January 1, 2002
My fingers tremble as I dial a phone number I could have—and had—dialed with my eyes closed. Each button I press feels like a step closer to the edge of a precipice. I’m scared. I hadn’t talked to Dean in a month. I had disappeared without so much as a goodbye, but I hadn’t been given a choice. We weren’t supposed to have contact with anyone from Houston, or our old lives. But Dean was my best friend, my first love, and he needed me. I had to call.
The phone starts to ring, and I think I might be sick as the anticipation makes my stomach flip. It rings so many times, I’m sure it’s going to the answering machine. But on the eighth ring, he picks up.
“Dean, it’s me. Are you okay?” I rush out before he can speak.
“Millicent Hassan? Is that you?” Instead of Dean’s deep, honeyed voice, I’m hearing the husky twang of his mother’s. This can’t be good. This is Dean’s private line in his bedroom. She has never answered it before. I don’t even remember the last time she deigned to visit his room. I guess a lot has changed since I’ve been gone.
“Yes, it’s me, Mrs. Orleans.” My voice comes out in a croak.
“How dare you?” she screams at me, her voice no longer husky, but shrill. “You have a lot of gall calling this house after what you’ve done. What your entire family has done. What do you want? To ruin Dean’s life even more?”
I’m too stunned to react. I just sit there holding the phone in my trembling hand, letting her continue.
“Where are you? Where did you all run off to? Did you go and join that criminal father of yours?” She’s panting from the exertion of her tirade, but I can tell she’s picking up rather than losing steam
“What could you possibly think Dean would want to say to you? His father is dead. DEAD.” Her voice breaks and she starts to cry, but she continues to speak through her crying.
“Don’t call here again. Do you hear me? Dean hates you. We all hate you. All of you. It should be you who is dead, not my husband. It should be you who is suffering, not us. I hope you never, ever have a moment of happiness. You selfish, wicked girl!”
And then the line goes dead. The phone’s receiver slips from my hand and clatters onto the floor. Numbly, I bend over to pick it up and put it back in its cradle. Then I lie down on my bed and stare at the picture that has sat on my nightstand for the last few months.
It has been my one source of joy over the last month. Turmoil, sadness, loss, and pain have defined my existence since early December of last year.
The company my father had worked for declared bankruptcy and destroyed the lives of the people who had worked there. On the same day, my father, one of their former executives, disappeared with more than twenty million dollars in cash and we became the most hated family in Houston.
We’ve moved to a new state, have assumed new identities, and started our lives over. But today I saw on the news that Joseph Orleans, Dean’s father and one of Enron’s former Senior Directors, committed suicide.
I had to call Dean. I know he needs me. It never occurred to me that he would blame me. But, why would he not? My father is a suspect in the fraud, even though no charges in that respect have been brought yet. He has disappeared along with money that was moved from his retirement account days before the stock became worthless.
He looks guilty.
But I know my father. I know he loves us, he's an honorable man who taught us that shortcuts were a waste of time and punished us only when we were dishonest—the one thing he said he couldn’t abide. I just can’t reconcile that man with the one who has been accused of the things it appears he has done.
My heart breaks as I stare at the picture on my bedside table. It’s of Dean and I at homecoming only three months ago. He was homecoming king, of course. He's grinning straight at the camera with his crown askew on top of his head of shiny blond hair, his startlingly green eyes dancing. His arm is around my waist, pulling me into his side, both of my arms loop his hips. I’m smiling up at him, my face in profile. We were so happy that night. With his beautiful face, tall athletic build, and easy smile, he was every girl’s crush.
I wasn’t homecoming queen, but I was his date. I’d been his date since our sophomore year. He was so much more than my boyfriend. He was my best friend, my sounding board, and my study partner. I thought he’d be my forever. We had plans and now everything is ruined.
His mother’s angry insults echo in my head and I pick up the picture, press a kiss to it, and put it at the bottom of my bedside drawer. I can’t look at it anymore. It’s just one more relic tossed on the pile of garbage that my life has become. It’s another painful reminder of everything I’ve lost.
I hope one day, I’ll see him again and if he’ll talk to me, I’ll explain everything. I just pray he’ll be able to forgive me.