Going Home (160)

It had been an eventful few days for the Gardner family. Exhausted, exasperated, and many other bad adjectives could be used to describe them.190.jpg The emotional raft they had been riding for the past few months finally came to calmer waters. Samantha Flint was dead. No one had expected the once-great manipulator to ever go away, let alone die, but sometimes life is funny that way. These were the things Redmond and Annette considered on their trip back home to Huntsport. A wide range of feeling came over them, but through it all, happiness prevailed. Their baby girl, Olivia, was safely in their arms once more. They could be a family now for the first time, a real family. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents awaited their arrival, ready to get back to a sense of relative peace.

***

The family members anxiously waited in the train station for the return of Redmond, Annette, and Olivia.

“God, I’ve missed them so much,” said Laura Gardner.

“I know, honey, I know. It’s been a rough road for all of us,” said Frank, putting an arm around his wife.

“I just thank God that Olivia’s all right!” said Stella Bains.

“She’s got strong blood in her veins, that’s for sure,” said Elaine Gardner.

“I’ll say. That poor kid’s been through more in the past few months than most people have to get through in their lifetime!” said Louise Falcone to Michael.

“Hey, that’s their train, isn’t it? The 47? It is!” shouted Steven Bains.

The train pulled slowly into the platform, heaving great bellows of smoke and steam from its stacks. It too seemed to breathe a sight of relief along with the family. Strangers filed out the compartments, searching frantically for their loved ones. At last, Redmond appeared, then Annette behind him with Olivia in her arms. Tears formed in Annette’s green eyes as she stepped off the train and walked towards her mother.

456“Thank God! Thank God!” sobbed Stella, hugging her daughter and grandchild with every ounce of love in her body.

Laura Gardner took Redmond’s face in her hands, “You’re a good man, Redmond. I’m so, so proud of you.” She hugged him while Frank patted his back.

Elaine, Steven, Louise, and Michael joined in, hugging anyone who had an open arm. Louise looked down at her niece, and the baby smiled back. She even laughed a little bit.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen her smile since we left,” said Annette, “I think she knows she’s back with the people who love her.”

By this time, photographers and reporters had crowded the intimate moment. The Gardners had made headlines taking matters into their own hands to retrieve their kidnapped daughter. Questions were hurled at them left and right, and flashbulbs blinded them all. They answered all questions with, “We’re just so incredibly happy, thank you all for your support,” and bright, sincere smiles.

As Laura ushered Annette into a car, she said, “I’ve got a little party set up for you all once we get back home. That is, if you’re up to it.”

Annette smiled. “Of course I am. If it means being back with you all, then I’m up for anything.”

***

Back at the Gardner home, the family was comfortably settled. A sense of peace floated through the rooms of the old house. Photographs seemed to smile again. The sun shone a little brighter, and the air was just a little sweeter. In the past, every member of the family had overcome unimaginable obstacles. Now, they sat serenely in the company of each other, ready to face another day.

397.jpgMichael and Louise sat on a love seat near the fireplace. Their marriage had been tested on and off again for a while. Trust had been gained and broken. Somehow, Olivia’s safe return put life into perspective for them both. They were each willing to give the other a chance again. Time on this earth is limited, so they decided to try to do the best the could.

Elaine sat on the window seat, looking out over the bay. She had loved Teddy Burke, then lost him far too soon. Her life had spiraled out of control after that, only to be saved by the charming, understanding Rhys. The anger and bitterness she had held onto for so long was slowly melting away.

Steven Bains tended bar, thinking back to the dark days he spent in hiding. He had damaged a few relationships to bring justice to Peter Falcone, but in his heart he knew he had done right. Life back in the family was still an adjustment, but a welcome one, especially for his mother.

Stella Bains stood over Olivia’s crib making endless faces for her. She thought back to the joys her own children had brought her, and the pain of her husband being locked away. For Stella, good and bad had to be taken at face value. Things were settling down now, and she welcomed a new chapter to her story with open arms.

Annette and Redmond stood beside each other, taking in the warm faces that surrounded them. Love was something they had been missing for a long time, in all its forms. For Annette, the energy of the room was summed up in Frank Gardner’s proud face. As a new grandfather, he was able to see a new generation grow and flourish.

Laura raised a glass. “Excuse me everyone, but I think it’s time we toast.” Everyone grabbed a glass of champagne. “I would like to make a toast to this family, to all we’ve been through, and all that’s yet to come our way. We’re only human, each made of vice and virtue, so we’ve got to do the best with what we’ve got. We’re family, no matter what, so we’ve got to keep looking out for each other. As the days go by, remember, we’ve all got a story, and there will always be more to tell! Let’s make our time with each other count. I know we’re all best-sellers!”

Glasses clinked, and Olivia Gardner laughed the precious laugh that would carry them through the rest of their days.

END

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The Truth About Reality (152)

Laura Gardner caught sight of Marion Weathers, ready to give the old gossip a piece of her  mind. “Good morning, Marion,” said Laura with a hint of venom.

Marion looked back at her, confused. They were, in the tamest sense, rivals. A typical church lady, she was sweet on the outside, but deep within herself, she would do whatever she needed to befriend Saint Peter, which often resulted in a holier-than-thou personality. “Oh hello, Laura…you’re looking well…”

“Yes, yes I am, thank you…oh, and you know who else is looking well?” Marion stared back at her blankly. “My daughter, Elaine. You know, the coke head?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Laura, I just–”

“You know damn well what I’m talking about. My daughter’s been through enough these past few months. She doesn’t need to be the subject of vicious gossip just to give you a cheap thrill.”

“Well I know that she has a problem, Laura. I was just speaking with a few of the other ladies, and we were discussing whether or not you should…whether or not you should, um…stay home with her, you know, to help her cope…”

Timid as Laura was, her face grew red with anger. “Let me get this straight…you think that because my daughter ‘has a problem’ that it looks bad for me to be here? What’s wrong with you!”

“I just don’t think that a woman who raised a drug addict should be part of the Ladies League, that’s all,” said Marion dismissively.

Laura clenched her fists. “You may think that, Marion Weathers, that you’re playing God, that you know everything, that somehow this scores you points with Jesus? Let me tell you, God doesn’t abandon people who need His help. I’ll be praying for you, Marion, at home. Hope you can manage the bazaar by yourself.”

She stormed away from Marion, Betty Abernathy following her lead. She was a good woman.

***

After the ambulance had come to transfer Josephine’s body to the morgue, Michael and Louise Falcone sat in the darkened house, brooding.

Louise fixed herself a drink. “You know, Michael, we’re going to have to make some phone calls, inform the rest of the family.”

“Mhm,” murmured Michael.

“You’re going to have to tell your father,” said Louise.

“I don’t know how I’m gonna do any of this…I mean, Pop’s gonna be one thing…you gotta tell your sister and you mother, and then Laura and Frank…Jesus I can’t do this!”

“Listen, it’ll be okay. You’re not one to let things fall apart,” said Louise, taking sip of her drink.

“Fix me one of those.”

Louise made him an old-fashioned. He gulped it down, slamming the tumbler down on the table. “You know, for all the crap they put me through, I’m…I’m kind of relieved…”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, all the lies, all the anger…it’s gone now…we really do have a fresh start. God, I gotta be the world’s worst son…”

“Michael, your parents lied to you. Not just about who you are, that’s understandable, given the circumstances. But what they did to you, killing John Romano, playing mind games with us to keep us under their thumbs, it wasn’t healthy. You’ve got every right to feel the way you do.”

“But they’re my parents, Lou. I mean, they raised me as their own. For all their flaws, they were still my parents…”

They remained silent for a few moments. Louise then spoke up, “I’m going to make the phone calls, Michael. I’ll have all the arrangements made. We’ll be able to put this behind us, soon enough.”

Louise left the room, and Michael made himself another drink. His wife did not understand. No one could understand what he was feeling. Even in death, Josephine still held power over him.

END

The Other Feelings (150)

The organ shook the walls of Blessed Sacrament as Laura Gardner knelt in prayer. Her eyes were closed, and she rested her head on her hands, asking God for strength. Crossing herself, she slowly opened her eyes, only to see Betty Abernathy staring back at her.

She rose, genuflecting as she exited the pew, and walked over to her old friend. Betty’s face had lines of worry written across it as Laura approached.

Betty kissed Laura on the cheek. “How ya doing honey?”

“Fine Betty, all things considered, I guess…I’m sorry I haven’t been to the meetings lately. It’s been a bit hectic for us.”

“Oh no, don’t worry about that! Don’t worry about that at all! The gals got it all under control…” Betty’s voice trailed off as she looked nervously around the church.

“Betty, what’s wrong? You seem a little distracted,” said Laura.

“It’s nothing…well, it’s something…but you don’t need to worry about it…”

“If you’re my friend, Betty Abernathy, then you’ll tell me what’s going on.”

The nervous woman inhaled deeply, wiping sweat from her brow. “It’s about Elaine…I overheard Marion talking to June, and it seems like Marion’s got the idea in her head that Elaine’s got a…a drug problem.”

Heat fell over Laura. “Oh, is that so? What sort of drug problem does Marion think my daughter has?”

“I heard her throw around the word cocaine…” Betty wrung her purse, wholly uncomfortable.

“So she wants to go around telling people my business, does she? Well the least she can do is get the facts straight! I appreciate you telling me, Betty, really,” said Laura, “I won’t mention your name.”

“Mention my name? What do you mean?” asked Betty.

Betty did not receive a response. Instead, she witnessed Laura Gardner march across the church towards Marion Weathers, head down in determination. Laura Gardner did not take kindly to lies, especially ones about her own family.

***

“Have you called anyone yet? Or have you just been sitting around admiring your work?” sneered Michael Falcone, holding the hand of his dead mother. His wife looked back at him in fury.

“How can you even say that! It just happened! Oh my God!” Louise rushed to the phone in the parlor, tears streaming down her face.

“Hello? 911? I’d like to report an accident! Yes, my mother-in-law she…she fell down the stairs. I think she’s dead!” shouted Louise into the receiver. She slammed it down, pacing frantically around the room.

“You think she’s dead? What more do you need? She’s not breathing for Christ’s sake!” shouted Michael.

“Michael, what the hell do you want me to do? I made the friggin’ call, but I– I don’t even know what the hell happened! I can’t even believe what’s happening right now!”

Michael lunged towards her, taking her in his arms, shaking her. “You’re going to look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t kill her. Look me in the eyes right now, Louise, and tell me you didn’t push my mother down the stairs. Tell me!”

Louise’s eyes moved towards her husband’s. Her makeup began to run. She spoke slowly and deliberately. “I didn’t kill your mother, Michael.”

He held her for a moment longer, somehow disappointed that it was truly an accident. It was not fitting that his mother simply fall. She was a strong-willed woman who was always ready for a fight. He released Louise, turning towards the window, letting out a gasp.

Louise ran to his side, “Michael, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” She put her arms around him. His body shook with his suppressed sobs. He could not be comforted.

Sirens pierced the air as the Falcones stared out the window, embracing each other. Someone would come along to take away the body of Josephine Falcone and prove she died accidentally. With Peter in jail and Josephine gone, Michael had no one except for his wife.  They were alone.

END