The Neglected Son Ch. 05bySabledrake©
She slid down the wall and curled herself into a ball, arms wrapped around her head, knees drawn up against her chest.
I turned my most winning smile on Dad and Aunt Paula, who remained speechless and aghast.
"Thanks for the hospitality," I said. "Thanks for everything."
No one spoke. No one could. It had all been too much for them. Some vital circuits had been blown. I had yanked the bottom out of their world and sent them plummeting into a senseless void.
Three pairs of eyes tracked me, the only movement in the room but for Renee's uncontrollable shuddering. I crossed the room, plucked my half-eaten piece of toast from the plate, and finished it. I saluted them with my coffee cup, then finished that as well. After wiping my mouth on a napkin, I tossed the napkin to the floor and headed out. Their stunned gazes followed me as far as the door, where I glanced back.
"See you around," I said. "Maybe at a family reunion someday."
I left them where they were. I went upstairs, feeling as though I was walking on air, barely able to keep from unleashing peals of maniacal laughter. The looks on their faces had been all I'd hoped for and more.
In less than ten minutes, I'd packed and put Pinewood behind me. I took Mindy's car – what was she going to do, call the cops? – and ditched it as soon as I got to town. I called a cab, got to the train station, and rode the wave of exultation all the way home.
That should have been the end of it. I didn't care what happened to them next. They'd suffered, I had seen to that, and it felt so good to be rid of the grudge of a lifetime that I was in no hurry to drag it out. I had my own life to live, the ghosts of my past finally stilled.
Or so I thought.
Until it made the papers.
Family Tragedy Takes Two Lives, read the headline. A smaller sub-header announced: Two Survive Murder-Suicide Spree, In Critical Condition.
Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a lawyer. That first meeting, I was a ball of nerves, sure that my part in those events would come out. I'd go to jail as an accessory at the very least. When the lawyer told me why I'd really been summoned, I could barely believe my ears.
That was almost a year ago. The holidays are drawing near again, and Pinewood is as festive and beautiful as ever.
I've replaced the entire staff, of course. The old ones had to go. Most of all Parks, the butler, and his interfering son. Gregor, he of the profuse black curls and muscular legs, dared to presume he could stay with Renee. I got rid of him as fast as I could.
Pinewood is mine now. So is the money, quite a hefty sum of it.
Well, that's not one hundred percent factual. It's not all mine. But I am the trustee, in charge of the estate. Master of the mansion.
The lawyer was very relieved to discover that Winchester Sherman Hollister was such a fine upstanding young man, ready and willing to overlook the slights and resentments of the past. That Winchester Sherman Hollister was dutiful and caring enough to leave graduate school, move to Pinewood, and take over the responsibilities in such a stressful, difficult time.
How many sons in that position would have done the same? Such a burden to take on, and after the shabby way I'd been treated for most of my life.
I earned a good deal of admiration for it. There may have been some questions, too, among those who'd visited Pinewood that last Christmas. The people who'd attended the parties and to whom I'd been introduced as Chet. But Chet was an acceptable nickname for Winchester – preferable, really – and those who'd thought I was Mindy's boyfriend decided they must have misheard.
It didn't matter much, anyway. I had little interest in socializing with the neighbors. They saw my reclusiveness as partly being busy looking after all my new duties, and partly because I was in mourning.
Let them think what they will. I don't care.
All that matters to me is my success. My ultimate victory.
Apparently, it started with Renee. I remembered how I'd likened her to Ophelia and thought she only needed a moat to drown herself in. Well, Pinewood had no moat, and the pool was drained for the winter, so she'd had to make do with jumping, instead. Off the highest peak of the roof, down to the ground. Crunch.
That must have been the final straw for Dad. He went to the study – scene of his particular shameful crime – and readied one of the antique weapons our Hollister ancestors had used in the hunt. He shot Aunt Paula first, then Mindy, and finally ate the barrel and blew his brains out.
Good thing I had the alibi of having been on a train when it happened. Good thing none of them left a note.
And a very good thing that the survivors aren't able to talk about what went on there at Pinewood those last few days.
Poor Renee. She meant well, but the fluffy snowbanks cushioned her fall enough to save her life. She broke both legs and her back, fractured her skull, and ended up in a coma. To this day, she hasn't surfaced from the inky depths of unconsciousness.
And Mindy? Dad's bullet lodged in her spine, at the base of her skull. She's paralyzed. Almost totally. Her limbs are so much deadwood, and her speech is an incoherent mumble. But her eyes, oh, her eyes are very much alive and aware.
I have nurses to take care of them. I made a most impassioned speech about how I couldn't bear to see my dear sisters stuck away in a hospital. I wanted them home, at Pinewood, in the familiar and loved surroundings. Money being no object, of course.
Renee doesn't move when I go into her room. Her bones have healed by now, and her legs are even mostly straight. She probably would never dance again even if she came out of the coma, but she would probably be able to walk. I don't disturb Renee, for whom I've developed something of a fondness. She looks so peaceful, resting there like a princess in a fairy tale.
Mindy doesn't move much either, but her blazing eyes follow me everywhere. The nurses mistake that look for gratitude and sisterly affection, but I know better.
She can't stir her limbs, and they say she can't feel a thing. Sometimes, late at night, I will go in and visit her. While the nurse sleeps in the adjoining room, I will strip off my clothes and slide into bed alongside my immobile, helpless sister. She can only watch, can't stop me from doing anything I want. I'm always careful, though. I never leave marks, and I always use a condom. It would be a hell of a thing to explain.
And oh, the impotent hatred in her eyes! She'd kill me if she could.
I suppose the real miracle is that neither of them miscarried.
Pinewood isn't as quiet as it used to be. Not with two babies in the house, howling for food and attention in the wee small hours.
Christopher, the elder by six weeks, is a fine and healthy boy. I think that when his eyes stop changing, they will be as turquoise-blue as Mindy's. Not a webbed finger or toe on him, either.
He was a Caesarian birth, of course. They both were. Under the circumstances, it was really the only way. I remember a conference with the doctors in which they tried to tell me it would be for the best to authorize abortions.
I refused, with a great show of indignation. My father was dead, I told them. And my aunt. My sisters had lost both parents. How could they even think of taking their babies away? I vowed that I would raise and care for the children as if they were my own.
Damn, I'm good. If they gave out Academy Awards for this sort of thing …
Swan isn't as big or healthy as Christopher. She was born tiny and delicate, fragile and pale as a porcelain figurine. I play music for her in her nursery every night. Classical music, her namesake most of all. It always stops her fussing. Who knows … maybe she'll be a ballerina some day.
The important thing, perhaps the most important thing of all, is that these two will never be abandoned and sent away, like I was. They will grow up in this house, happy and well, loved and treated like the little prince and princess that they are.