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'The Echo' (Chapter 4)

Disappearing Act - Part 1

The Echo - Chapter 3

“What’s this?” Gary called from the living room.

“What, honey?” Kimberly called back as she wrapped up the remaining lasagna.

“This,” Gary said, turning the corner. He held up the drawing she and Paul had been discussing, his face twisted into a puzzled frown.

Kimberly sighed. “That, is something I haven’t had a chance to talk with you about yet.”

She put the casserole dish into the refrigerator and asked Gary to sit down while she caught him up.

“So what do you think?” Kimberly asked when she’d completed her short narrative.

Gary was silent for a moment. “I think what you said to Paul was right. It’s probably just stress.”

Kimberly nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Speaking of stress, you wouldn’t believe the problems we’re having at the college!” Gary exclaimed in sudden frustration.

He’d seemed cheerful all through dinner but now his ruddy complexion was deepening into a darker shade of red as the events of the day poured forth.

Gary was a project manager for a construction company just outside of Boston and he’d been working later and later shifts in a desperate attempt to finish the additional wing on the college before it reopened in a few weeks.

“What happened?” Kimberly asked.

“Well, I had two guys quit on me today and Dave is threatening to sue because a lug wrench he left on an exposed beam came down and clunked him in the head,” Gary said, his accent growing thicker with agitation.

“If he didn’t drink on the job, it wouldn’t have happened and my boss wouldn't have implanted himself directly up my ass today and told me if the project isn’t finished in two weeks, I am.”

Kimberly’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry. Wow. Did he really mean that?”

“Nah, probably not,” Gary admitted. “He’s always like that. Firing people left and right but never actually doing it. I just want to be through with this addition because we’ve got another bid coming up. If this doesn’t get done on time, I’m going to end up having to manage both projects at once.”

While Gary went on, Kimberly rose and walked around the table.

When her fingers kneaded into the hard knot of his shoulders, Gary relaxed, his fiery tirade trickling to a mild steam until he stopped speaking altogether.

After ten more minutes of silence and massage, his head snapped up. “I’m going to fall asleep like this if I don’t move,” he chuckled, turning in his chair. “I’m gonna take a shower and then head to bed, sweetie. Thanks for the rubdown.”

He gave her a soft peck on the lips and headed upstairs.

Despite the long day Kimberly still had some energy left, so she decided to visit the studio.

She’d wanted an excuse to finish the portrait of Claire before her birthday party and what better time to do it then when the rest of the house was asleep?

----

“Mommy!” Lynn cried. “Look at this one!”

Kimberly looked at the ¾ length brown shirt her daughter held up.

“That’s really pretty,” Kimberly said, taking the garment from Lynn and examining the price.

It’s on sale. Even better.

“You want to pick out a few more to try on?” Kimberly asked, slinging the brown shirt over her already-full arm. She was beginning to look like a human clothing rack.

Lynn examined the garments, put her finger to her cheek and frowned. “I need to find some jeans first.”

Mother and daughter had been shopping at the mall for two hours. Lynn was beginning to outgrow nearly everything she’d worn to school the year before.

Kimberly had always been fond of thrift stores and she and Lynn had stopped to pick out most of her school clothes there. Lynn didn’t seem to mind the hand-me-downs. In fact, she seemed to enjoy shopping there as much as her mom.

Still, Kimberly wanted her daughter to have some new items, so she’d promised that she could pick out a few things at her favorite store in the mall.

Lynn came back with two pairs of jeans. One a plain, boot-cut style with the requisite fade and a darker pair with delicate floral embroidery.

“Cool!” Kimberly exclaimed. “Why don’t we go try these on?”

Kimberly was standing outside the dressing room when Lynn’s scowling face appeared between the door and the jam.

“Mommy!” She grunted in exasperation. “I can’t get this darn button to button!”

Twenty minutes later, Lynn had added all of the clothes she’d taken into the dressing room to her new wardrobe.

“Okay,” Kimberly said, “I need to go get some iced coffee. Do you want lemonade?”

Lynn nodded.

“Shopping is tiring,” Lynn said.

“Yes, it is,” Kimberly agreed, taking her daughter by the hand.

“Can we go look in the toy store before we leave?” Lynn asked as they headed down the escalator, sipping their drinks.

Kimberly gave her daughter a look of mock seriousness. “Hmmm, I don’t know.

“You don’t even have to buy me anything,” Lynn promised, her gray eyes widening. “I just want to look.”

“Uh huh,” Kimberly said. They’d been through this before. ‘Looking’ in the toy store usually meant walking out with at least one new toy.

“Alright, we can look,” Kimberly said and Lynn clapped her hands with delight. “But that doesn’t mean we buy anything, okay?”

“Okay,” Lynn said as she spotted the toy store sign at the bottom of the escalator.

Kimberly shook her head as the store came into full view.

Each parent who tried to leave the mall by the main entrance had no choice but to pass by the toy store. It practically forced them into that last impulse buy, lest they face the wrath of their screaming child.

“Mom look!” Lynn exclaimed as they walked down the electronics aisle. “It’s a digital camera! I could take pictures just like you!”

Kimberly picked up the box and examined it. “I didn’t know you wanted to take pictures.”

Lynn nodded, her eyes sparkling with excitement.

“Tell you what,” Kimberly said, putting the box back down on the shelf, “why don’t I let you use my old digital camera? I never use it anymore. If you’re still into it by the time your birthday comes around, we’ll consider getting you one of your own.”

Lynn gasped. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Kimberly said. “If you’re the next best photographer in the world, who am I to stifle your creativity?”

Lynn beamed.

They both walked up and down the aisles, checking out Barbie Dolls, bicycles, and video games.

Kimberly picked up a few of the video games that would work with her daughter's player. She wondered if Claire played video games. The gift of the child’s portrait was more for Claire’s grandparents than the young girl. Kimberly would have to pick up something for Claire to actually play with.

Kimberly turned. “Lynn, do you know what kind of video games Claire…”

She stopped mid-sentence.

Lynn wasn’t there.

Frowning, Kimberly looked up and down the aisle. “Lynn?”