Vaxen - A Starting Place
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Cheating Time


copyright 2002

Chapter Three - Over the River and Through the Thorns

"Are you sure about this?" Dee and Emma sat sideways on opposite ends of the sofa facing each other. Dee reached out and placed her hand on top of Emma's.

"Are you worried that something bad is going to happen?" Dee asked.

"No, I'm just trying to imagine five years without your fugly face," Emma quipped. "I'm going to miss you so," she added with all sincerity.

"This isn't the first time we've been apart. We didn't see each other for four years when we were both at college."

"Maybe not, but at least I could send you a letter or call you on the phone." Emma did not tell Dee that she had spoken to Laura and intended to visit her Dee in stasis periodically. It would be a poor substitute for her friend's company, but it helped to stanch the hot tears that pooling in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Emma. You know I'm doing it for Linda. In a way, I'm also doing it for the adventure." Dee gave a wan smile.

"Well, it ought to be that," Emma agreed halfheartedly.

"Did you bring the Power of Attorney?"

Glad for the diversion, Emma began to rifle through her briefcase in search of the form she picked up at the office where she worked as a legal assistant. She gave it to Dee. "I'd have thought that Linda's family had a string of attorney's that handled all her legal needs."

"This isn't for Linda. It's for me. I want to give you control of my assets."

"Assets? I didn't know you owned anything."

"About a year after Linda and I started living together, Maria convinced Linda to sign some of her property and stocks over to me. Maria said that she wanted to do it for tax purposes, but I suspect that she was also trying to look out for me." While she spoke, Dee retrieved a folder and handed it to Emma. "This is all mine, free and legal, and I want you to take care of it while I'm...gone."

"Couldn't Maria do a better job of this?"

"Maria knows about this and she'll give you any help she can, but she thought giving this to you was a good idea, too. We just won't tell Linda. She might take it the wrong way."

Footsteps echoed from the tiled entry. Dee motioned to Emma, who slipped the folder into her briefcase.

Linda appeared in the archway. Her face, already grim, sagged even more when her eyes fell on Emma. "I didn't know we had company."

"Maybe I should go," Emma suggested.

"Maybe you should," said Linda.

"Linda!" Dee reproached.

"We've been summoned. Gran found out."

"She found out you're going into stasis?" Emma .

"No, Emma," Linda snarled. "You're the only one besides Maria who knows what's really going on, however she did catch wind of the 'trip' we're planning. Now she wants to talk to us. You are welcome to stay here, Em, or you can come along if you'd like to watch the fireworks."

Emma declined both invitations and the trio parted company in the driveway. Emma had seen Mrs. John W. Cahalo twice before, but never met her. Even from a distance, Mrs. Cahalo exuded a commanding air. She reminded Emma of Barbara Stanwyck - a modern day Victoria Barkley only with her house on a hilltop instead of the Big Valley. She even looked a little like the legendary actress - thin and angular with a shock of pure white hair. To say she was daunting was putting it mildly.

"Should we take the car or walk?" Dee inquired as she waved at Emma's taillights.

"Walk." Linda was in no hurry. She knew what her grandmother would have to say. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Linda hoped that she might escape into the oblivion of stasis without Gran finding out anything. She shuddered to think what her grandmother would say if she knew about Linda's true plans rather than the story they had concocted to cover it. Then again, for Linda to embark on five year of isolation at a monastic retreat was almost as remarkable as stasis.

They began trudging up the winding road that led to the mansion at the top of the hill. The two houses were less than a quarter of a mile apart, but the topography was steep and hazardous. To traverse the terrain between them directly would require the skills of a mountain climber. She followed the two-mile road, chiseled into the hillside, that wound its tortuous way to the most incredible view in the region. Mrs. Cahalo not only had the ocean at her feet, as Linda did, but the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco and the bay that surrounded it.

Despite Linda's foot dragging, they eventually reached the front doors of the mansion. Linda lifted the ornate knocker and let it crash back against the plate. Within moments, a chunky woman in a housekeeper's uniform opened the door. Jet black eyes bored into Linda with unshielded contempt.

"Rosario," Linda exclaimed, her voice peeling with false bonhomie.

Rosario's olive face maintained its impassive expression.

"Rosario, dear, you remember my companion, Dee."

Like window blinds flicking from darkness to daylight, the woman's countenance changed as her eye shifted from Linda to Dee. "Buenas tardes, Señorita. Pase usted," she said as she opened the door wider so Dee could pass. Linda had to jump to keep the door from slammed in her face.

"Mi sigue usted, por favor," the aging servant said, requesting them to follow as she led the way to a closed door at the right side of the airy entrance hall. Her crisp pace and rigid frame contradicted the wavy streamers of black and gray hair that terminated in a tight bun at the back of her head.

"I see we're going to have our audience in the throne room today. Gran must be especially miffed."

"Maldita ricachona," Rosario muttered as she reached for the doorknob.

"Rosario, does Gran know how you talk?"

"¡Malcriada, respeta su mayors!" the servant shouted turning on Linda with indignation.

The door behind her opened. It was obvious from Mrs. Cahalo's expression that she had heard at least part of the conversation.

"Linda, apologize to Rosario this instant," she demanded.

"What?" Linda shrieked. "Did you hear what she said to me?" A smirk revealed Linda's counterfeit fury. She rather liked the old servant, however, she hated her fierce loyalty to Gran.

"Lo siento, Rosario," said Mrs. Cahalo, putting a soothing hand on her shoulder. "Gracias."

"De nada, Señora." Rosario gave Linda an icy glare before striding away.

"Rosario was right, you should respect your elders, Linda." The old woman eased herself gently into a chair. It was the only chair in the room. Two leather loveseats and a sofa were arranged around a table in front of it.

"Is that what she was saying?" Linda simpered. "All I know is something had to be bad with all the mal this and mal that."

"Stop reveling in your ignorance and sit down, child. I wish to speak with you."

"I'd rather stand."

"Sit!" Mrs. Cahalo commanded. The young women settled quietly next to each other on the sofa directly across from Mrs. Cahalo. Linda chewed the side of her fingernail. The old woman continued, "I know what you intend to do and I do not approve."

"Well, Gran," Linda mumbled around the digit in her mouth. "It really doesn't matter if you approve or not. I'm well past the age of consent."

"And just what do you hope to accomplish with this. You have obligations and responsibilities. You can't just disappear for five years. What will people say?"

"I guess that's the bottom line, isn't it, Gran? What will the neighbors say?" Linda jumped to her feet and paced to the far corner of the room. "Afraid they'll think I did myself in or worse yet, maybe you did me in. That's it! You did us in and Rosario helped you bury our bodies in the garden."

"Stop it this instant," Mrs. Cahalo insisted.

"I will if you will," Linda taunted.

"What do you hope to accomplish with this anyway? What do you want?"

"What I really want I can't have."

"And what is that?" Even as she asked, Mrs. Cahalo could see the old wound opening between them.

"If I had a real mother and father, maybe then I wouldn't need..."

"Need to run around like a spoiled puppy, tearing up everything in sight?"

"And if I do, who is to blame. I didn't have parents. That just leaves you to accept responsibility for who I am."

"It's time you took responsibility for your own life, Linda."

"I am. I do. This is my life and if I want to disappear for five years there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. It's been great talking, Gran. Catch you later." Linda stormed from the room without a backward glance.

Mrs. Cahalo and Dee sat motionless in the resulting silence. Dee began to make sheepish excuses and lean in the direction of the door.

"Please stay a little," Mrs. Cahalo begged. "Forgive me if I've treated you like a sofa cushion. I didn't intend the conversation to go this way. I truly hoped that I could talk Linda out of this foolishness. Why does she want to be some kind of Moonie?"

"It isn't like that." Dee searched her mind for some kind of explanation that might satisfy the old woman.

"You know, I may not be around by the time the two of you get back."

"Are you ill, Mrs. Cahalo."

"No, I'm quite fit, but people do die suddenly in this family. It's a good thing and a bad thing. Who desires a lingering death? The problem is that you don't always have the opportunity to take care of things. You wait for the right time, but it never seems to arrive." Her vision clouded as if the old woman had forgotten Dee and was talking to herself then her eyes snapped back to Dee. "I have to tell you something and I'll leave it up to you whether or not you tell Linda."

Dee felt panic rising in her chest. "Why tell me? Why not tell Linda yourself?"

"Listen to what I have to say and then you tell me if you think this is something Linda is ready to hear. You know about the death of my son, Linda's father?"

Dee nodded. "I know what Linda told me and I've seen the newspaper accounts."

"I imagine that the two stories are very similar."

Dee thought for a moment. It hadn't occurred to her before, but Linda's account of the incident added nothing to what the papers reported.

"There are a few details that are not public knowledge," Mrs. Cahalo continued. "The first is that Linda was there when her father died." Dee wondered why Linda hadn't told her. As if reading her mind, Mrs. Cahalo responded, "Linda doesn't remember. The doctors say that the trauma caused her to block the incident."

"The papers said it was an accident." It was half statement and half question.

"It wasn't. Linda's mother killed her father." Mrs. Cahalo's face was rigid. Dee couldn't tell if it was from anger or grief.

"She was never arrested?"

"The circumstances were not clear. Beth claimed that it was self-defense. In her words, 'Jack brought it on himself.' Linda couldn't act as a witness to verify or deny Beth's story. For the good of the family name and for Linda's sake the authorities were persuaded to call it an accident. In exchange for keeping her name out of the public records, Beth agreed to turn over guardianship and never speak of the matter to Linda."

"Did Beth leave?"

"No. She stayed here for a short time, but she couldn't control herself whenever she was around Linda. Imagine having your mother burst into tears every time she saw you. We agreed that it would be better for Linda if she left. Beth was eventually institutionalized. Now, my dear, how do you think Linda would react to this?"

"If you don't think she can handle it, why tell me?"

"Someday she may need to know. You've seen how she runs headlong from one exploit to another. One day I fear she will make a choice that will be her undoing. This information might help you to save her from herself. I'm sorry to place this burden on you but there is no one else."

There was a knock at the door. It was Rosario.

"I hope you'll forgive me, Miss Banford," Mrs. Cahalo explained as she stood with her shoulders slightly more stooped than normal. "I have guests coming for dinner and I must prepare. You're welcome to join us." The invitation was an obvious afterthought and delivered with the tacit understanding that it would be rejected.

"Thank you, Mrs. Cahalo, but I should find Linda."

"Yes and when you do, please give her my love." The stern countenance softened momentarily before she turned away.

Dee stumbled out the same French doors that Linda had used to make her exit. She surveyed the grounds, but Linda was nowhere in sight. Several deep breaths of ocean air didn't do much to clear the chaos from her head. Despite what Mrs. Cahalo had said, she tried to think of her newly acquired knowledge not as a burden, but as a key - a means to break the cycle. She made her way around the house to the front drive and started down the road.

The road made a switchback and angled into a steep decline. Perched perilously overhead was a large outcropping. She spotted Linda sitting cross-legged atop it, staring out past the shore and over the water. Dee scrambled across the shifting earth to reach her partner. Linda made no move at Dee's approach. When she was close enough, Dee could see that tears and dirt had created a smeary mess across Linda's cheeks giving her the appearance of youthful vulnerability. Her new understanding about that youth filled Dee's chest with pain as she settled in next to her lover.

"I hate that old woman," Linda spat.

"She loves you."

"Well, she has a damn funny way of showing it." Linda swiped her face causing another muddy streak to decorate it. "I've always been nothing more than a pawn. None of them ever loved me - not Daddy, certainly not Mother and not Gran. None of them has control of me anymore. I do what I want now. I wish they were all dead."

Linda's lament halted mid-breath and her soggy eyes turned from pools of grief to wells of horror. For one moment, Dee thought that maybe Linda had remembered that incident from long ago. After several aborted attempts, Linda sucked air into her lungs with a shuttering gasp. "Daddy is dead," she wailed. Linda rolled toward Dee, her head falling into Dee's lap.

"Shhhhh," Dee cooed, wrapping her body protectively around Linda's. Any notion she may have had about revealing the truth to Linda vanished. "Don't think about it. I love you."

"Do you?" Linda mumbled from the depths of Dee's embrace.

"Yes, honey. I love you more than anything and soon we're going to go where no woman has gone before."

"That's not quit accurate," said Linda with a weak laugh as she pushed herself back to look at Dee. Clarity was returning to Linda's stained face, much to Dee's relief. "Laura was there first."

Linda shivered in Dee's arms. The fog was moving in. "Time to go home. You don't want to catch cold. Laura might not let you go into stasis if you're full of antihistamines."

Linda laughed. They helped each other up and held each other tight until they reached home.

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