Roy Duquesne had a secret he swore he would take to his grave. His wife had made no such promise.
Keeping a secret for forty years was a tall order, and some days it took all Cherry had not to pull her son close and open her heart. Medication helped, as did the occasional glass of wine or vodka. Properly anesthetized, Cherry found concealing the truth of her son’s origins was not, in fact, such a crisis after all. And the longer she suppressed it, the less it seemed to matter.
That theory was about to be put to the test.
“I’m sorry to be so blunt, Dorsey, but you know me—I’ve never been one to sugarcoat.”
Her son was staggering around the room, touching random objects, not looking at anything in particular. He stopped and pivoted toward her, bug-eyed.
“You drop this bomb on me after forty years and act like it’s nothing more than pointing out some food stuck in my teeth.”
“Oh, no, when you have food stuck in your teeth, I’m much more discreet. I try to avoid embarrassing you.”
“Like at my wedding, when I was eating my first piece of cake, and you yell across the room, ‘That’s too big a bite, Dorsey!’”
“Well, it was,” Cherry said. “You looked like a farm animal.”
His hand flew to his forehead. “So am I illegitimate? Did Dad just pick up someone else’s tab?”
“Don’t get smart with me, young man. I just buried a husband. Show a little respect.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“As a matter of fact, you were born out of wedlock—but not ours. We adopted you when you were a few days old.” She studied his face while the full impact of her statement washed over him.
He gasped as if sucker-punched. “So you’re not even my mother?”
Cherry flinched at his words, unprepared for their sting. “Depends on how you define the word,” she said in a small voice.
“Okay, so you’re not my real mother—is that better?”
She picked some imaginary fluff off her skirt. “No, it’s true. I didn’t give birth to you.” She wrestled with what to say next, how to regain control of the situation; for something she had had decades to prepare for, it was not going well at all.
“Would you like to hear the whole story?” Cherry offered, straightening up on the piano bench. “It has a happy ending.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Dorsey said, brushing by her on his way out of the room.
Cherry sagged again. She had laid off her meds since Roy’s death, knowing she would need all of her faculties to get through the funeral. If losing Roy had placed an unbearable weight on her soul, giving Dorsey the truth about his past would unburden her in equal measure. To keep the black knot of deceit in her heart any longer would surely kill her, or at least plunge her into a pit beyond any prescription’s reach.
She stood up, checked her makeup in the reflection of a National guitar and resolved to stand by her son. She knew from experience: when he wanted her least was when he needed her most. On went the sunglasses as she gripped the handle of the French doors.
A throng of mourners descended on her when she emerged from the studio. She deflected them like paparazzi, with gracious smiles and obeisant nods. Through the bay window she saw Dorsey backing out of the driveway.
Yvonne found her and grabbed her arm gently. “Cherry, is everything okay? Dorsey said he needed some air and he looked upset.”
She appreciated Yvonne’s compassion, but now was not the time. “I just lost a husband. I don’t want to lose a son in the process. Do you know where he went?”
“Knowing him, probably the boat.”
“Tell the guests to help themselves--I’ll be back soon.” She looked around, surveying the laughing faces, flushed with alcohol, cheeks stuffed with hors d’oeuvres. “I don’t feel like a party right now.”
Cherry wound her Lincoln through the gated community where she and Roy had retired a few years earlier. She saw Dorsey hang a right out of the entrance, toward his house. When he was little, his favorite place to hide from the world was a carpeted crawlspace under their main staircase. Knowing he’d come out when he was good and ready, she would place a bowl of oyster crackers next to the entrance in case he got hungry.
These days, his refuge was a 40-foot sportfishing yacht with twin 700-horsepower engines. Though she had never looked, Cherry assumed he kept the pantry stocked with oyster crackers; her son was fiercely sentimental, which was going to make upending his vision of his childhood all the more difficult.