Harriet wandered downstairs around noon, out of her pajamas, but dressed for a day of sitting at home. She had several drugs to study up on and refresh her memory on the human hand, which for some reason or other she always seemed to have trouble with. Maybe because it was the first thing she ever dissected. She was nearly five years old and her father was working on a cadaver and let her have the hand which he’d already gone over and through. She’d made one incision into it, saw the bones inside and vomited on the floor. He’d had the grace to admit that it might have been too soon, but the slight fear of the hand remained. Or maybe it was a whole other reason entirely.
She came into the kitchen to find Susan making herself an egg sandwich. Their housekeeper was a woman in her late thirties with a thin, short body, brown eyes, and a bald head wrapped in a brightly covered scarf. She’d donated all of her hair years ago after her niece passed away from Leukemia and said that it was one of the best things she’d ever done. Not only did donating it make her feel better, but she also realized how freeing it was not to have to brush and fix her hair multiple times a day. Instead she just picked a scarf, tied it on, and she was done. Every year or so she would grow it out until it was just long enough to donate and cut it all off again. Susan was a wonderful woman and Harriet loved her very much. She was Harriet’s dad’s kid neighbor once upon a time and he’d taken her in after a brutal divorce. It was out of friendship, but she insisted on keeping house for them to earn her keep. Years later, she was still here.
“Why, I never thought I’d live to see the day when Harriet Rose Thatcher slept till noon.” Susan cackled as she came into the kitchen. “Are you sick or something dear?”
“Or something.” Harriet mumbled and Susan’s face became concerned.
“What happened?” She asked.
“Nothing especially important.”
“You sure? Because your father’s in a terrible mood and he was picking around the laundry room this morning for some reason. Never known that man to do laundry.”
Harriet wrinkled her brow. No, her dad never did laundry unless all three women of the house were out of town for some reason. And Harriet wasn’t convinced he didn’t send his washing out. “What was he doing?”
“No idea.” Susan said. “Do you want a sandwich?”
“Sure.” She said. She hadn’t had any real food since yesterday with Andrew and Quinn and even then she wasn’t sure that pizza qualified as real food. It was greasy and gritty and almost burned in some places and almost raw in others. Still, it was good and she’d had fun hanging around with them. Why couldn’t she have just left it at hanging out?
Harriet went into the little dining room across the hall. It wasn’t the formal dining room, but it was where they took most of their meals and it was where Harriet found her dad reading the newspaper with some sort of PH indicator next to him. He wasn’t one to stop working even at home.
“Morning daddy.” She said and sat across from him.
“Nearly noon.” He said, his voice cold. Not the reaction she’d expected.
He was a man in his fifties with a stubbly grey beard and a tight face that was used to spending hours looking over results and papers and people. It was one that had known loss and had to tell people that their children were dying. Harriet knew that one day her face would look like that too. His blue eyes were cold even now, though they usually thawed in her presence. Harriet wondered if something happened in San Francisco. Or worse, he already knew about Harriet’s failure. She started to make up excuses like a child. They had already picked someone before they met with her, it was the woman’s fault, she didn’t really even need the internship. It was just answering phone calls and filing paperwork, something she’d done a thousand times before. It was just to get a name on an application. Wasn’t the renowned Doctor Arthur E. Thatcher enough? He had done his residency at the same place she was going to. There were three other Thatchers there right now! Jacob, Martin, and Christopher who would be the senior resident when she got there. The Thatchers were doctors through and through, and that hospital knew it.
But then it was there. That deep down feeling, the memory, the knowledge that she wasn’t like the others trickled up. She was the only girl in the family for generations, but she was apart even then. It’s why she’d had to work every day of her life, to show how serious and dedicated she was to her career.
He just kept staring at her. She opened her mouth—to apologize, to make an excuse to say anything, but instead he just dropped the newspaper down in front of her. She looked at him and then at the paper. And there—on the front cover—in glorified black and white… was her.
Elias Mavros posses with friends during last night’s concert.
She was standing between Em and Andrew, smiling at something someone—Em—had said. She’d forgotten she’d even taken that photo. It happened in half a second before the reporter was gone. He didn’t even look much like a reporter. Harriet had asked who he was and Em said that he went to every party to take pictures and interviews. He was their media controller, he’d said. The college boy kept their locations secret and only ever released to the press exactly what the Octets allowed. And they had allowed this picture.
“With which of these two men did you spend the night?” He asked. “Or was it someone else entirely?”
Harriet couldn’t say anything, couldn’t even get a sound out.
Her father looked at the paper again, studying the picture. “Mavros is a very Greek name. He’s a well-liked figure. The other boy, that one I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out, would it?”
Harriet just continued to stare.
“This morning,” He went on. “I went into the laundry room to see if I could find a shirt I’d been missing. Instead I found something far more interesting. A substance. On your pantyhose. And dress.”
Holy fu¢king $hit.
“I was curious and couldn’t quite believe it, so I did a little test.” He pushed the PH indicator toward her. It was a very detailed one, along with a scale that told her just what could be found at that number. “How unfortunate it was indeed, when my hypothesis proved true.”
“You—you… you PH tested my pantyhose?!” She shouted, the anger and fear and embarrassment coming out in a rush. Susan came in at that moment with an egg sandwich, but took one look at them and turned right back around. “What is wrong with you? How could you disregard my privacy like that? That is so… so not okay!”
Her father didn’t even flinch at her shouting. “I just wish to know to whom that substance belongs.”
She let out a wordless scream and stormed from the room and out of the house. She got into her car—the car he’d bought her—and took off, far faster than she needed to.
“Admittedly, that’s pretty bad.” Aunt Phyl said as she made Harriet some pancakes with peanut butter and syrup—her favorite. “But I can sort of see where he’s coming from.”
“How?” She asked. How could anyone see sense in it?
“He’s your dad.” She said. “And he’s protective. You’ve never dated anyone whose family he doesn’t know, who you’ve never brought home. I think you scared him.”
“I’m twenty-two.” She said and took a vicious bite out of the first pancake, not even waiting for the toppings. “I can be with whomever—whoever—I want and it should be no business of his.”
“You’re barely twenty-two.” Aunt Phyl pointed out. It was true, her birthday had only been in June and it was just now September. “But you’re right, he shouldn’t have done that. Now, what about this boy?” Harriet looked at her warily and Aunt Phyl held up her hands in surrender. “I promise I won’t say a word to anyone, just between us two. I saw you in the paper this morning. Was it one of them? Elias Mavros, there’s a talented man.”
Had everyone seen the paper? “Not Em—Elias—the other one. Andrew.”
Aunt Phyl nodded and slapped down another pancake. “He’s cute too.”
Harriet felt herself blush. “He is. I met him down at the beach yesterday morning with his little brother. He saved my paper from flying into the water.”
“Galant.” She said.
Harriet felt herself smiling. I’m nothing if not a gentleman. “It was. After the interview bombed, I went out to pizza with him and Quinn. He’s a weird little kid, but he’s fun too. After that we went out to the concert and then down to the beach and…”
Aunt Phyl raised her thinly tweezed brows suggestively over her coffee mug. She was a late riser and a late eater and was just getting her day started when Harriet showed up on her doorstep as she’d done all too often over the years. She wasn’t Harriet’s real aunt, but she’d been her mom’s best friend for years, even through all of… Harriet had spent years two to three in this house before moving in with her father, who was, in fact, her step-father.
But they didn’t like to think about that.
“Do you remember,” Harriet asked, taking a calmer bite of her now peanut buttered and syruped pancake. “When they were going to put me right into eighth grade and I spent the day crying on your couch? You took me to the beach that evening and I climbed up the rock pile. There was this little boy there and that… that was Andrew. I didn’t remember him until we went back there.”
Aunt Phyl raised her brows in actual surprise now. “A fated meeting? Did he know who you are?”
“No, I didn’t tell him.”
“Well you should.” She urged. “Go to him Hattie, tell him.”
Harriet laughed for the first time today, a soft laugh. “I don’t know where he lives, I don’t even have his number. I don’t even know if I should call.”
“Well,” Aunt Phyl said. “Call the operator later. Give it a couple days to breathe and whatever happens happens.”
But Harriet didn’t know if she could call. She didn’t know if she could ever face Andrew again. After Officer Montez and her father… she didn’t know how she could ever look any of them in the eye.
The first day of class came and Andrew was relieved to find that one professor he already knew from last semester and the other was so laid back, she came to class with flip-flops on. But there was still tomorrow for everything to go to hell after all. And Saturday.
Things had already gone slightly to hell. Quinn had managed to cut class a couple weeks ago and somehow wound up across town, loitering near the railroad tracks. He claimed he wanted to see the owls in the old barn near the tracks, but for some reason Andrew didn’t quite believe him. Maybe it had something to do with what he whispered in the dark a couple weeks ago, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that the police officer had had to pull him off the tracks where he’d been hopping from wooden board to board like he was playing hop-scotch. Either way, Andrew had a bad feeling about it.
Class was over, so he started to pack his little note book and knelt to find the pen he’d dropped in the middle of the lecture and had left there so he wouldn’t have to shove his face into his neighbor’s crotch while leaning down to grab it. The chairs in this instruction hall were far too close together. He found it just as a voice spoke from right beside him and he bumped his head on the little table connected to the chair arm. He moved and stood up quickly, rubbing his head.
“Sorry about that.” The girl said. She had thin brown hair and grey eyes and a decent enough face. Andrew thought that she might have been in his accounting class last year, but he couldn’t be sure. “I’m Veronica.”
“Hi Veronica.” He said. He wasn’t sure if she should shake her hand, but she didn’t offer one so he didn’t. “Andrew.”
“I know.” She said softly. His smile faltered imperceptivity. Oh god, he hadn’t slept with her too did he? He’d been with quite a few girls, some of which he’d been with while he wasn’t entirely sober. She seemed to notice his discomfort and said quickly, “I saw you in the newspaper with Harriet.”
“I—” That took him by surprise. He’d spent the last two weeks trying to forget about her and failing miserably. “You know Harriet?”
“Family friends.” She explained. “But Hattie and I don’t really talk anymore.”
Hattie. What a cute nickname.
Veronica went on. “I know that she hasn’t been home in weeks and her dad is royally pissed at her for, well…you.” Andrew swallowed hard. “Look, I was at the party at the garage. Thomas invited me. I saw you there together, but I didn’t want to say anything. We haven’t been close for years, but that’s the most I’ve seen her smile in a long time. A very long time.”
“Hurry up Quinn.” Andrew called out the window of his car.
His little brother doddled around the front of the school looking at his shoes before making his way toward the car. He stopped every few feet to look at something behind him, but he eventually found his way into the passenger’s seat. He was no marathon runner, this one. He was great at baseball, but that’s because it was the only sport that needed only short bursts of concentration. Quinn was hell at soccer—Andrew’s sport. Their dad still called him Daisy Picker sometimes.
“We’re going somewhere new today.” Andrew said as he pulled into the parking lot traffic of the junior high.
“Where?” Quinn asked, not sounding like he particularly cared.
“Harriet’s house, but I don’t think she’s there.” They pulled out onto the road headed southwest toward the nicer part of town. Tod wasn’t on the main road, but it was a road he knew was a shortcut from school and home. They lived in the big one with a porch and a sunroom making up a third floor.
“Why?” Quinn asked. He was asking less and less questions lately and those he did ask were usually one word.
“I have to talk to Harriet’s dad.” Andrew said and glanced sideways at Quinn. He was pale from a lack of being outdoors and he had bags under his eyes from a lack of sleep. He wasn’t eating a lot and it had begun to show. His brother was going to be taller than him, he already knew. Their parents were both short, but their generation had better luck.
“When we get there,” Andrew said, turning onto the road that would continue four miles before turning to another road and the finally Tod. “You have to be very quiet. And do NOT under ANY circumstance, tell mom and dad where we went or who we saw or what we talk about. Okay?”
Quinn just nodded and stared out the window. His left hand was gripping the leg of his pants so tight Andrew thought it might rip.
“Do you want to go to the zoo tomorrow?” Andrew asked.
“How about the Wharf for pizza tonight?”
“Do you want to do anything?”
Andrew wasn’t stupid, he knew when he wasn’t wanted. So he shut up and left his brother alone.