Valley of Shadows-Chapter Six

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Thomas pulled into the hospital parking lot and parked his car.  He was only dimly aware of turning his car towards the hospital when he left Joshua’s house.  Thomas had pulled off with every intention of driving to Nicole, excited about the proposal.

Then he recalled Reverend Mother’s reaction when he told her that he was dating Nicole.  All Reverend Mother could talk about was the influence that Thomas would gain in getting Nicole to approve the expansion loan for Reverend Mother’s church.  It never ended with that woman. Thomas wished Nicole had never gotten that job at the bank.

Years ago, when Joshua introduced Thomas to Reverend Mother, she had seemed warm and kind.  She filled a much needed void in his life.  He was raised by a single mother who saw him as burdensome.  They lived in the same house yet she was a stranger to him.

For as long as he could remember, there was a steady stream of strange men who occupied her home and her bed. Many of them were cruel to Thomas, finding it amusing to berate and humiliate him while she looked on indifferently or joined in.

As a small boy, he wanted to understand his mother.  Why did she have me if she didn’t want me?  Why doesn’t she love me?  Maybe if I’m really good she’ll love me.  Where is my father?  Does he ever think about me?  Why doesn’t he come and take me away from here?  His attempts at earning her affection only seemed to make her more scornful of him.

Thomas was nine when he started avoiding home.  He only went home for food and shelter when he couldn’t find it elsewhere.  She seemed to prefer his absence.  No matter how long he stayed gone, she never tried to find him or asked him where he’d been when he did return.

Thomas quickly learned how to be the life of the party, to keep others laughing so they enjoyed having him hang around.  His popularity constantly got him invited places.  Thomas was happy to sleep in spare bedrooms, on couches and floors.

Thomas pretty much raised himself.  As young boys left to their own devices are wont to do, he gravitated to other lost souls and followed them, doing things that most people his age wouldn’t dare to do.  Fights at school, petty theft at the corner grocery store, graffiti here and there.   It was fun.  It took his mind off of the emptiness he felt inside and the ache that sometimes choked him up when he saw other kids with their doting parents.

He met Joshua and Reverend Mother allowed him to stay with them whenever he wanted. Thomas was grateful.  There were times that he called her in the middle of the night and she came and rescued him from his mother’s house when her boyfriend was drunk and violent.

Reverend Mother’s home was a safe harbor for him.  It was the closest thing to having a family that he had ever known.  But by then Thomas had a wild streak that he did not want tamed.  For a time, Reverend Mother tried to counsel him back onto the right path but he refused to be swayed by any argument.

The older he got, the more reckless he became.  It was a source of great comfort and reassurance to him that Reverend Mother was always there to bail him out of the trouble he tumbled into.  His teenage years went by in a blur of parties and parole officers.

When an underhanded building inspector tried to shake Reverend Mother down, Thomas saw an opportunity to repay some of the kindness that Reverend Mother had always shown him.  He and some of his friends paid the inspector a little visit under cover of darkness.  After that, she started sending him on other clandestine missions.

Thomas was flattered, believing he was finally being treated like a man.  Thomas felt like her equal, until the day he told her wanted to stop.  Reverend Mother quickly put him in his place.  All the affection drained out of her face.  Her cold, flat stare left no doubts in his mind.

She was dead serious when she told him she had secreted away enough evidence to send him away for a very long time, should he try to end their little arrangement before she was ready for it to end.  Thomas was in shock.  She was like a mother to him.  He thought they were a team.  He never even suspected that she was holding on to things.  It still hurt to think about the depth of that betrayal.

Something about being compelled to do things was emasculating.  Thomas was conflicted.  He appreciated all of the things Reverend Mother had done for him over the years.  He wanted to repay her but was upset about being obligated to do it.  With each passing year, his resentment deepened.

Every day, he got up and pushed it to the back of his mind.  It was the only way he could keep his anger in check.  Everyone else saw the same laid back, happy-go-lucky Thomas he was as a youth.  When Reverend Mother told him to romance Nicole and find an angle to exploit to get Nicole to approve an expansion loan for the church, he cheerfully complied.

Any guilt he may have felt was assuaged by the fact that everyone knew about her history of taking advantage of older men.  He spent a lot of time with Nicole, getting to know her, so that he could feed information to Reverend Mother.  She wanted him to dig something up that she could use as leverage should Nicole attempt to decline her loan application.

Thomas approached it in the same detached way he tackled any other chore Reverend Mother gave him.  But the more he talked to Nicole the more he realized how much they had in common.  Their childhoods were completely different but they both had to make the best of a bad situation at an early age in order to survive.

He knew better than most that sometimes one had to do things which people on the outside looking in would disapprove of.  Thomas began to see Nicole in a different light.  When Reverend Mother asked him for updates he just shrugged his shoulders and gave her some vague response.

This night, Thomas sat in his car gazing up through the windshield at the hospital.  He knew he was stalling.  He dreaded what he was about to do but could see no other way to proceed.  He wanted a life, a real life with Nicole.  At least, he thought he did.  Thomas felt so confused.

When he was with Nicole, they enjoyed each other’s company and he felt genuine affection for her.  But there were times when he thought that maybe he was in love with the idea of having someone in his life whom he could trust.  Someone that he could love and who would love him back with equal intensity.

Thomas was tired of feeling alone.  What he wanted most of all was to be free of Reverend Mother. He had this absurd notion that if he was to get married then she would have to let him go.  Sometimes, he just wanted to….to….Thomas shook his head to dislodge the evil thoughts.

Thomas got out and went up to Reverend Mother’s room, moving quickly so he wouldn’t have time to talk himself out of it.  Reverend Mother was sitting up in bed watching the evening news.  She didn’t look at him when he entered.

“Where the hell have you been?  I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see you before I went under the knife.  I hope you have some news for me Thomas.”

“As it happens, I do have something to tell you.  I’m planning on proposing to Nicole.”

“You know what?  That’s a great idea.  It will be hard for her to say no to you with your engagement ring on her finger.  Then once the loan goes through, you can break things off with her.”

“I plan on marrying her.  I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided that I don’t want to start my marriage with a lie.  I can’t help you with the loan.”

“Don’t be foolish Thomas.  You can help me and you will.  You are no more in love with that gold digger than I am.”

“She’s not a gold digger.”

“Please do not tell me you fell for her whore-with-a-heart of gold routine.  She would not have given you the time of day if you had stepped to her without your flashy clothes and fancy car.  All the money I’ve given you to lavish on her has kept her interested and that’s the only thing she finds interesting about you.  What exactly does she think you do for a living Thomas?”

“She knows what I do.  I never lied about that.”

“I’m not talking about the income that you report on your taxes.  I’m talking about your bread-and-butter, after hours jobs.”

“Nicole loves me.  She wouldn’t care about that.  Besides, I don’t plan on doing that forever,” he said cautiously.

“Oh really?  How do you expect to support her in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed without that extra income?  How else are you going to compete with her other suitors?”

Thomas couldn’t think with her eyes boring into him.  She shook her head and snorted derisively, “You’ve been like this since you were a little boy; always chasing after moonbeams and fairy tales.  Flights of fancy don’t pay the bills Thomas.  You and I have got a good thing going here.  Don’t foul things up getting hitched to some gold digging trollop.  All she’s going to do is bleed you dry and move on to the next fool.”

“That’s not going to happen.  She loves…”

“This conversation is over.  I’ve already told you what’s going to happen.  If you think an engagement will seal the deal on that expansion loan then go for it.  Stay engaged for as long as you want and play house with her to your heart’s content.  Just don’t forget that you can’t marry her.  I will not allow you to ruin your life.  Now, if you have nothing useful to report kindly leave so that I can watch the rest of the news in peace.”