"So how and when exactly did Gravel find out about you still being alive?" I frown at my Dad "Did you tell him and chose to keep me completely in the dark?"
"No!! Gravel was never meant to find out when he did!! Neither of you were until I thought it was safe for you to know, and at that time it wasn't where you were concerned. I would never have wanted one of you to know and not the other, and don't think that you was never told because I don't love you, because I do, more than you will ever know!!"
"So how did he find out?"
"When he first joined the force he went snooping around in the files, he wanted to know the identity of the man who had supposedly faded me. He spotted there were classified files attached to that case and he must have broken his neck to get into them, but somehow he managed to and he read the truth. Once he knew the truth he sought me out and turned up on my doorstep." I frown at him
"Was it really that long ago?! That is well over twenty years ago!!"
"Yes unfortunately. I'm sorry!! He was in his early twenties when he turned up on my doorstep." he mumbles quietly "I should really have thought back then, him getting into those classified files was a sign of how crooked he can be ... I was just so overwhelmed by him suddenly turning up and of course I had the dilemma of you. I just could not think straight!! "
"Why did you not tell me then, when Gravel found out the truth? I bet he loved that, me being kept in the dark!!"
"You was never told for quite a few reasons, not because I did not want to, because I could not take the risk with you, as much as it killed me. The main ones being, at the time, you was an addict, drinking and taking drugs, just like your Mother, you only needed to be drunk or high and you could have run your mouth off, and you were running around with the Brownies yourself, at that time, on the wrong side of the law!!" he tuts at me "Also the way our relationship has always been, I didn't know how you would react. You hated me and I couldn't trust that you would keep my secret, which wouldn't only have put me in danger by you spilling, it would have put all of us in danger, you and all of your brothers and sister!"
"Oh but Gravel gets to run around with the Brownies and my sister gets to marry one, but still I was left in the dark."
"Obviously he was well and truly playing the situation!! Do you think if I had known what Gravel was really up to I would not have put a stop to it a long time ago!! I would have arrested him myself if I had known just how bad it was!! I could have saved so many innocent lives that he has taken needlessly and without a care!! "
"Didn't it worry you, all the contact he was having with the Brownies, didn't it make you think something."
"Not really because he was making out to me he kept coming into contact with that family in a professional capacity. He was playing me telling me that the Brownies still hadn't forgotten what I had done to Sage, making me think there was still a danger. I know now that I could have resurfaced at least ten years ago, but I was stupid I trusted him and fell for his lies."
"He kept me and you apart on purpose too didn't he."
"Yes I think he did." he rolls his eyes at me "I was livid with him when I read your file and found out he was the officer who arrested you and took you down, but he said his hands were tied, he had no choice, he said he wasn't going to bend the law because one of the culprits was you!! Which I could understand from a professional point of view, even though I would have handled the situation a hell of a lot differently, if I had been given the chance to. It was way too late when I found out, and he didn't even have the decency to tell me what he had done to you, it was another one of those sealed envelopes landing on my desk."
"Fudge Berry!! Him not bending the law ... that is a joke ... do you actually know what he did to me when I was crying for his help to get me away from that family and out of that life, so that I could get clean?!"
"Yes I do now, Forrest and Mace have filled me in on the truth!! I'm sorry!! If I had known that is what you wanted, I would have came and fetched you and pulled you out of there." he pulls a face at me "The biggest mistake I made was to stop keeping tabs on Gravel after he turned up on my doorstep. That boy has pulled the wool over all of our eyes!! All he was showing me, like most of us, was the squeaky clean policeman. How do you think I look as far as the force is concerned, my son, hiding behind a police badge while he is reeking havoc in the criminal underground. He has made a right fool of me in the force, now the truth about my real identity is now out in the open. It is just a good job I am due to retire, or I dread to think what this might have done to my career. I dread to think what knock on effect this might have on Shale's career, they all know now Gravel is my son, Shale's brother, there is no escaping it for him!! Neither of us had a damn clue about what he was doing, this puts both of our characters and ability to do the job in question!!" he pulls a face at me "And if I had had the slightest idea he was playing these games with you, Mace, Turmeric, Forrest and Slate, I would have been here and put a stop to it!! I'm sorry!!"
"Tamarin and Mace?" I ask and he rolls his eyes as he chuckles "I don't even know what she looks like." I mumble quietly
He grabs the album off the floor and rumages through it. He pulls out a photograph and hands it to me. I stare at the picture of my sister, while he is talking. I don't know why but she is not what I expected and I struggle to connect to the woman in the photograph, because all I can think about when I look at her is Mace. She was the woman married to Mace, she was the one he was sleeping with and I'm not sure that I can get past that.
"Your sister, she was a law unto herself that one, whatever the little madam wanted and set her sights on she got. My fault again, I spoiled her like I spoiled Gravel!!" he tuts at himself which makes me laugh a little. "After seven boys I finally got the little girl that I wanted and I knew she would be my last child so I treated her like a little princess. But don't get me wrong, she was nothing like Gravel, Tami was a good girl."
"What was she like?"
"She was a beautiful person inside and out. Kind and caring, thoughtful and loving, Jasmine couldn't have asked for a better Mother. She was a strong person mentally and emotionally, but she could also be very stubborn and pig head at times because she was headstrong, ambitious and very driven. Mace says you and she are a lot alike in that respect ... both as stubborn as mules." he chuckles quietly "She was like a whirl wind, always laughing, dancing, singing, joking and pulling pranks, smiling, she was always so happy and full of life ..."
He pauses and starts to chokes. I think he is going to start getting really upset over her fading, but he stops himself and pulls himself together. Even though I can still see the pain in his face and the tears welling up in his eyes, he carries on talking.
"I think from the moment that Gravel brought Mace to me, she developed a crush on him. She was only nine and he was eleven. She would not leave him a lone for a minute, and at first I thought it was because he was around her age, her own brothers being so much older than her. She used to suffocate him, it used to really annoy Mace, especially when she used to tell everyone they were getting married when they grew up ... we all found it hysterically funny. I think we could all tell from a very early age that Macey boy would rather be batting for the other team, all except for Tami. We tried to tell her that he was gay, but she would not listen!" he laughs for a moment. "She Mothered him, she had a lot of patience with him, she helped to teach him how to read and write amongst other things, she didn't make fun of him like the the other kids, for wetting his bed and all the other problems that he had after he first arrived. She was his rock and helped him to come out of himself. Dancing and laughing was their thing, they became best friends and very close, which helped her to get what she wanted in the end. Mace. I am not sure romantically that Mace's heart was ever entirely in it completely, but he was dedicated to her, he took good care of her and made her happy, until he did his disappearing act, which nearly destroyed her."
"What did you think when he disappeared?"
"We straight away thought the worse, we didn't know what else to think!! We have always been very open and close as a family, I see him as one of my boys, and he has called me Dad virtually since day one. If he had any problems he would have spoken to one of us, Coal especially as they were very close. Of course none of us had a clue about what Gravel was doing to him, not even Tami, obviously he did keep that to himself. I have asked him and he said he was scared to tell me, especially about his cousin and as for all the rest, he did not think that I would believe him over Gravel." he rolls his eyes
"So you all thought he had faded?"
"Yes. His disappearance has affected us all quite badly as well as confused us, the not knowing has damn near killed us, and I could still swing for Turmeric, he knew where Mace was all along and why, and he let us suffer needlessly like we have!! We have grieved for him, we were waiting for the phone call to say his body or the remains of it had been found ... that was the only thing that made any sense to us."
"You knew deep down he is gay, so didn't you think he had just gone off with a bloke to be what he should be?"
"No, not really. Regardless of his sexuality, Mace had always been faithful and devoted to Tami ... up until you that is ..." he raises his eyebrows at me "They were happy and not having any problems with their relationship, they were weeks away from going on Mace's dream vacation, which he was getting very excited about and they were actually trying for another baby when he disappeared, it was what they both wanted, more children. It just didn't make sense. Mace idolized Jasmine from the moment she was born, he verged on being a neurotic Dad, he smothered her and would never have left Jasmine or stayed away from her without a damn good reason, and there was only one that we could think of."
"Let me guess, his dream vacation ... Sandy Islands." I laugh "He's been nagging me to take him there for years."
"Yes." Dad laughs
"I don't get it, why didn't the police pick up on Maces life outside Apple Hill, there was no mention of him being fostered, Orange Falls, his Masters degree, his career, his art or his fashion label stuff. To the police he was just a typical hard Brownie, a criminal, a notorious hit man, which I have thought was a joke from the moment Cinnamon told me!!"
"Mace has led a totally different life with us on the right side of the law, so he has been pretty much undetectable as a person in Orange Falls, while Gravel has kept his identity very alive and active on paper in the Apple Hill area .... so as far as the police were concerned he has always remained in the Apple Hill area."
"Don't you police officers communicate with each other? If he was supposed to be this big bad and notorious hitman, wouldn't you have heard about it in Orange Falls?"
"No not necessarily. Our area and this area are poles apart and in totally different jurisdictions. We are pretty much blind to what is happening in other jurisdictions unless the crime or criminal encroaches on our area." he chuckles "And we are talking about the Sugar Valley and Apple Hill police here, who just play at the job ... when Tami reported him as a missing person, they should have alerted other juridictions which they didn't bother to do - if they had then I would have pick up on it. They obviously did not do a thorough background check on Mace to see he had only been living in Apple Hill for two years before he disappeared or dig deep enough to see he went into the care system and never attended a days school or visited a Doctor in Apple Hill from the age of eleven. His medical, employment and education records would have taken them straight to Orange Falls if they had bothered to even look into them. There have been huge chunks of time where there was a silence in his criminal activity on paper ... they didn't even question it when they should have looked into that a lot closer, and the fact that they only had DNA and his finger prints on the only crime he did actually commit, his cousin. All the other stuff that Gravel fabricated, there was no concrete evidence, just witness statements, hearsay and every time Gravel was the one pointing the finger .... they should have picked up on all that, but they just took it for granted that he was a typical Apple Hill Brownie. Elderberry gave me all the case files to read through, and there were so many glaring mistakes and holes in Maces case, if it happened on my patch, heads would have been rolling!!" he tuts
"Please tell me you didn't listen to any of the tape recordings from the bugs planted in the house." My head starts to spin in a panic.
"Yes some of them ... "
"Oh Fudge!! They wouldn't would they?!" he frowns at me for a second then starts to laugh, I am guessing he is watching me turn colourless. I hope to hell he has not been listening to any of our antics in the bedroom.
"Oh don't worry, they were carefully vetted if that is what you are worried about." he laughs "I heard the conversation between Gravel and Mace that blew their case apart, and three or four of you and Gravel bickering mostly ... you boys never change! I listened to the conversation you had with Gravel before you sneaked out of the house and the carry on from when Gravel dragged Mace out of bed and started beating him up." he raises his eyebrows "Although, I was very curious to hear how you proposed to Mace ... but they wouldn't let me hear that one ... something about you two having a very over active sex life, but we won't talk about that." he starts to laugh as I put my head in my hands
"Oh berry, I knew they were listening, I've never been so embarrassed!"
"I can imagine! I have had to do and take a lot of things in the line of duty, including a few bullets, but thankfully what you had to do, that has never been one of them!!" he chuckles "Seriously, after listening to those conversations, I've had my eyes opened, especially to Gravels true character, that evil side of his, he's never shown me ... the way you convey yourself too has quite surprised me. Your personalities are poles apart and really clash, its no wander you have never got along amicably." he chuckles to himself for a moment "I'm actually pretty cross with Mace for not coming to me or Shale and letting Gravel suck him in with his shit!! We could have sorted Gravels damn stupidity out straight away. While he was supposedly committing these crimes in this area, Mace was actually in Orange Falls most of the time, working and doing plenty of other stuff that would have given him a concrete aliby to prove Gravel was lying!" he tuts "Mace being a lecturer and Tami being a teacher, they ran their lives by timetables and Tami kept a diary ... I don't know why Mace was so stupid!!"
"Gravel can be very convincing and scary when he is threatening and twisting the knife!! He fooled all of us!!" I mumble quietly thinking Mace was probably scared to death!! "Thyme told me Mace got himself arrested when he was a kid for graffiti art in Orange Falls, that would have been on his criminal record, so why didn't they even pick up on that?" this makes my Dad chuckle.
"Ahh when they hauled Mace in, and they realised he was one of my foster kids, they got me in to the station to deal with Mace, and his arrest never actually made it onto paper, so I guess you can say that is my fault!" he looks at me sheepishly "It was a nonsense petty crime, compared to some of the things the Apple Hill police have hauled him in for from the age of six to eleven. For a child his criminal past is very colourful to say the least!!" he chuckles " I gave Mace a clip round the ear and I stood over him while he scrubbed every bit of paint off the wall, that was punishment enough." This makes me laugh for a moment. "He was as good as gold after that, he was a good boy growing up."
"What do you think about me and Mace being together?" I cringe as I ask him "I get the feeling it's all very awkward for you, Thyme, Silt and Shale, because of Tamarin."
"Honestly, when I was first told by Turmeric about Mace being hauled up in Cherry Hill with you this past five years ... I was very shocked and angry!! Even more so when he told me the nature of your relationship and that Mace is in love with you." he rolls his eyes "I thought Tami was still alive, and this would have definitely caused a HUGE problem that I don't know how we would have got through or fixed, as a family. Turmeric said Mace is besotted with you and if he was faced with having to choose between the two of you, it would not have been Tami, which would have totally broken her."
He stares at the floor and stops talking, he goes glassy eyed like he is a million miles away. All I can do is sit quietly with him. I wander if he isn't still angry about it, or still not impressed with me being gay, because he didn't actually answer my question. I still don't know how he feels about me and Mace being together.
"She dropped Jasmine off at the infant school, then just vanished. She worked at the high school just a few streets away from Jas's school and it takes her about five minutes to walk between the two. She never made it to work and nobody heard from her since. We actually thought when she disappeared without a word that she had gone off her head completely, and had gone out looking for Mace."
"How long was she missing for?"
"Only a few weeks before Elderberry told us what had happened to her." he mumbles "Her having some sort of breakdown and searching for Mace is the only thing we could think, she would never have normally left Jasmine like she did." he mumbles without looking up "She became a right mess because of his disappearance and it just got worse as every day and year passed by. In a way it was a blessing Turmeric being here, he has been able to keep a close eye on her. She became very depressed and lost her spark after he left and never got it back ... I'm just glad she never got to find out where he was, what he was doing and especially not who with, it would have destroyed her totally!! She was always fascinated by the idea of you and has always been eager to find you."
After he says that we sit in silence again. I automatically think that Gravel must have said something to her before he faded her. I don't know how she was actually faded and I don't want to ask him ... but I can bet that Gravel would have spitefully told her and rubbed it in her face before he did whatever he did to her. I keep my thoughts to myself because I don't want to upset him.
"I'm sorry!! If I had known who Mace was and that he was married to my sister ... I never would have gone there honestly!!" I look at him sheepishly "He had me crossing a line that I would never have crossed knowingly!! I have been livid and disgusted with Gravel for the line he crossed with Slates girlfriend, not even realizing that I was actually doing something very similar myself in my ignorance!!"
"I know, it's okay, it is not your fault, you wasn't to know when you didn't even know she existed!! In a way, now I've had a chance to think about it properly and talk to Mace about it ... I can't really blame Mace either. He was driven into an impossible situation, by Gravel, that he thought he could never get out of. He thought he could never come home and his future was to either lay low with you or spend the rest of his life rotting in prison. He said he tried to fight falling in love with you but he couldn't. I know more than most, you can't help who you fall in love with, it just happens whether its good or bad, right or wrong and there is no fighting it. If the truth be told, I still do and always will love your Mother, even with all her faults." he smiles at me
"You said you was angry when you first found out about me and Mace." I frown at him "So did you come to Sugar Valley to have a go at me and Mace because of Tami?"
"No, I did not have a clue that Mace was actually here at the time ... it actually turned out to be quite a comedy of errors!!" he smiles at me "Turmeric told me about Slate, what he had done to himself and why and that you was back here suddenly out of the blue to give him one of your kidneys. I decided it was time I sorted things out with you, and time I reclaimed my true identity. That is soley what I came here to do, to see you. I was totally oblivious to anything else going on, especially Mace being with you. I didn't tell anyone I was coming to Sugar Valley until I landed in Raspberry Hill and I called Turmeric to pick me up. We went back to his and I noticed he was very twitchy, we spent most of the night talking about how we were going to tackle you without causing too much shock. Turmeric tried his best to put me off until after the transplant, obviously because he was trying to hide everything else that was going on. In the end I lost my temper and made him phone you to get you to go round a see him ...."
"So the stuff he said he had to tell me, which he should have told me years ago ... it was you!!"
"Yes." he smiles at me "After you told him you would be round in the morning to see him, he cracked up. I think he knew he had no choice but to tell me about Mace being with you and about what Gravel has been doing to himself and Mace, as well as what he was threatening to do to you and Forrest if your paths crossed. We were just talking about it all trying to work out what Gravels game was when Gravel phoned him and told him to get round to his because you and Forrest were there together." he shakes his head for a moment "I didn't have a clue what I was walking into, I guessed something bad was going on, the police were everywhere. I had to get T to distract them so that I could get into the house from the back. I never realised there was an undercover operation going on, or expected there to be faded bodies and him holding you two at gun point!! We thought he was all talk, we never dreamed he would actually pull that trigger, especially not with you being his brother!!"
"And all because he stole my boy!!"
"Yes, that is one of the shocking things ... you providing me with a Grandchild!! I never thought that would ever happen!!" he starts laughing "Not even you knew or would have predicted that!!
"Forrest knew the boy was mine when he was a toddler. He just didn't try hard enough to tell me or anyone, he just sat on it instead." I mumble quietly
"Yeah well that is something that you need to talk to Forrest about!! He has his reasons and realistically he is no different to Mace and Turmeric in all this, he too had Gravels gun to his head."
"While we are talking about Forrest ... I need to clear something up with you ... me being gay." he frowns at me "You didn't answer my question when I asked you how you felt about me and Mace being together, and earlier you said you thought that I had formed an unhealthy bond with Forrest ... that is about you having a problem with me being gay isn't it!!"
"I've never had a problem with you being gay!!" he frowns at me
"You did too!!"
"I don't know why you have that idea!! Yet again you have got me totally wrong, you seem to have spent your whole life doing that!" he frowns at me "Mace and Coal will both tell you, I've never had a problem with anyone being gay, if that is what they are and it makes them happy, then so be it!!" he frowns at me again "Why do you think that I have a problem with you being gay?"
"The first time you caught me and Forrest kissing ... you went totally ballistic, you dragged me into the house, grounded me, sent me to my room and told me I couldn't see him any more. Then you, Mom, Aqua and Atlantis had the mother of all arguments about keeping us apart!!"
"Oh berry!!" he starts to laugh "If you had stuck around to listen to our argument, instead of jumping out of the bedroom window and doing one ... you would have heard exactly why I was angry!!" he sits there laughing
"So go on, you tell me! I remember after that you hardly spoke to me and when you did it was only to have a go at me and you did your best to split us up and even banned Forrest from our house!!"
"Firstly there was never a lot of communication going on between us a lot of the time because I think you know, you never had any respect for me and you definitely should not have been speaking to me like you did! None of my other kids would ever have dared to, or got away with it like you did, including Gravel!! I made allowances for you, probably stupidly, because of all the problems you had when you was very young. You grew out of a lot of your problems, but you remained very temperamental, after what you told me earlier I wouldn't be surprised if alcohol and or the lack of it wasn't what was making you so highly strung. The slightest thing and you would blow, your tongue has always run away with itself, you used to say some of the most viscious and vilest things, and not just to me. Me Gravel and your teachers used to get the brunt of it. It was always safer to wait until you was being 'pleasant', otherwise we would just end up having a mega slanging match and upsetting each other ... I'm not sure if you remember just how uncontrollable and difficult you used to be, and not just with me, but especially around me!!"
"I suppose." I mumble quietly
"You was eleven years old, far too young to be experimenting sexually in my book, especially you, and you weren't just kissing were you!!" he raises his eyebrows at me "You had your hands inside each others trousers so I dread to think what else you had been doing!!" I snigger "Forrest was a lot more mature than you, he was also more physically developed than you were, you being a slow developer with everything due to you being premature. You hadn't even started going through pubity when I found you two messing about!!" he pulls a face "I used to watch him manipulating and controlling you, and you was so easily led by him ... if he had told you to jump under a bus you would have just done it no questions asked!! I was worried that he was teaching you things and making you do things that you might not have wanted to do, didn't understand or was not ready for, especially with you both being boys. Regardless of that, you were both still doing things neither of you should have even been doing at that age."
"So that is the only reason you went ballistic and tried to split us up ... because we were too young?"
"Yes, I was just trying to protect you ... it was never about you being gay!! I really don't care if you are gay, straight, or sleeping with both, as long as you are happy ... my problem with the two of you has always been Forrest, and quite frankly I am very glad that you have been apart for the past twenty years and you have been well away from him!!"
I frown at him in confusion, and am just about to ask him what his problem is with Forrest when the door opens annoyingly and a nurse comes in to check on me, so our conversation has to stop for a while.
Just a note -
I am trying to cut the size of the chapters down, because I know that they are becoming ridiculously too long and take way too long to read. Hopefully this will make them easier for you to read and I will be able to get them out quicker. I might struggle for a while because I will be cutting a lot of things up, like chapters 34a - b and c all started out as one chapter!! Things might look a little disjoined for a few chapters but I'll soon get into the swing of it.