BEHIND THE PINE CURTAIN
She ignored the persistently ringing phone, wondering once again why she didn’t just get up and turn the damn thing off. She paused, staring at the words she’d written, unconsciously drumming the keyboard with her fingers. A moment later, her cell rang. She glanced at caller ID, then flipped it off.
“Christ, Ingrid, I’m trying to work here,” she murmured.
But her concentration was broken. She leaned back in the chair, stretching her arms behind her neck before taking off her glasses and slowly rubbing her eyes. She had been at it since seven that morning, breaking only once to refill her coffee cup. She’d been on a roll, and she learned long ago to take advantage of that. Too many days—nights—she sat there, struggling to get her thoughts down coherently enough to form sentences.
She stood, tossing her tiny wire-framed glasses on the desk, and picked up her cell phone, dialing Ingrid’s number as she opened the fridge.
She sniffed the orange juice. It was four days past expiration, but she filled a glass anyway.
“Where the hell have you been?” Ingrid demanded.
“Here. Working. As you informed me two days ago, I have a freakin’ deadline,” Jacqueline mimicked.
“I’ve been calling for hours.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve been ignoring you.” The orange juice was indeed sour, and she poured it out, eyeing the coffee instead.
“Some man has been trying to reach you. He said it’s a family emergency.”
Jacqueline paused, putting the coffee pot back on the warmer without looking. “Family? Whose family?”
“I gathered yours. But I wasn’t aware you had a family.”
“I don’t,” she murmured. She hated the nervousness, the adrenaline that coursed through her, making her heart pound faster. She took a deep breath. “What was the man’s name?” She waited, hearing papers rustling on her agent’s desk.
Jacqueline leaned against the counter as her eyes slid shut.
“In here, little darlin’.”
Jackie stood in the doorway of her daddy’s study, staring at the stranger sitting in one of the large leather chairs across from her daddy.
“And just where are your shoes, young lady?”
Jackie looked down at her dirty bare feet and grinned. “Been out playing, Daddy.”
“You better make sure you’re cleaned up before your mother gets home,” he warned. “Or we’ll both have heck to pay.”
“I will. But can I take my bike into town first? It’s still early. I wanna go to Kay’s.”
“Sure. Just be careful.”
Jackie looked again at the stranger. “Who’s he?”
“This is my new attorney, Jacqueline. Meet Mr. Lawrence.”
“Do you know him?” Ingrid asked, bringing Jacqueline back to the present.
“I know him, yes.” Jacqueline walked to her desk. “Give me his number.”
After a mumbled good-bye to Ingrid, Jacqueline paced in her living room, pausing occasionally to stare out her windows at Monterey Bay. The earlier fog had dissipated, giving way to sunshine as it tried to chase away the cold. It did nothing to warm her, however.
She wouldn’t call him. Whatever news he had—and it most definitely involved her parents—was of no interest to her. In fact, she couldn’t believe that John Lawrence had tried to track her down at all. After all, it’s been . . . fifteen years.
Fifteen years. She slowly shook her head. A lifetime ago. In fact, honestly, she couldn’t remember the last time they’d even crossed her mind. And Kay. God, it had been so long since she’d thought of Kay, but she had little trouble recalling the smiling face of her childhood friend. Her best friend. Of course, her friendship with Kay was another casualty of the war inflicted upon her by her parents. But, it had been a short war.
And they had won.
She walked quickly into the kitchen and slid a wineglass off the rack. It was only two, but her writing was done for the day. John Lawrence had seen to that. From the fridge, she retrieved the bottle of chardonnay she’d opened just last night. Beside it was the dinner she hadn’t bothered to eat. After her first sip of wine, her stomach reminded her that she hadn’t remembered breakfast, either.
Her deadline was fast approaching, but that wasn’t the reason she worked right through meals. She was simply on a roll. For the last two days, the words had come easily, filling page after page. Her first draft was due in three weeks, and even though she hadn’t told Ingrid, she was already finished with the draft. But when she beat her deadlines, her publisher had a habit of shortening them. So, she’d wait until the last day to send it to Ingrid. No, what she was working on now was a completely new novel, one Ingrid knew nothing about. She didn’t like to share outlines until she was at least three-quarters done with it. Too many times, she’d written half a story, only to find it fall apart, and she ended up trashing it. Then she’d have Ingrid on her ass, urging her to finish a book she’d lost desire for.
She went back to her desk and stared at the paper where she’d scribbled John Lawrence’s phone number. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to call him and find out what was going on.
She walked out onto her spacious deck overlooking Monterey Bay. The cold, biting wind of earlier had subsided somewhat, but the early spring day was still cool. In the distance, she stared at the Santa Cruz Mountains, a sight the fog usually kept hidden. She was relaxed, calm, when the phone was answered.
“John Lawrence. May I help you?”
She swallowed once. “This is Jacqueline Keys, Mr. Lawrence. I understand you’ve been trying to reach me.”
“Jacqueline, thank you for returning the call. How have you been?”
Jacqueline paused long enough to flick her eyes over the bay. “Fine. Just fine. What can I do for you?” she asked, dismissing any further pleasantries.
“I have some very bad news regarding your father, Jacqueline.”
“Mr. Lawrence, I’ve not heard from my father in fifteen years. Don’t preface something by saying you have bad news. Why don’t you just say you have news regarding my father?”
A pause on the other end of the phone, then a subtle clearing of the throat. “You’re right of course. I’m sorry, Ms. Keys. Your father was killed in an automobile accident yesterday. Your mother is in critical condition, although she is expected to recover. She is hospitalized with a broken pelvis, broken legs and back. She has a punctured lung from broken ribs, the most serious of her injuries.”
Jacqueline stood quietly, her eyes still scanning the distant Santa Cruz Mountains. She regarded the news, acknowledging that she felt no sorrow, no regret. They were fifteen some-odd years removed from her life. Long ago, she had grieved for her lost family. She had nothing left to give.
“I see.” She paused. “Mr. Lawrence, I’m wondering why you felt the need to share this information with me. As I’m sure you are aware, my parents kicked me out of their life quite some time ago.”
“It was your father’s wish that I contact you. I’m simply following his directive.”
“I see,” she said again. “Well, thank you for the information. Good day.” Before she could disconnect, his voice called to her.
“Wait! I was hoping I could persuade you to come to Pine Springs. Your Uncle Walter is making the arrangements, what with your mother in the hospital and all, but I think you should be at the funeral,” he said in a rush.
“Why in the world would you think that? Mr. Lawrence, my parents put me on a bus when I was seventeen years old and shipped me out of town. I’ve not heard from them since. And I don’t plan to attend any funeral.”
“I really think it’s in your best interest that you be here, Ms. Keys. If not you, perhaps you could send your attorney.”
“Ms. Keys, you probably are not aware of the extent of your father’s business holdings. Without revealing the contents of his will, which obviously has not yet been executed, I strongly suggest, Ms. Keys, that you come to Pine Springs.”
Jacqueline closed her eyes, lightly rubbing her forehead with two fingers as she tried to ward off the fast approaching headache. Go to Pine Springs? She shook her head. It was a place she swore she would never set foot in again.
“Excuse me? You’re what?” Ingrid demanded.
“Going to Texas,” Jacqueline said again. She moved through her bedroom, phone tucked against her ear as she pulled out clothes and tossed them on the bed.
“Texas?” A pause. “Texas! Have you lost your mind? We have a deadline, in case you’ve forgotten! You can not possibly go to Texas, of all places,” Ingrid yelled through the phone.
“My father was killed in a car accident,” Jacqueline said easily. “There’s some legal business.”
“Your father? I’m sorry, Jacqueline, but you’ve never spoken of family. I’m sorry.”
Jacqueline folded the soft jeans in her hand, wondering why she’d never told Ingrid about her childhood. Ingrid was her agent and nearly twenty years her elder, but still, they were friends. She wondered why it had never come up.
“I left home when I was seventeen. I’ve not been back.”
Jacqueline stopped, turning around her bedroom, her eyes lighting on familiar objects, seeing none.
“Yes, I know. I am, too.”
Jacqueline allowed the briefest of smiles. “I was gay, so I wasn’t welcome in my home any longer,” she explained. “I wasn’t welcome in Pine Springs.”
“Then why are you going back?”
Yes, why, Jacqueline? Why go back to a town that laughed at you? Why go back to a mother who said you were abnormal and a disgrace to the family?
“Closure,” she said quietly. And it was true. She’d been whisked out of town so fast, she’d not had time to say good-bye to anyone. Kay, mainly. She’d not had time to reconcile her feelings, she’d not had time to even contemplate what was going on in her life. She’d just gotten up one morning and found herself on a bus, heading out of Pine Springs.
“Yes, closure. And perhaps a chance to see my mother, to show her that I survived.”
“Unless she’s been living in a cave, I’m sure she knows you’ve survived, Jacqueline. Having two novels made into movies, even in Pine Springs, Texas—wherever that is—I’m sure they’ve heard of you.”
Jacqueline walked back out into the living room, needing space, needing to see the bay. She slid open the doors, walking out, ignoring the fog and the cool wind that tossed the dark blond hair about her face.
“My father was mayor of Pine Springs when I was in high school,” she said, leaning heavily on the railing of her deck. “My family owned the largest lumber mill in East Texas, so they were very visible. Having a gay daughter was, naturally, the talk of the town. They put me on a bus with a hundred bucks in my pocket and told me not to come back until I’d come to my senses.”
“My God. Are you serious?”
“Why in the world would you go back? Do you think you owe them something?”
“No. I don’t owe them anything. Maybe I want them to see that I’ve made something of myself,” Jacqueline admitted. Despite her mother’s warning that she would come crawling back on bended knees, begging them to let her stay, she survived. And she was proud of that fact. No, she didn’t owe them anything.
She heard Ingrid sigh, knew the older woman was twisting the gray hair above her ears into knots, knew she was counting to ten before she brought up the book.
“I don’t mean to sound uncaring or anything, Jacqueline, but . . . but what about the book?”
“Don’t worry, Iggy, I’ll have my laptop. I can e-mail you anything you need.”
“Jesus, Jacqueline, I hate it when you call me that.”
“Yes, I know. And I promise I’ll meet the deadline.”
“You’ll have your cell?”
“You think they have service out there?”
This time, Jacqueline did laugh. “Ingrid, I’m not going to a third world country, you know.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just—”
“Have I ever missed a deadline?”
“Well, there you go. Quit worrying. I may be back within the week, anyway.”
“Just keep me updated, please. You know my blood pressure is not what it used to be.”
Jacqueline disconnected, still standing on her deck as the clouds swirled over the bay, letting her mind wander back to those carefree days of childhood.
“Come on, Kay. You can make it.”
“I don’t know, Jackie. It’s pretty high.”
“I promise, I won’t let you fall.” Jackie reached down and offered her hand to Kay. Kay didn’t hesitate. She let Jackie pull her up the tree to the first limb, sitting across it like a horse, just as Jackie was. “See? Piece of cake.” Jackie pointed. “If we can just get up there, it’ll be enough room for both of us to sit. And we’ll be high enough so Sammy can’t get up here to bother us.”
“Jackie, I can’t go that high. Mama will have my butt if she finds out.”
Jackie laughed. “She’ll only have your butt if you fall!”
Jackie used Kay’s shoulder to balance herself, shoving her dirty sneakers between branches and the trunk of the old oak, climbing ever higher. She looked down at Kay who was watching her in awe. “Well, come on. Follow me up.”
Their eyes met, blue on blue, and Kay’s face set with determination as she followed Jackie up the tree. Jackie found the bend she was looking for, and it was plenty wide enough for the two of them to sit. She knelt in the crevice of the tree, again offering her hand to Kay.
They leaned back, both breathing hard after their excursion. Then Kay started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I wouldn’t do this for anybody else,” she said.
“Climb up this high. You know I’m scared up high. Remember when I fell off the barn roof?”
“Yeah. But you made it. See? Here we are, at the top of the world,” Jackie said, waving her arms to the treetops.
Jacqueline let a small laugh escape. It had been the first of many times they scampered up the old oak tree in Kay’s back yard. The first time Kay’s mother had caught them, she’d threatened them with a belt. And she couldn’t blame her. They’d been all of ten when they started climbing that damn tree. She leaned against the railing, her eyes sliding closed when she remembered the last time they’d climbed up there. Seniors in high school. Jacqueline needed to talk, she wanted to tell Kay what was going on with her, how she was feeling. She felt like if she didn’t tell someone, she was just going to explode with it. And where better than their tree? They’d had many a long talk in that tree. They’d made big plans, they’d gossiped, they’d hidden from Rose. And they’d talked about everything over the years. They had no secrets.
Except one. And in the end, Jacqueline couldn’t bring herself to tell Kay that she was gay. She was afraid Kay wouldn’t be her friend any more, and Kay was her best friend, her only friend, really. The only one that mattered. But it was soon out of her hands. Only a few weeks later, she was on a bus out of town, never to return.
She stood up straight, her eyes looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Never to return, until now.
The flight to Dallas was crowded, even for this ungodly hour of the morning, and Jacqueline struggled to stretch her long legs, ignoring the young man next to her who was tapping his fingers nervously on his own legs.
“First time,” he finally said.
“I understand,” she murmured.
“No.” She pulled out her laptop, hoping that would discourage any further conversation. She was nervous too, but it had absolutely nothing to do with flying. She brushed at the hair on her forehead, intending to work some, but her mind drifted. It had been so long since she’d thought of her parents, she hardly had a picture of them in her mind anymore. But she remembered clearly the day they sent her away. She, standing there in her faded jeans and scuffed athletic shoes; her mother, dressed for cocktails at the country club.
“We’ve purchased you a ticket to Dallas. Where you go from there is up to you.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“You know perfectly well why, Jacqueline. We’re the laughing stock of Pine Springs, not to mention the Women’s League. We simply can not allow it to continue, and you seem to think that you were born this way! Think of your father. He won’t be reelected next year. The laughing stock, I tell you!”
Jacqueline closed her eyes, remembering the pain she’d felt that day. She vowed then and there that she would never return, no matter what. But here she was, on a flight to Dallas nonetheless.
She wanted to believe they sent her away to shock her, scare her perhaps. But she had been too proud and too stubborn for that. After her brave declaration to them a few weeks before, stating that she would not marry Daniel Thornton because she liked girls, her father had refused to even look at her, much less speak to her. No matter how hard she tried, her father simply turned away from her. Her mother, on the other hand, took every opportunity to tell her the devil had his hooks in her and surely Brother Garner could talk some since into her. Jacqueline was forced to sit through two sessions with him as he attempted to heal her. That, she would never forget.
She let a ghost of a smile touch her mouth. It would have been very comical had it not been happening to her. The week seemed to last an eternity. It hadn’t taken long for the rumors to spread through town and she felt all eyes on her, especially at school. Friends suddenly avoided her, and the girl’s locker room was suspiciously empty when it was her turn to shower.
“Bunch of idiots,” she murmured. All but Kay. She never avoided her. She seemed nearly puzzled by everyone’s reaction. But she never once made mention of it.
Jacqueline purposely turned her focus to her laptop, resting her fingers lightly over the keys, refusing to allow any more memories to crowd in. It was from another life. It would do no good to dwell on it. But still, why in the world was she going back? Closure? To tell her mother off? To let the whole town know she’d made something of herself after she’d escaped from behind the pine curtain?
She doubted anyone would even remember her. Or care, for that matter.
Hours later, she found herself creeping along in Dallas traffic. Heavy, yes, but nothing like rush hour trying to get in or out of San Francisco. She managed to find the interstate without getting lost and by early afternoon, was heading east on I-20. She’d purposefully rented the most expensive car she could find, for comfort she’d told herself, but she knew better. The Lexus would definitely stick out in Pine Springs.
After stopping in Tyler for a bite to eat, she headed south. She had another three hours, at best. But it was a beautiful spring afternoon, and she was in no hurry. She was enjoying the drive, she admitted. Beautiful redbud trees, in full bloom, seemed to compete with the snow white of the dogwoods. Azaleas, just starting to show color, were proudly displayed by nearly every house she passed. Soon, the road was virtually swallowed by pine trees, and she felt an unfamiliar peace settle over her. The pine curtain. Why in the world would she feel peaceful heading back into it?
Time—and the miles—flew by. She checked her directions again, then turned off the main highway just past Rusk and headed even deeper into the Piney Woods. Tiny towns, just dots on the map, seemed stuck in the past, hovering in the mid-century. Old farmhouses tucked against the forest while cows grazed lazily on cleared pasture land. She took it all in, so different from the ocean condo she now called home. She drove aimlessly, her mind wandering as the miles passed much too quickly.
Her breath caught when she saw the sign.
PINE SPRINGS, 20 MILES.
Suddenly, it all became a reality. She was going back home.
And it was the time of day Jacqueline remembered well. The late afternoon hung on for a few more minutes before early evening would take its place. A time when, as a kid, Jacqueline would rush home on her bike, trying to beat the sun—and her curfew. Many a day she would come flying up the driveway, the gravel kicking up under her bike tires as she skidded to a halt before bursting through the kitchen door, just in time to catch her mother’s scolding glance.
“Louise has dinner ready. Your father is already at the table, young lady.”
“I’m not late.”
“You’re filthy. What trouble did you get into today?”
“No trouble. Baseball.”
“Baseball? How many times have I told you? That is no sport for a lady.”
“I’m not a lady. Besides, I’m better than them.”
“You are too old to be playing with boys, Jacqueline. Now, go wash up.”
The smile came without warning as she remembered the argument they’d had more than once over dinner. Her parents wanted her to try out for the cheerleading squad, but she adamantly refused. Cheerleading? Please. She wanted to try out for the basketball team. And she did, over their dead body.
She slowed as she reached the outskirts of Pine Springs, surprised that it was all still so familiar to her. Not much had changed over the years. She crossed the bridge into town, looking fondly down the river, and so many memories crowded in at once. Downtown hadn’t changed a bit, she thought, as all the familiar structures came into view. The old courthouse building looked exactly as she remembered with giant magnolia trees on every corner. Across the street, the lone bank dwarfed the old five and dime store which surprisingly appeared to still be in business. There were few cars on the streets, but then again, she supposed the shops all closed up at five, everyone rushing home to kids and dinner.
It hit her suddenly. What the hell was she doing here? Familiar, yet alien. It had been fifteen years, a lifetime ago. She was no longer the scared kid getting on that bus. She was a grown woman, a successful writer. This town had nothing to offer her except painful memories, and she certainly had nothing to offer it. But that wasn’t entirely true. Not all her memories were painful. She had a great childhood, and both her parents had spoiled her, giving her things that her friends’ parents could not afford. She realized now that they’d only done that to prove they had more money than anyone else in town. But still, she’d been happy. She excelled in sports, not cheerleading.
Then it happened, that early spring day during her senior year of high school. She was finally able to put a word to what she’d been feeling for so long. Lesbian. Gay. Jacqueline remembered the loneliness she’d felt at that time as she tried to keep her secret. Even Kay had no idea.
But really, it was her feelings for Kay that had made her come to terms with her sexuality. It became obvious to her that it was Kay, not her so-called boyfriend, she wanted to be with. Kay was the one she thought about at night while lying in bed. And it was because of Kay that jealousy consumed her the night of their senior prom when she’d seen Kay and Billy Ray Renfro kissing behind the bleachers in the gym. It all became crystal clear that night. Jacqueline was different. She didn’t fit in. So, little by little, she withdrew from Kay, keeping her secret to herself. She would be going off to college soon enough, and then she wouldn’t have to worry about it. She and Kay would drift apart. But then, her parents brought up the subject of her marrying Daniel Thornton, saying they had already discussed it with Daniel’s parents. No, Jacqueline definitely was not going to marry Danny Thornton.
And so it all came out. Her secret. Within a week, it was all over town, and a mere ten days before graduation, her mother put her on a bus and sent her away in shame.
The honking of a horn startled her, and she shook herself, realizing she’d been sitting at the traffic light, daydreaming. She pulled through the intersection just as the light turned red, no doubt pissing off the driver behind her.
The motel Mr. Lawrence directed her to was on the main drag, the sign chipped and faded, but still, it made Jacqueline laugh. Pine Springs Motel. Take your boots off and stay awhile.
“Why on earth would anyone want to do that?”
But she pulled in nonetheless, parking next to the faded vacancy sign that was nailed to an ancient pine tree. There were all of three cars in the lot, and she eyed the motel suspiciously. John Lawrence had offered a room at his home, but she’d insisted she would rather have her privacy. Perhaps she should reconsider. The motel hadn’t seen an improvement in thirty years, she was certain.
The desk clerk was a scruffy, bearded man with a wad of tobacco in his cheek and he chose that moment to spit into a filthy cup. Jacqueline raised an eyebrow.
“Help ya, ma’am? Git ya a room?”
“Actually . . . no, thanks.”
She turned and quickly retraced her steps, pausing beside her rental car to unclip her cell phone from her jeans pocket. She searched through her programmed numbers, finding John Lawrence, which she’d just added that morning. Leaning against the car as she waited, her eyes scanned the darkening sky, smiling slightly at the nearly full moon that rose over the pines.
“Mr. Lawrence? It’s Jacqueline Keys, I hope I’m not interrupting dinner.”
“Good evening, Jacqueline. No, no, you’re not interrupting. I trust you made it.”
“Yes. No problems. I’m actually at the motel right now.” She cleared her throat as she glanced at the faded vacancy sign. “Well, I’m in the parking lot, anyway. I’m afraid to go inside.”
His hearty laugh brought a smile to her face and she relaxed a little.
“I tried to warn you.”
“I was wondering if maybe I could reconsider your offer.”
“Mary has a room already made up for you. We’ve been waiting dinner. I’m sure you have lots of questions.”
She let out a sigh of relief, finally opening the door and climbing in. “Great. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember where you live.”
“We’ve moved to the country club, not far from your parents’ new home. Just off the ninth green. Do you remember how to get to the country club?”
“I think so. I played golf there enough, I should remember.”
“We’re on Fairway Lane, third house on the right, but call if you get lost. The streets are rather winding.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Once back on the highway, she drove through the heart of town, the streets now dark and deserted. The only activity she could see was at the Dairy Mart. She imagined it was still the main hangout for the high school kids. She drove along, turned down familiar streets, surprised that she still remembered the way.
The entryway for the county club was as impressive as ever, although the electronic gate had not been there in the old days. She gave the guard her name, and, after checking the guest list, he let her through, giving quick directions to the Lawrence’s house. Fifteen years ago, the country club was just getting started. There were only a handful of homes here then. She remembered her parents discussing whether they wanted to build a home out here. Apparently, they had. But even back then, they spent plenty of time at the country club. Much to her mother’s delight, Jacqueline excelled at golf and had joined them frequently on weekends.
She found the Lawrence home easily and parked in the circular drive. Motion lights signaled her arrival, and she had no time for nervousness. The front door opened immediately. John Lawrence hadn’t changed much in fifteen years, although his hair was no longer the salt and pepper she remembered. It was an attractive shade of white, and she recognized his wife, Mary standing behind him. She had aged more, and she looked nearly ten years his senior now. They both waved, and her uneasiness fled. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Grabbing the one bag she had on the back seat, she flung the strap over her shoulder and walked up. She stopped, smelling a fragrance in the air that brought back many memories. Jasmine. She smiled slightly, then walked up, hand outstretched to greet them.
“Jacqueline Keys, my God, look at you.”
“Mrs. Lawrence, how are you?”
“Call me Mary, dear. I’m so glad you came.”
“Thank you for having me on so short notice. The motel was . . . well, a rat trap may be too kind a word.”
They laughed and drew her inside their home. It was spacious, but still unpretentious and very homey. She’d always liked them. They never quite seemed to fit in with her parents’ normal circle of friends. This house wasn’t a showcase for their wealth, it was simply their home. She never could have said that about her own home growing up.
“When I called you, I was afraid you would turn me down. In fact, I expected it,” John Lawrence said.
“To be honest with you, I’m not certain why I agreed to come. I don’t feel that I owe them anything.”
“I understand. But we have time to talk later. Let’s get you settled, and we’ll have dinner.”
Mary gave her a quick tour of the house, and Jacqueline was thankful that her room was on the opposite end from theirs. At least she wouldn’t feel in the way and would have some privacy. She tossed her one bag on the bed and turned, finding Mary watching her.
“Is that all you brought?”
“I’ve got another bag in the car with my suit, but I’ll get that later.”
Mary glanced once over her shoulder, then walked closer. “I know this must be very hard for you, Jacqueline. But we both felt like you had a right to be here, if you wanted. Of course, after all that happened all those years ago, I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d chosen not to come here. You may not believe this, but it wasn’t your father’s idea to send you away. Your mother just . . . well, she went out of her mind over it all. She blew it all out of proportion, thinking the entire town was laughing at her. Truth is, most people didn’t really care. When word got out that she’d sent you away, well, most just felt sorry for her.”
“Does she know I’m here?”
Mary shook her head. “John didn’t think it was a good idea to tell her.”
“How is she, Mary? Is she well enough to attend the funeral?”
“No. She’s had two surgeries already. From what I understand, she’ll be in the hospital for another week or so, until they move her home. Even then, she’ll need a nurse to care for her for months yet.”
Jacqueline tried to muster up sympathy, or some emotion, but nothing would come. Her mother was but a stranger to her, and she couldn’t find it in her heart to feel sorry for her.
“What hospital is she in?”
“She’s here in Pine Springs.”
Jacqueline’s eyebrows shot up. “Pine Springs has a hospital?”
“Oh, yes. Over on the west side of town, things have grown quite a lot.”
Jacqueline frowned. “They have a hospital but no motel?” She watched as a slight blush colored Mary’s face.
“Actually, John may have omitted a few things. There is a fairly new motel on the west side.”
“And he sent me to the old Pine Springs Motel?”
Mary smiled. “He really wanted you to stay with us. He didn’t want you to feel like an outsider, and that’s exactly what you’d have been if you’d stayed at the motel. It wouldn’t take long for word to spread.”
“So, the town’s grown, but gossip still flies?”
“Jacqueline, your father was a very powerful man in the county, so yes, gossip and speculation have been spreading like wildfire.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Come on. Let’s get dinner on the table. John will discuss business with you afterwards.”