Sweet Thyme Baby – 43

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

43

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 42 first)

 

Sharon sat at the top of the stairs and thought about the night before. First the miracle of Hamish’s return and then, an hour or so later, Sam and Lance had emerged from the garden, tired and downcast until they heard her news and rushed up the stairs to see the boy asleep in the middle of his mommy and daddy’s bed. Ignoring Sharon’s pleas that he be permitted – just that one time – to sleep between them, Lance carried Hamish to his own room and shut the door.

 

What happened next was a nightmare she only half remembered, half believed. Lance had insisted they make love. When she told him that the horrible day had worn her down to a paring, he covered her mouth with his hand to silence her. She had never known him to be so insistent, to care not at all for her feelings. He pulled her close and between them his penis felt like a truncheon. She had submitted from fear of what he might do if she resisted, bit down on her knuckles to keep from crying out when he hurt her.

 

This morning, Lance had left early and unable to talk, let alone pretend that she was anything but sore and confused, Sharon had sent Hamish to Greens with Sam. Her brother had known something was up, but he held his questions and left her alone. All she could think last night and still this morning was that the man in bed with her wasn’t Lance. She’d been raped by a stranger.

 

The phone rang.

 

Janet said, “How’re you doing this morning, dear? Feeling better?”

 

Sharon said some words.

 

“Well, I want you to know that I have spoken to Dee and she wasn’t happy, of course, but I think we’re going to work things out.”

 

“What kind of things?”

 

“When you’re stronger, I imagine Lance will explain. Right now you just trust that he and I and Joel are taking care of things for you.”

 

“What things?”

 

“Just rest, Sharon. That’s what you need to do now.”

 

“I’m not sick.”

 

“No, of course you’re not. But you’ve been through a dreadful ordeal.”

 

“What are you all plotting?”

 

“Well, for goodness sake, we’re not plotting. We’re being good stewards of the land.”

 

“Dee’s land? She’ll never sell any of it.”

 

“Let us worry about what Miss Dee wants. We want to make sure no dear little one like your precious Hamish –”

 

Sharon hung up.

 

She looked across the street at the garden. What kind of a place was it really? It played tricks on the mind, appearing at one moment as vast as a national park and at other times – like when the police searched it yesterday – it was just a garden, a few acres and nothing remarkable about it. There had been something very strange about Con and Carlotta and Sharon had stayed clear of them by conscious choice. Looking back, she wished she’d been more tolerant. For months Hamish had talked about the people in the garden and now he had a name for them. The Fair People. Where had he come up with that? She thought of Dee and of her story and of how little she asked of life. To be left alone in the garden to heal. Or hide. Whichever it was – or both — Sharon knew she had nothing to fear from her. And what about the conference center? Where had that idea come from? It had catalyzed Lance’s desperate need to prove himself the equal of Joel Jackson. In a matter of days the dream had grown so grandiose it had swallowed him whole. Next it would destroy Dee. It was a monster stalking all their lives.

 

She walked downstairs and across the lawn between the fountains of pampas grass to the church. In the office the current volunteer receptionist, a fluffy, stuffed-up woman, stopped sniffing and wheezing for long enough to look surprised.

 

“Sharon, are you okay? How’s Hamish?” She pressed her hand to her chest. “My goodness, he gave us a turn. You and Pastor Whitby, I just don’t understand why terrible things have to happen to such good people. But Pastor Whitby, he’s being so strong. We all of us just admire his courage so much.”

 

Sharon raised her hand to knock on Lance’s office door.

 

“He’s going out in a few minutes. Mr. Detroit is picking him up. They’re going out to lunch. At the Spinnaker. They’re meeting Reverend Joel.” She spoke his name in an awed whisper.

 

Sharon opened the door.

 

Lance looked up from his desk. “What are you doing here, Sharon?”

 

She was not sure why she had come, but she could not stay away and let Lance whip his wild dream into greater frenzy. And she did not know how she could stop him, only that she had to try. She sank into a red naugahyde easy chair across the desk. “We have to talk, Lance.”

 

He held a pen in his hand, turned it end over end, clicking the release in and out.

 

“Who’s Mr. Detroit? The woman at the desk said –.”

 

“Esther.”

 

“Esther said you were seeing someone named Mr. Detroit.”

 

“Church business.”

 

“At the Spinnaker?”

 

“We’re meeting some other people.”

 

“May I sit in?” It was not a strange request. On countless occasions she had acted as Lance’s secretary. At Mt. Nebo she had taken a stenography course because it had been assumed that most female graduates would be secretaries in churches somewhere. “I’ll take notes.”

 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

 

“Why not? What are you up to, Lance?”

 

“Up to?”

 

“This scheme, the conference center…”

 

“When I have something firm to tell you, I will.”

 

By then it would be too late.

 

“Visit Lovey,” he said.

 

“You don’t approve of her.”

 

“Go help Sam then. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. After all, he didn’t come to California to be a babysitter.”

 

“He’s flying to LA this afternoon. He has an interview at the Pasadena Arboretum but he’ll be home tomorrow.”

 

Lance clicked his pen.

 

“Can’t we help each other, Lance?”

 

We were flesh of each other’s flesh, she thought. We dreamed in unison. There had been a shared mission but she could not at that moment recall what it was. If she were to settle down with a calm mind she supposed she would come up with it eventually. But it did not live inside her anymore, it was no longer part of her substance.

 

“Are you ever coming back?” she asked.

 

“From lunch? What kind of question is that?”

 

“I mean, is my Lance coming back? Ever?” She didn’t know why she said this or what it meant exactly, but at that moment she had to hear his answer. His answer meant everything.

 

“I’m too busy to play games, Sharon. Run along now.” He didn’t look at her as he took his sport coat from the closet.

 

“I’ve never seen that coat.” It was the color of dried blood.

 

“You like? It’s silk.”

 

“You bought a silk jacket?”

 

“Would it kill you to say something nice, Sharon? It’s a wife’s job to make a husband feel good about himself. To support him in all his endeavors.”

 

“I never said I didn’t like it.”

 

“But?”

 

“It just seems… different is all. You wearing a silk sport coat.”

 

“A man can’t afford to look shabby if he wants to be taken seriously.”

 

She watched from the office window as he got into a car with a man she didn’t recognize though she supposed it was Victor Detroit.

 

When the phone rang, she didn’t wait for the receptionist to pick it up.

 

“Cabrillo Community Church.”

 

A sweet voice said, “This is Pastor Joel Jackson’s office? At El Cajon Community Church.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Pastor Joel wants Pastor Lance to know he’ll be about twenty minutes late to lunch.”

 

A meeting at the Spinnaker of all interested parties except Dee, the most interested of all. Sharon stared at her own picture in a plain black frame on Lance’s desk. She had been a pretty young woman, but so determined to be plain. No makeup, not even lipstick, and she had worn her lustrous thick hair brushed straight back behind a wide headband. Plain and prim and ignorant of the world, full of God’s love and the fear that if she took one wrong step, she’d fall into the same pit as her mother had. The whore, her father called her. The tramp and the slut.

 

“I could have sent you to live with her, you know.” He had reminded Sharon of this if she said or did anything of which he disapproved. “If you don’t like my rules, Rose of Sharon, you can just pack your bags. I won’t stop you.”

 

She had believed her father spoke so from love and for the good of her soul. Lance had admired him and she had been proud to please the two people she loved most, but now she had Hamish and loving him made her see the world in a different way. Would she ever threaten her boy as her father had her?

 

Whatever Lance was up to, he had not left proof of it out where anyone could see it. But it was suspicious that the yellow legal pad was not on the desk where he habitually kept it for jotting notes. Had he taken it with him to lunch? She tried to remember if he had carried his briefcase when he left, and she was almost certain he had not. It didn’t match his fancy new wardrobe. She tugged the desk drawers. He had locked them and this, like the silk jacket and lunch at The Spinnaker and the missing legal pad, was unlike Lance. Her methodical husband had as many habits as a nunnery – that’s how Sam said it. He lived by routine from the order in which he washed his face, brushed his teeth and combed his hair to the arrangement of his desk top. He never locked his desk during the day.

 

The metal desk – gun metal gray and once nicknamed “the battle ship” by Sam – had belonged to Sharon’s father. Under it, she had played with her Barbie while her father did the Lucky market accounts. She knew its secrets. She pulled the chair away, dropped to her knees and crawled into the well. She lay on her back and above her head she saw where she had once scratched her name with the point of a compass: Sharon Green. Like the photo on Lance’s desk, the old signature reminded her of the girl she had been – a girl who got into her father’s desk to steal nickels and dimes from the Lucky Market petty cash. A rebellious girl whose Barbie doll said the words Sharon had seen written on the public bathroom at the park. To please her father and Lance, and to stay in the good graces of the Almighty, she had struggled for years to banish from her personality any hint of that naughty girl; but now here she was, just when Sharon needed her help. She remembered exactly how to slip her little finger behind the rear wall of the center drawer where it met the frame of the desk. She had not forgotten just the right combination of pressure and jiggle that lifted the catch of the lock.

 

She climbed out from under the desk and opened the middle drawer. There was nothing at all suspicious about its contents: erasers, pushpins, old memos, a few pennies. Guilt pricked her. She thought what a difference there was between curiosity and actually spying. She would not have done it a week ago because Lance had been a different man then, and their marriage had been bound by a steel-cord of loyalty and trust. In just seven days so much had changed. Until that moment, staring into the center drawer, she had not realized the dimension of that change.

 

In the two shallow drawers and one deep on the left she found folders labeled budget and church school, magazine articles about youth activities, one about the efficacy of prayer, a stack of letters from CCC members, a stapler, a three holed punch and half a Big Hunk candy bar. She felt another squeeze of guilt, a pinch of doubt. She opened the top right drawer. A yellow legal sized pad, blank, lay on top of stationery.

 

Sharon held it to the light. The paper was lightly indented where Lance’s pen had pressed hard on the previous sheet. She tilted the pad from side to side but could make out nothing. Taking a soft-leaded pencil from the center drawer, she shaded the indentations. Under the gray, the name Delight Larue emerged. Then a list of words: garden, taxes, something beginning with a “por,” a capital “S,” and then an LA telephone number. She lifted the receiver and punched in the numbers.

 

A recorded voice answered on the second ring.

 

“You have reached the offices of the Los Angeles County Sheriff.”

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 44 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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