Richard slid behind the wheel of his car and sat motionless for a few moments, collecting his thoughts. His mother had just revealed a lot within a short amount of time. He already felt the weight of responsibility for finding a solution settling on his broad shoulders. Richard had originally returned home expecting to stay for a quiet day or two and return to the solitude of his apartment.
When Richard agreed to do a little checking up on Nicole, he had no idea how deep a hole his mother had dug herself into. The fact that his mother never owned up to anything made her confessions all the more remarkable to him. Richard supposed that desperation had compelled her to open up to him. It was no wonder that she waited until no one else was around to talk.
Reverend Mother had insisted that he take her credit card and use it to cover his expenses while he conducted his investigation. Richard actually did need to use a different car for surveillance, one Nicole wouldn’t recognize. For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to charge a rental car or anything else to the card. Not after she’d just told him that she was pretty much broke. Richard tried to hand the card back but she wouldn’t take it.
Looking back on their little talk, without the intensity of all that emotion clouding his judgment, he wondered if she had told him everything. Richard wouldn’t put it past her to have withheld a critical piece of information.
Reverend Mother never lay all her cards on the table. He hoped she hadn’t withheld something that would bite him in the ass later. The sadist in her loved to pull the rug out from under people with a casual revelation and then sit back and laugh at their thunderstruck expression. It was one of the many ways she kept people off-balance and unsure of themselves around her.
Richard supposed that this situation was different. He shook his head. It was a shame he couldn’t completely trust his own mother. His cigarette craving returned with an intensity which had him patting his jacket pockets and rooting around his glove compartment. He came up empty and decided to stop at the first store he saw on the way to Nicole’s house. Richard started his engine, let down the windows and pulled off.
He found a liquor store and pulled over. It was as good a place as any. Richard was barely back outside before he was ripping the cellophane wrapper off of the pack. Standing off to the side of the convenience store entrance, he lit up, drew the first puff down and held it. Gradually, the tension in him began to ease. Already, he was calm enough to think a little clearer.
Richard had turned his attention to the task at hand when a familiar voice interrupted his musings. Rachel’s laugh was unmistakable, especially when she was trying to be coy. She was walking into the convenience store holding hands with some man. Richard sighed disgustedly, supposing that meant she had given up on her marriage.
He waited until they were inside before climbing back into his car. Richard cast one more disapproving look at his sister through the glass doors, preparing to start the ignition. He noticed that her playful mood had evaporated. The man slid his meaty hands around her waist and she pushed him away. Richard could see her lips forming the word stop. He paused with a grin spreading across his face. This ought to be good.
Rachel’s petite frame was deceptive. She had a mean left hook. Rachel kept squirming out of his grasp until the man suddenly gripped her by the shoulders and whispered something in her ear. All at once, the fight went out of Rachel. She wilted visibly and allowed the man to draw her to him by the waist.
Something was wrong. Richard hesitated, not knowing if his sister wanted him to intervene. Rachel had a thing about people butting into her life. Maybe I should just go. She could certainly take care of herself. He was about to leave when Rachel looked up. The misery etched on her face had him out of the car and rushing back into the store.
“Is everything alright Rachel?”
Rachel was temporarily rendered speechless by the sudden appearance of her brother. She looked embarrassed and surprised at the same time. Richard watched his sister wrestling with indecision. Her companion suddenly grabbed her around the waist. That seemed to make up her mind. Rachel pried away the possessive hand but stayed by his side.
“Let’s go Rachel.”
“Step off, she’s with me.”
Richard ignored the drunk and looked expectantly at his sister. Rachel was uncertain. He could see that she wanted to go with him but appeared to be afraid to move. Richard had never seen his sister like that before. He held out his hand and she took it. They hadn’t taken two steps before the man grabbed her by the arm and wrenched her away from Richard.
“I said step off! She’s mine.”
Richard sighed, “Look man, I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“And I don’t want to have to kick your ass. I told you she’s with me.”
Richard grabbed the meaty hand gripping his sister’s arm and twisted it backwards. The man howled and attempted to claw his hand free, the pain dropping him to his knees. Richard blocked a misguided punch and added more torque to the turned wrist. The howling became a pitiful mewling. Rachel was certain that her brother was about to break the wrist.
“Don’t hurt him Richard.”
“I don’t want to hurt your little friend but he’s being a little hard-headed.”
“Ow, lemme go man. Okay. Look, I’m sorry.”
Richard let go of the man’s wrist and watched him sit on the floor cradling it in his hand. Richard gestured for his sister to follow him out. They were on the sidewalk when the man came running up behind Richard. Rachel looked over her brother’s shoulder and yelled.
“No Carl, leave us alone.”
Richard easily fended him off. He had already disabled one wrist. It was obvious that Carl was unaccustomed to fighting with his left hand. The punches were weak and easily deflected. Richard sidestepped one clumsy swing and gave Carl a hard shove as he stumbled. He fell face first to the sidewalk, belatedly throwing out his hands to break his fall.
“See what I mean? I guess your friend didn’t learn his lesson.”
Carl rolled into his back with his hands in front if his bloodied face. His voice quavered, “Please don’t man. I learned my lesson.”
“I don’t know son. I turned my back on you once and look what happened.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you both alone.”
“Oh, I know you’re gonna leave us alone. When I get done with you…”
“Don’t man, look I’ll do anything.”
“Yeah man. Whatever you want.”
“Alright then, I’m gonna need to borrow your car for a couple of days.”
“My car? I don’t…”
“Uh oh, sounds like you’re about to fix your mouth to say no.”
Richard cocked his fist and Carl flinched. Reflexively throwing up his hands. “Alright man…alright…”
“Hand over the keys.”
“What now? How am I supposed to get home?”
“I’ll give you a lift.”
“Naw man I’ll just…”
“I insist, we’ll take my car.”
Carl reluctantly handed over his car keys and climbed into the back seat of Richard’s car. Rachel slid into the passenger side and studiously avoided his glares. She didn’t know if she should be mortified or amused at the ease with which her brother had knocked Carl down several pegs. They rode in silence until Richard pulled up in front of the house Carl lived in with his mother. Richard reached over the back seat and halted him in the act of climbing out.
“You’re not going to wake up in the morning and have a change of heart are you? If anyone questions me about driving your car, then I’m going to come see you. My sister won’t be around to intervene.”
“No worries man. Keep the car for as long as you want.”
Richard waited for Carl to get inside before pulling back into the flow of traffic. Without Carl as a distraction, the mood in the car became strained. Rachel hoped her brother wouldn’t ask any embarrassing questions. Then she had a horrifying thought…mama! What if he tells mama about me and Carl? I didn’t do anything but we both know that if he hadn’t…what the hell was I thinking? With Carl of all people!
Now Richard had something he could hold over her head whenever he wanted to control her. Or maybe he would run and tell their mother as soon as they got home. That’s what she would do if she had caught him cozying up with another woman when he was married. Rachel turned on her brother.
“If you’re thinking about telling mama…”
Richard glanced at her curiously, “What exactly would I tell her? Nothing happened right?”
“Look Rachel, you’re a grown woman. What you choose to do with your time is your business. I only stepped in because you looked upset. I wasn’t going to stand by and let him hurt you. You’re my sister and I’m always going to have your back no matter what.”
Richard appeared to consider the matter closed. Rachel felt ashamed for suspecting her brother’s intentions. She had been away from home for so long that she had forgotten how it felt to be around a trustworthy man. Richard made a U-turn.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking you home.”
“Are you going in for the night?”
“No, I have to do a little reconnaissance. I need to get the lay of the land before I start my surveillance.”
“I’m not ready to go home yet. Can I ride with you?”
“I don’t mind.”