Thursday, October 18, 2012
Chapter 44, 45, 46, 47 Four chapters of White Trash in the Snow
It's been such a great week! Bristol Palin showed her true nature when dumped from that dancing show. Our President showed up Tuesday night and stood up for all of us. My husband had major surgery, it went well, and he's home and recovering. And, I'm moving my novel along with four new chapters. Have a wonderful Friday.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR
Unlike the Heats, Tad’s father and stepmother were not told of the pending “new addition.” Rachael was adamant about that. Stella Saplin, the second wife of Thomas Saplin, was a pro-choice liberal. “That woman would want to kill the baby,” she told Tad. “If she doesn’t know, she can’t have an influence.”
“Got it, Rach.” Tad didn’t care that his folks were being left out. That was fine. Thomas and Stella never came to visit. They weren’t a close family. There was a time when the four of them were closer. The kids were little then. Things changed four years ago when Stella ran for mayor and Rachael had openly campaigned for Stella’s opponent. She said it was because Tad’s stepmom was pro-choice, and that was true. But only partially true. Stella believed in the constitutionality of a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy when there was rape or incest involved, especially when a girl was barely past puberty. The state had a shameful record in its failure to protect children, and Stella was very concerned with the high rate of child sexual abuse in the back country and would never support forcing a twelve year old to carry a baby to term. Difficult choices, for sure, and she had done her research and her sole-searching before stating an opinion. In the end, the two women were on different sides of that issue. However, those differences were not the biggest reasons Rachael did not support her in-law’s campaign.
Only Tad knew more. He knew that Rachael didn’t want another Mayor Saplin, especially another female Mayor Saplin. Rachael felt ownership of that name with that title and she couldn’t imagine sharing that with Stella. Neither did she want her mother-in-law having access to the records of her administration. There were a lot of skeletons buried that Rachael hoped would never be dug up. Stella was just the type to go digging. The woman had a left-leaning curiosity and she really meant it when she said she would bring transparency to the office. Stella Saplin wouldn’t be happy letting the executive manager handle the work. No, she would dig in, ask questions, and learn how things worked. It would be so annoying to have Stella asking for explanations when she uncovered things that didn’t add up. It would be more than annoying; it would threaten Rachael’s future in politics. So Rachael campaigned hard for the person running against Stella Saplin. After the election of 2004, Rachael avoided Tad’s parents as much as possible and they avoided her in return.
If things went according to plan, Cristol's baby - Thomas and Stella’s first great-grandchild - would be introduced to them as another grandchild, the adopted fifth child of their son, Tad. Tad could honestly say an unwed teenage girl had given the child up for adoption and that Rachael’s friend, Dr. ABC had delivered the child and arranged the adoption. Again, if the plans worked, all that would be true.
Rachael found a spin to make lying look saintly, “I look at it this way, Tad. Allowing your parents to believe they are welcoming a stranger’s newborn into the Saplin clan makes this a beautiful thing. Why, this lets them open their hearts and be altitudinal. Is that the word I want? Altristic? Well anyway, you know what I mean. We wouldn’t want to tell them the truth, and denying Tom and Stella these good feelings. See what I mean?”
The need-to-know list of people was short. The fewer people with the truth, the better. Throughout Tad’s forty-three years, he’d done his share of truth hiding. As he thought about hiding his daughter’s condition, he reflected on his own secrets. He had started small, back when he was young and inexperienced. After marrying Rachael he honed his skills and learned new ones. He had secrets his wife didn't know. Big secrets. Together they had big secrets, too. Manipulation of the truth was like a drug. Tad and Rachael were addicted to it. It got them high, and they always wanted more.
Sometimes it paid off monetarily.By bending the truth, ignoring some problems, and with pressure applied to the weakest points of town government, they’d been able to sell the old house on Lake Azzolla in spite of its failure to comply with codes. Who really cares about minimum setback? And so what if the carport trespasses on a neighbor’s land? In Azzolla, Mayor Saplin made sure the real estate laws continued to be weak, limp, paper tigers.
Of course, the coup de gra was, the Saplin’s new home on the lake. Amazing what can be built by “buddies” (town employees on the clock taking a little extra under the table) using “construction scraps” (intentional excessive purchases added into a bid in a town contract). When one person has power, such as, say, the mayor, things like regulations to submit building documents for new construction can be vetoed with the swipe of a pen. Who cares if the law gets passed by the next administration? Timing is everything, and timing was perfect for Rachael and Tad to complete their new house in the final months of her second term of office. Tad saw nothing wrong with any of it. They were just taking care of family and making dreams come true. Who could criticize that? He told his kids what his daddy had told him, “You only go around once in life, grab all you can. And if anyone gripes about it, just accuse them of being jealous.”
Tad and Rachael posed much greater threats to the citizens than silly local laws ever could. Tad didn’t feel the least bit uneasy wielding power. In fact, he felt justified. For example, with a phone call or a word, he could make life hell for that lousy, no-good, wife-cheating, alcoholic s.o.b. of a brother-in-law, Ed Spivey. That was justice. Tad thought even God, if He really does exist, must approve.
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE
As Cristol dressed to go to the hockey game, she tried on yet another baggy sweatshirt. This style, with a big pocket across the belly was the best camouflage. She looked in the mirror at the grey one she had on. “I look like an elephant,” she said. Sliding open the closet, a big wrinkled shopping bag of clothes tumbled out at her feet. It was the stuff Maple picked out at the Goodwill Store the previous afternoon.
New clothes for Cristol were out of the question. Rachael was a detail person, and one of the details in the plan to keep “it” a secret required that Cristol dress in baggy clothes all the time. Even though she was supposed to keep her parka on whenever she went out of the house, there would be times when it had to be unzipped, like at the hockey game this afternoon. That was where Goodwill, the not-for-profit purveyor of pilled sweaters, came into the plan. Because girls always check out what other girls are wearing, someone might notice if all Cristol’s clothes looked new, baggy and big. So, Maple was sent to a second hand store to find suitable used things for her sister. Rachael calculated that Maple wouldn’t raise any suspicions because teenagers including the Saplins loved to shop for comfortably worn clothes at bargain prices. Orders were given to Maple to buy an assortment of big sweatshirts and oversized sweaters, and Cristol was to practice her response in case any top brought a comment or a question: “this old thing? Had it forever.”
Maple had come home out of sorts, and snotty. “Here,” she said, shoving the burgeoning bag at Cristol. “You owe me.”
Cristol had taken the bag, stuck out her tongue and slammed her bedroom door. The bag had then been thrown down on the floor of the closet, where it came to rest precariously on a double layer of shoes. Now, it might provide some relief from wearing the three faded sweatshirts that had become Cristol’s staple wardrobe – one grey, one green with frayed cuffs, and one washed-too-many-times-in-hot-water blue one with “Old Navy” across the chest. Rummaging through the contents of the bag she spotted something in a shade of soft pink – one of her favorite colors. Pulling it out past the other clothes, the cashmere-like feel ratcheted up her anticipation. “Oooooh, nice,” she spoke aloud when she saw that the emerging garment had a hood. She loved hoodies. One of the draw strings was tangled up with another garment’s buttons and in the minute it took to work it free she was feeling a happy anticipation. When she got it untangled and fully out of the bag, she paused and ran her hand over the back. It was nice - what consignment stores called “gently used.” Excited, she turned it over, hoping for one last bit of good luck. A big front pocket would make it perfect.
Her face fell. Instead of a pocket, big puffy white letters announced “Baby Bump.”
She chided herself as she fought back the tears. Crying over a used hoodie? How foolish. One warm drop began to slide down her cheek. She wiped it with the back of her hand. Throwing the pastel confection on the floor, she gave it a kick and it slid across the hardwood and crumpled against the door. Did Maple think this was funny? Did Maple hide it at the bottom of the bag, knowing it was Cristol’s favorite color, letting her get excited, mocking her? Maple could be thoughtless and Maple could be cruel. Maybe Maple resented the attention Cristol was getting, even if it was for a reason no thirteen year old should envy.
Since Cristol’s announcement she’d become the center of her parent’s at-home attention. Life in the public eye was still the all-encompassing focal point, but when there were private moments, Cristol and the baby, and to some extent, Wrangler, had the lion’s share of Tad and Rachael’s attention. Lately, Cristol had noticed their near total lack of interest in Maple’s life.
In the Saplin family, the kids weren’t treated as unique individuals; they were a thing – the First Kids. Even Pride, totally spoiled, sometimes had to beg to be noticed. Field’s acting out was a cry for attention. It had backfired. He had gone off and joined the army and there was no measurable impact on family life. Cristol and Maple had experienced equal degrees of neglect. Having done a mental recitation of these sad facts, Cristol’s anger at Maple began to ease up. Whether it was a trick or carelessness, it didn’t matter. Maple had her own set of issues. Cristol was going to cut her some slack. This time.
How small her world had become that such a trivial disappointment was a major event. Thank God she could still go to the hockey games. They were her only social outlet now. In the coolness of the indoor arena she would keep her puffy coat on, unzipped to show a sweatshirt underneath. It looked okay. She could let herself go, cheer loudly for Wrangler, laugh with her friends, get a hotdog (if she could stomach the smell of them), and hear what she’d missed at school. It was hard to stay connected to her friends now. No more drinking parties; not now that she was one of the “preggers.” How long would people believe that every weekend she was tied up with “First Family” responsibilities? So far it was working, but it had only been a few weeks. When weeks turn into months someone was bound to get suspicious.
In the whole school, only Sparkler knew the truth. Last August, Rachael’s remark about having “four kids in four schools” made the paper on a light news day. Reporters asked why Cristol wasn’t returning to the capitol district for school. To which the Governor answered that there was a great support system of extended family back in Azzolla, helping with practices, school events, and homework. One big, happy family in which Cristol would be thriving.
It seemed like eons ago now, that with reporters watching, Cristol had won that battle and started the fall term in Azzolla High with her lifelong friends. It was such a short period of time that she was back in the familiar halls and classrooms. She missed it, now, just as she had missed it when she was spending the spring semester in that horrid high school in the capital. That had been the worse season of her life, until now. Those kids were über cliquey. Cristol couldn’t break in to the popular kid’s group, they whispered behind her back that she was stuck up. The smart kids thought she was dumb. The druggies didn’t want her hanging out with them because of her mom’s reputation as a clean-the-house Governor scared them, and all the rest of the kids were losers. Except the athletes, but she wasn’t skilled in any sports. They only put her on the basketball team because of her last name. Real players resented it.
These few hours a week that she spent at hockey games were all she had left that felt “normal”. Watching Wrangler skate, cheering for him, giggling with her girlfriends, flirting with the other guys – these were the things that kept her sane. The rest of the time she wrestled with contradictions that nearly drove her crazy. The events of the last five months seemed unreal, yet she was brought back to reality every time reality’s tiny feet started flutter-kicking her in the stomach. Though, technically, she was never alone, she’d never been so lonely. The product of love she was nurturing caused her to hate - hate the way she looked, hate the restrictions that had been imposed by her parents, hate girls who could openly and proudly show a baby bump. She was a child, who argued with her own parents over what was best for her child. Let her parents adopt him? Private adoption? Marriage to Wrangler? Being an unwed single mother?
“I won’t think about that right now,” she said out loud,“I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
CHAPTER FORTY SIX
“Bless your heart.” “Bless his heart.” “Bless her heart.” People often heard the Governor calling upon God to bless someone. At least that’s what they thought they heard. Those who knew Rachael – really knew her - understood the message behind those words was anything but pious. Those three words translated correctly meant: “damn you and your little dog, too.” Yes, as unseemly as a betrayal disguised as a kiss, “bless your heart” from the lips of Rachael Saplin meant she wished them ill, in some will-of-the- Father way, of course.
And yet, she genuinely enjoyed meeting her fellow citizens, all of them – the children and the adults, the infants and the elderly, those with special needs and those with special talents. It was cool being governor in a state whose communities were scattered over a vast geography and whose population was so thinly spread out and poor that they greeted her if she managed to find a way into their town they saw the mere presence as heroism. Yes, she liked people, but she didn’t care what her actions did to them.
For example, when she wanted to do something she didn’t listen to anyone who disagreed. She confused disagreement with disloyalty, and disloyalty was not tolerated. Nor was it forgotten. Retribution was harsh, staff were fired, private citizens fell under the scrutiny of law enforcement, reputations were ruined.
While the governor was cutthroat and had the power to take people out, it took a cadre of “yes men” and “yes women” to get it done. An inner circle defended her and took shots at those who had opinions or ideas that didn’t align with the governor’s. Behind closed doors in the capital, they were derisively called “the flying monkeys.”
Most times, when she had the intention of doing harm for any reason - ambition, selfishness, conniving cruelty, or whatever - a generous dose of “God talk” was thrown in to ease any guilty twinges. Pieces of any important agenda (often called a “game plan”) would be interjected during prayer request time at church. Those scheduled expressions of holiness went a long way to make church members feel guilty if they considered voting any way other than the one they’d heard the pastor bless: “Oh Lord, we pray that you will bring out your people to vote for …” These petitions to heaven always had some portion that sounded humble and heroic when coming from a petite I’m-only-a hockey-mom-from-Azzolla figure standing on the platform surrounded by ministry staff: “Father God give me the courage to go forward in spite of those who would not follow Your plan…” (I’m not the bad person people say I am, I am God’s faithful servant). The ending had a pattern, too. Words that acted as an escape hatch in case things didn’t go as hoped: “Holy Father, Thy will be done …”
When there was a public referendum coming up to vote, Rachael increased her shopping at large discount stores. It wasn’t a vice, an addiction, or a compulsive disorder, it was because she wanted to “run into” fellow church members and ask them to pray, and the evangelicals she knew were heavy consumers of cheap goods made by poor people in third world countries. Trolling the aisles, she’d send one or more of the children to check around and see if they recognized anyone from the church family. If they did, Rachael positioned herself for the chance meeting, and then declared “a miracle” that a believer had arrived just when she was thinking about this issue that was so heavy on her heart. Swallowing pride, and being proud of it, two or more would pray out loud. Right there in children’s socks, or wherever, “Oh Lord God,” and “Thank you Jesus,” was stage whispered accompanied by eyes squished shut, awkward hand holding, and lots of head nodding. A chorus of “Amen-ing” would seal the deal and the warm, secure smugness of evangelical elitism radiate from Rachael and whomever had had the privilege to join hands with her in prayer. Cristol used to bask in the warmth, too, and Pride still does. Sometimes Cristol wonders if Field is right – that the warmth is more likely coming from hell fire than heavenly realms. Only Maple is totally disinterested. If she’s with her mom when such things occur, she rolls her eyes and walks away. All that matters to Maple is that she not be seen in the vaccinity by anyone her own age.
Scripts of such were seared into Cristol’s memory, even though she hadn’t gone prayer shopping with her mom since she was thirteen. In season, Tad’s snow machine racing was thrown into the prayer mix because Rachael really did believe in prayer, even while she simultaneously was trying to manipulate “the will of God’ into the mirror image of “the will of Governor Saplin.” With others, or alone before going to sleep, Rachael prayed, “Oh Lord, bring Tad safely and victoriously to the end, to Your glory…” (people will want to be Christians like us when they see us get that big $20k prize. Glory to God!). And Rachael had petitioned God on her sister’s behalf many times, typically going something like this: “Dear Jesus, protect my sister from her evil husband and smite him down.” (Smite is a word you only hear in church or in prayer, so it must be a really awful thing, just like that SOB deserves).
Rachael hadn’t sought any prayer partners to petition heaven for an answer to who should raise the baby. She wrestled with that question herself; Tad coached. He was open to whatever was decided. He only wanted Rachael to be able to continue on a course to national political power. That was where the real money was and that was where she belonged.
CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN
Rachael and Tad called a meeting with Cristol and Wrangler. As the younger couple held hands, seated on the leather sofa, the other two pulled chairs up facing them from a few feet away. Instructions were clear: don’t raise your voice because Pride, who had been told to stay in her room, was probably trying to hear what was going on.
Rachael began. “Tad and I called this meeting therefore with all this time and you getting bigger and decisions have to be made also, too much …” she paused, having confused even herself. Then she went on, “too much time, you know and doggone it, just slippin’ away and all...” Rambling from Rachael didn’t faze the kids. Both of them stayed silent and waited for her to get to the point.
“We need a game plan.”
There it was, the duo of diction Cristol dreaded. Game Plan! She couldn’t begin to remember all the game plans she’d lived through, but she knew for certain that each one had taken a toll on her happiness, her security, and her self-esteem. Every time her mom ran for office, fired staff or proposed new legislation and every time her father prepared for his annual race or the summer fishing season the kids lost a part of their childhoods. Parents too busy to raise their kids shouldn’t be allowed to be parents she thought. Cristol promised herself she would put her kids first. First and foremost. Always.
When Cristol was very little she thought a “game plan” was something fun her parents must be doing after Cristol and Field were in bed. Some fun only adults could have. Like a big people’s Candyland. That was her absolute favorite game. Not that she played it at home. She couldn’t remember either of her parents playing any game with her. But she had logged many hours playing Candyland with her cousins at their grandparent’s house- drawing cards with ice cream and gum drops and peanut brittle and hopping her play piece around the rainbow colored path. As a child and now as a babysitter, the thought of Candyland and her cousins congered up warm feelings of belonging and being loved. The words her mother had spoken this particular Sunday afternoon had caused an opposite and visceral reaction.
As she matured, Cristol observed that adults played games all the time. Life was a game. And they played for keeps. Stakes were high, and, win or lose, there was always bitterness. The game plans hatched in the Saplin home were serious as a heart attack. Looking to outsmart, or at least outdo someone - politicians, supporters, friends, the media, competitors, lawmakers, neighbors, banks, the IRS, or a rogue brother in law - Rachael and Tad’s game plans were created, revised, launched, evaluated, and followed with precision. In the game plans Cristol had witnesses, people were discarded like rejects in a ‘trash’ pile of a card game.
Currently all the family members had their marching orders in a game plan to make Rachael a nationally recognized political figure. As Governor, Rachael Saplin had taken $35,000 in the state budget and had it earmarked to spend on national publicity for herself. With that money, a promoter had been hired to get the governor some interviews on network and cable and into magazines and newspapers with large, international circulation. The family, the extended family, and her administration were to take any opportunity to reinforce her image as a spunky but wholesome small-town girl who was a tomboy-beauty queen -PTA Mom-whistleblower-evangelical that ruffled feathers in state government. She reminded folks to use the comparison of David and Goliath, standing up to evil while everyone else cowered. Central to the plan was the intent to promote and expand the “big happy family” image with some well-placed references to Tad’s minority heritage, union membership and rugged outdoor activities. Grandma and grandpa Heat, were to get some mention and reporters were to be kept away from Grandpa Saplin and Stella. Never, ever should anyone mention Field’s mess ups or the First Dude and the Governor’s marital problems, past or present. Rachael wanted to move into national politics and she needed exposure. All the Saplin kids knew what was expected of them, their mother had made it clear, “Don’t screw up. And, if you make a mess then cover it up. Even cats know enough to do that, and I hate cats don’t you know.”
“So, you know, I was thinkin’ without sayin’ that, reality there are some events, yes, because in the great passage of, though, of course it seems that choice is a good thing, Tad and I were thinkin’ that you guys are so young, when God makes lemonade…” She stopped and make a face. Even she was startled. She blinked rapidly, silent for a few beats.
She turned to Tad. “Do you want to handle this?” she asked. He shook his head.
“Oh golly, kids, it’s clear to everyone that you don’t have any idea…and also, it’s certainly less than ideal…why, when your father and I were your age…and besides, how will you raise this child when you two are children yourselves?’Not waiting for an answer, she barged ahead with the rehearsed presentation. “You two know you can’t raise it, and I know I couldn’t bare to have my first grandbaby adopted out to strangers, so this is the plan, that your father and I will adopt the baby because, of course, it’s the only way..” Rehearsing always paid off, Rachael was clear, if not concise.
“Cristol, you can’t be seen anymore around Azzolla. People will notice your packin’ a moose. You stay inside from now on, no more hockey games or nuthin’. Then, after Christmas you go live in the city with Aunt Helen and her family. She’s gonna be doin’ us a favor, so in return, you’re gonna earn your keep there by helpin’ out with the kids.” Rachael was wagging a finger like she was scolding a naughty child. Her squinting and grimacing would have made Wrangler laugh if it weren’t for the predicament he was in. He maintained a serious expression.
“We’ll take you out of school, say you have mono, enroll you in your cousin’s school district next Spring after, well, yes, after you “get better”- there’s over a thousand kids in that high school, you’ll just be a name on the sick list for a couple of months– and after the baby comes you’ll get over the ” she made air quotes with her fingers,” the mono.” Crystol frowned and Rachael plowed ahead.“ If you’re lucky maybe you can be back in time to run track and loose the baby weight. I don’t know what you’ve been eating but you’re getting awfully big awfully fast.” Cristol’s mouth fell open. Her mother didn’t notice. Her thoughts had moved on to herself.
“Tad and I will make the announcement together. We’ll say that the big danged house seemed empty with Field grown and out serving our country and doing his patriotic duty. We have been blessed and, now,” with parallel fists pumping in front of her, she delivered her rehearsed spiel, “We have room in our hearts and our home to share God’s blessings with one less fortunate…“ Her voice dropped low and she shook her head sadly, let out a sigh and took on a forlorn tone and visage. It was as if the media were already in the room, “a baby born to an unwed teenager.”
This is sick, thought Wrangler.
“See? We don’t even have to lie! The problem with lies, you know, is that sometimes it’s hard to remember to say the same thing every time.”
Wrangler had always tried to avoid judging his girlfriend’s parents because he had seen very little of them, really. Mr. S spend a lot of his at-home time in the garage, and when the governor was in Azzolla, she spent her time alone - closed up in her room watching TV, going out to jog, tanning, or behind a closed door preparing a speech. One thing he was sure of, though, was that they wouldn’t make good parents for his kid.
“So, that’s the plan. Tad and I will sign papers to adopt him and no one will know.”
“Mom! No!” Cristol said.
“Oh,” Rachael jumped back in, “I forgot to say Wrangler can continue to live here anyway. The homeschooling thing’s working out okay, and, besides, he should be helping you and keeping you company, Cristol. After all, he’s the one who got us all into this –“
“Shhh, keep it down, Pride might hear you.” Tad said.”
Dad!” Her voice was quieter; she spoke through clenched teeth, “You guys don’t get it. He isn’t yours. This is MY baby.”
“No, he’s ours.” Wrangler surprised them by speaking up. “And there’s no fucking way we are giving him away. Not to anybody.”
Tad entered the fray. “Stay out of this.”
Wrangler stood up. “I should kick your ass.”
Rachael was shocked. Wrangler had always been quiet and respectful and Tad could be a bully. But, Wrangler looked like he could take care of himself, and Tad, well, he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
Tad stood and returned Wrangler’s glare, only because he had a reputation to live up to. Inside, he was thinking that there were a lot of adult men who wouldn’t dare do what this kid was doing right now. Is he stupid? Does he know what I can do to him? He was thinking about the damage he could do to the kid socially and economically.
Rachael stood up, too. “You’ve got nerve! All you are is a sperm donor. And don’t you forget it.” Again, she was shaking a finger at him like a scolding school marm.
Cristol pulled back more deeply into the cushions and protectively hugged her baby bump. Oh God, this really sucks, she thought.
Tad and Rachael both glared at Wrangler. Wrangler’s eyes didn’t moved from Tad. He didn’t blink. Rachael wanted control. While the two men locked eyes, she felt unimportant, so she made an outrageous suggestion. “Maybe this isn’t even your baby. Maybe it’s JJ’s. Are you willing to raise a kid that looks like some other guy? Believe me, it ain’t easy.”
There was a collective gasp from the other three. Cristol turned redder than Alaskan salmon and flinched involuntarily.
“Rachael! That’s enough!”
In spite of Tad’s admonishment, she launched a few more arrows. “If Cristol wants us to adopt this baby, you’ll have no say, Wranger Strauss! None! What are you doing here anyway? Why don’t you go back to your trailer and have your mother trim your mullet?”
“Whoa, “ Tad literally jumped in between them, “Let’s all calm down.”
Wrangler took some steps backward. Rachael crossed her arms. Tad walked over to his daughter curled up in a fetal position sinking into the corner of the sofa. “Your mother and I just want to help. We know how much work it is to raise kids. We have a big house. We make enough money. You kids have always had grandma and grandpa and Aunt Sally taking care of you and they’ll help with this one, too. We just think you two need to get back to school and grow up some more before starting a family.”
Though he had very little college, Tad had more sense than the rest of the family put together. His common sense far outweighed his other traits, including integrity. What he was holding back was that he and Rachael needed to keep Cristol’s pregnancy a secret because it wouldn’t set well with Rachael’s conservative base or the CCC. Sure, they could put the pro-life spin on it - Cristol made a mistake, but she is choosing life. But once the baby was born - “given life”- every picture of the Governor and her family would carry that reminder that Rachael and Tad’s kids were unsupervised and out doing who knows what while the first dude and the gov were everywhere but home. Somehow, he and Rachael had to find a way to get these kids to go along with the adoption.
Cristol, shocked and reeling, finally spoke. She was pissed. “Look,” she said,“ I’m the one getting fat, I’m the one who barfs at the smell of spicy natchos, I’m the one missing out on parties and stuff. Right now, life is giving me a big middle finger.” She illustrated with a digit on her right hand. “It sucks,” she said, taking back her finger, and pouting.
“Cristol, let’s stay calm,” her mother admonished.”This isn’t the time for you to be all Cristol-the-Pistol.”
“You guys are gone all the time, out there putting your “game plans” to work. You think you are good parents? Well, you’re not...you aren’t...you haven’t got time! God, mom, this month alone you’ve been to New York City, Washington DC and Los Angeles. And you took Dad with you!” Rachael and Tad looked at each other. Their eyes said they knew she was right.
Wrangler sat down again and took her hand. She lifted her chin and looked hard at both her parents. “Forget those plans. You’re not growing this baby in your belly, you aren’t the one getting up four times a night to pee and you’re NOT going to adopt this baby. Wrangler and I will raise it together.”
She was controlled, but she couldn’t have been madder. The whole adoption thing had taken her by surprise. She’d been expecting her parents to tell them that she and Wrangler get married. That was something she was ready to talk about. In the vacuum of silence, she christened the new subject.
“We’re going to get married.”
Huh? What are you talking about? Wrangler had expected “wedding talk” ever since they’d broken the news. He’d expected it today from Mr. and Mrs. S. But he hadn’t expected Cristol to be the one to put it out there. He squeezed her hand and when she turned and looked at him, he thought he saw love and determination. She’s gonna be a great mom.
“Really,” Rachael’s voice was drenched with sarcasm. “That true Wrangler? Are you goin’ to act like a real man?”
“Mom!” Cristol was mortified “Stop being such a jerk!”
Tad started to defend Rachael, but he was too late. She was already defending herself.
“Just sayin God says every baby should have two parents in the plan that God intended although you can’t… well, you shouldn’t…and especially when you could…and if you did, then where would you be? A child growin’ up without two parents, they and everybody else, because it’s less than ideal, of course, to only have one.” Garbled, as usual, but everyone understood nevertheless. “Kids need two parents.”
“Wrangler is very well aware of that,” Cristol said pointedly.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s right.” Rachael hadn’t been thinking about Wrangler coming from a single-parent home. But, so what? She plunged ahead, “We need to get this settled make the plans, do the deed.” That didn’t sound right. “Ummm, yeah, anyway, we got to consider when also, and of course the Legislature’s not started, so we would, I mean you two could of course, in the best of circumstances there’s just about enough time to make plans,” she took a breath. “Nothing big, ‘cause you guys screwed up and didn’t listen to my warnings. Told you and told you not to do what I did. Still, Cristol, please don’t’ run off to the justice of the peace ‘cause, you know, my mom was so hurt when we eloped and you’re her favorite granddaughter, so she’s got to be invited. Not big, but somethin’ with family. Your family, too, Wrangler.”
Not hearing any resistance, she presented plans for the wedding and the honeymoon in another long monologue. “A secret family service. Pastor would keep it quiet. Keep your rings on a chain around your neck…until we make the announcement later, you know… say, how about Hawaii? I mean for the honeymoon, not the wedding. Wouldn’t that be a nice honeymoon? Not the rainy part of course, hoo boy I learned about that the hard way I was just about your age, too. Hated college, how can a girl concentrate on studies with all those good lookin’ native boys around. I didn’t like bein’ the minority, though. Did I ever tell you how awful it was for Terri and me, being surrounded by so many minority students. Besides, it rained a lot. Anyway, what I’m sayin’ is – Hawaii - you can still fly, you aren’t too far along. Not like it’s your eighth or ninth month. If we plan something for December. Just sayin’, you liked Hawaii last summer. Wouldn’t that be a nice place to honeymoon?”
Stunned silence. Neither Tad nor Wrangler nor Cristol knew what to say and none of them stirred. Rachael sat back and waited. One of them would have to speak eventually.
It was Wrangler who answered first, surprising him as much as it surprised the others.
“S’up to Cristol.”
Cristol turned herself halfway around to face him straight on. Putting her hands on his cheeks, she searched his eyes. He didn’t blink. She swallowed . He didn’t flinch. She shrugged her shoulders, he raised his eyebrows and nodded.
“So, d’ya wanna get married?”
It was trademark Wrangler Strauss – a no-frills combination of brevity and openness. No manipulation.
Cristol gave him a quick kiss. “If that was a proposal, I accept,” she said.
Tad finally spoke. “You two will be fine. When I was your age Wrangler, I had a car, a truck and a job. I think that’s why Rachael liked me, I had more money and more stuff than the other guys. Anyway, you got all that. You remind me of myself. You’ll do alright as a dad, too. “
For a moment, Rachael looked like she’d smelled something dead. Then she turned on a cute Scarlet O’Hara smile and gushed with phony gaiety, “Wrangler, welcome to the family!” She reached out to hug Cristol, and promised, “We’re gonna take him under our wing. Yep, you betcha!”
Then Rachael got up. She stood in front of Wrangler and motioned for a hug him. As her arms when around him, he had the thought, This must be how that bear felt when it got caught in Buck Heat’s crosshairs.
““Bless your heart.”