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.”


Anonymous said...

One correction, it's Tourettes, not Turrets syndrome.

Allison said...

Thanks, Anon. I must have been really tired to mess that one up. I have a close family member with Tourettes.

Duncan said...

Thanks Allison,

Another fulfilling Friday...

Anonymous said...

I love the way you have taken her fabrications and made absolute sense out of them. She is so pathetic.

Anonymous said...