The police station is tidy but dust bunnies lurk in corners affirming only a clean surface. It smells funny too, like sweat and coffee and stale sugar. A young woman whose desk is in front of an open window obviously doesn’t smell like this room either; every now and then a wisp of her fruity perfume wanders over to me.
It wasn’t been a long drive from the hospital to the station, but the officer said it was necessary for me to do the line-up. Trey stayed at the hospital, so at least Graypay wasn’t alone; not that he knew where he was or what had happened. I wasn’t even sure I knew the answer to that; we had traveled so far so quickly that it was impossible to remember what state we were in; North Dakota or Montana. Maybe it didn’t really matter.
I was here now, in this station, because I had seen his face. It was only for a few seconds, but I could still see the depth of his blue eyes, and the long crease across his forehead, and the way his face glared with surprise when he looked at me. And then he left us there, confused and bleeding.
A police officer sat down opposite me and smiled weakly. “We’ll do this as quickly as possible, Miss Elliott. They are getting the line-up ready. The men will not be able to see you. You just need to look at their faces and tell us which one you remember seeing.”
“There’s just a bit of paper work to fill out while we wait,” the officer slid a clipboard across his desk.
As I reached for the pen, the officer saw how badly my hands were shaking. “Here,” he gently took the pen back. “I’ll help you. When is your birthday?”
The morning was perfect. I woke to the smell of bacon and eggs, found a new fuzzy robe on the end of the bed, and a card that had been slipped under the door. My seventeenth birthday was off to a good start.
The kitchen sizzled with excitement. As I stepped onto the tile floor, Mom, Dad and Graypay broke into a boisterous chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I couldn’t pronounce ‘grandpa’ when I was two-years old and ‘Graypay’ stuck. Mom poured my first cup of coffee, sweetened with milk, vanilla, and sugar. For years I woke to the smell of coffee. The rich aroma was delicious. Despite all my requests for a sip, I was denied, told that when I was an adult, I would join the ranks of the caffeine addicts. Until then, it was water, milk, or juice. All the years waiting were not in vain. Although I imagined the taste to be different, richer and less bitter, I drank it all. The warmth of adulthood spread through my arms and legs and I sighed, feeling very pleased.
Seventeen. I know what you’re thinking. Seventeen is not the legal age for an adult. Eighteen is. But my parents married when they were seventeen. They started their own business after seventeen months of marriage. I was born seventeen months after they moved into this apartment. And yes, I was born on the seventeenth of May. Sadly, there is no seventeenth month of the year – that would round it all off quite nicely. Luckily, they didn’t go so far as to name me Seventeen or some equally horrible name. Alison suits me just fine.
Graypay sat in his usual chair, drinking his coffee from the same mug, wearing the sweater vest he always wears in the morning to ‘keep the chill off his heart’. He looked to my dad, eyebrows raised. “Now?”
Dad breathed in, a slow, deep breath. He was stalling. Or preparing for the wind to be knocked out of him. “Now.”
Graypay smiled widely and leaned forward. “Alison, Do you remember what number 17 on your list is?”
This time I took a deep breath. Was he about to say what I thought he was about to say? “Yes.”
“Happy Birthday!” He raised his arms and stood up. “We leave when school’s out.”
My reaction at this was…well, I’m not proud of it. I’ve been raised to respond to things calmly. But Graypay was handing me one of my dreams and it was, without a doubt, the best birthday present I have ever received – or ever will receive. But still, I pride myself on being unlike the other girls, all giggly and silly.
What did I do that I’m so ashamed of?
I jumped up and down, screaming and crying. I hugged Graypay and screamed some more.
Next month I can cross the first thing off my list.
Alison’s List of Things to Do and Places to Go…
1. Tour Washington D.C.
2. Put a penny on Abraham Lincoln’s knee.
3. Make a wish in Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy.
4. See Old Faithful.
5. Hike through a mountain pass.
6. Follow the trail of Lewis and Clark.
7. Take my picture in front of a Redwood tree.
8. Be a missionary for at least a year in a third world country.
9. Ride a steamboat down the Mississippi.
10. Visit the pub that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien frequented.
11. Write in my journal at least once a week.
12. Read every book on the banned list.
13. Be an ‘extra’ in a movie.
14. Go to Christmas Mass at the Vatican.
15. Graduate from college.
16. Have an article published in a magazine.
17. Drive across country. Not on highways, but back roads. And never on a toll road!
18. Work on a cruise ship.
19. Read from the Bible everyday.
20. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen each Thanksgiving.
21. Take the tour through Anne Frank’s Secret Annex.
22. See the Great Wall of China.
23. Listen to what my body is telling me; my health is my choice.
24. Drink a mug of beer in a German pub.
25. Buy a bottle of olive oil in Italy.
26. Visit every state in the United States.
27. Learn the provinces of Canada.
28. Speak another language well enough to have a conversation and not be thought a fool.
29. Learn sign language.
30. Write a book.
31. Never eat ‘fast food’ again.
32. Go camping at least once a year.
33. Sponsor a child in another country.
34. See every Shakespeare play performed on stage.
35. Read the book before seeing the movie – in all cases.
36. If and when I meet a celebrity, I will not act like an idiot.
37. Solve a real mystery.
38. Drive on Highway 1.
39. And Route 66.
40. If I do become a mother, I will do it right, making my children my first priority.
41. Drive Highway 2 from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Pacific Ocean.
42. Buy books in hard cover.
43. Buy Christmas presents for children in foster care.
44. Rescue a dog from the Humane Society and give him or her life filled with love.
45. Always tip 20% at restaurant