The Blood Orange MoonbyRehnquist©
Introduction: This happened in four steps, truth be told. The night before the final installment of The Lazy Lemon Sun was published--and about four days too late to do anything about it--I realized I didn't really give closure to Mommy Dearest. Then, it was posted, there were quite a few people who noted this and asked for some more. Next, Scouries posted a comment asking that I consider writing a story for the Halloween contest. Finally, I spent my half hour drive to the courthouse trying to figure out how to do all of these things.
That's where this came from.
Thus, if you really like it, please thank Scouries and those others who (rightfully) wanted me to end this properly and mikothebaby, who I've stolen from the Stangmeister to edit this and get rid of the (more than justified) complaints about my typos. ("Bear" hands? Are you fucking kidding me? How did I miss that one, for Chrissake!)
On the other hand, if this sucks, just blame yours truly.
Seeing as this is in the Halloween Contest, your votes and comments would be greatly appreciated. I ignored a lot of clients to get this out so quickly, so at least for them you can let me know if it was worth it.
Oh, and it should go without saying, this isn't in the same vein as The Lazy Lemon Sun, but it'll sure help you keep up if you've already read that one.
Amanda Thurgood wrapped her jacket tighter around her shoulders and hunched into the wind, the guard house at the entrance of the gated community now looming tall and imposing above her tiny figure.
A tired old man, chunky, with only a small gray fringe of hair encircling a round, red face, stood and lumbered toward a small sliding window on the side of the building. His face flashed from annoyance to wonderment to sympathy, all in short order, as she drew nearer. Without a word, he jerked his finger to one side, pointing her toward a door near the back, then turned and waddled toward it.
Amanda's teeth were chattering and her fingers numb with cold as she waited for a catch to slide before he opened the door.
"What are you doing walking way out here in this . . . this . . . ," he stammered. Then his eyes looked at the gray clouds morphing and taking on eerie shapes as they raced over the whipping, twisted branches of the red-leaved maples lining the road. After a moment, his voice long gone in the screeching gusts, he seemed to remember her. With an impatient jerk of his arm, he motioned her inside. Amanda slid past, taking in the exterior. It was warm and she immediately felt pin pricks on her cheeks and hands as the blood returned to the surface.
"Lord A'mighty, girl," the man said after pushing the door closed, "you're looking to get just plain blown away or somethin'?"
She only hunched tighter into her jacket, willing the warmth to return and end the violent chattering of her teeth. Now looking flustered and uncomfortable, the old guard teetered back and forth on his hips toward a coffee maker sitting on a small, beat up table in the corner of the room.
Yes, she thought, as she watched him poor a cup of coffee, he doesn't waddle. He teeters; teeters back and forth like his hips are all given out and need replacing. That just reminded her of her grandfather, though, and she fought to banish the thoughts from her mind.
"Drink this," he said, thrusting a tall mug of steaming coffee in front of her.
Unhuddling, she reached her hands out, wrapped them around the hot mug, and said, "Thanks, mister."
He motioned her to a chair next to a small space heater. "What're you doing way out here in this weather? Dressed like that?"
His eyes took in her thin, worn jacket and secondhand slacks with obvious disdain, but his features softened as he met her eyes.
"Uh, I h-h-have an appointment," she stuttered through still chattering teeth. "M-M-Missus Roberts."
His eyes narrowed. "Senator Roberts's missus?"
His lips trembled and his face took on a look that Amanda couldn't place. After a moment, though, he turned back to her and spoke in a softer voice, "Where you from, child?"
"How'd you get all the way out here? It's gotta be a couple miles from Franklin, and I know you didn't take a cab or a bus."
He sagged. "What you need to see Missus Roberts for?"
"A job," she said, looking down at her shoes and hoping the scuffed black leather wouldn't make a bad first impression.
"What kinda job?"
"Maid," she said. "The agency sent me out here. Say she needs a housekeeper."
"And she knows you're coming?"
He reached over for his clipboard, picked it up, and scanned over the sheet of paper there. With a frown, he put the clipboard down and looked back at her. "You were supposed to be there nearly an hour ago."
Fighting to control her frustration at the reasons for her tardiness, Amanda could only mumble, "I know."
The guard didn't seem to know what to say or do. He fidgeted in his chair, looked at her, then over her shoulder with trepidation, then back to her again.
"If you could just point out which house it is," she said. "I'm warm enough now."
He sighed, then looked back at something over her shoulder and made his decision. "It's that one. The big stone house atop the hill over there."
She turned and looked over her shoulder. It was maybe three hundred yards away, sitting tall and imposing atop the small rise at the end of the subdivision. Standing, she took a long gulp of the coffee, not bothered as it burned from her lips all the way into her belly.
"Much obliged, mister," she said, then reached out to hand the mug to him.
That seemed to jolt him from whatever thoughts were racing through his mind. He stood, fumbled with his hands, and finally took the mug from her, spilling some of the remaining contents onto the cement floor as he did so.
"I expect I'll be back this way in short order," Amanda said, forcing a smile to her lips.
The guard looked at her long and hard, his face getting serious. "You be careful up there, y'hear?"
She gave him a quizzical look, and his features seemed to flicker.
"Just be careful," he said again, teetering over to the door and opening it for her.
She was barely back out into the angry weather, her eyes now focused on the tall, stone house when the door slammed behind her with a whoosh and slapping thud. Unnerved, she jumped. Pressing her lips together and again hunching into her tired jacket and leaning into the wind, she began the long march to Missus Barbara Roberts, praying the whole time she'd not be cast out at first glance.
* * * * *
From within the house, standing behind a window on the corner of the second floor, a figure stood watching as the girl stepped outside the shack and began the journey up the hill. An hour's worth of frustration and disappointment were washed away in an instant, replaced in short order by satisfaction, then anger at her tardiness.
"About time," the voice behind her said, amused and eager at the same time.
"Better late than never," Barbara replied, and then turned to make her way downstairs.
* * * * *
"David," Alan Cameron barked, making Roberts stiffen behind his desk. "Are you listening to a thing I'm saying here?"
"Sorry, Alan. My mind's a million miles away lately." He turned his head from the window to face the tall, patrician figure of his esteemed colleague from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
"Barbara again?" Cameron asked, his voice softening while his features remained the same.
Roberts hesitated, then sighed and said, "Yeah."
"Still not over your boy moving up to Illinois?"
"Something like that."
"When's the last time you saw her? Went home and just spent a quiet weekend around the house for a change?"
Roberts fought to suppress the shudder rising as he pictured being alone with Barbara in their house. The very image almost made him nauseous. He'd been angry at first--furious even-- right after it had all come out about how she'd all but starved his grandson. The grandson he'd fought to forget, but at least tried to support, tried to do right by.
She'd never backed down, though.
"That little bitch is the reason Stevie's dead," she'd hissed at him. "Did you honestly think I'd go along with you in rewarding her for that?"
"But it wasn't her fault," Roberts had pleaded with her, trying to get her to accept the reality she'd long before chosen to ignore. "Stevie brutalized that girl, Barbara. Don't you see that? And he's our grandson. Ours, mine and yours. How could you do that to him of all people? An innocent child?"
She'd only glared at him, then gotten a wicked grin and laughed. "You pathetic bastard. You're just like Mark. You're just as weak and spineless and do-gooding as that . . . that little . . . ."
Her anger was maniacal to the point that words couldn't come, and Roberts had just shaken his head and walked away. Reasoning with her was useless. He wasn't sure even then that he had any energy to even go through the motions.
"She's changed, Alan," he finally said.
"Stevie. She just can't let him go."
"But he's been dead for, what, eight, nine years? How could she just now be changing?"
"I'm not sure it's just happening now," Roberts said, then leaned over and slid open his bottom drawer to pull out two heavy crystal tumblers and a bottle of bourbon. "Ice?"
Cameron shook his head. Roberts poured them both a healthy dose and slid one across the desk.
"You know what it's like," Roberts continued after the first sip washed through his throat. "We're here most of the time. When we're not, we're campaigning or taking investigatory junkets or meeting with lobbyists or attending fundraisers and parades and church suppers. When are we ever really home?"
"Yeah, but you've been here now what? Going on twenty years, right?"
Roberts nodded. "'Bout that. But the kids were always with her before. The first ten or eleven years she had them around and we were all pretty much together most weekends. Then they both went off to college. She still had Stevie pretty close by, and Mark was around during the summers. After Stevie died, though, Mark pretty much quit coming back during the summers. He stayed up there in Chicago playing in that band. Didn't come home much except Christmas. Not even Thanksgiving. And then, when Stevie died . . . well, I guess I just wasn't there as much as I should've been."
"Why don't you move her here? To Washington?" Cameron suggested. "She'd probably love Alexandria. Hell, the countryside's almost exactly like your Tennessee home, isn't it?"
"She'd never come," Roberts said, then turned his chair and looked back outside at the passersby on the Mall below. "Won't leave that house where Stevie grew up. Where his room's still just the way it was."
"What about Mark? You think maybe he can help?"
"They had a fallin' out. He won't speak to her. Hell, he barely speaks to me."
He heard Senator Cameron twitch in his chair. "What happened?"
"I guess I wasn't much of a father."
"Let's just leave it at that. Suffice it to say he has every right to stay away. I'd probably do the same thing in his shoes."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Yeah. Me, too."
"But . . . can't you . . . have you thought about counseling? Getting her to see a therapist?"
"Won't go. I tried, but she refuses."
"So what is it?"
"She won't leave the house anymore."
"As in she won't come here?"
"As in won't step out the front door, Alan. Or at least leave the property, but usually won't even go outside."
"Have you tried getting someone to come in to see her? If she won't see them, maybe you can get them to go to her."
"Just trust me," Roberts said, defeat slumping his shoulders, "it'd be a disaster."
"So what're you going to do?"
"I don't know," he said. "I really just don't know anymore."
Cameron fidgeted in his seat, and Roberts knew this was going to take a different direction.
"Just say it," he urged.
"The leadership sent me here, David," Cameron started. He gulped down the rest of his bourbon before continuing. "You haven't been back to Tennessee more than five times in the past year. They want to know if this is your last run."
Roberts didn't hesitate. "Tell 'em to start finding the replacement."
"How soon? I mean, are you gonna-- "
"I know what you mean. And yes, it could be pretty soon."
"Sorry to hear that," he said, his face inscrutable. "You think it'll be soon?"
"Truelson's second term's up next year," he said. "He'll replace you with one of our own. After that . . . well, we're getting pensive, to say the least."
"I'll think it over and let you know, okay?"
Cameron smiled. Roberts knew he appreciated the skullduggery involved. Roberts wanted to control his successor, and hanging his resignation date over everyone's head was the best way to do it.
"Fair enough," he said, standing to leave.
Roberts just turned back to the window, again lost in his thoughts.
* * * * *
Amanda had worried the whole long walk up that hill to the big house at the end. As she neared it, she could see the mottled blue grays of the stonework in stark contrast to the white shutters on the gables and the steep, slate gray roof. Even in this enclave of enormous, imposing dwellings, this house seemed to stand guardian over them all like a stern sergeant with a stern, glowering gaze.
Amanda fought the dread rising within her, chilling her still more. She thought of a lyric from an old Nirvana song: I gazed a gazeless stare. That's what the mansion reminded her of. This gargantuan, gray building more resembled a mausoleum than a mansion. It seemed dead and foreboding.
Climbing the stairs to the oaken front door, she lifted the brass knocker and gave three tentative raps, almost hoping she'd missed her appointment and no one would answer.
The door opened quietly, though, and a tall, ramrod straight woman looked down her nose at Amanda. She was almost impossibly thin, dressed in a long black skirt and long-sleeved white blouse buttoned to her neck. Her shoulder length hair was colored a frosted blonde, the perfect compliment to her pale blue eyes. The most striking feature, though, was her skin. Her face seemed chiseled from flawless, unblemished milky white marble. Cold.
Amanda's teeth chattered as she tried to think of something to say. The impassive porcelain face, though, told her that no words would undo this inexcusable delay. After a slight pause, the woman stood aside and waved Amanda within.
"You're the girl they've sent?" she snapped.
"Your name, child," she demanded.
"Amanda, ma'am. Amanda Thurgood."
The woman's lips curled upward without smiling as she repeated, "Amanda Thurgood. A very pretty name."
At that, she turned and strode down the wide, dim hallway toward the back of the house. Amanda followed, her eyes taking in the wide oak staircase leading upstairs and a formal dining room with tall, heavy chairs around an enormous table, large enough to seat at least twenty. Beyond that, Amanda entered the kitchen, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the sudden burst of bright light.
"Sit there, Amanda," the woman instructed.
Amanda sat at a small table in the corner of the kitchen, and the woman sat opposite her.
"I'm Barbara Roberts," the woman confirmed for Amanda. "You will call me Missus Roberts or ma'am, do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Amanda said.
A smile played over Barbara's lips. "Very good. You learn quickly, my dear."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Her eyebrows went up on her high forehead, and she snapped, "But you mustn't speak unless spoken to, do you understand?"
Amanda hesitated, then nodded and said, "Yes, ma'am."
"My husband is David Roberts. You will address him as Senator or sir."
Barbara looked at her, waiting for a response, but Amanda said nothing.
After a moment, and with a smile of smug self-satisfaction, Barbara said, "Do you understand?"
"Everyone else--our guests--you will simply address as sir or ma'am." Barbara stood, surveying the kitchen as if for the first time. "Can you cook?"
"Good. The last one couldn't cook. That's why you've been hired." She turned and stared at Amanda. "I prefer simple food. Soup and salad. Maybe a piece of fruit after dinner. Can you handle that?"
"The Senator prefers simple food, also, but he prefers steaks, chops, and roasts, usually with potatoes and vegetables. You can prepare these as well?"
"Fine. Please come with me."
Amanda was guided throughout the house, from room to room and cupboard to closet, the function, contents, and instructions for each rattled off in a nonstop litany of instructions and demands. Nearly done, she stopped outside the two far doors at the end of the hallway farthest from the master bedroom suite.
"This will be your room," Barbara said. She flipped the lock below the old brass doorknob, swung the door open, and stepped back. "You may place your things in here for now." Looking at Amanda, though, the woman's eyes narrowed and her face got stern. "You've brought your things, didn't you?"
"Well show them to me, child," she demanded, her impatience rising.
Amanda pulled her hand from inside her coat and held up a small, white plastic shopping bag. Wal-Mart, it said in faded blue ink.
"Yes, ma'am," Amanda said. "They said . . . well . . . ." Amanda looked to the ground, waiting to be corrected for speaking.
"Out with it. Who said what?"
"They said I'd only need . . . they said you'd be supplying uniforms?"
"And that's the rest of it? That's all you've got?"
The blood rose with Amanda's humiliation, the burning heat in her flushed skin driving the chill from her bones once and for all.
"Give it here," Barbara said.
Amanda began to hold the bag toward her, but Barbara's hand swooped in and snatched it before it had moved an inch. Looking inside, she frowned and muttered, "This won't do. Not at all. Not even . . . . This just won't do."
Barbara's head turned to the side, and Amanda was afraid that this--her few pairs of old, graying underwear and three best sets of nylons along with basic toiletries--had somehow ruined her chance at a home and a job for the first time in months. Her stomach growled for the meal it would soon be missing, again, over something as simple as . . . as . . . as her underwear? Really? Amanda thought, watching Barbara stalk down the hall.
Trotting to catch up, she heard Barbara muttering under her breath.
"He'll never accept this. Never. This is first on the list."
Amanda wasn't sure what, or who, the woman was talking about.
As they turned to descend the stairway, Amanda said, "If you want me to get different ones I will. I can get them just as soon as I get paid. I promise."
"Quiet," she snapped in response. "I'll take care of this myself."
Following her into the kitchen, she watched as Barbara grabbed a phone and punched the keypad with such force she thought for a moment it would disintegrate in the woman's hand.
"Yes, Charles, I need you to do me a favor, please," she said into the phone, her voice suddenly sickly sweet. "You remember a few months ago when I had you go out and purchase the ladies undergarments? Exactly. Yes, I know, this is the second one in four months. I don't know where they find them. You'll do that then?" She turned and looked at Amanda, then turned back and said into the phone. "Yes, dear. Definitely small. And definitely B cup. Thirty-four B cup. You'll do that for me? You're a darling. Of course we're still on for tomorrow night. Wouldn't miss it for the world. Yes, I'll see you tomorrow morning then."