Exhausted, Dorthea plodded along the sidewalk toward the apartment complex. After leaving the museum, she had walked to the bus depot and exchanged her ticket for the evening departure. That left her just enough time to return to the boarding house, share an early dinner with Lois, and pack her bag. The sun was dropping in the west when the bus pulled away from the depot and she was looking forward to sleeping on the long trip home. Unfortunately, her mind had other ideas and she spent the drive back to Rapid Falls replaying her conversations with Gwen, Harvey, and others in Kalona.
Finally, her steps brought her to the wall in front of the apartment building and she set her suitcase down so she could open the gate. Once opened, she hefted up her suitcase and entered the courtyard. Walking across to the flagstones leading into the building, she was curious to see the glow of lamps shining through the windows of the apartment she shared with Kimberly.
Dorthea glanced toward the eastern sky that was displaying little evidence of the rising sun. “Goodness, why in the world would you be up this time of day?” she asked aloud. “Crazy girl, probably fell asleep watching old movies again.” She forced her tired legs up the steps and entered the deserted lobby. A few minutes later, she was turning her key in the lock and pushing the door open.
She was surprised not to find Kimberly asleep on the couch. She let the suitcase drop from her hand to land with a soft thump on the carpeted floor then she set off to find her roommate. Hearing no sounds of movement coming from the kitchen or bathroom, she headed for Kim's bedroom. The door was closed so she twisted the knob and quietly pushed it open. Her brow knotted in concern when she discovered the bed was unoccupied.
She turned to the door of her bedroom which was partially closed. When she tried to push it open, she found it blocked by something unseen behind it. She gave it a good shove and, although the door moved only a few inches it created enough of an opening for her to stick her head through. She spied Kim curled up on her bed sound asleep. Identifying the vacuum as the object blocking the door and being just out of her reach, she gave the wood panel a couple of strong shoves. Finally, she created enough of a gap to allow for her to squeeze into the room. She tiptoed across the room to the bed and knelt beside it. Crossing her arms on the mattress, she rested her chin on them.
Kimberly was on her side, her arms bent with her fists curled up under her chin. Dorthea reached out and gently brushed an errant strand of hair off of Kim's face. She smiled when her fingertips lightly brushed against Kim's soft cheek. “I missed you,” she whispered.
Kim's eyes fluttered open then shut again.
“Kim,” Dorthea said softly.
Smiling, Dorthea watched Kimberly fight off the deep sleep that had claimed her. “Hey. I home.”
Kim forced her eyes open then yawned. “Already?” She yawned again. “Wait!” she exclaimed and bolted upright. “I slept through Sunday?”
Dorthea was startled by the unexpected movement. “No, no, no, no,” she cried as she jerked away from the bed. “I came home early.”
Now sitting up, Kimberly shook her head to clear the lingering sleepiness. “What? Early? What time is it?”
Dorthea stood up and flexed her aching knees. “Sunday morning sometime. It's still dark outside.”
“Oh, good,” Kimberly said then flopped onto her back only to spring back upright a moment later. “Early? Why? What happened? Did you find out—?”
Dorthea placed her hand over Kim's mouth. “Hush,” she said, sitting on the bed.
“Come on. Tell me. It's been driving me crazy all day.”
Now Dorthea yawned, her mouth gaping open into a jaw popping chasm. “How about we talk after we've both had some sleep? I'm exhausted and, by the way you were flaked out a minute ago, I'd say you are, too.”
“Housework is hard.” Kim grinned. “Bless you for doing it.”
“Now that you know that, you can help.”
Kim flopped down on the bed. “Ugh.”
Dorthea kicked off her shoes. “Kim?”
“Why are you in my bed?”
“Oh, damn. I am, aren't I?” Kimberly asked as she looked around the bedroom. “I left your room to the last,” she laughed, “it being the cleanest.”
“Well, I'm not sure. I remember vacuuming. And I think I was going to dust your headboard. I guess I must have just fallen asleep.”
Kim shrugged. “Yeah, dusting.”
Dorthea laughed. “Well, I guess that makes sense.” She yawned again. “I am so exhausted that if I don't lie down, I'm going to fall asleep talking.”
Kim pushed Dorthea down onto the mattress. “You go to sleep. I'll go back to my room,” she said as she attempted to stifle a yawn of her own.
“Kim, if you're as tired as I am, that is too far to go. Come on, this bed is big enough for two.”
“Yes. Now, lie down, shut up, and go to sleep.”
Kim smiled then settled onto her side, her back to Dorthea. “I'm glad you're home.”
Kimberly woke to discover that sometime during her sleep, she had rolled over and now had her arms wrapped around her sleeping friend. For several minutes, she remained in the unexpected position trying to decipher why it felt so comfortable. Then she carefully extracted her arms and slipped off the bed.
Waiting until Kim left the room, Dorthea forced her eyes open. She tried to remember when she had actually fallen asleep. At first, her mind had refused to settle and had, instead, replayed a continuous series of possible scenarios for the information she had learned in Kalona. But when Kim rolled over and wrap her arms around her, her mind's endless activity had finally slowed enough for her to slip into welcomed sleep.
Dorthea hugged herself, attempting to replace the missing warmth of Kim's body. But the tingling sensation left from the contact had worn off. She rolled onto her back. She could hear Kimberly moving about in her bedroom on the opposite side of the wall shared by both bedrooms. She sighed. “What does all this mean?” she asked aloud.
“You still look tired. Sure you don't want to sleep some more?” Kim asked when Dorthea shuffled into the kitchen.
“Yes, but I want coffee and a hot bath more.”
Kim picked up the coffee pot and poured some into the pair of cups she had pulled from the cupboard earlier. “Coffee I can do,” she said handing one of the cups to her roommate.
“Thanks.” Dorthea raised the cup to her lips. “Oh, that's good.”
Taking hold of Dorthea's elbow, she gently turned her away from the kitchen. “Take it with you. By the time you finish your bath, I'll have bacon and eggs ready.”
“Ooh, cleaning and cooking. You're turning into a domesticated woman. Think what a wonderful wife you'll make someone.”
“Ha, ha. Go, before I show you what I've learned to do with a broom.”
Giggling, Dorthea carried her coffee out of the kitchen. She detoured into the bathroom to turn on the bath water and left the cup on the edge of the tub before returning to her bedroom to grab fresh clothes.
The mouth watering aroma of sizzling bacon forced Dorthea out of the tub. She dressed quickly then hurried into the kitchen to find plates of scrambled eggs, strips of crisp bacon, and buttered toast already placed on the table. Set next to the plates were glasses of orange juice and milk. The coffee pot was sitting in the middle of the table. “You've been busy,” she told Kim, who was standing at the sink scrubbing the frying pan.
“Hope you're hungry. I got a little carried away,” Kim apologized for the heaping plates.
“Starving. Can we?” Dorthea asked indicating the food.
Picking up a dish towel, Kim dried her hands. “I've just been waiting for you.” She moved to join Dorthea at the table. “So?” she asked as she sat.
Dorthea lifted a forkful of eggs. “So?”
“Dang it, woman! What did you find out?”
Dorthea finished chewing before answering. “Unfortunately, not as much as I hoped,” she said, refilling her fork.
“But, you did learn something. Right?”
“Yes.” As they ate, Dorthea repeated her conversations with Harvey and Gwen. And she told Kim about her visit to the cemetery and to what once had been Paul's store.
“Other than that one mention in the Kalona paper, you didn't find any record of Esther?” Dorthea shook her head. “I thought you said Gwen told you the museum had the hospital records.”
“Some of them.”
Kim refilled their coffee cups. “Did you look at them?”
“I didn't…” Dorthea paused to take a drink of juice. “I was going to say, I didn't see any reason to but, to be truthful, I think I just couldn't take any more disappointment.”
“I'm so sorry.”
“I have some more names. I suppose I go back to Auntie Faye and ask her about them. Maybe she'll admit to something.”
Kim frowned. “Don't you think you're a little old to still be calling her Auntie?” she asked, disgustingly.
Dorthea shrugged. “It's what I've always called her. What would you suggest?
“Old bat. Witch. Dragon Lady—”
“Kim,” Dorthea chided.
“Well, she hasn't been much of an aunt to you.”
“And your point?”
“Call her Faye. Or, Hey You. But not auntie. It makes my skin crawl when you do.”
Kim sighed. “Yeah. I mean, an aunt is supposed to be someone who loves you. And cares for you. She's never been that.”
“But she's the only family I have.”
Kim reached across the table. “No,” she said as she enclosed Dorthea's hand with her own. “I'm family.”
“That's true, you have been more of a family to me then she has.” Dorthea smiled. “And I will always love you for that.” Kim smiled uncertainly then awkwardly withdrew her hand causing her to wonder how her friend had interpreted her comment. “Um… What say, I help you clean this up.”
Happy for the change of subject, Kim replied, “How about I do this and you finish the cleaning in your bedroom?” She smirked. “I think I've had my fill of housecleaning for a while.”
“Don't count on that. Now that I know you can do it, I'll expect your help keeping the apartment clean.”
Kim groaned. “I knew I should have spent yesterday watching TV.”
Laughing, Dorthea stood then gathered up the dirty dishes. “Come on, if we work together, it won't take us any time to finish.”
Begrudgingly, Kim rose from her chair. “Ok, I'll do the dishes and you finish up in your room. Deal?”
“What are you doing?” Kim asked when she walked into Dorthea's bedroom. “I thought you'd have all this put away by now,” she said as she stepped over the vacuum.
“I decided to clean out my closet. There's stuff in here I forgot I had.”
Kim laughed. “Cripes, I'd be afraid to pull everything out of mine. I've got stuff packed in there so tight it's probably what's holding up this end of the building. I don't know why we haven't found a bigger place before now.”
“Because we both love this apartment. Give me a hand with this.” Dorthea was standing on her tiptoes reaching for a box pushed into the back corner at the end of the closet shelf.
“Let me get a chair from the kitchen,” Kim said as she walked out of the room. She returned a few moments later. “Here,” she said setting the chair in the middle of the door opening.
“I should have thought of that,” Dorthea said stepping up on the chair. “Would have been easier than having some of that other stuff fall on my head when I pulled it out. Here,” she said, passing a cardboard box to her waiting roommate.
“This thing is heavy,” Kim groused as she tried to get a grip on the box that had once been used to package apples for shipping. “What's in it, bricks?” She let the box slip down against her chest as she wrapped her arms firmly around it. “Hope the bottom doesn't fall out,” she said as she carried it to the bed. “Couldn't you have found a better box to use?”
Dorthea stepped off the chair. “It's not mine.”
“Well, it's not mine and it was in your closet.” Kim sat on the bed and heedlessly picked at the crumbling cardboard. “Sure is falling apart.”
“I completely forgot it was up there.” Dorthea slapped at Kim's hand before lifting the lid off the box. “It's Aunt Faye's.”
“When she had to move into the nursing home, I collected all the papers I didn't think I should get rid of and threw them in here. I always meant to sort through this stuff,” Dorthea muttered when Kim lifted a yellowed sheet of paper of the top of the clutter inside the box. “Guess I can do it now; although, it's probably mostly old bills and such.”
“Probably.” Kim pushed herself up from the bed. “I'm going to put this away,” she said as she picked up the vacuum. “Then I'm going to take a nap. I've had all the domestication I can handle this weekend.”
Kim's eyes opened only to immediately clamp shut against the bright afternoon sun shining in her face. She forced the lingering lethargy from her body as she rolled off the mattress and onto her feet. “Coffee,” she muttered shuffling out of the bedroom.
Dorthea didn't bother to look up when Kim entered the kitchen. She was sitting at the kitchen table which was covered in a jumble of papers. Her notepad from Kalona was in front of her and she was flipping through its pages.
“Is this fresh?” Kim asked of the pot of coffee sitting on the counter.
Kim pulled a mug out of the cupboard and filled it. She took a sip then grimaced at the acrid taste. She reached for the bowl of sugar and added two heaping spoonfuls of the sweetener to her mug before taking another sip. “Beats nothing,” she said as she carried the cup over to where her roommate sat. “What are you doing?”
Dorthea continued flipping through her notepad. “Hmm?”
“Earth to Dorthea,” Kim said loudly. “What is all this? And why haven't you made a new pot of coffee?”
Dorthea looked up. “Oh. Sorry. I guess I just… um… hang on a second, will ya,” she said as she returned to her notepad.
Kim pulled out the chair on the opposite side of the table and sat down. She idly sorted through the papers spread out on the table while she waited for her roommate to find whatever she was looking for. “Water bill from June 1952… six dollars and fifteen cents. Damn, that was cheap. Or, didn't Dragon Lady let you bathe more than once a month.” When she received no response, she tossed the bill back on the pile and pulled another sheet free. “Fix broken window… twenty two dollars. Bet she had a fit about paying that one.”
“She did,” Dorthea mumbled.
“Did you break it?”
“No. A branch blew into it during a storm. Stop messing with that and look at this.”
Dorthea passed a document across the table.
“A marriage license?”
“Yes. Look at the names.”
“Martin Lawrence Sanborn and Elizabeth F. Furston.”
Kim looked over at her excited roommate. “Okay… I don't get it. Would these be your, um, grandparents?”
Dorthea shook her head. “No. It's Auntie… Aunt Faye.”
“What? I never knew she was married.”
“Neither did I. But that's not the issue.”
Kim took a second look at the license. “I'm obviously missing something.”
“I know. It's not that she was married… It's her maiden name—Furston.”
Kim looked quizzically at Dorthea who was getting more animated the more she talked. “Okay. What about it?”
“I knew when I saw that, I had heard the name, Furston, before. And here it is,” Dorthea held up her notepad. “Remember I told you about the two men who were seen at the hospital the day Esther disappeared.”
“Nobody knew who the one man was… the one that asked about Esther. But the other man, he was well known in Kalona.” Dorthea pointed at her notepad, “Sonny Furston. He worked for Rocks.”
“Samuel Hampton. He liked to be called Rocks.”
“How odd. Why would anyone want to be called Rocks?”
“Never mind that. Rocks was a gangster… or, as Gwen said, a wanna-be. Mostly, it seems, he was a loan shark. Lots of people around Kalona owed him money, people trying to get back on their feet because of the depression. Gwen said her father thought Paul owed Rocks; that he probably borrowed to start his store.”
“Okay. But what about this Sonny?”
“He did Rocks' dirty work. Beat up people who were late with their payments, that sort of thing.”
Kim shook her head. “Sounds like a bad James Cagney movie.”
“I know. Anyway, Sonny Furston... Faye Furston. There has to be a connection.”
“But this says Elizabeth,” Kim said as she passed the marriage license back to Dorthea.
“I know. Aunt Faye hated her first name.”
“Elizabeth? What's wrong with Elizabeth?”
Dorthea shrugged as she rummaged through the stack of papers on the table. “Here,” she said pulling an envelope free and handing it to Kim. “It's a letter sent to Aunt Faye in the late forties.”
Kim looked at the front of the envelope. “Have you read it?” Dorthea nodded. Kim carefully bent back the envelope's flap and removed the single sheet of stationary it held. “ Dear Faye. I'm sorry you're having a tough time of things. I'll try to send more when I can. Sonny.”
“Not much of conversationalist, was he? What do you think it means?”
“I have no clue. But it proves Aunt Faye knew him.”
Kim stood and walked back to the sink where she poured the contents of her mug down the drain. Then she did the same with the coffee left in the pot. Opening the cupboard under the sink, she shook the old coffee grounds into the wastebasket. She thought about making a fresh pot then decided against it. “You want a glass of milk?” she asked opening the refrigerator door.
“Sure. And some lemon cookies, if we have any.”
“We do.” Kim filled two glasses with milk then retrieved the package of requested cookies and carried all back to the table. “So, what are you thinking?” she asked when she handed Dorthea's glass to her.
Dorthea sighed. “I just don't know,” she said then took a swallow of the cold liquid. “For the life of me, I can't figure out why… if Paul did owe Rocks money; why that could have anything to do with Esther's disappearance.”
“Maybe Sonny liked Paul and was doing him a favor?”
“Then why didn't Paul know anything about it? And Gwen said Sonny never did anything unless Rocks told him to.”
“Well, I guess we can go back to Kalona, find this Rocks, and him about it.”
“Can't. He died in the tornado,” Dorthea explained. “Only casualty of the storm in Kalona.”
“How fitting. What about Sonny?”
“No one saw him after the hospital. He just disappeared.”
“Well, one person obviously knew where he was.” Kim said, tapping a lemon cookie on the envelope.
“What do you mean maybe? She received this.”
“I know. But there's no return address. So she might not have actually known where he was.”
“Baloney. From what Sonny wrote, he was responding to something— I'm sorry you're having a tough time of things. She must have contacted him in some way first. I wonder what she was having a tough time over. Let's see, the postmark is dated February 1949. You would have been fourteen? Fifteen? Ring any bells?”
Dorthea thought for a moment then shook her head. “She was always complaining, usually about having no money, but I can't think of anything that was different then from any other time.”
“Maybe it had something to do with her husband. Did you ever know Martin Sanborn?”
“Never heard of him before I found that. The license is dated 1934. Whatever happened to him, and the marriage, must have happened before I came into the picture.”
“Dang. It seems like the more we learn, the less we know.”
Dorthea nodded. “I wish she'd just tell me the truth. What could it hurt?”
“I don't know.” Kim bit the cookie she held in half then took her time chewing and swallowing. “If you are Esther, something happened a long time ago. Something unfortunate, to say the least. Maybe, in her twisted way of thinking, she's just trying to protect you.”
Dorthea looked across at Kim and smiled. “Don't tell me you're developing a soft spot in your heart for her.”
Kim shook her head. “No,” she responded aloud as she thought to herself, but I think I may be for you. “Should we go give her another chance to come clean?”
“I hope she's cooperative,” Dorthea said as she and Kim climbed the steps up to the front of the nursing home. “I'm not leaving without some answers but I'd hate to miss the last bus and have to walk home.”
“We'll take a cab.”
“Kim, they cost too much,” Dorthea protested.
“Maybe but I'm not walking all the way back to the apartment. Besides, I'm getting old. What the heck am I saving my money for if not to take a cab once in a while.”
“You're not old.”
“I'm no spring chicken and neither are you. If we have to, we'll take a cab.” They had reached the front door of the rundown building and Kim pulled it open. “End of discussion.” Dorthea nodded, conceding the point for the moment. “Oh, goodie, Nurse Ratched is on watch.”
“Stop it,” Dorthea hissed then walked across the lobby toward the nurses' station. “Good afternoon, Helen.”
The under ambitious nurse watched the women enter the building; her aversion to having visitors clearly evident on her face. “It's late,” she muttered. “I was about to make my rounds.”
Ignoring the nurse's sneer, Dorthea signed the guest book being sure to list both hers and Kim's names. “Yes, I know. Please continue with your duties, we'll be in my aunt's room. Come on, Kim.”
Helen eyed Kim suspiciously as she walked past with a sardonic grin on her face.
“Yes, please don't let us keep you from that paperback you've got hidden under those charts,” Kim called to Helen then ducked into the hallway to follow Dorthea.
Dorthea shook her head. “You just can't help yourself, can you?”
Kim smirked. “Seems not.”
“You're so bad.”
“Isn't that why you love me?”
Dorthea bit her lip to stop the response that almost slipped out. “Come on,” she said after a moment as she resumed her steps. Just before she pushed open the door to her aunt's room, she stopped forcing Kim to also come to an abrupt halt behind her. Without turning to face her friend, she said, “Don't ask me questions like that unless you really want to know the answer.” Then she rushed into the room leaving Kim, mouth agape, standing alone in the hallway.
“Aunt Faye?” Dorthea asked softly. Her aunt was lying on her bed with her back to the door. “Are you awake?”
“Who is it?”
“Why are you here?” Faye asked, peeking over her shoulder at the woman standing at the end of the bed. “And you?” she grumbled, spotting Kim standing in the shadows in front of the door.
Dorthea walked around the bed to stand in front of her aunt. She took a deep breath then blurted out the question that had been burning her tongue for the past few hours. “Aunt Faye, who is Sonny Furston?”
Faye's already pale skin turned ashen. “Who?” she asked weakly.
“Sonny Furston. Who is he?”
“I don't know.”
Dorthea reached out to stop her aunt from rolling over and turning away from her. “You do know. Who is he? Your father? Brother? Who?” Faye, eyes narrowing in anger, glared up at her. “I know you know,” she said determinedly. “And this time, I'm not leaving until you tell me. I want to know. And I want to know everything.”
“What's going on in here?” Helen barged into the room.
“Are you alright?” Dorothy rushed to Kim who had been knocked into the wall by the door unexpectedly being thrown open.
Struggling to regain her footing, Kim rubbed her right shoulder that had absorbed the brunt of the blow. “I think so.”
“Sit down,” Dorthea commanded grabbing the room's only chair and dragging it next to Kim who was leaning against the wall on unsteady legs. When Kim settled on the chair, Dorthea spun around to angrily face the cause of the unanticipated intrusion. “You could have injured her. How dare you—”
“How dare I? I'll do anything I damn well please. I'm responsible for the patients here and when I heard—”
“What you heard was a private conversation. You should have knocked.”
“I don't think—”
“That's right, you don't. Nothing is going on in here that concerns you.”
“I'll be the judge of that.”
Helen stood her ground. “I'll leave. But after I check on Miss Sanborn.” She took a step toward the bed only to find her path blocked.
Dorthea stared Helen down. “I'll not tell you again.”
“I think this is a matter for Mr. Galing,” Helen threatened as she backed away from the enraged woman confronting her.
“Yes, I think it is. And, when you make that call, be sure to inform him that I'll be seeking other arrangements for Aunt Faye.”
Helen started to respond then snapped her mouth shut. She knew better than most how hard the nursing home's administrator had to work to find families willing to commit their loved ones' final years inside the dilapidated building. And she was sure that he'd be less than pleased to hear a long term resident was threatening to leave. “Very well,” she finally said. “I shall hold you responsible for Miss Sanborn this evening. And I will be making note of this incident in my log.” That said, Helen turned on her heel and stormed out of the room.
“Good riddance,” Kim snarled, kicking the door shut behind the retreating nurse. “Think she'll call him?” she asked in a calmer voice.
“I don't care,” Dorthea said then dropped onto the bed. Her heart was racing and she felt as if she might pass out. Breathing heavily, she closed her eyes in an attempt to settle her nerves. Only when she felt the warmth of a hand on the side of her face did she open them.
“Hey, you okay?” Kim asked gently. She was kneeling in front of Dorthea, her concern clearly displayed on her face.
Dorthea nodded. “Not how I expected this to go,” she said then smiled weakly. “I'm fine. How about you?”
“I think I'll have a nasty bruise but otherwise okay.”
“I always thought you had a fire under that meekness.” Both women turned to see Faye sitting up on the bed watching them. “I think that's the first time I've ever heard you raise your voice.”
“I didn't think we needed two yellers in the house,” Dorthea answered, squirming to find a more comfortable position, having to awkwardly twist her torso to face her aunt.
“Here,” Kim said as she placed the chair on the floor beside the bed.
“It's okay. I'll sit on the floor.” Kim stepped away from the bed and sat directly in front of the door, resting her back against the wood. She grinned at Dorthea. “This should prevent any more unwanted interruptions.”
Dorthea nodded in agreement then transferred to the chair and looked at her aunt. “Sonny Furston?”
Faye took her time arranging a stack of pillows at the head of the bed. “Where did you hear of him?” she asked, leaning back.
“It's a long story. Who is he?”
Faye smiled as she thought back over many years and many memories. “My brother.”
“Where is he now?”
Faye shrugged and her expression hardened. “Probably dead for all I know. I haven't heard a word from him in years.”
“Did he kidnap me?”
“Kidnap you? Why on earth would Sonny do that? He already had enough trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“The kind you don't need to know about.”
“Aunt Faye, please. Tell me.”
“Tell you what? That he kidnapped you?” Faye shook her head. “I don't know how he got you.”
Startled by the admission, Dorthea looked at Kim. She turned back to her aunt when Kim encouraged her by mouthing the words, Go on. Ask.
“Got me? So it was Sonny who left me with you?” For a moment, Dorthea thought Faye would again refuse to provide the answer to the often asked question.
“Oh, hell,” Faye muttered. “What can they do to an old woman now? I'm already dying. Maybe prison would be an improvement over this hell hole.”
“Hold your horses. I'll tell you but I need a drink first. Think you can get that lazy ass nurse to cough up some juice?”
Kim sprang to her feet. “I'll go. Be right back,” she literally ran out the door before Dorthea could protest.
Balancing a tray holding a pitcher of orange juice and three glasses, Kim pushed the door to Faye's room open. After forcing Helen to show her the way to the cafeteria, she had made quick work of getting what she thought would be required for Faye to continue her story. She had also snagged a package of cookies and some saltines. “Did I miss anything?” she asked breathlessly setting the tray down on the dressing table.
“No. She won't talk until she has some juice.”
“Here,” Kim said holding a glass out to Faye who accepted the offering without comment. Kim then filled the other two glasses and passed one to Dorthea before grabbing a handful of cookies and resuming her seat in front of the door.
Faye sipped the cool juice while her fingers idly played with the half dozen cookies Dorthea had placed on the bedspread covering her lap. After several minutes, she took a deep breath. “I don't think I can tell you what you're wanting to hear.”
“Just tell me what you know.”
Faye nodded and took another sip. “Sonny showed up one day with you. He wouldn't tell me much. Just that he had to put you someplace safe.”
“Did he say why he had me? Or where he got me? Or why—?”
“I told you, he wouldn't say much.”
“He must have told you something.”
“He told me to give you a name and to take care of you. He gave me fifty dollars for food and said he'd be back in a few days to get you.” Faye took a bite of cookie. “Obviously, that didn't happened,” she scoffed as she chewed.
“Didn't you ask?”
“I asked lots of questions. Got the same answers you're getting.”
Dorthea blew out a long breath. “Was Sonny living in Kalona then?”
“Somewhere down in those parts. He never gave me an address.”
“Was he there when the tornado hit?”
“The one that destroyed Cedarwood in thirty-eight. The same year he left me with you.”
“I don't know. He could have been. Was that in thirty-eight? So long ago…”
“Did Sonny mention a Paul Bingham? Or anybody by the name of Bingham?”
“I don't know.”
“It was so long ago. I don't remember.”
“Bingham. Have you ever heard that name?” Faye shook her head. “Esther?”
“Esther… It's… familiar. But I can't place it. Who's Esther?”
“Me. I think my name was Esther before Sonny brought me to you.”
“He told me to change your name. I don't remember.”
“Where's Sonny now?”
“I don't know.”
“You never hear from him?”
“I haven't heard from him since… It must have been after the end of the war.”
“The only one that counted. War two.”
Faye laughed. “Not in the kind of uniform you're thinking. He spent the war in prison. I kept writing that I needed more money— it strained my budget having you around. One day, my letters to him came back unopened. I figured he got out but…”
“You never thought to write the warden and ask?” Kim.
“Didn't see the point. I figured he show up sooner or later.”
“That doesn't help much,” Kim groused. Faye shrugged.
“Did Sonny ever mention someone named Rocks Hampton?” Dorthea interjected, interrupting the glaring match between Kim and her aunt.
Faye grimaced. “No good, that's what he was,” she spit out the words. “It was his fault Sonny went to prison.”
“Did Sonny worked for him?”
Faye nodded. “If you want to call it that. He did whatever Rocks told him to do.”
“Do you know what type of things he would do?”
“He said he encouraged folks to do what was right. But I heard stories. He did bad things. Real bad.”
“Where did Sonny go after he left me with you?”
“He said he had to go find Rocks. That's why he said you'd only have to stay a few days. As soon as he found Rocks, everything would be okay again.”
“He must not have known Rocks died in the tornado,” Kim said.
“He did?” Faye asked.
Dorthea nodded. “This doesn't make sense. Why would Sonny bring me here then say he had to go find Rocks. And why didn't he come back for me after he discovered Rocks was dead.”
“Maybe he was afraid,” Kim answered.
“Afraid of what?”
“Kidnapping was a crime back then, just like now.”
“But he could have taken me back.”
“Not much sense in asking questions that can't be answered,” Faye huffed.
“Did you ever see Sonny after that?”
“No. He'd send money every so often. Then I got a letter from him. He said he was in prison and he couldn't send any more. I wrote him back and said he had to…” Faye turned to face Dorthea. “It was tough. I was doing my best but I wasn't making much at the drug store. You knew that. I couldn't afford…”
Dorthea nodded. “I knew money was tight. Why didn't you just tell me?”
Faye dropped back onto her pile of pillows. “I couldn't,” she said in a whisper.
Dorthea studied Faye as she lay with her eyes staring up at the ceiling. Never having witnessed Faye without the hard defensive shell she had encased herself inside, she knew this was a different woman. “You never told me you were married—”
Faye jerked upright. “None of your damn business.”
“What happened to Martin?”
“He's been gone a long time,” Faye responded with little emotion.
“Is that why you're so bitter?” Kim asked. “Couldn't keep a man?”
“I don't see where you've been too successful in that department,” Faye sniped back. “Closest thing you've ever had to a marriage is Dorthea.” She laughed when both women blanched. “What? No smart ass remark?” she asked Kim sat with a dumbfounded look frozen on her face.
“Aunt Faye!” Dorthea exclaimed, finding her voice.
Faye shrugged. “I need more juice.”
As Dorthea refilled Faye's glass, she shot a quick glance in Kim's direction to find her head turned toward the wall. “Kim?”
Without turning her head, Kim waved dismissively. “I'm okay. Just… I'm okay.”
Faye laughed. “Didn't think I'd see the day she couldn't bite back.”
“Leave her alone.” Dorthea was torn between wanting to see what was wrong with Kim and keeping her aunt talking. She gave her friend another look then turned her attention back to her aunt. “What about Martin?”
“What about him?”
“We married in thirty-four. We came here and Martin got a job…” A smile eased onto Faye's face as she remembered happier times. “A good job at the mill. We were living in a small apartment above the Henley Meat Market down on Front Street but we talked about looking for a house and starting a family. Martin wanted to wait until we had some money put away.” Her memories drifted away. “We never had the chance.”
“What happened?” Dorthea gently asked.
“They installed a new boiler and were testing it when a release valve failed. The explosion killed twenty nine workers. Martin was one of them.” Faye turned her attention to Kim who had been quietly watching as she revealed her most painful memory. “Yes, I'm bitter. I had a good man. A decent man. Then he was gone.” Her voice softened. “I never got to…” Faye's words were lost in the sob that escaped her lips.
Dorthea reached for her aunt's hand and was surprised when it wasn't snatched from her grasp. “I'm so sorry, Aunt Faye.”
Faye looked at their entwined fingers then slowly raised her eyes to Dorthea's face. She was startled to see the tears slipping down her face. “I'm not your aunt,” she finally admitted in a shaky voice.
Dorthea nodded. “You're the only aunt I've ever known.”
Slowly, Faye pulled her hand from Dorthea's. “I'm tired,” she said, her voice barely audible.
“We'll go.” Dorthea stood. “Thank you.”
Faye watched Dorthea walk toward Kim who was standing to join her. “Will you be back?”
Dorthea turned around. The bed's occupant had changed from the defiant, mean spirited custodian of her childhood into a frail, frightened woman desperately needing to know that someone, anyone, cared about her. She quickly moved back alongside the bed and bent to place a tender kiss on Faye's cheek. “We'll be back. I promise.”
Dorthea sat on the steps in front of the nursing home as she waited for Kim who, against Helen's vehement protests, had commandeered the phone at the nursing station to call for a cab. The sun had set hours before and she was enjoying the sea of stars that filled the sky over her head. She heard someone descending the steps behind her and didn't have to look to know it was Kim.
“How's your shoulder?” Dorthea asked when Kim sat beside her.
“Sore. How are you doing?”
“I'm alright. More answers, more questions.”
“Seems like that's how this has been going. Frustrating.”
“What do we do now?”
Dorthea turned toward her overly anxious friend. She also felt the strange undercurrent of tension between them. “That question brings up lots of possible answers.”
Kim laughed nervously. “It sure does. But I think for now, it best to stick to what you plan to do with what Faye told us.”
Dorthea smiled warily. “She told us quite a lot, didn't she?” She watched Kim fidget. “I know we need to talk… but not now. Not tonight. Okay?”
“Okay. But we do need to talk.”
Kim relaxed a bit. “What about Sonny? If he… If you are Esther and he… Well, what now?”
“Ah. That's easy.”
“It is?” Kim asked even as Dorthea confidently nodded. “How can it be? Faye didn't give us much to go on.”
“Faye? Not the Dragon Lady?”
Kim grinned sheepishly. “Guess I've had a change of heart.”
“Lot of that going around lately,” Dorthea said thoughtfully. “I think you might have been right.”
“About Faye. Maybe she was just trying to protect me. She didn't want me to know what a terrible thing had been done to me.”
“I can think of better ways to go about that.”
“I'll admit it wasn't easy for me. But I think it might have been worse for her.”
Kim studied her shoes. “Maybe.” She turned to look at Dorthea. “Now, back to the easy answer. What are you going to do?”
“Find Paul Bingham.”
“He's the only one who can tell me if I truly am his daughter.”
“How? You don't even know where to look for him.”
“Los Angeles.” Dorthea laughed at Kim's look of confusion. “Guess I left that tidbit out. Gwen said he went to California. She thought someplace around Los Angeles.”
“Thought? That's a pretty big place to look for one man.” Dorthea nodded. “Do you think he's even alive? What would he be, seventy-five? Seventy-six?”
Dorthea thought for a moment. “You know, I don't have any idea how old he'd be. But if I was four in thirty-eight, he'd have been what? Twenty-five? Thirty?”
“It's going to make it hard to find him.”
“I don't care. He's the only chance I have left to know for sure if I am Esther,” Dorthea said as she pushed herself up from the step. “Here's our cab.”
Kim stood and walked down the steps. As she started across the sidewalk to the curb, her progress was brought to an abrupt stop when her arm was grabbed by her friend.
“I know that we may not find him. I know that chances are he's dead. I know. But it's all I have to hang on to Kim. Do you understand? I can't not try.” She smiled when Kim nodded. “Thank you.”
Kim's response was lost when the cabbie honked his horn and both women turned toward the street. Kim grabbed Dorthea's hand. “Let's go home.”
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