where are you? I've been worried sick."
The girl brushed an errant strand of mahogany hair from her face with a
manicured hand and sighed before she began. "I'm fine, Mother!
Like I told you in my letter, I'm in Chicago!" She sat on the bed, legs
dangling over the side and patted down the ruffled black Liz
Claiborne skirt that she'd purchased for tonight.
"Chicago! I don't understand why you--"
"We wanted to be together. You know
There was silence on the other end and Janil, playing with the button on the cuff of her
elasticized lace shirt, continued. "I'm sure that you can understand young love, Mother.
We've been apart for so long and--"
"Janil, you know what the Army said."
More silence. "The serviceman who came here
last week to give you the news..."
"I'm sorry, but I don't remember."
"I was home when he dropped by. I heard what he said to you about
Will. I held you while you cried--"
"Mother, I'm in a hurry.
Can we talk about this later? Will just stepped out of the bathroom.
We have dinner reservations at the Navy Pier in about an hour and--"
"It's not possible!"
"It's hard to get a reservation on such short
notice, but we managed it, because another couple cancelled at the
"Janil, Will is not with you. The Army said he was killed in
action. Remember? He was killed in Iraq. Shot by a sniper."
Janil laughed almost hysterically, and then turned to
say: "Will, the Army still says you're dead."
"Janil!" came her mother's voice.
"Mother, I assure you it's merely a clerical
mistake. I thought I explained that in my letter."
"Like I said, he's here with me. He's sitting on the chair across
the bed right now, dusting off his black dress shoes, shaking his head and
smiling as he
listens to our conversation. And--"
"I want to come to Chicago. See for
myself. Make sure you're okay. Your father and I are going to fly
"Don't, Mother. I'm fine.
Never better. I'm happy. In love. You're going to have to
take my word for it. It has been more than six months since Will and I
were together. Please understand that we need to be alone now."
She shifted, bringing her legs onto the bed, careful not to snag her hose with the heels of
her shiny black pumps.
"Janil, you're confused right now. That's understandable. I
want to help you. I need to talk to you--face to face."
"When I get home on Friday, we'll have plenty
of time to talk."
There was a long moment of silence. "Oh,
"I want you to just sit
down and think about what has happened these past few days.
I want you to promise me that you'll do that."
"I can't promise you that, because there's nothing to think about. And I want you to stop
this. You're beginning to scare me.
You sound as if I've gone mad. There's no reason
for this. You just don't understand. I'm with Will, and he's fine
and so am I. I received a call from Will yesterday, you see. He wanted me
to meet him here. Read the letter I left you."
"Then how can you explain that Mrs. Henderson called last night--said Will's
body is supposed
to arrive today or tomorrow?"
"I already told you--it's a mistake! Call Will's mother. I'm
sure she knows the truth by now. I'm sure Will let her know that
he's alive and well."
"Your father went over to Mrs. Henderson's house about an hour ago."
"I don't know. He hasn't returned yet."
"Oh, mother. You worry yourself so much about nothing. It's such a beautiful day and Will and I are so happy, and
here you are putting a damper on things when you should be happy for us.
The last time we were here, it was so cold--frigid air--thick ice on the water. No
boats on Lake Michigan. We couldn't enjoy our vacation. And we're
so glad that tonight we can finally have that dinner cruise we always---"
"Just promise me that you'll visit a friend before you
go to dinner."
"Harry James. You remember him. Don't you? He came to dinner
several times when we lived in--"
"I don't need a psychiatrist, Mother. I told you, I'm fine."
"He needs to see you. He's not well.
Just lost a son a few weeks ago. I've tried to contact him.
Haven't been able to. It won't interfere with your plans. It wouldn't
take you long to drop by his place. It's right on your way to the Pier.
He's just downtown and--"
"No. I'm sorry. I can't do it. It' not fair of you to ask me to do
this. You know how important the evening is to me and Will."
"I wouldn't ask you unless I thought it
Janil laughed. "I'm on to you, Mother. I know your little games so well.
I'll stop in and see Harry if you insist. But not tonight. Tomorrow.
"Why can't you accept the truth about what happened?"
"Why can't you believe that Will is alive and here? By God, you make him sound
dangerous. I'm not afraid of him. I love him very much, and I want to be
with him more than anything. Nothing will stop us from being together
"Prove to me that Will is there. Let me speak to
"He went out a couple of minutes ago, whispered that he'd wait for me in the lobby. I
have to go. I can't let him wait any longer. Goodbye, Mother. I'll
call you tomorrow."
The line went dead.
Margaret tightened her grip on the phone, gritted her teeth, then hung up.
But as quickly as she'd lowered the phone into the cradle, she snatched it up again
and redialed the long distance number as she nervously paced
the room. The phone rang and rang. No answer. She
hung up a second time, wondering what was going on. Had Janil had a
complete breakdown or was there really a man with her?
She turned toward the door. John had just came in. It was raining.
She'd barely noticed. He shook off his umbrella at the door, removed his raincoat and did the same with it. Then he hung both on the
brass coat rack next to the door.
His expression was solemn as he brushed some beads of rain off his balding head.
His gaze met Margaret's briefly, but he said nothing as he claimed his leather chair
before the fire.
She stood beside him, laying her hand over his. "Did you see Mrs. Henderson?"
He nodded. "It was no mistake. Will is dead. His body arrived today.
The funeral is set for Thursday at 1 PM. The Jones Funeral home."
"I talked to her on the phone."
"What? To Janil? When?"
"Just before you came in."
His whole being snapped to alert. He sat up in the chair as if lifted by a puppet's
"She's in Chicago like she said she'd be in her letter--at the Butler Hotel, down by
the Lake where she and Will stayed before. She claims she's with him."
John's forehead wrinkled into a frown. "Then how does she explain the
or the fact that the body was shipped back?"
"Clerical error. Oh, do you think it's possible. Maybe the body in the
coffin is someone else, and--"
Margaret's words died on her tongue for John was firmly shaking his head. "I saw the body."
They both remained silent for a moment, and then John took a deep breath before
continued. "I wanted to make sure, but I couldn't bring myself to
brooch the subject with Mrs. Henderson. The woman is obviously having a
difficult time coping with her grief. Instead, I
expressed my condolences, and she told me about the body arriving and the funeral, and
I went there to see for myself. I explained the situation to the funeral director,
Hank Richardson. We met him at Todd Anderson's parties a few times. Do you remember him?"
She nodded, holding back the tears, and John continued. "He took me to
a table in the back where they were about to prepare the body. Showed me the
corpse. It was perfectly preserved. His injury was lower--in
the gut, they said. His face and head intact. I saw the purple butterfly
shaped birthmark on his lower arm, saw the tiny rose tattoo with 'Janil' on
his other, and the little scar above his lip. There was no mistaking the corpse's identity.
Margaret nervously paced for a moment and then sat across from him in a wing chair,
lighting a menthol cigarette with trembling hands as she spoke.
"For a moment, she'd almost convinced me that he was alive. What are we to
"Go to Chicago. If we head out for MCI now, we should get to Chicago in
just over 2 hours."
"That may not be soon enough. She's going to Lake Michigan, on
some kind of dinner
cruise. I have a bad feeling about it. I'm afraid she's going to
do something to herself."
"I did. He said he'd see her, but she refused to see him."
"Call him back. See if he'll go to her. Tell him its an emergency."
He got to his feet. "I'll get our bags ready."
The next time they saw their daughter, she was sitting on
a bench at the pier, her body covered by a wool blanket, her hair wet and
sticking to her face, tears streaming her pale cheeks. Their old friend, Harry, sat beside her, a
protective arm around
her shoulders. They had to fight a group of onlookers, police, and
medics to reach her. When he saw them, Harry stood to greet them.
He and John talked while
Margaret rushed to her daughter. As she held Janil tightly in her arms, the girl's
"Oh God, Janil. I'm so glad you're all right."
"I'm fine," she said. "I'm glad you're here." And then she looked into her mother's hazel eyes
and added, "I just got him back, and now I've
lost him again."
"I know," Margaret said, wiping the hair out of Janil's face and
kissing the top of her head as if the girl were 8-years old again.
A cop approached John. "I need to talk to you, sir?" he said.
John nodded and went a few feet away to talk to the officer out of Janil's earshot.
A few minutes later, Harry was beckoning for Margaret to step aside with him.
Promising to be right back, she gave Janil
another hug before she went to speak to him.
"I think she'll be okay, Margaret, but she needs some professional help."
"From what I gathered, her boyfriend and her--"
"Yes, she was with a man. Witnesses on the schooner saw him. They
said that the two were apparently having a wonderful evening. They kept
to themselves through the cruise, holding hands and talking over dinner.
Afterward, they danced. As the ship was returning to port, Janil and the man
were watching the ships in the distance, when apparently, the boyfriend
somehow fell overboard. She jumped in after him. A crew member
jumped in after her and saved her life. They searched, are still
searching, but the man's body was not found. He apparently drowned."
"Good God! What a shock and after--"
He nodded, grasping her hand and holding it tight.
"But who was he?" Margaret asked.
"She claims it was Will Henderson."
"I know, but it couldn't be!"
"I've only been able to talk to her briefly, but from what I've seen, I think she's having a nervous breakdown.
Can't accept Will's death. I believe she met someone else, and, in
her mind, he became Will. "
"But who? She never mentioned another man."
"I don't know. I took a taxi here as soon as I got off work, but the
ship had already set out, and so I never met the man. "
"Have the police questioned you?"
"Yes. But I told them very little and didn't mention the crisis Janil is
going through, because I didn't want to implicate her in anything that could
result in her being detained here."
"Implicate her--for what? Why?"
"A possible suicide pact."
Margaret closed her eyes for a moment, slowly shaking her head. Then she
massaged her temples with stiff fingers. It was no wonder that she was getting a headache.
"So far no one has any idea who the man was.
Several other passengers said they'd heard her call him Will."
"I'm so confused." She studied Janil as she spoke. "I feel so helpless. I don't know what
to do for her."
Harry put a hand on her shoulder. "Of course. It's only natural
that you'd feel that way, but
just being here and giving her your support is the best thing you can do for
now. And as bad as things seem, I assure you
that she'll recover from this. It will take time, but she will.
You need to get her some counseling as soon as you get back to Kansas
"I'll call someone first thing tomorrow. Thanks so much for all of
your help, Harry. I don't know what we would have done without you. I can't
express how grateful--"
"It's okay. That's what friends are for," he said, putting an arm
She found John who'd been talking to the officer and Arnold Peterson, the
ship's Captain. "Harry
said she was with--" she began.
"I know," he said. "The Captain told me the same thing. She was with a
man named Will--or at least she called him that."
"How could it be? Where could she have met him? On the phone
earlier, she told me that Will had called her yesterday and asked her to meet
"He was probably a friend of Will's, someone he met overseas."
"Maybe. I don't know. It just doesn't make sense..."
"It will later. The important thing is that she's safe. Come on.
Let's get her out of here. The police have our names and phone number.
They'll contact us if they need to."
Janil sat in the back seat of the rented Lexus, still
shivering. Margaret sat beside her, holding her hand and reassuring her
as they drove toward the Butler Hotel. John and Harry sat in the
front seat, saying very little. It wasn't a good time for pleasant
Margaret and John didn't plan on staying in Chicago for a minute longer than
they had to. Harry thought it would be best if Janil went to Will's funeral. It would
help her accept that he was dead, give her closure. They'd get her
things and take the next flight out if one was available. They'd go to
Harry's townhouse and make the flight plans. If they couldn't
get an evening flight, they'd stay with him but leave the first thing in the
As the car slowed before the hotel lobby, Margaret clutched Janil's hand
tighter. "I'll go in and get your things and check you out."
Janil searched through her Coach purse for a minute and then handed Margaret
the key to the room. Then she laid her head back and stared at Lake Michigan
as if in a daze.
Margaret entered the lobby, assailed by the shock of tasteless 1970s styling.
The hotel was in a state of glaring decay
with it's worn and cracked tiles, outdated orange carpet, and heavily scuffed
walls, but it apparently attracted guests, because of its lakeside view.
The clerk at the desk was so busy painting her nails red and talking on the
phone to an apparent love that she didn't notice Margaret enter the building. And
that was fine with Margaret. She didn't want to have to explain why she
It took her no time to find the second floor room, and she quickly unlocked
the door and went inside, anxious to gather Janil's things and put the day's
events in the past. She found Janil's empty blue suitcase on the
unmade bed, and she went about stuffing it full of Janil's clothes, makeup,
toiletries, jewelry, and a spare pair of tennis shoes. She was about to turn and
leave when she saw another suitcase next to the bed.
It was small and olive green. She laid it on the bed and opened it with
a gasp, for it was full of men's things--socks, underwear, a shaving kit,
toothpaste and brush, shoe polish, and a comb. There were also military
uniforms, desert style Army fatigues, neatly folded.
Hoping to find a clue to the man's identity, she searched the elasticized
compartment in the lid, and withdrew a stack of letters bound by a pink
ribbon. She untied it and quickly scanned the contents of the crumpled,
papers. Love letters. And they were all to Will from Janil.
She carefully put them back and extracted a small box. She opened it to
see a gold engagement ring with a big diamond. Tears in her eyes, she
returned it to its rightful place and continued to search, finding
various military pins and a name tag.
The tag sat upside down in her hand and she trembled as she turned it over.
It said: Henderson. Of course.
She was confused all over again, and it took her a couple of minutes to
collect herself. But then she reminded herself of John's theory about a
friend of Will's.
Will would have doubtlessly entrusted his belongings only to a close friend.
Servicemen form strong bonds, especially in times of war. Perhaps
the man had come to deliver these private things of Will's to Janil.
Maybe he'd even known that Janil thought of him as Will and had played along
with it, not knowing what else to do. Or maybe he hadn't been such a gentleman
and had used the situation to his advantage she thought, eyes scanning the rumpled bed.
Ah, but she was torturing herself with such thoughts. Like John had
truth would come out later. Now, she needed to focus on
her daughter who was obviously in the midst of a complete nervous breakdown.
She returned everything to the suitcase and snapped the lid
shut. Without a backward glance, she exited the room and locked the door.
She made her way down the long hall toward the elevator when she heard
something behind her. She spun to see a man who wore only slacks,
leaning out the open door of the room she'd just exited. She
recognized his face, his eyes, the scar above his lip. From where she
stood, she could even see the little rose tattoo. It was
His name had only just left her lips when he smiled and vanished before her.