All disclaimers in Chapter
We were sitting in the visitor's waiting room of the county hospital's intensive care unit, when I finally asked of my companion, How did Sara find out that Brandon knew she was in the attic?
Celia looked up at me, a sly smile forming on her face, which answered my question.
Uh-huh, I acknowledged. And need I ask how she got back in the house last night?
I doubt she ever left, 'mum. She fidgeted with her hands in her lap, as if she found them quite interesting.
You wanna elaborate on that for me, I requested, when she offered nothing further.
Well, 'mum. She glanced up momentarily. I 'spect she hid in the tunnel when the deputies wuz searching the house an' attic.
Deputies? I never heard anyone in the house.
"They's very quiet. Mister Neilson didn't want 'em ta alert ya, 'mum. Said it would upset ya ta know she wuz lurking about."
"Uh-huh. And this tunnel?" I probed.
Yes, 'mum. Underneath the house, there's a tunnel leading to the back gate, or so I wuz told.
Who told you that?
So, Sara already knew about this?
No, 'mum, I had to show her.
And how do you get the tunnel? I queried.
There's an entrance in the hallway of the servant's quarters. That wuz another a' Miss Ashley's hiding places.
I see. My mind was a whirl with questions; switching tracks often. And so
how come you didn't go see your friend, tonight?" I further probed. She cut her eyes over at me. "Brandon told me you had a friend."
"That's a bit of a long story, that is.
I held out my hands palms up. I'm not going anywhere.
ya see, I wuz going out as usual, but
me ride didn't show up. So, I cum back in the house and called my friend. That's when I found out
She paused and sighed. Granddaughter, who wuz ta pick me up
she'd been trotted off ta jail.
Jail? Celia merely nodded and hung her head as if embarrassed. I hope she's not in any serious trouble.
Oh no, 'mum, mistake's all it wuz. She
happened to look like
sum'one they wuz looking for. She's home now, safe and sound.
So that's who Celia was calling a while back, I thought, remembering her standing at a pay phone in the cafeteria area. So
you were in the house the whole time?
Most a' the time, yes,'mum. I stayed in me room until
I heard you two quarreling an'
you storming up the stairs. That's when I knew for sure sum'thin' wuz bad wrong.
Knew for sure?
Yes, 'mum. I heard
himself fixing the drinks. She nodded towards the hall and the room beyond, as if she didn't want to say Brandon's name. Twuz no reason ta use a spoon for champagne, but
I know I heard him mixing sum'thin'. And later, I spied the spoon an' pill bottle. That's when I started thinking 'bout Miss Ashley and
your bed linens.
Excuse me? My bed linens? I couldn't imagine what my sheets had to do with Ashley, unless she was referring to Sara. But what could that possibly have to do with Brandon and a pill bottle?
"Wull, yes, 'mum, when I changed your linens this morning... Wull, it's more like yesterdee now, itn't it?" she asked glancing down at her watch. "Anywho, when I gathered 'em up ta launder... his cologne wuz on 'em and... I didn't think that wuz right. Then you being so dizzy an' all ... I happened to recall Miss Ashley wuz like that sum'times. An' those morning's, she wuz ill as a hornet, she wuz. Them's the times she'd hide from him."
I nodded in understanding. That explained Sara's foreboding concerning glasses of milk. And why Ashley hid from him in the attic and in the tunnel. So, how did you find Sara and know to bring a tape recorder?
the recorder wuz easy. I seen it before. He uses it for recording notes ta himself, he duz. So, after you went tearing off upstairs, I went into his office and took it, thinking I'd carry it with me, when I checked on you
just in case sum'thin' happened, mind you. I mean, I watch the tellie, too, and I know how the bad ones always say ya can't prove nuthin'." She glanced back down at her hands, then up at me, as if questioning whether I wanted her to continue.
I nodded. Go on.
Wull, the sitting room door wuz locked and
I didn't have a key ta your room with me, but I did have Miss Ashley's, so-o
I let ma'self in that way. She glanced down at her hands again and clasped them together, then fidgeted in her seat. I
I'm as sorry's I can be, 'mum, 'bout not coming in sooner, but
She shook her head slowly back and forth. I've never been much of a fighter. And I
I wuz scared of him, I wuz . I mean, I knew there wuz no one else about but me and you an'
I had nuthin' to
defend us with
It's alright, Celia, I interjected. You don't have to apologize. I'm just glad you were there.
But, I'm ashamed, 'mum, cuz I wuzn't much help.
Yes, you were, you got most everything on tape, especially the last part, which was the most important anyway
to clear Sara. I watched a nurse coming out of Brandon's room. She smiled sweetly and headed off down the hall. So how did Sara get your gun? I asked quietly.
Wull, like I said
I had nuthin' to defend us with, 'cept me gun that wuz downstairs. So, I left the tape recorder in the loo (bathroom), an' wuz headed down the hall when I met Miss Ash
I mean, Miss Sara
she wuz cumin' up the back stairs. So, I told her what wuz happening an'
where I wuz going
So Sara went down and got your gun? I finished for her.
She looked past me, as she nodded. "There's 'em two detectives again, 'mum. I
I think I'll go get sum'thin' ta drink, would you care for sum'thin'?"
"No, thank you, Celia. Oh, but
when you speak to your friend
tell him I'm sorry his granddaughter was arrested." Celia's mouth dropped open. She hadn't told me that the young woman had been taken to jail instead of Sara, but I'd put two and two together and come up with what I thought was four. At least it sounded quite plausible, since Brandon seemed certain Sara was in jail. She looks a bit like Sara? I queried.
Dark hair, yes', 'mum. An' what with that fancy car of her's
Just had ta have one like Miss Ashley. She used ta look up ta her, she did.
Well, tell him
and her that I'm truly sorry for all the trouble we've caused. I'm sure after all this is over, I can
make some sort of
monetary restitution. I knew I sounded like Brandon, but how else could I make up for such a thing?
Yes, 'mum, Celia said. I saw her get up, but my mind was on other things: mainly what those two cops, standing in the hall conversing, wanted now. They'd already questioned all of us with the exception of Brandon- several times. They'd even come back to question Sara again, taking her down the hall only a short while ago. "My friend," Celia added, as she paused beside me. "
weren't no man, mum."
I turned and looked up at her. There was a smile on her face. What Celia, I'm sorry
? I thought from her smile that I had missed something.
weren't no man, 'mum, she whispered. An' truth be told
'twuz my granddaughter.
It took me a moment to digest this new information. Why, Celia, I didn't know you'd been married. I was quite surprised.
Never wuz. She gazed down at me, the smile still in place, her head cocked to one side, as if she were trying to communicate more than she was willing to put into words. An' I never had a sister, only bruthers," she added, then turned and walked away.
It took me a moment to put into context what she'd just told me. And then I couldn't help but smile, too. Celia had told me her own true story: she was the one who'd suffered the rape, then ran off to America. I could only assume she'd also bore a child from that assault and now had a granddaughter.
"What are you smiling about? I flinched when Sara spoke. I hadn't noticed her coming down the hall, obviously being preoccupied with Celia. Those detectives are gonna get the wrong idea," she added, slipping into the chair next to me.
The smile faded. "So, what did they say this time?"
"Still want to know about the gun."
"Like I said, I found it in a trunk in the attic."
"Don't bullshit me, Sara. I know its Celia's. Why didn't you just tell 'em the truth?"
And drag the ol' girl in deeper than she already is? she whispered. No way. Besides, she'd already told me the damn thing wasn't registered. And that's why Tweedledee and Tweedledum are back. She turned and smiled at the detectives as they approached.
"Any change in his condition, ma'am?" The taller one named Levi asked, looking at me.
I shook my head. "Not that I know of."
The two detectives looked at each other. "We might be wanting to talk to both of you again, so... don't leave town."
We both nodded, simultaneously. The shorter detective, Junior, looked us over carefully. Then glanced from me to Sara rather quickly, as he shook his head.
"Come on Junior," Levi said, "Ain't nothin' else here for us until Mr. Neilson comes around. We'll be in touch, ma'am and... uh... ma'am," he said, nodding to each of us.
Sara and I both nodded and watched them walk away. Junior glanced back about half way down the hall. He shook his head from side to side, then turned around and continued on his way. I knew the look he gave us had nothing to do with the case, as such. The tape recorder told it all, or almost all of it. There was a blank space when Celia moved from the sitting room into Ashley's old room, but she'd left the recorder running, so it was evident what she'd done. Then, there was Celia's testimony a long time, devoted employee no less- the phone cord, the champagne, which was being tested, my face and the bruises on my arms. All the evidence added up to the fact that we were telling the truth.
What Junior was shaking his head about concerned the tape revealing that Sara and I were lovers and had once thought we were cousins. One was bad enough for poor Junior, but when he heard the cousin part, he started shaking his head. And he hadn't stopped in the four-hour time span in which they'd interrogated us. He would do it each time he saw us together. One time when he thought I wasn't listening, I overheard him tell another uniformed officer, "And they're both damn good looking, too. Ain't like no dyke I ever seen before." At that moment, I had wanted to say, We all don't wear leather jackets and ride Harley Davidson's. But I'm thinking about getting me one of each so I'll be more easily recognized.
"I think he's got a crush on you." Sara teased.
I swung my eyes in her direction, trying to avoid looking at the big red stain on her shirt, but failing miserably. "You were lucky. You don't know how I felt when I turned you over and saw... that."
"Took me a little while to realize it wasn't mine, too," she admitted.
"Why'd you flinch like that?"
"Scared the hell outta me. I mean
I knew one of us was probably shot and I assumed since he was still choking me, it must be me and I just hadn't felt any pain."
The light outside Brandon's room started flashing.
"Uh-oh," Sara said. "Those detectives might be back sooner than they expect. And this time they'll be investigating a homicide."
Several nurses came flying down the hall and disappeared into Brandon's room. The doctor was soon hot on their heels. A few seconds later, an intern came tearing down the hall with a crash cart -the machine I'd seen used on TV when some character's heart had stopped beating. I could almost imagine what the scene in his room must be like.
They stayed a good while, before the doctor finally came out. "Miss Neilson," she began, "your uncle has suffered a massive coronary. I wish I could tell you he will pull through, but honestly
I can't say that with any assurance. He's lost a lot of blood and... Well, we thought we had him stabilized, until this
" She shook her head, as her eyes strayed over to Sara and she perused her attire. "He's asking for you, Miss Neilson," she said, glancing back at me. "The nurse will let you know when you can go in. But, I must ask that you not upset him. He seems upset enough as it is." Her eyes strayed back over to Sara. "You were lucky, Sara. That could have been you lying in there."
"Let's just be thankful it isn't." She glanced over at me, nodded, then turned and walked away, her white lab coat fanning out behind her.
I cut my eyes over at Sara and found her already looking at me. "It was a long time ago, Faith," she explained. I continued to stare at her, my expression unchanged. "It was only a short fling and... she ended it. Is that what you wanna hear?"
"No, not unless it's the truth."
"Go ask her then."
"One of the few?" I inquired.
"No, actually, come to think of it, there were several who didn't fall madly in love with me."
I merely raised one eyebrow.
"'Scuse me, 'mum," said Celia, who had quietly rejoined us. "Wuz that Mr. Neilson's doctor, I saw just now?"
I nodded and glanced down at my hands intertwined in my lap. I knew this would not be good news to Celia, because she felt very guilty about hitting him over the head, when he had already been shot in the stomach. "Brandon's had a heart attack," I explained.
"Oh no, 'mum," she said, her hand going to her gaping mouth, as she backed up into the chair on the other side of me. "Will he...?" She let the question hang there.
"I don't know. But, I don't think the doctor is all that hopeful." I sounded crass even to my own ears.
I shouldna hit him so hard."
"He was choking me, Celia, Sara spoke up. And that's all you saw. How could you know which one of us was shot? Besides the head wound was minor. You merely saved me and him a lot more pain."
I was a bit shocked at Sara's bluntness. I thought she should have some feeling for him, but obviously, she didn't. Of course, I wasn't going to win any awards for Niece of the Year.
"Yes, 'mum," Celia finally agreed. "Oh, Master Jason, 'mum...?"
"Good Lord, Celia, I'd completely forgotten about him in all this..."
"I'll take care of it," she said, as she patted my arm, then got back up and left again.
I glanced over at Sara, who in turn was looking at me. "The old girl doesn't know it, but she may have saved my life. She reached up and rubbed her bruised neck. I don't think Brandon knew he was shot. Or at least, it didn't affect his strength right away. 'Cause he was still trying to get the gun and choking the shit outta me."
There was a long silence between us. Then I asked, "Sara, do you have your memory back?"
Bits and pieces. They don't really mount up to much more than before." She sighed heavily.
"Then how did you know about all that stuff? I mean you asked some pretty pointed questions. It sounded as if
"I know. I did remember that one thing, about... Mr. Rockhard," she said, as she cleared her throat and frowned. It just suddenly
leaped into my mind and
nearly blew me away, actually.
"He really said that to you?" I asked, instead of the question on the end of my tongue: He raped you, too?
"I don't think he thought I'd remember after he doctored the milk. But..." She shook her head, as if removing the thoughts. "As for the rest... remember that diary? Well, on the back inside cover, there was a small rip in the fabric. Inside was a key. A key to one of the trunks in the attic."
"How'd you know that?"
"I didn't. I just took the key and tried it in the first available lock I saw, which was on this old trunk nearby. Convenient, huh?"
"Sounds like you made it up."
"But, I didn't. It really happened that way. You know they say life is sometimes stranger than fiction."
I nodded, thinking how our lives had seemingly been turned into fiction the past few hours. "So what did you find?"
"Another diary. The real one: no metaphors. That's where I got most of the story. The part about my mother's death... well, I guessed at that. I mean
from what you told me, and what
I had written in the diary -which wasn't much more than fragmented memories, like my whole past is now- I put two and two together and
threw it at him to see what he'd toss back." She sighed heavily and crossed her arms over her stomach.
"Do you believe the part about you hitting the gun?"
She shrugged. "It would seem from that story about the baby bird that I felt responsible, somehow, but.... I dunno. I'm afraid, I never will know exactly what happened, unless he pulls through and
decides to spill his guts. And I'm sure it'll be a cold day in hell before he does that. She paused for several moments. "I expect there're a lotta things I'll never really understand. Like
how did Tom find me after the accident? How'd he get me to a hospital without anyone noticing? How'd he know to use Sara Bennington's name? How'd he... Oh damn, there's just so many things that..." She let the sentence hang there, as she shook her head sadly and ran her fingers through her hair.
I nodded in understanding, as the door to Brandon's room opened. So where did you hide when the cops came looking for you? I wanted to hear Sara's version of these events.
She sighed heavily, as if she were about to launch into a long spill.
"Miss Neilson? called one of the nurses, as she made eye contact with me from the hallway. She waited until she got closer to finish. Your father wants to see you.
I glanced over at Sara, then back at the nurse. "He's my uncle," I corrected. "He was her father."
She looked from me to Sara, quite puzzled. "Oh, I'm sorry. Well, he's asking for his daughter, Faith. I thought you were Faith."
"I am, but I'm not his daughter. Sara is."
well, perhaps he's asking for both of you, then."
"Not likely," Sara mumbled.
"Please, don't upset him," the nurse cautioned. "He's groggy and
maybe even a bit incoherent, but he's insisting on seeing you, so..."
"We understand," said Sara, as she helped me to my feet. "We'll just go along with whatever he says."
"That'll be fine. Now, stay only a few minutes. If you need me, I'll be right outside the door."
"Believe me, we'll stay no longer than we have to," Sara mumbled, as she escorted me across the hall.
Brandon was hooked up to a menagerie of different machines. The most prominent one had a monitor, which showed a beeping, flashing heart and the arcing blue line that moved to the rhythm of Brandon's heartbeat. How many times had I seen that blue line on TV, as it went flat when a character died? Yet, this was not the movies and Brandon was no actor who could get up out of bed when the scene was over.
I glanced over at Sara, who was watching me. "I doubt he'd want to see me," she whispered. "I'll stay here. Go on over."
"But she said he was asking for his daughter."
"I'm not his daughter, Faith. Now go on."
I frowned at her, as Brandon began mumbling, "Want... daughter... Faith," as if talking to someone else in the room.
I turned back to Sara. He wanted us both. She waved me on mouthing, "One at a time. Go on."
I proceeded over to his bedside. He was very pale and looked ten years older. It was hard to believe that this man had been the one to attack me only a mere 6 hours ago. He hardly looked strong enough to swat a fly.
"Nurse," he said, as he swallowed hard. "Please.... my daughter... Faith must..."
"I'm here, Brandon," I said softly.
His eyes fluttered open for only a brief moment, then he frowned and they fluttered open again. "Princess," he said. His eyes seemed to roll back in his head.
I gasped. I thought he was going to die right then and there. Then I realized the heart monitor wasn't flat lining. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Princess," he swallowed hard again and his tongue snaked out, languidly wetting his lips. I vividly remembered biting down on that tongue, which was almost gagging me, at the time. "So sorry... Princess. I... I didn't know... She never.... I swear... never knew
Never knew what? I wondered. I stared down at him waiting for more. What didn't he know? Did he even know what he was talking about?
"I... I don't understand," I finally said, realizing he wasn't going to say anything more.
"My daughter.... beautiful daugh-ter
umm... Ashley's here, Brandon
do you want to..."
"No! Not mine! he stated emphatically, as he shook his head back and forth and the line on the monitor began acting erratic. "Not mine... n-not mine!"
"Calm him down, Faith," Sara admonished. "Say anything, just calm him down."
"Brandon... Uncle Brandon... listen to me, it's
it's alright," I soothed, as I touched his arm. "It's alright... none of this matters. I was lying through my teeth. Just... You just get well and... we'll... have you back at Shady Grove in... no time."
I watched the line on the monitor, slowly return to normal, as did the sounds of the room. The rhythmic bip, bip, bip , the sighing of the IV machine and Brandon's raspy breathing created an off beat trio. The same type of trio I sensed had played in this room and others like it many times before, with the patient's heartbeat the conductor and composer.
"Yes, Brandon, I'm right here," I said, gently squeezing his right hand.
"I... I didn't know." He paused, as he reached over with his left hand and touched his right arm where the two IV tubes were taped together.
"What's wrong?" I asked, a bit concerned. "Is your IV
"I swear..." he said, as he patted his arm.
"Brandon, I don't understand. Is something wrong with the IV in your arm?" His eyes grew wide as he kept tapping it. My first thought was something I'd heard on TV about air bubbles in IV lines- straight to the heart
kills the patient. "Sara, get the nurse!"
forgive me," he said, in a whispery voice, as the heart monitor began its erratic display again.
The nurse came rushing in. "Please leave, Miss Neilson," she ordered.
"He... he has my hand," I explained, feeling the pain, as he seemingly gripped it with all the strength he had left. He continued staring at me with those wide, scary eyes. "He was hitting his arm near the IV. Could that...?"
She pushed me to one side, as she checked his IV, but Brandon held onto my hand.
"Please Miss Neilson," she said, having to go around me.
I propped my cane on the side of the bed and reached over to break his grip. He squeezed tighter and moaned. I looked up at him. What did he want from me? Did he want me to say I forgave him? How could I, after what he had done?
"Miss Neilson, I must insist..."
"I'm trying, but..." His grip suddenly relaxed and I took a step backwards, going with the momentum of my previous attempts to break loose. Sara was behind me in an instant.
The heart monitor flat lined. People dressed in white streamed through the door. Sara and I were caught in the melee and forced into a corner. I was quite mesmerized by the whole scene unfolding before me, as they prepared to resuscitate him once again.
"Come with me, sweetheart," Sara said softly, when the path to the door was clear. She led me out into the hall. "What was all that about?" she asked.
"I... I don't know. Maybe... maybe he was delirious, but... my god he was still strong, right up until..." I couldn't finish.
I shook my head sadly. I had wanted to hurt him with words and make him bleed inside, just as I had, over his cruel words to me. I had never wished him dead, though.
Yet, on Nov 14, 1993, Brandon Jason Neilson passed from this earthly realm, leaving Jason with only a cousin and a half sister for family.
It was no easy task breaking all this news to Jason, but actually it took only an hour to tell it and assuage his few questions. Strangely enough, he accepted it all, seemingly as a matter of course. The only parts which seemed to disturb him were finding out Sara was his sister Ashley -he had felt something for her, but not recognized her as such- and Brandon's attempt to rape me. (No one but Celia and myself knew about the previous night and neither of us had any proof, so it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. Especially in lieu of how I knew Sara would feel about this.)
Returning from the funeral, which of course was held at Shady Grove -Brandon interred in the family cemetery- I was holding Jason's hand, while he stared out the window. So far, I hadn't seen him shed one tear over his father's death. I could only assume he shed plenty when he was alone.
As we neared the mansion, Jason patted my arm and then removed his hand from mine. He opened the door for me, like a true gentleman, while Sara eased out the other side, preferring to open her own door. I put my cane in my left hand and reached up to wipe my eyes, as Jason closed the door. I saw his gaze lingering on my arm and a puzzled look come over his face.
"What's wrong?" I inquired, switching the cane back to my right hand.
"Is that a birthmark on the back of your arm?"
I smiled. He was the first one to recognize it for what it was. Most people assumed it to be a bruise. "Yes, it is."
"Can I see it?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Sure." I changed hands again with the cane, then bent my right arm at the elbow and turned it slightly, so he could get a better look. The mark wasn't that noticeable.
"Funny, I have one just like that," he said, as he started to roll up his sleeve, but found he couldn't, because of his jacket. "Oh well, I can't show you now, but... Father always said it came from the Wyndam side of the family." He frowned and shrugged, as if dismissing this line of thought. He glanced up at Sara, who was extending her arm to me for support, even though I didn't really need it. "I'll still think of you as... my sister... even though I know you don't remember me," he said and I saw tears well up in his eyes for the first time. "I know you can't stay, but... I sure wish you would." With that said, he took off around the front of the car and flew up the steps into the house.
Sara turned to me. "You told him we were moving to Columbus?"
"He asked where we'd be living. I told him he could come stay with us during holidays and summer vacation.
What did he say?
Seemed to like the idea. I'll have to talk it over with the lawyer, since he'll be his guardian now.
Sara merely grunted. We'd already asked about Sara possibly proving she was Ashley in order to be Jason's guardian, but the lawyer had made it plain Brandon's will was specific concerning the lawyer filling these shoes. This particular lawyer evidently did not care to forego monetary gain in lieu of Jason's desires or possible welfare.
He also... knows," I added, to head off any worries she might have about him coming to stay with us.
"Knows what?" she asked, with a frown.
"His room overlooks the pool."
"Oh, you mean... he saw me and you...?"
"And he never said a word?"
"He said it made me happy, so he wasn't about to ruin it for me. He knew Brandon would go through the roof."
"Thoughtful kid," she said, as we started up the steps. "Wish I could remember him, but... Oh well, maybe one day. She paused briefly. What was that about your birthmark?"
"Oh, he has one like it. He said Brandon told him it came from his mother."
"Not my mother?" She frowned.
"No, of course not, silly. Brandon's mother.
That's a relief. For a moment there I thought you were gonna tell me we're sisters. We both snickered at the absurdity of that thought. "So, your grandmother had the same birthmark, hmm?"
"Well no, Brandon's mother, she was a Wyndam. Ya see Brandon and my father had different...." I stopped in mid sentence, as the reality of Jason's innocent remark finally hit home like a ton of bricks. "Oh God!" My legs started to tremble.
"Faith... what's wrong?" Sara asked, grabbing me around the waist.
The scene in Brandon's hospital room played out before my eyes. Brandon saying: "I didn't know... I swear
I never knew." He'd been tapping his arm, obviously trying to tell me something. Then came the scene in my bedroom that fateful night when he had been staring at my arm.
"Oh no. Oh God, no!" I hissed, the world starting to spin before my eyes.
"Faith, what the hell is it?" Sara demanded.
I swallowed hard, feeling my knees start to buckle. "Brandon... Oh god, Sara
I could hardly force the words out. He was
my father!" The world around me faded from view.
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