Home > Everything Leads to You(9)

Everything Leads to You(9)
Author: Nina LaCour

“Oh, dear,” Edie says.

“Oh, dear,” Frank echoes. “I hate to say it, but Caroline died.”

“When?” Charlotte asks.

Frank shakes his head. “I’m terrible with dates,” he says.

“I know,” Edie says. “It was October of 1995. I remember because the Dodgers lost in the playoffs. Those Braves beat them Three to nothing. Three to zip. Terrible! I remember thinking, What could be worse than this? And then, just a few days later, we found Caroline in the apartment.”

Frank looks off to the side, eyes glassy, and Edie picks up a cookie but doesn’t eat it. We sit quietly for a little while, and then Edie begins gossiping about celebrities. I tell her about our jobs in the movies and she is impressed, especially with The Agency, which she’s already been reading about even though shooting doesn’t begin for a few months. But Charlotte stays quiet, and I can understand why. Here we were expecting to find Caroline, a living person, who would take this envelope from us and hopefully tell us about what was inside and who she was to Clyde. But instead we discover that Caroline is a dead woman. And it’s unsettling, somehow, that whatever Clyde wanted to give to her was never, and never will be, received.

~

It’s dark by the time we get back in the car.

Charlotte sighs. “I guess we did all we could.”

“So we’re going to open it?”

She nods, but doesn’t reach for her bag.

I find it on the backseat and fish out the envelope. It’s so thin. And I realize something that I hadn’t really registered before: It’s old, yellowing. I wonder how old. Old enough, I guess, for Caroline to die and someone named Raymond to move in and move out, and then for the surfer’s family to follow. Maybe even older than that.

Charlotte takes the keys from her lap and very carefully rips open the envelope.

Dear Caroline,

I confess it was optimistic of me to think our lunch might transform a lifetime of estrangement into some kind of relationship. I don’t think, however, that it was optimistic to think it could have been some kind of beginning, even if it was the beginning of something meager. A casual hello now and then. An acquaintanceship. But I’ve been trying to reach you for several months. My letters have been returned. What few phone numbers I can find for you are all outdated. I’m not disregarding the possibility of a change of heart, but, for now at least, I’m giving up.

There were things I wanted to tell you that afternoon that I couldn’t bring myself to say. I told myself it was because I expected it to be Me and You, and instead it was Me and You and Lenny. So I found myself in the company of two strangers instead of only one. However, that might have only been an excuse. You are my only child and I was never a father to you. I don’t know how a father is supposed to say heartfelt things or express regret or give a compliment.

So, here it goes, on paper, which feels far less daunting.

I was unaware of your existence when you were born. After I learned about you, I had intentions of being a good father. To put it plainly, your mother made that impossible.

She would not accept my money. She would not consider a friendship. I spent a decade trying to make amends with her but the truth is that I had very little to say. We both had our reasons for what happened that night and in the few weeks that followed. I won’t presume to know hers, but in my defense, I did not make any promises or intentionally lead her on. She had what many people crave, a few minutes in the spotlight on the arm of someone famous. She did not ever know me and I did not ever know her. I would like to think that we each received something we needed in a specific period of time in our lives, but I fear that your mother’s reaction to my repeated gestures spoke otherwise.

It may seem unfair of me to speak this way of a woman who is no longer in this world to defend herself. I don’t wish to be cruel. Another thing I wanted to do (but didn’t) was offer you my condolences. And I wanted to say that I know what it’s like to be an orphan. It’s possible that you feel alone in the world. I know a little bit about that, too. I suppose I thought we might bond over our specific tragedies, but instead I told you about my dogs and the weather, and you stared at your eggs and never touched them.

You are my only child. I wanted you to know a few things about me. It is true that I always wear a cowboy hat, but I am not the stoic, humorless man that I so often played. I try my best to enjoy life. I enjoy hiking through the hills behind my home. I have loved deeply, but had hopes of a different kind of love.

There is a bank account in your name at the Northern West Credit Union. Please visit them and ask for Terrence Webber. He will give you access to the account. If you do not want the money, please give it to Ava. It may seem crass to give you so much. Please don’t think of it as an attempt to buy your love or forgiveness. Despite the idealistic notion that money is of little importance, money can open doors. I hope, my daughter (if you’ll allow me to call you that this once), that doors will open for you all your life.

My regards,

Clyde

“So you were right,” Charlotte says. “Caroline Maddox was his daughter.”

“What tragedy,” I say.

“So bitter,” Charlotte says.

“So regretful.”

Charlotte nods. “It’s like he wants to tell her everything but it hardly adds up to anything.”

“I know. I wear cowboy hats? I enjoy hiking?” I pick up the letter again. His handwriting is careful and shaky and everything is neat, like he wrote multiple drafts. “Who’s Lenny? Who’s Ava?”

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