frame's cardboard, staining it miserably.
âI can't believe my baby's graduation party is tonight and I have to work late again,â she sniffled, trying not to break down completely as the phone began to ring.
âHello, this is Amanda,â she said, clearing her throat.
âHi, Mama, I'm baaaaack!â
Oh God, not nowâ¦Tracey will never forgive me. Amanda's hands began to shake, and the receiver twitched in her hand as she tried unsuccessfully to maintain control. She strained to sound upbeat. âHi, baby, I was just thinking about you.â
âMama, is everything all right?â
âHow was your trip?â
âGreat! Salt Lake City has the most gorgeous mountains! We had some really bad turbulence on the flight back home, but Auntie Dee was working the flight, so she looked out for us. â
âDee? What a coincidence. Dee and I haven't spoken in a while.â
âDid Melvin call?â Amanda's tears streamed steadily down her face as she made a valiant effort to change the subject.
âThat's why I was calling. He said he wanted to make sure you had the light fixtures for the basement.â
âThat was on my to-do list to pick up today when I left from work.â
âWell, the basement looks great!â Tracey said, trying to gauge her mother's reaction.
Amanda wiped the tears from her eyes. âYes, Melvin and his crew did a great job in finishing it.â
âAnd right before the party, too! So, what time should I tell Melvin to meet you here?â
Amanda looked at the clock. It was almost one, and she had no idea when she was going to finish the documents that Pam wanted. Her voice became solemn. âTell Melvin I'll call him.â
âYou don't sound like yourself, Mama.â
Amanda felt nauseous and needed a drink of water. âHold on, baby.â She wiped her eyes again and took a tissue from her briefcase and blew her nose. Before stepping out of her doorway, Amanda looked around to make sure there was no one around to see her in her miserable state. She walked briskly down the hall, dabbing her eyes while pretending something was in them. Finally, she reached the water cooler and chugged five cups of water before she felt like she could walk back to her office and speak with Tracey. When she regained some composure, Amanda picked up the phone.
âTracey, are you still there?â
âYes, Mama. You were about to tell me what was the matter.â
âWell now, it's nothingâ¦just something I needed to handle at work.â
âMama, noâ¦not again. You promised!â Tracey cried out, knowing good and well where this conversation was leading.
The last thing Amanda wanted to do was break her promise. The relationship she and Tracey shared had become inexplicably strained over the last few months, and she wanted to have the party to celebrate her daughter's accomplishments and hopefully bring them close again. She hoped Tracey's road trip with her friends would bring her back more relaxed.
âI know, Tracey, butâ¦â
Tracey's voice quivered as she tried to force back her own tears. âOh, Mama, I can't talk about this right now, okay? I'm going out for a little while.â
Here she goes again with her evasiveness. âI understand, baby, I do. Where are you going? You just got back in town!â
âI just need to get some air. That's all, Mama,â Tracey sniffled.
Why does she do this every time we talk lately? I'm too upset right now to get into this with her. âI'll see you when you get home.â Amanda's voice was barely audible.
Amanda held the receiver to her ear until the phone went dead. Tracey's elusiveness was killing her. Feeling mentally drained and powerless, she gently placed the receiver back in its holder and walked over to close the door, then sat down to gain strength. The flood of tears that had been building up was now