Scene: a rustic little cafe in Windenburg on a Saturday, mid-morning. Inside, two women at a table, one older, both obviously related.
It was the bi-weekly meet between Briar Rose and her mother Sarah, which they had started right after Sarah had moved out, even before the divorce became final. Sometimes they’d meet for lunch or dinner, sometimes over coffee.
Fresh, steaming coffee sitting in front of them, Sarah now shook her head before she spoke.
“I cannot believe your father would allow that criminal to live with you guys. How irresponsible of him. Downright dangerous!” Sarah Cameron said.
“Mom. Stryker is not dangerous. He is also Hope’s daddy. He is exactly where he belongs.” Briar Rose replied.
“Personally I don’t feel my daughter – or granddaughter – are safe with a convicted murderer living under the same roof with them. And think of your reputation! And of little Hope! What if the other children at her school found out? You know children can be cruel. Not to mention their parents running verbal amok. What that could do to a little girl’s psyche. And what is the big plan now anyway? Are you going to marry that man? Become Mrs. Father-Murderer?! Maybe become Bonnie and Clyde and have your criminal other half get rid of your father too, so you can get to that inheritance quicker?”
“Mom, what the fuck?! I love daddy! If I thought Stryker would harm him, I would have never let him move in with us! And Hope is fine. She is a very strong and smart little girl. If you were to ever really spend some time with her, you’d know that. Also, I am still not interested in getting married to anyone. Stryker and I are fine where we are. Let’s talk about something else, okay? How about this: Chase got engaged to his girlfriend.” Bri tried hard to keep calm.
“Ha, what do you know? Always thought that Chase was gay or on the spectrum. Maybe both is still true. That girl could be a beard. Something’s definitely not right with that guy.”
“MOM! Poor sweet Chasenator!” Bri was getting angrier.
“I never understood how a girl like you could end up with a crush on that boy, not to mention he’s your cousin.”
“MOM! I was a child then, barely a teen! And I am long over that. Hello, remember Stryker?”
“I rather not remember that poor excuse of a human being. Speaking of poor excuses, how is your father doing? Is he dating yet?”
“Mom, for heaven’s sake! You are divorced. Why do you care?”
“Since he already brought a killer to live with you guys, who knows what he brings home as a girlfriend next.”
“MOM! What about you? Any dates? With criminals or otherwise?”
“Don’t get fresh with me, Missy!”
“Or what? You yell at me? Wow, shocker, that never happened before.”
“Briar Rose! Quit being so obnoxious! Your behavior is all because of your father’s anti-authoritative parenting. You have zero manners. He lived all this irresponsible hippie life out for you, topped by him cheating on me, when I devoted my entire life to him and you.”
“Oh, I got manners! Cos otherwise I’d laugh in your face right now, you devoted wife and mother, you. Devoted, my ass!”
“What is THAT supposed to mean?!” Sarah was just before yelling level.
“Devoted? YOU!? You were barely ever even home, and if you were, you were mad at dad or me and/or stood there yelling at one of us or both. Real devotion, I’ll say. And loving, ha! I don’t remember you ever doing more than a quick hug, like you would hug a stranger.”
“Maybe I didn’t constantly smother you with affections like your father and his family did. That is not good for a child either. Affection is better in deliberate doses.”
“Maybe you should have up’ed the doses though, so dad didn’t have to get some elsewhere. Starting to believe I was conceived by immaculate conception anyway! If you were as cold a fish in the bedroom as you were as a mother, poor daddy!”
Both women had jumped up during that last exchange, glaring at one another for a second and before either could react, Sarah had slapped her daughter from across the table, so hard that it threw Bri’s head to the side and left a red mark.
After a brief moment of shock for both, Bri hissed
“I hate you, you evil witch! I am glad you are out of my, dad’s and Hope’s lives!”
Then she ran out of the cafe, while her mother called after her, tried to follow but was stopped by the waitress since they had not paid yet.
Several hours later at the Cameron residence by the cliffs.
Elias was the one answering the door.
“Sarah, I told you over the intercom by the front gate, she does not want to see you. I am not going to force her. There, now you heard it in person. Please go home.”
“Eli, I have to talk to her. It is really important that I do. Has she told you anything?”
“Of course she has told me. How could you? I was always afraid you’d get physical with her at some point. Luckily I was able to prevent that until she was 24, but still, Sarah. You cannot hit our child, no matter the age!”
“I know that, but she said horrible things to me!”
“Then you should have walked out, if you couldn’t manage to stay calm. You know, like a parent.”
“Can you at least tell her that I am sorry and that I came by to apologize.”
“Sure.” Elias was annoyed by Sarah already.
“Thank you. So, how are you doing?”
“Doing well. Busy with work.” he was purposely short with her, hoping she’d get the hint and leave.
“What? Is that top secret information? We are divorced. Normal question, I think.”
“Not by the ex-wife. I am not discussing my life with you, Sarah. You never cared too much when we were still married, no need to feign interest now.”
“I saw you with her. At the restaurant near the Magnolia Promenade. The fancy one.”
“There is only one restaurant there, fancy or otherwise. And you saw me with whom?” Eli was unnerved.
“Your ex-girlfriend. The stuck up one we met at the park a few times after we got together. That was her, wasn’t it?” Sarah’s tone proved that this was not just friendly banter.
“Yes, that was Natasha.” Elias confirmed, followed by a sigh.
“So are you back with her now? The slutty secretary didn’t work out for you?” Sarah asked sharply.
“None of your business.” It took all he had for Elias to stay calm.
“Breaking up another marriage? Last I heard, Natasha was married and had kids too. Is that how you are making it through your mid-life crisis? Measuring your male vigor by how many women’s lives you can ruin after luring them into your spiderweb of being the handsome, wealthy business man? That type of hunting for sport will break your neck one day, Eli! All it takes is one angry husband … mark my words.”
“This is ridiculous. For your information, Natasha is already divorced and her daughters are about Bri’s age. She and I still have a lot in common, ran into each other by chance and decided to have a meal together. That was all you saw, nothing more, nothing less. And there are no other women, not like that is any of your business.”
“You have lost your mind now. First you have a criminal move in, now you want to add a vampire to the mix. My poor darling granddaughter. Are you insane, Eli?!”
“Poor darling granddaughter? Hope is 6 now, and you have spent less than 1 hour uninterrupted at a time with her so far. And for your information, Nat isn’t a vampire, her father is. She is still as mortal as you and I and still has no desire to ever change that.”
“So a half-breed with half-breed children. Good for you then. Match made in heaven. Can’t wait for that wedding invite to the Forgotten Hollow catacombs at the strike of midnight, true vampire style.” Sarah’s tone was oozing sarcasm.
“All I have to say to that is, you think after 20 years with you I’d make the mistake of getting married ever again?”
“Oh, you think our marriage failing was my fault now? You think you had it so bad?! I am not the one who screwed around on YOU!”
Elias just turned, walking back inside and slammed the door shut, leaning against it, rubbing his throbbing temples. This exchange had given him a headache and worse.
He felt watched, opened his eyes and noticed Stryker standing in the hall, stiffly, and visibly uncomfortable.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to walk in on that. You okay?” Stryker asked quietly.
“Yeah. Nothing I am not used to.”
“Is it true? Did you really … sorry, none of my business. Forget it.”
“Nah, it’s okay, you’re family. Yeah, I did. Not my proudest moment, but I did. Guess the temptation of actually feeling wanted instead of only ever getting rejected and yelled at clouded my judgement at some point. Sarah made sure I will never get to live that down for the rest of my life.”
“I get it. I am pretty sure my mother got some on the side too, can’t say I blame her, but as a kid I didn’t understand that was going on. But who in their right mind would have wanted to do it with that monster my father was? Walking out on him wasn’t an option for her. Probably the same logic why you wanted someone other than your ex. I get it.”
“Truth be told, it’s been rough, but Sarah isn’t all bad. She used to be really sweet. I guess it’s the sum of everything that messed her up. Or maybe she fell out of love with me. We used to have really good times together. That’s the hardest part about it all, when a memory from the good times hits me out of nowhere.”
The next day, Sunday afternoon, Elias was sitting on his patio with his older half-brother Blake and their father Ethan, joined by Stryker, having some coffee and enjoying guy talk.
Suddenly Briar Rose came out on the patio too, home way earlier than anticipated from a make-up lunch meet with her mother, looking worried.
“Guys, has anyone here heard from my mom of late? She was a no-show at lunch today, something she has never done before, especially not without texting or calling first. I tried and tried calling and texting her and she doesn’t answer.”
“Well, you recently had a fight kiddo. She’s probably still sulking. Agreeing to come and standing you up may be her way of punishing you.” Ethan dismissed the worry. He had not been Sarah’s biggest fan ever since they all realized the problems Eli and she had, and naturally Ethan’s loyalty lay with his son.
“Grandpa, seriously? I know my mom is an acquired taste, but that’s not like her. If that’s either of you has to contribute, then you guys are no help. I’ll go to her apartment and check there. I have her address somewhere. Let’s see if she can ignore the doorbell ringing off her wall while I beat down the door as easily as he has my texts and calls.” Bri turned and left.
After she was gone Blake nudged Eli.
“Go with her! Quick! Don’t let her go alone!” he said, urgency in his voice.
“Blake! Do not send your brother into the lion’s den! They had a nasty divorce, apparently Sarah is upset again as is. Bri can handle things with her mother on her own. She is a grown young woman now! Eli does not need to walk right into that open sword.” Ethan told Blake.
“Dad, does this not remind you at all of what happened with my mom? You really want to run the risk of your granddaughter walking into something like I did? The signs are all there. Eli, let’s go!” Blake warned.
He was refering to him finding his biological mother, Ethan’s first wife, Amy, dead in the bathtub when he was only 15 years old. (read here)
“Holy shit! I’ll go!” Elias exclaimed.
“I am coming, too. Stryker, you stay with Hope!” Ethan requested.
“Yeah, sure. Not like I am able to leave the house anyway, thanks to that ankle monitor.” Stryker looked concerned too.
“I am driving. You two boys drive like a grandmother with narcolepsy!” Ethan decided.
They arrived at the parking lot of Sarah’s apartments just after Briar Rose had, and right as Bri was about to walk into the building. Surprised she watched the three men arrive, then try the doorbell, when there was no answer they got a hold of the super, who eventually agreed to let them in.
What they found was a shocking scene of a filthy apartment, not what you would expect of a woman from an upper class family who had been married to a wealthy businessman for over 2 decades.
The place was barely furnished, smelled and looked dirty and every surface was filled with empty pill and wine bottles, something the super immediately started complaining about until Ethan just used his decades of handling complicated people and complimented him out the door.
“Why the hell is she living in such a shithole?! I pay her enough alimony to buy a Ritz Carlton! Don’t look at it – and don’t touch anything, Bri!” Elias exclaimed shocked, pulling his shocked daughter closer.
Ethan ordered Eli to hold on to Briar Rose and stay in the living room, when Blake yelled out that he had found Sarah on the floor of the bathroom.
“Is she…?” Ethan asked as he entered the small, equally filthy bathroom.
“No, still has a pulse. Call the EMS dad.”
“Eli is already on the phone with them. You okay kiddo? You can go be with Bri and your brother, I’ll handle this.”
“Thanks dad. I am not 15 anymore. I got this. Just need to stabilize her so she doesn’t suffocate in case she throws up.”
“Sorry you had to be part of something like this again. Good thinking though, son. Proud of you. Always have been, but you know that.”
“I do, dad.”
Subsequently, Sarah was rushed to the hospital, Bri was given a mild sedative to calm her now frayed nerves and something to make her sleep. Ethan took her home in his car, while Blake drove Eli to the hospital in Bri’s.
Finally, after hours of waiting and uncertainty a doctor came to pull Eli into a room. After more than thirty minutes, he returned to Blake, visibly shaken up, and hugged his older brother right away. Blake could feel Eli shaking. He expected the worst, and was relieved when Elias began to speak.
“Thanks man. You saved Sarah’s life! Without you, she might well be dead now. They pumped her stomach and she is recovering. The attending doc told me we found her just in time. Her heart was about to stop. She tried to off herself with an overdose of pain pills. Fucking hell. You know what else they told me? That she has been an addict for at least a decade, if not longer. Liver shows she’s probably been drinking a lot too for just as long. How could I have missed that. That was during our marriage. What kind of a husband was I?” Eli told his brother.
Blake had to work hard to make sure his face didn’t reflect the horror he felt. Hailey would not like this. She really did like Sarah a lot, they were pretty good friends, but after the divorce drama she kept her distance out of loyalty to Eli. Once she’d learn about this, she’d be blaming herself too.
“Eli! Don’t blame yourself for this. Addicts are good at hiding what they don’t want you to see. You told me many times that Sarah was rarely home. Now you know why. And now you know why she was such a bitch. Addicts don’t like being called out, or found out. And this was probably why she didn’t want you or Bri anywhere near her. Or her granddaughter. Too risky someone would notice something. No way you could have known and you can only help the willing, Eli.” Blake spoke calmly.
“Fuck! FUCK! You know what, Blake? I am an idiot! Bri and I had a few talks about how shitty Sarah looked, especially recently. Deep dark circles under her eyes, pale, hollow cheeks, she looked more like a skull than the beautiful woman I married. It was right before our very eyes, like neon signs. Fuck!” Eli openly blamed himself anyway.
“Hey, she’s in good hands here. The best hands for her, where they can monitor her and help her. You cannot do anything for her, she’s not even awake. They sedated her, tomorrow she’ll have all those tests, you heard the doc. They’ll call you with updates no need to stick around and drive yourself nuts. Let me take you home, you need to be with your daughter and grandkid now.”
Over the coming weeks Sarah faced a long path of in-patient procedures, detox, she needed some minor surgeries and then agreed to rehab. She had a multitude of problems to be addressed, so her rehab would take a long while. Finally she was allowed visitors again.
Sitting on the park bench in the park adjacent to the clinic with Elias, she finally broke the silence.
“Decent of you to visit. And thank you for everything you have done.” Sarah even sounded different than before, Eli noticed.
“Why did you never tell me, Sarah? You could have come to me, talked to me. Why didn’t you? I just don’t understand … why?” he asked softly, worried more than accusatory.
She snorted a laugh, but didn’t answer.
“I mean it, Sarah. You must have known I would help you.”
“Yeah. You would have. And I would have been nothing but the weak, helpless addict on top of being the firebreathing evil frigid dragon wife and mother you all saw me as already. Not humiliating at all.”
“You know that is not true.”
“Not? Out of the entire bunch of Camerons Hailey was the only one always nice to me. But the rest of you talked about me behind my back. I knew it all along. And I couldn’t stop it. Any of it. I wished I would have died.”
“Sarah! Think of our daughter. And granddaughter.”
“Bri hates me. She told me so herself.”
“After you slapped her. Yeah. Isn’t that understandable? The reality of it is, Bri was so worried about you, which is why we came looking for you in the first place. And Bri has been feeling terrible about what she said to you. She is your daughter and she loves you. Still.”
“Does she know? About all this?”
“Sarah, she was there when we found you. All this is really hard to hide to begin with. Yes, she knows. I told her everything.”
“Did you talk to my parents?”
“I tried. They hung up on me and slammed the door in my face when I tried in person.”
“Figures. They want nothing to do with me. I disgraced them with a divorce and by being an addict. As far as I am concerned, they have no daughter. Funny story, I actually did go to them for help years ago. I thought, they are my parents, they love me, they will understand and they will help me. What they did was kick me out of their home, forbade me to ever set foot in it again. That was about 8 years ago. Never heard from them since.”
“Oh Sarah …”
“I always loved you, Eli. Still do. Guess I squandered that away too.”
“Sarah .. please … don’t.”
“Do you not care about me at all anymore? Is it all gone now?”
“Of course I care! I would hardly be here if I didn’t. But you didn’t want us to try again after I stepped out, you left me and divorced me without ever looking back.”
“I was hurt Eli, is that so hard to understand. I was hurt by your action, but also by knowing that I probably played my part in making that happen. Not a good place, especially not if you are already fighting demons.”
“Oh Sarah, I do not know what to say. I am here. Wondering if I am making things worse with that or if I am helping. I really do not know. But until you tell me not to, I will continue coming here to see you.”
“You won’t abandon me like everyone else has?”
“No, Sarah, I won’t. I’ll come see you for as long as you want me to. And Bri will come around too. Maybe she’ll come with me next time. All you need to do is keep trying. Can you do that for Bri? For Hope?”
“I will try. For Bri, for Hope – and for you, Eli.”
Elias just looked away.
-to be continued-