“Fawn? Hello?” Mattie left her bag in the foyer and walked into the living room. Fawn was asleep on the sofa. With her long mane of black hair cascading over the cushions, she looked young, vulnerable and even more beautiful than remembered, despite the pale pallor and dark smudges beneath the eyes. Mattie went to the guest bedroom, brought back a comforter and gently tucked it in around her. If there was anyone Mattie took an instant liking to, and there wasn’t because she’d remember, it was Fawn. Her exuberance and candour were the perfect foil for Mattie’s reticence and suspicion. She was also an ally. Simon’s grandmother considered her grandson’s partner a threat, and his parents, though friendly, seemed distant. Fawn made up for this wariness by being Mattie’s enthusiastic supporter or staunch defender, depending on the circumstances.
Fawn was a make-up artist with an emphasis on artist. She created art on a person’s face incorporating unique First Nations designs and symbols. She came to Hollywood’s attention after she’d worked on a few movies being shot in Vancouver. Almost overnight the family added another celebrity, though little sister was a lot less camera shy than her reluctant brother and his partner. Makeup by Fawn drew more attention on the red carpet than the designer clothes the stars were wearing. And it didn’t hurt that the girl was her own best advertisement. She’d been in Los Angeles for nearly a year, her fabulous face appearing on entertainment shows and her stunning designs gracing the covers of glossy magazines. Her star just seemed to keep rising and suddenly there she was in Delta looking forward to seeing Mattie?
Mattie unpacked her laptop and was about to check her emails when Leo poked his head out of the dining room.
“How’d you know I was home?” She knelt beside the tortoise and rubbed the leathery skin of his outstretched neck. Tortoises were deaf, but Mattie suspected Leo could sense the vibration of footfalls and even distinguish who they belonged to. Either that or he was just hoping to find a midnight snack left on the floor by their guest. Mattie took a carrot out of the refrigerator, diced it on a plate and put it on the floor by her chair at the table.
One hundred and five emails had accumulated unanswered in the past thirty-six hours. Half of them were spam but the others needed her attention, particularly the ones about the promotion. Six were from Blake Chisholm, the abrasive reporter whose beat seemed to include whatever she was involved in. She’d been out of the country for two months, what could he be pursuing that would further malign her? She couldn’t imagine he’d be interested in re-wilding parrots.
What was on the screen required energy to address. Energy she didn’t have, yet she was too keyed up to sleep. She decided to call her mother.
“Hello?” It was a masculine voice Mattie didn’t recognize.
“I’m calling for Louise Saunders. Is this her phone?”
“Yes, but she’s sleeping.”
“Who’s this? Is everything alright?”
Mattie heard muffled voices.
“Madison?” Louise sounded like she’d just woke up.
“Who’s answering your phone, Louise?”
“That’s Dana, a friend. She lives in Vancouver but works out here in Surrey. Sometimes she crashes here rather than make the commute.”
“You sound tired, I can call tomorrow.”
“No, it’s okay,” her mother said. “So, was Pickles’ re-wilding a success?” Louise never talked about herself. All she ever wanted to hear about was what Mattie was doing, feeling, thinking. Mattie could talk incessantly and mindlessly, and Louise never cut her off, never had to go, never changed the subject.
Mattie told her about the experience in Ara Manzanillo leaving out the debacle in Honduras.
“I miss Pickles, Mom. Can you believe it?”
“Of course, you do, Matz. You were together for a long time. She was part of your family.”
“Was she? I mean, what is family?”
“Good question,” her mother said. “Different things to different people I suppose.”
“I don’t know why, but lately I feel like something is missing.”
“And you think it’s family?”
“Why am I asking you?” Mattie said. “You did your best to destroy the one you had.”
Louise had been a nineteen-year-old drug addict living in a skid-row hotel on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver when she became pregnant. She returned home and lived with her father managing to stay clean during the pregnancy but shortly after giving birth she abandoned her baby and returned to the previous lifestyle. Her father, a widower, decided his infant granddaughter would be better off as a ward of the government, so Mattie spent the first twelve years of her life in foster care until her grandfather decided to become her guardian. She’d reconnected with her mother eleven years ago after Louise kicked the habit. Working through the anger and pain had been brutal, but essential. It was a wound Mattie thought had healed but apparently not completely. Conversations like this tended to pick at the scab.
“Okay,” Louise said. “But everyone wants a family. It’s like a basic human need.”
“But look at you, me and Grandpa, that didn’t work out so good did it?”
“You’re right, but because we need it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work or be good. Everyone I know on the street is there because of their family, a dysfunctional one mind you. It seems to be the source of our greatest joy or our deepest pain.”
“Thanks for the reassurance, Louise.”
“I’m sorry, Matz, but there are no guarantees. Family is people, people are unpredictable. You have to decide if you’re better off with or without them, but I’ll tell you one thing.”
“The relationship I have with my daughter is the most important thing in the world to me.”
Lying in a big bed wide awake at three in the morning alone, Mattie wondered what family was? Could it be purposely created out of disparate people, or did it have to be biological with all the mystery, history, and disfunction? Could it manifest spontaneously, as it had over the past couple of months with the group of young people at Ara Manzanillo, or did it need years to grow and mature? She wasn’t sure, wasn’t even convinced it was good or necessary, but in her thirty-four years, there’d been fleeting moments when she’d felt its power and her need.
Like the conversations she’d been having with her mother these past years. There were still times like tonight when Mattie lashed out, but Louise never flinched, never rationalized, never made excuses about the past. Things were getting better. They were becoming closer. It felt good.
And when she looked into the face of her younger half-sister and recognized herself; same cheekbones, mouth even though the eyes and hair were different. Some similarities went beyond genetics and transcended their diverse childhoods; a feeling of familiarity, the big sister's desire to protect, and, unfortunately, advise, often met with the same stubborn determination even though their temperament was way different. Those were moments that deeply resonated and stayed with her.
Family was people, her mother had said. You had to decide if you were better off with or without them. Lying there alone was there any doubt?
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