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Kimberly hadn’t realized she’d taped her finger to the package until she tried to grab the scissors and heard a tearing sound.
She was kneeling on the floor of her studio, trying, rather unsuccessfully, to wrap the portrait she’d done of Claire.
The birthday party would start in about an hour, and she hadn’t even finished getting dressed yet. Lynn, on the other hand, had been smart. She’d put her present for Claire, a portable MP3 player, into a bag with a sparkly bow.
That was Lynn, simple and easy. Not Kimberly, she always had to do things the hard way.
Yanking the tape from her finger with an irritated jerk, she pulled out another sheet of wrapping paper and hoped there was some truth to the “third time is the charm” thing.
She was still having trouble concentrating on anything other the discussion she and Dr. Owens had had yesterday afternoon.
“The first thing I want to tell you is that your daughter is a very intelligent, engaging, and compassionate child. She’s been very co-operative and seems genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of this ‘mystery,' as she calls it.” Debra had told her.
Kimberly thought this was a wonderful way to begin—if you had bad news to follow.
Debra went on. “I can’t make a definitive diagnosis after the first session, but I do have some concerns. Lynn’s missing time is one of them. She seems to be disassociating from something. It’s as though something is happening to her, or she’s witnessing something she is burying in her subconscious.”
Kimberly cut the third sheet of wrapping paper into a large square, placing Claire's finished portrait in the center.
“I would suggest getting her in to see her primary physician so he can give her a complete physical as soon as you can,” Debra had told her. “Just to rule out anything medical.”
Kimberly had agreed this was a good idea but still felt the need to press for at least a preliminary diagnosis.
Debra had been understanding but firm. “I know you’re anxious, but it’s just too early to tell. Let’s do this one step at a time.”
Kimberly folded up the bottom pieces of the wrapping paper and secured it to the back with one strip of tape. She held it up in front of her.
“Finally!” Kimberly exclaimed as she examined her handiwork.
When Lynn had come into the studio earlier in the morning, looking for the bag she’d put Claire’s gift in, she’d spotted the painting of the birthday girl and fell in love with it.
“It looks just like her!” Lynn had cried. “Can I have one, Mommy? Can you make one for me?”
Kimberly planned to bring her camera to the party so she could get some good shots of Lynn and the other kids. She wondered if she should start a series on the same theme.
Debra had made a comment about Kimberly’s art just as their part of the session was ending. “It’s something you should keep up with, despite what’s going on. It will help you keep perspective.”
Setting the wrapped portrait against the leg of her easel, Kimberly opened a cabinet and examined her cameras.
She had three to choose from. Her Nikon FM10 and Canon Rebel, which both took film, or the new Nikon D50 Gary had given her last year. That one was digital.
She decided on the Rebel, it was more automatic than the FM10, so it would be better for photographing moving children and partygoers.
She hardly ever used the digital camera. Despite the crisp, produced quality of digital images, Kimberly still preferred the “old-fashioned” method of photography.
Now that her eyes passed over it, she noticed for the first time that some dust was collecting on the untouched box.
As she closed the cabinet, she sighed.
Gary had backed out of going to the party at the last minute to be at a job site, and, although Kimberly didn’t mind going stag, she had been looking forward to all three of them attending as a family.
He’d been all apologies when he told her he needed to be there to supervise a new BJ’s going up in Cooperstown.
“Why does Cooperstown need a BJ’s?” Kimberly had asked, wrinkling her nose. “Where the heck are they going to put it?”
Gary had told her they’d just gotten the go-ahead to tear down the old Ames Plaza.
She knew the place. She’d done a photographic study of it years ago, admiring the efficient way nature had begun reclaiming her territory after only a few months neglect.
The failing strip mall had been standing vacant for more than a decade now, and the grass had grown thick and wild along its perimeter, ivy creeping in lazy spirals up the sides of the faded brick.
She knew more than one species of animal called the place home. Once, she’d even spotted a deer loping gracefully along the back hills.
Now, it was going to be torn down.
Score one for Corporate America, zero for Bambi.
“Hey Moooooom!” Lynn’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“I’m in here, honey!”
Lynn flew around the corner, a mass of flowing hair and blue ribbons. “Are you ready?”
“What time is it?”
Kimberly had left her phone upstairs.
“It’s 12:30, Mom. The party starts at 1!”
Kimberly’s jaw dropped as she and Lynn wound their way around the paved road to the hall.
“Wow!” Lynn breathed.
The hall the Bellevue’s had rented for their granddaughter looked like a miniature version of the Vanderbilt Family’s, ‘The Breaker’s Mansion’ in Newport, Rhode Island.
The outside walls were made of delicate sandstone with ornate trimming along the outer edges. Two gothic-style windows boasted beautiful tracery and protruded out over an emerald green lawn.
To her right, as Kimberly turned around another bend to find a parking place, she caught mermaids and dolphins swimming in what appeared to be mid-air out of the corner of her eye.
The fountain was beautiful.
“Mommy, look at this!” Lynn cried, craning her neck out of the car window, one thin finger pointed at the mermaid.
“This place is gorgeous!” Kimberly agreed. She kept her next thought to herself. It’s also way too extravagant for an 8-year-old’s birthday party!
She felt instantly guilty for her judgmental thoughts when she’d made the rounds of greeting and spoke with Angela Bellevue. It turned out her son was the owner of the little palace and was in the process of renovating.
“I got it for practically nothing,” Angela Bellevue whispered to Kimberly with a conspiratorial wink.
When Lynn spotted Danielle and Claire playing outside she’d practically dropped her gift bag in her mother’s lap to join her friends.
Kimberly’s jaw dropped a second time when she took in the backyard. The perfectly-manicured lawn was the size of a football field and came equipped with a full playscape, merry-go-round, and bounce house.
As the children laughed and chased each other on the grounds, the adults mingled outside on the terrace, partaking in cold cuts, deviled eggs, and white wine.
Kimberly grabbed a small plate of appetizers and forced herself to make small talk for a little while before ducking out of sight to photograph the children.
Just as she reached the bottom step leading from the balcony to the lawn, two boys rushed past her trailing a huge bubble blower behind them. She caught them in frame just as the first boy's hat flew off.
The bubble was so large; it could have easily enveloped them both! When it finally burst, leaving them drenched in soap, they laughed uproariously. Chuckling with them, Kimberly snapped another picture.
When she turned her attention to the huge playscape behind her, she caught sight of Danielle just as she was crossing over a wooden bridge. The sun played on her dark hair whipping and tossing as she ran.
Cheryl is going to love this. Kimberly thought as she clicked the shutter button.
A chubby little toddler in a light blue sailor suit, complete with matching hat waddled by, his mother close at his heels.
“Do you mind?” Kimberly asked, indicating the camera.
The woman’s face lit up with pride as she nodded her approval.
Everywhere she turned, there seemed to be something new and exciting to photograph. There was so much life and movement around her that Kimberly whirled about, bending, aiming and clicking every few feet until she’d nearly completed an entire roll of film.
A peripheral flash of blonde caught her attention and she turned, spotting Lynn and Claire on the merry-go-round with two little boys.
Kimberly approached and knelt down.
As the object slowly revolved, Lynn tilted her head back and her platinum hair fanned out, tendrils of blue ribbon whirling within. As she turned to look at her mother, soft wisps alighted on her face, one solemn gray eye peeking through.
She clicked the shutter.
Lynn is learning how to pose! Kimberly mused as the camera automatically rewound the film.
Deciding on capturing a few candid shots of the adults, she reloaded and headed back up to the patio.
Sara Lyon, Claire’s mother, was leaning casually on the deck railing, a glass of chardonnay perched in one perfectly manicured hand. Her form-fitting flowered dress clung to her body in the hot sun.
She was talking animatedly to a rather attractive man Kimberly didn’t recognize.
He leaned in closer, his smile reminiscent of a toothpaste commercial, and Kimberly noticed how he absently twisted the white-gold wedding band on his left hand.
Kimberly raised an eyebrow as she focused Sara in her lens.
As she snapped the photo, she felt a kind of fluttery squirm in her gut, as though she’d just witnessed something she wasn’t really supposed to.
Was Sara flirting with that man? Where was her husband, Louis?
“Picture perfect, huh?” A voice buzzed in her ear.
Startled, Kimberly whirled, her hand flying to her chest.
Cheryl was standing behind her, a wry smile on her face, a glass of wine in her hand.
“Oh, Cheryl!” Kimberly cried. “I was wondering where you were.”
Cheryl swung her head around and gave Kimberly an over-dramatized posed.
Kimberly snapped the photo and laughed. “Very ‘Marilyn Monroe’,” she quipped.
“I figured you were around taking pictures. Isn’t this place gorgeous?”
“I know, and I felt so bad for thinking Angela and Howard had overdone it.”
“You mean, they haven’t?” Cheryl asked, glancing around. “I’d have to agree with you that it is a bit much for a child’s birthday party.”
Kimberly told Cheryl about Louis, Angela’s son.
“Ah, that would explain it,” Cheryl mumbled, taking a sip of her wine. “Speaking of Louis, did you hear?”
Before Cheryl had a chance to divulge, they were interrupted by a loud hoot from Mrs. Bellevue.
“Alright, kids! It’s time to open presents! Everybody come on up here, and after presents, we’ll play some games!”
She was leaning over the balcony, waving her arms, her deep plum dress flapping in the breeze. The effect was almost comical.
Kimberly couldn’t help herself. She raised the camera.
“When are we gonna get cake?” A little boy called from below.
Angela’s eyes rolled in mock exasperation but she smiled.
“After presents…” she paused for effect and laid a finger on her cheek, then shook the finger down at the boy, “but before games!”
As a sprinkle of laughter rolled over the deck, thunder rolled in the form of two dozen children dashing up the wooden stairs to make their way inside.
“I can’t thank you enough for the portrait of Claire,” Angela murmured to Kimberly as they sat together in the parlor.
Kimberly scooped up her last forkful of cake and set the plate down on the small glass-topped table between them.
“Oh, you’re welcome,” Kimberly replied, flushing.
“It’s simply exquisite!” Angela gushed, her eyes shining with pleasure. “How long have you been painting?”
“Well, let’s see. I started drawing when I was Lynn’s age and then graduated to watercolors, then acrylics. I took photography in high school and I’ve found the two mediums work very well together.”
“Are you going to paint the one you took of me?” Angela asked, a sly smile playing over her lined face.
The heat she’d felt creeping into her face earlier matured to a full blush. She gave a nervous laugh.
“Well, actually,” Kimberly said, recovering, “Lynn asked me if I could paint her this morning, and I took some shots today I think would be great to work with.”
“What about college?” Angela asked. “Were you schooled in the arts?”
“No, let’s just say my parents had other plans for me.”
Angela gave her a knowing look. “That’s pretty much the way my parents felt about my choice of career.”
“Oh?” Kimberly replied, tilting her head.
Angela looked about the room as though somebody might overhear. She leaned forward. “I, believe it or not, wanted to be a Las Vegas showgirl. The Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 when I was 16, and I told my parents I was going to move out there.”
Kimberly’s eyes widened and a smile of mingled surprise and amusement spread over her face. “What happened?”
“The closest I ever got to The Moulin Rouge was seeing Nicole Kidman strut her stuff in that movie twenty years back,” Angela replied with a wink.
Both women laughed.
“So, what happened?” Kimberly asked. “Your parents refused to let you go?”
“Oh, flat out,” Angela replied, slapping a hand on the arm of her chair. “And, I gave up on my dream. A year later, I met Howard and we’ve been together ever since. I don’t regret my decision but sometimes I wonder, what would have happened if I’d just gone out and followed my dream?”
Kimberly was about to reply when a sudden commotion caught their attention.
“Did you hear a scream?” A woman asked.
“Was that Chelsea?” A man's voice chimed in.
As they both turned to the parlor door, Angela and Kimberly caught a blur of glasses, hair, and clothing as a couple raced past the door.
Exchanging puzzled glances, both women got to their feet and followed.
The couple disappeared behind a door at the end of the hallway.
“I thought that was locked!” Angela cried, quickening her pace. For a woman in her late 70s, she sure was spry!
“What does it lead to?” Kimberly asked, panic rising.
“There’s another party room down there, but it’s not finished yet. They’re still doing construction.”
Kimberly headed into the blackness, Angela close at her heels. When she reached the landing, she nearly collided with somebody on the stairs. It was the man who had run past while she was in the parlor.
Why was he just standing there?
As she peered around him, Kimberly took in the scene playing out in the semi-darkness below.
Claire and Lynn were in a corner of the room, locked in what looked like a shoving match. Claire was holding onto both of Lynn’s arms and shoving her against a wall!
“Stop it! Stop it!” Claire screamed.
Why was Claire telling Lynn to stop?
Lynn whimpered and struggled as her body continued to slam against the wall. When one of the blows snapped her head back, causing it to connect with the concrete, the sickening, hollow sound it made stirred a primal protectiveness within Kimberly.
Before she realized what she was doing, she’d knocked the man in front of her aside and was on top of the struggling children within seconds.
Her hand closed around the back of Claire’s dress and with one swift jerk, she yanked the girl away from her daughter and pulled Lynn close.
To her bewilderment, Kimberly felt a hard tug that seemed to pull Lynn back towards the wall again before the exhausted child collapsed sobbing and gasping into her mother’s embrace.
Enfolding Lynn in her arms, she whirled on Claire, who was now sprawled out on a partially rolled length of carpet, crying.
Angela had just reached her granddaughter and was now wrapping the child in her arms, her eyes glittering as she glared at Kimberly.
“She…keeps…hitting…me!” Lynn sobbed, hiccupping as she tried to get the words out.
“Why would Claire hit Lynn?” Kimberly demanded of Angela, her voice shaking with rage.
Of course! It had been Claire! Somehow Claire had been doing something to Lynn this whole time!
“My grand-daughter does not hit people!” Angela hissed the words in a rapid-fire staccato. The cold glance she turned on the sudden crowd that had gathered on the stairs caused them all to flinch in unison.
They dispersed as Angela’s husband brushed past them, descending the stairs deftly with the help of a tripod cane.
“It’s all right,” Howard grumbled. “Nothing to see here. Just a little fight, it looks like.”
“What is wrong with Claire?” Kimberly demanded.
She spat out the words with such venom that Angela’s mouth dropped open.
“I’ve seen her looking into my daughter’s bedroom at night, mouthing things at her, staring like she doesn’t see anything, and now she’s slamming my daughter against a wall?”
Kimberly couldn’t control her mounting fury. A month of pent-up anger, frustration, and confusion all shot out of her at once.
“Why would she do something like that?” Kimberly demanded.
“Now, wait a minute!” Howard bellowed, his deep bass voice filling the room. He moved closer to his wife and grandchild. “Wait just a minute. That’s not what happened!”
Claire’s soft sniffles had graduated to heaving sobs. “I didn’t hit her!” She wailed. “I was trying to stop her! She was doing it to herself!”
“You little liar!” Kimberly shrieked, holding her daughter closer. Her poor child was shaking uncontrollably.
“Get out!” Howard roared suddenly. “Get out of here, and take your devil child with you!”
“Howard!” Angela cried, momentarily forgetting her fury. She gaped at her husband in open-mouthed shock. “Why would you call her that?”
“I’ve heard her talking in a different voice,” Howard said flatly, his eyes locking onto Kimberly whose fluttering heart felt like it was trying to make a break for it via her throat.
“What?” Both women cried in unison.
The sound of both children crying bounced off the walls, creating an eerie echo in the tension-filled room.
“Alright,” Angela said, taking a deep breath, “we need to straighten this out, right now.”
“Angela--” Howard protested.
“I am not going to send them out of here on these terms,” Angela told her husband. She added in a whispered hiss; “and I mean to know exactly why you just accused Lynn of being some kind of devil.”
“Kimberly,” Angela said with a sigh, “please sit down.”
Howard went upstairs and closed the door. When he climbed back down, he opened up two folding metal chairs and sat next to his wife, lifting Claire into his lap.
Numbly, Kimberly sat down on another piece of rolled-up carpet by the wall and held Lynn close.
“Claire…” Angela turned to her grandchild, “can you tell me what happened?”
Her head bobbed up and down as she wiped away tears with two balled-up fists. The pink party hat she’d worn proudly all day now sat askew on her head.
Kimberly had a strange urge to straighten it as a fist closed around her struggling heart.
What have I done?
“I was looking for Lynn, and I saw her come down here, so I followed her,” Claire said, her voice barely above a whisper. “At first I thought she was just playing, but she walked over to the wall while I was on the stairs and just started throwing herself against the wall, and--”
Claire’s voice broke, and she buried her head in her grandfather’s shirt.
He held her close and rubbed her back. “It’s okay, pumpkin.”
Claire turned and surprised Kimberly by looking her directly in the eye. “She was doing it to herself,” Claire insisted. “I grabbed her to stop her. I didn’t hit her. I swear to God.”
When Kimberly glanced down at Lynn, she noticed with a pang that the child was sucking her thumb. It was something she hadn’t done in years.
“Lynn,” Kimberly murmured. “Is Claire telling the truth? Were you doing that to yourself?”
Lynn shook her head slowly. Her eyes were glassy, as though she’d just woken up from a long and troubled sleep.
“Now, wait a minute…” Howard interrupted.
“How, please, just give her a minute,” Angela pleaded. She was gazing at Lynn now, a mixture of confusion and pity replacing the earlier dark look.
The old man muttered something under his breath, but both women ignored it. Kimberly placed a soothing hand on Lynn’s brow and put her lips close to the child’s ear.
“Lynn, can you please tell me exactly what happened?”
“I don’t know,” Lynn’s voice was a croak. “She just keeps hitting me.”
“Claire?” Kimberly asked. Her eyes flitted up to the other little girl and then quickly down again when she caught Howard’s eye.
Lynn’s eyes suddenly widened to twice their size and she gave a little gasp, sitting up straight in her mother’s arms. She turned her head, taking in the room and its occupants as though she were just now realizing where she was.
“No!” Lynn cried with an almost violent shake of the head. “Claire would never hit me.”
“Then who was hitting you?” Kimberly asked, her brow furrowing. “Claire was the only person down here with you, sweetie. If it wasn’t her, than who was it?”
Lynn sagged against her mother. Her sudden animation seemed to have drained her, leaving her vulnerable and frail.
Tilting her chin upward, Lynn whispered a reply so soft, Kimberly had to strain to hear. “It happened again.”
The words made every hair on the back of Kimberly’s neck stand on end. Oh, God!
“What was that?” Angela inquired.
“Claire didn’t hit her,” Kimberly replied quickly. “Lynn said she’s tired.”
“Who was hitting her then?” Howard wanted to know. “She was throwing herself against the wall, that’s the answer.”
“How--” Angela coaxed but he cut her off with a sweeping chop of the air.
“No!” He barked. “Our granddaughter is going through enough right now without this kind of nonsense!”
Claire began to cry again.
“What did you mean by calling Lynn a ‘devil child’?” Kimberly asked, keeping her tone as level as her gaze.
Howard pursed his lips and stared at Kimberly through watery eyes as though not sure he wanted to answer her question.
Angela looked on the verge of speaking when Howard took a deep breath.
“About a week ago, I had gotten some candy at the store and was going to bring it up to the girls while they were playing in Claire's room. I’d heard them talking and was going to go in and surprise them,” Howard explained. “I knocked on the door and Lynn answered.”
A far-away look came into Howard’s eye as though he were reliving the scene as he told it. “She stared at me with this…look in her eyes.”
Kimberly frowned. “What happened?”
“I asked, ‘Are you girls having fun’?” Howard continued. “And Lynn, she…she said ‘no’.”
“And for that, you call her the devil?” Angela cried indignantly. “Howard, really!”
“It wasn’t a normal voice!” Howard bellowed, startling his granddaughter once again. “I’m sorry, pumpkin,” Howard whispered.
“What do you mean 'not normal'?” Angela asked, her face a mask of confusion.
“It just…wasn’t normal,” Howard sagged in the chair looking as though all of the fight had gone out of him. “Then, as quick as it came, Lynn’s eyes looked fine again, and she kind of started, like she hadn’t seen me and then she smiled and said, “Hi, Mr. Bellevue”, sweet as you please. So, I thought I’d imagined it.”
“Well, you probably did,” Angela snapped.
She turned her gaze on Kimberly, an apologetic look in her eyes. “Look, I don’t know what really happened down here, but we all said some things…” Angela said.
“I…I’m so sorry,” Kimberly stammered. The full weight of what she had done was now sinking into her gut like a lead ball.
Had she actually thrown a child across a room? Had she sincerely believed it had been an innocent eight-year-old girl who was to blame for all of Lynn’s troubles?
“I am so sorry that I, I can’t believe I…I’m sorry.”
“Claire has been going through a lot,” Angela said.
Kimberly nodded, swallowing the lump that had begun to rise in her throat. “So has Lynn.”
What is wrong with me?
A knock on the upstairs door made everybody jump.
When Kimberly saw Cheryl heading down the stairs, followed by Sara Lyon, she could have collapsed with relief.
“What’s going on?” Sara asked. “Why are you all sitting around in the dark? I’ve been looking for…” She stopped short when she caught sight of her daughter.
Without a word, Claire slipped off her grandfather’s lap and ran to her mother. As Sara gathered her into her arms, she scanned the room, eyes full of questions.
When Cheryl threw a questioning look in her sister-in-law’s direction, Kimberly only needed to reply with a weary nod to relay the silent message.
Yes. Something strange happened again.
“Why don’t Sara and I take the girls upstairs for a while so the adults can talk?” Cheryl suggested, reaching a hand for Lynn.
When Lynn rose to take her aunt's hand, Kimberly noticed with a frown that there was a tremor in her small fingers.
Sara’s mouth opened in protest but snapped shut again when she caught Angela’s stern look.
“Perhaps that would be best, Cheryl, thank you,” Angela agreed.
As soon as the upstairs closed on the small group, everybody spoke at once.
Kimberly: “I’m so sorry--”
Angela: “Claire has had it rough--”
Howard: “Maybe I should let you two--”
This was followed by an awkward silence until Howard cleared his throat and spoke again. “I’ll let you two talk. I need a cigarette.”
“Maybe we should turn a light on in here,” Angela suggested. She got up, presumably to search for a switch.
Kimberly felt as though she were glued to the rolled-up carpet on which she sat.
She could still hear her daughter’s whispered words in her ear:
“It happened again.”
Lynn had been having another…what? Attack? Episode? What was she supposed to call these things?
Her mind was whirling. Kimberly felt a renewed flush of shame creep into her neck as the gravity of the scene she’d just participated in settled in on her.
She’d just ruined an 8-year-old’s birthday party, and for what? Her own paranoia? Could she have been that eager for a solution she’d picked on another child?
The thought that she could so easily turn on an innocent little girl made her stomach turn.
She winced as an explosion of light from directly above her assaulted her dilated pupils.
The fluorescent fixture above was the only source of illumination in the unfinished party room.
When her eyes adjusted, she noticed that the light cast both her and Angela in an eerie purple glow. One of the bulbs flickered incessantly, and a dull buzzing sound filled the room as the bulbs heated up.
Kimberly was suddenly aware of the sensation of being placed under an interrogation lamp.
When Angela resumed her seat, the metal leg made a harsh scraping sound against the concrete, causing them both to jump.
They both sat for a moment and took a brief visual inventory of the room.
A sander lay on exposed hard wood in a dark corner. It looked as though the carpeting that had been covering the walls was being stripped away. Two covered buckets of paint stood in the middle of the room like silent sentries.
Angela and Kimberly’s eyes met.
“I want to apologize for my husband,” Angela said. “I had no idea he had been harboring any negative feelings toward your daughter. What he described was the first I’d ever heard of something like that taking place.”
“Lynn has been going through a lot lately,” Kimberly said. “I’ve actually begun taking her to therapy.”
“Oh?” Angela said. Her faced softened a bit as she tilted her head with interest.
Kimberly blew out a breath and looked down at her hands.
“It’s hard to explain. The psychologist isn’t sure what’s going on with her, not yet anyway. Lynn’s been having nightmares, memory lapses, and there was an incident at school.”
“I’m sorry,” Angela said. “I had no idea your daughter was having difficulties. She always seems so happy, like she doesn’t have a care in the world.”
“Is Claire alright?” Kimberly asked, looking up.
Angela’s face hardened for a brief moment before she looked away, her eyes traveling to the stairwell.
“She’s been having her own set of problems,” Angela said. “You had mentioned you saw her staring into your daughter’s bedroom?”
Kimberly winced. “Um…I thought I saw something like that, yes,” Kimberly admitted, “but I--”
Angela cut her off with a gesture. “No, you saw correctly. She’s been sleepwalking. It’s something new she’s been doing for the past three months or so. At first, we didn’t know what was wrong with her. She’d be up and about the house at all hours of the night. She had us nearly scared to death.”
Sleepwalking! Of course! The signs had been there. How could she have been so dim?
“You see, her parents, well…they’re going through a divorce right now,” Angela continued, her voice lowering to a whisper.
Kimberly’s mouth dropped open. The brief scene with Sara and the man on the balcony flashed into her mind.
“They’re trying to keep it quiet,” Angela explained. “Not many people know. There’s been talk, but they really want to nip rumors in the bud for Claire’s sake.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Well, they’re as different as night and day anyway,” replied Angela, a snap coming into her voice. “I don’t dislike Sara, but I never could understand what my son saw in her.”
A flush rose on Angela’s face as she realized she'd revealed more than she’d intended. She quickly changed the subject back to her granddaughter.
“So, Claire is staying with us right now. She’s been living with us for a couple of weeks, and we may just keep her for a couple of months, if not longer. It’s getting pretty ugly. Her parents fight a lot, and Lou wants what’s best for Claire. He feels she shouldn't be in the house right now considering how its affecting her.”
“That must put an awful strain on you,” Kimberly said.
“Well, at our age, it is difficult to keep up with an 8-year-old, especially one who sleepwalks, but we’re managing.”
Kimberly took a deep breath. “Angela, I am so sorry for what I said to Claire and…for pushing her like that. I really saw what looked like Claire shoving her, hurting her, it was just…”
“Instinct?” Angela offered. “I understand. I really do.”
“Still, it’s no excuse for calling her an outright liar, that was horrible and I’m sorry.”
“And I accept your apology.”
Both women looked at each other for a moment.
“Is something going on with you and Gary?” Angela asked. “I noticed he moved in about a month ago.”
Kimberly looked puzzled.
“I mean, is that what’s causing the nightmares? The problems Lynn has been having?” Angela clarified.
“Oh. No, I don’t think it does, but I’m not sure. The strangest things have been happening. I really don’t know what’s going on.”
“Well, maybe you’d like to tell me about it?” Angela suggested. “It might be easier if you have somebody to lean on. It seems we have something in common here.”
Kimberly glanced upward at the fluorescent light. The earlier occasional flicker had graduated to something out of a 1970s disco.
Angela stood up. “Why don’t we go upstairs and talk more of this out?” She offered, following Kimberly’s gaze. “With the light show here, one of us is going to end up having a seizure.”
Kimberly chuckled, grateful to Mrs. Bellevue for breaking the tension.
When they were settled upstairs in a small area off the bathroom, Kimberly told her the entire tale, starting from the beginning.
As she spoke, Kimberly felt a weight lift from her shoulders, beholden to Angela for proving to be somebody in whom she could confide.