Secret Desires Pt. 17bymadam_noe©
© Nora Quick 2013
Coming home felt like traveling back in time. The last time Shannon had thought that felt like ages ago, not months. So much had changed. Belle Trouver was a different place and she was a different woman.
Driving in from the Interstate, she passed the new shopping center and found herself pulling over. Years earlier, when she was just a child, Adele had grown her Belladonna here and raised her son to be the perfect killer. Who could have imagined the single mother from Texas would become a drug lord and master criminal. It w as a shame.
Looking at the town, down the gentle slope to town center, it struck Shannon how many secrets the town had held. She knew from the papers that Adele was confessing in exchange for a reduced sentence, throwing her own son under the bus. She had run her empire from the old house, accessing the swamp from the old gator farm, Nick's new home.
To Shannon it had once been a place of slow people, cold lemonade, and days so unbearably hot you wanted to part your own skin to cool off. She remembered schoolyard crushes, a few disapproving looks to the daughter of the town slut. Her entire life had been about escaping that stigma, working hard, getting into a good school, trying to go someplace where no one knew her.
And all this time her real father had been there, selling cars, helping her fix the Mustang she still drove, and he never knew the full truth. Charlotte, her dear old staid aunt, had been a hell raiser herself, settling down to raise her daughter and then her niece. And then right here all those worlds collided.
Her father had entered a land deal with a killer, found out the secret, and had run scared only to die alone in New Orleans miles away.
Sadness washed over her and got back in the car and headed to the old cemetery north of town. There she found the marker she was looking for and a surprise.
Her half brother, Little Johnny, was standing there looking sad. For the first time she realized they looked alike, both having their father's nose and slim build.
"Hello," she said softly.
He turned and put his glasses on, wiping away tears. "Hi."
Did he know? She wanted to ask but was too scared and he seemed to understand. Crossing three steps to her he put his hand on her arm. "You're my sister."
She nodded, unable to speak as he pulled her into a hug. The second her arms went around him the tears began to fall. "I'm sorry Johnny, so sorry. I had no idea."
"Nobody did," he said, buried against her shoulder.
They squeezed for a long moment and then stepped back.
"How is your mom taking it?"
He looked away, into the bright blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds. "She won't talk about. She knows, and she wants me to talk to you. We're family now. If you need some time I can give it to you, but we both have so little left."
Such sweet pragmatism, he was her brother all right. "I'm here now. I just don't know what to say."
"Are you staying this time?"
She thought of the three stops she had to make. "I don't know yet. I'll be here for two days for certain."
"Why don't we have lunch tomorrow at the café? I'm due back at the dealership now, it's hard to run alone."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
He smiled. "Dad said you were good with cars, but I doubt you'd want a job as a mechanic."
"If I stay we'll talk about it, okay? I'll pitch in any way I can, I want to help, Johnny."
"I have to get going. Take all the time you need here, meet me at noon tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. Bye, Johnny."
He just nodded, glanced at the grave and walked away. She watched him until he disappeared over the hill towards the tiny road where his car waited not far from hers. When he drove away she turned to the gleaming white marker.
"I'm sorry I don't have any flowers," she said aloud. Shannon didn't know what to believe in tin his world but hope, and she had hope Big Johnny Parker could hear her. She sat down and took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry we never got a chance to talk. I don't know why my aunt never told me. Maybe it's this town. Secrets seem to be as common as gators around here. I guess she didn't want to upset our lives. She meant well but it still hurts.
"I'm glad for the hours we spent when I was a teenager and you helped me with my car. That's exactly what a father should do, though neither of us knew it at the time. I just want you to know I'm okay. I've been lucky in this life, though many times I've fallen I've always had someone who loves me to catch me, and in that w ay I'm the luckiest woman I know.
"I hope you were happy. I know you loved my cousin, and she loves you. You changed her. She's a different woman now, and that's it. When she met you she was a silly girl, and now she's a woman. Don't take this the wrong way but I hope some day she can move on and love someone else, though you'll always have a place in her heart."
Choking up, she stood and took several deep breaths until she could speak. "And you'll always have one in mine."
It was sloppy, but it was her goodbye. A bird flew low and cawed out, and she smiled, thinking of many old legends of birds bearing souls to the afterworld.
Back in her car Shannon cried herself out and then spent twenty minutes with eye drops and her makeup kit righting herself. The next stop was going to be a doozy.
She drove into town but carefully parked behind the hardware store so her car was out of sight. With a shaky breath she grabbed her messenger bag and walked to the law office.
Suzie sat at the desk and when she saw her cousin her eyes widened. She hurriedly told whomever was on the other end of the phone goodbye and slammed it down.
She ran over to hug her tightly. Shannon made an "oof!" sound and hugged her back, shocked at how thin her cousin felt. She wore a pretty little blue dress that was tasteful, her hair in a tight bun her natural color and not bleached white for once.
"When did you get in?" Suzie asked, pulling back with her hands on Shannon's arms.
"Not long ago. I went to...my dad's grave first."
An ugly shadow of deep pain floated through Suzie's eyes and she dropped her hands, turning. "That's good. I'm sorry."
"Hey. It's okay. How have you been?" Shannon knew the story from Charlotte but she was curious how Suzie had dealt with everything.
Suzie turned back. "Nick really helped me, and Lucy. I got community service, probation for a year. I'm working to help repay the money not recovered that Johnny stole. It's been good for me. Lucy hired me here and I clean up trash on the highway on weekends, work at the Methodist church two nights a week with AA and the soup kitchen. Adele cut that deal but Mingham's trial is coming up. I was there for his arraignment and I can't wait to testify and nail his ass to the wall." Her eyes blazed with anger now.
"I didn't ask what you were doing, I asked how you were doing."
Arms folded around herself, Suzie looked out the window at the street. "Not great. Mom tries, Lucy tries, but sometimes...sometimes I want to scream my lungs out in anger, or cry myself to sleep. It takes time, I know that, but for now it just hurts so much."
Shannon didn't know what to say. She'd lost too many people she loved in her life to say anything comforting. People said time heals all wounds, but only those who didn't know the deepest of pain said it, it just wasn't true. With time you thought of it less often, but when you did the wound was fresh.
Suzie gave her a look of understanding and thanks. "Thank you for not patronizing me. Worse are the people who want to distract me and fix me up with their nephew this or that. Where are you staying tonight?"
"I don't know yet. After I leave here I'm going to ask Aunt Charlotte to bunk with you guys."
"Why?" Suzie looked puzzled.
"Honey, Nick and Aiden are no secret. The only buzz in town is how barking mad you must be to have walked away from the two hottest men in town."
If it was possible to die from blushing, Shannon thought she might have expired right then and there.
And then Suzie laughed. The sound was rich and melodic, a real laugh, and it transformed her cousin into a true beauty. That could only make Shannon smile.
"What's going on here?" A lilting voice called. Seconds later Lucy appeared, wearing a light peach suit, her expression as harried as she was perfectly groomed. "Oh my god! Shannon!"
Once more Shannon was drawn into a hug but this was filled with laughter.
They pulled back and Shannon shot a look to Suzie. "Could you excuse us?" Turning back to Lucy she smiled apologetically. "That is if you're free."
"You have an hour before the Simmons call," Suzie said.
"Great! Come on back."
The offices were much cleaner now that both Rosseau's were retired. Lucy's own photographs were framed and hung on the walls, there was new furniture and paint on the walls and the papaers were tucked into files in a neat little room rather than floating all over. All the books were organized on shelves.
Lucy had the big office in back, completely redone. It was somber and appropriate in light grey paint and off-white carpeting, the wood dark, but there were feminine touches with flowers and a few pastel objects d'art.
"Have a seat."
"Thanks." Shannon took one of the client chairs and took off her bag and set it down, opening it up and taking out a piece of paper.
"What's up? Are you just back for a visit?"
"Here," Shannon said and gave her the letter.
Lucy pulled off her glasses and read it, her small, polite smile turning into a grin. "You're sitting for the bar exam here?"
Nodding, Shannon crossed her legs nervously. "Yes. And if the offer still stands, I'd like to work here with you."
Lucy's smile turned wry as her eyes twinkled with mischief. "Doing what?"
Shannon knew the game, but she knew her friend had reason to doubt her serious intent. "Wills, probate, estates, that sort of thing. I know it's not your favorite, but it's mine."
"God, it's boring. Taxes and all that jazz. I've gotten a real taste for criminal law and someone does need to broker better deals to keep the drunks from driving and hurting anyone without serving hard time for just scaring gators."
Shannon waited for her to say more but she didn't. Clearing her throat Shannon sat forward and grabbed another piece of paper from her bag and slid it across the desk. "This is my resume, as if you didn't already know all this already."
Lucy made a show of examining it with a forced serious face that failed to convince. "All in order, but it doesn't answer the real question..."
"Which is?" But Shannon could guess.
"Are you really going to be happy in this tiny town? Are you going to stay?"
"If I have a job. I'm a hot property, Little Johnny Parker needs a mechanic and I'm good with Fords."
"Ha-ha. What else?"
"I'll need to arrange a place to stay, but job first."
Lucy slapped the paper down to the desk and rolled her eyes with a sigh. "I can't remember, is it sexual harassment if I tell you you'll only get the job if you go fix things with my no-good cousin and other best friend?"
Shannon at last smiled. "I could argue it in court."
Lucy rolled her neck. "You're my best friend and a damn smart woman, I know you'll be a good lawyer. The job is yours for the taking, you know that. But have you talked to Aiden or Nick?"
"Not since you sicced them on me in Chicago."
"Shannon, I'm sorry about that, but a decision had to be reached. Yet when they came back here and in three weeks nobody's heard from you except Charlotte, I thought it was over and done. Why aren't you in Nebraska right no?"
"I understand I owed them a decision, but...I've been through a lot. I love my father only to learn about him hours later. I nearly lost Suzie. I was held at gunpoint twice. I had to ask myself if it was real. I loved Aiden once and I've always...been attracted to Nick, but in the heat of the moment, was it real? Plus, would it hurt their careers, could we be happy? Nobody can figure all that out in just a few weeks."
"Nearly three months, slow-poke."
Shannon blushed anew. "Rub it in. I'm here, and I want to stay. Now the only question is if they'll have me."
Lucy stared for a few seconds then jumped from her chair and whooped in damn near a rebel yell. "Finally! You get it!"
Shannon rose to her feet too. "I need to see my aunt and the boys. Even if they turn me away...I'll do my best. When do I start?"
"Three days. Come in here, help Suzie file, do some clerking, and I'll help prep you for the exam. Once you get your license you're on full time and I might just have enough time off for a vacation."
"Thank you, thank you, thank!" Shannon said, imminently relieved. One battle down, one last big one to go...maybe two.
"So three days, I'm giving you three days to fix things with those boys."
"I'll do my best. I better go if I want to catch Charlotte at work and give her a ride home."
"Actually, Suzie said she had a day off, she should be at home now."
"All right. I'll call you as soon as I have news."
"Good luck." Lucy came around the desk and walked her out.
Suzie winked but was on the phone yet again.
Once outside, Shannon glanced down towards the Sherriff's office and her heart skipped a beat. She had a feeling Nick would be the toughest fight, so better visit him first. But just in case, she needed to see charlotte and know she was okay, and have a place to stay just in case.
She put on her sunglasses and walked to her car, heading back east to the little road that led to the older houses in or at the edge of the swamp. Charlotte's skiff wasn't there but luckily the O'Sheas were home. They lived right off the road but kept a skiff and loaned her it even as Trudie O'Shea winked at the "lucky girl."
Shannon poled off into the swamp and it hit her just how much she'd missed it in Chicago. Yes, there were gators and nutria, more bugs per square mile than all the humans on the planet, and the smell of stagnant water that was nearly sickly-sweet, but it was home.
She reached the house on stilts and tied off on Charlotte's skiff, jumping to it and then the small dock.
"Up here. Shannon?"
Shannon climbed up and there was Charlotte. Still big and impressive, she looked tired. In three months the bruises had faded but there were a few scars from her encounter with Adele. Still she pulled Shannon into a blustery hug and held her for a long while.
"Home, you're finally home, child."
"I am." Shannon pulled back. "I've come back to stay."
"Maybe not. Can we talk?"
"Come on in, I'll feed you."
With a smile Shannon set her bag down and went into the bathroom to wash up, then returned to the kitchen. She'd skipped lunch knowing Charlotte would insist on feeding her. She watched her pull a small ham from the oven along with biscuits and set it next to a bowl of mashed potatoes. "I'll make something else when Suzie gets back. What is it, child?"
Shannon took a deep breath as Charlotte pulled out milk and two Mason jars, filling them and sliding one across the table. "Tell me about my mother."
Charlotte looked shocked. "Why?"
"You were her big sister, you knew...you just knew. Tell me the truth, what was she like? Why did no one here like her?"
"People liked her well enough, maybe too well," Charlotte sighed out, assembling plates.
"Your mom was beautiful, one of de most beautiful women in this town. I was always a little jealous. God saw fit to make me able to do hard work with broad shoulders and a thick waist, but your mom was slim and delicate with dose big brown eyes that made her look so fragile." Charlotte stopped for a moment and smiled.
"She was smart too, smart as a whip, like you. But she was just...different. She wanted to be homecoming queen, not valed- val- top of her class. And then when I was already working for Doc Hauser and she was a junior in high school, she took up with a teacher."
Shannon felt her eyes widen as her plate was set before her. Charlotte broke off the story to say grace and Shannon bowed her head, mind reeling.
Charlotte spread her napkin and reached for the little bowl of salt, pinching off some for her potatoes. "Gravy's fresh. Anyhow, problem wasn't he was a teacher, no, not dat, it was he was married. She always loved de married ones, they didn't want to knock her up and play house.
"Dat was when people stopped sayin' hi to her at church. Den she took up with another married man and another. People came to call less and less and since dese men were married to her friends, she lost dem too. So she started drinkin' and mopin' around.
"Den Big Johnny Parker came to town. Had his pretty little fiancée with him, but your ol' ma didn' care. Took up with him. Our pa was still alive and he lost it. We found out she was pregnant and he sent her away with family. She met your step-dad, convinced him you were his, and Johnny never knew.
"I'm sorry I never told you, but I was afraid if you did it'd cause a ruckus."
Shannon understood, and she'd already forgiven Charlotte, but she was still wounded. "It's okay," she feebly offered.
For long moments they ate in silence and the home cooking was delicious. Shannon mulled itover in her mind, wondering why she'd asked.
"You should ask me what you really want to know."
"And what's that?" She asked her aunt with surprise.
"You want to know if that hate 'n' hard feelings people felt for your mother will come back on you if you take up with dem two boys."
Shannon nearly dropped her glass.
Charlotte's eyes sparkled with devious mirth, the way Suzie's had so often, and despite their differences it was easy to see Suzie was her mother's daughter. "Cher, I was wild in my own way. Everybody was lookin' at my sister, but I had my own fun. You think you da first woman to take up with two men?"
Her fork clattered to her plate and Shannon sat there gaping.
After a sip of milk Charlotte sat back. "It was never de sex people objected to, it was dat your ma liked poaching. If it was de sex, dis town would burn itself down. Dey would hang me and most others. Hell, Doc Hauser's been playing pig-in-a-poke with dat widow Mrs. Santiago for years, and dey do dings dat would curl your hair. Everybody knows and nobody cares.
"You got yourself worked up over nothing."
Shannon steadied herself. "Aiden's boss told me if I stayed, well, he basically suggested, if I did it would hurt Aiden's case."
"Against Adele. Dat bitch cut her own deal but she won' get out of jail until she's good and dead. Her son...dey only need Suzie and all dat evidence dey got. And if movin' in with Nick didn' hurt him none, what could you do?"
"They're really living together?"
"Indeed. Dis a small town but we loyal to our own. Nobody judges you for what's in your heart if it's pure. What dey got is pure, for each other and for you. How about you?"
For a long moment Shannon was silent. "I don't know why I've been so scared."
"I know de answer to dat, child. Your soul is wild, like mine, but we salt of de earth people. I gave in to my wild side and enjoyed it, even Suzie did dat, but you fought it. You were so angry over your ma's death you blamed her, and when you found out none was too fond of her, you thought that w was what caused it all. When you looked at dem two boys and felt a very natural urge, you got all confused. You ran from dis town to escape yourself."
Sweet Charlotte who'd barely graduated high school and never see the inside of a college, had her all figured out.
"Is it really that simple?"
Charlotte nodded at Shannon's plate and when she pushed it away, grabbed it and took them to the sink. "Ever notice the longer you fume over a problem the simpler the explanation turns out to be?"