“Like my soul’s been run over by Hannibal and all his elephants. Repeatedly. How about you?”
“Extremely happy. The doctor’s been by and he thinks Grandma is going to recover, at least somewhat. She’ll never be one hundred percent again, but she’ll be able to get out of bed when she regains some strength. Mother was actually civil to me. She’s decided Jasper raped me like he did Camille and that’s why I’m gay. I’m surprised she’s not telling Camille it’s okay to turn gay for awhile, but please not as long as your sister.”
“Give her time. So I should expect her to tell me you’re going to revert any day, now that she knows?”
“I think she’s resigned that the damage is irreversible after all this time and additional trauma. She’s grudgingly impressed with you. Not only are you a lawyer, but you were really good with Camille and Jasper.”
I laugh. “I must just have a way with Harvey girls.”
“Wanna have your way with this Harvey girl?” She asks with a playful leer.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can I have a rain check? I’m feeling… bruised,” I struggle to explain.
“I know; I’m not really in the mood either. I just wanted to make you smile. I’m much more interested in a nice long cuddle.”
“I can do cuddling.” She lies down beside me and moves closer into her familiar place in my arms. I hold her almost gingerly, feeling shy and uncertain after last night’s revelations. I’ve never told anyone before. I don’t quite know how to act with someone who knows so many of my secrets. Well, I guess they aren’t quite as secret now.
“I love you, Leah,” she says softly.
“I love you, too,” I manage to say through my tears. Hearing the last name my mother ever called me; in the last words my mother ever spoke, even… it brings that horrible night back in every terror-soaked detail.
How Dad had tried to fight him off and failed. Seeing him shot in the face, blood and brains flying. How we’d all screamed. How he’d shot Mom in the knees so she couldn’t run as he systematically shot us kids. How she’d begged for our lives and offered to go with him if he’d let us live. How he had laughed and shot her in the shoulder and told her it was too late for that. He’d watched her bleed for a few minutes before he shot her in the head and left. I’d sat there with soaked with Sally’s blood and brains with her destroyed corpse laying half over me. How she’d moved at the last minute to shield me and gotten hit by my bullet too. The first shot had hit her in the shoulder; if she hadn’t moved she would’ve been the living one, not me. What had caused the shot to go awry, I don’t know, but that above all has haunted me all these years. How long had I sat there, staring in blank horror at the death surrounding me? Too scared to move, to do anything but sit and pray he’d realize I was alive and come back to finish me off, and scared he would.
I see it all again, a never-ending movie only narcotics had ever shut off completely. I yearn for the solace of chemical oblivion for the first time in ten years. It takes all my strength not to get up in search of alcohol. I have Cynthia to think of; I can’t fall apart. She’s lying in my arms, so peacefully. She trusts me, even after finding out I was a violent junkie whore with a sociopath rapist murder for a biological father. I can’t let that bastard beat me. I haven’t for years; he’s not going to win now that I have something to lose. I use every mediation technique I know to regain control of my unruly memory and emotional turmoil. I need to get out; work out. There’s bound to be some heavy physical labor needing done I can do in lieu of lifting weights or perhaps a quiet clearing somewhere where I can do my forms.
“You’re reliving it, aren’t you? I’m so sorry I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I thought you’d just gotten kicked out for being gay and had to live on the streets; I never would’ve pressed for details otherwise.”
“It’s okay, baby. I had to tell you someday; I had already made up my mind to do it. I can’t talk about it anymore, though. I need to forget again, if I’m ever going to have any peace of mind at all.”
“All I ask is you don’t turn to drugs again.”
“No, never. That’s a coward’s way out. I just need to work out somehow. Practice my forms or chop wood or some other hard manual labor for a while, and not talk about it for at least a while.”
“Do you think a long ride on horseback might help? Riding a horse out to the fishing hole used to calm me down. There’s a clearing by the river I used to go all the time to get away. It’s very private and peaceful.”
I consider it. “I think that’d work nicely. I’ve never ridden a horse, though I’ve always wanted to. Learning to ride would certainly take my mind off things. Are you sure it’s okay to borrow horses? Don’t the cowboys need them?”
“We raise horses along with cattle, Syd. We have enough working horses for every hand to have five or six to chose from, plus god only knows how much breeding stock that would be all right to use for a slow pleasure ride. No one will miss two. I already checked with Camille and Grandma and they had no objections to us going on a ride. Camille wants us to carry a radio and not go too far, though, just in case, which this isn’t. How about a picnic lunch?”
“That sounds good. Um, horses don’t break down, do they?” I ask again, thinking of what happened on our last picnic.
She laughs. “It’ll be okay. I know another spot we can walk to, if you’re that nervous about it.”
“No, I’d like to learn to ride and when else will I have a chance?”
“Okay, you go fix the food and I’ll get the horses ready.”
“I can’t go into someone else’s kitchen and help myself,” I say in shock. “My mama would roll over in her grave.”
“I didn’t think of it that way since I grew up here. I guess it isn’t like my place, though, is it? Well, let’s go ask Camille if she minds, then we’ll go get the horses together. That’s probably better anyway; Dad and Grandpa never let us go alone when there were new hands and there’s a lot of them Jasper hired.”
“Is your family safe? I hadn’t thought of that.”
“I hadn’t either until just now. It’s probably all right, but we can check it out anyway. Would you get married here?” she asks out of the blue.
“Sure, wherever you want. I’d live here if you wanted. I can work anywhere.”
“You would? You’d leave the city, your friends, every thing you know to live in the middle of nowhere in a homophobe’s dreamland?”
“Honey, I’m highly adaptable. I can adjust to just about anything. If it’d make you happy, I would arrange to have our things sent up tomorrow. I just want to be with you; where is irrelevant. I really like your grandmother, I like Camille, and I could probably even learn to like your mother.”
“I don’t know about living here, but I’d like to stick around for a couple weeks just to make sure Grandma really is going to be okay. Can you take that much time off work?”
“No, but if I can get a computer and a land line, I can just as easily work from here. I don’t have anything that I have to worry about until next week, though.”
“I’m not sure I can get that much time off, either, but Christ, I haven’t had a vacation in the entire time I’ve been working for them. I’m due a couple weeks after years of doing my job and everyone else’s too. I’ll call Betty later to let her know what’s going on. For that matter, I could probably do some of my work via email. I’d like to try, at least. Maybe I could at least get a couple long weekends and the company jet or charter a plane. You could do that, couldn’t you?”
“Yeah, no problem either way. I don’t have anything vital due until next Wednesday, but it might take a couple days to do, depending. I’m sure I can find some place that sells computers. It’s not that backward, is it?”
“Yeah, I’m sure we can find one. Must be nice to not be that busy and still make big bucks. I have a million things to do, but it won’t kill anyone to actually do their jobs and split mine up for once.”
“I’d like to take on a partner, but I don’t know anyone who does that kind of work that I trust and wouldn’t want to kill. I have plenty to do, but nothing my clients would mind waiting for.”
“You’d take on a partner? I thought you preferred to work alone?”
“I do, over all. I don’t take orders well and most people just annoy me.”
“Do you have enough work for two?”
“Oh, yeah, I have to turn people away all the time. I’m mighty damn good at what I do and people always want me to do it. It’s good in that I can pick and chose what clients I take. I’m still insanely busy half the month and bored the other half. That’s why I’m taking up volunteering again. Give me something to do during the slack time.”
“So if I get fired, I can come work for you?”
“Will you bring your secretary?”
“I’ll ask her.”
“Okay, you’re hired.”
“You’re the best.”
“Yeah, can I get that in writing for our twentieth wedding anniversary?” It’s weird, but I feel better suddenly. I don’t know why I should. Nothing has changed, yet I feel a new ease with her. I take her left hand in mine and look at my ring. It looks so right. She makes the little diamond chips look classy and understated rather than cheap. Her hands are so delicate-looking; a big diamond would look gaudy and overdone. Or I’m just a cheap bastard.
“I can’t believe it’s been less than forty-eight hours since you put it on. It’s been one hell of a long weekend, huh? I love it, did I say? It’s perfect. The whole evening was wonderful. I really should write your friend and her husband a thank you letter when we get home. They went above and beyond.”
“Yeah, I should too, though she’d rather have my recipe for chicken a la Sydney, but I’m not *that* thankful. Do you think your mother would like to go someday?”
“Syd, the place is internationally famous; she’d give her soul to sit in the foyer.”
“I bet she’d be impressed to know I fill in as chef when I’m really bored, then.”
“Yeah. I cooked her dinner one night and she begged me to come work for her or at least give her the recipe.” I have myriad odd skills; I haven’t begun to name them all.
“You didn’t think that was pertinent information before? Syd, the most famous chefs in the world have taken a turn in that kitchen!”
“Nope, it’s not really a big deal. I flipped burgers for McDonalds, too, and millions of people eat there, yet I’m supposed to be ashamed to admit that.”
“I’m being a snob again, huh? Sometimes I’m so much like my mother,” she says sheepishly.
“No more than most people. I just don’t think like most people. I know most people would think that was cool; that’s why I asked about your mom. I want her to like me. If she’s impressed with me, then she won’t give you so much shit and I know that would make you happy.”
“Anything for me again? Why did I want to wait to marry you again?”
“I’d like to wait until your grandmother’s better. I bet she’d be hurt if she couldn’t be there. If your mom would come around, that’d be good too. Family should be present and yours is all we have. I don’t know anyone I’d especially want there.”
“Guess I’ll just have to keep close tabs on you so no other women get ideas. I know Grandma would love to be there, yes.”
“I don’t want anyone else, baby. It’s you or no one.”
“Would you wear a ring if I got you one?”
“An engagement ring? Um… could it not be… girly?”
“I wouldn’t do that to you. I was thinking of something like this,” she says producing a worn broad golden band.
“That’s a wedding ring,” I say stupidly.
“My grandpa’s; Grandma gave it to me. I was going to buy you something in the city, but she insisted I take it. She said he’d want it this way. I want everyone to know you’re permanently off the market. Kinda selfish, I guess, but I can’t help it.”
“You’d want me to wear something that important to your family?”
“Yes, I do. You’ve given me back so much that I thought was forever lost; I want the best of my past, present, and future all on one hand.”
“Don’t let me keep you then,” I say, offering her my left hand. I’m dreaming. I’m going to wake up alone in my cold bed back home. As she kisses me, I pray to a god I’m not sure I’ve ever believed in to never let me wake.
“I see she branded you,” Martha teases.
“Yes, ma’am, talk about wasted exercises. Like I could ever want any other woman but her. The only way she’s getting clear of me is by her own wish.”
“Have you told her that?”
“Yes, ma’am. Probably very badly, but I try to make sure she knows I love her and only her until the end of time, and beyond if it’s at all in my power to manage it.”
“Good. Jonathon, my husband, wasn’t a man of many words, but never once in fifty-three years did he fail to tell me at least once a day how much he loved me and how lucky he felt because I felt the same way. Roy, Cynthia’s father, was the same kind of man. I hoped my children and grandchildren would find partners who would make them feel that way and even better -- feel that way about them. I don’t think most of them did, more’s the pity. I despaired of Cynthia ever managing it. I knew she never would here. I had hoped the city would prove much kinder to her. It took fifteen years, but it seems she’s finally managed it. I’m a pretty good judge of character, and so far you’re proving to be like my Jonathon. He and Roy would approve of you.”
“She does. I’d do anything for her. I’ve already done things for her I would do for no other, even myself.”
“Love does that to you. So, tell me about yourself. Does your family approve of you and Cynthia?”
“I don’t have any family. They were all murdered when I was a child and I grew up on the streets.” There’s not much point in trying to hide anything from her. I get the feeling she’d detect the slightest lie immediately and I don’t want her to think I’m a liar. I might omit a bit here and there and select a truth, but outright lying is abhorrent to me.
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea or I wouldn’t have brought it up.”
“It’s all right. It’s a natural subject. I don’t like talking about it, but family deserves to have the truth.”
“Still… You’re a self-made woman, then.”
“No one else had any good ideas,” I shrug.
She laughs. “You don’t like to take credit for anything, do you?”
“Mama didn’t raise me that way. Besides, it was pure self-preservation, nothing to take pride in or brag about.”
“Your mother sounds like a wise woman.”
“I like to think so. Longer acquaintance might’ve changed my mind, but I doubt it.”
“I’d like to say my children would say that about me, but --” she shrugs.
“Cynthia would. Where *is* she, anyway? She disappeared on me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’d better go find her. That girl is a trouble magnet.”
“I’d better do that. I’ll bring her back so you know she’s all right.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
I’m imagining that Jasper and the Evil Cowboys (wouldn’t that make a good band name?) have kidnapped her or something. By the time I hit the kitchen, I’m as near panic as I’ve been in years. All this emotional stuff has weakened my iron-will. She’s intently watching Camille peel potatoes. I nearly cry in relief. She’s fine.
“Oh, hi, honey. I was just, um…” She blushes. It must be good; she doesn’t blush easily.
“Discussing my best features?” I tease, leering comically.
She and Camille giggle, but refuse to answer.
“C’mon, I can do girl talk.”
“I’m sure you can. How’s Grandma?” Cynthia quickly changes the subject.
Letting it go for now -- I’ll tickle it out of her later -- I reply, “Wondering where you disappeared to.”
“Just catching up with my sister. You can go tell her I’m fine.” She actually shoos me away!
Being the big tough butch I am, I decide a tactical retreat is in order and fall back to Martha’s room to regroup. Cynthia says I pouted and slinked off. As if! I don’t slink and I most definitely have never, ever pouted.
“She’s fine,” I report. “She and Camille are talking about girl stuff in the kitchen.”
“Are your ears burning?”
“Should be, judging from how Cynthia was blushing,” I laugh, and then I realize who I’m talking to.
“Don’t look so pole axed, child. It’s not like you can get her pregnant and you’re planning to marry anyway.”
“We haven’t -- We don’t -- I wouldn’t --” I must be turning some interesting shades myself.
She roars with laughter. “My oldest was born five months after we wed. I was young once. I remember how young love is.”
I have no idea what to say. We *aren’t* doing anything, but we *did*. I don’t think her grandmother needs to know we began as a one night stand. “I wasn’t always too concerned with love, but Cynthia completely changed all that,” I awkwardly try to explain.
“I assumed, what with growing up on the street, poor thing. What does love mean to an empty stomach? Cynthia won’t care about that.”
“I told her and she doesn’t seem to so far, but I can’t help being afraid. With time I’ll get over it, I’m sure.” I can’t believe the conversation I’m having. What is it with Harvey women?
“Hi, Grandma. Syd keeping you entertained?” Cynthia asks, entering the room.
“Yes, dear. I see more and more why you’re so taken with her. She’s a lovely young lady.”
“Isn’t she just? Did you notice she agreed to wear Grandpa’s ring?”
“Yes, I did. You didn’t waste time branding her.”
“She’s just lucky I don’t like needles or my name would be tattooed on her forehead.”
“I wouldn’t have stood still for that. My arm or over my heart, but not my forehead.”
“I wouldn’t want you get one. They’re too permanent. However, maybe we should write it in Magic Marker before we go out.”
“Washable, I’m allergic to permanent.” I really hope she doesn’t ask how I discovered that little fact. Especially not in front of Martha.
“You’re allergic to permanent markers?”
“Now, that’s something that never occurred to us when we were children -- tattoos or drawing on ourselves or god forbid, piercing anything,” Martha says. “Some girls pierced their ears, but no boy would’ve been caught dead with anything pierced, unless it was by a poorly aimed dart. We would’ve been whipped,” Martha says.
“I probably would’ve been too. Mama didn’t believe in even ear piercing. She said if we were meant to have holes in our ears, we’d have been born that way. I’ve never found any reason to disagree with that,” I say.
“Even if needles didn’t scare me, I don’t think I could get my nose or eyebrows or anything pierced,” Cynthia says.
“If your mother had made you learn how to sew, you’d have gotten over it,” Martha opines.
“I hung out with a girl who shot up. I never did myself. I’m scared of them because you never know where they’ve been. If I see them sterilized and keep an eye on them at all times, they don’t bother me. It does make getting shots or stitches interesting, though.”
“I’ll have to remember that as many fights as you get into.”
“Or you could stop getting into trouble,” I tease.
“What fun would that be? Half of my charm is never knowing what I’ll do next.”
“Well, you certainly test my cardiac health.”
“Give me a few months; I’ll test your mental health.”
“I’m already crazy for you.” Exceedingly corny, but c’mon, I *had* to say it.
“I should’ve guessed you’d say that.”
“Even *I* saw that coming,” Martha says dryly.
“It’s just the truth.”
“Oh, Camille says you can use the computer in the office, Syd. Jasper’s the only one who understands how to use it, so maybe we ought to check the ranch books while we’re at it. It’d be just like the weasel to steal from the family.”
“He’s smart enough to use a computer?” I ask in surprise.
“That’s what I said,” Martha and Cynthia say in unison.
“He’s a good rancher, actually,” Martha says. “He might be a miserable excuse for a man, but he knows horses and cattle.”
“I don’t -- I’m a total city girl. I wouldn’t know if he was inflating prices or making purchases that don’t make sense. That’ll have to be your department, Cynthia. I’ll look for hidden files or odd programming.”
“Anything that looks odd I can look up or ask about. I remember enough to spot something that doesn’t make sense, I think.”
“I can help if you print out a copy. My eyes and mind are fine, and I’m feeling much better. Helping out with something like this would make me feel even better.”
“That’d be great. Maybe we should get Mother and Camille involved as well. Make it a family project since it affects everyone.”
“Excellent idea. You and Syd take care of the computer end. I think I’ll take a short nap while I wait.”
“Okay, Grandma. We’ll be back this evening with an update at least.”
“C’mon, Syd, let’s go play hi tech Nancy Drew.”
“See you later. Have a nice nap.” I let Cynthia pull me out by the hand, smiling at her enthusiasm.
Once we’re in the hallway, Cynthia pushes me against the wall. “I love you,” she says, and proceeds to show me with one hell of a kiss.
“I love you, too,” I tell her happily when she lets me up for air. I don’t know what I did, but I sure as hell hope I do it again soon. I love random kisses.
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Copyright © 2006 by S. Berry. All Rights Reserved.
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