A Different VoiceChapter 10
At least, that's what it looked like. He'd been waking up in the night almost every night since Roxanne was killed, and sometimes he'd get up and go downstairs; but he'd never tell me what the dreams were about. After Charles went away, it was worse.
This one was bad. He was thrashing a little, and making noises. I scooted away to the edge of the bed, and said, "Bud, wake up." Said it again, then tried touching him lightly on the shoulder.
He'd walloped me once, in his sleep, after he came back from the mountains, because I got in the way of whatever he was dreaming about. He didn't mean to, and he'd have felt terrible if I'd told him that's how I got that black eye; but I was more cautious since then.
I had to tell him to wake up 4 times, and shove him a few times, before he got quiet. I could almost hear him blinking in the darkness. Then he sat up, and started shaking, like he does after a bad one.
"Bud, honey, you awake?"
He reached for me with one arm, and hauled me up next to him. Wrapped both arms around me and squeezed me so tight, I worried a little about my ribs. He buried his face in my neck, and shuddered.
"Hey, it's OK. You're in your own bed. I'm here."
It took a couple minutes for his breathing to settle down. His arms loosened a little, then one of his hands was in my hair, the other rubbed up and down my back. Like it was me that had the nightmare.
"Jesus," he breathed. "Jesus."
"Can you tell me what it was about?" I asked him this every time; I'd never gotten an answer yet.
He shook his head.I made him look at me in the dim moonlight coming in the window. "Can't you give me another gift?"
Then I just waited. Finally he said, "I was drowning," in a shaky voice. "I was drowning in it."
He shook his head again. "Blood. I was drowning in blood."
Tears came into my eyes. I tried to blink them back; he hates it when I cry over him. All I could do was say his name and hold him tight.
"I heard you. I couldn't see anything, I didn't know where to go, and I was drowning in it, and I heard you telling me to wake up. In my dream. It was like….then I knew where to go…….I just tried to find you….." He cleared his throat, and tried to chuckle. "Thanks for saving me."
He scooted back against the headboard, and adjusted his pillows behind his back. "C'mere, baby."
He was naked; I took off my nightgown before I snuggled against him again. He likes to touch, and he likes to kiss, and maybe that would help him get his mind off his dream. I didn't think he'd want to do more than cuddle, but even though I know him, I can't say he never surprises me.
His lovemaking used to surprise me; you don't expect a hard-nosed cop to know what a woman wants. Until I found out who taught him what he knows. From what he said, it sounded like a pair of disgruntled hookers got hold of him when he was a boy, taught him what they wanted him to know, taught him how to pleasure them. There's a few things I'm pretty sure he learned on his own after that, but mostly……he was a good student.
He likes to touch and he likes to kiss……I was almost asleep again when he pulled me up between his legs, my back to him, and didn't let me turn around. "How 'bout another gift?" he said in my ear. "To make up for me being such a pain in the ass."
He told me to just relax, let him do this for me. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but I tried. Not doing anything--that's what he wanted--was hard for me at first. It took a while before I could really relax, and lay my head back on his shoulder. No gauging his response, no planning what to do next-it was strange. I closed my eyes. I drifted, letting him do whatever he wanted, just experiencing it……
He caressed me; smoothed, stroked and rubbed, sometimes firm, sometimes feather soft. Nuzzled my neck, and tasted my ear. Again and again and again. Pretty soon I didn't want him to stop…….it felt better than I expected…….He whispered to me, but I can't tell you now what he said, exactly. Love words, I think; love, not sex.
It was the strangest thing I'd ever felt. I stopped thinking, stopped worrying. I was floating, my body and what he was doing became all there was. I lost track of time; I have no idea how long we sat like that. It was almost like I was in a trance. I think.
And I was full of love for my man; I thought it must be overflowing, surely he could feel it coming from me. But I didn't move; I didn't open my eyes. I didn't do anything about it, I just…..felt it.
When he turned my face toward him, slid his tongue inside my mouth and his fingers deep between my legs at the same time……..
……..It didn't make any sense. As far as sex goes, there isn't anything new under the sun. And I think in my lifetime I've done almost everything there is to do with someone of the opposite sex. So he didn't do anything somebody else hadn't done before. Why I reacted the way I did is something I just don't understand. But I'd never felt anything like it before.
When I came down, I was trembling, there were tears on my face, I was totally wrung out. My heart was pumping so hard, I'm surprised I didn't have a stroke.
He was holding me, smoothing the hair back from my face. I turned my head to look at him.
A half smile on his lips, he said, "There."
I didn't know what that meant, and I couldn't ask him just then, 'cause I couldn't move. And I couldn't ask him later, either. He's made love to me slow before, but this time, when he began to move inside me, it was almost too much. Like nothing I'd ever felt before. I was crying again before he was done.
I fell asleep in his arms, before I could ask him anything. When I woke up, he and Becky were already up. I went down to the kitchen. Becky was just finishing her breakfast.
"Patty said she's gonna need a buncha days off here pretty soon," Bud said. "But she'll watch the store today. So you can go back to bed if you want."
I did that. When Becky went down for her nap, he peeked in to see how I was, I guess. I was awake, but I felt so….languid. Didn't want to get up.
"Hey, you," I said. "Come in here." I told him, while he was sitting on the side of the bed with me, that I'd never had that happen just that way before.
He smiled. "I know." And that's all he would say. He slapped me on the rear, and said if I got dressed, he'd take me and Becky to supper. So I did, and he did, and we had a good time until somebody asked how things were going with Charles.
Charles was living with a foster family, and Mr. Nimitz got us some information on them. They looked OK on paper. But so did we. He tried to get permission for us to visit Charles, but we were turned down.
"The County workers seem to think you might try to kidnap him if they let you visit. The good news is, the hearing on your petition for guardianship is set for three weeks from tomorrow."
"Three weeks? That's good news?" Bud was allowed in Mr. Nimitz's office again, on the condition that he behave himself. He was doing OK so far. "He's been gone two weeks already. Isn't there any way to speed things up?"
"This is speedy, Mr. White. The wheels of justice grind slowly, you know."
"This ain't got nothing to do with justice. This is just busybodies, meddling in other people's lives."
Mr. Nimitz sighed. "Three weeks. We'll need to get some information together to present to the judge. He'll want to know something about your backgrounds, and your present situation. I'll get a list to you of what I think we'll need."
Out in the car, I said, "I'm going to foul this up for you, aren't I? I don't have a background we can tell the judge about."
"Hey, don't worry. Wait and see what kinda stuff he wants to know. Maybe he'll just want to know about mine. Mine looks good on paper."
But we weren't that lucky. It appeared that records of what we'd been doing for the last ten years or so were part of what was necessary. And I didn't know what to do. Should I lie, and take the chance the judge would find out? Should I just say there weren't any records?
Telling the truth wasn't an option.
Reverend Skinner had supper with us the next Friday, and the conversation came around to Charles. We didn't have to tell him our dilemma; he knew how the system worked, and he knew my problem.
"Have you talked it over with Justin?" he asked me.
"You mean Mr. Nimitz? How can I? I don't dare say anything to anybody."
Becky started banging on the tray of her highchair. Since the day she decorated herself with bananas, she wanted her food in front of her, to eat or play with as she chose. I let Bud feed her. He had more patience that I did with her tantrums.
"He's your lawyer, isn't he? He can't tell anyone. If you tell him something in confidence, and he lets anyone else find out, he can be disbarred."
I guess I got used to being on the outside when I lived in LA. You forget about things like that.
Bud said, "I think lawyers are slime, but I guess Nimitz isn't bad. For a lawyer. So, I guess it's up to you. You know him better than I do. If you think he'll be OK, then go ahead and ask him."
What I did, in the end, was ask Mr. Nimitz if the judge would check the information we gave, or whether he would just accept it as the truth.
He suddenly looked very alert. "Ah…….what item of information are we talking about?"
"What I did for a living in LA before I came back here."
He thought for a minute. "I am required to tell you that you must be truthful in the information on any documents you submit to the court. That said……I think, unless there is a reason for the court to do otherwise, it will only check those items that are easily verified. If you worked for a private party whose records would be difficult to access, it's unlikely that the court would do so in a routine custody case. That doesn't mean definitely---but the odds are in your favor."
My job title when I worked for Pierce Patchett became Personal Assistant. It would be pretty hard for the court to check anything with Pierce, since he was dead, and his records were all locked in a Police evidence room somewhere. As long as the court didn't dig very deep, it would be fine.
Bud was right, his work history looked pretty good on paper. In the service, in the police force, gravely wounded in the line of duty, and now he was a deputy in the Bisbee City Police Force.So we did everything we were supposed to. And then we waited.
The judge looked like a bulldog having a bad day.
The hearing was in his chambers, not in the big courtroom. It was less formal, but we were both so nervous, I don't think anything could have made us feel better. Charles came in with his foster mother after the judge sat down. He was at one end of the long desk, we were at the other.
"Charles?" Bud was supposed to keep quiet, Mr. Nimitz warned him, but he just couldn't. "They treating you OK, pardner?"
Oh, dear. My heart sank. Charles looked…..frozen. I don't know how else to describe it. His legs moved him along, he sat when he was told to sit, but there was nothing on his face to see, it was like there was nothing going on inside. He glanced at Bud, then looked away without saying anything.
He was scrubbed, his clothes were new, his hair was slicked to the side, and greased down. If he moved even a little, the woman he was with put a restraining hand on his arm.
He looked terrible.
The judge went through all the papers, asked us a hundred questions. He asked Charles if he had anything he'd like to say. Charles shook his head. The judge asked him if he wanted to live with us. Charles shrugged. The judge asked him if there was somebody else he'd like to live with. Charles looked up at the woman sitting next to him……and looked back down at the floor without saying anything. The judge was quiet, then, looking at the files. We waited.
Finally he said, "You've given me plenty of background information. The only thing I don't see here is why you think you should have custody of this child. I don't see any legal connection at all between you. A total stranger would have as much claim as you have."
"He's my son," Bud said.
"That might be, but I don't see any proof of it. Without proof, it's just your opinion. I can't assign guardianship willy-nilly, wherever I feel like it."
Bud stood up and leaned over the desk. "Yes, you can. It's not right for you to keep my son away from me."
"Sit down, Mr. White. I haven't made my decision yet, but I can tell you that unless you can think of some compelling reason other than your desire to have a son, I may not find in your favor. He lived with you, what, 3 weeks? 4? I find it difficult to believe you've developed such a strong affection in that amount of time. The boy certainly doesn't seem to have done so.
"I'll let Mr. Nimitz know my decision within a week's time." And he stood up to leave.
"Wait," Bud said. "I don't want just any son. Yeah, part of it is because he's mine. I'm his father. But….." Then he didn't seem to know what else to say. The judge waited a few seconds, then he shook his head and moved toward the door. "I want him---that should count for something! Charles-I want you. We want you."
Charles said, in a soft voice, "You didn't come to see me." The woman shushed him.
The judge, standing in the doorway, said, "Mrs. Anderson, let the boy talk."
"We wanted to," I said. "They wouldn't let us come to visit you."
Charles lifted his head and looked at me.
"We missed you so much."
Charles stood up on his chair, clambered on the desk, to the dismay of Mrs. Anderson, and walked over to me. He climbed off the desk onto my lap and circled my neck with his little arms. I hugged him hard. In a minute, he was crying quietly against my neck.
"She said you were a bad mama," Charles sniffled. "She said I had to learn to be good. I thought I awready was good."
"You are good. You're the best boy I know."
"Where's Becky?""She's just outside with Arbutus. With Granny. They wouldn't let them come in with us."
"Why don't everybody just let us do what we want?"
"I don't know, honey."
Bud rubbed Charles' back. Charles sat up, turned in my arms and grabbed Bud's hand. Held on to it. Sent Mrs. Anderson a dark look.
"She took away my stick horse," he muttered.
If Bud were a wolf, his hackles would have been in the air. "She took away your stick horse?" Charles nodded. Bud stared at the woman. "I s'pose that's what she's got up her---"
He glanced at me, didn't say it, thank goodness.
"I think," he said to Charles, "when you come home, we'll get your stick horse back. One way or another."
I almost felt sorry for Mrs. Anderson. Two identical stares directed at her. One would have intimidated me. She looked uneasy.
The judge walked back over to his chair and sat down. That's when Charles said, "Judge? Can you let Bud be my daddy? He likes me."
"Is that what you want?"
Charles nodded. "And Lynn's pretty good at mama stuff---she makes breakfast, and she teached me how to hammer. It wasn't her fault when I hit my thumb."
The judge sighed. "I suppose we could talk about it a little more."
Three days later, Charles came home.
Herbert was happy to let Bud look over what they had on Donny and Roxanne's murders.
"Which is nothing," he told me. "It's incredible. They didn't collect any physical evidence at all. Nothing. The only way they're gonna find out who did it is if somebody confesses."
"Are they giving up?"
"Pretty much. I talked to Herbert about trying to find out who Roxanne was involved with. I got the feeling his attitude is, it'd be a lot of trouble, a lot of work, and who really cares? So if I decide to try and find 'em, I'll be pretty much on my own."
"You're not going to do that now, are you?" Just hearing him talk about finding the killers on his own freezes my heart.
"No," he said. He pulled me into his arms and kissed me on the forehead. "Not now. Don't worry."
We waited a few weeks before sending Charles to school, till he started to jump, and shriek, and laugh again.
We didn't know for certain how old he was. He couldn't tell us what day his birthday was. We couldn't find a birth certificate in California, or any of the states between here and there. We had to conclude his real name, the name on the birth certificate, wasn't Rhodes. Or maybe it wasn't Charles. Or maybe he'd been born in Maine, or Florida, or who-knows-where.
I began to resent Roxanne all over again.
Anyway, we chose a birthday for him, just because we wanted to. December 7th he was 7 years old. We had a party for him. He got lots of presents, lots of hugs and kisses. Bud was very quiet, he mainly watched.
After Charles vomited all over the floor---I think partly from excitement and partly because he ate half the cake himself---he fell asleep on Bud's lap again, and this time I didn't take any pictures, I let them sleep.
……….so precious, this life………
Full of people for me to love, and improbable as it seems, people who loved me in return.
………and so fragile………
I lost another baby just after the beginning of the year. I was in the hospital longer this time. Charles cried when he came to see me. "Are you gonna die?" he asked. Poor boy. He knew at 7 how easy it is to lose the things that matter to you.
Becky actually seemed happy to see me when I got home. I got a slobbery kiss. Charles gagged. He had to look the other way till I got my face wiped off.
Dr. Graham told us to stop. No more pregnancies. Bud talked to him privately, and looked worried afterward. I didn't ask any questions. There was nothing else I needed to know.
I had my miracles. A home. A husband. A daughter, a son.
That incredible thing, an ordinary life.
I wish sometimes I could gather my life---everyone and everything I care about---inside the circle of my arms and hold it tight; safe, secure, unchanging, forever.
Nothing in this world is sure, nothing's certain. You can't take any of it for granted, it could all be gone in an instant………
"So….how did you know the way to Arbutus's bedroom?"
"Her bedroom. How did you know where it was?"
"Uhhh……we made mad passionate love there every day for a week? No, wait, that was in the kitchen."
"Isn't that what you're asking me?"
"Noooo. I'm not worried about you two sleeping together. That was Arlene."
"You gotta have a reason for asking."
"Maybe I'm just curious."
"Uh-huh. And I'm Pinocchio."
"Pinocchio is one of my favorite stories…….what is it of his that grows so long?"
Snicker. "Well, if you're curious, and I'm Pinocchio……why don't you come over here and find out?"
"You're not going to answer my question, are you?"