In the morning while I showered and got dressed, I went over the possibilities for the author of the notes. First, the person would have to know I was in town for the weekend. Unfortunately, that didn’t narrow things down too much. Anyone who graduated with me would know about the ten year reunion. Plus, there was my father, the Frees, Ann, and anybody who had spoken to any of those people recently. Ann said she’d heard from my father that I would be in town, so he probably had told others, as well.
The tasks, however, pointed me to my father, Ann – the only neighbor I knew who had a piano room, and Keri. My father could not be the note-sender. Not only was he asleep when I received this note, but there was also no way that he could have kept it such a secret over the years. Plus, the task-giving thing was not really his style. It was too fun, too creative. It was something my mother would have done to make boring chores seem more exciting. My father just would have ordered us to get the job done.
I didn’t think Keri was really a possibility because she could not have kept the secret for so long, either. Also, though, the timeline just did not match up for the notes to be from her. I started receiving them when I was fourteen, when Keri and I were close friends. But then once high school began, we drifted apart and were in different crowds of friends. We did not really talk much, and there was a time when we even avoided each other. But I still received notes through all of that.
So that left Ann as my prime suspect.
I was downstairs by nine, and I hoped to get a jump on the whole “breakfast with dad” thing but when I entered the kitchen, he was sitting at the table, reading a newspaper and sipping coffee with an empty plate in front of him.
“Oh,” I said, slightly taken aback.
My father snapped shut the newspaper. “Morning, Sammy. What’s on the agenda today – errands for the big reunion tonight?”
The reunion began at 9pm at a bar down the shore. It was the kind of place that we scammed our way into with fake IDs when we were in high school, but now it seemed like a cheesy place for our reunion.
“Not really, no,” I said. I stood in the kitchen and stared at the empty plate in front of my father. There were a few crumbs littered on it, and I wondered if he might still be able to eat, just so I could check the task off the list.
“There’s coffee on the counter,” my father said, pointing. He had noticed my gaze.
“Yeah, thanks.” I poured myself a cup of coffee and then sat down across from my father, who had resumed reading his paper.
I cleared my throat and waited. He looked up from the paper.
“You think we can eat breakfast together on the porch?”
He glanced at the crumb-lined plate and quickly folded the newspaper over it. “Sure, sure,” he said. “Let me just, uh, put on some eggs. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds great,” I said. I got plates and utensils out of the cupboards and set the table on the porch.
Our screened-in porch was one of my mother’s favorite features of the house. She often said that she knew this was the house she wanted when she saw the porch. She and my father bought the house when they were pregnant with me and Jim was a toddler. At the first sign of spring, she insisted we eat dinner on the porch. She always made our last dinner on the porch for the summer into a special occasion, and we would talk about our memories of that summer over a candlelit meal.
My father came in with the eggs. We ate our breakfast and drank the coffee and talked about work and sports. When the food was gone, we sat silently. I looked out into the backyard. Buddy’s old doghouse was off to the left, and on the right side of the yard was the clothesline where my mother hung our clothes out to dry until she was too sick and my father finally bought a dryer.
“I’m glad you came home, Sam,” my father said, breaking through the quiet. “It’s been too long.”
I kept my eyes on the clothesline, and I thought back to pulling up in the driveway yesterday, seeing the rocking chair on the front porch. I thought about our summertime dinner traditions on the porch. I thought about checking the mailbox with my father and discussing the notes, and how my statement to him about thinking that Mom had written the notes seemed to slap him across the face.
“It’s too hard,” I said. “It’s too hard to come back here and see it all. She’s in everything.”
I felt my voice give in and I stopped speaking. My father lowered his head. The secondhand of a clock ticked off the silence.
“I know,” my father said.
I swallowed and spoke again.
“I can’t even walk around without thinking of something. I don’t know how you can stay here.”
My father looked at me, and I shifted my gaze.
“It’s okay to remember, Sammy,” he said.
“No,” I said. “Not for me.”
I stood up and picked up my plate. I walked toward the kitchen, and paused.
“Why didn’t you tell me? How could you let me go so long without knowing?” I couldn’t look at him as I said the words.
He did not respond.
I put my dishes in the dishwasher and went upstairs. I got my keys and wallet and returned to the porch where my father still sat.
“I’m going out. I’ll see you later.”
My father nodded, his eyebrows frayed with grief.