You Owe Me a Murder(5)

“How would you like me to do that?”

Nicki’s smile spread across her face. “We’re smart women, we’ll think of something.”


August 15

16 Days Remaining

Nicki stopped short outside the duty-free store, causing me to nearly slam into her back. She seemed entranced by the bright lights bouncing off a display of jewel-colored perfume bottles.

“Let’s go in here,” she said.

“They won’t have gum,” I noted. “There’s another store down just a bit further.” I pointed, but she’d already started to weave her way through the aisles. She randomly picked up items: a stuffed bear holding a satin heart, a giant Toblerone bar, and a box of washed-out pastel-colored saltwater taffy. She inspected each one as if she worked for quality control and then put each back down. I trailed after her.

My mouth still burned from the jalape?os I’d had at lunch. Nicki claimed the best thing to eat before a big flight was huevos rancheros. She insisted the combination of protein from the eggs and cheese, along with the spice from the salsa, would ensure a good sleep on the plane. When I pointed out the entrée wasn’t on the menu, she’d raised one perfectly tweezed eyebrow. “Ordering off the menu is for the common person,” she’d declared. When the waiter came over, she turned on the charm, and before I’d known what was happening, he dropped off two custom plates just for us. And she was right—?the huge meal made me want a nap.

Nicki grabbed a stuffed zebra and gave it a squeeze. “Things like this make me wish I had a kid brother or sister. Let me guess, you’re an only child too.”

My mouth fell open. “How did you—?”

“Only children are different. They have to amuse themselves growing up. They’re independent, better problem solvers. There’s tons of research on it. I could tell by the way you’ve been talking. You’re just like me.”

Technically, I wasn’t just like her. I never knew what to say when people asked if I had any siblings. “About a half-dozen fully frozen” seemed too flip and required an explanation. Saying I was an only child felt like lying about the existence of my parents’ cryogenically suspended embryos. They were my brothers and sisters, just in cold storage in a medical lab.

My parents hadn’t had an easy time getting pregnant. Thanks to the fact that my mom was an early blogger, the whole world knew about their struggles. Then after three rounds of IVF, I took. My mom called me MBK on her blog—?Miracle Baby Kim. She said she used the initials to protect my privacy, but how private could my life be when she plastered every one of my development milestones in cyberspace for the whole world to see?

Somewhere on the Internet there’s a picture of me as a three-year-old, wearing a tiara and giant pink fuzzy slippers, sitting on the toilet with the caption “MBK Finally Masters Potty Training!” The “finally” is a nice touch; nothing I like better than people thinking I was delayed in the hygiene department. My mom’s name was all over her blog; it didn’t exactly take a Mensa-level IQ to figure out that I was MBK. The truth was, she didn’t care how I felt about the blog. What she cared about were all the people who read it and gave her nonstop “you’re the best mom ever” feedback.

The year I turned ten, my mom wrote a long blog post where she announced to her legions of fans that she and my dad were officially giving up their efforts to have more children. They couldn’t keep up the nonstop cycles of IVF. It seemed Mother Nature didn’t have it in the plans for my mom to be the mother she wanted to be, with a minivan and the ability to construct something out of Legos while simultaneously preparing an organic dinner for her large happy family. And while she wanted to focus on her blessing (Beautiful MBK!), she could still grieve for what could have been and she would always see those frozen embryos as her babies. The Huffington Post picked up that blog post and ran it on their site. It’s one of their most downloaded pieces. They rerun it on Mother’s Day most years.

It was around that time that I started to become aware that I was a disappointment to my mom. When she’d imagined having children, none of them were like me. She wanted a daughter who liked to play with dolls and whom she’d punish with a wag of her finger, all while smiling at how adorable it was that I stole her makeup. My desire for tangle-free short hair and passion for books and blanket forts befuddled her. Why didn’t I want to skip rope outside with the other girls? Why didn’t I let her braid my hair into complicated patterns befitting a Disney princess? Why wasn’t I similar to her at all? How could she be a mothering expert when her own kid was so . . . awkward?

My mom was one of the first mommy bloggers. Thousands of people still read her site daily. They comment on her recipes (Super YUM Crock-Pot Meals!) and reviews of baby items (Bugaboo Strollers Worth Every Penny!). She’s blogged about how motherhood is hard and disappointing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I can’t be the only one who realizes that she’s trying to talk herself into that fact. I believe that my mom loves me, I just don’t think she likes me. If she’d had more kids, maybe it would have made a difference. I guess neither of us will ever know.

Nicki sniffed a bottle of Burberry Brit perfume and then spritzed a tiny bit on her wrist. She held out her arm for me and I leaned in.

Eileen Cook's Books