September 3, 2010

The sun had just begun to set over the distant hills behind a quaint farmhouse with the over-sized porch. A large oak tree stood tall in the front yard extending its massive branches protectively over the small house, which was surrounded by an endless see of fields. At one time they had been used for growing food. Only the expansive fruit orchards remained, apples and peaches, the rest had long since been taken over by wild flowers.

A breeze caught the giant oak and circled its way down through the leaves. It teased the delicate strands of Anna's long dark hair, and caught the edges of her soft white dress, lifting them softly into the air, as she stood otherwise motionless at the edge of the over-sized porch staring blindly in the direction of the gravel driveway.

Ashe leaned casually against the doorway watching her. The family resemblance between them was striking, except for their coloring. Ashe's hair was the palest shade of blond his eyes were pale green.

A single tear escaped her and she silently brushed it away.

Ashe took a breath as if to speak but said nothing.

Anna was grateful for his patience. Still being shut out of Meline's mind angered her but despite her feelings she never wanted Ashe to think ill of her. She'd always believed Meline to be the compassionate one but it would appear that over the past thirty years their roles had reversed.

"She's not coming," Anna said after a moment.

"I'm sorry mother," Ashe replied softly.

Mother. She rolled the word around in her head as she turned to face him. His loyalty was devastatingly obvious.

"Is she still with him?" he asked casually.

Him was Galen, Meline's lover and Ashes father. Anna had seen him through Meline's eyes and knew that Ashe's coloring came from his father. In Ashe's mind his father was the man in the photograph in the living room of his childhood home and his uncle David who was like a father to him.

"Yes," Anna replied.

Ashe tensed and for a moment Anna wished that she had not told him, but then he turned his head toward the gravel drive.

Ashe had remarkable senses.

"Dr. Bailey?" Anna asked. "He never comes on Wednesdays."

Ashe inhaled deeply. "Or brings a dog."

"A dog?"

"It's a police dog," Ashe sighed.

They shared a look then Ashe hurried across the porch and leapt over the railing as Anna made her way through the house to her youngest sisters room.

Youngest sister.

Technically, Emily was three and a half years younger than her twin half-sisters Anna and Meline. To see her, it would have been more believable that Emily was her grandmother.

"Anna?" Emily started, as she entered.

"I'm sorry," Anna said. "I didn't mean to wake you, Emily. Dr. Bailey has decided to pay a surprise visit."

Anna worked quickly to remove the IV from Emily's arm. She licked her thumb and pressed it against the wound, healing it.

"I was not asleep," Emily sounded determined.

Her tone was unexpected but Anna had no time for anything other than hiding evidence. She stashed the IV bag in a tote bag, along with a small sharps container, a set of syringes and a small ampoule of immortal venom. After securing an unused saline IV next to the bed she hurried across the room to the window. The latch was unlocked, which was odd as she was sure she had locked it tight the night before, but at the moment she had more pressing matters to attend to.

"I wasn't sleeping Anna," Emily said, stern.

"I know Sweetheart," Anna soothed. "You told me."

Anna couldn't really blame Dr. Bailey for his suspicions. He had been Emily's doctor for decades and had never heard even the slightest mention of them until the week they had arrived in town and deprived him of a patient, as well as a hefty inheritance. Which he repeatedly and adamantly denied as being his main point of contention in the ongoing battle over the rights to care for Emily.

As counterpoint, Anna allowed Dr. Bailey to visit Emily whenever he liked - supervised of course - so that he could see that Emily was not being misled, mistreated or taken advantage of by the people who weren't drugging her into oblivion.

With diligence Dr. Bailey visited Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, often bringing with him the local pastor.

Emily's life experiences had given her many doubts about God and even an afterlife. Anna couldn't say what happened to mortals after they died, but she was relieved that her sister was able to find comfort in the pastors continued reassurances that when she died God would welcome her into paradise with open arms.

The problem was that while Emily knew not to discuss Anna's methods with Dr. Bailey, she had not thought there was any danger in talking to a pastor about it.

Whether Dr. Bailey had been eavesdropping or the pastor had talked out of turn, Anna didn't know. Either way it had given Dr. Bailey new motivation to pursue guardianship of Emily.

"It wasn't a dream," Emily said firmly.

"What wasn't a dream?" Anna asked only half listening. Her attention was primarily focused on the three men, and one German shepherd, now making their way onto the porch.

"She was here." Emily said. "I saw her."

"Saw who Emily?" Anna asked absently.

"Mother." Emily said.

The air felt thick as Anna tried to suck a mouthful into her lungs. "When, Emily? When did you see her? Was she here?"

"You lied to me." Emily began to cry. "You told me she was dead, but she was here. I saw her and she was like you. Young and beautiful."

"Mother was psychotic," Anna whispered. "Deranged. She killed herself Emily. You know that. You saw it with your own eyes."

"Stop it." Emily scowled through her tears.

Anna sighed. "Jonas turned her. She went insane and she killed herself, Emily. It was her third attempt when you found her. When the house burnt down I thought that was it. I promise you I had no idea she was still alive."

"Hello?" came an unfamiliar voice from the front door.

"Damn it." Anna Cursed.

"Mrs. Brightly?" Dr. Bailey called as he opened the front door and let himself in.

"Not the dog, please." Anna hurried to meet them halfway.

"You got something against dogs Miss Lake?" said a tall, confident looking man, standing next to Dr. Bailey.

"I'm allergic," she responded.

"Why don't you take a walk Officer Briggs?" he instructed.

On second thought, maybe she should have let the dog in.

"My name's Skip Jones," said the man next to Dr. Bailey. " I'm a Magistrate for the county. Mind if I ask you a few questions Miss Lake?"

"A magistrate." She lifted an eyebrow at Dr. Bailey. "How unconventional. Are you friends with Aunt Emily Mr. Jones?"

"I'm here as a favor to Dr. Bailey." He said.

"Of course you are." Anna forced a smile.

"We're a pretty small community, Miss Lake, I like to check things out for myself before I start rocking the boat."

"How very impartial of you." Anna glared.

"Anna?" Emily called.

Anna excused herself and headed back to Emily's room. Dr. Bailey and his friend followed casually behind her.

Anna gasped when she saw the tote that Emily was pointing toward sitting on the windowsill. She had just enough time to stuff it under Emily's bed before her visitors arrived at Emily's bedroom door.

"I... I thought I heard a dog," Emily stammered uncomfortably with the appearance of Dr. Bailey and his friend.

"It's officer's Briggs dog," Anna explained. "He just brought him for a run in the fields," Anna smiled.

"Is your brother here, Miss Lake?" Mr. Jones asked.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to stand in doorways, Mr. Jones," Anna informed.

"My apologies," he said coming to stand at the end of Emily's bed.

Anna shook her head. "You just missed him I'm afraid. He thought he saw another surveyor earlier, so about ten minutes ago he took a steak sandwich and a dozen "No Trespassing" signs and went to secure them around the property. I recommended an electrified fence, but I was out voted."

Her comment garnered a smile and a suppressed chuckle from Mr. Jones but Dr. Bailey was not amused.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Brightly," Mr. Jones spoke loudly, practically yelling. "Are you feeling all right? You look upset."

"I feel fine," Emily said. "Maybe you should explain to him that yelling is also considered rude," she said to Anna.

Mr. Jones looked rightfully abashed.

"Emily, This is Dr. Bailey's friend, Mr. Jones." Anna said.

"My apologies, ma'am." Mr. Jones said. "My grandmother was near deaf in her older years. I suppose it's just a force of habit."

Anna sighed, annoyed. Fifty years ago she probably would have snapped their necks and buried them in the yard. But she was a different person now, motherhood had changed her she knew, but she hoped it hadn't made her soft.

"I'm going to come straight to it Mrs. Brightly, Dr. Bailey has some concerns about the treatment you've been receiving since you left his care."

Emily scoffed. "He's just upset that I changed my will."

"My concern is only for your health and well-being, Em." Dr. Bailey said. "I've been your doctor for more than twenty years, and suddenly out of the blue this stranger comes along, and against my advice you leave the hospice center, you stop taking your medications, you change your will. It's suspicious, Em. I'm just trying to look out for you."

"My sister is not a stranger!" Emily said vehemently.

Dr. Bailey and Mr. Jones exchanged a look.

"Miss Lake is not your sister." Mr. Jones offered.

"Oh. Oh no." Emily said, her eyes filling with tears as she looked and reached toward Anna. "I'm sorry Anna, I forgot."

Anna took hold of Emily's hand. "It's alright sweetheart," she turned toward Mr. Jones. "She often mistakes me for her sister," Anna explained.

"Is that so?" Mr. Jones shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "The thing is, I've looked into Mrs. Brightly's family records. We could only find one sister, Jennifer Trumbal, married to Joseph Finley and they have only one daughter, Eden Finley. So it begs the question... Just exactly who the hell are you?"

"I am who I've always said I was, her great grand niece." Anna crossed to the dresser and retrieved a photo album from the bottom drawer, set it on the bed and began flipping through the pages. "Of course, now that you've stumbled across that bit of information, I'm sure you've informed Dr. Bailey that according to state law, invalidating Emily's current will due to mental instability would also invalidate her previous will written only a couple of months earlier and by default everything would be left to her closest living relative, by blood that's me. By law, that's Jennifer Trumbal."

Dr. Bailey shot a nervous look toward Mr. Jones who was eyeing Anna intently.

"This is Emily's wedding photo." Anna said turning the album toward them.

Mr. Jones came around the side of the bed where Anna had been standing.

"This is Jennifer," Anna pointed to a young girl. "Proud parents, Mr. and Mrs. Trumbal, Mr. & Mrs. Brightly." Anna pointed them out then continued through the pages.

"Here's an earlier photo, before Jennifer was born. Perhaps you recognize them from the other photo?" Anna looked to Mr. Jones.

"Yes." He nodded.

"But the people in this photo are Mike Trumbal, Iona Dearing and Emily Hughes."

Mr. Jones looked perplexed. Anna turned a few more pages then handed the album to Emily. "Tell them who these people are." Anna said.

Emily looked apprehensive.

"It's okay Emily, family secrets wont hurt them now."

"This is my mother, Elizabeth." Emily pointed to the woman in the photo, and each of the others in turn. "My sisters Anna and Meline and that's me, the littlest one. And that's my mother's husband." Emily shot a nervous look at Anna. "I forget his name."

"His name was John Cross." Anna took the album from Emily to show Mr. Jones. "He's my great grandfather."

"Yes, yes that's right." Emily said. "He was her third husband. My mother committed suicide after he left, that's when I went to live with my aunt Iona, and later she and her husband adopted me as their own."

"Here's another picture of the girls, they're older here." Anna held the album out for both Mr. Jones and Dr. Bailey to see. "You can see the family resemblance." Anna said. "Plus I was named after her. It's really no wonder she mistakes me for her sister."

"What happened to the twins after their mother's death?" Dr. Bailey asked.

"They went to live with John Cross," Anna explained.

"That doesn't make any sense." Dr. Bailey said. "How could he be her third husband and the father of her two oldest daughters?"

"Family secrets," Anna sighed. "Elizabeth and John Cross were lovers, but John was unreliable... a rogue. He was around for a few months then he left, and Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant. A single mother in nineteen twenty. Can you imagine?" Anna shook her head. "Iona was Elizabeth's best friend she would have done anything for her. She lied for her. She lied about a marriage to her brother and even the date of his death. Elizabeth's first actual marriage was to Lamont Hughes. A few months after Emily was born John Cross came back into town, and moved in right next door. Lamont died a short time later under questionable circumstances. And eventually Elizabeth married John Cross."

"You won't mind if I check your story out before I accept it as cold hard fact?" Mr. Jones said as he shot a brief glare at Dr. Bailey.

"Not at all." Anna said. "Our family hasn't been close, but when I heard that Emily had taken ill, I naturally assumed that Jennifer would look after her, but that was before I discovered that Jennifer is..."

"The Devil." Emily said.

"I didn't expect Emily to leave everything to me when she changed her will," Anna said. "All I asked for was the family history. Photo albums, journals, those kinds of things."

"But it sure wouldn't hurt to own all that land would it?" Mr. Jones smirked. "What's it worth? One, two million maybe?"

"I wouldn't know. I'm not going to sell it. I'm donating use of the land to a rehabilitation commune."

"That's just what our community needs," Dr. Bailey sighed. "A bunch of strung out addicts."

Mr. Jones shook his head. "Tom, could you wait outside a minute?"

Offended, Dr. Bailey stormed out of the room.

"He really doesn't like you does he?" Mr. Jones smirked.

"He convinced Emily to will her land to him, dumped her in a facility that drugged her out of her mind, and was preparing her things for auction when I came into town. I don't really like him either."

Mr. Jones nodded. "He may not have a case for mental instability," Mr. Jones bent down and retrieved the tote from under Emily's bed. "But as quick as you were to hide this," he looked inside. "I can't help but wonder if he may have a case for practicing medicine without a license."

"You have no right!" Emily blurted.

"It's alright Emily," Anna soothed. "I'll take care of this. The IV is from a couple of weeks ago," she explained. "I forgot to dispose of it. I'm feeling the pressure of watchful eyes Mr. Jones. I just didn't want anyone to think that I had been neglecting Emily, because of that one little thing. I have prescriptions for all of that and I've been trained in how to give shots and start an IV drip."

Mr. Jones eyed the ampoule of red fluid in the unmarked vial. "Well, if you're all done with it, you won't mind me taking it and having it tested just to make sure you're not giving Emily anything you should be."

"It's only the IV that needs disposing of. Emily may still require her pain medication... But I imagine it would be pointless for me to demand a warrant," Anna glared.

Mr. Jones shrugged. "Already got one. Just haven't signed it yet. Remember that boat I talked about rocking."

"Just whose side are you on?" Emily grumbled.

"I'm on your side, Mrs. Brightly."

"Bullshit." Emily countered.

"It's alright Emily," Anna soothed. "There's nothing to be upset about. If Mr. Jones is as honorable as he claims to be, this whole mess will be sorted in a few days. If not... I'll introduce him to Jennifer."

Emily scoffed.

"Let me walk you out Mr. Jones." Anna said.

"Jennifer is Jennifer Finley?" Mr. Jones asked stopping Anna in the hallway.

"She's disputing her mother's will at the moment, the majority of which was left to her own daughter." Anna explained.

"You don't seem too worried about it," Mr. Jones said.

"I'm not," Anna said. "But you can be sure that my confidence when dealing with Jennifer is an exclusive right. She's tough as nails and likes to fight."

Mr. Jones suppressed a doubtful smile. "I'd like it if we could be friends Miss Lake," Mr. Jones said. "There's something about you."

"What do you want Mr. Jones?" Anna asked.

"I know all about your rehabilitation commune," Mr. Jones leaned in close to her. "I want in. Twenty percent."



Anna took hold of his collar, pulled him close and kissed him. "Ten."

Mr. Jones handed her the tote. "Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Lake."

"Good-bye Mr. Jones," Anna said.

Mr. Jones smiled gave her a nod and left.


Family Secrets

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart