Rachel had run from the hospital in turmoil. She was so anguished that she couldn’t think straight. An ever present ache intensified until it gnawed at her insides. What could it hurt to smoke or snort a little something to help me calm down? They already think I’m a junkie.
Her family had been her last hope to salvage her life and now she understood that they loathed her. She had no idea that her mother had done things for her because guilt made her feel obligated. In her mind’s eye, Rachel saw the thinly veiled disgust on her mother’s face when she said that Rachel looked and acted just like her birth father. She didn’t know if she ever wanted to meet him or if he’d even want to meet her.
The only person who had ever loved her unconditionally wasn’t even her real father. Rachel couldn’t even remember the number of times she had belittled Harriet and Richard, telling them that their own parents hadn’t wanted them. She found it ironic that she had unknowingly been in the same boat all along.
Rachel ran until her tired legs pitched her onto the grass by the curb in front of someone’s house. She rolled onto her back and surrendered to the tears that boiled up into her eyes, sobbing until she was hoarse. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? What the hell am I gonna do? Nobody loves me! Nobody wants me! It’s not fair! What did I ever do to deserve this?
Rachel’s first thought was to pack her things and leave. If I take off and never return then mama will regret all the ignorant things she said, because she couldn’t have meant any of it. Could she? Surely she was just angry. Rachel was tempted to leave until she remembered that nothing awaited her back home but an empty house and bill collectors who were probably lining up out front by now.
She longed to go to the Peacock Lounge and be comforted by her friends, to be surrounded by supportive faces. She lay there savoring the thought yet acutely aware she would never do it, because that would mean telling them what her life was really like. Her friendships were predicated on their admiration for her looks, her expensive clothes, her high-class life style, her perfect family.
When Rachel hung out with them and they gazed admiringly at her, she felt like she became that ideal person and forget about her problems for a little while. It was the only pleasure she had left. If they knew what a train wreck her life was, they would lose respect for her.
She imagined what they would think if they could see her laying on the ground in some strange neighborhood with her dress bunched up around her thighs. Rachel immediately snapped out of her fit of hysteria and got to her feet.
She felt as though she were losing her mind. If she could just reign in her racing thoughts for a few minutes then she could figure out what to do. Up ahead she saw a man loitering on the corner scanning the street and knew that she could score something from him.
I don’t have any money on me but that’s never stopped me before. Rachel quickened her pace. She was almost at the corner when her mother’s words echoed in her mind: Once upon a time, I was foolish and made mistakes but you know what? I learned from those mistakes and changed my ways. You keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again…
Rachel abruptly crossed the street, headed in the opposite direction. She wasn’t about to give her mother the satisfaction of being able to say she predicted her latest slide back down the slippery slope. Rachel walked to the nearest bus stop and took a seat.
She got on the first bus that came without looking at its posted destination. Eventually, she arrived back at home. By the time her siblings returned, Rachel was fast asleep in her room cradling a half empty bottle of rum. An hour later, she was returning from the bathroom when she heard her brothers arguing in the living room. Rachel crept over to the staircase and peered down through the railing, straining to hear every word.
“I can’t believe you won’t help me and you won’t let Harriet help,” Joshua complained.
“Are you still whining about that? I’m not obligated to join in on every hair-brained scheme you dream up. I’m sure as hell not letting you pressure Harriet into it.”
“You make it sound like I tried to twist her arm.”
“Don’t play innocent with me Joshua. You know she has trouble saying no. I want her to relax and enjoy herself. She works hard. It wouldn’t be fair to get her involved in something that’s gonna suck up all her spare time.”
“It’s not for me. It’s for Thomas.”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“I should hope so, since Thomas is like family.”
“Wrong, Thomas is your friend. I have nothing against the man. I just don’t feel the need to nose around in his business. Whatever he promised to do for ma is between him and her.”
“I’m not butting in, he asked for help. Mom will be home either today or tomorrow and she’s gonna expect Thomas to have the goods on Nicole.”
“And if he doesn’t get it done, what’s she gonna do ground him? What exactly does she want him to dig up on the woman anyway?”
“Well at first, she wanted him to see what Nicole gets up to on the regular. Then when he didn’t come up with anything interesting, she told him to look into Nicole’s past. Mom always thought it a bit strange that some of Nicole’s patients died mysteriously after including her in their wills.”
“Are you serious? Does she have any real evidence or is she sending Thomas on a fishing expedition?”
“She has it on good authority from the daughter of one of the patients.”
“I don’t like the sound of this Joshua. If the woman could be a murderer then I say let sleeping dogs lie.”
“So you think it’s right for someone to get away with murder?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is we should leave hunting murderers up to the police.”
“The daughter did that and they failed miserably.”
“And you think Thomas can do better than them? Why doesn’t ma just hire a private detective?”
“You know mom, she likes to keep her cards close to her vest. The more people who know what she’s up to the higher the chance that someone will shoot their mouth off about it or hold it over her head.”
Rachel had heard enough. A mischievous grin spread across her face as she returned to her room and quietly closed the door. So mama was hatching another one of her twisted plots by digging up dirt on yet another victim. It’d be a pity if someone were to throw a monkey wrench into her plans.
Nicole used to run in some of the same social circles as Rachel. They were cut from the same cloth; women who used their physical assets to get what they wanted. There existed between them a kind of mutual admiration for their skill in playing the game. Rachel reached for her cell phone. She would give Nicole a little heads up.