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It's been three years since Chrissa's father walked out of her life. Too angry even to speak to her mother, Chrissa is obsessed with finding the answers to her questions: Why did her father leave? Why does she never hear from him? And is it somehow her fault, for not being the daughter he wanted her to be?
Now, unable to deal with Chrissa's silence, her mother has sent her away from New York City home to spend a year in the country with her grandmother. Perhaps in Gram's house, in the rural community which her father grew up, Chrissa will discover the secret of his disappearance.
Instead, Chrissa finds more secrets and suspicions. And, surprisingly, she finds strength she never knew she had. Strength she will need when she must confront the most devastating secret of all.
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from Chapter One
The earliest memory she had of her father was of going with him to the pier at Forty-second Street. They had driven over from Nineteenth in Chelsea-must have, because that's where she was born. He was taking her to see the Queen Elizabeth II.
Perhaps it was more his telling of it she remembered, but she recalled going up a steep ramp and walking in dose quarters down hallways. She and her father had peered into rooms where there were large bouquets and laughing people.
This much she was sure she remembered: "Someday I'm going to five by the water," he had told her. And at four or five, she had believed whatever he said.
"Chrissa," her mother told her at breakfast, "we're not going to go on like this-those looks you give me, your silences ... It's wearing us both down."
There was that tugging feeling in her throat again. Chrissa pressed her spoon flat into the grapefruit and watched it fill with juice. Say something! she told herself, but the words hung frozen, like icicles, inside her. Loneliness, hurt, and anger, one heaped on top the other, kept her silent. The girl with the layered look.
It was Mother who should have been doing the talking, anyway-who should have explained what had happened between her and Dad three years ago, and where Chrissa's father had gone. But all this seemed to be frozen inside Mom as well.
Now Mom's eyes were watching hers, blue like her own. "For the last year, you've been impossible," Mother continued. "Once you started junior high, you just clammed up. Do you know what it's like to come home from work each day to someone who won't even talk to you?"
Again the pause. The spoon filled with juice, and Chrissa swallowed mechanically. She really did wish she could think of something, but the words would be spiteful.
"I'm sending you to live with Gram for a year. We need a rest from each other."
No! Chrissa loosened her grip on the spoon and stared at her mother. She must be joking.
"I've checked the train schedule. You'll be leaving the day after classes are out next month, and will start school there in the fall." Mother was studying her intently. Her eyes were anxious. Loving, even.
"Y-you don't have to do this." Chrissa's words came out weak, raspy. It was all she could manage; no promises, no apologies.
"Do you have a better idea? I can only see things getting worse between us, and you won't talk to the counselor at school. Someone has to do something, and Gram said she'd try."
Mom didn't understand. The counselor was there only on Thursday mornings, and you had to sign up three weeks in advance. Besides, if Chrissa couldn't talk to her mother, how could she talk to someone she didn't even know?
And so when school was out Chrissa, still disbelieving, found herself standing wordlessly at the gate in Penn Station. Any minute Mom would say, "Oh, why don't you stay? We'll give it one more try." But she didn't.
What she said was "Honey-, try to look at this as an adventure, okay?" Her eyes were wet.
The attendant removed the rope at the escalator, and the crowd surged forward. With her vinyl bag bumping against one leg, another bag over her shoulder, Chrissa moved away from her mother's embrace.
"Chrissa's Great Adventure," she said to herself. "She sees the escalator, she approaches the escalator, and . . ." Chrissa put one foot on the moving stairs. "Takeoff!"
She didn't look back.
As the train rolled away from the station, Chrissa was astonished to discover she was fighting back tears. She turned them into angry tears, and that helped. She felt better when she was angry. When you were angry, you did things to other people. When you were sad, you let them do things to you. What kind of mother would send her own daughter away? It only made the feelings worse.
"Are you all right?" The woman on the seat beside her had noticed.
"Like a tissue?"
Chrissa took it wordlessly, cheeks burning. She hadn't thought to bring Kleenex; hadn't known she was going to cry.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Chrissa shook her head and turned toward the window. Leave me alone, she wanted to say. That was one of the troubles. There were only women in her life no father, no grandfather, no uncles, no boyfriend ...
She sighed and thought of what lay ahead. She felt at home with sidewalks and steps, the bus stops and stores of New York City, but had never much liked the small house where her grandmother lived outside Rochester, surrounded by a yard that would be a whole city block back home.
She had enjoyed the yard when she was younger, but she did not like the nothingness no music, no streetlights, no cars or crowds. Gram herself was far older, it seemed, than anyone else's grandmother, sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom but telling everyone she didn't smoke. Yeah, send me to Gram's. Great role model, Mom.
There were not, of course, many relatives to take her in. Gramps was dead, and on Mom's side of the family, her mother was in a nursing home in California, and her father had died in a drunken stupor. Maybe this was why Mom had remained friendly with her mother-in-law after Dad left-there weren't numerous caring relatives for her, either.
Chrissa decided one thing, however; somehow, someway, she would find out from Gram what had happened to Dad. About that she was determined. Maybe this would be a bigger adventure than Mom had bargained for. Chrissa Jennings, girl detective, on her way to meet her white-haired contact.
The really weird part was that she couldn't remember exactly what her father looked like, the enigmatic stranger who entered her life at intervals. The most recent picture she had of him was taken years ago at Coney Island, when Chrissa was six. His mustache was dark, to match his hair, and his eyes a deep brown. When she had last seen him, at ten, what did he look like then?
He could have changed a lot in three years. Would she recognize him if she saw him on the street? If he were on this train, even? She glanced around. Some businessmen across the aisle, and the portly conductor; that was all.
"Tickets, please. All tickets." Chrissa opened her bag.
Copyright© 1995 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor