by A. Azel
"You okay with this still, Hon?"
Caren smiled and flashed her mom a smile. "I should be asking you that."
Jean Harris sighed. "Filled, of course, with various serious apprehensions but still willing to forge ahead. And you?"
Caren shrugged. She was scared but there was no going back. Not now. "About the same I guess."
The outboard they were in rocked gently on Georgian Bay. It was a huge body of water and the roll of the waves was more like the ocean than a lake. They were pretending to fish. In actual fact, they were spying. Jean preferred to call it an investigative recognisance. As a journalist she was well aware that there was a fine line between investigating a story and snooping. She had crossed the line more than once although she did try to maintain a sense of professional integrity.
But this mission had nothing to do with professionalism. She had deliberately broken all the rules, using her position as a well known and respected journalist to gather information and share it with her nineteen year old daughter. That made this investigation personal and Jean's nervous system was raw with emotion.
Caren sat staring up at the house on the cliff about a half mile off, her fishing pole forgotten in her hands. Jean reached forward and shoved the lid off a small styrofoam container.
"Want a beer?"
"I'd love one. Thanks." Caren took the bottle from her mom and twisted the cap off, carefully dropping the lid back into the container.
Jean followed suit, liking that Caren was old enough to share a social drink with her now. And looking forward to the two weeks they were going to be on holiday together even if part of their time was going to be doing investigative recognisance. "It's going to be hard to get up there."
"We could try over land."
Caren sighed. "I was hoping there would be a dock. They sure don't make it easy."
"I guess that's understandable. Don't you think?" Jean asked gently.
Caren looked up sharply. Her eyes flashed with anger. As Jean watched they calmed to dark pools of chestnut. "I guess."
Jean reached over and patted her daughter's knee reassuringly. "She doesn't know us so we can't expect she will trust us. You can see why she would guard her privacy so closely. You read her book."
Caren nodded moodily and looked back at the house on the cliff. "I wonder how messed up she is emotionally?
"Her books show amazing insight into the human psyche. I don't sense the anger in her later work. In fact, there seems to be a great deal of compassion."
Caren nodded. She needed to believe this. Yes, she had read the book about Patricia Allen's childhood. Patricia's parents had been killed in a car crash when she was eight and she had been raised by an uncle who was strict and narrow in his religious belief. The cane was the solution to any transgression, however small, or any questioning of the religious dogma to which her uncle adhered.
When she was fourteen, Pat had realized she was gay and had tried to run away from home. When her uncle got her back he tried to beat the devil out of her and when this failed he allowed his friend to rape her to show her what a real man could do for her. She had eventually escaped from this life of hell and staggered bleeding and wailing onto the highway. A trucker had taken her to a local clinic. From there, it had been a slow, painful recovery. All the way the country doctor, Gale Houghton, had acted as a guardian and friend to Pat. Eventually, Gale won the right in court to adopt Patricia as her own.
At the age of twenty-five, Patricia Allen had written her autobiography, The Closet Within. It had sent shockwaves through the literary community. Two years later, she had written her second best seller, Martin. Since then there had been four other novels, all of them haunting, powerful and sensitive. Caren had read all of Allen's books many times. She knew her mother had as well.
They sat for a few more hours, taking turns watching the house while the other read. Once they saw an older woman come out onto the balcony and shield her eyes with her hand to look out across the water at them. Satisfied, they hoped, that they were fishing she disappeared again. They speculated for a time as to whether it could be Dr. Houghton then fell silent again.
The cloudy, muggy day darkened and the rolling of the water intensified. It was time to call it quits for the day. Tonight at their motel, they would discuss their options in trying to find away to talk to Patricia Allen. Caren slid back to the gas tank and pumped up the pressure while Jean pulled up their anchor. It took several pulls of the cord on the old outboard and some delicate encouragement with the choke until the engine caught again with a good deal of blue smoke and noise. Not a moment too soon, Caren brought their stern to the waves and headed them on an angle back towards the shore and to the harbour several bays to the north.
Jean did her best in the rocking boat to stow their gear and then held on tight to the gunnels as the bow smashed through the growing waves. They were both getting very wet and water was starting to accumulate under their sneakers. They had come within fifty feet of the shore when the wave hit them broadside. They crested the wave and slid down the trough in what seemed like an agonizingly slow slide. The boat filled with water, things floated away and the engine vibrated, choked and stalled.
Neither of them talked. Jean grabbed the fish bucket and started bailing and Caren madly worked to get the engine going. The next wave sent them both over the side as the small pleasure craft over turned. They came up gasping in the cold water. "Stay with the craft or try to make it to shore?" Caren yelled, as she bounced like a cork in her red life jacket.
Jean considered. It was early in the season. It could be sometime before anyone realized they had not returned. They were both strong swimmers. "Head for shore. We won't last long in this cold water. We'll have to keep moving." Caren nodded and the two for them headed off, swimming awkwardly in the bulky rented life jackets.
Pat stood looking down at the two of them. There was no expression on her face but Gale was not fooled. She was well aware that Pat's stillness was a sign of deep emotional distress. She would not like having strangers in the house. "It's them. Isn't it?"
"Yes, I think so."
"They were out there fishing."
Deep brown eyes looked up. "They were spying on us?"
The eyes darkened in thought, then looked back at the two wrapped up on their guest bed. "They're reporters," she stated as if that conclusion solved everything. "I need to go shower and change. I'm wet and cold."
Gale watched Pat go with worried eyes and then brought her attention back to her two patients. It had been Gale who had seen the two struggling swimmers in the water at the cliff's edge but knew she was too old to pull them to safety. She had called for her thirty- six year old adopted daughter and Pat had used a boat hook to grab their jackets and bring them to a safe ledge of rock. There they had been fished from the water nearly unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. Pat had managed to lift each of them to the inclinator that carried them up the steep incline to the house. They had been stripped, dried, placed into the same bed to share body heat and covered with an electric blanket. They were now both asleep, exhausted from their ordeal.
Gale sat down beside the bed. She had met Jean Harris only once years ago. Now here she was with her daughter Caren. She wasn't sure if this was a blessing or the makings of a disaster.
Jean woke groggily and then started awake as realization hit. Turning, heart pounding, she saw Caren asleep beside her and closed her eyes in relief. They had made it.
"How are you feeling?" a voice whispered.
Jean eyes popped open again, suddenly aware of Gale Houghton sitting quietly on a chair by the bed. "Pretty cold and worn out."
Gale nodded. "It has been a long time, Jean. I was so sorry to hear about the death of your partner." She kept her voice low and gentle so as not to wake Caren.
As always memories of Kaila caused Jean's heart to twist in pain. "She was always so healthy and vibrant. I never thought I would lose her to cancer, or anything else for that matter. It was very hard on Caren. She adored Kaila."
The aging face yet still with clear blue eyes shifted to the sleeping figure curled up behind Jean. "Is that why you are here?"
Gale nodded, a frown on her face. "This could be...difficult. You were out in the boat watching us."
Jean blushed. "I guess, yes. We were looking for a way in and hoped there would be a dock. But... we also wanted to get a glimpse of her. Caren...well, you understand."
"Yes. It was Pat who pulled you two from the water and carried you to the trolley we have for going up and down to the lake. Then she helped me get you dry and put you to bed. Do you remember?"
Vague images swirled in Jean's mind. Capable, strong hands. Dark serious eyes. "No not really. It is all a blur."
Gale nodded and sat quietly thinking for a few minutes. Jean closed her eyes again. Exhausted, she drifted in and out of sleep. Gale's quiet, confident voice brought her awake again. "You will need to stay and we will see how things go. Pat has blocked the incident totally out of her conscious mind. We will have to proceed very carefully."
Caren woke suddenly and instinctively reached out. "Mom?"
"I'm here. We washed up on Allen's cliffs and she and Dr. Houghton pulled us out. We are in their house now."
"What?! What did she say? How did she react? Why didn't you wake me?"
Jean raised an eyebrow and waited for her daughter to get to the end of her questions. "I didn't wake you because nothing has happened. Pat thinks we are both reporters snooping on her. According to Dr. Houghton she had totally repressed that period of her life."
Caren stared at her mom dumbfounded. This was the last thing she had expected. Rain blown by a cold spring wind drummed suddenly against the window pane and they both started. "So now what?" Caren asked rather moodily.
"Dr. Houghton has invited us to stay for a bit. See how things go. What do you think?"
Caren lay on her back staring at the ceiling. She felt so cold - right from the soul out. "I guess. It feels weird."
Jean gave her daughter a poke and giggled. "Your whole life is weird, aren't you always telling me that?"
Caren managed a nervous laugh in response to her mom's kindly jibe. "Of yeah, but this is mega-weird!"
"You invited them to stay?!" Patricia Allen wheeled on her friend with stormy eyes.
"I realized that I knew Jean from long ago and decided I wanted to get reacquainted. Caren is her daughter. You have a love of literature in common. She just finished her B.A. in English and plans to start on her Masters in the fall."
"I never finished high school."
Gale rolled her eyes and went over to flop down in one of the comfy chairs by the livingroom fire. Pat had lit it to take the chill off the day. She knew that Gale's bones ached when it rained. Pat took very good care of her old friend. "I imagine having written some of the best novels of the decade entitles you to some credibility even without a degree. I am sure both Jean and Caren will be thrilled to meet you."
Pat blushed and shuffled her feet awkwardly. Then she changed the subject from herself. "What does Jean do?"
Gale hesitated and then told the truth. "She's Jean Harris of CBC News. I am sure you have seen her on television."
"Shit! I thought she looked familiar. They are NOT staying."
Gale answered quietly. "Pat, I invited them."
Her friend looked uncomfortable. "Well, try to keep them away from me as much as possible. And make her promise not to write about me."
Gale smiled. "I will."
They finally all met over breakfast the following morning, Jean and Caren wearing borrowed sweat pants and shirts and still looking rather the worse for wear for their dunking. Gale had prepared bowls of fresh fruit, yogurt and crescent rolls and placed pitchers of orange juice and milk and a carafe of coffee on the table as well. The sun had come out and the view from the windows that surrounded the breakfast nook from ceiling to floor was breathtaking. Pat was already there when they arrived, the morning newspaper in front of her as a barrier and a half drunk cup of coffee at her elbow.
She did stand when they entered and smiled and murmured a polite hello when Gale introduced them. Having offered her guests refreshment and one of her newspapers to browse, she disappeared once again behind the printed word.
Jean looked at Caren who looked back with big, confused eyes. Jean shrugged and they settled to their breakfast, finding that they were more than hungry after their ordeal the day before. Gale returned with boxes of cereals and the three of them chatted happily about their rescue, the news and Caren's plans.
The talk had been interesting and the three found themselves comfortable with each other. So much so that they had rather forgotten about the quiet author behind the newspaper. So all three started when the paper was suddenly folded with a flourish and dark eyes focussed on Caren. "What do you mean to write?"
Caren felt flustered for a minute. She had just said that she thought she would like to become a writer and now she found herself under the scrutiny of one of the finest authors of the century. Then her jaw set and she looked back into Pat's eyes for the very first time. "I think it is important as a young writer to draw on your own experiences in order to get a vivid verisimilitude. I thought I would like to write about what it is like to be an adopted child."
Pat nodded, then stood. "Remember that what you write no longer belongs to you. That helps in giving away your demons but it also means that you will never own that part of your life again." She turned and left.
The remaining women sat silent then and it was some time before their conversation picked up again.
Over breakfast that first morning, Gale had insisted that Jean and Caren stay on until they completely recovered and had time to get to know Pat. Several days later, Gale entered the den to find Pat watching Jean and Caren playing a rather rowdy game of one on one basketball out in the driveway. At first, Gale thought that her friend was watching Caren. Then she realized it was Jean who had caught the author's eye.
"You like shooting hoops. Why don't you go out and join them?"
Pat did not turn around. "I don't want to break into their game."
Yes, you do, Gale thought. "Actually, you can take Caren's place. I promised to drive her back into town to pick up their car.
This time Pat turned. Her voice, when she spoke, was more enthusiastic sounding than she would have liked. "Jean's not going?"
"No, she is waiting on a phone call from work."
"Good. I mean okay. Maybe I'll see if I can join the game then," Pat blurted out, red creeping up her neck.
Gale pretended not to notice. Pat was easily put on the defensive when she was facing new situations.
The game between the two of them was intense and played on may different levels. Pat had the height and strength but Jean was quick and nimble. Polite blocking led to more physical contact. Sweat and lean muscle bumped, slid and glowed against each other. Their breath was laboured, laughs short by necessity, words spoken few but laden with meanings.
"Think you're good, eh, Allen?"
"Oh yeah, the best."
"Think so, huh?"
"Beginner's luck," Pat laughed.
"So I've noticed. You just watch the master and learn, woman."
It was the tied ball. Each grabbing for the basketball at once and refusing to give to the other, they ended up face to face. The game stopped.
"You play well," Pat murmured.
"So do you."
"You could let me kiss you."
"Why would I?"
"Because you want to and I want to." Pat leaned over the ball and lowered her lips to Jean's. The kiss was hunger - a tease and a promise. Eyes locked. Jean was the first to look away. "I've heard you are a rogue."
"You heard right. Gale tells me you had a partner. That you raised Caren together."
"You heard right."
They moved apart. "I need to shower and ....stuff," Jean stated lamely, relinquishing the ball to Pat as she backed off.
Pat stood her ground, eyes filled with desire, a cocky half smile on her lips as she watched Jean hurry away. Jean might have got more hoops but she sure as hell got beat at the passing game.
Later that night, Jean found Gale in her favourite spot by the fire. From the den, she could hear the voice of her daughter and Pat playfully arguing about authors and books they admired.
"Good evening. Come pull up a warm chair," Gale offered, putting down her cross stitching.
"You and Pat have been very welcoming. We've been here over a week. I think we have probably over stayed our welcome and should be heading home."
Gale looked at the woman sitting opposite her. "Kaila has been dead for five years."
"She would not mind, you know, if you were to love again."
Jean blushed deeply. "I could never love someone like I loved Kaila."
"Of course not! But there are many loves. Different sure, but just as intense and beautiful."
Jean squirmed. She wondered if Pat had told Gale about their kiss that morning. "I don't know what you mean."
"Don't you?" Gale smiled. "You will never know if you don't stay and see how things work out. Pat is a good person."
"I don't doubt that. But from what I have learned she hasn't had a great track record."
Sadness crossed Gale's face and she looked away to the fire. "No she hasn't. She has looked for love in the wrong places. Trust has been hard for her."
"I think we should leave."
"Caren has a right to know her. Isn't that why you were out there last week? You have a right to know her. You share a very special person."
"Pat has repressed the memory of ever having a child," Jean reminded her.
The two woman started and turned to see Caren and Pat standing in the doorway.
Gale stood up, her needle work falling forgotten to the floor. "Pat..."
A stream of emotions was crossing Pat's face. "You all tricked me!" She spun on her heel and was gone.
Gale headed across the room. "I'm going after her. You two will please stay here until I get back no matter how long that is."
They heard the door slam and a car peal out of the driveway. Like an echo the door slammed again and a second car's engine roared into life. Jean looked at her daughter with questioning, compassionate eyes. "I don't want to be here when she gets back, mom."
Jean came over and drew her daughter into her arms. "You two were getting on very well."
"She just walked out on us."
"It must have been an awful shock to suddenly come face to face with a part of your life you had repressed."
"I want to go home," Caren choked.
"Okay sweetie. We can do that."
Summer came and went and fall led on into winter. Jean had taken a bitterly disappointed and hurt daughter home and nursed her through the pain until she was able to head back to her university studies once again. Once Caren was gone, Jean found herself accepting more and more work so as not to think about Gale and Pat. They had never contacted them. It was like that week in the early spring had never happened. Dreams, unwelcomed, did come at night though, of that single kiss they had shared. Was she ready to date again? Was Gale right? Could she find a love as special as the one she had shared with Kaila? There were many nights when Jean worked at her desk until she was exhausted rather than face those questions or run the risk of dreaming.
It was late on one such evening when a knock on her door brought Jean back from a moody daydream with a start. Frowning, she headed for the door and looked through the viewer to see a thinner, tense Pat waiting in the snow. She opened the door.
"Can I come in?"
Jean stepped back, opening the door wider. "Yes. Let me take your coat." Pat stepped in hesitantly and looked around with some apprehension. "She's not here," Jean stated, taking pleasure in seeing the embarrassment spread across Pat's face.
Pat nodded but said nothing. Jean waited, not prepared to lead this conversation. Finally, Pat managed to get something out. "Can we talk?"
"What about?" Jean snapped back holding her ground.
Jean looked at Pat with angry eyes. She sighed. "Come in and sit down." Pat followed Jean into the livingroom and sat on the couch looking uncomfortable and nervous. "Well?"
"I....I had a lot of trouble...lately," Pat managed to get out. She looked so upset and miserable as she sat, head bowed, hands fidgeting nervously that Jean forgot her anger and came and sat beside her. When she touched Pat's hand it was cold but the gesture seemed to give Pat strength to go on. "It is hard to explain. I knew I had a child after I was raped. But I'd sort of buried that time deep inside because I couldn't deal with it. Gale said she would see the child had a good home and I believed her. After that, I....I just never let myself think about it. Then suddenly she was there and I had to. I....I...well...I had a lot of trouble with it."
Pat looked up. Tears had stained her cheeks. "I don't know, Jean. I don't know. I want to get to know you and Caren but I don't know if I can separate her from all the crap that happened then."
Jean got up, suddenly feeling cold. She wrapped her arms around herself and paced as she thought. "You are Caren's biological mother. Both you and Caren have a right to know each other. But I will not allow my daughter to be used in some psychological experiment to see if you can deal with your past."
Pat nodded, looking more miserable than ever. When she spoke her voice was barely above a whisper. "It took me a long time to get over the anger but I did. Not because I could ever forgive them but because the hate was eating me up. I...I don't feel anger towards Caren. I...I don't really feel anything. I liked her when I met her but I didn't feel any maternal instinct. Maybe I am not capable of that. What I can tell you is that I wouldn't want to ever hurt anyone like I was hurt."
"You already have hurt her," Jean stated but not unkindly. "I sent a pretty miserable and confused daughter back to university."
Jean nodded and nervously combed her hair back with her hand. "I know you are and that is the only reason that I am talking to you. You got a place to stay?"
Pat stood immediately, feeling she was being dismissed. "I came straight here. I'll find a motel. Maybe we could talk again tomorrow?"
"Get your things. You can stay here. You can have Caren's room."
Pat looked into Jean's eyes. Was this a test? She wasn't sure. "Okay. Thanks. I appreciate that."
Pat woke the next morning still feeling very weird being in a bedroom that was her daughter's. Her daughter's, not the baby she'd had, but her daughter. That was a pretty weird feeling too. On one level she was scared stiff by that thought and on another it was kind of exciting. Last night, she had sat for a long time on the edge of the bed looking at a picture of Caren and Jean. She knew how she felt about Jean. She wanted her. She had this feeling that maybe this was the person she had been looking for. Caren? Caren she didn't seems to feel anything for. She was the other person in the picture. A stranger.
She'd spent a long time getting to know her face, her expression and the way she carried herself. Jean said she was a good student but her love was basketball. She played on the university team.
Did Caren get her athletic ability from her? She'd searched the young woman's face nervously looking for any sign of the man who had raped her. The happy, sincere face that looked back at her did not seem to hold the rigid hate that she remembered still in her nightmares. Could she have been comfortable with Caren if she had looked more like him? She wasn't sure. That was what was really scary. Not having a daughter but that only half of Caren was her. The other half was the sperm of a cruel, chauvinistic bastard. Did she want to meet her biological father too? Had she? That thought made Pat feel like throwing up.
On the other side of the wall, Jean too lay awake thinking. Was her attraction to Pat affecting her judgement? Should she have let Pat go last night? Could things be made right ? Or was she risking emotionally scarring her daughter with all this baggage? With a sigh she got up. There was no point going over and over it until she wanted to scream. She would just have to play things very cautiously and then make a decision about where to go from here.
Pat found Jean sipping a mug of coffee in the kitchen. "Help yourself to toast or cereal," she said. I am not a morning person, so if you want to be fed you have to handle it yourself."
"I can do that." Pat made toast, poured herself a coffee and joined Jean at the table. "I don't know where we should go from here. I'd like to see more of you and I think I need to face up to a part of my past that I have repressed for a long time. I'm just real scared about that."
Jean looked moodily into her coffee and then at Pat. "I shouldn't have kissed you. That wasn't fair to Caren. I think you and Caren need to see if you can forge some sort of working relationship and then maybe there might be an opportunity for us to explore our feelings later."
Pat looked hurt. "I've never handled the brush off well," she muttered, chasing crumbs around her plate with her finger.
"It's not a brush off. I just don't want to be a complication in an already very tense and difficult situation."
Pat nodded. She sat quiet for a moment, a series of deep emotions crossing her face. "Did she also seek out... him?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, rough and choked with emotion. She couldn't make herself look at Jean.
Jean's hand covered her own. "She was curious and asked a lot of questions but in the end she decided she never wanted to meet him. She said that having a daughter who had been relatively successful might make him think that he was justified in his appalling actions and she didn't want that. She was almost relieved when she heard he had died in prison of a heart attack. She said she wouldn't like to think of a paedophile and rapist being out on the streets. And she wasn't sure what she would do if he ever tried to find her."
Pat fought back the tears, trying to deal with all the emotion she was feeling inside. "Any ideas on how..."
The ringing of the phone stopped Pat mid-sentence and she waited patiently while Jean answered.
There was little conversation but Pat could see Jean pale and shock cross her face as if she had received a blow. It was a look that Pat felt to the core of her being. Instinctively, she stood and opened her arms and Jean buried her smaller body against Pat's chest. "There was an accident after practice. Caren was in the van. Six of the girls' basketball team. They're at the hospital. I have to go."
The weather was bad and the two hour drive a white knuckle affair. They didn't talk, each lost in their own thoughts. Jean dealing with the agony of worry and Pat with the realization that she was upset. When Jean had told her the news a ball of ice had formed in her gut and had remained. If anything were to happen to Caren the loss would be huge she realized. She would have lost the opportunity to know her own daughter. All of a sudden that mattered.
An agonizing time later, they pulled up to the hospital and Jean popped out, leaving Pat to park the car. By the time Pat arrived, snow covered and wet, Jean was nowhere to be seen. Pat sat in the corner of the waiting room uncomfortable and confused as to what she should do. Hours passed.
She dozed a little, paced a lot and read the same three magazines over and over. Finally, the set of double doors opened at the end of the hall and this time it was Jean and Caren. Jean looked like she had visibly shrunk and aged during the night. Caren looked banged up and bruised. She rode in a wheel chair pushed by a nurse.
In three, long strides Pat was there. She knelt down by the wheel chair and put a shaky, cold hand over Caren's where it lay on the wheelchair arm. "You okay?"
Tears welled in Caren's eyes and she nodded. "I...I'm the only one who is." Pat leaned forward and hugged her daughter hesitantly, and felt Caren melt into her arms. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world. Pat held on tight for a second and then looked up into Jean's eyes. She saw love and understanding there. There were tough days ahead Pat knew but from now on they would be a family. Together, all of them, at last.
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