Ruth Basehart was a shy eighteen years old high school girl who was not exceptionally smart or pretty. A car accident in the first few months of her life took away her father and left her with a bad scar on her right shoulder, a scar she took great pains to hide carefully as she grew up a lonely child with her devastated wealthy young mother. That scar left a big and permanent imprint on her psyche. She was never told of the death of her father, as her mother Elena, accepted the first suitor to come her way and changed her name and her baby daughter’s name hoping that her new husband would be a real father to her child. However, Allen Basehart junior turned out to be a vicious, ruthless man with an extremely selfish temperament who cared about nothing and no one except himself. He never told Elena that his own family had disavowed him because of his extremely malicious nature. As a little girl, Ruth lived with that abusive father and submissive mother in constant fear and choking loneliness. As she grew up, she focused all her energy on her studies, as she perceived her education to be her only way out of her nightmarish life in her father’s mansion. Though the family was immensely rich, the man she had known as her father was extremely stingy to her. He always taunted her that he wanted to have a son instead of “an ugly dimwitted girl” something Elena, his wife couldn’t, or wouldn’t – for reasons of her own – give him.
Ruth fell head over heels, when for the first time in her life, at age fifteen; Will Sanders, a strong and handsome young man, in their rich neighborhood, began to talk to her about love and devotion. He badly abused her and left her a total wreck, hated by her father and despised by everyone else as people started to call her all kinds of bad names. She learned how to distrust people and avoid them at any cost. She became the recluse at the center of the school pranks and social nasty jokes. Many days, she would prefer the long walk back home from school in order to avoid the goading of the other students on the school bus. Passing by the big church of St. Paul, she would look at the high steeple with the massive cross on top and say one agonized prayer, “why God?”
It was lunchtime, one sunny day in March at the school when Ruth took her usual place away from everybody in the stands of the football field. Some of the boys were frolicking on the greens. One of them noticed her and made a sarcastic remark, “Hey Ruth, do you eat ham and cheese like the rest of us humans?”They all laughed merrily except Scot Hastings.
He pulled his friend away saying, “you’re so gross. Leave her alone you big bully.”
“Whoa…listen to this, guys… Scotty boy is in love with the vampire,” was his friend’s reply. They all laughed again boisterously. Ruth held back her tears, stood up and walked away to cry alone in the bathroom. She had to cry silently so that other girls would not hear her and make fun of her as well.
At the end of the day, instead of riding on the school bus, she decided to walk back home. A short while later she heard someone calling her name. She turned around to see Scot running towards her gasping for breath. She stopped, while all alarm bells started ringing in her head.
“Ruth, please wait…,” he begged.
Finally, they both stood face to face silently staring at each other. There was a big question mark jumping out of her eyes. She couldn’t make out the expression she saw on his face. It betrayed neither pity nor disgust. These were in varying degrees the only emotions she encountered when she met people up close. This expression frightened her nonetheless, because it reminded her of the deceptive words of a young man called Will, a few years back, who promised her love and devotion only to give her shame and pain.
“I just want to apologize for Marty.” Scot said trying to find the proper words.
“Why should you apologize for someone else’s mistake?” Ruth answered.
“Marty is my friend. He is a good guy but he tends to behave like a clown sometimes… and___” He stopped as he couldn’t find the exact words he wanted to say.
“He is your friend. Birds of a feather flock together…right?” Ruth said tartly.
“No…no…no. Please Ruth, you got this wrong. I know it was very nasty and you…well, I know you don’t deserve all this… I mean…It is totally unfair…I__” he was struggling to express himself coherently.
“Thanks for trying to make me feel better… But I don’t need your pity. You can feel good now for trying to help the vampire girl and go back to your friend like nothing had happened.” She answered and turned to leave. He pleaded with her to accept his sincere apology and to forgive Marty. Yet in her mind, Ruth Basehart couldn’t allow herself to be cheated again!
Scot tried repeatedly to approach Ruth and be friends with her, but her previous horrifying experience kept her from even considering the possibility that he – or anybody else – might be sincere. He repeatedly tried to talk to her, and reason with her. But she had build a fire wall around her heart and the harder he tried to come close to her, the farther she would pull away. The situation became further complicated when she discovered that Scot’s father worked in one of her father’s factories. It re-enforced the idea that Scot might be kind to her with the calculated intension to promote his own family’s interests.
As the school year came to a close, she left her home in New Jersey and escaped to her aunt’s farm in the suburbs of Philadelphia PA, away from her father, although her aunt at that time was on a safari in Africa with her husband. During that summer, the Hastings moved out of town as Scot’s father found a better Job in upstate New York.
In her senior year, Ruth was anxiously awaiting the time she would go to college as far away from home as possible and dorm away from people who knew anything about her. She was dreaming of a fresh start and hoping to rebuild her image in a new environment without prejudice or bias. But it was not to be. Unbeknown to her, her father was fighting bitterly with her mother who was encouraging her to pursue her dream. He decided that her high school diploma was enough education for a girl. He demanded that she would join him in his work to learn how to handle the different aspects of the construction and real estate business. In the end, before Ruth went to her graduation ceremony to receive her diploma, the pressure proved to be too hard on her mother who had a stroke, became gravely ill and wheelchair bound. Ruth in turn gradually got used to so many strangers coming in and out of the house at all hours of the day. Her mother was taken away several times to numerous hospitals across the country and back. Her father’s lousy mood got even worse and nobody would try to explain anything to her. She was not interested in knowing anything either. She was only grateful to be left alone, a stranger in her own house, with a hardened, bitter and ever so lonely heart.
Her only choice for higher education was to join a local college on a part time schedule and pay for her schooling by working for her father. Her dreams were smashed and her hopes evaporated. Her agony and her isolation were compounded by the illness of her mother who got weaker and weaker and almost constantly in pain. She was always sedated and rarely had a chance to talk or chat with anybody. Ruth was scornfully reminded by her father that her mother would not be able to fight her illness much longer. Bitterness and hatred were building up in her mind and gradually charging her with desperate thoughts of revenge against everyone. Every time she would look at her mother in her near catatonic condition, her sense of loneliness would deepen making her feel as if she was totally alone in the world.
Five long years passed… She worked like a slave for her father, and her progress in college was very slow and tedious. However, in those years she learned a lot of things… things no school could teach. She saw her mother – against all odds and expectations – survive and even appear to improve sometimes. She saw society through the lens of her malignant feelings for her father. She saw him philandering with other women who were hoping to marry him upon her mother’s demise. She saw the wheeling and dealing in the business world and she watched while her father was cheating the clients, the employees and even the government.
She was working on the file of a new client in the office at the fifth floor, when she got the call. Her father fell at the construction site and was seriously injured. When she, reluctantly, went to see him at the hospital, he was already in the operating room. He emerged after four hours of surgery, to be declared completely incapacitated. The Doctor’s words were emblazoned into her brain forever, “Sorry, Ruth. We could save his life…but he shall be crippled … how badly? We don’t know yet”
It seemed like the world had stopped still. Ruth felt the apprehension and expectation of everybody around her, adding to her own bewilderment and confusion. What would that mean for her future? Is he going to recover? What happens if he does not?
On the other hand, instead of being the half conscious wreck moved around between the bedroom and the garden, Her mother seemed suddenly revived, and even anxious and kept asking about his condition several times each day. His office remained closed as nobody wanted to risk overstepping their boundaries and end up suffering his wrath upon his return.
Two weeks after the accident, Ruth went to the hospital to see her father at the doctor’s request. She found Mr. Whitmore, his attorney talking to the doctor, a white haired, tall and skinny man with piercing eyes. When they saw her, the doctor grinned widely and said, “The very lady we have to talk to…hello Ruth.”
“What’s going on Doctor Blythe? Is he getting any better?” she asked.
“No, I’m afraid not. I think we should go into my office to have a little chat.” The white haired physician answered coldly.
The lawyer withdrew saying, “OK…I must go. I think we may need to sit down and have a little chat Ruth. Please give me a call to set up an appointment.”
When they were seated in the doctor’s office, the man promptly said, “we tried every possible test and every possible treatment plan we know of… but…I am afraid that…well…Your father will never be able to speak again Ruth.” He paused for a few moments expecting to see any reaction from her, and when she stayed mum, he continued, “You already know that the injury to his head and neck left him paralyzed. I am afraid he shall be totally dependent on someone else for mere survival…I am sorry to tell you this…but it seems that now both your parents are going to be completely charged to your care.”
She was so stunned that she didn’t quite comprehend the enormity of that moment in her life. Many feelings were gradually beginning to bubble up in her mind. Numerous conflicting emotions began slowly to fight for dominance underneath the cold stare on her face. She soon pulled herself together and calmly asked, “is he going to be alert…conscious…and aware of his surroundings…or merely in a coma? Is he going to feel what is happening around him?”
“we don’t know how alert he shall be…he is in and out…we don’t know if he shall be able to communicate in anyway effectively…but we are doing everything we can to___”
“Thank you doctor…please keep me informed.” She interrupted him and stood up to leave.
“We’ll do what we can Ms. Basehart…we’ll do what we can,” the physician answered standing up as she left the room without shaking his extended hand.
Ruth went straight home. She walked right to her father’s study and flung the doors open. She never dared to come near that room since she was ten years old. Now, she stood at the threshold and slowly went through the place with her eyes. It was dark and smelled of the heavy scent of tobacco. She walked in, drew back the curtains and opened the windows to let the fresh air gush in. as the light filled the room, she saw the double deck of cards on the cocktail table which was surrounded by a luxurious couch and four armchairs. A cupboard on the side was filled with all kinds of liquor and several crystal sets of glasses. There were a few books on a shelf near the massive desk. Many works of art were hanging on the walls. She immediately recognized the oil painting covering the massive safe. Her memory went back to the day when she learned about that safe. She was only ten when she dared enter the room during a barbecue party her father had for his friends to celebrate one of his projects. He was missed at the party in the great hall and her mother sent her to call him back. When she pushed the door and entered, she saw him standing next to the open safe talking on the phone. As soon as he saw her, he got furious. He stopped his conversation and yelled at her to get out. When she tried to explain, he screamed at her so violently and ordered her to her room. “No party for you…you dimwit…get out…get out” he screamed. His voice still echoing in her ears, she walked steadily to the painting and pulled it aside. She stood there for a few minutes thinking, “I guess now we shall know what you were trying to hide all these years.”
The next day, Ruth finally had the courage to go to the company’s headquarters and enter her father’s office where the news was already spreading around mixed up with all kinds of rumors. The secretary followed her inside the vast room and closed the door. The woman asked her bluntly,
“He is not coming back? Or is he?”
“No. He is not coming back.” Ruth answered slowly, “Is that good or bad?”
“That…is very good.” The secretary answered in a shaking voice trying to control her emotions, “that is very good…I am sorry Miss…but…” she burst into tears.
“Calm down. Have a seat Sandy. He never cared to make himself popular with anybody who didn’t play cards with him,” Ruth said seating herself behind the large desk.
Suddenly the door of the office was flung open and a tall imposing man stood at the threshold with his hands stretched against the door panels…he spoke loudly in a commanding voice, “what is the meaning of this insolence?” how dare you come in here and___”
Ruth stood up instantly and shouted at him, “Who are you? How dare you charge in here like this? Get out and never come back. Understand…? Whatever you might be…You are fired. Out…out.”
He looked at her amusingly and did not move… then slowly he started to laugh mockingly.
“I said get out…you are never to enter in this building again…ever.” She yelled at him again.
“The mouse has spoken…” decidedly amused, the man walked inside the room and tried to help himself to a glass at the service armoire. Ruth picked up the phone to call security, while the secretary rushed to the man and whispered, “this is the new boss…Allen is history”
He shrugged her off saying, “you cannot believe that. It is only wishful thinking on the part of that vampire girl…she is nothing…absolutely nothing and___”
Two armed guards entered the room and one of them asked, “what is it Miss Basehart?”
Ruth just pointed at the tall man now gulping the drink he prepared for himself. The other guard smiled widely and moved slowly towards the intruder, “Please Mr. Broader…no need to cause a ruckus. If the lady wants you out, then you might as well oblige.”
“She is pretending to take Allen’s place…do you__” Broader started.
“He is fired. He should never enter this building at any time.” Ruth roared in a voice she never thought she had. Everybody in the room was transfixed for a moment in utter surprise. Only then did Broader realize that the truth might be too bitter for him to taste. He pointed at Ruth, “you cannot fire me, Even if Allen is truly incapacitated. I am his deputy and I am the one who takes his place.”
“Mr. Broader…please…you can argue about this in the board meeting… but for now, please leave this room and let us all go back to work.” The guard pleaded. Finally broader relented and left the room reluctantly.
The secretary went to Ruth who was now trembling with anger. “Miss Ruth, it is better not to rush in your decisions. This guy could be very helpful to you. He knows all Allen’s secrets and dealings. He is his most trusted confidant. I suffered just as much abuse from him as from Allen, but at times he proved to be helpful”
“How come I never saw that Broader before…?” Ruth asked.
“You worked in new customer accounts…in the fifth floor, while your father’s office is on the second floor; Besides Broader is always in the field. He is Allen’s eyes and ears…literally.”
“Well, now his eyes might be able to see…and his ears might be able to hear…but he certainly cannot speak…he cannot even say a word…He will shut up…and listen…listen to what I shall say.” Ruth spoke through her teeth.
“Miss Ruth, please…don’t let your pain drive you mad. He is getting his rightful punishment for all his atrocities…if you let your hatred control you…you shall not be any better than him.” Sandy spoke sincerely trying to diffuse Ruth’s anger.
“Everything here must change.” Ruth spoke like a dreamer, “all this…must change.”
Ruth spent the following two days going over all possible details of the business with Sandy’s help. She tried to know everything about the board of directors and the different managers, clients and business liaisons. She wanted to set up meetings with everyone who seemed to have the slightest conflict with Allen, to build a base of allies and supporters. Yet, on the third day, she received a call from the Attorney Mr. Charles Whitmore asking her to meet him “as soon as it would be convenient for her”
She dreaded that meeting because she had a gut feeling that her ignorance of the laws concerning the business would make it easy for the lawyer to take full advantage of her. She set the meeting for the following Monday, hoping to stall as long as possible to get the information she needed before talking to him. She was almost certain that the safe in her father’s study at home contained a lot of information, which she might need. She tried to find the combination to open it, and when all efforts failed, she had to contact the company that installed it and have them open and reset it. She found stacks of cash and jewelry as well as a large number of documents filled with shocking information about satellite companies, which her father seemed to establish in other States and bank records in several banks outside the country. To her, it seemed like he was going to extreme measures to defraud the tax collectors. She grabbed one of the documents and yelled angrily, “it’s a shame I cannot put you in jail for all this.”
The following day, she went to the hospital wearing an expensive dress and Fur coat she bought specifically for that visit to see the stingy rich man who denied her the least of life’s comforts. She was ushered into her father’s room with kind words of sympathy from all the staff. She took off her coat and threw it carelessly on the back of one of the chairs and then she sat proudly on the chair near his head. Nurse Cleo and her assistants were buzzing around the rich woman and her rich father with all kinds of compliments and admiration. When she was finally alone with him in the room, she stood up and looked at the numerous equipment and hoses attached to his body in wicked satisfaction. She could not find any trace of pity in her heart towards him. She stared at his pale face and closed eyes and slowly the thoughts crossing her mind started to pass through her lips,
“…don’t pretend that you cannot hear me. I know you’re awake. You can hear…you must hear every word I say and…let these words be your laws…remember… those were your very words to me, the little girl who could barely understand what they meant. Now the tables are turned…it is not even of my doing. You used to blame me for everything wrong in your life. I was not with you at the site…how can your big brain blame all this on me now? Not that I wished it upon you.” She walked around the bed and whispered in dismay, “Well, I am not going to blame anything on you…yet now I have my chance to let you taste your own medicine. After all, that would only be fair, even by your own reckoning. So, you’ll get as much care from me as you had given me…which is Zero. Zero attention, Zero affection…Zero love…you were always a big fat Zero in my life…no… on second thought, that’s not quite right…you were a pain and a constantly bleeding wound in my heart. I am only sorry that I cannot make you feel any more pain than what you brought upon yourself. But… I promise you I am going to let you enjoy it for the longest time possible. Just remember, you used to sip your drinks with your friends playing cards at night, while you sent me to bed hungry swallowing my tears because I dared talk back to you…’shut up’ you said and slapped me on my face. Oh how sweet it is… now you cannot even talk…not a word…not a single word…yes Daddy…now you…shut up. May be now you can think about the little girl who called you Daddy…and never heard you say a single nice word…that was all I needed from you… a kind touch or…well, you shall have the time to ponder now…I was subject to your law…now you…are subject to my law…”
“We are all subject to the laws of heaven Ruth.” A voice behind her said calmly.
She turned to see the speaker, “Father Blair, come to check on your friend?”
“We are all subject to the laws of Heaven, Ruth.” The priest repeated.
She walked slowly to face him up close, “where were you and your laws of heaven when he tormented me and turned me into the vampire girl. Where were you when he slapped a little girl viciously for the littlest mistake while you sat there talking politics and___?”
“Listen to me Ruth___” the priest tried to interrupt her.
“No, you listen to me…priest…I cannot call you father…you were never a father to me. I never had a real father. Don’t come here preaching to me when you were a willing participant in the tragedy of this broken family. As long as he kept those donations flowing into your coffers, you turned and looked the other way. You never once admonished him for the horrors he inflected on everybody around him… he spread his cruelty and did not spare anyone… the workers, the employees…and… and the family…he was a beast and you know it” she was so exhausted and had to lean on the back of a chair.
“Ruth, when did you come to me to ask for my help and I ___”
She laughed hysterically and pointed her finger at him, “Don’t remind me please. Do not remind me. Your cruelty was just as bad as his. Even worse, you were supposed to be the refuge for my tormented heart when I was down and at the end of my rope. I came to you…yes I came to you when I was only fifteen. I was frightened and alone and…and… you looked at me in disdain as if I were an infectious piece of trash. when all the world was falling down on my head after that wicked man, Will Sanders, thrashed me and left me in my shame…I was fifteen…an ignorant and stupid girl starving for kindness and love…and…and what did you do…? You believed his powerful father who told you that I tricked and trapped his poor innocent Willy. The image of your face that day chased me even in my sleep for so long. And now you are preaching to me…come now…sit next to your friend and lament the donations you shall no longer receive…you don’t expect me to write you any checks…do you? I don’t believe any indulgences would help the likes of me…right? so save your prayers for your friend.”
The argument drained her energy completely, yet she remained defiant. She picked up her fur, and walked unsteadily towards the door and into the hallway, passing by the nurse who was eavesdropping behind a screen. When she thought that Ruth was gone, the nurse approached the priest quietly saying, “Sorry father …this woman has really become a vampire.”
But Ruth who was still within earshot in the hallway, heard her and turned to peak into the room again saying, “Nurse Cleo, when you encounter a vampire, be careful what you say…it may bring you some misfortune.”
Since her father’s accident, Ruth became accustomed to stop by her mother’s room every evening and check with her personal Nurse Betty about her condition. Sometimes, she would find her wheeled out into the garden with some refreshments or snacks. It seemed to Ruth that the news of Allen’s demise brought some liveliness into her mother’s ailing body. She seemed upbeat and smiling most of the time.
On Monday, she went to meet, Charles Whitmore, the lawyer. Contrary to her expectation, he seemed to be very jovial and friendly. He spent some time reassuring her that he would take care of all her legal needs and promised to help her through the expected transition period of the company. He explained that he needed some papers and documents which would help her go through the process smoothly. He promised to support her with the board of directors and made her feel much better. Two days later, she left Sandy at the office in the afternoon and went home satisfied and relaxed. She went to her room, changed into some comfortable clothes and made her way to her mother’s room. She met Betty at the door,
“Is she asleep?” Ruth asked.
“She is out in the garden,” Answered the nurse.
“She has been feeling well lately…” Ruth noted as she climbed down the stairs.
“What do you mean? She scarcely stops crying…especially when anybody brings out the matter of the accident.”
“Crying?” Ruth was shocked. She stopped at the middle of the staircase and turned to face the astonished nurse, “Crying? Why? Did she say why? Do you know why she would be crying? Why … she appeared to be smiling and upbeat every time she saw me?”
“I don’t know. She seems to feel guilty about the whole thing. Don’t ask me… I don’t know how she can make that correlation. Yet, I think it is better to avoid the subject. If it makes her happy to see you, then maybe you should encourage that and see her more often. But for heaven’s sake do not bring up the matter of the accident” the nurse pleaded.
“But every time she sees me she asks me about him…Is he getting better? And I told her many times …he is Ok… may be…may be…I should tell her the truth. Guilty you say…? Guilty of what…? If anyone is guilty, it must be him…not her. Her only guilt was to allow him to have his way all these years.”
“Please Ruth don’t try to provoke her…she is very fragile. Just try to pacify her, “the nurse begged with a gentle smile. “I am going to prepare some dinner for myself.. would you like to join me?”
“Not now Betty, Thank you.” Ruth answered
The two women separated at the kitchen, as the nurse stayed to prepare her meal, and Ruth went through the back door into the garden. There, she found her mother talking to the gardener, who withdrew as soon as Ruth appeared.
“Hello mother…hope you are feeling better.” Ruth greeted her mother calmly.
“Hello my dear. You look radiant like a flower this evening…” the old woman replied weakly.
“Did you have dinner Mom?”
“Yes sweetie. Betty has just got me some ice tea after dinner. Did you see your Dad today? Is he getting better?” the mother asked in a casual manner.
“I was just warned not to talk to you about him.” Ruth replied coldly watching the reaction of her mother closely as she pulled a wicker chair and sat across the table from her. “Are you really feeling better?”
“What do you mean Ruth?” the weak woman answered equivocally, “I want to know if he is coming home soon…I feel …I mean…I feel bad that you….say…I mean…you now suddenly have all these burdens on your young shoulders…I feel like a …” she was struggling not to break down.
A long silence followed, as Ruth was weighing her options carefully. She wanted to tell her that he was out for the count. But she was afraid that it might result in an unexpected reaction. Then the older woman spoke again with a touch of fear in her voice,
“Ruth…when is he coming home?”
Ruth poured herself a glass of ice tea and took a large sip … before she finally answered,
“I cannot make up my mind yet”
“What do you mean?” the surprised woman asked innocently.
“I mean…I can let them take him into a hospice care or something like that…he is going to need special care constantly.” Ruth’s words were cold and unemotional.
“Special care…like me?” the old woman was hardly able to control herself.
“No mother… A lot more than you.” The daughter spoke looking straight at her mother trying to search her very soul, “he cannot move at all…and___”
“And…Cannot move? You mean…oh…and what?” she was breaking down fast.
“And cannot speak either,” Ruth was unable to hide a wistful smile passing over her lips for a fleeting moment.
Silence reigned for a while until the older woman couldn’t control herself any longer and broke into an agonizing bout of sniffling and sobbing which both surprised and angered her daughter.
“Why are you crying Mom?”
“I did that to him…I did that to you…I …did that…it is all my fault.” Her mother mumbled the words incoherently…
“I think not. He is the one to blame for hurting us…and you…you could have stopped him. Your only fault is that you could have stopped him, but you did not,” Ruth answered sharply
“stopped him? How could I have stopped him? I should not have married him in the first place. But…but you were such a little angel and …I thought he would be a good father for you…I thought___” she stopped suddenly as she realized her slip-up. Her daughter was quick to catch the blunder…she put down her glass on the table and stared at her mother in disbelief. The old woman covered her face with her hands and began to grieve loudly and frantically. A storm of emotions was brewing visibly on Ruth’s face. She finally spoke hesitantly and quietly,
“Mother…stop crying and repeat what you have just said”
When her mother did not respond, she repeated her words again and again louder and louder while the older woman wailed and blabbered incoherently. Finally the nurse heard the shouting and came out of the house running and yelling at Ruth, “I told you don’t provoke her…I warned you…and see what you did…? Do you want to kill this woman?
The young woman stood up and walked away from the table staring at the nurse with cold cruel eyes, though her mind was churning like a slowly erupting volcano. Then she turned to her mother, pointing her finger at her as she yelled, “mother, speak up. Say what those words meant exactly…tell your dear nurse what you have just said”
The old woman turned her pleading eyes to the nurse, collected her courage and tried to speak,
“Please Ruth, please…I just misspoke… I just ___Oh dear God…please…”
“Please Ruth stop. You are killing your mother… stop for heaven’s sake…stop,” the nurse begged trying to touch the younger woman who pulled away from her violently. She leveled her stare at her mother screaming,
“So we were all living a lie…a huge nightmarish lie. Why? Why mother? Why did you do that? And why didn’t you stop it? Why didn’t you tell me? Why…why…why?”
The poor old woman murmured among her tears,
“I love you my daughter…I did …it…oh God please.”
“”you married him because you thought he would be a good father for me? Eh…spit it out…say it…say it again mother. This man…this horrible miserable monster…he is not my father…say it…say it”
The old woman fell back in her wheelchair choking on her tears and unable to speak as her horrified eyes were transfixed upon her daughter, while the stunned nurse took a step back in agonized desperation.
An enraged Ruth slammed the table breaking it and sending everything on it splashing and crashing on the floor. She pushed the empty chairs aside violently screaming,
“You did it because you loved me? Loved me…? Is this what you call love…? What does hate mean in your book mother?” She cast a last cold look at both women and rushed unsteadily back into the house.
Ruth couldn’t sleep at all that night. She locked herself in her room and wouldn’t talk to anyone, nor accept any phone calls for three days. All the miserable years she had to endure … and every terrifying experience she suffered at the hands of the man she called ‘father’ were turning into a haunting excruciating stream of visions screaming for vengeance and settling of the scores.
She was getting weak and delirious, as she had very little to eat or drink. By the evening of the fourth day, she ventured out of her room and went to the kitchen. The look on her face was that of an injured beast, ready to leap at her prey. Nurse Betty ran out of sight as soon as she saw her coming, while the housekeeper tried to ask her if she needed any help in preparing some food, but one look from Ruth sent her scurrying away. She was coming out of the kitchen with a sandwich and a bottle of water when Julia, one of the maids approached her hesitantly, “Miss Ruth, there is a man in the reception hall who insists that he must see you.”
“I am not going to see anybody tonight,” snapped the mistress.
“I am sorry miss…but he says he is your mother’s lawyer.” Pleaded the maid.
Ruth stopped and her eyes glowed as she said, “Mother’s lawyer? Mother has a different lawyer? What does he want?”
“I don’t know Miss, but he says it is urgent.” The frightened girl responded.
Ruth wearily closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. Then she silently handed the sandwich to the maid and walked to the reception hall. When she entered the large room she was greeted by a short skinny oriental man who touched his hat respectfully with a smile, “Hello Ruth, it’s a pleasure meeting you.”
“I think I… I don’t remember you. …Have I seen you before? I didn’t know my mother had a separate lawyer from my…my …I mean…Allen.” was Ruth’s cold reply.
“Yes, yes of course, I have come to the house several times a few years ago…when your mother was very sick and had to undergo some serious operations. But you may have forgotten. I actually came to see you yesterday and waited for a long time, but they told me that you wouldn’t come to see me.”
“Well… you might have been one of the many people who kept coming and going in those days and I never knew who they were or what they were doing. But…I…I would remember the face…any way…what is it you want? My mother’s condition is kind of stable now.” Ruth sat down across from the lawyer with an indignant look on her face, “Yes she is wheelchair bound and most of the time she is sedated, but overall she is stable… I dare say with the exception of the last few days, she looked to me like she was a bit improving. Is anything the matter? Did she call you about anything in particular? Is it about the argument we had the other day? Why don’t you talk to her? Why me?”
“Please just relax and let me explain. My name is Bob Herota and I work for the law firm of Bernard, Bernard and Levine. Your mother had approached the firm about twenty years ago to draw a will. She explained that her new husband might try to take over her fortune and leave you – her only daughter – with nothing.” The lawyer stopped and smiled at the anxious woman still eyeing him resentfully.
“Go on…So?” Ruth prodded.
“So, she asked the firm to draw a simple will. She decided to leave everything for you and you alone.” The lawyer was watching Ruth’s face twitching painfully and couldn’t figure out if that was happiness or fear or some unexplainable expression he was not familiar with.
“We were monitoring your mother’s condition every three month at her request to see if there was any need to declare the articles of the will.” The lawyer sat back in his armchair and crossed his legs, “Two days ago, we got a call from your mother to come and talk to you and explain this matter.”
Ruth’s face finally relaxed. She stood up and walked towards the closed glass doors leading out to the terrace. She could see the spot at the garden where she had her last quarrel with her mother. The chairs had been straightened up around a new table and the place cleaned but nobody was sitting there. Her eyes swelled with tears which she wiped away immediately with the back of her hand. After a long silence, she turned around to face the attorney, who shook his head reassuringly saying, “Your mother explained your little misunderstanding of the other day. She does not blame you for being angry. However, under the circumstances, she had played her hand heroically.”
“Heroically? Are you crazy? She____” She stopped as she couldn’t get herself to say the words she wanted to say. She sat down and hid her tearful face in the palms of her hands.
“Ruth…now that Mr. Basehart is incapacitated; your mother could finally tell you the truth. She had to wait until she was sure that he was no longer capable of hurting you… Mr. Basehart had threatened to kill you if she ever told you the truth …and she knew fairly well that he would do it.”
Astonished, she lifted up her head to face the lawyer with inquisitive wet eyes. He continued, “Yes …I am sorry to tell you all this now. But you and your mother were constantly in danger. She had to endure so much pain for many years to keep you safe.”
“Where was the police? And the law…you are the law and you already knew all that__”
“Early on…they … I mean we tried that. When your mother married Allen Basehart, she was hoping he would be a good husband… and a good father to you…he completely convinced her that he was the kind of man she needed. As soon as they got married, he gradually changed his tune. He was intent on grabbing all her wealth and the inheritance your real father left for you. When your mother realized that, she approached our firm and wrote the will I mentioned to you secretly. Our firm encouraged her to report his attempts to the authorities and promised to help her with the legal steps needed. However when Allen was subjected to all kinds of investigations, and even secret surveillance…he came out clean. The man was very suave and clever. He never allowed himself to be recorded or videotaped in the act. Fact is all the investigations backfired, as it seemed to indicate that your mother was paranoid and accusing an innocent man of terrible atrocities. When all was said and done, he turned vicious, he arranged for some goons to terrorize and threaten your mother, yes…they threatened to do all kinds of horrible things to you and to her…to kidnap you or kill her or any such criminal acts while he stayed squeaky clean.”
The lawyer stopped to catch his breath and look closely at the dumfounded woman staring at him in disbelief. He smiled and stood up…stretched…and began to pace the room slowly, then he continued, “He made it clear to your Mom that if she ever tried to trap him again she would suffer unspeakable consequences. The next thing he tried was to have a child with your mother, at the hope that that would guarantee him some legal rights for inheritance. Your Mom adamantly refused to bear his child. This infuriated him. The greater the rift grew between them, the greater was his hatred for you. So you see Miss Ruth, your mother was really caught in a nightmarish situation. She couldn’t divorce him …she couldn’t prove his criminal behavior and she was worried about your safety. She realized that the whole situation was of her own doing…but it was too late for trying to find an excuse. She was young and frail single mother after your real Dad was killed in that infamous accident and she fell for the first man to come her way with rosy promises of love and security.”
Ruth reflected for a moment about her own mistake falling for the first young man to promise her the same things she badly needed at her time of vulnerability. She sat back in her armchair, closed her eyes for a moment and then asked with a deep sigh, “So what do you want from me now?”
The lawyer went back to his seat across from her and slowly uttered his words, “We believe that Allen had succeeded in stealing millions of Dollars from you and your mother…he transferred large amounts into secret overseas bank accounts.”
“You don’t say,” She smiled sarcastically for the first time, “I found so many papers in his closely guarded safe in the study…I had to get the safe company to come and force it open for me.”
“Excellent… we need access to all his papers… we don’t expect to find everything right away, but it would be a good start.” The lawyer answered enthusiastically, “do you have these papers here…now?”
She thought for a moment, and then answered hesitantly, “I am not sure. I still have the large stash of money which was in the safe, but the papers…I was collecting them to…yes…I was going to give them to the lawyer…his lawyer…Mr. Whitmore. He had requested that I would hand him all Allen’s personal papers so I took them to the office.
“But you didn’t give him these papers…did you?” asked the lawyer anxiously.
“I…yeah, I was supposed to give it to him Friday…. But I didn’t go anywhere for the past few days and__”
“So you still have it…can you give it to me please,”
“As I said, they are in the office. If you stop by the office Monday morning, I can hand it to you. But…do you think Mr. Whitmore will make a big fuss about this?”
“OK. Never mind the fuss. I shall stop by the office first thing Monday morning. Yet…” He stopped to think for a moment and then added, “On second thought, why don’t we go together to the office right now and get it?” the man asked with a casual smile.
“Now…at this time.. are you kidding? No…I don’t feel like going anywhere. Please …now I need to be left alone for a while to sort all this out…this avalanche of information you dumped on me…it feels like the world is spinning out of control around me…I am sorry…” He stood up to leave.
“OK…OK …I fully understand. Monday then,” he stood up and after shaking her hand and taking a few steps towards the door, he stopped and turned to say, “You say you still got the cash he left in the safe? May I take a look at it? There may be any markings or peculiar thing about it. Did you show this to the police?”
“The police…? No …of course not… why should I? until my row with my mother the other day, I didn’t have the slightest idea of foul play. At least I thought it all belonged to …to …my father…to us or to…to the company.” She said shaking her head.
“Well, is it possible that you show it to me now…?” He asked politely.
“Sure…but…but why?” she answered.
“Just indulge me please…I shall explain.” He said with a smile.
She hesitated, and looked at him suspiciously for a moment and then left the room and went to fetch the money. In her way to the study, she met Nurse Betty who immediately told her that her mother wanted to see her. She waved her away and continued to the study. She opened the safe and took out a stack of cash, closed the safe and went out, then suddenly she changed her mind and decided to go to her mother’s room. She didn’t want to go through a lengthy process of reconciliation. Having heard the explanation from the lawyer, Ruth actually felt guilty for blaming all her misery on her mother. As she walked into the room, her mother immediately said,
“Ruth, they tell me that my lawyer came to see you? Did he explain everything to you?”
“Yes mother…I am sorry…I know there are many things we have to sort out together but now I have to return to Mr. Herota.” She turned around to leave the room.
“Herota…?” her mother was surprised, “is he from Bernard and Bernard?”
“Yes mother. Why, he said you called him two days ago?”
“Yes I called Michael yesterday…or was it Thursday, I don’t remember for sure. Michael Hewett is the lawyer who handles my legal needs and I was told he was on vacation and would not come back until next Thursday. May be they sent this lawyer to take care of the matter while Michael was away…did he say anything about when Michael will come to see you?”
“No…he never mentioned Michael or anybody else…I don’t know…and… I really hate all this legal junk. He asked for all Allen’s papers and he wants to see the cash he left in the safe.” Ruth spoke showing her mother the stack of cash she carried.
“Why would he want to see the money? Are you sure this is not one of Allen’s goons pretending to be a lawyer?”
“Mom, he told me the whole story and was defending you so much. I don’t think one of Allen’s goons would talk about you like that. And any way, how would anybody know all these details and also know that you called the office unless he worked there.”
The older woman relaxed in her bed and smiled, “so now you know why I didn’t tell you__”
“I am sorry Mom…I have to go back and get rid of that lawyer…”
She left the room with a reassuring smile.
When Ruth entered the reception hall, she found Mr. Herota pacing the room impatiently.
“Ah, you are back. What happened?” He asked cheerfully.
“Nothing happened. Here is the cash…what do you want to see…?” Ruth presented the money.
The man held the stack and weighed it in his hand for a moment. Then he took out a note and exposed it to the light. He scrutinized the banknote closely then a whimsical smile crept to his face. He sat down and reflected looking up to the ornate ceiling, then he spoke without looking at the anxious woman watching him very closely, “it is as we expected…” he turned to look straight at Ruth with a serious face, “did you try to use any of these notes anywhere?”
“Ruth…this is funny money. It is forged notes, albeit a very clever forgery.”
“Oh…Forged…funny money?” the shocked woman’s eyes glistened with a mixture of fear and skepticism.
“Yes, we suspected that Mr. Basehart was dealing in this kind of criminal activity, but we could never catch him red handed.”
“How do you know it is funny money? And why didn’t the authorities move in on him?”
“In the legal world, you cannot make any move without evidence. Remember, the first time we tried to catch him, it backfired badly, and we didn’t want to make the same mistake a second time. Any way…it is good that you never tried to circulate these notes…I think it is better if you hand it over to the police and let them handle this matter.”
“The police…now?” she fell back into the chair. She was visibly shaken and tired. She closed her eyes for a few moments and then moaned, “No…I want no part of this headache. Why this miserable creature cannot go away quietly…I really cannot hate him enough.” After a long silence, she stood up turned around her armchair and leaned over its back. “I can… just dumb this somewhere and get rid of it. Can’t I? or even burn it in the fireplace? I want no more problems, I have enough problems as it is.”
“How many stacks like this did you find?”
“About twenty…yes…may be around that much…”
“That is a large sum…and there might be some real cash mixed up with it… the authorities will want to know who helped him print this money and all his associates who help him circulate it…Ok…I can help you with that. We have our experts in the firm who are specialized in dealing with this kind of crime. I shall collect these stacks Monday when I come to your office to pick up the rest of the papers. I may have one of my associates who will further examine the rest of it to make sure that there is no real cash mixed up with it and we shall take it from there…would that be comforting to you?”
“I don’t know.” She walked back to her chair and slumped into it…her starved weakened mind unable to focus or think clearly. She finally raised her head and looked at him with glazed eyes, “you know something…I think you should take it now. I want no part of this.”
“But Ruth, it is night and I don’t know if it is safe to carry such large amount of money.”
“It is fake money you say___”
“True, but a robber wouldn’t know that___”
“Yes, but a robber wouldn’t know you are carrying it either? What makes you think that a robber will be waiting for you out tonight?”
“You never know my dear.” He chuckled, “It is better to be safe than sorry. You know Murphy’s law…don’t you?”
“I lived with it all my life, nevertheless, I just want this out of here…it is…it is…pure Allen.”
The skinny man squinted his small eyes reflecting for a short while then he nodded his reluctant approval.
When Ruth arrived at the office, Monday morning, Sandy went into the room after her and closed the door, “Mr. Richard Shapiro, the head of marketing left a message asking to meet you as soon as possible. Also, Mrs. Elizabeth Wickham, from human resources wants to see you. I think you should talk to Mr. Whitmore before the Board meeting next Monday.”
“Slow down Sandy. I have something important to do first.” Ruth answered.
“Oh, by the way, a very annoying man has repeatedly insisted that he had an appointment with you this morning though I don’t have any record of it.”
“A skinny oriental man by the___”
“Yes. You know him?”
“He is my mother’s lawyer. He wants to take Allen’s papers to review them and track whatever secret dealings the wicked man was hiding. You have these papers…right? I gave them to you last week if I remember correctly.”
“Yes I have them. But this man does not behave like a lawyer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Which lawyer would be here waiting for you even before any employee arrives? Besides, When you didn’t show up the past couple of days, Mr. Whitmore called Friday and told me that you were supposed to hand these papers to him.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But don’t you think it makes more sense to give them to My mother’s lawyer rather than to Whitmore?”
“When did you find out about this…I mean…your mother’s lawyer?”
“Saturday night? How?”
“He came to see me at home”
“At home…See your mother or see you?” the irate secretary spoke knotting her eye brows, “No phone call ahead of time…no appointment?”
“I refused to accept any phone calls. I have just discovered that…All…” she stopped as she felt like choking over the words, and turned around to hide her face. When she regained her self control, she turned around, walked to the visitors’ couch and sat down. She wanted to confide in somebody and relieve the explosive emotions building up inside her mind. Finally she closed her eyes and whispered the words,
“I just found out that Allen…was not…is not…I mean…he is not my real father.”
Sandy instinctively raised her hand to her mouth to stop a muffled scream, “My God…Oh my God!”
Ruth looked at her with a sad smile, unable to stop the tears swelling in her eyes, “You can imagine how that made me feel. I should be relieved that the man who tormented me for so long is not really my father. But having lived in that nightmarish lie for so long…is beyond any… horrible…it is totally unfair.” She started sobbing quietly.
The secretary sat next to her at the couch and calmly whispered, “But you are in control now…the nightmare is over. You should put all that behind you and start to enjoy your life___”
“what life …I lost the most important years of my life. I had no childhood like other children, I became smeared forever…I hate the whole world and the whole world hates me.”
“But now you can change all that…you can make friends and___”
“Friends…are you kidding? Probably friends of the kind that only money can buy.”
The phone rang and hesitantly the secretary stood up and went to answer it.
“This is your mother. She wants to talk to you.” She told Ruth after muting the phone.
Ruth steadied herself and went to pick up the receiver while Sandy walked out to her office.
“Ruth, my sweetie, did you meet the lawyer?”
“Not yet mother…he was here before I arrived and promised to come back again.”
“I don’t know why he never asked to see me…or did he? I think I should have talked to him and at least thank him for taking care of us while Mr. Hewitt is away.”
“I’ll let him know that mother when I see him. Just relax and I shall tell you what happens when I come home this evening.”
Ruth sat down at the huge desk looking like someone in a trance. A disturbing thought began to creep up into her mind…she didn’t know until that moment the name of her real father, or anything about him for that matter. She decided to extract every bit of information about him from her mother once she got home in the evening. Eventually sandy knocked on the door and came in to tell her that Mr. Herota had arrived and wanted to see her.
“Hello Ruth, I hope you had a good night’s sleep last night at last” the short skinny man said stretching his hand respectfully. She shook his hand and sat down.
“Hi Mr. Herota, I have told Sandy to give you the papers you asked for. Is there anything else you need?”
“No, I have handed the funny money to the experts and they shall take care of the rest.” He stood up and got ready to leave, “if you need me, you shall be able to reach me through the firm of course and you have all our phone numbers.”
“Yes, now that you mentioned the firm, my mother wondered if Mr. Hewitt would be coming back soon___” she answered as she walked him to the door.
“Yes, he should be here in a couple of days and of course he shall take over as usual.”
“Thank you Mr. Herota, have a nice day.”
That evening, Ruth joined her mother in the garden, at the same place where they had their quarrel before. This time the women were trying to find a way to bond. The mother was happy that she could finally unload the horrible burden she had to carry for so many years. While the daughter, was anxious and curious trying hard to control the tumultuous emotions conflicting inside her mind.
“Mother, you realize we have to make a lot of changes around here.”
“Sure my sweetie…we can bring in some happiness to this house at last”
“Mother I mean …I have to know everything there is to know about my real father…and I have to restore my real name to …to get rid of that …that stupid Basehart alias.”
“I think once Mr. Hewitt comes back he shall be able to take care of all these things”
“What was my father’s name? Where is he now? And why___” Ruth asked.
“Joseph Baker, your father…was a good man. He died in a car accident…The same accident, which caused your injury. You almost died with him in that crash. Only by the grace of God were you saved out of that burning car when you were so little. You were only three months young when you got very sick and he was taking you to the emergency room. I was too weak to go with you…” the old woman became emotional as she recalled the painful memories. She smiled through her tears as she continued, “Jo would be proud of you my sweetie…just as I am proud of you now.”
“I want to know what was he like…what kind of work was he doing…anything and everything about him…”
There is a box in the attic…a large wooden box with an iron padlock. It contains some of his clothes…his cherished military uniform and some pictures…there is a picture of him carrying you and standing next to me by the sea shore in Atlantic city.”
“where is the key to that box?”
“Oh, I don’t know…it was never opened in over twenty five years my dear. It must have rusted completely”
“I’ll have somebody break the padlock then. Is John around?”
“No the gardener left early to attend his son’s birthday, may be you can ask the maid to help you or wait until John comes back tomorrow”
“I’ll ask Julia to help me…”
“Only Teresa is here, Julia didn’t show up since she left last night. I don’t know what‘s wrong with that girl. She did not even call. Lately she had been absent-minded and erratic. I meant to tell you; maybe we should call the agency to replace her.”
A few days later, Ruth was sitting in the guests ‘area of her office staring at a pile of files on the cocktail table. She was completely frustrated and apprehensive. Her experience in the new customer department did not prepare her for the overwhelming responsibilities of decision making and the cut throat tasks of the movers and shakers of the business world. She just realized that wishing to run things is not enough to be able to do just that. She stood up and walked to the desk…grabbed the newly framed picture of her father and let her mind travel into a world of fantasy…”Oh, Father, what would you do if you were still around…why should I have to face this whole cruel world all alone?”
The buzzer went off, and she pushed the button, “What is it Sandy?”
“Mr. Michael Hewitt is on the phone. He wants to have an appointment to meet you.”
“Oh, finally he is back from vacation. Mother will be very happy. Does he want to come here or he wants me to go to his office?”
“He wants to come here.”
“Give him the earliest possible appointment…if possible today.”
“The earliest he can make it will be Thursday…the day after tomorrow at ten thirty AM.”
Mr. Michael Hewitt was a tall burley man with a heavy confident step. His face beamed with a cheerful smile and his sharp eyes conveyed a witty and sharp intellect.
“Hello Ruth…I am glad to meet you at last. The last time I saw you at the house, you were much younger and rather withdrawn…look at you now.”
“Thank you Mr. Hewitt. I really appreciate all what you have done for us, Even though I hardly knew any of it until recently. To tell you the truth, I can vaguely remember your face…you may have come to the house when my mother first started to get sick…those were tough days…very tough days.”
“Yes, it was very serious. Nobody expected your mother to survive…it is amazing how the tables are turned now. I am sorry I couldn’t be here sooner. I was on vacation as my daughter insisted to have her wedding in the Virgin Islands. And after the wedding I was delayed further because bad weather halted all flights several days.”
“congratulations for your daughter…and anyway, your associate Mr. Herota has taken care of us while you were away.”
“My associate…? Mr. who…?”
“Mr. Bob Herota…He came to the house and introduced himself as your associate from Bernard and Bernard and he told me all about the arrangement my mother made with your firm to protect me.”
“Ruth…I assure you I don’t know anybody by that name. And no such a person ever worked for our firm. We have twenty five excellent attorneys and none of them or their associates has such a name.”
Ruth’s heart began to race and her face reflected the explosive anger about to overtake her. Her eyes revealed her horror and she couldn’t spit out the single question she wanted to ask.
“I’m afraid you have been taken for a ride. Does your mother know about this?” the lawyer said in a serious calm tone.
“Yes my mother knew about it. But she thought you sent him to help while you were away.”
“Did you or your mother contact the office to ask or confirm this?”
“No…N…No…he seemed to know everything about us…” she mumbled nervously, “he knew the whole story and even defended my mother when I was angry with her…if he were a swindler…how did he know all that history…about which I myself knew nothing?”
“Ok…calm down. This seems to be a very clever professional, or there may be a misunderstanding.”
“Waite, he knew that my mother called your firm and that you were on vacation too.”
“Yes…that is why I say this must be a very clever person or maybe there is a missing piece in the puzzle. We shall find out and clarify everything. Just calm down and let us sort through this thing. Did he ask you for any information…private information or …any money…”
“He asked for Allen’s papers…and he only took the funny money.”
“What funny money?”
“The funny money Allen was circulating.” She shook her head and groaned as she began to realize the extent of the scheme, “He said…it was funny money…”
“Ruth, Allen was not a stupid person. He had access to real millions. Why would he get involved in such a risky scheme? He was so clever during our investigations and even our surveillance when your mother complained to the authorities, that he came out squeaky clean. He made her look like a paranoid crazy woman and her credibility was shot. Tell me everything about this funny money?”
Ruth explained to the lawyer all her encounter with Bob Herota. Disgusted with herself, she finally said, “It seems like I made a fool out of myself. I cannot imagine how he so easily convinced me that he was such an honest man.”
The experienced attorney gently extracted all the information from his dejected client and finally said, “He must be a professional. He knew that defending your mother would immediately put him in her confidence. He was not worried about you. He was more worried about your mother asking to meet him. What is very important here is that he had access to information, which very few people knew. This certainly means that he had some accomplice or two. Very few people knew about the arrangement between our firm and your mother. Allen was very keen on keeping this under wraps. On the other hand, he knew that your mother called my office and that I was on vacation. I don’t think it is someone in my office… it seems to me that somebody inside your house …only a person who witnessed that quarrel between you and your mother could have such detailed information.”
“I don’t think the nurse…no, no way…she almost attacked me when she saw me fighting with my mother…she accused me of trying to kill her…no she cannot be doing such a thing”
“I have to talk to your mother and find who she had been talking to…and who had a chance to learn about all these things. For the time being I am really concerned about the papers you handed over to that swindler. Do you know what kind of papers were there or if they had any financial or legal values?”
“I only saw some papers referring to companies outside the state and even outside the country. I thought Allen was trying to defraud the company and…I mean…probably he was trying to evade taxes or something like that. Sandy may understand this better than me.” She pressed the buzzer and asked the secretary to come in.
“Yes Ruth, do you need to write a letter?” Sandy entered carrying her notebook.
“No Sandy, I’d like to ask you if you had a chance to take a look at the papers you handed to Mr. Herota before you gave it to him?” the Lawyer enquired.
“Yes of course sir, please forgive me but, I did not like that man. He didn’t look or behave like an attorney to me. Anyway, I had to do what Ruth told me to do. There were some bonds and securities for sure. Also a couple of contracts or may be three…I was particularly curious about a contract bearing the name of Mr. Broader and___”
“Broader…the man who was Allen’s right hand as you described him?” Ruth interrupted.
“Yes, and lists of names, phone numbers and addresses from around the world…”
“did you have a look….I mean, is it possible that you might remember…the…the approximate dollar value…I mean ___” The lawyer was trying to ask his question carefully.
“I saw many zeroes on those bonds…any way…but wait; I copied all these papers before I gave it to him. I expected that Mr. Whitmore might want to have a look at it too. Do you want to see these copies?” the excited Sandy answered.
The two listeners looked at each other for a moment, and then the lawyer shook his head approvingly,
“You are one clever secretary Sandy. Bring these copies in please.”
Two weeks later, Ruth went to visit Mr. Hewitt in his office. He explained to her the results of his investigations, “As I explained to you over the phone Ruth, the police have tracked Herota and his friend Broader to Switzerland, I don’t know if we shall be able to bring them back to face justice. But the girl, Julia was arrested yesterday and she already confessed that she provided Broader with the information about your argument with your mother and her subsequent call to Bernard and Bernard. She was eavesdropping on all conversations going on in the house… don’t forget that Broader was a close confidante of Allen. He promised the girl to marry her and take her with him to Europe and the poor fool believed him.”
“Is this the end of this matter now? I am really sick to my stomach about all this garbage I find swirling around me. I cannot sleep well and I am…Oh, Please…” She pleaded.
The lawyer left his big chair behind the desk and walked slowly to stand close to the weak and frustrated Ruth. He leaned back against the edge of his desk and started to speak softly with an encouraging smile,
“Ruth…forget about all that garbage swirling around you. I have to talk to you about something more important than all this. You are taking upon yourself too much of a burden. The kind of responsibility you are undertaking used to break mighty men. Look at you…you have become a nervous wreck. Why…? You don’t need to do that…you can rest back and enjoy your life and let someone else take care of everything for you.”
“Someone else? Like who? I don’t trust anybody.”
“I don’t blame you. But there are always checks and balances to guarantee an honest operation. Besides, where did you hear about…how old are you…twenty five…twenty six? Where did you hear about a girl your age with very little experience in life…let alone management…is running such huge enterprise like the one you own?”
“Allen was doing it and I___”
“Allen was twice your age and had tremendous experience in the business world. Yes, he was a scoundrel and a wicked man; nonetheless, he was a shrewd and a clever businessman. He was a shark and he knew how to swim with the sharks and beat them. But here you are…in a very short time you lost a hundred thousand dollars … you just handed it over to the first impostor who told you it was funny money… and you may end up losing a half million more if we cannot convince the Swiss banks to halt the transference of that money to those crooks.”
“I have just started to get control of my own life. I am not going to give it up again to anyone.”
“Ruth, your marketing manager had just quit. You lost your human resources director as well. The cement factory may end up being closed for lack of____”
“Are you saying this is all my fault? You are no____”
“No…please don’t misunderstand. I am not accusing you of anything. I am more worried about you and your mother. You are very rich and you can take your mother and go touring the world top to bottom. And let someone else sweat it out for you.”
“Mr. Hewitt…thank you for your advice, what I need now is your help with the board. That is all I need from you now…”
“All right Ruth, suite yourself.” He walked back to his chair and as he sat down, he opened a large folder saying, “you don’t have to worry about the board. Your corporation is not public. You are not bound by any law to submit to their recommendations or their requests. If you like what they are recommending to you, you can accept it and implement it. If you do not accept their demands, you can ignore it. But then you must remember that what Richard of Marketing and Elizabeth of HR did can be repeated as these managers and executives lose their faith in the company, they are going to leave one by one and you are going to lose the very people you need to run the company.”
“I can replace them with others who will have some respect for me.”
“But these people Ruth, know the business inside out. Experience and loyalty are very precious commodities in the business world”
“Then I shall need you to convince them to stay on…promise them some bonuses or other incentives …make it worthwhile for them to stay.”
“Aha….that is what I was talking about a minute ago. You see, I am your lawyer, not your administrator. I am trying to convince you to bring along the kind of administrator who will convince those people to stick around. The kind of experienced executive who will know how to rally the troops and expand your business instead of letting it shrivel gradually until it vanishes before your very eyes.”
“And I guess you know such executive already?” She said defiantly.
“No Ruth, I don’t know anybody who fits the bill…honestly I think it shall be very difficult to find any good executive worth his dime who will agree to work in such challenging environment.”
“Meaning with me around…”
“Not exactly…but being treated with distrust and disgust…nobody would like to be subjected to such pressure…would you?”
“I have lived with distrust and disgust all my life and___”
“How did you like it…?”
She didn’t answer immediately. She stood up and started to pace the room anxiously. Finally she stopped and turned to face the lawyer, “And where do you think I shall find this star you are talking about?”
“There are agencies and recruiters for that sort of thing. You can ask Sandy to contact a couple of them and let them recommend some candidates. After that comes an interview and a background check etc. it is a process that may take time. I can help you in terms of background checks and may be even interviews but I think the best approach is to let some of your board members like say…Douglas and Peter … or anyone else who had been a long time with the company…let them get involved in the choice. After all they are going to work closely with that person.”
“I shall think about it…”
Ruth was struggling with the idea of giving up the power she has just received against all odds. She wanted to cling to the feeling that she was in control of everyone around and nobody could ever again push her away or brush her aside as a non-entity. But she realized that losing the most qualified people to help her run the business might end up causing her to lose that same power she relished now. Therefore, she finally relented, though she insisted on keeping her office and maintaining a staff, even if she would hand the reins to a “hired” executive. Secretly, people around her, began to look at her as a psychopathic freak of “new money”, or the kind of person with a big head and little substance. Yet, nobody wanted to cross her in any way, shape or form. They knew she would dismantle anybody who might dare stand in her way no matter what the price might be. Indeed, the vampire girl had become a full-fledged vampire to reckon with. She was growing venomous and lethal every day.
In the following five years, Ruth Baker had learned a lot about the business world. She became accustomed to frequenting the social circles, and business conventions. Yet she never forgot that she was on a mission of revenge against the world. Even though she was kind to her mother, she always reminded herself that her mother’s weakness deprived her of her dignity and childhood innocence. She was determined to trust nobody and allow nobody to come anywhere beyond a casual acquaintance or a business liaison. She tried to convince her mother to divorce the incapacitated Allen, “Let us throw him back to his family. You said he has two brothers on the west coast” Ruth demanded, but the old woman would not even contemplate the thought. “He had alienated all his family. Even when he had control of money and power, they would not even want to see his face, you think now that he is a loathsome burden any one will want to pick him up? No sweetie, I am old and sick and may die any day now. How am I going to stand in front of God if I do that?” she would answer her daughter every time she brings it up. But the vampire woman would callously answer, “Mother, you just say to him…where were you when we were tormented by that vicious beast?” Finally, Ruth found the cheapest available hospice care facility and dragged him into it, never to give him a moment’s attention after that.
Men, rich and poor from all walks of life tried to approach her and gain her approval for marriage, but she would scoff at the mere thought. However, the façade of power and viciousness, which she maintained in public, would crumble and disappear as soon as she went into her room at home and closed the door. Many nights she would cry herself to sleep. The intense feeling of loneliness and the devastating sense of despair could not be erased by the mere access to wealth and power. She would undress and look at the big scar on her shoulder and remember Allen’s cruel words, “I want a son not a dimwitted ugly girl” she could afford to have cosmetic surgery now, which was out of reach when Allen was in charge of her money. But she would immediately whisper to herself, “why would I do that? Who cares if I live or die…if I look good or remain ugly…fact is I know more people want me dead…and the rest just don’t care.”
In the summer of 2003, her mother’s health deteriorated badly. Doctors suggested that medicine alone, even with the best medical care would not be enough. It was strongly suggested to the daughter that she should send her mother on a cruise or any similar excursion to improve her emotional condition. At last, Ruth reluctantly agreed to go with her on a trip to the Jersey shore. It was the last week of August, and the resort town of wildwood was packed with vacationers. She had Sandy arrange accommodations for a small entourage in a huge house overlooking the ocean in the crest area. Together with her mother, she brought Nurse Betty, Sandy and two male assistants who would stay in the lower floor together with Ryan, an assistant to the nurse. Ruth was not happy to be taken away from the business world she immersed herself into, in order to forget her personal woes. Once she arrived at the bustling sea resort, her sense of loneliness grew even deeper and her resentment for the whole arrangement was ever so clear on her face, even though she tried very hard to be as cheerful as possible to help her mother recover.
In the afternoon of the first day they went to spend some time at the beach. They had a table, beach chairs and umbrella set up for them. Her mother was carried to the spot in a special chair. It was a pleasant evening and people were enjoying themselves all around. Refreshments were served to mother and daughter, while the nurse and the secretary went together for a walk.
“wouldn’t you like to swim Ruth?” the old woman asked
“Are you serious?” The daughter answered incredulously.
An angry stare was the only answer she got. So she persisted, “you don’t have to be a professional swimmer to enjoy a dip in the sea waves.”
“Mother…” the angry woman replied impatiently, “you seem to forget a few things as you get older…among other things, I don’t have the beautiful body to show off in a swim suite…no thank you…I don’t want to swim. End of discussion”
She stood up and walked away trying to calm down. She was looking at the other women around and wondered how her scar would look like if she should don one of those Bikinis. May be she should have that cosmetic surgery after all.
After a while she returned to sit across from her mother again. The two other women were there and one of the male assistants was writing down some instructions about the dinner preparations. People were beginning to leave the beach and Sandy was sent to get Ryan and the other assistant to help in returning Mrs. Baker home.
They all had dinner at the house at the same table. While dessert was being served, the old woman said, “Ruth, I want to ask about something and I don’t want you to get angry…just hear me out.”
The three men excused themselves and left. Sandy wanted to leave, but a pleading look from nurse Betty kept her in her seat. After a short period of silence, the young woman raised her head defiantly, “Mother if you know it will make me mad, better keep your peace please. Let us end this day…at least this one day…without fighting.”
The old woman had already determined to speak out,
“Ruth, my sweetie…I was told that you are trying to buy the property in main street…the property where the Howards have their supermarket.”
“So what Mama? What is that to you?”
“My dear, we have nothing to do with the food business…why do___”
“It has nothing to do with the food business Mama…I am already closing the deal and I am going to kick them out of there…Please don’t interfere in this”
“Oh, but why? Why do you want that particular property? You are going to ruin these people. They have been in that property for the past twenty five years. The old man cannot go somewhere else and restart in a new place. Please Ruth, I cannot___”
“Mother, I offered them a very good price and___”
“Oh my sweetie, the price you offered is nearly half the value of the business. And this is not fair…you know that my dear…I___”
“How do you know all that mother? Did Mr. Hewitt talk to you about this? How can he spill out such confidential information? I am___”
“Don’t rush to judgment Ruth. Michael did not tell me anything.”
“Then who? Who had given you such information?”
“If you must know…it is Belinda…Trent’s wife…why should that matter? Why would you like to keep such a thing from your mother?”
“Well, If you must know, mother, your dear Belinda and Trent Howard are the lousy parents of a stupid creature called Marty Howard, who used to be in high school with me.”
“So what does that mean? Because their son was a stupid student in your class___”
“Yes mother. That stupid creature had branded me the…the vampire girl…now__”
Mrs. Baker couldn’t help laughing, “What? The vampire…this is___”
“It is not a joke mother. I had to live with this the rest of my life. All the school would take up the cruel nickname and many people to this day when they see me, they whisper about it between themselves…well, now I am going to show them what vampires do? I am only the product of their jokes”
“Ruth, that was childish behavior of years long gone…you shouldn’t dwell on such absurd pranks of teen ager boys…you know that ___”
“Mama, I couldn’t even cry when they teased me on the school bus and in the hallways…I had to go cry in the rest room… quietly …lest they would make more fun of me___”
“Ruthie Please let___”
“Mother stop. I shall destroy them…completely destroy them…you have not seen anything yet. I am going to crush all those who hurt me so badly all these years…no…don’t even add another word. My mind is made up and I know what I am going to do?”
“Ruth, my girl…you are going crazy…you are starting a crazy campaign against father Blair to stop all donations to the church and you are___”
“Ah, they told you about that too__” she laughed hysterically, while her mother was beginning to sob and breathe heavily. That is when the nurse intervened firmly, “Ladies, I have been patient so far but this must end now. Please Mrs. Baker you must prepare to take your medicine and go to sleep.” Yet the old woman would not hear it, she pressed on,
“Ruth, almost a year or two ago wicked people killed thousands of our friends not too far from here…on our own land …motivated by hate…it blinded them and turned them into senseless monsters. Now I see you my sweet and beloved daughter turning into a beast…full of hatred and anger…you are becoming no different from these bloody animals.”
“Is that what you see Mom?” Ruth stood up pushing her chair violently back, “I am what they made me. I am a vampire. I intend to live up to my reputation.”
The following day, Ruth avoided seeing her mother. She left the house early and spent the whole day out by the beach alone. Yet, on the third day, after Nurse Betty pleaded with her, she agreed to go with the group to a restaurant on the boardwalk for lunch. They got a large table overlooking the beach where special accommodation was made for the Old woman’s wheelchair. Ruth was seated between her mother and Sandy. The mood gradually improved and the men felt so relaxed that they started to joke about the swimmers and the sunbathers and everything around while the women shared in the laughter politely. After the desserts were served, the men left to take a walk. Ruth ordered a cup of coffee and listened patiently to the small talk the other women engaged in. Her mind was taking her slowly away across the horizon where the gloriously clear blue of the sky blended magically with the far end of the ocean. An image of herself , faint and blurry, was emerging so far away…what would it be like if she had the same opportunity like those others…young and old…running around merrily and seemingly without a single thing to worry about. What would it be like…to be a child playing in those waves, secure and confident in the strong arms of her father? Her daydream disappeared when she felt the touch of a gentle small hand tug at her skirt. She turned around to see a beautiful little girl with a big smile on her innocent face and her hands hiding behind her back. Ruth didn’t know immediately how to react to this. She frowned for a moment, yet she couldn’t resist the innocent angelic smile beaming at her. Her frown immediately changed into a bewilderment…she had to smile back and hesitantly blurt a question,
The little girl now brought forth her right hand with a red rose in full bloom and presented it to her without saying a word. Everyone around was watching this scene with admiration and glee. For a moment, Ruth was dumbfounded. She didn’t know what to say or do. Finally she slowly reached out and took the rose from the little girl,
“Her name is Ruth Hastings…Hello Miss Baker.” A man’s voice answered. He approached the table slowly, “It is a pleasure to see you again after all these years” He grabbed the little girl, hugged her and then sent her away. He was an elderly man with a skinny face, white hair and gentle demeanor.
“I’m sorry but…do I know you? Have you put her up to do that?” Ruth answered his greeting with a touch of annoyance for the unexpected intrusion.
“Yes Ruth. My name is John Hastings…I am the father of Scot Hastings…He was___”
“I remember Scot…” she relaxed a little and instinctively found herself compelled to continue the conversation, “you used to work for my…I mean you were…the manager of the Cement Plant”
“Exactly…you have a very good memory. It is good to see you again. If you need anything here or…I mean…as long as you are staying in wildwood…if you need anything at all, please let me know…just send word with any of your assistants and I’ll do my best to make your stay here very comfortable.” He bowed politely and was about to leave. But she stopped him,
“Waite a minute Mr. Hastings…I am sorry…I …I don’t want you to…how rude of me…”
Elena Baker was watching the conversation in amazement. She immediately jumped in,
“It is good to see you John. Why don’t you come sit with us for a few minutes…will you?”
“Thank you ma’m, I am afraid running this place doesn’t allow me too much time for myself. But I shall take a rain check. If you promise to come back and have dinner here with me, I shall make time to sit and talk for as long as you like. I shall also have the chef prepare a special sea food treat for all your group…what do you say?”
Before Ruth could think of an excuse to reject the idea, her mother answered cheerfully,
“That is an invitation we cannot refuse…”
After Hastings left, Ruth whispered angrily to her mother,
“Why did you say that? We don’t know what he is up to? What if___”
“What he is up to?…look at that beautiful rose the little girl gave you? Ruth…if someone offers such kindness and generosity…why should you just block them out?”
Ruth tried to speak again rather loudly, but her mother spoke over her objection,
“If we find that he is up to no good…we can easily stop the whole affair. But if … just if we find that we may be running into some kind people, then by all means…let us have some friends in this unfriendly world”
“There is no such a thing as kind and generous people…there are no nice friends…everybody wants something…everybody…” Ruth insisted.
Sandy now injected herself into the discussion to help the old woman,
“OK Ruth, let us at least find out what this vicious man wants?” they all laughed except Ruth. So many past events were spinning in her mind very fast that she began to feel cold and scared. At last, she spit out a revealing statement,
“This girl could not be the daughter of this old man…”
Everybody was stunned at the direction of her thoughts. Elena then cautiously answered,
“She must be his granddaughter… May be …”
After a few moments of awkward silence, Sandy then said,
“We can find out tonight”
They returned back to the restaurant that evening, having rested and changed into nightclothes. A Brooding Ruth, tried hard to skip the encounter with the past without success. A lot of questions were troubling her and she was so afraid to lose control and be swept away where she wouldn’t want to go. Was that girl Scot’s child? Where is her father? Is she the child of another sibling? Why would that be important to her? Then she looked at the red rose, which the little girl gave her, and remembered the innocent beautiful face lit up with her disarming smile. For the first time in her life, she was confronted with such overpowering innocence. She knew in her heart – though she defiantly denied it – that she loved that girl. For the first time ever, she found someone she could really love…even though it was someone she sees for the first time. When she arrived at the restaurant that evening, she promised herself to erase the whole matter from her memory as soon as they returned back home.
The evening started with the usual exchange of nice compliments, and John Hastings proved to be a good host. Very soon, while the appetizers were being served, Elena started the dreaded dialogue,
“But John…you didn’t tell us how is little Ruth related to you?”
“Oh, she is Scot’s daughter. Isn’t she beautiful? She is the pride and joy of my life.”
“She is beautiful indeed. Her mother must be really beautiful too.”
“Yes. Her mother was a very beautiful lady…God bless her soul. We lost her in the September eleven attack on the world trade center…she was an employee in one of the firms close to tower one.”
“Oh my God…I am sorry to hear this. It must have devastated poor Scot?”
“He grieved quite a bit. We all missed her so much…Martha was a kind and gentle human being who spread love and cheer everywhere around her.”
Sandy then ventured into the conversation,
“So where is Scot? Why is he not with his lovely daughter?”
“Scot is in Africa…He works in an international company and travels a lot. You see, after he graduated from college he worked with this company in their office in New York. He really proved himself to be a shining star in the company and they kept pressing on him to take up a bigger role in their global operation. When his wife died in this tragic way, I finally convinced him to accept the new position hoping that the constant travelling may help him forget the pain.”
Elena listened with admiration gleaming in her eyes, while Ruth was feeling her heart being squeezed slowly and for an unexplainable reason she was getting dizzy…
The main course was served and Elena noticed with a mother’s eye that everyone was eating heartily except her daughter, but before she could say anything, John spoke,
“Why, Miss Baker…you don’t seem to like the food… believe me, this shrimp and lobster feast is the best in all the land…try to___”
“Thank you…E…thank you, I seem to have had too much of a lunch, I can…I am not really hungry.” She was struggling to say every syllable.
Elena tried to steer the conversation back to quench her curiosity,
“John, this is really good, you must have a very clever chef. Did you hire him or did the owner of this place bring him in.”
“I am the owner of this place Mrs. Baker…together with two of my cousins. Henry used to work with me in upstate New York. When I retired a couple of years ago, I decided to put my life savings into this venture so I can stay active and at the same time enjoy the fun in Wildwood. I persuaded my cousins to partner with me, yet Karen, my wife was reluctant to go along with the project in the beginning, ‘very risky’ she said…but Scot convinced her that it was a good idea…he even helped us with some of the arrangements, he graduated from college with a major in business management, you know.”
“But indeed it is very risky John? Isn’t it?” Elena retorted.
“May be…it is the weather, you know. If we are blessed with good weather in summer, we have a bonanza year. So let’s have our fingers crossed,”
“So where is Karen…how come we didn’t see her?”
“Karen is visiting her sister in Texas…they are making a big celebration there to baptize the grandson of her sister… she should be back the day after tomorrow.”
That night, Ruth couldn’t sleep. There was an emotional hurricane inside her heart and mind. She tried to suppress her feelings in vain. The image of little Ruth was chasing her everywhere. She couldn’t help but think of how much love is encompassing this child…love that she never had when she was her age…love, she never felt all her life. The more bewildering thing was that she couldn’t help but love the little child herself. She tried to hate her…to convince herself that she only envied her…but in the end she had to admit to herself that she was totally overpowered by the innocence emanating from those eyes, and the sweet charm exuded from that smiling face. Then her mind took a sharp turn to her parents. Why did they call her Ruth? Is it at all possible that her father…? No…it is impossible. Nobody ever loved her…she lived with the disdain and hatred for so long that she couldn’t even imagine the mere possibility that someone would love her so much that, in spite of her rejection, he would still have that much love for her. The absurdity of such hope was beyond all levels of fantasy. She realized that she was wrong to drive Scot away, but she also realized that her regret was only about ten years late.
The following two days, she was very quiet. She tried to avoid talking or arguing with anyone about anything. She was trying in vain to be alone and away from everyone, Until they were having lunch at the beach the third day. They had a table with a large umbrella very close to the water. Her mother was in her wheelchair and the other two women were seated between them. Jude, one of the assistants was going back and forth serving them. Ryan with the other man was away getting some medicine for Elena.
“You know, I’d like to go to see John, by now Karen must have come back and I’d like to meet her…what do you think Ruthie?” Elena said casually.
“Mom, if you want to see them, you can go this afternoon.”
“Why don’t you want to come with me sweetie?”
“I am too tired Mom, Please if you want to go___”
“Ruth, my dear…don’t you miss that little angel who gave you that beautiful rose? The least you can do is, think of some nice little gift for that sweet girl?”
“Mom please…please…I…I am tired and … I don’t feel like seeing anybody…”
At this moment, Ryan arrived with the medicine alone,
“I am sorry Miss Ruth; Steven had to go help John…the guy who invited us to dinner the other day… his little girl was being taken to the hospital by ambulance, and his wife was hysterical… she finally collapsed and the poor man was in tatters.”
Everyone was shocked. Ruth was completely caught off guard. Elena was able to speak first,
“Why, …do you know why? Was the girl hit or hurt…do you know what happened?
“No ma’m I left Steven to help the man and came to bring the medicine.”
Now Ruth was able to control her emotions,
“Jude please get my car right away. Ryan and Betty stay with Mom, and I shall take Sandy with me to the hospital.”
Her mother tried to object, as she wanted to go with her to the hospital. But Ruth was in no mood to argue. She hurried away after Jude.
At the hospital, she found John sitting next to an elderly woman who was silently weeping with tears flowing like a river from her glazed red eyes. Steven calmly explained the situation and said that Karen joined them after she was revived at the restaurant. John stood up to receive them,
“Thank you Ruth for coming. This is Karen my wife…she arrived last night from Dallas.”
“Hi Karen, What happened John? What happened?”
“Nobody knows…Doctors are taking turns at examining her. She was well this morning. But gradually she began to cry and complain of some strange pain and red swellings all over her body…we didn’t understand, I tried to give her children aspirin…but her condition suddenly worsened and she finally collapsed.”
Ruth looked at Karen who didn’t move from her place and looked like someone about to die. She sat next to her quietly, but her thoughts were swirling in her mind, “if I was the one afflicted and sick, will anybody shed a tear for me? Well may be my mother…” then Sandy approached her whispering,
“Would you like to talk to the doctors and offer any help?”
“Yes sure…can I do that?”
The secretary went looking for the proper person to talk to. After a few minutes, she came back with one of the doctors in a white coat, who spoke cheerfully,
“Hello Miss Ruth, my name is Doctor Montgomery and I promise you we are not sparing any effort to save this little angel…”
“Thank you doctor, did you find out what the problem is?”
“Most probably it is a severe case of allergy… we are trying desperately to stop it from getting any worse.”
“Is there anything we can do? Would you suggest we call any specialist or …or anything…no matter what it may cost, please do what is needed…it shall be paid for in full.”
Ruth sent Steven to help Ryan and Betty take care of her mother. Sandy wouldn’t leave her alone, so they stayed all day with the Hastings. Her presence and her decision to pay for all the expenses, helped Karen to calm down and speak a few words expressing her gratitude. By the end of the day they heard some reassuring words from the staff who encouraged them to go home as the little girl would have to stay in intensive care for at least another twenty four hours. Sandy pressed Ruth to accept the Hastings invitation to have a simple quick dinner together, which helped cement the bonding between Ruth and her hosts.
Two weeks after their return home, Ruth was going through the mail when she suddenly came upon a peculiar letter with overseas markings and a sender’s name that immediately churned an emotional storm in her mind “Scot Hastings”
“Dear Ruth, I cannot thank you enough for your gracious kindness and support for my parents during a very difficult time. Your help has saved the life of my little angel Ruth while I am away. I know I can never pay you back for this exceptional thoughtfulness and compassion. But I am certain your gentle heart never considered or expected a pay back. I am looking forward to seeing you when my task here ends eight weeks from now. Till then, wishing you the best in the care of the good Lord. Sincerely, Scot”
When she finished reading the letter for the second time, she was already out of breath. For the first time ever she felt completely swept away by emotions. She put the letter down and closed her eyes. As she went through the words again now emblazoned in her memory, she was at a loss. Should this be happiness? Is she supposed to feel happy? Can she allow herself to be happy? Why? Then suddenly two words jumped out in front “eight weeks” Oh what does that mean?
She flipped through the pages of the desk calendar…that’s almost two weeks before Thanksgiving. She fell back in her chair. What am I supposed to do? Should I write back? Should I prepare for the day I finally meet him again? Or should I ignore the whole matter? Why should I care? Do I….? No….No….
While she was still pondering what to do, Sandy knocked at the door and walked in,
“Well Ruth what did he say?
“What did who say?
“Scot…of course. The letter seems to be coming from South Africa…with the sender’s name on the envelope”
“Suppose it is so…” she was trying to hide her anxiety, but the secretary was much more clever,
“Ruth, very few people get a second chance.”
Ruth looked at her with restless eyes, and then of a sudden she completely gave way,
“I don’t know what to do. I am completely torn apart. Part of me wants to jump up and down for joy. Yet a stronger part of me is screaming inside, you’d be crazy to let your guard down.”
“I like the part that says ‘jump for joy’…He must have said something nice?”
“He…He is coming back in five weeks…Oh Sandy…five…weeks”
Sandy took a step back, “Oh my goodness, you must be jumping up and down for joy…Ruth, this is fantastic…you have just about enough time to prepare”
“Prepare? Prepare for what?”
“For the best days of your life Ruth…”
“Or the worst?”
“Are you kidding me? How can this be bad? This is as clear as the blue sky in a beautiful sunny day.” The ecstatic secretary blurted, “The man named his only daughter after you when he could not have you. I have never seen more love and devotion than this in my life”
“Love and devotion…I had enough of these. I cannot forget when a man named Will Sanders talked me to death about love and devotion…”
“Will Sanders talked about it. But Scot Hastings proved it unequivocally Ruth…there is a big difference between these two”
“All men are the same Sandy. Just different styles of deception…different ways of how to butcher you to satisfy their beastly desires.”
“Oh Ruth, Please don’t do this to yourself. You’re going to regret it the rest of your life”
“Either way, I seem to regret it already”
“Does your mother know about this? Did you call her?”
“No…Oh no, Please she should not know about this at all…”
Try as she might, Ruth could not put the matter out of her mind. It chased her night and day. Every time she saw a couple walking down the street, driving together in a car, or holding hands at the mall, somehow her mind involuntarily brings up the image of Scot Hastings. Sometimes she became enthusiastic that she went on shopping for clothes and researching restaurants. Yet, some other days she would cry herself to sleep promising that she would never give him a chance to see her or talk to her. In her bewilderment, she even started to look for travel plans so that she would not be around when he arrives in town. With the passage of time, her mood swings intensified…until that Friday…
She was getting ready to leave for home that afternoon. She put away all her papers and buzzed Sandy to let her know that she was done for the day. Sandy did not respond. Instead, she heard a knock at the door. The next moment, the door was pushed open and there… at the threshold, appeared a lanky figure of a handsome man with a broad smile, hat in hand. She was completely taken aback…
“Hello, Ruth.” Scot said still standing by the door.
“It’s been a long time. May I come in?”
She shook her head approvingly and put her hand over her mouth as if to stop herself from saying anything against her will. She was totally spell bound until he was inches away from her.
“I know it is a surprise, but I was hoping it would be a pleasant one.”
“Oh, Please do sit down,” she was finally able to speak, “Of course it is…Please have a seat.”
She fell into her chair unable to control her visibly shaking hands.
“It was your Mom’s idea that I don’t tell you beforehand__?”
“My Mom? She knows you are here?”
“Yes, my mother is constantly in touch with her as you know. When Mrs. Baker heard that I would be here a week earlier than expected, she suggested that I come to see you and thank you personally for all your kindness to my little Ruth”
“Oh, yeah…how…how is she…little Ruth…I mean”
“she is fine. We have learned our lesson. She no longer allowed to come anywhere near any product with peanuts in it.”
“How…I mean, How long … I mean…your stay… are you going to travel again…I mean…”
“I have finished my assignment in South Africa. I may stay in New York for a while. It all depends on the needs of the company and whether I decide to continue in the same position.”
Awkward moments of uneasy silence followed, until she finally said, “why…I mean, why cannot you decide?”
“I guess it will depend on the situation here. There might be some need to settle down and make up for lost years.”
She looked away from him and tried to control her overwhelming desire to repeat the same words he said. Instead, she buzzed Sandy again, “Sandy where are you?”
“I am right here Ruth.” Sandy answered.
“Is it possible that we can get some cookies and coffee for Sc…I mean for Mr. Hastings”
“I’ll be right there”
“I don’t want any cookies or coffee,” interrupted Scot, “If I am interrupting your work or__”
“No, No please, you are not interrupting anything. It is…it is…I mean, it is so good to see you after all these years.”
Sandy came in asking, “Ok, Scot, what would you like to have…a cappuccino, a soda or you would like something strong”
“Thank you Sandy, if I must, I shall have a regular coffee.”
“Well, coffee it will be. By the way, if you two are planning a dinner this weekend, I suggest “La Trabianca” they have a wonderful atmosphere in addition to their terrific menu.”
They both looked at each other, he with a big smile of relief and she with a horrified look in her eyes
“Well, if you put it this way,” He responded pleasantly, “I think it would be a great idea. What do you think Ruth?”
Sandy was quick to answer for her, “She likes “La Trabianca” especially Sunday evening when it is not too crowded”
“Oh but Sandy__” Ruth tried to object half heartedly.
“there are no other engagements for this Sunday Ruth…you badly need this opportunity for rest and relaxation.”
“Oh…yeah…but La Trabianca is a little too far…may be__”
“I don’t remember who said that to me one time,” Sandy persisted, “ ‘the best part of the dinner out is the drive there and back’ …and anyway Victor will drive as usual…”
“There is no need for Victor,” Scot interjected, “I can drive. I don’t mind the distance. I promise you I shall prove to be a very disciplined driver who follows all traffic lights and speed limits.”
They all laughed in varying degrees of anxiety.
They had a very cordial dinner, talking about all the common themes, and avoiding any personal issues. She was mighty curious to know everything about him, but she forced herself to resist the inkling to ask any questions. On his part, Scot was smart enough to avoid betraying the notion that he was dying to express his feelings for her or pushing himself on her. They parted that night with a promise to meet again.
At Thanksgiving, Ruth threw a great party at her house inviting the Hastings, her staff and select people of her tight circle of business associates. For the first time in her life she appeared at ease and upbeat…even happy. It was like she had turned a new page in her life, care free, jovial and optimistic. Her mother felt so happy and couldn’t stop thanking the Hastings for bringing back joy to her daughter’s life. By Christmas time, the Hastings invited the Bakers to a modest party at their house. Little Ruth had a large number of gifts under the tree. Everybody else had a nice share as well. But the gifts Ruth and Scot exchanged were watched closely. She gave him a Cadillac saying, “The great businessman coming home will need a ride to go around town.” He gave her a golden heart pendant, which she ecstatically allowed him to clip around her neck to the applause of everyone. He simply said, “It is just a simple expression of your real golden heart.” Everything seemed to indicate that the two families were set to start a new happy chapter in their lives…
It was the night before New Year’s Eve, when Ruth was making arrangements for a simple celebration in her house for both families. Before leaving the office, Sandy approached her,
“Ruth, Please listen for a moment to what I am about to say and don’t jump to conclusions too fast.” She hesitated and as her silence lingered, Ruth raised her head to lock eyes with her secretary, who had become her closest friend and confidant,
“What is it? What happened?”
“I don’t know why I feel compelled to be the one who must bring this up. But if not me, then who?”
“Speak up Sandy. You got me worried.”
“Well, here it comes. I don’t know if you are aware that almost everyone…yes everyone, is expecting Scot to pop the question to you any minute now. I don’t know if you are prepared for this… and …well, frankly I am…um, your mother too by the way… I mean, this is very important to handle properly given the __/” She stopped as she watches the changes on Ruth’s face… Her well founded fears were surely materializing on the face before her.
Ruth sat down on the couch. She was almost in a trance. Sandy sat down next to her, “Please Ruth, I beg you don’t make a decision too fast. This young man is an honest man. He deserves an honest answer. Think about all the happiness he brought around the moment he arrived into our lives, all of us”
A long Silence followed that was too hard to bear, so Sandy tried again, “Don’t tell me the thought did not cross your mind. You must have had some idea this might happen…Ruth, say something please.”
Finally, the bewildered woman turned to her secretary and said, “What do you want me to say? If everybody is expecting this to happen, what else do everybody expect? That I must say yes?”
“Why not? Of course, this would be the best thing to happen…for you, for him…for the little girl you love so much and even for both families…can you imagine how happy your mother will be?”
“May be…may be it will make everyone happy…but what about me…shall this make me happy, I don’t know. I don’t know if I should give up my freedom just because someone says he loves me. My mother did, and look what happened to her….I …I don’t__/”
“Sandy, I am scared. I am so scared I want to run and hide somewhere…I am scared and…”
Ruth Baker was trembling like a leaf and she fell into her secretary’s arms crying like a little child.
A few minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. Soon Ruth regained her composure and moved away to dry up her tears, “I am sorry, I am not used to lose control like this. Fact is it did occur to me…several times. I always shrugged it off as if I should cross that bridge when I come to it. Now it seems I am totally unprepared. I know I must say no. that is the only answer I can think of.” When Sandy tried to interrupt, Ruth waived her hand adding, “I know that is not what everybody else thinks. But that doesn’t bother me. The main question to me is how to say it gently without being offensive…I know…I know that he is a good man and everything. But that is now. I cannot guarantee what happens after I get tied to him. I shall never allow myself to be under anyone’s thumb…never again.”
She stopped to take a breath, so Sandy jumped in, “Ruth, you just said you were not prepared. I suggest you give it a little thought. Don’t rush into making a decision now which you may regret later. No you wait…let me tell you a little secret. Scot was going to propose on new year’s party. Your Mom, knowing you well, advised him to let me approach you first so I may give you time to prepare your answer. You are surrounded by love now Ruth. Unlike the foregone days, you are surrounded by people who really, honestly love you and wish you the best. So please allow yourself some time to think and may be even consult with any one you can trust…allow yourself to enjoy the love around you, otherwise you may look around and find it’s gone.”
“May be the problem is I had been so far removed from love, that I cannot see it when it is all around me as you say. Oh, I am tired. I am tired and lonely. I don’t think anyone can understand the intensity of my fear and sadness. I hate myself now far more than all the people who hated me combined. May be I should fly away to an island with no name…away…far away from everybody so I don’t bother anyone and no one bothers me.”
“that is not the strong, determined and smart Ruth I know talking__/”
“The Ruth you seem to know is only a front… a mask. But this is …is …the real Ruth you never knew talking. The Ruth nobody knows…”
New year’s eve was a very pleasant time to everybody, with the exception of Ruth who did a good job pretending to enjoy every minute. Scot was the star of the party as usual. When he was not kidding around with his daughter, he was cracking jokes to Elena and then turn around and ask Ruth about the next piece of music she would like to hear. She saw the question flickering in his eyes all the time and she even understood his repeated hinting to re-signing for another assignment… this time to South America. But she made a great effort to avoid locking eyes with him or to betray the notion that she was preoccupied with the particular matter on his mind… she was relieved when the party ended and he did not ask the dreaded question… as he was advised by Elena to wait.
A week later, just before dinnertime, Scot called her to let her know that he would join her for dinner in her house. He did not give her a chance to refuse or object. Half an hour later, He was seated at the table with Ruth and Elena. The dinner went smoothly uneventful, until it was time for dessert. She knew that the manner in which he appeared that night clearly indicated that his patience ran out. She was still tormented by the same thoughts she spilled out to Sandy. She knew fairly well that whatever words escaping her lips will be purely instinctive…and she dreaded what she might say.
“Oh, Scot, I am so happy you could join us for dinner tonight,” Elena started.
“It’s my pleasure. I wish I can make it a habit and be part of the family together with my little adorable angle.” He was looking at Ruth through the corner of his eyes.”
“What a splendid thought my dear Scot. Hear that Ruth.” Elena answered gleefully.
“Mom, I don’t think it is time to talk about such things. May be we can discuss all these beautiful fantasies some other time.”
“Ruth, there is no better time than now.” He said gently, “You know what the question is. And you are the only one who knows what the answer is…so let’s get it out and settle the matter once and for all. I don’t think any human being can prove his love for you as I did. I know deep in your heart you love me just the same. It shows in every word you say and in everything you do. Why do you lock yourself out from me and from everyone else? It is unfair to me and even unfair to you yourself.”
“Oh please Scot, I need some air…I cannot really, I mean…please.” She sputtered the words and stood up walking unsteadily out of the room and into the terrace. Elena pushed him to follow her, “it’s your opportunity, don’t let it slip away.”
He walked slowly to the railing where she was standing and stood silently next to her. It was a clear night and the silver rays of the full moon were covering the trees, the shrubs and the flowers with a magical cloak of mysterious blue light. He finally turned to face her,
“Just answer this one question…you don’t have to say it out loud… answer it in your heart… do you love me?”
She raised her head to look at him and he saw her tearful eyes betraying the torment devouring her.
“Oh, Scot…I…think…I mean…may be…I do love you. I cannot deny that. But…but I cannot marry you…I cannot marry you or anyone else. I just cannot.”
“Calm down my dear. Please talk to me. Tell me what is standing between you and me. Tell me what the problem is and let us fight it together. You are not alone Ruth. Don’t bury yourself into a cocoon and push away every source of help. Please let me help you… even if we have to put off marriage for now.”
“I am sorry scot, I know I caused a lot of pain to you and to so many people too, but that is me. I cannot change what I have become. It took so many years to make me what I am now. I am frightened of what I became. What is really unfair is to bind any one’s life to someone like me.” She stopped for a moment, turned her eyes away from him and stammered incoherently, “Just like …you found… a wonderful …wife before, you can still find a good woman who will deserve your love and affection.”
“I don’t want anyone else Ruth. It had always been you…only you. When we were together in high school, I was so obsessed by my love for you, and your constant rejection almost drove me insane. My father decided to leave his job at your company and move the whole family to New York to help me mend my broken heart…after all I am his only son…I kept myself busy, even in college I had to be constantly focused on the day at hand. My marriage was intended to help me forget you, and even then when my beloved daughter was born, the only name I could think of, was your name. Ruth, I shall always love you. No matter what happens…just remember that.”
She did not see Scot again until Sandy brought her his little note four weeks later…he signed up for the new assignment with the company in South America. He left without saying good-bye. Ruth felt like the whole world had turned into a gigantic vacuum chamber. Her tears covered her face silently, but that did nothing to alleviate the cold condemnation in everyone’s eyes, and even more so in the piercing stare of her secretary. As soon as her mother heard the news, she went into a fit of screaming and yelling at her daughter, “…you are a stupid and senseless girl. You can never know what is good for you if it hit you in the face. How could you be so blind…an idiot…a bloody idiot? You deserve what you get now…you shall live the rest of your life as a lonely wreck of a human being, I cannot believe you do this to me… to the man who loved you so sincerely all his life…I cannot believe you do this to all of us…all of us. What kind of woman are you…”
She was never able to reconcile with her mother, whose health began to deteriorate fast and no medical help seemed to work. She became more and more distanced from her daughter … In the course of a few short months, she was in and out of the hospital several times, and finally she succumbed to her grief and passed away leaving her daughter delirious and disoriented. Her elderly aunt decided to stay with her for a few weeks after the funeral, out of pity as the experienced woman saw her niece falling apart. Ruth would walk in the big house from room to room as if she was looking for something, which she could not identify. She would go to her mother’s room, sit at the edge of the large bed and cry her heart out. When the lawyer called to start working on the legal issues at hand, she bluntly asked him to take charge according to whatever he saw fit, and delegated the whole matter to her aunt and to her secretary. Ruth Baker was gradually withering like a wild flower in a parched hostile land.
Six months passed by before she was able to regain some measure of normalcy in her routine life. She was in the office staring at some excellent financial reports with very little interest as if it was a newspaper article. When Sandy opened the door without knocking, Ruth raised her brows in astonishment until she saw the grim face covered with tears glaring back her.
“Sandy, what is the matter?” Ruth asked hesitantly.
“Read for yourself…” Sandy answered pushing an open letter to her and then turning around to cry hysterically.
With shaking hands, Ruth took the page and began to run her eyes through the words fast. She had to read it twice…and in the third time, she felt her heart swell with pain and she was weeping uncontrollably.
“…Scot was among the causalities…we don’t know where he is now. They did not tell us if he survived the attack. His mother is losing her mind and I am greatly distressed. Karen is blaming it all on Ruth of course, so please do not mention that to Ruth. It is not fair to make her carry this burden especially after all she suffered when she lost her dear mother…” it was signed by John Hastings.
Sandy ran out of the room while Ruth called on her, “Sandy, please…please don’t go… don’t go …please Sandy.”
She picked up the phone and called John’s house. She only got the answering machine. She kept walking around in the room like a caged animal. Her mind was racing in so many directions at the same time. Finally, she looked at the clock at the wall, called her driver and rushed out.
She went to the Hastings house, only to find Karen’s sister taking care of Little Ruth while the Hastings had travelled overseas. The angry woman would not tell her anything more. A despondent Ruth, fell back into her car seat and after some agonizing minutes went by, she slowly asked the drive to take her to St. Paul’s Church.
She entered the church for the first time in so many years. She felt like she was suddenly propelled into an alien world. The calming smell of incense and low lights in the high vaulted ceiling immediately emanated a sense of quietness. She waited until the service was over, and after all the other parishioners left, she stayed at the back trying to control her pounding heart. The only time she showed up in church since she was fifteen, was for her mother’s funeral services. She had been at odds with Father Blair and constantly fighting him as she considered him a close friend of Allen Basehart. As she sat there alone in the huge serene edifice, images of the past began to creep up her memory. Images she tried to erase and never thought they would come back to haunt her again. As minutes passed, she became so disturbed, she forgot why she came and was getting ready to leave. As she stood up unsteadily and turned towards the door, she saw a silhouette of a man standing next to the door in the shadow… when she approached him, her mind was so obsessed with the images conjured by the fateful letter that she somehow imagined him to be Scot… One word jumped out of her throat, “Scot…”
“No Madam, I am sorry my name is Brian.” Was the polite answer… he walked a few steps towards her … he saw how distraught she was and she noticed he was wearing military fatigues.
She leaned back against a nearby pew. She was totally consumed by her agony. She turned again to fall into the large seat crying. The soldier hurried to her, “Madam, are you all right? Would you like me to call somebody? Would…”
“No, thank you. I shall be OK…”
They both heard the footsteps of the priest approaching, and waited until he emerged out of the shadows of the flickering candlelights.
“Ms. Baker…what a surprise! Hello Brian, it is good to see you back home.” The priest spoke cheerfully shaking Brian’s hand.
“Good to see you again father Blair. I just stopped to say a short thanksgiving prayer.”
“God bless you my friend and bless your family. I shall stop by sometime next week to have a little chat and enjoy a piece of the delicious cake Martha so cleverly prepares.”
“It will be our pleasure Father, Good bye Ms. Baker”
A long silence followed the departure of the soldier. Still standing a few pews away from the distressed Ruth who was breathing heavily now and quite lost for words, the priest spoke quietly,
“OK Ms. Baker let’s have it. Do you have a new complaint against the church? Can I help you in any way?”
She did not answer right away. She just looked at him through the tears streaming quietly down her face. The Priest was alarmed, but he did not betray any emotions. She finally whispered,
“No, No complaints. You…you said once, when did you come to me for help and I turned you down…well now…now I…I do need help.” She was challenging him in a wavering voice and he could sense the deep pain in her words, which were almost guttural, “I know you have every right to hate me, but no matter, you cannot hate me as much I hate myself.”
He was taken aback by the complete change in her attitude. He walked slowly towards her until he could hear her heavy breathing. He softly said,
“Ruth, I don’t hate you. I never did. I shall be glad to help you anyway I can. I can see that your mother’s passing has been very hard on you…But..”
“It is not that. I mean it is not only that…” she broke into a fit of sobbing. “I am alone…I am totally, absolutely, completely…alone.” She paused as she struggled to take a deep breath. “I caused my Mom’s death, I am the reason Scot is hurt… or even may be dead… and I managed to bring wretchedness and misery to everyone around. What kind of monster I must be…I don’t want to live anymore.” She sat down burying her face in her palms.
Father Blair was an experienced priest. He saw people break down in front of him many times. He sat down next to her silently and gave her time to calm down.
“I don’t know what to do? Where to go? Nobody wants to even look at my face.”
“Why don’t we take it from the beginning? First tell me, who is Scot?”
“We were at school together many years ago. Scot asked me a few months ago to marry him…and I…” she started sobbing again…”like a fool I …hurt his feelings. I couldn’t trust myself…I mean…” she raised her head to face the priest and her words rushed out of her lips as if to defend herself, “I could not trust anyone …any… one… I was hurt so many times and I …you know…”
“I know Ruth… I know. Just relax and explain to me what happened. I am sure together we can find some satisfying solution to any problem. There is no such a thing as a problem without solution.”
“My mother was hoping that …well, she was literally begging me to agree to marry Scot . it was my stubborn refusal that finally sent her to the grave, angry, disappointed and miserable. I did kill her…my stupidity and hatred for the whole world…did her in when she saw that Scot gave up and signed up for the new assignment in south America. Now I learned that he got hurt…in an explosion. I caused all this. He is hurt so bad that his family would not accept my phone calls. They would not tell me where he is or if he is dead or alive. They have every right to hate me…But…Oh God…I hate myself so bad that I want to die…Oh God that is unbearable…” she burst into a new fit of sniffling and sobbing.
“Well my dear Ruth, calm down. I am sure we can find a reasonable way to handle this situation. When you are so emotional, everything seems so bleak, yet, cool minds can see matters more clearly. Do I know Scot’s family? Do you know if they are members in this church?”
“I don’t know. Oh what am I going to do? If Scot dies, I am going to go crazy…I am going to…/”
“Stop Ruth, stop…now, look at me…here, look at me. Yes, now, I am going to ask you one simple question. Don’t rush to answer. Just think about it for a moment and then find the right answer truthfully…OK? OK…do you think that all this agony you are feeling now is due to a deep sense of guilt or a true deep and sincere feeling of love?”
She stared at the calm wrinkled face of the priest as a woman in a trance. Slowly she lowered her eyes to look at her own shaky hands. The priest started to speak again slowly,
“I am not trying to condemn you, and I do not doubt the sincerity of your feelings. But it is important for you to understand your own emotions in order to be able to respond correctly to the situation.”
“I cannot deny that I am guilty of these horrible things I have done. But I did love my mother, she was all I got in the world. I resented her constant surrender to Alan but I always knew she did all she could to protect me…this…this must be a mixture of both love and guilt… it must…/”
“No my dear, Love trumps guilt every time. Do you think your mother, if she were around right now, would be happy to see you consumed so badly by a sense of guilt? Of course not.”
“I don’t understand…what are you trying to say father?”
“I am trying to explain to you that it is OK to feel sad, it is OK to regret your mistakes, but life goes on. You can honor the people you love and make up for the hurt you caused them. The future always offers you a chance to earn forgiveness and peace. A clever person will turn all the negatives of life into something good.”
“There is no future for me. Mom is gone, Scot is gone and I have no real friends anywhere, I seem to have made sure to drive everybody to hate me…what future is there for one like me?”
“That is not true. There are so many people in need of a smile or a loving heart to lend a hand. Like your mother, there are many sick people who have nobody to help them. Like Scot’s family which is certainly in need of support and consolation at this difficult time.”
“Oh Father, how can I help anyone when I cannot even help myself?”
“That is exactly the best time you need to help others. Yes, you need to help others, because through this act of generosity your own wounds can be healed.”
She slowly stood up and started to walk unsteadily towards the door. She moaned,
“Thank you father for your help. I don’t think I am the kind of person who is good for any of these things you talk about. I was called the vampire girl in high school. It seems now like this was almost prophetic…I just turned out to be what the world wanted me to be…”
“No Ruth…that is not true…” the priest answered, “you are much too smart to fall into that kind of self pity. Now you have a chance to be a real great woman. You have the intellect and the wealth of resources to turn a tragedy into a triumphant life of hope and inspiration for many people. Think…think about it my child…”
She stopped and turned around to look at him with a faint smile. She nodded gratefully and walked out.
A few days later, Ruth called Sandy into her office and asked her to take some notes. Even though the secretary was still at odds with her, she realized the kind of struggle she might be going through. At the height of the crisis, she was so angry, she actually considered quitting, but later realized that that was the time when Ruth was vulnerable and most in need of her help.
“Please Sandy write these notes and convey them to Mr. Hewitt” Ruth spoke steadily, her voice trailing, and her face betraying a tired sleepless and disheartened woman.
“Mr. Hewitt…the lawyer?” Sandy asked. She was alarmed.
“Yes, I want him to drop all law suites I started…especially against the Howards. I also want him to find a way to restore their property to them…make it look like it was a gift from my mother.”
“Are you…?” Sandy said raising an astonished face to her. Ruth did not notice her secretary’s bewilderment. She was looking at the ceiling of the room and appeared like someone speaking in her sleep.
“I also want you to ask him to start a trust fund in the name of Ruth…little Ruth Hastings, please provide him with the detailed information he may need for that. I think you may be still in good terms with her family and they may listen to you.”
“Karen would not return my calls. Anyway I think they were overseas, probably in Columbia and I don’t know if they returned yet. I have all the information needed, but…are you…are you sure of what you are doing?” Sandy said slightly worried.
Ruth turned her eyes down from the ceiling to settle on the inquisitive face of her secretary. She smiled wearily and answered,
“Yes Sandy, I am sure.” She struggled out of her chair and walked unsteadily to the couch where she slumped over, “I want to go away…away from all the world. Just disappear if I can. I am sure it would make a lot of people happy.”
Sandy put down her notebook,
“Ruth, please cheer up. You are about to do something good… something very good. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everybody makes mistakes. You are lucky to be able to see through your mistakes and find a way to correct what is wrong.”
“only it is too late…I have managed to destroy everything good in my life. It is no wonder I find myself so hated by everyone. It is so ironic that nobody now can hate me more than I do hate myself.”
“Oh, but that is not true. Having to disagree with you does not mean that I hate you. I have always seen the incredibly good person inside you. You seem to forget how you poured your heart out to little Ruth when she got that peanut allergy in wildwood. It was a little girl of no consequence to you at the time. Should I remind you of all the efforts you did for your Mom? Or the work you did for the orphanage or…/”
“it was all for naught Sandy. My heart was made of wood…rotten wood. All these things you mention, I did for business expediency or something…it did not mean I had any real feelings for anyone. I may have done it even for purely selfish reasons. I was just starving for attention…for some warmth around me. And that was how I could get it. Now that I lost even that source of comfort, I am utterly exposed for what I am… just the vampire girl they used to ridicule at school.”
“Oh No…No…Ruth, Please…this kind of reasoning is completely wrong…all you need is a long vacation somewhere away from here. Get to relax and see new people and new places. Believe me it should do you good.”
“You may be right. I should go away somewhere and probably never come back. Doug Stevenson can take care of things around here. Nobody needs me here…in reality, nobody ever needed me here or anywhere else.”
“Wrong again Ruth. We all needed your strength and your energy to keep things going.” Sandy answered as some tears were welling in her eyes, “we shall only want you to rest and be at peace until you can come back to spark that energy again in all of us.”
“Oh Sandy, I know you too well.” Ruth replied with a faint smile, “you were never a good liar.”
“Listen, Here is a nice idea,” Sandy said as she sat next to her boss on the couch, “I happen to know that Thomas Blake and his wife are planning a vacation in Europe. They were discussing it with “Plymouth” the travel agency we work with. Why don’t you join them… a leisurely tour of Venice, Rome and St. Moritz will surely help you relax and find some peace.”
“This sounds nice Sandy. I’ll think about it.
Two weeks later Ruth was making travel arrangements to St. Moritz. She did not join the Blakes in their tour and instead opted to spend a few month in the resort town away from all the contacts and business connections… her plans were announced to the company employees and to the news media …
Doug Stevenson, the man Ruth chose with the help of Michael Hewitt to run the company, was a tall man with a stern look, white hair and a commanding demeanor. That afternoon, he walked into Ruth’s office and began to speak in his usual high pitched voice, “Ruth, I never thought the day would come when you stay away from this office for six days… let alone six months” He chuckled and continued, “I certainly hope you shall enjoy your stay in Switzerland and forget all about the daily hassle of the business wheeling and dealing … everything will be taken care of very well here.”
“Thank you Doug, I am sure of it…”
“If you need anything before you fly tomorrow please let us know… and as you certainly know we are going to miss you so much, and we shall keep you informed of everything going on here … yes, yes I know, only when you want to be contacted… I got the note..”
The following day, Ruth arrived late at the office and straightened all the last moment remaining issues at her desk, and by late afternoon she was ready to leave. She dimmed the lights in the room and sat in her chair behind the desk waiting for Victor to bring the limo around to take her to the airport… she ran her eyes around the vast room recollecting all the events which happened there… from the time she would not dare come to the door when Allen was in charge, to the time when Broader flung the door open and challenged her… all the way to the moment that door was opened to reveal the lanky figure of Scot after they were separated for more than ten years … His voice travelled softly and echoed again in an ethereal realm ,”Hello Ruth, may I come in.” she stood up and started to pace the room unsteadily … at the armoire, she reached out to grab the cup which he used when Sandy offered him the coffee… it was an exquisite china cup … her shaking hand lifted it up and as it fell to the ground and shattered … it made her shudder. She was stunned for a brief moment, and then with intense pain piercing her heart, she mindlessly stooped to pick up the pieces… at that moment the golden pendant He gave her on Christmas dangled out from her blouse before her eyes… she never took it off since that day he clasped it around her neck…she straightened up and wearily went to sit on the couch … she did not realize that she was weeping silently… she will never see him again… a grim feeling of despair was squeezing her heart… and just now she would not want anything in the world more than a moment to see him and say she was sorry… No… she would say that she loved him… she did love him even back when they were in high school… and she realized that she loved him even when she was pushing him away… no other person on earth loved her the way Scot did… she lived to regret her foolish resentment… and now she recognizes that nothing is more bitter than regret, except despair… she had her face buried in her palms and started sobbing quietly … she did not feel the door open slowly as a man walked into the dim lighted room and approached her softly … he knelt next to her and touched her hair without saying a word… she thought it was Sandy, so she lifted her head up to see him through her tears … she couldn’t say a word… and before she knows what she was doing, she uttered his name in disbelief, “Scot… it is you… Scot” then she burst into tearful incoherent rant, “you cannot be real.. I must be dreaming … how can you forgive me… I cannot forgive myself… I must be a horrible creature.. you must hate me…. I hate myself so much You__” He put his arms around her and,” whispered, “there shall be no room for hate in our lives Ruth… trust me.” She buried her head into his chest and hugged him, “Don’t ever leave me again …please … Please Scot, no matter what happens I beg you never leave me alone again..”
They went together to St. Moritz… it was quite fitting to make up for the many lost years of their lives.