by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        The next morning, to my amazement, she was back to her ole chipper self and seemed to have suffered no ill affects from the previous night, except for a headache. She did change my schedule though. We had our therapy session after lunch instead of before bed. I could still feel pressure on my left leg, which she said was a good sign. The only thing truly different was my attitude. I tried hard to fight the feelings I had once enjoyed. For instance, when she put her hands on me, I tried to tell myself, It does not feel good, it feels awful. But, in reality, I enjoyed it immensely. My body seemed bound and determined not to agree with my mind.
        That afternoon I overheard a heated discussion between Sara and Brandon concerning my electric wheelchair. It wasn't the first time she'd broached this subject, yet she now had Dr. Rosemund's clout to back her up. My electric wheelchair was moved downstairs and the manual one installed in its place in my room. I wasn't exactly thrilled with this new arrangement, because it meant more work for me, yet that was the general idea. I needed more strength in my arms and moving around in the chair would help with that, or at least that's what I overheard Sara tell Brandon.
Days dragged by, turning into weeks, as I fought my feelings for her. I tried to direct more of my affection towards Brandon, which he seemed to relish, so I assumed I was doing the right thing. He threw several dinner parties, which I grudging attended. I only stayed long enough for the meal, then retired to my room –business conversations were just not my cup of tea.
I grew stronger and stronger, during this time, moving in and out and around in my chair with great ease, even venturing outside on the patio with Sara usually following close behind. When we'd pass the indoor pool, she'd bring up the subject of starting therapy in the pool, since it would be good for my legs and back. She was just waiting for Dr. Rosemund to give his okay on the head wound.
        She had already started working with me, trying to get my legs to move, but I didn't seem to have any controlled movement, yet. My left leg flinched occasionally and my right one regained feeling, but I couldn't move either one. I could tell this was disappointing to her, but there was nothing I could do about it. Most everything above my legs had regained feeling, slowly but surely, and was in working order, which I was very grateful for. The junk bag, as I called it, had not exactly been my best friend and I was glad to be rid of it.
        Despite the fact that my recovery was moving along, albeit at a much slower pace than anyone expected, I became depressed over my inability to "cure" my attraction for Sara. From early May to June I took a decided downhill glide into the abyss of my own dark, tortured soul. Needless to say, I wasn't happy with what I found there. Depression is like quicksand, the more you try to fight it the lower you sink. And the more I fought my attraction for Sara, the more depressed I became. There seemed no way out of this endless cycle or this bottomless pit of despair.
        A month ago, I had been happy just being able to get out of bed on my own, now this was a normal occurrence. I mechanically got out of bed, bathed, dressed and when we weren't engaged in some type of therapy, I watched TV or listened to music for the better part of every day. I had no desire to do anything else. Not even talk to Sara. She tried hard to get me outside, but I just didn't have the energy to do anything beyond my daily routine. She worked with me, trying to help me stand up by myself, but my legs would buckle, she'd inevitably catch me and those bad feelings would surface again. That's when I'd plunge even deeper into the abyss of my despair.
        Brandon called Dr. Rosemund, but there was nothing he could do. He, in turn, referred me to a psychiatrist who came out and asked me questions upon questions, to which I offered short curt replies. I overheard this man say that he'd concluded I was giving up on walking. He wasn't far off base, either, because I had given up on walking and on life. I felt I was the worst sort of human being there was: a homosexual. The thought left a nasty taste in my mouth. One I refused to make worse by verbally sharing my “unnatural” feelings. I wanted no one to know about this! Especially not my uncle! Of course, I had no idea how he might react. But, images of being committed to an insane asylum tormented my waking and sleeping thoughts, which in turn helped keep my big mouth shut on the issue.
        The psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant. It only gave me severe headaches and after only three pills –three days spent in bed, my head throbbing and my stomach nauseous- I refused to take anymore and no one forced the issue.
        Dr. Rosemund finally approved pool therapy, suggesting it would be good for my back and legs and seemed hopeful it might help with the depression. Brandon was so optimistic he purchased six bathing suits for me. And Jason -now home on summer vacation- volunteered to help Sara haul me in and out of the pool.
        The first day, I dressed myself, not wanting Sara touching me anymore than she had to. She came into my room wearing a short robe and I immediately noticed her legs, which made me feel awful dirty. I wished the chlorinated water in the pool would cleanse away my impure thoughts, but I knew better than that.
        At the pool, Sara disrobed and I tried hard not to look, but she was soon in front of me: black bathing suit cut low in the front, backless to her rump and arched high over her shapely thighs. She and Jason picked me up and carried me into the water. I wanted him to stay, but he left me in her arms and went back inside. She carried me over to the side of the pool and I eagerly grabbed hold of the drainage trough.
        "Relax Faith," she said calmly. "You told me you could swim and weren't afraid of the water, so what's wrong?" I gave no reply. "Don't you trust me?"
        "Well, just relax. We'll start off massaging your legs." She turned me around to face her and took hold of both legs, stretching them out in front of me. "Perhaps we'll get some reaction today. Wouldn't that be great to make some progress?"
        "You sound so-o enthusiastic," she remarked, as she began rubbing my legs, while I held onto the side, gripping the trough with both hands.
        I struggled to think of something... anything, other than what she was doing. It didn't work. All I could think about was her. Unlike a few weeks back when I couldn't feel her touching me, I felt nearly every nuance now. And needless to say, it was far better than any fantasy I had ever conjured up about it.
        When she finished she held onto my left foot and tried to get me to move it by concentrating. Time after time I tried, but nothing happened.
        "Faith... I just don't understand it," she said, anger tingeing her voice. "You should be taking your first steps by now. All the feeling has returned and... I… I just don't understand it."
        I gazed up at the clear glass ceiling of the indoor pool, watching a small white cloud pass overhead. What do you want from me, blood? I felt like asking. I can only do as much as I can do. Instead I said, "Maybe I'm paralyzed for life." I watched a bird land on the ceiling. Wonder what it would feel like to fly?
        A few moments later she walked over to the steps of the pool and got out. I thought she was going to get Jason and end the session, but instead I heard the door leading to the pool area as it was slammed shut and locked. Then I saw her walk over and lock the outside door. From there she went over to the chair where her robe lay and let her hair down. I watched as the silky bleached blonde mass fell loosely around her shoulders. Then she did something else I couldn't see, because her back was to me. I chastised myself once again for even watching her. And especially for wondering how the fine downy hair running up her backbone might feel against my fingertips.
        "Now, let's try this again," she said, sternly, as she approached me.
        I could tell she'd taken her contact lenses out, because her green eyes bore into mine. I looked away, wondering why she had made such a change in her appearance and why she'd felt it necessary to lock the doors. What possible good would this do? But, I didn't ask.
        "Faith, concentrate," she said, as she held my left leg in her hand again. Nothing happened. "You're not concentrating, you're not even trying," she admonished, her tone revealing her frustration. "I don't know why I waste my time, because you… you obviously aren't even interested in trying."
        I merely stared at the ceiling.
        "Faith, look at me." I felt her coming closer, moving up the side of my leg. "I said look at me," she reiterated, touching the side of my face. I turned away. "Oh, I see... the little princess wants to remain in her castle today, does she? Poor Faith," she chided. "Poor, poor crippled Faith. Shall I feel sorry for her?" Her tone was mocking.
        I pulled myself down the side of the pool, trying to avoid a confrontation. She was starting to make me mad.
        "Going somewhere?" she queried, as she stepped in front of me and grabbed hold of the trough with her left hand, blocking my passage with her arm. I turned back towards the other side and she did the same with the other arm. I was trapped. "Trying to avoid me, aren't you? Well, I won't let you. You can't get rid of me, because I won't give up on you. Even though you obviously have. So it seems like we're stuck with each other, hmm?"
        I offered no response. I merely pushed against her arm, trying to get away.
        "Oh no, you aren't going anywhere. You're gonna explain to me, why you've given up." I still offered no reply. "What is it, you too comfortable, hmm?" I pushed against her other arm. "That's it, isn't it? The pretty little princess in her ivory tower; everyone waiting on her hand and foot, catering to her every whim… You're spoiled, ya know that?"
        "Stop it," I grumbled, my tone quite low, holding back my anger.
        "Oh-oh, she said more than two words to me.” Her tone was high-pitched and mocking. “Oh my, I've been blessed. The fair princess, she speaks. And when she speaks, everyone obeys, right?” Her tone had changed revealing her irritation. “Well, I'm sorry, but I don't cater to poor little rich girls."
        "Shut up!" I growled.
        "Why? Does the truth hurt? And the real truth is Faith doesn't wanna walk, does she? Well, does she?"
        I offered no reply.
        "Of course not, she's too damn comfortable in her ivory tower, isn't she? Isn't that the reason? Oh yes, she has everything she needs, a television, stereo system and cable… with every premium movie channel they have, so she can watch those monthly showings over and over and over. Do you realize that's all you do?” she continued, “Watch TV and play that incessant classical music of Brandon's, while you waste away up there, feeling sorry for yourself? But, what I really wanna know is why, Faith? I don't understand. Explain it to me! Why would a beautiful twenty-one year old woman, with her future ahead of her, want to lock herself away in her room? I need to know why." She paused, allowing me time to answer, which I didn't. "You want everyone to feel sorry for you, is that it? Don't upset her, you know she's a fragile child," she said, mimicking words I'd heard Brandon use many times in the past few weeks.
        "I'm not a child!" I exclaimed, prying at the fingers of her right hand, so she would lose her grip.
        "Oh no, well ya coulda' fooled me! You're acting like a child, right now. A spoiled... rotten... child!" she declared, drawing out the last three words, making them sound vulgar.
        Before I realized what I was doing, I turned halfway round, drew back and slapped her across the face. She responded by grabbing both my arms near the elbows, so I couldn't strike another blow.
        "I told you before you wouldn't get rid of me this way! Now we're gonna get to the bottom of this thing if it takes all day. And now that I have your complete and undivided attention, tell my why you're not even trying to walk."
        I struggled to break free of her hold, but she pressed me back against the side of the pool. "Goddammit, Faith, answer me! Why don't you wanna walk?"
        "Y-you!" I screeched.
        She looked stared at me quizzically, as if this wasn't what she expected me to say. "What the hell do I have to do with it?"
        "You'll leave me!"
        She loosened her grip somewhat, but continued to stare at me. "Are you trying to tell me you don't wanna even attempt to walk, because if you do, I'll leave?"
        "Yeah," I admitted, tears welling up in my eyes.
        "Faith, sweetheart, we've got a long road ahead of us. I'm not going anywhere just yet."
        "You will, you said so," I reminded.
        "I'll be leaving sooner than you think, if you don't at least start trying to make some progress. Oh yes," she continued, reading my horrified expression, "your uncle's already talking about letting me go. He seems quite content with your progress so far. He's giving up, just like you. I have another week, after that..."
        The thought of losing her sooner than I had expected turned on the old tear faucet. I felt as if my heart were about to burst.
        "Oh god, what've I done?" she muttered, as she threw her arms around me. "I've made you so dependent on me. I'm sorry, Faith. I... I thought I was doing the right thing, trying to be a friend and not just a nurse, I thought..."
        "It's not you, it's me!" I blubbered. "It's all my fault. You... couldn't make me... love you."
        I felt her flinch. "Yes, yes I did. I… I wanted you to," she said, as she eased back to face me. "I… I wanted you to love me, because I'm... I'm just so selfish."
        "No, Sara... it's not you. It's me," I attempted to explain. "I'm… I'm a terrible person… a horrible, evil person!" I exclaimed and hung my head in shame.
She pulled me close, my head landing on her shoulder. "How can you say that?" she half-whispered.
        "Because… I want you... all to myself!" I confessed.
        "I think… we're both guilty of the same thing," she admitted softly.
        There was a long silence. Then she eased back again to face me. She was so close I felt an overwhelming desire to kiss her once again. I stared deeply into her beautiful green eyes wondering what she would do if I did. Would she pull away forever? Afraid of taking the risk, I hesitantly reached up and touched her face instead.
         "I tried to... to make you see," she said, her eyes darting slowly back and forth, as if searching mine for understanding. "Perhaps I shouldn'a backed away, but… things were...." Her voice trailed off, as her eyes darted from my mouth to my eyes and back again.
        And then it happened. The impulse was overpowering. My control vanished! I didn't even stop to think about it, until my lips touched hers, ever so briefly. I drew back, astonished by my own actions and extreme fearful of what her reaction would be. My heart fluttered inside my chest, racing wildly as she gazed deeply into my eyes. I watched her expression change from anguish to something quite softer… more alluring. And then she leaned over and kissed me. Not lightly, as I had her, but a full-blown kiss, with all the trimmings!
        I'd never felt such sensations before. Never knew I even could. They flowed over me like waves of delicious warmth. No boy or man had ever caused me to feel this way. I pulled her closer, feeling the dampness of her skin against my own. Sweet sensations crept down my spine; my heart was beating like a drum in my ears, drowning out everything, except the soft sounds of our sighs, as the kiss grew more passionate. A veritable Fourth of July fireworks display was going off in the pit of stomach, sending out sparks that filtered down to my lower abdomen. Longings I have never experienced before, swept through my body like a roaring fire intent on consuming me.
        Without warning, she broke away from our passionate embrace and took a step back. Her eyes fell to my breasts and then beyond. Tingling sensations raced up my spine.
Her previous expression changed rather quickly and a smile began forming at the corners of her mouth. "Don't look now, sweetheart," she said slowly, her eyes traveling back up my body until they locked with mine, "but you're standing up on your own two feet."
        My eyes widened in disbelief, as I became conscious that she was no longer holding onto me. My gaze slowly drifted down to my legs. Indeed, I was standing on my own two feet with no support whatsoever. I could even feel the concrete bottom against my toes. I quickly glanced back up at her, wondering how this had happened.
        "Wonderful!" she beamed, taking a step forward to the place she'd occupied only moments before. "It's one small step in the right direction, sweetheart!"
        I squealed with delight. At that moment, I couldn't remember ever being so happy. I felt like two enormous weights had been lifted off my shoulders, simultaneously. Which I was happier about, standing on my own or being kissed in return, I didn't stop to contemplate. I reached out and pulled her close. “Oh Sara…”
        "What's all this about?" boomed Brandon's voice, laced with undeniable suspicion.
        I turned in his direction, while still holding onto her shoulder with one arm. I wondered how long he'd been standing there and how much he'd seen. "I… I can stand by myself!" I exclaimed, with sheer delight, in case he hadn't been privy to previous events.
        He gazed down at me, his expression rather cool. "That's… very good, Princess. Is that what all the commotion was about? The servants came and told me you two were screaming at each other." He eyed Sara skeptically. "What was all that about? And why was the door locked?"
        "I felt it best if we weren't disturbed,” Sara responded. “I… I was trying out something a bit different."
        "Different?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.
        "Yes, she wasn't responding to anything… especially kindness. So, I… I thought if I got her mad enough, maybe I'd at least get some reaction."
        "And it worked," I said, cheerfully, still hanging onto her.
        "What did you say to create such a commotion is what I want to know?" he declared, the agitation in his tone increasing.
        "She called me a spoiled rotten child," I replied, looking over at her. "And... I slapped her. Which… I'm truly sorry for."
        "At least it worked… in the end," she added, gazing into my eyes.
        For a moment, I was lost in those green depths. I forgot about Brandon standing there. There was just the two of us.
        "I'm not sure I approve of your methods," he said, breaking the spell between us. "But... I suppose the end justifies the means, in this instance."
        We both looked up at him. He was still eyeing us rather suspiciously. I wondered just how much he did see or overhear. Surely, if he had seen everything, he'd say something about it.
        "Sampson…" he called towards the house, "…tell Jason to come down here. He's probably in his room."
        In his room? I thought. I had completely forgotten that his room overlooked the pool. Did he see us? I wondered. I looked up to ascertain whether I could see his window. Indeed I could. But, I didn't see him.
        "Can you stand for me, Princess?" Brandon asked, his voice calmer and sweeter in tone. "Or do I need to make you angry, too?"
        "No... I… I think..." I paused, removing my arm from around her shoulder. "I think I can do it again." She took my hands to steady me, then slowly let go and backed away a few steps. "See," I said, turning my upper body towards him.
The momentum of the turn must have been too much for my legs, for I lost my balance and began falling back towards the side of the pool. Sara grabbed both my arms and pulled me up and into her body. My head came to rest on her chest. I could hear her heart beating rapidly and feel the dampness of her skin against my cheek. Those strange feelings returned again, but instead of fighting them, I now allowed myself to enjoy them. Sara had proven, with that one kiss, that I was not alone in how I felt. That, in it self was quite a relief!
        "I'm afraid you're not quite ready for spins and turns yet," she said, teasingly, then reached down and swept both my legs up into her left arm. "But, we'll keep working on it, everyday, hmm?"
        "Everyday," I responded, wrapping my left arm around her neck and pulling myself up into a more comfortable position.
        "Must the doors remain locked, each time?" Brandon inquired, in a rather cold voice. "What if something should happen, the servants couldn't even..."
        "That was only for today, Mr. Neilson," Sara replied, cutting him off. "I thought it best that no one come running to her defense. There'll be times when she'll get pretty angry with me, she'll probably rant and rave and…" She paused, looking down at me, as she carried me through the water to the steps. "…those are the times I'd prefer no interference."
        "Interference?" he questioned. "I don't understand why you feel you must be so hard on her that any of us would feel the need to interfere. You know she's a fragile child."
        We both looked at each other and fought back the laughter I knew was just under the surface. I remembered how she had mocked these very words of his only a short while ago.
        "Your technique may have worked today, but, you may also have done more harm than good," he added.
        "I believe she's stronger than you give her credit for. She's pretty headstrong and quite… stubborn," she maintained, though in a teasing tone.
        "Alright. You can both stop talking about me as if I'm not even here," I asserted. "I'm not a fragile child, Brandon. To you, I am, because... I'm your niece. And I'm sure my father would treat me the same way. But, Sara's right, I'm headstrong and… I am stubborn," I added with a smile.
        "Hey, what happened to you?" Jason asked me, as he walked up beside his father. My how they did look alike, except Jason wore a smile, instead of the hard cold stare of his father. "When I left here awhile ago, you'd hardly say a word. Now you're smiling. What gives?"
        "Seems Miss Bennington is a… miracle worker," Brandon replied, a hint of envy in his voice.
        "Looks that way," Jason agreed, as he came down the steps to help Sara carry me to my chair. "It's good to see you smiling again."
        "It feels good," I said, cheerfully, relieved that he obviously hadn't seen anything. "Perhaps, this afternoon we could finish that puzzle we were working on?"
        "Really?" he asked, excitedly, as he helped Sara position me in my chair. "I've wanted to come see you more often, but you were...."
        "Always so tired and... rude?" I finished for him.
        He nodded his head ever so slightly. "Would you tell me the story about the old hermit?" he asked, his voice soft and low. I assumed he didn't want his father to overhear.
        "Yes," I replied, remembering the first time I had told him about the hermit and the legend surrounding Windell's Point: how he had seemingly hung on every word I uttered. "If you'll tell me a few things, as well."
        He cut his eyes over at me then looked away. I knew he didn't like to talk about his family, but I did. The history of our family went back a long ways and I wanted to learn more about it. I also wanted to know more about Ashley. Her body not being found was a juicy mystery I'd been dying to sink my speculating teeth into. Yet, whenever I asked about this, he'd always say, "I was away at school all the time."
        "Miss Bennington, why don't you let Jason escort Faith to her room. I'd like to talk to you," Brandon said, sternly.
        My heart sank. Why did he want to talk with her? Had we not explained everything to his satisfaction? Evidently not. How much did he see? I wondered. Is he going to fire her? If so, what could I do to prevent it? Sweet Jesus, but I felt helpless!
        "I'll see you, later," she said softly. "Try to get some rest before lunch." She must have noticed the worried look on my face, because she added, "I'll be up soon, I promise."
        Jason walked beside me, as I steered my chair back inside. He asked me what had happened to change my attitude and I told him the same selective truth that Sara told Brandon. Unlike his father, Jason merely nodded and accepted it. When we reached my room, he left, so that I could change, saying he'd see me after lunch.
I went into the bathroom and struggled to remove the wet bathing suit. It had been simple to get into, but it was hell removing it; it was sticking to my body like peanut butter on loaf bread. I'm sure it didn't help any that my mind was elsewhere.
        Finally I was able to get out of it and dry myself off. Needless to say, I had to dry the chair too, because the seat was wet from my soaked bathing suit. I slipped into one of the nightgowns Brandon had picked out, just in case he came up anytime soon, hoping it might lighten his mood to see me wearing one of his choices. Then I wheeled back into the bedroom and maneuvered into bed, all the while thinking about Sara and what Brandon was saying to her.
        I watched the digital clock on the VCR count off the minutes. Ten went by. Fifteen... twenty... I was getting worried now. Twenty-one... was that footsteps? Twenty-four... twenty-five... What could they be talking about so long? Twenty-nine... Thirty! He saw us and he fired her, I know it. Thirty two... God in heaven what will I do now? I can't lose Sara, I just can't. I'd die... I'd just... Footsteps? Yes, thank god, here she comes.
"What happened?" I asked, as she strolled into the room, all smiles, wearing her jeans and a black tank top.
        She put her finger to her lips and shut the door behind her. Then she came over and sat down on the side of the bed. "He was angry about me making you mad, but he couldn't argue with the results," she said, softly. "He... um… he's uncomfortable with... the way you 'hang all over me', as he put it, though."
        "Did he see…?”
        She shook her head. "I don't think so. Surely he woulda fired me for that, hmm? Results be damned. No, I… I think he's a bit envious, to be honest. He was probably ready to get rid of me and this kinda screwed up his plans."
        "Thank God, for that," I said, with relief, as I wrapped my arms around her neck. "I'm sure glad you did what you did."
        "So am I.”
“Oh Sara, you don't know how long I've wanted to be close to you like this.” Tears were threatening, clouding my eyes.
“Me, too,” she agreed. “But you've got to be careful about your… displays of affection," she said, as she pulled back to face me.
        "You mean I shouldn't do this?" I leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips.
        "Especially that," she replied, reaching up and touching my face. "I don't know if... if this is right for you. Perhaps I'm being too selfish and you're... just so emotionally dependent that..."
        I interrupted her with another kiss. I didn't want to talk about anything negative. I only wanted to be with her, feel her close to me: especially her soft, full lips. I wanted to experience those wonderful sensations again and again and again.
        After a moment or two, she pulled away. "Sweetheart, listen... we have to be careful. Anyone could walk in, at any time. And I'd hate to see the fireworks if it was Brandon."
        "But, I wanna be close to you. I wanna..."
        She put her finger to my lips. "I know. So do I. But… there's a time and place for everything. And right now is not the time for this. Lunch'll be served soon and I have a feeling Brandon'll be here shortly." She gazed into my eyes and started to reach out, then seemed to think better of it. "God, if I ever did anything to hurt you, I'd..." She shook her head back and forth. "I'm not sure about this, ya know? But… I know I... I care for you deeply and... I have for some time now. But, that still doesn't give me the right to.... take advantage of you. I shouldn't..."
        "I'm not a child, Sara," I reminded her, ignoring for the moment her comment about taking advantage of me. "I know what I feel. I just had no idea you felt the same way. I was afraid you'd find me disgusting for having such thoughts, especially after you... backed away before."
        "I did that because..." She paused, looking down at our hands, which were clasped together, "…what happened in the pool today, would've happened much sooner if I hadn't. And..." She paused again, as she looked up at me. "Are you sure it's not just... a flight of fancy? I mean... you shouldn't get too involved if..."
        "I've felt this way for quite awhile. I've been fighting these feelings for well over two months now. Maybe even more. It's not going to go away. I already found that out, myself… the hard way." I sighed heavily, rubbing my thumb over hers and squeezing her fingers. "I thought I was pure evil for having these thoughts about you. But… they felt so good, ya know. They were just... always there, whenever you were around. And... even when you weren't. When you kissed me today it… God, Sara, it just felt so-o right!” I paused, gazing into her eyes and loving what I saw there. “I've had quite a few boyfriends... men... whatever…” I glanced down at our hands, feeling a bit embarrassed. “They kissed me and... other things... Well, only one went... past the demarcation line, so to speak. We didn't...." I glanced up at her and she nodded in understanding.
        "But, anyway I… I felt kinda… I don't know… numb about the whole thing, you know?” I continued. “I didn't feel anything when they kissed me and... I mean, I didn't feel what I thought I should or maybe more to the point, what I wanted to. So, how could I let them do more? But, when you kissed me... Whew! I felt things I'd never felt in my entire life. Things I thought I should've felt with them. And… Oh God, Sara, don't tell me this is wrong. Please don't…” Tears were welling up in my eyes once again.
“Sh-h,” she admonished, reaching up and stroking the side of my face. “I don't think it's wrong, Faith, I just… I don't wanna take advantage of you. You're so young and…”
“How can you take advantage of me when I kissed you first?" I interjected.
        "Well, I'm older and... and I've been with... other women."
        "Oh," I responded. I hadn't given this much thought since I'd been the aggressor. At least until today, that is.
        "Then there's your situation," she continued, "you're so vulnerable right now and so..."
        "Don't you dare say fragile," I admonished, glanced up at her. "To quote you: 'She's stronger than you give her credit for'."
        "You're incorrigible," she said with a warm smile.
        There was a noise from my sitting room and we both glanced over at the closed double doors. Sara quickly got up, just as Brandon opened the doors without a word of warning or even a knock. This hadn't really bothered me before, but it did now. And it was something I could put a stop to. Hard part was, how to do it without making him suspicious and/or hurting his feelings?
        "Hello, Princess." He smiled broadly, then gave Sara a quick once over, as she headed for her chair. "Since you made such marvelous progress this morning, Miss Bennington, perhaps you'd like the rest of the day off? That is, if you're through with your... therapy? I'll take over now. I'd like to spend some time with my niece." His gaze swung over to me. "You'd like that wouldn't you, Princess?"
        "Um... yeah, sure," I replied, halfheartedly. I didn't want Sara to leave. I wanted to spend the day with her.
        I glanced over at her, as he turned around at the door, waiting for Celia to bring the tray in. Good old Celia was spry for her age, but after climbing all those stairs, with a tray of food in her hands, she moved rather slow by the time she got to my room, bless her heart. Sometimes, she even rested in my sitting room before going down again. And this was one time I was thankful for her slowness.
        Sara smiled and winked. I knew she was telling me this was just the first of many times when our secret relationship would have to wait. "I think I'll go into the city. Is there anything you need, Faith?" she asked, obviously using this as a cover for our attention to one another, in case he turned around and took notice of it.
        I glanced over at Brandon to be sure he wasn't looking. He still had his back to me, his hand on his hip, watching Celia. "You," I mouthed, silently. She smirked and arched her eyebrows playfully. "I… I think perhaps some perfume,” I finally responded, trying to prolong her stay. “Would you check for me, it's on the vanity."
        She strolled over there and saw that the bottle of Chanel No. 5 was only half empty and the big bottle of Estee, she had purchased several months prior, still contained a little less than that. I used it sparingly, what could I say? She turned and gave me a questioning look.
"On second thought, I'd like to try something different this time. Something..." I glanced over at Brandon, who was taking the tray from Celia to place on the table. "Oh, pick something out for me, would you?"
        "There was a lady in this store who sprayed some Liz Claiborne on me the other day, as a promotional gimmick," she offered. "Have you ever tried that?"
        "No. But, if you think it's nice, perhaps I should."
        "What's wrong with the perfume on your vanity?" Brandon asked, with a hurt look on his face, as he pushed the table towards me. "Your mother wore that you know. She loved it. It has a wonderful aroma," he said, his eyes shifting to that glassy look. He glanced down at me and must have noticed my expression. I was getting very tired of him wanting me to do, say and wear things like my mother. It was as if he were trying to make me over to be her, or something. "Oh well, I guess it's as they say, a woman's prerogative to change her mind. Or in this case... her perfume." He offered up a fake smile. "I'll reimburse you, Miss Bennington, unless you need the money beforehand."
        "No, I think I can handle it," she responded, as she started for the door.
        I wanted so badly to say, Don't go! Instead I called, "See you later." She responded with a wave over her shoulder.
        "I… heard about... the… breakthrough, 'mum," Celia said, a tad breathlessly, as Sara passed by her.
        Sara smiled. "She did all the work. I just did all the yelling."
        Celia chuckled. "Yes, 'mum, ya did do... sum' of that, ya did. And Miss Faith... she did her share, too," she added with a sly smile.
        I returned the gesture, yet I couldn't help wondering what she had overheard. Or just how many of the servants had been within hearing distance?
        "Yes, I... believe I did," I responded, as Brandon moved the table over in front of me.
        "Ya know, 'mum… sum'time a person needs... a good shout now an' again. 'Tis 'bout as good as… a first-rate bawlin', it is." She glanced up at Brandon and then lowered her eyes. "Will ya be needing anything else, 'mum?"
        I looked around at the tray and thought about how slow she had moved into the room and how she still sounded a bit out of breath. "I'm not sure. Perhaps you should stick around, I might want some more of these mashed potatoes or these biscuits."
        Brandon quickly turned and looked down at me. "Have a healthy appetite today, do we?" he inquired. "You usually don't eat enough to keep a bird alive."
        "Yelling takes a lot outta ya," I said, teasingly.
        Celia chuckled. "Ya sound so-o much better, 'mum. Why you're even smiling. That's a sight for sore eyes, that is, 'mum. A sight for sore eyes, indeed," she repeated, as she glanced over at Brandon. "I know you must be very happy 'bout that, sir."
        "Yes, I am," he responded. "Thank you, Celia. If she needs anything more, I'll let you know."
        "Very good, sir," she said, as she turned to go into the sitting room. "Oh, shall I tell the cook ta make sum'thin' special for your dinner, 'mum?"
        This was a question she'd asked me everyday since I arrived and I had never made a request. "Yes... spaghetti," I replied, remembering the chef was Italian. He was one of several servants I had only a brief acquaintance with, unlike Sammy and Celia, the latter of whom I saw on a daily basis.
        "Spaghetti, yes, 'mum. Sight for sore eyes, that's just what it is," she said, as she disappeared into the sitting room.
        Brandon was staring at me, when I looked up from removing the silverware rolled up in my napkin. His gaze softened when I smiled.
        "She's right, you know. This is a sight for sore eyes. But... tell me the truth, Princess, wasn't Miss Bennington..." He paused and my heart skipped a beat. He saw us! "…a bit rough on you today?"
        I breathed a sigh of relief, which I made out was a deep breath before an explanation. "No, not really. I... I guess that's what I needed." I placed my napkin across my lap. "But, I don't wanna dwell on whether she should've or could've done things differently. It worked and that's all that matters. I mean, I have been... excuse my language... a real pain in the ass. Even to myself. And as a neighbor of ours once said and I quote: 'Sometimes you have to hit a jackass with a two-by-four just to get his attention'… I guess whatever works, hmm?"
        He merely stared down at me, as I shoveled peas into my mouth. I was very hungry, which surprised even me.
        "Your father allowed a neighbor to talk to you in such a manner?" he questioned.
        "Oh no, he wasn't talking to me. He was talking to Father about his son-in-law. I wasn't supposed to be listening. Or at least, they didn't know I was."
        There was a brief silence, then he asked, "Your father was happy without... all this?"
        I could only assume he meant Shady Grove, the business, the money and all that it entailed. "He seemed to be."
        "Would you...?" He paused and walked over to the window. He took a quick look at the chair Sara always occupied, then moved around the table and sat down in it. He rested his elbows on the arms and steepled his fingers under his chin. "Would you tell me about your life, Faith? I've... I've never asked before, I know, but..."
        "What do you wanna know?"

        He spent most of the afternoon with me, except for a couple of hours when he stepped out, allowing Jason to visit, as I had promised him. Brandon mainly wanted to know about my mother, which I'd assumed was his reason for asking in the first place. He rarely wanted to talk about my father. I knew there had been a serious deficit in their relationship or a serious rift somewhere down the line, because they both seemed to have wanted to forget the other had ever existed. I began to see why the Christmas cards and birthday cards were quick subjects in our house. My father must have known about Brandon's feelings for my mother. Was this what had caused him to leave everything behind, to cut his brother out of his life?
        Jason was a breath of fresh air compared to Brandon. We went into the sitting room, where the puzzle we had worked on over spring break, was still lying on the coffee table, waiting for its severed pieces to be put back together again. Jason immediately asked about the hermit and the legend of Windell's Point. As I related the story, which had been told to me by the neighbor with a jackass for a son-in-law, Jason listened with wide-eyed interest.
        The legend went like this: Back during the Civil War, actually near the final days, there were a group of soldiers transporting a gold shipment, which had been commandeered from the union troops. As the story went: these soldiers had decided that if the South would ever rise again, they would need more than big dreams this time to get it off the ground. So, these soldiers carried the gold deep into the mountains of Tennessee, where it was rumored, they buried it on or near Windell's Point. All of them were subsequently killed, so no one came back to claim it. At least, as rumor would have it, no one did.
        It was said an old hermit, who lived up in the mountains found the gold back in the early 20's. Of course, gold is no good to anybody, unless you spend it. So, the old hermit took some into town, where the shopkeeper became suspicious about him coming into so much money. Didn't take long before a group of men followed the old hermit home one day, to see just where he was getting all this money. Well, the men never found the stashed loot, but the old hermit turned up dead and missing one eye. And the legend went on to say that the old hermit's ghost roamed the point at night looking for his missing eye.

        Jason seemed intrigued by the story and speculated about where they'd hidden the gold. Or at least, where he'd hide it if he had been them. Then he switched tracks to the old hermit and suggested that the old man had moved the gold, because that's what he'd do. And he'd hide it good too.
        I allowed him to rattle on and on, then finally asked for my end of the bargain. I wanted to hear about Ashley. His mother's suicide in front of Ashley and her subsequent stay in a psychiatric hospital especially intrigued me. This time, he told me what he knew.
        "Father said she committed suicide while Ashley watched, but... I heard the servants saying that Ashley... had blood on her hands," he said, whispering the last few words, as if someone might be listening. Ah, I thought, he doesn't want Brandon to hear him telling me this. "And they said my father was saying she had killed her," he added, still whispering.
        I gasped inwardly at the thought of a teenage girl killing her own mother. That just couldn't be. "Oh, they were probably just saying that. Someone probably made it up," I offered.
        He shook his head. "I don't think so," he disagreed, quietly. "Celia was the one telling it. And I've never known her to lie. I heard her say that father only told everyone mother committed suicide to protect Ashley. He didn't want her to go to jail. So he made them all promise not to reveal the truth to the police."
        "Oh that can't be true," I said, dismissing it. "Someone would have told. That many people can't keep a secret like that."
        "Would you have wanted to send Ashley to prison?" he asked, as he glanced around towards the door.
        He had me there. What would I have done?
        "Celia also said Ashley tried to kill Father and... that's why she was put in a hospital. She said Ashley was like a crazed animal. Blood dripping from her hands and... clawing at my father." He shuddered.
        "You're making this up, Jason. Just to have a story to tell me, right?" I asked, teasing him.
        He slowly shook his head. "Ask Celia yourself, if you don't believe me."
        "How old were you at the time?"
        "I was just a baby. I don't remember any of that stuff."
        "Was Ashley crazy when she came home from the hospital?"
He thought for a minute. "I don't think so. I was little then. But, she did always act funny, especially around Father. I remember when she used to come in my room and play with me, she was lots of fun. Somehow she always talked me into doing things, that I didn't really wanna do." He paused, as he looked up from the puzzle. "Oh, not bad things. Usually it was just something I was afraid of, like... like the time I fell off my horse. I never wanted to see another horse again, after breaking my arm, but... Ashley talked me into getting back on him, while she held him." He paused again and smiled. "I love horses now. I can see why she did it. She knew I was just afraid. She was the one who talked Father into letting me have Shane as my own. He was going to sell him, 'cause he was a bit wild. But, Ashley broke him of his bad habits and now... he's mine."
        "How did she act funny around your father?"
        "She always left when Father came around, except...." He stared off into space for a moment, as if collecting his thoughts. "Except when I was in trouble. She'd back away from Father, but she'd never leave me alone with him, when he was mad. She'd stand up for me, sometimes. Like with Shane. And... she proved Father wrong."
        "You spent a lot of time with her," I said, though it was more of a question.
        "In the summer. During the school year I only came home at Christmas. Father thinks it's best I stay at school on other holidays," he said, ruefully. "Except this year, he let me come home on spring break and for the funer... to meet you, I mean."
        I ignored his reference to the funeral of my parents. "It must be very lonely for you. Don't the other boys go home?"
        "Most of them. Ashley used to come up on holidays, before..." He didn't finish.
        I knew he was referring to the accident. "Where did she go to school?" I asked, trying to change the subject, since I saw the overt sadness in his eyes.
        "She stayed here. Father hired tutors for her, since she had missed so much school, being in the hospital for three years."
        Three years? If she were in her right mind, that must have seemed like an eternity. I started to wonder if the version of the story he'd overheard was indeed true. Three years was a long time to recover from just seeing something horrible, wasn't it?
        "She did go to school at some point, didn't she?" I asked, wondering what she did after graduating, so to speak.
        "Yeah, she went to college here. I mean, in Athens. She wanted to be a doctor."
        "A doctor? What kind?"
        "A psychiatrist like you. Father told her they'd never let her be one though, because of her history. Whatever that means." I could tell he was relating things he had overheard. "But, Ashley wanted to prove him wrong," he added, a hint of sadness entering his voice again. "I wish she'd never went to college."
        "Because... Father said... it killed her," he mumbled, staring down at the puzzle, which now seemed far more interesting. He scratched his forehead and wrinkled up his nose. I knew I had pried long enough.

        After Jason left, I crawled into bed, feeling very tired. I slept until dinner. Celia brought my requested spaghetti, which was delicious and I started asking her about Ashley, in general. But somehow I ended up far a field, because Celia seemed uncomfortable with the subject.
        "Did you know my mother, when she lived here?" I asked at one point, thinking to get back to Ashley in a round about way.
        "Yes, 'mum, very nice lady. Pretty too, just like you, 'mum. Wuz very sorry ta see your parents leave, I wuz. Never got to say goodbye."
        "Why not?" I asked, onto the scent of other game now.
        "Left rather sudden, 'mum. Miss Marion even left 'er toiletries, right there on the vanity."
        "You mean the perfume and makeup over there was my mother's?"
        "Yes, 'mum," she replied, in a tone of voice suggesting she was trying to convince me of something I didn't believe. "Ya see, Mr. Neilson, he wouldn't allow anyone in here, least not 'til you come. Then he redecorated. But still ... he wouldn't let anyone touch them things there. Now, I think he wants you ta have 'em, 'mum."
        I nodded. The conversation was turning my way and I didn't like that. I was no mystery. "Did you know Mrs. Neilson? Vivian, I mean?"
        "A'course, 'mum. She wuz a nice lady, she wuz. Not like your muther. But nice. God rest her soul."
        "Perhaps one day, we'll sit down and have a talk about my mother and... and some of the relatives I'll never get to know."
        "Yes, 'mum,” she agreed, albeit a bit hesitantly.
        After dinner Brandon came up and spent the remainder of the evening with me. He reminisced about his days at boarding school and college and the pranks he and his cohorts had pulled on their teachers. I gained a new perspective of him that evening. From the things he told me and the manner in which he related them, I assumed he could be very vindictive and devious. I knew he was jealous of Sara, I had seen it in his eyes on more than one occasion. But there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't bring myself to be any closer to him than I already was. There was just something about the way he kissed my cheek, which left me feeling cold and uneasy. What should have been a quick peck had gradually become a long lingering kiss. I was quite relieved when he finally left.
        Afterwards, all I could think about was Sara. Not to suggest I hadn't thought about her all day. I had. But I knew there was no sense dwelling on the fact that I wanted to be with her, because couldn't. Now, however, I felt I could. I glanced over at the clock of the VCR. It read ten-o-five. I was usually asleep by now and she knew it. I started to wonder if she was having second thoughts about what had happened between us.
        A few moments after that, I heard a noise outside the door. Slowly the door opened and Brandon walked in with a glass of white liquid in his hand.
        "Princess, I noticed that your light was still on. I thought you might like a glass of milk before retiring," he said, as he closed the door behind him.
        I noticed that his attire was not the usual. He was wearing a robe over a pair of pajamas. So, he doesn't sleep in those three-piece suits, I thought. Wait… how'd he see the light in my bedroom from the other end of the hall?
        "You had a very exciting day," he continued, as he neared the bed. "I thought you might need a little something to help you sleep. I know I do when I've had an unusually active day."
        "Thank you," I said, as he handed me the glass.
        "Well, goodnight, Princess." He leaned over and placed a lingering kiss on my cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams."
        After he left this time, I couldn't help but wonder why he was being so unusually attentive. Perhaps he was just happy that I'd come out of my depression and made a breakthrough in my therapy. Or maybe he was envious of my attention to Sara and the fact that he knew she would get to see and be apart of all my 'firsts', so to speak. Whatever the reason, I thought, the milk was a nice gesture.
         I downed half the glass while watching the minutes tick away on the clock. Where could she be? Had she gone out again? Who had she been with that night she came in with her clothes all wrinkled? What other woman had been...
        I shook my head. I didn't even want to think about her being with anyone else in a social way, much less "that" way. Yet, the thought did cross my mind that she would be much more experienced in these matters. This sent a tingle up my spine.
        Would our relationship progress that far? I wondered. I hadn't really given it much thought. I'd been concentrating only on what I wanted at the moment: just kissing and holding. I realized I was like a teenager again, only thinking of the simple and perfunctory steps, not the whole picture. Probably because the whole picture is too uncertain, I thought, I'd be totally lost. I wouldn't know what to do. Then again, I assumed I wouldn't be the first person to want something and not know what to do with it when they got it. According to Sara there were others like myself, she being one and then there were “the other women”. I knew Sara wasn't a bad person. So I wasn't either, right? It wasn't as if I'd chosen to be attracted to her, I just was.
        I must have dozed off; for, when I opened my eyes she was sitting on the side of the bed, gazing down at me. I started to raise up, but my head felt heavy, as if I'd been awakened from a deep sleep. I struggled to keep my eyes open. "Wh-where..." I paused and cleared my throat, rubbing sleep out of my right eye. "Where have you been?"
        "I've been here since before dinner," she replied, as she took my hand in hers.
        "Wh… why didn't you come see me?"
        "I did. I came in here right after I returned, but you were asleep and I didn't wanna disturb you, I knew you needed to rest."
        "But... after dinner you...?"
        "Brandon was here, sweetheart. And I thought perhaps it was best that... we take some time to think things over. Especially you. You had an emotionally draining day, today. You need to think this over… before you rush into anything."
        "I don't need... to think," I said, batting my eyes, fighting back the need for sleep which was threatening to overpower me.
        "Well, you need to rest. I can tell you're very tired."
        "Sara, please… don't go," I said, gripping her hand as best I could. "Stay... with me."
        "Maybe some other time. Besides, you're in no shape for company at the moment."
        "Please... don't go. I... I don't know why… I'm so sleepy... I guess it was the milk."
        "What milk?" she asked, rather abruptly.
        "Brandon was… nice enough to… bring me some."
        She abruptly got up and I tried to follow her with my eyes, but they were just too heavy. The last thing I heard was the sound of tinkling glass. It reminded me of the day I broke her mirror.

Part 9

original fiction | homepage | what's new | xena homepage