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Cheryl Fabman awoke feeling human for the first time since her surgery. She shoved her feet into satin mules and gently moved herself from her green satin bed to her white carpeted floor, then into the bathroom to pee and take her first good look at herself. All the bathroom surfaces were marble except for the large mirrored inserts in the walls. All her mirrors told her she didn't look bad at all. A nice side effect to the week in bed was that all signs of fatigue and irritation over her present predicament were gone from her eyes.

Cheryl could not help admiring her lips, which were very impressive now despite a bit of swelling that would probably not completely disappear for another week or two. The inside of her mouth felt funny, but so what? She hiked up her nightgown to her waist and twirled in front of the mirror a few times, taking in from several angles her still Lycra-encased hips and thighs. She had been thin before. With nearly two pounds of pure fat removed from vital spots she was even thinner. But she was most proud of the lips; they definitely looked movie-star plump.

As Cheryl studied herself, she reconsidered the skills of her doctor. At the time of the consult, Morris Strong had suggested a few other little things she might do. Botox shots for the vertical frown-lines between her eyebrows were out of the question because it contained active botulism and paralyzed the nerves or something.

He'd also suggested she do her eyes, of course. She was forty-three. She thought she'd wait on the eyes to see how the lips went.

Dr. Strong had informed her that in California they were doing full face-lifts at forty-two and it was better to start young. She pulled at the creases just beginning to tug at the corners of her mouth. He'd told her she could look twenty if she wanted to. But why bother? The Bastard, Seymour, was forty-two, a year younger than her and fat as a pig. Aston was fifty and looked sixty, another fat pig. She was forty-three and looked maybe twenty-eight. She was still a stunning woman. She could probably do better than either of them without any more work done.

She twirled some more. Nice butt. Really. Despite the Vicodin she'd taken last night, her eyes were clear. She saw that her hair needed freshening up, though. The yellow was too strong, maybe she'd go a little less brassy for the fall. She finished her assessment and padded into her daughter's room.

Brandy was still asleep. The air conditioner was humming away. It was freezing in her room and Brandy was buried deep under the covers. Cheryl checked the clock. Seven-thirty.

"Bran, honey. Wake up. Did you sleep through your alarm?"

There was no movement under the covers.

"Hey, kid, wake up and smell the flowers. Today's a school day."

Cheryl didn't want to lose her good feeling. She was through being an invalid. Where did it get her, anyway? No one cared how she felt. She'd be up and out of there today, ready to start a new life with new hips and new lips. Brandy had a mirror on her bedroom door. Cheryl looked pretty good in that one, too. She primped a little, fluffing her hair.

"Brandy, are you okay? Don't you want to see how good I turned out?" Cheryl frowned at her daughter's mess.


Cheryl didn't like the mess, or the way that uh-huh sounded. "Honey, what's the matter? You don't sound very enthusiastic. Don't you know what time it is?"


"You've got to get going or you'll be late for school. You promised me you'd take your studies seriously this year."


A third uh-huh. What was going on? "Brandy, I'm losing my patience. Get up and clean this mess up. It stinks in here. And get ready for school. Where were you last night, anyway? I waited for you for hours."

This got her talking.

"With Dad. I got home at ten. You were out cold." The covers moved, but Brandy's head did not appear.

"That's not true." Cheryl was stung. Maybe she'd had a Vicodin or two for the pain. But she was up practically all night thinking about her daughter, she was sure of it. "That's a lie, you know I never take pills," she said.

"Oh, come on, you were so fucking wasted you wouldn't know if an atom bomb hit."

"Jesus Christ! How dare you talk to me like that! I'm your loving mother. Don't you forget that," Cheryl exploded. "Look at your clothes. They're disgusting. What do you do, spend your time in a sewer? I know what you were up to, you little slut! You weren't with your father any more than I was."

"Well, at least I can see him any time I want. He hates you so much he wouldn't see you if you were dying of cancer."

Cheryl's breath made a noise that was meant to be a growl but came out like a sob. The pain of it all got her voice going. "I'm going to give him a little call about this. Look at your clothes. I've never seen anything so disgusting in my life. If this is his idea of parenting, I have a little surprise for him."

Brandy was out of her bed like a shot. She was wearing a pair of her father's boxer shorts and a T-shirt. "Don't touch my stuff," she cried. She looked horrible. Dark circles around her eyes. The pudgy teenager's body from hell. Cheryl freaked just looking at her. Brandy was a spawn of the devil, protecting a pile of filthy clothes and dirty sneakers. This child was never going to be a debutante, never going to be pretty, never going to turn out to be anything at all. She was hanging out in the park, God only knew what she was doing. Cheryl didn't know how she was unlucky enough to have an impossible kid like this.

"I'm your mother. I will touch your stuff," she screamed. "It's my job to see that you're taken care of. And I will not have you turn out a slut and a nothing. You little bitch! What are you hiding, pot?"

"Oh, come off it, you and that creepy friend of yours smoke pot all the time. So does Dad."

"Dad smokes pot? Are you crazy?" Cheryl was shocked, and screamed some more. Her ex-husband was an absolute uptight and boring square, a Republican, who never thought about anything but business and had ridiculous views about everything. They'd had no fun at all for years, and he'd never once smoked pot with her. Not once. She couldn't believe it.

"He's got a cookie jar full of it, smokes it all the time," Brandy said.

Cheryl's eyes popped. "I'll kill you. I'll fucking kill you if you smoke that pot with your father. I'll put him away. You're a nothing. You're going to be a Goddamn good-for-nothing, just like him. And watch me. I'll send him to jail. I will."

Brandy whined, "I feel bad. Mommy, get me some coffee. I'll go to school. I'll clean up. I'll do it, okay."

"You better do it." Cheryl softened immediately, thinking she'd order out for the coffee. "What kind do you want? Cappuccino? Mochaccino?"

"Look, don't hassle Dad. I was just mad at you for giving me grief all the time. I lied about the pot."

"You lied about the pot?" Cheryl said, suddenly sorry that she'd exploded like that. She always overreacted.

"You know I don't do that stuff." Brandy stood there guarding her filthy clothes. "I'll take care of this, okay?"

"I'll get that coffee for you, but hurry up." Cheryl didn't ask her daughter why her clothes were such a mess. Kids were hell, everybody knew that.

"I'd like a Danish, too," Brandy said.

Cheryl went into the bedroom for a robe and to call the deli. While she was dialing, Brandy ran out into the back hall and dropped her clothes and shoes down the garbage chute. They went down with a satisfying whoosh and disappeared forever.

Thirty-six | Tracking Time | Thirty-eight