Mine and my Dad's conversation had to take a break for a while, because we are interrupted by a nurse. I had to have my obs done and take my medication just before they brought in our dinner. Dad asked to have his meal brought into him, he intended for us to eat our 'slop' together. For me this all feels very strange, this is the longest time that I can ever remember spending with him, actually talking and being civil with each other.
I stand up to stretch my legs, even though I still feel very wobbly on my feet. I am not used to sitting around all day doing nothing and it is already starting to get to me. My head switches off because it is really starting to bother me that Mace has now been missing for hours. I find I am missing him and honestly expected him to be back by now. Forrest, who surprisingly is not bothering me so much, has not put in an appearance yet either, but I am not looking forward to the mood that he is going to be in when he does come back.
"Where has your head wandered off to?" Dad speaks snapping me from my thoughts
"Mace ... I am just wandering where he is, he's been gone for hours." I mumble as I sit down. "I'm used to not being able to move for him."
"Oh he's next door with Slate and Jasmine." Dad laughs "He's giving us some space while we talk." he frowns at me and laughs "Tell me you have got it just as bad as he has?"
"What?" I frown at him
"You and Mace. T and Atlas say you don't love Mace, but after what Mace has just been telling me about your fight with Forrest, and that look on your face ... I am beginning to wander!!"
I just laugh at him as I shrug my shoulders, not really sure myself what is going on in my head right now, I'm confused myself. I am relieved when the door opens and our food is brought in so we dont end up talking about it.
After we have been eating quietly for a while, I stare at the food on my fork ... Slate had been right, the food here is totally disgusting and I am not enjoying it at all. My mind wanders back to Mace again and I laugh wandering how he is coping with the hospital food, when these days, he is generally very picky about what he is eating.
I push the table and plate away, because I can not stomach another mouthful, just thinking about the mess that I am now in sandwiched between Forrest and Mace, and not having a clue how I am ever going to sort it out without losing one of them completely.
"I feel sick!!" I mumble to myself thinking about my situation. "I can't eat any more of that shit!!"
"No, it is not very nice is it!!" my Dad laughs "But you know me, I'll eat anything as long as it is healthy and fills the hole." I glance at what he is eating and wander why he has a different meal to me.
"I bet Mace is playing holy hell up over this hospital food!!" this makes Dad laugh
"Yeah he refuses to eat it, he is being a right drama queen!! He has Atlas cooking and bringing meals in for him and Slate. All a fuss about nothing if you ask me, I don't know why he can't just eat the hospital food like the rest of us!!" he mumbles through a mouthful of food. "He is going to become very unstuck when he goes to prison, Atlas won't be able to cook his meals then!!" he laughs "I don't know how or when Mace got to be so fussy, he was never any trouble as a kid food wise."
"He has grown into being a snob since he has been with me, probably because of the area of Cherry that we live in, we are surrounded by them. He doesn't even like phoning for a pizza, worried about what the neighbours might think." I laugh for a moment "It's lobster, caviar and cardboard bread for Mace these days."
"You have obviously been spoiling him!!" he laughs "He has also got that mate of his jumping through hoops for him. Atlas is not only cooking him two meals a day, he is travelling to Sugar Falls every other day just to get Mace a fresh loaf of that revolting bread he insists on eating."
"Yeah, his cardboard bread!!" I laugh to myself "You do realise don't you that Atlas is in love with Mace."
"Yeah I had kind of got that impression and that the feeling is far from mutual. It is you that has sent Mace cuckoo in the love department!!" he laughs "I guess if you do dump him, like everyone is predicting, Mace might look at Atlas eventually. They are already best mates and he could do a lot worse for himself, Atlas is a really nice guy."
This seriously narks me strangely and I stare at my Dad as he chuckles and continues eating.
I watch him do something that brings back vivid memories of my childhood. A habit that he still seems to have, that my Mother used to go mental at him for doing. He smells every forkful of food before he puts it into his mouth.
"You are still a food sniffer I see!" I laugh at him
"Yeah, I am afraid it is a habit I will never stop, I have been doing it for far too long. I don't even realize I am doing it until someone points it out to me." he mumbles "But I can tell you one thing ... this food smells even worse than it tastes!! Doesn't it just remind you of your Mothers cooking thou?!"
We sit laughing at each other as we remember how chronic my Mothers cooking had been, most of the time probably because she was too intoxicated to dish up a decent meal. I remember the only time we did actually get a decent meal was when Dad had cooked it.
He puts his fork down and pushes his tray away, pretty much like I had. I realize I am now quite relaxed about him being here. I still don't know why his death was faked and why he has left me in the dark for all these years, but I find I am not so angry with him any more. My mind too busy still stewing over everything that he has told me about my Mother and my early childhood, and here was me thinking that only the past twenty years of my life has been a lie. It turns out my whole damn life has been one big lie.
"So come on, how did you manage to fade and live to tell the tale?" he just laughs at me.
"Obviously you must realise by now, with my position in the force and especially with the armed guards outside that jump every time I sneeze, that me fading was faked by the force and all done legally and above board." he raises his eyebrows and I nod at him. "I was doing well at work, and really there was nowhere left for me to go up the promotional ladder. This is such a dead beat town, crime wise, everyone caged amicably in this place, hardly anything used to happen ... nothing of a malicious or serious nature anyway!! It was more just stupidity here. I really can not see Elderberry Wine sticking it out here for very long in a professional capacity, just like I couldn't!! I was bored most of the time because nothing ever happened."
"Well plenty happened after you left ... I kept the police in this town, very busy, including Gravel who had no choice but to haul me in a few times for drunken brawls in the dive bar! Even Forrest phoned them sometimes when he had had enough of me, especially being so off my head I didn't even know my own name, and smashing windows to get in even though I had a key. He left them to sort me out many a time and I spent a hell of a lot of time sobering up in the cells." I laugh at him
"Yes I know, I have read through your files, and it is not pretty or anything to be proud of!!" he tuts at me
"I have an excuse, the booze, drugs and a messed up head!!" I smile at him sheepishly and he just pulls a face at me. "You try being an alcoholic struggling with your sexuality and having both your parents fade while you are a teenager and all you are left with is an aggravating evil brat of a little brother, who you just knew was going to turn out to be a wrong one, when everyone else thought the sun shone out of his backside!!" he just rolls his eyes.
"Yeah I guess it was far from easy for you in particular! I'm sorry!!" he smiles at me sympathetically "Anyway, I got very stir crazy being cooped up in this town, just playing at being a police officer. So, I started doing out of town cases because of being a pure berry, Apple Hill, Raspberry Hill, Sugar Falls, the work they were giving me was a lot more interesting, I got to arrest some real criminals for a change. I ended up transferring to Sugar Falls station, if you remember, where I had the opportunity to take on big cases, fight real crime and advance in my career. It was good for a while, then it all went pear shaped ... I landed a seriously big case in Apple Hill ... The notorious Brownies."
"Oh fudge!!" I roll my eyes.
"Yes, exactly!! There is a lot more history behind our two families than you probably realize." he rolls his eyes "It was thought at the time that one of the Brownies was the Kingpin in that area, it just needed to be proved. I stupidly volunteered to go in undercover to try and worm my way in to see if I could uncover something, anything to bring them down. Living in Sugar Valley I was not known to the Brownies, so I started, with the forces knowledge and permission, to live on the wrong side of the law. You might or might not remember, about a few months before I supposedly faded, I was away from home a lot, I used to pop by every three days to see you two, otherwise I was absent, away working ..."
"Yeah I remember, me and Gravel were convinced you had another woman on the go somewhere, he was getting upset thinking you would stop coming home and was going to leave us." I laugh "He was right wasn't he, because you had Fudge, then you faded on us ... so we thought! You fading is what broke him, he had always been an evil little brat deep down, but when you went, he changed, he didn't hide it any more, not from me and Mom anyway."
"Well, at that time I was only working and visiting Turmeric and Thyme like I was visiting you two. If shit had not happened I would still have been here for the both of you." he mumbles quietly "I rented a house in Apple Hill to make it appear like I lived there and had just moved into town, scruffed myself up and got involved in the Brownies territory. It didn't take me long to worm myself in with them. Sage Brownie, took a shine to me, berry knows why, but he did and it helped me to worm my way in quickly." he grins at me "Everything was going well, we were very close to taking Sage Brownie down when I made a stupid mistake!! It was a Saturday morning and I had spent the morning visiting T and Thyme, and in the afternoon I had arranged to meet with other officers in Raspberry Hill. I was spotted by one of the mob, with the officers, who were in uniform, and the Brownies sussed me out straight away. It took them less than 24 hours to track me and my real identity down to Sugar Valley. I actually think they followed me on the Sunday morning when I came home to see you and Gravel ..."
"I remember that day, it was the last time we saw you ... and me and you had a huge bust up, I ... the last thing I said to you ...."
"Yeah, you told me you hated me and to hurry up and fade!!"
"It messed my head up, I thought it was my fault you faded."
"That day I caught you smoking in your room and as usual your viscous mouth ran away with itself!! It wasn't the first time you said that to me and if I had still been there, I doubt it would have been the last!!" he rolls his eyes at me as I laugh at him. "I remember that day like it was yesterday, I had only been gone from you two for about an hour, I hadn't even calmed down from some of the things you had said to me, when Raven phoned me in absolute hysterics, the Brownies had delivered quite an explicit note with a wreath to our house."
"Oops ... Fudge Brownie used to play the wreath game too!!"
"Yeah, obviously a game he learned from his old man!! I had to pull out of Sugar Valley and Apple Hill straight away and the verbal death threats followed, like I had not already got the hint from the note and wreath. There was a hit out on my head and it could have come from anywhere, the Brownies had a huge mob. I was totally stuffed, I couldn't go into hiding because it was not only me who was in trouble, your Mother, you and Gravel were also put in grave danger. The only way to stop anything happening to my family was me fading."
Suddenly I think I get it.
"I know how the Brownies work, I have seen them in action, as well as been forced into a similar situation myself, having to clear out, to keep Gravel, Amber and Forrest safe ... so I thought, but now I know it was just one of Gravels games, I always expected them to come after me and finish me off, that is their norm, now I know why they didn't." I roll my eyes and he laughs at me. I have even delivered their wreaths for them myself and watched the victims get hacked down!! And before you even ask - no I have never murdered anyone, that is one thing I refused to do, I was only ever really in it for the constant supply of free booze and drugs, which I now know Gravel was feeding me to keep me in the gutter." I roll my eyes "Your death would have put an end to it, if you had gone into hiding they would have made us suffer, they would have tortured and picked Mom, Me and Gravel off until they got to you or you surrendered yourself!!"
"Exactly, it helps that you understand the situation I was in!! So this is where the damn mixed berry thing got in the way again. It is not like the police could give us, as a family, any protection. Out in the coded world, the opinion being, that I was breaking the law colour mixing, even though it is perfectly legal in this town. As a pure berry family, we would have been shipped out, given a new identity, police protection and hoped that they would never find us. However, we were a colour mix family, and with Gravel being visibly mixed and me and Raven being different colours, there was only two other colour mix towns that we could have gone too as a family, with any sort of police protection, Cherry Hill and Berry Shores."
"That would never have worked ... those two towns would have been the first places they would have looked for us, because of Gravel, obviously they were the only towns that we could have been in!"
"Exactly, it would not have taken the Brownies long to find us, by sight, in either of those two towns, even with new identities and police protection!! Me and you could have gone anywhere in the coded world, just the two of us, we could have disappeared, but your Mother and Gravel there was no other way of protecting them, without splitting them up. It was Gravel he was the problem. I could have taken you and vanished, Raven could have been moved somewhere else and disappear ... but not Gravel. I will forever regret that one day when I make the biggest and stupidest mistake of my life ... sleeping with your Mother which created him .... he has definitely been my punishment, in more ways than one!!" he pulls a face and I laugh at him. "So you see, me fading was the only way out of it. If the Brownies thought I had faded then you three would have been safe and left alone. So my fading had to be faked by the force and I was shipped out to Orange Falls with a brand new identity. I had no choice, I had to walk away from you and Gravel to keep you both safe!! I have always said, that losing you two and my Slate, was berry's way of punishing me for colour mixing in the first place!! "
"Did Mom know the truth about you still being alive?"
"Hell no!! It only would have taken her to get drunk and she could have blabbed to anyone!!" he smiles at me "I tried to take you with me, but the force wouldn't let me because, your disappearance would have made the Brownies suspicious and they would not have believe my death. The only way for them to believe it is if the three of you also believed it. " he smiles "The force did take Sage Brownie and his organization down, I just was not there when it happened like everyone was made to believe. On paper me and Sage faded each other in a shoot out, but I guess we should have known, you can't keep the Brownies down for long, and the next generation just took over when they were old enough."
"You took your other family with you though!"
"Yes!! It was hard enough leaving you and Gravel behind, I was damned if I was going to leave all four of my children behind!! We were a brown berry family, that nobody, thanks to your mother keeping the secret, had a clue even existed. The family also provided a very good cover for me to hide in, with my new identity Marble Stone."
"Marble Stone, that is a pretty funny play on words to say your name is Shale Rock!!" I laugh at him "Why are Turmeric and Thymes surnames Knight and not Rock, or Stone like Shale and Silt?" I frown at him and he laughs
"Knight was Fudges surname. We thought it best Turmeric take her name, because of what was going on with you at the time, and also that I didn't appear on his or Thymes birth certificate, which both read as father unknown. I was having enough trouble with social services over you, as well as taking a risk having your mother back into the house. I did not want my other two boys being dragged into it and social services interfering with Turmeric and Thyme. I was always scared that if they decided to take you away, they would take all three of you away. We did always mean to put Turmeric and Thymes birth certificates right once it was all over, but luckily we didn't!!" he smiles
"Why?" I frown at him.
"All of my children bar you and Gravel, took their Mothers surname at the time and have father unknown on their birth certificates. It was a precaution so that none of my children could be traced back to me by the Brownies or anyone if they ever uncovered my new identity. Turmeric and Thyme are Knight, Shale and Silt are Stone because we were married at the time and Tamarin was Wolf. Obviously, not even you and Gravel could be traced back to me as Marble Stone, and Shale Rock as far as the world is concerned was a totally different person who faded 34 years ago."
"What about your foster kids ... did you adopt any of them?"
"No, I couldn't really it was too complicated as well as risky ... we had enough trouble with Coal's adoption, which was unavoidable to get him completely out of the care system. The less people tied to me legally on paper, the better, for their own safety!! Only I should have had to suffer for my own mistakes, it was bad enough knowing that I had to leave you two behind and that you and Gravel were having to suffer the consequences of my actions."
"So what did you do ... just walk away and try to forget about me and Gravel?"
"Hell no!! How can you even think that I could walk away and forget about you!!" he frowns at me "It damn near destroyed me, especially knowing that I had to leave you with Raven, the raving alcoholic, I was scared about what kind of environment I was leaving you to grow up in, knowing I was not there to curb her behaviour or drinking. I knew you in particular would go off the rails without me there to stop you, but there was not a damn thing I could do to alter the situation. The force kept very close tabs on the three of you to start with, I was updated every week ..."
"And how would they do that exactly?" I frown at him
"I don't know who exactly, but someone from special branch of the force was planted in town to specifically watch you and Gravel. He or she got very close to the three of you on a personal level to feed back information, and of course they were your police protection just in case it was not completely over, as far as the Brownies were concerned."
"Seriously?!" I close my eyes for a moment while I think back, and don't have a clue who the plant could have been. "I can't think of anyone that it could have been ... and you don't know who?"
"Not without reading through the protected case files, which honestly I have never done ... maybe Elderberry can tell you, as she is the only one who has actually completely read them. I presume it would have had to be someone who got close to your Mother and Aqua."
We sit quietly when the door opens and an audily comes into the room to clear away our food plates and fill up my water jug. My head now doing somersaults trying to work out who the plant could have been.
"I was pretty shocked when they contacted me to tell me Raven had faded, only three short years later!! It was her liver wasn't it, because of her drinking ... I knew she was ill, but I wasn't led to believe that it would fade her and so soon."
"Yeah it happened pretty quickly, but I think she did it to herself!! When she found out she had problems with her liver, she didn't stop drinking like the doctors and hospital told her to. She drunk even more to blot it all out, without a thought for me and Gravel. Two months later she was gone."
"Your Mother was a very selfish woman!! They had to all but hold me down to stop me coming back for you two. Again there was nothing I could do, because of the damn colour mix thing and three years was not nearly enough time to hope it had blown over and I had been forgotten by the Brownies. Me reappearing could have rolled the situation right back to square one. Gravel, as always, was the problem, if he had been all brown or all grey, we might have got away with it, letting you both slip into the care system and me pulling you both out as Marble Stone, a foster carer. The situation was plausible, now orphans, you getting lost in the care system and disappearing, it was a way to get you out of this town and the Brownies would have washed that, and you would have vanished legitimately and been forgotten about. I was all set to let you two drop into care and pull just you out, I could get one of you back, if not both of you. Gravel was a huge problem for me being visibly mixed, you would have fitted in with us in Orange Falls, I was even prepared to get all your papers forged, so on paper you appeared as a pure berry, but with Gravel it was just impossible. I went through hell for days, agonizing over leaving him in care while I took only you out."
"Why didn't you do that ... I some how now wished you had done!!"
"You might think that now, but trust me back then you would have hated it!" he laughs "It wasn't easy for me, my conscious was killing me, I was desperately trying to work out a way to get you both back. I worried most about splitting you two up, he was not even eleven, you had just gone fifteen, and as far as you were both concerned you only had each other. He needed you, he was so young, and I would not have slept at night knowing while you was back with me, he was riding the care system alone. " he pulls a face "Me and Fudge even considered moving to Cherry Hill or Berry Shores, but the force advised strongly against it, it was too risky ... if Raven had faded years later, we could have taken the risk, three years was not nearly enough, Sage Brownie fading would still have been very raw with the family. Then of course there was the shock factor ... suddenly me turning up alive, I don't know how either of you would have handled it, especially you, you were so unpredictable at the time." he rolls his eyes "I was almost relieved when the decision was taken out of my hands, when I was told that Atlantis and Aqua had contacted social services about taking you in. As much as I hated it and wanted to get you both back, it was probably the best option for you both at the time, staying in Sugar Valley which was the only place you had ever known, with people that you know and you still had each other and I knew how close you was to Forrest. Taking you out of Sugar Valley would have meant you breaking all contact with Forrest, and I was not sure how you would have handled that. I think if you had been given the choice at that time you would have chose to stay with him anyway!!"
"Yeah, probably." I mumble
"You had to deal with your Mother fading, which I know would have hit you the hardest, you were best off with Forrest, and our relationship was a minefield and I doubt my reappearing would have helped you mentally at all, I was already faded and buried as far as you were concerned, and it was better for you as well as safer for everyone that it stayed that way."
"Yeah, I was terrified, I didn't know what to do. Mom faded and all I could think about was being left in that house, with Gravel to look after and no means of supporting us."
"Oh you idiot!!" he laughs at me "You was barely fifteen years old, you would never have been left to look after yourselves even if I had faded!! Especially not in this town, you know what everyone is like, too caring!!" he starts to almost have hysterics.
"It's not funny, it traumatized me ... for half a day!!" he chuckles "It actually got a little crazy. We had Forrest's parents and Mango's parents almost fighting over us, they both wanted to take us in. I was close to Forrest and Gravel close to Mango."
"See you always know who your good friends are!" he smiles at me "I would not have worried about either of them taking good care of you, better than I imagined your Mother would have done anyway. I did not know that Spicey and Lemon were also willing to take you two in."
"Yeah, I had to choose where we went ... I chose to go to Forrest's parents, because of Forrest obviously, which pissed Gravel off because he wanted to go in Mango's direction. Now sometimes I wish I had chosen to go the other way, Mommy and Pops couldn't control me and I went totally off the rails after Mom faded ... I don't imagine Spicey Muffin would have stood for any of my shit!!"
"No, I don't think he would ... and neither would I have done!!" he frowns at me "Every time you got yourself arrested, I would get a sealed envelope on my desk, I used to dread opening them. I was very disturbed when you started running around with the Brownies and all I could do was quietly watch all your antics over the years. It really didn't surprise me that you ended up getting banged up for time." he rolls his eyes at me. "But time banged up either makes or breaks people, luckily I see it was the making of you."
"Yeah, I know I was very wrong back then and prison did help me sort my head out a little, it also helped me to get clean of the booze and drugs, neither of which I have touched since leaving prison!!"
"You have done really well to turn your life around like you have!!" he smiles at me "You and Gravel inherited quite a hefty sum of money after your Mother faded didn't you." he grins at me.
"Yeah ...." I squint my eyes at him "We were shocked by it, we didn't realize you and Mom had so much money!! We presumed it was from the house being sold and we couldn't touch it until we were Eighteen. Did that have something to do with you?"
"Yes." he laughs quite loudly "It wasn't the money from the house ... I actually still have the deeds to that house today."
"What!!??" this shocks me "But you can't, we saw the for sale sign. It was sold!!"
"Yes a for sale sign did go up on the house, but only while it was being transferred over to a new identity, we had to make it look realistic."
"I don't get it ... why keep it and who lives there now?"
"I'm not sure who lives there, a Sugar Falls letting agency take care of it. They rent it out, collect the rent and take care of any repairs, for a small fee. It would have been stupid to have just left it sat there empty all these years. There is a tidy sum sitting in a bank account that that house has accumulated over the years." he laughs "Why I kept it ... if I have to be honest, I guess I expected you especially to fall flat on your face in life. It was an investment, and there as something for either of you to fall back on if you needed it ... but as it happens, neither of you did."
"You have really surprised me!!" I laugh at him.
"Oh I doubt I have finished surprising you yet!!" he chuckles "I think your Mother must have drank herself stupid after I left, because there was hardly anything left of the money she had."
"She did, and I helped her, from the age of twelve until I went into prison I was permanently pissed." I laugh and he tuts. "So if the money didn't come from the house ... where did it come from?"
"I had a payout, which should have gone to Raven to look after you two, however, I didn't trust her not to drink it all away, so she only got a small part of it and I put the rest and more into a trust funds for the both of you." he frowns at me "So what did you do with yours ... drink it up the wall like your Mother?"
"Hell No!! It bought the house that Forrest still lives in now." I smirk at him "But only because Forrest nagged me to death - so it wasn't wasted, and back then I probably would have done!!"
"Well that is something I suppose." he smiles at me.
"So when did you stop watching and keeping tabs on me?"
"I never have!!" he smiles at me "I have even been close enough to touch you, kiss you even on occasions and have seen you more times than I can remember over the years ... you just never saw me." my eyes widen "They moved you to the prison in Berry Shores right ... that is my patch." he grins at me "Twice a week religiously I used to visit the prison and watched you in the yard from inside the building." he chuckles "When you had your appendix out, I actually sat with you in the Berry Shores hospital straight after surgery up until you started to wake up, then I had to leave before you saw or realized I was there. The prison guard with you knew to keep his mouth shut, because his job was on the line if he didn't. I told him I was your Uncle."
"Why the HELL did you not let me see you?" this upsets me, surprisingly.
"Oh I wanted to trust me!! I just could not take the risk, I didn't know how you would react, our relationship had been very rocky and you hated me remember!! I read all your prison counciling reports, you blamed me for a lot of your problems!" I look at him sheepishly "With that in mind and I didn't know how far the criminal life had sucked you in, you could have still had contact with the wrong Brownies for all I knew, you could have left prison and continued your life of crime, I wasn't to know. It only needed you to tell one of them that I was alive. Given the opportunity, there was always the chance that they would want revenge for Sage Brownies death ... his blood was on my hands, on paper, even though I was not the one who pulled the trigger. I had my other children's safety to worry about, and especially yours, in your stupidity you could have put yourself right in the firing line, you could have been their first target." he starts to laugh "Did you never wander why you got early parole, without tagging, out of the blue?"
"Good behaviour ... I thought." I squint at him sat there chuckling to himself "It was you wasn't it!!"
"Yes, I pulled a few strings, as you was behaving yourself!!" he smiles at me. "I was there the day you was released, I actually followed you to the train station, I wanted to see which way you would go and which train you was going to get on."
"I don't believe you!" I frown at him, remembering how cautious I had been that day, checking to make sure I was not being followed by any of the Brownie lot, also worried that Forrest or Gravel might turn up and try to take me home. "So which train did I take?"
"It was hard mind, you was very nervous and jumpy, you kept looking over your shoulder!! You jumped on the North Line." he laughs at me "I was half expecting you to jump on the South Line, heading in the direction of home, thankfully you didn't, you went in the opposite direction. You bought a one way ticket to Rainbow Valley." he smirks at me. "Your train left from platform three at noon, which gave you just enough time to run to the shop where you grabbed a bottle of coke, a sandwich, crisps, half a dozen chocolate bars and a few magazines for the journey. You paced up and down the platform smoking a cigarette while you waited for the train to pull in. You gave your sandwich to a homeless guy who was sat begging on the platform." he smirks at me "You almost looked like a homeless guy yourself in those ripped jeans and TShirt that you was wearing!"
"They weren't ripped, they were fashionably made that way back then!! Okay I believe you!!" I laugh at him knowing he must have been there to know any of that. "You will be telling me what colour underpants I was wearing in a minute." I laugh at him.
"Brown obviously, but I didn't have to see them or be a detective to work that one out!!" he laughs as I roll my eyes at myself for saying something so stupid. "It was hard for me to keep tabs on you after you left Rainbow Valley, because your criminal and medical records remained silent. I lost you for a short periods of time, you was traveling around a lot wasn't you."
"Yes, I enjoyed travelling around, but I couldn't settle, until I found a purpose for my life. I was really struggling being alone and keeping away from home, Forrest and my addictions."
"So what made you decide to be a doctor?"
"I don't know really, I fell into it by accident. I used to do dead end jobs from town to town to keep a roof over my head. When I got to Mint, I got a porters job at the hospital, I found it interesting talking to the patients and hearing about their medical problems, I really enjoyed the job, but I found I wanted to do more than just push them around the corridors between wards and departments. You know probation run education programmes for ex con's, so I took advantage of it, I contacted them and they put me through med school."
"Yeah that is how I picked up on your whereabouts again, probation and you settled down in Mint Valley, which made it a lot easier for me." he smiles at me "Although I nearly shit myself when I found out you was in Mint, knowing Turmeric also lived there."
"Yeah, I had been in Mint a while before I accidentally bumped into him."
"How did you get to become friends with him, it is something he has never really told me, not even when I asked him." I laugh
"We were sat next to each other at a football match, he spilled his beer all over me and I nearly punched his head in. He lived right opposite the stadium so he took me home so I could shower and he lent me some clothes, which I returned the next day. After that we became good friends. Meeting Turmeric was what saved me from myself, he kept me on the straight and narrow, and well away from the booze, we spent all of our spare time together, until Mace appeared ... I am surprised he has never told you?"
"No he kept knowing you to himself, I litteraly had to prize it out of him. Alarm bells started ringing in my head when you both moved to Cherry Hill within a week of each other, I suspected it was more than just a coincidence. He didn't have a clue that I was tracking your whereabouts, as far as everyone was concerned, I didn't have a clue where you were. It was safer that way because Tami in particular was always nagging me to find you." he rolls his eyes "Turmeric plays his cards very close to his chest with everything!! It was not until I started to grill him about his life in Cherry and he was being his normal cagey self, that I decided to unexpectedly land on his doorstep without warning, only then he admitted to me that he knew you. He shit himself, because you had been due round to his and I was there. He called you and said he had to postpone. I wanted to know why he had dyed his hair and was wearing contacts, I accused him of hiding his identity because I thought he was in some sort of trouble possibly with the law ... he had no choice but to tell me then, that he was hiding his hair and eye colouring from you, so you didn't work out who he was." he laughs for a moment "I thought only me and T knew your whereabouts, and T has secretly kept tabs on you for me, these last six years. However there is a lot that he did not tell me over the years, Gravel's involvement and especially about Mace also being there, if I had known, I would have been there!! I did not even realize you two had had a falling out, Turmeric still kept up the pretence to me of having contact with you even after he moved to this town. Little did I know, for the past two years, it has been Mace who was filling Gravel in about you, Gravel was passing it onto T and T was relaying it back to me."
"If you knew T had contact with me as far back as six years ago, why didn't he tell me he was my brother or why didn't either of you tell me then that you was still alive?"
"You have made your feelings towards me very clear to him in the time that you have known each other, besides I am also guilty of listening to and being swayed by Gravel's lies. Both Turmeric and Gravel gave me the impression that you still idolized your Mother and hated me with a passion, you blamed me for a lot of things and was glad I had faded and would not have wanted to know that I was still alive. Even though I hated it, I thought you would be happier it being left as it was. While Turmeric has been contradicting what Gravel was telling me about the type of person you are now, Gravel was twisting my head into thinking that you would not want anything to do with me and because you hated me so much, you would even go as far as to help the few old school Brownies that were left, take their revenge against me. While I have never really worried about myself, I have always worried about the safety of my other children."
"That really does not make sense when you have had Mace living with you since he was eleven years old." I frown at him
"Mace is a whole different kettle of fish, he is far from being a typical or old school Brownie. From the day Gravel brought that very troubled little boy to me, Mace has always expressed a dislike, hatred even for his family and their ways. He was beaten and abused as a child because of the nature of his character. He is no criminal and was very happy to be removed from his family and the life they expected him to live."
"He was a pathetic sorry sight, scruffy and dirty, withdrawn, timid, scared of his own shadow. He was so obviously traumatised and distraught over his Mother fading, , and the reason why I could not turn him away when Gravel brought him to me. He has definitely been the most challenging child that I have fostered, he was very hard work!! At the age of eleven he could barely read or write, up until he came to me, he had hardly attended school!! For years he had nightmares and used to wet the bed at night, and when he was scared by something, he used to wet his pants. He flinched when anyone moved quickly around him, arguments and loud shouting used to have him cowering in corners. Just hearing gunshots in movies on the television used to have him getting into a right tizzy. He tried to lock himself away in his room to hide from the world, he was a nightmare to get out sometimes. He was bullied at school too because of how soft and vunerable he was, Silt, Shale and Coal had to protect and look after him. He had to have counciling for years, the poor kid did nothing but cry, pass out, wet himself and puke .... he pukes and cries over the silliest things." he starts laughing.
"Yeah that's my Mace, he's a proper girl!!" I laugh "The only thing he doesn't do now is wet himself ... unless you hold him down and tickle him to death!!" I start laughing
"Trust you!! I remember you used to do that to Gravel!" he tuts
"Honestly, I am not surprised he was a traumatised kid, the environment he was brought up in. The first time I saw Mace he was just a toddler ..."
"Really?" he frowns at me in confusion
"Yeah, I pretty much started running around with the two younger Brownie brother soon after Mom faded. My drug habit started when I was about thirteen. They used to deal drugs in Sugar Valley for Fudge, that is how I met them. I used to sneak off to Apple Hill instead of going to school, that is when I met Fudge. I must have been knocking about with them for years before Gravel wormed his way in with them behind my back." he laughs quietly "Fudge was grooming Mace into his future criminal life from the moment he could walk and talk. Taking him on jobs, encouraging him to hang around with the criminal low life, giving him unloaded guns to play with, teaching him how to use the gun and how to slit peoples throats with a knife. I have seen Fudge knocking him about pretty badly, and he's had to watch men fade in front of him, and Fudge used to get him drunk and stoned when he was a really small child just for our entertainment. He has told me only today he found his Mother stabbed up and faded, that must have hit him hard, especially as he suspects it was Gravel who actually murdered his Mother." I pull a face
"Yes I know, his early childhood and especially his father has left a very hard impression on the boys mind. I dread to think what might have happened to him if he had not been taken away from his family when he was."
"Surely his family knew where he was ... with you."
"No, his sister wanted rid of him after their Father was locked up and their Mother faded shortly after. Tarragon wanted him placed into foster care so she would not have the responsibility or hassle of him. Gravel said he would deal with it, in a professional capacity, and brought him to me instead. We had a little hassle, legally to start with, I had to get him registered in the system, but it is an anonymous process, his family once he is placed into the care system, have no right to know his whereabouts. His allegation of abuse, made social services all that more determined to keep his whereabouts a guarded secret, which worked in my favour. He had no contact with his sister until he moved back to Apple Hill a few years before he did his disappearing act, and has always kept my real identity a well guarded secret."
"Why did Gravel bring Mace to you of all people in the first place ... that doesn't make sense, knowing the danger that he could have put you and everyone else in!"
"Nothing that Gravel has ever done makes sense, and yet again it was probably done with some kind of twisted spite, that he gained satisfaction from. I think he thrived on the danger, according to Mace, Gravel always sails too close to the wind, takes unnecessary risks just for the thrill of it, and he obviously does not give a shit about what he is doing to people, just as long as it makes him feel good!!" he rolls his eyes
"Have you been down to Intensive Care to see him?"
"No and I don't plan to either!! I never thought I would ever hear myself saying this about one of my children ... but I have washed my hands completely of that boy ... I can forgive a lot of things but not what he has done!!" he pulls a pained expression.
"Yeah and I bet you don't know the half of it."
"Probably not, I am learning new things every day and it is knocking me sick. Mango told me he pushed you out of a tree on purpose and broke your legs, amongst other stuff." he frowns at me.
"Yeah they decided to climb up a tree and got stuck up there. I had to go up and help them down, Mango came down alright but Gravel wouldn't he pushed me right out of that tree. We swear he did it on purpose, he came down on his own laughing after he sat up the tree laughing at me and Forrest riling around on the floor in pain. If it wasn't for Forrest being stupid and trying to catch me, I think he probably would have faded me then. Luckily Forrest cushioned the fall, I had a broken arm but that was the least of my worries, Mommy and Paps had a hells game with both me and Forrest being in wheelchairs with rigid legs , we both had two broken legs." I stick out my left leg and show him the scar. "I had to have quite a few operations and have a plate in this one, it was smashed so badly. It could have been my neck!! I think he has always had a murdering streak in him ...."
"The dog ..." he rolls his eyes
"Yeah, I guess Forrest told you about Gravel killing my dog!!" he nods glummly "He was always jealous of me having that dog, because you gave it me and you never let him have one." he laughs "The poor thing was getting old and going blind, he probably wouldn't have lived too much longer anyway, but that wasn't the point!! I found him with a pastic bag on his head ... Gravel suffocated Spot because he stole his sweets. He didn't deny it either, he thought it was funny!!"
"It must be the grey in him ... he has the same evil streak as your Mother had, and he has gone way to far for me to ever forgive him!! He has taken and messed up too many innocent lives for his own amusement and without a care for my liking!! It has been heartbreaking watching the extended family falling apart over Cinnamon, especially Scarlet, that poor girlfriend of his, finding out she is pregnant!! But it is what he has done to his own family that cuts way too deep!! The way he took Slate and messed him up is unforgivable. I nearly lost you completely, without being about to put things right between us, because he was callous enough to shoot you, his own brother. Now both you and Slate are living on borrowed time with someone elses organs because of him and his twisted games!! It was not only Slate he wanted to keep you away from, it was me too, he obviously never wanted you to find out about me or your other siblings. He faded his own sister for no reason other than spiteful jealousy that we can see, leaving Jasmine without her Mother. The way he has messed up Mace, playing with his life and putting him a wheelchair as well as prison. He let me get shot rather than he back down even when he knew he was fighting a lost cause." I frown at him "He tried to used me as a human shield, like he did Atlas. I know it was my own stupid fault for stepping in front of him, but still he grabbed me to stop them shooting him. Elderberry had to take a controlled shot to take me out to get to Gravel who was threatening to blow Forrest's brains across the room, while he was trying to keep you alive. Gravel obviously doesn't even have a care for his own family, so we have all agreed ... he is no longer a part of this one!! And if you have any sense you will do the same, and have nothing to do with him from now on ... he can still cause his evil mischief from inside prison, if you give him the slightest chance!!"
"Oh don't worry, I don't intend to ever see that man again if I can help it!! Even though I have been very lonely at times, I have loved not having him in my life for the past twenty years, it has been normal and peaceful!!" he laughs "Personally for me, just Slate and Mace is enough for me to wash my hands of him, and that is before he even shot me and all the other stuff he has done!!"
I am amused that he can now finally see Gravel for what I have always known he has been.