Lucia, Ari, Nara - and yes, even Rena - laughed as Melina and young Massimo and Valentino rolled around on the grass with Ricardo happily chasing after them. The large black Labrador romped around playfully and lapped affectionately at those who lavished their attention upon him. Melina had to keep him from jumping on Valentino because of how small he was.
Melina glanced over at the pool longingly, wishing it were warmer. But the weather was simply too chilly for swimming that day. And so they barbecued instead like the family usually did in Lucia’s backyard once or twice a month.
Lucia seemed to really enjoy having the family around. Melina figured it kept her from becoming too lonely since she lived alone. Melina had once asked why Ari, Lucia and Nara didn’t all live in one big house since they weren’t married, but all that had done was invite a round of laughter from the three women.
Nara went inside to help her mother gather some things they needed for the barbecue while Armando finished serving up dogs and burgers from the grill.
“Been reading more of the story?” Nara asked Lucia in a hushed voice.
“Mhm. Sure have.”
“Pretty amazing, huh?”
“Yup. That it is. I wonder if she herself realizes just how talented she is.”
“I wonder that, too,” said Nara. “In reading more of the journals I get the feeling she’s been made to feel pretty inadequate most of her life.”
“Yeah, it’s a sad thing, unfortunately, because she’s such a sweet girl, but I think that throughout the years, she’ll come to see that she’s just as worthy of good things as anyone else. Especially now that she has a loving family.”
They stopped talking because Melina came in to use the bathroom.
“Hey, sweetie,” said Lucia. “Everything ok out there?”
“Oh yeah, everyone’s having a blast. Even Ricky.”
Lucia and Nara laughed.
“That dog lives to party,” said Lucia. She almost slipped and made a comment about her role as a cop in the book Melina was writing and how nice it was coming along.
Melina used the bathroom and went back outside just as Ari entered the house. They kissed along the way and then Ari asked her mother, in Italian, if she needed help with anything.
“No, everything’s fine,” Lucia answered, also in Italian. Noting the look of concern on her middle daughter’s dark distinct features, she asked, “Tutto bene con tu?”
“Well,” Ari hesitated as both Lucia and Nara frowned with concern. “I’m a little concerned with all these nightmares lately.”
“Nightmares?” Lucia said though she knew who she was referring to.
Ari nodded. “Melina’s been having them two or three times a week lately and she won’t talk about them. I think she remembers them, too. I assume they may be connected to her loss last winter, but can’t say for sure. Maybe The Esposito woman’s murder has something to do with it, too.”
Lucia and Nara glanced knowingly at each other and Ari didn’t fail to notice. Now it was her turn to frown with concern.
“Ariella, dear. Everything’s going to be ok, but I think it’s time you, me and Nara all sat down and had a talk.”
“Ok. About what?”
“Now’s not a good time to discuss it. Perhaps tomorrow night, but you’ve got to promise not to say anything to Melina.”
“This has to do with her then?”
“Yes,” said Lucia.
“Did she confide in you at the store?” Ari asked.
“Like I said, honey, now’s not a good time. How about meeting here tomorrow night at 7:00?” Lucia asked, glancing from Ari to Nara and back to Ari.
Both her daughters agreed.
“Ok, good. Just tell her you needed to help me with something.”
Ari once again took on a hesitant appearance.
“What is it, hun?”
“I just hate to leave her alone with that killer still on the loose. Especially at night.”
“You taught her to shoot, didn’t you?”
Ari nodded. “But it still worries me.”
“Why don’t we meet when she’s at the studio singing or babysitting?” Nara suggested. “Babysitting would probably be best because she usually sings during the daytime when mom’s at the store and we’re at school.”
“She’ll be babysitting tomorrow at 1:00,” said Ari. “Why don’t I swing by after I drop her off at Rena’s?”
“Ok,” said Nara. “And I’ll make sure I’m here at that time, too.”
With the time and place of their pending meeting agreed upon, they went outside to join the others in food, fun and laughter.
September 15, 2009
Last night I dreamt I was running across the sand dunes back in the desert. Someone was chasing me. At first, I couldn’t see who it was. I was too afraid to turn my head back for fear of it slowing me down. So I wouldn’t dare look back. But then I just had to because I really wanted to know who was chasing me and so I quickly swung my head back. It was Miss Hayden. She started screaming that she was going to kill me as soon as she caught me and that she knew it was me who had broken her windows.
Suddenly, I came upon a busy street of traffic that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. A big semi came rushing towards me and I screamed in the dream and then I woke up screaming for real.
Ari calmed me down and held me, but I knew I had to finally say something about these nightmares. So I told her I was being chased and woke up falling over the edge of a cliff. I just didn’t tell her I was being chased by a teacher who nearly killed me for being too white, but not Mexican or Indian enough for her tastes either. And for being the daughter of a killer.
MysticalAngel: Sorry you’re still having nightmares. It might be a good thing to open up to Ari more.
Ari sat up on the couch and stretched. It had been a relaxing Sunday morning so far. She turned off the TV and realized that Melina had been quiet for longer than usual. She was usually playing with the rat, sitting with her, or doing something on the computer. But the animated, chatty girl was nowhere in sight.
A moment later she found her sitting outside on the back steps. She sensed that something was wrong as she approached her just by the way she sat slumped over, head down.
“What’s up?” she asked in Italian.
Melina didn’t look her way. Instead, she just shrugged.
Yup. Something was definitely wrong. And Ari was sick of being kept in the dark. She sat down next to her, put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her body tightly against hers. “Hey,” she said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I just miss my friends and family at times is all,” Melina told her.
“Oh, I know you do, honey. And someday we’ll visit them. Why don’t you tell me these things?”
Melina shrugged. She didn’t really have an answer other than that she wasn’t used to discussing her problems with others. Growing up that was simply not an option, and so she was conditioned to deal with things on her own.
“You going to be ok?”
“Ti amo anche,” Melina said, wrapping her arms around Ari who then gently rocked her back and forth.
An hour later, Ari dropped Melina off at Rena’s house and went to meet with Nara at mom’s house, trying to guess what they could possibly have to tell her. What did they know about Melina that she didn’t?
She pulled up alongside the curb and parked behind Nara’s car. Then she went around back and entered the kitchen. Her mother and Nara were seated at the table waiting for her. Scattered about the table was a laptop, a stack of papers, coffee cups and donuts.
They exchanged greetings and Ari took a seat between her mother and half-sister. “Ok, what’s up?” she asked, wanting to get down to business.
Choosing her words as carefully as she could, Lucia began to explain in Italian what she and Nara had learned about Melina’s online activities.
“Wait, wait,” Ari said, holding her hands up. “A journal?”
“You know how big these social sites are these days, right?”
“Well, Nara went and looked her up one day simply because she thought it would be neat to look up her profile and see how she’d set up her page and all that, and she found a link leading to another site.”
“Where she keeps her journal.”
“I don’t understand. Are you saying she’s got a journal she keeps online?”
Lucia nodded. “Yes. She started it about a month after coming to live with you, so she’s almost got a year’s worth of entries, even though she doesn’t write every day.”
Ari took a moment to digest this information. “I still don’t get it. Why is this online?”
“It’s a journal site,” Nara chimed in. “Hers isn’t the only journal there. It’s for anyone who wants to keep a journal and share it online.”
Ari suddenly looked a little worried. “For anyone to see?”
Lucia nodded. “Yes, ma’am. But most people, including Melina, don’t leave any personally identifying information. In other words, there are no addresses, no phone numbers, and no last names either.
Again Ari took a moment to process what she’d learned. “So she writes about her life at this site?”
Lucia nodded. “At first we weren’t going to tell you about it since we felt like we were basically spying on her as it was and invading her privacy.”
“But what privacy does she have if she’s doing this online?”
“Well, because most of the people that do this don’t personally know anyone who reads it,” Nara said. “They don’t usually tell their friends and family about it.”
“Then what’s the point? Why do it?”
“I think that to most people it’s a way of communicating and sharing experiences with those they feel won’t be so judgmental,” Lucia explained.
Ari made a look as if to say that made no sense.
“Sometimes it’s easier to confide in strangers that can’t use whatever you might say against you. It’s a way to get opinions and suggestions from non-biased people.”
“I think she also feels her experiences may help enlighten others who are in a similar boat,” Nara added.
“A similar boat?” asked Ari.
“Here, look,” Lucia said turning to the laptop and disabling the screen saver. “This is the journal.”
Ari stared blankly at it. “But how can I read it if it’s in English?”
“That’s the beauty of many of these sites these days,” Lucia told her. “You can translate almost any page into almost any language. Watch this.” Lucia tapped on the keyboard and Ari watched as the words suddenly appeared in her language. “Some of the slang may not translate well, and you’ll have to familiarize yourself with some of the acronyms, but overall it does a pretty good job.”
Ari studied the picture on the cover page. It was a picture of them hugging and smiling into the camera, her dark and plain, Melina blond and beautiful. She still couldn’t believe she had such a gorgeous wife. Melina was the stuff most guys could only dream of.
She read the interests in which she had listed on the page. “Writing stories? What stories?”
Lucia and Nara grinned conspiringly.
“Oh, you’re going to love that one,” Lucia said, “but first things first. The journal.”
“How do I access it?”
Lucia punched out some keystrokes again and then a list of entry titles and dates appeared.
“So you just click on the one you want to read?” Ari asked.
Lucia nodded. “Yes. But I’ve gone and printed out the entries for you, even though Nara and I have only read from May to mid-September.
“She writes about her day-to-day life?”
“Yes, but she also talks about some of her childhood, and just to warn you, it isn’t good.”
Ari gazed at her mother with concern.
“But the reason we’re telling you about it is that we thought it may help explain some of Melina’s moodiness and behavior so you’ll have a better understanding of her,” said Nara.
Ari’s gaze shifted to Nara. Then she eyed the laptop’s screen, still not sure what to make of what she’d learned. “Why didn’t she tell me about this?”
“Because as she states, she wants a place where she can call people like Rena names and not upset anyone,” said Lucia with a slight laugh. “That’s why we haven’t mentioned it to her and we don’t think you should either.”
“But she calls Rena names all the time.”
“We know, but I still think you’ll understand why it should stay between us,” said Nara.
“Well,” said Ari. “I’ll have to be the judge of that once I read what’s in the journal.”
“I think you should respect her privacy, Ariella. She’ll tell you things on her own when she’s ready to. But since you don’t use computers, I’ve printed out everything she’s written so far, including this fascinating story she’s writing with us as the main characters.”
“A story with us in it?”
Lucia nodded. “She’s a fantastic writer.”
“She is,” Nara agreed. “She could easily become an author. That’s another reason we’re bringing this to you. This girl is incredibly talented. Her spelling, her grammar; everything is just so spectacular. She’s just one hell of a writer.”
“Well, this explains why she’s always typing so much. I’ve asked her about it before. She just says she’s emailing friends.”
“Some of the time I’m sure she is,” Lucia said.
“Ok, let’s see some of the entries. It’ll be a while before Rena calls to let me know she’s home and I can go pick up Melina anyway, so I might as well get started.”
“Ok,” Lucia said, moving the laptop closer to her daughter. “Read away.”
As Ari began to read, Nara got up and refilled her coffee cup.
Lucia watched as Ari read the words of her beloved Melina with a mixture of expressions on her face. Sometimes she seemed serious, sometimes amused. Now she seemed alarmed and a little embarrassed. “Oh,” she moaned, “She’s got the details of our sex life here?” She sighed, shook her head and then rested her forehead in her hands, elbows leaning on the table.
“At least it was all good,” Nara snickered.
Ari continued to look disapprovingly at the screen, still slowly shaking her head and resting against her hands.
“She just said she’d like it to occur a little more often,” Nara added, trying not to laugh.
“Oh,” Ari replied sarcastically.
“And wait till you learn about the little crush she has.”
Ari’s head jerked up. “Crush?”
Nara and Lucia nodded and chuckled as well.
“And that’s supposed to be funny?” Ari asked, not at all amused.
“You’ll understand when you find out who it is,” Nara explained, patting Ari’s arm reassuringly and generating another snort of sarcasm from Ari.
After a few more minutes of reading Ari sat back in her chair and focused on Lucia and Nara. “I read the month of May up to when she was nearly hit by that car.” She paused a moment, then went on. “Well, it is definitely very well written, but I still don’t know if I like the idea of her publicizing her life like this, even if no one knows who she is. But then again some people do. Think about it. A fellow teacher could look this up and be reading this for all we know.”
“Why would another teacher want to look her up?” asked Nara.
“Why would you? You see her often enough.”
Nara said nothing. Her half-sister did have a point.
Lucia chuckled and said, “Nara looks everyone and everything up.”
“So do some others,” said Ari. “I thank you for bringing this to my attention. I just wish you’d done it when you first found it.”
“We don’t know what’s written after mid-September,” Nara said, “but I really would read on before I mentioned it to her if that’s what you insist on doing.”
“I don’t have a problem with her keeping a journal,” Ari said, “I just don’t like the idea of it being online for the whole world to see, some of which may be a lot closer than she may realize.”
“We can understand that,” said Lucia, “but Nara’s got a point. Read a little more before you decide what to do. We just wanted you to see not only what a great writer she is, but to know and understand her better.”
“But she should be telling me directly about herself.”
“I know, I know,” Lucia said, “but when you read more, you’ll understand why it’s not so easy for her to open up to you. Or to anyone.”
“Trust us,” Nara said. “You didn’t go through some of the horrors she went through. If you had, you’d probably have a hard time opening up, too.”
“But I’m her husband. She’s supposed to trust me and know that I love her and want her to be happy.”
“Exactly,” Lucia said. “That’s why it’s hard for her to talk to those she cares about as opposed to just anyone. There isn’t just the language barrier since her Italian isn’t yet fluent, but trust is also a huge issue for her. And so is losing a good thing now that she’s finally got it. She doesn’t want to take any chances. I tell you, you just have to read more to know what we mean.” Lucia thrust the stack of papers into her hands. “The top bundle is the journal. Underneath is what she’s written of the story so far.”
Ari hesitated a moment, then asked, “Was my baby molested or sexually abused in any way?”
“Not that we know of,” said Lucia.
“Ok,” Ari relented, taking the papers and stuffing them inside her handbag. When Rena called, she said goodbye to her mother and half-sister, and then headed out to get Melina. Along the way, she wondered just what kind of nightmares her little wife had experienced that would cause her to share it with a world full of strangers and not her.