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Kathy pressed end on her black flip phone. She was too young to have something so old but her paycheck dictated such things. Her call had gone unanswered, as always. She couldn’t blame Sean for not answering. He had twenty-five years’ worth of reasons to ignore her.

Didn’t mean she had to like it. She never knew if the boy was dead or alive and contrary to his beliefs, it did matter to her despite barely seeing the kid since he was four. She had been very young back when she had Sean. It was a tired excuse but very true. Back then she thought raising a child interrupted what she really wanted to do. Which, apparently, had been chasing the approval from a friend no older than her and significantly less wise.

By the time she figured out being a good mother was a better use of her time, Sean had decided he didn’t want that anymore.

She used to blame her friend for that but had long come to accept that she made her own pisspoor decisions and now she was living with the consequences. At least, every now and then she could huff a sad sigh of laughter when she thought about some of her adventures.

Kathy sighed as she lifted a chubby hand to her face, taking a puff of her cigarette. Her other hand was in her pocket, clenching her phone. She wished something, anything would happen tonight. A high-speed police chase, misbehaving teens disturbing the peace, hell, she’d take watching a cat toying with a mouse. Just anything to concentrate on other than her failures.

But nothing ever happened in Glenville. Wasn’t enough people around for it.

It was dark tonight. A thick blanket of black lying over the two blocks that made a sorry attempt of a downtown area.

There was a single street light and she stood under it.

The county bus was late, as it was every night. For some reason, she could never get out of the habit of coming early anyway.

She heard the crunches of shoes meeting dirt on the ground behind her and she jerked around, tensing. When she wished something would happen, she didn’t mean for it to happen to her.

A young man stepped into the sharp yellow glow of the street light. His clothes were too big and he wore a torn and ripped backpack.

His face had the foxlike features that should have been worn smugly but with the way he wore a slight frown, brow furrowed, his shoulders sagging, the boy just looked defeated. He was too young for that.

“This the bus stop?” He asked, his speech was fast with a lilt she didn’t recognize. Definitely wasn’t Midwestern. Maybe a New Yorker but why would a New Yorker be in the middle of backwoods Iowa.

“Yeah,” She drawled slowly, a bit caught off guard. She had never seen this man in her life and she’s seen everyone in Glenville. One of the perks of being the only bartender in town.

He nodded and leaned against the light pole. Maybe going for suave but landed on timid.

“Who the hell are you?” She asked, then winced when he gave her a surprised look. She had been working on this mystical thing called “couth” but so far it had escaped her. “I just meant you’re new around here. And we don’t get new people.”

“I’m Jacob.” He said.

“Huh,” Kathy said, taking another puff of her cigarette, “How’d you end up here?”

“I was born here.” He said simply, averting his eyes to look down the street at absolutely nothing, wasn’t anything to look at but horrifying darkness. “My mom is from here.”

“Really?” Kathy said. ”Who is she? I know everyone in Glenville.”


“Clarice?” Kathy repeated. “What’s the last name?”


“Doesn’t ring a bell.” She said, abandoning her cigarette butt on the ground then lighting a new one in its place. “Hard to find someone I don’t know around here.”

For some reason, this caught his attention. Kathy could tell by the way he turned to face her, eyes a little raised.

“She had a rough life here.” He said, “She had me when she was young and got involved with a lot of drugs. But once she left everything got better for her. Went to college even. Graduated, too.”

“Really?” Kathy said. It sounded flippant but she was sincere. It always did her good to hear that someone escaped this hellhole and survived. It happened too rarely. “Can’t believe I don’t remember her. She older than me?”

“No, I think she’s probably younger than you.” He said. “She’s forty.”

Kathy narrowed her eyes at him, “So am I.”

Jacob’s “oh” was bashful.

“What’s she doing now?” Kathy said, saving the kid from his own awkwardness.

He perked right up, “She studied English and Business in school and owns a fashion company now.”

“Oh, that’s really nice!” Kathy said.

Jacob nodded enthusiastically, “She doesn’t make the fashion, she just runs the place. She married my dad out of college. He’s a real estate agent. They’ve been married for about twenty years.”

He went on and on and she listened intently. His dad ran a real estate agency. They owned several houses themselves and several cars. They took multiple vacations every year. He was an only child and was the apple of both of his parent’s eyes. They were going to send him to college soon, but they let him take some time off. He got accepted into Yale and Harvard and was deciding which college he wanted to go to.

Jacob was a strange little bastard, a weird clash of demeanor. He seemed weary and jaded yet fresh and optimistic all at once. Like an animal that was molting.

When she saw lights far off in the distance she interrupted him. No one liked a bragger, and she most definitely wasn’t becoming jealous. Nope, not this old bird. Matter of fact, Kathy thought she had been very generous for letting him make her feel like a failure for the past ten minutes.

He wasn’t trying to, she supposed. But Jacob’s parents had done so well and she was, admittedly, ashamed she had done so little. She should have left Glenville. Went to college. Made something of her life. Been somebody.

Then maybe her son would be answering her calls.

“But what are you doing here?” She asked when she could finally sneak a word in.

“I wanted to see where my parents came from,” Jacob said.

“Your father from here, too?” Kathy asked. Jacob nodded. She thought about it, determined to figure out the people who made this boy. She knew everyone in Glenville. There was one Jensen family in town. None of them attached to a Clarice that she knew of. Unless…

“What’s your mother’s maiden name?” Kathy asked.

Jacob gave her a hesitant look but answered, “Steinbeck.”

“Clara?” Kathy asked.

“Um, yeah,” Jacob said cautiously. Kathy’s eyes widened, the dam had broken and memories flooded in.

Kathy squealed, “Oh, you’re Clara’s boy. I remember the day you were born. I was there!” She said, reaching over and pinching his cheeks. “Look at cha, all grown up now.”

“You knew my mother?” He asked.

“Oh yeah, she was my best friend when we were growing up. Inseparable until we went our separate ways.” Kathy said, deciding Jacob didn’t need to know the particulars of why. “Don’t know where Clarice came from though. She was good ol’ Clara back here. So glad to hear she turned her life around!” Her definitely-not-jealousy had morphed into awe. She remembered Clara had tons of potential, if only she had acted on it. Kathy was happy she did.

Jacob only gave a very small smile and leaned back against the pole, watching the bus get closer.

“Where is she now? Still in New York?” Kathy asked, “I caught wind that she had moved to Trentburg, it’s just a few miles out but that couldn’t have been true.”

“She died,” Jacob said simply, his voice flat. It cut all the excitement out of her. His attitude change was sharp and unexpected.

The bus had creaked up, the doors jerking open on its hinges in a hazardous fashion. Jacob rushed in first and Kathy was busy trying to figure out what had changed. Had she said the wrong thing? Maybe the boy didn’t know his mother used to go buy another name?

Jacob went straight to the back of the dimly lit bus, sitting by the window. It finally dawned on Kathy that there was a strong possibility not a bit of what he said had been true. That made far more sense and raising a son who would tell elaborate lies fit right into who Clara was.

For a moment, Kathy thought to leave it there and move on. But just before she sat down in the torn, stained chair she reconsidered. Who was she to judge? She hadn’t raised a son at all. Her son didn’t even care enough about her to even lie about her life.

Kathy walked to the back and sat beside Jacob, trying to think of something to talk about. She didn’t know what had been the truth or lies. Or if he had even lied at all.

Deciding to test the waters, she asked, “So which college do you plan on going to?”

He sighed a bit, his brow furrowing again, “I don’t know. I visited the campuses last month. Just a little gun-shy I guess. College will be different from high school.”

Kathy nodded. The way he said it, she was guessing that was the truth. Or at least there were colleges he had been accepted to, maybe just not Harvard and Yale.

“Maybe it’ll be different in a good way.” She said. He shrugged. She figured he was less nervous about the new experience and more insecure.

She wasn’t sure what to say next. Her experience in reassuring was extremely limited.

“Well, there’s a community college around here somewhere.” Kathy said, “I thought about going myself. Why not start there and transfer? Sometimes starting small makes the bigger step easier.” She couldn’t say she actually learned that wisdom. But it did sound nice and like something that could be true.

Jacob smiled a bit as he thought it over. He met her eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Kathy.” She said, “I don’t know if your mother mentioned me much. We…didn’t keep in contact.” Kathy said and hoped Jacob didn’t notice she had to struggle for the words.

He just nodded in understanding, “She didn’t keep in contact with most people,” Jacob said. That sounded exactly like Clara. Once she got what she needed, she booked.

“It’s good to meet you,” Jacob said. Kathy smiled.

Nothing else was said as the bus jerked and lurched down the road. Kathy figured she’d give Sean another call when she made it home. Hopefully this time he’d answer.