Thursday, December 27, 2012

Minor mentions of Cristol's chin, and Tad's sin - Chapters 72 and 73 White Trash in the Snow

Another installment of this familiar sounding story with people who could almost be real. Except that I made it all up. Like an episode of Law and Order, even though you may think you know what inspired dialogue and turns of events, and perhaps even think you know what's going to happen by the end, it's entertainment, not news. It's entertainment for people who don't just follow the news, they investigate for themselves. 
Happy New Year 2013 to all the Palin Place community and visitors!  Thanks for being here.
A novel by Allison

Later in February, Cristol started working part time at a discount pharmacy. Her parents told her that if she was going to raise Calc, she would be responsible for buying all the diapers and the bottles and formula. Formula! That was just her mother refusing to accept that Cristol had chosen to nurse him. When she had seen how delicate he was, her maternal instincts swelled. A nurse had suggested that one thing only she could do for him would be to express milk that could then be given to him.  Cristol became adept at  expressing every three hours, and intended to keep on until her son was able to nurse.  His sucking reflex was not yet developed, a condition not uncommon to preemies, and exacerbated by his extra chromosome. 
Though she didn’t have to buy formula, diapers were expensive and the job was necessary.  Even if she weren’t buying them, Cristol would have wanted a job. The four hour shifts had become a mundane haven from her personal problems. People didn’t know her. She got along with two other girls who worked there, girls who, in her previous life would have never have been good enough to be her friends.
Work also provided a beginning step towards independence. The plan was that, as soon as she and Wrangler finished school next year, they would move out on their own. Most days, that seemed a long way off, but sometimes, not so much. Anyway, the job fit into that plan.
Wrangler had been working and saving, too. He told her he would keep baby supplies at his mother’s house, so that when they took Calc over there they would have everything he needed. Jerrie was anxious to meet her grandson. Wrangler had no pictures to show her, he wasn’t allowed to have any. And though Cristol carried some hidden in her wallet, that did Jerrie no good. She hadn’t been to Jerrie’s since before Thanksgiving.
On the Saturday that Cristol was busy with the luncheon event, Wrangler took his mom to the store for groceries. After bringing all the bags into the kitchen, they both began the task of putting things away.
 “When am I gonna get to see - ” 
“Dunno yet, Mom.” He had no more patience. It was almost like she had a verbal tic. She asked the same question over and over.  Whenever Wrangler came in the house, she asked. Every time he called her while he was with Cristol, she asked. The only thing that kept her from asking was  Porsche. If Porsche was near, they couldn’t talk about Calc.   On this afternoon, Jerrie didn’t realize her daughter was in the house until she stepped into the kitchen.
 “It’s because I’m friends with Lannie, Mom.”
“What?” Jerrie was confused. Where did Porsche come from and how did Porsche learn about the baby, and why would Porsche’s friendship with  Wrangler’s old girl friend keep Cristol from letting the family meet their own flesh and blood?  “I don’t get it,” she said.
“Cristol said she won’t set foot in our house if Lannie is welcome here. It’s bullshit. Lannie has as much right to visit here as any of my friends.”  She shook her finger at her brother. “You should tell your girlfriend to grow up.”
Wrangler slapped her hand away from his face. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh yeah?  I know more than you think!”
Wrangler and Jerrie both froze in place. Their eyes sought each other’s and the question was asked without words. Did you tell her? The slight shake of the head each gave the other said No, not me. I didn’t tell.  
 Porsche missed the quiet communication. She’d spotted a new bag  of apples and pulled out the biggest one, polished it against her sweater and took a bite.  “Cristol’s being a bitch, and she gets that from her mother. You shouldn’t put up with it, Wrangler. I know she had that chin of hers worked on. That’s why she stayed in the car when you ran in with Christmas presents. And that was weeks ago. She has to come out sometime. You think I’m stupid, but I’m not.  She’s been talking about plastic surgery for years. I don’t know why you’d think I’d buy  that story you told about her having a big zit and not wanting us to see it.  Why can’t you just tell the truth?”  
Wrangler shrugged. “She doesn’t want me telling her business to people.”
“But we’re practically family. We can keep a secret.”
“Forget about it. Okay?”
“Sure, okay. I can forget about it,  ‘cause I don’t care about her chin, anyway.  But I do care that she’s such a bitch. She’s not nice Wrangler. Not a nice person.”
Jerrie tried to change the subject. “Saw the Governor on the cover of a magazine at the grocery store. I wanted to read the story, but the manager came along and opened up a new checkout for me. That other line was movin’ real slow. I probably could’a read the whole thing.”   Jerrie wouldn’t shell out the $5.95 for a women’s magazine, her grocery money was for food.   “But it don’t matter. If there was anything in that article that I don’t already know, then it’s probably a lie. I got my own first-person reporter on the inside. He tells me all about the Governor. And he puts my groceries away, too.”
Wrangler grunted. “Yeah, I know about that magazine. She went out and got herself a hundred copies. Ya’d think she’s a movie star, posing by the airplane. Took off her glasses. Thinkin’ she’s all that.”  He opened the refrigerator and took out a beer. “She made Cristol ask her boss at the store for a discount on ‘em. Mrs S is so cheap. And s’not even her own money, it’s left over campaign money.”  He frowned, then took a drink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“How embarrassing for that girl,” Jerry said. “Doesn’t her mother ever think about-”.
 Porsche cut her off again. “She knows, Mom. Rachael uses her kids all the time. If  it’s good for her, she doesn’t care what it does to them. She’s a bad mother.”
“Porsche, you’ve got to try to be nice,” her mother chided. “She is practically family, like you said, and we don’t talk that way about family.”
“The only nice thing I can think of is that we get bigger checks since she became governor. That’s nice. But she isn’t.”
“Give it a rest, Porsche,” Wrangler said.
“Good idea,” said Jerrie. Her back pain was intense today. She wouldn’t be able to refill the Oxycodone  for another week. Her disability checks only stretched so far. Maybe she’d lay down and rest and  read something frivolous.
“Hey, Wrangler, did she give you  one of those magazines?”
“No, Mom.  She doesn’t give me nothing.”
“Nothing but grief,” Porsche said, eliciting a middle finger salute from her brother.
Complain as she might, Wrangler knew that his sister and his mom both liked him being the boyfriend of the Governor’s daughter. His sister recognized the perks of being on the right side of the political and social power players.Until he and Cristol hooked up, the names Saplin and Strauss were perfect examples of  how different life could be depending on social status.  Jerrie enjoyed it the most. She compared it to the story of Cinderella - one of them had nothing, and the other lived in a mansion, of sorts. In this real life story, though, it was her son who was the handsome one. Cristol, she thought, was rather plain and dull. More like the step-sister than a princess.
But, even that day, Jerrie had been in line behind five other shoppers at the checkout  and the manager opened up  a new lane. Maybe it was coincidence, but she told Wrangler it was because she’d achieved a new level of respect as a Saplin near-in-law.  Jerrie was going to have that respect for a long time now that Cristol and Wrangler were going to parent together.  Baby Calc was a ticket to the other side of the tracks, whether Jerrie had met him yet or not.

In the month leading up to the National Governor’s Convention, Rachael had been fixated on primary results, particularly Steve McElwain’s primary results. “Tad, my  God-ordained  destiny is tied to Steve McElwain, I feel it in my bones.”  Being the devout follower of Christ that she claimed to be, she demonstrated her acceptance of God’s will in this “calling” by sacrificing time with family and letting staff do the work at the office, while she concentrated on publicity, calling press conferences, traveling nationally, and handling interviews one after another in order to get noticed by the Grand Old Party and its front runner.
Gaining celebrity status was work, and she was not getting there fast enough to assure her shot at the election this year. Family slipped more and more into the periphery of her life as ambition took over her days and weeks. Morning, noon, and night she followed news about the McElwain campaign as if it were her own. When Tad pointed out that she might be missing something by studying only McElwain, she acted on his advice and sent her staff on a mission to accumulate all the information they could on Mindy McElwain. As it turned out, there was more than one surprise in that box of Cracker Jacks.
There is no such thing as coincidence she repeated to herself as she read multiple stories about McElwain’s predilection for beautiful women. His first wife had been a beauty who lost her appeal to him when she was struggled against a life threatening condition that stole from her some of the physical beauty that had turned the heads of strangers.   McElwain, it was rumored, ran around behind her back while she went through a long period of recovery. Then he sought a divorce in order to marry Mindy – a young woman who at that time was only a half dozen years older than what Cristol was right now. Some reports included sniping by people who suggested he married her for her money – she had a gazillion dollars as a tobacco heiress – but  Rachael didn’t think that wasn’t fair reporting. After all, Mindy was a beauty queen, too, and McElwain couldn’t resist flirting with such a pretty young woman. Boys will be boys. Right?
They fell in love. It happens. Fair and balanced reporting would have said he wanted more than her money.  And those more recent stories about Mindy’s addiction to prescription drugs, and McElwain’s affair with a gorgeous young campaign aide, those were trash talk. All part of the American political culture. If you want to play on the national stage and run for public office, you had no business whining about the tough treatment. Enquirer exposés and all.
A former first lady was running hard to be the other party’s nominee, and just yesterday Rachael had been asked if the first lady’s complaints of disparate treatment were valid “Of course not, that doesn’t do women any good,” she’d said. “You know what you’re in for in national elections. If you can’t take it, don’t run. But don’t whine, for heaven’s sake.  Rumors and stories and lies - those things always happens in campaigns.  I’ve got advice for her. With all due respect, suck it up.” 
McElwain himself had had experience on both ends of the dirty rumor game.  She was confident that he would prevail in spite of the rumors about himself and about Mindy. Yup, you gotta have tough skin and big cojones if your running on the big ticket, thought Rachael. And I’ve got both.
Rachael and Tad had met Steve and Mindy McElwaine at the dinner the first night of the convention. For her age, Mindy looked great. A tall thin blonde.  Wow,  she has every right to act snooty. Darn tootin’ Rachael thought. Anyway, It’s obviously Botox that prevents her from coming across as genuine and warm. As the evening had worn on, Rachael studied Mindy’s face as much as she could without being obvious. Was there anything about Botox that reacted negatively under tanning bed lights? She would have to find out about that. Looks were important to her, and obviously were a requirement if any woman was going  to be associated with Steve McElwain.
Rachael was momentarily distracted with thoughts of a story the media had run about McElwain’s aids warning him to distance himself from an attractive woman on his team. Rachael and Tad had both had experiences with rumors about themselves and others. Rachael with Tad’s business partner. It was a period in her past that she never allowed herself to revisit. Mentally shouting down the thoughts trying to assert themselves, she pictured the woman that Tad had been linked to in rumor. Whether that had been true or not, she and Tad were together here and now, and that was where her mind needed to stay.
Back to the McElwain rumor, that McElwain had been having an affair, that certainly  hurt Mindy badly. Rachael could identify with that. Such mean spiritedness must have come from political enemies. But, she questioned, were some of them Republicans?  It had been done in previous campaigns. Who could know? But, she asked herself, who was more likely to be so nasty?  Answering her own question, she knew it was the other side that came up with that rumor, no doubt in her mind at all.
Rachael and Tad had practiced what they would say.  On script, when introduced to Mindy, Rachael gushed, “You are even prettier in person than in your pictures.” It came out “purdier” but the line was well received.
 Tad took his cue and whispered to McElwain, “You and I have a lot in common. We both have beautiful wives.”  Whispering was a trick the Saplins used to make people feel they were being let in on something from which others were excluded. The context of the statement had been crafted with equal care. It was meant to plant the seed that Rachael was in Mindy’s league beauty-wise, a feather in McElwain’s cap should he choose her to run with him,  and also, to give him a sense that Rachael and Tadd were cut of the same cloth as he, sharing the same values and preferences understanding his ego. Their platitude-driven plan needed no real substance to make it effective. It targeted the pride of a prideful man and his prideful wife. How could it miss?
Tad’ comment had also been designed to force McElwain to think about Rachael’s good looks. Not just to  notice, but to consider. There was a difference.
In the fishing analogies the Saplins used, Tad was baiting the hook. Both having experience with professional fishing, they likened the primary season to a fishing season, and becoming a VP running mate to landing a big fish. Over the past six months, they had come to the conclusion that Steve McElwain wouldn’t have the strength of character to pull this hook out once he’d swallowed it. They knew that mong those named as reasonable choices for a VP that year, none were like her. Those others had more experience, certainly, and foreign affairs experience, of course. Nationally recognized names, yes. Accomplishments in national politics, sure.  And on, and on.
But they didn’t have the one thing that she had, the thing she was counting on to blow the other hopefuls out of the water. Sexual tension. And what could be more powerful? Nothing.  Rachael Saplin had political instincts as strong Bill Clinton’s. “It’s the economy, stupid worked in 1992. And “Sex sells” would work in 2008. She was sure of it.  Anyone who thinks politicians can separate their work from their gonads must have spent  the last half century in a coma.
Rachael was equally sure McElwain must be part of God’s plan. He was especially vulnerable to tight skirts, high heels, and nice legs. Now,  he was the front runner and she was his perfect running mate. See? No such thing as coincidence, it’s all God’s plan.
Tad encouraged his wife to use her sexuality. Having other men admire his wife made him feel powerful, too. For a guy with a blue-collar job who hadn’t finished college, he led an amazing life. Hob-knobbing in high places, people fawning over him, trying to win favor, giving him expensive gifts and special treatment – all because he’s married to Rachael. If he weren’t married to the Governor, would anybody even want to watch the Super Bowl with him, let alone pay $300 a piece for the privilege? No one in their right mind, that was for sure. But just a few weeks ago he’d hosted some lobbyists and legislators at the mansion, raising a few thou for the people’s house, as Rachael liked to call the mansion. That ought to cover the tanning bed costs nicely. No, he had to thank his wife for the good life he led. And while his father in law occasionally tried to say Tad was less than a man because his wife out shown him, Tad wasn’t ashamed to be riding the wave she set into motion. He deserved his share of the benefits.  Hadn’t he stuck by her after that little blond head popped out seven months two weeks and two days after their wedding? Hadn’t he had kept his mouth shut about that, embarrassing as it was? And didn’t he pretend if it was normal as the sun at midnight to have pictures of the Maynards mixed right in with the wall of family pictures of various Heat and Saplin relatives? Yup, he had always played along in the charade. And yup,  she owed him big.
Rachael got some things with a wink, and others with a threat. When it came to using her looks, she felt there was no shame in using God’s gifts. If God hadn’t wanted her to have that advantage, he wouldn’t have given it to her. She believed that God knows the beginning from the end. He foreordained her to be the Governor. He knew she would, at this time in her life, be meeting the potential next President of the United States and that he liked women who were sexy, gorgeous, and conservative. God knew all that. Obviously, this was God’s plan. If He opened the door, she was gonna plow right through it.  Hey, if He so much as let her see the door, she was gonna pry it open. Praise the Lord and pass the crow bar.
Someday, Rachael Saplin  would be President of the United States. She had talked with her pastor already, about giving the invocation at her inauguration. At first he didn’t get what she was saying, and then God must have opened his eyes. “Why, of course, what an honor, to open in prayer when you become President.” Then- was he joking – he said he hoped Tad wouldn’t charge him too much to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Rachael hadn’t quiet heard what he’d said. What she thought the minister said sent her into a panic. “Why pastor, those rumors are not true.  He doesn’t charge for…and our bedroom. Well, anyway, shoot, it’s just wackos and haters. Tad, he would never…it’s revolting…like gambling and so many other sins…but making money by exploiting…when there are those that which are so desperate, like as to accuse my husband because he’s so good looking. Well, of course you’ve seen Tad.  That’s it! It’s his good looks that which make some men so jealous of him and women, too, yes, women jealous of me, that they have started these rumors about…”
“Rachael, I’m not sure-“
“…and if he goes out of state it’s with me!” she finished and stood up.  “I have to go.  Thank you, Reverend.” She left quickly, leaving a puzzled clergyman wondering what had happened.
In the car, she bowed her head.
God, I need to get to the White House.  I know it’s your plan to have me be President and have Tad be followed by the Secret Service day and night. It’s the answer  to all my prayers. Thank you, Lord.   Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

White Trash in the Snow Chapters 70 and 71

A novel by Allison


The two men approached the governor cautiously. Rachael thought she knew what these staff members were going to say. There was little doubt. What she wondered, as they stepped up to her desk with their heads hanging like naughty boys preparing to be scolded, was which one would say it. Which one lost the coin toss?
“Governor Saplin? There’s something you should know. People are talking.”
“Okay, what are they sayin’?’”
“That your daughter Cristol is-“
A long pause followed. Rachael let them squirm. If I make it uncomfortable enough for them to say it, they won’t go repeating it, she thought. Or at least that’s what she hoped.
The second staffer spoke up. “There’s a rumor that Cristol is pregnant.”
“Well, that’s ridiculous. I can assure you, Cristol is not pregnant. But thank you, boys, for telling me about these flippin’ unbelievable rumors.” She saw the staffers begin to relax. She got up from her desk to look them straight in the eyes. “The First Family is under attack from haters, which, of course, that’s all part of being the First Family, though, too, it’s totally unfair to the children. And your jobs are to support me and my family, then, and that means never gossiping, and also, too, always defending the children, and Tad, even though he wouldn’t want to think he needs defendin’ because he’s a man and a champion racer, and…”  She paused while she tried to remember what point she was trying to make. “So, thank you for bringing those rumors here to me, to be put to rest, and thank you for always supporting me, of course.”
Absolutely denying that her daughter was pregnant was easy. She wasn’t. So, Rachael went about setting the record straight.  She sought out one of the few people she used (she called it trust) as a mouthpiece for her administration.“Dale, the rumors about Cristol are not true. She isn’t pregnant.”
Dale flinched; not because of the content of the rumors - no, he’d heard them already. But why would the governor stoop to denying these malicious falsehoods? There were always rumors about the First Family. Last year it was mostly about Field and his “boys will be boys” episodes. Army enlistment took care of that. And stories circulated about Cristol drinking, dabbling in drugs, and partying in general. Those accounts reached a peak last summer, but had been put to rest since the girl came down with mono.  It was a very bad case.
Anyway, about the pregnancy thing - he’d already dismissed that as gutter talk. There were a lot of people who would like to see this governor “get what’s coming to her” for stepping on people, forgetting who helped her along the way, and for micromanaging their personal lives. She had a real problem working with people, but that didn’t mean the kids were fair game. No, he defended the kids every chance he had. And he defended the Governor, too.
 “Well, Governor, if anyone has the balls to repeat that rumor in my presence, I will set them straight.”
“Good,” she said.
Dale beamed. He adored his boss. She was feisty. She was real. And she had a flirtatious wink that made him sit up taller and pay attention. In meetings, he never took his eyes off her. If she was worked up about something, she’d lick her lips –“
 “Dale?” she interrupted his thoughts. “Don’t say ‘balls,’ Christians don’t say that.” She turned on her four inch heel and strode away.
Click. Click. Click.Click. It was  a sound that struck fear in the heart of middle-aged white men in government offices all over the capital, and Dale’s fear grew in direct proportion to the fading of the sound. How badly had he offended the Governor?
The worried aide headed straight to his office
He couldn’t afford to waste any time.  If he didn’t hurry, his verbal faux pas would be firmly planted in Governor Saplin’s psyche. He pictured her hearing someone say “balls” and her face contorting with the memory of today’s exchange in the hallway; that word, in the most innocent and common usage could remind her of today and she’d be mentally snarling and growling at him. After all, Rachael Saplin had earned that nickname “Rotweiler.” Dale knew he was about to write the email upon which the future of his career would hinge.  
Damn! Trying to recall which of the Ten Commandments would be relevant to quote, fear and frustration were creating panic.  Which one? Which one is relevant? I’ll show her I’m a Christian!
He breezed past another staffer, locked himself in his office and dropped into his chair. Striking a couple keys to wake up the computer he mumbled “hurry up!” under his breath. This was a race against time. He had to save himself. Whether or not the rumors were true, the only truth that mattered right then was that the Governor truly had one nasty never-forget-always -get- even nature. What if that stupid “balls” comment had sounded like he wasn’t taking her problem seriously? He clicked on his email logo and typed in, his collar gathering moisture while the machine whirred and he waited.
Subject line -“Commandment # ”  he typed in. Then he pulled up a search engine and tried to find a holy reference to liars from God’s Top Ten. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” matched the message and the tone he wanted.  He changed the subject of the email:  “Those Who Bear False Witness.” It wasn’t quite as clever as he would have liked, but it was definitely religious, and that was the chord he needed to strike. He liked the capital letters, too. They gave the heading a serious look.
Dale and Rachael had attended the same church in Azzolla and he used words based on that evangelical upbringing to strike the chord he thought he needed.“Thank you, Governor, for sharing from your heart the burden you are bearing. We know that the truth shall set you free. What others intend for evil, God will use for good. Rest assured, if the enemy rears his head in my presence, I will smite him a mighty blow with the sword of truth.” (Oh, yeah, that sounded very, very Christian.) He closed with “God Bless You Governor, and God Bless the First Family.)
Dale hit “send,” put his arms on his desk and cradled his head. He was emotionally spent.

Rachael Saplin saw the new message on her Blackberry. She pursed her lips and thought, Let’s see what this pervert has to say. But when she read it, she smiled. “Good boy, Dale.”

Many an evening when Dale got home, he would unwind by telling his wife about his day. Politics had lots of pitfalls, and laughing with his wife over the ironies therein helped keep Dale from getting depressed. That night when he walked in , she could see the stress on his face. Thinking she might lighten his mood with humor, she put one hand on her hip and in her best imitation of  Governor Saplin’s snide side, she elevated her voice and said, “So, I gotta ask, how’s that holy-churchy stuff working for ya?” Then she winked.
“It’d better be working fucking great,” he answered, then he sunk into a chair and began his account of the day.


The message left on Cristol’s phone didn’t come as a complete surprise. Her mom had already told her it was time to get out and be seen again at public functions.
 “Cristol, there is a women’s heart health luncheon next Saturday. You’ve got to go so don’t give me any crap. Maple and Pride are going, and you are, too. Find something nice to wear- something red.”  
Wear red? Like Scarlet O’Hara going to Melanie’s birthday party?  (In what she called “mother/daughter bonding,” Cristol had suffered through the whole three-hours of her mother’s favorite movie the day after Christmas.)  Ha! I get it. Mom sees this as my public re-appearance after hiding my sin. Just like in the movie, I’ll be the curiosity of a bunch of women who may have been gossiping and doubting the story of my long bout with mono. And now I’m living out of town with an aunt. How 1950’s is that?” She deleted the message and texted to Wrangler, “my mom is soooo lame.”
The  promise that Maple and Pride would be there, too, gave Cristol something to look forward to. Commiserating together through an old-lady luncheon would feel like old times. For Cristol and Maple, it would be like it was before Calc came along. Pride wouldn’t know the difference.
It really had not been difficult to keep the baby a secret from her younger sister. Pride hadn’t even seemed to notice Cristol’s weight gain or her pre-delivery girth under that fluffy bathrobe she’d worn every day, all day.  And, as for her older sister’s temporary residence with Aunt Helen, the kindergartener accepted it as normal. It must be  was what big sisters do when they get “that old.”  In her innocence, Pride assumed that in a few years, it would be Maple’s turn to live with Aunt Helen. And someday, Pride, too, would be able to live with the cousins.
 Pride knew her own life was different from her schoolmates. She liked the differences, they were things that  made her friends jealous – having two big houses in different places, traveling a lot, and standing on stages and waving “just like a rock star,”  Strangers gave her gifts. A “million grownups” said she was “adorable” “ cute” and “a beautiful child.”  This was Pride’s life, she loved it all.
Pride Saplin knew without a doubt that the Saplin family was better than any other. After all, they were the First Family. Saplins are number one. When Field’s hockey team won the championship everyone shouted they were number one, right? . So Saplins if her family was the number one family, that meant they were the best. Other kid’s parents  didn’t have important stuff to do like Pride’s mommy and daddy. At least not First Family stuff like being on TV a lot. Everybody knows  that being on TV makes you special.
 “Special” was a key word in Pride’s vocabulary. She couldn’t describe her family without it.  Just last week her teacher heard her telling another kindergartener “My Mommy and Daddy are special. Mommy’s the Guvner and Daddy’s the First Dad. My sister  Cristol’s special. Maple’s special,too.  And I’m the most special-er one.”  Then, in what sounded like  an after thought, she added, “And Field’s a soldier.”

As the plane landed, Cristol began to worry. Did she look okay? After you’ve had a baby, is there something about you that other mom’s can sense?  What if she leaked and got her shirt wet in spite of the so-called nursing pads? If anybody at this women’s thing brought a baby with them, the sight or sound of that baby could set her own milk flowing. Yipes, she was going to keep her puffy vest on.
“Oh God, help me,” the involuntary prayer escaped her and she quickly looked around to see if she’d been overheard. No one was paying any attention.
 Damn! What had become of her life? A year ago her frustrations were about two-faced girlfriends and fears of getting caught texting answers during a test. Now everything she did somehow tied to having a baby.

“Over here!” It was Maple’s voice. Cristol had been spotted by her mother and sisters. After brief hugs all around, Pride proudly showed off the new gap in her smile where a tooth had come out the night before.
“How much did the tooth fairy leave you?” Cristol asked.
“A whole dollar!” Pride answered. “And no, I’m not gonna share. Maple already asked me that.”
Cristol smiled. “I see nothing’s changed.”  The truth in that was comforting. The light teasing and banter continued as they made their way back to the Suburban in the parking lot. Cristol began to let go of her tensions,  there was a sweet sense of normalcy in the four of them going to some generic gathering for a generic meal in a small room with generic people.

They entered the room as a group. It was set up with red table paper table cloths and a head table with a bouquet of heart shaped balloons. Cristol noticed a few heads turn, a few fingers pointing, and some apparent whispering.  Even though she knew that these things happened everywhere her mother went since being elected, Cristol couldn’t help but wonder  if  they were talking about her, looking at her, gossiping about her.  The girls grabbed a table near the back and Rachael headed up to the front.
“Hey Cristol,” Pride said, tugging her sleeve. “Take off your jacket.”
“No, I’m keeping it on.”
“I’m still not all better,” Cristol said. She saw Maple roll her eyes. “I get cold easily..” 
Pride stood and put her arms around her, leaning her head against her sister’s shoulder. “That’s okay, Cristol,” her chirpy voice was muffled in the puffy nylon, “ You can leave it on. I’ll keep my coat on, too. We’ll look like twins!”
Cristol reached out and returned the hug. “Thanks, baby.” She looked at her seriously, and said, “You know what you  are, Pride? You are the best.”

“I know that,” Pride said. She stuck her tongue out through the space in her jack-o-lantern grin.
Cristol watched as Pride  skipped off and find their mother. Rachael was on the other side of the room working the crowd  with effortless warmth. Cristol turned to Maple and saw that she  was texting underneath the table.
Wow, this is so normal it’s weird. My life has changed but nothing has changed with my  family. Nothing. This is so weird.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rings and Lies, Secrets and Scarves - Chapters 67, 68, 69 White Trash in the Snow

A novel by Allison

Note to readers:  Rachael's sister Helen and her husband Kurt were primary characters in the episodes published in Chapters 32 and Chapter 33  .   While it is not necessary to remember previous events in order to enjoy the chapters below, links are provided for those who want to refresh their memories of these fine, upstanding folks.

Cristol squeezed into a pair of her old jeans just days after leaving the hospital and moving in with Aunt Helen. The muffin top created by excessive skin in her mid region could be  hidden under baggy sweatshirts.  She  had the thought that when she and Wrangler started camping in the spring they would have a ceremonial campfire where she would burn all her oversized clothes. “Gawd,” she complained to Wrangler, “ I’m so tired of hoodies with front pockets. So, so tired of it all.” 
The one new thing she wore was on her left hand. When Wrangler had come to the hospital to see her after she delivered their son, he came with a ring. He already had planned to surprise her with the ring as a new year’s gift – a promise to be there for her and with her in the future. With money he’d saved up from part time jobs, he got the nicest ring he could afford. It had little diamond chips in a heart shaped setting. The jeweler called it a promise ring. That sounded right, he thought, like that thing Mrs. S always says about there being no such thing as a coincidence.
 Cristol wasn’t the only one with a new ring. Wrangler had a ring, too. Just before Christmas, Cristol had asked her mother to get a man’s ring that she could give her baby’s daddy. She’d considered trying to disguise herself and go to a mall in the city, but Cristol Saplin was accustomed to approval, whether it was sincere or not., and she wasn’t going to put herself in front of disapproving  retail clerks in upscale jewelry stores even if they didn’t know who she was. No one was going to be allowed to look down their nose at Cristol Saplin. Especially not some mall worker.
Cristol had in mind something something “manly and expensive looking.’
“Maybe a black onyx, Mom. That would look serious.”
“Serious? Wrangler wears a mullet, Cristol. You want him to be taken seriously? Tell him to have his mother cut his hair.”
When she came home, Rachael had a plain silver wedding band in a large size. It was not at all what Cristol had in mind. But her mother reminded her that she wasn’t the one paying for it, and Rachael wanted that boy to feel he was as good as married. “Someday when you and that mullet-head really get married, you can buy any rings you want. Until then, this will remind him of his responsibilities.”
  They had exchanged rings the day Cristol was released from the hospital. His was too big. Wrangler ended up wearing it on the thumb of his left hand.  

The ring on his thumb rotated as his hands adjusted themselves on the steering wheel, negotiating the curves on the hour long drive to Cristol’s aunt’s place. 
Aunt Helen was a god-send. Wrangler felt comfortable and welcome in her home right from the start.  On his first visit, Cristol’s aunt told him to call her Aunt Helen, too, and asked what his preferences were – Coke or Pepsi, cheese doodles or pretzels, Oreos or Chips Ahoy. She kept the kitchen stocked so that he could help himself anytime.
Helen and Kurt’s special needs son, Alfred  was a cute little kid who took to Wranger like he was a new older brother, wanting to try on his jacket, admiring Wrangler’s truck. Wrangler was great with the boy.  He let him sit behind the wheel and pretend to drive while the truck was parked in the driveway. He brought him DVDs and CDs and gave him some of his older X-box games. When the seven year old spotted “Strauss” tattooed on Wrangler’s arm, he asked his mother if he could have the same tattoo. Aunt Helen said no, not a real tattoo, but she got out a washable marker and let Wrangler and Cristol go to work designing  a scaled down version of “Strauss” on Alfred’s upper arm. His own name, of course, was not Strauss, but that was the name he insisted on having etched on the pristine palette of his left bicep.
Wranger had become close to Alfred quickly. Aunt Helen could see it was a healthy friendship, and that the young man was surprisingly mature in some ways, able to reach out to others even when there were big challenges threatening the stability of his own life. All this was rooted in his desire to see the underdog prevail. It sprung from him without effort or thought.  Over and over again, beginning in elementary school, Wrangler had made friends with the friendless, protected the picked on, chosen the athletically challenged to be on his team, and invited a bewildered looking newcomer to sit with him and his friends at lunch. He’d used his own popularity to influence other kids to accept a freshman struggling with the onset of Tourette's Syndrome.  No, Wrangler  wasn’t an angel, but he tried to make a difference in small ways.
Wrangler’s soft heart was something Cristol admired but didn’t understand. She, herself, could have starred in the movie “Mean Girls.” Having always enjoyed the benefits of being popular and in the upper level of whatever society there was in Azzolla, Cristol and the rest of the Saplin children had always had a sense of entitlement. It had never occurred to any of them that they had done nothing special to earn any advantages they enjoyed as beneficiaries of their mother’s public offices.
A short time after Wrangler and Cristol started dating, Jerrie told Wrangler that her obvious immaturity and inexperience weren’t  necessarily permanent traits. “When you kids go to college,” she had predicted, “that girl is going to find out she’s no big fish. She’s just a big minnow from murky pond. College will change her. You’ll see.”
Lately, though, Jerrie hadn’t talked about either of the kids going to college.

When winter recess was over, Cristol went back to school – a new school. Now that she was living with Aunt Helen in the city, her parents made arrangements for her to be enrolled in the local school.  Anchor High would be the third school she had attended since her mom became governor only thirteen months before.. Once again, she was both a stranger and a curiosity to those students whom she encountered on her first day. But out of the 1200 in grades 9 – 12, only a very small percentage had any idea Governor Saplin’s oldest girl  was now an “Anchor Bulldog.”
The Governor, with Tad in tow, met with school administrators the first day of school. They asked that there not be any announcement about Cristol’s transfer in, as she had had a traumatic experience and needed time to recover without publicity. Mediocre grades and poor attendance records were explained away, “She lost some weeks due to a bad case of mono,” Rachael said. “But she’s a hard worker. She’ll catch up this summer if she hasn’t caught up by the end of the spring semester. And she’s a basketball star, but the doctor says she should sit out this season. So, umm, anyway, she’s an overachiever. Yup, you betcha’.”
The principal was sympathetic to Cristol’s bout with an illness, to hear that it had been traumatic for her. Rachael, not wanting her daughter to be seen as weak,  embellished the lies and told a real whopper. Tad listened with amazement to his wife’s story about Cristol being threatened with bodily harm by students in her previous school, a threat made via social networking, and that the move to her aunt’s house was for her protection.
Rachael thought of it on the spot, and was sure it was a brilliant cover for the real story – that Cristol was a new mother and needed to live with her Aunt Helen in order to be near the hospital where her fragile infant son was fighting for survival. Tad would have been happier had they stuck with the original plan – Cristol was returning after a bout with mono and Aunt Helen, a nurse, was going to keep an eye on her.
The story of cyber-bullying had consequences. The principal asked the head of school security to join them in the office and together they interrogated the Saplins, wanting to know what had been done to protect the girl, what police and or federal agencies had gotten involved, and to what degree did they believe the threat could be carried out in the new community and/or school? “I’ll have my office get that information and I’ll bring it to ya’” the Governor promised. Then she and Tad made a hasty retreat.
 When nothing had been received a month later, the school attempted to follow up with a call to the Governor. In return, they received a letter from the Office of Counsel to the Governor stating that the reason for Cristol’s enrollment was a personal family matter, however, the Governor generously would provide a limited explanation: Cristol had been asked to help out her mother’s sister’s family which had a special needs child. Cristol wanted to become a pediatric nurse, and this would be valuable experience to help her learn more about that career. The Governor and her family expected to have their privacy protected by school staff and administrators. It was clear that there were to be no more questions. The principal and security sergeant concluded that there was nothing they could do, as the story told them in the office was not officially documented. .
Rachael, Tad and Cristol were all pleased with the “family issue” excuse. There was enough truth in it for Rachael to feel self-righteous and pure of heart. Meanwhile, the real beauty of it was that the story provided cover for Cristol outside of school, too. If anyone followed the girl on the way home,  or coincidentally happened to be going the same way, they would discover that every day after school she took a city bus to a hospital across town.  It was not a direct route and she changed buses on the way. Unlikely that anyone would recognize her. But if she ran into anyone and the question came up, the ready answer was, again, that she wanted to observe and learn something about neo-natal care before making a firm commitment to undergraduate studies in that field.  There would be no reason to suspect she was actually visiting her own son. No one knew except a limited number of hospital staff, and they were bound by law to be confidential.  If the law and the promise of losing their income and professional license weren’t enough to keep them quiet, stories of Rachael Saplin’s ruthlessness would keep them from talking.  No one working at the hospital was foolish enough to mention “baby boy Sherman” to anyone – not to a spouse, not to a friend, and definitely not to a reporter or blogger.
Every time he visited, Wrangler and Cristol would go to the hospital and spend time with the baby.  Between his hockey schedule, his part time job, and his home school studies, he couldn’t get up to see them more than twice a week, but his thoughts seemed to be consumed by them, and he even asked his Mom if she thought he should drop out of school, find a job near the hospital, and get a small apartment for he and Cristol and his baby.  He was worrying about every procedure, every test, and sometimes, if the team was traveling on an away schedules,  it would just about tear his heart out not to be able to see his baby for two weeks.
Often, he would bring flowers. He’d never done that when they were simply dating, but now he wanted her to know she was more special than ever. She was his baby’s momma. And, her reaction to the flowers kept him bringing more. She’d throw her arms around his neck, give him a big kiss, and tell him she loved him. For a while, that was as romantic as they got.
Wrangler wasn’t going to  push her to be physical with him, He thought about it, of course, and her figure was returning, but he knew things had changed. If she said they would have to wait until they were married to sleep together again, he told himself he could accept that. But, his intuition told him she was never going to hold out like that.  She’d changed, but she wasn’t changed that much.
So, it didn’t surprise Wrangler when the time came that Cristol wanted to talk about sex. She said that she missed their being alone together. Though she had told herself abstinence was going to be her birth control from now on, she could see it wasn’t realistic. By early February she and Wrangler were making plans. Aunt Helen and Uncle Kurt had a couple routines that kept them away from the house with the kids for at least two and a half hours. Sunday mornings they left for church about nine thirty and never returned until at least half past twelve. Wednesday night they went to a fellowship dinner and Bible study, keeping them away from six until eight thirty. Both times, the whole family was gone. Soon, they would have some time to be together in that special way. Would it be different now? They both wondered but neither spoke it out loud.
Cristol wasn't the only female in Wrangler's life who wanted him to understand her needs.  Jerrie wanted to visit the baby. But Cristol and Mrs. S. said no, not until Calc was stronger. They said it was to protect him, that his immune system was underdeveloped and every unnecessary visitor brought the potential for a life-threatening bout with a cold, or the flu. Jerrie didn’t believe that germs were the only reason. If that were true, Rachael and Tad would stay away, too. Maple had even been in to see the baby. Jerrie feared that the real reason she couldn’t get in and that Porsche was still not to be told was that the baby was going to die. “What if I never get to see him? It’s not fair, Wrangler. He’s a Strauss just as much as he’s a Saplin. And I want to see my grandbaby.”
Wrangler wished no one could see his son except he and Cristol. Everyone else caused drama. Maple’s visit was a classic Saplin family moment. She’d looked at Calc and immediately said “he doesn’t look like he has Downs.”
Cristol went ballistic. “Is that all you wanted to see? If he looks funny? I hate you Maple. I really do.”
Tad went to Maple’s defense. “Cristol! Stop that. You don’t mean it. Your sister came all this way to visit you and that’s how you greet her?
“You always take her side,” Cristol reverted to her ten-year-old self. “I hate you, too.”
“Hoo boy, I guess I have to be the adult in the room.” Rachael said.  “Now Cristol, you know you love them. You know you love your father and Maple. And you know Maple will love little Calc.” She turned to Maple. “You will love him, Maple.” The emphasis was on “will.” It was an order, not a prediction.
Wrangler rolled his eyes and Rachael caught him. “And you! You will do exactly what I tell you, when I tell you, and you can begin by getting out of here right now and coming back with a couple of crunch wraps and a diet Pepsie. I’m starving.”

Rachael and Tad were looking at the tiny baby in the incubator, hooked up to a breathing apparatus and attached to a number of monitoring devices. “He's five weeks old today," Rachael said. "I didn't think he'd really make it."
"You better start wearing maternity clothes. All that money spent on liposuction and now you gotta cover up–”
She gave him a withering look. They’d talked about Rachael claiming to carry and deliver a baby so Calc could be introduced as their son once he was released. She was pretty much set on the idea even though Tad had his doubts. The kids, including Crisol and Wrangler, weren’t consulted.
“Don't you think you should begin to wear bigger clothes now? You’ve got to make it believable.”
“I know.  I have a plan. I bought a lot of scarves last week when I was in Philly.”
“Scarves? What for? You gonna wrap your head like Aunt Jamima and hope people will be distracted?"
“Shut up, Tad. The scarves will go around my neck, of course, and it will look stylish, ‘cause I’m known as a trendsetter and these long ones that hang down to my past my waist, they will keep people from seeing my stomach - or my waist, or anything except a big scarf hanging there. ”
Tad looked dubious.
“Don’t you see? It's better than maternity clothes. It leaves me a way out. If he doesn't, umm.. doesn't make it, you know...or if we don’t adopt him, the scarf thing will just fade away as I break out summer clothes and no one’s any the wiser. But, if little Calc gets strong I’m gonna announce I’m pregnant – about six, maybe seven months pregnant – and I just say that’s why I was wearing scarves, covering up, it's so simple. That’s the best way to lie, you know, keep it simple.”
“I gotta see these scarves,” he said.
“Besides, I don’t want to go out and buy clothes I couldn’t wear next year.”
Gotta love her thriftiness, he thought.“But I didn’t know the kids had decided to let us adopt him.”
“They haven’t. Pay attention, Tad. Do you see how little he is? Do you see all that equipment attached to him? Even if the kids get married, how are they going to take care of this little guy? He’s going to need special care all his life. Right now he’s covered under our insurance, but if they get married…”
“If they get married, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s got my blood in him, and that of my ancestors. He will always be taken care of through the native health care plan. And Cristol, too. Even though Cristol and Wrangler aren’t working, if they get married, they can all be covered by native plan insurance.”
“True, but still…” Her words drifted off and they stood silently looking at the scrawny handful of humanity that was their first grandchild.
 “God, I wonder what people do who don’t have health insurance,” Tad said.
“You know that makes me mad. Stop saying that, Tad.”
 Tad and Rachael agreed on most things, politically. Healthcare was one of the exceptions.
“I know it makes you mad. But you better work on it because health care is a national policy thing.  ‘I don’t care’ isn't going to cut it. Just on the long shot that that Huckleberry character wins the primaries and likes your evangelical creds you need to be able to explain your reasons for opposing national health care."
"No, Tad, I -"
"Yes, Rachael, you do. What if Senator McElwain gets the nomination and wants a running mate with beauty queen experience? He likes that, you know. Especially blondes. Ever thought of streaking your hair  with- ”
“Tad! You are so retarded. I wasn’t even talking about national health care!"
"What? Yes you were, you said it makes you mad."
" I was mad that you took the name of the Lord in vain. I hate that. It makes me cringe when you use God’s name all flippant like that. So cut it out." She glared at him. "And I don’t want to talk about healthcare, either.”
She took another look at the baby in the incubator and turned on her heel. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ve got stuff to do.”