Monday, October 29, 2012

A Visit to the Doctor. WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW Chapter 52, 53 and 54

 Dr. Abigail Barten-Curtain's return appearance! ( Dr.ABC the GP played an important role in Chapter 4.)
 And it's also time for another piece of the Kenneth Krebs/Rachael Saplin history. If you want to review who Dr. Krebs is, take another look at Chapter 11 (that chapter has one of my favorite lines of the entire book).

To newer readers  of "White Trash in the Snow" -  these characters are not real, this is a work of fiction, and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  It is an original work, written by Allison, and published for the first time anywhere on the blog The Palin Place. All rights reserved.

Happy reading!
By Allison

“Thanks for coming with me.”  Cristol Saplin alias Joy Sherman was holding tightly onto Wrangler’s arm as they went across the snow-packed parking lot. On this early December afternoon the sun had set, and circles of light unevenly spotlighted the cars behind the doctor’s office building. She tread carefully looking out for patches of ice, lifting her eyes occasionally to see if anyone was watching.
“Do you see Mom’s car anywhere?”
“No, but we’re  early.”  He hoped Mrs. S wasn’t going to let Cristol down again. “Maybe she got a call at the last minute from the Vice President.” That was how Rachael explained not making it to Cristol’s first check up four weeks previous. That was a stupid alibi, he thought. Like the Vice President of the United States would know her. Mrs. S really is delusional.
The night before, Wrangler and his dad had met at the diner for dinner and during the conversation Kevin said, “She’s got a man’s job and it’s gettin’ to her. Women can’t deal with stress. So she think’s she’s getting’ calls from the White House, huh? Oh yeah, it’s getting to her. Delusional, that’s what she is.” He stabbed a big forkful of meatloaf. Using the heavy laden fork as a pointer he gestured to his son, “Be careful and don’t get her pissed at you. It’s a dangerous mix she’s walking around with – power, delusion, female hormones, and a nice ass. Know what I’m sayin’ son? Don’t strike a match too close to that fuse – a lot of people would get hurt in that explosion..”
He put the food into his mouth and Wrangler nodded.

Wrangler didn’t usually come along with Cristol on her monthly appointments with Doctor Abigail Barton-Curtain. Dr. ABC was the Saplin family physician and Cristol had known her for years. But  Wrangler hadn’t met her before, and he didn’t like doctors, so this was a very generous thing he was doing. Besides, under the circumstances, this was kind of embarrassing. Wrangler wasn’t only taking Cristol to the appointment, he was going to go with her into the examination room!
Dr. ABC was all business at the beginning of the exam. She checked  blood pressure “That’s fine. Let’s check your weight.”  Cristol grimaced at the heavy cylinder when the doctor slid it along the bar.
 “Don’t look,” she said to Wrangler.
“No problem,” he answered. The truth was, he was texting with Dan and trying to ignore everyone and everything in the room.
Pounds recorded to the fraction, the doctor asked Cristol to lay down. She put some clear slippery looking stuff on Cristol’s belly and then ran a handheld machine over it, stopping and pressing gently. A rhythmic sound came from the little machine. Suddenly Wrangler was completely engaged. His eyes widened. He knew he was hearing his baby’s heartbeat. It was fast and strong. With a finger he brushed  a tear away from one eye, then he looked at Cristol and smiled. She smiled back. Wrangler thought she had never looked prettier.
“Okay, let me help you sit up.” Dr. Barten-Curtain took Cristol’s elbow and helped her raise back up. Cristol was amused watching Wrangler’s face. He looked stoned, and she giggled, knowing that things were going to get even more interesting. This was the day they would see their baby for the first time. Today she was having an ultrasound.
“The technician is waiting for you in the suites across the hall. You are the last patient today, so there won’t be anyone else in the waiting room. You two are in for a special experience. Relax and take your time in there. You are the last appointment, there’s no reason to rush.“
She turned to Wrangler and put out her hand. “It was nice to meet you Mr. Strauss.”  He weakly shook her hand, then chastised himself for being such a wuss. “Damn, now she’ll think I’m just a kid.”
Dr. Barton-Curtain turned to Cristol. With a friendly handshake she said, “Tell your mom I said ‘hi’.” She picked up the forms she had been writing on and quickly left the room.
“How are you feeling?” Wrangler asked.
“Fine,” she put her feet into paper slippers as she talked, “Ha, ha! You looked stoned when you heard the heartbeat. Cool, huh?”
Wrangler smiled his lopsided smile, remembering the sound from minutes before. There was a lump in his throat and he didn’t trust his voice at that moment so he just nodded. He was feeling very tender toward her. As she started for the door he reached out to open it and held it as she went through. Then he hurried to get the door across the hall and held that one, too. He was in awe of her.
The plump older woman behind the desk acted as if she knew them, even though they had never been there before. “Hey darlings, I’ve been waiting for you. Shifts are over, so it’s just me you’ll be seeing here this evening. I’m your technician, Esther.”
Esther was a grandmotherly looking woman that didn’t seem one bit ashamed of her crooked teeth. Her smile was wide and near-permanent as far as Cristol could tell, and Cristol liked her immediately. 
While she answered personal questions, Cristol mentally tallied up signs of age and tried to guess Esther’s age. The eyes crinkled behind reading glasses, she had age spots on her cheeks and on her hands, and along with the wrinkles in her neck Cristol was pretty sure Esther could tell you about seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show, which happened to be the day Rachael Louise Heat was born. She was old
“Now, you two, this is going to be something you will always remember. Together we are going to glimpse a miracle. I’ve been doing these for over thirty years, and I still consider it a privilege to be sharing this moment with each and every mom, or mom and dad, that I see.  So let’s get started. I’m knowing you didn’t come to hear me flap my gums, you came to see the show.
Just then there was a knock on the door. “Excuse me kids, I thought we were alone. I’ll be right back.”  Esther opened the door, but instead of stepping outside, Governor Saplin took a step in. “Sorry, I’m late, I had a last minute-”
Esther blocked Rachael from fully coming in. Handling aggressive relatives and significant others was a normal part of her work life. She knew what to do. “Just a minute. The patient has the right to privacy. I’ll check and see if the young lady wants you to come in or if she prefers you to wait in the waiting room.” Esther was no push over.
Cristol spoke up,“It’s okay Esther. That’s my mom. I want her here.”
Esther stepped aside. “Then come right in, and have a seat over there by that nice young man. We were just getting started.” 
It was amazing. Neither Cristol nor Wrangler had expected to be so completely awed by the procedure. But they were. Rachael thought she knew what to expect, yet, it was a thrill to her, too.
“Well, looky there Mom and Dad, your little guy is kicking up a storm.” Esther moved the apparatus a bit and then said, “Yup, he may be on the tiny side, but he’s active.”
“A boy?” Wrangler asked.
“A boy?” Cristol echoed.
“Oh, pay no never mind to me, I call every fetus a ‘he’ even if I don’t see boy parts. You know, kids. I can’t tell you if I saw them parts unless you asked me to. Some folks like to be surprised.”
“But we want to know!” said Cristol, and Wrangler nodded.
“Okay, then, look right there. That’s a penis. She could tell Wrangler was pleased. “You look happy about that.” The parents-to-be nodded, but neither could take their eyes off the screen.
“So, how far along is she? Can you tell ?’  Rachael didn’t care if this baby had a dick or not, Tad would adjust if it was a girl. He always had. What  she wanted to know was how to time the press release announcing the “adoption” she was determined to have.
It wasn’t Esther’s job to calculate due dates, and she could get in trouble, so over the years she’d become clever with subtle ways to give clues to patients without exceeding her authority. “Well, the doctor is the one who’s going to officially make that determination, but I’m thinking this little tyke could be one of those special people that only comes along every four years.”
Every four years! Is she talking about the presidential election?   Rachael’s imagination went wild. Is she some kind of political plant?  Does she know this baby could mess up my chances to be Steve McElwain’s running mate? Is she connected to the CCC?  Who is this ugly old woman, anyway?
Esther was having fun. She gave out another clue. “I don’t often  LEAP to conclusions, but YEAR 2008 is going to be unusual for all of you.”
“I get it,” Cristol called out. “Leap year! February 29th !”  She looked pleased with herself and looked from Wrangler to her mom for approval. Then, something dawned on her, “Whoa, that’s kind of early,” she said.
“Too early,” Rachael was again thinking of the timing of primary races and the timing of her adoption announcement.
 “Too early for what? Babies don’t come on our time schedules. We adjust to theirs,” Esther chided the governor.
“Wow. That’s why I’m so big.” Cristol was processing the news quickly. It was good news. It meant she’d be back into her regular clothes sooner, back to her classes, back to her friends, and ready for summer days and swimming and waterskiing, and…
“You aren’t really big for being this far along. The baby is on the smaller side of normal…normal is a range…” the technician’s voice trailed off.
“I need just a few more minutes here, then we’ll be through.”  Something had changed. the older woman now spoke with a matter-of-fact cadence that caused Rachael to stop calculating how close the birth would be to upcoming presidential primary caucuses.  She noticed with slight alarm that Esther’s smile had disappeared.
Frowning slightly, Esther looked at the screen intently. Rachael watched, and the frown continued when the older woman’s eyes moved, first to look at Cristol, then Wrangler, then at the screen again.
“What is it?”  Rachael whispered.
“Just making sure the doctor has all the pictures she needs.”  The technician’s voice and diction were formal and sterile.
The room no longer hosted a party for the special guest. The joviality had disappeared This was a clinic and there was no mistaking it for anything else. Rachael remembered another time in a similar setting when she had been the one with the swollen belly. A time before Cristol was even born. A sad, sad time. The time she found out her womb had become a tomb. She shivered and tried to shake the sense of gloom that came out of the mist of her memories.“Will the doctor call me tomorrow?”
“No ma’m.  The doctor will be calling the young lady.”
“But, I’m the governor!” she began and then stopped. Even she recognized this was not the time to play that card.  “I’m her mother. I want to have the results so I can help her.”  Help Cristol with what was unclear.
“As governor, you should be aware of HIPAA laws.”  Rachael gave the woman one of her fiercest bulldog imitations while she dealt with her cognitive dissonance. She was the law, how could this woman say no to her?  Rachael wondered who Tad would have to go to in order to get this woman fired.  She’d get him started tomorrow.
“Federal law prevents our giving any personal medical information to anyone other than the patient unless there are signed waivers.”
“Shoot, is that all?  I sign papers all day. Bring me those waivers and I’ll sign right now.”
“No, Governor, it’s not your signature that we need. It would be Ms. Sherman’s. She has a constitutional right to privacy. We are required to keep what goes on here confidential. And we would even if it wasn’t the law. This is about your daughter’s body, her baby, and her choices. We respect that and will give her privacy.”  Rachael reddened. Wrangler’s and Cristol’s eyes widened. Wrangler put his hand over his mouth to hide his smile.  Cristol gave his other hand a light slap.
“Well I certainly have a great respect for our founding fathers.”  Rachael was as confused as she was confusing. Esther had no idea what Governor Saplin was talking about.
 “Cristol, you be sure you sign one of those before you leave.” She was so flustered she had forgotten to use the pseudonym. Rachael glanced down at one of the two Blackberries in her hands and excused herself. “I’ve got a call I have to take. I’ll see you two at home.” She almost ran out the door.
Everyone was quiet for a few beats. Cristol Joy was the first to speak. “So our little one is, umm…is, like, one in a million?” The mother-to-be beamed as she pulled her eyes away from the screen for a moment to look at the technician. 
“Oh yes, Honey, he’s a rare little guy.” The odds, she knew, were maybe one in 1,500 – something like that.  She would stay obtuse, no need to tip them off to the gravity of what she had seen. They’ll find out soon enough, she thought. Esther’s lips stretched to close over her generous teeth, and she smiled a sad smile.
She shut the equipment down, and led Cristol back through the maze of hallways to the dressing room where she’d left her clothes.
“After you are dressed, Ms. Sherman, you and the young man can let yourselves out.  Your doctor’s office will call you in a few days.”
Before she went back down the hall to finish up paperwork, Ester made sure they knew how to find their way out and she gave them some final wishes and instructions. “Good luck to you kids. You be good to each other, you hear?”

Watching the ultrasound had triggered old memories. Rachael drove home distracted by unpleasant emotions that accompanied the revisiting of another  time when her life was in chaos. She had been in her early twenties when, finding herself pregnant, Rachael had sprung the news on Tad as soon as he returned from that summer’s  fishing season. The two of them hustled into the town clerk’s office and two days later, they were man and wife. Just like the song’s lament “no wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle.”
Rachael hates that song because it rubs against a raw spot deep inside her. She has lived with an open wound for nineteen years, and she knows it will be with her until she takes her last breath.
As they made plans to marry, there was no discussion about the baby’s paternity. Tad knew they had been separated for almost two months while he and other fishermen tried to make something out of a poor, but extended season.  Now, she said she was pregnant, and he assumed she was at least two months along and closing in on the end of the first trimester. There was nothing to discuss and no time to waste.
Before they marked a one year anniversary, he would look back and realize she’d never said “we’re having a baby” or “you’re going to be a father”  or anything else to indicate that the baby was his. He could remember exactly where they were and exactly what she said. “Tad, I’m pregnant.”  That was it. Three little words. Naturally, he had assumed she meant “with your child.”  In his mental replay, he heard his own three word response, “Let’s get married.”
They spent their first seventy two hours of wedded co-existance in a cheap motel, going out only to eat. Across the road, a diner offered breakfast for 99 cents including a  bottomless cup of coffee. Lunches and dinners were from the McDonalds drive-through menu. (Neither would disclose details about the “honeymoon”;  it would have contradicted the story Rachael was spinning that their elopement was very romantic and had been carefully planned.) When they returned, her sister Helen didn’t appreciate the assumption that it was okay for Tad to move into the apartment she and Rachael had been sharing. If you knocked on their door, it could have been answered by a blonde, a brunette, or a non-descript guy, but it was not a seventies sitcom. Not even close.
Two months before Field arrived, Rachael and Tad moved into an apartment that Rachael found for them. It was right next door to her high school heartthrob Kenneth Krebs. A few times a week, Tad would come home to find his wife next door “having coffee” while laundry piled up and dishes soaked in the sink. He hadn’t married a domestic goddess, that was clear.
But,Tad had no fear, no resentment. Yes, Kenneth had an education, a profession, and the blond haired blue eyed Scandinavian looks that turned Rachael’s head, but Tad had won her heart. She was carrying Tad’s baby. He could afford to be magnanimous now. He even agreed when Rachael suggested Kenneth be the baby’s godfather. What does it matter? he thought to himself. A godfather  is just a guy who stands at the baptismal font some Sunday morning. Tad wasn’t religious. He didn’t care who stood there with them. It’s not as if  he gets to play a real part in our kid’s life – we aren’t Italian.
Tad went along with Rachael when she told everybody the baby was due in late May, though, by his calculations, it should come at least two months “early.” No surprise to him, she “showed early” and when they went to Lamaze classes with other expectant parents whose babies were due in May, she was noticeably larger than all the rest. When April came, he was sure she’d go into labor at any moment. But, days and weeks went by.
By mid-April he worried constantly that something was wrong. How could she go this far past term? Was the baby okay? But when he tried to talk with her about it she became so emotional he feared that was bad for the baby, too, and he’d back off. On his own, he dealt with the possibility that he was not the only man Rachael had slept with over the summer.
Near the end of  April, Field was born. The proud parents presented their blond, blue-eyed eight pounder to family and friends as a “premee” who “surprised” them by arriving a month early. From the moment Rachael’s beautiful, fair haired son was cleaned up and placed in her arms, she knew her lies were exposed. She sobbed uncontrollably. Her mother saw the distress and  thought it was post-partum depression. Her father thought they were tears of joy. Tad assumed she was crying from exhaustion. And no one, absolutely no one commented on Field’s coloring or the timing of his arrival.  Rachael was fragile, and besides, it was nobody’s business.
Tad and Rachael took their son home and began their lives as parents. He returned to his two-week work rotation, she stayed home. One afternoon, quietly rocking the baby, she remembered a  book that was required reading when she was in the eighth grade, The Scarlett Letter. Later that day she took Field out in a stroller and headed for the library.  Checking out, she told the librarian, “I’m passionate about the classics.” And this time I’ll finish it, she thought. Maybe after that  I’ll read The Pearl. Didn’t even start that one. It was too darned hard. Suddenly, she came to her senses. Yeah, right, and I’m gonna start playin’ the flute again, too.   When she left the library she wheeled the stroller over to the book drop and set a new record for the shortest time a book was on loan. She wanted something to read, though, so on her way home, she picked up a copy of the National Enquierer.
Anyone who knew Kenneth, or, for that matter, Dr. Krebs Sr. and his wife, could easily see family resemblances in Field.  Surely Kenneth knew, and Tad too, but neither said a word.
Kenneth was a Christian and ashamed of his behavior that one summer. As a result, he was a godfather to his own son, a neighbor to his son’s mother, and equally as difficult, a sister in the Lord to his former lover. Rachael and Kenneth went to the same bible believing church. They were taught to confess sin in order for God to cleanse them. Yet, Rachael and Kenneth acted as if there were no such sin in their past. In fact, Tad feigned ignorance, too. The three of them did their individual best to deny the truth. “I never knew him” Rachael tried to tell herself when she and Tad would run into their neighbor.  “I never had sex with that woman”  Kenneth willed himself to write one hundred times on the blackboard in his head. And Tad would smile tightly, and think, “Kenneth Krebs is an impotent wimp.” Denial, denial, denial. And somewhere outside Azzolla, you could hear a cock crow.
When Field was a newborn, Tad “pondered in his heart” the shocking visual information that made no sense because he genuinely loved Rachael and accepted the child she gave him. Not being a fool, however, he began making plans to move away from the “perfect apartment” is wife selected for them only six months before, and relocate as far from Kenneth Krebs as possible. Tad told Rachael that even if they couldn’t build a new house, they could buy a starter home. Saying the sooner they moved, the happier they would be, he insisted and she agreed.
When Field was two months old, Tad and Rachael stunned friends and family with news of Rachael’s second pregnancy. Tad thought it was a wardrobe malfunction. Actually, Rachael had lied when she said she was taking birth control pills. For her own sake, she needed to give Tad another baby right away. Otherwise, her guilty conscience would have driven her insane.

With each mile the odometer registered, Rachael’s mood got bleaker and bleaker. She couldn’t help thinking about the nightmare of her own experience having an ultrasound all those years ago when she and Tad were first married.  Field was a few months old when she learned she was going to have another baby.  She had been thrilled. Pregnant twice within twelve months, just like her mother!
I wonder if Cristol will, also, too - Whoa! What am I thinking? She fully engaged the present as that thought struck her like a slap in the face. In fact, she struck her temple with the open palm of her right hand  as aloud she said. “Duh, Rachael, you retard!” Still voicing her thoughts, she said “ Got to warn Cristol about this!”
Adjusting her glasses and squinting to make out the turns in the dark road, she was briefly distracted by poor night vision and promised herself to find time to have her eyes checked. Then she began to compose what she would say to Cristol tonight. “Women in our family are very fertile. Don’t go thinkin’ your safe during post-partum, ‘cause you’re not. It’s not like that for us Heat women. We don’t even get a break when we’re breast feeding, so just be careful.”
Buck Heat had thought it was funny when it happened to Betty and then again to Rachael. “You’re just like me,” he’d quipped to Tad, “ when the oven’s been pre-heated, you pop in another bun.”
Rachael couldn’t stop fretting. It made for a long drive home. Oh man! If Cristol ignores my advice, the fairy godmother of babies will turn her into a pumpkin again before the calendar strikes twelve. For Rachael, a quick second pregnancy had been her plan. But Cristol wouldn’t want another baby so soon after delivering this one; she’d still be in High School. “Still,” Rachael told herself, still speaking out loud, “I  must remember to warn her.”
While Rachael and Tad struggled with day to day challenges of simultaneously being newlyweds and new parents, the second pregnancy was more or less an afterthought.  They assumed Rachael would have an easy pregnancy, as she had the first time, start showing in her fourth month, as she had before, maybe sooner, waddle around during months six, seven and eight, and be ginormous and cranky for four weeks leading up to delivery. Piece of cake, sort of.
When Rachael went for her three-month check up she walked into a nightmare. The doctor moved the monitor from location to location, concern showing on his face. At first he thought the battery might be low in the monitor, but after a nurse brought in a replacement and the room was as quiet as before, he said, “Let’s get an ultrasound.”
The  results were devastating. Rachael’s baby, Tad’s son, was not alive. Rachael didn’t cry. She was sure she had been punished, and she was going to take it the way she’d taken the switch as a naughty child - defiantly. When she was alone in her own car, she took it up with Him. “Why God?” she anguished. “Why did you take Tad’s son?” She had been sure it was a boy. A boy to make up for her transgressions. A boy that looked like Tad.
 “Sh---‘, she stopped mid-curse. “Crap!” the watered down version was not as satisfying. “I know, I know,”  she blew her nose. “You are punishing me.” Bible training and childlike faith had been part of Rachael’s life since she was two years old. Her mother had taken the Heat children to Sunday School every week. Hundreds of hours of Rachael’s childhood were spent in small rooms sitting on little wooden chairs listening to someone else’s mother tell bible stories. She could quote Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death.”  It was a rhetorical question -“Why?” – because she knew, absolutely knew that losing Tad’s baby was God’s way of punishing her.
With blurry eyes she drove to her mother’s house. Finally allowing herself to cry, she sobbed on and off for two hours. Her mother made a comment that the mountain of Kleenex on the kitchen table riveled the antler pile in the front yard. Rachael didn’t laugh, and Betty realized too late that joking about the remains of dead things would not make her daughter feel better.
Mrs. Heat was the first and only person to ever hear Rachael’s confession. It broke her mother’s heart and she said what she hoped was true and what she, herself, wanted to believe, that the Heavenly Father had dealt this punishment as a lesson. If Rachael learned her lesson, then she could ask forgiveness. She could also ask for another baby. Holding hands, they prayed.
This time, she wasn’t asking for a boy, that was God’s choice to make, all she asked was that she have a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy. God answered her prayer in the autumn of the following year with the birth of Cristol Joy Sherman Saplin. The baby girl had eyes and lips that looked like Tad’s mother. Even so, Rachael thought she was exquisite.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's November in Azzolla - White Trash in the Snow Chapter 48, 49, 50, 51

by Allison

“Wrangler, are you happy?” Cristol and Wrangler were laying across her bed in Azzolla working independently and half-heartedly on school work.
The seventeen year old picked his head up and looked at his baby mama propped with pillows to make herself more comfortable. “I dunno. Maybe I could use a sandwich.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Cristol slammed the textbook shut and pushed it off the bed where it landed with a heavy thud. “I mean are you happy that we are having a baby?”
Not again, he thought. But he didn’t say it. Damn hormones.  
He’d been told that hormones made pregnant women bitchy and insecure, kind of like nine months of PMS. Maybe it was true ‘cause Cristol was both of those things almost all the time. Then again, she’d been like this before they got pregnant. Actually, he used to tell his buddies that figuring out if Cristol was having PMS was like trying to tell if an elephant was pregnant. He smiled at his private little joke,  and it gave believability to  his answer. “Yes,” he assured her, “I’m happy.”
Then, going against his nature, he embellished, hoping that it might satisfy her for a while, “And my mom is happy, too. Porsche and Dad don’t know, but if they did they’d be okay, too."
“Our Moms are so different," Cristol observed, "Your mom is being real good to us, Wrangler. She's even making stuff for the baby. My mom is such a pain in the ass. I wish she’d just stop trying to get us to give her our baby.”
Wranger wasn’t really listening, but she got his attention when she imitated the Governor’s voice. “Hey guys, you gonna let us adopt him?” The nasally tones were pitch-perfect. Wrangler laughed and Cristol laughed, too.“She’s trying to wear us down, you know.  That’s how she is. She never gives up.“
Wrangler shrugged. “Your mother doesn’t want the baby, she only wants to keep people from knowing her sixteen year old daughter had a baby. I got news for her. There’s people already know.”
“What?”  Cristol pushed herself into an upright position. “Who? Who’s talking?”
“Yeah, umm,” Oh shit, here we go. “I think Maple told her new boyfriend.”
“What? I’ll kill her! What did he say?” Cristol was wearing her glasses and her eyes looked so like her mothers, narrowed and demanding, that Wrangler looked away before he answered.
“ Last night at practice, that new kid on the team – he and Maple’s guy are brothers – and…and…”
 “And WHAT? Tell me !””
Wrangler looked sheepish. “He asked me if you were pregnant.”
“Shit! I’m gonna kill her.”
Cristol awkwardly climbed off the bed. She grabbed a pillow and hugged it, as if subconsciously trying to hide her baby bump.
“Oh my God, Wrangler.”  She said rocking forward and backward, “Why didn’t you tell me? What are we going to do?’
“There ain’t nothing’ we can do.” He got up to put his arms around her. “Cristol, honey. Calm down. This is why I didn’t tell you. You shouldn't  be getting’ upset.”
She backed away from him. “Why, cause when I’m upset I don’t get horny? Nice. So thoughtful.” She flung the pillow at him.  “You’re such a douche bag.”
He caught the pillow and tossed it aside. “No, because it ain’t good for the baby.”
Cristol glared at him. Wrangler glared back.
“I’m gonna go make a sandwich,” he said and left the room.

Cristol was alone in the kitchen, eating Moose Tracks out of the carton when Rachael came home.  Taking off her parka and hanging it by the hood on the hall tree near the back door, she asked, “So, you gonna let us adopt him?” Her timing couldn’t have been worse.
“AHHHGGGGHHH!” Cristol flung the spoon and the ice cream container into the sink. Sticky spatters and lumps hit the window and the countertop.“SHUT UP!” Cristol’s face was burning and hot tears spilled over her dark lashes.
Startled, Rachael reacted as if she’d stepped in a pile of caribou crap. What just happened? How can I get out of this? Staring quizzically at her daughter, she was briefly distracted. Hmm, she thought, Cristol’s getting the same chubby cheeks and bloated features I have when I’m pregnant.
Rachael snapped back to attention when Cristol screamed, “I HATE MY LIFE!”.
It was enough to break a mother’s heart, and something inside Rachael Saplin was, indeed, broken, but it wasn’t her heart, it was her emotional thermostat. This mother of four was always cold inside, nothing triggered a rise in compassion or empathy. In a life tuned to ambition, she had extinguished sensitivity – if she ever had any. Maple, who could be wise beyond her years, had recently asked her father, “How come we never see Mom cry?”  It was true, Rachael never cried. She never cared deeply enough for tears to form.
Though she couldn’t feel, she could think about feelings and come up with words she thought were appropriate. For the situation newly presented, she launched snippets of pseudo sympathy. “Oh golly Honey, of course you hate the way your life is right now, that you’re missing out on so many things that your friends that aren’t pregnant are having so, of course, when you came to us with the news that you had this less than ideal situation your father and I knew that this would mean that you would grow up more quickly than we would, perhaps, have wished for you and now, see? You should still be hanging with friends at the mall, and going to the movies, and getting a tan that you would like to be doing – all of ‘em – and not, instead, be hiding out in the house and you are as pale as milk.  Of course this is tough on you which, as you know, is why you know you’re gonna want us to adopt it, and we will do that for you because we love you, and we’ve always been here for you and that in that way that parents do for their children we’re going to make this sacrifice for you.”
The long and rambling monologue did nothing to comfort Cristol. “No! Mom, will you listen to me? It’s not about any of that.” She ripped a paper towel from the roll next to the sink and blew her nose loudly into it. Then she pulled off another and wiped her eyes and dried her face. Pulling herself together, she took a deep breath.
“Someone, started the rumor that I’m pregnant.”
Rachael’s face drained of color while Cristol went on, “ I think it was Maple. I think she told her stoner boyfriend.” Before she finished, Rachael was clutching the kitchen counter as if she might faint. 
“Oh my Lord,” Rachael whispered. “I’m screwed.”
Cristol’s teary eyes spilled over again and her mother corrected herself, “I mean, we’re screwed. Fuck. The mono thing was working great. Your friends stayed away…How do you know this? Maybe it’s not true.”
“Wrangler said Maple’s boyfriend’s brother asked him –“
“Oh no, what did Wrangler tell the kid?”
“Said it was a lie. Said he’d beat him up if he ever repeated it.”
“Good boy. He’s smarter than I thought. Okay, let me think for a minute.” She paced back and forth, thinking out loud. “Maple’s boyfriend – that family - they’re new in town, right?  Guess they haven’t been told about the Azzolla code of conduct. Oh, yeah, that’s the problem. I can help them with that.”
In the one generation when  Azzolla had grown from about 400 to about 4, 000, it maintained the feel of being one big family. All big families need to find ways to keep chaos to a minimum, which is why Azzles had come up with some family rules.  Rule number one: Mind your own business. Rule number two: Keep your mouth shut about problems within the family. Maple’s little friend had broken both rules.
“Well, bless their hearts. Lucky for them I just happen to have a little time in my schedule.  You know how I love to help new folks learn our history. History and community are my favorite topics. You betcha.”
Cristol liked the  plan immediately. “They don’t know anything about our state, either. There’s lots you can teach them.” Translation: scare them real good.  
Rachael set her mouth in a hard line and nodded. “Don’t worry, Honey. When I’m done they’ll have great respect for our ways.”
Most people who came from outside didn’t get the “benefit” of a history/sociology lesson from the highest elected state-wide government official, but personal experience taught outsiders that people in Azzolla and the valley didn’t appreciate newcomers with new ideas. Transplants to “the other Texas”, as it was sometimes called, also found a state populated by folks who took chances, often risking arrest but usually getting away with it (whatever “it” is).  Buck Heat favorite saying – “ In Azzolla, fresh snows cover all tracks” – wasn’t an observation of the effect  of frozen precipitation, it was a philosophy of life. And the new governor shared her father’s values, or lack thereof.  Natives and those who learned to behave like the natives marched to their own drummer and allowed everyone else to do the same. Broad sections of the community, regardless of income or education, grew pot indoors and clung to their guns and religion like hardcore smokers to their non-filters and matches.
Many newcomers left again within a season because they were scared, disgusted, or disenchanted. Among the ones who stayed and fit in, there were outcasts from other states and individuals with pioneer spirit who felt they belonged in a state whose governor had posted an official recipe for crock-pot caribou with cabbage on the administration’s website. Rachael would do her best to help Maple’s boyfriend and his family find the way out, too.
 “Yup, with a great respect for our pioneering forefathers, I’ll visit these boys’ parents and impart a history lesson. Just so they understand our natural laws. Of course I will do this to be a help in any way I can, also to put whatever there is before them to read, maybe some local and city newspapers and the state’s magazine, all of them, to show what I base my decisions on as governor, how it works in this town, again with great respect, so they will learn to fit in and won’t get in trouble.
“ They – all of ‘em, any of ‘em – they got to  understand that I’m the governor, and the people elected me and now everybody has to do what I say. It’s called ‘showing support.’ ”
“Mom!” Cristol giggled, “Maple will be devastated. Ha! We’ll just see how she likes it.”
“She’s a teenager, Cristol, every other day she’s devastated about one thing or another. Rachael put an arm around her daughter.“I’ll be real nice about it. Maybe I’ll take them a plant. I’ll try to find a white Peace Lily like the one I took to John’s family after I fired him.”

Thanksgiving day Wrangler and Cristol woke up in separate beds, each in their own parents’ homes. The night before, Jerrie had been disappointed to learn her future daughter-in-law would not be with them for dinner.  For weeks, Cristol had talked about joining them and had promised to bring “holiday salad.” She had been pleased that Jerrie had made a big deal about that. What Cristol didn’t know, or couldn’t empathize with, was that Jerrie’s intense anticipation for the sweet confection-and-fruit dish sprung from her near-poverty. All the November magazines had recipes for such a salad, but the Strauss family’s grocery budget was too tight to include such exotic items as canned oranges, jars of cherries, and bags of mini marshmallows.
Late on Wednesday night, Wrangler had come home and told his mom and sister that it would just be the three of them again this year. He explained that Cristol’s mother had thrown a fit, and her dad had said if she wasn’t with them for Thanksgiving, then he would cut off her allowance. Jerrie knew that Cristol’s allowance was being spent stocking up diapers and formula, so she said “I understand.” She didn’t let her disappointment show.
Porsche didn’t understand at all. “Can she come over for dessert? The pie came out better than any I’ve ever made.”
 “Porsche, it’s not fair to ask Wrangler to put Cristol on the spot like that,” said Jerrie. “We’ll have a nice holiday, just the three of us. Like we always do.”  Jerrie was helping to cover for the kids and she hid her own  disappointment well. She was pretty sure she knew exactly why Cristol couldn’t come over for dessert. She had been forbidden to come over. According to Wrangler, she was showing. Really showing. And that was one of the reasons Cristol and Wrangler wanted to be at the Strausses for the meal. Wrangler wanted his sister to learn that she was going to be an aunt, and Cristol’s outing on Thanksgiving was going to be the perfect setting.
Thursday morning, Porsche and her mom worked in the kitchen and Wrangler watched television in the living room. Just like all the Thanksgiving Days he could remember, the Macy’s parade taped earlier that day in New York City was being broadcast and he was tuned in. As Clifford the Big Red Dog floated past skyscrapers, he thought about Cristol having been in New York City with her mom. “I wonder if the parade is going by that fancy hotel they stayed at?” He pulled up an ottoman and stretched out his legs. “Who would want to live in New York City? I don’t even want to visit there. Such a weird place, all buildings and crowds and traffic.” He popped a few pork rinds into his mouth and watched as dancers from a Broadway musical performed in a street thousands of miles and a world away. He knew he was not made for cities and bright lights.
It felt good to be in his mom’s house, a good break from the Saplin house with its high stress and multiple stressors: Maple and her boyfriend were up to who knows what, Mr. and Mrs. S were home so seldom their sheets got washed twice a season, and even doing schoolwork in Cristol’s room had gotten to be a drag. She didn’t want sex lately, so what was the point in living together? Man, he thought, sure is nice to have some peace and quiet. Al Roker’s image transitioned to yet another mid-west high school band marching and twirling to “Winter Wonderland,” and Wrangler found himself whistling along with them.
The Strausses had an early afternoon meal. Wrangler had provided the main course. When he bagged the wild turkey, he was continuing a tradition the Strauss family could trace back through four generations. “Here it is!” Porsche announced as she carried the heavy platter into the dining room. Jerrie followed, carrying a basket of hot rolls.
“Put it down here,” Wrangler pointed to a spot near himself. “There’s room right next to the mashed potatoes.”
After Porshe sat down, Jerrie continued standing, surveying the table to make sure nothing had been forgotten. “It looks beautiful, Mom!” said Porsche. “Sit down. Let’s eat.”
Jerrie loved holidays. Even though the kids were supposed to alternate holidays between her and her ex, she had managed to have them every major holiday and birthday since the divorce. For the first couple of years their father had complained and threatened to take her to court. But she knew he didn’t have the money to pay a lawyer to do that.  It wasn’t fair to him, but since when is life fair?.
In Jerrie’s thinking, mother’s should have “first dibs” on holidays. Even with couples, it was natural for them to favor the gathering of the woman’s relatives over the man’s family. Natural, like bears and cubs. It was mama bear who has the responsibility for feedin’ and trainin’. Besides, holidays are for spoilin’ the kids and moms are better at spoilin’.
These thoughts led her to thinking about next year. Jerrie hoped that in the year to come, Cristol would be thoughtful and include Wrangler’s family at major holidays so that Porsche and she could see the baby, too. Next year at Christmas he would be at a real cute age. And Christmas is for children, right? But, she thought, time will tell. Right now things seem civil enough. Not exactly friendly, but civil. And that’s better than some folks had it. For now, that’s good enough.
Having expected Cristol for dinner, Jerrie had taken some extra measures to make their humble home and traditional meal a little more “classy.” Porsche polished the real silverware that Jerrie inherited from her great-grandmother. There were only three good spoons left of the original eight, so Jerrie instructed that her own setting get the roughed up spoon that had an unfortunate meeting with teeth of the garbage disposal. She’d splurged and bought real whipping cream to go with the pumpkin pie and a whole pound of butter instead of their usual “tastes like it was churned on the farm” margarine.
An outsider wouldn’t have noticed, but to Jerrie, the little extras were reminders that this holiday was unlike any other. Externally, turkey and television programming made the holiday appear to be the same as years gone by. Actually, they were blips on a timeline of transition. The day was not quite an ending and not yet a beginning. Relationships were in a period of extended twilight. Wrangler, not yet a man, was becoming a dad day by day. Jerrie wasn’t done raising her own two, but was soon to be a grandma. Porsche was technically a child, but her experiences and responsibilities were like those of a young adult.
Jerrie knew she could never match the luxuries the kids enjoyed in the Saplin mc-mansion – flat screen tvs in every bedroom, a jacuzzi bath, professional kitchen appliances, a pool table – they owned an airplane, for pete’s sake. All she could hope for was that, by comparison, Jerrie’s home would be appreciated for being welcoming and peaceful. She’d done lots of babysitting over the years, and many young people in Azzolla carry fond memories of the Strauss place where, as a child, they found a lap, lots of hugs, had stories read to them, were praised for every completed coloring book page. In her house, good little girls and boys were allowed to stick a just-washed hand into the full cookie jar. She didn’t need to compete with the fancy place on the lake, the picture windows, big yard and boat. Children don’t need expensive things. Children need love. Ironically, Jerrie had a natural and endless supply, while, it appeared the governor conservatively budgeted this human emotion.
After they said grace and filled their plates with first helpings of everything, another tradition began. One Jerrie had long ago labeled “Name That Neighbor." Talk around the table revolved around gossip, rumor, and reminiscing. “Old man Torsky’s dog died. That was a real friendly dog. Remember the time…” Jerrie reminisced wistfully. She had liked that dog. This would be the first holiday  in many years that she didn’t end with setting aside table scraps to her canine friend.
Wrangler reached for the brown bread and made a production  out of slathering on the real butter. His conversational offering started out with: “Odell Petersen got out of jail, Dan says he seen him getting’ a new tattoo.”
Porsche was thinking of happy times.“Mom, do you remember the Vickery kids I used to babysit for? Where’d the family move to, again? Hope they send a picture at Christmas this year, I can’t wait to see how much they’ve grown.”
It was light, breezy conversation. High-calorie comfort food and the sight of fresh snow outside completed the requirements for a perfect Thanksgiving. Jerrie and her children basked in a sense of well-being as they ate, drank, laughed and talked.
“Oh, look.” Porshe pointed out the window behind her mom. The sun was about to set behind snow capped mountains, and the sky was spectacularly lit in tones of orange, magenta and red. Minutes later, peak past and colors fading fast.
Wrangler said,”Folks in New York City don’t have that.”
Jerrie agreed, “This is the most beautiful place in the world,” she said.

When dinner was over, Porsche wanted to go see her boyfriend and Wrangler had no objection.“Go ahead, get out of here, I’ll do dishes,” Wrangler told his sister.
Jerrie agreed. “Yes, go, I never get Wrangler to myself anymore. We’ll clean up. You go have fun.”
Expecting that reaction from them, Porsche had already reapplied mascara and lipstick. She was vain, tanned regularly and deeply, and she wouldn’t go anywhere in public without heavy makeup to bring out her pretty eyes and pouty lips. Cosmetic upkeep was expensive, but she worked part-time at the tanning salon to pay for her time in the bed and to buy whatever makeup was rated number one in Cosmopolitan magazine for the season.
Now, she wasted no time getting her purse and coat. “Bye, don’t wait up for me!”
Dishes were scraped and stacked in short time. Jerrie, with soapsuds on her hands,and Wrangler with a dishcloth, stood side by side talking about the baby as they worked. Wrangler said it was an active little fella. He had felt it kicking and he was sure it was going to be a boy, a strong athletic boy. Cristol wasn't going out at all, not even if she stayed in the truck with Wrangler. If someone from school saw her, the “bad case of mono” cover story would be blown. Twice they had gone out to get Crunch Wrap Supremes from the drive through, but that was only because Mrs. S. had had a craving and didn’t want to get out of her pajamas and go get them herself. Both times it was after midnight - the shift the old people worked. Her mother figured there wasn’t any risk in it. And she really loved those Crunch Wrap Supremes.
“Cristol’s changed, mom. Everything is different now. She used to be fun and laid back. Now everything is a big deal. She'e s become picky about little stuff. And bossy, oh man..."
"Is she seeing the doctor?" Jerrie asked.
"Cristol isn't, but Joy Sherman is." He went on to explain that once a month there were after-hours doctor’s visits for “Joy Sherman” who entered through the back door to keep appointments made using two middle names. Cristol Joy Sherman Saplin used to wish her parents had been like normal parents and just given her one middle name.
“All her life she’s hated having a boy’s name. Sherman!" he shook his head, "heck, even a boy wouldn’t want to be  called Sherman.  But now, she likes it. Go figure.”
"I think Joy Sherman is a nice name," Jerrie offered. 
"Yeah, well,  she likes being called Joy, says it goes with Christmas. That’s dumb.”
“I hope you’re keeping your opinions to yourself. It’s an emotional time for her. You need to be very understanding.”
“I know, Mom.” Wrangler then told her that Cristol had put on a lot of weight, but he wasn’t going to make the mistake of telling her he noticed. The weight was one of the reasons she was having an ultrasound the next week. It would help to determine how far along she was and would tell them if it was going to be a multiple birth. “You know, twins or something,” he said. “She thinks that would be cool because she'd be like Jennifer Lopez. She's says Jennifer Lopez is her soul mate."
“So what’s this about not knowing the due date?“
“Oh, whatever,” he shrugged. “The doctor can’t be sure. Guess she wasn’t very good at keeping track of her…” He began to stammer. “You –know...” He trailed off, blushing.
Jerrie had pity on him and changed the subject. “You got any names picked out?”
“Not really. But it’s gonna be unique, Cristol says it give a kid an edge.”
“She’s right, names are important. What names are you thinkin' about ?"
“Nope, sorry Ma. We aren’t tellin’anyone. We agree on that.” He took the last wet plate from her and dried it slowly.
“Well, I’m glad you two are agreein,’” That was Jerrie’s main concern – that the kids stick together through this. Their relationship had been rocky, lots of loud arguments and breakups that lasted up to a week, sometimes more. It worried her.
Wrangler began putting the dishes away.
“I can tell you what we aren't going to name him. Maple said we should name him Romeo if it’s a boy, and Juliet if it’s a girl.” In a falsetto voice, Wrangler made fun of Maple, “You two are young lovers! It would be soooo perfect!”
“I told her it’s not perfect. Those families hated each other. That’s not like us at all.”
“Right, us and the Saplins are gonna get along real nice. That's a fact,” Jerrie said as she rinsed out the sink.
Later, as they relaxed in the front room, Jerrie worked on a baby blanket she was knitting and learned more interesting information; she found out Field rarely gave his folks a call, but there were a couple of girls he called “almost every day.” She also learned that the rumor that had been around for years – the one about Field’s birth father – was true. Since they were speaking of such things, Jerrie got up the courage to ask the obvious question. “Are you sure, really sure this is your baby?” She had wanted to ask ever since the kids had come out with the news, but no time seemed right until now.
“Yeah, probably.”
“Probably?”  The needles stopped clicking and Jerrie stared at him.“Don’t you know for sure?”
“How can I know for sure? The timing seems right.” He shrugged. “We’ve both hooked up with others, but I think it’s mine. I talked with JJ, he said he always used a rubber.” This was more than Jerrie wanted to know, she lowered her eyes and resumed work on the blanket.
“My name’s goin’ on the birth certificate and that means, even if he’s not mine, he is.”
He stood up. "I should get going."  Seeing the  troubled look in Jerrie’s eyes, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek and said, “You’ll see. He’s gonna look just like me.”