“So Thomas, are congratulations in order or did the gold digger pass on your offer? Cat got your tongue? That’s okay, the answer is written all over your face. I’ll bet she laughed at you. But don’t think for one second that this lets you off the hook. I still expect results,” said Reverend Mother.
Joshua’s mouth flew open. So does that mean Nicole broke up with Thomas? Joshua found it hard to contain the smile that threatened to break out across his face. This was no time to be selfish. His friend was obviously in pain. Joshua looked over at Thomas and immediately felt guilty. Anguish was etched into every line of his face. Joshua wanted to comfort him but feared that anything he said would sound insincere.
“Why don’t you leave him alone,” hissed Rachel.
Reverend Mother shifted her gaze to her daughter with an expression of exaggerated disbelief. She propped herself up in the hospital bed to get a better look at her daughter. She chuckled and sneered at Rachel.
“My ears must be deceiving me. For a second there, I thought that you were sticking up for Thomas. That can’t be right because you never do anything for anybody else. ”
“Yeah well, I recently found out that people aren’t always who they appear to be.”
Reverend mother opened her mouth to snap back at Rachel and then closed it. She detected something troubling in her daughter’s eyes. Rachel wasn’t just angry. Reverend mother had provoked her enough times to know what Rachel’s anger was like. Any other time that child would have joined in on the fun. What on earth has gotten into her? If I didn’t know better, I’d say she hates me.
An orderly bustled in to transport Reverend Mother to the operating room, cutting short her musings. The procedure would be brief. Her children had already conferred amongst themselves and decided to stick around until after the procedure.
Harriet and Richard headed down to the cafeteria. Joshua told them he would follow momentarily. Reverend Mother was barely on the gurney before Rachel was barreling down the hallway. Joshua called after her.
“Where are you going?”
“To get some air.”
“Well, don’t go too far. The operation will be over before you know it.”
When Rachel didn’t acknowledge him, Joshua shrugged his shoulders and turned back towards his mother’s room. Thomas stood at the window, with his shoulders hunched. Joshua watched him for a moment before breaking the silence.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I…was too embarrassed and too…hurt. I needed time to wrap my head around what happened. I still can’t believe it. Your mother was right. Nicole took one look at that ring and laughed in my face. She thought I was joking at first. All this time, I thought we had something special. Turns out she was just using me. She told me that we were just having fun, nothing more. I couldn’t really get mad at her. I have no right to be angry with her.”
“What do you mean? You’ve got every right to be mad. Nicole led you on.”
“Our whole relationship was based on a lie.”
“You’ve lost me. What are you talking about?”
“Joshua, there’s something I need to tell you. Actually, there’s a lot I need to tell you. I haven’t said anything because well, she’s your mother and I didn’t know how you would take what I’m about to tell you.”
* * *
Down in the cafeteria, Richard and Harriet sat across from one another. Richard was wolfing down a ham sandwich and bag of chips while Harriet sat picking at her salad. He was beginning to worry about her. She either didn’t eat anything or she stuffed herself at meals. There was no in between with her.
Richard wanted to share his concerns but didn’t want to upset her. Harriet had always been very sensitive. She looked as though something were troubling her. Maybe it was affecting her appetite.
“What’s wrong Harriet?”
“I was just wondering what mom meant about still expecting results from Thomas.”
“Who knows, we’ve always been out of the loop on things.”
It was true. Richard and Harriet were adopted but never felt they had been accepted as true members of the family. There were always goings on which were only hinted at in their presence. Richard was adopted first. Stubborn and stoic, it didn’t take long for him to become Reverend Mother’s favorite target.
The more forcefully she tried to get him to tow the line, the more rebellious he became. No amount of spanking seemed to tame him. At times, Reverend Mother was so angry and frustrated that she had to stop herself before she did serious damage to Richard.
She was at her wit’s end when Harriet came into their lives. Richard was immediately drawn to her. She was a timid, withdrawn fragile little thing when she arrived. Harriet was neglected to the point of malnourish-ment. Reverend Mother gave her double portions to put some meat on her bones. She continued to eat ravenously long after reaching a healthy weight, finding food a source of comfort.
Growing up outsiders in their own home-made them instinctively draw close to one another. They confided in one another and leaned on each other for support. Richard was her protector. Their closeness had always irked Reverend Mother and mystified Rachel.
When Harriet had gone away to school, it was torturous for Richard. He suddenly found himself alone and drifting through life without purpose or connectedness. He gravitated to the first woman who seemed to need a protector.
Richard learned the hard way that he needed someone to protect him from her. Unconsciously, Richard’s hand drifted up to the scarred over bullet wound in his chest. He banished the painful thoughts and forced his mind back to the present.
It was nice being back home with Harriet. He felt at ease with her. She understood him in a way that no one else could. Normally, he didn’t feel the pressure to fill the silence between them with meaningless words. They were completely at ease just sharing one another’s company.
Something was different this time. Richard couldn’t put his finger on it. The very air between them seemed charged with an energy that had been building for quite some time. He was relieved when Joshua joined them. His brother was a welcome distraction.
“What’s up bro? You look like you’ve got something heavy on your mind,” Richard said.
“I was just talking to Thomas. You won’t believe what he told me about the things mom had him doing.”
“Oh, you mean blackmailing all of those people?”
“You knew about it?”
“Most people in the community know about it Joshua.”
“That’s not true. I live in the same house and I had no clue.”
“Let’s face it Joshua you’ve led a pretty sheltered life. Ma always did try to shield you from things. Don’t feel bad. Harriet and I also lived in the same house and we’ve been out of the loop on most of the goings on. You know what a control freak ma is; she allows us to know only what she wants us to know. Don’t try to fight it. I figure we’re better off not knowing everything.”
“So, you know about her plotting to force Nicole to approve an expansion loan for the church?”
Richard chuckled, “I did not know that, but I’m not surprised. Nothing that woman does surprises me. She always gets what she wants, no matter who she has to step on to get it.”
“Apparently, when she couldn’t dig up enough dirt on Nicole for blackmail she pressured Thomas to date her just so she could get some sort of leverage on her. Somewhere along the line, he fell in love with her and decided to propose and well, you can guess what happened.”
“Oh, so that’s what she meant. Nicole turned him down flat.”
“Yeah, but mom still expects him to come up with a way to pressure Nicole into approving the loan.”
“That is unfortunate, I always liked Thomas. Are you gonna get something to eat? We’re pretty much done but we’ll sit with you while you eat.”
“Don’t change the subject Richard. We have to do something. No telling what mom will do to Thomas if he doesn’t follow through and make sure she gets that loan. You know how she can get.”
“What’s she gonna do spank him?”
“She’s got all kinds of evidence that she has threatened to turn over to the police.”
“What do you want us to do? Thomas is a grown-assed man. Let him fight his own battles.”
“But he’s like family to us.”
“You mean he’s like family to you. ”
“Harriet how about you? Will you help Thomas?”
“Don’t get her involved in this mess. If you want to wade into this then I wish you the best of luck, but keep Harriet out of it. Come on Harriet, let’s go up to the waiting room.”