Hi All....I am in the midst of finising the next chapter of Across Borders. Here is another story that found its way into my ever active mind. This is a new style for me that called to me through my muse....hope you enjoy the first 3 chapters:-)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
I was going to throw up.
I stood before Pastor O'Ryan, who held my hand as he shared his words of condolence. I stare at his rounded face, with cheeks that were always rosy and kind blue eyes that held wisdom and understanding. I see his thin lips moving rapidly as he quotes a passage from the bible. Which one? I cannot say. All I hear is a mind-numbing buzz between my ears and the rumble of my stomach, threatening the release its contents onto the dark bamboo floor beneath my feet and most assuredly all over the front of his perfectly tailored suit
I squeeze his hand, shaking my head "No", as he asks if I'm okay. Then, I hurry off.
I ignore the sympathetic glances I receive from several of my guests and the open look of distain from my In-Laws, taking the stairs quickly up to the master suite. Inside, I shut the door with a bang and race into the bathroom, just in time to catch the toilet as I finally blow. Stale coffee and a half eat sandwich spew into the bowl. My throat burns, hot and raw; the taste of regurgitated food coats my tongue. I cough, stumbling over to the vanity and rigorously begin to rinse my mouth. Once I am done, I slide down onto the cool marble floor and have myself a good cry.
My private moment is but brief as I hear the distinct click of heels moving toward me. I look up and find myself eyeing a pair of expensive black shoes. From where I sat, I could smell the newest of fresh Italian leather.
My eyes travel upward until they come to rest on my sister-in-law's. Her blue-gray eyes, shoot daggers into me. "Pull yourself together", she hisses, hands on her slender hips. "We have guests here; important ones with strong ties to Charles and our company".
I can't help but raise an eyebrow at her statement. If memory served me correctly, Charles's parents left the company to him, solely. The only reason Sarah maintained the lifestyle of a wealthy woman was due to the hefty allowance checks Charles wrote out to his sisters once a month.
"I expect to see you downstairs in ten minutes, freshened up and ready to be the sophisticated wife Charles believed you were capable of being, instead of the embarrassment you actually are", she orders.
She turns on her pencil thin heels and marches out of the bathroom. I rise, gritting my teeth to prevent myself from running after her and giving the hateful bitch a good shove down the staircase, hard enough to snap her skinny neck. I find the idea more than appealing, yet futile because, just like in the Wizard of Oz...drop a house on one bad witch and there was still another to deal with.....Willa.
Which of the two sisters could I peg as the worst, I honestly could not say. Though they were not twins, they mirrored each other in every way, red hair, blue-gray eyes and equally vile personalities. Neither ever attempted to hide their mutual loathing of me. Or, their contempt of Charles for being rewarded the keys to the family empire and all the power that came with it.
I shake my head. I bet....no, I know they are happy he is gone. They are not alone. The dirt over Charles's grave isn't even an hour old and I can see the sharks already beginning to circle. And, they were poised to strike. Worst yet, I most certainly lie in their crosshairs and I have no clue what to do about it.
I "pull" myself together as ordered and return to the Great room, still filled with Charles's family, friends and business associates. The room, grows quiet, all eyes on me. As I stand looking out into the crowd, I've never felt so alone. Then, a pair of arms encircle my waist, hugging me tightly and I remember, I'm not alone after all.
I hold my son close. My heart breaks for him. I can tell, he wants to have his own good cry but, like me, he was ordered by his aunts to conduct himself with dignity and poise.
I stroke his head as I feel the rise and fall of his chest again me. Each time he exhales, he shakes a little, fighting to muster up the strength to keep in his tears. Each time he does, I want to march across the room and rip out the strains of Sarah and Willa's matching red hair.
Honestly, what kind of person forbids a child to publicly mourn the loss of his father?
I take a deep breath of my own. I have to do this, I tell myself. I have to make it through this day for both of us.
It is late into the evening when the last few people remaining, usher themselves out. As I close the door behind them, I am a little more than relieved they are finally gone.
I drag myself upstairs. I kick off my shoes, not caring where they land and quickly peel off my black dress, immediately tossing it down the laundry chute. Exposed, my skin feels clammy, so I hurry into the bathroom to take a shower.
Afterwards, I go down the hall to check on Chase. I find him fast asleep in his bed. I walk over, lean down to kiss his forehead and stop abruptly when I notice the faint stains of dried tears on his taupe colored cheek.
I sit on the edge of his bed and gently stroke my hand over his dark brown hair. My poor baby, cried himself to sleep. I shouldn't have let this happen. I should have said to hell with everyone else and come to be at his side more than I had been throughout this terrible day.
I go back to my large empty bedroom and lie down. Sleep eludes me, but not for the reasons one might expect. Yes, I miss Charles. You grow accustomed to someone being in your life then suddenly, they're not. Yet, that inner voice whispers to you, thoughts and feelings you do not intentionally want to visit.
I roll over onto my back, staring up into the darkness. Charles is gone, dead. And, one word echoes in my head, one I dare not speak out loud....freedom. And, I wonder, am I a horrible person for thinking it.
Three days later.....Monday
I checked my watch as I exited the subway and made my way up 34th street. As always, the sidewalks were bustling with hordes New Yorkers rushing to get to work. Thirteen years of living in this city had taught me how to keep pace, so I fell right into step with the flow of moving bodies.
The office of Mason Wentworth was located only a few blocks from Penn Station, allowing me to reach my destination at a respectfully reasonable time.
On the elevator ride to the 11th floor, I give myself a pep talk, reminding myself to stay calm no matter what happened. Today, was the reading of Charles's will and I had no doubt, Willa and Sarah would come out with claws sharpened and ready.
This morning, as I watched Chase's school bus drive away, I thought not to come to the reading. My brain screamed for me to walk back into the Estate I had shared with Charles, pack all of Chase's and my belongings and leave. Again, the word FREEDOM echoed in my head. Again, I dared not speak it.
I fought with myself, hard. But then, I concluded, I could not. This was my life. There was no escaping the fate my father and I sealed for me all those years ago. I was stuck here, in the land of the rich and the wicked. And, by design, so was my son.
As the elevator doors open, I take a deep breath. No sooner than I exit I see my sisters-in-law, chatting away with the tall, well-dressed man in a gray suit. Mason Wentworth's pale weathered face held signs of annoyance at the pair of them. He spots me and his lips turn upward into a warm and genuine smile that lights up his small blue eyes.
Sarah and Willa stop talking and follow the focus of his attention. They stare at me with matching amber eyes and thinned mouths painted in dark red lipstick. I pause, staring back at them. Willa, the eldest sister, rolls her eyes into the air.
"Finally", she says dramatically, as if I am an hour late instead of 20 minutes early.
I start toward them again, brushing past the pair and holding out my hand to Mason. He takes it, giving it a gentle squeeze. Mason Wentworth was more than just Charles's lawyer; I learned over the years, that he was also Charles's only trusted friend. He was also, one of the few people to accept me in Charles's life.
"How are you holding up?" he asks me.
"Can we get on with it?" Sarah chimes in before I can answer Mason.
Mason leads the three of us down the hall to a small conference room with double wooden doors. He ushers us inside to a small oval-shaped table. At the end of the table sat a computer monitor. Once we are all seated he opens the folder I never noticed tucked under his arm.
"We are gathered here this morning for the reading of the last will and testament of Charles Richard Friel".
"We know why we are here", Willa says, rudely. "Drop the formalities and just tell us what it says".
Mason fixes her with a gaze that makes her clamp her mouth shut. He continues with the "formalities" despite the irritation he and I both feel emanating from Sarah and Willa. Once he reads Charles's opening statement about being of sound mind and body, he removes a DVD from the folder and inserts it into the monitor, which I now realize is one of those all-in-one computers with the hard drive built right into the monitor.
Mason lays out one of those wireless rubber keyboards and next thing I see is Charles's face appear. His salt and pepper hair is neatly combed back, away from his high forehead. His blue eyes, direct and piercing, are filled with purpose.
He looks like I remembered him, before the car accident; before, I received that awful call and found myself in a hospital room with doctors identifying his cold, lifeless body.
I shudder, snapping myself out of the memory, just in time to hear, Charles's words "to my sisters..."
Both sisters perk up. I can see triumph dancing in their eyes until Charles mouths the next words. "I leave exactly what they already have....the continuance of stipends to be issued to them monthly so they may maintain a life of comfort without responsibility". Their faces fall into looks of complete shock.
Charles laughs, as if he can actually see the stupefied looks they bare. "What? You did not actually believe I'd turn the company over to the two of you, did you? So, you could run our father's legacy into the ground? Never. I'd sooner burn all of it to ash. No, my dear sisters, the company, I leave in safer hands". He laughs again, and I shift uncomfortably when they turn their attention to me. "Mason's", Charles finishes.
Now, Sarah and Willa are not the only ones in shock, so am I. Not that I wanted or knew what to do with a multi-billion dollar company. I just did not see this coming. While I process this turn of events, the attention diverts from me to Mason.
So far, he has said nothing.
"Mason will assume full control of the company immediately after my death, unless he kicks the bucket before me", Charles says with a chuckle. "He will appoint a Board of Directors, made up of a list I issued to him some years ago. The Board will run the company with Mason at the helm, until he himself leaves this earth or determines it is time for him to step down. At which time, the pre-determine successor already hand-picked by Mason and myself, will take control".
"You bastard", Sarah says between her teeth. "We will never let you have what's ours".
"Willa, Sarah, this is my will. And, like our father's before mine it is ironclad and cannot be contested. Try, if you like, but let me assure you that you will only waste precious time in doing so. Enjoy the lives you have and let those dreams of ownership go".
The screen goes blank. That's it. Charles didn't even mention my name or Chase's. Why was I called hear I ask myself while Sarah and Willa verbally attack Mason. Was it just to see Charles stick it to his sisters one last time?
Sarah accuses Mason of manipulating Charles. "Charles was my friend", he fires back calmly. "He knew I was the only one who could protect the company from the two of you. Now, you would do well to remember who now holds your beloved lifestyles in his hands".
I hear Willa's sharp intake of breath at Mason's not so underlined threat. She takes hold of Sarah's arm. "Come along sister, we are done here. At least he didn't leave it to that gold-digging bitch".
I rise as they march by me. "How does it feel to fuck a man more than twice your age for 13-years and have nothing to show for it but a half-breed kid?" Sarah asks me venomously as Willa continues to pull her out the conference room.
It's a good thing too....because I am two seconds from wrapping my hands around her throat and strangling the life out of her. Mason is a lawyer right? I'm sure in this case, he'd have no qualms about moving hell and high water to help keep me out of jail.
I hold the back of the chair tightly to prevent myself from following through on the idea. Once I steady my temper I lift my head to meet Mason's eyes. "Congratulations", I say. "Charles made the right choice".
I turn to leave. "Wait", he says. "Charles has a special message, meant only for you".
I shake my head. I don't want to wait. I don't want any parts in whatever else Charles had concocted.
"Please, Cassandra". Mason moves around table. Taking me by the hands, he guides me back into the chair I vacated. He stays by my side as he reaches across the table, turns the keyboard towards us taps the ENTER key.
The monitor jumps to life again and Charles reappears. He adjusts his navy-blue tie. "Now that that's over", he begins. "On to you". He looks direct at the camera and I swear for a second, he can really see me. "You remember the day we met?" he asks. "You were just a girl, living in a small rural Pennsylvania town; one, I just happened to be in conducting business with a local farmer. Your father came to the farm to repair the fencing".
I frown slightly. Of course, I remember. And, as I recall, the Gaither's place wasn't exactly a farm. It was an estate; nothing quite as large as the one I currently reside in, but it sat on acres upon acres of land. And, the Gaithers's were cattle ranchers, not farmers.
"Your father arrives with this 17-year old girl in a white T-shirt and denim shorts that showed off long, skinny brown legs; a tool belt tied around her waist". "I watched you a while, prepared to dismiss your presence, then your father introduced you to Matt. You smiled at Matt bright and beautiful. Then, you turned that smile on me and I was instantly a goner. I loved you from that very moment".
I don't know what to say or if I should say anything at all so I remain quiet. Charles told me once that he loved me.....only once. I had no idea for how long because I never asked. Love was a topic we always stirred clear of, except for that one moment. He was sick at the time and so hopped up on meds, I wasn't even sure he remembered, let alone meant it.
"I loved you Cassandra", he says again. "Knowing it was inappropriate for a man my age to feel what I felt for you. I lingered in town longer than I needed to, just to see you. Every time I did, I fell deeper in love with you. You became my obsession, my greatest desire.". He pauses, looking away. When he looks at the camera again, at me, I grow nervous. Mason must sense this because he touches my shoulder comfortingly.
Charles clears his throat, "A man in love; more specifically, desperately in love will do anything to have what he wants".
I'm not liking this. My nervousness continues and beads of sweat form on my brow.
"I learned everything I could about you; discovered your scholarship to Cornell...your dream school. Wow, I thought to myself, beautiful and smart. Then, something came over me, planted an idea in my head. I had to make you mine. So, I took it all away from you. I had your scholarship rescinded. I knew your father's business struggled, and he did not have the means to cover the cost. Afterwards, I approached him with a proposition that would ensure you got into Cornell. He felt like such a failure because he couldn't give you what you wanted. I knew if I dangled the carrot he would bite, that you both would".
I had been devastated when I received the letter in the mail for Cornell, stating that after re-evaluating they decided to award the scholarship to another candidate. I cried for days.
How could he do something so underhanded?
A million less than favorable names to call him, race through my mind. However, Charles was right. Both, my father and I had played a part in me being tied to a life with him. That carrot he dangled, no matter how he manipulated the situation, was ours to bite or walk away from....as Charles states, we bit it, each for our own reasons. So, at 17 years old I married a man older than my father, who promised to take care of me and give me my Cornell education. And, Charles kept his word. He gave me what I wanted and much more. The lifestyle being Mrs. Charles Friel afforded me, allowed me to help my father get back on his feet. His business never grew beyond our hometown but it kept him happy until the day he left this earth to reunite with my mother in heaven.
Now it's my turn to look away. Yes, I am beyond mad at discovering what Charles had done. But, I am also embarrassed that the details of our unconventional union have been brought to light in front of Mason.
Mason pauses the DVD. "It's okay", he says, in a low soothing voice. "Take a deep breath".
"You knew", I whisper. He nods. "Before the will?" I ask. He nods again. "How long?"
"Since the beginning. My father was the head of the Board of Trustees for Cornell", he explains. He sighs. "There's more", he informs me before resuming the DVD.
Charles's rubs his hands over his face and when they come away, he looks, sad. "I'm sorry, so very sorry. My only excuse is that I love you, beyond reason", he says softly. "I love you", he says again, with such conviction, that I cannot help but understand the underline meaning of his words.
I stare at the screen, at him. The truth of my own feelings hung in the air between us. I cared for him deeply, but even after all these years, I did not love him in return; we both knew it. Some part of me feels guilty. Despite, how we came to be husband and wife, he gave me the very best pieces of himself. I accepted them, all the while wishing for my.....
I stop, lowering my eyes.
"You likely hate me in this moment", he continues. "I don't blame you. It isn't every day, you learn that someone destroyed your life just to have you in theirs". He stops, his forehead wrinkling with thought. "We did have good times, didn't we, Cassandra?"
We did. We honestly did.
"Any way, back to the matter at hand. I know you are confused by the events which took place earlier. Please understand that I did not leave you the company, simply because we both know you wouldn't want it. No, my love, what you want, is what I should have given you long before now; what I stole from you". He rakes his hands through his hair. "I release you, Cassandra; you and Chase. I give you your freedom".
He says the word; the one I couldn't bring myself to say.
I lift my eyes, staring at Charles's face until the screen goes blank. I forget about Mason until he sits a large envelope down in front of me and I jump with a start.
"What's in it?" I ask, eyeing it wearily.
"Open it and see", he commands gently.
I lift the envelope with shaky hands, fumbling with it a bit. I reach inside and pull out two sets of documents. I scan the documentation carefully.
The first thing I notice is my name on it all it. The second thing I notice is that, while the first is for a home, the second set is for a business; a Bed and Breakfast, to be exact; the dream I dreamt aloud once.
I recall the conversation I had with Charles during a lazy afternoon of lounging about in our sunroom. The conversation was casual, relaxing. I told him a little about my mother and how she fantasized about owning a quaint Bed and Breakfast that she and I would run together.
He remembered...not just about my mother, but, that it became my fantasy as well.
I look up from the documents to meet Mason's eyes.
Mason smiled slightly. "Charles came to me a few months ago, with papers in hand for two properties he'd purchased. He wanted the properties to be kept off the books, so he asked that I take ownership, with the understanding both would eventually be turned over to you. The house is move in ready, the Bed and Breakfast needs some work. I was going to see to the repairs but Charles thought you'd prefer having something that you can put your stamp on".
I nodded, Charles was correct. It wouldn't feel much like freedom if it was all wrapped up with a pretty bow.
"I've already hired a local contractor, ready to get started; you just have to give the go ahead".
He pushes one of his fancy slender pins my way. "It's yours, Cassandra. All you have to do is sign".
I lick my lips. "So, I sign and what, just pack up Chase and leave?" I ask.
I leave Mason Wentworth's office is a daze, barely remembering I signed the documents until I plop down into the back seat of my Uber ride and unconsciously lay the envelope across my lap. Am I doing the right thing I wonder?
The driver stops in front of the Estate and I climb out to find Willa and Sarah there waiting. "What do you want?" I ask.
"To talk to you", Willa answers.
"That would be a first", I reply.
They are up to something, I can see it. Maybe, they found out I stayed behind and they want to know what, if anything, I may have ended up getting from Charles. I think about the envelope I am holding. I'm not about to share its contents with these harpies. I know exactly who they are and what they are about.
"We won't be long", she says quickly.
Sarah sighs impatiently. "For heaven's sake, let's go inside and get this over with".
Willa shoots her a warning look and Sarah closes her mouth, pressing her lips together.
Now, I sigh. I don't have time for the bullshit. "How about we stay right here and you just tell me what you want".
"Your help", Willa blurts out.
I snicker. "You want my help?"
"Yes. It seems Charles screwed us all over and if we work together we can take back what should be ours, not Mason's".
I snicker again, "Wow, and I'm the gold-digging bitch". I shake my head. "Go away. Charles made his decision, respect it".
Sarah opens her mouth to speak. I glare at her. "Choose you next words carefully", I warn her. "Because if you choose wrong, you're going to be using some of that not-so-hard-earned money to have your teeth realigned".
Willa takes Sarah by the arm and begins to walk toward the gate. "Just think it over", she says.
"I already have. My answer is no". I touch my chin with my free hand. "Wait. I mean my answer is hell no".
As I watch them scurry away I no longer have to wonder if I did the right thing. Chase and I are so outta here.