Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-One

Richard returned home lost in thought, sifting through memories of his former partner and past in law enforcement. The passage of time had taken some of the edge off, allowing him to remember with less pain. He wanted very much to believe that their friendship was real. That was what worried him.

Whenever Richard wanted something badly, desire tended to cloud his judgement. That had been true of his marriage and the consequences for that tunnel vision had almost been fatal for him. All memories of his time on the force were tainted by his wife’s betrayal and the discovery of just how many people, whom he had counted as friends, reveled in his pain.  That realization had made him vow never to trust anyone again.  People always failed to measure up to his estimation of them.

He continued to turn things over in his mind as he stepped back into Reverend Mother’s house. Richard heard voices and followed the sound.  The sight of his sisters together in the living room surprised him. The fact that they appeared to be getting along was even more surprising.

He quickly realized that Harriet was comforting Rachel.  Richard saw her agonized expression and momentarily forgot his problems. Their response to his concerned inquiry was to wordlessly hand over the divorce papers served by a stranger.  Richard’s heart sank. He loved his little niece.  What if her husband David won sole custody?  That would be something that Richard couldn’t fix.

He could see that his sister was very distraught.  Rachel had always ben a drama queen, but this was different. Instead of her usual over the top dramatic declarations, Rachel was quiet and withdrawn. He waited for her to go into rant about the reasons why David deserved to be punished and the many ways which she would get even with him.

Instead, she stared listlessly down at her hands allowing her tears to puddle in them.  Rachel never accepted responsibility for anything. That made her self recriminations alarming to Richard and Harriet. With her deflated ego, Rachel seemed small and fragile. She ran herself down in a flat, emotionless voice.

“I don’t blame him for wanting to be rid of me. I’m a horrible wife and an even worse mother. I…am so selfish and…and mean. I hurt people on purpose to make myself feel better when I’m feeling insecure. Look at the way I treat you all. I’m sorry for  all the horrible things I’ve done to you both over the years. I wouldn’t blame you two if you wanted me out of your lives too. I should  just go away. Everyone would be better off without me.”

Richard and Harriet exchanged troubled looks. Their sister tended to be reckless when things didn’t go her way. Leaving her alone could be dangerous. Richard had an idea.

“You can’t go away. I came back to see if you would do a little surveillance with me.”

Rachel looked confused for a moment and then her face brightened. She grasped his hands, searching his eyes to see if he was serious. Richard smiled and nodded. Rachel hugged him tightly.

“Do you really want me to come?”

“Yes, of course we’re in this thing, whatever it is together.”

“But I almost got you killed.”

“It takes a lot more than some thug to do me in.  I can handle myself.”

“I promise that I won’t let you down again. From now on, I’ll do whatever you say. Thank you, I…let me go change my clothes.”

Rachel strode from the room with a hint of her characteristic saunter and Richard knew he had made the right decision. He was still smiling when he glanced over at Harriet and saw the stricken look on her face.

“Oh, did you want to go with us?”

“An afterthought invitation, how could I resist that?  No thanks, I wouldn’t want to be a third wheel.”

Richard was baffled by the return of Harriet’s anger. Surely she realized that Rachel needed something to distract her from her problems. Normally, Harriet was selfless to a fault. He found her jealously puzzling. Maybe she just needed a hug and a little reassurance that their relationship hadn’t changed. He stood and moved towards her.  Harriet gave him such cold, accusatory look that he stopped and yanked back the hand reaching out to her. The look became forlorn for a moment. She smiled sadly.

“Don’t worry Richard. I know you’re trying to cheer her up. I’ll be fine on my own. I always have been.”

Richard’s gaze took in Harriet’s swollen cheek as she turned and walked towards the stairs. He’d meant to ask her about that.  How could he have forgotten?  For one fleeting moment, he was aware that something felt very wrong. Harriet wasn’t herself. He was about to say something  when Rachel came sweeping into the room, talking a mile a minute and brushing aside his concerns about their sister who quietly took her leave.

“Harriet is fine.  She has always been a gloomy gus.  If you ask me, she enjoys feeling sorry for herself. Now come on, are we doing some surveillance tonight or what? You can talk to Harriet when we get back. She’ll be here. Where else does she have to go? It’s not like she has any friends.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Harriet backed away from the head of the stairs, where she had paused hoping that Richard would follow and insist that they talk about what was bothering her. She angrily swiped at the tears blurring her vision. It wasn’t  Rachel’s petty words that stung. She was used to it. In fact by Rachel’s standards, her words had been mild.

It was Richard’s amused chuckle that had broken her heart. Rachel was right. Harriet had no friends. She always thought that Richard was her friend, that he understood her in a way that no one else ever would. Harriet guessed that all those times he had defended her was just him feeling sorry for her. He always did feel the need to protect people.  Now, she found herself wondering how many other times he had laughed at her behind her back.

Harriet suddenly recalled the last time she had seen her birth father.  It was shortly after her mother’s death and his incarceration.  She had just learned that she was about to be adopted by Reverend Mother and had been taken by her case worker for one last visit with him. Harriet was so excited about becoming part of a real family and being able to do all the things she had seen families do on TV.  Her father had been unmoved by her enthusiasm, solemnly telling her that blood was thicker than water and someday she would understand what that meant.

Now, she understood what he had been trying to tell her.  In the midst of these torturous thoughts, Harriet’s cell phone buzzed. For once, the idea of being summoned didn’t fill her with dread. She suddenly welcomed the opportunity to work off the rage seething up inside of her.  Harriet went to her room and retrieved her revolver from the lockbox  concealed at the back of her closet shelf.