Rachel examined her face in a small mirrored compact and used a powder puff to repair tear tracks in her makeup. Joshua’s reflected face suddenly appeared over her shoulder and she nearly dropped the compact. He looked so much like their father Gabriel, the only father she had ever known, that for a second the years fell away and she was a little girl again. The moment passed as quickly as it had come and Rachel exhaled shakily.
“You almost gave me a heart attack Joshua. I thought you went to the cafeteria. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“It was you wasn’t it? You told Nicole what mom was up to didn’t you?”
Rachel opened her mouth, prepared to lie, but words eluded her under the penetrating gaze of her brother. She felt that haunting sense again that Gabriel was looking at her through Joshua’s eyes. Why had she never seen it before? The likeness was disconcerting. Of course, it could just be a trick of the light or her overwrought emotions or maybe it was the crushing sense of guilt she felt sitting next to her ailing mother. But she had the sense that Joshua knew the truth and only sought confirmation from her to see if she would be honest. Guilt must be written all over my face. Rachel’s eyes fled from his. She could have dealt with anger or hatred even, but felt defenseless against his disappointment. Why were so many people looking at her that way lately?
“I should have known that it was you Rachel. As thick-headed as Thomas can be, he would never disobey mom like that. Let me guess, you were pouting because your little showdown backfired and tried to get even with her by stabbing her in the back. You never cease to amaze me. Just when I think you’ve sunk as low as you can go, you find new depths to plunge to. How do you stand yourself? Don’t you feel even slightly uncomfortable, when you slither around listening in on other people’s conversations? Do you feel any shame in going behind people’s backs? We grew up in the same house, a God fearing home, yet somehow you grew up with no scruples. What kind of person sends a killer after their mother? Look at her, she’s delirious. The nurse said she might not regain all of the functioning she had before the infection.”
“Are you kidding me with this Joshua? You should hear what you sound like. Mom has an infection from her surgical procedure. I just talked to the nurse. So you can take your crazy conspiracy theory and shove it up your ass. You always did have an overactive imagination. Don’t get mad at me because you had a spat with your little boyfriend.”
“My little boyfriend?”
“Save the innocent act for someone else. It’s me you’re talking to. You think you’ve got my number? Well, I’ve got yours Joshua. I know you’re in love with Thomas. That’s the real reason why you can never keep a girlfriend, why you hate Nicole so much that you keep making outrageous accusations against her.”
“What? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. Stop trying to change the subject, by turning things around on me. We’re talking about you and your reckless behavior. Your compulsive need to stir the pot and keep conflict going is getting out of hand. Whether or not you want to admit it to yourself, you have put mom’s life in danger. I don’t want you at home when she gets discharged from the hospital. She is going to need peace and quiet in order to get back on her feet. The last thing she needs is you getting up in her face and stirring up trouble. Make other arrangements for the rest of your stay down here. I want you out of the house by the end of the day tomorrow.”
Joshua started to leave, not wanting to be near Rachel one second longer. He was so angry that he didn’t trust himself not to hit her, if she came back with some snarky retort.
“Don’t you dare turn your back on me Joshua! Who the hell do you think you are? That is mama’s house not yours. You can’t put me out. I’m not going anywhere.”
Without breaking his stride, Joshua whipped around and came stalking back into the room. He grabbed Rachel by her forearms and yanked her up out of her seat. Years of pent-up anger and resentment seethed up inside of him. He shook her so violently that her teeth clacked together and her head whipped back and forth.
“I am not going to repeat myself. You pack your rags and get out of mom’s house or I will put you out!”
Joshua stopped shaking her and abruptly released his vise-like grip. Rachel stumbled backwards and fell over the chair behind her, landing in a heap on the floor. Her brother was gone when she looked back up. She stayed on the floor a moment longer, too stunned to move. I’ve never seen him that angry before. He looked at me like he wanted to….to…wring my neck. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he hates me. Rachel felt tears stinging her eyes. Things were going from bad to worse. One by one, she was alienating everyone in her family.
Rachel almost didn’t hear the soft whisper. For a moment, she thought maybe she had imagined it. Rachel looked up and saw that her mother’s eyes were open. She jumped to her feet and poured her mother a cup of ice water from the pitcher next to her bed. Her shaky hands belied her calm façade. Rachel placed a straw in the cup and held it to her mother’s lips.
“Here you go mama.”
“I thought I heard Joshua.”
“You did, he uh went down to the cafeteria.”
“I heard arguing. What were you two arguing about?”
“He’s mad at me because…because I called Nicole and told her that you were digging around in her past, looking for something you could use to make her give you that loan. I’m really sorry mama. I was hurt and angry.”
“How did you find out about it?”
“I heard Joshua asking Richard to help him find out if the rumors about her were true. But I didn’t believe Joshua mama. I figured he was just being dramatic to try to get Richard to help him.”
“What did Richard say?”
“He told Joshua that if the rumors were true then he should just let sleeping dogs lie and leave hunting murderers up to the police.”
“So, you heard Richard’s concern and decided that it would be a good idea to call this woman anyway?”
“I…I didn’t think it was true. I still don’t think it’s true. I’ve never seen Nicole do anything suspicious.”
“I knew you were angry with me, but I never thought that you would try to have me killed!”
“What has Joshua been telling you? I would never try to get you killed.”
“I don’t know why I’m so surprised. You have always thrown caution to the wind when you were angry. Never think about the consequences, until after you do something. But I always thought there was a limit to what you were willing to do to satisfy your petty, vengeful nature.”
“Listen to me mama, you got infected during surgery. The nurse said that it’s not uncommon to develop a bacterial infection in the hospital. The surgeon probably used a dirty scalpel or something. Don’t let Joshua get you all wound up with his outrageous theories.”
“Joshua hasn’t said a word about any of this to me. I didn’t even know that he knew about my plans. Thomas must have said something to him after I got on him. You weren’t here when Nicole showed up out of the blue after everyone had left for the day. That woman crept up on me while I slept and injected me with something.”
“Oh mama, not you too.”
“I felt the needle prick me and woke up to find a spot of blood on my hospital gown. I should have kept it. I’ll bet you could see the hole where the needle went in.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty you’ve succeeded. I feel really bad about it. What can I say? I was mad.”
“That’s right Rachel, make this all about you and how you feel. Nobody is trying to make you feel guilty. If you feel bad, then it’s because you know that what you did is treacherous. Being mad is your excuse for everything. As if that somehow makes it okay. I am sick and tired of you trotting out that tired old excuse every time you get caught doing something wrong. You sound like a broken record. You’re not five years old anymore. Adults get mad every day, but they don’t try to destroy someone over hurt feelings.”
“Well, I can’t take back what I did. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to get out of my sight.”