True Mates 2: Mary and the Bear

By Zena Wynn

Copyright 2008

All Rights Reserved

(Final Edited/Unpublished Version)

 

Chapter One

Mary Elizabeth Brown sat in the crowded church, numb with grief and an assortment of other complicated emotions she just didn’t have the energy to examine closely.  The last few days had been a hellish whirlwind of activity, culminating today as they gathered to pay their last respects to the woman lying in the casket -- her twin sister, Barbara Ann Brown-Remington, more affectionately known as Babs.

Every now and then, stray comments drifted to Mary Elizabeth’s ears above the softly playing music.

“Oh, no.”

“What a shame, she was so young.”

“She was such a beautiful person. An angel, really.”

That last comment almost pierced through the numbness and brought a smile to her face. An angel? If only they knew, she thought.  Babs thrived on being wicked, on pushing the limits. Unfortunately, it was Mary Elizabeth who usually ended up suffering because of her schemes.  

Mary Elizabeth allowed her gaze to drift around the church. The first two pews on the right were reserved for family. Her sister’s husband of seven years, Charles A. Remington, III, sat the end of the pew, near the center aisle and closest to the casket. Seated next to him were her mother, Susan Brown, and then her father, Richard. From where Mary Elizabeth was seated, at the opposite end of the pew, huddled in the corner, she could see that the knuckles of her mother’s hand were white from the grip she had on her father’s hand. Her other hand, which was placed on Charles’s knee in a silent show of support, was also clenched. There was no other family present.

Lying in the casket, Babs looked like the angel she‘d been compared to -- long, naturally blonde hair, stunning blue eyes and a porcelain complexion.  With her figure, she could have been a swimsuit model.  She’d loved showing off her long, toned body and large breast.  She’d played the role of the naive, beautiful blonde so well that even now, not many realized that behind that china-doll appearance was a very, shrewd mind. 

Only two people knew the true nature behind the angelic look, Babs and herself. Mary Elizabeth would be taking that truth with her to her own grave. No one would believe her stories any way. Babs had perfected her angelic act while still in the cradle.  Her parents had certainly been fooled. They’d worshipped the ground she’d walked on.  And her husband?  Totally clueless as to the true nature of the woman he’d married.

As far as Charles was concerned, his marriage was the stuff of fairytales, with him in the role of the rich, handsome prince who rescued the beautiful yet poor princess from her life of drudgery, giving her a life of luxury.  In return, the grateful princess had dedicated her every moment to showering the love she felt for the handsome prince by seeing to his every need.

If only that were true.  The reality was that the princess died while sneaking away to meet her likewise married boss for an illicit weekend affair.  There were only two people left alive in this world who knew where she’d really been heading, and neither one of them were talking.  One of them, because he had too much to lose.  As for herself, Babs had sworn her to secrecy.  Just another one of the hundreds she’d kept for Babs over their 32-years of life.

Though they were twins, Mary Elizabeth was the exact opposite of her sister in appearance and nature. While Babs was tall, standing 5’11 in her stocking feet; Mary Elizabeth was short, only 5’4.  Babs had long flowing hair that was so fine it resembled a baby’s, while Mary Elizabeth‘s hair was thick, coarse, and perpetually frizzy.  So opposite were they in appearance that most people had to be told they were sisters, never mind twins.  She couldn’t count the number of times she’d heard, “This is your sister?”

The service had started while she reminisced. Mary Elizabeth came to attention only to realize they were at the part of the service she dreaded most.  It was time to walk around for one last view of the body.  Time to say her final goodbyes.  Charles was against having a graveside ceremony, for which she would be eternally grateful.  First, the family would be escorted past the casket.  Afterwards, they were to line up in the vestibule to greet the mourners and accept their condolences.  Then, she would finally be able to go home, and hopefully get some rest. 

She hadn’t had a moment to herself since she’d received the phone call informing her of Babs’ death. Charles called her first, leaving it to Mary Elizabeth to break the news to her parents. Upon hearing the news, her mother had to be tranquillized. Her father just sat there, gazing at nothing. She’d spent the last week at her parent’s house, running interference, answering the phones and taking care of her parents, scared to leave them alone for any length of time. When she wasn’t busy with them, she was helping Charles.

Charles went first.  He stood stoically by the casket, the blank expression on his face masking his feelings as he took one final look at his wife.  Mary Elizabeth’s heart hurt for him. If the last week had been hard on anyone, it was Charles. He’d been a rock throughout this whole ordeal, but Mary Elizabeth knew he had to be hurting, losing his wife so suddenly. When he’d stood there longer than seemed warranted, the funeral director discreetly urged him to move on.  They were on a timed schedule and there were still a lot of people waiting for their turn.

Next came her mother, supported on one side by her father and on the other by a funeral attendant.  During the service, she’d held it together surprisingly well until she stood next to the casket.  With a loud cry, she threw herself across the open casket, sobbing. “God, why? Why did it have to be my baby?  If one of them had to die, why couldn’t it have been Mary Elizabeth?”

Her father and the attendant pulled on the distraught woman, struggling to get her to release the casket and move on.  Her father whispered something into her mother’s ear that Mary Elizabeth couldn’t quite hear over all of the wailing her mother was doing.  This continued for some time until her mother finally nodded at whatever he was saying and released her hold, allowing them to lead her away.

Mary Elizabeth went rigid as pain and embarrassment pierced through the shield around her emotions, making her want to crawl into a hole and hide. She was grateful for the veil she wore that partially covered her face.  She could feel sympathetic glances sliding her way in the heavy silence of the church.  She knew that she wasn’t her mother’s favorite, but it was something entirely different to hear her mother’s declaration, and to have everyone else there hear it as well.  It was beyond humiliating. 

With the ease of years of practice, Mary Elizabeth shoved the hurt deep down inside. Then, wrapping her dignity around her like a cloak, she stepped up to the casket.  She looked impassively at the body lying there.  She didn’t think of it as her sister.  Her sister had been vibrantly alive, not this wooden thing lying here. A stray thought crossed her mind. Maybe now I can have my own life. She pushed the disturbing thought aside, ashamed to be having thoughts like that when her sister was dead. She walked away from the casket before she could be prompted and joined her family in the vestibule. 

Standing in the receiving line with the others, she greeted mourners as they left the sanctuary.  There were long-time family friends, friends of Babs and Charles, neighbors, co-workers, and country club members all wishing to express their sorrow at the family’s loss. There were so many people that they all began to blur. She shook hands by rote, with whichever person was standing before her.

That is, until she heard a familiar voice and looked into the face of the one person she was happy to see.  Kiesha Morgan stood before her.  Standing protectively at her side was an amazing specimen of manhood, clearly devoted to her.   Kiesha was more than her boss. She was her friend.  Kiesha owned a chain of consignment stores where Mary Elizabeth was employed as one of the assistance sales managers.

“Mary Elizabeth, I’m so sorry for your loss.  I wish I could have been here sooner.”  Kiesha was in the middle of relocating to a small town in North Carolina and was only back in Pirate’s Cove tying up a few loose ends.

“Thank you.  Just you being here means more than you realize.”  Of all the people here, Kiesha was the only person to whom she really felt close. 

“I know this is neither the time nor the place, but when you get the chance, give me a call. I have some business I want to discuss with you.”

“Okay.”  She wanted to know more but like Kiesha said, this was neither the time nor the place. Already the line was backing up and people were getting impatient. After giving Kiesha a final hug, she allowed her to move on.  After about an hour, the church was finally empty and the family was free to go home.  She was glad to see the last of them go.  Her feet were killing her. 

“Are you coming by the house to get something to eat, or going to your parents? There‘s plenty and you need to eat,” Charles said. Though they weren’t close, Charles took his role as brother-in-law seriously.

“Neither. I’m heading home.  Tomorrow’s a work day and I have a lot to do between now and then.” Besides, if she didn’t get some time alone soon she was going to scream.

“How can you go to work as if nothing has happened?” her mother asked in a shrill voice. “My Babs is dead,” her mother wailed, bringing her handkerchief to her eyes again to mop up the fresh flood of tears. 

“Susan, leave the girl alone. She’s got to earn a living.  There’s nothing she can do for Babs now.”  Mary Elizabeth was stunned that her dad came to her defense, something he‘d never done before in her life.

Taking advantage of her mother’s shock, she gave her father and Charles a hug, and squeezed her mom’s hand before quickly walking out the door.  God, she was glad that was over.  These last few days had been trying. Maybe now things could get back to normal. Well, as normal as possible with Babs gone. It was still hard to believe.  There was a hole in her heart where her sister used to be.

Unlike most twins, she and Babs hadn’t had the most loving of relationships. She‘d loved her sister but couldn‘t always say that she‘d liked her. Mary Elizabeth never imagined Babs would die. Babs had always been there, and Mary Elizabeth assumed she always would. She got in her car and headed home. Like her father said, there was nothing she could do for Babs now.  It was time to pick up the dangling pieces of her life.

 

*****

 

Glad to be home, she changed out of her dress into a comfortable pair of old, ripped jeans and a baggy, faded t-shirt. She looked in the mirror and sighed. As usual, she looked like a cleaning lady. Mother and Babs were always complaining about her distinct lack of style. 

Mary Elizabeth desperately wanted to lie down and get some sleep, but she was too wired and her apartment was a mess. Cleaning would keep her hands busy and her mind quiet, she hoped. Starting with the kitchen, she loaded the dishwasher and then wiped down the countertops.  From there, she worked her way through the rest of the apartment, cleaning everything in sight and as she cleaned, she did her laundry.  

Her apartment was so small; it didn’t take long to finish. Casting about for something else to do, she remembered Kiesha and gave her a call.

“Mary Elizabeth, I didn’t expect to hear from you this soon.”

“I came straight home after the funeral and cleaned. I know I need to rest but I’m too wired. I go back to work tomorrow.” Even now Mary Elizabeth was pacing around in her living room, unable to sit still.

“You know you don’t have to return to work now if you don’t want to. Feel free to take all the time you need.”

“I’m ready to go back. Sitting around thinking about what happened will only make it worse.”

“Well, I offered. If you change your mind later, the offer still stands. I know what you‘re going through.” She sure did, Mary Elizabeth thought. It was only a few years ago that Kiesha lost her mom.  “But that’s not why I asked you to call.  You know that I’m opening another store in North Carolina, right?”

“Yes.”  She heard about it from one of the other managers at the store where she worked.

“I want you to be the manager. It would mean relocating, but I’d be willing to pay all of your moving expenses.  I have to warn you, this store is located in a really small town up in the mountains.”

“I don’t know what to say.  It sounds wonderful, but the timing … With Babs gone, I’m going to be needed at home now more than ever.”

“Mary Elizabeth, that’s exactly why you should leave. You need to get away from your family. It’s the only way you’ll ever have a life of your own.  Your mom doesn’t depend on you, she uses you, and you allow it. Remember how you hated being compared to Babs? If you come to Refuge, you’ll be somewhere where no one has heard of her. You’ll be out from under her shadow and finally be able to be yourself, without interference from your family.”

“I’ll think about it. I promise.” It really sounded appealing and at any other time, she’d have jumped on the opportunity.

“Take all the time you need, but don‘t take too long.  I haven’t told the other managers what I’m about to tell you.  The guy with me at the funeral? His name is Alex. We’re getting married soon and already expecting our first child.  I’m going to need a lot of help getting the new store up and running, and of course, I really want my best friend with me.”

“Kiesha, that’s great!  I’m so happy for you.  I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone.”

“I wasn’t.  It’s happening extremely fast but we’re very happy.  Anyway, that’s what’s behind the promotion.  I really need help and you’re perfect for the job. Also, the timing is perfect for you.  I don’t want to push, so I’ll stop talking now.  Think about it and let me know.”

“Okay, I’ll let you know real soon what my answer is.”  Her other line beeped and Mary Elizabeth looked at the caller‘s id. “Kiesha, got to go. I have to take this call.”

“Talk to you later.  Bye.”

“Bye.” She clicked over. “Mother?”

“Mary Elizabeth, your father and I have been talking. Now that Babs is gone, we think it’s time for you to move back home.  Neither one of us are getting any younger. It won’t be long before we’ll need someone to take care of us.”

“Mother, you’re only 53 and Dad’s not even 60. Both of you are in perfect health. It could be another twenty years before you need someone looking after you, possibly longer.”

“We’re healthy now, but that could change overnight. You’re not getting any younger yourself. If you had managed to get a husband and have children, I wouldn’t ask this of you. I’d understand that your family needed you, but you don’t, and at your age it’s doubtful you ever will.”

Mother! I’m only 32. I have plenty of time to get married and have kids.”

“If you were as beautiful as my Babs, I’d say that was true, but you’re not. In fact, you’re rather plain looking, you poor dear.  You take after your father’s side. Then, there’s your size. How many times have I told you if you’d just lose weight, you might be able to attract a man’s attention? No, it’s time to be reasonable and realize that you’ll never find a man to marry you. Whatever small chance you had of attracting a husband is gone.”

A knock sounded at the door. “Mother, there’s someone at the door. I need to go. I’ll speak with you later.” Thank God for whoever was at the door. She just didn’t have the energy to deal with her mother right now.

“Don’t forget what I said. We’ll expect you here soon. Just throw out your furniture. Most of it’s trash anyway. Where you got your taste in furniture from, I swear I don’t know.”

Another knock sounded at the door. “I’ve got to go now, Mother. Goodbye.”

“Yes, yes, fine. See you later.”

Mary Elizabeth heaved a sigh of relief as she disconnected the call and walked to the door.  Looking thru the peephole, she was surprised to see Charles standing there.  She opened the door and stepped back, allowing him to enter.  “What are you doing here?”

Charles indicated the box in his hands. “Since you didn’t come to the house and eat, I brought you some food. I have way more than I can eat by myself. I offered to take some around to your parents but they have just as much food there.”

Mary Elizabeth led the way into the kitchen. “Put it down here on the countertop. If your kitchen looks anything like my parents, you have enough food to last a month, if not longer.”

“This wasn’t the only reason I came.  I couldn’t take another moment in that house.  It’s so empty, the memories are getting to me.” He’d changed out of his suit into a pair of snug fitting jeans and white polo shirt that showed off his lean athletic build.  Charles was an extremely attractive man, with his golden blonde hair and baby blue eyes.

“I’m sorry, Charles.  It’s rough for all of us right now, but eventually, it will get better.  Let’s go into the living room and sit down. Have you eaten? Would you like anything to drink?” Mary Elizabeth put away the food. She’d eat later when she had more of an appetite.

“I don’t suppose you have any beer?”

If the smell of his breath was any indicator, Charles had already had enough to drink. “No, sorry. I rarely drink. Your choices are juice, water, milk, or soda.”

“I’ll take a soda.”  She grabbed two sodas out of the fridge and joined him in the living room; glad she’d cleaned up.  She definitely wasn’t expecting company.  She searched for something to say.  “The service turned out really nice.”

“Yeah, it was more than that bitch deserved.”

“Um, excuse me?” Mary Elizabeth’s gaze stopped bouncing around the room and locked onto Charles. She couldn’t have heard correctly.

“I said it was more than she deserved.  The bitch was cheating on me with her boss.”  Mary Elizabeth said nothing, though inside, she was shocked.  Charles knew about the affair. 

When she didn’t respond or act surprised, he said, “You knew about it, didn’t you?  You knew she was cheating on me with that scumbag boss of hers.”

Mary Elizabeth debated over what to say.  She could admit to knowing the truth, but she’d promised Babs and it would go against every principle she had. 

“Don’t bother trying to lie.  I can see the truth on your face.  I should have known she would have told you about it.  She’s used you for years to cover for her.” 

“I don’t know what to say.”  There was a part of Mary Elizabeth that felt guilty. If she’d tried a little harder, would she have been able to talk Babs out of what she was planning? If she had, maybe Babs would be alive today.

Charles left the window he was standing by and sat beside her on the couch, picking up her hands and holding them in his own.  “Just tell me, why did she do it? I have to know. What did he have that I didn’t? What did I do to make her turn to another man??”

“Charles, Babs didn’t give me a reason. She wasn’t big on explaining herself or her actions.” Why did Babs do any of the things she did? That was one thing Mary Elizabeth had never been able to figure out.

“I can’t believe I wasted so much time with that faithless bitch.  You know, she was the reason we never had kids.  She didn’t want to ruin her figure.  Never mind what I wanted.  I made a big mistake when I didn’t marrying you. I should have known what she was like the night she seduced me, her own sister’s fiancé. Instead, I was flattered that she wanted me so much. What a fool! I fell right into her hands.”

“Charles, if you’d really loved me, Babs wouldn’t have been able to seduce you. We were never more than good friends who happened to become engaged. Didn’t it seem strange to you that we never had sex, yet we were planning on getting married? No, you didn’t make a mistake. You and Babs were meant to be together. She was a much better wife for you than I would have been.”  Mary Elizabeth thought back to a recent conversation she and Babs had concerning kids. Babs had been scared that if she’d given Charles the children he wanted, it would have taken his attention away from her. No sense explaining that to Charles now.

While she was speaking, Charles moved closer, placed his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest.  “I don’t know what I would do without you, Mary Elizabeth. You’ve always been good to me, even after all that’s happened between us. I can always count on your support. Why the hell didn’t I marry you? You would have never cheated on me. We could have been happily married with our 2.5 children if it hadn’t been for Babs.”  Before she could respond, he lowered his head and kissed her.  Held securely in his arms, she froze, not knowing what to do.  In truth, she was so shocked she didn't know how to react.

When she didn’t respond to his kiss, he moved from her mouth and placed kisses all over her face.  Turning her head to the side, she tried to get her hands between them to push him away, but they were trapped by her sides.  “Charles, stop.”  He began kissing her neck.  She wiggled, trying to get away from him.  “Charles, stop it!  You’re not yourself right now.  Don’t do anything we’ll both regret.”

He tried to kiss his way down to her chest, but they were pressed too close together.  What a time for her not to be wearing a bra!  Moving more forcefully, she threw herself back, attempting to break his hold on her. At the same time, he unexpectedly loosed his grip. As a result, all she succeeded in doing was landing flat on her back on the couch. Charles quickly alighted on top of her. 

She could feel his erection against her thigh.  This couldn’t be happening. She was not sitting in her living room fighting off a drunken pass from her sister’s husband. Damn, she was getting angry. She didn’t need this crap on top of everything else. Granted, the man had just buried his wife and probably wasn‘t thinking straight, but she was his sister-in-law, not some floozy from a bar.

“Charles,” she said sharply, “let me go! You’re drunk. You need to go home.”

“I’m not drunk. I know what I’m doing. Let me show you how good it can be between us.”  He latched his mouth onto her t-shirt covered breast while trying to pry her legs open with his thigh.  Enough was enough.  She lifted her leg up, kneeing him in the groin.  Not hard enough damage, but definitely hard enough to get his attention.

“I said, no!”  She shoved him and got to her feet as he rolled off of her onto the floor, clutching his balls.  “You need to go.  Now!”

Slowly he got to his feet and hobbled to the door, still clutching himself.  When he drew even with her, he stopped.  “This isn’t over between us.  I know you think this is the grief and alcohol talking, but it’s not.  I’ve known for a long time now that I made a mistake.  Now that Babs is no longer a concern, I intend to have you like I would’ve if I hadn’t been so stupid.”

“Goodbye, Charles.”  She opened the door wide, a hint for him to leave.  Giving her one last look to show how determined he was, he walked slowly out the door.  Closing the door with a thump behind him, she leaned her back against it and closed her eyes, tired beyond belief.

Damn, what a day. First there was the funeral, then the call from mother, and now Charles. She could only hope this Charles thing was temporary. But her mother? That was a different story. Mary Elizabeth always found it difficult to tell her mother no. It was a habit she’d developed as a child when she’d been willing to do anything to gain her mother’s attention and approval.

What was she going to do? The picture of herself old and gray, at the beck and call of her demanding mother flashed through her mind, causing her to shudder in fear. Whatever it took, Mary Elizabeth had to keep that from happening. Like a light bulb going off in her head, she remembered Kiesha’s offer.  What a godsend!  Someone upstairs was looking out for her.  Picking up the phone, she dialed her number.  “Kiesha, it’s me.  I accept.  When do I leave?”