"So tell me more about your childhood," Richard beseeched Beth on their first date.
"Hmmm. I don't think I will," she teased.
"What? Come on, that's not fair. I just bought you a sundae."
"No, it's just that -- it was no good, you know? I had toast for every meal, and every man who ever set foot in our house was horny and poor. Mom always slapped us too hard -- I had an imprint of her hand on my check for a week, once -- but she was too stupid to stay mad at for long. Gloomy stuff like that. It's so boring, though, really. I can't stand when people talk about their dysfunctional families, like it's enough to make them interesting, just because they suffered a little. Everyone suffers, even if you have a happy, smart family, you end up suffering wondering if you're happy and smart enough. That's just life."
"Well, what do you like people to talk about, if not their childhood, their family? I agree with you, by the way, about the dysfunctional family thing. People usually get this very boastful tone when they talk about having a bad childhood. Is that what you mean, Beth?" Such intense, eager attention, such eagerness to understand her and all his adept paraphrasing and his steady gaze, it made her feel shy, and she just shrugged in response. Her hand lay on the table, and he suddenly picked it up and put it to his lips. "You're so beautiful," he told her, “and your hand feels like a little bird when I hold it in mine,” and for at least a half hour afterwards, she felt wholly, purely happy, with a happiness unquestioning as a sleepy kitten. Richard thought about this first date.
As if reading his thoughts, Molly, just waking up, asked, "Do you think mom has ever been happy, dad? I can't imagine it."
"Oh, Molly. How could you say that?" interjected George. "You're not remembering things right. Remember Fridays, when your mom got off work? We almost always went to the 99 Cents Store before I dropped you guys off at home or took you with me to the bookstore, and remember? She gets so excited at dollar stores, just how cheap it all is. She just loved going there with you and being able to buy you cheap little necklaces and potato chips and things like that and making you at least temporarily happy with her."
"No way, she didn't even notice I was there."
"Well, I know why you think that's the case, Molly, but you just have to believe me, she thinks and talks about you all the time. You're her love." Molly was about to say something in response, but then there was a sudden pressure drop, and she hated to fly, she was scared of dying in a plane crash ever since she saw a biographical film about Buddy Holly, so for a second she closed her eyes and held her breath until it felt like the cabin pressure was normal again. George, Richard and Molly were sitting next to each other, in a plane, flying to Philadelphia. Richard had bought three one-way tickets, imagining himself leading an expedition through this city he'd never been to before that would last three or four days, and end in finding Beth. In a way, he liked how unrealistic this plan was, yet he secretly expected it to be successful, and felt grateful to the other two for being so quick to believe, as he had, that the Liberty Bell postcard had been a wordless request for rescue from Beth.
The plane landed at the Philadelphia International Airport a little after midnight.