There used to be trips to the mall, to restaurants—from fast food to four star, and, of course, dance classes. It would be just Lottie and her mother. Lottie never had to share her mother with her older siblings as far as she could remember due to the wide gap in their ages. Holidays were strange for her since the house suddenly became filled with electrical energy Lottie didn’t understand. It was as though she were an observer watching from a distance. There would be the nasty comments and cutting remarks, and eventually someone would leave in a huff. Lottie hoped today would be different.
She turned the car radio off, the music too upbeat for her mood. The open road looking cluttered with nothing but heartache, she supposed it was because she was feeling guilty. If only Sandy had given Lottie her blessings, then the day would look more promising.
“Damn it!” Lottie pounded the steering wheel with her clenched fist, recalling the way Sandy trailed behind her as she gathered her belongings for the day.
“I embarrass you,” Sandy had said.
“Not at all.”
“Then why can’t I go with you?”
“Because…” Lottie grabbed her long-sleeve polo shirt from the chair and slipped it on over her head, mentally scrambling for a believable excuse. But all she could mutter was, “Next time.”
“Next time, my ass,” Sandy said. “Your excuse used to be because your mother was too ill. You didn’t want to upset her any more. But now she’s better, Lottie! What’s the excuse this time?”
“Because it’s not about me, us, today.”
Sandy nodded, her jaw tight. “You want to hide me as long as you can, don’t you? Makes it a whole lot less complicated.” When Lottie tried to get by her, Sandy reached over and grabbed her hands, turning them over. “Maybe you can hide me, but how are you going to hide these?”
Lottie pulled away, refusing to look at the ragged scars. “Mom doesn’t understand this.” She motioned a wave between the two of them, an invisible line of sorts connecting two women.
“How is she gonna, if you keep hiding it? Us?”
Scooping up her duffel bag and the bag of corn, Lottie replied, “I said next time. When it’s not so—”
“So what?” Sandy shouted.
Lottie started toward the door, but then came back and went to give Sandy a kiss, but Sandy turned away.
“I won’t be late,” she said.
They never left each other without saying they loved each other; didn’t matter if it was before they left for work or went down the block to the deli, they always said, “I love you.” But today, with a hundred or so miles separating them, the three words hadn’t been exchanged. And Lottie felt unhinged. If only Sandy could understand her dilemma.
Unlike Lottie, Sandy had grown up in a very liberal house in Los Angeles, raised by a single, progressive mother. Sandy recalled entering church twice in her life—not to pray, but simply to admire the architecture. However, for Lottie, each Sunday meant sitting in a pew below her mother’s watchful eyes while she sang in the choir. Lottie couldn’t recall her father ever attending with them. Patriarch Gerald Lamb piloted commercial jets through the blue heavens, stating that he was closer to God than any so-called hymnal-holding parishioner who was grounded safely in the sanctuary.
“What I have is real faith,” Lottie recalled her father saying to her mother in one of their simmering arguments. “To take that hunk of metal up in the sky and trust it’s not going to come crashing down, well, that’s faith.”
It was Lottie alone sitting at attention each week, feigning observance to the service while imagining she was up in the plane with her father, barely hearing what Reverend Cole was preaching. So, Sandy didn’t understand what it was like to live a lie while being observed and judged, to be the last of the Lamb children with a mother’s full attention. According to Natalie, who was never at a loss for words, Allen and Lottie were bookends that got all their mother’s concentration. “Those of us in the middle, well, we were pointless.”
“You are my wonder child,” her mother would tell her. Lottie used to take it to mean that she was special, unique, just as Allen had been, even if she didn’t exhibit any unique talent, until one time she overheard her mother telling a new member of the church that Lottie “of course wasn’t planned with such an age gap between her and her siblings, but God must’ve had a reason to bless the Lambs with another little one so late in the game.” Her mother would sigh and then, as if it were an afterthought, add, “But did you ever hear of the television show Benny and Crow?”
Later that Sunday afternoon, Lottie, who was about twelve at the time, went outside in the backyard and dropped down on the grass next to her mother who was basking in the sun on a chaise lounge.
“Hmm?” her mother replied, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses, her trim figure in a modest one-piece swimsuit.
“Why didn’t you just have an abortion, if you didn’t want me?”
Her mother lunged up, taking off her sunglasses. “Who on earth said I didn’t want you?”
“Well, of course I did, sweetie.” She leaned over, giving Lottie a gentle hug to confirm it.
“So, you and Dad had sex to have me?” Lottie often asked questions about her father, since he was a mystery to her. He was rarely home and when he was, he would sit at the kitchen table reading the paper and drinking one cup of coffee after the next. And always checking his watch.
Her mother cleared her throat. “Well, Charlotte, your father and I made love and you were a…a wonderful surprise.”
“But were you trying to have another baby?” Lottie was attempting to make sense of many things, but sex was becoming the utmost importance.
“Well, we weren’t not trying.”
Lottie nodded. “So, did Daddy want me, too?” Even as she asked, she knew the answer.
Her mother rested back in the chaise lounge. “Of course,” she said, her tone less convincing. “And you were a special gift. I’m sure you’re going to do great things with your life. It’s why God blessed me with you.” After a slight pause, she added, “We’ll find that special talent of yours, yet!”
Her mother had taken her on one audition after the next for commercials and television shows, enrolled her in dance and acting classes, had her take piano lessons, but Lottie exhibited little interest. Besides, how could she ever achieve what Allen had achieved, even though by the time she was born, Allen’s acting career had been compromised by adolescence. No longer was he the cute little Benny who had a best friend named Crow. The series wrapped up and nothing else came along, except one rejection after the next. Lottie wondered if she had been born in hopes of filling those shoes.
Then, something else occurred to her on that day. She said, “Did you ever have sex with anyone besides Daddy?”
“My goodness, Charlotte Lamb, I cannot imagine ever having a conversation like this with your sisters!”
Lottie sat cross-legged on the grass at her mother’s side, waiting for a response, but her mother remained quiet long enough to let Lottie know the conversation was over.
Like Lottie, Reverend Cole’s favorite topic was sex, except he talked about it from the pulpit without actually using the three-letter word. According to Reverend, “God’s way” meant saving oneself for the sanctity of marriage. It also meant homosexuality was an abomination of the Lord. So many Sundays meant being led in prayer to give the deviants a change of heart. Lottie would bow her head and fervently pray that God would make her want to look at boys the way she looked at girls. Eventually, though, Lottie discovered it was easier just to keep her thoughts to herself, far from God and her mother, but especially her mother.
But now her love for Sandy was challenging all that.