The groom’s parents had generously bought the newlyweds a place to live, Chad explained as they drove further and further northeast of Reno.
“How far out is this Sunrise Estates?” Brandy asked.
“The old air force base?”
But, it’s brand new housing, Chad said, and soon it will be a lovely family oriented community with a school and a library and property values will go up and they’ll be able to sell the house and buy something in town if they want.
Blah, blah, blah.Brandy thought as he continued spinning rainbows from the utter rot of dead hopes and dreams.. Stead was twenty miles from civilization. No place for the eighteen year old mother of an infant. Who the hell is he trying to convince?
After Mass she’d finally managed to reach her father at the lab and he’d sent his assistant, George, to pick her up at the Cain’s house. Her father hadn’t changed. No amount of drama in his life could ever interfere with a project at the lab. And she was glad because it would make leaving again much easier.
“Nora will be so happy to see you,” Chad reiterated for the umpteenth time.
“We didn’t get enough time yesterday to catch up,” she said but truthfully she’d had nothing better to do. Her mother’s life still revolved around the Truck Stop King and her siblings were in school. The only familiar who seemed at all happy to see her was Gus, a stuffed animal which had at one time resembled a Bassett hound. In old Gus she found the money she had stashed during her babysitting years. A couple of fives and ten ones. Good old Gus.
Sunrise Estates, when it appeared on the horizon, was a development of pre-fab houses sitting on a leveled hill overlooking the abandoned airstrips. The streets ran east-west and north-south as though set out on drafting paper. A preplanned community with no sidewalks as yet, or streetlights. Nora’s house was only distinguishable as the third from the corner of A Street and 6th Avenue.
Nora greeted them with a simple statement of fact as the baby whimpered from her crib. “Mark hasn’t been home for two days,”
Chad didn’t seem at all surprised.“I prayed that he’d ⏤ “
“Mark has taken the car and I am out of diapers and milk. And, I have nothing for dinner.”
Brandy turned to Chad:“You need to stop praying and go to the grocery store and buy some groceries for your sister.”
“Praise God, you are right,” Chad said. “I will go the grocery store.” He seemed relieved and not hurt by the tone of her voice.
Nora wrote out a list. Chad left for the nearest store (twenty miles away) in his father’s Toyota. Brandy offered the money she’s retrieved from Gus but Chad said no.
They sat quietly for several minutes after Chad left and then Brandy remembered the check in her pocket. “Oh,” she said, “I brought you something.” She handed Nora the check.
Nora stared at the paper in her hands.
“Yeah, I know. It’s not much of a present for a newborn. A check. But that’s my mother for you.” Brandy laughed. She wondered if anyone had thrown Nora a baby shower, one in which she’d gotten presents, played silly games, and ate cupcakes.
“It’s made out in my name,” Nora said, handing the check back. “But tell your mother thanks.”
It took a few minutes. “Oh. Well you can always sign it over to Mark and he can cash it for you.” She said, putting the check on the table in the kitchen.
That task aside, Brandy steered the conversation to the baby. Such a good baby. Rarely cries, she noted. To which the response was: Poor thing had baby eczema and diaper rash. But she was getting better now thanks to some all-natural ointments from her parent’s shop.
“Your parent’s what?”
“Oh, my parents bought a health food store.”
“So now, besides telling people what God wants them to do, your mom is telling them what to eat?”
Nora laughed. “Yeah, I know. She had a revelation. Although … she still makes those triple layer brownies every now and then. Mostly for the prisoners in her Bible study group. They won’t eat the health food stuff.”
“So when Ellie gets here are you going to go and live with them?’
”Yeah. There are other people living there too. Not just Ellie and Malcolm. There’s nothing for me here. My family is a mess.”
“A mess,” Nora said.
“Yes. A mess.”
“Well, my mother is having sex with my brother. What do you think about that?”
“My mother seduced Chad. She betrayed my father. I hate Mrs. God.”
“I can’t believe that.” With those words, Brandy’d just stepped onto a frozen Alpine lake as the ice was thawing. No matter which direction she took, the ice would crack into a thousand pieces and their friendship would drown in the frozen water. “I mean, they’re too close and all but ⏤”
“Shut up. He’s back,” Nora said. The Toyota had just pulled into the driveway.
“I’ll go help him with the groceries,”
Chad and Brandy silently unloaded the groceries and brought them into the kitchen as Nora breastfed the baby. At least in his letters, Chad had been honest … not directly warning Brandy but letting it leak through his words. How much of this “unworthiness to be a man of God” stemmed from a thinly veiled hatred and desire to kill his new brother-in-law, she wondered. Oh Chad, you’ve gotta get out of here.
After putting away the groceries, they turned with smiles to Nora and the baby like co-conspirators. Let’s all pretend, shall we? Brandy flashed back to that time in New York City when Nora had stood on the cold pier shaking with hatred. Her secret now out, there was no reason to pretend. She’d only wanted one thing in life: a love that would last for eternity which she had found and then left behind just to make her friends happy. Oh, how she hated them.
Time to draw another card; Brandy thought, enact another scene. “Hey do you remember?”
After a fumbled start the three soon drifted into safe waters remembering when they were pirates and sailed the Mighty Truckee in inner tubes, fighting the forces of evil that lurked in the willows along the shore. Remember the time we drifted down to the Mapes and it got dark and Father had to come get us. Oh, he only came because Katie Girl was with us … otherwise we would have had to walk the whole way home! Oh and remember the time that Mrs. God had a retreat for troubled teens and some of the girls cornered Chad in the kitchen because they thought he was so cute? Oh no, that didn’t happen. Oh yes it did Chad and we had to save you! Look – Chad is blushing! Oh and …
After only a half-hour, the front door opened, killing the charade.
Mark seemed surprised to see Brandy and then said.“I see you’ve come to admire the new Mark Unit.”
Brandy noted that his head was still too large for his monkey like body. “And Nora.”
“Yes, of course. The Wife Unit.”
Chad had finished folding the paper bags he’d been futzing with and announced, “I promised Father I’d have the Toyota back to him by three. He’s got some deliveries to make.”
“Oh, okay. Ellie and Malcolm should be here tomorrow morning, Nora. I’ll give you a call and we can have a picnic or something.”
“Oh please stay Brandy,” Nora said, “Mark’s gotta be at work by ten so he can give you a ride back to town.”
“But I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Mark must be fed by the Wife Unit,” Mark said, tossing his cowboy hat towards the one sofa in the room. “And then he’s gonna take a nap so y’all can yammer away as much as you want .. just keep the Child Unit quiet.”
“But you are going to work tonight,” Nora said. “You are still working?
He directed his response towards his brother in law. “Yes Wife. I am still delivering coca-cola as is my stated mission in life. And, I am still attending classes at the university as is my debt to my parental units. And now, I’d like my pork chops medium rare … with applesauce this time.”
“It’s okay Mark. I’ll just go with Chad.”
“After my nap,” he said reaching into the refrigerator for a beer. “I will be more than happy to escort Miss Brandywine wherever she wants to go.”
Chad hesitated at the front door. “You can go. I’ll be fine,” Brandy said. She’d known Mark since they were both in second grade. He was all bark and no bite, at least around her.
She watched as Nora fried the pork chop which Chad had provided while Mark sat at the tiny kitchen table and drank his beer. Why she thought why as he complained about the incompetence of his professors and brilliance of Richard Nixon who’d been so wrongly treated. Again the name Mrs. God came up. Mrs. God, the seducer of her own son.