Authors: Colette Cabot
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
“Hee-heee, imagine that shit! I can’t believe that she danced with that fag!” cackled a woman's voice from the living room where she heard the bumper music for Dancing With the Stars, one of her aunt's favorites. But, the cackle sounded familiar, as well. Did all drug-addicted middle-aged hags sound alike? She wondered if that was so.
She followed Mason's pathway down the hallway, seeing him through the open door to his room. Everything was neat and tidy there, and that relieved her. The slob-gene was not an inherited trait. He slept in the trailer, but had his things here, she realized. It had seemed very small, normally meant for camping or travel. It wouldn't be a suitable home for the two of them, and neither would this room in the house with these cackling people. They would have to work these things out, she thought, realizing that she was getting very ahead of herself.
Just as they were ready to leave they noticed that the television was off and the living room was quiet. They passed the point of no return, and a voice called out.
“Mason, that you?” called his father. “Come over here and let us seen who’s that you got with you?”
He groaned and squeezed her hand as if to say, it’s okay we can make it through this. Kathy Mae squeezed back and smiled with resolve. She felt okay until she walked into the room and faced the woman who turned out to be none other than her own mother. This was the same man and woman she had seen that morning at the Do-nut Dip drive-through. Both women were stunned into silence.
“Sweet Lord, who is that you have there, boy? She sure is a pretty little thing,” Mason’s father said with a wolf-whistle at the end. The way he said the word
gave her the creeps. He leered at her making her feel even more uncomfortable—something that she would have believed impossible after realizing her mother was Mason's new step mom.
“I'll be damned it that’s not my daughter, Kathy Mae,” she said, with no emotion. “Looks like we're all going to be one big happy family again.”
daughter?” said Mason, looking on with disbelief. He was not sure what to think of this. It was too unbelievable to think that Kathy Mae had came from that disgusting woman, yet she had told him about her mother dumping her on an aunt, being a meth addict, and the unsavory description certainly fit. It wasn't a blood relation, but it felt at this moment as though she were as good as his step-sister. He wasn't able to see himself with the offspring of this horrid woman.
“Yes, that’s my biological mother,” she admitted. “The woman who left me with my Aunt Anna when I was a baby. I have hardly seen her since. Could you take me home now, Mason?”
Mason looked up to the ceiling trying not to get angry, than walked toward the door, giving his silent answer to her request. Kathy Mae followed him, keeping her head down. The couple in the living room continued laughing, and she heard the sound of a beer can being crushed and thrown.
A line from
moved through Kathy’s mind as they walked in silence to Mason's truck.
“And we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it.”
She was not her mother, she was not her Aunt, but these people, perhaps all people, believed she would inevitably become just like them. Did Mason believe this, too? How could he not, since even she feared it could be true. She had had sex with a man she had only met that day. It now seemed dirty instead of beautiful. He probably thought so, too.
Was it incest? Not exactly, but legally—she was his stepsister!
Kathy did not know what would happen next. Actually, she knew she would face her aunt next, but after that—with the two of them. That she did not know. But, she still felt that she was in love with him, although it had been spoiled, it was still there. Would he even see her again? She remembered what Catherine had said of Heathcliff the day he left her.
“He shall never know that I love him...our souls are the same.”
“We're approaching Borough,” he said. “I need to know where you live,” he said indifferently, coldly.
“Need to know?” she asked. “Does that mean you don't want to know?”
He didn't answer. It was as much for him to deal with as it was for her. He had hopes in his heart which were now dashed. He held within him the hurt of losing something precious, and the whole thing had shaken him more than his manly demeanor disclosed.
She took his silence for an admission to her question. It was over before it had begun, only for her, it had already become real. She could hardly believe that she lost him, she had lost everything.
“I'll walk,” she said suddenly with angry tears. “Let me out right here.”
“I will not put you out on this dark lonely road,” he said. “I will make sure you get home safely.”
“Straight ahead, then,” she said coldly, resigned to his insistence, resigned that she wouldn't cry. “Turn left at Carriage Lane, and it's a mile down that road—a shabby, little cottage with chipping yellow paint. It'll be on the left side of the road across from the Central Dairy Farm.”
It killed him inside that she was breaking down into silent tears. But, he didn't dare tell her what he was feeling—the hurt, the disappointment. What good would that do? If he reached out at all toward her, if he tried to comfort her or seek the comfort of her arms, he would not be able to resist the feel of her. He would be a goner—doomed to live in the shadow of the guilt of incest.
He was surprised that the old man had not blurted it out—the thing he had barely accepted as truth, considering the source. He had been told that his mother was convicted of sexually abusing him and actually ended up in jail after her violent protests against the culture that separated her from her boy. His father had told him he had caught her fondling his genitals when he was a baby. He had no memory of her. She was beaten to death by inmates who abhorred child abuse since they had to suffer the loss of their own children while they were incarcerated.
When he was small, a grandmother had been willing to care for him while his father worked, as well as when he did his carousing at night. She had been warm and caring, as far as he could remember. But, she died when he was about seven, and after that he had learned to take care of himself. He ate what food he could find in the house, and sometimes meals provided by sympathetic neighbors. His whole life, incest loomed over him as something for which he somehow felt guilt about. It didn't make sense to him when he grew up, that he felt this way. But, children believe everything is somehow their fault.
He found the correct house, and Kathy Mae bound from the car, running to the front door without turning back. He felt horrible, but if he had reached out to her at all, he would have not been able to resist the temptation of her lips and her body.
Her aunt had fallen asleep in front of the TV. It was still blaring loudly, but she didn't want to turn it off, probably waking her. The sound of loud snoring, still audible over the re-runs of Bonanza, assured her she could make it to her room and avoid the confrontation she had dreaded. She would be able to sleep for a few hours before it came time to get ready for work. If luck prevailed, Aunt Anna would not even know she had come home at all.
She turned to her self-help book, feeling she needed to focus on something to still the anxiety that prevented her from drifting easily into sleep. Back to her original plan, she vowed through tears of anguish. She would work hard, she would save her money, move out, and eventually go back to school. The book's second lesson read:
“Take one day at a time. Focus on the task at hand until the future become clear.”
This had been one day in her life, she told herself. Another lay ahead. Her whole life lay ahead. She fell into an exhausted sleep because she had cried all the tears left in her.
When morning came, the alarm woke her, and unfortunately, it also woke her aunt, who entered the room to turn it off. She nearly jumped at the sight of Kathy Mae in her robe gathering an outfit for the day.
“When did you get in, girl?” she asked suspiciously. “I was worried when you didn't come home by suppertime. You must have gotten in really late. Where you with some man?”
“It wasn't late at all, Aunt Anna,” she said casually. “I am an adult, you know. I can go out with friends. You were asleep in front of the TV, and I didn't want to wake you. Sorry I forgot to call.”
“Forgot to call?” she spat, angrily, “or maybe you just didn't want to face the chores around here. Is that the way it's going to be from now on? I really don't need to keep you around if you're not going to do your part. Never mind the thanks for taking you in for all these years.”
“My mother should have paid for my support,” Kathy Mae admitted, “and you may not believe it, but I am grateful that you were there for me. That's why I've always cooked and cleaned like a Cinderella all these years. I think I've paid my debt to you, and I will be getting my own place very shortly.”
“Oh, that's just as I should have expected,” Aunt Anna moaned, “take off as soon as you've got your own money in your pocket. No thought to maybe paying some of the bills around here for a change.”
“What are the bills, exactly?” Kathy Mae asked. “Show them to me. I don't want to cause you any hardship. We can agree on some amount, and I'll pay my part.”
That silenced her. Aunt Anna seemed seriously thoughtful. The idea of getting money appealed greatly to her. Maybe the girl having a job wouldn't be so bad after all. Perhaps they could hire someone to come in a clean once in a while. Perhaps she could fix herself a can of soup or some of those frozen dinners. That might not be too bad, she thought as Kathy Mae whizzed around getting ready for work.
She fixed herself a bowl of cereal, then grabbed an apple and made a peanut butter sandwich for her lunch. Though she didn't care for coffee, it was free at the office, and she decided she would learn to like it. She had learned to like a lot of difficult things in her life; this would only be one more.
The skirt she wore was from a thrift shop, but it had a simple timeless style and was in almost new condition. It would eat into her nest egg for her own place and her schooling, but she would have to spend this Saturday at the Saint Vincent dePaul Resale Shop getting a few outfits for work. Maybe she'd look for one of those blazers Mrs. Wade had mentioned. That would be tomorrow, she thought. And she wondered if she would get paid today. If not, it would have to wait until the following weekend.
The worn flats hurt her feet badly by the time she made it over gravel roads to the Country Real Estate office. Again, she was early by a few minutes. She had been walking very fast, figuring that the sooner she arrived, the sooner her feet would feel better. The sound of a cackling laugh from across the street completely unnerved her. Was this to become a daily event, she thought mournfully.
The old yellow Volkswagen puttered next to her at the curb. Her trying to shrink into the walls, pretending she hadn't noticed them, had not worked. They were there, and they addressed her.
“Sorry to put an end to your hot date, honey,” her mother called out. “That boy will come around again, I'm sure. Incest is in his blood, after all.”
They screeched away leaving her puzzled. Lolita Graves Wheelwright had not been one to offer her advice before, if that's even what it was. Would he be back? And what did she mean by the word
? Had Mason been a victim of incest? Or a product of such? That would explain a lot about his behavior. But, she wasn't ready to grant him a pardon for his abhorrent behavior—not unless he asked for it, anyway.
Mrs. Wade pulled into the parking lot in her little Subaru, and rushed to open the door. She was ten minutes late opening the office, and the thought that someone might have called was freaking her out.
“We'll have to get you a set of keys,” she said frantically. “If you're going to get here early, you might as well be here to man the phones. Phillip is adamant about being open on time. He gets that from his city upbringing. No one around here minds things being a little delayed, but he is a stickler about such things. And, after all, he is the boss.”
Mrs. Wade quickly ran to the back room and started the coffee pot, and while Kathy Mae stood waiting to be told what to do, the phone rang. Instinctively, she answered it. It was about an appointment for that afternoon with Mr. Buggerby. She wrote the message on the pink pad, then put is aside to give to him when he arrived.
“The Carroll's wanted to confirm their meeting with Mr. Buggerby later today at the Chappell property,” she told Mrs. Wade when she returned. “They said they would be about ten minutes late.”
“He has the whole town trained,” Mrs. Wade chuckled. “Everybody knows how he is about being on time.”
She seemed a little friendlier than the day before, Kathy Mae thought. It might be that I’ve proven myself useful, or maybe she's just getting used to me.
“One word of advice,” she said, addressing Kathy Mae, “Don't let him hear you calling him Mr. Buggerby. He hates that name. That's why I call him Phillip. And, while you're at it, call me Lois. Mrs. Wade is my mother,” she laughed.
That seemed a strange thing to do, unless he specifically told her to call him by his first name. But, she had noticed Mrs. Wade—Lois, that is, calling him Phillip.
“You are officially over training, Kathy Mae,” announced Lois, “so I guess you can start today off by working on the mountain of filing. Check the date penciled in the corner of each folder. If it's this week, then it goes out here. Anything older than that goes in the file cabinets in the back room.”
She had just about made it to the filing area, when Phillip Buggerby came through the door.
“Did our new girl make it in today?” he asked. Apparently he wasn't sure if she would stick with the job. Lois told him she was filing.
“What?” he exclaimed. “No, no, no. Kathy Mae, Come out here, please.”
She appeared before him immediately.
“What's going on here?” he asked.
The two women looked puzzled at each other, then stared back at him, not knowing what he meant.
“I hired you, Kathy Mae,” he said slowly and deliberately, “to be a receptionist. That filing had been your job, Lois, until Sandra quit and moved out of town. It's still your job. This little girl is way too pretty to send back into the dungeon.”
“What?” gasped Lois, in disbelief. “Why wouldn't I get promoted over hiring someone off the street?”
He stood there wiggling the fingers on both hands, motioning for them to switch places, so they hopped right to it. Lois said no more, but Kathy Mae sensed that the friendly attitude from earlier had disappeared completely.
“Oh, Mr...Phillip,” Kathy Mae said quickly as he started to walk back to his office. “I have a message for you from the Carroll's.”
She held the pink sheet of paper in the air.
“They will be about ten minutes late,” she concluded, as Phillip smiled and nodded that he understood.
For almost an hour, Kathy Mae answered the phone, took messages, and quickly learned how to transfer calls back to Phillip's office. It was easy work, if not a little boring. During the next lull of inactivity, she could hardly take it anymore. She marched back to the boss's office with a request.
“I really don't have much to do,” she said to him after knocking on the open door. “Is there something I could help with between phone calls?”
“Well, Lois usually does her nails or calls her friends,” he said with a critical tone. “Why don't you fire up the computer? Familiarize yourself with the system. Just explore the programs, especially the databases. Just don't change anything until I can show you a few things.”
“You wouldn't by any chance be connected online to a source for the deeds of property around here, would you?” she asked, eliciting a look of amazement from Phillip.
“Lois has been here two years,” he commented, almost to himself, “and I don't think she knows what a deed it.”
“I just thought that a real estate company might need to have access to the owners of the pieces of property around here,” she said, making it seem simpler than it was. “I don't want to snoop around where I shouldn't. But, if it's legal, I'd like to know about the house where I live with my aunt.”
He rose from his desk, leaving a stack of papers to fall onto the floor. Not caring, he directed her back to the front desk and followed behind her.
“I'll show you exactly where that information is,” he said happily. Then he double-clicked an icon, put in a password, and began pointing out the files on the desktop. She seemed to understand it all, and more importantly, she seemed actually interested in what she was doing. Their little lesson was interrupted by a phone call, and she took the message efficiently, then went back to the task at hand.
“Have you ever considered a career in real estate?” Phillip asked. “There's an evening training course beginning in a few weeks in Brumley. The company would be happy to pay the tuition if you'd like to attend.”
“I'd love that!” she exclaimed. “Only I don't have a way to get there. I have no car.”
“How do you get here?” he asked.
When she told him that she walked, he nearly fell over backwards.
“I'm sure someone from around here will be taking the licensing class,” he said. “I'll let you know, and I'll pay for the gas.” He started to walk away, then remembered something else. “What size do you wear?”
“You mean clothes?” she asked, confused. “This skirt is a seven, I think.”
“You look a little smaller than my wife,” he said. “She's giving a bunch of clothes to charity because she's put on weight. I'll have her bring them over here instead. You can go through them first. You'll need something to wear at this job, and I know you don't have the money yet. Hang in there, Kathy Mae. It'll all come together for you. It was like that for me once, and somebody gave me a hand up. You'll do the same for someone else some day.”
“Thanks, Phillip,” she said, “I appreciate all of this, really.”
The day passed uneventfully, and Kathy Mae was happy to keep busy so that she didn't think too often about Mason. She found over a dozen outfits among Mrs. Buggerby's castoffs, and spoke to Phillip's contact for school which would begin in two weeks. She was a woman about her own age coming from Ashton and would be passing right through Borough on her way to Brumley. They arranged to meet at the turn-off to her road, giving her only a half-mile walk. And, Kathy Mae learned that her aunt's property was owned by Andrew Graves—a name which she recognized as her belonging to her biological father. That confused her.
She had always been told that her father and mother had been messed up on drugs, that they both had passed her on to Aunt Anna, her mother's sister. None of that made sense. If he had been such a loser, how is it that he owned property? And, why would Aunt Anna be living there instead of her own mother? To whom had those monthly payments been going? The mortgage seemed to have been paid years ago. It had been paid in a lump sum by an insurance company. He had invested in a mortgage life policy, so when he died the loan was automatically paid off. These were things with which she intended to confront Aunt Anna that evening.