Marian pretended to sleep for the second night in a row, but this time her will overcame her drowsiness. Her thoughts ebbed and flowed like a river’s current against her head.
I can’t believe he would try to sell me that wild story. Only three documented cases and I’m one of them. Rubbish. Oh, and no you can’t meet the other two because they killed themselves. He clearly has no respect for my intellect.
Her breathing had begun to accelerate as her body temperature rose. Anger she didn’t know she could produce boiled through her veins. There was no room for the benefit of the doubt. Her supposed husband was doubt incarnate. Acutely aware that in the previous years Drake carefully arranged her cut-off from the wider world, she pledged to make some sort of ally. The problem was she needed to know the extent of the reach of whichever criminal organization was controlling the man who slept beside her. Making friends at work will only tip them off. Everyone of them are paid by Drake. Who knows if the are actual scientists. This feels like an elaborate con.
As the night ticked by, Marian was no closer to deciding her next point of attack or defense for that matter. She systematically crossed off each former professor, colleague, remote acquaintance who had ever had any contact with Drake Finch, assuming, as in the case of her parents, they could all be bought or at least convinced that she was sick. This would also include acquaintances of her parents since her mother and father rarely kept a secret. There must be someone I would’ve never mentioned even under duress. Think Marian!
She started with her freshman year of college and journeyed backward. Drake probably had accessed her journals stored on a bookshelf in her parents home as well as yearbooks, postcards from road trips the summers after her junior and senior years, and even photo albums she kept in their apartment. She was sure her laptop and desktop had both been stripped of relevant data, as Drake had always been thorough in his research. Was there anyone from her childhood who would remember her, despite a lack of paper trail to support the fact?
Where did I secretly go as a child when my parents and friends weren’t looking?
Suddenly, a vivid memory danced before her shuttered eyelids. It was the winter of her 9th year, when she was in 4th grade. There had been try-outs for an all city ballroom dance competition. She’d secretly coveted a spot in that phys. ed. class. Only twenty 4th grade students would be selected from her school, P.S 69. She’d dreamed about dancing with Charley Dempsey from Mrs. Andersen’s class at least once a month since 2nd grade, when she’d seen that year’s participants practicing after school. Her parents were not great supporters of the arts, and never let her take any kind of dance lessons. For this reason, Marian was sure she never mentioned her secret aspirations to compete.
The day of the try-outs arrived. The roads were mucky after three days of winter rain, and therefore her mother refused to let her wear her pink princess slippers. Instead, she’d been forced to wear the ugly brown Mary Janes inside uglier black galoshes. She did manage to insist on her favorite pink and white polka-dot dress. Nothing subdued the butterflies in her stomach during the morning as her afternoon p.e. class slowly approached.
At last, the moment arrived and about 100 kids from all 4 classes were herded into groups and paired off. Someone turned on some music with a Latin beat and a dapper gentleman in a canvas colored suit removed his jacket and moved to the north end of the gymnasium. Mrs. Sanchez, one of the teacher’s, joined him and they took each others hands, arms, shoulder and back in three slow motions.
As they called the kids to copy them, Marian looked down at her partner, a full head shorter than her. He was not Charley Dempsey, not by a long shot. He reached up for her shoulder, standing on tiptoes and frowning malevolently. “I hate this stupid dance thing,” was the only thing out of his mouth, repeatedly for the next thirty minute. He never apologized for stepping on her Mary Janes, twisting her wrist too hard, tripping her three times, and tickling her underarms every chance he got.
It was her teacher, Miss Bancroft who finally intervened. Rather than giving her a new partner, the young redhead grabbed them both by the forearms and dragged them to the bleachers where they were told to sit and wait for the class to be over. Marian had tried to explain, but all her teacher did was express her disappointment in Marian’s behavior.
In one fell swoop, she’d lost everything she’d wanted from her 4th grade educational experience. And no one would be waiting at home with conciliatory codling or sympathetic squeezes, at least not for a missed dance competition. So for the first time in her life, Marian had walked into a church on her way home from school.
The Episcopal church was about five blocks from her two-family house. Wandering inside, she noticed rows and rows of wooden benches with a few scattered people sitting heads bowed. She wondered if she was allowed to disturb any of them to ask for some advice, but couldn’t get up the courage. She sat down in the last row legs tucked under her, galoshes dropped on the floor. That is exactly where she met him: the man in the robe.