I followed the sidewalk to the door. I rang the bell. When no one answered, I circled the house, hoping the Bruders weren’t one of those families who believe in keeping off the lawn. As I turned the corner I was confronted by a thick wall of red, pink, and yellow roses, the wall nearly twenty feet high. The “wall” was actually a trellis made of thin wood set hard against the house. The branches of the rose bushes were tied to the latticework with twine. I stopped to admire the handiwork, amazed by the number of flowers that were still blooming this late into September. I wondered how the gardener had managed it—I admire horticulturists, mostly from afar.
I turned another corner and found a long, curving concrete driveway that emptied into an east-west street. A white BMW convertible with license plate JB was parked outside a three-car garage at the top of the driveway. Between the garage and the house was a redwood fence. Inside the fence I found a swimming pool complete with diving board. Next to the pool was a quartet of lawn chairs surrounding a small table with an umbrella protruding through its center. A few feet to the left of that was a more modest trellis of roses. A young woman knelt before the trellis, her knees resting on a foam-rubber pad. She was scratching at the dirt with a three-pronged hand cultivator, pulling weeds and depositing them into a metal pail next to the pad, while she sang in a pleasant voice.
I walked into the soda shop.
There he was, sipping pop.
My heart whirled like a spinning top.
My, oh my, oh my.
He walked on over to my side.
“Be my bride, cherry pie.”
Then he looked into my eyes.
“Bananas is my name.”
I cleared my throat. Immediately, she stopped singing and swung toward me, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun.
“Bouncy melody,” I said, cracking wise. “You can dance to it. I’d give it an eighty-five.”
“Who are you?”
The question seemed to startle her even more than my unexpected presence. She stood and backed away from the trellis, giving herself plenty of room to run. She gripped the clawlike garden tool tightly, holding it like a weapon. I wondered why she was so alarmed. Had Merci Cole warned her that I was coming?
I took the photograph from my pocket and looked at it and then back at her. It wasn’t a perfect match. A person can change a lot in seven years and I approved of the changes in Jamie. The sun had bleached her hair a lighter shade of gold and the face was thinner—tiny lines at the corners of her eyes and lips suggested she spent a lot of time smiling. Her breasts were full, her waist thin, and her legs were strong, tan, and well turned. She was wearing a white blouse that was tucked into black shorts, no socks or shoes. For a moment my heart raced. At age twenty-five, Jamie had blossomed like one of her roses into a truly stunning creation.
“Ms. Carlson.” I returned the photograph to my pocket.
“No. Bruder. Mrs. David Bruder. If you’re looking for my husband …”
“Mrs. Bruder,” I repeated, making sure I got it right. “My name is McKenzie.” I held out my hand but she backed away from it. “I was asked by your parents to find you.”
Apparently she was surprised to learn she had a couple.
“It’s Stacy. She’s very ill. She might die.”
“Little Stacy?” She repeated the name exactly as Merci Cole had.
She dropped the cultivator and moved slowly toward the table in front of the pool. She collapsed in a chair next to the small table and motioned to the chair on the other side. I joined her. There was a baby monitor on the table, the kind that parents use to eavesdrop on their children when they sleep. Jamie looked at a window on the second floor as she moved the monitor closer to her chair.
“Hang on to yourself, Mrs. Bruder.” I told her the entire story, including Stacy’s visits to the Mayo Clinic and her doctor’s assessment of her chances for survival. The story seemed to impress her very deeply. Several times she rubbed tears from her eyes while glancing from the monitor to the second story window.
When I had finished, Jamie said in a sorrowful voice, “The man who said you can never go home again had it wrong. The truth is, you can never entirely leave.”
“That’s a lot of philosophy,” I told her. “Too much for me.”
I heard a muffled sigh. It came from the monitor. Jamie looked at the monitor and smiled a small, sad smile.
“I’m told the procedure to determine if you’re a compatible donor is very simple.”
“Nothing is ever simple, Mr. McKenzie. How did you find me?”
“It’s like the poet said, if you want to escape your past, first learn to walk through freshly fallen snow without leaving tracks.”
“Now who’s being a philosopher? Have you told Richard and Molly that you found me?”
“Not yet,” I answered, wondering why children who are on a first-name basis with their parents rarely get along with them.
“Please don’t. Not yet. I need time for this. Time to talk to my husband. He knows nothing about my past and I won’t get a chance to tell him until later. He’s invited a business associate for drinks by the pool.”
“He doesn’t know you’re Jamie Carlson?”
“He thinks I’m Jamie Kincaid. He thinks I’m an orphan.”
“How did you meet?”
“I worked as a paralegal for the law firm that handles his business accounts.”
“What business is he in?”