Tekla Dennison Miller
The serial killer was sentenced to life without parole on the same morning Pilar Brookstone graduated from medical school. Her mother shared that news as Pilar queued for the processional. Now, stepping away from the provost’s handshake, the new Dr. Brookstone was still thinking about her mother’s announcement. “Chad Wilbanks is permanently off the streets,” Celeste had said as though presenting Pilar with an extra-special gift. “You’ll feel safe enough to come home, at last.”
On this of all days,
Pilar didn’t want to think about the murders or the man responsible. This was
the moment to concentrate on the diploma she clutched to her chest, the sweet
triumph of a hard-won degree. But instead, memories of her friend Susan Mitchell
rose up to block Pilar’s view of her classmates. Chad Wilbanks had first charmed
Susan, then brutally murdered her. Susan was a statistic now, one of eight young
women Wilbanks victimized during a vicious two-year spree near the University of
Would Pilar feel safe in either Ann Arbor or in her Gross Pointe Shores home now? True, she had left medical school there because of the murders, transferring to Wisconsin after the first year. But Celeste’s words brought no real comfort, because in the intervening years Pilar had come to realize fear of Chad Wilbanks was not the real reason she dreaded going home.
As Pilar searched the audience seated under the vast striped tent, her mother’s aqua silk suit stood out like a large flower among a field of weeds. Seeing her always impeccably dressed mother gave Pilar a brief elated moment- -how often people thought they looked alike, how often people said they could easily pass for sisters. At forty-eight, Celeste still resembled a youthful model, slender, graceful, and no gray hair. Pilar remembered how her friends envied her good fortune to have inherited Celeste’s naturally curly auburn locks and high cheek bones. Pilar believed she was even luckier to have inherited her mother’s intelligence. Unlike her mother, however, Pilar put her smarts to good use.
Like a victorious
athlete Pilar hoisted her diploma into the air. In response, Celeste made large
circles with her arms, nodded her head, which was covered in a wide-brim aqua
hat. Then she checked the others near her. Surely, her look said, everyone
watching knew her daughter graduated fifth in the class.
Pilar descended the stairs with her diploma still triumphantly raised and caught a glimpse of her father’s steel-wool-gray hair. Marcus Nathaniel Brookstone, III, forever tan and fit, sat to the right of Celeste. To Celeste’s excited nudges, his body stiffened, and he crossed his arms over the chest of his navy double-breasted jacket. Despite her mother’s proud gaze, Pilar felt her enthusiasm fade as she returned to her place in the front row. Her father remained rigid, eyes focused on the podium.
After the ceremony, Pilar lingered in the shade of a huge oak tree, giving brief hugs and short, bittersweet farewells to several women students. As they promised each other to keep in touch, Pilar’s roommate and closest friend, Julie, threaded her arm through Pilar’s. She steered Pilar through the crowd and said, “I truly wish you’d reconsider OB/GYN. You’re a natural. Your compassion alone would be such an asset.”
Pilar stopped and pulled away from Julie. “I haven’t totally decided what I’m going to do. Perhaps I’ll have a better idea after my residency.” “But,” Julie scrunched her face, “we’ll be so far apart. You in Detroit and me in Oregon.” Pilar hugged the short, perky woman. “Don’t fret. There’s always the phone. Besides, that separation may not be forever. Who knows where I’ll end up?” Her own eyes tear-blurred, Pilar took in Julie’s pouting lips and wished for a moment that she was going west with her friend.
Julie’s parents whisked her away. As she bounced along beside them, Julie looked over her shoulder and called out, “Don’t forget me.” Her remark seemed strange to Pilar, since they’d been so close all through med school. “Julie,” Pilar teased in response, “you won’t let me forget you.” She tried to ignore the lump that formed like a huge fist in her throat.
Pilar watched the
crowd fill in around Julie. Then, when Pilar could no longer see Julie, she
scanned the well-wishers and excited parents. Finally, she spotted her mother,
tall like Pilar, struggling through the sweltering crush. When Celeste saw her
daughter, she waved one gloved hand, while the other held her hat fast against
the breeze from Lake Mendota, a graceful motion practiced all her married life
lived on a lake shore. Odd though, were the gloves in an age when most women had
freed themselves of such restraint. Perhaps she and her mother weren’t really so
alike – beneath the black commencement robe, Pilar wore Birkenstock sandals and
a sun dress.
“Where’s Daddy?” Pilar asked as they embraced. She immediately regretted the endearing, childish title.
“He’s getting the car,” Celeste answered. She held Pilar at an arm’s length. Although her mother’s eyes were shaded behind large, Jackie Kennedy-style sunglasses, Pilar knew her mother watched her face register disappointment. In fact, Pilar knew her mother wouldn’t have to look at her at all. Celeste had been confronted with that expression so many times before. “You know how he is, dear,” Celeste added in a resigned tone. “Just this once, Mother, he could have been here for me. Just this once.” Pilar silently cursed her VW for dying a week earlier. She had no choice but to be a prisoner in her father’s car for the long ride home.
Pilar wanted to shred her diploma and toss it into the wind. Better yet, she wanted to throw it in her father’s face. Instead, she yielded as her mother wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder and guided Pilar through the throng. Like Julie’s unfailing friendship, Celeste’s loyalty had been one of few morsels of happiness in Pilar’s life. Most times, Pilar was delighted that her mother had never given up on her, especially when Pilar knew how stubborn she herself could be. “Mother, I’m only doing this for you,” Pilar told her. “I could have gotten a ride with friends.” “I know, dear,” Celeste squeezed Pilar closer. “I know.”
Did her mother realize she couldn’t acquiesce forever? Pilar’s clenched hands hid in her robe. Did Celeste know how she needed to get out? The heat from the soft asphalt lot reminded Pilar of walking barefoot on hot sand, but the small sense of vacation lasted only until Pilar caught sight of her father. Marcus was already seated behind the steering wheel of the idling car, cooling off in the air conditioning. Though he glanced at Celeste and Pilar, he made no attempt to get their attention. He hadn’t taken off his jacket or loosened his tie, a brief, hopeful sign. Perhaps his immediate departure from the ceremony was really a gallant move. Perhaps he just wanted to make the car more comfortable for them. “Perhaps I’m kidding myself again,” Pilar mumbled to herself.
As Pilar gathered the robe around her and hoisted it up so she could get into the back seat, Marcus turned to her and said, completely without warmth, “Congratulations, Pilar. Your mother and I are very proud of you.” Then, with a total change in tone, he scolded, “But if you had stayed at the University of Michigan, we could be at the club for dinner rather than some restaurant where they don’t know how to make a proper martini.” He followed that with a forced chuckle. Pilar found no humor in his remark. More than any thing, more than any one, Marcus loved the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club which nestled the shores of Lake St. Clair, a short drive from the Brookstone family estate. “I thought we could have champagne,” Celeste soothed as she patted his arm. “You know, to celebrate.”
Marcus shook her hand away and drove out of the lot, almost laying a patch of rubber like a kid with his first car. Disheartened, Pilar rested her head against the window to catch glimpses of the university buildings as the car sped past. When the familiar, comfortable brick buildings of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics slipped from sight, she clenched the folds of the robe. What made her more tense- -the looming residency at Detroit Receiving Hospital, or the prospect of spending three years at home? Determined to salvage her special day, Pilar announced with too much cheer, “You’ll enjoy the restaurant I picked, Father.” Her voice gained strength when she added, “Everyone will be there.” Then her bubble of self-assurance popped. She pressed her nose against the window like a child looking through the glass display case in a candy store. As she watched the hospital merge into the sun low in the spring sky, she mumbled, “I promise you’ll get a perfect martini.” “We’re not stopping.” Marcus’ voice broke the silence like a sudden thunder clap.
Pilar raised her head far enough to see him peer in the rear view mirror. Did he want to see how unhappy he was making her? It was a game they’d played too often. As Pilar was drawn to the mean creases surrounding her father’s eyes, she wondered who had coined the phrase “laugh lines.” Feeling her own face tighten like a mask, Pilar looked away from her father’s spiteful challenge and immersed herself in the fleeting sights of Madison and Lake Mendota.
She could almost smell Marcus’ discomfort when she didn’t respond, but she also knew he wouldn’t let the issue go, so his next statement held little surprise. “I want to get as far today as we can. I have to prepare for an important meeting.” He baited Pilar one more time, “You understand?”
“Sure.” Pilar’s tone could have etched glass. Of course, Marcus always put his needs before everything else. As usual, she was in the way but didn’t know why.
When she remained silent, Marcus continued, “Besides, I don’t want to meet any more of your radical do-gooder, liberal friends. I had enough of them when you went to Michigan.” Pilar slumped into the corner. If she squeezed her eyes shut, would her father disappear? She tucked her nose into the seat. “New car?” she asked as she breathed in the scent of fresh leather. “It’s your graduation gift,” Marcus announced, like a fulsome CEO buying loyalty from a subordinate. “It’s more reliable than that VW.”
Pilar bolted straight up. “Mine?” She slapped the leather and added with some sarcasm, “Your generosity is overwhelming. Besides, I don’t want some bourgeois Mercedes.” She’d been proud to earn the money to buy the VW.
“Bourgeois went out of style in the seventies, Pilar,” Marcus chided. His face creased with disapproving furrows as he again sought out Pilar’s reaction in the rear view mirror. “Not among my peers, Father.” Pilar glared back. “Oh, Pilar, get a grip on your life.” He made the turn onto eastbound I-94, heading to Michigan, dismissing her opinion, as usual. “If you plan to be a doctor, you’ll need to think more clearly.”
Celeste, straightening her suit where it tangled in the seat belt, turned to Marcus and Pilar. “Need I remind you two that today is a celebration?” She removed her sunglasses. “Besides, Pilar, when you join Daddy’s practice, you’ll want a car that . . .”
Her mother’s pleas had too often trapped her in the past. “I have to return this robe before we skip town.” Pilar fanned the material up and down. “Do you think you have time for that, Father?” She no longer could accept her mother’s pretense of maintaining a happy family. Didn’t she get it? Their happy family had never existed. “We’ll mail it back,” Marcus clipped as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Then he sighed deeply and stretched one arm over the back of Celeste’s seat. Celeste smiled, though Pilar knew her mother didn’t understand. Marcus’ newly relaxed state wasn’t due to getting out of Wisconsin, but was because Pilar ignored her mother’s statement about working in his practice as a neurosurgeon.
Pilar studied the backs of her parents’ heads. It was a good thing all her personal belongings had already been shipped home. Her father probably would have left them in her apartment for the next renter. And the Mercedes – it was just like him. Appearances were what counted. Her father never missed an opportunity for him and his family to look good. They might look good, but they’d never win an award for family of the year.
The car’s claustrophobic interior made it hard to breathe. Pilar sniffed deeply several times to bring oxygen back into her brain. She only smelled leather and made herself dizzy. Pilar clawed at her neck. Who was strangling her? Her body shuddered awake as she struggled to pull the robe away from where it had crept above her shoulders and tightened like a noose. She interlocked her fingers, pushed her arms forward and stretched. As the fuzziness cleared from her head, Pilar recognized her surroundings. “Can we stop? I have to pee.” “Didn’t they teach you anything at that med school?” Marcus asked as he engaged the turn signal and exited I-94 East of Kalamazoo.
“Yes. We all must pee sometime.” Pilar’s acerbic response was wasted on deaf ears. “I had just decided to take a break anyway,” her father remarked. Celeste’s sigh was deliberate and loud. The illuminated arches of McDonald’s created eerie shadows over the entry to an otherwise dark parking lot. “Are you sure you can afford to eat here?” Pilar asked. “I’ve heard the martinis aren’t very good.” Why could she not resist baiting her father?
Pilar hopped out of the car almost before it came to a complete stop. She pulled the robe over her head, tossed it on the seat, and after slammed the car door. No matter her rush to reach the bathroom, Pilar couldn’t help but shout out one last comment over her shoulder, well aware that she often provoked a confrontation with her father. “I thought as a graduate of Michigan med school, you’d earn more money.”
Before Pilar slipped inside the restaurant, she heard her mother say, “You know, Marcus, you could be just a tad more happy for your only daughter.” Pilar’s shoulders slouched at the challenge in her mother’s exhausted voice. “You should be thrilled that she wants to follow in your footsteps.”
Berating herself for making her mother’s life more difficult, Pilar stopped long enough to hear her father answer, “I didn’t ask Pilar to do that.” Leaving Celeste behind he headed to the restaurant, and yelled to her as he looked at Pilar, “She’ll just get married and waste my investment.”
At that moment, Pilar prayed her mother would get back in the car and drive off. Pilar knew she couldn’t. Where would she have gone?
After splashing cold water on her face, Pilar stared at the person looking back at her in the restroom mirror. Even without makeup and with a head of thick, sometimes unruly hair, she was pretty. Over the years, she hadn’t always felt that way. She thought her full, naturally red lips overpowered her face. Who would have guessed full lips would come into vogue? Who would have guessed women would pump their lips with silicone to have a mouth like hers? She snickered at that image. “Little does my father know there’s not much chance that his investment in my medical career will be wasted. No man at the moment wants my full lips.”
Pilar lifted her hair to the top of her ahead and then let it drop. “You know as well as I do,” she said to the vision in the mirror like a friend, “marriage is out of the question. The one- night stands I’ve known don’t want a doctor for a wife.” She leaned into the mirror to more closely examine her features. “Besides, only Barbara Streisand could love that nose.”
Pilar thumped the mirror and headed out the door. By the time she got to the counter, her parents were in a booth eating Quarter Pounders and drinking coffee. When Pilar started to order her father yelled, “I have your hamburger here.” The clerk raised his eyebrows as though he knew what it was like to have a father like that. Pilar shrugged in response. “Marcus,” Celeste said with a hint of ire in her voice, “maybe Pilar would like to order for herself. She is capable.” Though shocked by her mother’s uncommon, forceful tone, Pilar didn’t turn away from the young man taking orders and asked for a grilled chicken sandwich and a diet Coke. She paid him with a ten-dollar bill she had tucked into her pocket. When the clerk finished the order, Pilar grabbed the tray and slid into the booth beside her mother, while the other customers, clad in shorts and T-shirts, eyed the more formal trio with suspicion.
On their way back to
the car, Marcus announced, “We’ll drive straight home.” “What? We’re not
stopping overnight?” Pilar shouted loud enough to draw the attention of the
group parking nearby. How many hours would she be stuck with him? “How could you
make that decision without asking Mother or me?” Pilar plopped into the car and
again slammed the door. Marcus slid behind the wheel. “In case you haven’t
noticed, this isn’t a democracy.”
Celeste gingerly eased herself into the passenger’s seat as Marcus started the engine. “I thought I made it clear earlier,” he stated, and checked the lot for traffic. “I must get home.” Pilar curled up on the back seat. A familiar fatigue, induced by anger and depression, set in, as it had each time she’d gone home to Grosse Pointe Shores. Using her graduation robe as a pillow, she let the repetitive sound of the clicking tires along the highway lull her into a fitful sleep.
Mutilated women’s bodies. Piles of them in a field. Murky light. A stench. Screams. Pilar woke with a start.
Marcus tapped the brake. Everyone lunged forward. “What the hell,” he shouted. The screams were from Pilar. “Nightmare, Father,” she whispered, feeling as though she had had an out-of-body experience. “I had a nightmare.” Pilar looked out the window at the green-and -hite road sign that read, “University of Michigan next right.” They must have passed the Ann Arbor exit.
Why had she really left? Was it to defy her father’s insistence that she attend his alma mater? Susan’s smile appeared to Pilar as clearly as though her friend were in the car. Or had she really been afraid and fled because of the student murders? Had she been frightened that she would be Chad Wilbanks next victim? It was odd though, his face was plastered everywhere in the media, Pilar hardly remembered what he looked like.
Marcus had met Celeste at the University of Michigan. She had thought he was quite a catch – handsome, rich, and well-established in Michigan society. Somehow, Celeste managed to ignore his need to control others. Unlike Celeste, Pilar held the opinion that her father’s arrogance overshadowed any positive attributes. She often wondered why she saw that and her mother didn’t.
As the new Mercedes sped on, Pilar stared at the back of her father’s head. Repulsed by his carefully tended hair, his manicured life, she wished that the burning in her eyes would become a laser beam and sear his locks. The wish was as dreamy and hopeless as a child’s on the evening’s first star.
True, Marcus had never been violent to Celeste or Pilar. And true, he’d always made sure his smart, talented daughter had attended the best schools, had the best piano and ballet teachers, gone to the best arts camp. Yet childhood memories plagued Pilar, countless times of being ignored or worse, of being ridiculed for not “having what it takes like a boy does.”
In imitation of her mother’s futile attempts with Marcus, Pilar spent the better part of her childhood trying, and failing, to please her father. Though he never said it outright, Pilar was convinced Marcus kept his distance from both of them because he harbored a deep resentment that Celeste had never given him a son, a boy he would have considered a rightful heir. That rancor spilled over into his feelings about Pilar. No matter how bright, gifted, or successful she was, she could never be the son he wanted.
She got an inkling of how hopeless her efforts were the day she won the third grade spelling bee. Victorious, she flashed her parents a radiant smile. “Exclusionary” was a tough word.
“You’ll have to do more than that if you want to make it in this world,” he said. Then he turned his attention to other fathers gathered in the auditorium, while Pilar savored what little comfort her mother’s ever-ready embrace gave her. Except for Pilar’s high school and college graduations, Marcus never attended another activity, feigning a burdensome work schedule. The same all-powerful timetable that had them speeding to Grosse Pointe Shores. Yet, she never gave up trying.
Pilar rested her head against the car seat. As she listened to the click, click, click of the tires, she reviewed a scene that had played over and over in her mind during the past years. Shortly after she decided to change medical schools, Pilar, at home packing, heard angry words between her parents. It was the cocktail hour, normally a time when they made small talk and sipped their evening martinis in the library, a floor below. Her mother’s hurt tone drew Pilar to the edge of the stairs to eavesdrop. Without knowing how she got there, a few minutes later Pilar stood outside the library door listening to Celeste’s accusation, “You never cared about Pilar or me.” “Care!” Marcus’ enraged voice boomed. “Care! I’m a good provider for you and Pilar. I’ve spent my life providing for you. Look at this house, look at your clothes, your car, the servants. Look at Pilar’s education.”
As Pilar listened, an image emerged in her mind’s eye of her father flailing his arms around while his face reddened with each thundering word. “That’s not love. And now,” Celeste stopped to take in air like an oxygen-deprived mountain climber, “now you confirm the dirty rumor spreading at the club.”
Pilar hugged her chest to stop the shaking as the word “rumor” assaulted her. She couldn’t imagine her conservative, boring father would do anything to raise an eyebrow let alone become a rumor.
Just as Pilar decided to knock and enter the library, Celeste amazed Pilar by screaming, “If you wanted a son of your own so badly why didn’t we adopt one?” “It wouldn’t be the same– from my making. I’ve tried to explain it to you before, but you don’t want to know.”
Suddenly, Marcus opened the door. His face came within inches of Pilar’s as Celeste yelled after him, “It’s better to have a bastard born to some white trash?” Marcus pushed by Pilar. She didn’t exist.
Pilar stood frozen, the confusing words whirling around in her head, a bastard son, a bastard son. All those days her father wasn’t with the family, her birthdays, her school honors and piano recitals, he must have been with his illegitimate son. Had he been with that son, too, when he didn’t take her to the father-daughter dance?
Bracing a hand against the paneled wall, Pilar steadied herself. Her chest heaved with the slamming of the front door. She was positive her father’s cowardly departure was bitter proof that there could be more to the rumor than her mother knew.
Celeste crossed the room and placed her hand on Pilar’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry you had to hear that,” she said in the same calm voice she used to console a young Pilar after she scraped her knee. “It means nothing. We’re still his real family.” Pilar glared and said, “He’s never hugged me, Mother. How real is that?”
At that moment, Pilar vowed she would never drop another tear for her father. She finally understood that she no longer had to feel guilty about choosing a lifestyle different from her parents. In fact, Pilar began to find enjoyment goading her father into a frantic tirade about the responsibility to which a woman of her background should be committed. “Look at your mother,” he often shouted when Pilar pushed him over the brink. “She knows her place.”
Over the years Pilar had looked at her mother, who was often cowering in some corner of their house. Tonight, as they sped homeward from graduation, it was no different. Her mother did know her place. There she sat, as far as she could from Marcus, using the window rather than his shoulder as a pillow. Marcus was totally clueless about Pilar’s need for independence and personal success. As to the idea of status, Pilar’s definition was the polar opposite of her father’s. So why was she still crying? Pilar covered her face in the robe.
Lights from a freighter defined the dark, placid waters of Lake Saint Clare. The Mercedes turned up the driveway marked by an electric gate with The Brookstones etched in brass. Pilar opened a window. The familiar damp air had been one of few comforts during her bleak childhood, and brought back memories of a little girl awakened by the sun shimmering off the water and across her bedroom wall. Back then, she raced down the manicured front lawn to play with Bud, her yellow lab, in the waves lapping the beach.
Pilar raised her still sore body to an upright position and rubbed her eyes with her fists the way that child would have done. Marcus rounded the circle of the drive and parked in front of the nine-foot mahogany entrance doors. The gray stone building, Marcus’ inheritance, loomed in the darkness, as cold and brooding as a Gothic mansion from a Daphne du Maurier novel. Pilar remembered no casual visits from friends dropping by, ever.
There had been little honest cheerfulness here. Yet Pilar couldn’t help smile at the one thing that once had brightened each homecoming – Bud jumping up to lick her face. He was the only dog her father allowed in the echoing house. Bud died when Pilar was 12.
The next morning, Pilar awakened to the mauve curtains fluttering in the open window opposite her bed. She stretched and inhaled. The breeze from the lake came sweetened with spring fragrances, and when she threw the bed covers off, the lemon scent of fresh laundry filled the air. Pilar grinned, thinking how her mother wanted everything perfect and sometimes that wasn’t a bad trait. Her smile faded when she scanned the day-lit room. Her mother tried too hard to ensconce Pilar in their old ways.
Nothing had changed except for a fresh coat of soft pink paint on the walls. The antique white canopy bed in the center was anchored by identical tables on either side. As a child, when Pilar lay in bed, the canopy of mauve and plum flowers spread above and sheltered her like a secret garden. A large chest snugged its foot. Pilar knew her childhood toys would be neatly stored inside. An American Girl doll collection sat like rows of ladies-in-waiting on shelves that lined the walls. Pilar long ago had stuffed the Barbie Dolls in boxes and packed them away in her closet.
On the dresser sat a silver-framed photo of a ten-year-old Pilar and her parents. She and her mother were smiling and squinting into the sun. They had their arms around each other’s waist, while Marcus, thin lipped, stood stiffly off to the side. He didn’t touch either Pilar or Celeste. “Like the old saying goes,” Pilar commented as she glowered at the photograph, “a picture says a thousand words.”
Reluctant to get out of her garden bed, Pilar finally sat up, back propped against a pillow, and gazed out the window at the sun-rays streaking like glass ribbons across the lake. She doubted her mother would ever come to grips with the reality that Pilar wouldn’t stay longer than the three years she contracted with Detroit Receiving.
It was a compromise, because Pilar had been accepted and wanted to attend the Cleveland Clinic. But, that four-hour drive wasn’t close enough for her mother. Though disappointed, Pilar again gave into her mother’s appeal. “You’ll be gone from me soon enough,” Celeste said. “Just stay with me a few more years.” Pilar felt her mother sounded as though once Pilar was finished with her residency, they would soon be forever separated. Had Celeste feared facing an empty nest with her distant husband? Or had she seen something in Pilar’s future? Pilar shivered about her mother’s unusual premonitions. For instance, Celeste often knew the grades Pilar got on important tests before she could tell her. Like the time Pilar raced home to show Celeste her grade on her biology test. “You got a 98 on that test. Good for you,” Celeste blurted out. She tried to cover-up her insight by adding, “Let me see it.” “How did you know my exact grade?” Pilar asked, stunned by her mother’s uncanny ability to always know things before she could tell or show her. “Did you call the school?” “No, dear. A lucky guess.” “You have a lot of those, Mom.” Pilar handed her the test.
Pilar shuffled to the window and breathed another gulp of lake air. For that moment she only wanted to enjoy the short two weeks before she embarked on her residency. She planned to fill the hours reading good books and making up for sleep lost during exams.
A large crystal vase, an anniversary gift from Pilar’s father to her mother, (no doubt purchased by his secretary) today filled with vibrant pink roses, adorned the desk beneath the window. So many nights her teen self had sat there talking on the telephone, rather than doing homework. In that at least she’d felt normal. Now, she swept her hand across the polished wood top and thought about her best childhood friend, Trish. Pilar never kept in touch. They had drifted in such different directions. Trish, with her stuffy stockbroker husband, was more like their mothers than Pilar would ever be. Julie on the other hand – well. Pilar already missed her.
The sight of her father maneuvering his Lexus past the silver Mercedes onto Lake Shore Road was as familiar as the view of the lake: Pilar had often stood in the same window and watched him drive away, even after her mother begged him to stay. The result was always the same; he’d rather go to the club or wherever – maybe with his son.
Today, when his car vanished into the trees along the road, she imagined her father and the Lexus had been swallowed by the leaves as if by a giant man-eating plant. Most likely he was listening to his cherished tapes of Rush Limbaugh. “Perhaps Father and Rush will never come back,” she chirped like a bird after a summer rain, then shrugged. “Too bad. He’ll only be gone a week to a conference.”
His absence would allow just enough time for Pilar and her mother to share quiet times without interruptions from his confrontations. Pilar daydreamed of renewing the friendship she once had with her mother, one where they confided their deepest secrets to each other. Pilar scrunched her face. All she really foresaw was her mother repeating her father’s party line: “You think you can get anywhere without a man. Just try it.” “Well, guess what?” Pilar said to her father’s departing car, “I will.”
Pilar turned from the window to clench Emma, a fuzzy white rabbit, tightly to her chest. Emma had come as an Easter gift from her father, or so Celeste said, when Pilar was six. Pilar’s father, who was out of town that Easter, would never have selected the rabbit. Marcus would have found Emma frivolous. He would also have admonished Celeste for acknowledging a Christian occasion, though the Brookstones only participated in their faith on special Jewish occasions like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Pilar suspected her father worked hard at not attracting attention to his ethnicity. He wanted to blend in at the club.
Though Pilar was well aware her mother had bought Emma, she reacted with the proper amount of joy about her father remembering her, while she hid her hurt over his absence. Emma became Pilar’s favorite toy. She believed the rabbit had the power to chase away all her pre-teenage pimples, help capture the heart of her latest crush, stop her from covering her head in lightning storms, and scare off any sadness. Emma and Pilar spent hours dancing and singing in the bedroom to Bruce Springsteen. One night Pilar must have gotten carried away to “Born in the USA”, because her loud renditions brought her father to the place he so rarely ventured. “Turn that damn thing off and practice your Mozart,” he shouted.
Pilar was more stupefied by his knowledge of her piano skills than his vocal intrusion.
Emma also accompanied Pilar on walks along the shores of Lake Michigan where she and her mother spent their annual two-weeks at the summer home of Celeste’s brother in Harbor Springs. Pilar left Emma on the cottage bed when she turned thirteen, though, and traded in her make-believe affection for the real thing, holding hands with Joey, Pilar’s first boyfriend. He summered with his parents in the cottage next door. Even at gawky thirteen, Joey squeezed Pilar’s hand in his as they haunted the beach front. Emma couldn’t match that.
Other teenagers also shared Harbor Springs cottages with their families, while Marcus rarely joined Pilar and Celeste on any vacation. In fact, for Pilar’s high school graduation, he sent Celeste and her on a two-month tour of Europe.
Pilar confided to Emma, “It probably gave him more time for the Tiger baseball games with his son, whoever he is.” Though Pilar left Emma behind when she headed off to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, there were many times Pilar thought she needed the funny rabbit. Now, Pilar hugged Emma and, petting her velvet fur, swayed as she hummed Madonna’s song “Boy Toy.” Emma’s lanky legs and pink satin lined ears and feet bounced to Pilar’s body’s motion. “Remember this song, Emma?” Pilar asked the mute stuffed toy.
Pilar held her at arm’s length, and confided, “Life on my own is going to be tough, Emma, but I know I can make it without leaning on a man.” She squeezed the rabbit and laughed. “And, hey! I’ve still got you!”