Not My Daughter
To my readers, for their big hearts and their undying loyalty
Susan Tate never saw it coming. She only knew that her daughter was different. The girl who had always been spontaneous and open had suddenly grown opaque.
Lily was seventeen. Maybe that said it. A senior in high school, she had a loaded course schedule, played field hockey and volleyball, and sang in an a cappella group. And, yes, Susan was spoiled by the close relationship she and Lily had always had. They were a family of two, fully comfortable with that and each other.
Inevitably, Lily had to test her wings. Susan knew that. But she also had a right to worry. Lily was the love of her life, the very best thing that had happened in all of her thirty-five years. As achievements in life went, being a good mother was the one she most prized.
That meant communicating, and with dinner too often interrupted by e-mail or texts, eating out was warranted. At a restaurant Susan would have Lily captive while they waited to order, waited for food, waited to pay-all quality time.
She suggested the Steak Place, definitely a splurge, but lined with quiet oak booths. Lily vetoed it in favor of Carlino's.
Carlino's wasn't even Susan's second choice. Oh, she liked the owners, the menu, and the art, all of which were authentically Tuscan. But the prices were so reasonable for large plates of food that the whole town went there. Susan wanted privacy and quiet; Carlino's was public and loud.
But she wanted to please Lily, so she gave in and, determined to be a good sport, smilingly hustled her daughter out of the November chill into a hive of warmth and sound. When they finally finished greeting friends and were seated, they shared hummus on toasted crostini, and though Lily only nibbled, she insisted it was good. More friends stopped by, and, in fairness, it wasn't only Lily's fault. As principal of the high school, Susan was well known in town. Another time, she would have enjoyed seeing everyone.
But she was on a mission this night. As soon as she was alone with Lily again, she leaned forward and quietly talked about her day at school. With next year's budget due by Thanksgiving and town resources stagnant, there were hard decisions to be made. Most staff issues were too sensitive to be shared with her seventeen-year-old daughter, but when it came to new course offerings and technology, the girl was a worthy sounding board.
Susan's motive actually went deeper, to the very heart of mothering. She believed that sharing adult issues encouraged Lily to think. She also believed that her daughter was insightful, and this night was no exception. Momentarily focused, Lily asked good questions.
No sooner had their entrees come, though-chicken with cannellini beans for Lily, salmon with artichokes for Susan-than a pair of Susan's teachers interrupted to say hello. As soon as they left, Susan asked Lily about the AP chem test she'd had that morning. Though Lily replied volubly, her answers were heavy on irrelevant facts, and her brightness seemed forced. She picked at her food, eating little.
More worried than ever, Susan searched her daughter's face. It was heart shaped, as sweet as always, and was framed by long, shiny sable hair. The hair was a gift from her father, while her eyes-Susan's eyes-were hazel and clear, her skin creamy and smooth.
She didn't look sick, Susan decided. Vulnerable, perhaps. Maybe haunted. But not sick.
Even when Lily crinkled her nose and complained about the restaurant's heavy garlic smell, Susan didn't guess. She was too busy assuring herself that those clear eyes ruled out drug use, and as for alcohol, she had never seen bottles, empty or otherwise, in Lily's room. She didn't actively search, as in checking behind clutter on the highest shelves. But when she returned clean laundry to drawers or hung jeans in the closet, she saw nothing amiss.
Alcohol wouldn't be a lure. Susan drank wine with friends, but rarely stocked up, so it wasn't like Lily had a bar to draw from. Same with prescription drugs, though Susan knew how easy it was for kids to get them online. Rarely did a month go by without a student apprehended for that.
Susan blinked. 'Yes, sweetheart?'
'Look who's distracted. What are you thinking about?'
'You. Are you feeling all right?'
There was a flash of annoyance. 'You keep asking me that.'
'Because I worry,' Susan said and, reaching across, laced her fingers through Lily's. 'You haven't been the same since summer. So here I am, loving you to bits, and because you won't say anything, I'm left to wonder whether it's just being seventeen and needing your own space. Do I crowd you?'
Lily sputtered. 'No. You're the best mom that way.'
'Is it school? You're stressed.'
'Yes,' the girl said, but her tone implied there was more, and her fingers held Susan's tightly.
'I'm okay with those.'
'Then calculus.' The calc teacher was the toughest in the math department, and Susan had worried Lily would be intimidated. But what choice was there? Raymond Dunbar was thirty years Susan's senior and had vocally opposed her ascension to the principalship. If she asked him to ease up, he would accuse her of favoritism.
But Lily said, 'Mr. Dunbar isn't so bad.'
Susan jiggled Lily's fingers. 'If I were to pinpoint it, I'd say the change came this past summer. I've been racking my brain, but from everything you told me, you loved your job. I know, I know, you were at the beach, but watching ten kids under the age of eight is hard, and summer families can be the worst.'
Lily scooped back her hair. 'I love kids. Besides, I was with Mary Kate, Abby, and Jess.' The girls were her three best friends, and the daughters of Susan's best friends. All three girls were responsible. Abby occasionally lacked direction, like her mom, Pam, and Jessica had a touch of the rebel, though her mother, Sunny, did not. But Mary Kate was as steady as her mom, Kate, who was like a sister to Susan. With Mary Kate along, Lily couldn't go wrong.
Not that Lily wasn't steady herself, but Susan knew about peer pressure. If she had learned one thing as a teacher it was that the key to a child's success lay in no small part with the friends she kept.
'And nothing's up with them?' she asked.
Lily grew guarded. 'Has Kate said anything?'
Susan gentled. 'Nothing negative. She always asks about you, though. You're her sixth child.'
'But has she said anything about Mary Kate? Is she worried about her like you're worried about me?'
Susan thought for a minute, then answered honestly. 'She's more sad than worried. Mary Kate is her youngest. Kate feels like she's growing away from her, too. But Mary Kate isn't my concern. You are.' A burst of laughter came from several tables down. Annoyed by the intrusion, Susan shot the group a glance. When she turned back, Lily's eyes held a frightened look.
Susan had seen that look a lot lately. It terrified her.