BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
"What do you mean?"
"What do you think I mean? Everything I make for her comes right back up," I tell him, trying to be gentle with her asleep in my lap. "She pees the bed unless I'm there. We need to do something."
"Take her to the fucking doctor, Alex. If she goes another day without eating, I'll start pulling your hair out."
"Nice language, Walter. Look, don't get angry with me. Let's get her to the clinic and have them take a look at her."
"Change her clothes and I'll move the Rover around front. And we are not spending another winter on this mountain." I watch Walter leave the cabin, as I carry Shannon to the den to change her clothes. The room stinks of vomit and piss. It's been three days since the funeral and she has been inconsolable. I've tried to get her to eat, to even drink water, but nothing has worked. I'm not prepared for this. The Shannon that I've always cared for was a bright and chipper child. She's had sniffles, but nothing like this. I'm really scared.
I dress her in pajamas and socks, since I'll carry her, she won't need shoes. I hear the horn outside and carry Shannon to the door. She's still out, so I'm beginning to think she's unconscious and not just asleep. Walter walks in to lock up and just looks at me for a moment. He takes a deep breath before waving me out the door to the truck. I go out to the Range Rover and get in the back with her. Thankfully, I have my cell phone.
"Sammy, it's Alex," I say as the front desk of the clinic picks up. Sammy, the young man I rescued once at the Closet, goes between the hospital and the satellite clinics the hospital runs in the local towns.
"Hey, Alex, you sound upset, what's up?" Sammy turned out to be an intuitive and intelligent young man. I like that I can call him friend.
"It's Shannon. She's not well. The grief is too much for her. She can't keep anything down, not even water. She's incontinent and listless. She's out cold right now, but I don't think she's sleeping."
"Kay, you need an ambulance?" Walter gets into the truck and gets us going down the mountain.
"No, we're bringing her in, Walter's driving. Just make sure someone's there to meet us."
"OK, we have a new pediatrician, Pratima Kanthan. She'll be waiting for you guys."
"Kay, we're coming now."
Walter drove faster than I have ever seen him drive. It's almost dangerous, but the Rover is equipped to handle this kind of driving. I brace my feet as the turns are starting to get sharp.
"Sorry, Sasha, I'm trying to be as careful as possible," he says, looking back in the mirror.
"I know, Vlad, just keep going. I've got her."
It takes a little more than half an hour to get to the clinic and Walter is right, we can't live on that mountain with the kid. She'll need to be closer to town. We'll have to buy a house.
As we pull up to the front of the clinic, Sammy and a beautiful Indian woman are waiting for us, right behind them are two orderlies with a gurney. I step out of the truck and lay Shannon onto the gurney. As I step away and slam the door, Walter drives off to park. I just follow everyone inside, Sammy's holding my hand and pulling me away, mumbling about paperwork.
I get the truck into a spot then start toward the clinic. I know I should have taken her to the hospital, but this is closer. Alex is inside with Sammy sitting next to him, writing out paperwork. I take the clipboard from him and he looks up at me sadly. "Go be with her. I'll stay here and do this. It's gonna be a long night."
"Thanks, Vlad," he says and kisses me. He goes off to wherever they've taken the kid and I'm sitting on a plastic seat with a clipboard in my lap. Sammy takes my left hand and says, "She's going to be OK, Walter. I swear, Dr. Priti is great."
"Huh?" I ask. Did he just call the doctor pretty?
"Dr. Priti. Her name is Pratima, but the kids all call her Dr. Priti and it seems to calm them. Don't worry, she's great. Better than that last one. He just up and left, you know? Not a word or anything to anyone. Just packed up his personal stuff one night, hand-wrote his resignation, tore up his office and left. Sick."
I bristled a little about that. I know what happened to the last general practitioner of the clinic. And if even Alex hadn't have sedated me, I still would have allowed him to go. It seems like an eternity as I wait for Alex to come out with news, when it's really only been an hour. Thankfully, the clinic keeps CNN on the television otherwise I'd go nuts after having filled out this paperwork. I admonish myself as I realize I didn't add Shannon to my medical insurance. Good thing about retiring from the FBI, they still pay your insurance premiums.
"Sammy?" I call out, and he's so eager to help me. I think he still wants to get in bed with Alex and me. He knows better than to ask. He sits down beside me and looks up with his big, blue eyes. This is one handsome boy. "Hey, can I put Shannon on my insurance here, since I'll be adding her soon?"
"Yeah, we can hold the paperwork until it's official then submit it. They'll balk, but in the end, they'll pay us." He smiles and goes back to his desk. So I finish and wait. And wait. Finally, Alex comes out, looking like he was interrogated for days. My poor husband. I love him so much, but he puts himself through the wringer because he thinks he deserves it. Poor baby.
"She's resting. They have an IV in her, gave her anti-nausea medicine. Now, we wait to see if she rouses. If not, when they close, we'll have to take her by ambulance to the hospital."
A tall woman with the smoothest-looking caramel skin walks over and says, "You must be Walter. I'm Pratima Kanthan, but everyone calls me Dr. Priti. Whatever you prefer is fine by me. She's awake, now, asking for you both. You can come back, please."
We get up and follow her to see Shannon, looking tinier than ever on that large gurney, covered in bright peach blankets. They've left on her pajamas, which I suppose makes her feel better. She looks up at us as if she's never seen us before, but doesn't say anything. I think she's terrified. Alex grabs one of the rolling stools to sit beside her and takes her little hand. She looks white as a sheet of paper. "Hey, Petal, how are you doing?" he asks quietly.
"My head hurts. I feel dizzy." I just stand there, trying to look serene. As much as I still don't think it's a good idea for us to raise her, I do care for the little girl. I wouldn't have dressed up as Prince Charming if I didn't. Maybe I should get this notion of not being good as a parent out of my head. Just because it didn't work on Mulder doesn't mean I couldn't be a good father.
"They gave you medicine that will make you feel better, Petal. And we're not leaving you, OK?"
"No hospital," is all she says before closing her eyes. Dr. Priti calls me out of the room and says, "I know she doesn't want to go to a hospital, but I'm afraid she needs longer-term care than we can provide here. I'm sorry, but you will have to take her to the hospital. Would you like me to tell her?"
I take a deep breath. The last thing I want is Shannon hating all doctors. If anyone should tell her, it should be me. I'm the one with the least amount of attachment to her. I'd rather her hate me. I walk back in and say, "Hey, sweetie, we're gonna have to take you to the hospital tonight," I start to say, and am stopped short by her hysterical screaming.
"No! No hospital! NO!!" She begins thrashing and trying to get out of the bed. Alex grabs her quickly before she pulls out her IV.
"Calm down, Petal, Walter's right. We have to take you. I'll be there the whole time. I swear, I won't leave you, OK?" Alex coos at her, trying to get onto the gurney to pull her into her arms. I'm afraid to touch her, to set her off, as she's calming in Alex's arms.
"I'll go make the arrangements." I walk out of the room, trying not to let the crying get to me. I don't want to torture the kid, but she's got to get some medical attention. Throwing up and incontinence for three days is dangerous, especially in a child. Dr. Priti meets me in the hall. "So, should we get an ambulance?"
"No, I think that if you're careful with her, you can drive her. Samuel has called ahead and they're expecting you in the ER. I'll leave the line in her arm, so they don't have to stick her again, but I'll remove the IV bag. You can take her at any time and Samuel will give you the paperwork to sign her out. Good luck, and keep me informed of her status. Oh, I have regular hours here, appointments to see patients, so, bring her by for check ups, OK?" Her smile is so bright, it's captivating. I almost forget where I am.
"Thanks, I'll go sign her out." I walk over to where Sammy is standing with a clipboard and some pages for me, marked with the "sign here" flags. I look down at him and say, "Samuel?"
"She insists on calling me that, since her favorite cat was named Sammy. I don't get it." I hand back the pages and I see Alex coming out with Shannon wrapped in a blanket. She's stopped crying and is just looking very scared. I reach out to touch her shoulder, but she pulls away. Ah, she thinks this is my fault.
Walter drives us to Manassas General and sure enough, inside the ER there is an orderly waiting for us to take the girl in. However, they aren't so permissive to let two adults into the exam room. Walter is again relegated to filling out the paper work as I'm led to the pediatric exam room. It's a cheery room, with a bed that looks like a big green dinosaur. The nurse has kittens all over her scrubs and the doctor comes in with a big smile on his face. He's a stout man with white hair and rosy cheeks. I'll bet at Christmas he grows a beard.
"Well, Shannon, I hear that you aren't doing too well. Your father brought you to me to make you well. That's what I plan to do. OK?"
"I hate it here," she says, very clearly.
"I know. I don't want you to be here, really. There's nothing we can do about that now. If you cooperate with us, and help us make you better, you can go home sooner. I promise, I'll do everything I can to get you home fast. OK?" The man amazes me.
Shannon nods and tries to sit up. He reaches out and pats her shoulder. "No, sweetie. You rest. I'm gonna put the water bag back on you, so you don't have to drink anything and have it come up again, OK?" Another nod. A large chair is brought in for me and I thank the orderly. He's a tall kid, dark skin, shaved head, big diamond in his ear. He looks a little incongruous in the surroundings, until I remember the little drag queen he was dancing with at the Closet. Someone who thought he wanted to be one of the teen singing stars, dressed like a girl-whore. I try to remember that it takes all kinds. He nods to me and I read his name tag. Trey says, "Want me to get Walter for you?"
"He can come in?" I ask. I honestly didn't think they would let another father in. Then again, Trey is a brother, and not the dark-skinned kind. He understands two fathers.
"Yeah, it's pretty late, we're slow. It's not like you two will get it on in here, right?" He winks at me and leaves to get Walter. The doctor, as I read his tag to say "Dr. Donny", has attached the IV bag as well as a bag of medicine to drip into her arm. I feel a hand on my shoulder and I know it's Walter. I look up into his serene face that's concentrating on Shannon. What have I gotten him into?
"Hi, Sasha. How's our girl?" He says that as much for her to answer as me, but her eyes just drift closed.
"Resting. You want a chair?" I start to get up to see if Trey can find him one, but the young man is ahead of me, getting the chair and pushing it in the room. Walter thanks him, shakes the man's hand and sits beside me. I don't even think twice as I hold his hand.
I have to admit, I'm frightened for the kid. It's nice to know I don't have to be alone. I wouldn't know how to deal with this if Walter wasn't here. If I were in another life, I would just walk away. The social services department would have to take care of her and I would just force myself to forget with a bottle of vodka and a few tight-assed boys. My life is completely different now. I'm...domestic. Some days I still wake up wondering what my next assignment will be, what country I'll be sent to, or who I'll kill, then I hear the snoring and I know that I'm not that man any more. I thought I'd never give up the secret agent part of me. Some if it's still there, in my insistence on security and caution. Some of it's totally gone. I don't carry a gun anymore.
I look at my watch. It's already ten-thirty. Walter looks as if he's fading fast. I pat his thigh and say, "Vlad, why don't you call Katya and stay at her place tonight? She's got that huge guest room. You can come back in the morning."
"I'm not going to leave you here alone, Sasha, that's out of the question. They may keep her and kick us both out." His face is so sad, but he's making sense.
"Yeah, you're right. OK, we'll see what happens."
In a few more minutes, Dr. Donny comes in and talks directly to us. "I got the lab reports from the clinic. I'm going to take another blood sample from her, but I think it's best that she stays here overnight. If she's feeling that much grief, she shouldn't be home not getting any nutrients. At least here, we can keep her hydrated and inject anything she may need. She shouldn't stay alone, either."
"No, I don't want that. Her mother just..." I start to say.
"I know, Mr. Krycek. We all heard about Anabelle's passing. I didn't know the woman, but you guys have been the talk of the town, helping her and taking the child in. Now, there's a suite we have here, used for transplants. It has two beds, and a fold out couch. I can offer you that room, but it isn't covered under your insurance..."
"I'll pay for it, I don't care," Walter says quickly. "Just so long as she's not alone. If she wakes up, she'll need someone there for her."
"OK, I'll arrange it and have someone take you both upstairs with her."
When the doctor leaves, I hug Walter tightly. He pulls back and says, "I'm going to go outside and call Mike Elliot. Tomorrow's Sunday, he's not working. I'll tell him to go to the cabin, get our shaving kits, pajamas and clothes. OK?"
"Sounds good, Vlad." He leaves to make his call and I just watch as a nurse, Trey and another young man lift Shannon onto a rolling gurney and we go to the elevator. The room they take us to is quite luxurious. There's a large private bathroom with a full shower in it. Walter walks in as I'm sitting on the couch. It feels pretty comfortable.
"I'll sleep there, Sasha. You take the bed, so that the kid won't be scared without you. She's more attached to you than to me." He sounds so defeated. He might just be tired, but I have my doubts about that.
"No, Vlad, she loves you just as much. You dressed up for her..."
"She's attached to you. I'm not jealous, just stating a fact. Mike will be by in about an hour or so, so I'm going to watch the late news and you can go to bed. I'll wake you when he gets here." He seems like he's fine with everything. I watch as he goes to the large light wood armoire and opens the doors. The television in there is huge, positioned so that all can see it from the beds and the couch. I don't know what else to do so I pull one of the large comfortable chairs over and sit beside the bed, watching Shannon sleep.
I take a moment and call Katya to tell her what's going on. "Alex, are you sure you two don't want me there? I can be there quickly."
"Tomorrow is church for you. I don't want to take you away..."
"Alex, vy - moj brat," she says gently. "God will understand if I miss one day of mass. I can be there..."
"Katya, moya sestra, thank you. Come to see us tomorrow after mass in the transplant suite, OK?"
"The what?" she asks.
"I'll explain when you get here. It's late, go to bed."
"Such the older brother," she says before hanging up with me.
For two days and nights we stayed in that room with her. Shannon hated every minute of it. And so did we. She did enjoy the visit with Katya, who also brought her priest with her to bless Shannon, which wasn't any more than a little holy water on her forehead and a few prayers, which she sat through quietly. She cares very much for Katya, so making Katya happy in important to Shannon.
After two days, she's feeling better physically, but she still misses her mother terribly. She wants to go back to the house and smell her mother's clothes and touch her things. After taking the prescription from the doctor and promising that we'll watch Shannon carefully, which we would, we take her back to her mother's house. Walter had disposed of the soiled mattress and left the windows open to air the room out, but you could smell Anabelle's perfume all through the house. Alure by Chanel is on everything.
Shannon really surprises me. She doesn't cry. She does, however, start pulling some of her mother's clothes out to pack in a big suitcase. She wants to sleep with them, she tells us. We help her pack it, of course letting her take anything she wants. Walter comes across the box with the pearls he bought for Anabelle for Christmas. "Shannon, baby, do you want to keep these? For yourself when you get older?" Walter is so calm with her.
"Yes, please. I want to take all my mommy's things. Not today. Later." She's so tired. A seven-year-old girl should not have to deal with this. I take Shannon to her room and we start packing her Barbie luggage with the rest of the things she'll want for the next few days. Walter has promised to build her a lovely dresser with attached mirror and paint it any color she wants. He promises to build her a new bed, bookshelves, and she smiles at him tiredly. "Thank you, Grandpa."
I watch as Walter leaves the room, going to the kitchen to make sure he throws out all of the perishables, takes out the garbage and everything. We'll have to come and break down the house good, take all the groceries out, the appliances that are left, the furniture. I turn to Shannon who was looking around at her room.
"You OK, Petal?" I ask.
"I guess. We should sell all this stuff. Or give it to Kate's church. If Grandpa will make more, someone should get this stuff, right?" The little lady makes her decision and nods her head.
"OK, baby, we'll do that. Anything you want. Hey, here's something to think about. How about we buy a house here in town? Something big enough for all three of us not to step all over each other. You like that idea?"
She shrugs. OK, we can discuss that in a few days. The beginning of June is coming on strong and the last thing I want to do is spend another summer sweating in that cabin. Whatever place we get will have to accommodate the furniture tools we have. We can't stop our business because of where we live. We'll just have to look at all the properties available in Manassas. It will be nice to drive ten minutes to the supermarket and not plan a two hour trip. I could be close enough to walk to Katya's house. I regret not having more time with her. She's given up her life to be my sister and she is barely in my life. I must change that.
We make our way back out of the house to see Mrs. Ramsey coming out of the house to see Shannon. The little girl stops and waits. "Hello, sweetie, how are you feeling?"
Shannon shrugs. She's been doing that a lot. I'm going to have to draw her out. "Petal, tell Mrs. Ramsey about the house we're going to get."
Shannon doesn't stop staring at the line of ant going across the walkway. "You're moving into town, Alex?"
"I think that's best. Closer to her school and my sister. Up on that mountain, we're too far from everything."
"Once upon a time you liked that."
"Things are different now, ma'am." I smiled down at her. She's shrinking. I like the lady.
"Well, when you're settled, you be sure and let me know where you boys are. I'd like to visit."
"We'll invite you to the housewarming party."
She pats my shoulder and ambles back to her home. I notice she watches as Walter brings the trash cans to the curb and we get into the truck to go back home. Shannon just stares out the window in the back, not speaking. As we round one of the bends in the middle of the mountain, she finally says, "We have to move. I hate this. Takes too long."
"We'll start looking, Petal. Besides, Grandpa wants a swimming pool." She smiles then.
"Yeah, Sasha, we want a swimming pool." The mood of the drive home lightens greatly. When Shannon get home, she wants to lie on the couch and watch television, which I do with her while Walter makes dinner. He's frying chicken, and I love his fried chicken. We sit in a semi- comfortable silence to eat and soon, as the day starts to fade into twilight, Shannon calls me into her room to help her find something to wear to bed. I left all the windows in the room open to air it out for the stench. We've moved most of the furniture into a corner, and the den is now officially Shannon's room. It will have to be until she and I find a new house. I figure, it will keep her busy to help me look for a place while Walter is working. I've taken a sabbatical from my job with the security firm to take care of Shannon until she starts school. Then I can get back to work. Maybe Walter and I should think about taking her on a vacation.
Alex and Grandpa are being real nice to me. It hurts still. It hurts a lot. I miss her every minute. I just want her to hold me again. Alex is trying, I know that. But it's not the same. I want my own bed. I want my momma back. I want to be the way things were before. I hate this!
It's my fault. I wished for this. I wished hard to live with Alex. Maybe it's my fault. I wished it on her. I hate myself. Maybe I can be good, and pray, and I'll feel better. Kate's right, God loves me and I should be happy I have two daddies who love me. I should be thankful.
Alex has the best idea. Every day, he takes Shannon out in the Hummer and they look at neighborhoods in Manassas and the surrounding area, and find all the "For Sale" houses and make notes. Shannon is practicing her penmanship by taking all the notes. They're bonding very well, and it keeps her mind off grieving.
I know she should go through her grieving process, get it out of her system, but I don't think Alex and I are equipped to handle it. I mean, we can handle each other's emotions, but we're not overly emotional. Sometimes, we're just a couple of guys who live together and fuck at night. There's the occasional bath together, or the cuddle on the couch, but this summer has become all about Shannon. We have not made love since the funeral. June is starting to look bleak, despite the one hundred degree weather we have daily. I sweat so much, working on the wood could be dangerous. If I slip, I'll lose a finger, or a hand, and die. Alex and Shannon are gone all day, so I have no one to take me to the hospital. Mostly, during the days, I'm carving or sanding. I wait until they come home and the sun starts descending, bringing the cool breeze, to start the heavy work.
They come home one night, late in June, excited. They've brought dinner, which is cold, but I can heat up the lasagna in the microwave oven. "We found a house, Grandpa!" Shannon shouts. I don't get a chance to ask her any more as she runs into the house to play with the dogs. At dinner, Alex explains the place to me.
"It's huge, Vlad. It's in Lee Manor..."
"That place is really expensive, Sasha. Those homes are huge!" He's mentioned a really luxurious neighborhood in Manassas, no where near our mountain which is outside city limits.
"Well, yeah, but the place is ready to move into, five bedrooms, three and a half baths..."
"I get my own bathroom!" Shannon says, excitedly. This is a good thing. She should have her own bathroom. Soon, she'll be a young lady. Two men should never be in the position to walk in on her doing anything.
"Yes, and we get our own and she gets her own. There's a half bath on the main floor. There are three bedrooms on the second floor and two bedrooms on the third floor, two baths on our floor, one on three. We can put you on your own floor, baby. You can have one room for a bedroom and the other for a study and play room. Have a desk and a bookshelf and a place to put all your toys. You like that idea?"
"Yeah, a lot! Wait...we don't have enough furniture for this house, huh?" Shannon's face falls dramatically. "We should find a smaller house, Alex."
"No, we'll buy more furniture, Shannon," I say. "Tell me more about the house."
"Oh, Vlad, it's got a pool in back! In ground, not one of those cheap above ground things. And there's enough room in back to build you a work shed and the nearest neighbors won't be bothered by the sound of the saws and other tools. It's close to the church and the school. And it's about ten minutes drive from Katya in Ashton Glen. It's perfect, Vlad, please come see it."
I end up going to see it the next day. The real estate agent, Kelly, is also there. Perky little woman, reminds me of Scully with big blonde hair and not quite as demurely intelligent, but smart about this house. I look at all the hardwood floors and it feels like a good sub-flooring underneath. I specifically wear soft moccasins so I can assess that. The walls are thick. They're drywall, but it's a solid drywall. The stairs leading up are very sturdy and decorative. This house was meant for a show couple, people who have upper-class guests, not two gay men and their daughter who's seven years old. Yet, after looking at the place with a critical eye, I think we can manage it well. It's a little far from the Closet, yet, certainly closer than we were before, a twenty-minute drive. We can have parties, we can have barbecues, we can be social.
"Alex, we're taking it," I say as I look at the den.
"You haven't even seen the..."
"I don't have to," I say, taking him in my arms. It's been literally days since I've held him and kissed him. Some marriage, huh? Why did homosexuals fight for the right to get married if it's going to be as horrible as hetero marriages? Right after I married Sharon, she stopped being affectionate. I mean, we made love, but not the "can't keep your hands off each other" kind. We would fall into bed at night, roll around a bit, come and go to sleep. No wonder we separated.
Of course, Shannon and Kelly catch us making out. I'm not embarrassed, but Alex is and blushes and walks out, intending to show me the master suite. He isn't kidding when he says suite. There's a small room that leads to the bedroom, which I'm assuming is a sitting room. I may make him help me break this out into our bedroom and just make it bigger. The bedroom is directly above the large den that has the fireplace, and our bedroom has a fireplace as well. Which will be nice, when it gets cold enough for a fire, yet not need it to heat the house. The entire place is forced hot air and central air conditioning, which is on now.
The master bathroom is massive. As you walk in on the direct right is the linen closet. Heh, we just built a shelf in the bathroom at the cabin. There's a large shower stall opposite that, with three nozzles, most likely for sharing a shower. This will be nice. The tub is larger than the one I had installed in the cabin, Jacuzzi as well, all white marble with lovely dark gray veins. The room is done in white and gray, something you don't normally see. The floor is gray marble with white veins, but the toilet, bidet and double sinks are white porcelain. The shower is white tiles with a gray border.
"Sasha, moj vozl'ublennyj, we are taking the house. I love it here. Let's go see Shannon's room."
I kiss him again and let him lead me up to the third floor where there are two rooms, and a bathroom at the end of the hall. It looks like the two rooms have the bathroom in common, each room with a hall door and a door to the bathroom. The bathroom also has a hall door. The old TV show "The Brady Bunch" jumps into my head briefly. Her room is carpeted with the ugliest green shag carpet I've ever seen. The walls are a sickly mint. The other room, which is smaller, isn't much better, done in blue. This will have to be remedied. We'll re-carpet and repaint. The bathroom, thankfully, is mostly white, with a peach border on the tile walls. This we can work with.
We go back down to meet Kelly and start the negotiating process. I'm not paying over a million dollars for this house. I offer seven hundred thousand flat. Alex looks at me like I'm insane. I know he thinks we may lose the house for that amount.
"Oh, that offer is good for today only. Tomorrow, it's six-fifty. And the day after that, it's six. Period. This house is great, but who wants it? It's huge. You can't tell me you have people tramping in and out of this place, dying for it."
"Well, why don't I show you the kitchen? Maybe you'll get the point of why this is a one-point-two million-dollar mansion." She leads us into a huge modern kitchen. It has a center island with a sink and a breakfast bar attached with room for four stools, it looks to me. There's a large area for a table and chairs, two more sinks by the wall with a garbage disposal. The range is professional looking with eight burners and two ovens. There's a built in microwave oven in the wall. The dishwasher is larger than ours, and the refrigerator is a side-by- side monster that could hold three times what ours holds. All the appliances are stainless steel and the counter tops are black and beige marble. The floor is also black and beige marble tiles. Someone took their time with this room, crafting it carefully. There's a full formal dining room as well.
"As you can see, Mr. Skinner, this room is worth three hundred thousand dollars all by itself. There are three floors, as well as a small attic and a finished basement for laundry as well as a personal exercise room as the last owners had. The kitchen leads out to the patio which leads to the pool. This house..."
"Is not selling is it? This is Manassas, Virginia, my dear woman, not Arlington. This house isn't being 'just sold'. The owners have been gone for a while, as I saw from the dust on the mantles. Now, if this house was so wonderful, it would be gone by now. Seven hundred thousand dollars. We're leaving. You have my husband's cell number and you can call him tonight up until eleven o'clock. After that, we're going to bed. Then, the offer goes down. You got me?"
Kelly is smart enough not to say anything but nods. I start leaving and hear Alex and Shannon scrambling behind me. We all get in the car together and drive back silently. After we've cleared the street the house is on, Alex looks at me and smiles.
"Now I know how you made assistant director. I was sure Kelly was going to pee on the floor. You're good."
"Thank you. You'll see. We'll not only get the house, we'll get that price. The place smelled dusty."
Alex reaches over and strokes down my nose. "And if anyone can smell dust, it's you."
"We get the house, then?" Shannon shouts.
"If they say 'yes', Petal, we're buying it."
"But...I thought they *did* when they said to sell it."
I smile at her in the rearview mirror. She's smart, but has so much about the world to learn. Alex will teach her. "Petal, they wanted us to pay way too much for that house. Walter offered them less money, but still worth it for the house. They moved out months ago and no one's wanted to buy the house since. So, we can offer them less to take it from them."
"Why?" She and Alex discuss taxes and mortgages as I take us in town to the diner for lunch, which has long since passed and I'm famished. At home that night, Alex and I cuddle on the couch as Shannon sprawls on the rug in front of the TV, with three dogs surrounding her, as we watch baseball. She's getting to like it. For Alex and I, there's no substitute; we must have baseball in the summer. I was sure she'd go in her room to watch something else, but she's right there with us. I wonder sometimes if she's afraid of losing us, as well, so she keeps us under her nose at all times.
It's not too long before eleven when my phone rings. Caller ID says it's Kelly. "Alex, the Wainwrights will take your deal. Seven hundred thousand dollars. How soon can you arrange the mortgage?"
She sounds depressed. She's losing the commission on five hundred thousand dollars. This isn't my problem; Walter drives a very hard bargain. "We'll have a check drafted in the morning, OK? We can meet at the property at any time."
"Wait, you *have* that kind of money?" She sounds astonished. She must be used to people who don't have enough money to do what they want to do.
"Of course, doesn't everyone? Love that stock market." I chuckle and we agree to meet the next day at noon.
"Was that Kelly?" Walter asks as I put the phone down and follow him into the bedroom.
"Yes, we have the house. We have to get a check tomorrow, so we need to get up early."
"I knew they'd take that offer. That house has been on the market for about six months. No one wants it. It's too big for most people." He must have looked it up on the internet.
I get into bed, sliding my pajamas off under the covers, hoping Walter gets my hint. He watches as I toss the pants and t-shirt to the chair and follows suit. He gets in beside me and leans over to turn out the light. I settle across his chest, just smelling him, letting his musky- spicy scent wash over me. His hands are stroking my skin, still warm from the day. We've installed air conditioners, but the hot Virginia days linger on me.
"Vlad, that house isn't too big for us, is it?" I ask, suddenly nervous. This hadn't occurred to me. When I bought the cabin, it was for hiding, when I needed to go to ground. The size of it was perfect for one man. Then, after Walter took it over, and built the den, it was perfect for two men and a dog. Then it became two men, two dogs and a mess of puppies. Now, we're two men, a girl, and three large dogs. This is very foreign territory for me.
"Sasha, you need to relax. This house will be perfect. Shannon will be on the floor right above us, where she belongs. She can't be in the pockets of two active gay men. She has her own bathroom, so no one accidentally walking in on anyone. This house couldn't be more perfect than if we built it ourselves. And we'll have a pool. It'll be nice to get into shape again and not sweat in some gym."
"I like your shape," I say, as I take his mouth in a deep kiss. We haven't made love in a long time. I miss him so terribly at night, but with grieving, and caring for Shannon, and the work Walter is doing, and the heat, neither of us have wanted to make love. This will be nice, to get in bed with him and really get crazy.
He tumbles me onto my back and I can feel his cock rising. My sweet lover isn't getting as old as he thinks he is. He's just perfect. My mouth is connected to his in a desperate kiss, my tongue questing between his lips and his meeting mine. These kisses center me and keep me from being afraid of the future because I don't have to do it alone. His hands are stroking my sides, one sneaking to play with a nipple, rolling it and making it hard. Walter's mouth moves to my neck, nibbling just behind my ear, which is the spot of my undoing.
"God, I love you so much, Vlad," I whisper. "Ya l'ubl'u vas, moj muzh."
"Ya l'ubl'u vas takzhe, moyu konfetu," he whispers back, kissing me again. He's learning slowly, but he's learning. That's the most important thing.
I reach down for his huge cock, my hand almost burned on the hot skin. He groans in my ear. Gently stroking him, I try to kiss him more, kissing him deeper and holding his attention. We spend long moments, stroking each other's skin, kissing every bare patch we can reach, licking and nipping. It feels so good to be covered by his furry chest again, his thick corded legs tangled in mine, tossing us over and back in a mock wrestle.
When finally we are ready, he's opened me with slick fingers and I relax to let him in, he stays there just a moment. His hot, hard cock is a burning spear in my ass, searing me again, reminding me I belong to this man whose only wish in the world is to love me. He raises himself above me and just looks down at me. I melt in his eyes as he collapses again, peppering my face with light kisses.
"Moye serdce moya dusha," I whisper to him. He knows he's everything to me. Giving me a child and buying us a house, making me normal. Well, almost.
We're both so over-excited, we don't last long and he comes first, then jerks me to completion. We lay together, just breathing and resting, holding each other. I don't want to speak, to break the spell and end it, but I know that soon, we'll need to clean up, then it will be morning. Morning always comes too soon.
About three in the morning, there's a knocking on our bedroom door. We've been sleeping with the door closed, which has upset the dogs, but that can't be helped. I get up and pull on my hastily discarded pajamas to open the door quietly and slip out. "Shannon, what's wrong?" I ask her. She isn't crying, isn't upset, just standing there quietly.
"I just didn't want to sleep alone. Can I sleep with you? Like when Momma died?" Oh God, she has to bring that up. Yeah, I gave in and let her sleep with me. It was the only way for me to get any kind of sleep, since she would wake up screaming from a nightmare and it was easier to roll over and comfort her than jump out of bed to do it. And I hate sleeping on the futon.
"Sweetie, Walter's going to wonder where I am. I just left him there. Are the dogs in there with you?"
Taffy has been sleeping with her, which I think is some of the best therapy. "Yes, but...please? Alex, please?"
"Yes, all right, sweetness, we'll go to sleep together." I lead Shannon to the den and help her up into the bed. I lay down beside her and wait until I feel all three dogs settle with us on the Queen-sized futon, then close my eyes. Surprisingly, the next thing I know it's morning.
When I roll over, the first thing I notice I'm alone. I sit up quickly and look around. It looks as if the sun is deciding whether or not it wants to rise. I decide to beat the sun to it and get out of bed. Alex's pajamas are gone from the chair, so I know where he is, in the den. He's spoiling that little girl, and he's going to be in pain from sleeping on that futon, so it serves him right.
I get up and am met by three eager dogs who want their breakfast. Of course, I make my way out to the kitchen and refill the kibble bowls for everyone. It was never our intention to keep Taffy, but she came with the kid. Hell, I never even planned on Honey, but we now have three dogs. It will be nice to move into the house, since they'll have plenty of room. The backyard of that house is truly spacious. I can turn one of the outer garages into my work shed. Who needs a three-car garage? I can build a structure for wood supplies. There are no close neighbors so I can run all of the saws. Alex made the perfect choice.
When he eventually drags himself into the kitchen, I have the coffee going and have started to cut up fruit for breakfast. It's gotten very hot over night and I don't think anyone wants to eat a hot breakfast. Shannon drags in a little later, her pajamas half hanging down her bottom. With a giggle, I come up behind her and pull them up. She smells like a sleepy child, that distinct warm smell, like a litter of puppies. She totally ignores me and climbs onto a chair to sip at the glass of juice Alex pours for her. As usual, I'm forgotten for the pretty face.
"How's your back, Sasha?" I ask.
"Oh, it's OK. I wasn't out there that long. Sorry, I didn't want to wake you up," he explains as I lean down to kiss his upturned face.
"Well, let's get breakfast together. We have to go to the bank today. Call what's-her-name and tell her we'll meet at noon to start the process."
"We don't have to pay for the house today, Vlad."
"I know that, but just having that check in my hand will show them how serious I am. This is my territory, Sasha. Business deals were my life, once. Now, it's like going home."
Alex smiles at me. "You are so sexy when you're feisty."
"I'm here, you know," Shannon says loudly. "I didn't like mushy talk from Momma, and I don't like it from you."
I turn to Alex with a thoroughly chastened look on my face. "She doesn't like mushy talk."
"Tough luck, kid. It's not often, but we get a little mushy sometimes. That's what married people do."
She shrugs and starts eating the Cheerios with strawberries I fixed for her. She doesn't like the children's cereals, which I think is a good thing. All that sugar is too much. She does lament that she doesn't get a prize in the box like everyone else. Alex has begun to buy little toys and puts them in the box for her to find. He spoils her rotten, really. This is not setting a good precedent.
Thankfully, we dress quickly and start on our way to the bank. Shannon is annoyed to get up and go so early, which is new. Usually she likes getting up with Alex and getting moving with him. She's still so tired from being sad. Keeping her busy has probably only reinforced the loss of her mother. She's figured out our plot.
At the bank, they see us right away, giving discreet condolences for Shannon's loss. Manassas might be a small city, but the key word there is small. Anabelle knew a lot of people and most of them are sorry that she's gone. Our banker, Amanda, greets us and is surprised by the purchase of the house. "I thought you would never leave the cabin," she mentions as she types in some information to our account.
"We wouldn't have, but situations change," Alex says. "If Shannon is going to go to school in town, we should be closer."
"Makes sense. That cabin is small, as well. I know of the Wainwright place, it's huge. You'll need a staff, you know." Amanda smiles at us, and her light blue eyes sparkle. I love looking at women, they're so beautiful.
"OK, I can have the check drafted and brought to you, but I will put a hold on cashing it for the 45-day escrow, is that fair?"
"Yes, we'll need to have the place inspected, appraised and cleaned," Alex says. "Thank you for your help, Amanda."
We all shake hands and stand to leave. Amanda gives Shannon a lollypop for being such a good quiet girl, and it's her favorite, cherry. Off we drive to the house where Kelly and the Wainwrights are waiting for us there. We're only fifteen minutes late, and I should feel guilty, but I don't.
They have spread the paperwork out on the kitchen counter. We walk in as a family, but Shannon wants to play in the backyard, so we let her go. The Wainwrights are a middle-aged couple, as gray as me, but looking very much older. They act haughty and condescending, but quickly quiet down when I start pointing out the legal loopholes in the contract. I am not getting screwed on this deal. Alex is very quiet, which surprises me. I'll ask him about it later.
When I'm finally satisfied, and Kelly has adjusted and reprinted the contract on her little traveling office, the four of us sign the papers. I can see the Wainwrights are happy to leave, and I'm happy to see them go. Even before I was outed, they were a snotty couple. Never needed my services, and I was happy not to provide them. In the end, we have them paying for the inspection and appraisal, and any repairs resulting from both. I think I made out all right.
When Alex and I are alone in the house, he turns to me and asks, "You didn't study law, did you? How do you know all that contract stuff?"
"I had to learn, for the business. When I have big jobs, I write contracts for them. You've seen me."
"I guess I thought it was just a computer program."
"Technically, it is. I did take a class about it, though. Got an A if I recall."
"Ooh! Sexy and smart, I love that in a man."
He steps up to me and kisses my mouth, and I lean into him. Oh, this house will be good for us. She's on a different floor, we can bathe together again, walk around the room naked, I can make Alex moan again. It will be a nice change.
We go home and begin the daunting task of waiting. It is weeks before we have the inspection and other than some substandard insulation in the attic, the place is well kept. No dry rot, no termites, not even cracked plaster. The Wainwrights loved their home. The cost to replace the insulation isn't as much as I thought it would be, so I contact the Wainwrights to wave the cost. I'll pay for that. It's the least I can do after the hard case I gave them. The appraisal of the house, after the new insulation, brings it in at one point six million dollars. I'm shocked, I really did screw them out of almost a million dollars. I can't dwell on that. The summer is almost over and we need to get moved in before school starts.
I turn that over to Alex. He can deal with a decorator. Instead, I turn to building a new bedroom set for Shannon. She wants furniture like a big girl, so I'll make her a full sized bed, a large dresser and a night table. For the other room, I'll build her a desk, and bookshelves and lots of other things like a chest with a lock on it that only she can open. I remember my mother telling a neighbor that a woman needs a place to keep things private. It must also be true for little girls.
As the end of August closes in on us, Alex and I start consulting on the decoration of the house. A beautiful redheaded woman named Sarah sweeps into the living room of our cabin, a stack of books in her hands. "Hello! My, such a drive up here." She looks around the place and says, "This is a complete change from the other property, isn't it?"
Alex smiles and steps in. "We bought the house for the size, really. Being able to keep Shannon's privacy and ours is very important. The sheer size of the house pretty much guarantees that. And with the pool, the spare rooms, the many rooms on the first floor, we can begin to entertain more."
"I was thinking the same thing, elegant dinner parties, cocktail soirees..."
Alex holds his hand up and stops Sarah cold. "Not our style. We're not those kinds of homosexuals. Trust me, there's going to be a room with a large screen TV for sports viewing. And there needs to be places for people to dance and hang out. Our friends cultivated the circle in an old roadhouse."
"Ah, the one down the road. I know it well. Maybe you'll take me there?" she says. Yeah, I think we can take our decorator to the Closet.
"So, when do we start?" he asks.
Decorating the house is an experience. Sarah's philosophy is: start at the top and work your way down. So, of course, we start with Shannon's rooms. Walter gave Sarah detailed drawings of the furniture and the dimensions, which almost stopped the process. Walter stands his ground and the decorating goes on. She does have great ideas for Shannon's rooms, doing the bedroom in peach which matches the bathroom, but opposes the blue of her playroom. Shannon likes blue, but both rooms would be too much. Walter even agrees to paint the furniture, which is something I rarely see him do. He loves natural wood.
Our room and the sitting room are done in manly colors, but we stop her at the paneling. I refuse to put wood on a wall. It will feel like a bad seventies basement. I couldn't live with that. She doesn't carpet our rooms like she did with Shannon's rooms. We have these lovely Turkish rugs she found very cheap on the internet. I did verify they were real Turkish rugs, since I recognize the workmanship. She asked me how I came to spend time in Turkey, but I fobbed it off that it was during my last career.
The guest rooms I tell her to just do something neutral and pleasing. It's for guests, so it shouldn't be outrageous, but it should be comfortable. She does the living room the same way, since we'll hardly use that room. There won't be a television in there. That will be the den. That room she does up right with a work area and a play area. The television is one of those massive ones that is almost like a movie screen in the house.
Well, now I know where that extra million dollars went. Yes, it takes that much money to decorate this place top to bottom. To show good faith, I pay for it. Walter paid for the house, after all. Everything is in both our names though. When finally Kelly tells us we can move in, we've packed our clothes, personal things we want like photos and the like, dry goods that will eventually go bad back at the house, and anything we can think of. I won't leave the books, videos or music at the cabin. Shannon insists on the video game we got her and William.
I think about Mulder, Scully and William visiting. They'll love this house and we won't be on top of each other. They can stay longer than a weekend. Well, that's if Scully can stand me for that long. Sometimes I wonder if she doesn't still hold a kernel of hate for me over her sister. I just don't mention it.
Moving day is exciting. Walter loads the Range Rover and I load the Hummer. He takes Shannon and the dogs in his truck because he has better shocks. We've turned off the cable to the house, but not the power or the phone lines for the security system. Officially, we have moved.
I can't help but let a few tears fall as I drive down the mountain for the last time, probably, as an inhabitant. This was the first real home I'd ever known, that I could recall. The cabin was where Walter and I fell in love, after I crawled back to him. I hurt him so badly that day, when I made him have sex with me. He's forgiven me, we've discussed it, sober and not so sober, and I have allowed him to forgive me. I just won't ever forgive myself.
At the house, Shannon is trying to corral the dogs to get them into the house. Walter is waiting for me, but I don't know why. I walk over and say, "What's up?"
"I'm waiting for you. I want to do something." He has a strange look on his face.
I walk over and say, "What do you..."
And I don't get a chance to ask the whole question as he sweeps me up into his arms and carries me into the house through the door that Shannon has conveniently left open. He puts me down in the foyer and kisses me. "I love you, Sasha. Welcome home."
He must be able to read my mind, thinking about a home. He's the most amazing man I've ever known. We find the three dogs crawling all over the new furniture, getting fur and slobber on things. I had warned Sarah about the dogs, so all of the furniture was treated for stains. There's only one problem that I can see about this house. Keeping it clean. We'll never be able to do that. I don't particularly care about that right now.
Shannon runs over and jumps into my arms, asking, "When can we eat?"
"Oh, we've got a lot to do. Why don't we start by getting the food into the cabinets and make sure we agree where everything goes?"
"Good idea. We'll start in the kitchen, then we'll unpack the trucks. We can start with the beds today, but clothes can be unpacked in time, yes?"
"How do you know?" Shannon asks him. She gives him a dubious look.
"I've moved quite a few times in my life, Shannon. From the Marines, to college, to my first apartment, then when I was married, and about three more times after that. I pretty much know what I'm doing. We'll do a little every day and it won't take so long."
She nods and walks into the kitchen. That day is wrought with struggles, where do the cans go, where do the cereal boxes go, and we come to the conclusion, we will need a stepstool for Shannon. Walter volunteers to build it, but asks me to paint it. I've found I have a talent at painting intricate designs on things. I have a vague memory that my mother did that, painted nesting dolls, matryoshka. I did it on one headboard for an order, and I did it for all of Shannon's furniture, painting unicorns and dolphins on things, which she loves in equal amounts.
By the end of the day, we're exhausted. The phone company is coming tomorrow to put in jacks where we want them. It seems the Wainwrights had two phones in the house, one in the master bedroom, one in the kitchen. We'll need extensions all over the house, both our lines, the designated one for the security system the Gunmen will be by to install, even though I'm still technically employed with a security company on a consulting basis. Walter needs a jack in the work shed, we should have one by the pool and I want Shannon to have one.
Walter and I lay together in our bed, clean sheets on it, prettily decorated around the bed frame we made together. His hand is on my belly, rubbing circles. "We have a great house, Vlad," I say to him.
"Yes, Sasha, we do. You made a solid choice. Did you see all the copper piping in the basement?" He rolls towards me and begins kissing my neck.
"Yes, I saw that on my first visit. I should have looked in the attic, sorry," I say, noticing he's nibbling on my earlobe.
"Does all this house-talk turn you on?" I ask, as he moves down my throat.
"Yes. It's finally something real for both of us. We're married, we own the house together, we've got the kid, it's real." His kiss is swift and strong. I'm almost over-taken by his all encompassing kiss. He's on top of me, laying between my legs, on my chest, with his arms around me to bring me closer to him. His tongue is relearning me, stroking my collar bones, teasing my nipples and making me moan. He slides down the bed to my belly, spending his time nuzzling my navel and not commenting on the few extra pounds I'm carrying around. I love that about him. I also don't mention that most of his body hair has gone gray, but that's because I don't care. I love him as he is, not as he was.
His mouth reaches my cock, which had been slowly rising as his hand caressed it. I thought he was going to jerk me off, but he slowly runs his tongue along the underside, tickling me the way I like. He continues all the way to the head where he begins running his hot tongue all the way around the edge, just teasing me. I let him, though, since it's been so long since we've just played in bed. I'm tired of quick, quiet fucks so we don't wake up Shannon.
He deep throats me and God! am I happy I taught him to do that. He works his way down slowly, then back up equally as slowly, until he almost pulls up off the top. I try to rise up with him, but he holds my hips down. He takes his time drawing up and sliding down, completely engulfing me. Oh, God, if he puts his finger in my ass I'll come. He doesn't and pulls up off me completely. I reach over to the bedside table to get the lube I put there. He smiles down at me.
"Sneaky boy," he says. In the pale moonlight streaming through the windows, he's the young, ambitious assistant director who witnessed my cruel and inhuman treatment at Mannerly's place. I don't really care at this point, but seeing his face this way, all the years erased, I wish I hadn't been so stupid and wasted all that time.
He slips inside me, gently and slowly. I'm not so loose anymore, having not been with him in weeks. He takes his time with me, kissing my cheeks and telling me how beautiful I am. I take his face in both hands and kiss him powerfully. He moans into my mouth what should be words, telling me how sexy I am, how incredibly tight and hot my ass is.
"Oh God, I miss that big cock in me," I say in his ear. We don't make love enough, and that sometimes bothers me. It also reminds me that he loves me for more than just my hot hole and mouth on his cock. I wrap my legs around his waist, shortening his strokes, which makes him sit up.
"Sasha, chto yavl'ayets'a nepravil'nym?" he asks.
"Nothing, just keeping you closer. I missed making love to you so much."
"Then let me continue," he says as he sits up, pulling my legs further apart. Upright, he grabs me under my knees and begins slow, deep strokes, hitting my sweet spot with each stroke. My cock hardens more and sways with each stroke. He loves to watch my cock and balls move when he fucks me. I'm happy to oblige him. The build up is too great, I can't take it and let my come flow. I must have built up a bit a pressure because I haven't splattered Walter's chin in a long time.
I try to squeeze him and he jerks, coming inside me. He collapses on me, smearing me with my come. I slide my arms around his back and pull him tightly to me. He kisses his way back up to my lips, cooling my overheated flesh with his sweet breath. We share a kiss, but I pull away to lick a path through the smear on his chin.
"Kinky boy," he says. He kisses some of the taste from my mouth and nuzzles my neck. "I'm not sleepy, are you, Sasha?"
"No, not really. Wanna bath?" I ask. I've been dying to get into that tub with him for the longest time.
"Yeah, let's hit it!" We jump from the bed and scramble into the bathroom. I'm so thankful Walter had the tankless water heaters installed in the house. We can run hot water for as long as we want and never run out, so long as we have electricity. When we've settled in, foam floating around us making the myrrh and sandalwood fragrant steam rise, we settle in each other's arms to relax.
"I can't sleep," comes a quiet voice from the doorway. With a splash, we both turn to where Shannon is standing in her pajamas, holding the stuffed bear I'd given her ages ago.
"Didn't we tell you to knock before you came in?" Walter bellows.
"Hey, calm down, Vlad," I say. The tub is set in a raised platform, so from where she stands, she can only see the parts that are above the top edge of the tub. And she's seen us both shirtless.
"I did!" she yells back. "You didn't hear me!"
She turns and runs from the room, leaving the bear on the floor. I sit back against the side of the tub and sigh. "Did you have to yell at her?" I ask, as I get up and out of the bathtub. I wrap a towel around me and walk to the bedroom to pull out pajamas.
"What if she had walked in fifteen minutes earlier?" he asks, letting out the water and getting out himself.
"Then we'd have heard her knock," I say back, pulling up my pajama pants. I pull on my t-shirt as I walk out the door of our suite into the hall. First checking her rooms and finding them empty, I make my way back down to the main level where I begin calling for her. No answer through the kitchen and the den. I look outside and see her sitting at the pool, feet dangling over the edge. The pool was emptied, so if she falls, that's a thirteen foot drop.
"Shannon! Don't move!" I shout, running toward her. She doesn't even look up at me as I run by and snatch her up. "Don't you ever do that again. When we're not here, this pool is off limits. Water or no water. You got me?" I ask her as I sit with her on the low wall around the pool area.
"I wasn't going to jump," she says. "I just..."
She starts to cry and puts her head on my shoulder. I can only pat her back and let her cry. She cries so much, I don't even know what to say to her anymore. I just keep quiet and let her cry herself out. When she's done, she looks at me and asks, "I can't sleep with you, can I?"
I take a deep breath. "I don't think Walter would like that, sweetie. We don't wear pajamas, so, that's not right for you to sleep with us."
"You can't just sleep with 'em one night? Like when you would sleep with me? You wore those really soft ones, with all the checks on 'em," she asks, face so sad and hopeful.
"Yeah, we can do it one night," a voice from behind me says. We turn to Walter, who has put on a t-shirt and sleep pants as well. They match mine, a gift from Patty and Shaine from the wedding. He sits beside us and holds his hand out to Shannon. She takes it and shakes it. She doesn't hug him as much anymore and I think he likes that.
"Really?" she asks.
"As long as you promise this isn't going to be a habit. I like sleeping with my husband, you know. One day, you'll find your own." She nods, rubbing her eyes, and we retire to the master bedroom.
In the morning, I'm not sure, but I think I hear the front door open and close. I chalk it up to old age a settle into the pillow further. Shannon sighs, and I know she's asleep with her arms around Alex's neck. They look cute together, but we're going to have to seriously discuss limits. Just as I'm dropping back to sleep, I hear a gasp. Where the hell are the dogs?
"What in the name of the good Lord are you doing to that girl?" I hear someone say. There's a woman in the house. One who doesn't belong. Oh, shit. I jump from the bed, ready to reach for my Sig Sauer that I don't keep by the bed anymore. Old habits die hard.
"Who the hell are you? What are you doing in our home?" I yell.
"Grandma?" Shannon says, sitting up. Alex has gotten out of bed and is looking for a weapon as well.
Blinking a few times, I recognize the woman from Anabelle's funeral. Anabelle had told me her mother's name before she died so that I would know her on sight, to bar her entrance to the house. For all the good it did, Vivilynn Purcell is standing in our bedroom. She is the picture of the modern belle: cream and black Chanel suit, cream and black pumps just the right height, pearls in her ears, at her throat and on her wrist. Her fingers are sporadically dotted with large diamonds. The scent of Coco Mademoiselle drifts over to us. Dear God, she is the very embodiment of what Anabelle always wanted to be. Only Vivilynn, she has the money to back herself up.
"I cannot believe the perversions going on here! And no one has arrested you?" she accuses, hands on her hips. "Shannon Anne, you get your things together and you will be coming with me. What was my daughter thinking? Leaving you with these...these..."
"Perverted queers? Lady, you broke into my house. What does that make you?" Alex turns to me and says, "Keep her here. I'm calling the police." He reaches for the phone and dials 911.
"Well, think about how I found you in bed with a child! What will the police think?"
He hangs up and says, "There's a couple cars on the way to sort it out."
"Good! They'll love to hear what I tell them!" Vivilynn Purcell is starting to get on my nerves. "Now, Shannon, you listen to your Grandma Perky and get your things! Get out of that...bed of sin! That's what ya'll are doing, sinning." I'm having flashbacks of Anabelle and my head is spinning.
"Alex, who are they sending, Stuart and Artie or Mike Richards and LeVonne O'Leary?"
"Both. Theresa laughed when I told her it was me. Asked which one of us shot the intruder."
I'm hoping that our little banter lets this woman know that we are well known in this town and liked by most. She stands her ground in our bedroom and no one moves until we hear the sirens coming up the long driveway. I can hear someone knocking on the front door and then the door opening. We need a doorbell. The footsteps on the stairs make me smile. "We're on the second floor, guys," I call out.
Four officers walk in, all the ones I named. Immediately, they look at Vivilynn. "This is your intruder?" Artie asks. He looks the woman over and smirks.
O'Leary and Richards move toward Alex and start asking him for his information while Stuart walks over to me and shakes my hand. "What's the story, Walter? I know this can't be good."
"You remember that woman from Anabelle's funeral? That's her mom. She wants Shannon."
"So she broke in?" I nod and laugh. How is it that both those women barged into our home and caught us in bed? Thankfully, we weren't fucking this time! I look over at Shannon who looks completely lost and scared. I may not know how to raise a little girl, but I do know that she should never feel scared in her own home.
"OK, folks! Everyone out of our bedroom. Guys, take Mrs. Purcell to the kitchen, please? Let us wake up a little and get moving. You're all scaring our daughter."
"*Your* daughter, indeed!" Vivilynn says. The officers see that I'm right and herd her out of the room and down the stairs. Loudly. Alex sits on the bed with Shannon and hugs her.
"You OK, Petal?" he asks.
She nods, then breaks down in his arms. He hugs her and I leave them a moment to take a leak and wash my face. When I come out, he's coaxing her to her room to "freshen up" while he does "the same" in our room. I leave them to go to our guests in the kitchen. Standing in the doorway, I see Vivilynn looking around the kitchen. She has her critical eye out.
"I'm surprised that this room is so tasteful. I guess there are some advantages to being men like you are," she says down her nose to me. Which is a feat in and of itself as I top her by a foot in height, even with her high heels while my feet are bare.
"We're not those kinds of fags, lady. We had a decorator. A straight woman," I say. It burns me a little to use Alex's favorite phrase, the one I begged him to stop saying, but it needed saying to shock this woman.
"You obviously paid her well," is all she has to say. It sounds suspiciously like a compliment. I start coffee while Richards and O'Leary question her. I love the big officers dwarfing her while Stuart and Artie ask me about business, and Artie mentions he might be needing a backyard table and benches.
"Art, gotta email me the order so it can be put in the schedule. I'm an old man, I forget these things."
"I thought that's what you had Alex for," he says back. "Let the youngun handle the business, you just make the stock." He's kidding. It's taken a long time to get from where he was accusing Alex of being a freak and a kid-toucher to standing in my kitchen waiting for the coffee to brew and joking with me. It's a moment I've never conceived of, and am almost in tears to experience.
Alex walks in with Shannon by his side. He squats beside her and says, "Sweetie, go greet your grandmother properly. Don't worry about us, we know you can love more than one person."
Alex has gotten her into her Cinderella robe and "glass slippers". They're made of clear plastic, which probably make her feet sweat, but she never seems to mind. She walks over to her grandmother and stands there, waiting to be hugged. Vivilynn bends down and gives her the perfunctory hug, but nothing like we've bestowed upon her. Yeah, back when Shannon wanted to hug me. She sits at the table where Alex has placed a glass of juice and a bowl of Cheerios with strawberries in it.
I serve Vivilynn a cup of coffee and watch as she puts her dainty spoons of sugar and drop of milk in it from the creamer set I put out. I pour my cup of black and Alex makes his light and sweet the way he always does. Stuart and Artie grab mugs from the counter where I left them, enjoying the hot bew. Even Richards and O'Leary are partaking of some and complimenting me on it. I toast them with my mug.
"So, what are we doing here, Walt? We taking the lady in as a B&E?" Artie asks. I think he's serious.
"No!" Shannon says. The look on her face is pure fear and anguish. Poor kid, doesn't know what to think.
"Nah, guys," Alex says. "Mrs. Purcell didn't mean any harm more than scaring the hell out of us. We're OK from here."
Alex walks the officers out while I get Shannon her vitamin. Vivilynn hasn't spoken since she got her coffee, but once Alex comes back into room, she's off to the races. "Well, I've come here to collect Shannon and write you a check for all the expenses for her since you took her on. And I should pay you back for the funeral, Anabelle *was* my daughter."
Walter looks like he's about to lose a testicle. I'm about to blow up on her, but she's not the kind of woman that would respond to anger well. "OK, you owe us four million dollars."
"Pardon me?" she asks, her hand going to the delicate pearls at her throat. I can see the barest shake in her fingers. She thinks I'm serious.
"How did you track us down here?" I ask. I sip my coffee, letting the Old Alex Krycek ice up my blood.
"House titles are public record, young man. I looked you up at the county court house. I tried this address first as it's the newer one. Tell me, why did you leave your secluded little cabin for this big, public house? I'm sure you can hide your perversions better up there."
"You're right, but Shannon's going to be going to school soon. Can't live an hour away from school, you know. So, we moved." Another sip of my coffee.
"And why such a *big* home?"
"That's enough," Walter says. "Shannon, sweetie, go on upstairs and wash up. Get dressed and put a bag together."
"With what?" she asks. I can see the look on her face, the feelings of rejection are bubbling up.
"Oh, some books or something. Alex, call Katya to come get her today, OK?"
"It's Sunday, Walter, she's in church now," he says.
"That's right. Damn it. Shannon, can we talk to Mrs. Purcell alone for a while?" She nods and walks to the door. "Hey, Princess, come here." I'm surprised when Walter uses the nickname he gave her years ago. He doesn't much use it anymore, and she doesn't answer to it. She walks over to him and allows him to pick her up and hug her tight. I almost expect her to stay limp. Her little arms come around his neck and she squeezes him back. "I love you, Princess. We're going to make sure you have the best home, OK?"
"This is my home," she says quietly.
"That's right," I say, tickling her foot. I love her little squeal. "Go on, get dressed while we fight over you."
She smiles and he puts her down to go to her room. We turn back to Vivilynn who is sitting there, hands folded in her lap and ankles primly crossed beneath her. I take my coffee over and sit across from her at the dining table. Sarah chose a really nice table for the kitchen, I think to myself while I consider what to say. "OK, Viv..."
"Perky. They call me Perky." She says this with a little bit of venom.
"Perky Purcell? Explains a lot. Anyway, look, the will explicitly states we have full custody of Shannon. Our lawyers have written an ironclad custody order. You don't want to go against me, lady. Unless you want to give me the four million you owe me."
"I still don't know where you came up with this figure." She sips her coffee.
"We bought the house just for Shannon, since it's got three floors and four bathrooms. She's on a totally different floor than we are, so no one can walk in on anyone accidentally." I will not mention the interrupted bath last night. I'm going to get that stick-on doorbell thing that will chime when she opens the door. "Redecorating the house was almost a million dollars, all new furniture. We wanted a lot of room for the dogs, too. Where the hell are the dogs?" I ask.
No sooner do I say that than I hear three sets of barks coming from the stairs. Shannon must have locked them in her room all night, poor things. Shannon is following behind them, wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans. Bosco and Honey are on point, barking at Vivilynn who has now stood from the chair and holds it in front of her in defense. I notice that Taffy has stood back, not barking, but not letting Shannon any closer to the new person. Walter comes over and starts quieting everyone, shoving dogs out the sliding glass doors onto the patio. He closes the door on them, sending Shannon with them, which quiets them a little.
"I'm sorry, Perky," he says. "They're Labradors, very intelligent but fiercely protective. The quiet one is Shannon's dog. If you want her, the dog goes with her."
"I've had dogs in my home before, Mr. Skinner. I didn't always live in a large home, comparable to this, I must tell you. We started on a farm. This is just a formality, a courtesy call. You will be hearing from my legal team about contesting the will and the custody arrangement. Be prepared."
She stands and begins to walk to the door. I stand up, scraping the chair on our tile floor to make her turn around. "If you ever come into our home unannounced again, you'll be carried out feet first."
She sniffs at the air and turns to leave, letting herself out. "Vlad, call the Gunmen, I want them here today. I can't believe we didn't even lock the door last night." That's the unbelievable part, that even I forgot to lock the door. Walter comes to sit with me at the table and we just look at each other for while. I put my hand flat on the table and he covers it with his.
"This is the test, Vlad. Whether we can hack it or not." He strokes my cheek.
"I know, Sasha. I'll call the lawyers, you call the Gunmen. Tell Byers and Langly they can sleep in their own room together. We are going to prove to Shannon and the world that we are better parents than they think fags are." I'm a little shocked he used that word. He never says things like that. This isn't a normal situation, though.
"We'll live. We've been through worse."
"Yeah, all revolving around this damn family."
"Why does that keep haunting us?" I ask him. He just shakes his head. "We'll be OK."
Calls are made and the Gunmen are more than happy to come and wire the house. They always seem to be available when we need them. The three of us spend the day working on the pool, with Katya coming by to offer support. She balks when I insist we don't need her physical help. "Alex, I worked very hard at the convent. I scrubbed floors and washed walls before."
She's come dressed in knee-length jeans and a pretty pink t-shirt with little white sneakers. She could be any woman. I'm so amazed by my sister's integration into the world outside the convent. I know Anabelle had a lot to do with it. I keep meaning to call her and just...spend time with her, but I never do. I wonder if she regrets leaving the convent.
We get on our hands and knees, all four of us, scrubbing the inside of the pool. It's only dirty, so we can start filling it soon. Katya elects to stay with me scrubbing while Walter, in a rare moment of family togetherness, takes Shannon to the pool center in town to get the supplies we'll need for the upkeep. While I'm rinsing the rest of the soap and dirt down the drain, Katya asks, "So are you guys settling in well?"
"Yeah, moving day was yesterday. Last night was our first night, and of course, this lady petitions us for the kid's custody." Walter and I had filled Katya in on the morning's activities.
"I want you to know, I will be more than happy to speak on your behalf if it comes down to it." I just sit back and look at her. She's the most generous woman in the world, and I love her. I can't help but climb out of the pool and hug her tight. She accepts me and lets me squeeze her. Oh, she feels so good to me, now.
"I want you to know, I've already started Shannon's admission papers for school and I will be teaching math to her and I'll be her homeroom teacher. I will take the best care of her. I promise."
"I know you will. Why would we worry?" I set the hose to start filling the pool and we go into the house to start lunch. I want to grill and surprise Walter. We have hamburgers and hotdogs going when they get back, which becomes a hit. After roasting corn and baking frozen fries, we retire to the den where Katya enjoys a night of watching Cinderella with us, as she's not seen it since she was a girl. At the end of the night, she doesn't leave too late, but stays long enough to help Shannon say her prayers, which is something Walter and I should consider now, going to church with Shannon. We'll have to talk to her to see if she wants to start going to Katya's church. Anabelle was southern Baptist.
We fall into bed that night and don't even consider making love. I do curl up into him, which makes him pull me against him. He kisses me again before dropping off to sleep.
I go to meet with Bruce and Jane the next morning. Jane has been my attorney since I was divorcing Sharon. She married another lawyer in her firm and left to have their kids, but still consults in her spare time. With the kids in high school now, she's decided to make our legal case her crusade.
"I spoke with her lawyer..."
"How did you know who's representing her?" I ask. It feels weird to be sitting in a suit and tie again in a business office, but at the same time, I feel at home again.
"Walter, this is Vivilynn Purcell. Her husband was the land developer, Harlan Purcell. Harl and Perky?" I'm oblivious. Land developers never impressed me. "I can't believe you don't know them."
"Unless one of my teams tracked them down and arrested them, I have no idea who they are." I'm not joking either.
"Well, she has a lot of cash behind her. Harlan left her everything. She then redesigned the Purcell foundation to write out Anabelle. Fortunately for you, we knew this when we put the custody agreement together. There's nothing they can do to get her. We're going to meet with them next week, and I don't want you to worry about it."
Worry? Why would I worry? These are two people who I've trusted for two decades. I shake their hands and go home to Alex with the good news, which gets me a big kiss. Shannon, is somehow, oblivious to all this, spending the afternoon in the yard with the dogs. Alex and I spend the day putting the books into the shelves in the den. After that, I pretty much forget about Perky Purcell and her bid to be Grandma.
I should never ignore what isn't there. I've gotten old, soft and senile. Of course, I get a call one morning from Jane who has just gotten out of a hearing that I didn't know I needed to attend, and neither did Jane. "She's got a review of the custody order I wrote up. They aren't going to make a decision for ninety days. They denied her temporary custody petition."
I sigh in relief. "OK, good. I want a meeting with them. I want us, with Shannon, and them. Mediated, but I want to find some kind of middle ground. This kid just lost her mother, she doesn't need a custody war."
"What?" comes her little voice from behind us. She walks in and has one of her adult moments. "If Grandma wants me so bad, you better just give me to her. She always gets her way. Momma says that's how Granddad died; he was trying to make her happy." I hang up with Jane and turn my full attention to Shannon.
Alex picks her up and sits her on the counter. "We're not giving you to anyone, Petal."
"You aren't something to just give away. You're not a toy or a TV. You're our little girl. We don't want to give you away. I want to keep you. Don't you know that?"
She looks down at her lap. "But...I'm a girl."
"Yeah, my girl. I remember when you were born. Princess, I wished you were mine."
"Why didn't you ever have a baby?" she asks. I'm fighting not to cry, but just let it flow. She's going to see it eventually.
With tears rolling down my cheeks, I tell her the story of being in the Marines, at war in Vietnam and being shot and killed. She starts crying herself, but lets me finish that I was brought back but couldn't father children from my injuries. "Because you were supposed to wait for me." I don't expect what she's saying, and just start bawling outright. She hugs me tight and we're not aware of Alex, crying as well, going to answer the doorbell. It's Vivilynn.
"Walter, I'd like to have Shannon come and stay with me a few days. Would that be alright?" She has that sweet, innocent twang in her voice that can only mean trouble. I send Shannon outside to find the dogs.
"No, I'm sorry, you can't." I take a moment to wipe my face with a napkin. "If we let you take her with you, we'll never get her back. And that's the point, isn't it? You're still punishing your daughter even though she's dead. She didn't become exactly like you wanted, so you'll spite her by taking her daughter and making Shannon into the little girl that you wanted Anabelle to be. And that's not going to happen."
"No, I want Shannon to be raised in a Christian home. I don't think two...men like yourselves can provide that."
"My sister teaches at Shannon's school. It's an Episcopalian school, connected to the church we attend. My sister used to be a Catholic nun. Lady, we got Shannon's life covered."
Shannon has returned and crawled into Alex's arms. He's holding her tightly. "It seems that I'm not going to have a willing child on my hands am I?" she admits.
"Perky, you have two choices. You can have a willing granddaughter visit you, knowing she'll want to come back and visit, or you can have a terror who hates you on your hands. And look how well that worked for you last time." Alex is correct. Shannon will hate her grandmother if she insists Shannon goes with her. Alex is rocking her back and forth as she cries again.
"Will I actually be able to visit with her?" Vivilynn asks.
"Why not? She lost her mother. I won't take her grandmother away, too. Walt, I'm gonna take her upstairs. Come on, Petal, let's wash your face."
Alex leaves the room and I turn to Vivilynn. "We all watched Anabelle waste away. By the end she was blind, mostly deaf, incontinent and partially paralyzed. You didn't visit her once. What makes you think you have the right to waltz in here and take Shannon away?"
"She's my granddaughter..." Her voice is breaking a little.
"And Anabelle was your daughter! What did she do that was so bad that you turned your back on her? What? She used drugs, had an abortion, married someone you didn't like?"
Vivilynn raises her chin to me. "You didn't like Shannon's father, did you? Well, he's in jail, and as yourf lawyers must have told you, he can't get custody. Alex and I have had a really rocky history, but I love him. He took care of Shannon when Anabelle couldn't. He loves her so much, I can't even consider what would happen to them both if you separated them."
"How do you feel about that? Sharing your lover with a little girl?"
"My husband and I take care of our daughter. Period." I raise my own chin and look down at her, wishing I still had my glasses.
"Well, then. I'm still having that will and custody agreement reviewed. I would, however, like to visit with my grandchild a little. When would be convenient for you?"
I take a deep breath. "We work from home. School is starting for Shannon soon, so she'll be busy with that. Next weekend we're having a housewarming party. You're more than welcome to come, stay that weekend. We have two guest rooms, both no where near our bedroom. You may come any time you like. After the review of the agreement, maybe we can work out a vacation schedule, where Shannon can stay with you and take a vacation from us."
Vivilynn smiles at me. "I think I'd like that. I underestimated you, Mr. Skinner."
"My name is Walter. I'm surprised your lawyers didn't tell you I used to be an assistant director for the F.B.I."
We shake hands politely. "They did, but my opinion was never high of government employees."
I laugh at that comment. It's so genuine. "I should go now, Walter."
"At least say goodbye to Shannon. Tell her when you'll see her again. Losing relatives has become commonplace for her. Her father to jail, her mother to heaven. Don't take one more away from her."
I see a tear in her eye. "Shannon, darling! Come down and kiss Grandma Perky goodbye, please!"
Alex and I exchange curious looks as Shannon hugs her grandmother and is allowed to kiss the perfectly made up cheek. I let Vivilynn out, getting a good look at her Rolls Royce limousine, silver cloud. I wave as they drive away and go back in to find Alex and Shannon making sundaes in the kitchen. "Hey! Dinner will be ready soon, kids. I'm gonna start cooking."
"Dinner is ice ream, Grandpa!" Shannon informs me firmly.
It feels like things are almost back to normal. What can I do but get a spoon and join the feast? But I have a better idea. I begin to put the ice cream away and say, "I think we should do something for dinner we've never done before."
"What's that, Grandpa?" Alex is also giving me a very puzzled look.
I pick up the phone and while I'm dialing, I say, "Let's order a pizza."
The two beaming faces before me give me all the answer I need. So, for the first time, as a real family, without the one-our drive up the mountain, we share a pizza dinner together. It's new, and it's wonderful.