The first hint of what was to come happened when I was 14 when we flew back from my older sister Maddy’s wedding.
She’d been married at a mansion in Pacific Palisades. The bedroom I’d stayed in had a fountain on the balcony. If I walked past the naked baby angel and the burbling gush of water out to the balcony rail and looked west, I could see the Pacific Ocean stretching on out to the horizon.
My new brother-in-law was one of the biggest box-office draws in the world. He was barely taller than me. He had a strong handshake. He looked me in the eye when he spoke. The next time I visited them, when he wasn’t dealing with the 1000 wedding guests, Jack Ford promised I could take his Lamborghini for a test drive. He knew a guy with his own personal driving course. Speed limits didn’t apply there.
Throughout her high school years, Dad had never approved of any of Maddy’s suitors. They were all going nowhere. He could tell. Jack’s movies had grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. He’d been nominated for a Golden Globe. He donated money to charities worldwide. He spoke out on international issues. Had shaken the hand of at least two presidents.
Dad hadn’t liked Tate Ruchert, high school quarterback hero. Dad didn’t seem too taken with Jack either.
Right after the pilot announced we were flying over Lake Tahoe it happened.
At first, I thought Dad pounding the armrest was something related to flight stress. Mom had said she’d have to spike his coffee before ever getting Senate McCall onto an airplane.
A thin band of wet worked out the corner of his right eye. His lips puckered. The couple in the seats across from us were asleep.
McCall men didn’t cry. We’d buried my grandma and grandpa and my mom’s stepbrother Clark. We’d buried Mom. Dad hadn’t cried. Uncle Bob hadn’t cried. I was still a kid all those burials. Only 11 when Mom died and I hadn’t cried either, at least not in front of anyone. There wasn’t shame in it for a girl, but Mom had told me I always looked like I’d bit into a sour apple when I cried. She’d smiled, one of the last times she did, admitted she was trying to keep me from sobbing at her hospital bed.
It was giving away his daughter finally catching up to him I thought.
“How could I let it happen,” he whispered.
“Let what happen? Dad? Are you ok?”
He wiped his face with the heel of his hand. He sniffled. A flight attendant walked past us. It felt intrusive to look at Dad. I looked past him, out the window at the plane’s wing. It was the third flight I’d been on in my life. First being the Horizon flight between Ashmond and Seattle four days prior, second being Seattle to L.A. that same day.
“Lucy.” Dad leaned his head near me but didn’t look at me. “That wasn’t Maddy. That wasn’t your sister. That wasn’t your mother’s daughter we just left behind.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t hearing him right, I figured.
“I didn’t recognize that girl. Maddy? No,” he said. “I don’t know that person we handed over to that…Man. Looked and sounded like Maddy, but not her. No. Not by a long shot.”
The day before I’d been at what the press christened the wedding of the year if not the decade. A full orchestra played the wedding march. Dave Matthews performed solo at the reception. Queen Latifah had stood in line behind me to get some punch, and I handed her the cup I’d poured for myself. She’d laughed and thanked me for the punch. Touched my arm and smiled and told me my sister was beautiful. Jack had introduced me to a prince from Spain. A prince with bodyguards. And Jack just called him Tony and told Tony this here was Lucy, his new sister-in-law. The prince kissed the back of my hand and smiled at sight of the blush breaking out all over me.
Maddy and Jack were honeymooning in Buenos Aires. Then after that Maddy was going to start shooting her new movie. I’d met the director at the reception. He told me I should maybe think about acting, too. I looked like a young Sigourney Weaver he said, tall, athletic, a bit of a tomboy, but soft where it counted. Feminine. Later when Dave Matthews covered the song from Maddy’s high school prom I saw the director dancing by himself, wine glass in hand. It looked like the gopher dancing from Caddyshack.
“We’ve got to help her,” said Dad. He rubbed at his chin like when he was trying to figure out how the washing machine had stopped working.
He didn’t say anything else. It was sunset when we landed in Seattle. It was night when we landed in Ashmond. We drove home to Eaton in the same car Dad had owned since before Maddy was Maddy the movie star.
Maddy looked the same and sounded the same. She actually seemed to like me more than when we lived under the same roof, but I took it that came from being trained by a publicist or maybe a side effect of being in the constant presence of Jack’s million-dollar smile.
The thing bothering Dad was Maddy was now a member of Jack’s church - Lucentology. It didn’t play a huge part in the actual wedding ceremony. The man officiating hadn’t whipped out a copy of Forward, the church’s manual, and made the bride and groom swear upon it or chant or anything.
But everyone who practiced, most everyone who attended meetings in L.A., wore a necklace with a blue ‘L’ pendant, or a bracelet. There were even earrings. The head of the church had been at the wedding. He had a ring with a big glittery blue ‘L’ inset in the band. Looking around the reception, it seemed every fifth person in attendance sported a blue ‘L’ one way or another.
When Maddy and Jack had started dating, she’d sent us all kinds of Lucentology material. Dad had trashed all of it. I’d salvaged a copy of Forward and the DVD series The Program – the primer for the believer ready to enter the ‘Becoming’ phase of church life.
I thought it was all a little weird, but I didn’t see the threat so obvious to Dad’s eyes.
When I went to bed, he was still pacing the house. I was exhausted. I slept easily and woke with a vague remembrance of Queen Latifah’s smile winking in and out of existence in my dreams like the Cheshire Cat’s in Alice’s trip through Wonderland.