Valley of Shadows-Chapter Fifteen

Nicole opened her front door to find Rachel and Thomas standing on her porch.  Nicole masked her irritation with a frozen smile.  Nicole’s raised eyebrows telegraphed the question, “who the hell is this and why is she on my doorstep?”  Thomas shrugged his shoulders and opened his eyes wide to show he was clueless about the reason for the visit as she was.  He spoke in an exaggerated cheerful tone.

“Honey, you remember Rachel and the fascinating conversation you two had about Reverend Mother the other day.”

Recognition spread across Nicole’s features.  She looked back at Rachel with interest, giving her a quick once-over with a practiced eye.  Hmm, definitely a knock-off purse. The stitching is uneven. The leather on those platform shoes also looks suspect.

Nicole’s eyes traveled upward. Last season’s Michael Kors studded asymmetric hem stretch-knit dress that’s a little too snug in the hips and stomach.  She has expensive taste but for some reason money seems to be a little tight.  Nicole gazed at the roundness of Rachel’s slightly pooched out stomach and speculated…interesting.  She stepped aside, holding the door open wider and gestured for them to enter.

“Yes of course, how silly of me not to recognize you Rachel.  Come on in.  How have you been?”

They walked in and Thomas immediately made himself scarce.  “If you need me, I’ll be in the den watching TV babe.”

Nicole took one look at Rachel’s pinpoint pupils and understood where her money had gone.  Addictions can be expensive hobbies.  She led her away from the living room with its expensive, deep pile carpeting and buttery leather couches to the kitchen. 

She didn’t want her guest getting comfortable. The plan was to get Rachel out of her house as soon as possible.  They sat down at the kitchen table. When Nicole looked at Rachel’s drooping eyelids, her estimation of Rachel dropped precipitously.

Rachel suddenly felt uneasy.  The warmth of Nicole’s effusive greeting had faded so abruptly that it was jarring.  Rachel distractedly cast about for the cause of her discomfiture.  Even the spacious kitchen seemed cold and sterile with its marble slab counters, gleaming chrome appliances and fixtures.  It looked like a model kitchen which no one ever used.

Rachel’s eyes completed their circuit of the kitchen and came to rest on Nicole’s face.  She suddenly realized what was making her so uneasy.  The smile was still there but it had hardened and Nicole’s eyes were watchful.  Rachel felt like a bug on a microscope stage.

“I was just about to pour myself a cup of coffee.  I’ve got some work to do and I’m already a little tired.  Would you like some,” Nicole asked.

“Yes, that would be great.  Thank you.”

Rachel suddenly realized how very tired she was.  She had started feeling drowsy on the ride over.  Now her eyelids felt heavy.  She could feel herself getting foggy. 

Coffee was just what the doctor ordered.  Rachel stifled a yawn as Nicole poured their drinks.  She made mental note to try half of a Oxycontin next time.  Rachel was sipping her coffee when Nicole’s irritation bled through her cheerful demeanor.

“Well, what was so urgent that you felt the need to invite yourself over here in the middle of the night for?  I have things to do.  I can’t sit here with you all night.  While we’re on the subject, the next time you think you need to speak with me, pick up a phone.  I can’t have you barging in here at all hours of the night.  Some of us have jobs.”

Rachel gaped at Nicole, caught completely off guard by the tirade.  The sedative effects of the Oxycontin had slowed her reaction time and tamped down her hair-trigger temper.  She realized belatedly that she had missed an opportunity to put Nicole in check and seize the dominant position in their exchange.  Nicole kept her off balance by suddenly switching gears.

“I’m glad we got that out of the way.  Now what was it that you wanted to ask me?”

Rachel was still mentally chastising herself for her tactical error when Nicole posed the question in condescending tones.  For an alarming moment, Rachel felt herself nodding off and her mind went blank.  She grabbed her coffee mug and gulped at the steamy liquid.  It burned her tongue and the pain helped jolt her awake.  She cleared her throat.

“I wanted to tell you face-to-face that I meant no harm when I said all of those messed up things about my mother.  That was just me venting my frustrations.  I don’t really want my mother to drop dead,” said Rachel.

“Oh, I realize that sweetie.  But you know, I wouldn’t blame you if you really did feel that way. I mean look at some of the mean-spirited things she did to you.  Your whole family sounds pretty awful, if you ask me.”

“I may have exaggerated a bit.  To tell the truth, I was so upset when I talked to you that I barely even knew what I was saying.”

“Are you saying that your mother really wasn’t trying to unearth things from my past?”

Nicole had been about to sip her coffee.  She lowered it back to the table with such deliberate slowness that Rachel got the distinct impression that Nicole was contemplating reaching across the table and throttling her.  Rachel shifted uneasily in her seat as Nicole’s eyes bored into her.  Coming here was a bad idea.  I see that now.  Why didn’t I listen to mama?  How do I get her off of mama’s scent?

“Oh that…I may have blown things a bit out of proportion there too.”

“Was she digging around in my past or not?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, that was clear as mud.  What the hell does that mean?”

“It means that she expressed curiosity about your past and that’s all.”

“So you took it upon yourself to trump idle curiosity up into a witch hunt?”

Rachel withered under the heat of Nicole’s glare and the pressure of her relentless cross-examination.  Why is this woman so angry?  I know the thought of being misled is irritating but she’s furious and if I’m not mistaken, a little fearful.  It’s almost as if…oh my God!  What if she really did inject mama with something.  Nicole folded her arms across her chest and waited for a response. Rachel shrugged and looked down at her hands on the table.

“What can I say?  I was mad at mama.  She…she embarrassed me in front of my sister and brothers.  I was just trying to get back at her.”

Rachel waited for what seemed like an eternity for Nicole’s response.  She covered up her nervousness by taking a long drink of coffee.  Her eyes met Nicole’s and she nearly dropped the cup.  An oily smile spread across Nicole’s face but her eyes still looked heated.  She stood abruptly and Rachel embarrassed herself by flinching slightly.  She hoped Nicole hadn’t noticed.  Her host chuckled.

“Well, we’ve all done things like that haven’t we?  My temper has caused me to do some foolish things. It’s all water under the bridge now. Will you excuse me for a moment? I think I hear my cell phone ringing.”

She swept out of the room with her silk robe rippling behind her. Rachel allowed herself a quiet sigh, relieved to get out from under Nicole’s intense stare. Confessing my sins to her was worse than with mama. At least I know mama won’t haul off and stab me with an ice pick or something. Where did she go anyway? I didn’t hear any ringtone. Now that everything is squared away, I’d like to get the hell outta dodge and go home. I’m exhausted. If she doesn’t come back soon, I’ll go find Thomas and tell him I’m ready to go.

A minute later, Nicole came gliding back into the room all smiles and floaty silk. She grabbed the coffee pitcher and topped off her drink. Rachel held up her hand in a stop motion when Nicole moved to refill her cup.

“No thank you Nicole. This has been great but I know you’ve got work to do and I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ll just go tell Thomas…”

“Don’t be silly. Our little chat was just getting interesting. Have one more cup of coffee with me. It’s the least you could do.”

The sudden sharpness in her tone brooked no argument. As if on cue, Rachel felt a sudden pang of guilt for showing up at Nicole’s house uninvited and then telling the woman she had essentially lied to her. It wouldn’t kill Rachel to stay a for a couple more sips of coffee. Then, she could take her leave without appearing to be too rude. She allowed Nicole to refill her cup and then took a big gulp of it. The faster she got done the sooner she could leave.

“Isn’t this nice Rachel? It’s been eons since the two of us had a chat face-to-face. How is your mother doing?”

Rachel took another gulp of coffee before she started telling Nicole about her mother’s infection, hoping that the coffee would perk her up. She was so tired that she was beginning to feel groggy. Rachel lost her train of thought and then felt her eyes open. Did I just nod off just now? Maybe she didn’t notice. I’ve gotta get out of here. I feel like I’m gonna pass out!

Nicole sat watching Rachel nod off. As a former nurse, she knew that if she kept Rachel there long enough the sedative effects of whatever she had ingested would overtake her. She watched with amusement as Rachel lost her battle to stay awake. Nicole waited a moment to ensure that Rachel was out cold. She pulled a small box from the pocket of her robe and opened it on the table, pulled out and applied a tourniquet to Rachel’s arm, selected a small syringe and deftly withdrew blood. She removed the tourniquet and was straightening up when Thomas strode in. He glanced their way as he walked to the refrigerator and paused for a double take of the needle and Rachel slumped forward in the chair.

“What the hell are you doing Nicole? Please don’t tell me she’s dead.”

“Ssh relax, she’s not dead silly. She just nodded off that’s all.”

“She’s out cold. Did you drug her?”

“What is wrong with you? First, you think I killed her and then you assume that I drugged her. You couldn’t tell she was on something when you picked her up earlier?”

“Well, yeah, but Rachel always gets her buzz on. I figured she’d just had a snoot full of something. What’s with the needle?”

“Will you shut up! Here, come into the living room if you insist on discussing this.”

“Why? She can’t hear us.”

“You don’t know that.”

Nicole took her time putting everything back in the box and stowing it in her robe, buying herself time to think of an acceptable explanation. She grabbed his arm and he allowed himself to be led into the dining room. Thomas braced himself. If they had to leave the room then whatever she was going to say couldn’t be good. Where the hell did she get a syringe? Who keeps that sort of thing around the house? She was a nurse at one time but that was years ago.

“I was just taking a blood sample.”

“I saw that, but what I don’t know is why.”

“Why does anybody take a blood sample? I’m worried about her, but I know she’d never agree to go see a doctor.”

“Why are you so concerned about Rachel? If she wants to drink and drug then that’s her problem.”

“I think she’s pregnant.”