I couldn’t believe my life. After what my uncle said, then my aunt wouldn’t call him on it, I had no choice. I left. I didn’t deserve that. I didn’t want that. I don’t deserve that. I don’t want that. Not at all. Never will.
I didn’t mind housework and things, but when he said I was legal now and needed to do more around the house, more around the bedroom, more around them, I just fell into myself. He said think about it. He said I was cute and cuddly, and he wanted some cuddles. Aunt Sue laughed. She smiled and nodded. Licked her lips. Oh, God, how gross. He said I’d love making love with them. I told them I’d think about it, then went to my room. I packed and left out the window. That would give me a couple of hours, anyway.
Walking on the street was fine, until I got to the edge of town, then I started thinking about some options. As if I had any. A guy pulled over and rolled his window down. My luck was probably about...
“Stanley. Stanley Williams. Please tell me you’re not hitchhiking to the city at eight o’clock at night on a Thursday night!”
“No, sir. Just out for a walk.”
“With a suitcase? Puhlease. Gimme a break. Do you have somewhere specific to go or can someone offer a little help?” I looked at him with a pretty nasty look. “Not that kind. Jeez, I don’t even know you. Here, hold my driver’s license.” He pulled it out of his wallet and handed it to me while he dialed his phone.
“Doris, I found a hitchhiker out on the south end of Washington. If I brought her to you, would you talk to her? I don’t think she has much going her way right now. She looks a bit lost.” I could hear him talking to someone and I could hear a voice on the other end, so I didn’t think he was just trying to trick me into something. I hoped not, anyway.
“Out of the pan, into the fire.” That’s something Mom said once or twice when I was little. “Nothing like making matters worse for yourself,” I muttered what she’d say.
He moved toward me across the console of his truck. “I heard that. I’m trying to find you a place to jump, without the flames. Doris told me to show you this, and hand you the phone.” He handed me a card that looked like a license which said ‘Concealed Carry Permit’ on it. I took the phone.
“Hi. My name is Doris. I’m a friend of Stanley’s. Do you need help? Will you tell me your name?”
“Tabitha. Tabitha Stern. I don’t know if I need help or not. I just don’t know.”
“Well, Miss Tabitha, I do. If you have nowhere to go, nowhere to stay, and no one to talk to, you need help. That card is a permit that allows Stanley to carry a pistol on him. You only get those if you are a fairly upstanding person, generally. Another way to look at it is this. If he was going to do you harm, you’d be looking down the barrel and crying as he was doing something naughty to you. Are you from here in town?”
“Yes and no. I moved here from Pennsylvania a couple of years ago after my mom and dad were killed in a train wreck. My aunt and uncle took me in, but I can’t stay there anymore.”
“Look, Tabitha. I know it takes a leap of faith for this but get in the back seat of that truck and don’t worry about anything. Stanley is going to bring you here, to my house, and we’ll talk. There is too much to lose if you stay out on the streets, hitchhiking or otherwise. I can only promise you you’ll be safe, and I do promise.”
“Why should I...” I started asking why I should believe them, but she stopped me.
“Tabitha, that is a major truck route and a highway down to the city. You have no idea who could have been in the next vehicle that stopped. You’re lucky. I guarantee that. I also promise we’ll do what we can to help you. How old are you, hon?” Doris asked me.
“Come see me, Tabitha. Let him get you out of there before you get picked up by someone you’d rather not meet. Including the police. It’s not exactly legal to hitchhike as a minor, which you still are, and if you made it to the interstate, it’s not legal at all. It’s never a good idea, though, even for grownups.”
I told her I would, but I was scared as I could be. Then I realized, she was right. Looking back, I saw the options I was facing. Being Uncle Gary’s second wife, risking being picked up by a kidnapper or rapist, or getting into this truck. I climbed into the seat next to the man. No reason to get in the back. If I was going to die, why not die in the front of the vehicle. We moved forward, as the man drove away, turning around and back into town. At least I could see what was going on. Stupid thoughts.
Stupid! Why did they leave me behind? It was just a damned Chemistry test. I could have skipped it and still passed. But, noooo, they had to leave me with Candy and her mom, so I wouldn’t miss it. They thought my sophomore year was that important and tagging along with them on a boring trip to Washington for Dad’s work wasn’t. At least if I’d been with them we’d be together. Dead, all three of us, but together. Often, I’d wished I wasn’t an only child, but since then, I’m glad. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Maybe two of us would have been better off with Dad’s brother Gary, but who knows. I was processing the past and a whole bunch of other thoughts a mile a minute. The truck slowed down, then stopped. Whoa, that was quick. We had pulled up to a small house in an old neighborhood. Nice, older places. Bigger yards than I’m used to. The guy jumped out and came around the truck.
That was when I saw ‘Doris’. She looked really old school. Teased hair with a ribbon tying it up. Tight little top with a small sweater over it. Capri pants and high heels. Doris Day was the first thing that I thought of. That was Mom’s favorite actress and we watched all her movies. Way more than once. She was really pretty, though, and nice as could be. She clip-clopped down the sidewalk to help me. “Stanley, I’ll get her. I’ll get her.” He backed up and off to the side. She came to the door, opened it, and held her hands out for mine. “Tabitha, welcome. Are you OK?” I nodded. “Come on inside, and we’ll have a snack or a drink or something. Come on, sweetheart, down you go.” She helped me down, wrapped her arms around me in a hug, then walked me inside.
In the kitchen, she took my bag and set it by the wall then had me sit at a dining table that looked to be really old, but it was in perfect condition. I looked around at what most people would call nostalgia, but the appliances were new. I was expecting a rounded white refrigerator like on the old TV shows. But they were stainless steel, all new. I could tell the difference. Newer than Gary and Sue’s, I’m sure. Everything else looked like I Love Lucy meets Leave it to Beaver! Mom loved TVLand, too.
“Introductions first. Tabitha, I’m Doris Hanson. I live here, alone, for now, and am a beautician by trade. Stanley Williams, he’s the guy sitting in the room with us,” she giggled. “He’s a friend. We’ve been friends since we were about two. Our moms, rest their wonderful souls, were friends and we’ve been together since they were young mothers and we were toddlers. In any case, fear not Sir Stanley.”
I looked at him, then at Doris. I could see him as Gene Nelson as much as her being Doris Day. What a pair.
“We’ll talk later about all that, but please, Tabitha, what were you running from?” My head went down. She continued, “No judgment, not even a bit. Just tell us the truth and we’ll work from there. We’re here to help.”
“I’ve lived with them for almost two years. Them. Dad’s brother Gary and his second or third wife Susan. They have no kids of their own, both losing theirs to ex-spouses one way or another. I have two cousins, both girls younger than me, who live with their mother, and Sue has a child about twelve that lives with her father and his new wife. They didn’t want kids, but when this came up, they jumped at the chance. Now I know why, of course. Lots of money involved, but ... I was just fifteen for a couple months when Mom and Dad died. I guess they saw me coming and welcomed the money. Now, just this afternoon, Uncle Gary said that since I was legal and all, I could do more around the house than just housework. He had a grin on his face, talked about me being ‘cute and cuddly’, and I knew right then I needed to be elsewhere. I don’t get access to the estate my parents left me until I’m 21 or something, so I’m kind of lost. I’m not going to do that, though.” I laid it out there.
Stanley asked me, “Do you know who the executors or administrators are that are handling your estate?” I shook my head. “Do you want help? Would you like help if you can feel safe and secure about receiving it?” I didn’t even have a chance to respond.
“Uht Oh!! Here comes the white knight on his trusty steed! I’m going to say something for him, just in case you’re worried about it. Stanley has his own money. He’s not after yours. If he was a woman, he’d be wearing my engagement and wedding ring. But some things are just too far. Anyway, if you want help, if you can stand to be assisted, if you need safety and a place to rest while you fight your battle, I think we can help. You’ll be a senior when school starts back up?” I nodded. “OK. We aren’t very far from the high school. You have choices to make. Stay here and try to prosper or call the state and have them place you with Social Services, Children’s Division, and flip a coin. I recommend you ask around before you do that. Stanley did OK in that environment. I didn’t. Just sayin’. You are old enough to legally be on your own. You are ‘legal and all’, in more ways than one. You can decide who you want to be with and they can legally be with you, if you catch my drift. As long as you’re OK with it, naturally. You can decide where you live, who you live with, where you go to school, and all that. You can’t vote or buy cigarettes. That has to wait until you’re eighteen. Booze at twenty-one and rent a car at twenty-five or so. Life is just that way.”
“So, I can legally choose to be elsewhere?” I asked.
“Wait, Dee, not so soon. Her trust, or estate, may have stipulations. Tabitha...”
“Tab or Tabby is fine, Stanley. I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing each other often enough not to be formal. I think I’ll take Doris up on her offer.”
“You can call me Dee, too, honey, if you want. Up to you. I answer to just about anything.”
“Thanks, Dee. And thank you for your offer. Unless something really icky happens, I think I’ll accept. The fact that I’m not being raped, tied up, or at least seduced, tells me something. Something, like I’m better off than I was a couple hours ago. Stanley, you were saying?”
“I guess we can all change our names and stop hiding. It’s Stan, Tabby. Stanley makes me sound like my butler.” He smiled and used a stuck-up voice. “Stanley, serve us a cocktail. Stanley, bring my slippers. Rough day watching my money grow.” We all chuckled a little. Stanley was kind of funny. He seemed nice, and wasn’t an idiot, as far as I could tell. “She calls me Stanley to tease me. Don’t you, Dee? Just to remind me I’m a man and you’ll never be mine.”
“Stop, Stanley. You know I love you,” Doris said, smiling at him.
“Tabby, there may be wording in your legal paperwork that if you leave home, or don’t go to college, or some similar thing, that you get it later, or not at all, or something. If you decide to let Dee, and me if you want, help you, I can try to find out what your uncle already knows.”
“Here. Is this anything important?” I handed him a business card that a lady gave me after Mom and Dad’s funeral. “We were taken to an office after the ceremony and Gary had to sign a bunch of papers. That’s when a lady gave me that and told me to call her if I ever needed anything. We were alone when she said it. Maybe...”
“She was clairvoyant? Experienced? Knew what money does to families?” Stanley was on a roll. Hot under the collar even. Mad? Pissed? “Yeah, maybe. Probably a secretary or legal clerk, paralegal, or just someone who has seen the horrors of death, money, and family being used in the same sentence or paragraph. She’s probably seen the deceased’s brother taking money from the deceased’s children. Go figure. Probably happens about every 3 hours in this country. Been there, pumpkin. Done that.” I could tell from the look on his face and the sorrowful look on Doris’s face. This was not new to them. They had suffered it, and now maybe, just maybe they could help me so that I didn’t have to. That would be great. “I’m sorry. Bad times, but they’re over and done with. In the past. Yes, I think this might be the law firm. I’ll ... We’ll call and talk to her, so we can get some advice. If they are the executors, or the administrators, of the estate or trusts or whatever, they’ll be able to help us. I’ll warn you, though, what you felt and heard from your uncle will need to be shared. They need to know you are uncomfortable around him and why, or ... Well, they need to know everything. If they were your parents’ people, they’ll understand. If they are your uncle’s, I may need to get involved.”
“The lady there was in Pennsylvania, so I’m pretty sure that was Daddy’s lawyers. The lady was nice. Older than you two, but real sweet. That sounded terrible. I’m sorry, but I’m still a bit frightened of this whole thing.”
“Don’t be. Worst case, now you have two benefactors that will see you through high school. The world will take care of the rest. Somehow it always does.” Doris opened her arms to me for a hug.
Stanley didn’t offer one up, but I went to him. I could tell he was holding back. Trying not to frighten me. I didn’t want him to think I was scared of him anymore. I don’t think I should be. “Don’t be afraid of me, Stan. I don’t think I’m afraid of you. Anymore. There for a minute, I was thinking about the ‘out of the pan, into the fire’ thing, but now? I don’t know. Out of the pan, into a creek or something. I don’t know why, but I always think of fish when I think of that and Mom saying it. Funny, huh?”
“Crisis averted. She’s thinking of weird stuff. She’ll be fine.” Doris started laughing and hugged us both before I got released from Stanley’s arms. It was funny. “Come, young Padawan. Let me show you to your quarters.”
The next morning Doris found me in the kitchen, reading through yesterday’s newspaper. It was only about five-thirty, but I couldn’t sleep, and it didn’t feel right just lying there. I rummaged through her kitchen, found coffee filters, coffee, and the pot. I made what I thought was tolerable coffee. She agreed. She told me she had to go to work this morning as she had appointments stacked to the rafters because of a wedding, but that she was going to call Stanley and ask him to come over, so we could start on the calls. She turned on her living room light and turned her TV on. A few seconds later her phone made some weird sound. She picked it up, laughed, and hit a couple taps on it. He knocked on the door a few seconds later. Doris let him in with a hug.
“Morning glories. I waited until the lights came on to make sure I wasn’t waking anyone up. How are you two angels this morning?”
“Almost awake, Stan. What’s with being here so early? Were you waiting out there?” I asked him.
“Yes, to the last one. Fish to fry. Lots to do. It’s later where we’re calling, hon.”
“Oh, that. Yeah. Got it.” I wasn’t really a hundred percent awake yet.
We waited, chatting about all sorts of things, until eight, then called the lady named Phyllis, whose card I handed Stanley last night. Stanley got all the information he said he needed to get started, then let them know what he planned on doing. They were my father’s legal people. The money and the administration of the estate had stayed there, and they were still the executors. Any more information would only be provided in person with Tabitha Stern or her legal guardian, her uncle, present in the room. In Philadelphia. At least we didn’t both have to be there.
He called Doris at work from her home phone. She had one. It was on the wall. Neat. When he found out that she could take Monday and Tuesday off, he made an appointment with the lawyers for just after lunch Monday, at their offices. He looked at me, smiled, and said Monday would be a long day. As he got up, he kissed the top of my head. It was sweet. Not freaky at all. Just nice. He asked if I would be OK or if he needed to get me something. I told him, “I’m fine, Stan. Dee left me some instructions and ideas for lunch. I’m fine.”
“OK, sweetie. You have a good day, and I’ll see you later. Have Miss Dee call me, OK?”
“OK ... Umm, Stan, are you and Dee ... Never mind. I was just wondering.”
“Sweetie, it would be better if you talk to her. I love Dee very much. Very, very much. And, I always have. I’ll leave it at that. Talk to her. See ya later?” I nodded, then he did, and walked out the door. He really is a nice guy. I think I might be pretty lucky. Last night could have turned out a lot worse. A lot.
After he left, again I thought about where I was. I honestly didn’t know. I was doing well in school and I wanted to go to college if I had the money for it. A counselor was helping me with entry applications and scholarships, so there was a good chance I could do what I really wanted. I wanted to be a lawyer. Like Mom. My dad was an accountant. Not for me. I don’t think so. I hate math. Like anyone, I want to handle money, but I want to handle my own. I looked into being a doctor. Uckkk. I feel faint when I change my tampons. I don’t think I could do that. Be a doctor. No. Maybe an optometrist? Nope. I want to be a lawyer like my mother. She was my lighthouse. My beacon. My hero. I want to be like my mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my father, but, numbers ... Ickkk. Anyway, a goal is in sight. I just need to get there. I don’t think my aunt and uncle would push me, help me, pull me, toward that goal. I used to, but part of growing up is seeing things for what they are, not what I want them to be. Sitting and thinking about all that was happening...
“Tabby. Tabby. Wake up, honey. Are you OK, young lady?”
“Yeah, Dee. I’m fine. I was just thinking about life and where I am and where I’m going. I was thinking so hard, my brain failed, and I took a nap.” Just the thought of thinking so hard I fell asleep was funny. I giggled. She smiled at me.
“Where ARE you going, sweetie? What IS your game plan? Waitress? President of the country? Cowgirl? Chef on the Food Channel? What do you want to be when you grow up?” She smiled again. Doris is a very, very pretty lady. Even prettier with that smile.
“A lawyer. Like Mom. Probably not on the side of the criminal. I don’t know. Maybe family stuff. That’s what Mom was doing at her last firm. That’s what I want to do.”
“Noble endeavor. We’ll find out how much help we have on Monday, then you can plan your future a little better. Hungry?” I nodded. I seem to always be hungry.
The weekend flew by. Stanley came over each evening, and the two of them showed me how to play a couple card games. We talked, played, had fun, did chores, dishes, housework, and such. It was like when I was with Mom and Dad.
Monday morning, Stanley was knocking on my bedroom door. “Up and at ‘em, sunshine! Busy day! See you in the kitchen for coffee.”
I stumbled down to see the two of them already dressed and smiling at me. Coffee and a donut were sitting on the table where I normally reside. Oh, well, a light at the end of the tunnel? “How long do I have to get ready?”
“Three minutes,” he said. Yes, sometimes Stanley was funny. This was not one of those time.
I sipped my coffee, gobbled the flaky glazed pastry, and went back upstairs. Doris asked me to dress fairly nicely, which because I didn’t have a wardrobe I couldn’t do, so ... I wound up dressed just like her. In her things. They fit. I felt ... I felt amazing. I was wearing a sun dress and high heels. My sandals, tennis shoes, and oxfords wouldn’t work with anything nice, so she had me try on some of her heels that were a bit tight on her. High heeled sandals made of thin white leather straps. They were great looking and fit fine. I had two pairs of heels I left at home, thinking I wouldn’t be wearing anything nice for a while, but boy was I wrong. I felt like a princess, and after I fixed my shoulder blade length red hair into a ponytail and put a wide stretchy headband on, I was set. Looking in the mirror told me I was OK for public viewing. Looking into Doris’s and Stanley’s eyes told me they thought so, too.
“You are a very beautiful girl, Tabitha. You really are. Let’s get on the road. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.” Stanley smiled when he said it. I felt like a million dollars.
“He’s right, gorgeous. You’re ... Gorgeous. We’ll be proud to be with you and help you, that’s for sure. So pretty. Come on, hon, let’s get a move on. Let me have your underthings. I have clothes for you for tomorrow. We’ll be a little more casual coming home, but Stanley has us a suite in a hotel on the river in Philly to spend the night and we’ll come home tomorrow or Wednesday. Come on, pretty little girl, let’s go to the big city.”
They took me to the airport in a big car, Doris putting me in the front seat next to Stanley. She sat in the back and talked to both of us about the weather, meals, this trip, all kinds of things, probably just trying to keep my mind busy. Instead of going to Kansas City, though, we turned the other way. I must’ve gotten a funny look on my face, maybe scared.
“Tabby,” Doris said, “We’re going to the little airport here. It’s closer. You’re fine. Nothing bad is happening, OK?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Her tone made it seem less ... I just wasn’t scared anymore. I can’t really explain it.
“Tabs, have you flown before?”
“Not by myself, Stan, but in an airplane I have. Lots.” I made them both laugh. Good. “We flew all over on vacations and stuff. Paris is a long trip, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, it is. Smart Aleck!! Not by myself, indeed. Comediennes. I’m surrounded by funny girls!” Stanley was trying hard not to laugh but failed miserably. That went on, talking about places we’d been.
Some of the ones Stan mentioned, I don’t think I’d be able to find on a globe. Most ended like his name, with ‘stan’. Mine were mostly popular American vacation spots. Orlando and Los Angeles for Disneyland, of course, and Hawaii. We went to Mexico a couple times, southern Florida, the Keys. Normal everyday places where people take their kids vacationing. Doris didn’t mention many. As a matter of fact, she was pretty quiet. My curiosity about those two was killing me. I hadn’t gotten around to discussing him with her, but I wanted to.
We pulled up to a big building at the airport with big doors that covered the whole front. Stan pushed a button on a remote control box on his visor, and they were pulling back, opening, revealing a big airplane inside what was a hangar. Weird looking. Little tiny wings in the front, two propellers on the back of big pods on the big wings. It was pointed yet rounded. It looked like a long football with wings. Different.
“These people are taking us to the lawyer’s office, Stanley?”
“In a manner of speaking, Tabs. I’m taking us. It’s fine. No problems. A little over a couple of hours and we’ll be there. Probably faster than getting on a plane in KC.”
It took a bit, but we put some stuff on the plane, Doris and I went in and sat down, then a bit later it started moving. We were being towed, I think. No noise, hardly at all. Stanley came in several minutes later, went up front and things started happening. He must be starting the motors, because no one else came in.
“Relax, hon. You’re fine. We’re going to see Phyllis. You remember her very well?” Doris asked.
I shook my head. “Nice, like I said. I still think she was like trying to help in advance or something. Like Stan said that first night. She knew what was going to happen. Money is bad, isn’t it?”
“No, sweetheart. Money isn’t bad. It’s a tool. You’ll hear this from Stan, but it’s people that are bad. If you collect rocks, and someone wants your rocks and steals them from you, hitting you with one of them, the rocks aren’t bad. The person was bad. The one that took your rocks and hit you. Money is a thing. It’s not bad. People. They are bad. Most of them. Not all. Most. Most people are bad. That’s my take. I’ll tell you this now, Tabby. Stanley is not one of the bad people. He has been through hell, and has done things he wishes he didn’t or hadn’t happened, but he’s not a bad person. Don’t worry about that description, please. Just know that Stanley Williams is a nice guy and will never hurt either of us, intentionally.”
Over the loudspeakers in the plane, I heard Stanley call me up front. I went up and saw him smiling at me, wearing big earmuffs on his ears. “Would you like to sit with me up here in first class, or stay back there in coach with Doris? Totally up to you, but you can come up if you want. We’re leaving in a minute, so if you want to sit here or come up later when we’re in the air you can. No problem.”
Wow, how fun, but I needed to talk to Doris. “Stan, I’d love to, but can I sit with Doris and talk a bit, then come up with you? I really would like that.”
“Of course, hon. Whatever you want. Seriously, that was my reasoning. I want you to be comfortable and have some fun. That’s all.” His smile killed me. It was so cute.
I did something I never, ever thought I would be capable of doing. I leaned over toward him, “Thank you. I mean that.” And, I kissed him. Very lightly, very softly, very briefly, but I kissed him. Then I ran like all get out back to Doris, hands covering my face, sat down, buckled up and put my hands back up to my face, and sighed. My skin was burning.
“What did you do, Tabby? You are beet red!”
“Stan asked if I wanted to sit with him up front. I do, later. I told him thank you ... And I kissed him.” The airplane started moving. We were moving. Leaving. Flying away. I wish I could. I was sooo embarrassed.
Doris giggled. “Trust me, girl, it affected him more than it did you. Stan is ... For the most part, Stan is celibate. I need to tell you a story. Got a few minutes?” She giggled, and that just made it worse. I blushed again when I giggled, too. “This story is stranger than fiction. It’s all true and it really is our life story. Our parents were very good friends when we were babies. We were sleeping together at the ripe old age of two. Sometimes even overnight when our parents were out. One night they were out dancing, and after their night out they were on the way home when a truck ran a red light and killed all four of them. We were ten. We were separated for quite a while, but with the help of social services were able to write and such. The home I was sent to was not a good environment for a little girl. What your uncle suggested, actually happened to me. Stanley actually hunted the man down and ruined him, but that’s later in the story.
“You see, Stanley has loved me since he saw me. His words. He says he doesn’t remember a time when I was not the most important thing in his heart. That would be fine, but when I was put into that bad situation, I developed a phobia, if you will, a fear, of men. I feel fortunate that he can hug me. He’s the only man that can get that close to me, and as a general rule, I don’t speak to or deal with men if at all possible. I’ll move lines, go somewhere else. Very immature, but I don’t control it. Therapy seems to reinforce it as a mechanism instead of making it less controlling.
“Tabby, I love Stanley with all my heart, but my mind won’t let me near him. I want to love him, but I can only do so much. He goes without love or companionship, waiting for me to accept him into my life, but ... Well, I don’t seem to be able to do that. That kiss was probably something he wasn’t ready for.”
“Dee, I’m so sorry. I’ll be more careful. I don’t mean to hurt him.”
“Quite the opposite, honey. You didn’t hurt him. You just showed him that someone cares. That’s fine. He has a big heart. He’s OK. In any case, and just like anything precious, be careful with him.”
“You said bad situation? Were you...”
“Don’t think about it. Let it go. I’m fine now. I’m alive and relatively happy. But, I’m alive and that’s what’s important. Where there is life, there is hope. OK!! Enough of that. Go sit with your shining white knight and make his day.” She reached out to hug me, smiling. “I think he likes you. I think he’ll feel better if he helps you. I hope so. He’s a good man, Tabby. A really good man. Go.”
I went up front, touching Stanley on the shoulder to let him know I was there. He flinched. He’s obviously not used to people touching him, and he wasn’t expecting me. He might want to work on his peripheral vision, too. Biology, junior year. Some animals can see their own tail. Weird. Why in the heck did that pop into my mind? Yikes. Yes, weird.
“Thanks for joining me, Tabs. Carefully, sit here and pop your heels off, then climb over and on that seat then just assume the co-pilot position.” I did all that, tucking my dress under my bottom, then looked around at the screens and gauges and knobs and dials and ... Wow. Lots of stuff. “Piece of cake after you’ve done it for a while and know what all the words and numbers mean. I did it for a living for a while, so it’s second nature. You and Dee getting along?”
“Yes, Stan. She’s a neat person. Really nice. I like her a lot. We’ve been talking.”
“I figured you would. I have no problems with that. I have no secrets from Dee, and I’m not hiding anything from you. I spoke with your uncle, Tabs. He’s one very unhappy camper. He went so far as to threaten you, and me, and tell me that if he couldn’t have you, no one would. Just to let you know, hon, I was wearing a body camera and told him if I see him within rifle range of you, I’d kill him. I’m sorry it came to that, but he threatened you. I’m handing the recording over to your executor. What I need from you, is to tell me if you see him. If you see him looking at you, especially. If you think he’s following you, I need to know, immediately.”
“Stan, I don’t have...”
“I know, hon. I’ll fix that when we get back from Philadelphia. Until then, you will be within my sight at all times. You’re out of school, right?” I nodded. “Good. We have lots to do.”
He told me about some of the things on the plane. Very interesting. Then he had me fly the plane. Fun, and more interesting. Never let a child fly an airplane, unless you can afford flying lessons. What a dream. It felt like driving a marshmallow. Soft, fast. A really fast marshmallow. He saw the smile, I’m sure.
“Thanks, Stan. That was fun. Should I go back with Dee now?”
She was right behind me. “No, sweetie, stay up here with him. He’ll be landing soon and it’s fun to watch. I’m going to go sit down and read. I’ll be fine.” She patted me on my shoulder. When our eyes met, she smiled. She mouthed, “Be sweet.” We shared a smile, then she walked back.”
“OK, Tabs, we’re going to be landing in about thirty minutes, but there’s a lot to do.”
“Stan, Why is it, with you, there is always a lot to do? You’re a busy guy. What do you do anyway?”
“I already told you what I do. Referring to you like a certain good and pretty lady does, young Padawan, listen to all around you. You will learn the wonders of the world.” He started pulling up checklists and reading them off, for my benefit, I’m sure. I noticed his voice was calming. He handed me a copy of them so I could follow along. We were on the ground, driving along the runway on a smaller strip. “Hon, I’m actually retired. I really do watch my money grow and tell my butler to make me a drink and get my slippers. He doesn’t, but I joke about it. More later on that but I don’t have to work.” We parked and he helped me up from the seat and held me while I put my heels back on.
Doris walked up, looking at me with a smile. Once again, I turned beet red. I could feel my face burning. “We’ll talk,” she said. There was a car waiting for us. We were taken downtown to a huge office building where we caught an elevator up to the thirtieth floor. Finding the offices, it started coming back. I remembered the hallway we were in. Funny, I didn’t remember the elevator or the lobby downstairs at all.
“Tabitha Stern to see Franklin Reynolds,” Stanley told the receptionist. She picked up the phone and whispered into it then asked us to take a seat.
Doors to another area of the office suite opened and an elegant middle aged woman with a gray suit and matching hair in a bun came straight to me. “Tabitha. Thank God you remembered the card.” She pulled me up and hugged me. “Are you OK, young lady?” I nodded. “Come with me, missy. Sir, Madam, please keep your seats for a bit. We need to confirm her identity and status, then we’ll be back for you. Come.” She took my hand and pulled me back through the doors she came from. “Tabitha, are you really OK?”
“Yes, Miss Phyllis. I was running from my uncle when he found me. He took me to her, and they’ve been helping me since. He’s evidently rich, so I don’t think my college fund interests him, and she works for a living, but I don’t think he’d ever let her miss a meal. He is madly in love with her, but she’s not able to return it. Sad story. She was in my shoes when she was younger and someone like my uncle got to her. I don’t know how badly yet, but I’m learning more each day. Yes, Miss Phyllis, I’m pretty sure I’m OK.”
“OK. Our investigator did some checking. They’re for real. He’s an entrepreneur, former military, wounded gravely and retired medically. She’s an abuse survivor, but owns a business and seems to be a good person. He has a lot of background, honey, but there is nothing bad in either of their backgrounds. Not a shred. Should I bring them in?”
I saw no reason to go from sixteen to adulthood in five days, so I nodded. “Please. They may very well have saved my life, Miss Phyllis. They may have really saved my life.”
Phyllis went to the door and waved Stanley and Doris in, asking them to take a seat. “I’m going to get Mr. Reynolds for you now. He will be right with you. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?”
“Miss Phyllis, can you bring us each some water, please. OK with you two?” They nodded and sat quietly.
After she walked out I told them, “She just wanted to know I felt safe and you two weren’t a threat. No biggie. I told her a little bit, but they already knew. They ran an investigation after we called. They feel OK about this now, too. I’m sorry for mentioning any personal information, but I felt they needed to know that I knew so they would be OK with you all helping me. I hope that made sense.”
“It did. Does. A very adult way to look at the problem, and personally, I don’t care. What did you tell them, Tabs?”
“That you two are in a fractured relationship and Doris is an abuse survivor herself. Not much more than that, other than the fact that you may have very well saved my life.”
“Fractured? Tabby, why...”
“I’m sorry, Doris, but he loves you. You love him. I understand all that. It’s just a ... What’s that line, ‘A bridge too far?’ From an outsider’s view, if your world hadn’t been so crappy when you were younger, the two of you would probably be together. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, you really are together. You are a wonderful team, and I’m glad I ran away so I could meet you. Both of you.” They both were a bit startled at my words but didn’t get a chance to say anything.
A man entered the room and introduced himself to us. He was Franklin Reynolds, my dad’s lawyer, and executor of my estate. Once he had shaken hands with Doris, then Stanley, he took me in his arms for a hug. “I see you are a little more lucid, Tabitha. The last time I saw you, you were in pretty bad shape. Tell me again why you’re here. Your own words, please.”
“Yes, sir. Honestly, leading up to my sneaking out and running away, I felt like a source of money for my uncle and his wife. I know what it feels like to be a loved teenage child. That wasn’t it. The day after I turned seventeen, Gary made it very clear that he wanted me to be sexually intimate with him. That is what my words are now that I’ve discussed it with Doris and Stanley. If I had talked to you that evening, I would have told you he wanted to screw me. Same thing, better words. One of the last people in the world I would ever have that relationship with would be him. Susan, Sue, seemed to agree with his asking me to do that, and even made a gesture that made it more sickening.”
“What was that, Tabitha?”
“She smiled at me, raised an eyebrow and licked her lips. Yeuuck. Sorry. Gross thought.”
“OK. That’s enough. You’re seventeen now, and if you choose to stay in town there and finish school, you’re old enough to live where you like, but remember, you haven’t reached the age of majority, eighteen, and may still need some help navigating life. I understand you’d like to take these fine people up on their offer of assistance?”
I looked at each of them smiling at me. Subtle nods showed me they wanted me to say yes. “Yes, sir. They have been very nice and have asked me for nothing. My larger concern, and it may be my immaturity showing through, but can you cut Gary and Susan off from my money? Now?”