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Sophie's Last Stand
By Nancy Bartholomew
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Nancy Bartholomew
All right reserved.
The first time I spotted him, I figured I was just a little bit paranoid.
Being followed by strangers was my daily ritual in Philadelphia, but I was in North Carolina now. I couldn't imagine that anybody from up there would take the time and energy to follow me all the way to New Bern just to ruin my vacation.
Besides, my sister was already doing a fine job of that. In fact, just moments before I saw him, obviously out of place in his dark suit and wraparound glasses, I was plotting Darlene's impending demise. My sister just has that effect on me. She pushes me to the brink of homicidal frustration, all the while acting like she's just a well-intentioned love child with the best interest of her sister at heart. It drives me crazy. Now as I stood on the sidewalk, with Darlene not three feet away from me, I was thinking about how I could give her a little shove into oncoming traffic and have it be all over with. But the minute I saw the guy I stopped thinking about Darlene.
He was trying to be noticed. At least, he had gotten my attention in that getup.
Darlene was oblivious. She stood with her back to him, her long brown hair flying out and tangling with the ribbons from her fake flower wreath. In her singsong little girl voice, she said, "I know just what you need." Without waiting for me to ask what, she rushed on. "You need to marry an architect."
I felt my eyebrows shoot up as I looked away from my pursuer and gave Darlene the briefest once-over.
"Why in the world would I need to marry an architect?"
Darlene smiled, triumphant in the knowledge that she'd hooked me. She spun in a little circle of ecstasy, her hands outstretched to encompass the historic homes that surrounded us, and said, "Because this is your true world. You love these old houses. You want to fix one up into a cozy little nest and live happily ever after. You can't afford to do that, so you should marry a guy who likes old houses and can take care of you. An architect would be perfect!" She spun around again. "I so know you!"
I scowled at Darlene. "Have you lost your mind? My divorce has been final for less than a year. Do you think I want to ever, ever go through that living hell again? I'm taking care of myself just fine, Darlene. So, if I want an architect, I'll hire one!"
I glanced over Darlene's shoulder and realized the guy who'd been following us for three blocks was gone. I scoured the street and saw no sign of him. It was paranoia, pure and simple, that kept me on guard and expecting trouble. If this had been South Philly, I really would have a guy tailing me. Lately it seemed I was always being followed, hounded and harassed by someone looking for Nick, or worse, someone wronged by Nick. I figured a change of scenery would erase the Nick factor from my day-to-day life, and maybe it had. I mean, why would someone follow me all the way to North Carolina just to harass me about my ex-husband?
Darlene was hugging her arms to her ample chest, rubbing them, as if she were cold. "I just had an insight! Maybe you were here before. You know, like in a past life? That's why you love the old houses. It's your destiny to walk among your ancestors. Sophie, you should not mess with your destiny."
"Then I should marry a sea captain, not an architect. New Bern's a port, Darlene. My dead ancestors would be sailors. Besides, why would I want to get married again? Like Glo-ria Steinem said, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, Darlene."
"Yeah, well Gloria probably said it when she broke up with some jerk, but now even she's happily married! Sophie, it's been two years since Nick got arrested and you broke up. Aren't you lonely?"
Lonely maybe, but not foolish enough to think that a relationship was the magical cure for whatever ailed me.
"Actually I'm relieved, Darlene. Now I can have a life without sitting around and waiting for some Prince Charming wanna-be to ride up on a white mule and make an ass out of both of us. I think you've been down South too long, honey. It's starting to warp you."
But it wasn't just the South that affected Darlene's mind. Darlene had been playing Snow White and Cinderella for years, long before her three marriages, subsequent divorces and move to New Bern. Darlene was just like that, a dreamer on a quest for the ultimate, idyllic, Happily Ever After. Not that I had much room to talk. Ten years I was married to a man who turned out to be a mirage -- a meek, stereotypical accountant with an underbelly of pure slime.
"Nick the Dick" they called him. You couldn't pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer last fall and not see that name plastered all over the articles about his trial. Nick the Dick, the King of Voyeur Porn; Nick, the quiet accountant, who snuck up to all our neighbors'windows with night vision goggles and a video camera. Nick, selling pictures of naked housewives on his Web site, hiring prostitutes, making illicit movies, and then posting it all on the Internet. Oh yeah, I needed a man, all right...just not in this lifetime.
Darlene stood in front of me wearing that smug, patronizing look she gets. She reached out and patted my shoulder, which further pissed me off.
"One day you'll want someone," she said, her voice soft and mushy with idealism. "You feel bitter now, betrayed, but this will pass. You're a Leo. You need a water sign to provide balance in your life. I know these things, Sophie." She straightened her shoulders and tossed her head defiantly. "After all," she said, "I am a trained, professional therapist."
"Darlene, you're a physical therapist, not a psychiatrist."
"Whatever!" She was insulted now. "I know people -- that's all I'm saying. And you need a soothing water sign. There's too much fire in your personality."
Once again I began contemplating putting Darlene out of her unenlightened misery.
"I don't need a husband, Darlene."
She ignored me, waited for the light to turn and began crossing the street toward the Tryon Palace Visitors Center. She reminded me of a cruise ship leaving port. She charged off ahead of me, streamers gaily flying out behind her, blending their cheerful colors with those of her brightly patterned broomstick skirt. Life was just a pleasure cruise for Darlene and the rest of us were left to wallow in her wake.
"Where are you going?" I called after her.
Darlene consulted her tour handbook. "Number 23. The Beale House."
"Go on ahead. I'll meet you at 24. I need to make a pit stop."
Darlene looked back over her shoulder, smiled that self-satisfied, I'm-right-and-you know-it smirk and took off, because she knew if she so much as slowed up, I might've wiped that look right off her face, thereby recreating every childhood encounter we'd ever had.
When she turned right, I made a beeline for the darkened interior of the air-conditioned welcome center. Marry an architect indeed! I stayed inside the building a full five minutes, cooling off, before allowing myself to head back out after my errant sister.
Excerpted from Sophie's Last Stand by Nancy Bartholomew Copyright © 2005 by Nancy Bartholomew. Excerpted by permission.
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