Before going to college, Sophie suggested her parents take up jogging. “Run outside together. Wearing bright outfits. Nobody will suspect money’s tight.”
But social tricks that worked in Oklahoma only intensified her loneliness in Chicago. The university was huge. Nobody talked to her. Sophie might be invisible.
A straight-A student on scholarship, she watched videos in lecture halls. Afterwards the teacher called for questions. Sophie always raised her hand, which went unnoticed.
Thank goodness, Sophie’s (paternal) grandmother invited her to dinner. Lucinda hadn’t seen Sophie since she was a baby. The restaurant was so fancy Sophie drew back a second. The man issuing them in knew Lucinda’s name.
“Striking resemblance,” he said, touching Sophie’s shoulder. “Like your grandmother, you’ll only grow more beautiful, not less.”
“Albert, please.” Lucinda told Sophie, “Never listen to flattery. Besides, I was never beautiful. Interesting, people said.”
Lucinda was so keen and glamorous; Sophie forgot her homesickness. They discussed financial scandals and the Mid-East.
Every Sunday, Sophie ate dinner with Lucinda, usually in her apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. Monday through Saturday, though, Sophie’s loneliness grew worse. Students who sat beside her in class would stare into space rather than say hello.
On the phone, her parents seemed to have forgotten who Sophie was. They never said they missed her or recalled anything about her. They didn’t even ask about college except to wish they’d had her chance. Instead, the topic was television.
Lucinda served poached salmon and fresh peas. She had traveled the world as a museum curator. All the men she loved broke her heart in the end. And those that loved her developed tedious habits.
In November, Sophie arrived late but Lucinda didn’t answer when Charles the doorman rang her apartment. “Come back in ten minutes,” he said, “maybe she forgot.”
The wind off the lake pushed her backwards. Cars raced past but no other people occupied the sidewalks. What if Lucinda was dead? Sophie staggered around a corner. Stop being ridiculous! But fear wracked Sophie’s bones. She walked as far as the hospital. Lucinda might be there. Heart attack or—Sophie couldn’t think what calamity might strike an old lady. A stroke!
She pretended not to panic. Approaching Lucinda’s building, Sophie held her breath. Inside, Charles rang the apartment. Still no answer though.
Sophie tore away before he witnessed her weeping. Outside she gasped, choking.
She didn’t remember returning to school. Only worrying if she should call the police. She didn’t out of fear. Like if she called, it would be true. Her pillow muffling her sobs, she didn’t notice her phone ringing. But later she heard the voicemail.
“Sophie darling, sorry I missed you. This great sale at Saks delayed me. See you next week.”