Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 32


"Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod." Stephanie covered her face with both hands and stood. She began to pace slowly back and forth from the couch to the window. It scared Emily to death.

After finishing half of her English muffin, Emily left the diner and made her way to her publisher’s house.

Only mildly aware of the riot of fall colors beginning to populate the woods around her, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other until she found herself outside the front door of number 16, Old Orchard Road.

She knew it was too soon. She hadn’t formulated how she was going to tell Steph what happened. She suddenly felt so clumsy. It wasn’t her body, even though the cast made her feel lopsided and a little helpless. She felt clumsy in her thoughts, her words. Emily just had no frame of reference for her feelings and had no idea of how to talk about them.

After a few minutes just standing there, lost in her own head, she’d leaned over and inadvertently hit the doorbell. She was out of time.

After seating Emily on the couch in front of the fire, giving her a cup of Earl Grey with sugar and milk, and telling her to put her feet up, Stephanie waited.

Figuring it was best to tell it all, Emily started from the moment she’d met Harley the first evening she arrived. Emily had just taken the last sip of her tea and finished relating what she’d said to the sheriff before she took off, when Stephanie go gasped and shook her head. Next thing the writer knew, she was watching Stephanie pace, becoming more and more upset.

"What is it? Steph, what is it? What did I do?" Emily fidgeted in her seat.

With a final, "Oh, my God," Stephanie returned to sit across from her and finally looked up.

"Emily, girl, I’ve never known anyone who could shoot themselves in the foot with more precision than you. Of all the things you might have said to Harley, that had to be the hollow point bullet right through her heart."

Stephanie’s face and tone were so serious that Emily was left reeling. Suddenly, it felt as though she’d been hit in the gut. She’d never in her life felt so empty…so bereft. The tears started before she could stop them.

Stephanie handed her a tissue and took a breath to start talking.

"Harley decided to go into law when she was only a kid. She’d seen a story on television about a woman with several children who’d been taken advantage of by most of the people she’d met all her life. Finally, at the age of thirty she was bankrupt, being evicted, and the courts were threatening to take her kids away until a lawyer heard about her problems and stepped in. The upshot of the story was that the attorney was able to show the court that she was a fit mother, get her rotten ex husband, another attorney, disbarred and arrested for his dirty dealing, forced the court to require he pay her alimony and child support, sued her landlord and once and for all, got justice for a young good hearted woman who had no idea she’d been deceived and manipulated by people who had more power than she.

It changed Harley. She was outraged to learn that there were people out there who would use their wealth or positions of power to dispossess, degrade, or deny other people their rights and happiness."

Stephanie took a deep breath and Emily watched as the pride for the publisher’s cousin and best friend shown all over Stephanie’s face.

"She never wavered from her goal after that day. She went ahead and made it her mission in life to fight for the people who didn’t have a chance against powerful people who used their positions to diminish or destroy those without."

Stephanie slowly walked to the glass door and looked outside as she tried to finish her thought. "I can’t tell you all of the story, mainly because I don’t know it. I’d have to say, by Harley’s own admission, I’m her best friend, and even I don’t know it all. As far as I know, no one does but Harley. Let me just tell you what I can." She paused to think of a way to say it. "Did you know that Harley graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale, Law School? Or that she was her class Valedictorian? Or that she attended all her years there on a full scholarship?"

Emily’s mouth fell open and all she could do was shake her head.

"Well, she did. Now, knowing all that, where do you think she should be practicing law?"

"Uh…uhm, anywhere she wants?"

"Right. She had her choice of a junior partnership in every one of the most prestigious firms in the country. But, as you know, she’s here. She’s right here in Bramble. But she didn’t come home to practice law directly from college. She spent a couple of years in the Navy as a JAG officer, and let me tell you, they were thrilled to have her. Or at least they were for a while. She really wanted to do something about the whole issue of inequality of opportunity for the women in the service and felt she had to be on the inside to fix that. She also really wanted to spend sometime seeing more of the world than her hometown.

When she was in Officer Training School, she met a woman. I don’t even know what her name was. The few times we spoke or she wrote, she just told me she’d wait to tell me about her when she could bring her home. As it turned out she never did. As I understand it, after OTS, the Navy sent Harley to San Diego and her friend was sent to Norfolk. I’m not sure what her friend did in the Navy, but whatever it was, it was on board a ship and almost immediately after they both arrived at their bases, this woman’s ship was deployed.

I know they kept in touch by e-mail and snail mail but they couldn’t arrange to see each other in person for several months. When they finally could manage it, it wasn’t for long enough to make a trip back to Brambles and I know each time they got together, it wasn’t for longer than a day or so every few months. Even so, they were, by all accounts, just crazy about each other and had made plans to try to get stationed as close to each other as possible as soon as the navy would allow it.

By the time Harley entered her second year of service, something happened. Once again, I don’t know what exactly, but it seems there was a change of command on the ship this woman was assigned to and the new person who became her boss had it in for her. From what I understand he did some very wrong and dangerous things that put her life and career in jeopardy. Harley wanted her friend to go to the Captain and have him disciplined, but her friend insisted that with the old boy’s school mentality the Navy had, that even if she won, she’d be labeled as a troublemaker and a non-team player, and her chances for advancement would be gone. Anyway, as a result of his misusing his authority he issued an order she felt she had to abide by and somehow, it got her killed."

"Oh, no." Emily gripped the tissue in her hand and shook her head.

Stephanie nodded. "Knowing what her friend had had to put up with while under his command, Harley immediately doubted the official report of the incident. I don’t know whether they blamed it on her friend or equipment failure, but Harley felt from the beginning it was criminal negligence and abuse of office at best or murder at worst, and her CO had used his position to cover it up. I’m sure, as you know by now, that Harley has a very charismatic personality. She’s really larger than life and hard to ignore, so when she wanted some help to check it out, she didn’t lack for volunteers.

It took a while but Harley, with the help of some friends, eventually found out that Harley’s friends CO was her own stepbrother and he had indeed been out to get rid of her. Here’s where I get kind of more lost than before. I guess somehow she got the story out and would have had him charged with murder, but the guy was connected really well and they managed to get her to drop it. She agreed, but made her own deal as to his disposition. He was thrown out of the navy; that much I know. Also, she somehow got to resign her commission with am honorable discharge and full benefits even though she had another four years to serve.

Stephanie ran her hands through her hair and stared outside the window. "She was never the same after that. She came home briefly and then went up north." The publisher finally turned and made her way back to the couch. "She was really…broken, for a while. The woman I grew up with was such an optimist. When bad stuff happened to her, she just rolled with it and never lost hope. The woman who came home was…she was just…cautious, more serious, less joyful." Stephanie leaned back on the couch. "Like I said, I don’t know all that happened, but whatever it was, I hated it…for her."

Emily leaned back too. She laid her head on the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling, trying to take it all in. Seeing again that look of hurt on the Sheriff’s face when the writer had spewed out those thoughtless, mean spirited words.

Gods. I did that. I hurt her like that. I have to fix this…if I can. If she’ll let me.


Harley was working on her third cup of cafeteria coffee. She grimaced at the sour taste. Who knew you could be a snob about something as commonplace as coffee. She knew she was spoiled though. Once she had her mother’s magic brew, everything else with the name coffee might as well come from a vending machine.

Livie, Polly’s daughter had just left. They’d waited in Polly’s room or in the intensive care waiting room for hours, but so far, the elderly woman had not regained consciousness.

Livie was as calm as she could be when Harley questioned her, but she just couldn’t think of a thing to help her. Her mother hadn’t mentioned anything or anyone that she was having trouble with. Polly did mention that many things at the house had been giving her some problems, but Livie put them down to the age of the property. She told the sheriff she was sure if her mother felt that someone had done something deliberately she would have told her, or reported it to the sheriff. The only thing Livie knew for sure was that Livie had been making some progress lately in her attempts to get her mother to put the place up for sale and move out to Florida to live with her and her husband.

Livie finally left to get a nap at her hotel with her last words to the sheriff being, "Maybe she’ll listen to me now and make the move. If she doesn’t I just might have to get nasty."

Livie had smiled and Harley knew it was just the words of a loving daughter who missed her mother and worried about her living, all alone, three thousand miles away. Harley wished her good luck and told her to give the sheriff a call when Polly finally came to.

Harley finally stopped torturing herself with the awful brew in the Styrofoam cup and decided she needed to get up and get her mind off the case. She made her way out to her SUV and thought about what to do with Gabrielle that night. It had been a long time since she’d been in L.A. for any reason other than business, which was just fine with her. She hated this city. At last, giving in to her own ignorance, she called the blonde and asked her to choose a place for dinner.

Less than an hour later Harley watched the sun set from the living room window of her father’s Brentwood apartment, wrapped in a bath sheet and sipping a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. She tried to decide what to wear for her date. She didn’t have many things at the apartment from which to choose. She’d only been in the place when either she was flying out or in from LAX or, on those few rare occasions she had to spend the night in L.A. on business.

As apartments go, it was very nice. Of course it had to be. Her father and Wilson conducted a great deal of business from this suite. That was the purpose of it. It was large, very well decorated and impressive as all hell to his clients and business associates. It had only four bedrooms and most of the time they were used as guest quarters for out of town business associates, but it took up both of the sixth and seventh floors of the building and was opulent in the extreme.

The entire place had been decorated in ultra modern furnishings and, even though she knew it wasn’t fitting for father’s personality in any way, he appeared, to those who didn’t know him well, to fit into its chrome, glass and leather accoutrements as though born to it. The only guest room in the place that was off limits to strangers was Harley’s own. Her father made that decision when he realized that often his baby girl had to spend the night in this very dangerous town and insisted on a safe place for her to do that.

Nonetheless, she still had very few things of her own in residence and that was the problem just now. Gabrielle had insisted on doing the driving and was picking her up in less than hour for dinner. Harley wasn’t sure what appropriate dress for their destination was.

After taking her last sip of wine and watching the sun sink below the horizon, she turned from the window and switched on the pole lamp next to it. Then, drawing the curtains for privacy, she ascended the stairs to her room. Harley picked up the phone and asked information for the number of the restaurant. She called, asking about menu prices and getting a feel for the place. As she spoke she dropped her towel, and opened her closet. Deciding that her choices for something appropriate came down to a pantsuit or a cocktail dress, she chose the pantsuit.

She liked Gabrielle and wanted to get to know her better, but she didn’t want to give her the impression she was dressing to entice. The cocktail dress was a slip of gray silk with spaghetti straps. She felt sure that choice would say more to Gabrielle then Harley wanted it to. The navy blue, pinstripe pantsuit would better serve her purpose.

Just as Harley finished putting on her necklace and earrings and was just pulling her hair off her face with some tortoise shell combs, the phone buzzed. "Hello."

"Hi. It’s me." The voice was light and enthusiastic. It was one of the first things Harley noticed about Gabrielle. She always sounded like life was showing her a good time.

The sheriff let her own smile loose and it came out in her response. "Great. Come on up to the sixth floor. I’ll buzz you in."

By the time Harley closed her drawers and closet, turned off the lights and made it downstairs to the foyer, the front door bell was ringing. She opened it to a tall, very beautiful, brown-eyed, blonde. Gabrielle was smiling at her wearing a very short, very low cut, very tight, red silk dress.

Harley smiled as she brought her hand back to ask her guest inside for a drink, but she was thinking, Uh oh!


Emily got herself together enough to remember her manners and called Twyla to let her know where Emily was and to tell her she would be staying with Stephanie for dinner.

Emily sat at the kitchen table absent mindedly tearing lettuce into bite size pieces and trying to think of the best way to apologize to Harley.

Stephanie had just finished talking on the phone to Savvy who was due to arrive at any moment. She was beating the mashed potatoes and thinking about her writer’s predicament. It was hard to decide what to do. Her loyalties would always be with Harley, but Emily was the best writer in her house and she really liked her, she always had, but at the same time, she was hurting for Harley. Stephanie knew that Emily didn’t mean to hurt her as she had, but she knew, too, that her cousin was much more sensitive than most people gave her credit for. Just because you’re a smart, strong and independent woman, didn’t mean you felt things less.

With Harley, it was truer than with most others. Her youth was riddled with painful moments. It seemed that each time she trusted her more tender feelings to someone, they used her vulnerability against her.

Stephanie was hoping Savvy could help. She and Harley had a very unusual relationship. From the moment they met it was as if they’d known each other forever. They just clicked and it sometimes seemed they spoke to each other in shorthand.

The first few times Stephanie witnessed it, it made her feel a little left out, but then she saw it for what it was. Her lover and her best friend just connected. When she realized how valuable that was, especially after Harley gave her some insight as to her lover’s feelings when they fought, she never again felt slighted. It was really a gift. Stephanie knew if she and Savvy argued it was Harley who could help her find a way to resolve it.

Could she do less for Harley? Stephanie wanted Harley to be happy. She wanted her to find that someone who would, for once, really appreciate and love her cousin for all the wonderful things she was. Was Emily the one? Should she try to help? Was it even any of her business? And, how did Harley feel about the writer?

Savvy will know. She always does.

Just then the door opened and the tall, slender form of her lover came in.

"Laissez le bon temps roule! I am here!" Savvy’s long legs took her from the kitchen door to the cook in no time at all and, before her partner had time to prepare, Stephanie was bent over the professor’s right arm and kissed intensely.

Emily couldn’t help the broad grin on her face. In all the years she’d known the pretty brunette she had never seen her this uninhibited. It was a joy to watch. They were so obviously in love with each other. When the kiss finally ended, Stephanie confirmed that.

"I love you, you ragin, Cajun, fool." She kissed her taller partner on the nose and smiled. "Now, you’d better let me up before I forget about the roast in the oven and take you off to the bedroom to teach you a lesson."

"Mais, non, mon petit chou. First you must feed me, for I have braved the cursed 101 freeway to make my way to you and am weary and weak of limb from my travails." She pouted and sighed, dropping her head in a display of bad overacting the likes of which Emily hadn’t seen since junior high. It was adorable.

Stephanie must have thought so too, as she tweaked her lover’s nose, and hugged her hard. "Well, since you fought so hard to make it to your true love, I guess the least I can do is feed you." She pushed her away gently. "Now, go change and pour yourself a drink, and Emily and I will put the food on the table."

The tall woman made her way to door of the kitchen as Stephanie added. "And sweetheart, don’t quit your day job and go for that part in the new Spielberg movie."

Savvy just laughed gently as she left.

Emily found herself once again, for the umpteenth time since she came to this accursed town, on the brink of tears. If she had to admit it out loud, she knew these tears were totally self-serving. They were there because of self-pity and nothing else. She was so envious of her publisher and Savvy and the way they loved each other. It felt like an animal was chewing at her heart.

Emily wanted what they had and when she thought about having it, she realized she wanted it with Harley. And only Harley. Always. Now that she faced that truth, she just had to find a way to convince the sheriff it was a good idea, too.

As Emily’s inherent stubbornness and determination came to the fore, her tears dried up and she started to smile for real for the first time since she walked through Steph’s door. Whatever it takes, Harley. I’ll either wear you down or wear you out, but I’ll take you any way I can get you. You don’t know it yet, but you’re mine!

Stephanie sat the sliced roast on the table and was about to ask Emily if she wanted a drink, when she noticed the look on the writer’s face. She’d seen that look before and it troubled her a little. It was the look the writer always got when that stubborn streak of hers kicked in. That wasn’t always a bad thing, but she wasn’t sure what it meant in terms of her cousin. What she did know was that whatever the small blonde had on her mind, there was no deterring her.

Emily only had two speeds. Full speed ahead and dead stop. She wasn’t sure at all which one to root for. Stephanie hoped for once, her impetuous friend and client had thought this one through. If she didn’t, Stephanie knew it wouldn’t matter that Emily brought in more business than any other writer in her house. She’d cut her loose in a minute if she hurt Harley.

next part

Return to the Academy