The bacon I was ignoring while yelling at Palin was the reason the kitchen caught on fire. We were lucky enough the fire department was able to come over quickly and get it under control. It still left a huge black stain on the wall behind the stove. There was a little bit of damage done to the drywall, and the electricity had to be turned off in the kitchen because a couple of wires connected to the stove were damaged as well. It meant my domain was off limits for a couple of days while repair men came in and fixed the damage left by the fire. It was going to cost us somewhere in the range of two-thousand dollars, but the real damage created by the accident was between Robert and me. He was extremely mad at me and I knew I would have to be extra nice to him until things blew over.
It didn’t help that Robert had to take the day off from work because we had to wait around the house until the fire department could make a report on the damages. We needed this report if we wanted to file a claim with the insurance company. Robert grumbled all morning about how we wouldn’t get any money from the claim and how our insurance would go up due to the fact the accident was preventable in the first place. It was his belief it had been my incompetency that caused the accident and he kept on reminding me insurance companies did not want to make a habit for paying off insurance claims for incompetency.
The kids were really happy because they got to spend the day at home. I wasn’t going to be able to rush them off to school because I had to explain to the fire chief about what had happened in the kitchen that morning. He had a hard time understanding how things could have gotten so out of control in such a short time. He wondered how I could have forgotten all about the bacon in the frying pan. He remembered seeing my profile in the Elbert County Gazette. It didn’t make any sense to him how such a highly acclaimed mother could make such a big mistake. He, of course, didn’t see the bane of my existence because Palin had gone back to bed the moment she found out she didn’t need to go to school. What he saw instead was my perfect children behaving themselves, sitting in front of the television and watching The Buddy Bears all day.
After the fire department left and the contractor came in to give us an estimate, the whole day had disappeared. It was late in the afternoon when things started to return to normal. That was when Palin reappeared from Robert’s office. She complained about being hungry and wondered why we didn’t have anything in the house to eat. It was almost as if she hadn’t been present for the chaos of the morning. I wanted to jump over to where she was complaining, knock her to the ground, and strangle her until that smug expression she always carried with her melted from her face. But Robert saved me from these criminal tendencies by saying that he was hungry as well. Because the kitchen was unusable, the only thing left for us to do was to get our things together and go out to eat. Robert suggested we do just that. My husband was great at bringing up all of our spirits. He pointed out it had been a long time since we had been out to dinner together, and thought it would be nice to celebrate the good things in life while forgetting about the bad ones. He told me later he would, of course, have to take the night’s meal out of my allowance, but it would be his pleasure to make sure the family could enjoy a nice dinner that night. He even knew the perfect place to take us, The Old Stone Church in nearby Castle Rock.
I had heard about this place, and I had been begging Robert to take me out there to eat for the last couple of months. So far, my only contact with the place was driving by and looking at it from the outside. There was always a collection of highly sophisticated people milling around outside the restaurant. It was the oldest building in Castle Rock. It was a church built during the pioneer days. They had gathered all the stones from a nearby quarry, and were able to create a beautiful stone church to withstand the trials of time. As the town of Castle Rock grew, the church became too small to hold the congregation coming for their spiritual guidance every Sunday. They built a new church with more modern conveniences on the hilltop where everybody in town could see it and praise its glory. The Old Stone Church went into disrepair and was forgotten by the people of the town. Recently, a chef from New York who had studied southwestern cuisine came into Castle Rock. He noticed the church was up for sale. After a tour of the inside, he decided it would be the perfect place to convert into a restaurant. With all of the new décor, and the wonderful food this chef was making, The Old Stone Church was becoming the talk of the town. Everybody who was anybody wanted to get a table to enjoy a meal there. It was almost impossible to get into and I had no idea how Robert was going to manage this with a family of five, but he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. He would go down there to make sure everything was set up for our wonderful family night out, while I got the family together and down to the restaurant.
He left right away and I knew he would secure us a table. I quickly took Zach and Lindsey upstairs to pick out more appropriate clothes for a fancy dinner. I asked Palin if she could find something in her wardrobe but she told me she would have to go shopping to find something fancy enough. I looked her up and down. Even though I was a little bit taller than her, our builds were very similar. I told her to go look in my closet for something to wear while I went and found some clothes for the little ones.
I had Zach put on his Sunday slacks, and a nice white collared shirt. I picked out his red clip tie because it was very similar to Robert’s red tie I loved so much. It made him look a little bit like his father. Lindsey was a little more difficult because of the incident the night before. I was able to piece enough clothes together to create a nice outfit for her. It was a little casual but with her only being three years old I was sure the restaurant would forgive us as long as she behaved herself. I never had an opportunity to make myself presentable during the day with all of the people that were coming and going. I sat Zach and Lindsey down in front of the television while I went back up to my bedroom to try and find something I could wear.
When I got upstairs, Palin was locked in our bathroom. I knocked on the door and asked if she had found something to wear. She informed me she had and she was getting ready at the moment. I went to the closet and picked out a nice conservative black dress. It highlighted my figure nicely while giving me a slimming look. I had been battling my weight ever since I had my children, but I believed I still knew how to turn my husband’s head. He had always told me he had fallen in love with me the moment he saw my auburn hair and dark green eyes. He was always able to lose himself in both of these features. It didn’t mean I could let myself go though. I still needed to keep a girlish figure, or all of the auburn hair and come hither eyes wouldn’t excite my husband. I thought I had achieved this effect until I saw Palin come out of the bathroom.
She had picked a dress I wasn’t able to wear ever since I had Zach. It was a red dress with a flower pattern dancing humbly all through the skirt. It was sleeveless and strapless. When I used to be able to wear it, Robert always exclaimed about how beautiful he thought it made me look. I used to wear it simply without many accessories. I would wear a simple necklace, not much make-up, and a small purse to carry just what I needed for the evening. I was sad I could no longer fit into the slim waist of the dress. I was stunned to see it out of the closet and on another human being.
Palin was also fashion savvy enough to understand the power of the dress lay in its simplicity. She had taken the poof out of her hair. She let it cascade down from her forehead and land lightly on her shoulders. She also removed all the make-up hiding her face. She let her natural side show and it made her look five years younger. I noticed how beautiful her eyes were for the first time. They were an exotic grey blue found naturally only in chilly winter morning skies. The color begged a person to curl up next to a fire and a cup of hot chocolate. Her eyes felt uncomfortable not being able to hide behind a thick layer of mascara. They darted around looking for some place where they would not have to stare at the thing demanding her attention. I stood and gaped at her in her natural beauty.
After feeling uncomfortable for a little bit, she quit darting her eyes all around the room and the Palin I knew came back out. “What?”
“I’m sorry. I just never realized how beautiful you are.”
Compliments seemed to embarrass her even more because she immediately pointed her eyes to the ground. “I’m not really that pretty.”
I went over to her and grabbed her by her hands and pulled them from where she was crushing them into the side of the dress. When she was free of her embarrassment, I lifted her face up to stare at me. Looking directly into those eyes stole my heart. “You are absolutely gorgeous. Robert is going to be able to see his little daughter is growing up to be a fine young lady.”
She smiled at the compliment. I started to think there might be hope with this girl. It would just take some time and some love to get her to stop thinking of herself as an object needing to act out in order to be noticed. It would take some real mothering in order to help this child. I thought for a second, and I knew exactly what to do to make the moment perfect.
“Wait right there,” I said. I ran off to the bathroom and my jewelry box. I shuffled through it until I found what I was looking for. When it was in my hand, I ran back into the room. Palin was standing in front of the full length mirror, wondering if there was some truth in what I had told her earlier. I came up from behind her and draped around her neck the necklace I knew would be the perfect complement to her ensemble. It was a piece of Murano glass dangling from a simple silver chain. The glass was blown by expert glass blowers on an island off the shore of Venice. They would add various precious metals, such as silver, platinum, or gold, to the glass they blew in order to create amazing colors. The piece I was giving to Palin to wear for the night was a smoky light blue that matched the color of her eyes. It was formed in the shape of a teardrop. The decoration was the simple accent creating the complete picture of what a beautiful young lady had been hiding in Palin.
“This was given to me by your father on our first anniversary. It is not worth a lot of money, but it has a lot of sentimental value, so please don’t lose it.”
Tears started to well up in Palin’s eyes. She turned to me and hugged me. “Thank you, Rachael. This is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.”
I felt emotions start to well up inside of me as well. I was starting to think maybe it was a good thing this girl had been sent to me to be raised properly. There must have been something wrong with her biological mother if she wasn’t able to raise this sweet, innocent girl right. My mind raced with images of poverty, drug abuse, and neglect contributing to her biological mother being sent away for re-education a second time. If Palin started to have some love given to her, she might turn out alright. I was the perfect mother to take on this challenge because of the wonderful way I had raised Zach and Lindsey. I was starting to get really proud of myself for making such progress in only one night with Palin. Maybe if I changed my attitude about her, I would really be able to help her. But first thing was first, we needed to go meet Robert for dinner before he started to wonder what had happened to us.
I patted Palin on the back and told her, “It is alright, honey. We can’t stay in here worrying about this for too long because I have two kids waiting for us downstairs, and my husband, your father, waiting for us at a restaurant downtown. Come on. Let’s get going.”
She wiped away her tears, smiled at me, and then walked out of the bedroom. I looked at myself in the mirror one last time, feeling a little pang of jealousy because I wasn’t able to fit into that dress anymore. It passed quickly because of the pride I had felt with my ability to be a mother. I turned off the lights and loaded the kids up to head down to the Old Stone Church.
Robert was able to get us a table at the restaurant, and it wasn’t a bad table either. The table Robert was able to get for us was directly in the center of the restaurant. It was like we were on display. I thought of us as being the model for every other table to live up to. Here we were, the perfect American family, and if they achieved what we could then they would be placed on display like us.
When we entered the restaurant, Robert was sitting at the table keeping an eye on the door. When he saw us, he came over and directed us to the table. He came up to me gruffly and asked me, “What took you so long? I was about to call the house to see if you were on your way or not?”
I turned and gestured to the children and said, “Well, we had to look presentable.”
He looked at the children and an expression came over his face I hadn’t seen since the birth of Zach. It was of pure joy and love. It was like he was looking at his children for the first time. He walked past Lindsey who was holding Zach’s hand and walked up to Palin. He held her hands out from her side so he would be able to get a better look at her.
“Palin, you look fantastic. I’ve never noticed how much you look like your mother until now.”
She smiled a bashful smile and said, “Thanks, daddy.”
He noticed the necklace and scooped it up gently in his fingers. “And where did you get this piece of jewelry? It is stunning.” I was a little confused when I heard this because it had been a gift to me from him. I thought he would definitely remember giving me something as beautiful as this. I always remembered receiving it. He had given it to me during dinner the night of our anniversary. It was wrapped perfectly. Usually Robert did a terrible job of wrapping things, so he must have had somebody else do it for him, but when I opened it up, I broke down into feelings of love and admiration. Robert told me he thought I would like it. I even remember putting it on as we ate the steak dinner over a nice bottle of wine. I also wore it on special occasions. Almost every anniversary I wore it. I also wore it on my birthdays and some holidays. Surely, he had seen it before.
Palin brought me from my thoughts. “What? This? Oh, it was a gift.” Even though that was accurate, it bugged me that she took the credit for having been given the gift.
“Well, it brings out the beauty of your eyes.”
Robert led Palin past his two other children and me to the table. He pulled out the chair for her and she sat down at his right hand side. He looked over at me and said, “Can you help the rest of the kids in their seats, Rachael?”
As I got Lindsey in her high chair and Zach in his seat, occupied with his new stuffed Billy Bob Bear, I sat down in the only remaining seat on the left hand side of Robert. By the time I was seated, our waitress was already at our table taking our order. The younger kids had chocolate milk each and Palin ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri. Robert ordered a glass of Pinot Noir for himself and a glass of ice tea for me. I really wanted a gin and tonic, but after last night’s episode, it was probably better I had something non-alcoholic instead.
Robert was also able to order for me as I distracted the younger ones trying to keep them from being a loud disturbance for the rest of the patrons of the restaurant. Palin kept him company while I was busy. They were talking about what she had been up to in the last couple of months and the logistics of what had happened with her mother. I caught little bits and pieces of the conversation, but I needed to make sure Lindsey was under control. I put on an episode of Buddy Bears on the iPad. Zach was also a little loud because he was having a conversation with his Billy Bob Bear. I convinced him to have the conversation in whispered voices so the rest of the people in the building wouldn’t hear what he was saying. By the time I was able to return to the conversation, Palin had left and Robert was impatiently looking at his watch.
“What happened to Palin?” I asked him.
“Oh, she had to go to the bathroom.”
I looked over at my husband and saw a concern in his eyes. I knew I needed to do something in order to make up for my behavior. I knew this was a great opportunity, so I told him, “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened in the last couple of days. I guess I felt threatened at first when Palin showed up at the door and I didn’t know how to properly handle it.”
He grunted an agreement, and looked back towards the restrooms and then back at his watch.
“I know my behavior was inappropriate, but I think Palin and I will be really good friends after we get over this period of culture shock we are going through. I think we were able to bond a little bit tonight while we were getting ready. She really warmed up to me when I was able to give her some honest, loving compliments. I wonder if that is something she has been missing her whole life. Maybe she can grow as a person if I am able to give her the love she needs.”
“That’s nice honey,” he said as he looked at his watch again. “Hey, I am a little worried about Palin.”
“I am too, but I think if we give her some time, she’ll find her place in our household.”
Robert looked at me quizzically for a second before saying, “No honey, I meant I am worried about her in the bathroom. She’s been gone for a long time. Could you go check on her?”
“Oh,” I said. I looked over at Lindsey and Zach and saw they were occupied with what they had in front of them. I looked back to the hallway towards the bathroom and thought the kids would be alright while I went to go check on her. “I’ll go see what the delay is, Robert.” I got up from my seat and walked to a sign indicating where the bathrooms were.
The bathrooms were situated in a hallway connecting the restaurant to another part of the building holding the bar. I could hear lots of people laughing from this area, and I wondered what type of crowd would be making such a ruckus on a Wednesday night. I blew it off and went into the ladies room. The bathroom was just as warm and inviting as the rest of the restaurant. There was a comfy sofa in there for women to sit down on, and three large mirrors for fixing make-up. There were three stalls, but all of them were open and there was no one in any of them. In fact, I was alone in the ladies room. I called out Palin’s name but this just confirmed what my eyes had already ascertained; she was not in the bathroom.
I stepped out of the room and peered back into the restaurant. She wasn’t there but I saw the back of Robert’s head sitting at the table where Lindsey and Zach were entertaining themselves. He was staring over the restaurant, impatiently tapping his fingers on the side of the table. I was starting to wonder where Palin could be, and the only place left to look was the bar. I turned around to head to the bar and almost ran into her as she was backing her way into the restaurant and laughing at something going on behind her.
“Palin, where have you been?”
She turned around with her virgin daiquiri in her hand. She abruptly stopped laughing and looked at me. I could see her mind working at what would be the correct answer to give in this situation. “I was going to the bathroom,” she told me.
The smell of tobacco invaded my senses. I leaned closer to see if the smell was coming from her, but she slithered quickly away from me and back into the restaurant. Before she headed too far into the room, my voice stopped her, “But Palin, I was just in the bathroom and you weren’t in there.”
She stalled for a second, turned to face me and said, “Oh, I must have gone in the men’s room. You know I was wondering why there were stalls in there. I feel stupid now. I guess I’m lucky no men came in while I was in there. Boy, that would have been embarrassing.” She turned around and walked back to the table. I looked back at the two doors to both of the bathrooms. I was about to dismiss it as a simple mistake, when the door to the men’s room opened and a well dressed man walked out and headed towards the bar. I looked back at the table and saw Robert once again engaged in a conversation with Palin. My suspicions grew, but I held them in check as I made my way back to the table and sat in my seat.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When we first got to the restaurant, Palin was quiet and reserved, but as the evening progressed, she was starting to become more and more comfortable. She was really engaged in the conversation she was having with Robert. She would laugh loudly at his jokes while waving her virgin strawberry daiquiri around the room. A couple of times she came close to having the icy drink slosh over the side of the glass and splotch the tablecloth in front of her. Somehow, she managed to keep the liquid in the glass. Robert and Palin hadn’t caught on yet, but people in the restaurant were starting to notice what was going on at our table. The image of what the perfect American family should look like was slowly deteriorating and I looked desperately for something to help me regain control of the situation.
The waitress appeared at our table with our food, and I thought this might help bring everything under control again. The weird thing was I wasn’t worried Zach and Lindsey this time. It was Palin and Robert. The waitress was a good one because she knew that she needed to serve the young children first in order to keep them entertained, so Zach and Lindsey got their food first, while Palin directed her attention over to the large tray holding her meal. The waitress then delivered Palin’s meal next and Palin asked if she could have another daiquiri. I looked across the table and noticed that something else was out of place. I didn’t want to cause any alarm until after the waitress left, so I didn’t say anything until after Robert and I were both served.
Palin had already begun to dig into her steak, while I took the linen napkin next to my Caesar salad and placed it in my lap. “Palin?” I asked.
She gave a smirk as she chewed on a large piece of filet mignon, “Yeah?”
“Did you do something with the necklace? I don’t see it anymore.”
She stopped chewing and looked at me across the table. Robert looked over at where the necklace should have been and said, “Where is your necklace, Palin? I hope you didn’t lose it.”
She put her knife and fork down and reached up to her neck. She felt around as if the necklace would appear out of nowhere. When it didn’t, she looked back at me, “I don’t know what happened to it.”
The waitress returned at that moment to the table and placed the new daiquiri in front of Palin. Palin grabbed it quickly after it was placed down and sucked a huge gulp out of the drink. This behavior made me even more curious. I needed someone to confirm what I thought, and since Robert had been in his own world that day, I looked up at the waitress. She was staring down at Robert’s daughter as Palin slurped her drink through the straw. That is when I saw the necklace. It was dangling from the neck of the waitress.
“My necklace,” I said pointing at the waitress.
“Your necklace?” Robert said looking over at me.
The waitress’s hand went reflexively up to where the necklace was.
Palin sucked down another huge portion of her drink and then she pointed and accusing finger at the waitress, “She stole my necklace.”
The waitress stood there stunned with her mouth opening and closing as if she didn’t know what to say.
Robert stood up at the table and looked at the waitress. “How dare you steal my daughter’s necklace?”
I could see a manager over at the hostess stand look over at the commotion going on over at our table. The waitress looked over at Robert and said, “I didn’t steal your daughter’s necklace.”
Robert tried to grab the necklace from the waitress’s neck, but her hand went up to protect it. He pointed a finger at where it was hidden and accused her, “Oh, please, I am sure that’s your necklace. You just happen to have one exactly like my daughter’s. This tear shape is a common one everybody has. Is that what you’re telling me? It’s all the rage now?”
The waitress stood there and stammered.
Robert continued his interrogation, “If you didn’t steal this then where did you get it from?”
The waitress looked over at Palin and said, “She gave it to me.”
“I did not,” was Palin’s response as she went back to her drink.
The manager came over to the table and patted his tie on his chest before asking, “What seems to be the problem here?”
Palin pointed the accusing finger at the waitress again, “She stole my necklace.”
The waitress looked at Palin and said, “You little bitch. You gave me this necklace if I would put rum in your drink.”
The manager quickly turned his attention to the waitress. She quickly realized the faux pas she had made.
Palin had the straw of the drink in her mouth again and was sucking down the last drop in the glass. She slammed the glass down on the table, and shouted back, “That is ridiculous. Give me back my necklace, you little thief.”
The manager was at a loss of words. He looked in between the waitress and Palin. All he could get out was, “Now, Amy.”
The waitress ripped the necklace off of her neck and threw it at Palin. It bounced off of Palin’s hands and hit the table. The teardrop shattered and a blue grey dust gathered on the table like frozen flakes of dry snow. I looked at this symbol of the love between my husband and me and I felt a part of me being torn from my heart.
The waitress turned on her heels and tore her apron off. She threw it on the ground in front of the manager. “I don’t have to listen to these accusations. I quit.” She stormed out the door. The manager followed her. Robert followed both of them asking who was going to pay for the replacement of the necklace. Palin followed after him defending her actions as justifiable. Lindsey and Zach continued to play with their toys. The patrons of the restaurant turned their heads away from what used to be the perfect American family. I picked up Palin’s empty glass on the table and sniffed it to see if I could smell any rum.