Strangers pass me by on the streets, pretending that they know me. They ask about Burt and Helena and the kids, but they don't know me. What they do know is that I look like the mysterious Anna, the only woman to ever leave Robbin without a trace.
Mrs. Ainsteen, a full-figured woman with fiery red hair and tired green eyes is the worst of the lot. Every time I see her, her greetings evolve. The first time that I'd met her was because Burt had told me to visit her antiques shop, The Green Lily. I had walked in with curiosity and a slight sting of fear. Like something magical, she had popped up from behind her overflowing counter.
"Well, hello dear!" Her voice, I soon learned, is an everlasting mix of excitement and giddiness, either of which I can never get accustomed to.
"Hi," was all I could muster up.
"Burt sent you, correct?"
I nodded and she walked out from behind the counter, grabbing me in a strangled hug. "You poor thing," she said. "But you're okay now, Burt is a great man!"
"Thanks," I said, my voice muffled under her layered shirt.
From then on the greetings only got worse. The most recent one, yesterday, was the worst one. She still hugged me too tightly, but this time she asked me about Burt and his family, and then proceeded to comment about some wild adventure that she remembered Burt and Anna getting into as kids. "Those two," she had said, a memory glazing her eyes over. "They were made for each other."
She wasn't the only one saying this either. She was the most blunt, true, but others would simply whisper to each other when they thought I couldn't hear, and I am sure they thought I couldn't see them nudging each other in amazement at how much I look like my mother.
As the summer heat truly arrived, more teenagers started appearing on the streets. Burt had once told me that it was during this time, June, that the town would truly gain life. They pass me by as I wander the streets, in small clusters of giggling girls and cool boys. All of them ignore me and I make no attempt at being recognized by them.
It is now the end of June and I have started to feel comfortable once more. Burt has been working more frequently, coming home late often, and Helena's panicked voice can be heard almost every night, coming from their upstairs bedroom. Jonathan and Macy are both at a summer camp until the middle of July, so I am using Macy's room in the meantime.
Today, the sun is beating down ferociously, ignoring the fact that my pale skin might suffer. Burt had left early in the morning for his mechanical shop, leaving Helena still sleeping and me half-dressed for the day. If it wasn't for his note to me, promising to meet me for lunch at Eddy's diner, then I wouldn't have known that he'd left.
I pass by Gretel, an older friend of Mrs. Ainsteen and her chihuahua Rufus, before entering the diner. The jingling of the bells overhead signal my arrival. I smile at Eddy, who stands behind the counter with a glass in his hand, and search the booths for Burt. There's no sign of him so I sit by the one farthest from the entrance. Genny appears almost instantly beside me, the blue ball-point pen stuck on her ear.
"Hey darling, hot one out there today, huh?" she says while wiping the grey tabletop in front of me. "What can I get you?"
"The usual," I say.
"Just the milkshake?"
"Yeah," I smile shyly. "I'm meeting Burt and I don't know how long he'll be."
"No worries darling, one strawberry milkshake coming up."
She walks off and for the hundredth time, I look at the pictures on the blue walls of the diner. The sight of a growing family caught on film always intrigued me when I was younger, and Eddy's diner is a perfect example of this.
"That one by the kitchen window is of my dad, Eddy, when he was fifteen." A voice informs me from the counter. I turn and see Riley, the candy store guy that had offered me candy advise my first week here. "But of course, if you want the real looker of the family, that's me," he points at a picture near my table. "Wasn't I a handsome two year-old?"
"The cutest," I murmur.
He smiles and walks towards my booth.
"I'm waiting for someone." I warn him.
"Oh, I'm curious!" He smiles and slides into the seat in front of me. "Who may be this visitor of yours?"
"Aha, I see." he says. "Then, you must have a strange fascination with older men?"
"Well," he twirls the salt shaker on the table. "I heard you talking to Genny about Burt coming here so, yeah."
"Genny," I sigh. "Of course."
"Older men, huh?"
"You never get tired of this?"
"No," he smiles up, the salt shaker now forgotten. "But I won't tire until you let me take you out."
"And here you begin," I look up, hoping that Burt is near the diner.
"Come on Ter--"
"Do not call me that." I warn.
"What have you got to lose?" Riley pleads and I finally see Burt heading towards Eddy's diner.
"He's here," I smile.
"I can't do anything about him being here," I say and he sighs as he gets out of the booth.
He turns just as Burt is opening the door. "You'll agree one of these days."
"Yeah," I smile at Burt, who is already sliding into the empty seat in front of me. "I'm sure."