A Foolish Consistency
by Andrea Weir
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Book Excerpt:

I met Will the next morning in the hotel lobby. It was after breakfast, which, for me, consisted only of toast and coffee. I was far too anxious to eat anything more.

The plan was to start with a few hours at the zoo. According to Will, that was one of the kid’s favorite outings. Even Lizzy, at thirteen, still enjoyed the animals, the carousel, and the zoo train.

Will smiled when he saw me. He took my hands and kissed my cheek, careful to maintain a level of discretion lest either of the children was watching from the car.

“Are you ready?” he asked nervously.

“As I’ll ever be.”

We moved toward the door, but Will made a sudden turn that took us behind a wide post and out of view. He gathered me to him and kissed me fully. He tasted faintly of coffee mixed with maple syrup and cinnamon.

“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath, “let’s do this.”

The sun was bright, and I squinted when we walked outside. Lizzy was leaning against the car, arms folded across her chest, and Wiley was squatting down to examine what I later saw was a caterpillar making its way into a flower bed.

Lizzy had been watching us, but turned her back as we approached.

Will took Wiley’s arm and pulled him to his feet. At the same time, he put a hand on Lizzy’s shoulder and spun her around so she faced us.

“Lizzy, Wiley, I’d like you to meet Callie Winwood,” he said, gesturing toward me. “She is the very good friend I told you about. Callie, these are my children, Lizzy and Wiley.”

“I’m very happy to meet you,” I said, extending my hand first to one and then the other. At Will’s urging, each shook hands very tentatively. “Your dad has told me a lot about you.”

“I bet,” Lizzy said. I recognized the bitterness in her voice.

“Hi,” Wiley said quietly.

Will and I exchanged glances. “Well, then, shall we go?” he asked, trying to sound cheerful. I was more inclined to hightail it back to my hotel room and then to San Sebastian, where Bailey was waiting for me; but when Will opened the front passenger door and invited me to take a seat, I accepted. Lizzy and Wiley took their places in the back and buckled their seat belts.

“Okay, then,” Will said as he started the ignition and navigated the car out of the parking lot and onto the main road.

We drove most of the way in silence. I could feel Lizzy’s eyes on me, sharp as daggers. I was not optimistic about the weekend. At this moment, I was not optimistic about the future in general. It was clear from the get-go that Lizzy had no intention of allowing her happy trio—father, daughter, and brother—to grow into a foursome. Or worse, a sextet, when I included Ben and Justine. I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t felt any different when I was her age and in the same situation.

Will occasionally glanced in my direction or in the rearview mirror at Lizzy or Wiley. He did his best to make conversation that included them, but they sat stone-faced. I did my best to keep it going, but after a while the quiet just seemed easier.

Finally, Wiley spoke up.

“Do you like my dad?” he asked. Will coughed and sputtered in response to his son’s question.

I turned around to look at Wiley. His face was round and smooth-skinned with big blue eyes and pink cheeks that made him appear almost angelic. He wore a dark green T-shirt, khaki shorts, and a Boston Red Sox baseball cap. From what I could tell, he must have more closely resembled Joanna than Will, although his nose and chin definitely mirrored his father’s. Will was tall, and it appeared Wiley would be also. But there the similarities ended. While Will was dark haired, Wiley was ash blond. And where Will’s hair was wavy and curled around his collar, Wiley’s hair was silky straight.

If Wiley took after his mother, though, Lizzy was most definitely her father’s daughter. She, too, had dark hair, although hers was long and straight. It was parted on the side, and on this particular day she wore it pulled back and secured with a claw clip. Her eyes were the same vibrant blue as Will’s, and fringed with thick, dark lashes. Like Wiley’s, her nose and chin resembled her father’s, but she also had Will’s broad forehead, and their smiles were almost identical.

“My dad says he likes you,” Wiley spoke again.

“I’m glad,” I said. “Because I care about him very much.”

“Do you have children?” he asked.

“Yes, I have two—a son and a daughter. Ben and Justine.”

Lizzy shot her brother an icy glare. “Why don’t you just shut up?”

“That’s enough, Liz,” Will said. She caught his eyes in the mirror, crossed her arms against her chest, and stared out the window.

Wiley continued his line of questioning. I was grateful that at least one of them was speaking to me. “Did you know my mom?”

I felt a tightening in my chest. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I never met her. But your dad has told me a lot about her. It sounds like she was very special.”

Wiley looked down at his lap. “She died,” he murmured.

Will and I exchanged glances again.

“I know,” I replied, turning my focus back to Wiley. “And I’m very sorry
about that.”

“She had a car accident. My friend’s mom said she died on purpose, but my dad says that’s not true. He said Mom wouldn’t leave us if she could help it.”

Lizzy faced him again, her eyes blazing. “Wiley, I swear, if you don’t shut up ...” She jutted her chin in my general direction and added: “This is none of her business. She’s not even supposed to be here.”

Game on, I thought.

Fortunately, we arrived at the zoo before Lizzy was able to ratchet the tension up any higher. Will pulled the car into a parking space and turned off the engine. He opened the door to get out, and directed Lizzy to join him. She obliged, grudgingly, and they walked several feet away and stopped. I watched them through the windshield. They stood facing each other. He rested his hands on her shoulders as he spoke to her, but she refused to look at him. Instead, she stared at the ground and kicked at a rock that was embedded in the dirt.

What am I doing here, I wondered to myself. This is crazy. How can we possibly think we can make any of this work?

My heart went out to Lizzy. She was angry and hurt and frightened, and, despite the presence of a loving father, very much alone in her grief. I knew exactly how she was feeling. But there was nothing I could do, nothing I could say that would make anything better. At this moment, I was part of the problem.

The worst thing that could happen to Lizzy had, indeed, happened, and at this point, nothing could fill that empty place in her heart. The passage of time would bring some relief, and her family—aunt, uncle, and grandparents included—could provide comfort, but the healing—such as it is—comes from within; it’s a solitary process, and it moves at its own pace.

I couldn’t hear what Will was saying to Lizzy, and I wasn’t much at lip- reading. From their body language, however, it was obvious they weren’t reaching any kind of agreement. Lizzy held her arms tightly across her chest, still refusing to look at him. Occasionally she brought a hand up to her face to wipe away her tears. It looked to me as though Will had asked her a question, and her response was a slight shrug. He pulled her into a hug, said something else, and kissed the top of her head.

Watching Lizzy and Wiley during the drive—and, more particularly, over the last five minutes—I realized just how young they were, and how much growing they had left to do. Once a parent always a parent, I knew, but eventually children take charge of their own lives, and the parent can fade into the background. Will had a long way to go before he wouldn’t have to be front and center, and I had to consider whether or not I wanted to be standing there with him.

I had raised my children. I had done the soccer thing—as well as baseball and gymnastics and ballet and a thousand other activities. I had seen them through chicken pox, strep throat, colds and flu, broken bones, and even their first hangovers. I endured the unrelenting torment of their adolescent and teen years, when they broke practically every rule, and were, by turns, rude, insolent, and just plain smart-asses. And I had done this with the children that I bore—children I chose to bring into my life, and who, at the very core of their beings really did love and respect me. Children with whom I now enjoyed very close relationships. Did I really want to reenlist and take up arms—metaphorically speaking—with someone else’s children, particularly when one of them would just as soon push me off a cliff as look at me?

But balancing all of that, of course, was Will. I loved him. I had for more than twenty-five years, and we finally had the opportunity to build the life together that had eluded us two decades earlier. Would I throw that away?

As I sat there thinking, I became aware of Wiley’s eyes on me. I turned around to face him. His expression displayed a mixture of innocence and confusion. “This is all very strange, isn’t it?” I commented. He nodded. “You miss your mom, don’t you?” He nodded again, and I saw the shimmer in his eyes. I wanted to pull him onto my lap, hold him close and tell him that things really would be okay. Instead, I simply reached my hand back and touched his cheek, smiling faintly.