Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 21
Emily stood staring into the darkness of the yard. She opened the blinds as soon as she entered, per Harleys request, and couldnt seem to do anything but stare out into the blackness. Only a few spots were truly visible by the moonlight shining into the yard through the dense tree cover. Somewhere out there was Harley. Emily was hoping she could divine some clue from her hidden image as to why the space between them had grown so large and quiet.
The ride had been filled with conversation, but it was all relevant to the evening, and there wasnt a smidgeon of the playful flirting, or anything remotely personal.
Now, she just had to wait for Rita to arrive and wonder. Only a few things were settled in her own mind about her feelings, and the rest left her feeling a little like coming down from too much booze or drugs; light headed and wobbly, but one of them stood forth clearly. In whatever happened to her in the future, she would not settle for what passed as her life and relationships before. From now on, if things worked out with her and Harley, or even if they didnt, she would no longer accept less than genuine care and respect, and she wouldnt give less either.
She would stand, for the first time in her adult life, on feet that were not made of clay, assert her right to experience true emotion, and not hide from it. No more writing about it as if she knew what she was saying. She only hoped, fervently, that Harley could help her with this. For her part, the writer was determined to give it her best effort. So far, my best effort has always been good enough. This would be a very painful thing to fail at. Wonder if Id ever get over it?
The doorbell broke her from her musings, and she turned to start tonights mission.
Harley was settled semi-comfortably in the lower branches of the sprawling Noble Fir that took up the back left quarter of Stephanies yard. The SUV was parked on the dirt road that ran behind the length of the few homes on Old Orchard. Having spent her growing years being everywhere around here with Steph, finding a place to conceal the car hadnt been a problem. She tried very hard to keep the greater percentage of her concentration on the surrounding area, listening for anyone else who might be lurking there. She found it very hard to do when Emily was standing there, backlit by the table lamp, looking so engrossed in whatever thought held her. It was a lovely site and it didnt surprise her that it was difficult to concentrate on anything else with the woman looking so beautiful, and being able to watch her without having to make an excuse to do so. She knew she couldnt be seen from the house and so, even though she knew she shouldnt, she couldnt help but look. Of course, looking led to thinking, and that was something she felt she could do something about. There just wasnt any percentage in thinking about it.
She was half grateful and half perturbed when Emily turned away. Soon though, she could see her and Rita slip into the master bedroom, and watched as the light went on and then, as Emily, following Harleys instructions, opened the drapes to the sliding door leading onto the deck. She had to shimmy a little further out on the limb to keep the blonde in view, as they talked and worked inside. Emily was cooperating, it seemed, as she mostly kept herself in full view of the window.
As the tasks inside grew rudimentary and Harley knew there was no danger from Rita, she slowly let her mind go back to the break-in and ran over every possibility that came to mind. Her gut told her the new information on Darlas sudden wealth had something to do with it. How she got Rita to let her have the alarm combination was troubling. Harley knew the McKinneys werent her greatest friends. They were one of the few families in town who held some deep-seated moral prejudices against homosexuality. They werent nasty or vocal, but the undercurrent of disapproval was clear. She thought they may have been one of those that thought it was a case of nurture and not nature and therefore, associating too closing with gay people or allowing a tacit approval of the lifestyle by not openly saying they were against it, might lead to trouble. They had four daughters. Two of them went to school with her, and she was sure that even though they didnt say it out loud often around here, lots of nasty stuff went on behind their closed doors. Jenna McKinney was older than she was by two years, and in grade school, had been one of her closest friends. That was probably due to the crush she had on J.D. All that changed in high school, after the Darla incident. Suddenly people who were always friendly to her got too busy to see her, or just stopped speaking to her when she met with them on the street or at school. It was a real shock to realize that some people could know one thing about you they hadnt known before and suddenly, to them, you were a different person; a dangerous person to be around. Thats what happened to Jenna.
Even with all that, she didnt feel that the family or Rita in particular would deliberately help Darla, or try to hurt Stephanie. She was sure by now that the McKinneys knew that Steph was gay, but still allowed Rita to clean her house. I mean, they had to know, right? Maybe. Nonetheless, even though they couldnt know about Darlas sexuality as she made it clear in high school that she was not that kind, and to all outward appearances was just that, anyone with common sense could see she was just in the closet. Besides, if homosexuality bothered the religious family, then they must be appalled at Darlas sluttish behavior with men. Tramp didnt even begin to describe her. She slept her way through every man she could seduce in Bramble. So, if it wasnt Darla that Rita gave the code to, who was it?
The information Emily needed to confirm her suspicions came slowly, but that was alright, as she was drawing it out slowly. Rita had to be unaware that she was telling more than she intended or the girl would have stopped. So far, Emily had gotten what she wanted in the tiny bites shed expected. Rita confirmed for her what days she normally cleaned Stephs, place and when she did the yard work. She told the writer that she did it alone and always made sure to come on Friday. Steph would call the Monday before to let Rita know the publisher was coming up for the weekend. The young woman told Emily that the last time Steph came up was the first of last month. The pieces all fit. Now was the tough part. She wanted to tread carefully and not frighten the girl, but she had to have the answer. As they were smoothing the comforter over the bed in the master bedroom, she pulled out the big guns.
"You know, Rita, I cant tell you how much I appreciate your help with this. I just hate being helpless and dependent. I would have been mortified if Steph came up this weekend, and had to change her own linen. Some lousy houseguest, huh?" She deliberately put on a look of self-disgust.
"Oh, no. Really it was no problem for me, I was glad to do it." The girl was all but falling over herself to help the famous writer. Emily could see Ritas request to the author was on the tip of the girls tongue, so she quickly continued.
"I know you feel that way, but still I want to give you something for it. So, if its okay with you, while Im here, if you ever want someone to read what youve written, or help you with your writing, please dont hesitate to ask. Id be thrilled to help, and just by talking to you I can see youve really got potential. Theres just a way that good writers speak. You express yourself with clarity, and consider your word choices well. Its the sign of a good writer, and Id like to help with that all I can." Before the flustered girl could utter her gratitude, Emily came in for the killing blow. "In addition, since we share an interest in other things beyond writing, Id like to give you this." She turned to the rocker, and lifted the throw over the seat to pick up the item it had been hiding. Turning around she shook it out, and held it up in front of her. The girl was only standing a few feet away, so she could see it clearly. Her eyes grew round, and her mouth dropped open. Ive got her!
"The boys were really hot that night, huh?" She handed the shirt to the girl and sat down on the rocker, as Rita collapsed onto the foot of the bed theyd just made. She began to trace the autographs with her finger as she spoke.
"Oh yeah. They were great." She wasnt focusing on anything but the priceless souvenir in her hand, as Emily continued.
"They sure were. How many encores did they do, four?"
"No, five. It was so great. It just went on and on." She pulled the shirt to her chest and finally looked up. "I cant believe youre giving this to me. Wow! How did you get it?"
"Oh, the Boys and I are old friends. I try to get to all of their concerts when I can, and since this was for charity, I just couldnt miss it. They insisted on signing my shirt and I knew, since you had the same one, that youd really appreciate it. Theyre so nice and so sweet, not to mention cute, huh? Im glad you got to see this one. Now the shirt will mean so much more to you. That concert just went on, forever. It must have been two in the morning when it ended. Ill bet it made it hard to get to school, and get over here to clean the next day. I know I was out for the count and didnt get up till noon Friday." Take the bait, Rita. Share with me.
"Oh yeah, I was really wiped out. I slept all the way home. Thankfully, I was staying at my sisters and school hadnt started yet. I was worried about getting back here to clean up for Stephanie, but my sister told me shed do it and to just sleep in. It was great. First the concert and then someone else did my work for me the next day. That night we went out to dinner and a movie and spent Saturday at the beach. Now, you give me this shirt. It was the greatest weekend ever, before, but with this to remember it by, wow some writer I am I cant even put it into words. Thank you so much!"
"Hey, its my pleasure, if I want another one, Ill just call the guys. Theyre really great. Next time they play around here maybe we can go see them together, and Ill introduce you to them." She wasnt worried that the lie would show on her face, because so far, everything she told the girl was the truth. Emily would be happy to help the teen-ager with her writing and shed be glad to take Rita to meet her musician friends. She watched as the girls eyes lit up all over again, and rushed on. "I guess thats another thing we have in common; sisters. My sister is terrific too; I dont know what Id do without her. Shes my best friend, but dont you have three sisters? Which one is the good one? She asked, smiling and leaning in conspiratorially.
"Yeah, the others are okay, but Nancys my favorite." Then Rita looked down and began to retrace the names on the shirt over again.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
Faster than the Sheriff imagined the light in the bedroom went off, and Emily was back at the living room door looking out. Harley tuned her senses to the front of the house, and listened as she heard Rita back turn out onto Old Orchard, and then the sound disappeared. Harley made her way out of the tree and approached the back door making sure that she stepped into the light as soon as possible. The poor woman has had enough shocks to her system since shes been here. Lets not make for anymore.
Emily saw her appear as though by magic from a pitch black spot in the yard when she stepped into a bright spot; a pool of moonlight aided by the living room light behind her. Slinked. Thats the word. She slinked into the light. Animal like. Predatory. Scary. Scary, but gorgeous.
The blonde unlocked the door and opened it, as the Sheriff stepped onto the deck. Before the officer could get a word out of her mouth to ask, Emily answered her.
"Nancy, her sister."
Harley held her questions as long as she could but halfway back to her Mothers house, she could wait no longer.
"All right. At the risk of feeding the ego of the junior g-man Im going to ask you how you did it." She turned to look at the writer and nodded her head once. "Please, feel free to embellish your success as much as you like. I know how you creative types need to preen your feathers now and again." Saying the last, she added just a hint of a smile and for a moment, the old banter was back. She turned her attention back to the dark road. "Just try to give me a little insight on the particulars."
Emily couldnt help but smile at that. She was feeling a little cocky, and she supposed with her having that everything shows on my face kind of problem, that this must have shown as well. Okay, I will. A few warm fuzzies for a job well done cant hurt.
"Okay, and because, being one of those creative types, I do have a tendency to make a long story an epic, Ill try to capsulate. You remember I told you my being a writer would work in my favor? She looked to the officer who nodded. "Well, it did. From the first moment she came in she had this celebrity haze thing going on." Harley interrupted.
"Celebrity haze. Its a term my-" What do I call Teddy? I realize she doesnt really qualify as a friend, at least I realize it now, but without telling her all about it, her, her and me, there is no other word. "My friend Teddy, uhm, coined for that kind of glazed over in the eye look that lots of fans of celebrities get when they get up close and personal with their idols." She finished quietly with a great deal of hesitance, as she realized how full of herself that made her sound.
The Sheriff realized it too, and her knuckles tightened on the steering wheel. Just another example of why Im just fooling myself about her. She wouldnt ever settle here. This place would never be enough for her.
"Anyway," she hurried along, "she listened to everything I said and did her best to please me while I did my best to make her feel comfortable. By the time we were almost finished, Id learned some important facts to verify my theory."
Before she could go on, Harley cut in. "What theory?"
"The theory that said Rita went to that Backstreet Boys concert, and gave someone the code to the alarm." She raised her hand to stop the question that she knew the dark haired woman wanted to ask. "Now, if youll just let me explain it will all become clear, alright?" Harley nodded and Emily picked up her narrative.
"With careful questions and well placed compliments, by the time we finished Id gleaned several things." She ticked them off on her fingers as she spoke. "Stephanie always calls her on Mondays to let her know shell be up that weekend." Harley nodded. "The last time Steph came up here was the first weekend in September." The Sheriff nodded again, once again failing to hide the look of respect for the small blondes unknown skill. "Lastly, Rita always uses Friday to clean the place when she knows Steph is due for the weekend. Now you told me that Rita wanted to go to that concert and she had her sister come and pick her up. I knew she either went to that concert or knew someone well who had, because today when we met, she was wearing the T-shirt from the concert." That was just a jump too wide for the Sheriff to buy.
"Wait. I know youre going to say she could have bought that T-shirt anywhere, or someone could have given it to her. I was betting no one gave it to her, and you cant buy one. They were one of a kind and given out to all attendees at the concert, one to a customer. Even I couldnt get more than one and I asked." Realizing too late just how snobby that made her sound, she grimaced and tried to save her self. "What I mean is, I was a guest. The Backstreet Boys. I was their guest for the evening. They read my books and theyre big fans of mine. They share them and talk about them on the bus while they tour and they found out through mutual friends how much I liked their music, and invited me. So, since I was their guest back stage and all, I thought Id like another T-shirt and asked. I even offered to pay for one and they said they couldnt because beyond those given out, one per customer at the door, and the one they got for me, the rest were signed and going up for auction on E-bay with the money earned from the sales going to benefit Children of The Night."
"I know of them. Thats the charity that takes in homeless kids in L.A., right?"
"Yeah, they do great work. Anyway, since I knew it was very doubtful someone gave her one, I surmised she attended. That being the case, I knew the concert was on a Thursday night. I know because it ran really long, and I had to get a room in Santa Barbara because I was too ston I mean tired to drive back to L.A. that night. I slept in the next day until noon, and had to push it to make it back home in time for a party I was going to that night. However, the next day was Friday and Steph was due up that night. If Rita didnt clean Stephs place up before she left then she either came all the way back up here to do it or someone else did it. For that to happen, she had to give them the code."
"Yeah, Nancy. Now, I have a little sister and when we were younger, I cant tell you how often I gave in to her pleading for something my Aunt and Uncle said she couldnt have. I thought if I got the day right, what probably happened was her sister took her to the concert. I found out I was correct. Nancy offered to come back and clean Stephs place while she let Rita sleep in on Friday. They went to the movies and dinner Friday night and spent Saturday at the beach. Now, either these two sisters are just crazy about each other, or this Nancy saw a chance for something she wanted and took it, and took her sister for a ride as well. Im sure Rita has no clue about what happened here today and she only thinks her big sister is wonderful for treating her to, in her words, the best weekend of her life. Poor kid."
"Damn." Harley made the final turn into the Ravensdown driveway and pulled up to the porch. "Well, then logic would dictate that I go see Nancy next."
"Okay, what time in the morning do you want to pick me up?"
Harleys first instinct was to tell Emily she wasnt going, and then the part of her that wasnt reeling from the emotion this woman made her feel kicked in, and she realized the writer would be very useful to have along.
"Make it nine. Most of the rush hour traffic should be gone by then and we should be able to get to L.A. by early afternoon." She took a deep breath and turned her head to look out the windshield, instead of the blonde sitting so close to her.
"Uh, okay, then. Ill uh, see you then." What happened? I was so sure she was going to tell me to stay here. What made her change her mind?
The next thing Emily knew, the Sheriff was at her door holding it open for her and she was stepping out. The tall woman closed the car door and used her key to open the front door to her parents house. A quiet good night and she was taking off down the driveway, leaving the writer to try to figure out whether to feel vindicated or vexed.
"Damn you, Harley. I was hoping for a good night kiss." She whispered into the night, then turned and closed the door behind her.
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