Saturday, December 29, 2012

Preview: Snow Shadow

Snow Shadow

Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. He probably should have written that you can go home again, but it won’t be pleasant.
For Meredith Godwin, coming back to Manitou Springs stirred up memories best left to rest. For five years, she had been free of her grandmother’s—Miss Frances’s—iron rule. No matter how hard she tried, the rules stuck even now that her grandmother was dead. One thing that wasn’t on the to-do list this trip was visiting Miss Frances’s house. There was no need now that she was dead and the house sold to developers who turned the grand old Victorian into apartments. Maybe the new tenants were able to exorcise the ghosts Meredith had been unable to outrun when she moved to Ft. Lauderdale. Some ghosts, like some habits and her grandmother, were impossible to outrun. The past caught up with her and dragged her back to deal with a legacy that hadn’t been part of grandmother’s will. It involved a legacy left in trust by her father Stuart Godwin. It should have been settled twenty-five years ago when her parents died, but had been overlooked. The worst part was that it couldn’t be handled long distance, necessitating a return trip to a place Meredith had sworn she’d left behind.
The snowy streets of Colorado Springs passed in a blur of colored lights and red and green banners. Tourists and shoppers darted in an out of antique stores and shops on Colorado Avenue looking for post-Thanksgiving holiday bargains. Past the shops of Old Colorado City and the fast food restaurants, the wide, well maintained four-lane city street dwindled down to a two-lane highway pitted with potholes filled with dark, slushy water. The road curved off the main drag and under an overpass for Route 24 past aging motels that had seen better times and down into the narrow streets of Manitou Springs. Turning off 24 onto Manitou Avenue and then onto Ruxton, Meredith pulled up in front of Victoria’s Keep and parked.
The air was sharp and cold, laced with the smell of wood fires. Meredith closed her eyes and breathed in. Oh, how she had missed the crisp, clear air and the brilliant blue skies. Florida’s skies were a pale blue smudged with pollution and exhaust that seldom freshened even on the white sand beaches. Pikes Peak dominated the landscape in Manitou as it dominated the southwestern horizon everywhere in Colorado Springs. Rising above the snow dusted pines of the lower peaks, Pikes Peak’s craggy sides were solid white. The wind raked tears from her eyes. Meredith set her jaw and dashed them away with one gloved hand while she unlocked the trunk and pulled out her luggage.
She was not going to cry. There was no reason. If Miss Frances taught her anything, it was to keep her emotions buried. “No sense putting on a show, Meredith. It only makes you look weak and foolish,” her grandmother told her over and over. She branded the lesson by giving Meredith something to cry about, usually a sharp backhand and exile to her room without supper as a small child and withering disapproval when she was eleven or twelve.
Inheriting her father’s tall stature gave Meredith an edge over Frances Godwin’s five-foot-five height, but no amount of height could stand up to the glacial silences and iron determination that gave everyone who faced her grandmother in a boardroom or in any establishment the length and breadth of the Front Range. No one stood against the Godwin money or influence for long unless they were simple-minded or foolhardy, and Meredith was neither. All she wanted was to get the legacy business finished and go back east.
For now, breakfast, a hot bath and a few hours of sleep was what she needed before facing Lawrence Charlton at three. With luck and fortune on the side of the angels, in two days the wintery slopes of the Rockies would be little more than a memory in the balmy breezes and afternoon showers back in Florida. Two days, she could handle that.

After an ample breakfast and a hot bath in the Parlor Suite, Meredith turned down the bed and set the travel alarm. Out the window, the Miramont Castle looked like the inside of a snow globe dusted with falling snowflakes that whirled around the turrets and gables. Pulling back the drapes for a better view, Meredith climbed into bed and watched the soft drifting snow dance outside.
One of the few things she missed about her childhood was high tea at the castle with her grandmother. Although wearing white gloves that never seemed to stay clean for more than a few moments and frilly dresses and hats were out of character, Meredith endured the weekly ordeal of bathing and dressing just for the privilege of a half hour prowling the rooms after a delicious tea. She would have endured more to be able to savor the delicious cakes, sandwiches, Earl Grey tea and a walk through the castle rooms instead of the simple and bland daily fare Miss Frances considered proper for a child.
Meredith often wondered how her father turned so unaffected and happy. Where Stuart was concerned, his mother believed he could do no wrong. She doted on him and never hemmed him in with rules and social convention. Stuart had been a happy child with a winning personality and easy disposition, so there was no need to restrict him—until he fell in love with Daisy Yarborough, a nobody transplanted from Berkeley, California. Worse yet, Daisy was the daughter of artists working her way through college.
It didn’t matter that the Yarboroughs owned a successful gallery or that Daisy ran it at a profit, attracting celebrated artists from around the world. All that mattered was that Daisy came from the wrong kind of family.
For the first time in her life, Frances Godwin didn’t get her way. Stuart and Daisy were married in a quiet ceremony in the Garden of the Gods among the “riff-raff” and two years later Meredith was born. From what Meredith remembered, they were a happy family. Life was full of color and laughter until the day of her sixth birthday when Frances swooped down on the celebration with the news that Meredith’s parents had been killed flying home from a show in Montreal. Stunned by the news and before they could gather themselves, the officious little man in black tagging along behind Frances served the Yarboroughs with custody papers while the chauffeur swooped in and hustled Meredith in a Lincoln Town Car and away toward a cold stone and glass mansion built into the bloody-faced cliffs overlooking Manitou. The Yarboroughs were allowed to visit once a year on Meredith’s birthday, but the visits stopped three years later. The Yarboroughs just stopped coming. Miss Frances told Meredith her grandparents moved away and left no forwarding address. By that time the nine-year-old knew enough not to ask questions or make a fuss. There was no point.
Meredith glanced at the clock: eleven o’clock. At this rate, it would be time to get up and dress. Pounding the pillow into shape and closing her eyes, she counted her breaths in an attempt to relax. With nerves strung tighter than a drawn bow, sleep stayed out of reach. One and two and three and four and one…. She focused on her toes, tightened and relaxed, moving upward counting each breath. One and two and three and four and…. Heartbeat slowed and knotted muscles loosened and the first drifts of sleep fuzzed her mind.

A tinny jangle seeped into dreams where Meredith wandered through chilly rooms and fireplaces burned with cold blue flames. Tears froze on her cheeks.
Meredith reached out and knocked over the travel alarm. Somewhere a bell jangled insistently. She sat bolt upright unsure where she was for a moment. Out the window snow piled up on the sill and the solid stone angles of a castle appeared and disappeared amidst a whirling white vortex. Right. Back in Manitou and back to the old dreams. A strident bell jangled again. The phone.
“Miss Godwin, you have an urgent message from Mr. Charlton’s office. Your appointment has been canceled due to the storm. His secretary suggested you call and reschedule in a couple of days.”
“Two days?”
“Yes, miss. The city is shut down. We’ve had over a foot of snow in the last hour and the forecast is for two to three feet.”
Resisting the urge to scream and curse, Meredith thanked the woman.
“Since none of the local restaurants will be open, until the storm is over and the roads are clear, we will serve lunch and dinner.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you.” Two days. Stuck for two days. Just what she needed. At least work wasn’t going to be a problem.
Meredith got up, dug her cell phone out of her coat pocket and called her assistant. “Clear my calendar for the next week. I’ll be here longer than I expected.”
“I heard about the storm. Tough luck, Meri.”
“No doubt, Carla. I can tell your heart just bleeds for me.” Meredith stifled a giggle picturing her assistant looking over the books and trying to figure out which of the shoots she thought she could handle on her own. She’d been promising Carla a chance to try her hand at one of the easier sessions, but only if she could be there to keep an eye on things. Carla had talent, but she needed seasoning and a year out of school wasn’t seasoning enough. “No, before you even ask, you cannot take the gallery shoot.”
“It’s an easy job.”
“Not that easy, especially not working with Francois.” There was no doubt that the reason Carla wanted to work with Francois had nothing to do with photographing the show and everything to do with schmoozing Francois. He was good looking—too good looking—and he was married, a fact that didn’t seem to matter to Carla or the dark and brooding Frenchman. No, Carla wasn’t ready to go out on her own, not when she still hadn’t learned not to mix business and pleasure.
“I can handle Francois.” Carla practically purred.
“There’ll be no handling of Francois. Clear my calendar and take the rest of the week off. I’ll call Francois and explain the situation to him.” Carla’s pout was obvious even over the crackle of static. “Don’t forget to set the alarm. I’ll call if there are any changes.”
“Right. Yeah. Whatever.”
There were times when Meredith wondered why she had hired such a novice, times like this when Carla’s lack of experience, youth and attitude were so evident. She wanted everything now and had little to no self control, especially where men were concerned.
There had never been time for men, or boys for that matter, growing up. Life consisted of school and study. Dances were forbidden and dates were out of the question, even if there had been time for dates. Miss Frances supervised all activities and chose the curricula and the one extra-curricular activity allowed: skiing. To bed at nine and up at five-thirty. After school there were lessons in how to behave and endless lectures on cultivating a public persona. College was chosen for her, as were classes and wardrobe, and Meredith did as she was told. Fighting her grandmother wasn’t an option. It’s no wonder classmates thought her odd and out of step; she was.
After Miss Frances broke her hip during senior year at college, Meredith dutifully visited the hospital and then the rehab center while her grandmother recuperated and regained her strength. It was a short reprieve and Meredith determined to make the best of it, accepting an offer to go to one of the professor’s gallery showing and ended up feeling awkward and uncomfortable.  Her classmates seemed so polished and worldly, so at ease in tight, short skirts and cleavage-baring, skin tight tops. It wasn’t just the clothes—she had beautiful clothes, her grandmother saw to that—it was the way the girls flirted and wound themselves around the men like opportunistic ivy, slipping into dark corners or into the shadows out on the street to kiss, fondle and exchange numbers. She’d never been comfortable around boys, or men, half afraid Miss Frances would dust her for fingerprints.
The only time she had been allowed on a group date at seventeen, Miss Frances made the boy brave enough to walk Meredith to the door come in and watch while she checked her neck, shoulders and breasts for love bites. At least the boy, Trevor, was safely gone before her grandmother lectured on the evils of premarital sex while grilling her about where and how Trevor had touched her and then shoving a hand between Meredith’s legs to check for evidence of arousal. Humiliated and furious, she had endured it all until allowed to get a shower and go to bed. After that, turning down offers of dates was easy. All she need do was conjure up her grandmother’s rough poking and prodding hands and any thoughts of dances or dates or getting close to any boy died a quick death.
There was no way she’d be able to retain her sanity shut up in this suite for two days. Being in Manitou was bad enough. Not here even eight hours and already she had fallen back into maudlin thoughts and old habits. Lunch was over and dinner was a few hours away.
Wind howled and whistled down the chimney in the parlor. Ghostly golden lights winked against the sheer white of the storm. She’d never make it the two blocks to downtown in the storm, but she had to do something.
Dressing quickly and tucking the room key in a side pocket of her purse, she shouldered the bag and walked out into the lobby, locking the door.
“Miss Godwin, lunch is still laid out in the dining room if you’re hungry. There’s coffee and tea on the sideboard and I can whip up some hot cocoa if you’d prefer that.” The owner led her into the dining room. “There are movies and quite a few books in the parlor if you’re interested.”
“It’s so quiet.”
“Well, there’s only one guest other than you.”
The buffet was laden with sliced ciabatta and sourdough bread, cold meats, cheeses and an assortment of condiments and sandwich fixings. A large bowl held fresh strawberries, apples and a fruit compote. Meredith made up a plate while the owner went to the kitchen to fix a pot of hot cocoa and sat down at a table near the window looking out onto the wraparound porch. The bread was fresh and the fruit compote a fresh and delicious contrast to the silky richness of the cocoa.
“There’s more if you’d like.” The owner topped up the cocoa.
“I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” Meredith thanked her and turned down seconds, lingering over the hot cocoa as she watched the snow pile up against the window and bury the cars parked on the street. For the first time since arriving, she felt at ease and comfortable.
Taking the drink into the parlor, Meredith looked at the books and movies on the shelves, choosing a documentary on the Trojan war. And then she spotted it, a romantic comedy Gavin took her to see on their first date. The idea of watching a movie wasn’t so appealing any more.
Heady with a first taste of freedom since her grandmother died, Meredith had ventured onto the social scene with a few friends from college intent on cheering her up. Six months was long enough to mourn they said, never suspecting she wasn’t sad or depressed, quite the contrary. She was free, but leery of enjoying that freedom too much. There was the ever present fear that Miss Frances would appear with a chilly smile and look down her long, straight nose with a disappointed and disapproving frown, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow disdainfully arched and Meredith would tuck her tail between her legs and follow ashamed and contrite to accept punishment for having smiled or laughed or thought for one second she was free to do as she pleased.  Taking a chance, Meredith agreed to meet her friends in Vail for a ski weekend.
She’d gone on ski weekends when Miss Frances was alive, but always with her grandmother, never alone. It was a safe first venture.
The night before, a storm dropped a little over two feet of powder and the lodge and slopes were crowded with snow bunnies. Managing a couple of good runs before the slopes got too crowded, Meredith and her friends met in the main lodge. After lunch, Sheila and Frederica decided to lounge in the hot tub. They agreed to meet for drinks before dinner and Meredith decided to run into town to get her bindings tightened. She hadn't expected to run into Gavin White Wolf.
Or to come face to face with the past.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sneak preview: The Remittance Man

The Remittance Man

By J M Cornwell

Chapter One

Twenty years should have made a difference. It hadn’t. Jack Cain had not changed and neither had his habits. I expected towering stacks of newspapers and magazines and books and Jack weaving a path through a darkened room to the door, not that I could see him until he opened the door, but I was not disappointed.
Head tilted to one side as if awaiting an answer to a question, Jack looked the same, exactly the same. I guess that had a lot to do with his mother being the CEO of a cosmetic company, although I thought he only got a check once a month and not product, so his lack of aging could be due to good genes.
I felt swept back through the years to the first time I saw Jack Cain when Dad took me to see him at his apartment in Colon. Then as now, he wore an Egyptian cotton shirt the color of half lit shadows, khaki pants, and slip-on canvas shoes the same color as the shirt. His buzz cut was faintly threaded with grey and he wore the same black horn-rimmed glasses. I’d half expected contacts over his squinty eyes, but he clung to familiarity like a life preserver, especially now his mother was dead and his younger brother controlled the family fortune.
What I had been able to glean from gossip among the scattered friends that were once so close they lived and partied as a single-celled organism was that Jack’s brother had cut him off, no more monthly remittance checks and no more exile. That was what brought Jack back to the States, lack of funds, so he mined his friends for money using their secrets for trade. Who knew a bunch of middle class noncoms and civilian contractors could get into that much trouble with their families in tow. I certainly didn’t and wouldn’t have found out any of the sordid details had my father not decided to bring me in to deal with Jack, hoping I could twist him around my little finger the way I had always twisted men into knots. Since Jack likely still saw me as a nine-year-old child instead of a woman grown, I’d have an edge. I hoped Dad was right, but more than that I wanted to get rid of Jack as quickly as possible and spare the scene that Mom would cause if she found out Jack was back.
Mom had never trusted Jack and she didn’t like him. That much was obvious in her stiff posture and the way she shrank in on herself when he got too close, too close being within thirty feet of her. She acted the same way with spiders, mice, and other vermin. She sometimes acted that way with Dad, but that was their problem and not mine. Dealing with Jack was my problem.
“How do you do, Mr. Cain?” I asked after he opened the door and said hello. “I’m here on behalf . . . . “
“I know why you’re here, Maria. Did you bring the money?”
“May I come in?”
He stood back. “No sense discussing business in the hall.”
Jack hadn’t been in town long. The piles were only halfway up my shins and I’m a tall girl, five foot ten inches barefoot. Since I was wearing heels, add another three inches. Jack was still taller, but only by a couple of inches. His white skin reminded me of an albino cockroach I once saw crawl across his dining room table from beneath a stack of books the day Dad took me with him to Jack’s apartment. That hadn’t changed either, nor had the prickly feeling at the base of my neck or the gooseflesh racing along my arms and down my spine. The hum of fans and multiple air conditioners gave the room an arctic chill that added to my own internal chill in spite of wearing a thick vicuna coat, cashmere sweater, and the usual complement of lingerie. It didn’t seem to matter to Jack that it was autumn outside and the weather a bit on the cool, crisp side.
The apartment was sparsely furnished with whatever the lease had provided and was accented with a few of Jack’s extensive collection of Japanese screens and a select few Miros, Picassos, and his favorite framed da Vinci sketches. I wondered briefly how he had managed to get the carved mahogany screens with their fragile silk panels and mother of pearl inlays onto the planes.
Sensing my curiosity, he answered without hesitation. “My screens. I never leave home without them,” he said. “I pack them in coffins when I travel.”
As if Jack wasn’t creepy enough, that admission would have pegged the creep-o-meter in three seconds flat.
“The paintings are carefully crated and the rest,” he swept out his arm to include the paper bundles and stacks of books, “I leave behind. They provide company and information, but aren’t good traveling companions. For that I would need to travel by C-5 and I am not suited for such discomfort.”
No doubt. “That’s why you’re here, Mr. Cain, to alleviate further discomfort.”
“Just so.” He pushed his glasses up his aquiline nose and ran the hand across his bristly scalp.
The glasses had carved furrows on either side of his head above his ears with a look that spoke of years of etching. Though Jack was a bulky man, he wasn’t fat, except above his ears and at the nape of his neck where small hillocks of fat heaped above the slender column of his neck. He was a man of contrasts, from his black hair and eyebrows, a five o’clock shadow at nine in the morning, and the pallor of his skin. He wasn’t muscular, but there was evidence of steel beneath skin only visible when his languid movement turned sharp and decisive.
There is power in silence and I was determined to make Jack speak first. I crossed my legs, folded my hands in my lap, and looked wide-eyed at him. He spoke first.
“You’ve changed a great deal, Maria. It suits you.”
I nodded and smiled. “You’ve not changed at all.” You got a good bargain for your soul.
“Tranquility is the key. Tranquility and a quiet life.”
“And you’d like to continue your tranquil and quiet life.”
“Just so.”
Dad didn’t tell me what Cain had on him, but it must be big to warrant the substantial payment I carried in my bag. I wondered how many securities Dad had sold to raise that kind of money, but didn’t dare ask. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” He rose and took a couple of steps towards the kitchen. “You’d prefer coffee or cappuccino? I have a machine.”
I wanted vodka. The sharp, hard, quick bite would steel me for what I must do.
“Tea would be lovely.” I might not want to know Dad’s secrets and yet concluding our business prematurely would be a mistake. I had to impress on Cain that this would be the only funds he would receive and nothing, not even revealing some dread dark secret, would prevail in the future. Cain had to disappear and not return. He could feed in other waters. The sooner the better. There were no other options, not as far as I was concerned. Cain had to go one way or another.
“Just so,” he replied.
Had I not been watching him as he moved to the kitchen, I would not have heard him. That, too, I remembered, the way he had of appearing and disappearing so swiftly and quietly. There was something ominous and deadly about the way he moved, as though his appearance was a deception cultivated to lull victims into discounting his physical prowess and power, both of which I was keenly aware of. I still remember the strength of his hands and the way he nearly jerked my arms out of the sockets when he rescued me from the eels converging on me where I’d fallen into the water during a group fishing trip. My feet had been lacerated by the coral I fell onto, but the accident would have been much worse had Cain not stepped in and intervened. I owed him my life and I was grateful, but such debts weigh nothing when a daughter’s love for her father is on the balance.
“So pensive,” Cain said. “Just like when you were a child.” He set a lacquered carved tray on the table laden with petit fours and everything for tea. The tea set was an ornate silver affair that had a patina of oft polished age about it and Maria doubted it was less than two hundred years old from the style of the workmanship. “There now. A proper tea.”
“For this hour of the morning?”
“For any hour.” He set the table for tea, declining Maria’s help. He was obviously preferred playing the grand host and he did it well. It made me uncomfortable, so I excused myself and followed Cain’s directions to the bathroom, which was no less grand than the rest of the apartment.
It wasn’t the expensive fabric on the walls and at the windows or even the plush carpeting on the floor that made me want to take off my shoes and walk barefoot, but a sense of style and wealth that was understated and more noticeable because of its subtlety. If I didn’t know he arrived in town two weeks ago, I’d think he’d been here for years, except for small stacks of printed material. That’s a dead giveaway.
I finished as quickly as possible, placing the thick plush hand towel back on the rack as neatly as possible. I suppressed the urge to wipe down the sink and went back to the dining room.
“You look much more refreshed, Maria.” He indicated her seat and offered the burgeoning tray of petit fours, which were delicate spring confections decorated with tiny flowers and leaves. “Cake or biscuit?” He offered a small plate of macaroons.
I took one of the macaroons and accepted a cup of tea. After refusing sugar, milk, and lemon, I sipped the piping hot tea and nearly swooned. Ginger, jasmine, and the complex oolong tea lingered like a balm on my tongue. “This is good,” I said and nearly bit my tongue. I wasn’t here for a tea party. This was business and we’d better get to it.
“Mr. Cain,” I began.
“I’d prefer we wait until after tea. Pleasure first. Business after.” He sipped his tea and closed his eyes in delight before settling comfortably against the back of the chair.
I fretted at the delay but saw no other way to handle things. He was calling the tune so I’d follow along as long as my patience lasted. I took another sip and nearly choked.
Cain smiled. “Mustn’t rush,” he chided. “Enjoy the fragrance and the taste. It’s better when enjoyed slowly to get the full effect.”
I gritted my teeth and smiled. “It is lovely and the cookies are very good, but I really must get back to the office. I only came here . . .”
“Such haste. You were much calmer as a child.”
“Was I? I remember it differently.”
“You were such a precocious thing, all eyes and ears, but respectful. You were special, too special to be Stephen and Helen’s child. I often wondered how they missed the changeling in their midst, especially with Stephanie lurking always about. Now there was a nasty piece of work.”
I shrugged. There was nothing to say. I was my father’s daughter and my sister Stephanie was all Mom’s. Stephanie even looked like Mom in certain lights and people often mistook her for their mother. The acorn didn’t fall far from that tree. I suppose I should’ve defended my sister, but there was no need. Stephanie could defend herself. I certainly wouldn’t.
“You and she were as different as night and day.”
“Blondes always stand out.”
“Not at all. You were the one everyone noticed.”
“Only because I was climbing trees or getting into trouble.”
“I would not have saved Stephanie from the eels. The eels would have needed saving.”
A chuckle slipped my control and Cain, completely out of character, winked at me. His dark brown eyes danced behind the thick lenses of his glasses, almost twinkling with humor, and I laughed.
“Now that is a pleasant sound. You should laugh more often.”
Maybe it was our shared dislike of my sister or knowing that at least on that point we were in agreement, but the taut muscles in my shoulders and jaw relaxed and I began to enjoy the tea and the company so much, I chose a petit four when Cain offered. I had to admit he was being quite hospitable and even likable in spite of the business at hand.
As a child, I found him fascinating. He was so different from my parents and their friends, still and composed no matter the surroundings. There was something odd about him to be sure, but nothing frightening and I never felt wary in his presence. My mother hated him and the way he ate chicken of all things. Cain chewed off the ends of chicken legs and sucked out the marrow. I’d tried it once. The marrow tasted rich and buttery and I liked it, but that habit stopped before it got started. My mother forbade me to do it ever again. She had looked at me with disgust and shuddered, the same way she had looked at Cain.
“As a child, you were a bud and now you have flowered into a stunning woman. I knew you would.”
A heated blush flared across my cheeks and my ears were hot. “Thank you.” I inclined my head in thanks and didn’t dare say another word for fear of appearing silly or, worse yet, stupid. I actually liked Cain, not for saving me or for his gracious hospitality, but because I sensed his compliments weren’t empty. He was just who he appeared to be and I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
“The tea and cakes were lovely,” I said, glancing pointedly at my wrist watch. “I do have a busy afternoon.” I looked up and he closed his eyes and nodded, a look of resigned sadness on his broad face. Putting down the tea cup, I took out the envelope and laid it on the table between us. Cain continued sipping his tea, avoiding looking at the envelope. “I’d appreciate it if you’d count it.”
“No need of such vulgarity between friends.”
“Mr. Cain, please understand. There will be no further payments.”
“And no need for you to return?”
“I . . .”
“No need for words.”
After opening the envelope, Cain thumbed through the bills with practiced ease. There was no doubt he knew exactly how much was there, not because it was the amount he specified, but because he had counted it that rapidly with a minimum of movement and fuss. He was businesslike when the situation called for it. His movements were fast and economic, as much to preserve his delicacy and satisfy my request.
He looked up at me and his look asked if I was satisfied now as he slipped the envelope beneath the tray.
“Would you like another cup of tea?”
“No, thank you.” I wanted to stay. I wanted to go and put all this behind me and yet there was something else here and it wasn’t only the views we shared of my sister Stephanie. She was a sneak and reveled in manipulating people, especially our parents when she wanted something and one of them denied her. A few carefully chosen words and our parents would end up fighting each other while Stephanie walked away with whatever she wanted.
Telling Mother and Dad what was going on always ended up with my lip bloody or Mother’s handprint scalded on my cheek, or both, and more punishment would follow. Dad seldom stepped between us; he knew better. Mother’s wrath would fall on him next and he had to sleep with her. I didn’t. I could take my wounded pride, anger, and betrayal to my room where I’d end up spending a few weeks or a few months, depending on how angry Mother was at the time. Stephanie stayed to watch the show and gloat over yet another triumph until I got smart and kept my mouth shut. If they couldn’t see what Stephanie was doing, I wasn’t about to tell either one of them. It always ended in tears: mine.
Yes, Cain was right and I felt sorry for him. I wanted to reach out and touch his hand or clasp his shoulder, offer to come again, but I knew I wouldn’t come back. In a different situation, I’d welcome his friendship and could appreciate it more now that I was an adult. That would not happen. Not now. Not ever. Not as long as blackmail stood between us. It was just business.
“Mr. Cain, our business is concluded. There will be no further payments or gifts. I hope you understand.”
Cain put up his hand. “I shall not return nor shall I be here long. I have appointments elsewhere.”
I am glad he stopped me. Leaving on such a note would have been difficult after all his generosity. I almost laughed. His generosity was paid for by his friends and now by my father.
Teeth clenched against the angry words about to spill out, I stopped. He was right. There was no need of words. Our situations and the unfortunate circumstances that brought us together now made anything more impossible.
How did we get here?
Right. The monthly remittance checks from his family, now that his brother was in charged, had stopped and Cain had resorted to the only option left to him, to depend on his friends and their secrets to keep him in the style he’d grown accustomed to.
“Thank you for your hospitality.” I stood, put on my coat, and walked to the door. I heard Cain rise behind me. As I reached for the door knob, his hand was there and I soon stood out in the hall facing him.
“If you find yourself at loose ends, please stop again. I shall be leaving at the end of the month. It seemed a shame not to see more of the city while I am here.”
“I can’t promise . . .”
“No. Of course not. A young woman like you would have many demands on her time, many social engagements. I shall not expect you, merely look forward to the possibility.” He extended his hand and I hesitated for a brief second only before taking his meaty paw. It was neither damp nor unpleasant. His handshake was firm and his fingers and palm strong. I noticed his nails were manicured and buffed.
Resisting the urge to kiss his cheek or hug him, I nodded and left. When I pushed the door open at the end of the hall, I glanced back. The door was closed and I had forgotten to ask him what secret he knew about my father. Maybe that was a good thing. I’d love Dad no matter what he had done, but it would be easier if I didn’t know all his secrets, just as he would never know all of mine. A little mystery is necessary in any relationship, especially a relationship between parent and child.
A raw wind slapped at me and rain spattered my cheeks as I ran for the car before the storm broke in earnest. I’m still not sure if the moisture on my face was all rain. It must have been. Tears would’ve been hot.
There was no reason to cry for Cain or about him. He chose his path and I had chosen mine. We wouldn’t see each other again and that was for the best. A friendship between us was not possible, I reminded myself. Best to put him and the whole business behind me, but the best laid plans . . . and all that jazz.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From The End of the World to Possibility

This last year jittered on the edge of a big bang that fizzled just as surely as the predicted computer apocalypse of 1999. I never believed the whole end of the world portents and fear because I knew that the end of the Mayan calendar was the beginning of a new age and a new calendar. The Mayans were entrenched in the practice of planned obsolescence.  Their calendars lasted for an entire age and, as Xmas is over and the last days of 2012 tick to the end of another year, I am poised for possibilities.

I don't do new year's resolutions because they always amount to the same thing: lose weight, publish more books, become a wealthy and famous author whose name is on the tongues of billions, and write the kind of books that will become -- and remain -- classics. The only one in that list of wants that has any chance of happening is publishing more books. I have 3, and possibly 4, books poised to be published in 2013, one of which was postponed from this year due to death, too much working for a paycheck, and loss of steam. Losing my 2-year-old grandson Connor took the wind out of my sails and it has taken a long time to find the energy and the will to keep going. Sending my son David Scott the stocking I cross stitched for Connor helped a lot. It was closing the last page on a very long book that ended on a sad but hopeful note.

That is where I am right now, poised on a hopeful note as I look forward to 5 days off after working every holiday this year, including Xmas.

The political horizon gives me no hope since the same greedy oligarchs are still in power and moving on with their plans to demoralize, diminish, and destroy the United States of America in the name of greed and ephemeral power. There is little hope on the economic horizon even with the price of gas below $3.00 for the first time in years. And there is even less hope on the war front in spite of more and more soldiers coming home from Afghanistan and the black wars that few of us know about.

If I smoked pot, which I do very rarely (twice in the past 15 years), I could look forward to buying and smoking at least an ounce of marijuana without being thrown in jail. I could look forward to a year without another death in my family, although, considering the past 5 years, I doubt that is realistic. I could look forward to just about anything, but I will hang onto what I know for sure.

The mild winter here in Colorado took a nose dive with a real white Xmas and Xmas snow. That was enough to put a smile on my face and to give me hope for the future when everything out in the real world has been nothing if not daunting. This being my last work day of 2012 also helps broaden the smile and I heave a sigh of relief that I will be able to stop racing against the clock and fretting that I don't have enough time to get settled into the work mode for another night shift. I have 5 days, 2 of them weekend days, to relax and let this year settle, much like a heavy dinner.

My grandson is still gone, and so is my mother, appropriately on Friday the 13th last January, but I have plans. Last year was filled with preparation for this Xmas. I bought the materials and stitched my way through 7 Xmas stockings, a few ornaments for the kiddies, and gathering together the gifts that would go with the stockings (which were a hit by the way). I was surprised that my oldest grandson, Jordan, actually wants a stocking. I didn't make one for him since he's a teenager. I guess my friend Mary Ann was right and kids never outgrow wanting a stocking to hang on the mantel with care even when the hope of St. Nicholas has given way to teenage pragmatism and the belief in Old St. Nick has waned. There is always room for a stocking no matter the age.

I need a new project, or at least a good idea for next year, since this year is going to be hard to top, hence the books. I have let 3 books languish over the past months of this year and it's time to take up my pen, poise my fingers over the keyboard, and get down to business. I'll never become a wealthy and famous author unless I get back to basics: reading, writing, and more  writing -- not to mention editing. The book covers are done. All I need to do is fill the pages that go between the covers, and I can do that. That magical Xmas snow helped put me in the right frame of mind.

There are other plans afoot for 2013. I have to convince Beanie to bring her boys with her and spend Xmas out here in Colorado with me. I want to share an old-fashioned Xmas with my family. I might even invite my boys and their kids -- as long as they understand they won't be able to stay here with me since space is limited. I'd need a much bigger house to host 9 grandchildren, 3 sons and their wives/girlfriend, Beanie and her 2 boys, and maybe her fiance's 2 boys and the fiance, not to mention my granddaughter Sierra's maternal grandparents, since I'm sure they would not want to be left out. Too bad I'm not wealthy already because I could rent one of the big cottages out at the Broadview or maybe a big modern cabin up in the mountains at Tabernash. Now that would be perfect, and another reason for me to get on the ball and finish more books.

That glistening carpet of white beneath the winter sun on Xmas day flashed with emerald, ruby, and diamond lights and the whole neighborhood was hushed. The only mark in the snow was where Santa's sleigh drove through the parking lot that surrounds my cottage (flying reindeer don't leave tracks) and stopped in front of my house. Even though I had to work Xmas day, the time went by quickly and visions of Xmas future grew in my head. I have work to do -- a lot of it -- and I'm ready for whatever challenge 2013 brings. Plans are being roughed out and will be filled in as the new year progresses and next Xmas will be better than this one, especially if there will be Xmas snow.

Whatever you plan for the next year, or even for tomorrow, be ready for hurdles and detours and meet them with hope and a smile. Hope and smiles can cut through the toughest times, especially when the end is a year of family -- and so much more.

Happy New Year. I'm ready for 2013 now.