Oh, boy. Two for one. Nell didn’t let herself hesitate.
Her father was behind his desk, her mother standing, looking out the window. Marc’s head came up, and Helen swung around to see who’d come in.
“Maddie.” Her father rose. “It’s good to see you. Why didn’t you let us know you were coming?”
“This was...something of an impulse.” Which was only sort of true, but she thought a white lie was justified. “I actually stopped at the house first hoping to see you, Mom.”
“We’re refurbishing some of the lodge rooms,” Helen said. “Your father leaves that kind of thing in my hands.” Maybe she was here to get down and dirty, but she still wore wool slacks, a cashmere sweater and tiny gold-drop earrings. She looked as stylish as ever, leaving Nell chagrined at her jeans and sweater.
Nell nodded. She didn’t remember her mother being very involved with the resort, but it made sense.
Her parents exchanged a glance she didn’t understand. “According to Felix, you two had a good day together,” her father said.
“Yes. I’m really glad he was able to get home right now.”
“Would you like the grand tour? See what’s changed?”
“Actually, Felix and I wandered a little yesterday.” She smiled. “I remembered how many hours I used to spend on that rock poking out into the lake.”
“Daydreaming.” Instead of being amused, her mother sounded disdainful enough to renew Nell’s discomfiture—and her determination. “You did a great deal of that.”
“You sound as if I should have been doing something else.” She kept her voice pleasant with an effort. “According to my teachers, I was a straight-A student. Emily says I babysat regularly, so I wasn’t lazy. Why was daydreaming a bad thing?”
Her father made a sharp gesture her mother didn’t see.
“You weren’t involved in a single school activity,” she said, the slightest edge in her voice. “I begged you to do something about your appearance, but you simply couldn’t be bothered.”
Nell met her eyes. “Maybe because you had made it so clear my looks were hopeless.”
“What are you talking about?”
Just say it.
“I’m asking why I was never good enough. Why you weren’t proud of your straight-A daughter. Why you aren’t glad to find out I’m alive.”
Her mother flinched. From a face that suddenly looked older, her eyes burned. “How can you say that?” she whispered.
Suddenly, Nell had had enough. “Because it’s true. In every memory that’s come back, I’m feeling inadequate and miserable. Not good enough, not pretty enough, not anything! Felix was the star in our family.” Nell kept her head high and included her father this time. “I’m asking why.”
“Then you lied about your amnesia?” Helen sounded shocked.
“No. But being in town has made quite a bit come back to me. One of the things I always wondered was why, even when I couldn’t remember my own name, I knew I couldn’t go home. That whatever was wrong that night, no one at home would believe me.”
Her mother’s nostrils flared in outrage. “You sound like a spoiled teenage girl, and I don’t have to listen to this.” She turned to her husband. “Marc, you can find me when you’re ready to go back to work.” She swept past Nell as if she weren’t there, closing the door quietly behind her.
Her father’s expression was harsh. “You hurt your mother. Does that make you feel better?”
She shook her head. “No. I’d feel better if I got answers, but I won’t, will I?” She nodded and left, too, going straight to her car.
Once she got in, she didn’t reach for the ignition and instead sat for a few minutes to be sure she wasn’t going to fall apart. The odd thing was, she didn’t feel much of anything. She poked and prodded a little to be sure she wasn’t numb—numbness would wear off, after all—but she finally concluded that wasn’t the case. She just didn’t care, not enough to be upset. It seemed she had already dealt with her disappointment about the parents who hadn’t loved her all that much.
I already knew, she thought. She’d hoped, but really she’d known. Was it some lack in her, or in them? No, she thought. Some lack in my mother. Instinct told Nell her father was typical for a busy, ambitious man whose family was as much for show as anything.
And there it was. His wife showed well. His athletic, handsome son did, too. His gawky, plain daughter with her head in the clouds didn’t.
So simple, so sad.
And she still didn’t feel more than regret.