The latch clicked. The door swung inward, and there stood blue-gray-eyed, white-haired Emily Connell. A gold-plated sun had been mounted on the wall behind her. She stood, deliberately or not, so that the magnificent sun framed her glum face.
Emily’s steel-gray hair waved gently around her face, a face that makeup never touched. Lightly scattered eyebrows that had never seen a beauty pencil. Full lips that had never known lipstick.
And blue eyes that bore directly into Ethan’s soul.
The four foot eleven-and-a-half inch woman looked up and up into Ethan’s eyes. Ethan smiled, hoping to garner a similar response from his very wellspring. But sullen Emily stood, surrounded by her golden aura, absorbing her son’s smile rather than returning it.
Emily began to move. Simultaneously, she backed away from the doorway to let Ethan in and reached her left arm toward him as if to initiate a hug. Since her left arm was the arm that had held Ethan on her hip as she worked in the kitchen long ago, Ethan chose the hug. He reached for her. She hesitated a split second, then pulled her son against herself tight, fast, and hard. But no sooner had Ethan felt the his mother’s warmth than he was imperceptibly pushed away.
The hug ended almost as it began. No, the hug hadn’t really ended because it hadn’t really begun.
With quick baby steps, Emily rushed into the house. Ethan knew that her infantile walk was an old habit. As a child, she had been her father’s favorite, a status achieved by being both the shortest member of the family and the endearing child who smiled, all cute and cuddly, while scampering around the house.
Emily’s legs were so short that, as she scurried along the entry hall, Ethan couldn’t see much more than the back of the bulky pink sweatshirt almost covering her minuscule but still intimidating body. He began to run after her but stopped himself. He was his mother’s child, but there was never a need to hurry. He hadn’t had to study psychology for four years to know that.
When Emily reached the dining room, always dark because its one window opened to a high wooden fence, she abruptly turned and crossed Ethan’s path. Without notice, she headed toward the kitchen. Ethan still trailed her. Years of practice had made him an expert at following his mother’s sudden twists and turns.
He noted that, after five minutes, Emily still had not said one word to him. She had not even met his eyes so that Ethan himself would feel free to begin a conversation.
“Are you OK, Mom?”
“What do you mean, Are you OK? Why shouldn’t I be OK?”
Ethan didn’t answer. He simply continued, like the devoted son he was, to trail Emily through the house.
“Are you working?” Emily asked.