The Invitation: A Weekend with Emma

The Invitation: A Weekend with Emma

by Dawn Kohler

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452515731
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 08/28/2014
Pages: 180
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.41(d)

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The Invitation

A WEEKEND WITH EMMA


By Dawn Kohler

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 Dawn Kohler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-1573-1


CHAPTER 1

One piece of information can change a life forever.

I pulled the invitation out of the gray cotton envelope and looked at the handwritten note from Emma Daines. The words were written in a bold cursive that slanted to the right and became slightly jagged at the curves, denoting the not-so-steady hand of an aging woman. I slid my fingers across the crease of the small note and tented the invitation on the nightstand.

Two weeks ago, when the invitation arrived, I was a senior reporter working at the Journal, a regional paper in Syracuse. Three days later, I was fired, or laid off—or maybe they called it downsizing. I still can't remember the exact words Steven used, only the smirk on his sagging face as he watched me sink into my worn leather chair.

Steven escorted me out of the building that morning. The shock of a sudden death still numbed my skin as I left my office with nothing more than a few family pictures and the invitation from Emma. I slid the note into my purse before walking out the door, hoping he would forget that I ever received it.

"What time's your flight tomorrow?" David asked as he sat up in bed, clicking through late-night shows while I folded a sweater to put in my suitcase.

"Seven. I thought I'd take a cab to the airport."

"That's okay, baby; I'll take you. I can be a little late to work."

I walked back into my small, overstuffed closet, feeling the same agitation I had for months. Even before I lost my job, I felt uneasy. There was a growing pull inside of me, causing an anxiety I was becoming desperate to calm.

I looked through my rack of outdated clothes. "What do you wear to visit a woman like Emma Daines?" I wondered aloud.

"I'm sure she's just like everybody else!" David yelled from the bedroom. "I wouldn't get too worked up about it."

I shook my head and pulled open a drawer. Emma Daines was not like everybody else—at least not to me. She was the woman every journalist wanted to interview. Her books on social change were brilliant, as were her negotiation skills that had aided in bringing down the Berlin Wall. Yet the story every editor had wanted for decades was the one she never spoke of—the story about Sarah, her four-year-old daughter who was found missing late one night from their Connecticut home. After months of ransom notes, Sarah's deceased body was found by Emma. The details of the story were considered classified. There were no public comments from the family. Emma refused every interview. The media hungered for the facts—how she died and who was to blame. I wondered how Emma survived it, how she handled such a tragic change in her life, and what wisdom she had at seventy-two in the wake of such a history.

I walked back into the bedroom, and David reached for my hand. "I think you've packed enough sweaters," he said with a smile that lit up his chocolate-brown eyes, one just a little lazier than the other. "It's not that cold in California." He clicked off the TV and pulled me onto his bare chest, holding me so tight my ribs began to bend. I slithered in his arms until he loosened his grip.

"I don't get it," I said as I stood up to finish packing my suitcase. "I have tried to call Emma Daines for years to arrange an interview, and she never once returned my calls. Now she's inviting me to her home for the weekend. It just doesn't add up."

"Maybe she wants to meet the person who wrote all those articles."

"Meet me? She hasn't even wanted to speak with me. Damn, what if I wrote something she didn't like?"

"I doubt that."

"Then what if she's inviting me to her home because she wants me to write something for the Journal? What if she finally wants to give somebody the story about her daughter?"

David shook his head and flattened out the pillow. "Don't even go there. She's not going to talk about that story. Stick to her books about social anthropology or whatever it is she writes about."

"What do I tell her about my job?"

"Tell her the truth."

"And risk her asking me to leave? I can't do that." I picked up the note from the nightstand. "The invitation came to the Journal. She obviously wants to meet with a reporter." My hands began to moisten. "If I could somehow get her to talk about Sarah—a story like that could land me a job at the New Yorker or the Times." I clutched the invitation. "God, I need that right now."

"It isn't the story you need."

"I need a job."

"Or you could marry me and stop worrying about it." He got up and helped me zip my luggage.

"I said I would as soon as things settle down."

"You've been saying that for seven years."

I lifted my suitcase, and he pulled it out of my hand. "That's too heavy for you," he said. "It takes two hands."

"I'm fine, David. I can carry it myself." I set the luggage at the foot of the bed, and we crawled into the sheets from our respective sides.

"Your dad wants to be at our wedding. You can't keep putting this off."

I pulled the white blanket around my shoulder and turned toward the wall. I didn't want to think of my father as anything but strong and immortal, my soothing voice of reason that was always there to call, have lunch with, or share some historical event that never ceased to fascinate me. He had been so evasive about his heart condition that it was difficult to tell how much time he had left. My mother didn't say much either. We all just watched him grow frailer each month, still playing golf but spending more time in the cart than on the greens.

David turned over and brought me back into his arms. "You know, there is probably a reason you lost your—"

"Don't say it, David. I'm so sick of hearing, 'There is a reason for everything.' I really need to work right now. I feel lost without my job."

"You still have me."

I leaned into his face and kissed him good night, thinking, I wish that were enough, baby. I really wish that were enough.


* * *


Rain pelted the tarmac as the final passengers boarded the flight. I climbed over a young couple nibbling at each other's faces like they wanted to eat each other alive to take my seat by the window. The woman excused herself and her husband as newlyweds and then resumed the smacking of lips and groping of thighs. I settled in and buckled my seatbelt, listening to their moans wondering if I would ever feel that way about David, so in love with him that I wanted to breathe every inch of his air. On some level, I yearned for those feelings. On another, it looked to be completely suffocating.

I put on a pair of earphones to distract myself from the whispers and heavy breathing and thought about the cabin we rented in Maine. David had taken me there for my twenty-eighth birthday, just a few months after we were introduced by a mutual friend. We spent the days sitting on a warm porch, watching the ducks swim through the tall reeds, reading to each other from our various books, wondering out loud about the author's point of view. David would always make a comment about what would hold up in a court of law while I reveled in how much he knew and the subtle ways he would find to move his body closer to mine. At night, we made love in that clumsy way new lovers do, not quite sure how to satisfy ourselves or each other. Our relationship never changed much from that weekend. The conversation was stimulating; yet emotionally, there was always a limit. He wanted a plan, a commitment, a way he could keep me safe from the world the way my father did when I was a child. I wanted to find stories, meet people, and challenge the fears that kept me living in a radius that never seemed to extend more than fifty miles from the town where I was raised.

Over the years, our routines set in, and here I was, engaged but still not ready to commit to marriage. I shifted again in my seat. The heat from the couple fogged the plane window, and it was not long until my restlessness from sitting next to them grew to the point of intolerance.

"Excuse me," I said as I climbed over the seats. They never looked up from each other while I straddled their legs and lunged into the aisle. I headed toward the tail of the cabin.

A few aisles back, I caught the eye of a pale, baby-faced man sitting in a middle seat, his large head and shoulders spiking up from the row of passengers. He stared at me as his plump lips formed an oval that looked too small for his face. I slowed my pace. How do I know him?

"Miss, you need to take your seat," the stewardess said. "And please fasten your seatbelt securely. The captain is expecting heavy turbulence throughout the flight."

I moved to the final row and took an aisle seat next to a little girl with a shiny, cropped haircut, her ears covered by headphones plugged into a small piano keyboard. She looked up at me, her wide eyes waiting for a cue. I held a smile through several breaths until her lips rose to expose a row of incoming teeth towering over a missing one. She gave me a quick, impish wave of the hand to finish her greeting and then resumed her focus on the keyboard. Her eyes flitted from her note sheet to the keys and then back again—something I remember doing a million times at her age. I imagined she wanted to please her mother, play her favorite song for her birthday, or be the kid in the recital who made her parents proud.

After a bumpy lift-off, the plane and my nerves leveled out as we headed west to California. The face of the man in the middle seat was still on my mind. Was he one of David's friends? Did he work in the same firm? The little girl next to me leaned her head against the seat and nodded off to sleep. I sat back, took a deep breath, and pulled out my file on Emma.

The first article I printed was from 1973: a young, broad- shouldered Emma standing next to the single-engine plane she flew into the outskirts of Vietnam to rescue her husband and another pilot after they were reported missing in action toward the end of the war. The event made her a national hero, a position that was elevated by her reclusiveness from media circles that made her all the more alluring. Her husband, Jon, went on to become a US senator, and Emma, a German American, was appointed ambassador to Germany. The next article featured a photo of President Ronald Reagan handing Emma a piece of the Berlin Wall, a gesture of appreciation for her advocacy work to remove the barrier and open the border.

The remaining articles were reviews on her books, a retirement announcement as a professor of social anthropology from Stanford University, and an obituary on her husband, Jon. It cited his life achievements, their forty-year marriage, and his remaining loved ones: Emma and their two adopted sons. Sarah was mentioned only as the deceased child of Emma and Jon. My further research on Sarah came up with nothing more than a thumbnail sketch of data about her disappearance and death. Who took her, where she was found, and how she died were not available to the public.

The seatbelt sign chimed just before the plane hit another pocket of turbulence. The little girl's eyes shot open as the plane took a deep dip. She sat up in her seat, took off her headphones, and looked at me.

"I'm going to see my grandparents," she blurted with bulging eyes that screamed, I'm scared; please talk to me. "Are you going to see your family?"

"No, my family lives in Virginia," I said, pushing down the tone of my voice to help calm both of us. I closed the file and tucked it into the seat pocket in front of me along with a book and a bottle of water.

"What happened to your hand?" she asked, staring at my fingers the way kids do when they can't make sense of something. My thumb and index finger on my right hand were the only ones fully formed at birth. The others withered on the side like small buds that never took form, stemming from a thin arm that was a few inches shorter than the other.

"You mean this one?" I asked as I flexed my left hand.

"No, silly, the other one."

"Oh, this one. It was just the way I was born."

"Does it hurt?"

"No, it doesn't hurt," I said as I pinched my thumb and finger together.

"It kind of looks like a claw."

"Yeah, I used to get that a lot when I was your age. Kate the Claw, Crabby, and during Christmas, Jimmy Delany use to call me Santa Claw." She giggled as I reached out and pinched my fingers in the air.

"That's funny. Can you tie your shoes?"

"Yep."

"Can you ride a bike?"

"One of my favorite things to do."

"Can you climb a tree?"

"Nope. Not because of my hand, but because I'm afraid of heights. Looking down from high places makes me feel nervous and sweaty all over."

"Like being in a plane high up in the sky?"

"Planes are not too bad as long as I don't look out the window. But climbing trees or standing on tall buildings is really scary."

She nodded her head. "So is the big drop ride at the fair!"

"Yeah, that would be frightening. I'd rather eat ice cream at the fair."

"Me too," she said as she looked down at my hand. "Can you pick up a pencil?"

"I sure can. I'm even a writer. I pick up pencils for a living."

My eyes shot up. That's how I know that guy. He was from the Journal. The intern they brought in last year, the kid who became a reporter just before they laid off the senior staff. My heart began to race. Were they sending him to meet with Emma?

"Do you write books?" I felt a tug on my sleeve. "Do you write books for kids like me? I read a lot of books. My favorite is Amelia Bedelia. I don't like books about vampires or spiders. I only like chapter books, and my teacher gave me a ribbon last year 'cause I read more books than anybody else in the class for the whole year. Can you believe it? The whole year."

"Wow, I bet that is a lot of books," I said, looking down the aisle, trying to remember what row he was in. Steven knew I had received the invitation. He assumed Emma Daines was looking for regional publicity for a book and didn't show much interest. With all the commotion around the layoffs, I thought he would have forgotten about it. I stared at the back of the intern's large head. But what if he didn't forget? What if they contacted Emma and were sending this guy instead?

I flashed back to the day I was fired. The sneer of revenge on Steven's face and the feeling of blood draining out of my body as events earlier that month snapped together like the sharp end of a whip. I'm sure I made the layoff list when I turned down the assignment he gave me to cover the Nelson twins at the race track and sent in an article on a medical student who lost funding due to budget cuts instead. After fifteen years at the Journal, I was hungrier than ever for stories that had substance. Steven was hungry for hits and clicks on the website.

My mouth soured as I looked at the back of the intern's head. This was my chance at a real story, a national interest piece, a story with meaning that would hopefully bring insight into how to manage the challenges we face in our life. I couldn't let that intern take this from me.

"Do you want to draw?" the little girl asked. "I brought lots of paper and colored pencils. They're new. My brother hasn't even played with them yet."

I stared down the aisle. The seatbelt light flashed again, along with the ring of the intercom. "Passengers, we are sorry about the turbulence. The flight crew does expect it to be bumpy through the remainder of the flight, so please remain in your seats with your seatbelts securely fastened."

The flight attendant strapped herself into the wall seat in the rear, staring down the aisle like a hall monitor. My legs tightened. I released a deep breath and looked at the little girl, her eyes pleading for a playmate. "Yeah," I said. "Let's draw."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Invitation by Dawn Kohler. Copyright © 2014 Dawn Kohler. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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