Valley of Shadows-Chapter Fourteen

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Rachel went back to her mother’s house fairly trembling with outrage.  If her own family didn’t want her around then she would leave the house, but she would get even with them all.  Rachel wouldn’t rest until they were all brought as low as she had fallen. 

She decided that she hated each and every one of them as she stomped around her room hurling things into her suitcase.  Gradually, her righteous indignation began to subside.  I know that I was wrong for telling Nicole about mama trying to dig up dirt for blackmail, but mama was wrong for trying to do something that underhanded. 

Of course, no one will ever acknowledge it because mama is never wrong.  It’s easier to jump down my throat with both feet.  Rachel sank down on the bed with her head in her hands.  I have no where else to go.  My friends would probably let me stay with them but I just can’t do that.  I can’t show up on someone’s doorstep with my hand out. 

Rachel hated having to depend on other people.  There was a time when people would have fallen over themselves in their eagerness to do whatever she asked.  Now, no one even wanted her around.  She thought about her friends and a tear slid down her hot cheek. 

Rachel had no illusions about her friendships.  People liked her for the things she did for them.  Rachel was attractive and fun to be around.  None of her friends really knew anything meaningful about her.  She supposed that it was partially her fault for keeping everyone at arm’s length. 

Closeness required too much emotional involvement.  She didn’t enjoy the experience of feelings.  They were often unpleasant and unpredictable. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss them with other people.  Once others knew your true feelings, they could exploit your vulnerabilities.  She was not comfortable with giving anyone that much power.

Rachel tried to think things through and was seized by a panicked feeling of desperation as she ran over her limited options, each worse than the next.  Despair descended upon her and Rachel could no longer hold back the tears.  I have to fix this.  If I set things right then my family has to forgive me.  But how do I do that?  I don’t have much time. 

I will not allow Joshua and Richard to toss me out into the street!  Rachel took a big shuddering breath, gulping back the sobs racking her body.  She couldn’t seem to stop crying.  All of the misery that she had used drugs and alcohol to dam up came flooding out and she hyperventilated.  What if she couldn’t fix this?  She had failed miserably at fixing her marriage.

Rachel went to the closet and pulled out her stash of alcohol.  Just one little drink to help her calm down was all she needed. Rachel was about to unscrew the cap when she thought,  isn’t this what started the whole mess with Nicole?  Alcohol was too unpredictable.  One or two drinks helped her relax. 

The problem was that Rachel rarely ever stopped at one or two drinks. More often than not, her alcohol induced mellow mood curdled. Then her thoughts would turn against her, and become relentless reminders of her failings and shortcomings. 

She would awake the next afternoon or evening hung over with a hazy memory and a pervasive sense of dread.  Images of the previous day would slowly come to her in a disjoined jumble of reckless acts or someone would angrily confront her over some supposed comments that she only dimly recalled having made.

Reluctantly, Rachel put the bottle away.  If Nicole was as dangerous as her family seemed to think she was then, Rachel needed to have a clear head when she dealt with her.  She still couldn’t understand what they were getting so worked up about. 

The idea that Nicole could be a murderer was absurd.  Joshua probably put that ridiculous idea into mama’s head.  He always did have a vivid imagination.  Mama probably only listened because she wanted that loan so badly and Thomas wasn’t able to come up with the goods on Nicole.  

Mama should have known better than to send an overgrown boy to do a man’s job.  There’s a reason why Thomas was never invited to hang out and party with her circle of friends.  He was cute but always so pathetically eager to please, so grateful for any attention, so…thirsty.  He always talked too much, laughed too loudly, tried way too hard. 

Still, he might prove useful now.  I have no car and no idea where Nicole lives.  Thomas can take me to her.  Should I call her first?  No, I don’t want to give her time to anticipate what I’m gonna ask and come up with convincing lies. 

Rachel dug her cell phone out of her purse and summoned Thomas.  She was about to drop the phone back into her purse when she spied the bottle of Oxycodone she had pilfered from her mother’s medicine cabinet.  The idea occurred that maybe one pill would smooth away the rough edges of her dark mood. 

She needed to be strong when she confronted Nicole.  Now that her emotional floodgates were open, Rachel felt shaky.  Besides, she was still a little sore from falling over that chair at the hospital.  It was tempting.  Rachel hesitated; she had never taken oxy before.  Someone told her once that if she ground up one of the tablets and snorted the oxy then it would make her feel good.  Right now, she would give anything to feel good.

Stop it!  You need a clear head.  That stuff might knock you on your ass and Thomas will be here any minute now.  Just change your clothes.  Put on something nice, comb your hair and touch up your makeup.  You always feel better when you look good. 

Rachel changed her clothes three times, unable to decide which outfit would project the right image.  She heard that Nicole had moved up in the world, beyond her blue-collar circle of friends.  Rachel wrung her hands.  I can’t do this tonight.  All I want to do is crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. 

It’s too much.  It’s all too much.  I have no idea what to say to this woman.  I can count the number of conversations we’ve had on one hand.  There has to be some other way to rectify the situation.  I’ll just tell Thomas not to come.  Maybe Gina can help me figure out what to do.

Rachel went to grab her phone and accidentally grabbed the bottle of pills instead.  That decided her.  She shook out a tablet, carried it over to her glass-topped vanity table and used the bottom of a perfume bottle to crush it.  She rolled up a scrap of paper and snorted the powder. 

Rachel sat back and waited, gazing anxiously at her reflection.  She was quickly rewarded with a pleasant, relaxing of the tension in her body.  She smiled, suddenly unable to recall what she had been so worried about.  Everything was under control.  Rachel picked up a foundation brush and began touching up her make up.

Downstairs, Joshua responded to the doorbell and found Thomas on the front porch.  Their eyes met and Joshua looked away.  His embarrassment made him feel flustered.  He had picked up the phone a half a dozen times intending to call Thomas and apologize but chickened out.  In the end, he decided to do what he had always done after an argument with Thomas; wait for his friend to calm down and come back by the house. 

Thomas could never stay mad for very long.  Joshua figured that his plan worked, at least he thought it had.  Something was different this time.  Thomas wasn’t smiling.  He didn’t walk into the house and tell a joke or funny story like he usually did.  Thomas remained on the porch, wordlessly staring at him.  Joshua nervously filled the yawning silence between them.

“Oh hey Thomas.  I’m glad you came by.  I was gonna call you and apologize.”

“For accusing me of nearly getting your mother killed by my murdering girlfriend?  No big deal.”

“I guess I deserve that.  I have no excuse, except that I was upset about mom’s condition.”

“And I wasn’t?  She has been just like a mother to me since we were kids.  The thought that you would honestly believe that I would…You know what?  Never mind, it’s water under the bridge.  At least now I know what you really think of me and Nicole. ”

“C’mon man, I didn’t mean any of it.”

“As much as your ma has been a mother to me, you’ve been a brother to me.  Don’t you think I know when you’re lying and when you’re speaking your mind?  You meant every word of it.  Be man enough to own what you say.”

“But Richard I…”

“Hey, it is what it is.  You’re entitled to your opinion.  End of discussion.  I’m here to pick up Rachel.”

“You’re what?”

“I’m here to pick up Rachel.”

“What do you want with her?”

“That’s between me and her.  Can you just go and see if she’s ready?”

Joshua let Thomas in and walked up to his sister’s room, imagining one unpleasant scenario after another.  What the hell was she up to now? He steeled himself for yet another confrontation and rapped on her door.

“Come in,” she called.

“Uh, Thomas is downstairs waiting for you.”

“Oh good, I’ll be ready in a second.”

“I suppose he’s here to take your suitcases somewhere.”

“Nope.  I’m not moving out.  In fact, I think I’m gonna stay for an extended visit.”

“Look, I told you…”

“And I’m telling you to kiss my ass.  Unless you want me to go downstairs and tell Thomas that his buddy wants to be more than friends.”

“Even you wouldn’t do something that lowdown.”

Rachel paused in the act of applying her lipstick and gave her brother a pitying look.  He felt stupid and that made him even angrier.

“I don’t want you here Rachel.  Why would you want to stay where you’re not wanted?”

“When have I ever cared about what you wanted?  You and I both know you’re just a hater.”

“A hater?”

“Yes, you’ve always been jealous of my close relationship with mama.  You made up a bunch of lies about Nicole and convinced mama that they were true.  What happened?  Did she start being nice to Nicole?  Are you scared Nicole is gonna steal your man?  Well, I intend to get to the bottom of things.”

“What the hell are you babbling about?  Are you drunk?  You stay away from that woman or else…”

“Or else what?”

Rachel leveled a challenging look at him and smirked when he faltered.  She put the finishing touches on her face, got up and snatched her purse on the way out of the room.  Joshua grabbed Rachel’s arm to arrest her exit but she wrenched it free.

“What are you gonna do,” he asked.

“That brother dear, is for me to know and for you to find out.”