Chapter 15 – It’s No Fun Being the Ugly Sister

I wake very slowly, like rising from deep, deep water.  It’s too quiet and I think that is the silence that has finally roused me.  I roll over to an empty space on the other side of the bed.  Vader isn’t even on my feet, so I must have slept really late.  I look at the clock and then bolt upright.  It’s almost noon!

I scramble into clothes and grab a cup of tea on my way downstairs.  I forget about the damned motion sensor and set it off.

Vader tears up the stairs to pounce on me and Zeke comes to the bottom of them to laugh at me, trying to walk back to the switch while the dog wraps himself around my feet.  I threaten both of them equally and finally get the thing turned off.  I bend over and greet the Devil’s Spawn so that he will get out from under where I am trying to walk and let me come down to smack Zeke.

Somehow the hand never lands on him as he grabs it and puts my hand around his waist to kiss me.  I clutch my teacup in the other hand and try not to pour it on him.

“About time you got up, sleepyhead.  How are you feeling?”  He takes my shoulders in his hands and leans me back to peer into my face.

“Why did you let me sleep so late?  Did you open the shop?  What’s going on?”  I hurl the questions at him.

“You needed to sleep, I let you.  I have indeed had the shop open all morning, and we have done some business.  Which I took care of, thank you very much.  I can run the register too, you know.”  He grins at me and I can’t help it.  I kiss him again.

“I feel…pretty good.  What time did you get up?”

“Vader woke me just before ten, so that one of us could earn the money to buy his food.  It was purely out of selfish motives, trust me.”  I look down at the little black devil dog, who is grinning at me as well.  Oh yeah, I believe that he would do it, just to make sure that he gets his next meal.

“Actually, I was just going to come upstairs for some lunch.  We’ve got the ‘closed for lunch’ sign up…so you hungry?”  He turns me to go right back up the stairs I just fought to get down.  “I thought I’d make steak’n’cheese.”

I am suddenly starving.  That is my most favorite food and Zeke knows it.  We go up to our home.

I sit on the stool and watch him chop the meat up for the sandwiches.  It dawns on me that I am truly happy, watching this man fix food that he will use to nourish my body—but having him here nourishes my soul.  I stop and hold onto the moment.  They don’t come all that often in our lives and I try to be aware of them.  He realizes that I have gone silent.

“What’s up?”

“Just savoring this ‘now’.”   He instantly understands what I mean.  “Zeke, I am a better person because you are with me.  I am so glad that we share our lives.  I love you.”

“Me too.  I love you, too.”  He stops chopping long enough to come kiss me and give me a very thorough hug.  Vader barks and interrupts us.  “Shut up, Devil’s Spawn. You will get your lunch when I get ready.”

He picks up the knife again.  “Oh you will be interested to hear this.  Paul called me this morning to say that Dorie Schmidt is in the hospital.  Seems she ate something yesterday that did not agree with her.  Lilith ended up calling an ambulance to take her to the emergency room about eight last night.  They diagnosed severe gastroenteritis and are doing the blood work to see how she got it.”

“What do you mean, how?  I thought that was the official name for food poisoning…” The word I have just said hits me.  “Zeke, has she been poisoned, too?”

“Paul wasn’t sure.  It may have just been some bad food…but since they don’t know, they are checking it all out.  She was in pretty bad shape.  Apparently she had been throwing up and having the shits all day.  It wasn’t until she began to hallucinate and have convulsions that either of her children thought she had more of a problem than some sort of stomach bug.

Paul says that they got her stabilized, slapped an IV onto her, hydrated her and she’s doing well today.  She doesn’t remember what she had for breakfast–since that’s about the time they think that she ingested whatever set this off.  I sort of got the idea from him that some poor cop had to go to the house and try to find it…dig through the garbage, see if she threw up in a bucket that can now be checked…glad it’s not my job.”

I have to agree with that.   This doesn’t make sense…unless Dorie knows something, something that John Robert’s killer doesn’t want her to tell.

The afternoon is spent waiting on customers and we have a decent amount of money come in.  Sometimes we get a lot of people walking around with no buying but today, everyone wants to purchase at least one thing.  I bustle around, trying to make up for not helping in the morning until Zeke tells me to stop.

“Mattie, my love.  You work hard all the time.  I am glad to be able to help you out, since you so seldom need my help.”  I can hear the hurt in his voice.  I don’t think he even realizes that it’s there, but I can feel the pang in my heart to know that I have caused him pain.

“Zeke…”

“Yes?”

“You help me just by being here.  You help me by putting up with me when I am stupid.  You help me by loving me just as I am.  Please do not think that you don’t help me every day.”

He walks over to me and puts his arms around me.  He rests his face in the crook of my neck and I am startled to feel tears and to realize that I have made him cry.  I hold him tight against me.

“Oh gods, darling, please don’t.  Zeke, I didn’t mean to…”

He lifts his face to mine and he kisses me like we have forever.  I suppose we do.  I kiss him back, trying to pour all that I feel for him in the contact of our mouths.  I don’t know how else to show him how very much I love him except to open my body to him.

I can feel myself soften and mellow, caught up in the feeling of his tongue gently probing my mouth.  His hands hold me snug to his body and I can feel the proof of his passion rubbing against my belly.  I slide my hands down over his butt and pull him even harder towards me.  I hear his rueful moan as he slowly, so very slowly pulls his mouth off of mine.

“Mattie.”  He is panting and there is such longing in this one word.  “My dearest Mattie.  My life.  I will take you right here and now if we do not stop.”

“So take me.”

He groans but blocks me when I would reach for him.  “I will, but not until after closing time.  Being an adult is a bitch, but someone’s got to do it.”

“Are you sure?”  I am hoping that we can flip the sign and go upstairs.  I want to love this man as completely as I can.

“Positive.  Have mercy on me!  I will service you later, my queen.”  He bows like a gallant cavalier and is so comic that I have to laugh.

“I am counting on that, my dearest love.”

He stands up and looks intently at me, his bright blue eyes shining.  “Oh I will, you just keep talking to me like that.”

Any reply I would make is lost in the door chimes.  We both turn to see Laurie Bradford and she looks at least as bad as her stepmother.  She walks up to us and opens her mouth but before she can say a word, she crumples into tears.  I catch her to me and she sobs like her heart is breaking.  I don’t know what to say, so I just hold her.  Zeke keeps handing her tissues and throwing away the used ones.

She finally settles down enough to talk.  “Mattie, I don’t know where my father is.  And Shelly is being a real bitch!  She just keeps going on and on how I’m just like my mom.  Dad hasn’t been home since Monday evening and I’m beginning to worry.  Shelly won’t call the police, says he’s just off sleeping off a drunk.  She says he’ll show up when he’s ‘damned good and ready’, is how she put it.  And I can’t have the abortion if he won’t sign for it.”

Ahhhhh…the truth comes out in the selfish thoughtlessness of youth.  I suspect that this is more about what Laurie wants than an overwhelming fear about Mike Johnson’s whereabouts.  On the other hand, I am beginning to worry about his continued absence and for more reason than a signature.  Zeke and I share a glance that says he agrees with me.

“Laurie, have you told the baby’s father about your pregnancy?”  He asks her pointblank.

“Ye-es.  But he says that it’s my problem, so I’m supposed to deal with it however I want to.”  She blinks at the question but answers it readily enough.  “But I can’t do anything if my Dad isn’t home to sign the papers.”

“Let’s just say that your dad won’t sign the papers.  What will you do then?”  We can both tell that this thought has never occurred to her.  She frowns as the possibility of having to go through the pregnancy and actually give birth to a child that she would have to care for hits her.

“I don’t know!  He’s got to sign them, I’m on the cheerleading squad and we start practices for spring sports in less than a month!  I can’t be big and fat.  He just has to sign, that’s all.”  And with those words, she dismisses what could very well end up being a very unpleasant truth.

I look at her, trying to find the poised young woman I saw only three or four months ago but only seeing a child who has gotten into trouble and is counting on a parent to make it all right again.

Zeke must also see this because I hear him say, “Tcha!” just under his breath.  He has no patience for willful stupidity.  He takes her arm to turn her so that she is facing him.

“Why did you come in here, Laurie?  What do you want?”  His voice is not harsh, but I can tell that she is a bit taken aback by his obvious disregard for her “fragile state”.

“Um…Well, I came in….you know…because…”  Her voice dies down.  She takes a breath and tries again.  “I mean, I came back here because…you said that you would help me.  And I was hoping…”

“Hoping that we would help you convince your father to sign the clinic papers?”  I ask her.  Her faces lights up like I have just offered her the Prom Queen crown.

“Well, yeah.  I know that he, like, respects you guys, and I thought if you talked to him…he might, you know…change his mind.”

“Laurie, I am not going to tell your father how to handle his child.  I may not agree with his method of doing it, but the fact is, he is your father and he has the legal authority to do what he feels is best.”  Zeke crushes that dream.  I’m not sure why, but we will play it his way.  I am not comfortable with the idea of using abortion as birth control so I don’t feel all that sorry for her.

Her eyes go dead.  There’s no other way to describe the look that flashes across her face.  She is extremely angry and I can feel it coming off of her.  But it flickers by so quickly that I am still identifying the expression even as it changes to just looking terribly disappointed.  She is all “poor Laurie”, needing help once more.

“Well, okay.  I guess I’ll think of something.”  She sniffles again and looking pathetic, heads out of the door.

We just stand and watch her go.

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