I knew she was lying. Just like everyone else in my life that attempted to mislead or outright lie to me, I could tell the salesperson’s compliment was a complete fabrication. I couldn’t blame her for the false praise. It was her job to compliment customers and sell merchandise. Plus, of all the dresses I tried on, this one was a good fit. I realized the color palette of grey, yellow, and plum was ghastly against my fair complexion well before the saleswoman’s mind betrayed her words.

“I don’t believe today is going to be my lucky shopping day” I said leaving the dressing room. The young salesperson looked disappointed so I added “but thanks for trying”. My southern upbringing forced me to say thank you even when it wasn’t warranted. When I left the boutique I headed next door to Mill Bay Espresso to purge myself of my feeling of a shopping failure with a café latte and biscotti. Just because you live on an island in the Gulf of Alaska doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy big city treats.

I considered the salesperson’s insincere flattery as I dunked my gingerbread and white chocolate biscotti into the cup of steamy, tan liquid. There was a time when that encounter would have upset me for several days. Now I have learned to live with my ability and accept that people are flawed. Everyone lies and they do it often: clergy, law enforcement, teachers, husbands, wives…..everyone.

For as long as I can remember, I have been able to distinguish between the truth and fiction by a sensation emitted by other people’s minds. Don’t misunderstand, I cannot read minds or see images like a telepath or a clairvoyant, but I receive a feeling with spoken words. My best description is that true words feel cold and I see them as shades of blue in my mind.  Lies feel hot and appear as red images when I receive them in my brain. There are also the varying degrees of truth that run from chilly to tepid and present in different shades of violet. Lukewarm feelings are the hardest to discern. Half truths, deceptive statements, and multiple meanings are tedious for someone with my ability. Which part is true, which is not?

Imagine growing up and knowing that your parents are not being truthful when they shower you with accolades after your piano recital or try to convince you that your braces don’t make you look funny. The worst part is when they tell you that they love each other but want to try living apart on a temporary basis and you know that only one is telling the truth. My ability was hard to live with as a child and I would often blurt out statements such as “you don’t mean it” or “that’s a lie” before realizing that my talent was not welcome in my family. So, it became my secret – at least for the next thirty years.

Biscotti and latte finished, I rose from the comfy arm chair and grabbed the empty cup and saucer from the magazine covered occasional table. It’s always polite in a small town like Kodiak to return the dishes to the bin by the exit. Mill Bay Espresso, a coffee shop with European bakery that also offers savory sandwiches and soups, is a popular hangout for girlfriends meeting for coffee, workers grabbing lunch, weekend breakfast, and newspaper readers. The windows are big and clean and the management always keeps a fresh flower in a small vase on every table. This creates a sunny, warm, and inviting atmosphere.

As I deposited my oversized hand-made pottery cup and saucer in the bin, a woman I recognized from the quilt guild came in into the coffee shop and began looking at the glass case filled with baked goods and pastries. “Hey Libby, how are you?” I asked. When she turned and our eyes met I realized that hers were red and puffy as if she had been crying.

“Oh, hi Brinkley. I’m good” she said. That comment registered as a definite lie. Because Libby and I primarily knew each other through the quilt guild and through her part-time job at the garden center, I felt it was inappropriate to try to console her or to get more information from her. After all, we weren’t what I would call close buddies. (My definition of close means we’d logged hours of chatting on the phone or hundreds of e-mails.) We shared common hobbies, gardening and quilting, of which she was much better than me at both, and we’d sat together at coffee a few times. She was interested in learning genealogical research so I used that subject to prolong our meeting.

“So, are you going to come to the library one of these Friday nights so I can help you get started on finding your ancestors?” I asked.

“Right now is not a good time for me with the green houses going full blast and all but I am definitely going to get started on that after summer” she responded. “I did write down everything I know and collected all my available family documents as you suggested though.” Her head turned quickly, and I thought I detected a slight jump, as the door opened again. One of our local lawyers came in and made eye contact with Libby.

He scanned the surroundings before asking Libby if she had grabbed a table yet. I excused myself and went to the ladies room because I had that third-wheel feeling even though I had been talking to Libby before the attorney arrived. When I departed the ladies room I saw the attorney had found his way to the counter but not before he deposited a brief case and a pile of papers on a nearby table. Libby was lowering herself into a straight back chair at the same table. I realized this was a business meeting and tried to scoot out without further eye contact but, after a brief conversation with another acquaintance, I had to pass Libby’s table to get to the door.

“Brinkley, do you know Alan Johnson?” she asked as the lawyer & I reached her table simultaneously.

“Not officially” I said. “But I have seen you around town, at events” and I extended my hand for a shake before saying “I’m Brinkley Monroe and it is nice to officially meet you”. He extended courtesies but I could see he was more concerned with the visibility of the papers he had on the table so I kept my eyes up and off his papers as I said my goodbyes.

I wondered what was going on and why she was meeting with an attorney on a Saturday. Hopefully nothing was wrong. But, then again, she had obviously been crying. I made a mental note to be extra nice to Libby at the quilt guild meeting tomorrow because she looked as though she could use some positive energy. What I didn’t know was that today would be the last time that I, or anyone else, ever saw Libby.



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