Trying to Do the Write Thing

October 21, 1951


Thea Greyson tried to ignore the strange creaking noises from the porch outside. She pulled her husband’s jacket close and pretended she could smell his tobacco. A fluttery tapping sounded between the thunderclaps and Thea froze in her chair. Straining her ears, she heard another series of taps from the front door. She brushed back her chestnut bangs and glanced at David’s picture on the mantel. “Who could be calling at this hour?” She nervously rose from the armchair.

After peeking outside, she threw the door wide. “Good Heavens! You’re soaked to the bone.” She shuttled the girl indoors. “What’s a little girl like you doing out in such a storm?”

The girl shivered, slopping rainwater across the floor. “Mama said… I can’t stay…” Her hands balled into fists and she clamped her lips together.

“Well, I don’t see anything broke or bleeding.” Thea brushed ropes of soggy hair aside as she looked the girl over. “You’re not from around here or I’d know your sweet face. You lost, hon?”

Large hazel eyes searched Thea’s for a moment, and then the girl nodded.

Thea smiled. “Don’t you worry. I’ll help you find your mama.”

The child sighed as Thea slipped the jacket around the thin shoulders. “Thanks, Missus.”

“What’s your name, sweets?”

The girl’s blue lips twitched and her chest quivered in quick shallow breaths. She shook her head as she backed away unsteadily. Her eyes glazed. Before Thea could ask what was wrong, the girl’s head bowed forward and she slumped to the floor.

“Why, heaven’s sake!” Thea hoisted the girl into her arms and carried her to the bedroom. A pale arm dangled free as Thea dropped the limp form onto the bed. “Wake up, honey.” She shook the girl’s shoulder. “Please wake up.” Placing her hand over the girl’s chest, Thea felt the comforting thump of a heartbeat. She whispered a quick prayer. “Hold on, child.”

Chapter 1— Recall


April 4, 1981

Although Beatrice didn’t remember the first time she’d stood on this porch thirty years ago, she couldn’t have felt more lost than she did right now.

Knowing what needed to be done didn’t make it any easier. Beatrice took a deep breath and twisted the knob on the old front door. A month…could it really be that long? She dragged the flattened boxes into the foyer and inhaled the mixture of wood, books, and potpourri. The smell was familiar, but not the cold. Or the silence.

She felt as hollow as her footsteps. Shivering, she turned and swung the heavy door closed, then nudged up the heat. Her head fogged and she steadied herself with a hand on the buffet. She probably should have eaten breakfast. Or dinner the night before.

Determined not to collapse like she did so many years ago the night Thea took her in, Beatrice shook her head clear and stepped into the living room. Her eyes scanned across the shelves of books and knick-knacks to the framed photos coating the walls. She puffed out her cheeks. Better get busy… nothing to be gained by breaking down again.

Pulling the packing tape from her pocket, she assembled four of the boxes she’d brought. She labeled them, Beatrice, Stacey, Donate, and Sell. Staring at the empty boxes in the middle of the living room floor, she withered like a fallen leaf. She turned her back on them.

Start at the beginning, she thought. And when you come to the end, stop. Just like the Mad Hatter says. She walked to the bookcase at the far end of the room and started the miserable job of “managing the estate.”

Halfway through the second set of shelves, she came to Thea’s photo albums. She knew without looking what was in the first one: Thea smiling in a sundress, young David Greyson in his infantry uniform, the Greyson house newly built, stiffly posed wedding photos— pictures that were older than Beatrice herself.

She clasped the book against her chest for a moment, and then placed Thea’s album into the box marked “Beatrice.” Sorry, Stace. That would teach Stacey to stay home with her family and leave the dirty work for her big sister.

Pulling the thicker album from the shelf, she curled up in the armchair by the cold stone hearth of the empty fireplace. The Stacey Story, Beatrice thought and then bit her lip. That wasn’t fair to Thea. The second book held plenty of snapshots of Beatrice, too, but Stacey’s life had been chronicled from the beginning. Thea named her Anastasia meaning “Resurrection” because Stacey had been born shortly after David died in the battle of Bloody Ridge.

Everyone said Thea’s girls looked enough alike to pass for “real sisters,” even if they were not related by blood. Beatrice compared the photos of the two girls and had to agree. They had a similar small build, with light brown hair and large eyes. But her own eyes were hazel, while Stacey’s were cornflower blue, like Thea’s.

Beatrice stared at the familiar pictures of Stacey swaddled and scrawny in her mother’s arms, in pigtails on the slide at the park, blowing out candles on countless birthday cakes.

She willed herself to remember something— anything— from the years before she came to the Greyson house.

But as always, she remembered nothing.

She swapped the album in her lap for the family Bible and flipped to the back. Her birth certificate lay pressed between the gilded pages as always. Place of birth: unknown. Parents’ names: unknown. The date of birth had only the year filled in: 1941. Thea had always celebrated the day she’d taken Beatrice in as her birthday.

No information to go on, of course. Not that she hadn’t tried, in spite of Thea worrying Beatrice might be hurt if her parents didn’t want to be found. She wiped the wetness from the side of her nose. Thea would hate how much Beatrice missed her.


Beatrice jerked awake with ringing in her ears and mist in her head. Her eyes traced the hazy lines of the dark wood cabinets and the edge of the table in front of her. A second later, she spied the coffee mug next to the bottle of whiskey and remembered where she was. She’d fallen asleep at Thea’s kitchen table.

The ringing sounded again, and Beatrice realized it was the kitchen phone. Her mother had been dead for a month—who would be calling her house at this hour? Only one person. Beatrice bit her lip as her palm pressed against the receiver.

“Tell me this is a wrong number,” she said when she picked up.

“Hey, B, it’s me,” the voice rumbled.

Beatrice closed her eyes and set her teeth. Bingo.

She tried to sound angry. “Dane, what are you thinking? Calling my mother’s house in the middle of the night… how did you even know I was here?”

“Well, you weren’t home. The diner’s closed, and you don’t go anywhere else.”

Humiliation squirmed through her spine. She hated that he was right. Swallowing hard, she heard the edge in her voice when she asked, “What do you want?”

“Same as you, B.” he purred. “I thought maybe you could use a little company.”

She felt a tingle in her chest. He did not want “the same” as she did. Her eyes climbed to the flat fawn of the ceiling. Despite everything, Dane Hunter was still her closest friend.

“I was sorry to hear about your mom. Wish I’d been here for the funeral. That must have been rough.”

Beatrice sucked in scratchy air. “Yeah, it’s still rough. I’ve got to get the house ready to sell, and with Stacey expecting again, I’ll have to do most of it myself.”

“You do too much for other people, B. You should learn how to say no.”

Obviously not my strong suit. “I don’t mind the work, really. It’s just hard to believe Mom’s gone.”

“Sounds like you could use a break. You should take tonight off and see me.”

“Seeing you is the last thing I need right now.”

“It won’t be like last time. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

So here we are, she thought. Right back where we were six months ago.

Each time she vowed to end things with him for good, he would show up at the restaurant with hungry hands and sweet notes scribbled on the edge of the dollar bills he’d palm into her apron pocket. By the time daisies started arriving at her apartment, she’d give in. But she always regretted that decision. She cringed at the thought Thea might be watching from whatever afterlife there was. But if Beatrice was alone for another minute, she might dissolve like a cloud of smoke.

“What do you say, B? I really miss you… we can just talk.”

“Okay.” She hung up the phone and walked to Thea’s bedroom in a trance.

Beatrice never wore much make-up, and certainly hadn’t made an exception for sorting through the house. She rummaged through the dresser for a lipstick. Leaning towards the dresser mirror, she traced the shape of her full lips just the way Thea taught her so many years ago. Definitely an improvement, but she still looked tired. She dabbed on a bit of concealer and then powdered under her best feature. She never knew what color her eyes would be—usually lettuce green, but sometimes bluish or even brown.

With a quiet sigh, she turned her back on her reflection and headed back to the kitchen to clean up. She didn’t expect Stacey to come by the house, but wouldn’t want her to worry about the whiskey if she did.

Headlights slicing across the living room told her when Dane turned onto the street outside. Picking up her keys, she stepped out onto the front porch and locked the door behind her. Beatrice knew perfectly well what would happen tonight, and she wanted to be sure it happened somewhere far away from the Greyson house.

She slid into the front seat of his parked Mustang, the cold of the leather seeping through her jeans. The car was full of Dane’s scent: musky and dark.

“How’re you holding up?” Moonlight glazed his short blond hair.

“She was all I had in the world.”

“I’m sorry. You’ve always got me.”

“I’ve never had you.”

He leaned over and nuzzled into her neck. “Don’t be silly.” His hand slid along the length of her thigh. “You’ve had me many times.”

Not really. She frowned at her reflection in the side view mirror.

“Look at me.” He tucked a strand of her pecan-colored hair behind her ear. “I came back early because I realized I’m happiest when you’re part of my life.”

She stared into his aqua eyes, wanting to believe him. No, she needed to believe him.

Clamping her eyelids shut, she laid her head back against the stiffness of the seat. “Turn the radio up, please.” She folded her arms across her waist. “I don’t feel much like talking after all.”

Chapter 2—The First Light


Streaks of violet infused the patch of sky framed in the bedroom window; dawn was not far off now. Dane slept soundly behind her, his arm draped like a sandbag over her waist. Beatrice’s gaze swept over the smooth lines of his face fuzzed with blond stubble. Why couldn’t she ever sleep like that?

Her vision blurred as she stared in the direction of Thea’s house. It has to be sold. You know that, she scolded herself. A hot tear twitched along the side of her nose and dropped dark blue on the sheets. There was no way to keep the Greyson house, but the thought of selling it terrified her. She couldn’t remember her first home. What if she forgot again? She bit the tip of her tongue. That was ridiculous. She couldn’t possibly forget everything. But how could she have forgotten the first time?

As she scrubbed the tears from her eyes with her wrist, Dane snorted into her neck and groaned. “You crying?”

“No, I’m fine.”

His hand groped over her wet face and he sighed. “Turn over.”

Shifting onto her back, she pulled the sheet tight over her as he nestled his head on her chest.

“What is it?” His breath steamed through the sheet.

She focused her gaze on his bushy eyebrows. “I’m just thinking about how I have to sell the house.”

His voice was thick with sleep. “I would think you’d be glad about that. You’re gonna have some money for once.”

“I don’t really care about the money.”

“Well, that’s just crazy, B. Everyone cares about money. Why don’t you think about what you’re gonna spend it on?”

She shifted her eyes to the ceiling. “Can’t think of a thing.”

Dane pulled himself onto an elbow and brushed her hair across her forehead. “Well, I could. You could get this fixed, for one.” His finger traced the jagged line of her nose.

Beatrice blinked hard. Tracing the line of her belly scar, she slid her palm over her abdomen and wedged the heel of her hand under a rib to remind herself to breathe. She knew her nose was crooked, but she could never go through surgery again after what happened thirty years ago. They put you to sleep so you can’t remember what happens to you.

He kissed the quivering corner of her mouth. “I’m going to take a shower. Then breakfast, I guess. Jeez, you woke me up early.”

She watched the pale curve of his backside jiggle towards the bathroom. When the water snapped on, she swiveled to sit on the edge of the bed and stared into Dane’s dresser mirror.

“There’s juice in the fridge,” Dane shouted over the hiss of the shower. “Maybe you’ll end up with enough to get your boobs done too. They’re too big for the rest of you.”

A burning in her belly made her shrivel inside her own skin. For once, she wasn’t going to put up with it.

Dane had been right about last night. This time was going to be different after all.

Gathering her discarded clothes from the floor at the foot of the bed, she slipped out of the bedroom. She dressed quickly and then let herself out the front door.

Although she had a long walk ahead of her, she felt better once she was moving. She wished she’d thought to take something warmer to wear as she quickened her pace towards the Greyson house. Despite the cold, she avoided the shortcut through town. The diner where she worked opened early, even on Sundays. Joe’s probably there already and I don’t want him to see me like this. Her cheeks burned with more than the biting wind. In a small town like Gladstone, Joe probably already knew.


Beatrice locked the door behind her and took Thea’s phone off the hook. She didn’t care how many daisies Dane sent this time.

Jaw set, she shot straight towards what Thea liked to call her den. The tiny room had no windows and barely enough room for the mahogany roll-top desk and chair, not to mention the sewing supplies, books, and mementos her mother squirreled away over the years. Beatrice usually felt uncomfortable in small spaces, but in Thea's funny little nest she never felt afraid.

She sat down and splayed her fingers over the softened wood desktop. Though not large, it had more drawers and partitions than any desk she’d ever seen. Small pigeonhole compartments covered most of the space beneath the roll top. Along the right side sat a row of small drawers so crammed with Thea’s little treasures— recipes and photographs, mitten clips and rosary beads— that Beatrice had never seen them completely closed.

With reverence, she pulled each item from the place her mother kept it. These useless little Christmas pins and decorative thimbles had been important to Thea. Beatrice sorted them into boxes, finding it difficult to choose any to give away.

The desktop looked strange when she finished; in thirty years, it had never been so empty. She ritualistically closed each tiny door on the left. Then with a single finger she pushed each drawer on the right until it slid flush with its housing. As the bottom drawer closed, her finger met resistance. She pushed harder, with her whole hand, but it didn’t budge.

Gripping the edge of the drawer, she pulled as far as it would go and peered into the dark space behind it, but she couldn’t see anything. Maybe the wood had warped over the years, or perhaps something had fallen into the hollow behind. If something was back there, she felt compelled to find it. These silly, worthless items formed a small lifeline to Thea— touching them made missing her easier.

She twisted upward and felt the drawer tug free from the track. Squinting, she leaned closer but still saw nothing. She groped into the corners: completely empty. As she moved to put the drawer back, she noticed a bit of paper stuck to it and tipped the drawer on its end. Taped to the bottom and curled around the back of the drawer was an envelope, parched and blurred around its edges.

Rummaging through the nearest box, she found the pearl-handled letter opener she’d packed earlier. She wiggled the blade under the yellowed tape. The envelope popped free and she picked it up. “Our Lady of Mercy” stretched across the front in loopy, messy scrawl. It was heavier than it looked. And lumpy. The envelope threatened to disintegrate as she opened the flap and slid the contents onto the desk.

Beatrice gasped as her eyes flashed from the silver bracelet—a charm bracelet—to the letter. The page unfolded like an arthritic joint.

Dear Mother Superior,

I am sending you my daughter and I beg you to take care of her.

She is a good girl, and none of this is her fault.

I wish I didn’t have to give her up, but it is not safe for her to stay here, and it is not safe for me to come with her.

Please keep her safe for me and let her know I will always love her.

God bless and keep you,


Her heart struggled to beat. Thea had lied to her. The letter wasn’t lost. Beatrice wheezed like a leaky balloon. Not safe... Not her fault… I will always love her. What could have happened? Her eyes locked on the ink that had been drawn across this page by her mother’s hand. Her mother’s name was Helena.

No, your mother’s name was Thea, a small guilty voice insisted. Beatrice swallowed hard. She owed Thea everything, and yet rage still stormed through her with surprising force.

Thea had known her first mother’s name— and had kept this letter all along. She had even known the name of the place Beatrice was sent. Why didn’t she tell me? Why did she lie every time I asked her about how I came to live here?

Her eyes fell now on the silver bracelet: the only thing remaining from the past she couldn’t remember. She picked it up by the unfastened clasp. The charms were silver and detailed. She poked each one gently with a fingertip. There was a little Eiffel tower, a train engine with spinning wheels, a house with tiny people inside, a wishing well, a square box that opened to reveal a little ring, a colander, and a St. Christopher medal. She slid her fingernail between the metal pages of a tiny bible charm and popped it open. Inside was engraved, “Forgive us our sins.” She pinched it shut and turned her attention to the small figure of a woman holding a baby. Beatrice wondered what her first mother had been like— the woman who had held her this way.

Fastening the bracelet around her wrist, she stared at the silver chain in the context of her arm. Although Beatrice had never worn much jewelry before, she liked the way it felt. She’d had a childhood and a real mother who had loved her, even if she couldn’t remember. The bracelet proved it.

The letter was addressed to “Mother Superior” which meant Our Lady of Mercy must have been a church or a convent to which she’d been sent. She had never heard of any place like that. Why didn’t she reach her destination? What had happened?

A letter and a bracelet might not seem like much, but they would have meant a great deal to her. Especially all those times I felt so lost when I was a girl, Beatrice thought.

She held the envelope closer to the desk lamp, but found no address or other markings that suggested where she could find Our Lady of Mercy.

As she refolded the letter to return it to its envelope, she noticed faint ink across the back and turned it over. Her heart nearly stopped when she realized it was a map. My mother wanted me to find my way back! Her eyes darted across the hand-drawn lines and then her heart plummeted, settling hot in her belly.

She stared at the useless landmarks on the hand-drawn map: Main Street and Plank Road, Miller’s Pond and Hawthorne Mill, and a circle near Clemmons’ Field. One thick line was simply labeled The River.

Her mother must have used whatever paper was handy to write the letter. Who knew if these places were where she’d come from? And even if they were, how could Beatrice hope to find them, when she didn’t know where to start looking?

Her head reeled and her face felt hot.

“Helena,” she said aloud. “My mother’s name was Helena.”

She touched the edge of the folded letter to her lower lip and inhaled the smell of old paper. “What’s in a name?” she mused softly.

Well, maybe a place to start.