Meg Garner slumped over the kitchen table, crying into her crossed arms.
Sandra sat beside her, unable to help. She had struggled since the previous day to find a way to reach her daughter. Her latest hopes had risen with the arrival of this envelope. Its contents, an assortment of pictures intended for her daughter’s enjoyment, now lay next to the sobbing child. They had only touched off a fresh wave of grief.
Ever since middle school, her daughter had frustrated her with a bizarre self-image. She hid herself in rumpled over-sized clothes, doggedly continued to wear her glasses instead of contacts, disguised herself as the unattractive mouse that she honestly imagined herself to be. With her brown hair instead of her mother’s blond, with her face that somehow would not match up favorably with any fashionable frames, she had plenty of evidence to convict herself of ugliness. It was just not true.
Sandra knew what a lovely woman her little girl had become, because there was one context in which she let it show. When Meg was too busy playing soccer to play mouse, when she strapped on confidence along with her shin-guards, she passed through a magical transformation. A young beauty shook free of her cocoon as she took the field, only to disappear once more after the game ended.
She had suggested Meg’s birthday present to Jack. Her ex would never have bought such a thing for his daughter on his own– she doubted he even approved of his daughter doing it– but he was too clueless to buy a decent gift for her anyway, so Sandra had wheedled him into getting her the photo session.
Not that she wasn’t clueless, herself. When they were delivered, she had honestly thought that the pictures would be able to make Meg focus on something other than her missing father for a few minutes.
Dumb move, lady, she chided herself. All you did was twist the knife.
It was a mistake born of a woman who took a little too much pride in having such a lovely daughter. She knew she would be wiser to grow Meg’s self-esteem in other, less objectifying things. Society had made it clear that this is what a modern young woman needed. She blamed her roots for leading her to place Meg’s beauty before other things she could praise.
“Meg,” she pleaded, “The pictures really are lovely. It would be okay to let yourself enjoy them for a few minutes.”
She moved aside the envelope, labeled ‘Fashion Shots’, and fanned the pictures out. Truth was, Meg had selected the prints on her own, and Sandra hadn’t known in advance how provocative some of the poses had been. Nothing R-rated of course, but the photographer had engineered some deeper peeks down her daughter’s blouse than Sandra had expected, and persuaded her to lift her hips or arch her back a bit more than appropriate for a sixteen-year-old girl.
Perhaps she should have expected it. The same photographer had sold Sandra on coming back the following day to do her own, considerably more risqué shoot. She still couldn’t believe he had talked her into removing her lingerie and even fingering herself for the camera.
She didn’t plan to let her daughter see them, but she daydreamed about making them a present for Jack’s upcoming fiftieth, along with a proposal to reconcile their relationship. She still hadn’t figured out whether she was seriously considering it, but he’d been in her mind during the session.
The picture with her daughter’s unbuttoned denim jacket hanging open to reveal the interior curves of her bosom had nearly shocked Sandra into calling the studio to complain. But she wouldn’t. Not when the makeover had gone so well and the photographer had somehow coaxed her daughter into showing a poise and pride she’d never displayed in front of a camera before.
Besides, the peekaboo jacket pic was one of the best shots. Nevertheless, it might be better if Jack never saw that one…
It really was tragic, that the pleasure of these pictures had been stolen from the girl. Her soul ached at the thought.
“You are just so beautiful,” she stated softly.
Meg popped her head up, angry and crying at the same time. “Don’t you get it, Mom? Dad gave me this for my birthday! How can I enjoy it when he’s missing?”
Yes, child, she couldn’t say out loud, because it could only make things worse, I do get it. I really do. It’s the curse of my birthright. I’m still seeing the wrong goal.
The emotions on her daughter’s face were as terrible as those she felt within herself. This was both her child, needing to be consoled, and a bereaved young woman, unable to accept what had happened to her loved one. Sandra couldn’t expect anything like healing, while the media continued to hold out the hope of an alien rescue, but she truly wished she could find a way around the grieving girl, in order to reach her crying baby.
But the truth is, they never found any bodies. That’s what Roy told me today. It’s not just the police withholding information.
She laid her hand on Meg’s back again. At least this time the girl didn’t shrug it away. “Meg, I’m sorry. I’ll put these away for now, but please listen to me. You need to do something for yourself. Something very important. You need to be strong so you can keep going.”
“I don’t want to be strong… I want my Dad!”
That cut into Sandra’s heart deeper than she would have thought. And she knew which guilty secret made it cut so deep, but she wasn’t ready to deal with that yet.
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