Prologue – August 1997
“I don’t like this. I feel like I’ve been lied to.” My mother said this loudly, glaring at the open door to the suite area. I was certain her voice carried down the hall. “I’ve never heard of co-ed dorms. It’s disgusting. They might as well just hand out condoms and host an orgy.”
I was silent, though I was tempted to point out that my university did hand out condoms during orientation. Really, the goal was to encourage her to leave as soon as possible. Any mention of condoms, regardless of how much passive-aggressive joy it might bring me, would be counterproductive.
“I see your face. Just you wait.” She glared, pointing her finger at me.
I lifted my eyebrows and shrugged. “What?”
“Just you wait until you have children, then you’ll understand. When you have your own children, you’ll be calling me up and apologizing for everything you’ve put me through.”
Turning back to the box of books I was unpacking, I muttered under my breath, “Yeah, that’s not likely.”
I heard footsteps approach and turned toward the open door just in time to see my father enter, throwing his thumb over his shoulder. “There sure are a lot of young men hanging around here. When I went to Cornell, boys weren’t allowed to just wander around in the women’s dorm. They weren’t allowed in at all.”
My father winked, obviously knowing this statement would drive my mother crazy. He lived for pushing her buttons. I gave him a pained smile.
“They’re not hanging around, George.” She leaned closer to him and loud-whispered, “They live here!”
“Live here? Huh…” His eyes widened with what I knew was mock surprise, and he added thoughtfully, “I need to go back to college.”
“George!” She smacked him on the shoulder, her forehead a maze of consternation wrinkles. “How can you joke about this? Fiona could be raped, murdered, or worse!”
I frowned at my mother, tempted to ask what she had in mind that was worse than rape or murder. She was a reactionary, always had been. She followed the mantra of react first, think later (if at all). I loved her, but she was exhausting.
“Okay.” I said loudly, “Time for you to leave. Let me walk you to the elevator.”
My mother huffed, and I could see the anxiety on her face. My heart softened a little—a very, very little—at her expression, but hardened when she said, “Fiona, you don’t know how much time you have left on this earth. What if the tumor comes back? What are you going to do? Hmm? You’ll be helpless, alone, with strangers. This is your last chance to come home with us. If you insist on staying here, we will follow through with our decision to cut you off. I mean it; you’ll have no support from us, and you’ll have no insurance.”
I held my tongue and peeked over her shoulder to my dad. He gave me the faintest of head shakes, his eyes narrowing just a smidge. Although he didn’t agree with my decision to go to college so far from home, he’d pulled me aside last week and assured me that he wouldn’t be removing me from his work insurance policy.
He’d even offered to provide financial assistance as well, but I turned him down. I didn’t want to cause any more drama in their relationship. My academic scholarship would cover the bulk of my expenses. Plus I had my sponsorship dollars from when I was still an athlete, the accounts just recently signed over to me on my eighteenth birthday.
Like my mother, my father was overprotective. Unlike my mother, his decisions were typically grounded in well-reasoned arguments, facts, and reality. But his overprotectiveness of me was largely due to guilt, guilt that he’d been mostly absent for my childhood.
I’d observed that much of what parents do, their decisions and actions, is driven by guilt—either directly because of it or as a means to escape it.
My eyes returned to my mother and I cleared my face of expression. “I know, mother. We’ve already discussed your feelings on the matter.” She’d told me how angry she was with me every day since I told them of my decision to move seven states away from home, where no one knew me, and I could be just another college freshman. “I know how you feel. Now it’s time for you to go.”
“You’re breaking my heart!” My mother said dramatically.
I tried to keep my voice as gentle as possible as I ushered—pushed—them out of my room, out of the suite, down the hall, and to the elevator. “You’ll be fine. I’ll call you.”
“I won’t take your calls. I don’t want to hear from you if you won’t listen to reason. And don’t try calling your sister. I don’t want you polluting her mind.”