dead-on. My mother’s crackle quieted, smothered. After hearing about the murder, she never threw a tantrum or cried hysterically. I often wish she had. My volatile mother became frighteningly even. Her whole manner became flat, monotone—passionless would be the best way to describe it—which in someone like her was more agonizing to witness than the most bizarre histrionics.

The front doorbell rang. I looked out the bedroom window and saw the Eppes-Essen deli delivery van. Sloppy joes for the, uh, mourners. Dad had optimistically ordered too many platters. Delusional to the end. He stayed in this house like the captain of the Titanic. I remember the first time the windows had been shot out with the BB gun not long after the murder—the way he shook his fist with defiance. Mom, I think, wanted to move. Dad would not. Moving would be a surrender in his eyes. Moving would be admitting their son’s guilt. Moving would be a betrayal.


Sheila had her eyes on me. Her warmth was almost palpable, more sunbeam on my face, and for a moment I just let myself bathe in it. We’d met at work about a year before. I’m the senior director of Covenant House on 41st Street in New York City. We’re a charitable foundation that helps young runaways survive the streets. Sheila had come in as a volunteer. She was from a small town in Idaho, though she seemed to have very little small-town girl left in her. She told me that many years ago, she too had been a runaway. That was all she would tell me about her past.

“I love you,” I said.

“What’s not to love?” she countered.

I did not roll my eyes. Sheila had been good to my mother toward the end. She’d take the Community Bus Line from Port Authority to Northfield Avenue and walk over to the St. Barnabas Medical Center. Before her illness, the last time my mom had stayed at St. Barnabas was when she delivered me. There was probably something poignantly life-cycling about that, but I couldn’t see it just then.

I had however seen Sheila with my mother. And it made me wonder. I took a risk.

“You should call your parents,” I said softly.

Sheila looked at me as though I’d just slapped her across the face. She slid off the bed.


“This isn’t the time, Will.”

I picked up a picture frame that held a photo of my tanned parents on vacation. “Seems as good as any.”

“You don’t know anything about my parents.”

“I’d like to,” I said.

She turned her back to me. “You’ve worked with runaways,” she said.


“You know how bad it can be.”

I did. I thought again about her slightly off-center features—the nose, for example, with the telltale bump—and wondered. “I also know it’s worse if you don’t talk about it.”

“I’ve talked about it, Will.”

“Not with me.”

“You’re not my therapist.”

“I’m the man you love.”

“Yes.” She turned to me. “But not now, okay? Please.”

I had no response to that one, but perhaps she was right. My fingers were absently toying with the picture frame. And that was when it happened.

The photograph in the frame slid a little.

I looked down. Another photograph started peeking out from underneath. I moved the top one a little farther. A hand appeared in the bottom photograph. I tried pushing it some more, but it wouldn’t go. My finger found the clips on back. I slid them to the side and let the back of the frame drop to the bed. Two photographs floated down behind it.

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