Buried Beneath the Lies - Chapter 1
When her husband slammed through the back door cussing a blue streak, Reva Patterson froze where she stood in the living room with one shoe on, one shoe lost, and a mouth full of spit, toothbrush and toothpaste. She rolled her eyes, abandoned the hunt for the missing shoe (which could only be missing because Tommy knocked it out of its place taking off his dirty work boots the night before, when he knew they were supposed to be left in their place by the back door, not inside) and hustled back to the bathroom.
She checked her phone for the time: 1:18. If she left in the next twelve minutes, she’d have just long enough to make the drive over to Blossom Hill and get the cake set up for Bay’s baby shower at two.
And this cake…it was a beauty. Not what she’d have designed herself, if given the opportunity, but she’d made it to the precise specifications of her mother-in-law, Amelia. Well, she’d made it an exact replica of the one Amelia had chosen from a random Pinterest board. Reva wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the design—a simple, round two-layer hombre affair with thin pink ruffles graduating from light to dark, all painstakingly crafted with a batch of finicky icing that she’d have to keep from melting in the August heat on the drive. She prayed that Amelia wouldn’t mind the personal touches she’d added, a sprinkling of candy pearls and a delicate butterfly perched on the top, as if it had just landed, or was about to take flight. Reva had been dreaming about butterflies for weeks, and, remembering the necklace Bay wore, the addition felt right.
Reva had tossed more than a serving or two of hope into this cake, including the hope that this baby shower would be a high point in an otherwise crappy weekend. It had been raining since early Friday, and between feeling trapped indoors by the late summer storms and listening to Tommy carry on about all the daylight he was losing on his new job site, time with the girls was just what she needed. Of course, it would have been nice if she felt like she was part of this particular group of girls, since the Pearl Girls consisted entirely of the married women in Tommy’s family, excluding her. Something else she kept hoping for, in spite of herself, was to be part of that circle.
Reva rinsed her mouth out and shut off the faucet, grabbed her favorite tinted gloss from its spot in her meticulously organized makeup drawer, and swiped some on her lips. She ran a brush through her chestnut hair before deciding to secure it in a hair tie at the nape of her neck, rather than curling it into a more sophisticated style as she’d imagined. No time for that today. Readjusting her snug knit top, she thought she might better skip the cake at the shower. She’d sampled plenty of batter from the bowls two days before. Gran had been wrong all those years as Reva worked alongside her in the kitchen, she thought, tugging at her pants. Those calories did count. And they ended up right on her hips, if she wasn’t careful.
In the quiet of the house, she could hear Tommy barking into the phone.
“Don’t matter what day it is, the trailer’s sunk a damn foot in the mud. I got the skidder and loader moved before they got too far gone, but you left a trailer full of wood sittin’ in the way, and I ain’t got another rig to pull it this morning. Get your ass up and out there so we can get moving.”
Twisting the knob as gently as she could, Reva eased out of the bathroom and down the hall. She could see Tommy leaning against the kitchen counter, his lanky frame hunching under his constant worries over missing workers, blown ten thousand dollar tires, busted equipment, and the price of fuel. He scratched at the three or four days’ growth of stubble on his chin, and Reva made a mental note to schedule him a haircut. Tugging at her ponytail, she remembered that her regular appointment for a trim was scheduled the following week. Maybe she’d ask for something different, maybe highlights. Or layers.
Or maybe she’d just keep it the same. No muss, no fuss, and one less decision to be made.
She found her missing left shoe tucked under the edge of the sofa. The shoes—the pair she wore more often than not—were as sensible as she was, black leather wedges she’d bought on sale at the outlets in Bluffton. They gave her a little extra lift without causing her any distraction as she trudged through her days at Lawson, Park & McKinley, where she pulled triple duty as office manager, paralegal, and legal assistant for the local satellite office of the Charleston firm.
Tommy turned and caught sight of her, so she waved and pointed to the door as she slid her foot into the shoe, hoping he wouldn’t have time to get off the phone and stop her before she made her escape. He gave her a passive-aggressive shrug and an angry wave. The flash of heat in his blue eyes that used to leave her knees weak now just left her feeling defeated. All she had to do to piss him off these days was wander into his line of sight, it seemed. Reva lifted the cake box gently from the counter, took her keys from their hook, shouldered her purse, and hurried through the back door and out into the fresh drizzle that Tommy brought back with him.
In the car, she blasted the air, tuned the radio dial to the local country music station, and exhaled as much frustration as she could force out through her nostrils. She’d just started singing along to Miranda Lambert’s latest hit when her cell phone rang.
“Dammit Tommy, can I have a minute’s peace?”
She reached into her purse with her right hand and snagged her phone from its spot in her organizer, then checked the display. Not Tommy.
Reva tapped the screen to send Crystal’s call to voice mail and slid her phone back in its pocket. Whatever her sister wanted could wait until after the shower, and hopefully by then Crystal’s momentary crisis would be long forgotten, because the only time Crystal called Reva these days was when she needed crisis management, otherwise known as “money for pills.”
The phone rang again, and Reva swore through gritted teeth. She answered this time, but before she could get a word in, Crystal’s gravelly voice, textured from years of smoking and general hard living, rushed through the speaker phone. “Reva, we need you over at Mama and Daddy’s. You gotta hurry.”
“What’s wrong? Are they okay?” Reva slammed on her brakes and jerked the car into a gas station parking lot she was almost too far past, cringing when her front bumper scraped against the uneven curb.
“The sheriff is here with the fire marshal, and they’re taking the house.”
“Wait—what? But it’s Sunday.” Reva’s panic that one of her parents was dead or dying was immediately replaced by what she was ashamed to acknowledge as a deeper dread: they’d been found out. Her family’s dark, dirty secret had somehow come to light, and now they’d all be exposed. She closed her eyes and tried to push back the worst-case scenario already playing out in her mind. Her neck flushed with heat, and she tried to dial the air up further, but it was already full blast.
“Well, they don’t seem to care much about the Sabbath. Some guy from the census bureau was here earlier, and he called and reported a concern about the house, that it wasn’t safe for Mama and Daddy to live here. Can you believe that?” Crystal’s voice hitched up at the end, and Reva heard her taking a drag on a cigarette.
“What, you can’t?”
“It’s just, why is it suddenly this big problem that the law needs to be involved in? It’s not like their mess is anything new, not that you’d have any clue if anything had changed.”
Reva let loose a sigh. “Whatever, Crystal. Listen, are you sure I need to—”
Reva paused when she heard Crystal shouting at someone on the other end—likely the sheriff’s deputy or the fire marshal. When she heard the word “handcuffs,” she hung up the phone and almost tossed it in the floorboard in frustration.
“Of course, she really needs me to come over there. Shit!” She swung her car around in the parking lot and took a left back onto the road, heading toward the wrong end of town rather than straight to Blossom Hill, where she should already have been.
New Hope being the small town it was, it took Reva less than ten minutes to make it through the four miles and two left turns she’d managed to avoid for way longer than she cared to admit. Small town or not, if you made up your mind to avoid any particular corner of it, you could manage without really missing much. And Reva had managed to steer clear of the house she grew up in, and the memories it held, for a very long time. As she pulled her car onto the grass by her parents’ driveway, it was all she could do not to close her eyes to the scene in front of her, whip the car around, flee right back across town, and pretend this wasn’t happening.
The little white house leaned more toward gray than Reva remembered, so much paint had peeled away from the plank siding. The front porch, which ran the length of the house, held cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly atop each other, with the ones furthest from the door sagging, weathered, as if they’d been waiting there to be opened for a very long time—way too long. Reva knew there were windows, but she couldn’t see them for all the stacks of boxes. Had her mother’s catalog and magazine orders backed up to this point, where they just sat on the porch for ages, unopened? She’d likely graduated to ordering online, which sent a shiver of fresh dread through Reva’s body. There was no sign of the white rockers she and her daddy would escape to when she used to visit occasionally, no flowers blooming in the three hanging pots that twirled lazily from their chains in the wind, nothing that spoke of life, of welcome.
A rush of guilt flooded up her throat from her belly, and Reva covered her mouth with both hands, as if she could physically press it back down. How had things gotten so out of hand? It had seemed impossible to Reva to curb Darlene’s hoarding tendencies, so she’d found a way to put it out of her mind, to pretend it wasn’t her problem to solve. But she should have tried harder. She should have at least seen to it that her daddy had a place to sit outside of the chaos. From the looks of it, there didn’t appear to be anything at all of comfort left here, just a world of heartache and hurt. The whole place seemed to be waving a dingy white flag, defeated.
Three taps on her window startled Reva out of her momentary despair. The girl doing the knocking stepped back and pulled at Reva’s door handle, not waiting for her to help herself out.
“Hey, Miss Reva,” the girl said, her earnest voice barely above a whisper. “Sure is good you came over. I don’t know what y’all gonna do now.” The girl shook her head, sending her tight black curls bouncing around her shoulders.
“Caprice?” Reva said, questioning the child’s identity and knowing it all the same. Caprice was their neighbor from across the street, though she was just a toddler when Reva moved out. Still, whenever Reva visited, Caprice was always around somewhere, sharp and attentive, studying every scene and waiting for a chance to tell a good story to anyone who wanted to listen.
And Reva always listened to Caprice when she had a chance. She felt a kinship with the girl over having what was likely the most unfortunate pair of first names in the county. Darlene had named Reva after her favorite character on a soap opera, Guiding Light, and she’d never been able to escape the jokes in school.
“Been a long time,” Caprice said, a brilliant grin spreading between her flawless tawny cheeks. She threw her shoulders back and stood as tall as she could, topping Reva’s five feet five by two or three inches, easily. “I grew a little.”
“Indeed, you did,” Reva said, smiling up at the girl-turned-young-woman she had to look up to, even as she stood. “I guess you saw the commotion?” she asked while giving Caprice a quick hug.
Caprice followed Reva’s gaze to the front yard, where the deputy’s car sat by Crystal’s old beater in the driveway. “Boy did I ever,” Caprice began, then launched into her detailed account of the morning’s events.
“I was inside this morning sitting at the desk right there by the window, doing my online school work,” she said, pointing behind them to the big bay window by the front door of her mother’s double-wide. “I do it from home now, you know, so that Ma don’t have to worry about me coming and going. Anyway, first thing, there was this man who pulled up in a big truck and got out with carrying a laptop. Your daddy came out and it looked like they were fussing. I tried to just focus back on my school work and not listen too hard. Next thing I know, I look up, and there’s a police car pulling up in front of y’all’s house. I didn’t want to be nosy or nothin’, but I was worried something might be wrong, you know? So, I slid on out front right when Miss Crystal was stepping outside to talk to ‘em. I wondered, ya know, if maybe…”
Reva nodded her understanding that Caprice wondered if the police were there to pick up Crystal. And she wanted to ask why Caprice wasn’t in school, rather than doing her school work at home, but she wanted the girl to finish the story before starting in on another one.
“Anyway, I snuck in a little closer, in case Miss Crystal needed my help or anything, you know? But then she started screamin’ at those two officers, tellin’ ‘em they ain’t had no business coming in the house uninvited, that they needed a warrant or something, and that fella without the uniform pulled out some kinda paperwork that she snatched right outta his hand, Miss Reva. And then that deputy, he put his hand right on the door knob and scooted her on out the way, like so,” Caprice said, acting out the deputy’s role in dramatic fashion for Reva, “and Miss Crystal shoved him back with her shoulder, like this.” Caprice shifted her body to the opposing angle and thrust out a shoulder. “And then he told her something ‘bout not wanting to have to cuff her and sit her in the back seat of that cruiser.”
Reva squinted at the car in the driveway, but Caprice shook her head.
“Then Miss Crystal bounced outta his way with a quickness and let ‘em on in.”
Reva nodded. “You hear anything else?”
“Just what the little fella without the uniform said.”
“And that was?” Reva prodded when Caprice didn’t continue.
“That they had to do an inspection on the house to make sure the place is safe for the folks livin’ in it,” Caprice answered. She’d fixed her gaze on the front door, her eyebrows raised over a doubtful smirk.
Even though Reva knew without a doubt Caprice had never set foot in her parents’ home, the girl was inquisitive enough to have gotten some idea of the state it was in. And she could see the front porch, along with anyone else who happened to ride by. The thought left Reva’s cheeks burning. There was no way that the house was anywhere near passable on the inside.
“Where’s the guy who was in the truck?”
Caprice shrugged. “Looked like they told him to leave.”
“You got a phone?” Reva asked Caprice.
The girl pulled an ancient flip phone from the pocket of her shorts. “Just for emergencies.”
“I’m going to give you my number, and if you ever see anything strange going on over here again, I want you to please call me immediately. Can you do that for me?”
Caprice’s eyes lit with her smile.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m glad to keep an eye on things for you.” Caprice tapped away at the keypad on the phone as Reva recited her cell phone number.
“Thanks, Caprice,” Reva said, giving the girl’s arm a squeeze. “I’ll take it from here today.”
Caprice gave Reva another quick hug and skipped across the road, not pausing to look for traffic. Thankfully, there rarely was any. “See you later, Miss Reva!”
Reva waved a hand in the air as she forced one foot in front of the other, making her way to the house.
Crystal’s voice stopped Reva in the middle of what felt like a death march toward the house. She closed the front door behind her and came down to the second step, leaned against the wobbly wooden railing, and lit a cigarette.
“Hey, Crys,” Reva said. She tried to keep her expression neutral, to not let her brow furrow with the usual worry that overcame her every time she saw her sister.
Crystal had always been a beauty—tall, willowy, with big blonde hair and big hazel eyes and big boobs to match. If they’d have been from a different kind of family, Crystal would have likely been a beauty queen, maybe could have gone to college on scholarship based on her looks alone. Unfortunately, she’d put her good looks to use escaping in other ways that had worn her down instead of built her up. Somehow, though, she was still pretty beneath the wear and tear, even if she was too thin, too anxious, too tweaked out to function. If she was clean and sober, as she supposedly had been for the last eight months, she was hanging on by a thread. Reva wished that her sister would somehow settle into her body, and into a normal life, with maybe her own place, friends who weren’t junkies, and a man she wasn’t using for a place to stay and who wasn’t using her for sex.
She should have known better than to throw her hope in the ditch like that, but she’d spread it thin enough to cover Crystal, anyway.
“Sorry to call you out here like this. I know you hate being here,” Crystal said, blowing smoke in Reva’s direction.
And there was gut punch number one. Reva bit her lip and made a conscious effort to absorb it and not swing back. “You wanna tell me what’s going on?”
Crystal nodded her head toward the door and took a long drag on her Virginia Slim, a flip-flop slapping against her foot as she bounced a leg furiously, a nervous habit. “Why don’t you go on inside and find out for yourself?”
Reva looked past Crystal to the front door, the faded red paint, the darker area around the door knob where it hadn’t been wiped down in ages. She would rather be dragged out back and beat than walk through that door, and her sister knew it. But old habits die hard, and Reva would be damned if she’d show weakness at the first sight of Crystal in months. She steeled herself and marched up the steps, onto the porch, and put her hand on the door knob, noting that it wasn’t only grungy, it was loose. Anyone could likely walk right in at any time, but who would want to?
“Not me,” Reva muttered under her breath. “Definitely not me.”
But she made herself open the door.