Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 27

Brunch had been great. The food was wonderful. Savvy had deigned to make the meal and proved herself to be more than a brilliant mathematician. She was a true gastronome and chef. Food was always one of Emily's favorite things. She wasn't a fanatic about it and never took too much time creating her own meals, but she appreciated good cuisine when she had it.

The meal began with pumpkin soup, went on to a fresh shrimp salad, a wonderful crab and vegetable quiche with warm brioche, and ended with fresh fruit dipped in white and dark chocolate fondue. The white, unpronounceable, German wine was crisp, light, and favored the tastes of the meal exceptionally.

Funny, I eat out at home nearly every day at restaurants so exclusive you need to be on a list to get in, but I haven't enjoyed eating anything as much as I have since I came to this little mountain town. Maybe it's the air. Emily had to laugh at herself. Maybe it's the company.

The conversation, too, had been good and time-consuming. She was surprised to see the sun so low in the sky as she stood watching it descend through the sliding glass doors. The shadows of the natural woods landscape in Steph's backyard were long and growing longer. Maybe another hour till true night. Gods, this place is just glorious.

More of Savvy and Steph's personal histories were revealed, as well as a multitude of wonderful stories about growing up in Bramble. It delighted the writer that so many of these stories seemed to involve Harley who, according to Stephanie, had been her best friend since the time she had been little.

The exploits of these two little terrors and the pains and problems that they shared growing up affected the writer in a way that surprised her.

She knew a writer needed to feel, deeply and absolutely, so that she could express that emotion in her writing, but it could be a handicap to feel too much. She'd heard lots of hard things doing research for her books. She'd spoken to cops and doctors, crime scene analysts, and FBI profilers trying to get a feel and understanding for her characters. She was a naturally empathetic woman and some of the things she'd learned had upset her. Emily knew she'd lost of lot of her innocence when trying to understand how the criminal mind worked. Some of the acts one human being could perpetrate on another, for the flimsiest of reasons, had shaken her faith in people in general.

When Stephanie told Emily about the loss of her father Emily found herself having to hold back tears. It wasn't until that moment that she made the connection. Stephanie Croft was the daughter of the late Sheriff Bob Croft. The one who had died in the car accident, propelling the balance of her family, the Ravensdown's, to take up the law enforcement mantel in his absence. From then on, questions just flew out of her mouth.

The writer in her wanted to know everything about the town and its people. The woman in her had a hard time concealing her curiosity about Harley and her family.

Stephanie didn't seem to mind until Emily asked what must have been a question that her editor found difficult to answer.

They were speaking in general terms about how fascinated Emily found the town and its inhabitants when she remembered that all stories need a villain, and whom she had penciled in for this one.

"Everyone here has been a writer's dream. Eccentric, charming, educated with wonderful personal histories. I've even managed to wrangle an invitation to tea with Ellie Gravtiz. The only one I've met so far who has managed to fail the charming character test was Darla Dunham. What's her story anyway?" Emily asked.

The look of undisguised disgust on Stephanie's face was in itself a kind of answer.

"She's a bitch!"

With that, Emily watched as Stephanie got up and left the room. Savvy just shook her head a little and smiled at her. Then she too, got up to follow her partner into the bedroom.

Still ruminating about the so far universal reaction to the spike haired blonde, Emily got up and went to the sliding doors to wonder and worry at Darla's place in Bramble, before she was caught up in the view and the sense of place she found there.

Despite the chill in the air, Emily couldn't help but open the doors and step out on to the deck. The smell of wood smoke from the fireplace inside, and others down the road, blending with the pungencies of the trees and leaf litter was so sensuous. She took in a deep breath and folded her arms over her chest. There was no sound of traffic, no waves breaking on the shore, no people noises.

I love it here. It's like a secret hidden place where the earth doesn't care who you are and only expects you to be.

Then, filtering though the noises of the breeze and the birds she heard something new. She turned her head to where the noise came from and there, further down the sloping woods, she saw a dog.

She knew it was a dog from its markings, fur in various shades of white, black and red-brown, but looking at its enormous size she felt it might have had some horse or moose ancestors. It was huge.

The giant stocky body and longish ears were reminiscent of a St. Bernard, but it stood fully as tall as a mastiff. If it weren't for the wonder that it's face was, she might have been a little frightened by it. It was a face only a mother could love: so ugly it was cute. As she continued to watch while it sniffed along the edge of the stream, she became aware of another sound. Singing.

Soon, coming from the same direction as the dog came a very small, very old, very dirty man. He had long silver hair and an even longer silver beard. She'd seen homeless people wearing cleaner clothes and his wire-rimmed glasses were taped together in at least three places. He carried a very long branch as a walking stick and kept his eyes on the ground as he caught up to the dog, all the time singing quietly. Over the distance she could just barely hear "A hundred and one, pounds of fun, that's my little honey bun…".

She realized how chill she was when she felt herself smile and realized the skin on her face was tight. She was about to turn to go back in, when she heard someone behind her.

"Ah, right on time. That's Tiny and Walter. They come home this way everyday about this time." Stephanie said.


The older woman stepped forward then turned to lean on the deck railing facing the writer. "Yeah, they live a few miles over, just on the other side of Eureka and back a bit off the road in an old camper that saw its best days sometime in the 50's. Both of them have been around since I was a kid. Every morning early they start to wander here and there all over Bramble." She smiled. "I guess every small town needs it's resident hobo."

"Hey, it's getting brisk out here. Come on back inside and let me show you the surprise I was talking about. Savvy just mulled some wine and we'll settle in and gossip some more."

Since Emily thought that was such a good idea, she nodded and followed her hostess inside, sparing just a brief look and small smile for the old man and his monster dog with the ridiculous name of Tiny, just disappearing from view


Harley, too, was watching the sun as it began to descend, but she was looking out of the floor to ceiling glass wall of her own home.

She stood slowly twirling the melting ice in her scotch and listening as her parent's car slid over the gravel in her driveway as they headed home.

When Josh took out his cell phone and called her brother she knew she'd given herself away. In his best head-of-the-family manner, Josh had appropriated J.D. to play sheriff for the night and then quickly called Twyla to inform her to meet him at Harley's house. All the while he'd had his hand on her shoulder, rubbing the tense lines of muscle in her neck.

She knew better than to try to talk him out of it and part of her was grateful. She was a mess and she knew it. She sure as hell wasn't getting any closer to solving this case and she wasn't focused enough on anything, but her own dilemma with Emily to be able to fix that.

Without a word, she made the first available U-turn she could and headed back home.

Once they arrived, Josh had poured them both a drink and as they began to take their first sip, Twyla came in. She crossed the room and hugged her daughter as Josh poured a glass of Merlot and handed it to his wife. Then Josh and Twyla took seats on the couch facing the window. She found she couldn't sit and just stared out at the trees, trying hard to find answers there. If not answers, then maybe the words to explain how she felt. Oddly enough, once she began to talk, it all seemed to come out easily.

"The situation is simple. It's my feelings that are so complex." She took another sip of her drink, then carried it with her as she began to pace.

"I can't stop thinking about her. I'm crazy about everything she does or says. I dream about her. I fantasize about her. It's gotten so that I keep seeing pictures of us, she and I, here in Bramble, somewhere in the future. I keep picturing her here with me." She stopped and took another long pull of her drink. She couldn't seem to look at anything for more than a second. Her eyes were flitting from one thing to another and her breath was coming faster.

"Uhm, Honey, why is that a bad thing? You must know she's very interested in you, too. Every time she, or anyone else, mentions your name, she just lights up. It seems to me that you have a mutual attraction here. So what's the problem?" Twyla couldn't help but furrow her brow at Harley. What is wrong with two people wanting to get together with each other?

"I like her, Mom. I really like her. I can't remember feeling like this about anyone since Kym."

A quick glance from Josh to Twyla communicated an instant understanding. They knew their daughter had loved Kym very much and was totally shaken when she'd died unexpectedly.

While Twyla didn't know the full particulars of her death and the relationship she had with her daughter, Josh did. He'd made it his business to know. He'd had to pull a few strings, but not too many since he had a lot of friends in high places, but eventually he'd had the whole story given to him, neatly typed and single spaced. It had taken over eight pages to wallow through to the truth of Kym's death and Harley's real reason for resigning her commission in the Navy.

It had, at different moments, enraged him and broken his heart. He never told his daughter all he knew of the incident and she had never once offered more than the barest basics. She'd said only that it was an accident aboard ship and that it was due to negligence of the officer in charge. Then, as soon as her discharge came through, she'd taken off for several weeks to the cabin she bought in Oregon.

When she came home, she was lighter and smiled again, but there was a new more serious, more defensive look to her and Josh was heartily sorry for it. That look of self-defense, the one that spoke of caution and wariness was out in full force now.

"What is it you're afraid of, Sweetheart?" Josh asked.

Gods, I'm afraid of so many things. Feeling them all rise up and fill her, she blurted. "She's a tourist! She's on vacation, here. Steph sent her up here because her pushing the envelope lifestyle was getting her into trouble. She's only here long enough to let the gossip die down over her last naughty-girl news bite and then she's going home."

Harley found herself noticing that the hand that clutched the heavy old-fashioned glass was trembling and the knuckles were white. She took another sip and brought her other hand to cover the first one. "This isn't a simple attraction for me. I don't want her to go. I don't want her to leave me behind and be remembered as a nice interlude in a sleepy little town between her last bar brawl and her next awards banquet conquest." She took in another deep breath and was embarrassed at how her voice shook. "I don't want to be a foot note in her next book."

Josh dropped the study he was making of his daughter as he noticed movement from his wife. With one look, he realized she had a full head of steam up and was about to jump on his daughter with both feet. He knew too, that she wasn't seeing the full picture and anything she said would come out on emotion alone and that would never do. As she sat up straighter and opened her mouth, he grabbed her arm to get her attention and shook his head.

One of the best things about being married for so many years was that two people got to know each other so well that words weren't always necessary between them. Twyla knew her husband would never interfere with her expressing herself if it wasn't imperative that she didn't. She didn't understand why he'd stopped her; she only knew that he'd never been wrong when he'd done it before.

"Honey," Josh began quietly, "What makes you think she'll leave? I mean, has she said so? Is she anxious to get back to her life in Los Angeles? Have you even asked her to stay?"

Harley shook her head and laughed. "No, I haven't asked her to. Why would I? She's a writer, Dad. Her stories are based on the life of a high priced private investigator who caters to the rich and famous. She sets her stories in all the beautiful places and her characters are based on all the beautiful people she rubs elbows with. What could she find here to interest her? Oh, don't get me wrong. I think Bramble fascinates her. But more in the way people watching a documentary on the culture of small African tribes fascinates, but beyond that, they end up just being glad they can go back to their safe little civilization and think of themselves as more worldly for knowing about clan tradition. She might even write a book about us, changing the names and all of course, but she'd never be satisfied here for long." She swallowed hard. "I can't compete with that and I can't see myself ever being happy living in her world." She threw back the rest of scotch. "So I'm stuck. I'm stuck on her and I'm stuck with the reality that there can never be an 'us' that doesn't end with me here and her leaving."

Josh was sure then that he had been right in stopping Twyla. She thought that the only thing her daughter was afraid of was not having her affections returned by the small blonde. Josh knew now it was more than that.

Harley was afraid of loving someone more than they loved her and of being second on their list of priorities…again.

He stood and crossed to his daughter, wrapping his arms around her from behind.

"I don't know what to tell you, sweetheart, except the one truth that has seen me through." He kissed her temple and said, "Love, when it's true, is never a mistake."

Now she stood there and listened as the words echoed in her mind and remembered the mind numbing pain that loving someone could make you feel. For the first time in her life, she thought, maybe her Daddy was wrong.


They'd barely cleared the driveway when Twyla spoke. "So, tell me."

He had told her everything this time. He felt she needed to know what was causing their oh-so-smart daughter to balk at the idea of risking her heart again. She reacted just as he expected her to, with righteous anger and bitter tears. He couldn't blame her, it was an awful story to relate, and it was harder still to know their daughter lived it.

He finally pulled the car over just before Bender to offer his arms to his wife while she finished weeping for the injustices visited on her baby. When she finally calmed, she took in a deep cleansing breath.

"I understand her reluctance now. I can see how this would make her so wary of repeating the past. What bothers me the most is, my heart tells me Emily really cares for her." She looked deeply into her husband's eyes. "I think this one's a keeper, Josh." She looked out the windshield and set her jaw. "What we need to do is help them both to see it."

Now, there were many things about his wife that he loved, but most of all Josh loved the way Twyla loved her family. He couldn't help but smile at her and nod his head.

Hell, it wouldn't do him any good to do anything else. When Twyla got a hold of something, she never let go. Just like his daughter, his wife was a bulldog. He spared a moment to feel a little bit sorry for the both his mongoose and the object of her affections. They had no idea what was coming.

"I think we need to drop in on Steph and Savvy. I need to speak to Emily," Twyla said.

He didn't question his captain. It was his job to obey. They were pulling up on Old Orchard in less than five minutes.


Emily felt only a brief flash of disappointment at seeing Josh and Twyla at the door. It had been her original intention to call the sheriff for a ride back to the Ravensdown's house, but since she liked them both so much, she didn't feel too bad.

There's always tomorrow!

Knowing these were smart people she wasn't at all surprised to see them offer carte blanche to Twyla when she suggested making dinner. She realized that Twyla's mention of being proprietary about the kitchen only applied in her own kitchen and was very happy when everyone, including herself, offered to help and Twyla accepted.

In short order they were seated at the kitchen table, eating a fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings the colonel could only dream about. She'd also learned more about cooking in the past three-quarters of an hour then she had in her previous twenty-four years.

This time the storyteller was Josh and no one was spared. He happily related the most embarrassing and humorous stories he could think of including not only his family, but people he knew in business as well. There was nothing mean spirited about it and dinner digested nicely with all the laughter. It wasn't until close to the end of the meal, when he started on a story about a social faux pas that four-year old Harley committed, that Emily started to choke.

"So there we were, the whole family all dressed up and making our way though the reception line at the front of the church. The ceremony had been beautiful and even though they had never attended a catholic wedding with a full mass, the kids had all been quiet and respectful through the two-hour ceremony. That was a good thing because I was in the middle of my first multi million-dollar deal with the father of the bride and he was so conservative I wasn't sure if he'd even heard of the Democratic Party yet.

We were so proud of them. Twyla was carrying little Hobie and I was holding Harley's hand. She was just four years old the day before and she was the cutest thing, all dressed up in blue taffeta with white tights and shiny black MaryJanes.

We met my associate and I proudly introduced the whole family. He shook hands with all the boys and then bent down to speak to my little girl. Twyla and I just stood there beaming as she politely shook his hand and thanked him for letting her come to his daughter's wedding. Then, he asked her if she enjoyed it and she smiled really big and said, "Oh, yes. It was beautiful." So, he asked what she liked best. She looked him straight in the eye and said, " The concubines."

We were all frozen to the spot for a minute. I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he stood and looked at me. I knew he was wondering what kind of godless heathen he'd gotten involved with. Finally, he seemed to come to and asked her what concubines she was talking about. She just looked at him like he was crazy, poked her finger into the fabric at his waist and said, "The concubines, all these pretty blue concubines." It was at that moment we all realized what she meant was cummerbunds and everyone within hearing distance burst into laughter."

As if she were there, Emily saw it happening. She must have been in good company for the whole table erupted into their own laughter. It was then that she inhaled a bite of biscuit and had to have Savvy pound her back to clear it or she would have choked to death. The minute it was out and the danger was over she continued to laugh until she fell right off her chair.

The giggling and visualizing followed them into the living room where Steph served them coffee. She opened a box of chocolates on the table then sat in her lover's lap at the opposite end of the denim sofa from Emily.

They chatted quietly for a few more minutes before Twyla suggested they call it a night.

After saying their goodbyes, Josh reminded Steph and Savvy to come to the house Sunday night and they were off.

As they entered the Ravensdown home, Twyla asked Emily if she could talk to her. Realizing it might intimidate the young woman to have them both interrogate her, Josh said he'd be in his office for a while. He wished Emily a good night if he didn't see her before she retired.

They stepped into the parlor where Emily sat again on the same large brocade chair. Twyla sat opposite her on the loveseat. Without any kind of preamble whatsoever, she spoke.

"Emily, what are your intentions toward my daughter?"


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