The Search for Terry Brown
“Miss Brown is doing quite well, all things considered.” Doctor Abram’s voice was professionally reassuring. “Of course, a broken hip at ninety three is quite serious. I know you two are responsible for her being here. How are you related to her?”
Bobby and Julie looked at each other. “We aren’t,” Bobby answered. “She’s our tenant.”
“I got into the habit of checking on her every day,” Julie said. “When I went over this morning I heard her calling for help. I went in and found her crumpled on the floor. She knew exactly where her insurance card was and what hospital she wanted to be taken to. All I had to do was call 911.”
“Well bless her heart and bless yours too. You guys have done a great job. But now we need to get in touch with her family.”
Bobby and Julie looked at each other again. “We don’t know anything about her family,” Bobby said.
“She didn’t like questions,” Julie said. “Most old people like to talk about the past, but Miss Brown never did. There might be a brother…but I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with him…”
Terry Brown had brought almost nothing of herself into the small apartment. There were no knickknacks, no vases, no cushions or scarves. No pictures. There was one photograph on an end table. It was of two men, and one bore a strong resemblance to Miss Brown. Julia was curious about it, but hadn’t quite dared to ask this very reserved old woman. If that was a brother he’d probably be eighty or ninety by now…he might be dead…
“The thing is,” Dr. Abram was saying, “we need a responsible party. Mrs. Brown will be in the hospital for another two to three weeks, depending on how her healing progresses. Then she’ll be in a rehabilitation center for at least three weeks more. When she goes home she’ll have to have someone with her until she’s stable enough to be on her own.” He looked meaningfully at Julie.
Oh no, Julie thought. Not me. She was fond enough of Miss Brown, but had no wish to become a nursemaid. The doctor’s next words reassured her. “She has insurance enough to cover all her bills and pay a companion to stay with her as long as needed. The problem is that an emergency might come up; the hospital might need a signature—and she refuses to tell us anything.”
Julie spread her hands. “I can’t help you.”
“Well…we’ll hope nothing happens.”
But it did. With no warning at all, between beat and the next, Terry Brown’s heart gave out. There was no one to notify, and only one thing Julie could do. She went into the apartment and began a thorough search. Nothing in the kitchen, of course, except dishes, pots and pans, etc. A phone directory, a few books in the living room. Nothing personal.
The bedroom held three pieces of furniture: a bed, a desk with a computer, and a dresser. The computer, of course, was password protected. Julie supposed an expert could get into it, but she thought the files would be as blank as the rest of Terry Brown’s life. The desk held paper, an assortment of pens and pencils, ink cartridges. Very plain underwear filled the dresser drawers, but in the bottom, under some wool socks, was a flat, locked box.
With a pair of pliers Julie soon opened the cheap lock. Inside were two pieces of paper. One was a will—obviously hand drawn, but it looked legal enough. All Terry Brown’s assets were to be left to the Oakhill Animal Shelter. It was correctly witnessed and dated, though she could not read the signatures. The other paper was prearrangement with Crestview Funeral Home. All expenses had been paid, and the hospital could now release her body. This would make Dr. Abram very happy.
The box also contained a small picture album, and, though everything seemed taken care of, Julie began to leaf through it just to satisfy her own curiosity. The first page contained pictures of a young couple and a baby. She wondered if that could be Terry Brown and her parents. As she turned pages the baby grew older but turned out to be a boy. Could this be the brother then? Why no pictures of Terry? And why weren’t there any names?
The boy began to look more and more like the picture in the living room. She matched them up. Yes—those faces were the same. Then there was a graduation picture—and then there were no more. Julie really believed that the young man in the photo album was Terry Brown’s brother—but she had no way of following that lead. Then a folded piece of paper dropped from the last page.
It was a letter. Hoping for a possible clue, Julie began to read. Dear Terry, Please know that I will always love you, no matter what. A love letter! Somehow Julie had never thought of love in connection with Miss Brown. She read on. The day we met was the sweetest day of my life. The memory will stay in my heart, like a jewel, forever. Julie wrinkled her nose. Corny! But kind of sweet…I don’t know why you’ve chosen to change your life like this, but it’s your decision, and I have to respect it. Of course, it means the end of us. It sounded as if Terry Brown got married…but that never happened. No day in my life will go by that I don’t think of you and what we were to each other, and what you’ll always be to me. D.
That was it. A single piece of paper with no address or date. And why was there no picture of this man? Julie put it back into the album and put them both back into the box. They’d raised more questions than they answered. She took the will and the funeral prearrangement to the hospital administrative office, ready to turn over the responsibility to someone else. She’d done all she could.
On her way out of the hospital Julie ran into Dr. Abram. “I think I owe you the truth,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you before, because I had to respect the-er-lady’s privacy. Now it makes no difference. Our first examination revealed that Terry Brown was a man.”
It all fell into place. Those pictures hadn’t been of Terry Brown’s brother but of Terry Brown. And the letter hadn’t been from her lover but his. The picture in the living room had been of the one who promised love no matter what…
“That explains a lot of things,” she told Dr. Abram.
In fact, she thought, that explains everything.