Sigh. It’s just gotten worse and Cynthia’s about to have a stroke right in the Penacostal church parking lot.
“The good news is Grandma has rallied. She perked right up when Camille told her I was on my way. The bad news is everyone else is throwing a shit fit because I’m coming. The consensus is I’m not welcome and you sure as hell ain’t. But Dad’s and Grandpa’s wills specifically say *all* of us kids own equal shares of the place and equal rights and privileges to visit and live in the *main* house whenever and however long we want to. Grandpa’s will is particularly clear I’m not to be excluded from any rights and privileges the other kids enjoy. So we’re going to stay in the guest bunkhouse. It’s close enough we can quickly and easily get to Grandma, but far enough everyone has a little space. Jasper, Camille’s husband, is pitching a bitch. His brother is staying in the bunkhouse. Their folks kicked him out for god only knows what. It had to be something bad because those people dote on those boys.”
“Guess I’ll get to kick ass again then.” Internally, I groan. I’m too old to stay up all night after a bar brawl and turn around and have another brawl. I’m exhausted, I hurt like a mother fucker, and all I want to do is sleep. And she has to go and make the situation worse! But I don’t say a word. I’ll do whatever she requires of me if it kills me. It’s probably one of those taking back your power things I’ll be proud of her for after sixteen hours of sleep and enough Tylenol to drop an elephant.
After scrutinizing copies of both wills (how she could remember those and I couldn’t even think of socks, I’ll never know), it’s my professional opinion she’s correct -- no one has a legal right to bar her from the premises or refuse to allow her to stay on the premises. I tell you -- I’m such a city girl. I didn’t know you could make that much money selling cows. Hold it --what’s this? “Honey? Have you gotten any money since you’ve left college?”
“Another lawsuit -- you’re supposed to be getting a cut of the quarterly profits. Judging by these old figures, you’ve been rooked out of a pretty penny.”
“Yep, didn’t you know?”
“If I did, I forgot. I wonder what else I’m due?”
“I’ll look closer later. I wish I had a Montana license. I could make you an even bigger fortune by suing the pants off the estate and recovering your legal costs. I’m extremely expensive, you know.”
She giggles. “Okay, time to go claim my fortune and see my grandma.”
“You want to drive or should I?”I know the answer to that, but I ask occasionally anyway. I don’t think she’s ever driven us anywhere. Even the couple times we’ve taken her car, I drove. Hm… I wonder if there’s any particular reason why? I’ll have to ask someday.
“Jesus H. Christ! It’s fucking huge!” Cynthia’s family home is easily the size of Wal-Mart, only cut into thirds and stacked.
“My however-many-greats-it-might-be grandfather had like 15, 20 kids. He wanted them to have plenty of space and he had to clear the land anyway. He built it over about twenty years, room by room, with help from his whole family, even the women. I’ll have to dig out the family history. He was an interesting guy, very progressive.”
“Christ, I slept on a fold out bed in the living room -- or on the floor. Hell, I spent years sleeping in doorways -- or worse.”
“You did? I always had my own room. We mostly kept the upper floors shut up, though.”
“Yep, we lived in one bedroom apartments until she married Dad and then they got a two bedroom. She and Dad had one room, the boys had the other, and Sally and I slept on the fold out couch. They were saving up for a three bedroom when --”
A plus sized Cynthia clone comes out of the front door and calls “Cyn!” As she gets closer, I realize she’s pregnant. I really hope it’s Camille and not her mom. “Cyn! It’s so good to see you again, despite how I’ve sounded. Jasper and Mother are huddled in the study with Mr. Mendel, trying to figure out how to keep you away. Maybe you ought to call a lawyer, sis. Meanwhile, how about I sneak you in to see Grandma? Both of you, I mean. I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Camille Houston, Cyn’s sister. I’m so sorry for being abrupt last night. I was afraid Jasper, that’s my husband, would wake up. You must be Sydney.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Camille. Cynthia speaks of you fondly. I’m Sydney Brogan, yes, and it’s perfectly understandable. You’re in such a horrible position from what Cynthia has said.” A little charm never hurts; we need as many allies as we can get.
“Syd’s my fiancé and lawyer. Let’s go see Grandma before the cavalry comes.”
We walk through the place, an odd mixture of comfort and museum. We end up in a large bedroom filled with hospital equipment and heavy old oak furniture. Truly lovely stuff, handmade by a master craftsman, if I’m not mistaken. Even gaunt with illness, Cynthia’s grandmother is a beautiful woman. She awakens as we enter. “Cynthia! And who is this lovely young lady with you, dear?” Her voice is a little weak, but her eyes are clear and bright.
“This is Sydney Brogan, my fiancé, Syd, this is my grandmother, Martha Harvey.”
“Mrs. Harvey, it is an unparalleled pleasure to finally meet you. I wish it could’ve been under much better circumstances, however.”
“Please, child, call me Martha. Mrs. Harvey makes me feel old.” She turns to Cynthia. “She’s a polite one, much better than that disaster you introduced.”
“She’s about as perfect as anyone can possibly get. She gives me flowers all the time, cooks for me every night, cooks me lunch and brings it to work because she knows I never remember to eat. She protects me, stands up for me, and supports me even when she thinks I’m making wrong decisions. She’s a total rock. When we found out you were sicker, she had a flight booked, a car rented, and bags packed before I could even ask her to come with me.”
I blush scarlet and can’t think of a thing to say. None of those things are a big deal. I catch Camille gazing at Cynthia with a look of envy and quiet despair out of the corner of my eye. I think I’ll enjoy meeting this Jasper. I hope he gives me a reason…
“I’m glad to hear that, honey. I’ve been worried about you being all alone in that city with all those weirdoes and criminals. I’ve prayed you’d find someone honest and stable to share your life with. Someone who sounds a lot like your Sydney. How did you meet? Do you work together?”
“She owns her own business and works part time as a lawyer for the battered women’s shelter, helping women get divorces, custody, press charges, etc. I was accosted by some drunks outside a restaurant where she was eating and she heard my cry for help. She came running to fight them off. They were tourists; that kind of thing almost never happens, so don’t worry. Besides, I rarely go anywhere alone anymore.”
“A hero *and* a saint? Do you fly too?”
“No, ma’am. I’m neither, just in the right place in the right time. I did nothing anyone else with the ability wouldn’t have done.”
“Modest, too, I see. Cynthia doesn’t impress easily so you must really be something.”
I blush again.
Before anyone can anything else, a tall skinny rat in a Stetson throws open the door and yells, “Get out of my house, you goddamn dyke whores!”
I can’t help it; my smart ass side rears its head at the oddest moments. I raise an eyebrow at Cynthia and ask, “What *is* it with you and rat-faced skinny guys calling you names?”
The Harvey women all laugh. Jasper, I’m guessing, turns red and marches over to me and swings. “Must be the same thing that makes them try to hit me,” I comment, sidestepping the blow to more laughter.
“I like her, Cynthia, she’s got fire *and* a sense of humor,” Martha comments approvingly.
A short middle-aged woman with a make up spackled face and shellacked hair and a bowlegged little banty rooster fellow with a briefcase come in as Jasper tries to punch me again. Ah, the mother and lawyer. Joy.
“Jasper, I told you to get rid of them.”
“I’m trying, Mother.”
“We’re not leaving this room until Grandma asks us too and we’re not leaving the property until *I* decide to. I’ve abided by your wishes for years and I’m tired of avoiding my roots on a petty bigoted dictator’s whims. This is as much my house as Clayton’s or Camille’s.”
What follows next isn’t especially interesting or original. “Leave.” “No.” blah, blah, blah. I stay out of it until I notice how upset and tired Martha looks. By this time, I’m pretty fed up with everyone concerned, including my beloved. I’m all for fighting demons and facing fears and all that, but everyone is forgetting the most important thing -- the dying woman lying in the bed. There’s a time and a place for everything and fighting about who deserves what, when, and why is not for this room. “Shut up!” I thunder. “There’s a dying woman here who doesn’t need all this stress and fighting. It really doesn’t matter what any of y’all thinks or wants. Cynthia’s gay, for Pete’s sakes, not an axe murder. Everybody in three counties knows y’all don’t approve; you don’t need to keep bringing it up. Cynthia has a legal right to be here. Cynthia, honey, I love you to death, but antagonizing them further isn’t helping. Now, anyone who can’t be respectful of a dying woman’s wishes can leave right now or I’ll remove you myself.” Belatedly, I realize I don’t have any authority here; it’s really none of my affair. “ Ma’am, I’m sorry for any overstepping of bounds I’ve done.”
“I think you said it nicely, thank you. I’m mighty tired of all the fighting and hate in this family. Jasper, this isn’t, never has been, and never will be, your house. You live here solely because my husband’s will states the children can bring in anyone they chose to live here. Why she married you, I’ll never know. You have the right to live here, but the deed is in my name and I own half the acreage outright. I’ve put up with your nonsense for the sake of my great-grandchildren, but in my final days I won’t. Stay out of my half of the house until I die. Sharon, you have no standing in this house, either. Roy’s will only says you have to right to live here until the children are grown. They’ve been grown for a long time. I’ve put up with you because Roy asked me too. Well, I’ll see him soon and beg forgiveness. You know he’d never have stood for this senseless persecution. I’ve kept my mouth shut because Cynthia is better off far from here where some folks have some common sense. In my last days, I want her here with me. Anyone who doesn’t like it can move out until I’m gone. Sharon, you can leave for good if you don’t like it. Sydney and Cynthia are welcome here as long as they wish to stay. Sydney, you have my permission to escort anyone off the premises who tries to make you leave. Now, Jasper and Sharon get out and stay out.”
They don’t go quietly. Jasper swears a blue streak and insults everyone within earshot. I barely manage to restrain myself from punching him. He tries to make Camille go with him and he punches her in the face when she refuses. From how she reacts, it’s not the first time. She doesn’t even try to block the blow; she just bends over and crosses her arms over her stomach. Apparently, he’d never hit her in front of anyone before, though, because even Sharon looks horrified in a too-much-botox kinda way.
I cross the room and grab his arm and twist it behind him. “The lady said she didn’t want to go. I swear by all that’s holy that if you say one more word, I’ll take you outside and show you what a beating *really* is. She’s your wife, you goddamn son of a bitch. You’re supposed to protect her, not use her as a punching bag. The hell with it.” I let go of his arm and cold cock the slimy bastard. He falls to his knees, clutching his jaw. His lip is busted and bleeding. He coughs and spits a couple of teeth and blood into his hand. He stares in disbelief and fear. “Get out and don’t come back ’til you’re sent for. I don’t like bullies and you do one more thing to piss me off and I swear you’ll leave in an ambulance or a body bag and I don’t care too much which. Go on, get out of my sight before I throw you out.”
He runs and doesn’t look back. I can hear the front door slam and a car race out of the drive in the silence. No one says a word for a long minute. I’m literally shaking with rage and I’m glad he left. He reminds me too much of things best left buried and I know I would have beat him to death if he had pressed me. I wouldn’t have intended to, but the parallels would have left me without the will to stop. I close my eyes and just breathe. I need Cynthia’s embrace, but I don’t seek it. Later. Now is for Camille.
“I’m sorry I never believed you,” Sharon says quietly as she leaves the room, looking defeated.
“How hard would it be to get a divorce and custody of the kids?” Camille asks quietly.
I kneel beside her chair and put my hand over hers. “I’m not licensed in this state, so I’ll have to do some research, but I doubt a divorce will be much trouble. Full custody might be slightly harder, but is probably doable. Meanwhile, he won’t touch you as long as I’m here. You and the kids can always come stay with us after we leave if need be. I’ll talk to my contacts and see whom we know with a Montana license. I’ll do my best by you, that you can count on. And my best is damned good.”
“At least Grandma looks better. I think she might make it a while longer, knock on wood,” Cynthia says happily.
“She’s a tough lady. I wouldn’t count her out yet myself.”
“Yeah. Thank you for taking over with Camille. You were so good with her. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I’m glad you’re not mad.”
“Never! You’re more my hero now than ever. I was wrong and I’m glad you were willing to step in and do what needed to be done.”
“I’m no hero. I nearly killed a man.”
“You knocked a couple teeth loose; I’d hardly call that nearly fatal.”
“If he had said one more word, I would have.”
“I would’ve helped if he hadn’t run. Son of a bitch. Ruining my life wasn’t enough; he had to ruin my sister’s too. What he’s been doing to her… He’d better hope I never see him again, I just might kill the bastard myself.”
“No you won’t. I doubt he’ll come around for a while. He’s scared of me.”
“Let’s stop talking about him. Will you tell me about your family now?”
“It’s not a very happy story.”
“I just want to know you. Please tell me.”
“Okay. Mama was raped by an acquaintance as a young woman. He stalked her; threatened to kill her. The cops wouldn’t do a thing. He was some bigwig’s son; she was barely on the right side of the tracks. She ran and kept running until she married Arthur, the man I call my dad. She thought we were safe. He found us; I’ve never been totally sure how. She’d changed her name repeatedly. I was born at home; taught at home. As far as the government was concerned, I didn’t exist. Maybe that made the wrong person curious; I don’t know. We were all sitting in the living room watching TV. He came in and ranted and raved for what seemed like hours. I don’t know how long it really was. He pulled out a gun and shot them all. Sally’s blood got all over me, so I pretended to be dead. He didn’t miss me by much; he hit her twice. He didn’t check. He mumbled to himself a few minutes and wandered out as suddenly as he had come in. I was too scared to move. The shots drew attention and the police came. I was given a new name and put in foster care in another state. I ran away after a couple months. I couldn’t stand it where I was. I couldn’t stand myself. I was scared he’d find me again. I changed my name again. I drifted around, did whatever I had to do to survive, when I wasn’t trying hard not to. The cops have never caught him.”
“Oh my god. How the hell have you managed to be so *normal* after that?”
“I wasn’t for a very long time. I’m still not. I still have nightmares. I can’t think about it. I, uh, did drugs for a lot of years to dull the pain enough to function and sleep. I quit about fifteen years ago. Haven’t been tempted even once for over ten.”
“I’d be more surprised to hear you didn’t. I wondered if drugs were what you didn’t want me to know. Did you deal after you ran away or were you a prostitute?”
“I started off working the streets, but after a while I got into being a mule and did my whoring one on one for a place to sleep. Then I got lucky and managed to get into body guarding,” I confess. I can’t believe I’ve told her the outline of most of my secrets and she’s not running. She doesn’t look even tempted to. I begin to think that it really is going to be okay. I feel much lighter.
“You thought I’d hate you for surviving something unspeakably horrible the only ways you could?”
“Well, that and that I have a sociopath for a father. That tends to make people a bit nervous and afraid I’ll turn out that way too. That I’m evil too.”
“Baby, you’re the least crazy and evil person I’ve ever known. I’m sorry for what happened to you; I wish with all that I am that it had never happened, but I don’t hate you. I love you even more for trusting me enough to tell me. You’re an even more remarkable person than I thought. So Sydney Brogan isn’t your real name?”
“No. I’ve used it for quite a while, though, so I’m used to it. I have no real attachment to Brogan. I’d be willing to take Harvey when we marry,” I add to change the subject.
“I’m not particularly fond of Harvey. It’s something to think about. Will you tell me your real name?”
I have to think hard to remember. There’s been so many. I tell her the one I think it was and the name I consider to be really mine -- the one I used when my family was murdered. Mama had loved that one so much and I had been so proud to have a daddy’s name to take. I haven’t spoken either name for several lifetimes and never to another soul. It’s all just too much for me and I finally break down into soul shattering sobs into her shoulder. I fall asleep still crying.
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Copyright © 2006 by S. Berry. All Rights Reserved.
Continued in Part 11