Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane decided she needed closure from Linda and Austin at Date My Son! so she called Liam and he told her to come back to the house at 4:00 that afternoon.

Chapter Fifty-Two

I managed to exhaust April. We went to the zoo, the Gene Autry Western Museum, and railroad park, and did some shopping at the mall.

She loved it all and nodded off in the back seat as I drove us back to my apartment. I had an hour to get ready and drive across town to the Date My Son house.

I’d called Rachael and she readily agreed to come watch a movie with April while I was gone.

April was rubbing her eyes and I slipped on my strappy heels when I heard the knock.

“April, let in Aunt Rachael please,” I called.

She sighed but staggered to her feet to do it.

“Wow, you said you had something to do, you didn’t say it was a hot date!” Rachael surveyed me from the door.

“It’s not.” I must have grimaced because her brow furrowed.

“What’s going on? Anything I can do?”

“You’re doing it by staying with April. I just have to go settle a few things. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.”

I dropped a kiss on April’s forehead and squeezed my sister’s elbow as I passed them.

“Are you really my aunt?” April asked as I clicked the door shut behind me. Little did April know that not only was Rachael was her aunt, but she had a cousin back home that she knew as an older kid at school. As glad as I was to have my sister back in my life, there were some issues we still had to discuss. Like did she ever plan to come back to Rosedale? Be a part of her son’s life?

Those questions would have to wait. Now, I had an appointment to see a man about some answers of a different kind.

Traffic flowed nicely for mid-afternoon and it was ten minutes to four when I pulled up to the security gate.

“Hey, George.”

His face creased into a grin. “Hey there yourself, SarahJane. What are you doing here?”

I sighed. “It’s a long story. Did Liam put me on the list or do I need to call him?”

George perused the iPad in his beefy grip then his grin faded. “You’re on here all right. You sure about this?”

My head cocked. “Very sure. Why?”

He shrugged. “I just didn’t figure you for the type–never mind, it’s none of my beeswax. Go on up to the house.”

“Thanks, George. How’s your puppy’s training going? Is he still stealing kitchen towels.”

Instead of chatting like we used to do, George shrugged again and pushed a button. The wrought iron gate swung open.

That was weird. And unlike George not to want to talk about his little Rottweiler pup. He could jabber about that dog all day long. Oh well. Maybe he was having a hard day. The show was winding up. He could be preoccupied about his next job or … or anything, really.

At the top of the hill, an intern motioned me where to park then fell into step next to me.

“It’s good to see you again, SarahJane,” she said.

“Thanks–” I wracked my brain for a name and came up with it just a hair too late to make it seem like I hadn’t forgotten her “–Jaime.”

She tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder. “I couldn’t believe it when Liam said you were coming back.”

“Really? Why?”

“Well, I mean–it’s done all the time sure, but I didn’t think you would be–”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I asked. We turned from the driveway and made our way down the front walkway. Scents of lavender and cool earth tickled the air and I inhaled deeply.

“I guess, you just seemed more like the kind to get on with your life, not to wallow in–”

“I’m not wallowing in anything. I just want some closure.”

“Wait–what?” She tripped and did a quick step to regain her pace.

“I’m here to talk to Linda and Austin and ask why they strung me along only to dump me without a warning.”

“Oh SarahJane. I had no idea. Liam thought–”

We climbed the last step onto the porch and the door swung open. Liam stood in the opening.

With Austin behind him.

Then Linda behind her son.

And a cameraman behind her.

What did I get myself into?

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: April, Rachael, and SarahJane talked. SarahJane realized she needed some answers and closure about her experience with Date My Son! and decided to contact the show and request to meet with Austin and Linda.

Chapter Fifty-One

April’s eyelashes had barely lifted the next morning before she asked for the rollkuchen. Until we sat at the table to eat, my mind kept wandering back to my decision last night to call Liam and get some closure with Austin and Linda.

“Can we go to the zoo today, Auntie SJ?” April smacked her lips and powdered sugar went flying across her plate.

“I suppose. I just have to make a phone call.” I refilled my coffee mug and sipped the hot brew.

“What time does the zoo open? Can you call now? Can I watch The Barefoot Contessa?”

“Not for another couple of hours. Yes, in a minute. The television cooking show or the movie?”

“The show. I’m an Ina Garten fan.”

April’s earnest expression provoked a chuckle from me. “Are you now?”

She nodded. “My lets me cook dinner one night a week and I always make a Barefoot Contessa recipe.”

“Okay, if you can find Ina, you can watch her.”

April skipped to the couch and flipped on the television. After just a minute of searching, sure enough, she found Ina plucking basil from her herb garden.

So … time to make my phone call. I’d been so sure last night, but now …

“Oh, buck up buttercup,” I muttered. “Make the call.” I scrolled to Liam’s number and pressed Call.

He probably was busy and couldn’t answer. Or—even more likely—he’d see my name on his incoming call screen and would decline. I might get his voice mai—

“Hello? SarahJane?”

Oh. He didn’t send me to voice mail at all. I was talking to the real live Liam.

“Hey, Liam. It’s SarahJane.” What an idiot, he knows who’s calling. “I mean—”

“Drop that right now!”

“Uhhh … pardon me?”

“Sorry, SarahJane, I was talking to the stage manager’s assistant. She insists on changing the throw pillows around in the living room and I want them left there!” His voice raised to a shout.

“Is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s perfect. What can I do for you?”

Deep breath in. Count to three. Exhale. Spit it out. “I want to talk to Austin and Linda and get an answer about why they sent me home.”

He was silent.


“Oh, sorry. I was watching the pillows. Yeah, sure, come back to the house at … about four o’clock?”

Disbelief wriggled up my spine. “Really? I expected a fuss.”

“Nah, it’s fine. Happens all the time. We decide ahead of time who we’ll let—I said leave the tweeds and plushes where I had them! Listen SarahJane, I’ve got to go. See you at four.”

He hung up to attend to his pillow crisis before I could thank him or ask what he meant about what happens all the time and deciding who they’ll let do something. Apparently the same something that I wanted to do: go and get some closure, hopefully with a few answers.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: Jesse was about to tell SarahJane why he left town after graduation and what’s going on with SarahJane’s sister Rachael. He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Rachael arrived. Jesse left. Rachael told SarahJane she’d suffered from post-partum psychosis after her baby was born and she left to protect the baby and her husband from herself. She ran into Jesse when she was in LA and he made a deal with her: she’d get psychological help and he wouldn’t tell her family where she was. April woke up and came into the living room.

Chapter Fifty

“Who am I?” Rachael stared at April before glancing at me. “Who are you?”

I stood and pulled April close. “This is Jake and Anna’s daughter Rachael. She’s visiting me for a few days.”

Rachael’s expression softened. “Hi, April. I’m your aunt, too. Auntie Rachael.”

April recoiled as if slapped. “You’re Rachael?”

Rachael’s brow furrowed. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom said you were the worst mother in the world.” April moved closer to me and I wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “She said you were … um … ego … egocentric? And … a saucer path.”

Instead of anger, amusement flickered across Rachael’s face. “A sociopath? Is that what your mom said?”

April nodded. “That’s right. A saucer—sociopath. What’s a sociopath?”

“I think that’s a question for your mom or dad.” I returned to the couch and patted my lap. “You can come talk to your Aunt Rachael and I’ll keep you safe from her egocentrism. I make no promises about her sociopathological tendencies, though.”

April settled herself between my crossed legs and leaned against me. “Are you laughing at me?”

“No, sweetie.” I rubbed her arms. “I would never laugh at you.”

“I was pretty selfish when I knew your mom so I can’t argue about how egocentric I was.” Rachael dipped her head and gazed into April’s eyes. “I did some stupid things and I made mistakes. Some people, like your mom, will remember my problems but others, like your Auntie SJ, will forgive me. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me, too.”

“Hey, I didn’t say I forgive you.” I kept my voice light though, because we both knew I would. That’s just who I am. Dishrag SarahJane. Damp. Pliable. Washing away uncomfortable feelings. Just like I’d done with Austin and Linda, letting them send me away with no explanation. Just like Rachael’s husband and baby deserved more than she left them, I deserved more from that show and that man and his mother.

“You need to go back to bed, April.” I unfolded my legs and helped her stand. “Rachael, you can sleep on the couch if you need a place to stay.”

She seemed taken aback as she cocked her head at me. “Why would I need a place to stay?”

I shrugged. “Don’t you need something from me? That’s why you wanted to see me, isn’t it?”

Her lips tightened and a small breath escaped her pinched nostrils. “I wanted to see you because you’re my sister. We lost our father recently. I miss you. I don’t need anything from you. I have a job. A house. A life, for crying out loud. Is it so hard to believe I can take care of myself?” Her voice grew louder with each sentence until I held up a hand to ward off any more volume.

“April, go climb into bed. I’ll be there in a minute.”

After April was out of sight, I turned to Rachael. “I’m sorry. You’re right, I just assumed.”

She nodded. “I guess I can see why you would.” She gave me a quick hug and stuffed a piece of paper into my hand. “Here’s my number. Call me whenever you want.”

I nodded and waved as she let herself out, then I lowered myself back onto the couch. That little revelation I’d had a moment ago had taken root in my heart and bloomed into a big showy bouquet and I knew what I had to do.

In the morning, I’d call Liam and insist on contacting Austin and Linda for an explanation. I deserved nothing less.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane’s niece April is visiting. Jesse called and brought dinner over. After they ate, he told her it was time to tell her everything about why he left town after graduation and what’s going on with SarahJane’s sister Rachael.

Chapter Forty-Nine

Before Jesse could say another word, a soft knock sounded at my door.

“You’re not getting out of this.” I stepped to the door. “Who is it?”

“SarahJane?” The female voice sounded more familiar than my own.

I flung open the door. “Rachael?”

She shimmered under the porch light, blonde hair tumbling around her shoulders.

“Can I come in?”

“Oh, Rachael.” All the pent-up emotions of the last months spilled down my cheeks as I reached for my sister. My only sister. “Rachael.” I repeated her name as she hugged me with a fierceness that left me gasping.

“I’ve missed you so much.” She pulled away and searched my face, her gaze running up and down me. “You’ve changed.”

“So have you.” No wonder I didn’t recognize her at Daddy’s funeral until it was too late. The angles of her cheeks and chin had sharpened to a fine degree and her nose had a bit of a Bob Hope slope. “Did you get a nose job?” I clapped my hand over my mouth.

She burst into laughter. “Ten years and of course that’s the first thing you say to me.”

“Where have you been? What have you been doing? Did you have a nose job? How’s that?” I was mostly joking, but if pressed I would admit to also being frustrated with her. I guess some things never change.

She just smiled. “I missed you so.” She glanced past me, into the living room. “Hey, Jesse.”

He stood. “I should probably go. We can talk later SarahJane.”

“Wait.” My head cocked to the side. “You didn’t tell Rachael to come by? When you said you’d tell me everything and then Rachael knocked, I thought—”

He nodded and stuck his fists into his front pockets. “No. I think it’s better for you two to talk. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He slipped out the door.

I stared after him. “What’s going on?”

“He wanted to give us a moment to catch up. Like I’ve been catching up with Jake.”

“He told me.”

She pulled me to the couch and we sat, facing each other, arms along the back.

“Jesse told me you called Peter when you were in town. So you know he remarried.”

She nodded. “I shouldn’t have been surprised. I reacted badly. Running off again.”

“You think?” I tried to keep the judgment out of my voice but I don’t think I quite succeeded, given the flush that crept across her cheeks.

“I had that coming.”

“Ten years, Rachael. Mom…” My throat grew thick and I couldn’t get out the words of reproach.

Her eyes filled. “I know.”

“Then … why?”

“I was stupid. Immature. I thought she’d be angry and me visiting would be too emotional.”

“So you let your mother die without letting her tell you she loved you.” Frustration surged through me and made the hairs on my arm stand up.

“I know it doesn’t make sense. After I left, I was diagnosed with post-partum psychosis. I knew something was wrong with me and I knew I’d hurt the baby or myself if I stayed.”

I stared at her.

“I didn’t feel like I had a choice, SarahJane. Peter was working all the time. Mom wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t have the usual support a new mom gets. All I could do all day was stare at this baby. Then I felt the neighbors staring at me, judging me. One of them dropped off a casserole one day and I knew when she got home she’d be calling CPS because of what a mess the apartment was in.”

“Oh, Rachael.” Sympathy welled inside me.

“I truly thought the best thing for to do was to leave. Daddy wouldn’t speak to me. I couldn’t count on anyone.”

I reached for her hand. “I’m so sorry, Rachael.”

“I came to L.A. Ran into Jesse the second week. That was a total God thing.”

“Wait.” I stood and looked at her. “Jesse knew where you were ten years ago? And he didn’t tell me?”

She nodded. “Don’t blame him. I made him promise. Actually, it’s a good thing. He said he wouldn’t tell the family if I would go get help. I might still be on the streets if he hadn’t made that deal with me.”

I sat again. “Jesse got you mental help?”

“He did. Then when we moved in together—”

“You what?” I shrieked a little at that.

“Auntie SJ?” April’s plaintive voice sounded from the next room.

“I’m okay, sweetie,” I called to her.

A shuffling noise preceded her entry into the living room. “Who are you?” She rubbed her eyes and stared at Rachael.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane was given the heave-ho from the Date My Son! reality dating show. She spent a couple of days depressed. Her niece April called and asked to come visit SarahJane in Glendale. SarahJane met her brother in Grapevine to pick up April. The also ran into Jesse who was heading back to Pasadena after a Rosedale visit. He asked if he could call SarahJane. She agreed.

Chapter Forty-Eight


My apartment door had just clicked shut behind me and April when my phone rang.

“Where’s the bathroom, Auntie SJ?” April hopped from foot to foot looking from one end of the apartment to the other.

“Through that hall.” I pointed her in the right direction and snagged the phone from my purse. “Hello.”

“I couldn’t wait.”


“I really want to talk to you, SarahJane. Can I come over?”

The chipped corner of my laminate kitchen corner became ultra-interesting. I had to stick my hand in my pocket to keep from chipping at it. “I don’t know, Jesse. I just got home. April’s here.”

“I’m not even home yet. I can swing by for a minute.”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll bring dinner. Tacos?”

“No fair, you know I can’t say no to Mexican.”

“I’ll be there in ten.”

I disconnected and tossed the phone onto the faded chintz sofa. “That man…”

“What man?” April popped out of the bathroom.

“Jesse’s bringing dinner.” I pulled plates and glasses from the cupboard and pointed at the flatware drawer. “Can you get some knives and forks?”

April and I set the table. She chattered the whole time about how much fun we were going to have and could I fix kuchen for her in the morning. I agreed to that and I’m pretty sure I also said okay to a trip to Disneyland before I tuned into her words.

“Mom said that my being here is going to cramp your style, Auntie SJ. What’s your style? How can I cramp it?” Her brow furrowed and she bit her lower lip.

I tossed a stack of napkins on the table and sank onto the nearest chair. Anna had to get in her digs at me, I got that, but to use her daughter to deliver her spiteful messages just curdled my soul. “Oh, sweetie, trust me, I don’t have a style and even if I did, you wouldn’t cramp it. I love having you visit. You give me style.”

A tremulous smile inched across her lips. “Really? ‘cause it sounded like a bad thing.”

“I promise you, you’re the best roommate I could ever want.”

A knock at the door broke up the conversation and April scampered over to let Jesse in. “What’d you bring us?” she asked.

“Ernesto’s tacos and burritos. The best in town.” He set three Styrofoam boxes on the table. “Who’s hungry?”

“I am!” April slid into a chair and wiggled.

“Me, too.” I flashed Jesse a smile of welcome.

We passed around the food and I asked Jesse to say the blessing. We ate and chatted, with Jesse making me laugh and April studied us like we were her latest science project.

After dinner I passed out ice-cream sandwiches. I’d licked the last bit of chocolate goo from my fingers when April yawned.

“Bed time, missy.” I gathered up the paper wrappers and tossed them into the trash. “Go brush your teeth and get into my bed. I’ll come tuck you in.”

April nodded and left the table.

Jesse turned to me. “This is nice.”

I had to agree. “I missed you.” The words popped out before I could second-guess them or myself. It was true. He used to be my best friend. I missed his crazy jokes and how he sighed before putting on his seatbelt. I missed the dimple in his chin.

He reached for my hand. “So … I need to explain some things. Why I left.”

“Rachael.” I spoke the name that had hovered between us all night.

He nodded. “It’s time to tell you everything.”