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I stepped into the three-story pharmaceutical building owned by my mother, Dr. Grace Jameson. Not much had changed after eight years. But the chief security man, Clive, had changed a little. Gray hair lined his temple. Raising his head from the desktop computer in front of him, we locked eyes. I guess he had seen me approach and could not believe his eyes.
He stood slowly, a smile gradually forming on his face. "I cannot believe this! Is this my Zoe?"
I hesitated for a second, chuckled and ran into his arms. As a child, whenever I closed from school and my mother could not stand my nuisance, she would send me downstairs to man the security desk with Clive. I called him Mister.
"Hey, Mister!" I patted his back as he squeezed me into his chest. He smelled just like I remembered - lemon mixed with his body musk. Tears sprang to my eyes. I blinked it away before facing him.
"It's been what? Hundred years?" Mister asked.
"Haha, very funny. It's eight."
"Same thing. I have missed you. You are all grown up now. When did you get into town?"
I was quiet, debating whether or not to disclose everything. "Um, I am back for good. This town is my home now."
Mister looked at me like I had grown two heads, then a look of pity followed. He knew how I had always been at loggerheads with my mother right from childhood till she couldn't take it anymore and sent me to boarding school then college far away.
After my mother and father got divorced on my sixth birthday, my mother became cold, isolated and focused on her work as a scientist. This building and her lab became her home and love. Nothing else mattered, not even me. I tried to understand her, to get her to show some emotion or love towards me. It always ended up in failure, tears and fights.
I studied laboratory science in college and finished as the best graduating student so I could be close to her. Just maybe she would really see me. Still, she did not. I cut off communication for the past eight years, hoping she would reach out. Nothing.
Mister hugged me once more. "You know I am always here for you."
"I know Mister. Thanks. How's your Trisha?"
"She's fine. Has two kids now. I'm a grandfather."
"Wow, Mister! That's great. Congrats."
"Thank you, Zoe. Now enough with the chit-chat. You here to see your momma?"
I sighed like it was a huge task that I did not want to undertake. I nodded. "Well, she's been cooked up in that office for three days straight. She's working on a big project. Best you go up and see her. No point announcing your arrival."
"Thank you, Mister."
I took the stairs, got to the second floor. It was quiet and very cold with the aid of the air conditioner. I peeked through the glass into one of the offices. Two staff in white lab coats and face masks, looking into microscopes and mixing chemicals.
I shook my head, what am I doing back here? Why do I let this woman get to me every time? She doesn't care about me but somehow I could not let it go.
I walked to the glass door leading to her office. On the glass was scribbled:
Dr. Grace Jameson,
I could see her through the glass door. She had not changed one bit in the past eight years. Slim, petite, her jet-black hair held up in a bun, eyeglasses on the bridge of her nose. You would think we were sisters. I look so much like her except for my skin complexion which is a lighter shade than hers, just like my dad. Her head was bent, she wrote fast on a notepad. There were tubes and forceps on her table.
My heart beat faster. I was a little nervous. This woman had always been my world. I worked hard to earn her love. It was like hitting my head against the wall. Will she be happy to see me or scrunch up her nose in irritation like I was a nuisance?
It was like she knew I was there. She dropped her pen, removed her glasses, rubbed her eyes and looked straight at me through the glass door. I froze. We both stared at each other for a full minute. I pushed down the door handle and walked in hesitantly.
"How long did you intend to stand at the door and stare at me?" She asked.
"You knew I was there all along?" I got no response. Then I remembered she did not suffer fools gladly. She had a way of putting me on guard so I was always careful to ask the right and meaningful questions.
"Why are you back?" I think her face softened a bit, I am not sure but was she not happy to see me? I could not believe this woman. For eight years, not a single word from her and she asks why I am back?
I cleared my throat. "I got a job at Altor Bioscience. I am back for good."
She nodded just once. "Good. We are in business with them. Means I'll be seeing you around then." She put on her eyeglasses and it's back to work.
"Mother." She froze, gazing at the papers on her desk. I did not know how to talk to her anymore. "I - How have you been? It's been eight years. You never called?" I whispered.
She sighed, took off her eyeglasses again. "Zoe, I'm in the middle of an important experiment. Can we do this some other time?"
I could feel the tears coming up but I could not let it show.
"You are back in town now. Come to the house on Sunday for lunch. I assume you have a place to stay?" She stared through her glasses at me. I nodded in response.
"Fine. See you on Sunday?" She said dismissively.
"No," I answered simply. I'd had enough. My mother sighed and took off her glasses again.
"Zoe, this is the reason I sent you to boarding school. You don't give me a moment's peace. It's always one thing or the other.
"A moment's peace? Mother, it's me!" I raised my voice heatedly, not minding that we were in her office. "You are so cold! You never called me once in eight years. Now I am back and you still push me away? Don't you love me?"
She narrowed her eyes, her shoulders straight as she stood up slowly. I gasped a bit, realizing I just poured out my heart showing my vulnerability. She walked away from her desk and stood in front of me. She'd never raised her hand against me since I was born, not once. Maybe she will now. I looked into her eyes.
"Zoe, how could you say that to me? You were the one who left after your high school graduation without telling me!" Her eyes grew cold. She gritted her teeth. "I was worried. Your cell was not going through and I did not want to get the police involved so as not to draw your father's attention. If he knew, he would have petitioned the court to take you away from me!"
I could not stop my tears from flowing. "I-I am so sorry mother…"
"You are sorry?!" She cut me off. "You have no idea what you put me through. I thought I had lost you. I hired Clive's friend, a private investigator and he found you within two hours. That was when I knew you were okay." I was seeing my mother through new lenses. She did come after me, sort of.
"Your scholarship through college? Where did you think that came from? Huh? Your professor, Martha Stewart? She's a friend whom I asked to look after you on my behalf all through those years. I knew you wanted to do it on your own. Zoe, I was heartbroken! First, your father cheated on me then you left. I did not deserve any of it."
She placed her palm on her left breast. She looked hurt and I was shocked. She'd never shown any emotions around me for as long as I could remember. "Everything I have done is about you and for you. This," she gestured, waving at the office, "is my legacy to you. How is that cold?"
She did not understand that I wanted her love, not the things money could buy. "I - I'd always wanted you to love me. I worked hard for your love, mother." I whispered, as more tears flowed down my cheeks.
Her lips parted a bit, shocked by the revelation and at my display of emotions. "Zoe, I do love you. That's the reason I am doing all these. For you!" She poked me on the chest. She sighed. "Fine. I know I have been busy and not stayed in touch these past years. I wanted you to stand on your two feet by yourself. To discover what you truly want."
I sniffed and nodded. She turned, drew a tissue from the box on her desk and handed it to me. I wiped my eyes. "I know what I want, mother. You."
She locked eyes with me, her face calm. I could not read her expression.
"Silly girl, you have always had me. I may not be as affectionate as you want but know that I love you. How's Marilyn?"
I gasped and covered my mouth. She knew about my daughter. Then I remembered. Professor Martha. I got pregnant after college and now have a two-year-old toddler. I did not know how I would tell her but she knew all along.
My mother moved closer and hugged me. It was a bit awkward because we'd never done it before. I could not reciprocate. I was in shock. She pulled back and looked at me. She cupped my cheeks with both her hands.
"Zoe, I will try and do better. You are here now. I am a grandmother and I think life has given me a second chance. Is that okay with you?"
I nodded vigorously and hugged her tightly. She froze then patted my back. "It's okay Zoe. Bring Marilyn to the house on Sunday. Or just move back in. Sarah and Jim will spoil her with sweets."
I chuckled. Sarah was our maid married to our gardener, Jim. "Okay, mother. Thank you." She closed her eyes for a second and nodded.
I walked to the door, stopped when I realized she was still standing by her desk looking at me. We had a lot of catching up to do. I turned, walked back to her and hugged her again. I did not want to let go.