When Peta goes missing, a two-decade old secret threatens to rip at the seams and come out in the open.
Relationships are tested as one dysfunctional family comes together in search of their daughter, sister, and wife.
What they find instead will change each one of them forever.
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About the Book
Good Morning, Bellingham
by Marina Raydun
September 9, 2019
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Add It to Your To-Be-Read Bookshelf!
Monday: October 1st
She does not get off the 4:05 train. I wait. And I wait. A long time I wait. My teeth chatter from the harsh autumn breeze. My eyes burn from the fine dust it picks up, but I wait. My knees are locked, my feet are cemented to the platform, my throat is getting uncomfortably tight. I blink and I swallow. I check my phone and reread her messages. And I wait.
I wait for the next one—the 5:05. And then the 6:05. I crane my neck and look up and down the tracks more often than logically necessary, intensifying the headache that had taken root in my temples when my sister hadn’t gotten off at 4:05. But nothing. She’s not there. She’s not here. And so, committed to my spot, I vow to wait for hours. To stand there like a school girl waiting for her pick-up when everyone but the teacher had already gone home for the day. I should know what that feels like from experience—mostly you feel silly to have ever expected any better.
I watch as the sun begins to set now. It’s growing colder and emptier by the minute, but I keep waiting. My clothes, still mostly hand-me-downs from my sister’s high school days, aren’t doing the job. I eventually must button up my denim jacket and stuff my fisted palms into its wasteful pockets. I continue to wait in remote comfort. I’m patient. Or stubborn. This doesn’t feel like a choice.
Fewer people disembark off the 7:05. Fewer still at 8:05. That’s when I fold and call Peter.
“She definitely left,” he tells me between carefully spaced breaths. “She’s not here at any rate. She texted me on her way out, that’s all I know. Maybe she missed the train? Was— I thought she— she was supposed to arrive hours ago?” He sounds vaguely irritated. Busy. I hear Gwenny cooing in the background. She is yet to say her first words, but she sure is babbling up a storm from what I understand. Or is it called jargoning? I call Peta every day and so I hear Gwenny in the background every day. So I know. I imagine Peter now, phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder, swaying over his daughter seated in her playpen surrounded by a plush family of Winnie the Pooh characters—her favorite. He must’ve just gotten home, I remind myself. He’d have to go to bed within minutes in order to be up in only seven hours for work. I should not have worried him. I want to kick myself.
It’s 8:30 and I haven’t eaten since noon when I’d grabbed a yogurt after psych with Gael. Well, I also had a cup of coffee before I got here, but that’s it. This is against protocol. I’m getting lightheaded and turning my head to look up and down the platform every few minutes sure doesn’t help. I call Gael. He’s in organic bio lab, I think. But I need a juice, a Snickers, something. I can’t afford to step away in search of a vending machine for fear of missing seeing Peta finally disembark one of these trains. The film forming before my eyes is obstructing my vision as it is.
“Something must’ve happened,” I tell Gael. I’m not sure why I say this, but now that the words are out my voice box has tightened and become strained when I wasn’t paying attention. This feeling is all too familiar. This is exactly what my throat did that dreadful morning when Peta called to tell me that Harry died. Obviously, it naturally follows, something dreadful must’ve happened to her now. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel what I’m feeling. I wouldn’t have said what I said. It may not be rational but there it is. She wouldn’t leave me standing here in the cold, darkening night. She was so excited when she called to tell me she’s coming. Just yesterday! She wouldn’t just leave me hanging now and not pick up the phone or answer my myriad text messages. No, that would never happen.
Great, now I’m thinking about Harry, which isn’t helpful. The day Harry died, to be more specific. I don’t remember much else about him, to be honest. It seems so long ago now, though it wasn’t really. Not objectively. I was just about to take my SATs when my phone rang with the news. Of course, once I was brought up to speed, I had to reschedule. While my mind was at once crystal clear with the adrenaline of the information shocking my system, my entire body went numb and began to pulse, lightly, within seconds. I simply couldn’t hold my number 2 pencil, it was that simple. I had to reschedule. It was a no brainer to leave. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise—the timing of it all, not the fact of the matter of his untimely passing, obviously. As a result, I got to retake the test and wound up scoring in the 97th percentile. Though Harry unlikely knew what the SATs were, I imagined him smiling down at me when I finally received my score, clicking open the e-mail with my heart heavy and my stomach soft. He did have the goofiest smile, all four teeth visible, from what I remember. There are no pictures.
Well, there are no SATs now, but I do have midterms next week. I’d have to get extensions from my professors, I catch myself thinking. If she never disembarks, that is. I hate myself for thinking any of this and screw my eyes shut against the sun descending further, practically invisible on the horizon. I want to smack my forehead to stop. I almost do, but it wouldn’t help. The logistics aren’t important, I lament, pointlessly, already having buried her. This would be considered eerily prophetic if I weren’t so prone to overdramatizing uncertainties on a daily basis. Mommy can tell you. Or Gael. Or Peta.
The clock tower ticks mutely, as if mocking me with its pronouncement of time—9:05. My throat begins to hurt now.
“Is Peter sure she left?” Gael ventures, finally at my side with a mason jar of cooling mate.
And then I finally cry.
Peter looked up to the pale, darkening sky above. The moon and its milky, soft edges. You could actually make out the stars out here, not like in Seattle, where it was too bright to see much of anything. There are too many buildings, too much electricity in the way there. He’d tried—telescopes and all. He was twelve when he first did, having just been placed with a family that lived arguably too close to downtown. He couldn’t remember the name now. It didn’t work out. The family moved and taking a foster kid out of county was tricky. But, when he first arrived, the dad there had a Tasco telescope in his den and Peter was encouraged to use it his first night there. It was a demonstrative effort to help him feel comfortable in his new home. The offer did little to quell the nausea he was nursing in the pit of his stomach that evening, but the social worker gave him a gentle nudge forward and he complied. Eventually he’d grown fond of the activity despite often seeing not much more than the vacuous sky itself, unable to make out any details. It was just that standing next to this powerful rod, looking up at something so expansive, it filled him with unjustified, dumb hope. Long after he left that cold loft, he continued with the tradition when he got to college and used his scholarship refund money to get a telescope of his own. There, on campus, he’d trudge it out to the quad and squint tirelessly to make out as much as possible through all the unfortunate byproducts of human progress. But here in Bellingham less civilization stood in the way of stargazing. He could finally see the stars. He was going to show Harry the telescope when he was old enough. It was in his half-basement office now.
The water in the hot tub was scalding but the air above it was frigid. October was always a cool month up here. The combination made for a refreshing, exhilarating effect—sweat and goosebumps. Peter loved the sensation. He could spend hours fighting the chills of the breeze hitting his face while watching the steam rise around him. The contrast both soothed him and made him alert. This was what he imagined mediation to be like.
Gwenny was now supposed to be actively rocked to sleep by Marsha. He finally had a few minutes to gather his thoughts, but they refused to gather. Without getting his story straight, there was no point to this ill-timed soak. But he was too tired to think and the adrenaline he was expecting to be pulsing through his veins by now was slow to start. It was late in his personal time zone. On a regular day, he would’ve had to be up at 3:30 A.M. tomorrow and 8:30 P.M. was his usual bedtime. Now, it was 9:30 and sleep was no longer in the cards. One of the many town’s busybodies had already called to inform him that he’d spotted his wife’s car in the Whole Foods parking lot and that she wasn’t to be found anywhere near it. The same good Samaritan wanted to know if Peta was all right. Was she okay? Peter had placated the man by assuring the geriatric groupie that he was sure she was just fine and that her truck had simply broken down. For all he knew, maybe it had. Soon enough, everyone would know and everyone would inquire. And then there would definitely be no sleep.
Clearly, there was no sense in going through with the pretense of driving to the train station to look for Peta now. Undoubtedly, the cops already knew that he’d been dutifully informed by that same concerned citizen of the city of Bellingham as to the location of his wife’s car hours ago so he may as well just go directly to the police station now, he reasoned. But this soak was just so tempting. It’d been a long time since he’d had time for something so frivolous and solitary, and he didn’t know when the next opportunity would avail itself. When he’d first lowered himself into the bubbling water, it seemed like a “now or never” situation, but now that he was in, he wasn’t so sure it had been. The neighbors weren’t a great distance away and steam was known to travel. He exhaled forcefully, savoring the sight of vapor rolling out of his likely blue lips. He’d have to get out soon. He had dry clothes waiting in his office—a carefully chosen khakis and a pale blue button-down shirt made up of fine white stripes. He’d kiss Gwenny through the monitor screen and then head to the police station. He would have to consider all these optics a lot more carefully from now on.
Peter rubbed his face awake. He didn’t want to start the car. His hair was still wet and that wouldn’t look good. This much he knew even back in the tub but styling his hair too seemed in poor taste. He’d just have to explain the hair somehow. And the soak itself in case any neighbor decided to be helpful and report the steam in the effort to bring Peta back. It was better to be proactive, upfront. Be in control of the narrative, so to speak. Put his professional skills to some use. The thought of it seemed to sober him up, if only momentarily. He floored the break and let his index finger hover over the “start” button.
The dashboard clock read 10:30, which meant he’d been awake roughly eighteen hours straight now, he calculated as he sipped the now lukewarm coffee in his thermos, his headlights on. He drank this bitter Ethiopian blend by the gallon. So did Peta. Given that there’d be no sleep that night, Peter knew it was wise to ingest his caffeine early. He didn’t know when he’d be back. Reclined in his seat, he was reluctant to get moving but took the manual break off anyway. He moved half way out of his driveway before he called Lucia. Someone would have to fill in tomorrow.
“Is Peta okay? I heard her car was found without her in it? Did it break down or something? Is she all right?” It was nice of Lucia to pretend to care this much, if only she didn’t sound so damn eager.
“I hope so,” Peter muttered, feeling his car roll down his driveway.
“Where was she going? To visit her sister tonight, no?”
“Right,” Peter nodded to himself in his rearview mirror. There’d be no cars on their street this time a night, so it didn’t matter that half his truck now created a hazard. It wasn’t strenuous mathematics but would everybody know about this trip now? All the notice he got was a text after her therapy appointment. Going to see Sioux. Marsha is here early. I’m out. “She was. She— she is staying the night so I need to be there for Gwenny. It’s Ma— Marsha’s day off,” he lied, easily. No sense of giving the woman too much giddy excitement over the prospect of taking over fully just yet.
“Super! See you tomorrow,” Lucia beamed through the phone as Peter backed a few more feet further away from the house and unto the bare street.
“That’s what I’m saying, Lucia—you won’t.” Who knew when he’d be back at the station now, although his headshot would sure appear on his viewers’ TV sets as early as 6am tomorrow. Before Lucia could ask any more questions he hung up and backed all the way out onto the dark street, his headlights the only source of light.
“So is she there yet?” he yawned when he called Sioux back.
“No,” the girl sniffled, her raspy voice distant by way of his patchy Bluetooth connection. “I’m still here, waiting.”
“At the train station?”
“At the train station.”
She could abandon post, Peter knew; clearly Peta wasn’t coming. Even Sioux had to realize that. Her loyalty often came across as dimwitted.
He scratched his stubble, navigating with his left hand on the wheel. He squinted in the rearview mirror to see if he could still see his house behind him. No, he couldn’t admire it tonight. Definitely not tonight. There was too much talking ahead of him. Taking pride in his accomplishments may be deemed misplaced, untimely. The soak was bad enough. Now he had to go answer all the textbook questions. He already knew what was coming: Did they fight? Did she have reason to leave? Would anyone want to hurt her? What was he doing all day today? Could anyone account for his whereabouts? He would be asking similar questions were he still employed in his original capacity.
“Did you eat?”
“Yes. Gael is with me.”
And then she cried.
Andrew never meant to make falling asleep in his clothes a habit. It happened of its own accord. Somehow, without paying enough attention to routine, he woke up every so often still wearing his jeans. His shirt, he’d routinely note with amusement, he’d manage to somehow wrestle off without waking; he’d find it curled under his head, used as a makeshift pillow any particular night. If this was how much he was capable of accomplishing without a shred of consciousness, he feared to think what else he was capable of that he was yet to discover about himself. On the plus side, he mused, mid-40s was as good an age as any to continue learning about yourself. To be fair, general worldliness and pedestrian Buddhism was also something he never meant to intentionally adhere to but, surrounded by youth day in and day out, this too became unavoidable once Andrew found himself alone in the house once John left.
His phone ringer, being standard iPhone issue, worked its way seamlessly into his dream. It usually did. Every student had that phone, every student had that ringer. It wasn’t a stretch of imagination for his brain to manufacture a dream where it was his student’s phone going off during his lecture on contractual offer and acceptance. First one, then another. Then another. In his dream, he was about to hurl his own phone off the desk and in the direction of the careless, sleepy-eyed teenagers in front of him. The fat kid with glasses, the one always interrupting his train of thought with irrelevant comment on the utility of architects had been getting on his last nerve for months. He had it coming. When he raised it above his head, he caught the sight of the screen. Lena.
His voice was hallow. When he threw his elbow off of his eyes, he was rudely reminded that the light was on, as was the TV. He was, of course, in the living room. The television blaring Don Lemon was suddenly much louder than it must’ve been when he fell asleep.
“What?” he tried again, croaking through what he could only visualize as cobwebs in his throat.
“John still isn’t home. His shift was over hours ago. The store is not even open anymore, but he still isn’t home.”
She was drunk. There was enough familiarity there for it to make it almost endearing. Slowly Andrew curled into a position that resembled sitting. He muted Don Lemon and rubbed his eyes. They protested but he willed them open. The unkempt room greeted him and he wanted to shut them again. An overstuffed sectional, a coffee table the glass of which was not visible under the many piles of papers. Why hadn’t he moved?
He rarely made it to the bedroom. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept there. It couldn’t quite be chucked off to mourning his failed marriage—he didn’t remember sleeping there even before they separated and Lena moved. That brown leather sectional with popped leather was hardly made for routine slumber but Andrew never quite made it to bed, whose mattress was designed for just that. What would start as five minutes of TV and grading papers would morph into an hour of TV and a nap.
“What are you talking about?”
Sobs. That’s what happened when Lena drank more than one bottle in one sitting. It didn’t happen often but when it did, sobbing was usually involved.
“He is not answering my calls… It’s all because of her! You knew! You fucking knew!”
Andrew didn’t take bait. This was part of their game.
“You knew,” she hiccupped again.
Andrew rubbed his face, scratching his stubble.
“What exactly did I know?” he tried against his better judgment.
“Well, she told him! Are you happy?!” Lena shrieked with renewed vigor.
“Who? What are you talking about?”
He was up now, naked toes in the shaggy, gray carpet. If he wasn’t careful and turned on his heels without mentally preparing for it, it would slice into his dry skin.
“He is mine, do you understand this?!” Choking on her own tears as she may have been, her volume was impressive, Andrew noted. “He doesn’t pick up the phone!” his ex-wife wailed.
Andrew considered this unexpected flow of information rushing at him, balancing tomorrow’s schedule against it.
“l’ll be there soon.”
When she was a little girl, she dreamed of a bed nestled underneath a slanted roof. A far cry from her reality that dream of hers was. The ceiling of her childhood was tall and stained. It was mold but, at twelve, she imagined it to be urine. She’d be afraid to give in to sleep many a night for fear of it dripping, as if keeping her eyes open was acting as a deterrent. Now that her ceiling sloped inches from her nose, she wanted distance.
Her son-in-law’s name on her screen was never a good thing.
“Is Peta with you?”
Heavy with sleep, Evelyn allowed herself a chuckle. Her daughter hadn’t voluntarily kept her mother company since the age of eighteen.
“No, Peter, she is not.”
Doing her best to ignore the nauseating sensation of her stomach plummeting to her heels, Evelyn probed her mattress for her glasses.
12:15 read the projection from her side table clock on her sloped ceiling.
She swung her feet off the bed and groaned. Every single morning for two years now the sight of those stairs leading from her little penthouse down into the kitchen she regretted the choice of this move. It was the first time in her life that she lived alone, not counting the however many suffocating months in the Greenwald’s stuffy attic in Topeka. Sharing a bathroom with four other families at the age of ten, she swore she’d spend the rest of her life living as solitary as possible. She instinctively knew she would not miss warm toilet seats. But once she found Peta growing inside her and then next to her in a borrowed bassinette, it was like her decisions were no long her own, much like her body. As if a force stronger than her was suddenly in control of her fingers. One morning she answered a classified ad by calling the advertised phone number (people had phone lines of their own! Her own landlord did! It had blown her immigrant mind!), hoisted her pale baby on her hip and joined three other writers in search of communal housing. It’s like she knew she’d need the proverbial village before she even learned that expression. With Sioux it was different— her daughter moved out with the first positive pregnancy test. For Evelyn, moving felt like the first long-overdue decision she made of and for herself. Technically, it was her second. And eighteen years later, when her second-born attempted independence on the good word of the first-born, Evelyn moved out of the country on a whim she hadn’t been permitted in ages. The impulse for solitude was long overdue. Still, though, there were no queues for the laundry now, she missed having more than a glorified studio apartment to call her own. The temperate climate of Victoria and the exclusive roof-rights made up for it most days, but right now, she wished she had someone’s wall to knock on. No good news was coming.
“Did you have a fight? I imagine you’ll have to answer these questions with the police, might as well practice.”
She started the Keurig, hoping the sound of the coffee brewing would mute that of her heart thumping.
This was smart, Evelyn thought. Establish a record of yourself calling with concern, why don’t you. And not a single incident of stuttering, which didn’t speak to concern. Before she could verbalize any of this, the line went dead.
“Where was she going?” Evelyn asked, having stepped out on her rooftop terrace and replaced the phone to her ear. Reception was better out here.
“Sioux? What did she want with my Sioux?” She was about to argue, insist that Peta was going to visit her, but it didn’t seem immediately necessary. She’d never visited her up here, after all; maybe it was just a figure of speech she used when she last texted.
Straining to hear Peter’s every breath Evelyn squinted instinctively, though there were no lights in the immediate vicinity. This place was dark at night.
“I have no idea. I just got a text informing me she was going down for the day. Sioux says Peta said she had a surprise for her.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes. Peta had never ever been good with surprises—she’d always spoil them. She wrapped her arms around herself, keenly aware of her hair in a heap on top of her head.
“Goodbye, Peter,” she said when she felt her pulse quicken. “I have to call my daughter now.” But she didn’t pick up. Neither one of them.
Tour Wide Giveaway
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About the Author
MARINA RAYDUN’s published works of fiction include a compilation of novellas One Year in Berlin/Foreign Bride, a suspense novel entitled Joe After Maya, and a two-part series, Effortless. Born in the former Soviet Union, Marina grew up in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a J.D. from New York Law School and a B.A. in history from Pace University. She is an avid music fan, a cat lover, and an enthusiastic learner of American Sign Language. Whenever she is not writing, Marina enjoys spending time with her family, catching up on Netflix, and baking.