Everything But Love

by Joel Young

Chapter 15

Back to Connecticut

I got the window seat on my plane ride back to Bridgeport, Connecticut. My parents' attorney, Lawrence Rasmussen, was sitting next to me. He was a slim, middle-aged man with balding hair. He was not happy with his assignment to bring me home from Arkansas.

"Did my parents tell you why they are insisting that I come home?" I asked. I knew the Sheriff suspected that Mason may have been involved in my kidnapping, but I wasn't sure my parents knew that.

"No," Mr. Rasmussen said. "And I didn't ask. Their reasoning is none of my concern. And frankly, I couldn't care less. I didn't go to law school for three years to become a babysitter!"

I had noticed that my snarky teenage attitude had returned in full force since I had been kidnapped. "Sorry to be such a burden on you," I said sarcastically.

"Well, we'll be home soon," he said. "Then this whole, dreary mess will be behind me."

I couldn't believe how rude Mr. Rasmussen was being. He was bringing a traumatized 14-year-old boy home after being kidnapped, beaten, and sexually assaulted. And yet, my paid escort seemed to have no compassion. He was only thinking of himself and being free of any responsibility for me.

"Remind me never to become a lawyer," I said under my breath.

After we landed in Bridgeport, Mr. Rasmussen took me to the Covington Preserve by taxi. He dropped me off without getting out of the car. "Good day, Mr. Covington, he said. "Please tell your parents that they'll be receiving my bill very soon."

The taxi driver got my suitcase out of the trunk and handed it to me. It wasn't heavy. I had not been allowed to get my things from Aunt Gretchen's house before I was whisked away to the airport. Since the clothes I wore into the hospital were bloody, a Social Worker had arranged for me to get one new outfit and some other necessities.

Going up to the front door of the house was surreal. Everything looked to be the same as I remembered. Still, nothing seemed familiar. The door was locked, so I had to ring the bell.

A uniformed servant answered the door. "May I help you?" the young lady asked me.

"Hi," I said. "I'm James Covington. I live here."

"Oh! Mr. Covington!" the lady said. "The housekeeper told me you'd be arriving today. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you. You look so different from your pictures!"

"I'll take that as a compliment," I said. "May I come in?"

"Of course," the lady said. "May I take your things upstairs for you?"

"No thanks," I answered. "I know the way. Is my mother here?"

"No, but she's expected home before dinner," the lady said. "Your father is resting. I've been told to make sure he is not disturbed."

"Well, he has always found me to be quite disturbing," I said. "So, we'd better not tell him I'm here."

I headed up the stairs to my room. When I opened the door, I was startled. My room was completely changed. It was painted a different color, and it was filled with baby furniture, a rocking chair, and stuffed animals.

"I guess Mom and Dad were planning to put the new baby in here," I thought to myself. I spent a few moments thinking about my half-brother, who had been stillborn. Seeing his room ready for him, but knowing he never got a chance to see it, made the situation all the more real to me. And it made me sad.

I went downstairs to see if I could find Mrs. Carlson, the housekeeper. I thought she would know which room my parents planned for me to use. I found her in the laundry room folding bedsheets.

"Master James!" she said as I entered the room. "I almost didn't recognize you! Goodness! What did they feed you in Arkansas? You've grown so tall! And you've got muscles!"

"Yeah," I said. "I worked out at my high school gym. And I wear contacts now instead of those thick, ugly glasses. And I'm all done with my braces."

"Well, you look very handsome!" Mrs. Carlson said. Then she looked at my bruised face and discount store clothes. "Your mother will be home soon. Perhaps you'll want to clean up and change before dinner."

"I'm afraid I don't have anything else to wear," I said without further explanation. "Maybe I can go shopping sometime soon," I said.

Mrs. Carlson rolled her eyes. "Perhaps tomorrow?" she suggested.

"I don't know which bedroom I'm supposed to use," I said. "Would the one with the balcony looking out on the backyard be okay?"

Mrs. Carlson shook her head. "I'm afraid not," she said. "Your father has been using that room since he became ill."

"Ill?" I questioned. "What's wrong with Dad? Mom didn't say anything about Dad being ill."

"Oh dear," Mrs. Carlson said. "I've spoken out of turn. I'm sure your mother will answer your questions when she gets home. I've prepared the guest room in the south wing for you."

"Isn't that the room with the ugly wallpaper and lavender plantation shutters?" I asked. "The one that smells like mothballs?"

"I aired it out a bit yesterday," Mrs. Carlson said. "It should be fine. It's not too close to the main bedrooms, and you can use the back stairwell. When his homecare nurses aren't here, your father likes things very quiet. He's not sleeping well these days."

I took my practically empty suitcase to the south wing guest room. It was smaller than I remembered but huge compared to my room at Aunt Gretchen's house. But the room was ugly! And it still smelled! I decided to take a shower and put some of the prescribed ointment on my face before my mother got home.

"Hi, Mom," I said as I came down the stairs and saw her in the drawing-room.

"Oh, hello, James. One of the maids told me you were here," she said as I came into the room and sat across from her. "My goodness! You look so different - much more manly than the last time I saw you. But those clothes are dreadful! Go put on something decent before dinner."

"This is all I have," I said. "Since I wasn't allowed to go back to Aunt Gretchen's house before coming home, I couldn't get any of my things. The hospital gave me these. I'll go shopping tomorrow - if that's alright."

"The sooner, the better!" Mom said." But what's wrong with your face?" she asked. "You look swollen and bruised. And are those cuts above your eye?"

"Mom," I said. "I was kidnapped. Remember? The men beat me up."

"Yes. That was unfortunate, wasn't it?" she said. "I suppose we'll need to talk about that later. In the meantime, I'll have my lady's maid apply some makeup to cover up your problem areas. You can't go out of the house looking like that. What would people think?!?"

"Oh, I don't know," I answered. "Maybe they'd think that I've been injured? Maybe they'd think that I have been through something traumatic? And who knows, Mom? Maybe someone might even feel some compassion for me."

"Or maybe they'd think that you are just a common hooligan who got into a street fight!" she responded.

I gave up. I don't know why I thought Mom would be more concerned about me than she would about how things might appear to other people. She had never given me love or affection. And now it was confirmed. She never would – regardless of the circumstances.

"Why did you insist that I come back to Connecticut?" I asked. "And why did you take back custody of me from Aunt Gretchen?"

"Obviously, she wasn't taking proper care of you, James," Mom said. "She let strangers take you and try to extort money from your father and me. Things like that have to be handled swiftly and firmly! One should never tolerate incompetence, nor give in to bullies!"

"So, if I hadn't escaped, you wouldn't have paid the ransom?" I asked.

"James," Mom said. "It is unfortunate but sadly true. Most times, kidnappers don't follow through on their promises."

I was stunned! "So, you didn't want to take the risk of losing the money?" I asked. "You considered your odds, and I came up as the long-shot? Is that it?"

"You're being overly dramatic, James!" Mom said. "I know being kidnapped was scary. It was scary for us, too. But you escaped, and it's over. The best thing you can do now is put it out of your mind and stop talking about it. Just move on!"

"My psychiatrist says that I need to talk about it. She said if I don't deal with my emotions now, they'll manifest into other problems later," I said.

"Psychiatrists think they know everything!" Mom argued. "Well, take it from me. They don't!"

I was pissed, and I became sassy. "Yes, Ma'am!" I said. "I got it now! Don't listen to the doctors. Don't feel your feelings, and don't talk about your problems. Just pretend everything is fine. And make sure you always look good to other people."

Mom just stared at me. I could tell she was mad. As usual, I acquiesced. "I'm sorry, Mom," I said. "I shouldn't have said that. I know you were trying to help."

Mom said nothing, and we just sat in the drawing-room without speaking. Finally, I asked, "What's going on with Dad?"

Mom remained silent for a few moments. Then, I saw something that shocked me. She looked sad, and her eyes became teary.

"He's not well, James," she said as she patted her eyes with a tissue and tried to pull herself together.

"Is he going to be alright?" I asked.

"His oncologist says it's serious but that no one should ever give up hope. I'm trying to hold on to that," Mom said.

"You mean it's cancer?" I asked.

Mom didn't acknowledge my question. "Your father wants to see you – but only when he's up to it. He has good days and bad. I'll let you know when he is receiving visitors."

"Mom! You make it sound like I'm a golfing buddy = not his son whom he hasn't seen for almost a year!" I said, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice. I was sick and tired of being made to feel that Mom and Dad could control my life but that I wasn't part of the family.

Mom stood up and walked to the stairs. She turned back toward me and said, "Everything is not always about you, James. You'll be a much more likable person when you learn that. I won't be down for dinner. Have the cook make you something."

Mom's attitude made me angry, and I felt like acting out. I wanted to do something to make my mom really mad. I considered 'accidentally' breaking her prized cobalt and white oriental vase that she purchased on her last trip through Asia. But I didn't have the nerve to do that. "Maybe I could call the local newspaper and offer to be interviewed about my kidnapping," I thought to myself. "Or I could drop the nuclear bomb and tell her that I'm gay – and that I have a boyfriend!"

As I ate the soup and sandwich that the cook prepared for me, I enjoyed fantasizing about my mother's complete horror if I actually did or said any of those things. Fortunately, playing out those scenarios in my mind was enough satisfaction for me that night. After dinner, I played the piano quietly until I became tired and went to bed.

The following morning, Mom's lady's maid put makeup on my face to cover up the bruises. Some of the swelling had gone down, and I looked almost normal. The chauffeur dropped me off in downtown Bridgeport. I had decided to get my hair cut and buy some very modern clothes – ones that I couldn't find at the Farm and Family store in Tellico Falls. I got my hair styled at the Chameleon Station hair salon. At Gus Blass and Company, I found some clothes that made me look thoroughly up to date. I bought a black, linen, long-sleeve shirt; a black Nehru jacket with a muted orange and beige pattern on the front; and silver-gray dogtooth trousers . It was a totally new look for me. For some reason, I just felt like making dramatic changes.

I bought lots of other new clothes as well, mostly in classic styles I could wear anywhere. I asked the Men's Department salesman to have my new things delivered to my home, but I wore my Nehru jacket and dogtooth trousers while I finished my shopping. I decided to stop for lunch at a small café on Main Street. Several people noticed me as I entered the establishment. I guessed that my trendy new haircut and expensive clothes were grabbing some attention.

"What can I get for you?" a young waiter asked as he approached my table. I recognized him immediately. It was Robbie from Bridgeport Academy – the one with whom I had tried to make friends – the one who called me a sissy and told me to "get lost and go play with the other girls."

"Well," I said. "I don't know. Do you have any specials today, Robbie?"

"Do I know you?" he asked as he looked at me quizzically.

"I used to go to Bridgeport Academy. We were in the same class," I said. "I'm James Covington."

"No!" Robbie exclaimed. "You're James the Si…" He stopped himself before completing the word 'sissy.'

"In the flesh!" I said. "Anyway, I'll have the egg salad sandwich and a 7 Up."

Robbie wrote down my order. Before leaving, he said, "I was a real jerk to you at the Academy. I'm sorry."

"No pickle with my sandwich," I said.

"Look, I don't expect you to forgive me," he said. "But I want you to know that – I really am sorry."

I couldn't refuse an apology that seemed so sincere. "It's okay," I said. "It was a long time ago."

"I'll go get your sandwich," he said. "It's on the house."

After lunch, I had about an hour before the chauffeur would pick me up and take me home. So, I walked over to Sherman's Music Store and picked out a new guitar for myself. I also bought a large, spiral-bound book of county music. I wanted to stay in practice in case I could go back to Tellico Falls and play some gigs with Justin.

I came through the back door when I got home. "Your mother is in the library," the cook said to me. "I think you should go see her. I'll take your things up to your room." As she took my new guitar, she held her head down and said, "It's not my place to say anything, Mr. Covington. But you look really good in those clothes. You've grown up to be a very handsome young man." With that, she took the bag with my sheet music in her other hand and headed up the back stairwell.

I stood in the kitchen for a short while, thinking about Robby's apology earlier that day and the compliment the cook had just given me. "I guess it's true," I thought to myself. "People treat you much better when they think you're good-looking."

The door to the Library was open, but I still knocked lightly before entering. "Mom," I said. "Did you want to see me?"

"Yes, James," she said. Her voice cracked as she told me to come in and sit down. She sat silently for a long time. Somehow, I realized what was happening.

"It's Dad, isn't it? I said. "Something's happened to Dad."

Mom burst into tears. "He's gone, James!" she cried. "He's dead! He died in my arms an hour ago."

Instinctively, I got up and sat down next to my mother. Despite how she had treated me in the past, I couldn't stand to see her sad and crying. I put my arms around her. "I'm so sorry, Mom," I said. "Dad loved you very much. He was a good man."

I was shocked when Mom turned and leaned into me, sobbing. I held her tightly and tried to comfort her as best I could.

Then, I heard the doorbell ring. Soon, Mrs. Carlson came into the room. "Ma 'me," she said. "The men from the funeral home are here." Mom nodded her head but continued crying.

"Will you go with them upstairs, James?" Mom asked through her tears. "I can't do it! I don't want to see them carry him out."

"Of course," I said. "I'll close the door to the Library. You stay here with Mrs. Carlson. You shouldn't be alone right now."

The next day, I went with Mom to the funeral home. All of the staff members there were kind and supportive, and they helped get us through the painful process of writing the obituary and planning the funeral. Since Dad had been a well-known member of the community, a philanthropist, and a respected businessman around the world, the funeral turned out to be huge! Over 1,000 people came to pay their respects during the two days of visitation, and about 300 attended the funeral ceremony itself. Mom managed to hold her emotions in check throughout the ordeal, but her profound grief was evident to everyone.

As for me, the situation created a jumble of conflicting emotions. I was proud of my mom for being so strong during long days of greeting people who came to pay their last respects. And I was touched by how much she had loved my father – even though she had once told me she wasn't capable of loving anyone anymore. And every once in a while, I felt resentment for how she had never loved me. I was pleased that she leaned on me for support. But sometimes, I thought of all the times she had failed to support me. And when people talked to me at the funeral home, I had to act as if my dad and I had been a loving father and son. That was difficult.

I was disappointed that Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Nathan didn't come to Connecticut for the funeral. But somehow, I knew someone had told them they were not welcome.

For days after the funeral, Mom was exhausted. She stayed at home and talked to practically no one – not even me. Since I had nowhere to go and no one to see, I kept to myself, mainly working on my music. I did buy day passes to the local YMCA so that I could continue to lift weights and run on their track.

"Your mother has requested that you join her for dinner at 7:00 tonight," Mrs. Carlson told me one afternoon. Mr. Rasmussen will be joining you."

I thanked Mrs. Carlson and told her that I would make sure I was there.

Dinner with my mother and her cranky attorney was uncomfortable that night. I didn't know why Mr. Rasmussen was invited to dinner, and no one seemed interested in much small talk. After dessert, my mother suggested that we all go into the Library.

"I'll come right to the point," Mr. Rasmussen said as he sat behind my father's oversized, mahogany desk. "Mr. Covington made some significant changes to his Will last year. I'm here to review the terms of those changes with you."

"Mr. Rasmussen," my mother said indignantly. "You yourself prepared the Wills for my husband and me years ago. We all agreed that everything would pass to the living spouse should the other pass away first. I do not remember agreeing to any changes."

"You may recall, however," Mr. Rasmussen said, sounding quite annoyed. "Each of you had your own Last Will and Testament. And each of you remained free to make changes, as you saw fit, at any time. Last September, the late Mr. Covington exercised his right to change how he wanted his estate to be devided."

"Well, he never told me anything about that!" my mother challenged.

"Well frankly, Mrs. Covington, he didn't have to tell you anything!" Mr. Rasmussen said, obviously pleased that he had the upper hand in the discussion. "Now, shall I proceed with the reading of the Will? I assume you want me to skip to the section on distribution of assets."

"Just tell me what has changed," my mother said. "Please spare me having to endure your insufferable legal mumbo jumbo!"

"As you wish," Mr. Rasmussen said. "Mrs. Covington, you will retain the full use of the home and its property for your lifetime. If you remarry, however, ownership of the Covington Preserve will go into a trust. You will receive immediate and full ownership of half of all other assets – including investments and business income. The other half will be put into trust, with me as the trustee, for Mr. Covington's youngest child. Upon your demise, Mrs. Covington, the Preserve becomes the property of, again, his youngest child."

My mother looked confused, as well as a little angry. "What 'youngest child' gets half?!?" she said. "I don't understand."

"I always hate this part of handling inheritance matters," Mr. Rasmussen said as if speaking to himself. "The distribution of property and money always becomes a bone of contention among family members. But it's my job to represent my client's wishes. Let me explain what I know. When the changes to the Will were made, you and your husband were expecting a child. Although he never stated it explicitly, I suspected that Mr. Covington wanted that child to take ownership of his family's ancestral home and have half ownership of all of his assets."

"Will, that should settle it, then!" Mom said. "That child …" Mom stopped speaking and choked up.

"My brother was stillborn," I said so that my mother did not have to finish her sentence.

"Yes, I know that," Mr. Rasmussen said. "But that settles nothing. The Will is straightforward. Half of the estate goes to Mr. Covington's youngest child." Mr. Rasmussen looked directly at me. "And that, young man, is you!"

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