Caught Between Two Loves by Charles David Taylor
Caught Between Two Loves by Charles David Taylor
Here’s the thing: mom absolutely would not tolerate lying or betrayal, and I was about to do both.
It was seven-thirty Monday morning, and we were sitting at our massive kitchen island. Mom was sipping her coffee, occasionally tapping on her laptop, and I toyed with the last few Fruit Loops swimming in a pool of sugary milk. I decided that acting helpless was the best approach. She liked helping me with my teen troubles.
“Mom, I’ve got a problem. I’m not doing so well in French.”
She set down her coffee and looked at me with concern.
“But darling, I thought French was your favorite subject.” She smiled sympathetically. “What is it? Your teacher doesn’t know how to teach?”
“No, no, Miss Corbusier is great. She’s from France, you know? But it’s like… well, maybe I shouldn’t have started with the advanced class. I thought I could catch up, but those declensions are hard. I like the readings a lot, but the other kids were way ahead of me, y’know…”
She smiled and reached across to stroke my hand. At that moment the maid attempted to pour more coffee, and the smile disappeared.
“Not until I ask for more! Comprende?”
The chastened woman scurried away.
The smile returned. “I’ll speak to the principal, Mick. We’ll get this Miss Corbustier, or whatever her name is, to ease up a bit. We can’t have you end the year with a bad grade, now can we?” She winked. “Big plans this summer. I’ve been working on the itinerary, let me show you.” She started to swing the laptop around so I could see it.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” I cleared my throat and looked down at my bowl. “I really need to prep for the French CLEP exam because, you know, I want to major in French, or some kind of lit thing, and I have to study…”
Mom looked at me expectantly. “What are you trying to say, Mick darling?” Her mouth had formed a harder line.
I cleared my throat again and tried to sound excited. “Listen to this, Mom. Miss Corbusier is offering remediation this summer to some of us. It’s like a special second course. If I work hard, I’ll get extra credit, advanced. Plus, she’ll up my grade in this course. Can you believe it? I feel really lucky to have her, I mean, y’know, to get this chance. I’ll be a real whiz in French when school starts in the fall and I know I’ll ace the CLEP.”
She stared hard at me, then turned and barked to the empty kitchen. “More coffee! Now!”
She turned back and smiled patiently. “Mick darling, you know we have big plans this summer. The Florida trip, remember? We’ll stay in such fun places, go first class all the way. But it’s mainly a working trip for your mama and her best boy. It’s all been planned.”
“I know Mom, but this is my big chance to really hunker down and concentrate on French. I want this! It’s my future.” She hated whining, but I couldn’t help myself.
She looked at me with her most condescending smile, and I knew it was hopeless.
“Mick, baby, you’ll do well no matter what. But mama needs you this summer. Your daddy’s support isn’t keeping us afloat, you know.” She gave a little wink. “I’ll talk to the principal.”
I pouted and swirled the swollen Loops in the milky dregs. “Won’t help me learn those declensions.”
Mom’s smile disappeared as she peered toward the great room where the two women were mopping the expanse of Terrazzo tiles. Her shout made all of us jump.
“Where is my fucking coffee!”
Jacqueline rolled down the van’s driver-side window, then flopped back onto the mattress. A light breeze of night air wafted across our naked bodies, filmed with sweat.
She exhaled. “Ah, much better.”
I was lying spread-eagled, spent. Jacqueline cuddled close and threw a thigh over my groin. I winced.
“Careful. I’m a little sore.”
She giggled. “Only a little? We went for so long. You were good to wait for me. I did not want it to end.”
I could only manage a long sigh. Unsettling thoughts crowded out the bliss. Jacqueline toyed with my hair.
“What’s wrong? Is something bothering my darling?”
“It’s my mom. She’s got this grand plan, the Florida trip. We’re supposed to leave as soon as school’s out.”
“You told her about needing a good score on your entrance exam? Maybe get a scholarship?
“Doesn’t matter. Her mind’s made up.”
She kissed me on the ear and whispered. “I know you could get a scholarship with proper coaching.” She kissed me again and her lips trailed down my neck. “Lots of coaching.”
“Come on, Jacqueline. This is a real problem.” I pulled away. “You don’t know my mom.”
She laughed gently, then rolled onto her side and propped her head on her elbow, suddenly official.
“What is the problem, Mr. Grimes? Explain.”
“I can’t explain… Trust me, my mom’s plans are pretty bizarre.”
“That’s not fair, Mick. You have to tell me so we can solve it together.”
I hesitated and scrunched up my face. I’d wanted to tell someone for so long that I thought my head would explode.
My look must have scared her. She grabbed my jaw and forced me to look at her. “Tell me, Mick. I’m here for you, my darling.”
I exhaled another massive sigh and jumped off the cliff.
“Okay, here it is. You know how people, mainly women I guess, go on shopping sprees? Well, my mom’s planning a crime spree. Yeah. As in stealing things. Like, hitting those high-end boutiques they have in Miami. We’ve worked out this team technique where I distract the store people while my mom stuffs everything in her bag or under this special coat she wears.”
Jacqueline’s mouth dropped open. I kept talking, the words coming out in a rush
“She likes stealing credit cards too, when people leave them on the counter. Or from women’s purses. Same idea, I distract the mark, she grabs the goods. Give her half a chance and she’ll empty the cash drawer too. Then we walk off in different directions, meet at the car and scoot. Hit two or three or ten stores in one area, move to the next town, do it again. Work all summer till I go back to school. Or we get busted.”
Jacqueline began laughing hysterically.
“You are shitting me! You are fucking shitting me!”
I shook my head. “I wish.”
Suddenly I felt so much older. “That’s my mom. It’s what she does.”
Jacqueline sat up, eyes wide. “So… Mick… you are not shitting me?” She glanced around, confused, as though she didn’t know how we’d come to be here, naked, in the back of her van. “I don’t know that word, Mick. What is ‘spree’?”
I smiled. She was, after all, a language teacher.
“Spree. That’s like, to go nonstop, all out. Like a crazy shopping trip. Except with us it’s burglary, theft, petit larceny, whatever. I guarantee, ‘spree’ is the word you’ll see in the headlines when we get caught.”
She touched my cheek, as though trying to divine the truth in my features. Her bliss of minutes before had faded into grim concern. Slowly, oblivious to her own nakedness, she sat up, cross-legged yogi style. Her full breasts hung gracefully, but the picture was anything but sexy.
“You will not be caught, Mick. You will call the police.”
“Can’t do that, Jacqueline. Trust me, I’ve thought about it a million times. She’s my mother, for Chrissake! It’d totally destroy my family. And I’d go to jail too.”
“I cannot believe this. I will not allow you to be corrupted by this devil woman.”
My laugh was cynical, ugly. “What did you just say? We’re sitting here in your van. We just had sex, great sex. But you’re what, 31, and I’m fifteen? What would the police call that?”
She sniffed and her mouth turned into a wrinkled pout that might have been cute under other circumstances.
“No! This is natural.” She poked her finger at me. “What your mother does is bad, evil. She takes advantage of you in a terrible way.” But the irony was not lost on her. “I know, this is America, a most conservative and religious country, hypocritical in so many ways…. Yes, what we are doing would be looked on badly. But by the laws of nature, there is nothing wrong with it.”
She looked away and I thought she might cry. I put my hand on her knee. She turned back and spoke fiercely.
“Your mom is making you into a criminal, like her. To break the law is bad, that is true. But it is a common kind of thing, not so very terrible — but she is using you as a… what did you call it?
“Decoy. I’m a decoy, a distraction.”
“Exactly. An old technique of thieves, nothing new. The French probably invented it – but she is your mother, Mick darling. You are a victim in this situation. And as you say, you could be caught. And punished, even though a youth. What then about your dreams of college?”
I ground my teeth but said nothing.
“Be selfish for a moment, Mick. What do you get out of it?”
“I don’t know… college tuition?” I tried to laugh, but it caught in my throat. “Actually, she’s kinda proud of herself for teaching me this stuff.”
Jacqueline closed her eyes. “Holy Jesus, Mary Mother of God, I can’t believe I hear this. Well this is — what is the saying? — a real pickle.”
She uncoiled from the yoga pose and snuggled against me. We lay there for some minutes, then she pulled the silk spread over us and casually moved her thigh back onto my groin. She began that slight rotation that always brought on a reaction. If I’d been a cat, I would have purred.
When she licked my ear, I turned and kissed her.
“Pickle? I’ll show you a pickle…” I rolled on top, and for many more minutes, maybe an hour, we thought of nothing else.
Jacqueline drove me to the Best Buy parking lot where I’d left the Trans Am. I jumped out before she could kiss me. All we needed was for one of my classmates or another teacher to see us. She had a big grin as she drove off.
I walked carefully around the Trans Am and inspected it for damage. Its gorgeous red finish glowed an iridescent purple under the buzzing lights, and just sitting there it looked ready to explode into action. Mom had given it to me when I got my license, and as much I liked the car, I was a little afraid of it. A stock Trans Am has 345 turbocharged horsepower and can do a quarter-mile in thirteen seconds, hitting106 miles per hour, still accelerating. From a standing start, one bump on the accelerator would lay a squealing, smoking streak of rubber that would draw every cop within five miles.
I know this because I got pulled over the first week I had it. I was with a bunch of jerks from school who’d goaded me into showing off. The cop was pissed, said I had no business with a car like that. But when he saw my shaking hands, he felt sorry for me. He knew the guys had pushed me into it. He wrote out a warning ticket and told me to get some new friends.
After that, I never drove it to school. Mom took me in her Bentley, which was almost as bad for getting attention.
Wednesday morning, mom pulled up directly in front of school and stopped, ignoring the cars stacking up behind us. She liked how everyone stopped to admire the fancy English car. She used the time to have a little talk with me before I got out.
“I have an appointment with the principal this afternoon. We’ll get this little problem with your French class straightened out.”
I shook my head. “Mom, I keep telling you, it’s not the grade. I need that extra work this summer for the CLEP exam …”
“We’ve been through all that, Mick. I need you with me. It’s settled.”
Just then a shadow appeared on my side of the car and someone rapped on the window. To my horror, it was Jacqueline, grinning broadly. Mom was startled.
“Mick, roll down the window. That lady wants to say something.”
Slowly, without making eye contact, I pushed the button to lower the window, and Jacqueline leaned in, beaming and gorgeous. She wore a chic silk scarf, which did little to hide ample breasts straining against a tight blouse. It was hard to tell what the passing students were admiring more, the elegant automobile or Jacqueline’s amazing ass.
I was too stunned to speak, but Jacqueline was undeterred.
“Hi there, Mick.” She peered across me at my mother. “You must be Ms. Grimes, Mick’s mother.” Her light fragrance and bubbly energy filled the Bentley’s elegant interior. I finally came to my senses.
“Mom, this is Jacqueline, Ms. Corbusier, my French teacher. I…”
Jacqueline reached across me and lightly grasped my mother’s cold hand.
“Ms. Grimes, I am so pleased to meet you. You must be very proud of Mick. He is such a brilliant scholar — so gifted, and doing so well in my class. I hope to convince him to major in languages. My teaching experience is not extensive, but I have never seen such native ability. Mick makes my job so rewarding.”
Mom was nodding, taking it all in. “Yes, he has mentioned you. I’m quite aware of his educational interests. Perhaps we can get together sometime and discuss his future.”
“That would be wonderful. I am here most days, if you care to come in. Perhaps, tomorrow or Friday?”
“I was thinking of something more intimate than the classroom. Would you consider coming to dinner? At our house?”
I frantically shook my head. “Mom! Jacqueline has all kinds of things going on, she wouldn’t…”
Jacqueline laughed with delight, as though I weren’t there.
“Oh, that would be marvelous! I’d love to come. I’m free this weekend, or is that too soon?”
Mom almost sang her faux-merry response. “Saturday night it is. Cocktails at seven?”
Again, Jacqueline filled the car with her laugh.
“Delightful! I am so honored. I will get your address from Mick this afternoon.” She rested her hand on my shoulder, and I almost shook it off. “Don’t be late, Mick. Such an elegant car, must be difficult to remove yourself.” She stood up, straightened her skirt and waved gaily. “Saturday at seven.”
I wanted to kill them both. This was a recipe for disaster. I glanced at my mother as I bent down to pick up my backpack. She was smirking. All I could think was, she knows, she knows.
“Jacque-leen?” was her only comment.
She texted me later that she’d cancelled her afternoon appointment with the principal.
Jacqueline was astride my lap facing the windshield, gripping the steering wheel for leverage, bouncing and writhing and working herself into a frenzy. I leaned my forehead into her back and held onto her breasts for dear life, thinking of bull riders and roller coasters — anything to delay my release. At her climax, she lurched hard into the wheel, setting off a prolonged blast from the horn. We both began laughing hysterically, and I had to pull her hands away from the steering wheel to stop the horn. Far down the dark street, a man came out on his porch and yelled “Quiet!”
It had been Jacqueline’s idea to try it in the Trans Am that night, instead of the van, and I’d parked in a cul-de-sac with mostly unfinished houses. Fortunately it was close to her apartment, because she began unzipping my pants as soon as she got in the car.
I lifted her off my lap and she collapsed onto the passenger side. I started the engine and left a squealing streak of smoking tread. Jacqueline lay against the door, laughing, as I tried to steer while pulling up my pants.
“Shut up — you’re not helping!”
“I am admiring your technique. Americans know how to do everything while driving.”
“You don’t do this in France?”
“The cars are too small.” She giggled, then frowned. “But there would be no need to sneak around and hide in the first place. People might shake their heads and click their tongues but there would be no fear of arrest.”
True, the risk was always on my mind, not hers. As though I was the cautious adult and she the careless juvenile.
“My darling Mick, please do not be concerned. We are careful, and if we are stopped by the coppers, I don’t look that much older, do I?”
“No, but they check IDs. Cops can do math, you know.”
“How sweet you are worried about me. But what is more worrisome is your mom. Is all that true, what you told me the other night? The stealing spree she is planning for you?”
“Every word. And there’s more, Jacqueline. She never pays bills. I don’t know where the Trans Am came from, but I know how she got the Bentley. Smooth-talked a dealer up in Dallas. Gave him a fake ID, then took it out for an overnight test drive and never came back.”
I was piling it on, maybe getting a little mean, but I wanted her to understand the danger. I tried to tell her about the mink coat she’d lifted off a lady in a restaurant and how she’d burned down our house for the insurance, but she stopped me.
“No more! I don’t want to hear all this bad stuff before I come to your house. Tomorrow night, remember?”
“Sorry, but I told you it’d be a bad idea to meet her. Don’t you want to know what you’re getting yourself into?”
She didn’t answer, and we rode back to her apartment in silence.
Saturday morning I distracted myself working on our video security system, which had become my hobby. Mom had encouraged me, but she didn’t know how I’d gone overboard, placing hidden cameras and mics all over the house. Through the interface on my computer I could see and listen almost anywhere in the house and grounds. I’d gotten the idea from Pulp Fiction, my absolute favorite movie.
It wasn’t just for home security. When I was a little kid, it drove me crazy that I never knew what was going on. Mom’s life was so shady and complicated that she hid most everything from me. About the time I entered middle school, she began breaking me into her secret life. It started out as a fun game, outsmarting the store clerks, and I admired her for being so clever and daring. She said we deserved more because we were smarter than other people. She praised me whenever we pulled off a scam.
But as I got older, and the stakes got higher, some inner voice told me to watch out. At first I thought there was something wrong with me, because mom never felt guilty or worried about getting caught. So why was I afraid? It came to me when I was reading a psychology book for a school report: I had a conscience. And she didn’t.
I was flipping through the cameras when I saw mom yelling at one of the servants, the new girl. The girl was yelling back, guaranteed to send mom into orbit. I flinched when mom slapped the poor kid hard, and she ran into the bathroom and shut the door. Mom’s screaming and door-pounding was so loud it reverberated into my room on the upper floor. I didn’t have a camera in the bathroom, of course, so I switched to an outside camera.
Sure enough, the girl was squirming through the bathroom window. She leapt onto the grass and ran down the lawn to the street. Mom could have cut her off by going out the front door, but she kept it locked so the servants couldn’t slip away. Mom had to scramble for the keys, which gave the girl a good head start. I was laughing my ass off as my elegant mother, cursing and disheveled, ran outside to give chase. Her high heels sank into the grass, so she jumped in the Bentley and flew down the driveway into the street.
A half hour later I was in the kitchen making a sandwich when mom came back empty-handed. She was in a foul mood, so I retreated to my room and monitored from there. She made a few calls, and from the one-sided conversation — my next project was to figure out how to do phone taps — it was obvious the caterer was giving her trouble about the evening meal. No surprise there. Mom burned through household services because she never paid her bills. Eventually she found another caterer who accepted one of her bogus credit cards.
I was more convinced than ever the evening would be a disaster, so I texted Jacqueline.
– Don’t come. Mom in bad mood, not good. Call say you’re sick.
– Don’t be silly. Everything will be fine.
– LISTEN TO ME! I know her. You WILL be sorry. I’m begging you don’t come.
– Don’t YOU worry! Everything will be good. I know how to talk to a mother about her brilliant son.
– Please. YOU WILL REGRET IT!!
– Stop worrying my darling. Everything is fine. I bring flowers.
Flowers! As if. The ache in my stomach grew and I threw away my sandwich.
The doorbell rang shortly after seven, and there was Jacqueline, lovelier and sexier than ever. She wore a white, low back party dress, with a gorgeous silk scarf. But too much leg? Neckline too low? Maybe not the best way to impress an older woman who still saw herself as attractive and sexy.
But mom took the bouquet of roses and cooed and said all the right things. She was the perfect hostess, cordial and charming, so thrilled to see Jacqueline. We went on a tour of the house, and when mom stopped at the bar to pour some wine, Jacqueline whispered to me. “What are you worried about? She’s lovely.”
I shook my head. Couldn’t she see this was only a pre-game skirmish?
Dinner went well enough. Jacqueline talked gaily about growing up in Paris, making mild jokes about straitlaced Americans. The wine flowed freely, and Jacqueline got a little tipsy, her gaiety bubbling over.
When the dishes were at last were cleared, I hoped for a speedy conclusion, but it was not to be. Mom had been building up to a coup de grâce, and poor Jacqueline was delivering herself eagerly to the guillotine. No way I could stop it.
At last, over espresso and Crème brûlée, mom got to the point. “Mick dear, Jacqueline and I need to have a little girl talk. Why don’t you run upstairs and do your Facebook, or whatever it is you kids do. Okay, darling?”
Jacqueline was grinning, flushed with wine and sure she’d won over my mother.
“Yes, it is time for me to sing your praises, and I don’t want to embarrass you, Mick.” She pinched my cheek as though I were a six-year-old. I rolled my eyes, backing away with an elaborate bow that delighted both women.
“As you wish, mother.” I took Jacqueline’s hand and kissed it, in the style of the old movies. “Good night, Ms. Corbusier, I’m off to work on some conjugations now.”
They both laughed and I had to force myself to take the stairs slowly, one at a time.
I closed the door to my room and feverishly opened the security camera app. My hands shook as I clicked the mouse and adjusted the headphones. With two cameras in the parlor, the conversation came in loud and clear. I nervously settled back to watch the show.
Mom spoke first, after pouring two cognacs. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Not a bit. May I have one?”
Mom passed her a small, ornate humidor, inlaid with silver and lapus lazuli, and Jacqueline admired it. Mom had slipped it into her purse while we browsed an antique shop in Hawaii two years earlier.
“Lovely.” She opened the lid and sniffed the contents. “What are these?”
“Spanish cheroots. Much better flavor than cigarettes.”
Jacqueline laughed. “So here we are, withdrawn to the parlor for brandy and cigars. Like Downton Abbey!”
“Yes, ironic, isn’t it? To decide the fate of a man.” Mom’s smile was brittle. I zoomed in to each woman’s face. The lighting and sound were perfect, like a film. But not Downton Abbey – more like the setup scene for a horror movie.
Mom lit both cheroots, and Jacqueline smiled through the haze. “He is not yet a man, Ms. Grimes. Only a boy.”
Mom replied casually. “That didn’t stop you though, now did it?”
Jacqueline cocked her head, questioning. “What do you mean? We both want what is best for him, for his future. He is such a gifted student.”
Mom exhaled very slowly, letting the smoke billow around her, until it enveloped them both.
“What I mean is, it didn’t stop you from fucking him, now did it?”
Jacqueline coughed harshly, almost choked. She took a sip of cognac. “Excuse me?”
I panicked, fought the urge to rush downstairs and hustle Jacqueline outside, away from this monster, my mother.
But she recovered quickly. “I confess, I do not smoke often.” She coughed again.
“What you do often though, is fuck underage boys. Specifically, my son.”
Jacqueline set down her glass and looked around.
“I think I should leave. I want to thank you for a lovely evening…”
“Cut the crap!” It was my mother’s scariest voice, the one she reserved for anyone who challenged her. Jacqueline froze.
As always, mom followed up with her soft, purring voice. “Jacqueline, settle down. Put down your purse, take another sip of the Courvoisier. And put out that damned cigarillo, you’re not up to it.”
Jacqueline, her eyes wide, did as she was told. She took a large swallow but left the cheroot smoldering in the ashtray. Mom leaned forward and spoke earnestly.
“Listen to me, Jacqueline. I don’t mind the sex. It’s good for him. He likes you and he’s happy. But this sneaking around must stop. You’ll get caught, doing it in public or wherever the rutting takes place. I hope to God you’re not having him up to your apartment. So many busybody neighbors in a place like that.”
Mom spoke gently, as though to a sniffling child. “What I’m proposing is much safer. Meet him here whenever you want. The house is set far back from the street, away from neighbors. You can hump like rabbits day and night, in a real bed. I assure you, the servants won’t tell.”
She leaned back and paused for another sip. Again she locked her gaze onto Jacqueline’s astonished face.
“But there’s one condition I must insist on. You cannot interfere with my plans for the summer. Now, I am willing to make some concessions in the interest of Mick’s happiness. Fly down and join us for a few days now and then. You’ll love Florida. But this is serious business.”
Jacqueline recovered enough to bring up the argument she had rehearsed in her mind for days. “But his future, I…”
“Fuck his future!” The banshee screech returned, jolting Jacqueline to her bones. Her hand began shaking and she could barely bring the glass to her lips. Mom continued to speak steadily and calmly.
“Mick doesn’t know the whole story, but the wellbeing of our family is at stake. My husband is on a fool’s errand in Thailand, attempting to develop drug markets in a country awash in the best dope in the world. He’s degenerated into a charming drunk, more likely to be sprawled out in a brothel than working his contacts. By necessity, I have become the main support of our family, our lifestyle. This Florida trip is crucial to our future. If it goes well, Mick won’t need a scholarship. We’ll buy his way into the best university and whatever rinky-dink academic program he wants.”
She took a delicate sip. “Eventually he will come to his senses. He’ll realize that money, and power, are paramount and allow his mother to manage his career. That’s the future.”
She paused and gave Jacqueline her most sinister smile.
“Who knows? There might be a place for you, Jacqueline. Managed properly, three can work better than two. You’re a lovely girl, charming, willing to take risks to get what you want. But you’ve been careless, short-sighted. You’ve let your aching cunt rule your brain. You need someone wiser to take you under her wing before it all comes unraveled. And ruins your future.”
Upstairs, I covered my mouth to avoid screaming. Or throwing up.
Mom continued to drink and smoke as though they were having a normal after-dinner conversation. Jacqueline sat motionless, lips slightly parted, staring at nothing. Finally, she spoke, barely above a whisper.
“I love Mick.”
“As do I.” Mom spoke matter-of-factly. “He is my son. I want him to fulfill himself, achieve great things, be happy. What every mother wishes.” She paused, then reached over and rested her hand gently on Jacqueline’s knee.
“I know, dear. This is a lot to process. Not how you expected the evening to turn out, is it? But really, it’s all for the best.” In a harder voice, she added, “It’s the only way it can turn out, if you want to continue seeing my son. And keep your green card.”
Jacqueline looked up, shocked.
“Oh, wouldn’t I? I’ve done much worse.” She smiled that brittle smile. “You see? There really is no other way.”
Mom helped Jacqueline with her purse and coat. The vivaciousness was gone. She appeared confused and unsteady on her heels, but my mom was in full control.
“I don’t think you’re in any shape to drive, my dear. I’ll call you an Uber. Many prowl around this neighborhood. Such a marvelous innovation, don’t you think?”
Minutes later, a black Camry pulled into the driveway.
“Mick will bring your van back tomorrow. Thank you for the lovely flowers.”
Still smiling, she shut the door. Jacqueline had not spoken a word.
I took off my headphones and leaned back. I had to force myself to breathe. Eventually, the fear and disgust dissipated, replaced by enormous guilt for getting Jacqueline involved.
She’d said she loved me, but it sounded so childishly romantic. Mom loved me too, but the word’s meaning was vastly different for her. I was her creation, molded to her specifications like a sculpted urn. That love would continue unless I broke the mold. For my part, I didn’t know what love was, not really. Growing up with my mother, I’d learned to distrust all feelings between people.
Steps echoed on the stairs. I quickly brought up an innocuous game on the monitor that emitted soft beeps and boops. She swung my door open and looked in, smiling. Was that a look of triumph on her face?
“Jacqueline is lovely, and she’s very fond of you.” Her smile broadened. “And by the way, everything is going to be fine. I’ll let her tell you about it. Good night.” She paused. “Shall I leave the door open or closed?”
I managed to croak out a response. “Close it. Please. I might make some noise.” I nodded at the monitor.
As soon as the door clicked shut, I texted Jacqueline.
– You ok?
I tried to be reassuring.
– I’m not going to Florida.
Another pause, even longer.
– yes we are
I woke with one thought: I had to end it. Blow it up. Destroy the monster. It was a matter of survival, for me and for Jacqueline. For the servants. For all the innocent and naive people my psycho mother had hurt and would eventually hurt, cheat, and otherwise injure with her cruel manipulations and immoral selfishness.
Save the world? From my mother? Hell, yeah.
But the police would need more than the word of a fifteen-year-old kid. They would want evidence. I had recorded mom blackmailing Jacqueline, but showing that to the cops would be worse than stupid. I rolled out of bed and replayed all last night’s dialogue, choking up when I heard Jacqueline’s tiny voice say she loved me. That scene would get Jacqueline deported, maybe sent to prison. I used a special program to erase the video file permanently from the hard drive.
Still in my underwear, I began running through the hundreds of hours of security camera recordings, which I’d never bothered to look at before. There was no shortage of horrible stuff. While I was at school, mom spent much of the day stalking through the house, screaming at the servants for supposedly substandard work. Now I understood why that young girl had finally run off. Mom had repeatedly slapped and kicked her, even whipped her once with a belt. Watching it made me ashamed and angry and strengthened my resolve to stop it. I compiled the worst scenes and copied them onto a flash drive.
If I could find the girl, maybe I could get her to be a witness. But I’d last seen her running down the street. She could be anywhere in the city’s vast Hispanic community.
It seemed hopeless, until I realized the two older servants might know. Problem was, I had never talked with them. Ever since I was little, mom had given me strict orders never to talk with the servants. They were like ghosts scurrying around in the background. For them, it was the safest way to survive around a monster. No, those two women would never talk to me, the prince of the court.
Jacqueline would have to do it. She was fluent in Spanish, among other languages, and they might trust another woman.
I called her, but she was still upset and didn’t want to see me. I had to bring her van back in any case, and I finally convinced her to go out for coffee.
Mom was at the kitchen island, working at her laptop, occasionally glancing down at one of the maids scrubbing the kitchen floor. She smiled, always happy to see me. I was her beautiful son, recently graduated to co-conspirator. And now her betrayer.
“You’re up awfully early for a weekend, darling. Did you sleep well?”
“Like a rock.” I tried to sound upbeat, and innocent. “But I’m hungry. Why is Miss Corbusier’s van still out front?”
“She was a little tipsy last night, so I called her an Uber. I said you’d bring it to her today. Do you mind?”
“No, no, of course not. She gave our class her number, so I’ll call and find out where she lives…”
She reached out and put her hand on my arm, smiling slyly.
“Mick, the secret’s out. I know she’s your girlfriend. We had a real heart-to-heart, girl-to-girl talk last night, and I want you to know it’s okay with me. She’s not that much older. You’re very mature, and she’s, well, very French.” She gave me a knowing look and spoke slowly, motherly. “I told her, and I want to reassure you, that you can bring her over anytime. You’ll have complete privacy. No more sneaking around, okay?”
I couldn’t look at her. In some ways, mom was pretty cool. Too bad she was also evil.
“Yeah, well… wow.” I exhaled and stared at the floor. “Thanks, Mom. She’s pretty special. But we can’t tell anyone, okay? She’d get in big trouble.” Mom liked it when I played the naive kid.
“Mum’s the word.” And she made that silly zipper motion across her lips, like when I was little. I tried to smile, but it’s hard to smile when you want to throw up.
She glanced down at the woman on her hands and knees below her, scrubbing the floor. Perched on her high stool, she pointed a manicured toe at a barely visible smudge. The woman nodded and began scrubbing harder.
“Do you want Maria or Juanita to cook some eggs?”
“No, I’ll just throw together a sandwich and eat it on the way.” I looked at her and summoned up all my acting skills. “You know, you’re pretty cool, mom. Thanks again.”
She beamed, and for a brief moment I felt like a real bastard for what I intended to do. I got out the bread, lunchmeat and mustard and nodded at the computer.
“What are you looking at?”
“Oh, just planning our trip. How would you like to go to Disney World for your sixteenth birthday?”
“Yeah, that would be awesome.” I tried to muster up a sly grin. It sounded so innocent, so all-American. By July twenty-ninth, my birthday, we’d have paved our own yellow brick road across the Sunshine State, leaving a trail of larceny in our wake. Disney World wasn’t just a great place for a kid’s birthday, it was the Emerald City for us grifters. In late July it would be packed full of tourists with gobs of cash and stacks of credit cards ready for plucking. The five parks in Orlando were gold mines for mom’s kind of thievery.
I wondered what role mom had in mind for Jacqueline when she joined our merry band. I shoved the sandwich into my mouth and looked away so she wouldn’t see the sadness in my eyes.
Jacqueline wore huge sunglasses to cover her red, puffy eyes. I’d never seen her so despondent. I explained my plan as I drove.
“Listen, I’ve been thinking about this. We’ll nail her for what she’s doing to the maids. It’s as bad or worse than what she’s doing to you. She picks up illegal immigrants at shelters and other places and makes them work for free. She scares them so much they never complain. She beat this one girl so many times she ran off and disappeared.”
This was a new outrage for Jacqueline to digest, and she stared at me, open-mouthed. “Mick, darling, I cannot. She will have me arrested. I would be lucky if only deported. I cannot go back to France, my parents…” She began to cry. “These women, they will be too afraid to talk. Like me.”
I pulled into a MacDonald’s and parked. Now she was bawling, and I had to be firm.
“Look, I have evidence. I got it on video, with the security cameras.” I pulled a flash drive out of my pocket. “Look at this and tell me you won’t help.”
She pushed my hand away. “I don’t want to see it. I believe you. But she will tell the coppers about me.”
“Not if we’re careful. She’ll never know you’re involved.”
She thought about it for a long time, tears running down her cheeks. Finally, in a little girl voice, she spoke. “What must I do?’
“We have to find the girl who ran off. Our other maids have been abused too, but they’re older, they know how to get by. They must know where to find the girl.”
“You want me to talk to them?”
“Yeah, you know Spanish. They’d talk to you, another woman.”
“And another victim.” She began to sob again. Then I did hug her, not caring who saw.
A few days later, while mom was at her weekly spa treatment, we both skipped school and I brought Jacqueline to the house. While I stayed in the kitchen, Jacqueline casually wandered into the parlor where Maria and Juanita were working. They had been instructed not to talk to visitors, and at first they ignored her. But she persisted, chatting away, and after she made a few jokes in Spanish — at my mother’s expense, I suspect — they began giggling together.
I ran upstairs and watched on my computer. Their body language said it all. After Jacqueline got them talking, she sat back and listened. Soon all three women were talking and crying and hugging. I was so enthralled with the success of my plan that I didn’t hear the front door open.
I was horrified when a fourth person appeared in the frame. Either mom had been turned away again for bad credit, or some demonic voice had called her home early. She had slipped in quietly and listened from the foyer. She knew enough Spanish to understand what was going on, and her stance, hands on hips, was all furious outrage.
I panicked and ran downstairs into a nightmare. Mom was stalking Jacqueline, roaring curses, calling her a traitorous bitch and worse. But Jacqueline had lost it too. She was screaming and taunting my mother, even as she retreated into the kitchen. They circled the big island like two lionesses seeking an opening to pounce.
With all of us against her, mom escalated to an insane level of rage. She grabbed a meat cleaver off the counter and began swinging at Jacqueline. I got between them, but mom had completely lost her mind and swung the cleaver at me as well.
The maids were screaming, I was yelling, the shrieks reverberated off the vaulted ceiling. Mom raced after us through the house, slashing at anyone and everything. Betrayal had pushed her over the edge. I tipped over an antique cabinet full of china, and she fell into the clutter, thrashing and screaming.
I grabbed Jacqueline’s arm and pulled her out the front door, pushed her into the Trans Am. I barely had time to slam the door before mom was upon us, bashing at the car’s windows with the cleaver, holding it with both fists like a cudgel.
Somehow I got the car started and backed up wildly, but the Bentley blocked the way and I slammed into its ornate front grille. Mom chased us down the driveway, and with Jacqueline screaming in my ear, I shifted into drive. My only way out was to drive past her onto the lawn, circle around the Bentley and escape into the street.
Mom blocked the car with her body at the same time that my nervous foot jammed reflexively on the hair-trigger accelerator. As the car leapt forward, mom’s hate-contorted face filled the windshield for a moment, then disappeared underneath as the car’s wide-track tires spun for traction. With a sickening crunch and thump we lurched across the lawn, crashed through the bay window and came to a stop in the wall between the living room and the parlor, leaving bloody tire tracks across the glistening Terrazzo tile.
My head slammed into the steering wheel, and the last thing I heard before I blacked out was the screaming of the three remaining women.
I woke in the hospital to Jacqueline’s whispery voice.
“Mick, Mick darling. Can you hear me?”
I tried to focus on her face, but I was distracted by the cop outside the door, chatting with the nurse. I’d seen plenty of crime movies, so I checked if I was chained to the bed.
But the only thing tying me up was the IV line. My head hurt like a sonofabitch.
It hit me that mom was gone. I expected a wave of sadness and guilt, but I felt only relief. Was that wrong? I’d think about it later. Denial can be healthy sometimes.
Jacqueline had scratches on her face and her arm was in a sling. She patted my hand, careful to avoid the IV. She glanced over her shoulder to indicate the cop, then leaned in close and whispered into my ear.
“They’re looking at your videos. They have that flash drive, all the terrible stuff your mom did to the servants – they call it slavery, what she did. They also saw that last recording, so horrible, in the kitchen and driveway, how she chased us with the knife…” She covered her mouth, then glanced back at the cop who was now watching us. When she turned back to me, her eyes were full of fear. “That conversation by, of me and your mother, Saturday night, I know they will find it. It’s all over, my darling…”
I cut her off, whispering. “Never happened. Erased. Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
As the cop entered, I spoke louder. “I’m sorry you had to get involved with all this, Miss Corbusier. My mother was a sick woman.”
Tears filled her eyes “Rest easy, my brilliant student.”
Copyright Charles David Taylor 2020