Secrets & Lies
Here’s a sneak peak of the second title in the Kaleidoscope series:
She registered a slight twinge of guilt but quickly brushed it aside, glancing discreetly at the mirror at the front and expertly turning her back to the hidden camera in the ceiling. Before she could even discern that there was nary an increase in heart rate, Lacy had slipped the box of L’Oreal Sun-Kissed Blonde into her bag and headed to the register. Taking a moment to allow her eyes to linger on the customer choosing from the colorful yet tactful display of prophylactics, she wondered if he was eighteen. Probably not and decided it wasn’t worth the effort of discovery. Lacy paid for her value pack of Juicy Fruit and plastic bottle of Diet Rite, winking at the cashier as she handed her exact change of $2.31 and walked right out the door with the box of hair dye nestled between her wallet and the new bottle of mousse she had also liberated from the shelf. The bright sunshine would set off her new shade beautifully. A little prayer, a few pumps of the gas pedal and her aging Cavalier started on the second try. This was going to be a good day for Lacy Podczaski.
The drive home took only eleven minutes, but what a difference those eleven minutes can make. The Rite Aid where Lacy liked to “shop” was in a much nicer zip code. Grass can be no more than two inches high in that zip code. Teenagers don’t get pregnant and city buses don’t run in that zip code. There are all the normal security measures at the better-zip-code Rite Aid but the only purpose they serve is to keep the insurance rates low. People don’t shoplift in that neighborhood. Lacy is well aware of this and that is precisely why she drives eleven minutes away from home, away from the Rite Aid on the next block, to shoplift in style.
Home is not a trailer park but it might as well be. One Podczaski or another has lived in the half-a-house on North Main Avenue for over sixty years. Lacy’s great-grandparents bought it when they were young newlyweds and raised her grandfather and his three older sisters in that house. When they died, Eddie Podczaski, Jr. inherited the house and raised his three daughters there; with his wife for a few years and then on his own after she took off. Raising three young girls is not easy, especially not for a man alone, but he did the best he could. Two out of three didn’t turn out too bad, he reasoned. Lacy’s mother, Jeanette, was only fifteen when she got pregnant and had barely turned sixteen when she became an unwed mother. Her older sisters had let their high school graduation gowns double as wedding dresses and moved on to other, if not necessarily better, things. It fell to Jeannette to figure things out for herself until her sister got smacked around one too many times and Eddie moved her back home. In no time, the house was alive and loud again with Eddie, two of his daughters and three of their kids. The fact that only Eddie could legally buy the beer escaped no one. Then again, for North Main Avenue in 1987, nobody was very surprised by this. Nobody really checked IDs anyway.
Lacy grew up well aware that there was another normal out there and that it existed only eleven minutes down the road. She was determined to get her hands on it and claim it for her own as quickly as possible. Growing up in a house with an overwhelmed mom, a miserable aunt, two unruly cousins and an oblivious grandfather is the perfect recipe for any great success story. Nature had granted her a gorgeous body and a mind that worked quickly, if not righteously. Jeannette gave her the means and the know-how to use her looks to her advantage. If there was an advantage to be taken it was in Lacy’s pocket before the benefactor even had time to stop and appreciate her fetching smile and playful wink. She felt no remorse for taking something that she needed, yet could not afford, from a store. None whatsoever. In fact, she felt that having been born at such a disadvantage and the fact that Rite Aid made it so easy for her entitled her to help herself. She never stole anything for the sake of stealing, she only took things that she needed and, she promised herself regularly, that once she was out on her own and making decent money she would never shoplift again. Or claim that FedEx didn’t deliver her package. Or find a piece of glass in her dessert at a fancy restaurant. As soon as Lacy got up to the level as everyone else then she would play by the rules. Pinky swear.
Of course the rules that applied to Lacy and the rules that applied to everyone else were more often than not quite different. It helped a bunch that she wrote them herself- in pencil. Flexibility and grey areas were very important to the pretty, perky, petite blonde. When Lacy looked at her life and the hand she had been dealt, she saw more than the hardships and challenges. Lacy saw possibilities and opportunities even if she had to manufacture them. She was ticking off a mental to-do list as she pulled up to the curb in front of the Podczaski estate. That was a word she had read once to describe Martha Stewart’s house and liked it so well she started referring to her own house that way. Not out loud, of course. She only thought about the defeated row home in that term. Lacy understood quite well that perception is reality; she had clued herself into that fact along with the knowledge that sex sells long before she began working at an advertising agency. Out loud, Lacy told people that she lived in the West Shore home that had been in her family for four generations. She normally failed to mention exactly where on the West Shore. Things were just easier when assumptions were allowed to fester into fact.
Lacy’s to-do list was growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a good thing she had taken the afternoon off today. Ducking out of work early had become infinitely easier since last year’s Christmas party and the incident with Elliot. Fear of his wife finding out gave Lacy quite the leverage when review time came around a few months later. She wasn’t exactly sure how much Michael knew about it, but since then neither Michael Waterstone nor Elliot Ross, co-owners of Waterstone and Ross, had a negative word to say about their receptionist and her rather loose kinship to the time clock. Just another opportunity she had to seize for herself, Lacy reasoned. Working forty hours isn’t for everyone, certainly not when so much time needs to be spent in pursuit of other, self-improvement, ventures. She was nothing if not pragmatic about justifying her methods and motivations.
“This list of chores isn’t going to finish itself,” Lacy said out loud to no one in particular after she had successfully claimed her parking spot parallel to the paint-peeled curb among the grimy evidence of working-class life. She would color her own hair, polish her own nails and remove her own body hair. Someday, others would be paid to complete these necessary chores. Someday she wouldn’t have to wonder if the car would start today. There might even be a back-up car someday. Someday her cell phone would have a plan and not just minutes. Someday. That elusive promised land was coming ever closer as her relationship with Mitch prepared to hurl itself into that holy trinity of important milestones; meeting the parents, attending an occasion as a couple and one-month of exclusive dating. Naturally, Lacy’s definition of dating was in line with her version of the rules. So what if she slept with Mitch within two hours of meeting him? That’s where it was going anyway. What better way of insuring he would want to see her again than to give him something to come back for? It had worked, hadn’t it? He couldn’t get enough of her and tomorrow, at his graduation party, she would be there with him; as his girlfriend- not just as the girl he’s been fucking. Things were moving along perfectly according to Lacy’s carefully orchestrated plan. Nothing and nobody was going to get in her way or stop Lacy Felcia Podczaski from escaping the life into which she was born. There was another normal out there and she was determined to make it her reality.
“Why aren’t you at work?” Lacy’s Aunt Paula spat at her in the way of greeting as she walked through the front door. The angry slam of the screen door masked whatever Lacy mumbled under her breath in response as she walked with determination through the living room and headed for the crowded staircase. “What was that?” Aunt Paula bitterly screeched at her back.
Lacy dodged the piles of laundry, some of it possibly clean and folded, and miscellaneous items waiting to be carried upstairs and shouted back, “Why aren’t YOU?!” She knew full-well that Aunt Paula’s “job” was collecting a disability check at the beginning of each month and was also aware that she should not bother to poke the bear in the cage that was Aunt Paula. Sometimes Lacy just couldn’t help herself. The sound of her own footsteps pounding up the stairs and the slam of her bedroom door muffled the screeching tirade that Aunt Paula unleashed at Lacy’s fleeing form. Somewhere, in the back of her head, Lacy remembered that her aunt’s birthday was this month. She’ll be forty-one but can easily pass for fifteen years older. “I’d be an angry bitch, too, if I looked like her,” Lacy muttered to herself. She was secure in the knowledge that Aunt Paula was far too fat and too lazy to actually come upstairs to continue to scream at her so Lacy set about ensuring that she would not look anything at all like the irate relative still raging from the floor below.
The warm water hurtling out of the hand-held shower head set to the highest pressure possible was effectively rinsing away the Veet that was perfectly removing any hint of body hair from her waist down when Lacy heard her mother’s voice invade her steamy, bathroom sanctuary. “You know you’re not supposed to use that stuff on your cucci,” Jeanette said with only a mere hint of motherly concern.
“I can read, Ma,” Lacy snapped back and mentally cursed the faux glass shower door that did absolutely nothing to safeguard the privacy of the person inside. “And don’t act like you don’t use it places you’re not supposed to either.”
“I’m not acting like anything but really, Lace, you take it all off? Isn’t that a little twisted?”
“What do you want, Mom?” Lacy sighed.
“Why do you have to pick on Paula?”
“You know what I mean. Can’t you just ignore her?”
Lacy had finished rinsing away the unwanted body hair and splurged with the body wash that would have cost at least two hours’ wages had she actually paid for it; she was now rinsing the L’Oreal out of her hair. “Why should I? I live here, too, and all she ever does is ride my ass. I can’t breathe in this house without her telling me that I’m doing it wrong.”
“I know,” Jeannette sighed as her brain frantically searched for words to diffuse the situation and heard only crickets.
“It’s not my fault she’s old and ugly and pissed off at the world. I’ve got things to do and I don’t have time for her bullshit.”
“I know,” Jeannette sighed again, defeated. “I just wish things were different.”
“Yeah, well wish in one hand and shit in the other, Ma,” Lacy snapped as she finished up in the shower and turned off the water. She opened the door and reached for a towel before continuing, “I’m not wishing for things to be different. I’m making it happen.”
Jeannette’s interest was piqued and thoughts of her sister’s rage completely forgotten as she asked, “What are you up to?”
Lacy smiled and carried on with her post-shower ritual as if she were alone in the bathroom. There was no privacy in this house anyway, it’s not like she didn’t often have to share her limited bathroom space with another member of the Podczaski clan. “Tomorrow is Mitch’s graduation party,” she could not contain the grin that spread across her face making the expert plucking of her perfectly shaped eyebrows a bit tricky. “I’m meeting his parents and celebrating our one-month anniversary so I need to look spectacular.”
“That’s terrific, honey!” Jeannette’s enthusiasm was as genuine as her naïveté was pathetic. “I’m so glad you met someone nice. He is nice, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s nice,” Lacy frowned half at her reflection and half at her mother’s inane question. “He’s also rich, single and falling hopelessly in love with me so even if he weren’t nice he’s still a catch.”
“In love? Really? How do you know?” In the simple questions their roles reversed and the scant sixteen years between them seemed to dissolve. Jeannette had never been in love; not even with Lacy’s father. She was more certain of that than she was of who he actually was. Sadly, she had never been loved, either. She had lusted, been lusted after, pined, dreamed, wished, hoped and prayed, but loved? Not so much.
Lacy looked at the woman who had given her life when she could have chosen otherwise with a combination of pity and shame. “What do you mean how do I know? I know,” she snapped. The finality of her tone signaled the end of the conversation but just to drive the point home she added, “and I have quite a lot to do, Ma, would you mind?” She gestured to the door with her eyes, never turning from the mirror to look Jeannette in the eyes.
“Okay, honey,” Jeannette smiled to hide the pain she felt but did not know how to identify. “Let me know if you want me to curl your hair,” she added hopefully. Lacy rolled her eyes and forced a slight smile in the way of response to her mother’s offer. She meant well, truly. It wasn’t Jeannette’s fault that she was so clueless. Her pretty daughter knew this and tried not to take out her frustration and annoyance on her.
After she left, Lacy locked the bathroom door behind her mother and turned on the small radio she kept under the sink. Allowing her hair to almost completely dry naturally would help blow dry it sleek and smooth. She occupied the time doing her nails and took a moment to admire her work. Not bad. She could have been a great nail technician. Lacy thought of the girls she had gone to high school with; the ones who went to Vo-Tech and now worked at the mall in the discount, family hair-cutters. “I could’ve done that, too,” she muttered out loud to herself. “But then I never would have met Mitch Lassiter.” The grin was back and she didn’t bother to try and stop it.
Jeannette may not know what it was to love and be loved in return but Lacy did. She was head over heels in love with Mitch and quite certain that he was feeling the same way about her. As if on cue, her phone buzzed with a new media message. She flipped it open to reveal a picture of his erect penis and a note offering suggestions where he’d like to put it. The grin on her face widened, if that were possible. Would a man who didn’t love her send her naked pictures of himself? She quickly chose Option B and snapped a quick pic of said option to send back to him; careful not to smudge her fresh manicure. They carried on this way for another twenty minutes. Mitch begging her to come over, Lacy playing hard to get, all the while both of them knowing full well she would be in his apartment and he would be inside of her within the hour.