W.I.T.C.H. Fan Fiction ❯ My Niece ❯ Day 8 ( Chapter 8 )

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Page | 15

Day 8
The start of the 8th day was anything but normal compared what I was used to. Getting up, I was expecting what was now becoming routine: I would find Wilma half-asleep at the kitchen table and I would start getting all of the things we would need for cereal. Instead, I saw Wilma playing with Sven, and the kitchen table had everything already set out. It was stunning if only for the fact that Wilma had done little in front of me the past few days except playing with Sven.
As I stared about, wowed by the work she had done, Wilma looked up at me. She smiled and said, “Good morning Arthur.”
As unarmed as I was, I was more so after hearing Wilma say that. It sounded energetic, a stark contrast to the days beforehand. Not knowing what else to do, I said, “Good morning… Wilma. I… see you have breakfast ready.”
“Oh yeah, I got stuff out not too long ago, but I wanted to wait until you got up. I’ve just been playing with Sven until that happened.”
“I see. I’ll go serve myself then, if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine. I need to wash my hands anyway.”
With that she headed to the bathroom, and I turned towards the kitchen table, where I got my cereal and juice prepared. As I began to eat, I thought, Now what’s gotten into her this time? I hope she didn’t get a hold of something that got her brain warped!
All of that musing had to be silenced when she reappeared. She sat down at the table and began serving herself some cereal and started eating. And whereas in the past she ate stuff a bit slowly, she was halfway inhaling her food. She was already halfway done when she said, “This is the new stuff you got from the Co-op, right?”
“Yes, it is.” I answered. “Eh, I’m seeing that you got a good night’s sleep last night.”
“Oh, did I ever! I don’t think I’ve ever slept that good in my life! It was like going on some sort of blissful jog. And when I got up, I didn’t reel run down at all! I mean, I guess a bit of it can be attributed to the fact that I always had to get up early for school for a swim meet, but perhaps for the first time ever I’ve slept without anything preoccupying me.”
“Do you think the therapies you partook in helped out?”
“Oh certainly. I know that I was a bit loopy afterwards, but during those therapies, I felt as if all of the things I had been pining on before got put into focus and in a different light. Everything began to make sense for once, and I could deal with it, and I didn’t need to think about them as much anymore.”
“Like with the swim team issue.”
“By the way, in regards to the swim team issue, have you made a decision about it?”
“Not really. But I’m leaning more towards your feelings, Arthur. Providing, of course, I want to return home.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, if given the option, I would much rather stay here than return home. It’s a wonderful place compared to where I came from.”
This obviously worried me. After all, Susan would be coming to pick her up tomorrow, and I didn’t want any weird sort of complication to rise out of her new mindset. I hope I can snap her out of this mindset before tomorrow. I thought as I took a quick glance out the window, as if Susan was about to show up at any moment. Maybe I can ask her about her feelings in regards to her friends and mother, and what it means if she leaves them behind for good. To that thought, I said, “Eh, why don’t you think about it a bit more before you make such a significant decision.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to think about it a bit more.” Wilma replied. “But it’s kind of hard to imagine me living anywhere else. I mean, my mother and my former friends don’t see the world the same way I do now. In fact, I don’t think any of them would’ve even noticed my departure.”
That’s not fact, Wilma. I thought. They would all give up everything they own, just to have you back. But before I could finish with my thought, I heard a knocking on the door. It was odd, since it was fairly early in the morning. Nevertheless, I wiped down my chin and said, “Hold on, Wilma. Let me see who it is.” I then got up and went to the door. To my surprise, it was Father Mannahan. I felt that it was weird for him to stop by, but I perhaps realized that he was here to see how things were going. Not wanting to reveal anything I myself didn’t want to say, I quickly said, “Oh hi. Is… it… OK if we take it outside for a moment?” Father Mannahan was a bit confused by my response, but agreed. I then turned to Wilma and I said, “I hope you don’t mind, but my pastor and I need to go outside to talk about some things. I’ll be right back.” Wilma looked just as confused as Father Mannahan did, but also agreed to it. I then stepped outside and closed the door behind me. “Is there something wrong, Arthur?” Mannahan asked.
“No. I just don’t want you to refer to Wilma as my niece, if that’s what you’d be implying.” I answered.
“Eh… Arthur… I thought that would be one of the first things you would do. You know that it’s considered impious to lie like that.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to. She just hates being called my niece, even if it’s technically true. And for that matter, I don’t want to be the target of all of the problems she has suffered through her life.”
“I see. I still don’t like it, though. As a pastor, I know for a fact that lies are generally harmful, even when they are done with good intent. Sooner, rather than later, you’ll have to tell her the truth.”
“Yeah, that’s what Jaspal told me last night. And I’m still looking for a good way to do so. I hope I can find a way before the day is out.”
“For the sake of Jesus, I hope so too.”
After a short, awkward break, I then said, “If you want to come in and meet Wilma, you are more than welcome to.”
“I would like to, actually.” Mannahan said. So I then opened up the door and ushered into the house. I soon followed, closing the door behind me soon after. Wilma once again looked a bit confused, unsurprising since she wasn’t expecting me to bring this guest into my house. Seeing her a bit unnerved, I quickly said, “Wilma, allow me to introduce you to my pastor, Father Mannahan. He was one of the first people to show me around Whitesage when I moved here.”
“Hi.” Wilma said, looking a bit embarrassed for some reason. “Sorry if I’m not properly dressed. Arthur and I just got up not too long ago.”
“Oh, that’s fine.” Mannahan responded. “If you wish to change, go right ahead.”
“Maybe I should just go get changed right now. I’m already close to finishing my breakfast anyway.” She then turned her attention to her bowl of cereal, in which she finished off the last bits in the bowl and then drank up the milk that was left. She then turned back to the two of us and said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to change.”
“Go right ahead.” I said. With that, Wilma walked out of the dining area and towards the study. After we heard the door close, Father Mannahan turned back to me and said, “Well, she seems quite energetic this morning. Not anything like a girl who has all of the problems you described several days ago.”
“Actually, she has been a bit sluggish up to this point.” I answered. “I’m still trying to figure out how she got so energetic, and all I can think of is all of the work she got from the Spiritual Therapy center last night.”
“Oh. I guess that could explain it. I wouldn’t rely on that as the diagnosis, though.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, from my own experiences as a pastor, I know that people can change inexplicably for a number of reasons and even for no reason at all. It may be that whatever was done to her last night may have had an effect on her mental and spiritual wavelengths, but exactly what caused this change is probably not directly attributed to it.”
“Maybe.” It was hard for me to get a full answer out; what Father Mannahan said to me didn’t exactly sit well with my brain, and it was taking all of my mental energy just to comprehend what was just told to me. All of that was quickly pushed to the back when Wilma came out. Interestingly, she has come out in the same clothes in which I had first found her. “Eh, Wilma? I hate to be rude, but aren’t those clothes unwashed?” I asked.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. In the day where you dropped me off at the Howl House for my job shadow, after walking Sven home, I gathered up my dirty clothes and got them washed.” Wilma said. “So that explains why I’m wearing this.” After a short pause, she then said, “You know, it’s actually quite interesting on how the Laundromat is set up. I mean, I’ve never heard of the detergents used here, and I’ve never known that you can put borax and baking soda into the wash.”
“That’s been known for a long time.” Mannahan said. “In fact, borax and baking soda were the usual materials used to clean clothes until modern detergents replaced them; nowadays they are seldom-used additives.”
“You used them before?”
“A few times. Normally I don’t use them, but there were a few times I needed them.” Wanting to change the subject, Father Mannahan then said, “So Wilma, since you’ve arrived here, what has been your feelings about Whitesage?”
“Oh, it’s wonderful!” she said with a bit of exuberance. “I mean, it’s a little bit on the oddball side, but this place is by far the greatest place I’ve ever spent significant time in, outside of the Bahamas when I was five years old. And almost everyone here seems so nice and supportive, especially Arthur.”
“Well, I’m glad that you are enjoying yourself here.” Mannahan responded. “I figured that Arthur had things running smoothly, once I heard about your plight. But I thought that I would show up anyway, just to make sure. I hope you didn’t mind that.”
“Oh, of course not. But you know… I hope this doesn’t sound weird coming out of my mouth… isn’t it kind of awkward to live in a place where you don’t belong? You know, with your position…”
“Yeah, I admit that I feel out of place in a town that is dominated by Neo-Pagans. Of course, back when I first came here, it was a lot worse with the entire social stigma going on about Christianity and its relatives. Nowadays, people are more accepting of me and those I represent, though we have some ways to go. I’m sure you understand that sentiment, Wilma.”
“Yes. Though I doubt I ever was accepted back at home, at least not the way I wanted it to be. They all had expectations set up they knew I couldn’t reach. Here, I don’t feel as if I need to please anybody, and I can go about my business freely. It’s truly a wonderful place, and I wish other places in the world would take notice of how it works.”
“Perhaps, as long as they acknowledge that it too has had its moments. I bet Arthur has already told you about the history of this place.”
“He has.”
“Good. I just don’t want you to get any possibly harmful thoughts developing.” Mannahan said. As he said this, he turned to me and had a look on his face that said I hope you listening to this, too. I felt a little guilty for having been looked at like that, even though it was warranted, but I couldn’t work up the nerve to say the words everyone wanted to pull out of my head. Wilma noticed this too, and with that she asked, “Is there something wrong?”
“Eh… Nothing directly concerning me. It is directly concerning Arthur, however.”
“What would that be?”
“He’ll explain it to you. At least, I hope he does. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to the church. Other people may be needing of my capabilities.”
“I see. Well, it was nice talking to you.”
“It was nice talking to you too, Wilma.” With that, Father Mannahan got up and made his way to the door, giving me a brief glance as he walked past. He let himself out and said, “Have a good day everyone.”
“Same to you.” I answered. But I knew that it would be much harder to achieve that state after that discussion. I then gathered up the food and began to put things away. All the time, I thought, Geez, how anal can you all be about opening my mouth? All of this time, I have been trying to separate myself from my past, and now all of you want me to talk about it, as if I can magically cleanse the world around me! How am I supposed to do that without bringing about a misery I lived during my adolescence and what Wilma was living through just recently? I can’t risk something like that!
Once again, Wilma noticed this and she said, “Is everything OK, Arthur? You seem worried.”
“I guess you can say that.” I responded. “I just have a lot to think about.”
“Is it about the thing the pastor said you needed to say?”
I cringed a little bit when Wilma said that, because it was the truth. But I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to say the truth. So I answered, “Yes. But… it doesn’t concern you. So don’t get too bothered by it.”
Wilma didn’t seem to believe my explanation, but she seemed accepting not to dig deeper. She then got up and said, “Do you need any help with the dishes?”
“No. I’ve got it.” I answered
“OK. I’ll just be playing with Sven, in case you need me.” With that, she walked over to Sven and began playing with him. He needed, since he looked rather spooked when Father Mannahan had arrived.
After a little while, I was done with the dishes. I then made my way to my bedroom to gather up my clothes for the day, and I then went to the bathroom to shower. Nothing unusual happened during those times, though I had that lingering feeling that, someone was judging me, if only unconsciously.
Before long, the two of us were out the door and on our walk to our destinations. As usual, the Howl House was our first stop, having to drop off Sven. Then we made our way to the Tejawswini Palace, where Jaspal was cleaning off one of the outside tables. “Ah, Arthur! Wilma! I was wondering when you’d arrive.” He said once he saw us. “I was wondering if you two had forgotten the plan.”
“Nope. We didn’t.” Wilma said. “Do you need any help with that table?”
“I see that you are more than ready to work this morning. Sure, I wouldn’t mind having an extra pair of hands with this work. There isn’t too much else to do yet, anyway.” Jaspal then turned to me and said, “I think we’ve got it taken care of from here. If something comes up, I’ll be sure to call you.”
“Thanks, Jaspal. Enjoy the job assessment, Wilma.” I said.
“I will.” Wilma said. I then turned away and walked to the Mystic’s Emporium, ready to start another day at work.
Much like the day before, work was steady, but it was also a bit disturbing. Once again, the things people were buying were religious materials, and it was now a bit more clear about the purposes they would be used: about halfway through the workday, Bryan was approached by a woman in her 40s who seemed at little bit out of it. She asked, “Where do you keep the spiritual protection materials?”
Bryan looked up from a spreadsheet and said, “Well, it depends on what you are looking for. Is there anything in particular you are looking for?”
“Everything. I don’t care what it is, I’ll take a bit of everything.” The woman said. “Anything to keep Stupidian influences at bay.”
“I guess we can start with certain incense blends. And from there we can take a look at ritual offerings.” The woman didn’t seem to be more at ease when she heard this, and when it was all said and done, she had indeed purchased a little bit of everything, namely incense and oils. In a way, I felt bad for her since she was dealing with possibly a world-changing event in the following weeks, with no obvious way to deal with it. But I also felt as if she and others were wasting their time, as the chance of their fears coming to pass was miniscule, even with the precautions taken.
More ominously was part of a discussion I overheard between two young men passing by. Both appeared to be in their 30s, or even in their late 20s. I only caught the end of the conversation, but it sounded like, “I don’t want to be alive if it becomes reality.” I was quickly reminded about Derek’s words about misery, but even more quickly, they were taken over by Wilma’s voice, first by her anger towards those comments, and then by her insistence not to talk about death, especially suicide. All of this didn’t sit well with me, but I knew that this was old hat for someone like me. Whether Wilma would accept this was beyond me, but it was more ammo for me to get her back home.
Yet the strangest part of the day came about an hour after lunch, and it didn’t involve my work at all: I got a call from Jaspal, which at first worried me. I initially thought that something horrible had happened to Wilma, but what I heard was a bit of surprise: “I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but is it OK if Wilma stays over at the Tejawswini Palace until 7:00 PM?” He said.
“Why?” I asked. “Is there something wrong with Wilma?”
“No. It’s just that one of the cooks got sick, and we were already a bit short-staffed to begin with. Besides that, Wilma has been one major bundle of energy since she arrived here.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She seems to be doing everything at warp speed, it’s absolutely unreal! The gurus themselves would be dumbfounded by the pace and accuracy in which she is working!”
“But I don’t know if she knows how to cook.”
“Oh, she volunteered for it. I can’t possibly turn down something like that. So, with your permission, will you allow Wilma to work extra time here?”
“I guess so. But let her go back to my place if she tires out, OK?”
“I understand. Enjoy the rest of the day, Arthur.”
“Same to you, Jaspal. Bye.” I then heard the phone click, and I followed suit. Geez, Wilma. Are you sure you didn’t take something you shouldn’t have? I thought as I got back to work. At this rate, you might spontaneously combust!
The rest of the day was standard fare, and soon enough, I was on my way back to the Howl House to pick up Sven. As I got him leashed up, Rebecca asked, “Are you OK, Arthur? You looked concerned.”
“Maybe a little bit.” I answered reluctantly. “This is supposed to be Wilma’s last day here, and I need to convince her to return home. Otherwise, she might decide to stay here, in spite of the fact that she would be sorely missed.”
“Oh, that sort of thing.”
“Yeah. It’ll soon be the end of the evening, and I still don’t know the best way to tell her this.”
“Well, I’m not the best person to talk to for something of this matter. All I can say is to tell it to her straight up and go from there.”
“I see. Here, let me get your payment.” After paying Rebecca, I left, but not before I heard her say, “Good luck with Wilma.”
I waved, signifying that I understood what she said. As I walked home, I then said under my breath, “I’ll need it.”
I was soon back home, at around 7:30 PM. I didn’t know if anyone was inside, knowing how late Wilma had been working. So I began knocking on the door to see if she had arrived. After the third knock, I heard a shout from off to the side: “Arthur! I’m coming!” I looked off to my left and I saw Wilma, carrying two large bags of what I assumed to be Indian food, an assumption that was quickly confirmed by the unmistakable smell of garam masala.
“I see that you got some grub, Wilma.” I commented.
“I sure did. Jaspal told me to take some food with me. He said it was kind of a reward for my hard work at the Tejawswini Palace for today. I hope you don’t mind mater paneer and dal makhani; I just thought those looked the best to me.”
“That’s fine with me, though I take it that there’s naan and rice in there too.”
“Of course. He insisted upon it.”
“Excellent.” I said as I opened the door. Wilma set the food onto the table and went to get the plates whereas I took Sven off of his leash and washed my hands. When I came out of the bathroom, Wilma had almost completely set the table, save for the water in the cups. Once again, I was stunned to see Wilma getting stuff done so quickly. OK, you need to give yourself a break. Seriously! I thought. But instead, I said, “You know, Wilma, you can relax a little bit. You don’t need to set the table; I can take care of that.”
“Oh. OK. You can finish up here. I’ll just play with Sven for a while.” Wilma answered. She then made her way to Sven, where I went and finished getting the table put together, which didn’t take long for me to do. Wilma, seeing that supper was ready, cleaned her hands and sat down.
Both of us quickly got down to the meal, which was fairly spicy. After about a few bites, I asked Wilma, “So how did work go today?”
“Oh, it was outstanding.” Wilma answered. “I did just about everything, including how to cook the foods served. I was especially impressed with the Tandoori ovens they had in the kitchen and how they worked. And I’m still in awe in all of the peppers they used in the cooking.”
“In terms of numbers or in terms of spiciness?”
“Both. I mean, there must have been a dozen different types of peppers, most of them very potent. They kind of reminded me of the Szechwan and Yellow Emperor peppers used to make Chinese hot sauces.”
“I see. I’ll just have to take your word for it because it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Chinese eatery. I do know of a place in the area, but I’ve never eaten there. Anyway, you can thank Gurneet, Jaspal’s wife, for the peppers, she personally grows them.”
“I already did, actually. She helped me out whenever Jaspal wasn’t available.”
“That was definitely nice of her.”
We continued eating for a little while, and then Wilma said, “There was one thing that did take me by surprise when I was there.”
“Oh? How so?” I asked, curious on what had happened.
“Well, it was about two, maybe three hours before the supper would start being prepared. Jaspal was going through one of those large fridges that other kitchens have. He pulled out a large load of meats, and then he headed to a back room. As he was making his way over there, he told me that it would be getting a little noisy. I took him at his word, but I wasn’t expecting a racket like that of an avalanche!”
I knew exactly what she was talking about: Jaspal had a stationary bike in the back of the restaurant which was connected to a revolving barrel filled with roughly 50 ball bearings. To save time tenderizing the meats, he would put them into heavy-duty bags and place them into the barrel, and from there he would ride the bike for a good 15-20 minutes. Even with foam padding on both the inside and outside of the barrel, it still caused a major ruckus every time it got started up. “So, what happened?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“Well, I took off to the room Jaspal had gone into, and he was on a stationary bike that was connected to a barrel full of steel balls and a few bags. He saw me not long after I came in, and he dimly said to me, ‘I told you that there would be a lot of noise.’ I then asked him what he was doing, and he explained the whole device to me and its purpose. Then he went back to spinning up the barrel, and I returned to the kitchen.”
I simply looked towards Wilma with about as good of a blank expression as I could muster. Seeing this, Wilma said, “Well, it’s the truth! Ask him any time…”
“Oh, I believe you, Wilma. It’s… just… kind of weird.” I responded. “I’ve always known him as a bit of a tinkerer, but never to that extent. Perhaps that’s why all of the meats there have a tendency to almost melt into your mouth, whenever I decide to eat meat.”
“I understand what you are saying; I actually had a piece of chicken afterwards, and I swear it was ready to go down the hatch after chewing it just once! Of course, I didn’t do that, but it certainly felt like that.”
Finally, just as we were finishing up the meal, Wilma said, “So, how was work today?”
“Eh… I… Well…” I stuttered, since I wasn’t expecting that to come out of her mouth. I eventually got my act together and I said, “It was pretty typical for this time of year. There were certainly a lot of sales of ritual goods: incense, oils, that sort of thing.”
“Hmm. I wonder why that is.”
“It’s almost all due to the Samhein festivities taking place at the end of the month. Whereas most people see it as a time to party, roam about, and eat candy, it’s an important religious date by the Neo-Pagan tradition.”
“I see. What happens during such festivities?”
“Eh, once again I’m not the best person to talk to for that sort of thing. You are better off reading a book about that sort of thing.”
“Eh, I’d rather talk to an actual Neo-Pagan, to be honest with you.”
“That’s another option. It’s actually perhaps the better option knowing how many live here.”
Wilma halfway smirked when I said that, and without saying anything we headed to the sink to clean off the dishes. Once that was done, Wilma went into the main room to play with Sven, whereas I went to get my hands clean.
Once I had my hands clean, I ventured out into the main room and sat down next to Wilma. She was scratching behind Sven’s ears, something that he really liked. I had a hard time looking at them, as it reminded me of my mission, and the unpleasantness it would bring. Wilma sensed my lack of ease, looked over to me and said, “Is there something wrong? It looks as if something is eating at you.”
“No. Not really.” I answered. “I’m just really tired, that’s all. I’m kind of surprised you aren’t as tired as I considering all of the work you did.”
“Perhaps it’s a latent effect of the therapies I received last night. Or it could be that I really wanted to work in the kitchen. Whatever it was, I probably could’ve stayed there and worked overnight if I had wanted to.”
“Eh… Yeah.” I went back to staring out the window, and then I heard Wilma say, “I’ve made up my mind, Arthur. I’m going to stay here.”
I  was quickly jolted out of my stupor, and I stared at Wilma, halfway in shock. “Did I hear you correctly?” I said. “You… you want to STAY here?”
“Yes! This place is at least a hundred times better than my old place. And everyone seems so nice. How could anyone NOT want to live here?”
“Quite a few, actually. But still, I don’t think that’s overly doable. Knowing how old you are, you’ll have to go to school, and religion knows what would happen down that path.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can work something out. And if I have to go back to school, it won’t be the end of the world. I’ll probably find much better friends than those that ditched me.”
“Wilma… I…” I almost wanted to throw up, but I kept myself from doing so. I eventually gathered up my wits and I said, “Wilma, I know that this sounds utterly ludicrous, but I really think that it’s in your best interest to return home.”
Wilma was completely bewildered and flustered when I said that, and she was trying to find words to speak. Eventually, she said, “ARE YOU NUTS? I can’t go back… there! It’s… not even considerable!”
“Yes, it is. And as much as you think otherwise, it’s probably the best option out there.”
“But I have no friends out there! At least not those who think of me as garbage! And you’ve been like a father to me that actually cares about me, compared to what I use to have as parents!”
Once again, I winched after hearing that, knowing how close to home that comment was. And once again, I had to gather up wits, and then I said, “Eh… Wilma… I don’t mean to be rude, but after you said that, it kind of made me sick. It’s more true than you might imagine.”
“Oh don’t get me started on this whole ‘niece’ thing again!” Wilma snapped. “I’m in no way related to you! Otherwise, I would’ve run away again!”
“Wilma, please. I… listen. If you… can give me a moment, I think I can… explain.”
“OK, go ahead. Explain it to me.”
“Well… I… I can’t explain it with just words Wilma; you’ll never believe me. If you could wait here for a moment, I… can get some things that can tell you the whole story.”
“All right. I’ll wait here.” Wilma then looked out of the window and pouted out of frustration. Reluctantly, I made my way downstairs and into my office area. There, I began to rummage through all of the old belongings that I had stored away, hoping that they would be buried in dust and forgotten by the passage of time. But I knew that, in the current situation that was impossible. They had to be excavated in order to show off the truth.
After digging around what felt like a week, I pulled out all of my yearbooks. Then I turned to the picture of Tony and Susan’s wedding, the last link I had to my old life. As I looked at it, I grumbled, “Nice going, Tony. You’ve ruined two lives thanks to your efforts. Again.” It would have been nice to have torn the picture to shreds, but I decided to take it with me as well. With all of that in hand, and with a heavy heart, I made my way out of the basement and up the ramp.
I found Wilma still looking out of the window, and still pouting. Sven had gotten into her lap and was whining, as if to show empathy towards her. It was very much reminiscent of the event that took place just a week earlier, only this time in plain sight of the lights of my home. After noting this, I plopped the books and picture onto the cushion beside her. “Here is what you need to see.” I said.
Wilma looked over to me and said, “Seriously Arthur? I’m not about to look at…” she stopped for a moment as she looked more closely at the stack in front of her. She then picked up the picture lying on top of the books and, after examining it, said, “That’s… that’s the same picture that my mother used to have. How’d you get a hold of this?”
“My mother gave it to me.” I explained. “I didn’t want to accept it, but I was too polite to say no. And for the record, I didn’t go to that wedding. Everyone there wouldn’t hear the end of it if I was there.”
“I… hey, these are the same yearbooks my mother has. All of them. How did you get a hold of these?”
“Because I went to the same school as your mother did. And I graduated the same year your mother graduated.”
Wilma was utterly dumbstruck by this. I couldn’t even begin to describe how she looked as she split her time staring at both me and then at a yearbook. Eventually, she came across the book of my freshman year, where after looking at the book for a short time, she said, “That’s weird. I can’t find you in your freshman yearbook.”
“Oh, I’m there. Look for me in the C section.” I answered, my voice full of hesitance and guilt. Confused, Wilma flipped a few pages and studied the contents. She then looked up at me and said, “I still can’t find you, Arthur.”
“Find your good-for-nothing father. Then look to the left of him.”
Wilma then looked again into the book. She then looked slightly to the left, and then after a few seconds, her eyes got really big, and shock once again overtook her face to such an extent that she began to go pale. With a shaky voice, she said, “You… used to be Arthur Cannings! That means… you really… ARE related to me!”
“Well, yes and no. Yes, I shared the same last name as he did, but we aren’t related.” I said. “We used to be half-brothers for a few years. And then everything went down the toilet, taking too many people along with it. Including you.”
“What? Eh… why do you say that?”
“Wilma, there’s an awful lot I need to tell you about my past, none of which I want to talk about. But knowing what has been going on in your life for the past decade or so, it’s extremely important I tell you.”
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt, at least anymore than what I’ve normally heard.”
I sighed a bit, trying hard not to be miserable about the endeavor I was going to partake in, and I started talking.
“First off, Wilma, you must understand that, in the beginning, I wasn’t always Arthur Addlestadt or Arthur Cannings. I actually began life as Arthur Portis Lippett, the only son of Wallace Lippett and Heather Addlestadt.” I said. “And as far as my life began, it was pretty typical for a little boy in the Atlantic portion of Canada in the 1960s. It was during that time that I first met Tony Cannings, whom I met in the 1st grade.”
“I take from the earlier quip it that the two of you didn’t get along very well.” Wilma said.
“Actually, when Tony and I first met, we got along really well. It didn’t take long for us to become really close friends, so much so that everyone else simply called us AT. It was actually pretty humorous looking back at it, but at the time we took it in stride, and we probably would’ve continued on like that had it not been for two tragedies that struck the two of us in the 5th grade.”
“What happened?”
“Well, first, my father was gravely injured in a freak accident. The building where he worked had one of those pneumatic pipe systems, and one day the pipe jammed. According to the report, the pipe in his office exploded, and his head and neck was riddled with metal shrapnel. Though he was rushed to the hospital, he had lost so much blood that his chance of survival was minimal. He died the next day.
Then Tony’s mother died unexpectedly due to complications from pneumonia roughly a month later. It was a horrible set of circumstances that left us each without a parent. The surviving parents, that being my mother and Tony’s father, didn’t think that it was right for us to live with only one adult, so they decided to get married, if only for the sake to provide us with some stability in our lives.”
“Wow. That’s… horrible. But what did you and Tony think of that arrangement?”
“Knowing how good friends we were, initially we loved the idea. That way, we could live under the same roof, and not have to make plans about what we were going to do during the year. And all told, the rest of the 5th grade and through the 6th grade went by very smoothly. But as we got going through the 7th grade, things began to change for the worse.”
“How so?”
“Over time, Tony stopped being the fun guy you’d want to hang out with on a daily basis and began to turn into a bully. Even now I’m still not sure why he turned into such a jerk, but whatever the case was he made me feel less than human, no matter where I went.”
“What did he do to you? And didn’t you complain to your parents about this?”
“Tony liked playing embarrassing jokes on me, as if every day was April Fool’s Day. As for my parents, my mother deeply sympathized with my issues and tried to keep Tony from being mean to me, though it had little effect outside of the house. I couldn’t get Tony’s father to do anything about it; he was nothing more but a distant dope that couldn’t care less about anything except furniture, which was the basis of his work. More often than not, he would be sitting in his recliner, either reading the newspaper or watching TV while drinking beer.”
“Oh. Then I’ll take it that your mother couldn’t get Tony’s father to control his son’s behavior.”
“So, here’s what I want to know: how then did your name get changed to Arthur Addlestadt?”
“It was a pretty bad incident that occurred just a week or so before the Christmas break during freshman year. By that time his jokes had become extremely painful and insulting, and they were having an effect on my grades. I in particular had a huge project on geography that I needed a good grade on, but Tony thought it was perfectly fine to sabotage my project.”
“How did he do that?”
“Seriously, you don’t want to know. But it was an extremely humiliating display that insulted the teacher and caused the entire classroom to dissolve into laughter. Normally, I would just stomach something of this sort and move on, but I was so furious at what happened that I lost my temper and exploded into a pique of violence towards Tony. I don’t remember too much of what happened next, but in all of the commotion I wound up badly hurting my teacher as badly as I did beating up Tony. A few seconds later, I was hit from behind by some unknown force and I wound up unconscious.”
“You… beat up… Tony?”
“Yes. And pretty badly. I wound up breaking his nose and his lower jaw in the incident. The geography teacher wasn’t badly hurt, though the wind was knocked out of her. As for the thing that knocked me out, I later learned that my gym teacher had been walking by, and being a former football linebacker, his first instinct was to tackle me.”
“Ugh. That doesn’t sound overly pleasant.”
“It wasn’t. I didn’t feel anything until hours later, when I had been sent to the hospital for observation. But while I was fine physically speaking, I definitely wasn’t fine mentally of emotionally.”
“I bet so. What happened after that?”
“Well, considering how badly I beat up Tony, I wound up being suspended from school for the remainder of the year. They were even considering expelling me for a moment, but considering my clean track record up to that point, there was no reason for such a severe punishment. But considering what had happened, the school was reluctant to allow me back in. Ultimately, a deal was reached: if I completed the remainder of my school work at the hospital at an adequate level, they would be willing to allow me to return for my sophomore year.”
“What about legal issues? I’m sure by the way you beat up Tony you had to contend with that.”
“There was a basis to have charges filed against me, but for reasons I can’t explain, Tony decided not to do so.”
“Really? With the way you described him, he would quickly press them into the ground.”
“I know. But I never questioned that logic, and I won’t start now.”
“OK, so what was life like in the hospital?”
“It was surprisingly pleasant. For the first time in years, I was able to concentrate on my studies, which had suffered significantly as Tony’s pranks had grown meaner. The results showed that improvement: whereas I had barely scraped by with a 3.0 average during the fall semester, I got a 3.9 during the spring semester, which I spent in the hospital. It was there that I began to take interest in business and psychology, and where I took up the hobby of music, particularly singing, at the insistence of the psychologist I was assigned during my stay. He told me it would be in my best interest to develop a hobby so I didn’t get burned out by my studies.”
“Did many people visit you during your stay?”
“Of course. Needless to say, my mother visited me as often as she could. Every now and again, I would be visited by some of my teachers to check up on how I was doing with my studies. The gym teacher visited me once, mainly to apologize to me for tackling me. Interestingly, we became pretty good friends after that and he got me interested in weightlifting. Come to think of it, I haven’t been lifting the bars for quite some time. I need to start doing that again, lest I become kind of weak again.”
“I don’t think anyone who could beat up Tony the way you described could call himself ‘weak’.”
“It was mostly adrenaline and unadulterated rage that was the result of the damage done, Wilma.”
“Anyway, did Tony ever visit you? I bet the two of you were in the same hospital.”
“We were. But we never saw each other and I made it crystal-clear to everyone around me that I didn’t want to see my half-brother for any circumstances. I later learned that Tony has asked for the same thing. In consequence, we never so much as caught a glance of each other during the times he was recovering.”
“All right. So after you got out of the hospital, what happened? I highly doubt you would have returned home, knowing what awaited.”
“My mother certainly thought along those lines. Seeing how the marriage had only caused problems between me and Tony, she decided to divorce Tony’s father and had moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the other side of Fadden Hills. That way, I wouldn’t have to deal with Tony on a constant basis. She had already moved all of my stuff there when I left the hospital, so I didn’t need to do anything, and I wouldn’t run into Tony. My mother still lives in that apartment today.”
“But you still had to deal with Tony at school. I mean, how did you manage that without suffering another massive meltdown?”
“The school recognized that it would be stupid to put me back into the same group of students as Tony was in. So they moved me into a different group that was in the opposite schedule I was originally in. If you had attended school in Fadden Hills, you’d know what I’m talking about.”
Wilma groaned when I said that. Knowing that such a topic was off-limits, I said, “Sorry about that. But knowing the topic at hand…”
“Don’t worry about it.” Wilma answered, sounding annoyed. “But even then, you’d run into Tony at least once.”
“I did see him a few times, but they were brief sightings. Neither of us ever came close to actually running into each other. I think we both realized that it would be in our best interests to stay away from each other.”
“So, what was life like now that you were in your new group?”
“It was much, much better. I no longer had to figure out how to stay out of my brother’s shadow, and I could actually start being myself for once. But what was surprising was how friendly my fellow students were towards me in spite of the incident, since everyone knew of it not long after it happened. They had a lot of empathy for me, especially one who would wind up playing the biggest role in these affairs right now.”
“Who would that be?”
“Your mother, Wilma.”
“Her? She was in your group?”
“Yes. She was the first one to help make me feel wanted in the group.”
“Wow… I… never expected her to be welcoming towards anyone, knowing how unforgiving she is.”
“It was a long time ago, Wilma. Long before you came into the picture. And in any rate I don’t think she’s as nasty as you make her seem.”
“Anyway, your mother helped me get back into the groove of things, and it certainly didn’t hurt that she was as much of an academic as I was, though in different subjects. She also helped me develop more of a social life, and ultimately introduced me to the future band-mates of Thundersnow. For the remainder of my time in high school, those were my friends, and they were as much of a linchpin of my life as was my mother.”
“Hmm. Just out of curiosity, what was your relationship with my mother?”
“It was entirely casual. Looking back at it though, maybe I should have tried to make our relationship more serious than it was. But owing to our studies and our mostly differing interests, we never made an effort to take it to the next level.”
“What about Tony? Did you ever hear anything about how he was getting along?”
“Well, considering the incident beforehand, my mother believed that it was best not to mention anything regarding Tony while I was around. It was probably the best considering what happened.”
“But knowing that you were in the same school, you had to hear some things about him.”
“And I did. In fact, it didn’t take long for him to establish a new reputation amongst the student body. Not as a bully and a prankster, but as a philanderer. On more than one occasion, I overheard people talking about Tony and whom he was dating next. I swear to religion that he was dating someone new every other month for the entire school year. And he wasn’t picky about whom he dated: if you were a female, you’d be instantly eligible for his affections, if only for a little while. In other words, he would be dating a cheerleader one month and then a member of the chess club the next. The only other thing I ever heard about Tony was him joining the swim team in his sophomore year, and which he stayed throughout his high school days.”
“Yeah, I saw that in all of the pictures in the yearbooks my mother had. She never talked about it, and in the few times I ever saw my father it was never a topic he dwelled on for very long. Eh… was he ever a good swimmer?”
“I never knew directly, since I never went to any swim meets, nor was I friends with anyone from either of the swim teams. I do know that a few students in my group, both boys and girls, were members, so I picked up a lot of stuff from them offhand. From what I heard – and I can’t confirm anything – was that he was a competent swimmer, but he wasn’t what you’d call a good swimmer.”
I realized then I had deflated Wilma in regards to her swimming skills, so I responded, “Wilma, you shouldn’t compare your capabilities to your father’s. It isn’t worth it anyway, since you joined your swim team because you enjoyed swimming. Tony, on the other hand, likely joined the boys’ team so he could mingle with the members of the girls’ team, which he did. It’s interesting to note that say this because before he signed up, whenever he wasn’t pestering me he was looking into the pool area, watching the teams practice. And that was the basis of the comments I had made a few days earlier that got you so worked up.”
“Well, it still doesn’t make any less lewd than you made it sound.”
“Yeah. I’ll admit that myself. But overall, I think he wound up dating every member of the swim team that was in our class, and a few from the next class down.”
“Is there ANYTHING else worth discussing in regards to your past that doesn’t connect to my father’s high school dating escapades?”
“OK, you got me there. Eventually, we all graduated from high school, and we all soon went our separate ways. After the disastrous Thundersnow experiment which I have already told you, I went into college to study business, with a little psychology as an appetizer of sorts. I wanted to take that up so I could better understand and come to terms with my past and present, and to keep myself from having myself embarrassed in the future. But there was one thing I did not anticipate.”
‘That being my mother and father hooking up.”
“Exactly. I guess I should have seen it coming, since they went to the same college. I only wound up getting word of this when I returned to Fadden Hills for summer break after my second year. It was all a coincidence for lack of better description: I ran into Susan while I was doing an errand for my mother, and we got to talking about how our lives were going. At the end of the discussion, she had to split because she said her fiancé was running a separate errand of his own and would meet her back at her car. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then the idea came into my head, and horrified at the possibility, I decided to spy on them from out the window. To my dismay, I saw Tony with Susan, getting into the car and driving off.”
“So, what happened after that?”
“I asked my mother about this. Indeed, she had known about this for about a month, but knowing how I didn’t want to hear about anything regarding Tony, she kept her mouth shut. Granted, I was happy that she was keeping stuff like this from me, but it didn’t improve my mood. It wasn’t until a day later that I started to come to terms with the news, because I knew that any relationship he had with a woman would wind up dissolving pretty quickly.”
“Obviously, you were wrong.”
“Yes. As the months passed, I tried to warn your mother about your father’s tendencies in writing, but her only reply was that Tony had changed a lot since his high school days, that they really liked each other, and that I needed to grow up. Ultimately though, I knew that I was right. This, of course, made the whole marriage deal a year later so much more distressing. And it was also the catalyst for me to attempt a split between your parents.”
“You did? Why?”
“For the obvious reason that I already knew as fact: your father was a philanderer, and in spite of the surface news, I knew it was going to end in divorce. Or worse.”
“I’d hate to ask, but what did you try to do?”
“You don’t want to know the details, but let’s just say I tried just about everything outside of assassination to get the split. Eventually, one of Tony’s friends confronted me and told me that if I tried anymore funny business, he would press charges and a restraining order. I wouldn’t have taken it seriously had not the threat included a written note from Tony and Susan, saying that I was being a tool and that if I couldn’t accept the marriage, then I wasn’t invited. Well, I didn’t want to wind in legal hot water, so I foolishly decided to let the marriage be, and in protest of it all, I packed my bags and moved out of Fadden Hills to Kitchener in Ontario.”
“All the way out there?”
“Yes. There I would remain working as an accountant for a local investment company until a few years ago, when I was given a job offer here in Whitesage. By that time, your parents had long been divorced and Tony was no longer in Fadden Hills, or any part of New Brunswick, for that matter. Consequently, the province no longer had the smell of filth I thought permeated there, and I took the job. But I remain completely guilt-ridden about my past failure, so much so that I closed myself off from my past in hoping that it would just disappear. And it’s only gotten worse knowing that you exist.”
Wilma’s face looked like slate after all that, and she couldn’t come up with something to say. I think that she was so shocked and angry that she didn’t know a good way to respond. Ashamed at her statuesque coldness, I then said, “It’s entirely my fault, Wilma. If I had tried harder and more discreetly to put an end to your parents’ relationship, then you wouldn’t be around and have such a rotten life.” I then looked out the window and half-whimpered, “Provided that you don’t want to kill me, I guess I can try to get you to start a new life in this area. Or I can help you move off to Fredericton. Either way, you’ll have the chance to have the life that has been denied to you for so long; only then will I feel my life will not be in vain.”
Wilma continued to stare at me with that slate-like look, and then she said, “Arthur, where’s your phone?”
I was a little surprised to hear Wilma say that, but having heard that clearly, I said, “Why do you need my phone?”
“I need to call my mother.”
“Eh… Well, I guess that you’ll have to talk to her about this sometime. OK. I’ll get the phone.” I then trudged down the ramp into the basement, where I took the phone out of the holder. As I walked up the ramp, I thought, I’ve failed you Susan. I’ve ruined everything again. I guess after this is all done, I better put an end to myself and all of the nonsense I’ve created.
Eventually, I got back upstairs and I handed the phone off to Wilma. After looking at the phone for a bit, she began to press the buttons and bring the phone up to her right ear. I then heard her say, “Hi mom… Yeah, I would be surprised too… Hopefully I haven’t worried you too much… Oh. Hmm. Yeah…” I then waited for the inevitable words to come out of her mouth, saying how she was moving on; to where was irrelevant. Instead, she said, “Listen, when’s the quickest you can get to Whitesage?... Yes, that’s where I’m at; it’s kind of a long story on how I got here… I think it’s halfway between home and Fredericton… You can’t come tonight? Why?... OK, I understand. I guess that’s all for now… No! Wait! Can you let my friends know I’m coming home?... Well, I don’t know if this place has a computer; the whole place is like a modern hippie’s paradise… Yes, apparently they don’t believe in technology… OK, I’ll at least let Taranee know… She’ll tell everyone else pretty quickly… OK, is there anything else you need to know?... OK, I’ll see you tomorrow morning… Bye.” She then hung up and then began typing in another phone number, but before she completed it, I interjected. “Eh, Wilma. Did I just hear you clearly just now? You said you wanted to return home?”
“Yes, I did. Now, if you could let me, I need to call Taranee. I can’t delay.” She replied. She then went back to work on the phone, and soon enough was talking again: “Hi! It’s me, Will!... Yes, I’m fine. And you?... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you… I’m at a place called Whitesage… It’s halfway between home and Fredericton… Listen, I’m coming home tomorrow, so can you tell everyone that?... Oh, is there something wrong with Corne?... Oh. I didn’t mean to upset her that much… Maybe the first thing I do when I get home is to see her to make her feel better… I guess that’ll be fine, but maybe I should ask my mother first before I use the transit… Yeah, I don’t want a repeat performance… Well, just hang in there and let everyone else know I’m returning home tomorrow… Thanks. I’ll see you soon. Bye.” Wilma then turned to me and said, “OK, that takes care of the phone calls. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack up.”
I was bewildered at what was transpiring before my eyes. Here was a girl that a week before would have succumbed from drowning in her own sadness, and up until a few minutes before she seemed to have wanted to stay here in Whitesage. Now, she was acting as if she had just taken a vacation and was ready to return to her normal life, albeit one that most wouldn’t tread in.
Hesitantly, I walked towards the study, where Wilma was busy organizing her duffel bag. She had apparently laid out some clothes for tomorrow, and she was busy figuring out the best way to get everything packed. As I stuck my head into the room, Wilma spotted me and said, “What? Haven’t you ever seen someone pack their luggage before?”
“Well, of course I have! But why are you going on like this? Didn’t you want to stay here?” I answered.
“At first I did. But now I realize that I don’t want to wind up like you. So I’m returning home.”
“But... I… Wilma. What exactly do you mean by ‘wind up like you’? And what’s so wrong about…”
“Look at yourself, Arthur! Just look at yourself! You wound up running away from all of your problems, and look what’s happened!”
“Yes, I know I’ve ruined your…”
“No! That’s not what I meant! What I meant is that your decision has left you so overwhelmed with guilt that you shut yourself away from the rest of the world! In your quest to find peace of mind, you’ve found nothing!”
I just stared at Wilma, trying to figure out what she had told me. Wilma was doing the same while also catching her breath; she was obviously exasperated by my cluelessness on the issue at hand, at least from what I assumed. After what seemed like a long break, but was likely only a few minutes, she said, “Listen. I don’t want to wind up chasing a false sense of security, like you did from your schism with Tony. If I do, I’ll wind up making the same mistakes you made. I cannot allow that to happen, even if it’s in my best interests to do so.”
“So what you are saying is that you would rather return to the place that hurt you so, instead of putting distance between that place and yourself.”
“You make it sound as if I’m traveling to my doom, Arthur. That’s not how I see it. I’m seeing it as a chance to heal the hurt before it gets any worse, and I can’t do so if I’m all the way out here. I need to return home to do so.”
“But what about the relationships between your mother and your former friends? Would they even want you back?”
“Didn’t you hear any of the parts of my phone conversations? They were all amicable in nature! In fact, I think one of my friends needs me more now than she ever did in her life! If that’s not reason enough for me to return home, I don’t know what else is!”
“OK, I might give you that. But what about your academics and athletics back home? Wouldn’t that be reason enough for you to stay away?”
“Well, I admit that I have my issues with both. But I have to at least try to show some academic competency, and if I have to devote the remainder of my adolescence to showing I have the credentials needed to be a success, so be it.”
“So, technically speaking, if you do return home, you plan to quit the swim team.”
“Yes. I never needed competitive swimming anyway; I can always fit in time to swim for the sake of swimming.”
“I see. Well… geez… I don’t know what much to say… or do for right now.”
“If you need to help me in any way, you can at least get me some sharpened pencils so I can finish up those homework papers you’ve been collecting from that cyber café.”
“What papers?”
“Oh don’t play dumb with me Arthur. I know you’ve been collecting other school papers like the one I crumpled up earlier this week. And if I need to complete them before I return to school, I would like to get started on them as soon as I’m done packing.”
“Eh… OK. I’ll go get the pencils.” I then went back down to my office to gather the pencils, but as I did so, I thought, How in the world did she know about those papers I’ve been gathering? I never made any attempt to reveal them to her, so how could she know of their existence? All of that musing came to an end once I had gathered up the pencils, along with the homework stored away in my briefcase, and returned back upstairs. I went into the study and found Wilma, her bag fully packed with the exception of what looked to be a metal and crystal pendant that Wilma seemed transfixed on for whatever reason. Curious, I broke her concentration by saying, “I have your pencils.” Wilma, perhaps flustered by the timing, quickly hid the pendant in her bag and turned back towards me, looking a bit panicked. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by that action, but even so, I asked, “Is there something I’m not allowed to look at?”
“Eh, nothing that would be universally considered inappropriate.” Wilma replied.
“Yeah… I kind of get what you are getting at. But from the brief glance I got, it looked like a pendant of some sort.”
Wilma kind of got a little red-faced when I said this, but perhaps out of her continued desire to not become my clone of sorts, she said, “Yes, it was a pendant. I brought it with me.”
“I see. Was it a gift from your mother?”
“Actually, no. It was given to me by Hay Lin’s grandmother, about two months before I arrived at my current home, and about three years ago from today. I was a little bit surprised to get it from someone I had never met before. In fact, Hay Lin and I barely knew each other at the time.”
“Interesting. Well, I won’t goad you into providing more info. Here are the pencils you requested, as I said before. And here’s the homework. Let me know if you need any help.”
“How about you go through a review of it all once I get it all done. You can then tell me which ones I got wrong and I can then correct them.”
“You aren’t really planning on staying up all night to do this! It’s already 10:00 PM! You’ll exhaust yourself!”
“I have to try, Arthur! Knowing by the load of work I’ve got to do, I don’t have a moment to lose.”
“But Wilma…”
“Arthur, I’ll be fine. Once I start getting tired I’ll hear off to bed. You better do so yourself.”
“Well, OK. But please don’t try to push yourself too hard. You have all weekend to get it completed.” I then left Wilma to work on her papers, whereas I walked downstairs to get cleaned up. Soon enough I was ready to go to bed, but before I hit the sack, I took a quick peak at Wilma. She was very busy, looking at the source material, and then very quickly scribbling something onto the answer sheet. Not wanting to disturb her, I whispered, “I’m going to bed now, Wilma. Try not to push yourself.”
In response, I thought I heard her whisper, “I’ll keep that in mind.” I then walked into my bedroom, got underneath the sheets, and was fast asleep.
Looking back at it now, I realize that was the most important evening I ever had. I had given Wilma a reason to live, and had indirectly given me a new reason to live for myself. In time, it shed my old shell, and replaced it with an energy I had not experienced in years. Never to my knowledge had a teenager done more for my mind, or that of an adult of my stature, than Wilma had done, and as far as I will know, it may never happen again.
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