It turned out Ann had always been a perfect friend to my wife and me because she wasn’t human, at least not like us.
We sometimes made mistakes, like the time I offended my aunt by making a comment about fabric of the dress she wore. I don’t know why it reminded me of Hustler magazine. But Ann never made a mistake, as far as we knew. She certainly never would have offended my aunt.
Ann had excellent taste in clothes. That was helpful when our daughter, Jill, turned thirteen. I couldn’t take her shopping anymore, and my wife also wasn’t to be trusted, but Jill loved Ann’s help. We dropped Jill off at the mall, and she got Ann on video chat. Jill was thrilled, and got out of the mall without breaking our bank account. Ann didn’t have kids, so I don’t know how she knew what a thirteen-year-old girl should have in her closet.
We learned not to play bridge with Ann, that is, with Ann and her friend Alexandrea. Don’t get me started on Alexandrea. In spite of being nice about it, those two never lost. Never even came close to losing. I think they communicate telepathically, which, it turned out, might have been the case.
Ann was an executive secretary for an investment firm. As far as I could tell, she ran the company, and she just let the partners play around and have fun with some of the excess profits. The old man Whittaker, certainly, always praised her. He would have been a fool not to, because she could have gone anywhere. She had an unfailing sense of what was going to happen in the markets, and he knew that he did not.
We invited Ann and Alexandrea over for dinner when Jill was on college break. Alexandrea brought a bottle of Côte du Rhône and Ann brought one of her famous Dutch pastries, so rich and flaky, filled with peach preserves that she had put up herself.
During dessert, Jill said, “Oh, I am so much going to need to learn how you made this.”
Ann smiled. She had beautiful teeth.
The wife and I had never asked Ann about her background. We loved Ann as she was, not because of where she came from. But Jill blurted out, “Did your mother teach you how to bake?’
Ann paused, then answered, “I never had a mother. . . . nor a father.’
Ann continued, “I started as baby just like you, but whereas you inherit your genes from your mother and father, mine were spliced together in a lab, sort of like a compilation album of greatest hits.”
“That helps explain why you’ve always been the perfect friend,” I said with a smile.
Ann said, “Yes, you know, you have a belly button, but I don’t.”